Before going back to it in the first week of January I’d last worked on The Shrewsbury Murders for a couple of hours on 23 December. It was hardly creative writing; more a stop-start exercise on a chapter that should have been easy but was now proving stubborn.

What bothered me most was the fact I knew exactly what I wanted it to achieve but I kept hesitating. All I needed to do for the plot was introduce an old cottage in Wales and the mother of Cassie, one of the main characters. Cassie’s mom Penelope was to be something of a forlorn figure, very unwell and plotted to die in the not too distant future. She was late 40s; pale countenance; lonely and overall sad. Like her antecedents she’d known a lot of men but ultimately none had wanted to stay with her.

The cottage came easily enough; I’d actually toured a former mine manager’s cottage during a trip to Wales in August and taken photographs. And I knew what Penelope would look like and pretty much what she’d say. But when I began to write her the oddest thing happened: the image I had kept being replaced by someone vivacious; unlucky, but still hoping for the best. And this person was in robust health with a sense of humour and a hard edge to her. I suddenly had great trouble describing her per the original plan. I could almost feel her behind me hissing ‘I’m not like that!’

So strong was this impression that I decided on impulse to write her in the new unplotted way to see what happened. I’ve had similar things before but only with major characters, and doubtless all other writers have too. I set about it and for the first time that day the words flowed well and the figure behind me relaxed. She’d become attractive, vivacious, and her ‘victim’ aspect had changed to that of someone who realised most of her issues were her own fault. She was also feisty and just a bit sexy. She was definitely not going to die of a ‘wasting disease’ as my plot overview intended.

I discovered she smoked rollups and enjoyed Mike Ambrose’s  cocktails so much she took his recipe for Dry Martinis. She also now had good rapport with Cassie who treated her more as an older pal than a somewhat estranged sick mother. She somehow got herself invited to Shrewsbury where the murders are taking place. The chapter also acquired a ghost that scares Mike but which she is matter of fact and almost humorous about. All this rolled off Microsoft Word as if I’d planned every detail. I felt I’d done the character justice but then realised it was ridiculous to write her this way when it tore up a chunk of plotting and removed rationale for what would happen a couple of chapters further in.

I’m not the most disciplined writer in the world but I’ve plotted Murders carefully and had no reason to interfere with a perfectly acceptable scenario. Writing the novel as planned wasn’t easy so why on earth make it harder at this relatively late stage? Much easier to stick to the original plot: credible in context and providing a neat way to reveal the cottage’s dark secret.

It was very late and I decided to stop and revise it tomorrow. I was annoyed with myself for wasting two hours or so for the pleasure of giving myself unnecessary grief. I had no idea why I’d done it and went to bed feeling distinctly low.

Early Sunday morning I fed the cats, chopped logs for kindle, emptied bins and suddenly had an idea whereby I could give the unwanted section a piece of additional business that would make the overall plot far creepier than my original. But I would still be left with a major structural problem. ‘Don’t be tempted’ I thought, but soon found myself putting the new words into last night’s unwanted section just to see how it read.

Like the other unwelcome words it read well. Nevertheless if I seriously considered keeping it I’d need a clear explanation for the new activities the chapter now contained. The ghost would be difficult but matters preceding it even more so. Again I just wanted to go with the original plot, but there was Penelope reappearing, wagging her finger and insisting she would not be merely an empty vessel; she had as much right to come to life as anyone else in the book.

I gave myself an hour to sort it out or go with plan A. By noon I still couldn’t square it but the new sections remained unchanged. I had no idea why and once again retired in confusion. We had lunch, watched a football match, went for a long walk, lit the fire, washed up; all the usual stuff. By six I was back at the desk and doing more research. If I kept the new stuff I had to find a way to justify the additional Mike / Cassie / Penelope activity and find a credible place for Pen later in the book.

An hour later I had it, and excitedly wrote it out in pencil on scrap paper. I slept better that night; did the final changes Monday morning and now have my cantankerous and rebellious Chapter 10 in the main draft. I’m happy and believe Penelope is too.

I still have no idea how it all happened and just hope none of the other characters decides to rebel. But I am sure, despite the risks of judging your own work, that what I have now is more interesting, varied and a better read than what I would have had originally.

So thanks, Pen: you’ve earned the right to grow wings and take a more permanent place in The Shrewsbury Murders.

I just wish I knew how.