Character Interview; Elliot from Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature

Q1 What have you got planned for today?

It’s the summer holidays, so I’m going to go out and about on my bike. Probably call for Finn and Leah and rider our bikes about. Exploring! I’m really trying to explore new areas and not just stay in the same place the whole time. I’m trying to meet new people too. I know they say you shouldn’t talk to strangers, but strangers are actually so interesting!

Q2 Do you have any pets?

I don’t have any pets of my own. But I’m looking after my Uncle Liam’s dog, Tizer, while he’s off getting his head straight. Tizer is a staffy. Some people are scared of them, but Tizer’s such an old softy, he’s nothing to be scared of. He mostly just likes sleeping and snoring.

Q3 Do you have any siblings?

No, I’m an only child. I wish I had brothers and sisters, I really do. I would love it. I wouldn’t mind if they were older or younger, I would just love it. You’d never be alone. You’d always have someone to hang around with. You’d have someone to talk to when Mum is in one of her moods. But Mum said I was a surprise and she never intended on having any kids, so one is definitely enough.

Q4 Who is your best friend and why?

Well, I have two friends, Finn and Leah. I think we’re friends because we live near each other and we walk the same way to school. Also, because none of us are popular. I used to worry that we weren’t real friends, because we didn’t choose to be friends, we just ended up that way. We got pushed together. But we’ve had so many adventures this summer, I don’t worry about that anymore. We are definitely friends! Proper friends! In some ways though, my Uncle Liam is my best friend, because that’s how we’ve always been. Like mates. He always calls me golden, and ruffles my hair and talks to me about Doctor Who and his favourite songs. He’s not around at the moment. Mum and Nan say he had a lot of stress and had to sort himself out. He’ll be back soon though, I know it.

Q5 Who are you scared of?

I’m not scared of anyone, except Spencer Reeves. He’s this stupid boy at school. He’s very well-off and stuck up, and he’s brilliant at football and all the girls fancy him. But basically he’s a massive bitch. He’s just mean, all the time, mostly to me. He calls me Pie-face and other things. I feel a bit sorry for him, because I think he hasn’t been brought up properly, but I hate him too. And he scares me. Because I don’t really understand why he hates me so much. I’m also a little, tiny bit scared of this lady I met. She’s part of my project, and sometimes I think about crossing her off the list, because she can be a bit nasty at times. But I do find that interesting, how honest she is. She never lies, which is very interesting.

Q6 What is your greatest fear?

It’s probably my Uncle Liam not coming back. I’m sure he will, but Mum and Nan sometimes say weird things like, ‘we have to prepare ourselves’. I know they’re more worried about him than they let on, but I don’t know why, because they never tell me anything. They treat me like a baby. My mum has tons and tons of fears. I try not to let them rub off on me. With my project, I’m starting to notice that these days a lot of people are really frightened. Some of them try to look on the bright side of things, like Frank, and then others, like Alex, think the world is doomed and we might as well give up. Mum feels like that too. She gets so upset watching the news. Don’t ever ask her what her greatest fear is…she would keep going for days!

Q7 What are your hopes and dreams?

I hope and dream that Uncle Liam will come back soon. I miss him so much. I know he will make Mum feel better again and everything will go back to normal. I hope and dream that Mum will start going outside again, and she’ll get brave and strong and not be upset anymore. I hope and dream that all the interesting people I am meeting will help me understand things, and one day, I hope I have a job where I get to be outside all day.

Q8 Do you have any hobbies?

I really love Doctor Who, and I really love just riding my bike all over the place, exploring new places. I love being outside and being with nature and stuff like that. And I love writing all my thoughts and finds down in my notebook!

Q9 Describe yourself in one sentence

Curious, excited, adventurous outdoorsy boy who is a geek.

Q10 What is your biggest secret?

My project. I have to keep it secret because Mum would go mental if she knew I was talking to strangers, and she’d have an absolute breakdown if she knew I was going into their houses and stuff! But I’m only doing it to help her. I want to prove to her that not all people are bad and nasty! I want to prove to her that most people are really good and not hurting anyone, and just want peace in life. I’ll tell her one day, when I’ve got enough information and I can explain it to her properly, but until then, it has to stay a secret! From everyone!

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The Seeds that Sow a Book…

As launch day for my next book, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature draws ever closer, (Friday 5th October!!) I thought I would write a post about the various things that inspired this particular novel. As always, it is never just one thing, but rather scattered seeds of ideas that take root and then somehow weave together as the process unfolds. And it was a particularly long process for this book. I worked on it, on and off, for over three years, which is the longest I have ever spent on one novel. I expect that’s another blog post for another day, but for now, here are some of the things that inspired Elliot Pie.

Current state of the world.

I wasn’t so much concerned with dissecting it, or even asking why it is the way it is. I was more interested in the question, is it getting worse? And of course, it’s human beings I’m really referring to, not the actual spinning ball of mud itself. Are people worse? Is human nature crueler and more destructive than it once was? When you look at the issues facing us today, it’s easy to consider that they must be. We have rising homelessness, poverty, increasing inequality, fascism on the rise, endless wars, plastic pollution, and climate change and environmental destruction on a devastating scale. It’s not hard to see why some people think we are simply doomed. That it has all gone too far. That there is no turning this around. End days are upon us. It’s Elliot’s mother Laura who feels this genuine fear in the book, and if I’m honest, I think her character’s fears are exaggerated versions of my own. Like most people, I have days when the fears consume me. It simply feels like the world has never been a more dangerous place. This is a question Elliot asks repeatedly throughout the book. Is this the worst things have ever been? Or have they always largely been the same? Or is it actually not as bad as we think? It was my constant pondering over these questions that inspired the journey Elliot would go on in the story.

Human Nature.

Human nature is something I think about a lot. What makes some people kind and good and gentle, and other cruel and destructive? This is something both Laura and Elliot consider throughout the story. Laura is a cynic. She’s been hurt too many times and has no faith left in people. She genuinely feels that the majority of people are cruel and selfish. She feels utter despair when she watches the news every evening, and can’t understand why other people do not seem to be as upset and depressed as she is by the horror stories. Elliot, on the other hand, is an optimist. Part of this is obviously his young age. At twelve, he has yet to see the worst of human nature, unless you count his increasingly disturbing altercations with Spencer Reeves at school. Elliot is curious about Spencer and wonders what makes him get up in the morning and decide to bully people. He wants to prove to his mother that most people are good and don’t want to hurt you.

Strangers. 

This may have been the seed that started it all. I’m an introvert but I’m endlessly fascinated by people. I always have been. Even as a child, I preferred standing on the edge, listening and observing. I was always watching people and wondering about their lives and their motivations. I didn’t want to talk to people or interact with them. Even now, I probably hold most people at arms length. But I am curious about them, and in particular, those people you never see again. Glimpses through car windows, strangers that pass you on the street. People you speak to in a shop, in the bank, at the park, and then never ever see again. I always wonder about their lives and in the absence of knowing, I make one up for them. It’s this curiosity about strangers and their lives that inspires Elliot’s plan to help his mother. If he can befriend strangers and prove to his mother that not everyone is bad, then maybe he can encourage her to leave the house and start to live her life again.

Family.

To be honest, I think all of my books are inspired by the complexities of family life. It’s another aspect of humanity I find compelling. In this particular book, Elliot is an only child born of a one night stand. His mother, who has never had any luck with men, has now sworn off them for good. She never planned to be a mother and has never found it easy. This is perhaps because she is haunted by the relationship she and her brother Liam had with their father Pat, a man who in death is glorified by their mother Diane, but was a far darker presence in their lives than she will admit. Families are complex structures, simmering with resentments, jealousies, guilt and longing. I often think that at the heart of every human’s insecurities and woes, is the desire to be accepted and valued by their family. If a person never felt either, they inevitably struggle in life one way or another. Laura’s family secrets begin to reveal themselves as the novel progresses, and her attempts to unravel the past and understand it, are part of her own healing process. In truth, she had her own plan to get better all along, but as this is kept from Elliot, he has no idea.

Mental health.

Again, I think all of my books deal with mental health issues one way or another. From eating disorders and self-harm to depression and suicidal thoughts, I think I’ve explored them all at some point. In this book, Laura suffers from agoraphobia, and we eventually discover that her brother Liam, who is missing, once attempted suicide. On the surface, an extrovert and a clown, Liam has his own hidden scars, and at the start of the book, we learn that he has disappeared after a series of tragic events, including the stillbirth of his child. This tragedy has obviously had a huge impact on his mental health and on those around him.

Hope.

This book explores some upsetting topics but Elliot is the optimist, carrying the light. He’s determined to help his mother, find his Uncle Liam, and learn something about human nature as well. He also feels that as a member of the younger generation, he will not give up on this world just yet.

Nature.

This was also a major theme in The Tree Of Rebels, and as these two books were written and worked on during the same time period, it’s no wonder that it crept into Elliot Pie as well. It’s mainly explored through the character of Frank, an elderly man who feels we have all become too far removed from nature. And as Laura locks herself away in her home for safety, Elliot begins to explore the great outdoors, riding on his bike from one area to the next, discovering new places and people. He begins to feel the opposite to his mother, and feels the urge to be outside as much as possible.

 

So, there you have it. The themes that weave a plot together. The interesting thing about themes and ideas is that you not always aware they’re there until after you’ve written the book. I know one of my earliest thoughts about this book was that I wanted to write a book about a boy who felt intrigued by strangers and wanted to follow them. This obviously led to questions. Why was he so intrigued? What was it about his own life that drew him to strangers? And the rest began to unfold as I wrote it. Funny how all those little seeds get planted along the way and grow into a book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slipping Through My Fingers…

Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while

I’d never even heard the song until I took my daughters to see Mamma Mia at the cinema. They were only little at the time, just four and five years old. And I don’t even like Abba, or any ‘pop’ music for that matter. But when that song came on, accompanied by the character of Donna helping her daughter get ready for her wedding day, well, the tears just flowed down my face. It was quite ridiculous and embarrassing. But it was just every word, you know? And I got this image in my head, of the first time I’d had those same emotions about my little girl. My eldest, two years old, running off ahead of me down an alley behind the flat we lived in at the time. I remembered watching the back of her, her long blonde hair swinging from side to side, and I had this sudden, startling image of her starting school, which up until that moment had always seemed an impossible thing. But I could suddenly see her, school uniform on, hair in neat plaits, school bag on her shoulder…

It hit me in the cinema, maybe twice as hard. They were both already at school by that point, and my third child was just a year old, and I already knew how fast it went, how the time, and the children, slipped through your fingers.

Well, my eldest turns sixteen this very week, so this song is back in my head again. And tomorrow, my fourth and youngest child starts school. Gulp. I had tears in my eyes for the duration of my dog walk this morning. And that bloody song going around and around and around…

The feeling that I’m losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

These words come back to taunt me now my little man is about to start school, and I can’t deny that’s exactly how it feels; like I’m losing him forever. Of course, I know I’m not and in many of my more rational moments, I imagine how much more work I’m going to get done now. And how he won’t have to be dragged out on so many dog walks, and I won’t always be saying; come on, come on, hurry up.

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what’s in her mind
Each time I think I’m close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

I’ve tried, since he was born, to capture every minute, to soak up every part of it, to live and exist in that one moment, that one speck of existence. I breastfed him much longer than the other kids…there was no hurry for any of it to pass…I carried him in a sling until he was too big, just clinging to that feeling, the weight of his little body against mine, the feel of his soft, fat cheek, the smell of his curly, wispy hair.

And it never feels possible or real that they will grow older and go to school. It just doesn’t. Because you live in the moment with small children. They are always just the age they are. Soon you can’t quite remember or grasp who they were last year, what they looked like, what they could do and not do, and in the same way, you can’t see too far forward. You can’t imagine them much older. You just can’t. They are always just sort of stuck.

So it hits you hard, I think. Letting them go. And I know, he will have so much fun, and he will learn so much more, and I understood a long time ago that motherhood is really just a long process of gradually letting go. From the moment they start to walk and talk, to the first moment they pull their hand out of yours, to that all-important milestone, the first day of school.

This week I have watched as countless Facebook mummies have posted back to school pictures of their children, and it gets to me every time. All those fresh, smiling faces. Polished shoes, neat hair, book bags waiting to be filled. You can see all their potential and hope and optimism and you hope they get to hang onto all of it for as long as possible. You want each and every one of them to feel excited, and curious and valued. You want them all to be okay. And I know, that behind every back to school photo, behind every beaming smile, is a tearful mother feeling a mixture of so many things.

Bewilderment that it all went so fast. Relief, that they are going to get some life and time back for themselves. Perhaps excitement as they start a new chapter in their own life, maybe a new job or another opportunity that had to be put on hold. Worry for the child. Will they fit in? Will they be able to cope? Will they have nice, understanding teachers? Will they make friends? Sadness that an era has come to an end. That you can’t ever go back. Can’t stride into those photos you took when they were just a baby, can’t scoop them back up and feel them rest their tiny head on your shoulder. It’s always onwards. To the future. The next part of life.

Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture
And save it from the funny tricks of time
Slipping through my fingers (Slipping through my fingers all the time)

With those words ringing in my head, I just ironed all the little name labels onto his uniform, and double checked his book bag, shoes and PE kit are all ready to go in the morning. He’s only doing three hours for Christ’s sake! It will be time to go back and get him before I know it! But the first day leads to the second, and eventually to full-time school, to years slipping through my fingers that I won’t be able to grasp onto no matter how much I want to slow it all down…

So, this mummy will try to be brave in the morning. I’ll have a mantra in my head, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry… I’ll have a great big smile on my face and I will have to absolutely refuse to let that song inside my head. Not even for one second. I’ll get him ready and I’ll see him off and I’ll do the hardest and most important thing you do as a mother.

I’ll let go.

Just for a bit.

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Bye Bye Book Baby…8 Tips To Survive Launch Day

Books start off as a wholly private thing. An idea, a spark, a what if? A character, a voice, a problem. All in the author’s head. Swirling around, mixing and sloshing, growing and evolving and swelling until finally it all bursts out. Into notebooks, into notes saved on mobile phones, into character bios and storyboards and plot outlines and research. And then, word by word, page by page, into an actual book. By this time you might be sharing bits here and there. You might be talking about the plot with other people, or asking for advice. But in the beginning, it’s entirely private.

Then comes the day you hand it over to carefully picked beta readers. You wait and dread and hope, and then take a deep breath when you start to digest their inevitably and wonderfully critical feedback. You work on it again and again and again.

Until the release day looms. That first spark of an idea, that grew and moulded itself into an actual book, is as perfect as it can be and finally, it’s time to say goodbye. And I always forget just how scary this is. Handing over to beta readers is hard enough, but usually, they are people you know and trust, and you know the book is not finished and still needs more work, so it’s easier to take the criticism.

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But after release day? The public have your book in their hands! And hopefully, they are going to read it, react to it and possibly review it. Scary stuff. There’s an element of wanting to avoid this, though obviously, we write to reach people, to pass on stories and lives and messages, however, there is no denying it’s hard to say the final goodbye. Good luck out there book baby, you are on your own now.

Here are my top tips for surviving release day;

  1. Whether you’ve arranged a physical launch or an online one, or something far quieter, ensure you’ve done all the hard work days before it kicks off. So blog posts, interviews, early reviews and graphics are all organised and ready to go. You’ll be nervous enough on release day and don’t want to be rushing around putting last minute things together.
  2. Enlist some fellow author friends to help you on launch day. They’ve been there, so know how it feels! You could ask them just to help share and Tweet your book link and reviews, or you could go further and ask them to co-host your event with you. Safety in numbers, plus you might need the moral support!
  3. Have another project on the go. Releasing a book and finally saying goodbye to it can make you feel a bit flat. I like to have another project already on the go to take my mind off the one leaving home. You can spend release day promoting and squeeze some fresh new writing in as well.
  4. It’s never too late to fix typos. Lingering typos are a constant fear. You’re sure you’ve got them all, mopped them all up on the millions of times you’ve gone over your book, but you know full well they can still creep through. But the great thing about indie publishing is that if some kind soul lets you know they found one, you can quickly amend it, republish and no one else need ever know!
  5. It doesn’t have to be goodbye forever. Part of you is so glad to get this book released, to finally have it done and out of the way, but another part of you feels a bit like your baby is leaving home and never coming back. Not true. You’ve still got to promote the book and that lasts forever. You can revisit the characters and the plot any time you want with extra short stories, character interviews and so on. You can even write a sequel or make it into a series…It doesn’t have to be over!
  6. Goodbye to one book makes way for the next. It’s hard to concentrate on the next book when you are waiting for one to move on. Once it’s gone, once it’s fully out there, you can breathe a sigh of relief and start paying proper attention to the next ones waiting to be written!
  7. Make sure you have some wine in to celebrate. Or whatever takes your fancy, Release day can be pretty exhausting, followed by a flat feeling and feelings of anxiety about how readers will react. Take deep breaths and have a drink or two to calm your nerves and celebrate what you have achieved.
  8. Enjoy it! Release day is scary and somewhat emotional, but don’t forget to have fun and allow yourself to enjoy it. It is your special day after all, and one you have worked amazingly hard for!

I’ll be saying goodbye to Elliot Pie on October 5th, but you can pre-order the novel right now here on Amazon, for just 99p! This is a special pre-order price and it will go up on release day! So grab your bargain copy right now and don’t forget to leave a review afterward to let others know what you thought!