Writers' Minds - Marnie Riches

Illustrator - Whizzy Barr
Ever wondered what makes a writer tick? What cogs of creativity whirr to bring stories to life? We take a peek into the minds behind the craft and probe for creative rituals, routines and inspiration hunting. 


Marnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in Manchester, aptly within sight of the dreaming spires of Strangeways prison. She swapped those for the spires of Cambridge University, gaining a Masters degree in Modern & Medieval Dutch and German. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist, a property developer and professional fundraiser. In her spare time, she likes to run, renovate houses and paint. Oh, and drinking. She likes a drink. And eating. She likes that too. Especially in exotic destinations. 

Having authored the first six books of HarperCollins Children’s Time-Hunters series, her George McKenzie NA crossover crime thrillers were inspired, in part, by her own youth and time spent in The Netherlands as a student. Her debut, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die won a coveted Dead Good Reader Award 2015The Patricia Highsmith Award for Most Exotic Location in a crime novel – and spent weeks in Amazon’s Kindle top 100, garnering over 250 reviews, most of them 5*. Her follow-up, The Girl Who Broke the Rules is also proving immensely popular with younger and older readers alike. Marnie also writes children’s and contemporary women’s fiction. 

So Marnie, get comfy on the couch as we lift the lid on your writer’s mind… 

Inspiration - are you a hunter or gatherer? 

Ideas tend to lurk in my head for a long while like amorphous blobs. I scribble the odd note into my pad with the heading, “IDEA FOR NOVEL” – a bit like Alan Partridge. If I had a Dictaphone, I would definitely be at risk of turning into Alan Partridge, complete with driving gloves. The vague idea hangs around, fermenting, while I get on with my WIP. Then, if my agent asks me to come up with a new story outline, I sit down and focus on this gut feeling that my half-assed idea might make a killer novel. I often find my subconscious has done all the work for me and a story plops out with relative ease. Throw in some research and even more story presents itself, plus some interesting characters who will become benevolent dictators in their own right, steering the action down paths of their choosing. So, I’m both a hunter and a gatherer, I guess! 

Are you a plotter or pantser? 

My NA/adult crossover crime thrillers are pretty complex, multi-layered things, which skip back and forth in time, having roving points of view and different narrative voices. If I tried to pants them, I’d write myself into a literary cul-de-sac at the 20,000 word mark. I have, however, tried to do very detailed, lengthy outlines in the past, but found I’d ran out of creative steam by the time I’d finished. So, that was definitely not the route for me to take. Having penned three MG stories, two YA stories, six 7+ books, one contemporary women’s novel and three thrillers in my series now (only the 7+ and thrillers have been published – the rest are “practice”), I have settled into a routine whereby I draft a two to six page synopsis and write straight from that. The main plot and major subplots are there. The structure is in place. The characters are formed, but I still have surprises to discover along the way and themes always emerge afterwards. It’s the perfect balance for me! 

Shed sitter or cafe dreamer? 

Shed sitter, definitely. Except my shed is an office – I’ve snaffled a bedroom for my writing. With family life happening at volume in the background, if I hadn’t hived off a sensible workspace with a shuttable door, I’d be writing a string of sfhdkgh;fghsf. Cafés are for staring at people and observing the world. I need to go for a wee too often to work in one. I’d get my laptop nicked! Plus, I’m always skint and can’t afford almost £3 a pop for coffee. PLUS, I’m very sensitive to caffeine. I’d never sleep again! The very thought of working in one is stressful. 

Any mottos or words of wisdom hung above your desk? 

No. In my office, I have my Dead Good Reader/Patricia Highsmith Award on my desk and I have my literary agency contract framed on the wall – both to remind me that I can write and that this career as an author is real. Some days, you lack confidence, so those two things spur me on. 

Target word count per day or as it comes? 

I have very strict deadlines and a fast turnaround for full length novels. I have written 300,000 words this year. I aim for a steady 1,500 words per day but almost always end up doing about 1K per day at the start of a novel and caning 2K per day in a manic frenzy towards the deadline. 

Pen or Keyboard? 

Notes in pen. Research in pen. Plotting, post-first-draft in pen. Actual writing on the keyboard. 

Music or silence? 

Definitely silence. I do have my own little soundtrack to novels and I put obscure musical references in my writing for people to find – never quoting lyrics straight, of course, because that’s an expensive mistake to make! I play music during the in-between bits, when I’m brewing the story. George McKenzie, my main character, loves old Motown as well as Dub-step. Van den Bergen is an ageing Indie-kid. He likes Radiohead, Depeche Mode and 1990s grunge! 

Chocolate or wine? 

Wine and gin. I call it prose prunes, for when I’m suffering from a spot of literary constipation. 

Perspiration or inspiration? 

With my writing schedule, mostly perspiration. The inspiration happens when I’m resting or asleep! 

To get into the Zone, do you use any techniques or triggers? Anything truly weird and eccentric?

I don’t have the luxury of techniques and triggers. I just sit down and start to work because I have a deadline to meet and a book that I’m in crazy love with. There’s a meme going round with a quote from Stephen King, who says, “Stopping a piece of work, just because it’s hard either emotionally or imaginatively is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it & sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing to do is shovel shit from a sitting position.” I guess those words might be my motto. 

Do you ever hear your character’s voice in your head? 

All the time. And I read my dialogue out in their voices too. I spend an awful lot of time switching between George’s S.E. London tirade of youthful attitude and Van den Bergen’s acerbic, clipped speech. If people overheard me or saw me acting passages out, they’d think I was crazy. But if it doesn’t work when I read it out, I’ve written it badly and have to start again. 

If there is one key piece of advice, one gem of wisdom about the craft of writing, be it character development, re-writing or plot vs story, what would that be? 

Ooh, that’s a tricky one. My main piece of advice is to persist and practice. Practice makes perfect, and I can never understand when an aspiring author refuses to begin a new piece of work when their manuscript fails to find an agent or a publisher. Move on! Get better! Stimulate your imagination with new characters and stories. To be a skilled author; to gain that confidence in your ability and know you’re serving your time in what is a life-long apprenticeship, you need to work your writing muscles hard. You must aspire to become a crack literary athlete, and like crack athletes, you must work out and push all the different muscle groups. Write different story lengths, age groups and genres. Understand the way others do it successfully. Aim to test yourself to the limit, gunning for your own weak spots until they too become strong points. Practice. That’s my gem! 

Lou Minns is the joint Features Editor for Words & Pictures.

Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org 

Follow: @LMMinns


  1. Marnie, I don't know anyone else who prefers silence to music when writing, so yay! That makes me feel better! I loved this interview.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Sheila. Thanks for having me along, W&P! It's always fun to compare notes on the writing process. I have some terrible habits... Marnie x

  3. I'm with you Sheila and Marnie. I prefer silence. And anything vaguely resembling a lyrics I find totally distracting! Thanks Marnie, I'm off to open some 'Prose Prunes' - LOVE it!


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