Saturday, May 30, 2020

Guest post: Andrew Taylor

Aline here. I'm so pleased to have been able to persuade Andrew Taylor to be our guest this week. He's famous for his historical crime novels and has had a positively embarrassing number of laurels heaped on his head. Andrew, if you don't want to blush, look away now!

He has won the Crime Writers' Association's John Creasey Dagger, Historical Dagger (3 times) and Diamond Dagger, as well as Theakston's Old Peculiar award (twice), the Edgar and Sweden's Martin Beck award, the Golden Crowbar. His books The American Boy and The Ashes of London were number one best sellers in The Times list. I could go on – there's more! – but I'm going to finish by saying that he's also the most charming and modest man you could hope to meet, with a fine line in wit.

His new book, The Last Protector, has just come out.

Most non-writers assume that lockdown provides the perfect working environment for authors. I’d have done so myself, if I’d thought about the subject in the abstract before it actually happened. After all, during lockdown we have far fewer interruptions, no need to go out and do events, and acres of time just waiting to be filled by the flow of our immaculate words. But, like many authors, I’ve found that it just doesn’t work that way.

I don’t know what impedes the ability to focus on writing. Maybe it’s the low-level anxiety, faint but constant, which lies the background like static on the radio or the weather on the streets. Maybe it’s the economic implications of Covid-19 for all of us who make our living from writing.

My latest book, The Last Protector, came out on 2 April, at a time when bricks-and-mortar booksellers were closed and Amazon was prioritising the sales of hair dye and DIY tools over those of books. Bookshop events, festivals, etc. were cancelled. In the first four weeks, as a result, the print sales were significantly down on the projections, though a noticeable bump in ebook sales partly compensated for this. This is not a complaint. It’s a fact of life. It could be so very much worse.

It doesn’t pay to look too far ahead. I’m currently trying to write the next book in my Marwood and Lovett historical crime series set in Restoration England. (The Last Protector was the fourth in the series.) For me, the writing process almost always begins with setting, rather than character or plot.

I need to know the context of a novel – both the time and place – before I can visualise characters and set them in motion among themselves. For this series, contemporary politics are a vital ingredient, so for me that forms part of the setting. It usually feeds into the storyline as well, often by unexpected routes. The plot comes last of all, by fits and starts, emerging from the interaction between the characters and the setting.

This is not a particularly efficient method of writing fiction but it’s the only one that seems to work for me. We have to make our own rules. One thing I’ve learned during the writing of nearly fifty books is that there’s no one way to do it, no magic formula.

Every author evolves their own methods (which may vary from book to book). I’ve seen a lot of crime writers give themselves unnecessary grief at the start of their careers by trying to follow someone else’s prescription for success. Given the expectations of the genre framework, this can be a particular hazard.

In the end, there’s only one important rule – or rather guideline – for authors, crime novelists included. Writers write. Everything else is a side issue.

Nothing else matters. Because nothing can happen if you don’t get the words down on the page or the screen. Which is a good point for me to stop writing this and start writing my next novel…

1 comment:

Susan D said...

Thanks, Andrew. The concept of "low level static on the radio" says it exactly. The feeling that something else, kind of disturbing, is just hovering nearby. Waiting.