Keeping Track with Guest Joyce Woollcott

Edith/Maddie north of Boston, eating all the sweet corn and tomatoes I can.

I’m delighted to bring Joyce Woollcott back to the blog today, with Blood Relations, her new and second Belfast Murder mystery! Joyce and I met at the now infamous COVID super-spreader party at Malice Domestic 2022, and we’re both members of the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter. I loved A Nice Place to Die, the first Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride story, and can’t wait to sink my teeth into the new one. I know you’ll love it, too.

Here’s the blurb: Belfast, Northern Ireland: early spring 2017. Retired Chief Inspector Patrick Mullan is found brutally murdered in his bed. Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride and his partner Detective Sergeant Billy Lamont are called to his desolate country home to investigate. In their inquiry, they discover a man whose career with the Police Service of Northern Ireland was overshadowed by violence and corruption.

Is the killer someone from Mullan’s past, or his present? And who hated the man enough to kill him twice? Is it one of Patrick Mullan’s own family, all of them hiding a history of abuse and lies? Or a vengeful crime boss and his psychopathic new employee? Or could it be a recently released prisoner desperate to protect his family and flee the country? Ryan and Billy once again face a complex investigation with wit and intelligence, all set in Belfast and the richly atmospheric countryside around it.  

Keeping Track

It’s hard to believe I’m introducing the second book in my Belfast Murder Series, yet here it is. And even if the prevailing thought is that it’s easier the second time around –– well, that’s not true in my case. In a series, especially one with quite a few characters, there’s this thing called a Character Bible. Clever writers keep one, others, like me, scramble when writing number two. I suppose when I started, I didn’t think I’d be doing another book, but frankly––and more truthfully, I’m not that organized.

And it’s not just about keeping names straight, it’s keeping ages right, color of hair and eyes, even personality traits. Friends of mine, other authors, speak of flow charts and other means of keeping track. Excel and PowerPoint, charts and Pages. I have about ten wire-bound notebooks from the dollar store, mostly half-full of scribbled information and ideas.

Sprinkled in those pages are notes on my main characters, ages and critical details. The only thing is I’m constantly asking myself––when was Ryan’s birthday again? What age is he now? And, where the heck did I put that information? The pink notebook with the cats on the cover? So you see, not the best way to write a series.

Being organized is also very helpful in keeping the story straight and as you might guess, that’s another wee problem I have. Again, clever authors keep detailed calendars populated with characters doing various important things in carefully choreographed synchronicity!

Not me my friends. I write the books in my own timeline, asking only of my hero… what’s the next step in the investigation? And somehow, it works out, with the help of the aforementioned notebooks and stickies and index cards all over the carpet, rearranged occasionally by the dog, (bad idea, btw) yes, it does all come together in the end.

Oh, how I wish it could be more streamlined, but I suppose that would be a different book and a different writer. So for now, unless I get struck by lightening and suddenly become organized, my books will form like magic out of post-its, hastily scribbled indecipherable notes, and odd annotations on my computer calendar. I am working on it though. Now, where did I put that notebook?  

Readers: What about you? Are you organised? Do you make perfect lists of things to accomplish in the day or the week, or do you scrawl notes to yourself when the fancy takes you? Do you have
friends and family birthdays and special occasions carefully listed in a special notebook, or have
you illegible messages to yourself scribbled on the fridge?

J. Woollcott is a Canadian writer born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and BCAD, University of Ulster. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers and Crime Writers of Canada. In 2019 her first novel, A Nice Place to Die,  won the Romance Writers of America Daphne du Maurier Award for Unpublished Mystery and Suspense, in 2021 it was short-listed in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence and is now a finalist in Killer Nashville’s 2023 Silver Falchion Awards. Find her at her web site and on Twitter:  @JoyceWoollcott 

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38 Thoughts

  1. Congrats on your book release. I am organized, the only way I can keep things straight and on schedule.

  2. Your second book — excellent, Joyce! Yes, I’m one of “those” who likes to put things in their place.

    For me, I adopted and then adapted the Scrivener app to keep my Character Bible. The writing system I use even includes a character profile based on the Enneagram of Personality. Bottom line, all those physical and emotional traits find their way into the individual profiles. The documented traits are only a click away when needed.

    Best of all, the Enneagram method gives me the ability to create character arcs that progress positive or negative based on whether the person feels secure or stressed. Fun, too!

      1. If that’s of interest, visit my site, click the search menu, and enter “Enneagram.” It will save searching the internet.

  3. Oh geez, i can tell it must be a lot of work for writers! I like to think of myself as organized lol – lots of index cards and appointments and birthdays logged into my calendar so I won’t miss anything.

    1. Kathy, Index cards for birthdays and appointments! Oh my. Now I’m jealous… and in your computer too? Not fair… 🙂 Joyce.

  4. Joyce, congratulations on the new book. Reading the synopsis, I’m definitely looking into picking up A NICE PLACE TO DIE and then grabbing BLOOD RELATIONS.

    As for my level of organization. I’d say when it comes to keeping track of stuff I have to write about, I’m pretty organized. I do keep a list of certain things but I’m not obsessive about tracking everything I do. Even though at work, I do keep notes for stuff that I need to have on hand.

    1. Now, see Jay, I’m so disorganized I can’t remember if I posted your reply before! Honestly I was marginally better prepared at work, but I think that part of my brain went on a long holiday when I finished working for good. If you pick up the books let me know if you enjoy them, thanks for the comments too, Joyce 🙂

  5. Can’t wait for the opportunity to read BLOOD RELATIONSM, which sounds absolutely fabulous.

    First, I think I must explain. My Mom was the organizer – the one where everything has a place and everything is in it. My Dad was the family historian so to speak. He was the one that knew every relative, where they lived and information like date of birth, death and birthdays. He never missed one. We often laughed because Dad said each memory was a reason to celebrate and for Dad that mean dessert or going out to eat. So every time we went out to eat we would ask who were we celebrating this time. 🙂 Both bring back sweet memories.

    Now me, after I left home, I didn’t see the reason for putting that book away instead of putting it down and I did good to remember birthdays for those in my immediate family. However, as I’ve “matured”, I have found it easier to find things if they are where they are suppose to be. Lord knows my memory isn’t going to go back through the steps I took to figure out where I left it last. I’ve also learned to keep not everyone’s, but those closest to me and important to me, important information in a calendar of sorts on my computer. Each month, I look it up and transfer information from that money to my paper calendar where I keep all my long list of medical appointments, dates for test and/or procedures and any other places I HAVE to be somewhere at on a certain date. Once again, Lord knows I’d never remember or keep it all straight otherwise. Isn’t it amazing that even as a senior citizen we are still learning exactly how smart our parents were!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Kay, I like your idea of keeping just the most important information organized, I’m thinking that’s a fine thing to shoot for myself, baby steps, right? Thanks very much for your comments, Joyce

  6. Thanks for having me on the blog Edith! And my goodness your readers are early birds! Everyone is more organized than me. Now I’m going to turn over a new leaf, I’m off to buy a nice fresh notebook…😉 Joyce.

    1. LOL, we do have some earlybirds – and I’m one of them! Delighted to have you here. Like Grant, I keep track of my characters and everything I know about them in Scrivener, but minus the Enneagram method.

  7. Grant,that sounds like a great method, I might just look into that. Goodness knows I need help! Thanks for comments! Joyce:-)

  8. Big time congratulations on the new release, Joyce! I was super organized when I worked in the legal field. Since then, and especially since I now work from home, not so much!

    1. J.C. Ahh, at least one person not totally organized, after reading my own blog though I’m aiming to do better… 🙂 Thanks for the comments, Joyce

  9. Congrats, Joyce! I’d say I’m partly organized. Usually I have a calendar; I think I’ve forgotten to start one this time. But the plan is to have the story last five days, I’d have to switch from my normal month-view to a daily. Hmm.

    1. I’ve tried a calendar Liz, but then I write my notes in tiny lines and run out of room… then on the computer I can’t be bothered with all that typing and it’s not so convenient so I give up…I just think my mind doesn’t work in that way… 🙂 Joyce

  10. Joyce, it’s inspiring to think a SECOND ‘complex’ investigation being solved with ‘wit and intelligence’ can be written without a huge amount of mapping it out and planning ahead of time–encouraging that such a complicated and intricate story can be written as a pantser, I suppose. Congratulations to and celebrations for your keen conscious and subconscious memory that led you to the entry you needed, in whichever variant of those ten or so notebooks that held all your backstory, research, and what I call ‘tidbits.’ (Those tidbits seem to be the hardest to find).
    I am writing the second manuscript of a series right now, while the first manuscript is being considered by a few publishers. I always intended for my work to be a series and had heard about series bibles. I made one humungous Word document that holds it all. Too big, but at least I can use the search to narrow down the hunt. It feels like it works for me so far.
    Thanks, Joyce and Edith. This post was thought-provoking and fun.

    1. Thanks for the lovely reply, Pamela, and if I had realized at the beginning of my writing journey, how important keeping organized would be… to be truthful, I probably would still be all over the place, but I keep trying, I do! 🙂 Joyce

  11. Joyce–first congratulations on the second book, which sounds amazing! Right up my alley! I’m like you–notes all over the place. I do begin a giant loose-leaf notebook for every book and keep a spreadsheet of dates, days, chapters, scenes, pages, etc. But I find myself having to do Word searches through previous books to refresh my memory. Is this in an audio format yet?

    1. Hi Connie, This is the thing, I do start one notebook per book, then misplace it, and start another one, and it all goes downhill from there. I should subdivide those books into setting and plot points and character etc, but all those bright ideas end up in different books in different rooms… so how I ever get a book written, and a coherent one at that, remains a mystery…although my editor might factor in there somewhere, just saying’! 🙂 This book will be coming out in audio from Tantor, and book one, A Nice Place to Die, is already out, read by a terrific Irish narrator, Alan Smyth. He has narrated James Joyce too, so absolutely no pressure there! :-O Hopefully, he will be reading Blood Relations. Thanks for asking, 🙂 Joyce

  12. Hi Joyce,
    Congratulations on Book 2!!!
    My mother is the organized person in my family. I take more after my dad. For years he has said that he can find anything in three tries. And he pretty much can.
    When somebody mentions and Excel Spread sheet, my brain shuts down. But I use Scrivener for keeping up with my characters and details. I don’t use it to write manuscripts though.
    Congrats again!

    1. Jackie, I think I am going to look into Scrivener. Too many people love it, and my goodness what’s the harm in trying… right? And let’s not be silly now, with Excel and all that, you’re making me feel faint… :-O Thanks for the comment, Joyce 🙂

  13. Welcome, Joyce! I love Irish detective stories. We constantly watch shows on Britbox or Acorn TV. Congratulations on your newest book, A NICE PLACE TO DIE. I am placing it in my TBR list and am sure it will be thrilling. I have always been an organizational freak…I worked for an airline and was constantly traveling internationally, so the slightest omission in my plans could cause chaos. Now I am semi-retired and my memory is not what it used to be, so I have notepads and sticky notes that I constantly write on to remind me of tasks I need to accomplish. I am now almost stress-less, and life is good 🙂 Thank you for sharing your writing skills with us readers, who want to travel to your world. Luis at ole dot travel

    1. Fantastic Luis. So, the judicious use of notes and post-its helps with everyday life too? Yes! I will expand my use of them to the kitchen and the laundry room! Now my husband will be picking them off the floor all over the house as well and I’ll have Luis to blame! I actually do make grocery lists but misplace them, I think you see where this is going… 🙂 Thanks for the comments, best, Joyce

  14. Welcome back to the blog, Joyce! I’ve lately become very interested in Northern Ireland, so I look forward to reading Blood Relations.

    I did keep character notes in Scrivener, but over the course of a long series (12 books and 6 novellas), I found that I knew the main cast so well I never looked at it. As to the secondary cast, and things like the names of shops and boats, I never knew what was coming back, so therefore had never captured the right things. So I created a word doc with all the books and novellas in it and use search to find the info I need.

    I always have a notion of the timeline of a story when I start it, but I leave the task of figuring out what exact day things happen on until I create a timeline between the first and second drafts. I also do a timeline for the backstory at that time and maybe a few others as needed.

    1. Barbara, that’s a good idea, leaving the timeline until later. I always worry about that. Although I do need to know what day I’m in etc in case say something happens on a Sunday for example which wouldn’t normally happen. Thanks! Joyce.

  15. I remember each family members birthdays anniversaries and sadly when each member of the family passes away.
    This series looks really good I love mysteries set in the British Isles and Ireland and Scotland.
    Donna McKenzie

      1. With several books, I have constructed a timeline after I finished the first draft, just to make sure everything was in the right order. Amazing the gaffs you find!

  16. I am not at all organized, and I would be in your boat if I were writing a novel or series. I can sympathize.

  17. I am some place in between. I used to be such an A+++ personality. I drove everyone crazy including myself. Once I became disabled, I am a bit more laid back. After the death of my Mom in January, I just have let a lot of things fall by the way side. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.

    1. Thank you Debra, sorry about your Mom. Sometimes it’s best to just let things go and live a more laid-back life if you can, take care of yourself, Joyce

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