Let’s forget the embarrassing teenage poetry and set my early writing days at the time when I was a playwright. I wrote stories and articles but my main output was plays for BBC radio and for the stage. Then, one day (I think for submission to a competition), I started writing a novel and learned that one of the qualities a novelist needs is stamina. I wrote in longhand and, after a couple of weeks, had a significant little heap of paper on the desk. Once you get a measurable pile, you want to add to it; you want to see an actual physical body of work. So I persisted, and the result was the original Sparrow Conundrum, which went through many revisions and titles before becoming the double award-winner that it now is.
Having proved to myself that I could complete a book, I wrote another one, again the first version of one that was going to win an award, The Darkness. It needed even more rewriting than Sparrow but eventually my agent started sending it off to publishers and Piatkus liked it but weren’t doing stand-alone thrillers. They did, however, ask if I’d written a police procedural because they’d like to publish it if I had.
So I did. And they did. And it was Material Evidence.
The editor liked the first version but not the fact that, about halfway through, it changed from a police procedural to a courtroom drama. Perhaps that was my playwriting self taking over. Anyway, she wanted changes made, so I cut it by 70 pages.
It was my first crime novel, remember, and, as I was writing it, I was aware that fans of the genre had certain expectations. I assumed that one of them was that there’d be some gore and violence so I created one such scene near the end of the book. I didn’t much enjoy writing it but I thought it was necessary. Some reviewers liked it, others didn’t. One even went so far as to say that the fact that its author also wrote children’s books ‘creeped her out’, another ‘questioned the author’s psyche’. In the end, it wasn’t such comments (which demonstrate complete ignorance about what writing is and writers are) that persuaded me to change the scene, it was the fact that I’d become more perceptive about the breadth of the crime market readership. So the major change in this edition is that I’ve modified the violence in that crucial scene by making it implicit rather than explicit.
But that wasn’t the only reason. I didn’t need to change anything of the plot; there were, however, many things (not just the absence of mobile phones), that gave it a dated feel – a policeman singing the praises of some new software which nowadays is standard, the prices of shotguns, and other details which might cause the reader to pause and question the narrative’s credibility.
Then there was the cover. My five Carston novels don’t obviously share an identity, so they needed branding and, since that meant new covers, it was worth revisiting them to make them more relevant to a new audience. I got in touch with Cathy Helms of Avalon graphics, who’d designed covers for friends which I admired and she wove her magic.
Whether the books now reach that new audience depends on other things, such as my marketing skills.
Damn! I knew there was a catch.