The story of No One I Knew
Well, my third domestic thriller, No One I Knew, has been out for just over a week, and the feedback so far has been amazing.
But before I share with you a couple of the wonderful comments I’ve received, I thought I’d tell you a little about my writing process.
Although No One I Knew is my third thriller, it’s actually my 20th book, because for the last nine years I have been writing pony adventure stories under my married name, Amanda Wills.
So, you’d think by now that I might have nailed the writing process.
Over the years I have come to realise that every book is different, with its own quirks, delights and frustrations, and sadly there’s no such thing as a magic formula.
Especially when, like me, you’re a panster by nature. Pansters – AKA discovery writers – are the hapless individuals who might know how a story starts, and possibly how it ends, and occasionally might even know roughly what happens in the middle, but don’t plan their books before they begin writing.
I’ve learned the hard way that taking time to plan a novel before I start makes the writing process so much quicker and easier, and for When She Finds You and Should Have Known Better I did exactly that.
With No One I Knew, however, I decided to forget everything I’d learned and launch straight in and see where my characters took me.
I had a rough plan, of course, and so on Thursday 10 September 2020, I began merrily typing away.
A month – and 24,000 words – later, I hit a wall. The story wasn’t working. The stakes weren’t high enough for my feisty protagonist Cleo Cooper and I knew I needed to ratchet up the tension.
The story wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good enough either. So, after a bit of soul-searching, I cut my losses and started all over again, consigning those 24,000 words, and a couple of characters, to a dusty file on my computer. Although they’ll never see the light of day, they’ll serve as a reminder next time to PLAN, PLAN, PLAN!
It was back to the drawing board. But at least this time around I had a fully-formed cast of characters to play with.
Having a husband who is also a thriller writer is worth its weight in gold, because I have someone to bounce ideas off. And, after a couple of brain-storming sessions with Adrian, I came up with a completely different storyline for Cleo. One that involved her three-year-old daughter disappearing in the middle of a family barbecue.
Suddenly the stakes were very high indeed, and I knew Immy’s disappearance could be the catalyst for a series of twists and turns worthy of a great domestic thriller.
So, with my new plan intact, I hunkered down in my writing cave and knocked out the 80,000-word first draft in three months.
When I finished the draft at the end of January, I’d like to say I’d cracked it, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending, which relied on a few too many coincidences and flukes to be entirely credible.
After another brainstorming session with Mr Wills, I had a totally new and much more dramatic ending, and by the end of February I had a finished second draft, which I sent to my small but trusty team of beta readers.
Their feedback was fantastic, but I knew there was still room for improvement, so I spent the next three weeks polishing the manuscript until it was as good as I could make it.
No One I Knew was released just over a week ago, nine months almost to the day that I started it. A veritable book baby!
It’s easy to be self-critical, and us Brits are famous for being both understated and self-effacing, but I’m going to go against the grain here and say that I am really proud of the book. It’s definitely the best thing I’ve written.
Happily, many of you agree. Here are just a few of the lovely comments I’ve received since publication day a week ago:
‘Full of suspense and gripping to the last page.’
‘A real page-turner, full of twists and turns and no way of knowing "whodunnit" until almost the end.’
‘Keeps you gripped from the start and the twist, you don’t see coming.’
‘I was held hostage by this one… A J McDine adds signature twisty-turns, more than a few surprises and a big reveal every good thriller deserves.’
‘It got my interest from the first page – I could not put it down.’
For those waiting for the paperback, I am happy to report that they are also now available, and are – thanks to the beautiful cover by my super-talented designer Stuart Bache – things of beauty.
Here are the links to the book if you want to check it out.
So that's it from me for now. If you have any questions about my writing process (such as it is!), please drop me a line. It's always lovely to hear from you.
And if you've read the book and have time to pop a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads that would be amazing. Readers' reviews are the best way to spread the word about a new release.
PS I’ve kept the original ending safe because I thought it might be a fun thing to share with you sometime to show the writing process and how it changes as a book is written. Let me know if you'd like to see it!