The People In My Head

Being a writer means spending a lot of time observing people, writing down ideas, getting plot twists hit you in the middle of the night, hours leaning over a laptop keyboard pounding away and just as many hours staring helplessly at a blank screen. It also means editing, revising, proofreading and then all those on repeat. But one aspect of being a writer is a little less talked about and that is the phenomenon of having people living inside your head. And it really does feel like they live there. They don’t go away. Not for me anyway, not ever. All the books I have released have characters who at some point in my life have crawled inside my brain and set up camp. They’ve ignored the fact I am already working on a book and they have whispered and nudged and shouted and whined until they got their turn. You would think that once I have given them attention and written their story they would leave me alone, but you would be wrong. They stay there forever and sometimes pipe up again with ideas for a sequel… Writing their story does seem to shut them up a bit though. They seem happy enough to step back and take a back seat for a while. I guess they get bustled out of the way by all the desperate new ones. I have all my old characters in my head, and then I have the new ones too. These are the really noisy, insistent ones. They all want to be next. They overlap and jump the queue and keep me awake at night. They make it hard for me to concentrate on what people in real life are doing or saying! They distract me and overwhelm me and ultimately, they don’t stop talking until they feel they have been heard. So, as well as the old ones, these are some of the new characters I currently have living in my head. You’ll get to meet them all properly in time, but here is a sneak peek, if you like. Maybe introducing them to you will give me a little respite from them!

Hello Johnny – I know you are still there, still lurking, hovering, muttering in the background. I know you have bad asthma and are massively introverted so highly unlikely (at least in your dad’s eyes) to survive a zombie apocalypse – but once you are forced to move and act, you’re going to prove them all wrong aren’t you? You’re going to become a total bad-ass and a hero. Don’t worry, I’ve got the story, all of it, some of it in the notebook and the rest of it in my head because you’ve been very vocal lately. You’ve been through a lot already and you are a survivor. You are secretly in love with Billie, the girl in the cloak you met on the road – and you feel like its important to put down every single undead human even if it means risking your life to do so. A part of you enjoys all this and its that which keeps you awake at night. You are trying to get back home back to where you started, to wrestle it back from those who forced you out. Because you can do it now. You are not afraid. I’m listening, I am. Keep talking, keep moving, keep telling me your journey.

Reuben, Gus, Chess, George, Charlotte.…Gosh there are a lot of you. A whole community, in fact. Picking up the pieces after the adults were wiped out. I’ve left you alone for a while. I needed a break. But you’ve been creeping back, haven’t you? Letting me know that you are still there, hanging out in the remains of the old world, clinging to what you can, surviving, together. I love you all. I can hear you. It’s nearly time for you all to be heard.

Jesse, Willow, Jaime, Ralph, Paddy… yep, I can hear you too. I tried to shut you out for a long time but you guys really started hammering on the door recently didn’t you? I had you, I had your creepy town Black Hare Valley, but I didn’t really have the plot. But you guys started helping me with that and here we are… I’ve got the end in sight now, I know what you have to do, who you have to take down, why and how. It’s going to be quite a fight but you guys are stronger than you think. We’ve still got a lot of work to do as you come alive inside my head. So, keep talking. Knock back. Whisper in the night. Speak up on long walks. Let me know what you want and we’ll keep pushing to the finish line, I promise.

Alfie and Tom… You’ve been getting some attention recently. I’ve been plodding on, listening to you, looking back into your past to see you as children, to see what shaped you to become the men you are today. It’s been interesting, and traumatic, but we are getting there. Sometimes just a paragraph a day, sometimes more. You’ve been in my head for years! It was when I was writing the fifth book in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series that you came forward, shyly suggesting your own storyline, your own place in that last book. You became so real, so much a part of that world, that I just had to give you your own book, your own time, your own back stories. I’m getting to know you better and I like that.

Lou… I know, I know, I started your sequel, then left it, started it then left it…. I’m sorry! All these other people started showing up, demanding their own time, desperate to be heard. I’ve got it all though, so don’t worry – I know what happens and I am sorry – It’s going to be another tough ride for you, maybe your toughest yet. You’ll grow up in this sequel, both you and Joe. Keep talking, I am still listening. You might just have to shout a bit louder than the rest of them!

There are others too. Once who don’t even have names yet… They wander in from time to time, muttering and shaking their heads. They’re not loud enough yet but one day they will be.

How To Handle A Long To-Write-List

I’ve blogged before about how to juggle multiple writing projects at the same time. For me, it’s almost impossible to work on one thing at a time and I used to worry about this. I don’t anymore. There is always a priority project, one that is the closest to being ready for publication, and that’s the one I work on first every single night. However, new ideas spring up all the time, and if I don’t write them down I run the risk of forgetting an important detail. Also, when I’m stuck in a long editing/rewriting/revising process for a written book, my mind craves fresh, new exciting writing. I decided long ago to just go with it and accept that it’s always going to be this way. At the moment, for example, I’m editing/revising my 4-book YA post-apocalyptic series The Day The Earth Turned. This should be the final edit before it goes to the proofreader and as all four books are completed and almost ready, there is no fresh, new writing involved anymore. I’m also going through the same process with the YA trilogy I’ve co-written with Sim Sansford. Book one is with the proofreader and we’re getting the other two books ready to go after that. These two projects are the priority, but I want to write new stuff as well!

But having a lot of ideas, or a long -to-write-list can be distracting. New ideas can derail you from current projects, and at the same time, if you ignore new ideas until you’ve got time for them, you could easily forget important details or forget the whole idea entire entirely!

When a new idea comes along, it can feel so bright and exciting, that it becomes tempting to quit or ‘rest’ your current WIP and jump to the new one. Young writers do this a lot, and so they should – writing should be vibrant and exciting and I think young minds should respond to the influx of ideas they’re getting. However, if you’re a published author, you need to stick to your goals and work through them one at a time, or it can all become a bit of a mess.

My 8-book to-write-list

So, this is how I handle it. I prioritise one project until it is published, but also allow myself to work on something new a few times a week, and jot ideas down in notebooks for future books. Currently, I’m working on the first draft of what will stand as a spin-off book to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. (Working title, At Night They Played In The Road.) I’m at chapter twenty-three and only write it every now and then, but it’s constantly on my mind and will definitely be the next one to bump up to priority position. I am also scribbling a diary style story into a notebook every now and then. This is my Zombie apocalypse story which is honestly just a bit of fun at the moment, and a long way down the list to take seriously. I can’t resist adding to it every now and then though.

The other day I decided to organise all my future book ideas into a sensible to-write-list. You can see in the image that I have eight future novels outlined. I’m not exactly sure of the order these will be prioritised in. Sometimes books at the end of the list get louder and push their way forward, shoving others out of the way as they do. I just hope I don’t get any more ideas, as this list is plenty to keep me going for several years! I’ve listed them below in the order I THINK I will tackle them and added a brief description of the book idea and how far developed it is at the moment.

Working title: At Night They Played In The Road. A spin-off to my 5-book series The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. Written 23 chapters so far and characters are developing well. Notebook contains plot ideas and structure, character bios, and chapter outlines so far.
The Mess Of Us: The long awaited sequel to my debut YA novel The Mess Of Me. Written about half of it in first draft. Know exactly what’s going to happen. Notebook contains ideas for the plot, chapter outlines so far and half of a hand-written first draft.
We Hate The Cool Kids: (working title) I wrote this a few years ago! The first draft is done, except the ending needs some sorting out. It came out of nowhere and just wrote itself into a notebook, longhand. I haven’t gone back to it yet because it jumped the queue and I wanted to concentrate on publishing The Holds End trilogy and The Day The Earth Turned series. It will be great to get back to this soonish as it is basically done and ready for it’s 2nd draft! It’s a YA psychological thriller. Notebook contains character bios, plot ideas and structure and chapter outlines, as well as almost the whole book written in longhand.
I’ve popped it here in the list but it might jump the queue a bit and it should get done fast as two of us will be writing it! A year ago Sim and I started writing a YA supernatural trilogy together and it’s now done and each book is heading one by one to the proofreader. Once we’ve done final, final edits on that, we will start this together! It sprung from a short story I wrote. The idea grew and grew and it’s definitely one Sim and I could make work. It’ll be another YA. Post-apocalyptic/dystopian, possibly?? Notebook contains the short story the idea came from, character bios, plot ideas and a possible introduction.
A few years ago me and my son were writing fanfiction together when I had the idea for an ‘IT’ style horror series about unlikely young heroes battling evil in their strange little town. We drew an intricate map of the fictional town and I started writing plot ideas and character bios. My son then lost interest and I tucked it all away for another day. This story has grown a lot since then and its one I am really excited to start! I’d say Black Hare Valley will be a YA supernatural/paranormal/horror series. Notebook contains a huge fold-out map of the fictional town, character bios, ideas for the plot and research on local folklore and legends.
Diary Of The Undead came about thanks to my obsession with The Walking Dead, which started a year ago when I first watched it! A few months ago I got the idea for a diary style book from the POV of an unlikely teen hero and couldn’t resist starting it. I’ve nearly filled an entire notebook but it will be some time before I treat this one as a priority. I will continue to add to it when I feel like it. It’ll be a YA horror series. Notebook contains character bios and plot ideas and almost a whole notebook of the first draft in longhand.
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This book has been growing in my mind for a few years, but all I ever really had was a large, dysfunctional family and the death of a child. I have a lot more than that now so it got it own notebook the other day and I’ve started adding character bios already. I came up with the title quickly the other day but it will probably change. It’ll be some years before this one gets written! It will be a psychological thriller/family mystery aimed at adults. Notebook contains basic plot idea, ideas to explore, structure ideas and a few character bios.

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This is last on the list as it’s calling to me the least but who knows? It might climb higher. This is an idea based on a book I almost finished writing when I was in my late teens. It didn’t have a title back then but was essentially about a terrible crime and the revenge that follows. I’ll use the same characters I had back then and the basic storyline, but it will flick between the past and the present now and will probably fit the adult thriller market. Notebook contains character bios and basic plot ideas I had from back then.

Sorting each book idea out like this has really helped me feel in control. Not all of them had notebooks and some of them were just ideas and characters floating around in my head. I feel like I’ve contained them somewhat now! And the good thing is, I can add to these notebooks any time I get ideas for plot, character or dialogue. This means that when each book finally gets its turn, it will feel like getting in touch with an old friend. Everything will be in place to get going.

Do you have a long to-write list? How do you take care of future ideas? Feel free to comment and share!

Why I Can’t Just Work On One Book At A Time…

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

In an ideal world, I would work on one book at a time. I would be sat there all fresh, waiting for an idea to come along. I would start jotting down notes, forming character bios and doing research. And all of this would happen with a clear mind, a mind undisturbed or distracted from anything else.

Sometimes I think how nice that would be. I once heard another author say that she never starts a new book until the last book has been released. So, for her, it is one book at a time and one book only. Sometimes I envy that approach and think how much tidier and saner her head must be compared to mine!

But as they say, it’s no good comparing yourselves to others, especially when it comes to creative pursuits. We all do things so differently, in our own way, and that’s what makes us unique, I guess. At times, I have worried about my approach and longed for it to be different. These days, despite the headaches and chaos my approach brings, I wouldn’t change it. It is always going to be this way and I have finally accepted that!

For example, at the moment I am preparing to release two books. One, is a re-release, an updated version of my short story collection Bird People and Other Stories. It has a brand new cover and I will release it without much fuss very soon. I just felt it needed a tidy up and I’m really happy with it’s new look.

The other book is a new short story and poetry collection. It needs a few more edits and proofreads and a front cover, so it won’t be released for a while, but it’s basically ready.

While preparing those, I am also working on my four-book post-apocalyptic series, The Day The Earth Turned. I have just finished a rewrite of book one and started a rewrite of book two. Book three is awaiting its second draft and book four has been planned but not started. This is what I call my priority project, although, releasing the two finished books is technically the priority. I work on this series every night. I edit at least four chapters before I let myself do anything else.

I am also working on a YA series with Sim Sansford. I wrote about our process last week. We are approaching the end of book three in the trilogy, but of course, there will be plenty of rounds of edits and revisions to come for all three books. With this project, I respond as soon as I get a chapter from Sim, so I’m writing a chapter maybe once or twice a week, which is not too time consuming at all.

Also on the go, is a spin-off book from my five-book series The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. Two characters are introduced in book five and they really annoyed the hell out of me by growing and evolving so much that they started to demand their own spin-off book! I started making notes for this a few years back when I was still working on The Boy series! Then about a year ago I started writing a rough first draft in a notebook. At the moment I am typing up what I have so far and seeing where it might go. I only work on this if I have completed my chapters for the priority series already mentioned!

I also have another possible series in motion. My son and I drew a wonderful map a while back for a town called Black Hare Valley. Originally, we were going to attempt to write it together but he changed his mind. I couldn’t let the idea go though, and ended up writing a sort of prologue/short story for it. I also wrote a ton of character bios, added to the map and came up with a load of ideas for a YA supernatural/folklore type of story. I am desperate to start writing this but at the moment I have to be satisfied with adding to the planning every now and then!

Added to all of that, I have written half of the sequel to The Mess Of Me and would love to get back to this at some point and I have written a first draft of a YA psychological drama which is just sat there waiting for it’s turn to be worked on. Then, there is another series I’d like to write with Sim when Fortune’s Well is finished. I had an idea one day that grew into a short story…inevitably the story grew into a novel…and possibly a series. But all of these have to wait!!

And then the other day I got another idea! I don’t know why my brain does this to me! It just won’t stop! I don’t know how to make it stop?! I suppose I should be glad I don’t have the opposite problem. No ideas at all would be far, far worse, so maybe I should be grateful. But honestly…I really didn’t need another idea, did I? And this one really wouldn’t go away so I have started writing it….Eek, I know, totally insane.

The new idea won’t take up too much of my time (or so I have convinced myself!) The idea came from me and my sons current obsession with everything zombie and post-apocalyptic. My older son and I have watched The Walking Dead for the first time and have now started watching Fear The Walking Dead. We are pretty obsessed with both shows and the obsession has rubbed off on to real life, where we’ll constantly find ourselves commenting on whether something would make a good zombie killing weapon or not, or how well certain fences and gates would last against a horde of zombies! My younger son is too young to watch anything zombie related but he has enjoyed playing Plants Vs Zombies on my phone and every night when we watch our shows, we have to tell him afterwards what happened. He knows all the characters names and is as obsessed as us without ever having watched either show! We have to do zombie vs survivors set-ups with his Lego or his PlayMobil and any time we go for a walk we have to pretend we are survivors looking for supplies and so on. So, I got this unwanted idea to write a journal style book from the point of view of a teenage boy at the start of a zombie apocalypse. I know it’s an overdone genre but what the hell…I probably won’t even do anything with it. I’m writing it long-hand into a notebook and I write one entry a day just as if it really is my diary. Some are very short, some quite long. It’s so much fun. So addictive. And I’m finding it easy to fit in around my other projects.

So, I guess that’s why I won’t ever be able to work on just one book at at time. My brain won’t let me. Ideas are everywhere. And writing is just so much goddamn fun!! I am too addicted to escaping this world and devising worlds of my own. I have too much fun creating characters I fall in love with and wish were real. I just hope I live long enough to get all these books written and published, That’s my main drive and ambition and purpose in life. Get them all written.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

I think one of the questions you get asked the most as a writer is; where do you get your ideas from? I always feel a little bit sad when I get asked this, because in my mind I kind of expect everyone to have a head full of ideas and this question reminds me that is not always the case. And then I feel a little bit sorry for the person asking because I don’t know what it feels like not to have millions of ideas and characters running around inside my head.

But where do ideas come from? It really is a good question if you think about it. Our minds are amazing! Pick up any book in your house or think about a recent read that had a real impact on you…it can boggle your brain to wonder how the author came up with it! Here are some of the ways writers get new ideas…

Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay
  1. Out of nowhere… Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere. You can’t trace them back to anything you saw, or heard or felt, or anything that inspired you. They just jump into your brain and they are there, taking up space. With me this is usually because the character invades my mind, sets up camp and then starts chatting. Before long they’ve suggested a back story and a possible plot.
  2. Musical inspiration... Writers will sometimes find an idea growing after listening to music. It could be that the song reminds them of a certain time and place and brings back memories that inspire a storyline. Or it could be the lyrics of the song itself that entice the writer to create a story. While driving, I once heard a song on the radio that instantly transported me back to a certain time in my life and by the time I reached my destination I had a short story in my head. I later evolved it into a novel which is in the first draft stage.
  3. TV/Film/book inspiration… Sometimes the young writers I work with worry that their story ideas are too similar to TV shows or films or books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve fallen in love with something and naturally want to emulate it in their own writing because it’s fun to do so. But they feel self-conscious, like they have stolen an idea or copied a character. I always tell them there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that a lot of ideas are inspired by things we have enjoyed culturally. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series was originally inspired by me watching The Lost Boys at aged 12! My series has zero vampires in it but the scene when the mother realises her new boyfriend is the head vampire, got me thinking about real life monsters that hide among us, and the story grew from there. Writers ‘magpie’ ideas, taking little bits from here and there to create something new and this is totally fine.
  4. Real life people/places/events… Often writers will feel inspired to write about real life people, places or events. This could be in terms of historical or political fiction, or it could be someone they have known or come across sparks off an idea in their head. Writers people watch a lot and they tend to soak up whatever is around them, so the chances are real life people and events do sneak into their writing, sometimes without them even realising it.
  5. Anxieties and fears… I think this happens to me a lot! Quite a few of my personal fears and anxieties have evolved into novels. I think this is my way of working through what upsets and worries me. I never realise it until later though! For example, another reason The Boy With The Thorn In His Side story came about was my fear at 12 years old that my recently divorced parents would meet new partners I would hate. The Mess Of Me grew out of my own body image issues. This Is Nowhere is essentially about a non-religious character trying to find meaning in life, which is something I was thinking about a lot at the time. The Tree Of Rebels and my current work-in-progress confront my fears around climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature contains characters who sort of represent an internal fight I have with myself – one is open-minded, open-hearted and wants to see the best in people and view the future with hope, while the other hates people so much she basically becomes agoraphobic. I don’t think writers always realise it at the time, but I do think our personal fears weave their way into our work.
  6. Long walks… Or long showers! Either way, I find doing something relaxing that you don’t really need to think about for a long time, really allows the ideas to flow. I always get good ideas for stories or plotlines when I am walking my dogs alone. Any time I have had a block or got stuck, it has become unravelled on a walk. Ideas for endings have popped into my head out of nowhere while walking. Dialogue often starts to flow too, so I’ll write it down into my phone or record myself saying it so I don’t forget. If you are ever out of ideas, I would strongly recommend a long walk on your own!

So, that covers some of the places ideas come from and some of the things that spark off stories, but I am sure there must be more. What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Feel free to comment and share!