I always write a first draft on inspiration alone. I’ll think it over for a long time, construct sentences in my head, go over them again and again – probably forget an awesome line or two because I didn’t write it down before I fell asleep – then I’ll eventually have the opening to start with, and I’ll go from there. With Rohypnol, it all came to me in the order it’s now written. Originally, I didn’t have an ending, but I worked through that as part of the process with Christos – he was the one who said it needed to come back to Aleesa.
I normally try to leave a first draft a few weeks before I go back to it, so I can read it with fresh eyes. If it’s not working after I’ve left it, then it’s probably not working, and it might be best to move onto something else. I do this for all my short stories and longer works, going through, section by section.
Attention to detail is the key. I always say, attention to detail is the difference between good and great. In my head, I know the entire history of each character in the book, but you only get a part of each in the novel. I researched a lot more than what’s in the pages, I wrote more content than what’s there, but it didn’t fit with the flow, it slowed the momentum, etc. The important note here is knowing that detail is important. If your character is faced with a situation, it’s his upbringing and experience that will dictate how he responds. By the end of the novel, I knew how each character would react to pretty much any situation – this is, I guess, where you could say the characters start to ‘write themselves’. That’s totally not true, your characters are never going to work themselves out – it’s the work you put in, how much work you put in that will enable you to understand their responses and reactions. The better you know your characters and the world you’ve created, the more authentic and realistic it will be. Attention to detail, knowing not just the foreground, but the background in each scene as well, is crucial.
I honestly never thought Rohypnol was going to get published. I’d finished the draft (without a sold ending) and I’d got a bit stuck and I kind of figured that it was a good first try at a novel, now I can take what I’ve learned and write something better. It was then that I got word that it had been accepted into the mentorship program and I worked with Christos Tsiolkas. I guess a key note here is you need to get your stuff out there. If you’ve done all you can, send it out, get as many people to read it as possible. People will come back with different notes and criticisms, so you need to be strong in knowing what you want to achieve, but all those notes are valuable. You just need one person to connect with it and it could change everything, and the more you get your stuff out there, the more potential you have to get readers – so long as your skin is thick enough to deal with the criticisms that could come with that.
I try to write a thousand words a day. This has been benched several times over the years – I have two kids, so this is definitely not always possible – but making yourself write, staying with it, is a good way to keep your creative mind open at all times. For Rohypnol, I did most of the writing at night, while my girlfriend was at work, and I’d have a million Post-it Notes with little things that had come to me at work or in the car, things to fix up, check and refine