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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Summer Blog-a-day 2018 – Extract from my next release!

I am so sorry I am late putting this up! I agreed to take part in the Summer Blog-a-day 2018, courtesy of the lovely Kay Macleod and today is my day! I’ve decided to post the first chapter of my upcoming release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, which will be coming out with Pict Publishing in October. I hope you like it!

1

Elliot

 

I think the men started it all. My mother going downhill.

She didn’t have much luck with the men, and this was a fact. According to my Nan and Uncle Liam, she kept picking bad ones.

She used to be able to laugh it off.

You live and you learn, she would say, got to kiss a few frogs before you find a Prince.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it had all started with the men. There had been quite a few bad ones in a row, the first being my father, who had not hung around to see me be born.

I scribbled the men into a notebook to help me remember;

-my father

-the one who beat her up downstairs when I was in bed

-the one who came home with her from the pub

-the one who stole her purse

-the one who cheated on her with three other women

I didn’t really know any of them. I hadn’t even seen the one who beat her up. He’d just been a voice in the hallway, murmuring while she giggled.

Then one night, his voice changed. Light and fun turned into husky snarling. High pitched at the end of his sentences, like his voice was snapping into pieces. There were thumps and bumps, gasping and scrabbling. The man spoke to her in a low, mean voice and then slammed the front door behind him. I got out of bed and started across the landing but she called out; No! I’m okay! Don’t come.

The second one wobbled home with her one night after closing time. I’d sat with my back against my bedroom door to listen.

Seen you about. Liked you for ages.

Didn’t think you’d look at me twice!

You’re lovely, you are. All woman!

She broke down on him not long after the glasses clinked.

So bloody fat, aren’t I?

No, no, you’re all right, you’re…

Who am I kidding? Probably had a bet with your mates, didn’t you? Taking the piss out of me!

She went on for a while, having a go at him and accusing him of things. And then he left, quietly.

Next was the one who stole her purse. Apparently, she’d given him her number the night before, so he turned up on the doorstep to try his luck. She came running up the stairs after he’d left. She woke me up shrieking; he’s robbed me! He’s robbed me! That shitting little bastard! She sat with me on my bed, red-eyed and shaking.

‘God, I can’t believe what a bloody idiot I am, Elliot! What a pushover! Robbed my purse! My bloody purse! Jesus Christ, what is wrong with people? Why do they go out with the sole purpose of hurting someone else?’

She left it a few months before she latched onto the next disaster. It went well for a few weeks, until she got a phone call from a woman claiming to be his girlfriend. It all kicked off after that. There was screaming and shouting and things getting smashed. That was the same night I started watching the house opposite ours. The one with the old lady and the two striped cats. It was the cats that caught my attention. Crying and mewling to be let in, day and night. Why didn’t the old lady let them in?

The next morning my mother had come to a decision.

‘I’m giving up men,’ she announced over breakfast. ‘That’s it. That’s final. They’re all the bloody same. I was right all along, wasn’t I? That’s it. No more.’

‘Have you seen that old lady across the street recently?’

Me changing the subject pissed her right off. No, she hadn’t seen the lady, what bloody old lady? Hadn’t I listened to a word she said?

But I couldn’t stop thinking about the cats. That night I could still see them sat on the doorstep waiting to be let in. I watched them for a while before lying back down and picking up my notebook to hold open on my chest.

My bed was under the window and I liked to sleep with the curtains apart and the window wide open. I liked to lie there like that until the cold night air had completely numbed the tip of my nose. I could never fall asleep until the outdoors had drenched me in cold. Once I was cold enough, I got under the duvet, pulled it over my head and fell asleep.

Just then, there was a tap on my door and my mother came in. She shuffled in, tugging the sleeves of her pale blue jumper down over her hands one at a time. I always felt a slight sinking in my belly when I looked at my mother and realised that we were complete opposites.

I was tall for my age, with a shock of thick black hair, and deep brown eyes. My mother was five-foot two and apple shaped. Her hair was pale yellow and when loose, hung limply over both shoulders, where she would often reach up to tug at the ends. I thought she was pretty. Her face was round and flat, her eyes pale blue and framed by blonde eyelashes. Her lips were like a small pink flower. I longed for the smack of them against my cheek, but she had never been a kissy sort of person.

I wished we looked alike. I wished that people would say how like my mum I was, instead of wondering if my dark skin meant I was adopted. I’d never heard anyone say that I had my mother’s eyes, or nose, or lips. It made me sigh when she walked into the room, and as her shoulders slumped with her own sigh, I wondered if she felt the same disappointment and sense of disorientation whenever she looked at me.

Perhaps if I had looked like her just a little bit, then the differences in our personalities would not have felt so obvious either. I forced a smile as she approached my bed, wringing her hands and frowning as if everything perplexed her. I couldn’t help glancing at her short legs, before gazing down at the long ones that emerged from below my barrel chest. My Nan told me I was still growing into myself, and that I was not a finished product yet. I hoped she was right. My long thin arms and legs made my chunky middle look out of place. You’re a beautiful boy, Nan was always telling me, but that’s not what the kids at school said.

My mother spotted the open window and scowled.

‘Close your bloody window! You’ll catch your death!’

‘Mum,’ I sat up. ‘The house across the close has had its lights on for weeks now.’

‘So, what? What are you spying for?

‘Mum, she hasn’t let her cats in either.’

‘What are you on about? What bloody cats?’ She came to the window, crossing her arms over her chest.

I leaned forward on my knees and pointed. ‘There. Look. She hasn’t let them in and her light has been on for two weeks. Maybe longer.’

She shook her head, distracted. ‘Look, I had a phone call…’

‘Do you think something has happened to her?’

‘Elliot, listen to me a minute. I need to talk to you about something.’

But she didn’t sit down, and she didn’t touch me, so I continued to stare at the cats and suddenly I didn’t want to look at my mother at all. She had the same look on her face that she’d had when she told me Uncle Liam’s baby had died. I didn’t want anyone to have died, so I just concentrated on the cats.

‘I’ll go and knock in the morning,’ I said with certainty. ‘Make sure she’s okay. Maybe she went on holiday and someone is supposed to be feeding them but they forgot!’

‘Can’t you even listen to me?’ she snapped then, stalking briskly away from the window. ‘Is it too much to ask? I came up here to talk to you! Do you even care?’

She didn’t give me a chance to answer before she flounced off. I felt bad after that, but at least I could be sure that no one had died. She would have said so, wouldn’t she?

When she was back downstairs, I tried again to put my finger on what was different about her. The red eyes, for instance. She never used to cry as much as she did now. The stalking about and walking away and starting conversations but not finishing them. That was another thing. I gazed at the list in my notebook. Five bad men.

Did it start with the men? Or was there something before that? Maybe I had just not been paying enough attention. And now I needed to help her. I needed to do something. I felt like it was just on the tip of my tongue, at the back of my brain, teasing me.

I wished Uncle Liam was still around to ask for advice. Uncle Liam had moved in with us six months ago, but he’d gone off recently to clear his head. He would be back soon, because we still had his car and his dog Tizer. I decided to embrace the fact that it was going to be up to me alone to work out how to save my mum.