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What’s Next? « Cathy Hopkins

What’s Next?

May: What’s next?

A book means making a thousand choices and more. Writing involves many phases and many decisions. Creating characters and their world, where they live, who their friends are, their enemies, what they do, how they speak and what happens to them, plotting the story then writing, deciding whether to write in the first or third person, rewriting, editing.
Just recently, I have started thinking about a new book and remembering back over the years since I started writing back in 1986, almost thirty years ago. The times in between working on books are rare because when I hand in a finished book, the question in my mind is always what’s next?
And it’s that time again.
It takes time to come up with a new idea and let it grow from a tiny seed to something I can see, that lives and breathes. Sometimes it starts with a character, sometimes it starts with a place, sometimes an idea for a story. The title usually comes last and will come out of the script. Partly it comes from the unconscious which once I get started provides ideas. Partly it is structure and technique. The book, Playlist for a Broken Heart, came from a discarded CD that I found in an old shoe box in a charity shop. It was a home-made compilation and I was intrigued as to who had made it and why it was given away? With the book, Love at Second Sight, the idea came from a time thirty years ago when a friend dragged me along with her to see a clairvoyant who told me that in my last life, I had been a governess who lived in Bristol. I laughed it off at the time but many years later, it sparked an idea which became the book. Sometimes an idea comes from a dream, like Dead Dudes, sometimes a snippet of conversation overheard will spark something. Sometimes it’s listening, being aware of what interests people. What will readers identify with?

I remember driving down to Cornwall in 2002 and knowing my publisher wanted a new series. I wanted to set it down there and talked to my friend all the journey down about who the characters could be, they became Cat, Lia, Squidge and Mac. I remember being in Cyprus with my husband and various lunches, talking about a girl called India Jane who became Cinnamon Girl and what could happen to her. I remember being on a bus in Turkey driving along the coast and thinking about the girls in the Mates Dates books and where I could take them and what to call the next book in the series – it was quite a challenge coming up with the twelve titles. Pretty well all the breaks I’ve had over the last fifteen years have been spent working, always always thinking up stories and what next? Car journeys, planes, trains, staring out of windows thinking up people in my imagination, breathing life into them. With a character, what do they want? What gets in their way? What is the inciting incident that kicks off their story? Who are their friends? Where do they live?
At the moment, my latest book has just been sent out so I am thinking about what’s next? I have a title – which is unusual because, as I said, that usually comes last. I have three woman and their circumstances. I have a beginning though that might change. I know a little of what has happened to the three women but how to put it all together to make an interesting story? How to make half a page into 100,000 words that will make readers care about the characters and want to stay with them for the length of a book to find out what happens. There are so many choices to be made. What are the character’s name? How old are they? What do they look like? What are their houses like? What are their personalities? What do they fear? What do they hope for? A thousand decisions to be made until I know them all so well that I know what they eat for breakfast and what kind of bed linen they sleep on.
So. I have three women waiting in the wings. They’re still in shadow so I can’t see them too clearly yet but I know they’re there. I know a little of their circumstances. But how did they meet? What brings them together? What do they want? How will their issues be resolved in an interesting way?
Someone once said that when a writer is sitting starting out of a window, seemingly doing nothing, that is not the case. They are working. It’s true. There’s a lot of staring out of the window to be done in the next weeks. A lot of words to be written, choices to be made as I wait for the three women to step out onto centre stage, make themselves known and start speaking.
Hope you’re all having a great summer.
Bye for now,
Cathy
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