I try to be honest with myself about my books, and how my writing is progressing.
I do believe that writing is like every other art in that you improve with practice. And I think - hope?! - I am getting better as I go along.
On the subject of which, there was one specific feature of the latest tvdetective book, Shadows of Justice, which I was particularly pleased with -
The minor characters.
These folk are one of the greatest challenges for an author, as they're very tricky to get right. By their nature, you only have a limited amount of time and words to make them live. And yet they're important, as they can hold the plot together and provide variety from the usual family of folk who appear.
So you've got to try to give a strong sense of them quickly. In Shadows, there are four which are probably most important to the overall plot, and I took ages working on them, distilling a large amount of personality into a small space.
I was pleased with how it came out - I thought they were the most vivid set of minors that I'd ever created.
So, on Wednesday night, when I did a talk at Pinhoe Library in Exeter (thanks for all who came along for being so warm and kind, and also for the lovely bottle of wine), I was very heartened by one gentleman, who had already read Shadows, and said he thought the minor characters to be my best so far.
Thank you sir, you made my night!
While we're talking talks, as it were, a quick visual interlude from some recent teaching, at the Maynard School in Exeter (I must have been in animated form, given the pose.)
The issue of minors has come up again, as I'm working on the new book and thinking my way through all the new imaginary friends I'm going to need.
I've come to think that detail is a real aid to strong minors. If you can provide interesting little quirks to a character, be it a mannerism, verbal tic, habit or whatever, you can quickly make them live on the page. After all, we've all got our little oddities so we can relate to them.
I'm very much enjoying this time, as ever I do with the planning stage (and not just because it often involves sitting in a pub, having my imagination boosted by a special liquid thinking supplement.)
The current people I'm working on are minor minors - a pair of 17 year olds who are involving themselves in an interesting romantic situation, which isn't going to end well. I shall say no more... for now, at least.
So, please excuse me, I must be getting back to them. Minors they may be, but they're still as demanding as the rest of my characters. If you don't write about them for a while, they start carping and demanding attention.
Which is just the way I like it - you're never alone as an author.