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!

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Message and Themes; What Are You Trying To Say?

When I was at school, English Literature was always my favourite subject. I was a total book-worm who dreamed of becoming an author, so you can kind of see why I adored English Literature. Reading books, talking about books and writing about books was my idea of heaven. Having said that, there was always one part of the subject that annoyed me at times. When analysing a text, the teacher would often ask us to think about what message the author was trying to get across. It was a question akin to the equally confusing one; what are the themes of the novel? I remember thinking, I bet the author didn’t know there was a message or a theme, or that we would try to work one out. I always considered that Shakespeare, Bronte and Steinbeck just wrote books because they had great ideas, great characters, and could string some pretty awesome sentences together.

But English Lit demands we find the messages and the themes, and yes, when you pick apart a text and analyse it within a classroom setting, you do tend to find them. But were they intended? I suppose I’m asking, did the author write the book with a theme or a message in mind? Or is it the reader who later determines what the potential messages are? I mean, did Steinbeck write Of Mice and Men because he had something to say about society or human nature? When I was a kid, I thought not. But it turns out I was wrong;

In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.

John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry
I remember trying to distinguish the themes of the novel when I was at school. What seemed so obvious to the teacher, had to be pointed out to us. I haven’t read the book since then, but it is on my to-read list as part of a reading challenge I’m undertaking, where one of the books has to be one I read in school. But I think I will see things differently now.
Why? Because I am approaching my fourth decade and I’ve seen enough of life, love, people and society to know that Of Mice and Men is not ‘just a story’ as I once mistakenly believed. It’s a book about dreams and aspirations, loneliness and solitude and the author had plenty to say about all of these things. I am now the writer I hoped I would be, and writing books is a fascinating process, which involves the seed of an idea germinating into an intricate plot full of characters who become real to you and set up camp in your head. But more than that, writing is about what you want to say to the world.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately after I received feedback from a beta on my still unfinished novel Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. One of the things she picked up on was the messages or themes of the book, and in particular, her observation that some of the characters had views very similar to my own. She felt this at times made the narrative somewhat preachy, or at least, it was in danger of heading in that direction.
I had to stop and think about what she meant. None of the characters are me, or based on me, or anyone I know. I plucked them up out of the thin air to build around the character and story of Elliot, who I really did know and believe in.
However, I have to admit that unintentionally, or at least sub-consciously, bits and pieces of the writer and the writer’s viewpoints seep into the writing. I knew what this book was about, and I knew from the beginning what I was trying to say, so as you can see, I have come a long way from my previous scepticism that books did not contain deliberate messages. On the contrary, I have had something to say in all of my books, and I think it very much depends on what is going on in my life at that time. For this book in particular, Elliot and his mother are like the two sides of me. One side is heartbroken and terrified about the state of our world and wants to withdraw from it all, while the other side is perpetually hopeful and joyful, determined to the best in everything.
So is this a good thing or a bad thing? I think my beta was right to point out the danger of appearing preachy in the narrative. I certainly don’t want my books to come across that way. I have to be sure it is the character’s viewpoint being explored, not the author’s. I have to be conscious of what is being portrayed as ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ So at the moment, I am going through the book again, with the beta’s notes beside me. Sometimes it just needs a tweak, some words rearranged or deleted. Sometimes I don’t need to do anything because I think the character truly believes in what they are saying, and in doing so is remaining true to character.
This brings me to another question, though. Do people pick up books looking for messages or themes? Do most readers notice them, even if they are supposed to be there? I suspect that what one reader picks up as a message or theme, is very different to anothers. Do readers want to be spoken to in this way? I don’t think many people pick up a book looking for clarity or persuasion. I think they pick up books looking for stories. And stories involve people and their messy human lives, and messy human lives contain messages, whether intentional or not. Because they are written by one person, created by one person, and whether they were totally aware of it or not at the time, that person had something to say.
So, what do you think? As a reader, do you choose a book because of the message it seems to be conveying? Do you notice the themes of a novel as you are reading it, or do they become obvious to you afterward? Do you ever feel like the writer is trying to tell you something about the world or about life? Does this every feel like you are being preached to?
And what about you writers? Do you know what you are trying to say before you start to write the book, or does the message reveal itself to you in time? Are you aware of any themes in your book, and again, are these intentional? Do you ever worry that you are trying too hard to get a message across?
Please feel free to join in the conversation!

Should You Have More Than One Blog?

Last week at the writing group I run as part of my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business, we ended up having a discussion about blogs. One of the members had announced his decision to have more than one blog, due to the fact he wanted to keep his writing related blog separate from his other passions in life. This was an interesting and very timely discussion, as I had just been thinking myself about another blog I started and soon neglected roughly a year ago. (I do technically have two blogs, as I have the Chasing Driftwood one, but I basically use this like a website, where all I really do is update the workshops I run every now and then.)

Last year, however, I started a third blog. My Self-Sufficient Challenge started for two main reasons. One, as a family we were making conscious efforts to change the way we lived. From raising ducks and chickens to composting, growing our own fruit and vegetables, reusing, recycling and reducing our waste output wherever possible. It seemed like a good idea to blog about something I was becoming very passionate about, which wasn’t necessarily related to writing. (Oh, how this has changed! But more on that later…) I thought writing a weekly blog about my efforts to become more environmentally friendly and more self-sufficient would actually encourage me to keep at it. If I felt like people were reading the posts and rooting for my efforts, then I’d be more likely to get better and better. The second reason was perhaps more altruistic, or business savvy, shall we say?

I had read somewhere (don’t ask me where as I have absolutely no idea!) that creating other blogs apart from your main, author related one, was a very good marketing idea. The idea being that if you had other interests you were passionate and/or knowledgeable about, you would inevitably draw in other followers, who would then soon realise you also write books, and would perhaps be interested in them, due to the fact they had enjoyed your posts and writing style. This made great sense to me at the time. Why not reach out to more people? Why not write about a subject you are passionate about? It seemed like a win-win situation to me.

If you’re also thinking about multiple blogs, here are some reasons it could be a good idea for you;

  • It can be hard to create a following for your blog if it is multi-niche, or in other words, if you talk about anything and everything
  • People tend to subscribe to certain blogs because they are interested in the subject matter. They might lose interest if you flit from subject to subject
  • If you wish to monetize your blog (and many people make a living from doing just this) you will need it to have a single focus. Your SEO (search engine optimization) will be pretty poor if you cover too many subjects for people to find you
  • If you wish to have paid ads on your blog, again it is going to have to have a narrower focus
  • If the other blog you have in mind is work based, ie you’re a dog trainer and the blog is about dog behaviour and so on, then you’re going to need it to be a single focus in order to look professional
  • If one of your blogs is for work/business and one is for fun, it may be better to keep them separate. Writing about what you enjoy could provide a welcome relief from working on your money orientated blog

And of course, there is no reason why you can’t share and cross-post your blogs so that both audiences (or more) get the opportunity to see what else you are up to.

So, what happened to my self-sufficiency blog? Well, like many things in life, the good intentions were all there but it soon faded fast. I think I managed about four posts. The aim was to post once a week, but back then I wasn’t even managing to post once a week on this blog. This wasn’t for lack of content at all. There were plenty of things to talk about, and I took loads of photos of the things we were doing and growing. I just never quite found the time to upload them to the blog!

Once a few months had drifted by, it got harder and harder to return to it. I had in that time revamped and renamed this blog, with the aim of ‘branding’ it, so to speak, and making sure people knew what they were getting.

This is a blog that talks about writing. A lot. This is a blog that talks about being proud to be an outsider. My books and my character all have this theme in common. I welcome guest posts along the same theme, and I read books that also fit the criteria.

The other day, (just before writing group) this got me thinking. I miss my self-sufficient blog but know I don’t have the time for it. I just do not have the time to run two blogs. It’s just not ever going to happen. So I started to think about how I could possibly post things that might have gone on the self-sufficient blog here. I’m still thinking about it.

What led me back to this thought the most, was the direction my writing has taken in the last year or so. The Tree Of Rebels is waiting for a final edit. The book is set in the future where nature is banned, owned and controlled. The connection with nature and growing your own food has been totally severed. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature is also awaiting its final edit. This is a book about a young boy who attempts to prove to his mother that people are not all bad, by befriending perfect strangers. His mother believes that the world has never been as corrupt, cruel and doomed as it is right now. Several of the other characters in the story share her beliefs to varying degrees. They feel helpless and afraid and like the end of the world is very near. And finally, in the four book series I have plotted and planned, (but cannot possibly start for at least another year!) the end of the world has happened. But the cause was not humans, it was nature itself. Only the children have been spared the cull, but how will they survive in this hostile new world where all the rules have changed? All of these upcoming books have a common theme. Environmentalism. Mother nature. Human nature. The state we are all in! In other words, the things I think about constantly.

Now, every now and then I write a piece on here that is not at all related to writing. Every now and then I just feel the urge, start writing and see what happens. Sometimes it is related to my family, sometimes to society or politics. I suppose what I am trying to say is that as long as the theme remains in adherence to glorious outsiders, then perhaps it is okay to post about things that are not writing related? Especially if you find your writing is being shaped more and more by the frightening world we live in?

You might have noticed, I haven’t quite convinced myself yet!

What do you all think? Do you already have more than one blog? If so, why? And how do you find the time to manage more than one? Perhaps your blog is multi-niche or quite personal. Do you ever think about creating other blogs and dividing the subjects up? I would love to know your thoughts on this, and so would my writing group! So please feel free to comment!