Val McDermid … a life of crime
Val McDermid is an award winning Scottish crime writer. Her work is often described as “Tartan Noir” in the Scottish crime fiction genre. She has created many notable characters such as journalist, Lindsay Gordon; the private investigator, Kate Brannigan; and psychologist, Tony Hill. Her books include three main series: Lindsay Gordon, Kate Brannigan, and, beginning in 1995, the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series. She has sold over 11 million books translated into 30 languages.
During a 2014 interview with the Daily Express, she spoke about her writing routine.
I write on my laptop. I used to have to write at my desk but one year I became ill and crashed my deadline. I was travelling at the time but I quickly discovered I could write on planes, trains, airport lounges, anywhere.
Normally, I’ll start work about 9.30am and go through until I have to start making the tea. Then after we’ve eaten, I’ll go back and write more if I feel like it. It also depends on where I’m at with my deadlines. If I’m aiming to deliver a manuscript in April, I will work steadily through January, February and March. I will do a second draft in April then it will be pretty much done and dusted by June. I’ll be writing about 2,000 words a day to start with, then 4-5,000 words a day as the story progresses. The most I’ve ever written in one day was 11,500 words but that was a total one off.
She was also interviewed in 2016 by the Guardian for their My Writing Day series.
When I first became a full-time writer, I mostly had writing days. People seldom wanted to listen to me read, consult my opinion or watch me perform. But the combination of success and the proliferation of literary festivals and media platforms has profoundly altered the even tenor of my mostly isolated days. Now I try to carve out a chunk of the year when the other calls on my time are kept to a minimum. Three or four months when I can more or less stay at home and write. January, February, March and, when I can get away with it, into April.
I have two desks – a conventional one and a standing desk, which I try to use for 10 minutes every hour, just to keep me moving. And I always have music playing while I’m working.
I’m not an early starter. I usually make it to the keyboard by half past nine but I don’t really get going till about 11. That first part of the day is taken up with emails, admin, the occasional bit of journalism such as this, checking out my Twitter feed and looking at the news online. Around the second cup of coffee, I take a look at what I last wrote, tweaking and revising, stripping the prose back till I’m more at ease with it.
Once I start, I tend to write in 20‑minute bursts. That seems to be the length of my concentration span. Then I do something different for a little while, something that lets my subconscious whirr away at the next bit of creativity. So, I make a cup of coffee; I game on the computer or the console; I go out to buy milk or stamps or tomatoes; I make a phone call. And then it’s back to the work in hand.
I don’t work a set number of hours or aim for a set word count. Usually, I stop around seven, but if the words are flowing and I feel there’s more to come, I’ll go back to my desk and keep going, sometimes past midnight.