Ep 307 Meet Christian White, author of ‘The Wife and the Widow’.

In Episode 307 of So You Want To Be A Writer: Learn tips to overcome your shyness at literary events. Meet Christian White, author of The Wife and the Widow. Discover how you could win a $10,000 advance for your manuscript. We also have three copies of Salvation Lost by Britain’s number one science-fiction writer, Peter F. Hamilton, to give away.

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Show Notes

New children’s literature prize from HarperCollins

9 ways to squash your shyness at literary events

Writer in Residence

Christian White

Christian White is an Australian author and screenwriter. His debut novel, The Nowhere Child, won the 2017 Wheeler Centre Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript and was in June through Affirm Press and in multiple territories around the world in 2019.

The Wife and the Widow is his second book.

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Interview Transcript

Valerie

Christian, thanks so much for joining us today.

Christian

Thank you so much for having me.

Valerie

Congratulations on your second novel…

Christian

Thank you very much.

Valerie

The Wife and the Widow. And if it’s going to be as successful as your first one, it’s just going to go through the roof.

Christian

Fingers crossed.

Valerie

Yeah! So just for some of the readers who haven’t read the book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

Christian

Yeah, sure. So The Wife and the Widow, it’s a mystery told from two different perspectives. The wife of a man who disappears, and the wife of a man accused of murder. And it’s set in kind of a little sleepy seaside coastal town but in the dead of winter. It’s one of these towns where in the summer it’s really touristy and it’s bustling with summer people. But in the winter, all those people drift away and all these big empty holiday houses.

And it’s based on, it’s a fictional town called Bellport on a fictional island, but it’s loosely based on the area where I’m living at the minute, which is Ocean Grove on the Bellarine Peninsula. And it’s just that during summer it’s crazy. You can’t find a park, and everyone, the beaches are packed. But in winter it just takes on a different feeling. And there’s a fun eeriness about it that I really wanted to capture. And I think everyone knows a town like that so it’s pretty exciting to set something in a place like that.

Valerie

And how did you come up with the premise of this book?

Christian

I think it was… You know, it’s difficult. I think one of the things, the way I get ideas is really they just pop into my head. But then as I examine them further I begin to maybe decide, sort of discover where they came from subconsciously. And I think with this, it’s all about these women who learn a whole load of secrets about the people, about their husbands. And it sort of asks this question, how well do we really know the people we love?

Which is obviously something I guess that I’m fascinated with, because my first book, The Nowhere Child, really deals with that kind of question as well. And it’s weird, but I think it’s seeded in a really weird way from a really weird place. My wife is into amateur taxidermy. Which sounds completely bizarre. And it’s sort of explored in the book. But she didn’t reveal that to me until we were deep in our relationship.

So we’d just moved in together into this little flat and I was helping her unpack her things and there was this cooler container, an Esky. And I was putting away what she’d brought from her previous house, which was frozen vegies and ice cream and stuff like that. And then I came across this weird plastic bag, this kind of solid shape in a plastic bag. And I thought, what’s this? And I kind of opened it to peek inside. And first I saw, I remember very clearly, first I saw brown fur and then I saw an eye looking back at me. And then suddenly, like a horror movie, she appeared behind me over my shoulder. “What are you doing?” And I said, “what is this?” And she said, “Oh, I’m into amateur taxidermy.”

And I thought, who the hell is this woman? Who have I invited into my home and into my life? You know? So ever since then, it’s just such a compelling concept. She was into amateur taxidermy which, you know, isn’t the worst thing. But what if you discovered your loved one was a murderer? Or they had all these secrets that kind of change the way you thought of them.

And there’s something really fascinating and terrifying about that. The book opens with Kate, who is waiting for her husband to arrive home from a business trip. She’s at an airport waiting for him to arrive. And he doesn’t show up, which is kind of creepy enough. But then she calls his work and says, has there been a misunderstanding? He was meant to land at this certain time. And they say, oh, ma’am, he hasn’t worked here for three months.

There’s something about that that’s just so terrifying to me. And just something that… Well, I do anyway, I depend so much on the people that are closest to me. And just to have that rug pulled out from underneath me is one of, probably my biggest fear. So I guess it’s all about exploring that.

But like I said, that wasn’t… I never went into it with that in mind. Not consciously, anyway. I just kind of follow the story. Recently, I had this interview, had sort of a meeting with some producers about an adaptation of the first book, The Nowhere Child. And they said, “you know, I really love that every character you’ve written is going through an identity crisis.” And I said to them, well, yes, you know, and I made up this big lie. But really, that was completely by accident.

So I think that all I do is follow the characters and the story and I think that hopefully all that other stuff is intuitive. All those things.

Valerie

Yes. Firstly, I think that that’s awesome how you incorporated your wife’s taxidermy in one of the characters. Now, as you say, it opens with this scene of Kate at the airport. And husband doesn’t turn up, then subsequently she discovers he hasn’t worked at his workplace for the last three months.

So of course that is a scary scenario to find yourself in and a very stressful one. But how did you then think… Did you first start with that scenario and then have to find the answer? Or did you already know what the husband had been doing when you wrote that scenario?

Christian

When that idea popped into my head, I had zero idea what the husband had been up to. Similar with The Nowhere Child, the first, that idea popped into my head as one single scene which was a woman gets approached by a man who says, oh, I think you were kidnapped as a little girl. Who you think your parents are, are your kidnappers.

The very same thing for this. I had this very, very clear image of this woman waiting at the airport, and waiting and waiting and waiting. And you know that feeling so well because every time you pick someone up from the airport, eventually they come out of those doors. But there is this weird, I don’t know, this weird fear. And I think that that came to me very early.

And then first it was the idea of just someone not turning up and then chasing that up. And then I thought, logically, what would you do? You’d call his work. And then the scariest thing you could hear is oh no, he’s not been here for three months. So all of a sudden you’re thinking, where is he now? But where the hell has he been?

And so what I have to do then is kind of figure out the rest. And the way I work is I usually have these little… I could call them research now because I’m an official bona fide writer. But really they’re just these topics that I procrastinate with. These little obsessions I get that I try to kind of bring into the story.

So I knew I wanted this little setting, this little island town. So I knew I wanted somehow for it to connect there. I knew I wanted to add a little flavour of taxidermy. I also knew, I’m going to be annoyingly vague now, because it’s a spoiler, but I also knew where the story ends up going, I knew vaguely that I wanted to head in that direction, but I had no idea how it would get there.

Valerie

Right. So essentially, you had to fill in the journey in between. So when you set about doing that, do you plot it out? Or do you kind of just write and see where the characters take you and hope that they take you into a place that makes sense? How do you actually, on a practical level, work out all of the bits so that it makes sense, and is satisfying, and believable for the reader?

Christian

Well, I kind of do a bit of both. So firstly I do plan a lot. But usually what happens, what’s happened with the first two books anyway, is that I have what I think is an airtight really compelling plot from beginning to end. I spend quite a bit of time going through, ironing it out, and certain scenes come to me and there’s little bits and pieces.

But then inevitably, about halfway through, the characters generally just take over. Which seems a pretentious thing to say, but they really do have a mind of their own. But also you get to know them better as you write them. When you’re planning, really you’re just thinking about the plot and your character will do anything you want to service that plot. But when you get into the weeds you realise, oh, they wouldn’t necessarily do those things.

The example I use is you might have this great idea for a scene where a character runs into a burning building to rescue a photo album. And it happens toward the end of the book and it means that because of this cool scene, X, Y and Z will happen after. And it’s going to be amazing. But when you reach that scene, you’ve got to know that character better and you know, oh, she would never run into a burning building. That’s just not here.

So I think that my rule, and it can be a very, very frustrating rule, but it’s to always follow the character. If I’m reading a book, or watching a TV show or a movie, I think characters are allowed to do stupid things, because we all do stupid things. But if they do something so out of character and so plot-serving that you can see the writers’ fingerprints, that the characters are servicing the plot, I completely disengage straight away.

So I’m really, really, really, really conscious of that. And what ends up happening, what’s happened so far anyway, is that your characters lead you to more interesting and unpredictable places. And I think that there is an element of letting things happen. Stephen King describes writing as sort of an archaeological dig site. Where the bones and the fossils just under the dirt, you’ve just got to brush it away and find the story. So there’s certainly an element of that.

But I think, I’m also, because I’m a nervous writer, I need to make that plot just as a safety net for myself. Amazing writers, like Michael Robotham, he won’t plan anything. He just sits down and writes it and goes for it. And it turns out wonderfully. And I’m just too scared to do that. And I think ultimately, quite often, the exercise of writing a plan is just to give myself a safety net, something to refer back to, just if I get too scared.

Valerie

Interesting. So you let the characters take you where they should go, but you feel this need for the safety net. Now when you have your safety net, though, when you are clearly… You said you create a watertight plot. Whether or not it ends up like that is another thing. But you start with that at the outset. So when you plot that out, how long does that take you? And to what level are you plotting? Are you doing it scene by scene? Are you doing it by chapter? Are you doing vaguely, this is one page of the plot? What level of plotting?

Christian

Usually, it’s funny, because usually I’ll spend… Time really varies dramatically. With The Nowhere Child, I probably spent a week plotting. With the second book, The Wife and the Widow, I spent a lot more plotting, and actually went back and plotted every now and then. And usually what happens is my document, my plotting document will look like this. It’ll have, for example, prologue, and it’ll have this very, very detailed prologue and it’s all these great images that come to my mind. And then it’ll say, chapter one, and it’ll get a little bit lighter in detail. And by the end of it, it’s just dot points.

It’s like that first day, remember that first day of school where you would get out your… I went to school, there were computers around, but I wrote in a textbook. I’m 38. And I remember that first day of class, you would rule up the page really nicely, you’d write really well. But by the end of it, you’re just throwing everything in there.

And it’s kind of like that with the plot where by the end of it, it’s shorthand. And I’m just leaving… There’s certain scenes that I’ll flesh out if they come to my mind at the time. But other scenes I very much depend on the future version of myself to figure that out when I get there.

And every now and then that’s annoying because sometimes I will fudge a plot point. I’ll say something like, David figures out that Celeste was there that night. And then I get to that point and like, well, how the hell is he going to figure that out? So sometimes, it’s problematic. But usually…

The trouble is there’s these conflicting parts of my brain where I really want to plot it out to be safe, but the other part of me just wants to start writing. And the more you plot, the more you feel, the deeper you get into the story and the more excited you get, and the more you just want to put not pen to paper but fingertips to keys. That urge gets stronger and stronger.

So usually, yeah, usually the first half of my plot, really detailed. Second half, I’m just banging it out to get to the writing process. Because that’s the best part. I’m lucky in the fact that I’ve never really suffered, touch wood, never suffered from writer’s block or anything like that. My output has never been my problem. I love the craft of it. My problem has always been on the other end of things – showing people my work. And getting over that fear, that fear of failure and fear of people thinking you’re a fraud. That’s always the stuff I struggle with.

So the actual writing is so, so fun to me that I’m often in a rush to get there. God knows if I’ve answered your question. I feel like I’m rambling…

Valerie

No, no, you have. You have. Well, can you give me just a vague timeline of when you came up with the premise of this book, and then your plotting period and then your first draft period, and so on. Just so that people can get an idea of the gestation from idea to now.

Christian

Yeah, of course. Well, this was… The Wife and the Widow was very different from The Nowhere Child because with The Nowhere Child I had a million years to write it. Because there were no expectations. I didn’t think it would ever really be published. I hoped it would. But there was a sort of freedom in that.

But with this, I had this wonderful problem which was the first book was received really well, and there were people waiting for another one. I had a deadline. So all of a sudden, I had a deadline, an audience, which were two huge things that I didn’t have with the first book. So I only had a year to write the second book. The first book took me probably three plus years to write. So automatically it was a tighter turnaround. I had the luxury though of it’s my fulltime job now, so I could just focus on it. But I knew that I had to work quickly for that deadline.

So I’d say I probably plotted for a week or two. And then I wrote a near complete first draft. And again I’m going to have to be vague here, but I had this kind of… There’s a significant twist in the book that I won’t mention. But I knew very early on that I wanted that twist, but I had no idea how I was going to pull it off. And I kind of thought, well, I’ll figure it out when I get there. I’ll figure it out when I get there. And then I got to it, and I didn’t figure it out.

So after my first draft, which probably took maybe three months, I went back and I plotted again and again. And actually, the answer came, I was all ready to abandon the twist, and I was freaking out really, saying, oh, I’ve wasted all this time, and what am I going to do now? And all this sort of stuff.

And then I have this very good resource. My wife Summer is a born storyteller. It’s in her blood. Her father was a very prolific screenwriter in the 70s and 80s. He wrote these ridiculously insane horror movies like Razorback and Long Weekend and Patrick. So it’s in her blood. And so often, when I’m desperate, I will throw a load of questions at her. And that’s what I did this time. We went for a walk around this lake near where we live, and I said, you know, I’ve got this real problem. This is what I want to achieve but I have no idea how to. And I kind of laid it all out for her and she just said… She was kind of quiet for a few steps. And then she said, well what if this happens and then this happens which would mean this happens?

And it was so wonderfully annoying because that was the answer. It was all laid out. So as soon as I had that key, that just unlocked so much. So then I went back to the drawing board and I think it was… I’m trying to think. Probably another couple of months addressing… Because what you need to do is when you reach, when you figure out that twist and make it work, then you need to go back and make it look like you had that in your mind all along, which quite often you don’t. With the first book, I had a completely different ending in mind. So I had to go back and do that.

And then the editorial process lasted probably two months. So it really… It moved so quickly…

Valerie

Do you mean the structural edit?

Christian

Yeah. Well the structural edit probably lasted, we probably went back and forth for about a month. And then the copy edit was probably another month.

Valerie

Sure, yeah.

Christian

But it was such a tight turnaround that the time between when I found The Nowhere Child was going to be published and it actually being published I think was about six months, or maybe even a little bit longer. So I had time to step back from it and think about it and appreciate it. But this book, I think this was partly because there was such a tight turnaround but also partly because I wrote it assuming it would expose me as the fraud I really am. So I think that maybe that was part of it.

But I really, right toward the end, I had no idea. I remember saying to my editor, this is good, isn’t it? And she was like, yeah, this is good. I really had no idea because I hadn’t had that chance to step back from the canvas. And I lost perspective. And now I… It took a few…  It’s been well received, thank god. And people are saying that it’s better than the first one, which is exactly what I wanted to hear. But it wasn’t until I heard those voices and heard those opinions that I relaxed a little bit. Because I really just had no idea.

And sometimes it’s like that when you write. Certain things you know, okay, this is working. I know is a cool idea and I know this is strong. But every now and then you think, I have no idea. I have no idea if it’s good or not. And it’s a terrifying thing that you just need that time, which we didn’t have on this one.

Valerie

So this is the second novel. And how much did pressure play into it? Because not only is it your second novel and obviously you want to prove that it wasn’t a one hit wonder, the previous one wasn’t a one hit wonder. But the first one was so ridiculously well-received and well deserved, obviously. But that adds even more pressure onto it. Did you feel that? And if so, how did you manage that?

Christian

Yeah, I definitely felt it. So I get all these wonderful emails from readers around the world. And most of them are absolutely beautiful and kind and say lovely things. But most of them would sign off with a variation of ‘can’t wait for your next book.’ And slowly but surely, I sort of developed a bit of an anxiety. I never did this, but I felt like writing back saying, well, don’t get your hopes up! Maybe it’ll be terrible! I wanted to manage their expectations. So this intense pressure.

You know, imposter syndrome, I think a lot of writers have imposter syndrome. And it’s this beast that I think it can be tormenting, but it’s also slightly necessary, I think. Having this fear, having this imposter syndrome makes you strive to be a better writer, and makes you aim for the story to be better and everything. But it can also, yeah, be debilitating. Because if you let it get too loud, that voice in your head, you start second guessing everything.

There was a period… About the first half of the writing process for me, I really, I felt a lot of pressure and felt a lot of anxiety about it. And it was hard to talk to people about it because I kind of feel a bit like, oh yeah, big problems! You’ve got a good successful first book. Thanks arsehole! You know? So I really was worried, it was hard to talk about.

But I did start to talk about it and somewhere along the way I managed to kind of keep those voices at bay. And it was because I kind of went into this – this is going to make me sound very pretentious, but I have I call it my writing philosophy. And my writing philosophy is just to write things that I would want to read myself.

I think somewhere in the first half of the writing process, I sort of lost sight of that. And I became obsessed with, oh is too much like the first book, is it not enough like the first book? And then as soon as I leaned into that, into my writing philosophy, I was kind of able to keep all the voices at bay. Of course, they came rushing back as soon as I was done. But that was really, that was how I managed it.

I’ve signed for my third book now, third and fourth book with Affirm Press now. And I’ve been asking authors, I do panels with amazing authors, and I’ve been asking them, oh yeah, so I assume it gets better after the second book. The second book is really hard, third book is easier, right? And they all just sort of shake their head. And I need to get comfortable being uncomfortable is the message, basically.

But as I say, it’s a really wonderful problem to have. And I think with the second book I was lucky that it has been well-received. Because it is kind of a… It’s still a mystery thriller. But it is quite a different story than the first one. And I think that what that allowed me now is the freedom to write something different again for the third one. I’ll stick to the same genre, at least for a while.

But it’s sort of about that as well. There’s a lot of pressure on the second book, not just because you want people to like it, but also you’re kind of setting yourself up then as… If you’re not a one hit wonder, what kind of writer are you going to be? And what can an audience expect from your writing? And there’s a lot of that sort of thing that I think are thumping around in your head, consciously and subconsciously.

So I do think… Now I’ll probably next year I’ll probably be saying that the third one was impossible. But I do think the third one will be a little easier at least in that sense. And I’ve also negotiated myself two years to write the next one, so at least I’ll have a little bit more breathing room.

Valerie

So you’ve also worked as a screenwriter. Now that’s a very different kind of process and maybe that’s where your plotting things come from, because that has to be… Often, screenplays are plotted out within an inch of their life, almost scene by scene.

Christian

Yes.

Valerie

How do you… What’s the difference in the process for you? Is it more liberating to write in this way? Is one more enjoyable than the other?

Christian

Yeah. I mean, they’re really different beasts. And I find myself… They’re both enjoyable in their own ways. But screenwriting is definitely… They’re both really collaborative. So even writing a book is very collaborative because you’re working with your publisher and your editor. And in my case, my wife, I’m getting ideas off my wife.

But screenwriting is collaborative in a way that you are part of the finished product, but it’s often not necessarily your vision or in particular your voice. You need to find parts of yourself to bring to it. And that can be really exciting and compelling because you work with all these other amazing writers and you get this feeling that you’re working together to build something bigger.

But with writing a book, you write a finished product. With a script you hand it on to someone else and it’s a document to give to producers and actors and all that sort of stuff. And funding bodies. But with a book, you have something finished and whole that is really completely yours. So I think that for me that’s a much more satisfying end result.

And I think that the process is similar. Obviously, writing a novel is a lot harder, there’s a lot more work involved. But you can definitely, the skills I’ve learned in screenwriting, I definitely use them when I’m writing novels. For example, every time I finish a chapter I imagine in my head that it’s going to a commercial break. So you want the audience to come back after the commercial break, so it needs to be a big enough hook. So there’s a lot of that sort of stuff involved.

And of course, the obvious stuff. The dialogue. And with screenwriting, you need to be really economic in the way you write. You need to really get the message across with as few words as you can, and I think that makes for a compelling thriller when you’re reading a novel. And if there’s not too much fluff, as I call it, it just reads faster and it reads better. Having said that, I still put in a lot of fluff. My editor, she takes out a lot of stuff that’s just rubbish and filler. But you start to see those sort of things.

And little things, like, when you’re writing a script you’ll never show someone walking into a room and leaving a room. The audience just knows, they can figure that part out for themselves. I’m always thinking about that.

And often in my first drafts, I will… Pretty much every time, every single chapter, the first paragraph usually ends up getting cut. Because often you’re setting the scene and you don’t realise until later, oh, you don’t even really need that. Readers are very, very smart.

And I think that what you do when you write a script, and certainly what I do in novels is that it’s just as important what you decide to keep out. I think that… Recently I got an email from someone who, you know, the first book is set predominantly in Kentucky. And I got an email from someone from Kentucky who had moved away and it said, you know, reading those Kentucky scenes, it reminded me of home. And I sent back, thank you very much. But really, I just cheated. I just left out enough information and the reader filled them in.

I think reading is such an interactive pastime. When you watch a movie or watch TV, it’s really passive. All the work’s been done for you. But when you read a book, your imagination is conjuring up all these things. And that’s why I think it’s way more rewarding to read a book. But also, I don’t know, you can really play with that. And the two mediums, the screen and the novel, they kind of feed into one another.

That’s why I say, whenever anyone asks me, you know, what should I study if I want to be a novelist? I often say, study screenwriting, because it really just teaches you… It teaches you things you already know in a way. Because as viewers and readers, we’re pretty in tune to story. And sometimes it just about talking about those things and being taught those things that you recognise them more. And you can just play with them a bit more. And I think that’s how it’s worked for me, anyway.

Valerie

I think the screen experience, yes, you can tell that you have that kind of background because of the things that you’ve said. And I can already see this as a mini-series. And even one of your characters, their last name is already Keddie. So I think you’re just sorted out, sorted.

Christian

Was that too subtle? I mean, was that enough?

Valerie

Now, can you give listeners a little bit of an idea, apart from screenwriting, just a really brief potted history of your career so far. So you’re 38. Just so that people can get an idea of what you’ve been doing til now, now that you are fulltime writing.

Christian

Yeah. So I’m 38. And I’ve only been fulltime writing for probably two years. I spent a good chunk of my… All of my 20s and a good chunk of my 30s trying to be a writer. Trying to make it. I had a very clear idea when I was young that I would be a published successful writer by the age of 25. And I was very surprised when 25 came and went and I still wasn’t this published successful writer.

So I really just kept slogging away. And in the meantime, I’ve worked a million casual jobs. I’ve worked for… I picked apples for a while, I drove a little food cart around a golf course selling sandwiches, I worked… I’ll preface this by saying I’m not a disgusting person, but for a couple of years I worked as a video editor at an adult film company, which is crazy. Another whole chapter of my life that doesn’t seem real when I remember it.

But all that time, I was just kind of slogging away, finding hours to write after hours. And at work when I could and on weekends. And it was funny because somewhere along the way this very clear image, I was always fantasising about being published and being successful, and really not even successful, just making enough from my writing to work from home fulltime. But somewhere along the way this image came to me which was me and I’m like 96 or 97 and I’m dead and my grandkids are cleaning out my assisted living unit. And there’s this drawer that they open and this big pile of dusty cobwebby unpublished manuscripts. And as soon as that image came to me I thought, that’s not the end of the world. If that’s my fate, then that’s kind of a cool thing. I’m just going to keep writing. And it was funny that as soon as I stopped writing to be a writer and just was writing for the joy of it, that’s really when things began to change for me. And I think that…

Valerie

Wow.

Christian

Yeah. It was weird. People say, how long did it take to write The Nowhere Child. And like I said, it took two or three years. But really, it took 15, 16, 17 years, because I had to write so much bad stuff during that period. And I just kind of had to find my voice. So really, I spent a good chunk of time just slogging away and hoping I would make it. But really, my happiness didn’t depend on that. I decided very early on what success meant for me. And I decided that I was happy working casual jobs and just supporting my writing habit. It’s like a drug habit. I was very happy to do that. Obviously, I was way happier to actually get published and make a living out of it, of course.

But I just kind of kept going. And now that it’s… It’s an absolute gift that I get to do this fulltime now, of course. But really, it was just kind of… Now I get to do fulltime what I had to fit into little corners of my time. So looking back it was good because it taught you, it kind of taught me not to be…

You know, I couldn’t be precious with my time. I might have an hour here and there and I had to make that work. And it sort of taught me accountability, too. I just knew that I could do it or I couldn’t. What’s the… It taught me accountability. If I didn’t do it, well, it’s on me. If that makes sense? It was just, yeah, if I was going to do it, I had to do it myself. And that’s what that era of my life taught me.

Valerie

So when you are in the thick of writing, so after you’ve plotted and you’re doing first draft, like when you spent those three months doing the first draft, do you have some kind of writing routine? Like do you have to go to a particular cafe to kick off the day? Do you ensure that you reach a certain word count? Do you have to write in a particular spot? What does that look like on a practical level?

Christian

So for me, I generally work from home. 15 feet from my bed with my dog. So it’s super comfort zone, you know. And I do have word counts, but they vary. So if I’m writing a first draft, I will try to get at least 1000 words done a day. I usually try to do a little bit more, just to kind of feel a bit more productive.

When I’m doing a second draft, I find I usually try to do 1500 or 2000. Just because I find a second draft is much easier because you’ve, for me anyway, I’ve got out everything out on the page. I’ve vomited it out on to the page and now it’s just this fun thing of making that good. And I find that I’m much quicker at doing that.

And also I do this thing that my father, he’s passed away now, but my father in law, my wife’s dad who I was talking about earlier who was a writer, he taught me this great thing where he said he ends every writing day right before a scene that he’s really excited to write. And I do that every single day. So I will write up to a scene that, yeah, there’s certain scenes that I just can’t wait to sink my teeth into. And I always write up to right before that scene so first thing in the morning, I’m anxious to jump out of bed and jump onto the computer and get into it. So I think that that’s really important too.

I also find I do my best work in the morning. And I’m at my computer all day, but I also don’t give myself a hard time. If I’ve reached my wordcount, that’s okay. And if in the afternoon I procrastinate, usually what will end up happening is I’ll get on YouTube with good intentions, I will think, okay, I’m going to research something. I will think, okay, I’m going to research something. And then YouTube comes up and before I’ve even typed anything in, there’s 16 videos that I have to watch. And YouTube knows this!

Valerie

Yes!

Christian

It knows this so well. And it’s like Bigfoot caught on trail cam and I’m like, oh, okay, well now I’ve got to watch that video. So I usually, my afternoon is often I get sucked into that.

But I’ve learned not to give myself a hard time about that. Because early on when I was working fulltime as a writer, I put this pressure on myself to nine to five, it’s a proper job now, you’ve got to be at your computer, you’ve got to be working. And it just doesn’t… My mind just doesn’t do that. I get probably three or four really good writing hours a day and it’s sort of spaced out, often.

But beyond that, I can feel, I’ve sort of – and most writers can probably do this – you can kind of feel when you… There’s a shift in your brain. And all of a sudden you’re writing rubbish. I know straight away, as soon as I start writing rubbish, it’s usually about the 2, 2:30 mark, and I’m like, okay, I’m going to stop. And just step away. And I think that’s just as important, I think, not putting, not giving yourself too hard a time.

Valerie

And now, you’ve obviously got your third and fourth book contracted, which is fantastic. Congratulations.

Christian

Thank you. Thank you.

Valerie

And you’ve got a bit more time. Have you already thought about what your third book is about?

Christian

Yeah. Well I actually have what I think at the moment is a very, very great solid wonderful airtight plan for the third book.

Valerie

Oh, already!

Christian

Yeah, I’ve plotted that out. But as I said before, it will get derailed about halfway through. But I won’t start writing it until probably January, I think. I’m going to give myself a little… I’ve been working on some screenwriting projects. I’m going to focus on that and then come the new year I’m going to get stuck into it.

I’m going to try not to think about it, the plot anyway, between now and then to see how it settles. But yeah, as always happens, I’ll get back to it and think, oh, this is fantastic, and I’ll get halfway through and realise well, actually, that plot point doesn’t make sense and this is better. So I’m ready to get started properly but it’s still early stages.

Valerie

And finally, what’s your top three tips to aspiring writers who hope to be in a position like you are one day, being able to write full time?

Christian

I think that… My top three, number three and two would be, and these are very boring ones, which is to read a lot and write a lot. I think that it’s this thing where you ask someone how do I lose weight? And the boring answer is you gotta eat well and exercise. And it sucks, because it’s boring. But that’s really the secret, I think.

And number one, and I’m not sure if this is specific to me, but number one for me is do not wait until your work is perfect to send it off. If you’re thinking about sending it off to an agent or a publisher, just do it. Because your work is never going to be perfect. And I wasted years and years and years before I showed anyone anything. The Nowhere Child was actually the fifth manuscript I attempted and the second one I finished. And only the first even showed anyone. So I think that’s a really good thing to remember.

And it’s terrifying. But what I’ve learned is that editors and publishers and agents, no one is looking for the perfect story. They’re all looking for a good story that they can help make better. So I think that if you’re thinking about it and you’re stressing about making it perfect, just send it off. My manuscript of The Nowhere Child, it was, the basis was there but I had misspelled ‘waste’ wrong every single time. Every second scene someone was walking on crunchy dead leaves. There were so many mistakes. It was riddled with mistakes. So just don’t wait until it’s perfect. Because it never ever will be perfect. That’s my number one tip.

Valerie

All right. Awesome. Congratulations on The Wife and the Widow and thank you so much for joining us today.

Christian

Thank you so much for having me.


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