Monday, 21 April 2014

Writers Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Ellis Kerkhoven for tagging me into the chain for the writer's process blog tour. It's been fascinating reading writers' processes and seeing how people manage to articulate why they write and how they write.

For anyone who hasn't heard of it, the Writers Process Blog Tour is 'simply a weekly insight into and sharing of people's writing process.' So here goes...

What am I working on?
I have a lot of different stories at different stages of development, but the one that I'm concentrating on at the moment is called The Burning. 

I've been writing this novel for children aged 10+ for about seven years now. I've written draft after draft and seen my writing evolve and develop with each one. I've restarted about four times and the current reincarnation is vastly different from the others (working titles include Master Juggler, WordWeaver, The Storyseeker). It's a story about storytelling and the importance of having the freedom to create and to imagine. Culture and society is founded on our ability to communicate ideas through writing, art and song and I am intrigued by what happens when you take this freedom away or try to annihilate culture. 

I travelled to Cambodia around the time I started writing this story and learnt a lot about the Khmer Rouge, about how Pol Pot wanted to take the country back to year zero and start again,obliterating its past and history. When the regime began taking over the people they went after were the intellectuals, the masters of their arts. Now a new generation is growing up with gaps in their history. People are relearning their traditions and its hard work because there are so few people left that remember or have the skills to teach what is lost.

My three (well, ok, it's actually four) line breakdown is: 

Romy is a storymaker in a world where storymaking is forbidden and the only tales you can hear are Emperor approved propaganda. When Romy’s identity is discovered her home is burned, her mother taken and she is left alone with only a raggedy juggler boy to help her. Determined to save her mother and with the help of Mister and the travellers who can tell Romy more about her past, Romy does her best to survive and find her mother without being caught. As she travels through the country towards the City of Lies, her stories begin to ripple about her, perhaps paving the way for a new way of life for everyone.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My genre is usually fantasy or magical realism and I like to try and turn usual expectations inside out. During University I wrote a story about a world that existed behind this world and it was run by fairies and elves and goblins. However, the fairies were huge, like giants, the elves were strange creatures with four legs, they were green all over and grew moss like fur and they were very down to earth and practical, also the goblins were not the bad guys - I like to have a different slant on things if I can.

Aside from that though, I don't know if my work is that vastly different from others, I'm just trying to engage readers in a world that feels real and in the lives of empathetic, believable characters with strong story lines to follow. I think that what makes it different is that it is written by me. My way of seeing things, of writing things down onto the page is my way and that will always make it different from someone else's.

Why do I write what I do?
Looking over things that I have written, I suppose it would  be fair to say that I write what interests me, what captures my imagination, I write to explore ideas and possibilities. But I don't ever sit down and think today I am going to write about such and such. Something triggers a scene, or a line of dialogue in my mind and I go on from there.

 Sometimes it feels like an addiction. I don't know why I have the compulsion to write, I don't know why certain characters or scenarios or ideas take shape and become stories or poems. They just do. It's all part of the mysterious make-up of the Universe. It's a kind of magic. 

How does my writing process work?
I very much admired Candy Gourlay's and Vashti Hardy's descriptions of their writing processes and would like to be able to be as eloquent as them. For me writing is a process that happens in fits and starts, that means bouncing off the walls one minute and then slinking off to hibernate the next. I'll try to break it down.

Most story ideas I have tend to be triggered by me being somewhere and seeing something. In my book The Burning my main character, the storymaker, has to be surrounded by people, by experience and by life in order to be able to tell stories. Life seeps into her, ideas recharge her, she learns and thinks and words take shape within her that she releases into stories. I feel writing is much the same - you need to fill yourself with experiences and ideas gleaned from being around people, or walking through a city, or sitting in the sun, or browsing an art gallery, or reading books, or listening to music, or watching films, or travelling to a land you've never been to before and breathing it all in. I collect postcards and objects that have the tingle of story about them and I use them as story starts. See my earlier blog post about this here or my feature for Words and Pics here).

The current story that I'm writing was triggered many years ago when I was in Belgium eating waffles in one of the main squares - all of a sudden there was a juggler there. He was wearing stilts and he began juggling and then there were hundreds of people all juggling. Here my memory gets a little hazy because I have written that as a scene in my story so many times that I can no longer remember how much of it is real and how much I have made up. But in my note book that day I wrote: 'Juggling Master at the Grand Palace dressed in red, girl apprenticed, the drumming of the clubs, cries and shouts, heat of the sun, sticky chocolate, stripey socks, red wagon.' This somehow combined with a memory of a trip to St Ives in Cornwall and sitting on the beach eating chips in the dark listening to the sound of the waves rolling in and seeing the humps of the fishing boats left stranded on the sand when the tide came out.  An image arose in my head of a girl seeking shelter in an upturned boat and meeting an extraordinary boy, a juggler, who tells stories. And the story in its first carnation was born. 
A couple of scenes I drew out for BackWorld
I write feverishly when I have story to write -  I can spend hours and hours in front of the keyboard not even noticing when it's time to eat or drink. My waking hours are spent thinking about my characters, about the story. I wake up with lines of dialogue in my head and plot problems solved. I'm not an artist but I try to draw out scenes and characters, I write back stories for the world I'm creating and all the characters. 
I search out pictures of my characters.
I map out the country, the terrain I'm writing about, I search out pictures of characters or places and I display them all around me.

 Then there's a lull. Everything goes quiet and I begin consuming books. I read, read, read. Preferably books that I've never read before, a mix of genres, and age range. Recently I've switched between reading Longbourn by Jo Baker, Alice in Wonderland and Generation Kill by Evan Wright. 

 I watch films and I think and I don't write a single word. Then I'll make myself write something, anything. I have a trashy romance story that I keep going as a way to get me writing again. This story allows me to write anything without self editing. I write without self-consciousness like I did when I was a teenager. I write without inhibition or rules. Then that dries up too and that's generally when I'm ready to continue with the story that went into hibernation.

 Once the first draft is done I send it out to those people I trust to give critical, useful feedback and then I start working on something else until I feel ready to start editing. I try not to edit as I write, which is hard because I love editing as much as I love writing. But as Fletcher Moss tweeted recently in his series of 52 things he's learnt since The Poison Boy was published: 'A slightly crappy finished novel is ten-times better than a brilliant first five chapters. Whatever you do - finish it! #pb52s'
So as you can see it's a muddle. I don't have word limits, writing days or any real structure to my writing and sometimes I wish I did but every time I've tried it's just felt forced and difficult. 

 I was asked recently what would I do if I never got published, would I still write? For me the answer is that there isn't really a choice. Yes, I would still write. I write because I have the compulsion to do so and I love it. It would be a dream come true to have my stories read and loved, treasured by readers for generations and yes, that's what I hope for. But it's not why I write. I write because the stories form inside me and so I write them out as best that I can. Besides, never is a long time and by the time you get to the end of it... well I don't expect you'll worry about things too much then!

For the next link in the chain I pass you on, appropriately enough, to a storyteller - Charlotte Comley. 

Charlotte Comley is a creative writing group organiser and now self-employed writer of educational resources, blog content and articles. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing for Children at Winchester University. She is a member of SCWBI and regularly blogs at

Friday, 18 April 2014

#FridayFlash - I dream of Dehli

I dream of Delhi.
Standing in Pharaganj, life flowing around me. A girl in a ‘Free Tibet’ t-shirt, a guy ‘Same Same, but different’. Pooris inflating over woks licked with yellow flames, children with thin broken legs dragging themselves along on trays with wheels; eyes bright, faces gaunt. Lazy-eyed cows with xylophone ribs making the traffic swerve. Trodden rubbish, the buzz of flies, vegetables ablaze with colour. The scent of hard work, of hard living on the people shifting amongst fresh white faces, overwhelmed expressions: gappers in baggy trousers, strappy tops, eyes like saucers. Motorbikes, taxis, rickshaws, horns blaring, heat and dust, heat and dust, heat and dust.

Overhead the sun sinks and kites fly on breezes heavy with spice, silhouettes on rooftops reel in their strings and then let them out to soar. The air like lotion on my skin, leaving me shining, giddy with jasmine: breathing it in, every last drop, of terrible, wonderful life.
 I awake cold.

Thin grey light in the room, your breath on my shoulder, the clock ticking and the world silent.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The thing with writing...

Here’s what I find difficult about writing. 

Sometimes your mind can be burning with ideas. Your characters chatter away in your head, you see scenes  - image on image like beads on a rosary*- you can’t concentrate on conversations people are having around you, you drift off into storyworld while you’re in the middle of shampooing your hair in the shower and you stand there with the suds dripping off you and your skin turning wrinkly while plot-holes are fixed, motivation is explained and the way forward is revealed to you… and then, then you sit down at your computer to write it all down, feverish with anticipation, your fingers tingling with the words waiting to pour out of your brain, down your arm and out through the keys on the keyboard and… and… AND


The words don’t come.
Story lines submerge themselves once more beneath the fogginess of Other Things. You sit, searching your brain for those bright gems of insight you just had and… nothing. 

You start thinking about the washing up, about the bills you haven’t paid. You start thinking about how you should be mowing the lawn, how you need to take the car in to get that engine light checked out, you notice that the windows need cleaning, remember you haven’t got any milk, that you were meant to reply to an email from your mum, that you haven’t checked social media this morning and before you know it you’re on Facebook browsing the lives of other people.

Is this just me? Why does it happen?  When will a story sucker be invented? You know, a little gadget that we can plug into our brains and that will simply suck the story straight out as it’s supposed to be. Neat and tidy, perfect as it exists inside us before our reality filters and normal life filters get in the way. 

Is writing a form of procrastination for life and life a form of procrastination for writing? All I know is that this morning I knew exactly how the next chapter of my story should be written. I KNEW. And now when I sit down to type it out, I find myself typing this instead. That’s what’s so annoying about writing – it’s so easy in your head but when you come to pin it down on the blank page it’s like catching dandelion down on a windy day wearing boxing gloves.

*yes, this is nicked from an elbow song.