Born in Weaste and raised on the edge of Bury, a Lancashire mill town and too close to the moors when you were growing up when I did. My first memories are of Aberfan and Churchill’s funeral; of Hindley and Brady and those poor lost souls; and World Cup glory.
Happy days in the local comp to T.Rex and later Leonard Cohen, and meeting my wife to be, truly a child bride, then off to Oxford on a happy coincidence and a bit of hard work.
Spat out into Thatcher’s Britain with a young family, I blagged a few years with NatWest until the bright lights called and upped sticks to London for a mad ten years from boom to bust with Hambros and Flemings, seeing out Thatcher and burning the candle in a way that simply couldn’t continue.
An MA in Creative Writing at Hallam followed and a cottage in the Peak District, the last bonus blown on a wee village house in the mountains of Andalucia and then the money running out and the real world calling with a spell writing in prison and a part-timer at university, all the time having the occasional novel published under a different name, until I broke into crime.
The Writer’s Life top
I write every day and it’s always on my mind, either this book, the next, or a final chance to edit the last one. If I don’t write the problems multiply in the mind. A story is just one word after another, but if you’re not writing, it becomes more than that. Somehow, real problems are easier to handle than abstract ones. Or is that too abstract?
Having a job outside of writing and rubbing up against the real world is good. A writer, especially a novelist, can go months without any affirmation and that’s not good for the soul, it’s not good for your partner, your kids, or your friends. The only person who benefits is your shrink.
In a day job or a parallel career, people say ‘thanks’, ‘well done’, that kind of thing. And working with other people, especially young people - be it in jail or on probation or at University - recharges the batteries; it energises and fills you with ideas and understanding, and hope. It makes you see the world is a bigger place and that is what you have to give a reader.
As for when to write, I like the mornings when the canvas is blank, just a coffee and one extra in the pot before the morning post and the problems of the world. Just an hour might be enough but you’ve got to catch the brain kind of unawares, like shaking a tree; like being the tree that’s shaken, I suppose.
So, whatever I’m doing, I set the alarm an hour before I really have to. If I’m lecturing at nine, that means a 6 o’clock start. If I’ve got to go to London on the Cutler, that’s a 5 o’clock start. But after that, the day is better because now the book is in your head, in a good way.
Where to write? Almost anywhere. Right now, I’m at my desk at home and there’s four parchment-coloured bulls arching their backs and chewing on the branches of the big oak in the next field. They’ve been there an hour. Rain’s coming.
I’m just as happy in a coffee shop or in a corner of a pub where I’m a stranger, and especially on a train with my headphones on and something soft: Debussy or maybe Bill Evans.
I hate bits of noise when I’m writing. Full on pub hubbub or the white-noise clink and chatter of a coffee shop is just dandy, but bits and bobs of noise, where you can hear words – that drives me mad. There’s nothing noisier than someone trying to be quiet, too. It’s enough to drive you to the pub. One you don’t know, with plenty of juice in the laptop.
What a great place to write a chapter
And how to write? It’s what suits you, but I write most of the first draft straight to laptop. If I’m somewhere I don’t want to be conspicuous or on the hop, it’s an A5 moleskin where you can write entire passages. It resembles the page more than smaller formats and writing longhand then transcribing onto the screen creates an additional layer of editing and questioning of your choice of words, sentence structures, and vetting for cliché.
I always start a writing session (and it’s good to have multiple shorter sessions than one long shift at the desk) by editing the last passage(s) and moving straight onto new material. It creates continuity of style, plot, voice, point of view and characterisation.
The best part of a book is when you get to the end and print out. Now, the book is carried everywhere you go, to be scrawled upon and changed. I love the process of covering it in ink and deleting, shifting sentences, paragraphs, entire passages or chapters.
Sometimes, I will write scene summaries on a spreadsheet or on index cards, so I can shift the action back and forth, planting new scenes to make sure characters are properly motivated, or inserting fresh passages so every clue plays out; loose ends all tied up.
And then the typing up, watching the word count ebb and flow and feeling the whole piece tighten up. Every word counts now. Out with adjectives and summarising what the reader should be thinking. Lay the story bare. Print out again, and back to ink with arrows and margin notes. I love it. It’s what Jeanette Winterson calls ‘getting the tool box out’.
Work in Progress top
Drafting and redrafting continues right up through copy editing and the galleys to proofs, all the way to press.
At the time of writing, I have just sent the third draft of Book 5 in the Staffe series, Kill And Tell, to my editor at Faber. It’s the first time he’s seen it and I have a meeting next week to go through his comments.
For the past two weeks I have been putting together a proposal for the next two books I want to write and I’ll be talking to my agent about that on the same trip to London.
Meanwhile, the deadline for the paperback of Death In The Sun (Book 4 in the Staffe series) is approaching and I will be running through that in the next fortnight, tweaking from the Trade Paperback, which came out in May.
Book 3 in the Staffe series is coming out in Germany in the autumn and I’m back and forth with the translators for that, answering their queries. All of which rekindles the long storylines and the continuities of recurring characters, but sometimes it does kind of do your head in. Hey! That’s a nice problem to have, I know.
The idea with the website is to stream tips on the JOURNAL and every month or so to upload them to here, but to get us going, my top three tips to any aspiring author would be:
Write every day. Regardless. A 100,000 word novel doesn’t write itself, but if you write 500 words a day... You can do that maths. And lo! A first draft to print off and get jiggy with.
Get to the end. It’s tempting to go over and over the first few chapters, trying to get them perfect, but these chapters are going to change anyway and the best way to find your voice for a novel is to write your way into it. Remember, we don’t know what the beginning should be until we get to the end.
Nothing is forever. Sometimes we labour on, swimming against the tide because of our choice of setting or point of view, or even something as simple as a name or the colour of a character’s hair. Unless it’s in a prior book, everything can be changed.
In Willing Flesh, I was stymied by the fact that Taki Markary was Iranian. It limited what his wife could be and the value system he carried with him in terms of his gambling and drinking, so I made him Turkish and nothing was lost; plenty gained. And nobody ever knew. Until now. Our first idea is seldom our best.
More tips to come, on Twitter, please follow @Damcreed; and The Journal, which is really a Blog.
I have been in and out of prison since 1998: Young Offender Insitutions and Adult jails in the Midlands and NorthWest - as a writer in residence and project worker, I should add.
In 2004 I set up FREE TO WRITE, with the generous support of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Liverpool John Moores University. FREE TO WRITE tried to straddle the worlds of Prison and Probation, helping inmates and ex-offenders.
The idea is to use the power of writing to help rehabilitate and leave their lives of crime behind. That’s a tough ask and a lofty aspiration, but we have had a few remarkable successes, and even if you’re a sceptic, remember, it costs us the tax payer (and even a bit of Jimmy Carr, too) over 40 grand a year to incarcerate someone.
Sooner or later, almost all inmates will be released. They’ll be coming to live in a street near you, or your mother or son. We want to try to make them a better person, don’t we?
So, in the Staffe books, you will see a curiosity for the motives of the perpetrator. Staffe tries to get to the bottom of why even the most horrific criminal does what they do, because to solve crimes and to make the world a better and safer place, we need to understand. And that understanding makes for a better book, surely.
After a few fallow years, FREE TO WRITE has been resurrected, for a short while at least, and we’re trying to put together an anthology of prison writing. More of that in The Journal in the coming weeks and months.
There’s some interviews here from journals, and also an audio link and a video interview about where the idea for Staffe came from, and the first novel, Suffer The Children – I think! Hate watching myself, but that’s what I remember.
Interview with Adam about the origins on his first book. This download can also be found here
Interview with Adam on the creation of D.I. Staffe and much more