Before I’d even begun a writing career I heard Lee Child say something that resonated and has stayed with me until this day.
He said, “A book is a two-way street. First it is written, then it is read and then it exists.”
What I took from that is the book is as much created by the reader as the writer. This is probably the best lesson that I ever learned as a writer. As I sat down to write my first book, and then the second, I had the reader firmly in mind. What would they make of this? Are they hooked? What is the reader feeling at this point? Can I surprise them here?
Thinking about a reader allowed me to craft an experience. Whether it’s a good or bad experience very much depends on the reader, but at least they will have felt something. If I’ve done my job right then the reader is completely hooked into the story at the end of the first sentence. Yes, I set myself hugely unrealistic targets – but I think it helped to have something to shoot for.
It got me thinking about the kind of book I wanted to write. I love thrillers, and the best of them provoke a reaction; you grip the book tightly, you may even gasp, you punch the air or the suspense is so intense that you don’t even want to put the book down for a second. Great thrillers should cause a physical reaction. I know that some of you reading this might laugh at that statement, but think about it. Is a comedic novel still a comedic novel if it doesn’t make anyone laugh?
Is it still a thriller if the reader isn’t thrilled?
I always know if my wife is enjoying a book by the look on her face as she reads. If her hand is covering her mouth, and her eyes are frantically scanning the page, then I know she’s really into a book. While you will hear a lot of writers talking about the craft, and suspense, and twists and reveals or even how they focus on writing memorable, elegant prose, I don’t really know how to do any of those things. If you asked me now if there is a method or technique for creating suspense, or tension, I don’t know if I’d be able to explain it. I can’t think on a technical level.
When I start writing a book I have a very basic idea of the opening, the single line idea for the book and that’s it. I don’t have an ending in mind, to be honest I don’t even have a chapter two in mind. I do it line by line. But in the back of my head, there you are, the reader. I’m thinking about you, and how I can grab you, surprise you and shock you.
I’m not in it to win prizes. I’m in it to entertain.
Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast and is a practicing lawyer and holds a certificate in Advanced Advocacy. He is married with two young children. The Defence, has been chosen as one of Amazon's great debuts for 2015, as part of their Amazon Rising Stars programme. In 2015 Steve received the ACES award for Literature from the Northern Ireland Arts Council. The Defence was longlisted for the Crime Writer's Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and shortlisted for two Dead Good Readers Awards. Steve writes fast-paced legal thrillers set in New York City featuring series character Eddie Flynn. The Defence was his first novel. The Plea was published on May 19, 2016.