On the process of writing

My great-grandparents were weavers in a croft on the west coast of Scotland, and I often feel that the process of writing must be similar to what they did – trying to create a rich, coherent and completely convincing pattern out of words, ideas, characters and events. I think that the crime mystery novel is a particularly good vehicle for this, with its inherent demands for structure, pace and resolution. The detective (or in my case detectives, for my central characters, Brock and Kolla, form a team) is the reader’s guide into the mystery, working forward in time through the investigation and at the same time backwards through the history of the other characters. There will be false trails certainly, but these should not be spurious tricks on the reader, but instead should be integral to the story, revealing some partial truth along the way. It is rather like an archaeological dig, working down through the layers of time until finally the whole story is revealed. It’s nice if this final revelation is surprising, perhaps shocking, but it must also seem somehow right and inevitable.

When I’m writing my stories I, like the reader and the detectives, am not certain what I’m going to discover. At the end of my initial period of plotting and research, perhaps three to six months, I have certain probabilities in mind, but it isn’t until I’m actually writing that the full possibilities of the story become apparent to me, and it may not be until the very end that I discover the full and final picture. That makes the process quite hair-raising, because it isn’t always clear that there is going to be a really satisfying answer at the end of the day, and sometimes I despair of finding it. I like it when a reader tells me, ‘I reckoned I’d got the answer around page 200; then the detectives came to the same conclusion about page 250, and I thought, I beat you to it. But then I realised there were still 50 pages to go, and we must both be wrong.’