PD Martin's Blog

August 24, 2011

Back to my roots

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 11:15 am

My Murderati blog on my creative roots…

Today I want to talk about the amazing feeling of going back to my roots. I’m not talking about my literal roots (i.e. my birth place or the birth place of my family), rather I mean my creative birth place. The time and place when I first decided I wanted to write.  Here are some hints:




Yep, you got it! Paris.

On Monday we arrived back from a three-week holiday. Our main ‘objective’ was my sister-in-law’s wedding in Ireland, but we also had a glorious five-day stopover. It was around March this year when my husband told me that he’d finally found a great deal to Ireland that would save us loads of money…“but do you mind going via Paris?” he said with a grin on his face. Needless to say, I was one happy woman!

So how and why is Paris my creative birth place?

I mentioned in my first Murderati blog that while I was into reading and creative writing in my primary school years, once I got to high school I ended up focusing on science and maths — maths, applied maths, physics and chemistry were my elective subjects. As a complete contrast, my other subject was physical education, with my main project on dancing. You see, I had danced pretty much all my life, and loved it. Anyway, while studying psychology and criminology at university, I was also taking lots of dance classes, around 30 hours a week at one stage, and also did acting and singing lessons. Over the next couple of years dancing petered out and singing took over.  I finished my psychology degree and started studying music. Then I took time off from school and worked a bit before travelling.

I was 21 years old when I took off on the typical Aussie pilgrimage…backpacking around Europe. I went with my boyfriend for four months and it was on this trip that my creative spark burned brightly. My boyfriend at the time was (and still is) a photographer and he was also a gifted artist. So it was natural that we’d hit many of the artistic hotspots, including Paris. What can I say, I fell in love immediately. Was it the incredibly impressive buildings? The many artists who had been born or studied in Paris? The ambience of the place? The history of the place? The answer is, of course, all of these things and so much more. Coming from Australia, all our buildings and architecture is relatively new (like North America). And there’s something about the sense of history that oozes from every inch of Paris (and Europe) that’s inspiring and exhilarating. It drives me to create. And that feeling was there again on this visit. I mean, look at this:



But back to my first visit to Paris…Within a few days in Paris, I wanted to write. I wanted to write my own lyrics for songs, I wanted to write poems, I even wanted to write a book. I tracked down an English bookstore in Paris and bought their one and only book on creative writing. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was quite large (a university text book rather than a mass market paperback) and of course being an English book in a French-speaking country it came with a high price tag. But it was worth it.

A couple of days later, I found myself in the magical Rodin gardens. My boyfriend was drawing the amazing sculptures (like many other budding artists around us) and I was writing in a newly acquired notebook, with my creative writing text book at my side. We spent hours there (twenty years ago!) and so this trip I had to go back to the Rodin museum and gardens.



There didn’t seem to be quite as many people sketching the sculptures as last time, or perhaps my memory has simply amplified the numbers I remember from my first visit. But the whole place still triggered that creative impulse.

Then there’s the food. Let’s just say, I ate a LOT of baguettes in five days, some not-so-nice French wine and some gorgeous French wine, loads of cheese (yummy and so much cheaper than here in Oz) and a few treats from gorgeous patisseries. I have a major sweet tooth, and passing shops like this sent my heart racing!

P1020895From this particular place I tried the Opera cake and it was divine.

The ambience of the restaurant and café culture is stunning, and we also did the pre-requisite visit to the Louvre. To me, every part of Paris is inspiring.

Now I’m back, safe and sound, although still a little jet lagged and with an annoying cold. But who cares…I was in Paris!

I’d like to say I can launch back into my writing, the creative spark burning incredibly brightly. But unfortunately, I’ve got two ghost-writing gigs on the go, and two corporate jobs. But while I’m doing those the subconscious will no doubt be ticking over, ready when I return to my new book again. And then I’ll be channelling Paris!

PS The wedding was fabulous too, and Grace was the perfect flower girl!

PPS I forgot to say…Paris is also where my husband proposed to me, 13 years ago!

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August 16, 2011

10,000 words in a day

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — PD Martin @ 2:29 am

typing1This fortnight’s Murderati blog is on the writing process, in particular an amazing thing called a 10k day!

I know there are some freaks of nature whose normal output is 6,000-10,000 words a day, but for most writers it’s anywhere between 1K-4K words per day. And so, it sounds impossible when you first hear or think about writing 10,000 words in one day. But it IS possible…I’ve done it (many times). In fact, on my debut 10K day I wrote 12,000 words!

I first heard about the 10K day at a writers’ meeting in Melbourne. I was well and truly intrigued — and excited. I tend to write between 2,000 and 3,000 words a day (and I’ve been told that’s quite a high output) but the thought of quadrupling that was mind-boggling. So I Googled 10K day to find out what it was all about. The basic rules are:

  • You write for four two-hour blocks (NO interruptions whatsoever).
  • You take a 10-15-minute break between stints.
  • You stock up on food and drink in between each block so you don’t have to leave your seat during each session.
  • You clear your schedule COMPLETELY for that day.
  • You unplug the phone and internet (I know it’s hard, but you can do it).
  • You don’t edit or review anything you’ve written – just keep writing (perhaps the hardest one to follow).
  • You turn off your word processor’s spelling and grammar check so you’re not distracted by red or green lines.
  • You complete any necessary research and/or plot outlining work before the 10K day (or you fill in the research later).

It also helps to have a writing buddy. This commits you to the full day, and serves as further motivation when you phone each other or chat online (yes, you can turn the internet back on for the short breaks). It’s not only support, but I guess a bit of healthy competition too.

My 10K days generally look like this:
9am-11am – First writing block
11-11.15am – Contact writing buddy for a few minutes, then stretch and stock up on food/drink
11.15-1.15 – Second writing block
1.15-1.30 – Second break (as above)
1.30-3.30 – Third writing block
3.30-3.45 – Third break (as above)
3.45-5.45 – Final writing block
5.45 – Chat to writing buddy
5.50 – Collapse into a chair, almost catatonic (like this woman) 42-16586298

Coffee and chocolate can also come in handy. My preference is for quality coffee and chocolate (I love the Aussie brand, Haighs). Anyway…

What’s the output like?

The first question I get when talking about 10K days tends to be focused on the quality of the writing. Most people’s initial response is that the words on the page must be crap. Not so, I say.

First off, by not reading what you’ve just written, you’re cutting off the inner critic. So instead of thinking: “That sounds crap, how else can I put it?” or “Oh no, that’s all wrong!” you keep writing and eventually the critical voice realises you’re not listening to them today and gives up. And let me tell you, it’s incredibly liberating to silence that sucker!

Secondly, by not re-reading your work and virtually not stopping, you’re effectively following a ‘stream of consciousness’ writing style. Many times when I’ve read what I’ve written in my 10K day I don’t even remember writing it. And I’m almost always pleasantly surprised.

Admittedly the 10K day works really well for me because I don’t plan/plot, which means I can do a 10K day whenever I can clear one full day. I don’t have to plan for it by plotting out what’s going to happen in the next few chapters. I do, however, do a lot of research. But that’s easy to overcome in a 10K day. Your sentence might look something like this: She rested her hand on her gun, relishing the cold feel of the (gun make and model here)under her fingertips. Or maybe your character turns up at a crime scene that needs some detailed description. Simple: She pulled in behind the black and white. (Description of street/house here)

The point is, you don’t stop. You don’t stop for editing, for the inner critic, for research or for plot decisions. You just keep writing.

So by the end of the day, you’ve got 10,000 words, and rather than deleting those words you usually end up adding to them. You add in research details, you add in dialogue tags and you add in descriptions. Of course, you also edit to refine your writing, tweaking word choice and sentence structure as you go.

10K days are particularly amazing for dialogue (like I said, you can add the tags in later) and for moving the plot forward. In contrast, I can see they probably wouldn’t work well for literary writers.

Of course, you can’t use the 10K day to write a first draft in 8-10 days. At least I don’t think you could! I find the 10K day too much of a brain-drain for a daily or even weekly part of my schedule, but once a month seems perfect for me. And, let’s face it, a 10K day is a great way to get a large chunk of work done while also getting a more direct sub-conscious-to-page experience happening.

Try it out for yourself! You may not get the full 10,000 words, but I reckon you’ll approximately quadruple your normal output. A fellow writer friend who was my 10K buddy one day only wrote 5,000 words, but when her normal output is 1,000 she was overjoyed with 5K. And in some of my more recent 10K days I’ve only made it to 8,000 words or so. But who’s complaining? Not me! I juggle my writing with a pre-schooler and this year I’ve also been taking on corporate work so 8,000 words is massive for me.

So, what do you think of the 10K day concept?

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Welcome Aussie author Katherine Howell

Filed under: Murderati blogs — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 2:15 am

KatherineHowell2My Murderati blog from 21 July is an interview with fellow Aussie crime author, Katherine Howell. Katherine is an ex-paramedic turned author who uses her own expertise to create realistic characters and scenarios. So far, she’s won two Davitt Awards (Sisters in Crime Australia) and has recently hit the best seller lists here in Oz.

Her third novel, Cold Justice, has just been released in the UK. In Cold Justice, Detective Ella Marconi is on the trail of a cold case, an eighteen-year-old murder.

Katherine also has ties to other members of the Murderati gang, namely Tess Gerritsen – who had the following to say: “COLD JUSTICE races like a speeding ambulance, delivering so many surprises and thrills that you’ll scarcely have time to breathe. This was one of my favorite books of the year. Katherine Howell has written a real winner!” Katherine is delighted to be interviewing Tess in Melbourne at a Sisters in Crime dinner on Saturday 27 August. You can find out more at the Sisters in Crime website. I’ll be there :)

You use paramedics and police almost equally in your books. Can you tell us why you decided to do that?
I always wanted to write a crime series, partly because it’s what I love reading and partly because the idea of developing characters over a number of books really appealed to me. But I started the early drafts of Frantic with paramedic Sophie as the main character and no cop in sight! I felt I couldn’t write a cop point of view because I didn’t know the police world the same way that I knew paramedic life and worried about being able to portray it with convincing detail. I realised, though, that the story would be so much deeper and stronger if I could build the POV in, and also it was going to be a stretch to have a paramedic coming back in each book, especially if I was going to have her solve crimes! I needed to pull myself together and just do it. I have a number of cop friends who help with the facts of the job and draw on my own experience in being called as a paramedic to police stations and the cells and so on too.

And so Detective Ella Marconi was born. She’s about half of each book that I write. The stories involve one and sometimes two paramedics who get caught up in crime in varying ways—sometimes they’re called to a homicide scene, sometimes they find a body, sometimes they’re involved personally—then Ella is one of the investigators called in on the case.

What differences do you find writing a paramedic versus cop?
The main difference is their role in the story: Ella investigates and is fairly distanced emotionally, while the paramedics are caught up and drawn in and often are very emotionally involved. The way I write each point of view differs too: I’m very comfortable writing the paramedic scenes because of my years of experience there, but with the police scenes I’m continually questioning my detective friends over each little detail: what would the detectives say here? What would they do next?

ColdJusticeUKIs Cold Justice based on something that happened to you while you were working as a paramedic?
Paramedic Georgie in Cold Justice was viciously bullied at her previous station, and when I was writing the book there were many reports in the media about bullying cases in the ambulance service and their subsequent investigations. None of this was news to me or to paramedics I knew, however. The things that happen to Georgie are a combination of tweaked stories that I’d heard, made-up events, plus a few of my own experiences. The plot however is fictional. While I use some elements of particular cases that I did (such as a burns case in The Darkest Hour), none of the plots as a whole are based on anything I did.

Tell us a bit about your writing day and space.
I have an office at home and I write at the computer (though now and again I like to take a notebook and sit in the sun). I get in there about eight or nine but I write best in the afternoons so unless I have a looming deadline I tend to spend the morning dealing with emails and working on whatever author talks or workshops I have coming up, and uni research (I’m doing a PhD in writing at the moment too). I have a big corner desk currently covered in edit notes and reports. My window looks out onto the garden, and in the co-worker department I have a big, fat, long-haired cat who sleeps in her bed on my desk and a Chihuahua pup who sleeps in a blanket on my lap. Lazy girls.

Thanks to Katherine for being my guest today!

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