Friday 30 March 2012

Author Interview - H M Castor

For my first author interview of 2012, I'm thrilled to welcome H M Castor! I first met Harriet on Twitter and have since been lucky enough to meet her in person, as well as read her fabulous YA novel VIII, which is out in paperback this Sunday.

Hi, Harriet. Thank you for agreeing to be on the blog! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Thank you, Emma, for having me here. I love this blog, & feel very honoured to be your guest.

I’m a writer, and though I’ve done other jobs along the way, I’ve been writing, sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time, sometimes spare-time, for my entire adult life. I’ve had 40-something books published, both fiction and non-fiction, and (apart from one adult novel a long time ago) they’ve all been children’s books. Now, for the first time, I’ve written a YA novel. It’s called VIII, & was published in hardback last autumn. It’s coming out in paperback on April 1st (whoop!).

I grew up in Warwickshire, used to live in London, & now live in Bristol with my husband & two young daughters. History was my degree & is my passion. Dance has been another life-long love & one of my ‘other’ jobs was as a dance notator at The Royal Ballet. Which was extraordinary & fascinating.

When did you start writing, and why?

Well, I guess I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. As a child, I used to fold pieces of paper to make my own books, and then fill in the pages, as so many kids do. I would produce whole series and try to sell them to my parents for 2p a throw! I loved books and loved reading, but one thing I do remember clearly is that, when I read a book I loved – when a book grabbed me in a certain way – I wanted to be able to produce that effect myself… Right from early on I wanted to participate rather than be a member of the audience, as it were. And I guess that was a way of beginning to think about how to write – asking: how did the author do that? For example, when I was probably about 9, I read ‘The Homeward Bounders’ by Diana Wynne Jones. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but it has a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. That twist hit me smack between the eyes and made me want to turn straight back to the beginning and reread the whole thing knowing what I now knew. I loved that effect, not just in a sit-back-and-enjoy-it way, but in terms of what DWJ had done & how she’d done it. It was, perhaps, the moment I fell in love with story structure. And I still adore that side of writing! (And, incidentally, I wrote to DWJ back then about how much I loved the book & she wrote me a wonderful letter in reply, for which I shall be forever grateful. Her books, more than any others, made me want to be a writer.)

In terms of why I started writing, that’s only a part of it, though. On some mysterious gut level I knew that I wanted to write (though somehow that didn’t preclude wanting to be a ballet dancer too!). What I wanted to write and how I could do it, I didn’t know. It’s taken me many, many years to find that out. And if I’m strictly honest with myself it’s only now, with VIII and the follow-up that I’m currently working on, that I feel I’m finally writing what I always wanted & needed to.

What made you decide to write for younger readers?

Curiously – and by a stroke of immense good fortune – I was first published at a very young age. So of course I was writing children’s books, as I was still a child myself. After that, I simply carried on, broadening my experience within the same field. VIII, as I mentioned, is my first YA book, and it’s arguable that it could have been a novel for adults. But it didn’t feel that way when the idea arrived, and – perhaps crucially – in my view there is absolutely no value difference between YA and adult fiction, so I have no problem in seeing the boundary between the two as pretty fluid. As Patrick Ness said in a recent interview, “the book told me what it needed to be”. (And if you’re interested, the interview is here:

How long did it take you to get published?

The jammy thing is, I was published before I’d had time to think about how difficult it might be. It’s only as an adult that I’ve truly realised what an immense piece of good fortune that was.

It happened in a rather wonderful way. One day, in the summer holidays when I was twelve, I was bored & decided to write a story. Then, on a whim, I decided to send the story to a publisher – just as something to do, really. I imagined it was a picture book text, but as it happened the publisher I sent it to (Liz Attenborough at Penguin) was looking for texts for short chapter-books for new readers – a fresh idea at the time, though of course one that took off in a big way subsequently. She thought my story would fit the format if I could add several more about the same character, to make one story per chapter. So, during the autumn term I wrote a few more stories, and at the end of the Christmas holidays Liz invited me to bring them to Penguin’s London office in person. I arrived, clutching my pages nervously, with my parents and sister. I was impressed beyond measure by the whole experience – seeing the office, meeting Liz and her colleagues, the fact that there was carpet on the walls in the lift! Then Liz asked my parents to come back later, and she and one of her colleagues took me out to lunch on my own. To be treated as a grown-up was the best thing of all! I remember where we went and what I ate (Pizza Express, American pizza). At last, part way through the meal, I plucked up the courage to ask Liz whether she would publish my stories. She said yes. Few experiences since have matched up to that!

(The book became ‘Fat Puss and Friends’ and was in print for about 15 years. Blimey, I’ve just this minute realised that the events described above happened 30 years ago this year… gulp!)

VIII was published by Templar in hardback last year, and now it’s about to come out in paperback. For anyone who’s not read this wonderful book yet, what’s it about, and what was the inspiration behind it?

VIII is novel about the life of Henry VIII – told through his own eyes. It’s a dark, psychologically intense tale of a boy who grows up in a violent world with a huge sense of his own destiny, and yet also, beneath that, with a terrible fear of being inadequate.

I’ve been obsessed with the Tudors since primary school, I did a history degree specializing in the 16th century and have been reading Tudor history books for pleasure ever since. As much as anyone, then, I know the sheer number of books that have been written about Henry VIII (not to mention the films & TV series!). So I was pretty gobsmacked when I was seized by an idea for a book about Henry and was, moreover, convinced that I had something new to say about him. It was the most exciting, keep-me-awake-at-night experience!

The thing was, despite all the books I’d read about Henry, despite all the explanations of what he did and the speculations as to why – he needed a son, he was tired of his wife, etc. – no one had ever made me identify with him. No one had ever shown me what it might have felt like to be him – inside his head – and I knew that looking at the world through his eyes was going to change the story pretty radically. Henry came to the throne at 17, was hailed for his virtue, talents & intelligence, married his first wife within weeks & stayed married to her for 20 years… so, what went wrong? Other kings of the time failed to have sons, yet didn’t react so devastatingly. Why did he? That’s what I wanted to know, and what grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and wouldn’t let go was the feeling that I might have worked it out!

One of the most intriguing aspects of writing the book was to realize that Henry’s story is a fallen-angel story – it has a mythic shape: he’s a hero who turns into a monster. He’s like a 16th century version of Anakin Skywalker – the Jedi knight who turns to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader in Star Wars. Funnily enough, when I mention that on school visits, it tends to go down rather well!

What is your favourite book?

Argh, I can’t choose just one! Two is the absolute minimum I can get down to: ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel & ‘The Thirteen Clocks’ by James Thurber. Oh, & ‘The Owl Service’ by Alan Garner & ‘The Time of the Ghost’ by Diana Wynne Jones. Whoops!

Your favourite film?

Possibly ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ with Glenn Close and John Malkovich. And possibly ‘Withnail and I’ with Paul McGann & Richard E. Grant.

Your favourite music?

‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Prokofiev, preferably listened to live in the theatre while watching Kenneth Macmillan’s version of the ballet. You’re experiencing two works of genius simultaneously. It is extraordinary.

Your favourite joke?

My favourite joke has to be heard, not read! It’s the joke at the centre of a brilliant sketch done by Rowan Atkinson on his ‘Live in Belfast’ album (1980), with Richard Curtis. You can hear it here:

(By the way, the whole album is brilliant. My older brother had it when I was a child, & I love it just as much now as I did then. Vintage early Atkinson, before ‘Blackadder’ or Mr Bean!)

Describe your perfect writing day…

Because I live in the noisy chaos of a house with two young children, my dream is to have time completely on my own (well, with the cats for company). I savour a quiet house, and no prospect of being disturbed, more than I can express. My ideal is having no need to go out, even. Nice food in the cupboard, & a glass of wine chilling ready for the end of the day. It happens very rarely!

…and your actual writing day.

Usually my girls are awake by 6.30. Despite this, it is always somehow a struggle to get them ready for school (they will do anything but get dressed!). Then we walk to school. By about 9.20 I’m home and have made a thermos of strong coffee to take to my desk. I work straight through until 3pm, which is when I need to go and pick them up. Often I will try to do a bit of work-related reading once they’re home, but it’s usually pretty impossible. I’ll hope to read again (I permanently have piles of research books on the go) once they’re in bed, but it’s very rare that I can write then – usually I’m too exhausted!

If you could tell your teenage self one thing, what would it be?

To pay more serious attention to who I am rather than who I think I ought to be, and to value my instincts. It’s the only way to make life liveable, & it’s certainly the only way to write. Trying to be someone else doesn’t work. But it’s taken me an awfully long time to work that out.

And finally, what’s next?

Exciting stuff! I’m working on two closely related novels about two half-sisters, the daughters of Henry VIII: Mary I and Elizabeth I. The first book focuses primarily on Mary. It’s a dark, psychologically intriguing tale – Tudor history meets ‘Black Swan’ I would say! – and I’m finding it both hugely enjoyable & immensely challenging. Which, to me, is the perfect combination.

Thank you, Emma, for having me here and for your fantastic questions!

Thank you, Harriet, for your fantastic answers!

You can buy VIII direct from Templar Publishing here or on Amazon.
Follow Harriet on Twitter, and check out her fantastic website.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

The Results Are In!

I had an incredible response to the survey. 82 of you took part altogether, so thank you, awesome blog readers! I also had LOADS of entries into the giveaway – woo-hoo! – so I’ll announce the winners of that first. Drum roll please…

The winners (picked using are Peggy Eddleman and Louisa Reid! Congratulations, Peggy and Louisa! I’ll be in touch shortly to find out which prize you’d like.

And now, the survey results!

Question 1:
Writing: 72
Music: 2
Visual Arts/Design: 6
Performing Arts: 2

Question 2:

I love solitude and am happiest and most productive when I’m on my own: 31 (28 writers, 2 visual artists, 1 performing artist)
I like a balance - some solitude, some company: 49 (42 writers, 1 musician, 5 visual artists, 1 performing artist)
I prefer to be round other people most of the time - being on my own drives me crazy! 1 (1 writer)
No answer given: 1

Question 3:   
I spent a lot of time alone; I didn’t feel as if I fitted in at-all: 32 (28 writers, 3 visual artists, 1 performing artist)
I spent some time alone, but had a few close friends who ‘got’ me: 46 (41 writers, 1 musician, 3 visual artists, 1 performing artist)
I had a large group of friends, and didn’t spend much time on my own: 4 (3 writers, 1 visual artist)

Question 4:

Yes: 75 (68 writers, 6 visual artists, 1 performing artist)
No: 7 (4 writers, 1 musician, 1 visual artist, 1 performing artist)

Finally, here are some of the responses I had to the last question: If yes, what effect do you feel they’ve had on your work?

I'm so used to living in my own head and supplying my own "playmates" (characters) that it has become a habit.  I find them much more interesting than most "everyday" people I meet although I take lots of individual pieces from everyone I meet (a gesture, an facial expression or phrase, a way of walking or physical features).
If I had had other children to play with (none) as a child, I might not have developed this habit.  Also difficult for me to choose in 1st question as I also worked in the performing arts - same outcome - I am a good mimic because I got to watch a lot without being involved.

It's natural for me to spend hours with my head in a book - forgetting the outside world on occasion (doesn't go down well with hubby lol) - and thus natural to spend time with my head in *my* book. Used to being with my own thoughts....which of course lead to dialogue, plot, etc. I still have only a few very close friends, one of whom is my co-author. Sharing such a strong connection means we can work together without falling out (much :p).

I write (amongst other topics) about bullying, and the social anxiety that it caused. I'm glad it's no longer a secret and that I've had only supportive comments on my blog.

I often write about people with unresolved pasts or are damaged in some way. I was bullied a lot at school and had no friends, so I created my own little world where books let me escape to. I still live in it from time to time and I'd love to help others create their private escapes too.

Ann Patey:
I honestly don't know what affect being lonely had on my writing but I've felt the odd one out, the outsider for most of my life. That changed overnight when I joined a writers class in my 40s and suddenly felt I'd found kindred spirits.

I feel it's had an influence on my areas of interest without me even being aware of it! I wrote my dissertation on the role of the 'outsider' in Tim Burton's films, everything I have ever written (now that I stop and look back at it!) starts with a character who is for isolated or different in some way. The funny thing is it’s only recently I have noticed this! I think maybe it's because it's the only way I know how to feel, and therefore cannot write from a different perspective? I think if I tried to write about a girl who was the life and soul of the party she would be nothing more than a flat stereotype.
I may have just unearthed a large flaw in my ability as a writer!!!

Definitely had a tough childhood with racism, bullying, etc. I really do think that feeling of being an outsider has influenced my writing because as a kid, books became my best friend. It was an escape from everything, and we all know how reading is the foundation to being a writer!!

Looking back, it's easy to remember the painful parts of growing up -- the heartbreaks and rejections, the loneliness, disappointments, and failures all became formative in so many ways. In hindsight, I'm able to use them as a barometer, a measuring stick for who I am now and how I became this person. I can see my own arc, and I think that helps me to understand both the emotional significance of those early formative experiences (both positive and negative), as well as how those kinds of cumulative moments contribute to the person my character might later become.

'Not fitting in' isn't a recognised medical or psychological condition, but it can cause immense pain and discomfort in a society that wants you to conform. Having said that it has given me insight and empathy which I can draw from for a whole variety of characters. I worry my extrovert characters might not be as 'real' as I'd like them, but from my introverted position I have observed a great deal and can read people pretty well! I can understand my introvert and 'problem' characters much more and they are the ones that are most prominent in my writing! Maybe being an introvert has increased my imagination and ability to tell a story because of the time given to dreaming and imagining?

I write YA, so a lot of what I write about is drawn from my teen years.  I find myself writing about events that happened in my life (especially the small details in my writing).

Sarah Benwell:
I think spending a lot of time (more as a younger kid than as a teen) on the outside and uncomfortable around people taught me to observe keenly, and to empathise with people in difficult situations. And, instead of forcing myself into situations I was unhappy in, I daydreamed, and read, and wrote, and started to learn my craft.

I grew up on a farm with 3 siblings.  My older brother did his own thing, so it was me and the younger two, making up our own games.  I read a lot.  A LOT.  I spent most of my time in my imagination--which is generally not a plus for teen popularity.  But I guess you could call it training for being an author :)

Rebecca Christiansen:
Nostalgia fuels my writing in a lot of ways. I often write characters who are haunted by the places of their past -- not just events or people, but houses, rooms, things they loved. The absence of those things we come to love has been so hard on me in my life, so my characters often end up like this as well.

Angela Young:
I believe my childhood experiences made me a more empathetic person, capable of writing with compassion.  I am an introvert, but like people around me sometimes.  I don't want to join in all the time, I just like to listen.  This quiet listening has garnered me quite the education and given me insight into a lot of things, such as patterns and why people do things or even pretend things.  Childhood experience, and adult understanding of it, drive what I write and often how.

I think I'm drawn to writing characters how are outwardly confident and comfortable but struggle to be happy with themselves.

Amanda Hosch:
I come from a long line of introverted grammar geeks. Seriously, I found letters from my grandmother to my mother with newspaper clips that had been corrected in red ink! At home, it was fine that I made up stories all the time ("can't eat the brown M&M, the orange one would miss her too much on her sea voyage") and had a book permanently glued to my hands. At school, I was that kid reading in the corner of the yard at recess, waiting for the bell to ring. Now, I truly appreciate the odd tangents my mind takes. So, I let it go, and my protagonist has a wild ride in front of her.

I think my outsider feelings have meant that I feel trapped at the age I found most difficult - around 15 - and I feel comfortable writing about characters who are at that age. I'm constantly writing about female friendships going wrong, because mine always seemed to. I don't think I ever looked like an obvious outsider and I was never teased or bullied so sometimes I feel like a fraud - like perhaps I wasn't unusual enough to give myself outsider status. Nevertheless, I did feel that way and frequently still do.

I am very interested in psychology... more interested in WHY characters do what they do than in simply constructing a rollicking good plot (though of course I try to do that too!).

My characters are often shut out from the group, isolated in some way, or loners. It isn't as if my entire childhood was like that, but I had a few acutely painful experiences in my formative years that I draw on frequently in my work. And I spent a lot of time in my head and in my books, making up places that were, in some ways, better than reality. I always liked being alone, but I needed a mix, too--some time with close friends to balance it out. My more extroverted friends just didn't understand WHY someone would want to spend a lot of time alone in her room with her imaginary pals.

I definitely think my childhood reading influenced my work - I loved (and still love) the pen and ink drawings in books like The Worst Witch, The Famous Five and Ballet Shoes, and nowadays I'm producing line drawings of my own. In terms of my social experiences, I was bullied a lot in my teenage years, but instead of changing to fit in I ended up deciding it was better to be alone than to turn myself into something I despised. I think this feeling of independence has carried over into my work nowadays - I love looking at lots of different styles of illustration, but I always remind myself to stay true to my own style and not be overly influenced by the latest trends.

So there you have it. Obviously, us creative types aren't always introverts, but it would seem that, from these results, being a writer, artist, musician or even a performer and being introverted (to various degrees) do often go hand in hand… and can be essential to our work. 

So far from being made to feel it's a bad thing, we should embrace our love of solitude, our need for quiet, and not feel as if we have to make excuses for it. It doesn't mean we're antisocial. It doesn't mean we're weird. It's just how we are. Without introverts, there would surely be fewer books, fewer films and plays and shows, less art, less music… and who wants to live in a world like that? Not me, that's for sure.

Thank you again to everyone who took part - these posts have been so much fun, and it's been fascinating to read everyone else's take on what it's like to feel as if you're 'outside looking in'. I need a lie down after all this number crunching, but I’ll see you again on Friday, when I have a very special post with a very special guest! Can't wait!

Tuesday 27 March 2012

The survey and giveaway are now closed!

Thank you so much to everyone who entered. I've had over 80 people fill in the survey, which is incredible! So now I need to go away and do maths. Yikes. Expect possibly inaccurate results, plus the winners of the giveaway, here on Wednesday!

In the meantime, here are some cupcakes, because you are all awesome.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

An Unscientific Scientific Experiment… and a Giveaway!

First of all, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who read, commented on and tweeted about my blog last week. I was so nervous about posting it that I nearly chickened out, but the response has been amazing, so I’m really glad I didn’t. After I posted it, a friend sent me a fascinating article from the Guardian about introverts and extroverts, which you can find here (along with some interesting comments below from both camps), and fellow YA author and Lucky 13 CJ Flood wrote a brilliant post examining the pressure we’re put under to conform when we’re at school, both by teachers and our peers. You can read it here.

So it seems that it’s incredibly common for creative people to be introverts - necessary, even. But I also had some comments from people wondering if there were any extroverted writers, artists etc out there, and if so, how common this was. I've been wondering about it too, and thought I’d conduct a highly unscientific scientific experiment, in the form of the survey below, to find out.

Please note: This survey is just for fun – there are no ‘right’ answers. I will only be posting the results on my own blog, and if you take part, you will remain completely anonymous. I will not post individual results or quote you in any form unless I have contacted you first to ask for your express permission to do so.  

So, over to you, lovely blog readers! The survey will close at midnight GMT on Monday 26th March.

Edited to add: I'm getting some wonderful results, but have discovered that even if you comment in the last box, the survey results sheet (which only I can see) doesn't tell me who you are. If you don't mind me contacting you to ask if it's okay to quote you, please could you put an email address or your Twitter handle in at the end of your comment - only I can view the results at the moment so you won't be identified. If you don't put your name, I'll assume you wish to stay anonymous and not be quoted. Thank you!

The survey has now closed. Thank you  to everyone who took part!

But that's not all! Today is also my 6-month blogoversary, so to say thank you for all the support everyone has given my blog so far, I'm having a giveaway! To enter, leave your name and some way of contacting you (your Twitter handle, an email address or a link to your blog's contact page) in the comments (the survey results sheet doesn't tell me who you are). The giveaway also closes at midnight GMT on Monday 26th March, after which I’ll use to pick two people to win a prize. Sadly, I don’t have any book swag for ACID yet, but you can choose from either 2 bars of organic chocolate (please state whether you prefer white, milk or dark) or, if chocolate's not your thing, a notebook (please say whether you prefer plain or patterned). The competition’s open internationally, and I’ll announce the winners when I post the survey results on Wednesday 28th March.

Good luck!

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Outside Looking in?

When I was a kid, in summer, I loved getting up before anyone else – even my dad, who’s a pretty early riser himself – and slipping out of the house to explore the grounds of the environmental studies centre I grew up at. As I got older, I’d go out walking with only the dog for company. I wasn’t completely antisocial; I had a few friends, but school wasn’t a happy place for me – I got bullied a lot – so I was most content when I was at home with my books and my animals, my fields and my woods. I had a sister who was usually willing to be my partner in crime, and I was perfectly happy with my own company, too. I don’t ever remember feeling lonely.

Then I moved up to secondary school, where it seemed, suddenly, that the Most Important Thing In The World™ was to find your way into a group of some sort. And it didn’t take me long to realise I didn’t really fit in with any of the groups at-all. 

The trouble is, when you’re a teenager, fitting in can be everything. The friends I had at school were outsider-y types themselves, but I didn’t even feel as if I had much in common with them. Why was I still happier reading a book than going to parties and hanging round in a group? Why did I still enjoy ‘boring’ stuff like walking through the woods, or sitting on a beach and gazing out to sea?

What was wrong with me?

By the time I reached my late teenage years, I felt shut off, with no idea of who I really was or what I wanted to do (except to write, of course; I honestly believe this is what kept me sane back then). Things finally changed when I went to university and met other people – including the man who’s now my husband – who didn’t think reading books or gazing out to sea was boring at-all.

Still, it’s taken until quite recently for me to feel comfortable in my own skin, and to stop questioning why, as much as I enjoy talking to and meeting up with my friends, I need time by myself, too. What’s helped is the realisation that I need a balance. Too much time alone and I start to feel stale and cut off from reality – and as a result, so does my writing. Conversely, too much time with other people, especially in large groups, just wears me out. I need time with others to stimulate me and draw me out of myself, but time alone to allow my creative well to refill.

And what about my experiences as a kid and teenager? If I could go back, would I change them? Yes and no. No-one deserves to be bullied – it still affects me now, and I know people who had it way, way worse than I ever did. But no matter what happened, I think I would have felt outside of things in some way, because it’s just who I am – and a facet of my personality that, as a writer, I now find incredibly useful. Whatever genre you write in, you need to have the ability to observe and feel empathy for all sorts of people and situations; to find your way under the skins of characters who might be quite different to you. Being on the outside looking in has definitely helped me with that.

And if you prefer reading a novel to hitting the high street? Walking along the edge of a muddy field, watching the rooks rise from the trees, to being packed shoulder to shoulder in a sweaty club?

There’s nothing wrong with that. And there’s nothing wrong with you.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Reading About Writing

Before ACID sold, I didn’t tell many people I was a writer, never mind a writer who was trying to get published (you can read more about that here). The only people who read my stories were my husband and then my agent. And a combination of my shyness about sharing my work and tight finances meant going on courses was pretty much out of the question.

But I wanted to learn to write better. I needed to learn to write better. So I turned to writing books. While no book can ever provide you with a formula for success – I firmly believe that there is no ‘right’ way to write, only the way that’s right for you – reading about how other people solve their writing dilemmas is a great way to work out how to solve yours. These books are my favourites, the ones that helped and inspired me the most on my journey to becoming a published writer, and that continue to help and inspire me today.

Stephen King - On Writing
(New English Library, 2001)
I’m a huge King fan anyway – I read IT when I was thirteen, and have been hooked ever since – so when this book came out, I snapped it up. If you’re looking for precise instructions on how to query agents or structure your plots, this may not be the book for you, but with generous handfuls of autobiography thrown in, it provides a fascinating insight into the way this celebrated author works.

Sol Stein - Stein On Writing
(St Martin's Griffin, 2000)
This is much more nuts-and-bolts stuff. Sol Stein is an author, poet and playwright, who’s also edited writers like Dylan Thomas, Jack Higgins and W.H Auden. In this book, which he descibes as "…not a book of theory… a book of useable solutions…" he takes you through different techniques to make your writing work. Better than that, he shows you how to make it come to life and grab your readers by the throat. It also covers what he calls the ‘triage’ method for revising, which is one of the most useful ways of revising I’ve ever come across.

Mary O’Hara - Novel-In-The-Making
(David McKay Company, 1954)

Mary O’Hara is another writer I’ve loved from a young age, ever since I read MY FRIEND FLICKA - still one of my favourite books ever. Novel-In-The-Making, described as a self-portrait of an author at work, deals with the creation of her adult novel, THE SON OF ADAM WYNGATE, and is one of the most fascinating looks at an author’s writing process I’ve ever come across. It reads like a novel itself, and the description of her workstation on pages 106-7, with pigeonholes for “…paper, carbons, finished chapters, discards etc…” is just wonderful

 Robert McKEE - Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting
(Methuen, 1999)

For me, this is The Book. The one that quite literally turned my writing around. When I first started writing seriously, I kept coming up against the same problem: my plots either went round in circles, or fizzled out altogether. There was something I just wasn’t getting, but I couldn’t work out what, and I couldn’t find anything or anyone who could tell me. Then, one day, I saw an article in a magazine about McKee’s book. The library where I worked at the time happened to have a copy in, so I borrowed it. It was a revelation. Don’t be mislead by the title - there is very little in this book which relates specifically to screenwriting. Instead, it demystifies what makes a story work. It’s hardcore stuff – I had to take notes as I read it, and it was a good year before what I learnt from it really started to sink in. But it was worth every minute I spent poring over it, trying to understand what McKee was telling me. I re-read STORY at least once a year, and every time I do, I get something new from it.

What about you? Which writing books do you turn to for help and inspiration?

Tuesday 6 March 2012

What's this? Blogging on a Tuesday?

Yes, I have broken with tradition and blogged on a Tuesday! Not here, though. I'm over at The Lucky 13s, talking about why my characters' names are so important.

See you tomorrow!