Today I have a brand new guest on my blog: the multi-talented author Beck Robertson. Beck's latest novel, a psychological thriller called One By One, is due for release by Crooked Cat Books in March 2017.
Welcome, Beck! What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?
I was first inspired by a fantastic English teacher I was fortunate to have in High School. He totally sparked my passion for literature by reading aloud the classics and making them come alive.
He was a total one-off: a die-hard leftie socialist at a snobby conservative grammar school. As the poor kid, I naturally gravitated to him. He was never afraid to share his political opinions, and by doing so, forced us all to consider different points of view and stretch our mental boundaries.
He also actively encouraged me to write, and took extra time to comment on my work and tutor me. I will forever owe him a debt of gratitude for recognising and encouraging my love for the written word.
The first thing I wrote outside English classes was some really bad, angst-ridden teenage poetry. I was going through a morbid, gothic phase at the time, so as you can imagine it was truly terrible. However, it was absolutely wonderful to be able to express myself so freely in a way I just couldn't in my day-to-day life.
Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?
My next new release is One By One, a dark serial killer thriller that attempts to delve into the psychology of a psychopath. It's set in London, where I lived for many years, and a location that's always been a big inspiration for me. I actually wrote the book while I was still living there, and even while I was at some of the actual locations that inspired scenes in the novel.
One by One is told from two points of view. One is the killer’s, where you learn how he came to be the deranged individual he evolves into. The other is from the point of view of Jack Grayson, the detective on his trail.
Jack is struggling with issues of his own, such as his workaholic tendencies and his inability to open up, which causes problems in his already fragile marriage. He's quite an old-school detective, who prefers the hands-on approach to policing, and he doesn't always do emotion or technology very well! I felt it would be an interesting juxtaposition to place these two emotionally stunted yet very different characters against each other.
What was the inspiration for this book?
After reading Jon Ronsen's fascinating non-fiction book The Psychopath Test, I found myself pondering the question Are psychopaths born or are they made? This is one of the underlying premises which the story explores.
But years before I even read that book, the germ of the story was in my head, with bits and pieces influenced from sources as varied as the plot-twist-laden works of Ruth Rendell to the seamy strip clubs of Soho!
I also drew on some of my own experiences, both as a London native and from the time I spent on the beat as an assistant crime reporter for a local London newspaper.
Did you do any research for the book?
I did do some research to give the novel a sense of grounding and realism, but I didn't want to write a police procedural, where it's much more important to ensure everything is factually accurate. I wanted the book to be largely story and character driven, so I also employed a hefty whack of artistic licence.
Even though some of the place names in the novel are invented, I did do a fair bit of location-based research. I did this partly because it infuses the description in the book with a bit more life, but also because I found it inspired me to imagine how the characters in the novel would interact in that kind of setting.
What does a typical writing day involve for you?
Putting off getting out of my nice warm bed by reading the news and usually getting into a discussion with my partner about the day's headlines. Morning coffee, then more procrastination on Twitter and Facebook, then in my email.
Then I force myself to actually do some work, first dealing with my Copywriting clients if I have any, and then working on my fiction. When I'm writing a novel I adhere to Steven King's advice and aim to put down at least 2K words a day. When I'm not writing, I'm editing, and the amount I do differs according to my schedule but I usually try to revise 3 or 4 chapters.
I do edit one manuscript and write another simultaneously at times, but it does depend on what else I have cluttering up my schedule. I also spend quite a bit of time before I start writing a novel on constructing a loose outline for the story, as well as a chapter-by-chapter outline, as I find it helps.
After the work day is done, I sometimes read it aloud to my long-suffering partner because it gives me another perspective as to how the story is flowing and often alerts me to clunky phrasing or other things I need to change.
How do you decide on the names for your characters?
I actually never consciously decide this. Usually names seem to arrive in my mind as the most suitable choice for that particular character. After this happens, it's almost as if I couldn't possibly imagine calling them anything else. I've been lucky so far with this, though I have thought about asking people their opinions when it comes to character naming, and might do so in the future.
Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?
I wouldn't call myself a plotter exactly, but as I mentioned before, I do find having a loose outline to adhere to speeds up the writing process. Initially, when I first started writing, I didn't do this and had to learn the hard way that whilst total spontaneity might sound great, on paper it translates to a plot-hole-riddled mess!
Now I always outline before starting any novel, and also like to fill out character profiles for my main characters to get a feel of how they tick.
The outline is flexible though, and changes according to how the story unfolds. I couldn't work with a framework that's too rigid as it would stifle my need to let the story tell itself. I find that the most exciting thing about the writing process is when you're lying in bed at three in the morning and a key part of the plot comes to you that just enriches the story so much more.
Which writers have influenced your own writing?
For crime and thrillers I'm inspired by the work of Brett Easton Ellis, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter, and Harlen Coben. I also loved Gillian Flynn's brilliant novel, Gone Girl. I prefer psychological thrillers that play with your mind and keep you guessing as opposed to highly action-driven novels, and I suppose my work reflects that when I write in the crime genre.
That said, I also enjoy the vivid description and immediacy of crime writer Mark Billingham's work, and I do like to include a fair amount of action scenes in my work too.
What has been the best part of the writing process?
The best thing, hands down, is when a reader tells me they enjoyed something I wrote. There is nothing that could compensate for that feeling, not even money. The other things I enjoy are seeing how a story falls into place as I'm writing, and then of course, finally getting to the end and completing a novel. That's a great feeling of accomplishment.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Just do it. Get words down on the page. Outline before you begin, write your story idea down but put fingers to keyboard, or pen to paper and begin the process of creation. I procrastinated for years before I actually wrote my first novel, and now I wish I hadn't.
Once you've written your first novel, writing the next will still be a challenge – but it will be much, much easier. Nothing is as difficult as getting over that first hurdle.
Also, read everything you can from good writers who have gone before – not just novels they have written, but also any advice they have to give in the actual writing process. I've gained so much this way, though I still have a lot to learn.
Thank you, Beck, for a fascinating discussion. Please come again!
You can find more about Beck on his website.