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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Indie Book of the Month; June “Smash All The Windows” by Jane Davis

How can it be July already? Seriously, I’m still getting used to May and suddenly we’ve whizzed right through June?

I’ve mostly been reading my own books lately, in terms of editing them on my Kindle, but I did manage to devour two gloriously long Stephen King novels and this gem of an indie book, Smash All The Windows by Jane Davis, which I have picked as my Indie book of the month for June.

smashwindows

Here is the blurb;

It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

‘An all-round triumph.’ John Hudspith

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of fiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art. Written with immediacy, style and an overwhelming sense of empathy, Smash all the Windows will be enjoyed by readers of How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall and How to be Both by Ali Smith.

And here is my review;

This is the third book I have read by Jane Davis, and it’s safe to say I am a fan. I enjoy her writing style, and I feel I am in safe hands when it comes to her delivering memorable characters. This new novel does not disappoint. Smash All The Windows is a complex and ambitious novel spanning the lives of several characters who have been affected by the tragic deaths of 58 people on a London Underground escalator. Much in the same way the victims were blamed by the authorities and the press after the Hillsborough tragedy, the people involved have had to fight tooth and nail to get justice for their loved ones. The timeline jumps back and forth. Sometimes we are in the viewpoint of a character who died that day, and sometimes we are seeing the impact of their loss on a relative or friend. I grew to love all the characters, those living and deceased throughout this book and I can confess to shedding a tear or two as I progressed through the novel. It’s a sad yet beautiful story about the human spirit and families search for truth and justice in the aftermath of a tragedy that should never have happened. Brilliant writing, perfect characterisation and a particularly perfect and poignant ending. Highly recommended!

You can find out more about Jane and her books by following her on;

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and via her website

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

For Now, You Still Fit In My Arms

If only they hadn’t measured time, carved it up, named it and logged it. Maybe things would be different. But now we all hear the clock ticking, which we would never have heard if time as we know it had not been invented. Of course, time exists by itself. Just as the new buds bloom in the Spring, only to curl and dry and fall in the Autumn. Just as fresh faces become wrinkled. Just as dark hair turns grey. Spring turns to summer and before you know it, it’s winter again. Everything in the world is cyclical and there is nothing you can do about getting older. But I’m sure time got faster when they named it, when they carved it up into segments of years, months, weeks and days.

Like you. Like when you were just a gestation. You were four weeks, then five, then six, then seven. Every moment of it was counted and numbered. Time drags when you are waiting for a foetus to become a child. It seems an impossible and unmovable thing. It won’t shift. Yet it does. Time doesn’t just move on, it moves us on. That’s what it does. And we are rarely ready.

I’m never ready. I’m always behind. I’m always dragging my feet, right from the moment you are born. Of course, I want to see you grow. The very thought of it excites me. Who will you look like? What will you become? When will you first walk and talk? I’m excited about all the memories I know are glistening on the horizon. First swim, first ice cream, first Christmas, first word. I know them all because I have been here before three times.

And three times came and went far too fast, so with you I’ve been trying to hang on, trying to claw it back, trying to savour it, make it last, bottle it and contain it. Only it’s stupid of me really, because experience tells me none of this is truly possible. Time and years are like sand, when you watch it on the beach, when it washes in and out, never staying the same.

Why is it, every time one of you had a birthday I had to fight back the tears? Such strange, stupid tears. I know it was pride and ‘look at you now’. I know it was love and aching. But it was also desperate sadness and regret. It was disbelief that time had led us so ruthlessly to this point. To first birthday, to second, to third, to first day at school, to first teenage year. And it’s not that I want to turn the clock back…when I see photos of my babies, I instantly smile, maybe sometimes I tear up, but I wouldn’t want to swap who they are now, for who they were then..With time and change comes revelation and surprise. Chats in the kitchen after school. Passions, and music and politics and arguments. But maybe I would…just a bit…just for a minute, I’d go back if I could, but not for long. I’d reach into that old photograph and pull out that chubby toddler, plant a kiss upon her sweet head, smell her, feel the weight of her in my arms, close my eyes against it all and remember.

But of course, you can’t. You can’t ever go back, except for in your mind, except for with photos.

And so with you, I’m drinking you in. I promised us both. I would do everything by instinct this time, learn from the mistakes of the past, listen to no one but you. Give you everything you needed on demand. Know that love and cuddles and comfort can never spoil a child. From your siblings, I have learnt to follow my heart. To hang on as tight as I can, to absorb every moment into my soul, to know that nothing lasts forever, and sleepless nights one day become something I miss.

I can still fit you in my arms. I can hold you in my lap. I can scoop you up and tuck you under and lift you up. I can make you smile. I can make you laugh. I can tickle and kiss you and make your eyes grow wide with wonder with the smallest and simplest of things. Bubbles in the garden. Bumblebees in the flowers. Chocolate buttons and Mr. Tumble. Milkies.

You’re still mine for now, but not forever.

I can cradle you in the crook of my arm and at night that’s where I still find you, warm curls against my cheek, small hand inside my top, clutching, hanging on to comfort. At the end of the day I can smell your day upon your skin and it’s my addiction to inhale it all, as if somehow I still believe I can bottle it and treasure it forever. Grass and dirt, milk and chocolate, play-dough, and beans, and strawberries and chicken feed. It’s all there, and I don’t even want to bathe you, I don’t even want to wash the dirt away.

When I hold you I get the urge to squeeze you, to squish you back inside of me so that the whole thing can start again. I want to never forget the weight of your small body in my arms, the press of your soft round cheek against mine, the feel of your tired head upon my shoulder, the caress of your tiny fingers on my neck and in my hair, your heart beating against mine like it did from the start. Your breath.

I can’t really remember what you were like a year ago, and that’s hard. A year from now the same will apply. I’ll see photos and smile longingly but I won’t be able to conjure up the feel of your body in my arms or the smell of your day. I’ll have you there and then, in the here and now, where you exist from one moment to the next and I know it will be just as wonderful and just as precious and yet just as fleeting and impossible to hold onto.

The moments after your birth are the clearest to me, and perhaps they are with all my children. The panic and the fear, and the sitting up to see you whisked out of the room by one arm and one leg, and the big massive size of you , and the room full of faceless professionals and it was just me, in a haze and a blur, alone on the bed seeing you wrenched from the room. It was just me and you, though they were taking you from me, I saw your face and I heard your cry and everyone laughed and sighed in relief, and it was all going to be fine, and everything was worth it because you were so cute, so damn cute and I could tell you were mine.

It felt like years waiting for you to come back, and then you did, carried in by a proud and smiling midwife, wrapped in a blanket and wearing a blue knitted hat, and placed into my desperate, aching arms, and oh what a face, just like your brothers, what a bruiser, what a chap, what a chunk, what a boy. And it was me and you in a spinning moment that in truth could have lasted forever. And you were safe. And I loved you.

Addicted to you, because that’s what happens.

And now here we are. That moment seems so very long ago.

Time does not care for mothers like me, who want to calm it down a bit, who want to drag our heels and say hold on, not forever, but just a bit…

Time is impatient for the next season, and a newborn becomes a one year old, and a crawler becomes a walker, and a toddler starts to talk, and a child has their first day of school. And everything constantly, restlessly moves on.

It’s like every birthday I can see the ghost of them all waving to me from behind us all. Everywhere I look, everywhere I go, there are echoes of the past. One day I can feel their legs around my waist and then the next day they are far too big and heavy and tall to be carried. You can never recall the last day. The last day you carried them up the stairs. The last day you tucked them in and read them a bedtime story. We remember the firsts, but not the lasts.

But anyway, for now, a day after your second birthday, I can still fit you in my arms. I can still carry you up to bed, and cradle you like a baby. I can still scoop you up and know you won’t push me away. I can still smother you in kisses and breathe in the scent of you. We can still be the centre of each other’s worlds. For now.