Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Dead Ground - Claire McGowan - Author Guest Post - Blog Tour

Today I'm delighted to share a guest post with you from author Claire McGowan. Claire's third novel is The Dead Ground, and is published by Headline on April 10th 2014. 
It's the second in a series featuring Paula Maguire. You can read my review of the first in the series, The Lost, here, and my review of Claire's first book, The Fall, here.

My writing process by Claire McGowan

There are a couple of questions that always come up when I’m being interviewed, and which I really should have worked out better answers to. One is: are you disciplined with your writing? And the other is: how much research do you do?

At the moment I write at least one book a year, and I always have other work to do as well, like most writers nowadays. So I don’t sit down at my desk all day every day and write – for one thing, it’s hard to crank out words eight hours a day. For another, life’s little jobs always get in the way, whether it’s proof-reading a different book, or promoting the one you have out, or going to the dentist or dry-cleaners. Part of this is procrastination, of course. When you don’t want to write a particular scene or you don’t know what happens next in your book, it’s amazing how much time you can fill up cleaning the taps, emailing, and watching YouTube videos of cats running into walls.

My process of writing a book spans around a year. This is probably because I have a year. If I had more or less time, I’m sure the work would expand or contract. First I’ll get the idea. I get ideas all the time, but not all of these will be workable as novels. It helps that I’m writing a series, so I know roughly what has to happen to the cast of characters in that one. Then I start scribbling down bits of the book, gathering ideas as I go. At this stage I don’t know much about the plot but rather than panic I just try to enjoy the adventure of finding out what’s going on. I use a notebook for this part, which is a sort of fetish – I can kid myself it’s like sketching, just playing about, and it also stops me being distracted by the aforementioned cat videos. Then, I will usually get to thirty thousand words and stop, stumped as to what happens next. I might stop for quite a while, procrastinating and telling myself I’m thinking it over. At some point I drag myself between thirty and sixty thousand words – the hardest part. Then I will stop again to think about what is really going on? What’s the book about? You might think I would know at this point, but….

Then, the research question. I wish I had a good answer for this, like ‘I embedded myself with the police for a year’ or ‘I got myself arrested so I could experience prison’, but it’s nowhere near as exciting as that. I will usually read around the subject I want to write on when I’m in the early musing stages, then try to get the story down, and then check the facts after. I’ll do this either by reading, going online, or talking to people about specific questions. Again, I’m a firm believer that too much research can weigh a book down, and that story is much more important than being totally accurate at all times. I want to write stories, not be an expert in the police force or forensic pathology or something. It’s surprising how often you get things right anyway. The mind is very powerful.

Hopefully this rather haphazard approach will show any aspiring writers that you don’t have to have all the answers when you start a book. However, you absolutely do have to keep going. I’m a big believer in doing 1,000 words a day in the writing stage– this very quickly adds up to a book and is why I wrote my first in three months. If you do this, and keep going without reading back over it, even when you’re convinced it’s no good, at least you have something to work with and fix. The only perfect books are the ones that stay in your head, unwritten. Give it a try!

About the novel...
A stolen baby. A murdered woman. A decades-old atrocity. Something connects them all...
A month before Christmas, and Ballyterrin on the Irish border lies under a thick pall of snow. When a newborn baby goes missing from hospital, it's all too close to home for forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, who's wrestling with the hardest decision of her life.
Then a woman is found in a stone circle with her stomach cut open and it's clear a brutal killer is on the loose.
As another child is taken and a pregnant woman goes missing, Paula is caught up in the hunt for a killer no one can trace, who will stop at nothing to get what they want.
The Dead Ground will leave you gasping for breath as Paula discovers every decision she makes really is a matter of life and death...
About the author... 

Claire McGowan grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland. After a degree in English and French from Oxford University, and time spent living in China and France, she moved to London and works in the charity sector and also teaches creative writing. THE DEAD GROUND is her third novel and the second in the Paula Maguire series.


  1. Great post.

    I always wonder just how much a novelist has it all planned out ahead of time. Fascinating to get to 30,000 and then not be sure where to go.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment Brian. I wonder that too, so this was very interesting to read and encourages me to go for it!

  2. Great piece! Now I don't feel so bad about being the kind of person who doesn't plot things out too much on advance ;)

  3. I came across McGowan's work at the back end of last year and have been really interested to watch her progress. I think she is shaping up to be one of our better crime writers and will have a standing order for each new book as it comes out.

    1. I agree, I'm really enjoying her novels so far!


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