First Drafts With… Amanda Brooke

Hi everyone, and I’m delighted to welcome to my First Draft series, another Liverpool writer, Amanda Brooke. Amanda is the author of nine psychological thrillers, one of them, The Bad Mother I have had the pleasure of reading. And I thoroughly enjoyed!

Although writing her tenth novel, Amanda was kind enough to join me for a quick chat about her process to cementing the all important first draft.

Over to you, Amanda…

1) When you begin the next book, how do you go about it? 

The starting point for a new book is the synopsis which will have been agreed with my editor. It’s usually around two pages long and although it won’t necessarily cover sub-plots or minor characters, it will capture the essence of the storyand have a distinct beginning, middle and end. Before I start writing, I divide the synopsis into about twelve sections and this forms the chapter outline, or at least the beginnings of one. It lets me visualise the story as a full length manuscriptso I can check the pace as I begin to write. I don’t like to be too specific outlining the plot as part of the fun of writing is getting to know my characters and seeing where their stories lead.

2) Do you follow the same process you did for the book before? 

I’m currently writing my tenth book and I’d say that my writing process has developed over time although I have always started with dividing the synopsis into manageable chunks. It’s since becoming a fulltime writer two years agothat I’ve been able to take a more organised and methodicalapproach to my writing simply because I have the time. One of the things I’ve found useful is to print out my chapter outline after the first draft in large type and pin it to the wall. I highlight changes with coloured marker pens and add post-it notes to keep track of new ideas or changes I want to make to particular scenes. It’s also useful when I need to take a step back and see the whole story, working out what scenes are working and which ones I need to cut.  

3) What is your research process, if you have one?

That very much depends on the story. All of my latest books have been psychological suspense so I’ve concentrated my research on the psychology of my protagonists and also the antagonists. While I was writing The Bad Mother and Don’t Turn Around, my daughter was studying psychology at university and she would send me all kinds of research papersto help me understand my characters. I also find the internetan extremely useful tool and I try to find blogs from people who may have experienced what I’m forcing my fictional characters to endure. It’s a good reminder that what I’m conjuring on the page has happened to real people and that I carry a certain responsibility to get the story right. The best complement I’ve had was when a victim of gaslighting who had read The Bad Mother told me she was convinced I’d gone through that form of mental abuse too because of the things I had described in my book.

4) How quickly after thinking or planning do you sit down to write? 

I’m currently writing one book a year and although I gather ideas for future projects as I go along, I don’t tend to develop them fully until I’m at the later stages of my current work in progress. I’ll then chat through those ideas with my editor and my agent and that’s when we agree the synopsis for the next book. By that stage, I really need to start writing the first draft to meet the next deadline so I tend to have weeks rather than months to let the new story ferment in my head. I’ll write lots of ideas down in notebooks and on scraps of paper, some of which will form important pieces of the puzzle I’m trying to put together while others will be scrunched up and thrown in the bin. My best flashes of inspiration for adding twists and turns in my stories usually come as I start writing so I’m quite relaxed about not having too long to prepare.

5) How does the draft form on the screen? 

The first draft is always the hardest because you have to fill hundreds of empty pages but I don’t allow myself to get bogged down finding the perfect sentence or paragraph. Nor do I go back and make changes as I doubt I’d ever reach the end – I simply leave notes for myself to pick up the loose threads in the next draft. I tend to think of that first draft asmy way of getting to know my characters while I tell their story. The second draft is where I let the characters tell their own story because they’re fully formed by that stage. I’ve heard some writers say they don’t necessarily write their chapters in order and if there’s a scene they can’t wait to write, they write it. I couldn’t imagine doing that as I’m too methodical, and knowing there’s a scene I’m desperate to write pushes me on to write the earlier scenes so I can get to that point.

6) Where do you write the majority of the draft?

I’ve been writing novels for nine years now and I used to write a lot of my work sitting on my bed, despite having a writing room all set up. The problem was my so-called writing room used to be my son Nathan’s bedroom. I converted it into a study back in 2006 when Nathan died following a two year battle with cancer when he was three years old. I didn’t want to leave his room empty and turning it into a study gave me a reason to keep going in there. Eventually I did start to use it and now it’s where I do the vast majority of my writing. My desk is in front of a large window and there are lots of bookshelves which hold a mixture of reference books and files, not to mention Buzz Lightyear in the corner to watch over me. It feels right because I turned to writing as a way to deal with my grief, and I would never have become a writer if it wasn’t for Nathan. My books are his legacy, and I love that despite his short life, he has been such an inspiration.

Thank you for visiting my blog Amanda. It was great to find out all about your first draft process. Good luck with the next novel!

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