The Writing Process


It may be of interest to see how closely (or not) the original ideas for a story mirror the end result. When I write, I create outline paragraphs or sequences for potential upcoming scenes. They don’t always materialise as planned – in fact, more often than not, they change as I go. Sometimes, though, I succeed in actually following the notes I make.

If you could see the whole document for a single book that contains cast and plot points, you would see that I am forever making up sequences, discarding them and making new ones with new ideas. Eventually the story sorts itself out, but you’d never think so from the notes.

A few illustrations of short sequences follow to demonstrate what I mean.

Here are the initial notes for the beginning of THE GILDED SHROUD. If you remember the opening scene, you will see that the actual story follows this outline quite closely.


Chambermaid doing fire, not realising death

Abigail quietly tidying up, not realising mistress dead in bed

Fan thrown down discarded among pots and powders

Discarded, flung down as of no account, the fan lay, half open…

The smell emanating – thinks with distaste of having to empty the chamberpot – unusually strong (alerts inner radar)

In the bedchamber:

Faint regular tick of the gold-mantled clock on the mantel…

The silence… shadows thrown by slivers of light – used to them but now seem portentous.

Listens for the sighing breath behind the curtains of the great four poster that should have signalled my lady’s rest…

Smell stronger as she moves to the bed..

Convinced of wrongness..

Shaking hands sets down cup of chocolate on the bedside table..

(clue – abigail did not tidy – was she there at all?  did mistress undress herself?  clothes not put away? all indicates mistress was not alone)

Discovery of death – what she sees – enough to know but not all

[red face, bulging eyes with fixed stare, protruding tongue]

Here is the opening to THE OPIUM PURGE. I think it more or less followed this outline, although some aspects altered as I wrote. The discussion between Ottilia and Francis became expanded to range over several subjects before we returned to the girl. You will see how I had a completely different original idea for the title.


Ott at window, watching girl twirling in snow.  Cold, goes get shawl.  Girl gone when she comes back.  Francis up and joins her, hand on tum re preg, why is she standing in the cold.  She explains.  Discussion re taking care of self, etc.

Gets dressed, goes downstairs.  Finds girl in living-room – with Theresa Mellis who is staring at her in shock.

She is very beautiful, blond and china blue eyes.

She says door was open – Ott thinks maids have been cleaning and could have left it open.  But Theresa points out the bleeding hand and broken glass of French doors.

And here is a very short little sequence which was the outline for one scene in THE CANDLELIT COFFIN. This scene didn’t follow the ideas here. It ended up quite differently, set in an inn, and there was no chase involved.

Perkin POV – spots Hemp, takes him for the murderer – tall, was masked, dark face – and somehow gives himself away by crying out that he’s the murderer – Hemp gives chase, catches – takes to Ottilia – gets the story of what happened, but not identity of murderer beyond description Perkin can give – which opens out suspects

Proving that I never know what is going to happen in a book, here is a potential plotted sequence that never made it into THE MORTAL BLOW. That particular book underwent a number of plot potential changes before I managed to write it up in its completed form. At one point I had no idea how to bring the story to the conclusion I wanted and I went round the houses trying to work it out.


Meg disappears – to Pierre when hears of his state – Lezayre repudiates – caused enough trouble already – she is grabbed by ruffians [who have been watching house and followed her]

Ott goes with Lizzy to Pargeter house to find Meg – by now suspicious – mother bruised – Pargeter receives – won’t say if Meg here – Ott accuses – Pargeter produces pistol, locks door – tries to reason – realises he is half mad – Francis and Hemp rescue, though maybe Lizzy intervenes and gets shot?

As you can see from these brief examples, writing a book is quite a journey in itself.