Friday, 20 July 2012

How I write....

Today we’re talking to Roz Southey, author of the Charles Patterson musical mystery series, about how she writes. The first book in the series, “Broken Harmony”, is promo-priced this month at 79p/$1.23.

 Did you set out to create a series-based character, or was that accidental?

Yes, for two reasons. One is mercenary: a writer’s books are more likely to remain in print if they are in a series - people finding later books always want to go back and read the first ones - and secondly (and chiefly), it allows the writer to develop the main character (or in my case, four main characters) over a period of time, showing them growing and changing which makes them much more real.

How do you structure the layout and plot lines of your books? Do you have a clear plot line, or do things twist, turn and develop as you go along?

I start writing with a clear idea of roughly what’s going to happen…but I have thought about the basic idea for some months beforehand and at some point I start seeing scenes in my mind: the opening scene, a couple if climactic scenes in the middle - usually the last scene too. When those characters in those scenes start talking to me, I know it‘s time to start writing. The first draft is always in long hand and then I transfer it to my computer for editing and tidying. I always build the books around a true event, person or trend from the 18th century. I liken this first draft to the sort of research I do as an academic: I’m not making any of it up; I’m finding out what happened. My subconscious mind is free to offer me all sorts of characters and plot twists that my conscious mind just wouldn’t come up with. Then I have to plan the novel in detail from the first draft, cutting or enlarging and making sure the plot hangs together an makes sense. This becomes the second draft, then finally when I’m convinced the structure is right I move on to tidying the language etc.

What is a typical writing day for you?

I like to start my writing day around 7:45am and I’ll do an hour or so, then have a walk and then another couple of hours. This is the really serious stuff and I’m at my best in the morning…and then I ease back a little over lunchtime and then get back into it mid-afternoon until around 5pm…and I LOVE Mondays as I always feel fresh, but it’s important to write regularly and treat it in a business-like way. I tend not to set myself a daily word limit.

 How do you go about your research?

I was lucky in that almost all of my research was done before I started writing novels. I did a PhD on music-making in the northeast of England during the 18th century. As part of that, I read my way through four centuries worth of newspapers form that period and took out all the references to music. There were also a lot of gossipy stories there, which I couldn’t use in my academic work, and it’s these I’ve used as the basis for the novel. I absorbed the 18th century by osmosis, so to speak, so the research was done painlessly. So many important events occurred during this period; I’m always amazed when people say it’s not very interesting as “nothing much happened”. This period has always interested me and I’ve learned so much more through doing my PhD. One of my editor’s comments relating to Broken Harmony was that it seemed that all that people seemed to eat was ale and game pie and nothing else, so I had to separately research that aspect - what people would have eaten! The other thing in trying to view a period in the past, is to set yourself IN that period and realize that the WAY people thought at that time is simply not the way we think now - and this can only come through reading things like 18th century newspapers -and by doing that you start to think as they would have thought on a daily basis. And having worked around this period for 5 years, I was just immersed in the whole period and the way people thought at the time.

Is there any one thing that your readers would be surprised to know about you?

I’m very much into local history and particularly the valley where I was brought up. We lived in a house which dates back to around the 1520s and on the window; various people from over the years had carved their names and dates. There were two I remember from 1804 and 1836, I think… so this to me was like history made real, when you live there every day. I have a very fluid feeling about time sometimes merging into one, past present and future, and I think my upbringing was what sparked my interest in history - the house is still standing and I am actually writing about the history of that house…oh and I’m a very keen gardener!

Roz Southey has a passion for the often contentious world of 18th century music-making in the north east of England; in fact, she has a PhD in it! Roz lives in the northeast herself and lectures at the International Centre for Music Studies in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Check out her website:

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