Why I Love Writing # 5; Sometimes It’s Pure Magic

Actually, it’s pretty magical most of the time. Of course, there are days when it feels like anything but. When you’re revising the hundredth draft of something, when you feel like it’s a complete waste of time that no one will ever want to read. There are days when you don’t want to do it, days when you feel rejected and uninspired and full of self-doubt.

But the magical days for me, outweigh the negative ones. They can happen at any time during the creation of a finished novel. I often find the writing of a first draft a magical thing. That first line, first paragraph, first chapter is so daunting, so impossible, yet suddenly you’ve done it. It’s there. And then strange things start to happen. Magical things.

Characters you had a loose idea of start to come alive. They flesh out and invade your mind. They start talking to you and you talk back. That’s magic. The magic of make-believe. And then there’s the plot itself. I often have a good idea of what’s going to happen in a book before I start writing, and I would have made lots of notes before starting the first draft, but at some point, something else seems to take over. Unexpected things happen. The plot takes another direction, or parts of the story start to weave together in ways that are genius, but like something out of my control. Sometimes it feels like there is something else at play, controlling the whole thing.

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Often I know where I am going, but not how I will get there. I never worry too much about the finer points because I have learned to sit back and let the magic happen. And it always does. Out of the blue, never when I expect it to, it will all just come together. This happened to me recently with the six book series I am working on. Books 1-4 are written, and book 5 has had one very rough draft. I knew roughly what I wanted to happen in book 6, what storylines would be continued, but I didn’t know how I would end the book, or indeed, the whole series. I didn’t stress about it because I still had work to do editing books 3 and 4, and book 5 to write a second draft of.

But one day, out walking, it just suddenly came to me. My mind pieced it all together without me even trying, without me even consciously deciding to think about it. I suddenly just had it. How to end the book and the entire series, and it was perfect.

How does that work? How does that even happen? I have no idea, but like I’ve already said, sometimes I really feel like it’s not me in my head, working things out. Moments like that are so satisfying, and magical, they make all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.

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Interview with Author Harriet Springbett

Last week I read and reviewed a beautiful and unique YA book, called Tree Magic. I came across this book in a Facebook group I am lucky enough to be part of, and the front cover and title immediately caught my eye. It sounded just my sort of thing. (If you follow me on Instagram you might have an idea of how obsessed with trees I am!) You can read my review of Tree Magic here. Author Harriet Springbett kindly agreed to an interview, which you can enjoy below. Tree Magic comes out in paperback on the 1st of March, and is currently only 99p for the ebook on Amazon. Grab it!

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1) Can you tell us what inspired you to write Tree Magic?

I was sitting under a weeping willow tree in my garden, writing the start of a novel about Rainbow, a teenager who didn’t fit in. A recent storm had uprooted a nearby sumac tree and I found myself wishing I could stroke its branches back into shape to rebalance it: we hug trees to make ourselves feel better, but who ever makes trees feel better? I started to wonder what it would be like if someone could communicate with trees and help them in this way. As Rainbow was under my pen, she became the one to be blessed / cursed with this gift.

2) Did the plot come first, or the characters?

Definitely the main character. I’d already written a short story about Rainbow, and a member of Lumineuse, my writers’ group, said she was such a vivid character that she could almost see her beside me. The plot grew organically from Rainbow, her gift and her problems. This was a deliberate approach on my part, because the previous novel I’d written was plot-led and I’d found the writing experience too restrictive.

3) The story is told in both past and present tense – why did you choose this approach, and how difficult was it to pull off?

The tenses are intrinsically linked to the characters of the two protagonists: Mary wants to forget her past so the present tense represents her best, whereas Rainbow is like a tree, with roots into her past. It wasn’t a question of ‘pulling it off’, because it was natural rather than being a storytelling device. I was warned that publishers wouldn’t like the tense-mixing, but I believed it was too essential to change. In fact, my publisher (Impress Books) never questioned the tenses.

4) Are any of the characters based on people in real life?

No! Part of the fun of writing stories is creating characters. I’m a detail hoarder, and I jot down lots of rubbish that amuses or interests me, which may then produce a character (or not). For example, the other day I was running with a friend who’d bought a new pair of trainers. I noticed that the underside of her trainers happened to match the colour of her T-shirt, and found myself thinking about the kind of person who would do this deliberately.

5) Did you have to do much research into trees, or did you already have some knowledge in that area?

I love trees. I grew up on a Dorset farm that had 10 acres of woodland and a stream, and we were always playing in them, making tree houses or fixing rope ladders and swings to them. We had our own trees in the way other children have pets. Tree Magic doesn’t have technical details about trees, so I only needed an everyday knowledge, which my childhood and a tree guide provided. However, I did research details for the habitats and characteristics of certain trees, such as the symbolic silver maple.

6) This is your debut YA novel, can you tell us what is coming next?

I have already finished another YA novel called Red Lies, White Lies. It’s a thriller with a 17-year-old protagonist, set in France, and has no magic realism. A beta reader said she couldn’t put it down – but I really should make time to seriously hunt for an agent. I love the writing part of being an author, but I’m not very good at sending out my work. I must confess that I have begun to write another YA novel when I should really be trying to find a home for Red Lies, White Lies.

7) Do you read a lot of YA yourself? If so, what are your favourite YA books?

I didn’t intend Tree Magic to be a YA novel because I hadn’t read much YA fiction. When it was placed runner-up in a competition, the judge told me that with a little rewriting I could target the YA market. An agent who rejected it mentioned YA too – so I researched the YA market and rewrote it for younger readers. I only really started reading YA a short time ago – and I’m seriously seduced by what I’ve read. There’s a refreshing liberty in YA writing. I loved The Sun is Also a Star for its ‘science versus intuition’ approach (a little like in Tree Magic). I was shocked and impressed by Orangeboy. I adored the protagonist in Wing Jones and thought A Monster Calls was beautifully written. I could go on, but I’d better stop there.

8) Can you tell us about your writing and publishing journey so far? What have been the highs and lows?

The lows were the rejections. I originally sent Tree Magic to about 10 agents, was rejected by all of them and concluded that the story was rubbish. I left it in a drawer for years before learning that this rejection rate was normal, and that small publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Long live small publishers! The highs were firstly getting my manuscript accepted by Impress Books (though I worried for ages that they’d change their minds) and then the whole editing process with them. They are wonderful. The weirdest moment was when I read the blurb my editor wrote. My immediate reaction was ‘that sounds like an exciting book’ and my second was ‘it’s your book, you idiot.’

9) What advice would you give to new writers just about to start the journey into publication?

Don’t be put off by rejections. You must keep searching for a home, but make sure you get readers and other writers to critique your story first. Writers’ groups are invaluable for this. Also, I wish I’d written more short stories before launching into a novel because the experimentation, feedback and rewriting loop takes less time than with novels. Short stories help you to find your voice.

10) What have you learned so far about promoting your book?

I didn’t realise that book promotion and publicity would be so time-consuming. Getting started can be scary, so it’s wonderful if you have a publicist to guide you. If you’re not careful, it will eat into your writing time, so you have to sum up your courage and push yourself to be proactive while still remembering that the writing is what’s most important.

11) Describe an average writing day for you

I exchanged my full time job for part time work in order to have writing time, so this motivates me to sit down every morning and write until lunchtime. Most evenings I run or cycle – this is my problem-solving time, when I run through scenes in my head and visualise characters’ reactions. Of course, my friends don’t believe me when I say I’m working as I run! I don’t write at weekends, because I want to live fully, spend time with my family, do sport, see friends etc. Inspiration comes from interacting with real life, from watching and listening to what’s going on in the world, so it’s important not to shut yourself away all the time. It also means I look forward to getting back to my computer on Monday mornings.

12) Finally, tell us three interesting facts about yourself

This is the most difficult question. OK: when I was 22 I did a Raleigh International expedition in Chile and then hitchhiked 5000km from the south to the north. My ideal holiday is an itinerant trip with a bike, a tent and good company. And I’m (distantly) related to Thomas Hardy.

More about Harriet Springbett…

Harriet Springbett lives in France with her French partner and teenage daughters. She grew up in West Dorset and qualified as a manufacturing engineer before realising she preferred people to machines, and words to numbers. She moved to France in 1995, where she studied French and then worked as a project manager, a freelance feature writer, a translator and an English teacher. She has always written in her free time.

Her debut YA novel, Tree Magic, was published by Impress Books in ebook format in January 2017. The paperback is due out on 1st March. Harriet writes every morning and blogs on writing and cultural events at Harriet Springbett’s Playground of Words and Thoughts. Several of her short stories (Quark Soup, Shingle & Sand, Ami Entends-tu?, Big Bones…) have been placed and shortlisted in competitions or published in magazines such as The French Literary Review.

Links;

Tree Magic page at Impress Books: http://www.impress-books.co.uk/impress/tree-magic/ Tree Magic on Amazon.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tree-Magic-Harriet-Springbett/dp/1911293001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485160742&sr=8-1&keywords=9781911293002 My Blog: https://harrietspringbett.wordpress.com Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/HarriSpringbett/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarriSpringbett

 

The Enduring Magic Of Children’s Books

Just recently my two and a half-year-old son achieved a milestone I had been particularly looking forward to; that of being able to sit, listen and enjoy longer picture books such as The Gruffalo. We are now very much past the baby board books and the Usborne ‘That’s Not My…’ books (thank God!!)  We are still very much into flaps (Is There A Dog In This Book is a constant favourite) but we have moved on from touch and feel baby board books.

Finally, I can say with slightly emotional pride, my little lad can sit through the entirety of Room On The Broom without losing attention for a second. Oh, what wonderful opportunities now flood our way! Literally, bookshelves full of them!

He has enjoyed ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ and ‘Rattletrap Car’ for some time now, but the length of rhyming prose in books like The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom were too much for him until recently.

I’ve felt quite tearful reading to him lately, for many reasons. Of course, when your child passes a milestone, whether it’s starting to walk or starting to talk, you always feel a strong mix of emotions. Pride and excitement are the dominant ones, but there is always an added pang of wistfulness. Your little baby is growing and changing and time stands still for no one. I sat with him last night, his little legs pressed next to mine, his bottle of milk on his lap, while I read him The Gruffalo for the first time. By this, I mean for the first time since he’s been able to appreciate longer books! He was leaning over the pages and I could feel his concentration and anticipation. I wondered how much of the story and the tricks the mouse plays on everyone, were getting through to him.

I found myself drifting back in time, just as I had the day before with Room On The Broom. I have a strong minded, very individual fourteen-year-old daughter, who was once an equally strong-minded two-year-old. After her bath, we used to wrap her in a towel, sit her on her potty and read Room On The Broom to her. I will forever associate that book with potty training! And reading it again in its full glory, to my little boy brought back so many memories I could have cried. I found myself doing the same voices (I make the witch sound rather old and croaky, and of course the dragon has to sound like a ruffian from the East End of London)

The same thing happened while reading The Gruffalo tonight. My voice was getting louder, my accents more pronounced, along with my hand gestures! My little boy cracked up when the mouse said ‘gruffalo crumble!’ and we laughed about it for ages afterward. God, I must have read that story so many times to my older kids. How wonderful to be introducing such magic and laughter to another generation.

It was my oldest son, my nine-year-old who got into the Julia Donaldson books the most, though. For a fair few Christmases we would ask friends and family to buy him one of her books, so we have quite a collection now, which I am so pleased we held onto. The other day when reading to my youngest, his older brother drifted into the room and joined us on the bed. He requested Tiddler, which if I remember, was his favourite when he was just a tiddler himself. I hadn’t read it in years, but it all came back to me, and yet again I felt transported back in time. The loveliest thing was that my older son started reading it too, matching my voice, so that we were both reading it out loud at the same time. Tiddler! Tiddler! Tiddler’s late! Like an earworm, the refrain has been in my head for days since. I like tiddler’s story, said little Johnny Dory…and he told it to his Granny…who told it to a plaice!

Childhood books are like windows in time, taking you back to another you and another place, filling you with sweet warmth and stoking your belly with fresh giggles. I recently re-read Watership Down for the first time in adulthood, and I was hooked from start to finish. Not only that, I felt like a kid again. Touched by magic and wonder, on the edge of my seat with worry for this troubled band of runaway rabbits. Every chapter delivered a new adventure, the stakes even higher once they finally found a new home and discovered the vicious dictator in the next warren. I cried when I read the last chapter. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I was that ten-year-old girl again, curled up in the arm chair in my childhood home, totally absorbed, my cloth ears closed to all but Hazel and Fiver and Bigwig, my teeth biting my lip, my eyes welling with tears when Hazel realised he didn’t need his body anymore… (Gulp)

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Children’s books are powerful magic indeed. Reading them, sharing them, reliving them in later years. Research shows that reading to babies and toddlers helps them associate books with love and affection, fostering a lifelong love of books and reading. I look at books as adventures waiting to happen, as worlds waiting for you to step inside them. I am so excited that my youngest can enjoy longer books; there are so many places we can now go!

What about you? What were your favourite books as a child? What books have your own children become obsessed with?