The Mess Of Me Now

In 2013 I released my debut Young Adult novel, The Mess Of Me. Originally, it was part of the self-publishing platform, Autharium. I then got a publishing deal with a small press and removed it from Autharium. This did not go to plan as a whole year later the small press had done nothing and not responded to my messages, so I decided to take it back and put it back with Autharium…who then closed. Since then, it has been with Pronoun, who also closed, and with Amazon. Currently, like my other books, The Mess Of Me is self-published through the indie collective Pict Publishing, and there I hope, it will stay.

Six years though! In that time I have published eight more books, had another child and started my own Community Interest Company; Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. Life has indeed changed a lot.

But in many ways, Lou Carling, the 16-year-old narrator of The Mess Of Me, is still with me, perhaps increasingly so. I will perhaps explain in another blog post, another day, but for a while now I have not been feeling myself and in times when I am feeling down, Lou is the voice I hear the loudest.

Perhaps because she is the character most like me. They say that a grain of truth seeps into every work of fiction and I agree. They say that characters are often at least partially based on people we know, or on parts of ourselves, and again, I agree.

In fact, Lou is not just the character most like me. She pretty much is me. When I wrote that book, it was perhaps the most cathartic process for me. I had an idea for a plot, for characters, back story and so on, but more than all of that, I had a burning desire to just speak my thoughts through her. Everything Lou says, thinks and feels in The Mess Of Me comes from me. Me when I was a teenager, and me now. I still think of myself as a mess and I probably always will.

The issues with food are still there, just as I suspect they will always be there for Lou. It’s just that as you grow older, you work out ways to rationalise your irrational thoughts. Or as in my case, you have your own children and are determined to set a good example and not let them down.

But for me, The Mess Of Me is a voice in my head, and Lou’s voice is one I hear more than ever lately. I feel the strongest urge to write the sequel, which contains a storyline which is also something true from my own life, but at the moment there are too many other books in progress to focus on it.

Anyway, here are a few reasons why Lou is me and I am Lou;

  • She is obsessed with being thinner
  • she thinks her life will be better if she is thinner
  • every day she thinks and obsesses about being thinner
  • if she does not do anything to help her get thinner she feels like a failure
  • she puts all her thoughts and feelings in writing rather than actually telling people
  • she’s feels the pull of self-destructive behaviour and tries hard to resist
  • she thinks everyone else’s lives are far more interesting than her own
  • for this reason, despite not really liking humans too much, she is endlessly fascinated with them
  • she is in love with her best friend

For those of you perhaps interested in reading about Lou and Joe’s messy summer, the ebook is currently just 99p on Amazon and all other ebook platforms. Please consider leaving an honest review if you do happen to purchase the book. Many thanks!

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I Confess…I Write My Books For Me

I think it’s time to admit the truth. Who am I aiming to please when I write and publish a book? Well, mostly it’s me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. 2018 was an endless round of editing and revising for me, as I prepared Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature for release in October, and revamped and released The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Parts One and Two, and edited Parts Three and Four. Because of this amount of editing, and the fact I was taking part in a reading challenge, I didn’t get a hell of a lot of reading for pleasure done last year.

Which made me think about a few things. One, I really, really enjoy reading my own books, no matter how many times I’ve edited or read through them… Eek, I know, sounds big-headed, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I love my characters and my storylines have me hooked so much they keep me awake at night. Every single book I’ve ever published has a sequel bubbling away inside my head. I just can’t fully let any of them go. I’d miss them too much.

So, when I edit, revise, read through, proofread again and again and again, I enjoy it. I genuinely do. I become immersed in these characters lives. I enjoy the drama and the twists and the turns, even though I know how it ends! Weird, right?

Well, maybe not. After all, why do writers start writing in the first place? I’ve been thinking about this. Now, I’m sure for some it’s the dream of money and fame, of making it ‘big’, becoming an international, award-winning bestseller, who has all their books made into films. JK Rowling or Stephen King, in other words. I mean, it sounds amazing, so who wouldn’t want that?

And I’m sure for some, it’s the urge to entertain, to spin tales, to amuse, to awaken, to entice, to deliver a message.

But for others, I think it’s something different, something they’re not entirely in control of. And I think reading sparks it off. Reading a good book at a young age, then reading more. Becoming utterly drawn into a made-up world that holds your attention, keeps you amused, enthralled, or terrified. The kind of book you don’t want to end. The kind you want everyone else to read just so you can talk about it with them. The kind where you want the characters to be real, and almost believe that they are.

And then, because this is just so exciting, you start to wonder. I could do this myself. I could entertain myself. Then I’d be in control, and it need never end! I can create worlds and lives and people just how I want them, and I can make it funnier, or scarier, or sadder, whenever I want to. Forever!

'If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.'-Toni Morrison.jpg

And thus, a writer is born. A writer who originally set out to please only themselves.

That’s definitely how it was for me. Throughout my childhood and my teenage years, I was totally addicted to writing. I wrote early versions of some of the books I have since published or are working on. I wrote short stories, poems and endless, endless diaries and outpourings of words, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. My writing kept me sane, and it kept me entertained. I was never lonely or bored. I absolutely adored this game of make-believe, and I still do.

I write what I want to read, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Maybe this is true of a lot of writers, I don’t know. It’s no coincidence that the kind of books I write are the kind of books I am always searching to read. I long to read books with amazing, complex characters, the type you never forget, the type you love and loathe in equal measures, the type you can empathise with and root for. I love realistic dialogue and prefer that to too much exposition. I like to read about characters I can relate to, which is difficult as so many books contain middle-class characters. I like to read gritty, hard-hitting storylines. I like realism.

So, there you have it. When I write a book I am mostly writing for myself. I want to write something for me to read. That’s not to say I don’t then spend years trimming it, honing it, revising it, proofreading and editing it until it becomes something I am proud to put out into the world. That goes without saying. I do want people to read my books. Desperately. I do want those reviews and those messages. Without a doubt, I would like better sales! And of course, my ultimate dream is to have all my books made into films or TV series! You got to have your dreams, right?

But in the beginning, it’s me I’m trying to please.

And I think that’s okay. At the very least, it means I will never stop writing!

 

 

Why I Love Writing #3; I Get To Live More Than One Life

Did you ever watch movies when you were a kid, and think why doesn’t anything interesting ever happen to me? You know the kind of movies I’m talking about. The Goonies, The Lost Boys, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters, Stand By Me… Did you ever watch those films and then moan with your siblings that ‘nothing fun ever happens around here?’

More often than not, our lives are ordinary. Mostly, we are safe. If we want adventure, we have to go looking for it, right?

Not if you’re a writer. I think I figured this out at an early age. I fell in love with reading and became addicted to the feeling of snuggling up with a good book, shutting out the real world and allowing myself to become absorbed in a make-believe one, and then I discovered writing could offer the same joy and adventure.

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And it truly does.

My characters live tumultuous lives, with twists and turns, suspense, thrills, and plenty of drama. There is love and hate, obsession, adventure, pain and sorrow, unbelievable lows and amazing highs. I’ve put them through a lot and because of that I’ve been constantly excited, desperate to find out what happens next, eager to be part of the journey.

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It feels like I go through all these things with them. I mean, I have to, as much as possible. When writing a dramatic scene, when describing complex emotions, I have to put myself in the characters shoes as much as I possibly can. I have to think about how I would feel, what I would do, what I would say, and how I would react in the long term. Writing, therefore, makes my life feel like a rollercoaster of drama, events, revelations and reactions. When my characters are scared, I feel scared. And I get just as excited as them when things go right for a change!

Because of this, I often feel like I am living more than one life. And I could choose to live any kind of life I wanted. When writing, whether in first or third person, I’m creating a world I become a part of. I can be any age, any gender, any sexuality, any class, any culture I choose.

I sometimes wonder if this is why I like writing young characters so much. Because I’m reluctant to grow old and feel like my life is constantly passing me by, going far too fast. As a writer, I get to go back and be a kid again. I don’t have to say goodbye to my youth, I can relive it and recreate it however I wish. In real life, there are always things that prevent you from living out your dreams. Things get in the way and hold you back. There are financial restraints and responsibilities and so on. But if I’m curious about something or feel I missed out, I can write about it instead. I can create whatever world I want and live whatever kind of life I want.

 

 

 

Stuck Inside A Story (For 28 years…)

That’s how it feels. That’s what it is. Stuck. Trapped. Held prisoner. I can’t get out. But do I really want to? Evidence would suggest not. Sometimes I wonder what exactly I have done. Created a world, created characters, used some magic and a lot of hard work, an imagination I can’t control, and there you have it, an alternative reality I can’t escape from.

I had no idea this would happen when I started writing as a child. My first attempts were hand-written stories about lost and abandoned animals, heavily influenced by my love of Watership Down and other similar books. I didn’t write my first story about real people living real lives until I was 12 years old. What happened to tear me away from my quaint tales of lost dogs and runaway bunnies? Well, weirdly, this.

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And this.

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Watching The Lost Boys gave me a few vital ingredients for the story that would go on to hold me prisoner for the next 28 years. It gave me the main idea, the main concept and it gave me some characters. Or at least, it inspired me to create characters who would turn out to be the kind of people I wished I knew in real life. As for Stephen King, it was around this time that I started my collection and was well on my way to becoming a truly obsessed fan. Add to that strange mix, the recent divorce of my parents, the usual teenage angst and rebellion, and I had me a story. Remember the bit in The Lost Boys when the younger brother realises his mother is dating the head vampire? That’s where the idea for The Boy With The Thorn In His Side came from. It wasn’t called that back then. It wasn’t called anything for ages. But I kept thinking…what if your mother was dating a monster? Only not the vampire kind, the real-life kind? And what if no one believed you? And what if you only had yourself and your best friends to try to battle this person? It was a weird mix of asking ‘what if’ questions, my parents’ recent divorce playing on my own fears, a dewy-eyed fascination with the actor Corey Haim, and a love of horror and fascination with the darker side of human nature that spawned this tale.

In my mind, my main character Danny, who is 13 at the start of Part 1, looked a lot like Corey Haim, who I was quite a bit in love with at that age. Once I had him in my head, his character started to grow and evolve, and I think I wrote that very early first draft pretty quickly. I remember it was my absolute obsession for a while. I hated to be away from that story. I’d rush home from school and up to my room to pick up my notebook and pen. I’d write endlessly and passionately. I suppose at the time I had no real idea of what I was doing. I was sort of trying to invent friends, I think. People I was intrigued by, people who had drama in their lives. I felt like I was a character in the book too. I was so proud when I finished it. I even started a sequel. I showed my English teacher and she read it and gave me a merit certificate I had to go up in assembly to collect. I remember being embarrassed but happy. The certificate said I had written a novel. At age 12! I don’t think I have the certificate anymore, but here’s the book.

 

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I started rewriting it after that. I had invested in an electronic word processor. It was the most exciting machine in the world to me! I could sit there and tap away and watch my words appear on this mini screen, before hitting print and then holding typed pages in my hands. What also happened to me at that age was that the story crept inside my brain. It kept me awake at night. It was company. I was never, ever bored. I’d look forward to bedtime because I knew I could lie there and think about my story before I fell asleep. I watched the scenes in my head like a movie. I heard them talking and arguing. Inevitably I came up with new ideas and extra bits, but mostly I just let them play it all out, and most of those imagined scenes have never made it into any of the books. It was just me, a fly on the wall of a made-up world, watching them live.

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Here’s one of the many pictures I drew of the characters. Only some of these made it into the final version.

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I rewrote that book again at aged 16. I’d started and not finished tons of other stories in that time. The book had opened a floodgate, forging a lifelong addiction to writing. But that one story, I couldn’t ever let it go. I rewrote it again at 19. I thought about it constantly during the non-writing years of balancing early motherhood with self-employment. The same story, the same characters always in my head, coming back to me night after night. I was 34 before I finally returned to it. I started writing in notebooks again, just like when I was a kid. Snatching spare moments, writing before bed, suddenly entirely addicted all over again, but this time it had to come out, it had to be finished.

I finally released it in 2013. The Mess Of Me snuck in and was released first because The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was so long and needed so much work. But finally, it was out. A real book I could hold in my hands! I’d done it. So now they would fall quiet, surely? I’d stop thinking about them. I’d stop playing out more scenes.

Well, no, not exactly. Before I knew it I’d penned a sequel, This Is The Day and released that too. That should have been the end of it it, but yet, it still wasn’t. The story itself was so enticing to me, and I was so invested in it, I couldn’t stop imagining other endings, and I guess, truth be told, in my head I did not want it to be over. So the stories went on. Every night, hi guys. What’s happening now?

I wrote an alternative ending in 2016 and included it in Bird People and Other Stories.That was supposed to draw a line under it, but it only made things worse. Now I couldn’t get the thought of other endings out of my head! What if this happened instead? What if? What if? For the fun of it, I started writing a screenplay in a notebook. Brand new material that led on from the original ending of book one, slotting in and delaying the ending, but finishing up before This Is The Day. This was only supposed to be for fun. To get it out of my system. To indulge myself even more than I already had. What the hell, what did it matter? It was for fun. I didn’t have to explain that to anyone!

Except now I do. Because that screenplay became a total obsession. I carried that notebook around with me everywhere. I grabbed every spare moment I had to write into it, getting this new story out. I absolutely loved it. I was so excited about it. I just couldn’t put it down. So eventually, after a lot of thinking and plotting, I came to a decision. I would do it. I would split the book back into two parts and this new material would be part three. Part Four would be This Is The day but it would need some reworking. Then suddenly, parts five and six emerged…

I’ve now accepted the truth. And that is that this story and these characters will never let me go. They are part of me and part of my life and I’m going to leave each book open, just in case I want to revisit it again.

There are new characters introduced in Parts Five and Six, and these also get their own spin-off book or possibly series with characters from both appearing in the others. So, as you can see… this thing could run and run.

So, if you are interested in reading this story, which began when I was 12, followed me through my life and has now evolved into at least a six-part series, you can start with The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part One which is available for pre-order on Amazon now and is released on 9th November. This is a reworked, revised edition. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part Two is also available for pre-order now and is also released on 9th November. Both at the special introductory price of 99p.

I plan to release the brand new Part Three in January an Part Four in February. By then I hope to be into the second or third draft of Part Five…

And the weird thing about this story is that I wrote it purely for myself, I indulged myself entirely, became utterly lost and absorbed and have still been unable to climb free from it. So I don’t really expect anyone to buy it, and I don’t really mind if they don’t. It feels weird to even try to plug it if I’m honest. Like this one is just for me. Like this is my mind, my imagination, my daydreams and to imagine anyone else wandering around in there is almost unsettling. And if it holds me prisoner for another 28 years? I think I’m okay with that…

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