The making of a novel – inspiration & method

The University of Cambridge’s Department of Architecture

I’m celebrating today as my second Cambridge mystery, One Dark Lie, is now available across all ebook platforms. It’s set in the run-up to Christmas: cue lots of snowy pics!


Writing a novel can be a bit of a long, slow process, and encouragement along the way truly helps, so it seems like a good time to share some of the bits of advice and inspiration that have helped keep me going.

Plotting and planning

I know lots of panster writers – those who create their plots as they go, without having any kind of plan when they begin their work. Famous examples include Lee Child, Donna Leon and Ian Rankin.

It goes without saying that they get excellent results! Personally, I’m a scaredy-cat. Jumping in like that would fill me with fear. I plot and plan before I start, but rather than making my writing stilted, it seems to free me up. I know I’ve got a structure to fall back on so I can relax, and because of that the words flow.  If the plot changes whilst I’m writing, that’s fine; I’ve got a recovery plan if things go pear-shaped.

The view towards King’s College from outside Gonville and Caius

My inspiration for planning my novels came from Elizabeth George’s book, Write Away.  She plots even more extensively than I do, which makes me feel quite laid back – perfect for when I want to imagine I’m actually a cool customer who’s happy go with the flow…

Recently, I was also galvanised by this post on first drafts by mystery writer Elly Griffiths. It’s part of a great series on the same topic on Rebecca Bradley’s website,  where you can also find advice for writers of police procedurals and much else besides. (I love Rebecca’s crime novels too!)

My approach

  • I collect ideas that excite me and I think would form the basis of a new mystery.
  • I pick the one that I simply can’t ignore and start mulling it over whilst I’m doing mindless chores.
  • I ponder all the different ways I could approach the central idea, and then pick the one that seems likely to work best.
  • I start teasing out ideas relating to that approach, noting them down on paper or post-it notes.
  • Bit by bit I assemble them into some kind of order, and usually transfer them into an Excel spreadsheet at this stage, with one row for each main plot development. I use other tabs in the same worksheet to record details about characters, settings, etc.
  • As the ideas settle I start to see new patterns in the plot. I end up amalgamating some developments and adding extras here and there until each Excel row represents the contents of one chapter.
  • Once I’ve got to that point, I start to write. I keep updating my word count in Excel so that I know how I’m doing, and I adjust the plot as I go along when new ideas come to me.

For inspiring posts on revisions and edits, I have to turn to Rebecca Bradley’s excellent blog

Snowy lions outside the Fitzwilliam Museum

again. She’s just started a new series on this topic, and Marnie Riches has provided the inaugural post. Like Elly Griffiths above, she has a no-nonsense approach and has to keep to a tight schedule. This makes perfect reading for me when I’m feeling a bit can’t-be-botheredy, haven’t-got-timey. One dose of their words of wisdom and I’m back to thinking, come on Chase, sort your life out. Very beneficial.

My own favourite editing tips are:

  • Leave a gap of a few days between finishing the first draft and editing
  • Read the work aloud – clunky sentences stand out better that way
  • Read the work on Kindle – it’s weird how typos I’ve missed on my computer screen and even on paper leap out at me on my eReader.

I have not read this post on Kindle.  I hope it’s not full of typos…

One Dark Lie – Cambridge Crime – A Ruby Fawcett and Nate Bastable mystery

one-dark-lie-high-resThe truth can hurt, and sometimes it leads to murder …

After becoming embroiled in a murder investigation, Nate Bastable and Ruby Fawcett have decided to opt for the quiet life. But crime has a habit of following them around.

When her work dries up, Ruby finds herself accepting a job researching and writing about Diana Patrick-John, a colourful and enigmatic Cambridge academic. Simple enough. But then there’s the small fact that Diana was found dead in suspicious circumstances in her home – the very place where Ruby has now been invited to stay.

As she begins to uncover Diana’s secret life, Ruby’s sleuthing instinct kicks in, leaving her open to danger and retribution. But can she rely on Nate to support her once again? Especially when his behaviour has become increasingly distant and strange, almost as though he had something to hide …





4 thoughts on “The making of a novel – inspiration & method

  1. Many Congratulations on publication day, Clare. This is a fab post, so helpful and informative. I’m reading One Dark Lie as we speak and so enjoying the story. Great to learn how you plot/approach your writing. Have a wonderful day! 🙂 X

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love that photo of Cambridge in the snow, Clare! What an interesting post, I like the way you collect ideas and mull over them whilst doing mindless chores (ironing is always a good one for me-although I’m not a huge ironing fan, also driving with no music, alone seems to bring ideas from nowhere too). I’m a big fan of Rebecca’s first draft posts, such a good idea. Good luck with One Dark Lie (great cover!), and best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy 2017 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Anita! I agree about ironing – normally I hate it, but it’s perfect for plotting purposes! I hope you have a lovely Christmas too, and all the very best for the New Year! x


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