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how I write


Until I came to write THE RECKONING I had always written very slowly. I wrote straight onto the computer, constantly editing as I went along, trying to make each sentence perfect before I moved on to the next one. And because I've always done lots of other things apart from write books, this meant that my books took a long time - an average of five years each.


THE WITNESS took even longer because I wrote it first as an adult novel, with a middle-aged main character. Only after it had been turned down by all the main adult publishers did my agent send it to Macmillan, where one of the editors, Harriet Wilson, said 'If Jamie's prepared to re-write it with a younger main character, we'll look at it again.' So I did. 45 year-old John became 18 and suddenly the story came to life. I began writing the book in 2000 and it finally came out in 2007.


But then something interesting happened. Not surprisingly, Macmillan didn't want to have to wait another five years for the next one, so I had to rethink my whole approach. With THE RECKONING, I not only needed to come up with the idea very quickly, but also to write it at (for me) high speed.


So I bought some notebooks and some voice recognition software (I'm the world's most inaccurate two-finger typist and I hate copy typing - it gives me a sore neck and shoulders). Then I wrote the first draft by hand, two hours a day for nine months, in my office in the garden at home. At the end of each morning's writing, I would read what I'd written into the microphone and watch it coming up on my computer screen as I read. Brilliant - and also about 80 per cent accurate! It usually took me ten minutes reading and another ten minutes tidying up.


The whole-writing-by-hand thing has been a revelation and I can't imagine why I let technology distract me for so long. The story seems to flow as if the movement of my hand across the page is literally drawing it out of me. And I don't even worry about all the mistakes because I know I can deal with them in the second draft. Which is when I need to get away ... my friend Annie Blaber's beautiful cottage in a remote glen where I go for a week at a time when I get to the editing stage of my books. It's called Castle Wearie and it's an old stone shepherd's house with a modern glass-and-timber deck at one end, sticking out over the garden towards a burn. It's down a track across a field and nobody even knows it's there. All you see are deer and hares, pheasants and squirrels. It's one of the most peaceful places I know and I've finished both THE WITNESS and THE RECKONING there.


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