Stuck Inside A Story (For 28 years…)

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

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

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And this.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Songs I Can’t Sing Without Crying Like A Baby

I’m a huge music fan and music seems to creep into nearly all of my books. Danny is addicted to the grunge and Britpop of the 90’s in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side.Joe dreams of owning a drum kit and playing in a band in The Mess Of Me, Jake remembers his missing mother’s love for 60’s music This Is Nowhere and in my current WIP, Bill Robinson is a talented singer. I can’t sing myself. I can’t play any instruments either. Big regrets! But like I mentioned in my post Reasons To Be Cheerful, singing along to songs is one of my favourite things to do. I know my voice is terrible, but there is just something so uplifting and life affirming about letting rip, singing your heart out because you know every single word and because every single word means something to you!

There are, however, some songs I can never sing. Not without succumbing to genuine tears. I told my 10 year old this the other day and he demanded a demonstration. So I tried singing the first one on this list and instantly got tears in my eyes, a hitch in my throat and couldn’t get beyond the first verse. So I thought I’d share them with you. The songs I absolutely cannot ever, not even once, manage to sing without crying like a baby. (If you want to have a listen, click on the links for the Youtube videos of each song!)

  1.   The Littlest Hobo Theme TuneI can’t listen to this, let alone sing this without welling up. I loved this show when I was a dog obsessed child of the 80’s. It never failed to pull at my heartstrings every time the poor dog traipsed off on his lonesome after helping strangers in every episode. I think if I heard it for the first time now I’d be all right. It’s the way it plugs me back into my childhood in an instant that does it. Instant memories and emotions = instant tears.
  2. Slipping Through My Fingers  Abba. This is the Meryl Streep version, because it was through the movie Mama Mia that I first heard this song. I don’t like Abba one little bit, and if I didn’t have little girls slipping through my own fingers, I would also hate this song. But I took my little girls to see this at the cinema and watched this most poignant scene with unstoppable tears rolling down my face. I couldn’t even look at my two little girls while this was on. If I’d been all alone I would have indulged myself in a full on cry, with proper noise. It’s had me every since. It’s everything. Every sentence, every lyric. There’s not a mother out there who doesn’t feel like this, like every moment is slipping away from you, like you can’t ever really know these strange little people you brought into the world. And with girls…Every time I hear it I see my little girls when they had ponytails and dresses, when they were skipping out ahead of me. I wish I could have frozen the picture too. Go on. Have a listen. Have a good old cry!
  3. Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel. I’m sniffling already just listening to this on YouTube. I still can’t watch Watership Down or hear this song without crying. I just can’t do it. Impossible. It’s another instant emotional link to childhood. I adored this book and this film. I read it so many times. It has a very special place in my heart for that reason. It inspired me to keep reading and it inspired me to write stories about animals. It reflected my love of animals and wildlife. It made me think about life and death. Heavy stuff for a little one! This is what music does to you. It floods you with thoughts and feelings from the past.watership-down
  4. Disco 2000 by Pulp. You might think this an odd one. It’s a quirky, dance song. Typical of Pulp in the Britpop ear. This didn’t make me cry back in the day, oh no. I totally loved it and Pulp were one of the first bands I properly fell in love with, but it does something else to me these days. It reminds me that I’ve grown, just like the characters in the song. It reminds me how many years have passed since the year 2000 seemed an impossibly long way off! It has another emotional connection for me now though. Before I knew I was definitely pregnant with my fourth child, I had this CD on in the car during the school run. It made me cry for the first time and I knew I was pregnant long before I had to do a test! Now it’s always gonna’ make me blub.Britpop
  5. Oxygen by Willy Mason This is a new one for me. This song was out in 2004 but somehow I only came across it a few months ago when they played it on BBC 6Music. It came on and it made me slow down, demanding to be listened to. I think I was cooking the dinner, but I gravitated away from the oven and ended up hovering next to the window where our radio is. I soaked up the lyrics and felt a lump in my throat. So much of this makes sense to me right now. It could have been written specifically for the times we are currently living in, and sadly shows that not too much has changed. I wrote down the artist and the title of the song when it came up on the little bar on the radio and tucked the scrap piece of paper into my cutlery draw. I often do things like that and totally forget about them. But in the end, I did look Willy Mason on YouTube, and was impressed enough to order two CD’s. Since they arrived, I’ve played Oxygen in the car on the school run and I have to mouth the lyrics. I can’t sing it out loud without getting all choked up.
  6. Days – Kirsty MacCollI love The Kinks version, but I think Kirsty MacColl had a really beautiful voice, so I prefer this one. I first heard The Kinks sing this on the radio when I was about 12 or so. I used to listen to old fifties and sixties music on the radio in our kitchen, with my notebook in front of me. I’d write the lyrics around the edges of the paper. This was one I wrote the lyrics down to and I can remember how it made me feel sad and nostalgic, even though I was only a kid, and hadn’t even had any ‘days’ yet! Now when I hear it I fill warm and sad and my mind fills with my own memories of days past. I also can’t hear it without thinking about the tragic death of Kirsty MacColl. So yep, this is another one I try to sing along to and just can’t.
  7. Ten Storey Love Song – The Stone RosesThis one gets me every time. I am totally lost in so many thoughts and feelings when I try to sing to this. My husband introduced me to The Stone Roses when we first met. He used to make me mix-tapes and this song was on one of them. He also used to write me very amusing letters on A4 ruled paper, with lyrics and funny quotes written around the margins. He’s actually not that keen on this song, but I adored it from the first time I heard it. It makes me think of him, and us, when we were young and first in love. I wrote this song into The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, giving Danny and Lucy a similar scenario, where he made her mixtapes and this was on one of them. She wrote him love letters and scrawled these lyrics onto them. We saw The Stone Roses play at Finsbury Park in 2013 after they reformed. It was a dream come true and everything I had hoped it would be. I’m not ashamed in the slightest to admit I had tears rolling down my cheeks as I sung along to this one, and thought about everything it meant to me.
  8. Something Changed – Pulp Another Pulp track, and another one that reminds me of my husband and me when we first met. He also dislikes this song, but that doesn’t stop it meaning something to me. The lyrics seemed so perfect at the time. We met at the local night club when we were 17 and 18. He was there because it was one of his friends 18th and I was there because it was one of my friends 18th. One of my friends went to the same school he had, they chatted for a bit, and then she introduced me, and that was that. I’ve always liked the line ‘when we woke up that morning we had no way of knowing, that in a matter of hours we’d change the  way we were  going.’ The song questions what made the couple go to the same place at the same time, and whether it is fate, or something else.
  9. Little Talks – Of Monsters and MenI’m okay with this one until I get to the last verse. This song has an awesome, catchy tune, but the lyrics are a lot darker. I love the way it has a male and female singer, talking back and forth. For me, the female voice is losing her mind to old age, possibly dementia, and the male voice is reassuring her and also talking about how he can’t bear to see her this way. The last verse goes like this; ‘You’re gone, gone, gone away, I watched you disappear. All that’s left is a ghost of you. Now we’re torn, torn, torn apart, there’s nothing we can do, just let me go, we’ll meet again soon…now wait wait wait for me, please hang around, I’ll see you when I fall asleep.’ Lump in the throat right now, just writing that. It makes me think about getting old and dying and losing the one you love. It packs an emotional punch, I think.
  10. Perfect Day – Lou ReedA beautiful, haunting song, and one that builds up with intensity and emotion, taking me with it. Everything about this song chokes me up. His voice, the story, the piano, the endless search for something perfect and pure, his affirmation that this day was, in fact, perfect, and the way we all have days like that in our heads. I love the way you can interpret it how you like. As a love song, or as a song about drug addiction.

So, that’s my list. There are loads more, but I didn’t want to make this post too long! How about you? Are there any songs that make you well up when you hear them? Are there any songs you can’t sing along to without choking on tears? Or am I just a very strange emotional wreck?? Please feel free to comment and share! I would love to hear your songs too.

(PS. I just remembered one more! This one! Flowers In The Window by Travis. I was heavily pregnant with my first child, and stacking shelves at Asda when this came out. It would play in the shop, and after I had waddled home, hot and sweaty and deliriously excited about becoming a mother, I would find the video on The Box, and watch it. All those pregnant women! The lyrics talk about planting new seeds and watching them grow…You are one in a million… Oh that’s it, I’m off again!)