Writing Secrets from Jon Mayhew

Today’s post is from the wonderful Jon Mayhew, writer of dark, gothic, historical fiction for kids.

When I asked him to share some of his writing secrets, here’s what he told me:-

I’ve just finished my third revision of my fourth book. It comes out in 11 months and all you need to know is that it’s not a horror, it’s adventure and action all the way in Europe and the Americas circa 1814!

So at the end of this rather long process, what can I tease out for anyone wrestling with their own manuscript at the moment? These are things I do. They may not work for you but I hope they do.

1)      Just write. I completed the current work in about four months. This is fast for me, I’m not sure how quickly other people write. Essentially, I get the story told first. I acknowledge that there are mistakes as I go, accept that some scenes will need paring down and others fleshed out but essentially what I want to do is write the story that is bursting to get out. I’ll finesse it later! If I get stuck, I’ll mark that scene in red and move on. In my current work, I left a note to myself saying “They sail on for a few days stuff happens.” I move on and enjoy telling the story.

2)      When I do go back, I think carefully about the ending. This is my chance to ‘seed’ ideas that will crop up in the climax of the story and to weave clues or hints in at the very start. It looks like I intended it all along!

3)      I check each character through the book  one by one– their speech/ accents/ habits/ mannerisms and make sure that they are consistent. I also check that each of my characters’ names is different enough. I took this to extremes in The Bonehill Curse by writing out the alphabet and listing every character so that they all had names beginning with different letters. Where they didn’t, I made sure the names were distinct enough or that the characters were in different scenes and never met.

4)      I know what my ‘writing tics’ are. I repeat certain words and phrases and sometimes cram a lot of actions into sentences after a speech. So I check them too and pare down anything I think is too much.

5)      It’s useful to know that I never feel that what I’ve written is good enough. I’ve pressed the ‘send’ button on a final manuscript four times and each time I’ve been plagued with doubt and the feeling that it will come winging back with a note from my editor saying, “I think you sent me the rough outline by mistake.”  That doesn’t happen in reality!

So that’s what I do! Looking at it now, it all looks a bit ‘secretarial’ but I’ve done most of the creative bit in the initial write up when the story is flowing. That’s fine but it’s these little details I believe lift the story!

Jon Mayhew is the author of Mortlock, The Demon Collector and The Bonehill Curse. For more information go to www.mortlockdemon.com or www.jonmayhew.co.uk

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2 thoughts on “Writing Secrets from Jon Mayhew

  1. Catherine Whitmore says:

    Sounds like great advice to me! Just nearing the end of first draft of my first novel, so helpful to read about what to do next – I feel a checklist coming on…

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