Guest Post: Satisfying Endings by Sarah Mussi

I’m totally thrilled to be with Maia and a Little Moore on the final post of my blog tour for book two in The Snowdonia Chronicles: Here be Witches

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME MAIA!

During my blog tour I have been interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL!

And today Sarah asks Sarah …

Q

Can you recap on Here Be Witches for our readers who have just caught up with this tour?

A

Right, Here Be Witches is the second story in the series The Snowdonia Chronicles

Here be Witches

THE SEQUEL TO HERE BE DRAGONS – A PERILOUS ADVENTURE INTO THE MAGICAL AND MURDEROUS REALM OF MYTHICAL SNOWDONIA

Q

Now this is our last blog post and we’ve covered characters and whether to change them or not; settings and how to keep them fresh; plot and how each storyline needs to stand alone in a series with an overarching goal, and now we are coming to endings – how do you set up the ending, so that you can write the next one in the series and still end this story off satisfactorily?

A

Wow – good question and quite hard to answer … anyway I will have a go at it. I think one of the lovely things about writing a series is that readers can keep spending time with characters they have grown to know almost as deeply as they know themselves and they can be guaranteed another adventure in the company of those characters.

However the adventures have to be separate and different and some of the characters need to take a break and new characters need to be introduced. Also what this and many other series actually need – right from the beginning – is an overarching structure or goal. Or an unanswered question.

I think the unanswered question in the Snowdonia Chronicles is: will Ellie and Henry ever really be able to get together, or are the difficulties that separate them insurmountable?

The series then takes completely different adventures in the pursuit of this one main goal. Each of the series titles will have its own separate sub-goal that maintains the same protagonist, sidekick and romance character and antagonist. This gives the stories a coherence. One of the trickiest things to do is how to end the current story in the series so that it has a satisfactory stand-alone ending with its own complete obligatory scene and yet leaves some exciting yet totally different adventure open to happening in the next book.

Q

So how did you do this Sarah in Here Be Witches?

A

First of all I had to thoroughly understand what the obligatory or climactic scene needed to achieve in every story, so that I could deliver a satisfactory and complete ending for each adventure – this is what I found out:

The obligatory scene

The closing section of a story, just before the end should deliver the final confrontation between the forces for good and the forces of evil. This is the moment when my hero must win against all odds against the antagonistic forces (for now). They must face their worst fears to rescue, triumph and survive. And yet the antagonist must not be completely defeated but retire in malice, ready to fight again in the next story with even more wickedness, malice and motive.

In preparing for the fight, I had to consider: How does the confrontation develop? Does your hero nearly lose? How do they defeat the enemy?

I also had to consider what inner resolve/strength/truth is in my protagonist: How does it help my protagonist to grow? How does it help my protagonist to overcome the antagonist? (If they do – or accept defeat.)

I had to be sure I delivered on all the following:

ACT 3 The climax /ordeal/obligatory scene/

Several things must occur at the climax of the story: the hero must face the biggest obstacle of the entire story (so far); she must determine her own fate; and the outer motivation (this story goal) must be resolved once and for all (for now).  

I wanted the outer motivation to be resolved, but also for the protagonist to win by losing (be kept heroic), undergo a ‘seeming’ death (create reader empathy), and be reborn – or returned to a former (yet wiser) state.

This is important for the satisfactory ending of the story, but also important so that I could set up the way the next story will develop – so that it seemed right and natural that it should develop in that way. To do this I had to keep the series goal unresolved (will they ever be with the one they love?) but deliver on the narrative goal in Here be Witches (save Henry and Snowdonia and break the witches’ spell).

Q

So Sarah how did you end Here be Witches … and achieve this duality?

A

Well, just like I set up the prologue in order to overcome problems with a first person narration, I set up the epilogue to bring about closure to the current story and yet introduce the possibility that there was more to come. Below is an excerpt from the epilogue and you can see for yourself how it puts to bed the first story and introduces the possibility that this not the end of things. Here it is!


So Mote It Be

Later that spring ~ 30th April ~ The Eve of Calan Mai*

ELLIE’S PHONE 30th April 12.00

Status: In a committed relationship

This morning the sun is shining. I’ve biked all the way up to the top of Pen-y-Pass.

I rest briefly. I check the straw man I’ve made is safe inside my pocket.

Then carry on with my plan.

I’m going to Dinas Emrys for the first time since March.

My heart pounds. I bite my lip. But I’m ready.

‘I’m coming Henry,’ I whisper.

Going downhill from Pen-y-Pass is scary. The road falls away in front of me, there’s a hairpin bend just ahead, so I cling on. The road drops and drops away, and I have that feeling, as if I’m flying off into nothingness.

I hold my breath. I tear through the sunshine, all the way down to the junction, on to the Beddgelert road. Then I race through the morning like the wind. The bike flies beneath me. I want to reach Dinas Emrys quickly. I want to lay my charm on Henry’s lair, before Sheila or anyone else tries their magick there again.

I hit the Beddgelert road at speed. Air whips my hair back, stings my eyes. The sky is as blue as blue. Sunlight slants off everything. The sides of the mountain lie covered in thick purple heather. The air is charged with such sweetness.

I shoot downhill, all the way to Lake Gwynant.

The water on the lake stretches out shining black. Sundrenched slopes rise from its shores. The road lies totally deserted; the mountain is all mine. Sometimes I like it best that way – just Snowdon and me.

I race past Lake Gwynant crouched low. Just the grey road, winding on down alongside the Afon Glaslyn, down to Lynn Dinas.

I squint into the distance. My heartbeat jumps about. The fortress of Dinas Emrys lies smack ahead.

I think of Henry lying curled under the earth, so near, so far.

He’ll be there.

I need to keep it that way.

What did George say?

‘Be careful Elles. Tonight – May Eve – is auspicious. Gran says you must lay a charm to protect Henry.’

No more witchy stuff with covens. No more trying to wake up my Henry.

An image of Sir Oswald flashes across my mind. Pale eyes. Hooded eyelids. He’ll be under the mountain too.

I slow down.

I swing off the road and cycle up towards a lush green pasture.

I take my shortcut, through a turning to a farm, behind a row of mobile holiday homes, where I can scramble up a steep slope between trees, and get to the fortress from the back. The bracken is tight and scratchy, but it’s really not too far and saves a good three-mile hike.

I go through the farm gates; it’s private property, but there’s no need to worry about the holiday homes now. They’ll be full of tourists at this time of year. They won’t give me a second glance.

I chain the bike to a handy sapling behind the first chalet.

In front of me rises a steep bank, covered by spindly trees. Thick green moss coats every patch of bark. Their roots are tangled knots of black. In parts, the rocky hillside is almost sheer. High above, a skylark trills out short, rapturous notes. I hoist myself up from trunk to trunk. I try to stay strong.

Since the spring equinox, I’ve stayed away from here, too many memories, too much sadness, but I guess I’m needed today.

I climb up to the top of Dinas Emrys. Pause. Pant. Just breathe in warm air.

Since the second landslide, the hill is not much changed. That is the way Henry planned it.

I turn to look up towards Snowdon. Everywhere is thick with brilliance, but through the blinding sunshine, blurred by the shimmer of late spring warmth, I think – no – I’m certain, I see a figure.

There he is: the figure of a young man poised on the edge of the mountain.

I smile.

I rub my eyes. Is it really a figure? Or just a trick of the light? A memory perhaps? Or George checking I made it safely? Rays from the risen sun dazzle me. By the time I look again, he’s gone.

My heart starts pounding.

I squint just to be sure.

I wish so much it were Henry.

Nothing.

But then this is Snowdon.

Yr Wyddfa.

The great burial den of the dragons

Here anything can happen.

Especially on May Eve.

Yes, May Eve and I have come here for crogi gwr gwellt: ‘hanging a straw man’.

It’s a tradition on May Eve that when a lover has lost their sweetheart, they make a man out of straw and put it somewhere in the vicinity of where the lover sleeps.

The straw man represents the enemy, the one that seeks to take the heart of the beloved away.

I find the right spot.

Just where I stood with Rhi.

Just where half of the north face of Dinas Emrys split open.

A vision flashes before me … trees uprooted, boulders cracked; great half-broken tree trunks sticking up in the air. That overpowering smell of crushed foliage, that sickly scent of damp earth, that great scar, huge open depths …

The vision passes.

I pin a note to my straw man.

Gran helped me craft the words:

‘By water and fire, earth and air,

Let Henry’s enemies beware.

Let the words of my charm,

Protect his heart from any harm.

Let the power of my love,

Strengthened by the stars above,

Keep him safe, keep him secure,

Keep his heart forever pure.

By the flowers of Blodeuwedd

Let none attempt to breach his bed.’

***

I place the adder stone on the note.

I sprinkle the place with a potion Gran brewed for me.

I look up to the mountains.

‘I will find a way to be with you again, Henry,’ I whisper.

Then I pray to Snowdon to keep him safe, out of the reach of any evil.

Until I can keep my promise.

* Calan Mai, the first day of May or Calan Haf, the first day of summer is a holy day in Wales. Celebration bonfires start on the evening before, known as May Eve. This night is considered an Ysbrydnos or ‘spirit night’ when spirits are out and about, and divination is possible.

And so the adventures of Ellie and The Snowdonia Chronicles will continue into book three …  a new story with a new goal, but also one that will be the over arching goal of the series to an exciting conclusion and deliver on the seeds planted in Here be Witches!

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME, MAIA!

THANK YOU READERS FOR FOLLOWING MY BLOGS!

I HOPE YOU LOVE READING HERE BE WITCHES.

 



Thank you so much to Sarah for being on my blog today! If you’d like to catch up with the rest of the tour you can do so here:

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Guest Post: Ambiguous Characters by Sharon Gosling

Today on the blog I am excited to welcome Sharon Gosling, author of the latest chilling book in the Red Eye series, Fir. She’s talking about ambiguous characters, something I found really interesting and different in her book.

So without further ado, welcome Sharon!


What’s in a Name?

 

I’ve always been fascinated by ambiguous characters in literature, especially when it comes to narrators. Reading a book as told by one character requires trust, doesn’t it? The reader knows nothing at all about the person telling the story – the first time we’ve ever meet them is when we turn to the first page of that book. So who’s to say that what they choose to tell us is the absolute truth? Even if they’re trying to tell us the truth, can they? A first-person perspective can’t but be subjective, can it? It’s not even necessarily that the narrator is deliberately setting out to lie to the reader. But we all know how the same events can seem vastly different when seen from a different perspective. One of my favourite episodes of The X Files is ‘Bad Blood’, in which we see the same events twice, from Scully’s point of view and also from Mulder’s. They’re seeing the same things, but the way they experience them is so completely different, not through an attempt at subterfuge, but just because their own personalities and expectations make them see things differently.

That goes for readers too, of course. One person’s response to a book can be vastly different to another’s for exactly the same reason – we all see things from a different angle, there are always different moments that strike us as significant or themes that stand out to one person that may not even occur to another.  

One of my favourite poems is Dialogue, by Adrienne Rich. The first time I read it, it was as part of a lecture about the role an author plays in the way a reader experiences a text. Is it necessary to know anything about the author, or is the author a surplus component once the text is written? I first read the poem without knowing who the writer was. Finding out that the writer was a woman and not a man as I had originally assumed not only made me think differently about the poem itself, but it also made me question my approach and how my own assumptions and preconceptions had altered my understanding of the text.

When I set out to write FIR, I thought it would be interesting to do something that might similarly challenge the reader. I decided to write the book from a first-person perspective, but never stipulate either a name or a gender for the narrator. The absence plays with larger themes of identity – if we don’t have a name, what permanence do we have in the world? If there comes a time when no one remembers our name, how would anyone know we had ever existed? – but it also makes the reader think about why they choose to think of the narrator as either female or male. What is it about the character’s actions and personality that leads the reader towards one or the other? Is it more about the reader’s perspective than it is about the character as written? It’s been interesting to talk to people who have read the book about whether they think the narrator is a boy or a girl. There seems to be a pretty equal split between readers who experience the narrator as female and those who think of the narrator as male. When I ask the reader why they’ve made their decision, though, most don’t seem to be absolutely sure as to the reason. Some point out that the narrator is a skateboarder and listens death metal, which they think of as being more of a boy’s interests than a girl’s, but then with more thought – often unprompted – the same readers observe that they also know girls who share those interests. Others who think of the reader as a girl cite the narrator’s relationship with the mother in the story. Others who are friends of mine say they think of it as a girl because they know me, they know I wrote it and they know I’m female, and without something to definitively tell them otherwise they think of me as they are reading.

So how do I, as the writer, think of the narrator? Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?


Thanks so much to Sharon for being on my blog today.

Check out my review of Fir here.

You can by Fir from Waterstones, Wordery, Amazon or your local bookstore

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Fir Blog Tour

YAShot Guest Post: Rachel McIntyre – Where I Work

Today on the blog, as part of the #YAShot2016 blog tour, I have Rachel McIntyre talking about where she writes.

Welcome Rachel!

Finding a place to write used to be as tricky a task as finding time to write. When I started ‘Me and Mr J’, I was writing purely for fun; grabbing spare minutes between childcare and work. The same went for a space. I’d set my laptop up on the dining room table in among the piles of ironing-in-waiting and random stacks of toys and try to work.

Fast forward a couple of years, I’ve moved house and finally got a dedicated study just for me and I love it! It’s filled with things I’ve collected over the years, like my vintage glass birds and the snow globes I buy from every new country I visit. And the books…I arranged them all in colour groups because a) I think it looks good and b) it helps me to find them quickly. I’m terrible at remembering titles, but I’m great at visualising the covers. The only downside is the gaps when I lend them out to people and yes, I have chosen books based on the spine colour. But that’s not as bad as it sounds as it’s encouraged me to pick up new reads I might not normally choose. I have overspill bookcases other rooms, but even so, the books do creep onto the floor in here.

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Moving on to my desk…I was a bit unsure about the chair from Dwell, but it’s actually really comfy. I used to get a really bad back from hours hunched over the keyboard and it does seem to have sorted that. I don’t like much clutter on my desk as I find it distracting, but I do have the lovely Minecraft mug my son painted to keep my pens tidy and a disco light, well, just because. I tend to write on my PC more than my laptop as it’s not wifi enabled which has completely halted my online- shopping-not-working tendencies.

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The two coffee tables are trunks that double up as storage where I keep all my notebooks- I still write a lot by hand- and I have a big portable whiteboard stashed away under the sofa but I like to keep all my notes either on paper or on my PC. I’ve tried Post-its on the wall and index cards, but it doesn’t really work for me right now. Maybe I’ll try again in the future.

And that’s where I work! Thank you for coming to visit, Maia.

And thank you for having me Rachel. I have such bookshelf envy now!

Check out my reviews of Rachel’s two fabulous books, Me & Mr Jand The Number One Rule for Girls.

Why Indigo’s Dragon is Set in Poland: Guest Post by Sofi Croft

Today on the blog we have Sofi Croft, author of children’s fantasy novel Indigo’s Dragon, talking about why the novel is set in Poland. Welcome Sofi!

When I embarked on writing my first book I decided to follow that famous piece of advice ‘write what you know’, so I set the story in the Lake District, where I live. However, by the time I got to chapter seven Indigo was on his way to Poland, a country I have never visited.

I have often wondered why Indigo refused to follow my plot plan and wandered off to the Polish mountains on his own, and have come up with a few theories.

  1. Poland is in Indigo’s blood.

Indigo has Polish roots. His story was inspired by The Dragon of Krakow, a Polish folktale, and I always knew his grandparents would be Polish. Although my early plot plans didn’t have Indigo disappearing off to Poland, the pull of his homeland just became too strong.

I too have Polish roots. My maternal grandmother was Prussian (from Allenstein, which is now part of Poland), and I grew up hearing her stories and being tantalised by snippets of her past. She lost her family and country during the war, and I watched her take comfort in her culture; the foods, music and stories of her past. I have always wanted to visit the land she loved so much, and I think Indigo must have known this and led me there in spirit if not in body.

  1. Poland is full of monsters.

Polish, Slavic and Baltic mythology has always fascinated me. It is full of incredible stories, creatures, and deities. I think Indigo, having a curious nature and a deep affinity for strange and unusual life forms, was naturally drawn to this place where so many mythical creatures thrive.

Indigo was so comfortable among the monsters of the Polish mountains he actually stayed there for the duration of the second book, Indigo’s Demons, and visited some legendary creatures of the Baltic Sea in the third book, Indigo’s Deep.

  1. The Polish mountains are other-worldy.

Indigo lives in the real world, but among the fantastic. I love the mountains of the Lake District, and genuinely believe that incredible creatures might be hidden in its remote places. However, in mountains that are even bigger, with even more remote places, there is even more scope for finding hidden wonders.

The Tatra Mountains in Poland are incredible; vast, fairy tale-esque and other-worldy, with a variety of habitats that almost certainly contain the hiding places of a whole range of mythical creatures. If Indigo was going to find the spectacular, the Tatras seemed like a brilliant place for him to begin his search.

Big thank you to Sofi for the wonderful guest post! You can check out my review of Indigo’s Dragon here.

Indigo’s Dragon (Indigo’s Dragon #1) by Sofi Croft is a children’s fantasy novel full of adventure, mystery, monsters and dragons.

It will be published on 23rd June 2016 by Accent YA

Sophie Croft

You can find out more about Sofi and her books on her website www.soficroft.com

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Indigo's Dragon Blog Tour

Guest Post – Helen Maslin: My Journey to Publication

Today on the blog, Helen Maslin talks about her journey to publication with her debut YA book Darkmere. Welcome Helen!

My Journey to Publication began when I joined a creative writing group which met in a pub at the end of the road. It was really good fun. Some of the other members were extremely talented – such as the lovely Kate Riordan who landed a deal with Penguin around the same time I was offered a contract with Chicken House. Knowing I would have to read something aloud to writers who were so good forced me to get better quickly!

One group member – a retired PE teacher, was deeply disapproving of any swearing or sexual references in our writing. Of course this prompted other members to read out increasingly obscene stories while the rest of us tried hard not to giggle. One week, I worked hard on a story featuring a trans character without considering what this particular woman might make of it. When I finished reading, I looked up to see that she’d gone puce! She broke into a furious lecture – in front of everyone else – in which she pointed out that she was here to learn how to write and I’d wasted her time and money. She ended by slamming a pile of thick text books about grammar down on the pub table. I can remember staring at those books during the silence that followed and thinking: ‘Don’t cry…remember you’re a grown-up…don’t cry…don’t cry…’

Later of course, I stopped feeling upset and felt angry instead. I was angry that I hadn’t told her how rude she was. Angry that hundreds of schoolgirls must’ve had to turn to her for their PSHE advice. And angry that she’d said my writing was worthless – and there was nothing I could say or do to disprove this. Apart from get it published. Negative criticism can be as useful as encouragement when it come to spurring you on – I probably should’ve thanked her in the acknowledgements.

‘My firm belief: anger and spite are the best writing motivators. I can’t do what? *middle finger* Watch me.’ (Patrick Ness on Twitter)

One person, I did thank in the acknowledgements was the tutor of the writing group – Judith Green, who was brilliantly inspiring. She told me I didn’t need anyone’s permission to be a writer, I was allowed to simply go and do it. (Secretly, I took this as her permission to go and be a writer.) So it was a very proud moment when I finally posted a shiny copy of my debut to her.

My first attempt was rejected, as most first novels are. In fact, I had to force myself to send it to a reasonable number of agents (13), because I knew after the first few rejection letters, it simply wasn’t good enough. I was disappointed of course, but I’d learnt so much from it I was already eager to move on and write the next story. It wasn’t worthless – it taught me that I could keep going until I’d written a full-length book. I just needed to think up an actual, you know – plot, for the next one.

It took me another a year, but I enjoyed it. I knew my writing was improving and I knew I would eventually finish it. This time, I was braver with my subject matter. I set some chapters in the past and tried to come up with historical details. I added a ghostly element, an ancient curse – oh, and even some murders. I had fun!

‘Enjoying the actual writing is the thing. If you do that, then you’ve won.’

 

That’s a quote from writer Rachel Ward during a Twitter chat the other night. She was responding to questions about the negative aspects of being published. She’s right too. Enjoying the writing is the only thing that matters in the end.

On the other hand, the submissions process was a lot less fun the second time round. The first time I’d tried it, I blithely expected my terrible first novel to be snapped up simply because I’d written so many words. I’d bought the Artists and Writers Yearbook (2012) and spent a fortune on stamps, giant envelopes and rubber bands for my paper submissions – mostly because it made me feel like a real writer. The second time, I was more practical. Paper submissions were on the way out and I really didn’t need another Yearbook, so I didn’t spend any money. And this time I steeled myself for the rejections that were the likeliest outcome.

I sent another thirteen submissions out – a few at a time – by email and then I waited. Most aspiring writers will be familiar with The Wait. I started a new book, redecorated the house, baked cakes, took up painting, sewing, volunteering at my children’s school – anything I could think of to distract me from The Dreaded Wait. Some rejections came quickly; others took longer and made me wonder if an agent had been considering me. And all the time the hope gradually seeped out of me like I had a slow puncture.

Of course I got the ‘Didn’t love it enough’s, the ‘Not quite right for our list’s and the ‘Not taking on anything new right now’s…and then after almost two months… ‘I really like your writing and it would be great to read the entire manuscript’.

Wait – what?

The email was from Rowan Lawton of FurnissLawton. A real, live agent, who liked my writing. I was thrilled, but I tried very hard not to get too excited. After all, I had writing-group friends who’d got to this stage and been turned down – it was still the likeliest outcome. I spent the following month checking the email on my phone to make sure I hadn’t imagined it, and murmuring ‘Wow!’ very quietly when it was still there. After a week or two my children were pleading with me to stop with all the ‘Wowing!’

The next email from Rowan asked whether I had submitted to any other agents…which seemed promising and of course, started up all the “Wowing!” again.

The following month, she sent me pages of detailed editing suggestions which seemed totally OBVIOUS the moment I read them. (Although I knew perfectly well I’d never have figured any of them out without someone pointing me in the right direction.) I set to work on the edits and two months later Rowan invited me to her offices in Kew for coffee. Hurrah! After a mere nine months – agent achievement unlocked!

That wasn’t the end of the edits, though – there were plenty more for me to wade through before Rowan began submitting the manuscript to publishers. At the end of 2013, she called to ask if I’d like to go to Frome to meet the Chicken House team and maybe pick up a little feedback on my MS.

To be honest, I can’t remember much about it. I was too weirded-out on excitement and nerves. My impression of the Chicken House offices is that they were bright and homely and mis-matched and arty – with piles of books and box-files everywhere. And everyone was so nice.

We talked about books and writing and publishing. And Barry Cunningham gave me a copy of Chamber of Secrets dedicated to my ten-year-old son and signed by boy wizard himself (Barry is one of only three people who can legally sign things with Harry potter’s signature – the other two being JK Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe). Do you see what I mean about the niceness?

I got The Call on Friday 7th February 2014… My agent said, ‘Can you speak? I have news.’

She told me she’d received an offer from Chicken House and used words like ‘contract’ and ‘foreign rights’ and ‘your editor’, but I don’t think I took much of it in. Over the top of her voice, I kept thinking ‘You’re a writer…an actual writer…this is what you do now…you can tell people and everything…’

I wanted to tell my husband – as if telling someone else would make it feel real. But he was in a meeting at work and couldn’t take my call. In the end I sent him a text message – ‘Have got book deal. Am author.’

But it didn’t feel real for a long time.

Sometimes, it still doesn’t.

In June of 2014 my contract arrived and my husband took a photo of me signing it. After I posted it on Twitter, my editor Rachel Leyshon took a photo of Barry signing it when it reached the Chicken House offices.

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Being an author turned out to mostly involve editing, editing and more editing. There were structural edits, line edits, copy edits and edits I’ve probably forgotten about. When my story had been changed – almost beyond recognition – I edited some more. So I burst out laughing (hysterically) when it still received a review on Amazon recently that read: ‘I am only giving it four stars as I felt it could have done with a sharper editing hand.’

Not that I can complain – I’ve been very lucky with reviews, both on Amazon and Goodreads. And some of the comments on various book blogs have made me teary with gratitude. Those reviews have made up for any number of rejection letters. They’ve made me grin soppily for hours – days even. They’ve made me want to track down each reviewer and hug them. My earliest and nicest reviews came from Morag and Lorna Haddow. From Michelle Toy, Sally B and Michelle Moore. Seriously, bloggers are some of the loveliest, most generous people in the world – and they make writers feel as if having a book out there isn’t so scary after all.

Darkmere was published on 6th August 2015 and real people began to tell me they’d bought it. Or read it. Or even enjoyed it. Twitter friends sent me pictures of Darkmere on the shelves of their local bookshops. I had a launch party and signed copies – which felt so weird. But good weird. Very good weird!

From early cover designs…

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…to finished book.

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And – of course – I want to do it again. I want to hear my children say ‘My mum’s a writer,’ rather than ‘My mum wrote a book once.’

I know that it’s possible to be published now – truly, anyone can do it!

Perhaps the hardest thing about writing a second book is that knowledge that real people will definitely see the results of those terrible early drafts one day.

But I’ve printed out the best bits of my most inspiring emails or reviews and hung them in tiny frames in a corner of the attic where I write. Hopefully, I’ll get to add more frames one day…

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YA Shot Guest Post with Lucy Coats – Where I Write and How I Do It

Today I am very excited to have Lucy Coats on my blog once more, this as part of the YA Shot Blog Tour, talking about where she writes and how she does it.

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I write all
of my books in the little room directly above my kitchen. To get to it, I have to climb a set of steep, blue-painted stairs which still have a child gate at the top, useful for keeping out itinerant grannies and other distracting visitors. The room itself is light and airy, even though it’s crammed under the roof, and, like most of the rooms in my house, it’s stuffed full of books. Mostly, they have a reason to be there. On the left of the desk are my current research books, dictionaries, notebooks, and writing-related tomes. On the other walls are shelves of myths, fairy stories, and more research and reference, including lots of Latin and Greek translations of Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Aeschylus and more. There are also my own books – 37 of them to date, in various editions and translations, (which take up a good few shelves), as well as a tatty dog sofa (I have three writing dogs), my grandma’s rocking horse, a fabulous alabaster sculpture by my friend Aly and, on the door, the only existing ‘real world’ piece of my own art – a shamanic banner from the 90s, painted on an old pillowcase.

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My desk looks out over green fields full of sheep, and a tiny stream, which floods the lawn in the winter. It’s surrounded by pictures of my latest characters (of which more later), quotes, inspirational postcards, a Brilliant Reading Rest stand, pens (mostly purple and green), piles of paper and general writing junk. On the windowsill there’s also a large Moomin and one of Meg Rosoff’s Ecks (from There Is No Dog) nesting in my lucky Glastonbury hat. Behind me is probably the most important piece of technical-writinginspirationparaphernalia I have, my sturdy ninja flipchart on wheels.

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This room is my sanctuary (except when it’s not). Every morning I go up there and lock myself away. If the door and the gate are shut, (and the Red Rope of Doom hung on the gate), then everyone is supposed to know not to come in on pain of snarly shouting and growling. (Naturally, my 90 year-old mum refuses to obey this rule.) This is the engine-room of my writing, the place where the fire is lit after the initial ignition of an idea spark. Of course, that’s the question I get asked most – ‘Where do your ideas come from?’. Everywhere and anywhere is the answer – I’m never short of them. The difficulty can be choosing which one to fly with. Sometimes I think I have The One – and then it fizzles out into nothing. Usually it’s the one which has been niggling at my brain for a while that works out best.

My process can take a very long time from that initial spark to finished book – it depends on what kind of book it is, because I write for all ages from two to teen. A novel definitely takes longest – though I’ve had picture books which only come to fruition years later. In theory, once I’ve done the thinking and composting bit and decided to write a new novel, I’ll do a brief synopsis of plot and characters, and then write a few thousand words to check out voice. With a YA novel or a series I have to know that I like the characters, because I’m going to be living with them for a while. With CLEO, I wrote in third person to start with, and didn’t like it after 10,000 words, so switched to first. I was really surprised (and a bit worried) when this snarky and modern-sounding girl came into my head, but she stuck, and I could really hear her speaking, which is always a good sign. It clearly worked, because my agent loved it, and sold both CLEO (and its sequel, CHOSEN, which comes in March 2016) to Orchard Books on just 13,000 words and a synopsis.

That’s when the hard work really began. I will admit now that I used to be a ‘pantser’, writing the book with just a few plot wayposts to go on and working it out as I went. I soon found that with a double helping of historical/paranormal, a long book and a large cast of characters, I couldn’t do that any more. That’s when I turned into a proper ‘plotter’ – and where my ninja flip chart comes in. I’m a great believer in the ‘creative napfor ironing out plot and story arc – so I do that, and then, while my mind is still in that whirly space somewhere to the left of my brain, I mind map it all on the flip chart, then type it all out in detail so I know exactly where I’m going. I use that technique whenever I have a plot problem to work out. Of course there are still places where the character will make a detour and say, ‘No! I’m not doing THAT, I’m doing THIS,’ but that’s fine as long as I get back to the main road afterwards.

The other thing I do at this stage is to find photos of what I think my characters look like, and download them onto my InspirePro painting app on the iPad. I’ll fiddle about with them, painting in new hair colour or features or whatever, making them ‘mine’, and then I’ll transfer them to FXPhoto Studio and fiddle around some more (you can see what I did with Cleo, Charm and Khai on my Pinterest page). I need to physically see them – hence the printouts stuck up by my desk.

The actual writing itself I do straight onto my Mac – and for each book I use the Scrivener app, about which I am evangelical. Every piece of useful research I discover on the internet, relevant notes transferred from my ‘book notebook’, timelines, all my detailed character lists, all my lists of settings, a link to my Pinterest board for the book – as well as the chapters themselves (with word targets) go on Scrivener. I wouldn’t be without it for anything. Mostly I do that in my writing room – day in day out – editing as I go, with occasional trips out to the library (or British Museum) for research. I couldn’t live without libraries – though some of the university ones (like the Perseus archive at Tufts) are now digital, which is useful for a writer who lives in the depths of the countryside. Libraries are important for everyone, and I’m passionate about preserving the ones we still have left.

However, there comes a point (usually about halfway through the book) when the walls close in – and when I need to escape for some concentrated writing peace and quiet. Because I have a busy life and a family, there are always annoying interruptions to my writing day (despite that closed door and Red Rope of Doom). With my first novel, I escaped to a cottage in Donegal, lent to me by a kind friend. With CLEO I was lucky enough to borrow a flat in Venice, and with CHOSEN, I escaped to Devon, to a writing retreat where I managed to write 30,000 words in 11 days.

Back in the writing room, and on the final stretch, I’ll turn on AntiSocial to stop me faffing about on Facebook, Twitter or my new obsession, Instagram. I always cry when I write ‘The End’. It’s a kind of cathartic and blessed release from the joy-pain of writing the damn thing – and then, of course, it starts all over again with the next book.

 

Guest Post: Catherine Johnson – Where I Work

Today I am super excited to be taking part in The Lady Caraboo Blog Tour.

Caraboo Blog Tour Poster v5

 

I am very pleased to welcome author Catherine Johnson, who is doing the first ever guest post on my blog (squeal!) and is talking about where and how she writes her wonderful books.

So without further ado… welcome Catherine!

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Good morning! Come and sit down and have a cup of virtual coffee! There’s toast too and I have some really good apricot jam….

Hello and thanks for the invitation to your blog. I have been a writer quite a long time – my first paying job was in 1991, I think – a film treatment which never got made but did open the door in my head marked ‘stories’.

Where do I write? How do I write? Well until the year before last I wrote all my books (and scripts) on a computer at a table in my bedroom. We lived in a tiny house – here’s a picture of my old street in Hackney:

 

– and we have two kids. They’re grown up now (28 and 24 I am so old when did that happen?) and moved on and it’s only since we left of London a couple of years ago that I’ve had a room of my own. This is me not long after we moved in showing off a jumper I knitted, I am a manic knitter by the way, I used to have a stall in Portobello Market and sell Fair Isle hats when I was a student.

 

Photo on 09-06-2013 at 11.23 #2

Anyway now I have a view of my own too – lookit here!

And I will also tell you the one joke I know about writers;

Q: Why shouldn’t the writer look out of the window in the morning?

A: Because then they’ll have nothing to do in the afternoon!

I didn’t say it was good.

I think we can often put up a lot of barriers to writing; I can’t work at home, only in a café, I need space, or I need to be on the train or in a certain spot. I have to have a special notebook or a lucky pen. And I sometimes I feel like that too, (especially about trains) but I think it’s important to remember that writing isn’t magic. It’s work, and although it’s lovely to find a story that makes it feel like you’re simply channelling the characters, and can’t type fast enough to keep up, sometimes it can feel like pulling particularly painful teeth. Caraboo took a gazillion drafts. I tried writing it in first person, (which is very hard when your character only speaks aloud in a made up language), letters, multiple viewpoints, I wrote the story so many different ways before I found a way that works. Whereas other stories – Sawbones for example – was one of those word vomits that took weeks.

One thing I find helpful when I get stuck is moving, walking or swimming. And since my job involves sitting down all day it’s not a bad thing. And it does help that there are loads of good places to walk round here.

I must admit having a writing room feels like a huge luxury. And last Christmas I got a white board of my very own! It is brilliant for working stuff out on and reminding me about things that I am often forgetting.

 

Above my desk I’ll have helpful pictures. Until recently when I was working on the sequel to Sawbones, I had a map of Paris and a picture of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, brilliant brave hero of the French Revolutionary army and inspiration to his son Alexandre, who went on to write The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

At the moment I’ve a picture by Degas of Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando she was a black performer in fin de siècle Paris, and pinned to the white board is a story maze I did of my work in progress. I’ve never done this but a friend, Teresa Flavin, gave it to me and I filled in the gaps and it’s been a little bit of an inspiration.

I have loads of books. LOADS. Did I mention I have LOADS of books?

I tend to have a routine that goes like this.

Early start. I am so a morning person. If I’m on a script deadline it might be as early as 5 or 6. I’ll work for an hour or so then go off for a swim and come home and have breakfast. Then I’ll write some more – with breaks for food or if I am stuck, a walk by the sea and then more work until 4 (or if it’s a script until it’s done).

 

Of course I have days when I visit my friends and eat cake or my friends visit me and eat cake, but it is a job and I do feel very guilty if there are no words. Apart from the odd bit of teaching this is all I do this for a living.

If I’m working on a book I will try and hit word counts for a week – usually if I’m working every day that’ll be 10-12k. But some weeks I’ll have school visits or other work – and then you find yourself out of the story loop, which can be a little bit difficult when you want to get back in.

At the moment I am working on one book (a contemporary supernatural YA which is a whole lot of fun), a film project currently in development and a TV drama which is very, very, exciting – but really don’t want to say more in case I jinx it!

I think you know it’s going well when you can’t stop thinking about the characters and the world – in fact it’s a little (a lot!) like being in love!

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Massive thanks to Catherine for being here and chatting on my blog today – I love hearing the ways writers work, it’s always so different from one to the next!

There are still more stops on The Lady Caraboo tour, so check the picture to see where to head to next, or to catch up with the previous posts.

I’ll be posting my review of the book on Friday (spoiler alert: I thought it was wonderful) and you can pre-order your own copy from Waterstones, Hive, WHSmiths, and Amazon.

Lady Caraboo hits shelves on July 2nd and I’d really recommend it.