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!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Return of the Voices (and the Nervous Stomach)

Back in April, I blogged about the strange feeling of dread and nerves I was experiencing when I thought about writing, in When Writing is the Cause of and the Solution to Anxiety It took me a while to work out that the reason my stomach kept taking a nose dive was my writing. There was, however, a huge sense of relief when I finished the first draft of what will be The Boy With The Thorn In His Side- Part 3. I discussed this in First Draft Relief as The Voices Fall Silent. After that first draft, everything calmed down. The voices from this particular story shut up and while that did allow the next lot of characters to pipe up, I felt a lot better. My nervous stomach went away and I almost forgot about it.

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About a week ago, something very annoying happened. I got an idea for a new book. I really, really didn’t want this to happen. It actually makes me feel physically sick to even think about it!

And this is why;

  • at the moment I am trying to decide whether or not to release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature as it is, probably in September. Although, as I talked about in my last blog post, How Do You Know When It’s Time To Quit?, I am also considering another edit and possible rewrite. I change my mind about this on a daily basis. I am listening to all the advice I’ve received in feedback from publishers and from beta readers and anyone else who has commented, but I do still feel that the story is the way I intended it to be…so as you can tell, this book which has been two years in progress, is still plaguing my thoughts…
  • I have A Song For Bill Robinson and Emily’s Baby both written. Both need further edits and both need feedback from beta readers to move forward. But at the moment, both books are just sat there doing nothing, while I feel the constant gnaw of guilt and unease about the fact nothing is happening…
  • Currently, I am working on The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. As explained in older posts, the original book and its sequel This Is The Day have been reworked into a series of four books which will be left open for the option of a fifth. Parts 1 and 2 just needed tweaking, while part 3 is entirely new, and part 4 is a reworked version of This Is The Day to tie in with the events of part 3…Tired yet? I am! Parts 1 and 2 are finished and awaiting frot covers and formatting for ebook and paperback. I have just finished the 4th draft of Part 3 on my Kindle and will soon dive into the 5th draft before I ask my beta readers to read it. I am working on Part 4 right now, and don’t think it will take more than a week or so, as only a few bits need changing. There is some relief with this series, but already a few ideas have crept in for a potential book 5…
  • The Day The Earth Turned, a 4 book YA series has been waiting for its turn for a good year or so now. I’ve plotted it, devised characters, and written short stories to keep it at bay. I’ve even dived into writing it and got as far as chapter 7. Once I have finished messing around with The Boy series, this series will be the next new, fresh thing I work on. That could be as soon as a few weeks time!! Exciting!! But those voices are getting louder and louder…
  • There are also sequels half written and neglected for The Mess Of Me and The Tree Of Rebels, but these will have to wait even longer now thanks to this bolshy new idea marching into my head last week!
  • I’m not going to tell you too much about the book so far, only tease you by admitting it’s been somewhat inspired by watching Breaking bad and Supernatural! Weird, I know, but the writer’s mind works in very strange ways. I didn’t want a new book idea. You can see how much I have going on, plus if you check out my upcoming books page, there are other books in the pipeline I’ve not even mentioned in this blog post. They will just get pushed back too as this new idea is a very insistent one.

So, with the new and unwanted book idea came new voices, names, characters, lives, homes, friends, lovers, backstories and shit loads of dialogue. They just don’t shut up! They are living and breathing and growing and evolving each and every day. Everything I do, everywhere I go, they are there too, demanding to be born, urging to be moulded and shaped into something real and living. I already know far more about these new characters than I wanted to. I’ve tried to ignore them and it’s not worked at all. They are just there!! They are just so alive.

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And obviously, the nose diving stomach is back. In a bad way. Like I’ve said before, it’s a lot like the feeling you get before an exam. My stomach lurches and twists and tightens. Sometimes out of the blue, for no reason. Other times, it’s because something to do with one of the books has popped into my head.

So I now know for sure that this anxious feeling is connected to book ideas…

So what to do about it? Other than try not to panic? And try not to die before I get all these books written and out of me?

I’ve done two things that have helped already, and one is something I’ve done before with other novels in waiting. I wrote a short story which I will include in a future newsletter for those of you subscribed to get a very, very early glimpse of this new book idea of mine. That eased things a bit.

And I’ve done something new. I’ve started a diary here on my blog, which will remain unpublished for now. It’s a diary of a novel from the first (in my case, unwanted) seed of an idea, to the finished product available to buy. I thought this would be really interesting to look back on once it’s all done!

So I write an entry when something has moved on with the novel idea. The first few entries contain notes about the original idea and the last few I wrote include possible names for the characters and more details on their lives and conflicts…

I hope this will be an interesting and cathartic process for me, plus I will have all the notes safe and sound in one place for when I start writing it!

Just one more thing to mention! This new idea? It is somewhat connected to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, in that some of the characters will appear in the others’ books…!!

Character Interview; Lou Carling from The Mess Of Me

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Q1 What did you eat for breakfast?

I just had a coffee. I wasn’t really hungry. Toast is so filling in the morning and I’ve gone off milk lately on cereal. Just a coffee most days. Coffee is fine. I do have two sugars in it though, which is quite bad, so I’m gonna’ cut that down to one pretty soon.

Q2 Do you have any pets?

Yeah, we have a dog called Gremlin. God knows what he is. He has ears like a bat and a smashed in face like a pug? He’s small and fat with along tail and weird, wiry fur. My best friend Joe calls him an experiment gone wrong. Mum bought him for me and my sister when my dad left us. It was the first thing she did! Went out and got us a puppy.

Q3 How many siblings do you have and are you close to them?

I only have one sister, Sara. She’s eighteen and off to University soon. We get on pretty well, but I wouldn’t say we were close exactly. I’ve always viewed her as a bit of a blur. She rushes around, never stays still, always in and out and involved in some huge drama. She’s always arguing with my mum too. They’re terrible together.

Q4 Who is your best friend? And why?

My best friend is Joe. We’re probably only best friends by accident, to be honest. His mum Lorraine (she is absolutely terrifying!) and my mum were in the hospital at the same time having Sara and Travis, one of Joe’s older brothers and became friends. Lorraine has five sons, and Joe is the middle one. We were forced on each other, I guess. We knew each other even when we were in our mother’s wombs! Poor us. Having to sit there, forced to listen to their constant bitching and gossiping! He’s still my best friend because he gets me. More than anyone. And I get him. We basically just swear at each other and our friendship is based on insults. Joe is calm and gentle, not like the rest of his insane family. They don’t see him like I do. Which is sad. I feel sad for him a lot.

Q5 Who are you scared of?

A few people, actually. My dad scares me a bit, or at least he did when I was younger. He was always ranting and raving and slamming doors and storming off. I hated him and the way he treated my mum. She put up with it for years but then he left her for another woman. I’m not really scared of him now. I just think he’s pathetic. Joe’s mum Lorraine scares the shit out of me. She’s like a pitbull, I swear, a pitbull in red lipstick. She’d wipe the floor with anyone. She’s not frightened of anything or anyone. Christ, she’s a horrifying specimen. Her new bloke Mick is a bit scary too. Her oldest sons, Leon, Travis and Joe have a different dad. Mick is father to the youngest two boys, Will and Tommy. Of course, he dotes on them. They can do no wrong. But he seems to hate the oldest three. So it’s like a constant war zone at their house. Mick is a lot like Lorraine and they fight like cat and dog sometimes. Physically and everything. But do you want to know who scares me the most? Well, it’s Leon. Joe’s oldest brother. Leon and Travis are very close in age and always together, up to no good. Travis is okay. He’s no angel, but he has a nice smile and isn’t too mean to Joe. But Leon? There’s something about him that chills me to the bone. Something missing in his eyes. If there’s anyone to be scared of around here, it’s Leon Lawrenson.

Q6 What is your greatest fear?

Well, it will probably sound stupid to you. Stupid and shallow. But my biggest fear is getting fat again. I was such a porker until I started dieting and exercising. Now, I’m losing weight fast and lots of strange stuff has been happening. I’m more confident, which is weird, because I always just wanted to disappear before. Boys are interested in me now! Which is mental! Boys never looked at me before. I’ve had some weird little moments with Joe this summer, and Travis tried it on with me… I know, I know! But yeah, getting fat again terrifies me. I’m not joking. I never ever want to be that girl again. I hated her. I won’t be her again. I know my mum and sister think I’m taking the weight loss too far, but it’s easy for them to say. They were never fat like I was. They don’t understand.

Q7 What are your hopes and dreams?

Well, right now, I sort of hope Joe and I can get ourselves out of the mess we’re in. Since we found that stuff in his brothers’ wardrobe, everything has got a bit scary. Suddenly Travis and Leon are being nice to Joe, and I’m really worried about what he’s getting into…As for dreams? Mine are pretty basic. I want to be left alone, because most people annoy the hell out of me. I want them all to leave me alone and let me get as skinny as I want. I want to be skinny. Super skinny. I want to be skinny forever. Aside from that, I hope me and Joe are best friends forever and nothing ever comes between us, and I dream of working with animals one day. I haven’t decided what yet. Maybe just a dog walker or a dog trainer or something? I couldn’t stand being around too many people, I know that.

Q8 Do you have any hobbies?

Running. I love running these days! And listening to music, though Joe takes the piss out of my tastes as I seem to like a lot of old stuff like Bob Dylan. Joe is really into music and wants to be a drummer. He’s saving up for this drum kit and forming a band with his mates. Walking the dog? Except that’s not really a hobby, just something I always end up doing because Mum and Sara are too busy. Writing on my wall. You could call that a hobby, I guess. My mum hasn’t noticed yet, but I’ve been scrawling my thoughts and feelings on my bedroom wall for ages now. I’ve even started the ceiling. If she ever wants to know anything about me or my life, she only has to look! Smoking weed and drinking cider with Joe and my other friend Marianne? Naughty hobby, I know, but we’re teenagers, right? We’d regret it if we didn’t break the rules a bit.

Q9 Describe yourself in one sentence

Fucked up, sarcastic, nerdy mess of a girl on the verge of….something

Q10 What’s your biggest secret?

I’m not going to tell just anyone, am I? Christ, I don’t want the world to know! I don’t want anyone to know. It’s huge and it’s embarrassing and it would change everything if it ever got out…and I although I daydream about what could happen if it did, I’m too scared, too shy, too messed up to do anything about it.

The Mess Of Me