An Interview with Robin Driscoll
Robin Driscoll is a screenwriter turned novelist, best known for his role as the primary writer for Mr Bean. Several years ago, he took up a new writing challenge and is now a mystery thriller author.
When did you first decide you wanted to become an author?
That would be around four years ago. Before that I’d spent nearly thirty years writing comedy for stage and TV. I’m in my early sixties now and comedy has changed to keep pace with the times, which is only natural. Young audiences need young writers and there are some great ones out there. I’ve been lucky to have had a career ‘making’ things and the switch to writing books allows me to carry on doing so.
Why do you write? What drives you to do it?
The short answer is ego. Choosing to earn my living as a writer and performer required an audience. Earning money aside, it was the level of applause I received for a job well done that drove me on to the next. My main drive, though, has come from people who told me that I would never be able to write or be on television. I’ve worked hard to prove them wrong and will continue to do so.
How did you learn story structure?
I learned a lot about storytelling by attending lectures by scriptwriting gurus, Robert McKee, John Truby and Jurgen Wolff. Also by reading a lot of books on the subject. But mostly I learned on my feet; writing and performing on stage with a touring theatre where your audiences soon tell you when you’ve got it wrong. Plot structure is necessary when writing a story, but that doesn’t mean we can’t break the rules.
What is your writing schedule like and how do you plan your stories?
I don’t really have a writing schedule because when I start a book I really don’t know how long it’s going to take me. My very first book, ‘Rough Music’, took five years after I discovered how different the process was from writing scripts.
The first two in my Josie King mystery series, ‘The Unborn’ and ‘Still Warm’, took about four or five months each. I’m presently in the middle of the third in the series, ‘Remote.’ I’m not sure how long it will take as it’s being naughty and uncooperative at the moment and will get a smacked knee if it doesn’t buck up.
Do you have any particular writing habits, e.g. a place you like to sit or a favourite time of day to write?
I tend to write mostly in the mornings. I’m very slow because I’m impatient and tend to do my research as I go along rather than in a great lump at the start. There was a time when I’d print out what I’d written, pop the pages into my bag with a notebook, and set off to the pub or café where I would sit in a corner and edit it. Now I send the pages to my Kindle address and edit on my phone. Oh, how I love technology.
Do you tend to base your settings and characters on real places and people?
I have mostly visited or stayed in the places mentioned in my books. And if I haven’t, Google has. I can’t say that I’ve based my characters on particular people but certainly have on people-types. I find people’s speech patterns interesting. And I do amuse myself by using the names of friends in my books. Josie King is an actual friend. A great name for a sleuth, I thought. She has a Boston terrier called Sox who is also in the series.
Do you have a favourite book, place, or character from your own work?
My favourite book would be ‘Rough Music.’ I don’t know why but probably because it was my first baby. My favourite character is Josie King, though. She does and says things that I don’t think I could get away with being a man. It’s fun to be in her head.
Which three words would you use to describe your writing?
Pacey, unpredictable and witty. That’s the aim, anyway.
What inspired you to write mystery thrillers? Why not write comedy?
That’s an easy one. I chose to write mystery thrillers because that’s what I like to read. Michael Connelly is my favourite crime author with his hero, Harry Bosch.
All those years writing comedy, the last thing I felt like doing before going to bed was to read more funny stuff. I’ll admit, though, that after finishing the Josie King trilogy, I’m entertaining the next book being a comedy.
How does book writing differ from scriptwriting?
A scriptwriter imagines they’re sitting in front of a TV or cinema screen and writes down what they see. They’re not in the heads of their characters in the same way that an author is. The scriptwriter has to ‘show’ what a character is thinking or feeling through their actions. John can say that he hates Jane but we see how much he loves her by the way he slams the door on his way out. The scriptwriter may simply write that John slams the door.
The actors and director know how to bring out the emotions that lie in the subtext. It’s a collaboration. The script itself is usually quite a sparse document. Mr. Bean scripts were even more so. Novels and scripts are very different mediums and I found that when I made the switch I needed a whole new toolbox. It was like learning something from scratch. And still is at times.
What are you currently writing, if anything?
‘Remote’ is the third in the Josie King mystery series and, as I say, I’m still working on it. Hopefully those who have read my first book, ‘Rough Music’, will enjoy returning to the Isle of Garg. In that story, Becky Gordon goes into hiding. Ten years on and Josie King is given the job of finding her.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a writer?
In truth? How it is that a hundred people can give your book a five-star review, and then one comes along and rubbishes it.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you have an idea but don’t feel you have the confidence to write a book, just take the time to read a little about how to do it first. You’ll find that your idea will grow the more you read about how to write it, and that your confidence will grow by the same measure. There’s a lot of free stuff online to get you off and running. Good luck!
You can find out more about Robin and his work on his website - www.robondriscoll.org