My first novel, Bad for Good, took seven years to write. Most of that time was down to me knowing something wasn’t working but being unable to put my finger on what.
In early 2020, I became a director of crime writing courses with Professional Writing Academy, who are closely linked to John Yorke Story. In sharing my anxiety with them, Susy Marriott (co-founder of PWA and JYS) suggested I enrol on John Yorke’s Story for Screenwriting: Advanced Structure training. I pointed out that I was no screenwriter, but she explained that what the course didn’t teach about storytelling frankly wasn’t worth knowing.
So, in January 2021, with huge trepidation, I became the lone novelist in a syndicate of screenwriters on the course. I knew it would be interesting, engaging even, but did I expect it to be life-changing? You bet I didn’t, but it certainly was. I’d read Into The Woods, heard of acts and scenes and even knew how to spell protagonist, however never did the lightbulb glow so brightly as from week one of the course.
Revisiting movies such as Aliens, Thelma and Louise and Jaws brought the whole theory to life as did the inputs and exercises which our tutor, Kieran Grimes, and the others on the course so diligently critiqued.
As the course progressed, my difficulty became working out how to use all this new-found knowledge to dismantle then rebuild Bad for Good. I then had to apply it to its sequel, Force of Hate. We’d studied two-hour movies but how would this work with two 100,000 word novels?
I’d spotted that the final assignment was to write a treatment. Fine if you’re a screenwriter, not so if you have a book to fix and another to write. Thankfully John Yorke and Kieran allowed me to instead build a detailed five act synopsis for Force of Hate, incorporating all the beats and turning points in the right places, showing my protagonist and antagonists (there are many) colliding where they should.
As with most challenges in life, the anticipation was worse than the event and Kieran expertly guided me so I could eventually produce a comprehensive blueprint for Force of Hate which conformed perfectly to the John Yorke model.
Applying the learning resulted in me completing Force of Hate in a fraction of the time Bad for Good took, confident in what I was doing. My floundering-in-the-dark-days were finally behind me.
This was more than a satisfying academic exercise though. The upshot was that a few months later I landed a publishing contract for both books. In 2022, Bad for Good became a top ten best seller and won the Crime Fiction Lover’s Debut Novel Editor’s Choice award. Force of Hate comes out in March 2023. I can only hope it enjoys the same success, much of which I owe to the Story for Screenwriting course, the tutors and my fabulous syndicate colleagues who inspired and encouraged me on every step of my road to Damascus.