Tag Archives: Tim Weaver

On Writing: Plotting Advice from Tim Weaver

For a reader, there’s nothing better than a book that twists, turns and surprises you – all tied up nicely with a satisfying end. It’s fair to say that while books like that are easy to read, they’re certainly not easy to write. So in this instalment of our On Writing series, we talk to Tim Weaver, whose ingenious plots never let a reader down, and ask him how he keeps the reader guessing to the very end.

I Am Missing

I Am Missing by Tim Weaver is out on 27th July – get it here

What’s your starting point when coming up with a plot?

All of my books are about weird, unexplained disappearances, so because they’re part of a series, I suppose I have a slight advantage, in as much as I know they’re going to begin with someone going missing. But, even if you’re not writing a series, the theory’s pretty much the same: you come up with a hook, something that’s going to jump-start the novel and immediately get readers interested. Once you have the hook – a man gets onto a Tube train but never gets off again; a family vanish midway through dinner, leaving the table set and the food cooking on the stove; a man with no memory searches for himself – you have the foundation on which to build a novel.

But the hook is only a foundation. I think a mistake that’s often made is to believe that one cool idea is enough. Sometimes, in very rare circumstances, it is; very occasionally, you can hold an entire novel together with one amazing concept. However, most of the time, you need to work harder than that. So many thrillers run out of gas in the last third because they’ve been built on just a single, neat idea that has already run its course by the midway point.

Your plots are very intricate, with real surprises. How do you make sure you’re always one step ahead of the reader?

Meticulous planners will definitely disagree with this – I’m thinking of people like Jeffrey Deaver here, who writes plans almost as long as the finished novel – but, for me, a lot of staying ahead of the reader comes from consciously not planning. Of course, ultimately, you have to approach a novel in the way you find most comfortable: planning gives you a terrific overview of the book from the very start of the writing process; not planning is a terrifying leap into the unknown. But where a lack of a plan starts to make an impact, I believe, is when it comes to delivering effective twists, avoiding over-used thriller tropes and – most importantly – constantly surprising and exciting the reader.

At a basic level, if you’re writing a twist that you never thought about until you got there – in essence, if you’ve surprised yourself, because something you’ve written was never part of any plan – there’s a very good chance you’ll surprise the reader too. And these moments can only come from that organic approach. If you know a twist is coming a mile off because it’s been in your plan from day one, the novel will be bent and shaped in preparation for that twist, giving readers a hint – consciously or not – of what’s coming down the line  (Remember, crime and thriller readers are smart. They read more thrillers than you do, so they know all the tricks. Outwitting them is very hard, which is another reason why there are benefits to a less formulaic approach.)

Sometimes, of course, none of that matters because your twist’s so mind-blowingly good no amount of set up can ruin it, but a great twist has to make sense, and it has to remain true to the story you’ve told, so you have to lay the groundwork for it, and in that groundwork, there will be some foreshadowing. There will be, because there has to be. So there’s definitely a lot of value from being more free and easy with your approach to plotting – in theory, because it’s more spontaneous, it helps disguise some of that groundwork.

Of course, as I’ve already hinted, this is also a scary and frequently very stressful way of working, because you’re never ‘ahead’ of the story – you’re discovering what the characters are like, up to, the decisions they’re making and the consequences of those decisions at the same time as they are. And, again, it’s important to underline that my method might not be for everyone. Some authors may argue that it’s actually detrimental to the writing process because it adds an extra layer of stress and anxiety to the mix. But I’m already a very anxious writer, constantly trapped in a whirlpool of doubt and self-inflicted stress, so what’s a little more?

Do you have any methods  for keeping track of all the aspects of the plot and how they fit together?

It’s possible that I’m the worst person in the world to ask this too, because I do so little planning. I may write a couple of pages of set-up at the start – covering, say, the first 10-20,000 words – and I’ll always have a relatively clear idea of where it’s going to finish, but everything in between is up for grabs. At about 70,000 words, as the book slowly begins to make a turn towards the finale, I may start to write out important things to remember on Post-It notes and stick them up, but at no stage will I commit anything to a proper plan. Those last 30, 40, 50,000 words are huge: this is when you deliver on everything you’ve set up, so those great, umprompted moments are even more important now, because they will be what readers remember.

Normally, if you’ve grown your book organically like this, it means – when you’re done – you’ve got things that don’t quite tie up or fit together, and that’s fine. I normally do a second run-through, fixing loose ends and tightening those twists (sometimes changing them completely!). It isn’t a rewrite, not even a second edit, just a really focused attempt at ensuring the book keeps readers on their toes. (This lack of drafting, or rewrites, or whatever you want to call it, is a consequence of another weird habit of mine: I can’t move on to the next chapter until I’ve got the current one as perfect as possible. If you’re a speed writer, who prefers to get a first draft done quickly and then go back and edit, edit, edit, this will obviously be different.)

Of course, at the end of the writing process (it takes me 10 months to write a book), it’s very hard to judge how effective anything in the book is – I’m lucky that I have an agent and an editor to help me – so once you think you’ve done as much as you can, it’s definitely worth giving it to someone you trust to read. Ask them to be honest. Honesty, as much as it can sometimes hurt, really is the best policy. However good you think you are, you can always be better.

Have you ever painted yourself into a corner, plot-wise? If so, what steps did you take to tackle the issue?

This, unfortunately, is one of the worst parts about not planning. Very often, you will write yourself into corners, and won’t be able to see a way out. When this happens, I normally take a day or two off to clear my head. I go walking, which is often where I do my best thinking, or I’ll do really boring things like admin, or VAT returns, or really great things like answering reader emails. Basically, anything but the book itself. The worst thing you can do, I think, is chain yourself to the desk and keep writing. Often, in a ten-month project, I’ll have moments where I don’t have a clue where I’m supposed to go next, but I always, always find a solution. It might not come straight away, but it will come. So don’t panic – this is a perfectly normal part of being a non-planner.

There will also end up being lots of times when you’re really trying to make a character arc or a storyline work, but in your heart of hearts, you just know it’s not happening. The reason a lot of people don’t turn back from there is because they look at all the words they’ve wasted – sometimes thousands of them – and feel frightened/guilty/dismayed about all the hours they’ve ploughed in and see the culling of those efforts as dispiriting and reductive.

Cull them. If you don’t think it works, it’s because it probably doesn’t. If you’re going to avoid rigid plans, you have to accept this will happen and factor it into your writing time. However, even if you don’t end up using what you’ve just spent a couple of weeks writing, never throw it away. I’ve re-used tons of stuff I cut from one novel in the next, or the one after that. Sometimes what I cut at the time I absolutely loved (though most of the time I didn’t!), but even if you’ve written something gorgeous, ultimately it has to adhere to the world you’ve built in this novel. That’s one of the most important things: not trying to shoehorn in something you like because you can’t face dumping it. Nothing is ever wasted, even if you decide never to use it again, because writing itself is a constant learning process.


I Am Missing is published on 27th July by Michael Joseph PRH. Follow Tim on Twitter: TimWeaverBooks

Agency Newsletter: May


You Don’t Know Me – a startling debut

A new and exciting voice in the crime and thriller world launched this month with a staggering debut novel.

Imran Mahmood’s You Don’t Know Me is a crime book with a difference: the story is told entirely in the form of a defence speech from a young black man, accused of murder. The reader becomes the jury as the unnamed defendant presents the eight pieces of evidence and only one thing matters – did he do it?

The audio book, narrated by Adam Deacon of Kidulthood, is the fastest selling audio book for Penguin Random House this year.

You Don’t Know Me has received stellar praise from many national newspapers including The Times and Imran was profiled in the Guardian. He also featured as a Simon Mayo book club selection on BBC Radio 2 and was on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

Lee Child’s outstanding contribution

Lee Child will be awarded the OutstandingContribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate this year.

Simon Theakston, who runs the award said ‘Lee is very deserving of this accolade, and will have his rightful place in a pantheon of legendary crime authors who have achieved this honour to date.’

No Middle Name, a collection of all the Reacher stories, published together for the first time, has soared into No.3 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller chart and is No.2 in the UK!

Nobody does it better.

TM Logan – Top 10 for debut

TM Logan’s gripping debut, Lies, has spent 8 weeks in the Kindle Top 10 having previously reached No.1 on iBooks and No.2 on Kindle.

This month, Charlie Spicer at St. Martin’s Press acquired North American rights, he said: ‘Like B.A. Paris’s mega bestseller Behind Closed Doors, TM Logan creates an unforgettable novel of suspense out of a chilling human dilemma: what if you learned your wife was having an affair and you believe you are being set up to take the fall for a murder?’

CWA Daggers

We are delighted to announce that three of our authors have been nominated for a CWA Dagger Award 2017.

Tana French has beennominated for the CWA Dagger in the Library, which acknowledges the author’s entire body of work. Tana’s No.2 New York Times bestseller, The Trespasser, has also been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club 2017.

Longlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award are Tim Weaver for his outstanding 7th novel, Broken Heart, and James Carol under his pseudonym JS Carol for the exciting thriller The Killing Game.

DA Children’s Authors Win

Two of our fantastic children’s authors have scooped prizes this month.

Deirdre Sullivan’s powerful and poetic novel Needlework has won the Honor Award for Fiction at the CBI Book of the Year Awards 2017.

Caroline Crowe’s heart-warming Pirates in Pyjamas was awarded Best Picture Book at the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Awards!

Cathy Cassidy in the US

Papercutz, the largest comic book publisher in the US, has published the first adaptation of the internationally bestselling Chocolate Book Girls series by our beloved author, Cathy Cassidy.

Sweeties, the first in a planned series, combines books 1 and 2, Cherry Crush and Marshmallow Skye.

Cathy is published in 26 languages worldwide and her sales top 3 million copies.




Agency Newsletter


This month has been a scorcher and we have got some hot new titles to while away the long summer afternoons.

As well as exciting new titles and chart news, literary legend Martina Cole was at the Harrogate Festival speaking to Peter James about her incredible career and success, Tim Weaver’s hugely popular Missing podcast is up for some prestigious awards, and we welcome a new thriller writer to the agency.

Please sure to download the newsletter and share with other Bookheads. And if you read and loved any of the titles featured today, make sure to share your review on Twitter and tag @DA_Agency because we love reading them.

Happy Friday!


An Interview with Tim Weaver

Tim Weaver talks to Mary Darby about VANISHED, the third terrifying thriller in the David Raker series…

Who is Tim Weaver?

I’m a writer, a journalist, a dad, a husband, a reader, a football fan, a film and TV obsessive, and a big fan of tea. (Well, I’m British, after all.)

Who is David Raker?

He’s an ex-journalist turned missing persons investigator, a widower, a reader, a football fan, a film obsessive, and a big fan of coffee. You can probably see why we get on so well. He’s also a lot more intelligent than me, stronger, more determined, and less fearful. Probably for the best given all the situations I drop him into.

What is VANISHED about?

VANISHED sees Raker looking into the disappearance of Sam Wren who, on his regular morning commute, gets onto a Tube train – and never gets off again. There’s no trace of him anywhere – no eyewitnesses, nothing on security camera, literally no sign that he ever got off the train. So where has he gone? And how did he vanish?

How did you research for VANISHED? The scenes in the London Underground made me see the tube in a whole new way; did you go down into the tunnels for your research?

I didn’t, no. Since 7/7, security has been ramped up a lot, so it was hard to organise an actual visit to the ghost stations. I tried, but it became a form-filling nightmare that just went on and on, and eventually I had to start writing the book! However, I got the next best thing: a man who’d spent his life working for the Tube, who was just a brilliant source of stories and facts, and a pile of books so high you could use them as a coat stand. Both were invaluable.

Where do you write?

At the moment, our house is undergoing a bit of a change-around, so my study is full of children’s toys. I’m basically homeless inside my own home! For the next couple of months, I’m writing at the dining room table, and using my wife’s old nursing chair (it sounds weird, but – seriously – it’s ridiculously comfortable). It’ll probably stay that way until Book 4 is done, as my submission deadline is in two months and I’m at quite an advanced stage, and then – once we’ve refurbished the other rooms in the house – I’ll finally claim back my study.

When you’re writing, do you prefer a pen or the keyboard? Silence or music? Day or night?

I handwrite a lot of notes, but that’s about as far as my relationship with the pen goes. I use a keyboard to plan and to write the books, I work in total and utter silence (rigorously enforced – just ask my wife), and I write at night ­– not because I’m more inspired at that time, but because I work as a journalist during daylight hours.

What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve just always been interested in words, in language, and in stories. I’d grown up reading thrillers – adventure thrillers mostly, like Ice Station Zebra and When the Lion Feeds – but, gradually, as I got older, I gravitated towards crime fiction, and in particular American crime fiction. I instantly fell in love with writers like Chandler and MacDonald, as well as modern successors like Michael Connelly. Reading Connelly’s Bosch series – as well as Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan and John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing – cemented my desire to write, and, in particular, to write crime and mystery thrillers.

What’s the worst thing about the writing process?

The stage you hit, between about 40,000 and 70,000 words, where you hate everything you’ve written and start to have serious doubts about its quality. That’s happened with every single book I’ve written, and it’s happening right now, today, on Book 4.

And what do you enjoy most about the writing process?

When a book’s published and you start to read the reviews, and get people’s feedback, and you realise it was all worth it. I love hearing from readers.

Do you ever scare yourself when you’re writing? Those tunnel scenes are very spooky!

I have to be honest, not really. However, I always find it fun when readers get in touch and say the books scared them. It’s pretty hard to scare people from the page, so if I manage it – even once a book – I feel a certain amount of pride!

Do you have any rituals you must perform when writing? Or when you’re about to deliver a new manuscript?

Boringly, no. This is my writing routine:

7.30pm – Cup of tea #1, check the internet, read over last chapter

8pm – Writing

9pm – Cup of tea #2

9.15pm – Writing

11pm – Check the internet, wind down, small edits

11.30-12 – Go to bed, fail to drop off to sleep

And when I finish a manuscript, I breathe a big sigh of relief that I’ve (somehow) managed to do it again, despite all the doubt and the fear and the tiny little voice, chipping away, telling me that I don’t have it in me to finish another book.

What do you like doing when you’re not writing?

Read! I don’t read any books – at all – when I’m writing my own novels because I find it too much of a distraction. So, once a manuscript is done, I catch up on all the reading I’ve been putting off for eight months, and basically just blitz books, back to back. Same goes for films, TV and videogames. Downtime is incredibly important to me, as I’m always trying to ensure my wife and daughter don’t forget what I look like, so I’ll generally try to ensure they’re front and centre when I’m not writing… although I’ll always make time to watch Arsenal and my local side Bath City, as I’m a massive, massive football fan.

Do you have a favourite author/book?

I remember reading Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo back in 1993, and as a fifteen year old I was just completely blown away by it. His run of novels from The Black Ice in ’93 through to Trunk Music  in  ’97 were incredible, so the Bosch series (and also The Poet) will always have a special place in my heart because it feels, as a teenager, like I grew up reading them.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Probably Eighties action movies. You’ve got your classics like Aliens, Robocop, Predator, Die Hard, The Untouchables and The Terminator. No one can argue with those. But then you’ve got a whole lot of pretend-they’re-junk-but-secretly-you-like-quite-them destroyfests like Commando, Rambo III, Cobra, Red Heat and the Chuck Norris double-header Code of Silence (which, actually, is surprisingly good), in which he plays the one good cop in town, and Invasion USA (which, actually, is… er, not that good) in which he defeats THE ENTIRE SOVIET ARMY, and drives a Humvee through a shopping mall. Of course he does.

What are you reading now?

As I said earlier, I don’t read while I’m writing, but I do occasionally listen to audiobooks on the walk into work. Last week, I was listening to a BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of The Long Goodbye and Farewell, My Lovely. Toby Stephens was playing Marlowe, and I have to say, he was absolutely brilliant.

What’s next for Raker?

For Raker? Well, I wouldn’t want to say if you haven’t read the end of VANISHED. For me? I’m 77,639 words into Book 4, and have two months to finish the remaining 20-30,000. It’s something a bit different, that’s taken me out of my comfort zone, so it’s been a challenge (but a good one), even if it’s massaged those doubts even more keenly than usual.

What would be your top tip for aspiring writers hoping to get published?

Persevere. Don’t give up. Finish what you’ve started. Then, when you’ve finished, don’t rush it. Put the manuscript down and forget about it for a couple of months. Then come back to it and see it with fresh eyes. That was the difference between me getting a publishing deal and not. Sometimes it becomes so hard to see the wood from the trees when you know your book so intimately. Time away from it can give you the perspective you need.

VANISHED, published by Penguin, is out now!