Chris Ould's latest novel continues his Faroes Series which began with The Blood Strand. I'm new to this series so diving straight in to book two I was aware that there was a continuing narrative from book one but it wasn't too difficult to catch up. The book has two main protaganists local detective Hjalti Hentze and English policeman Jan Reyna. Jan is visiting the islands for his father's funeral and to try to learn more about his mother who died when he was a child and to try to reconnect with his birthplace. Jan and Hjalti have already been through an ordeal in the first book and now Jan is spending his time walking the hills and learning more about the islands and his family. Hjalti meanwhile is dealing with a murder. In the wake of a protest against the traditional Faroese whale hunt or grind, a female photographer working with the protest group is found dead, while the initial signs seem to indicate a sexually motivated attack, Hjalti is not so sure and as he digs deeper it seems perhaps the killer may be dangerously close to home. I found Chris Ould's characters incredibly likeable and interesting and this book is a genuine page turner set in a stunning part of the world. There is a clash of cultures between the whale hunters and the protesters and within many of the characters Jan and Erla particularly. If you enjoy Anne Cleeves Shetland series or the Scandi Noir of Anne Holt then add Chris Ould and the Faroes series to your must read list.
The Killing Bay is out now from Titan Books. Thanks to Philippa at Titan for a review copy of the book.
I asked Chris to tell me about his typical writing day. Here's what he said.
How I Write - Chris Ould
Asking a writer how they write is like asking a juggler how they keep six oranges in the air at the same time. The juggler could probably break it down into the size, texture and aerodynamic properties of the oranges, but I'm still not sure he'd really be able to describe how he does it.
That said, I think the biggest challenge in writing is to just show up, by which I mean to sit down at the desk ready to work. Generally I'm in the office – read shed – at just after 7:30 when my son goes off to catch the school bus. I'm always more productive during school term time because I can't sleep late. That's something I don't like to do these days, anyway.
My shed/office was a toilet and shower block for a caravan site on the fields next to our house in the 1960s. The name "Steve" is neatly carved into the plaster near my right elbow and I rather like the notion that I'm carrying on Steve's labours in the same place. I refurbished the shed myself when we first moved here so it's custom built for diversion. I like having stuff to look at and fiddle with if I get stuck on a line, so the desk is littered with knick-knacks, toys, puzzles, marbles... basically anything that I find interesting. I share the shed with a few mice who find their way in under the floor or behind the cladding on the walls. By and large we get on all right, although I do have to use a stick to bang on the walls when they're really noisy. The cat kills a few of them when he can be bothered. Most of the time he keeps me company by sleeping.
My rule is to write at least a thousand words a day, every day. If I get to a thousand by mid morning I sometimes give myself the rest of the day off, but usually if it's going that well I just want to keep writing until I run out of steam. On a very good day I'll more than double the word target and then I'm rewarded with gin. I worked for a long time as a TV scriptwriter and doing that was a good way of learning to be disciplined and professional. With a shooting schedule to keep to there's no time to have writer's block or wait for the muse to strike. If you can't deliver a good script and on time you don't get another commission, it's as simple as that.
The only time I relax the thousand-words-a-day rule is when I'm working on the plot of a book, which is probably harder work than the actual writing. Because I write crime novels, which are basically exercises in deception, the plot is essential. Getting motives and means all figured out before I start writing is absolutely key. It also helps to know where you want to end up, so often I'll have a good idea of the ending before I even know exactly who, what and why.
Plotting can take a couple of months to get right. A simple idea like, "he could be killed with a flick knife and it's revealed by the post mortem" can mean days of research, either online, talking to an expert, or going to look at something myself. The browsing history on my Mac would be distinctly suspicious if I was ever a suspect for murder, but really the best way to get information (and great story details) is to talk to coppers, doctors and lawyers. I'm very lucky in knowing great people in those fields and by now they're pretty used to weird questions, followed by days of silence while I try and work their advice into the plot, and then a load more supplementary questions. I do like to get things right if I possibly can.
The plotting stage is also where characters start to take shape. What a character does in the story should be governed by what type of person they are. So if I know I need someone to steal a child from a nursery, say, I work out what sort of person would do that and why, and then I write them accordingly from the start. It might sound obvious to do it that way round, but I think one of the most common mistakes writers make is to have a character do something that is out of character for the person they've created, just because that's what the plot calls for. I suspect that the main reason that happens is poor planning, whether it's in a crime novel or not. I don't believe a good novel is ever really written as a product of pure stream of consciousness without the author knowing where it's going.
By the end of the research/plotting period I usually have a 20-30 page document – a storyline – which is a road map of the entire book. It's usually full of shorthand notes to myself and reminders of logic and character, and that's what I follow to the end. Occasionally, once I get some way into a book, I realise something's not working or is pulling the plot off course. If so I stop writing and reassess and then change the plot, or go back and find out where I took a wrong turn and delete stuff.
The worst advice I've ever come across about writing was to "just carry on to the end, even if you think you've got a problem." That's utter rubbish, to put it politely. If you've got a problem it's not going to go away by ignoring it: things will only get worse. You have to diagnose what's causing the problem and put it right, otherwise you'll just end up with a badly flawed story which will have to be substantially rewritten to make it decent. That's just a waste of time and energy. The best advice I ever heard was "be prepared to kill your babies". In other words, no matter how well written something is, no matter how much you love it, if it doesn't help the story, press delete.
I usually write well until lunch time, but afterwards getting back into it can be hard so I tend to potter around and do admin and other things for a while. Anything physical or that uses a different part of the brain is good. I keep a few sheep so they have to be checked and looked after, and I can usually find wood to cut or something else to do outside for an hour or so, and then by mid afternoon I'm ready to go again. If I'm really on a roll I'll sometimes work after dinner as well, but generally I've had enough by then so I'll watch something on TV, although it often ends up being a documentary that might have interesting (ie useful) information in it for a book idea.
I'm not sure that writers ever really switch off. If the work's going well you're thinking about the next page, and if it's not you're thinking about the section you wrote and how to fix it. I don't remember my dreams, so I don't know if I dream about writing, but I often wake up thinking about it in the morning.
Thanks so much Chris. Some great writing tips there.
The first novel in Chris Ould's Faroes trilogy, The Blood Strand, was published last year by Titan Books. The second book in the series, The Killing Bay, is published on 21 February 2017.