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Write Now with Scrivener, Episode no. 6: Elizabeth Haynes, Thriller Author

Having worked as a police intelligence analyst in the UK, Elizabeth Haynes knows a lot about crime. She has written a half dozen novels, all of which she started during NaNoWriMo.

Having worked as a police intelligence analyst in the UK, Elizabeth Haynes knows a lot about crime. She has written a half dozen novels, all of which she started during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Show notes:

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Elizabeth Haynes has worked as a police intelligence analyst in the UK, giving her rare insights into crime and criminals. She doesn't go on stake-outs; she works behind a desk, with spreadsheets, but uses her knowledge of crime to make her novels authentic.

Elizabeth says that she is a bit of a "genre hopper." She started writing standalone psychological thrillers, then a couple of police procedurals, then a historical retelling of a true, unsolved murder. "And the latest book has no bodies in it at all. But it did have a body in it, and I resurrected them because the love story was better than the mystery."

This latest novel, You, Me & the Sea, is set on an isolated Scottish island. "The location is completely cut off and the island has this deep, dark, black water loch on it. On the island that inspired this book, I saw this loch and I thought that, of course, that's a fabulous place to put a body."

But as Elizabeth progressed with the novel, things changed. "The characters fell in love in a really dramatic way. At that point, I had a discussion with my editor, and she said that the love story and the murder mystery are kind of fighting against each other, and the love story's better."

In genre fiction, authors don't generally switch like this. Elizabeth says, "I'm a very lucky author to have a publisher who allows me to experiment like that. I used to write romance years ago, before I was ever published. And it was only when I started working for the police that I thought I could write crime fiction, because I'd be able to do it in an authentic way. So I came into publication as a crime and thriller author, but actually, romance was where I came from originally."

Elizabeth says her work as a police intelligence analyst was "a fabulous job for a nosy person, which is what I am, and also a fabulous job for a writer because what I was doing was looking at evidence and intelligence and hypothesizing, 'What if?' which is exactly what we do as writers. And what I can do with my books is bring a note of authenticity."

Elizabeth had long wanted to be a writer, and says, "publication is something that happens to other people, it was something that I never thought would happen to me. In 2005, October 2005, a friend introduced me to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). And that was when things really took off for me."

The first time, Elizabeth reached the 50,000-word target, though did not finish her novel. She says that "Besides anything else, it's great fun, it's an excuse to prioritize your writing, which when you've got a day job and a family, but in November, you can get away with it." After that, she continued writing for NaNoWriMo each year, and finished a novel in 2008 called Into the Darkest Corner. She sent the manuscript to a creative writing teacher, who sent it on to a publisher, who picked up the book. It became Amazon UK's best book of 2011, won Amazon's Rising Star award, and is now published in 34 countries.

Elizabeth discovered Scrivener in 2013, and "that was also a bit of a life changer. Quite often I have multiple narrative streams, or multiple time periods, sometimes several narrators. And to be able to manage a document like that, and keep a handle on who is saying what, in which part of the book, and to be able to find scenes that I've used previously and go back to them... I thought how much easier would my life have been if I had it all the way through?"

"The thing I use most is the Binder and the Inspector to be able to sort through the structure of the book. I have different scenes that are coordinated, depending on who the narrator is, and I sort things into parts, and chapters, and sections. I use the Binder to be able to sort through all the scenes that are by a particular narrator, for example, so I can work on them all at one at one time. I also use the Corkboard to be able to identify whether a scene still needs work, or whether it's first draft or second draft, or whether it's finished so I can keep track of what work I still have to do when I'm editing."

Elizabeth Haynes will be doing NaNoWriMo again next month. She points out that "NaNoWriMo isn't about publication, it's about writing. It's about writing and having fun. And I think that is definitely something for everybody."

Read more about using Scrivener for NaNoWriMo.

Kirk McElhearn is a  writerpodcaster, and photographer. He is the author of Take Control of Scrivener, and host of the Write Now with Scrivener podcast.

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