Several Years Ago
I’m sitting on a small (it feels small at the moment) yacht in the middle of the Atlantic with a seasick cat (Black Sebastian, fearless pirate, currently an unhappy bundle of fluff wedged in a safe corner) with the world going mad. Lots of lightning. Fresh wet stuff falling down all round to mingle with all the salty wet stuff leaping up from below. And I’m wondering what on earth (and how I wish I was on earth – good muddy stuff that doesn’t go up and down) I am doing here. And who is this Humility character who keeps telling me things about the way she grew up?
It got better. West Indies. Sunshine. Rum. And idle days wondering whether I would ever get round to writing that book. That one with the odd girl in it. I didn’t know much about her except her name and that she lived on an old Dutch barge based somewhere that might have been Hamble (near Southampton). And somehow the idea grew and the first draft of A Kind of Puritan sort of happened. I’ve seldom enjoyed writing anything more – except the moment about a third of the way in when I realised I was wrong about who the killer was. This is a disconcerting experience. It makes me wonder who’s in charge of my brain (not me, clearly). I rapidly re-read what I had written and discovered that my current brain driver was relatively competent since she seemed to have put in most of the right clues to the right killer even if I hadn’t known about it at the time. I realised quite quickly that this revision to the killer’s identity was a definite improvement and told my subconscious to interfere whenever she felt like it. When my editor later told me that he thought Puritan was wonderful, and all sorts of other things every writer wants to hear, ‘except that the plot sags between pages 67 and 143’ I realised he was right, too. Advice to writers: do what feels right, but don’t ignore suggestions.
I think I wrote Puritan without a strong conviction it was publishable: it was just a story I wanted to tell. You can imagine how grateful I was to win Crème de la Crime’s competition and have both the guarantee of publication and the publicity that goes with it. I don’t enter many writing competitions (there aren’t enough out there for novels) but they are a good way of forcing yourself to work to a deadline. It’s so easy just to give in to the call from a friend (or that second glass of wine) and discover that you’ve just lost another day’s writing time. Displacement activities – is that what I’ve just being doing? Oh dear. - Penny Deacon