Mark Haysom had a 30-year career in newspapers ending up as managing director of Mirror Group. His first book Love, Love Me Do is published today.
Their voices wake me in the small hours: I know them so well, I carry them with me at all times. Once awake, I let them rehearse what they have to say, what they need to do. And sometimes they surprise me.
Yes, of course, Truman would do that; Christie would react that way; Baxter would say that; Strachan would flex his shoulders at that point; but for Abby to do that? Then?
They are the five principal characters of the book I’m currently working on – and four of them featured in my first book Love, Love Me Do. And they invariably wake me before dawn.
One of the things I didn’t fully realise when I first started writing is that you have to try to know your characters almost as well as you know yourself, you have to let them possess you. For me it all begins with characters.
No, that’s not quite true. Love, Love Me Do began with a situation – a derelict caravan in a clearing in a forest, a family forced to live there – but it only came to life when my characters began to form in my mind. And only after I had the situation and the characters did the plot begin to take shape.
So I do a lot of thinking before I begin. And then I try to plan the whole novel: I create a spreadsheet, a chapter plan. This helps me to get the overall shape of it. But I leave enough that is half-formed or sketched only hastily in my mind for those surprises to emerge.
I’m at my desk in my study in the basement early each weekday morning and I stay there for five hours or more editing what I did yesterday and then trying to write a thousand new words. I don’t always succeed and I revise constantly. Like all writers, I can obsess over a word, a phrase, a sentence.
If it’s going well, my eyes hardly leave the keyboard, the screen. If it’s not, I look up at the picture that hangs above my desk. It’s “The Cradle of the People’s Literature”, an etching of William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and Queen Elizabeth. It’s a powerful image, an evocative image. It began there, all this book business. It’s been a long journey for me – but I am fortunate to now be a small part of it.
I return to my screen. Try again.