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November 2016: Finding my McGuffin

Having just delivered the first draft of the third Dan Forrester novel to my publisher, I find myself in a strange old place between the old and the new.

Part of my mind is still fettling the third book, adding sentences to flesh out the emotions of the final scenes, inserting more dialogue to make sure the denouement is fully explained, but the other part is already leaping and bounding ahead and thinking about Book 4. Which means I’m taking lots of notes (rear of notebook for Book 3, front of notebook for Book 4) so I don’t forget anything – always easily done at this stage.

I already have the kernel of an idea for Book 4. I’m always on the lookout for what Hitchcock calls the McGuffin, which is an object or device which serves as a trigger for the story. It’s invariably something that truly fires my interest and evokes strong discussion and feelings in others.

For example, in Spare Me The Truth, the McGuffin was the real-life research into deleting memories. I read an article by the Telegraph’s science correspondent Richard Gray, who said, “Researchers have found they can use drugs to wipe away single, specific memories while leaving other memories intact.” WOW! I thought. A memory erasing drug! Now, that I can use.

I have a folder stuffed with clippings that I delve into at this tender stage of plotting. There are articles on cybersecurity, kidnappings, cutting edge weapons, multimillionaires, suicides, alimony 20 years on, no-strings sex, imaginary illnesses, immortality, spooks and Nazi grandfathers. Oddly, any of these can happily be added to the book as a sub-plot of some sort, enriching and supplementing the main story.

I love a complex plot. I love books with highly dramatic situations, plots that include sometimes bizarre and surprising confrontations that propel the characters into more and more powerful actions. I love learning stuff too, from how to identify a black mamba track in the African bush from Wilbur Smith to setting up a shelf company in Spy Games by Adam Brookes (brilliant book, by the way).

So, I have my kernel, which I am very excited about. It’s like a tiny hot coal in the palm of my hand that I keep warm and blow on from time to time.

I never tell anyone my idea, not because they might steal it but because weirdly, the instant I tell someone, I lose interest in it. I did this once, and almost immediately the hot coal was no longer glowing brightly and was merely a lump of dull coal and I had to go out and find another McGuffin!

I already have my characters, and quite what I’m going to put Dan and Lucy through in their fourth adventure, I’m not sure yet – but between you and me, I can’t wait to get started!

My idea glows like a tiny hot coal in the palm of my hand – but weirdly the instant I tell someone, the hot coal was no longer glows brightly

My idea glows like a tiny hot coal in the palm of my hand – but weirdly the instant I tell someone, the hot coal no longer glows brightly, so for now, it’s all mine.