Wednesday 29 February 2012

The Tale of a Serial Story Monogamist

Some writers can start another project as soon as they finish one. Some can even work on more than one at once. I’ve often wished I was one of those writers. But I’m not.

I used to feel guilty for not cheating on my current WIP. Perhaps my desire to be faithful to one story meant I wasn’t a proper writer. Why couldn’t I write poems and a picture book and a MG novel and a YA novel and perhaps an adult novel while I was there, too? And why couldn’t I leap from one project to the next without a thought for the one I was leaving behind, telling it, “It’s not you, it’s me!”, then unfriending it on Facebook and not returning its calls?

Because I just… couldn’t. That’s why.

I get so wrapped up with whatever story I’m writing that there literally isn’t space in my life for another one. My characters become so real that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them getting on the bus when I’m going to work. To have more than one set of them battling for my attention would be exhausting. 

And if I dive into another project straight after finishing the previous one, I end up writing a rebound book. Before I know it, we’re having screaming rows and heading for the inevitable messy breakup. Any writer you ask will recommend having time off in between drafts of a book, as putting your work to one side for a while helps you see it with fresh eyes when you return to it. Over the years (and with several rebound books behind me) I’ve realised I need to do this before starting a new project, too.

I’m in this place right now, as it happens. I’ve just sent my first round of revisions for ACID back to my editor, and Book 2 (which I’d started just before ACID sold) is waiting to be picked up again. I won’t deny that the temptation to dive straight back in is strong – I miss the routine of writing every day; the thrill of all those plot breakthroughs and eureka moments. But I know that, for a couple of weeks at least, I need to step back.

So, while I’m story-single, I’m doing these things instead:

Tackling my TBR pile (yes, this photo is real). A combination of working at library plus my addiction to bookshops and Amazon means I have ALL THE BOOKS. I seriously need to get them read.

Gardening. During winter, I don’t go outside unless I have to (in other words, twice a day, when the Hound gives me That Look). But when spring starts to creep in, I go into a frenzy, digging the veg beds and spending what little money I have left after my book-buying sprees on plants. I’m no Alan Titchmarsh, but there’s something incredibly satisfying about watching things grow (bit like writing a book, really…).

Walking. Once the weather starts to warm up, I love to get out and find new places, like on Sunday when we went to a huge country park: woods carpeted in snowdrops, some incredible, ancient trees, and a seventeenth-century wall with bricks laid in a beautiful herringbone pattern. It was perfect.

And then there’s catching up with friends, excavating the house from beneath multiple layers of Hound hair and dust… None of this means I’m not thinking about my next project, though. I may not actually be working on it, but we’re flirting like crazy – exchanging glances, brushing past one another, exchanging the odd shy word. Soon – very soon – we’ll pluck up the courage to talk to one another, and hopefully it’ll be the start of something beautiful…

In other news: last week, I gave a preview interview about ACID on Presenting Lenore, the blog of YA author Lenore Appelhans, whose debut novel LEVEL TWO is out from Simon and Schuster BYFR in Fall 2012. If you missed it, you can catch it here, along with many other great interviews and reviews of just out or upcoming dystopian books.

I also have a Facebook author page! There’s not a huge amount on it at the moment, but as ACID creeps closer towards publication, I’ll be putting all my book news there. So if you’d like to like me, I’d like that (and you!) very much indeed. :-)

What about you? Are you a story monogamist or a story polygamist? And if you take breaks between projects, what do you do to recharge your writing batteries?

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Connections and Coincidences

Apologies for being MIA last week. I’ve been finishing up my first round of edits for ACID, and was in the deepest, darkest recesses of the revisions cave with only my survival kit for company. But I’m nearly done now. What will I do with myself when they’re sent off? Hmm. Tackling my TBR pile might be a good idea – if it gets any bigger, it's going to need a risk assessment. I should probably hoover, too…

Anyway, on with today’s post!

I’m fascinated by coincidences – the way seemingly random things can turn out to be connected. Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to writing fiction, as plots are all about patterns and connections (and yes, sometimes you can have coincidences in there too, although you can’t get away with too many).

I say seemingly random, though, because what if they aren’t?

For example, I grew up in an environmental studies centre in the south-east of England. Back in the 18th century, it was a private house, and it was here that the novelist Fanny Burney, described by Virginia Woolf as ‘The mother of English fiction’, met her husband.
What about Virginia Woolf herself? Her husband, Leonard, had a sister called Bella (coincidentally, a writer too)… who was married to one of my ancestors.
And then there’s Jane Austen (who can also be connected back to Fanny Burney, as she took the title of Pride and Predjudice from the final pages of Burney’s Cecelia). The environmental studies centre I grew up in was just a short distance from a place called Box Hill, which features in a scene in Austen’s famous novel Emma. Which is why, when I was born, my parents decided to call me Emma.
So, three hugely influential writers, all connected to each other in some way, and all with a connection to me, also a writer (although I’ll get back to you on the influential part). And before I decided I wanted to be an author, I had no idea about any of them. You could call it coincidence, but sometimes, it makes me wonder if becoming a writer was something that was always meant to happen.

What about you? Do you have any connections like this? I’d love to hear about them!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Picture This

Whenever I'm planning out a new story, the first thing I do is collect pictures – of people who look a bit like my characters; of places and settings that I think might find their way into the story; of anything that sums up the way the story feels. They help me find my way into its world, then to become immersed in it. For me, writing is also very visual – I see my stories in my head like films, and collecting images that relate to my characters and scenes really help with that.

Until now, those pictures have been printed out on scraps of paper and shoved in a notebook along with the rest of my notes for whatever story they belong to, or collected into a document on the computer and, after the story is written, forgotten about. That was, until the other day, when I got an invite to join Pinterest from Twitter friend and fellow blogger Nettie Thomson (you can check out her wonderful website and blog here). Pinterest is a kind of virtual pinboard, where you can 'pin' pictures you find on the internet and sort them into categories. Of course, I jumped at the chance to sign up. And although I haven't had a lot of time (yet!) to play around with it, you can find the beginnings of my board for ACID here. I'd love to know what you think!

In other news, I'm going to be taking part in my first ever author event as part of the 2012 Derbyshire Literature Festival in May - eek! It's a panel discussion with fellow YA author and Lucky 13 CJ Flood, whose debut novel INFINITE SKY is out from Simon and Schuster in early 2013, and poet Helen Mort, whose debut poetry collection DIVISION STREET is being published by Chatto and Windus, also in 2013. And it will be chaired by recent Derbyshire Poet Laureate and current Writer-In-Residence with Writing East Midlands River Wolton. What great company to be in, eh? I'll post more details as soon as I have them.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

The Books That Made Me Fall In Love With Words

My mum and dad tell me that when I was very small, I used to come into their room into the small hours of the morning to announce I was bored. So they did what any self-respecting parents driven half-crazy by lack of sleep and middle-of-the-night demands for entertainment would do: they taught me to read.

I don’t remember this. For me, reading’s something that’s always been there, like breathing. What I do remember is the books that were more than just books – the ones that made me fall in love with words.

Tim and the Hidden People (series) by Sheila K. McCullagh

I discovered these at school when I was about 5 or 6. While everyone else was listening to the teacher reading about Roger Red Hat (another series by Sheila McCullagh) I’d sneak these off the shelves to catch up with the adventures of Tim, a boy who finds a hidden kingdom, and explores it with the help of a cat called Tobias. Often, I’d get so absorbed, I’d be completely unaware that the teacher had stopped reading and was giving me the Stare of Death™ until she came over and took the book out of my hands.

Black Harvest by Ann Pilling

By the time I got to middle school, I’d developed an appetite for ghost stories. One of my favourites was this dark and incredibly creepy book about Colin and Prill, who are dismayed when they find out their dorky cousin Oliver is coming with them on a much-anticipated holiday to Ireland. When they get there, though, Oliver turns out to be the least of their worries. Strange things start to happen – a terrible smell hangs in the air, Prill is haunted by nightmares and their baby sister falls ill. In the end it’s Oliver, the only one who seems unaffected, who discovers a connection to the Great Famine, and must fight to save them all. I remember this being the first book I ever read where, instead of seeing places I already knew in the real world, I saw places that were completely out of my own imagination, conjured up entirely by the words.

I also loved funny books, and there’s few authors funnier than Michael Rosen. This book is about Frank, who has to wait at the museum one night while his mum, who’s the cleaner there, finishes her shift. The exhibits, which include a talking doughnut-obsessed skeleton, come to life and together, they have all sorts of adventures. I got it through a book club at school and read it until it dropped to pieces.

In honour of the great man himself, I’m going to leave you with a video I discovered yesterday after a friend tweeted about it. The only word for it is… genius.

What about you? Which books made you fall in love with words and reading?