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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Do You Know When It’s Time To Quit?

It’s a genuine question. I really don’t know.

I have been close to quitting a lot lately. It’s probably a weekly thing at the moment. I don’t mean writing, by the way, I could never quit writing.

I’m referring to the process of editing and rewriting and revising a book again and again and again in the faint hope of a publisher accepting it, versus making the decision to quit editing, rewriting and self-publish it. I am also referring to my writing company, Chasing Driftwood, which I constantly think about quitting. I am torn all the time. Do I give up on all these childish dreams and get myself a proper job? I am increasingly tempted.

Failure is a horrible thing. We all face it at various times in life, and it’s never, ever nice. We actively work to avoid it. Sometimes that means we never even try in the first place because we are scared of failing. We are scared of that feeling and don’t want to see ourselves as failures.

I think I can safely say that I have at least tried. Very, very hard. And a big part of me wants to keep trying. Despite the mixed feedback from two rounds of beta readers, I still love Elliot Pie and I feel like I have worked on it and worked on it, and made it a much, much better book that it was over two years ago when I started it. I’ve listened to feedback and I’ve acted on it. I submitted to a list of small press publishers and had three of them fairly interested in it, which is pretty positive really. I’ve never had that response to any of the other books I’ve put out. I keep reminding myself of this whenever I feel down. They may still be rejections, but they are positive rejections, which all say positive things about Elliot Pie. I have confidence that at the very least, my synopsis, my concept and my first few chapters are enough to entice people in!

Good stuff. But that leads me on to the reasons it was still rejected. Too long. I did go through it again and deleted another character, but I honestly could not see where else to cut. I know, I know, hire an editor you say. But I can’t afford that right now. Not in the slightest. Another reason for rejection was more specific. They loved the concept and my writing and absolutely adored Elliot, all of which is fantastic news. But they would have preferred the book to be written from the POV of Elliot and his mum. Just to explain, the book is mostly from Elliot’s POV, but also from his mum’s and the three strangers he makes friends with.

Now I can’t stop thinking about this suggestion. It would mean yet another entire and potentially very tricky rewrite. Losing the POV of three characters would also get the word count down…

But I just don’t know. I personally like the other characters POV being there because it means the reader gets to know or assume stuff about them which Elliot does not. His mother never meets these people. Do you see how tricky it could be to rewrite? I would have to write Elliot into scenes he was never meant to be in, or find other ways to suggest elements of their characters to the reader, through Elliot’s perceptions and reactions.

A lot of work. And I have two more finished but unpublished books to tidy up and start doing something with! Plus The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series which I am working on…

Life is short, right? The way I see it right now, I have two options with this book and with my writing company. I keep trying, keep battling, keep working until I get it right, whatever ‘right’ is, or I learn to know when to quit.

These are two separate issues really. I know I won’t quit my company yet. I just desperately need more time to make it all work and I know I will get that in September when my youngest starts school. I have decided to give it my all that year, give it everything I’ve got, and if I can’t do it, admit defeat at the end of that year and get a proper job, knowing at least I tried.

With Elliot Pie…I just can’t decide whether to keep rewriting in the hope of getting a publisher for it…or admit it’s the best I can do, it’s the book I wanted it to be, self-publish and hope for the best.

Funnily enough, when searching for images to post with this, I came across the quote ‘when you feel like quitting, think about why you started’ and it’s now changed the way I am looking at this. I’ve been thinking about what the story I originally wanted to tell and I’ve been thinking about the reason I started my writing company…

But it’s tricky, isn’ it? How do you know when to quit? How do you know when you’ve done the best and you’ve nothing left to give?

Answers on a postcard please! Or alternatively, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts! Have you ever felt like quitting a project? Was there a point when you just realised you’d done the best you could, and it was time to stop?

My Bad Writing Habits

I’m currently editing the fifth draft of my YA drama A Song For Bill Robinson. The fourth draft was edited on my Kindle, with me making notes on typos, words, and phrases to cut. Overall, I thought it was pretty good when I went through it on my Kindle. Almost there. On this current draft, however, I have totally changed my mind, because I can now see how many bad habits I have! And it’s so weird, because I don’t seem to spot them until I get to about fifth draft stage. Interesting! Anyway, I thought I would share them with you. And then you can tell me yours!

  1. Over-explaining – I don’t realise I am doing this in a first draft. I don’t even spot it on a second or a third. But eventually, I see it. Usually about now, when I am trying to get the word count down. I over explain things. I do this in real life too. My husband has a habit of quoting Tim from Spaced when I speak; ‘skip to the end…’ I am forever saying, ‘yeah, I know, I said that already.’ This isn’t too bad when talking to people, but when writing books? This is very bad indeed! Here’s an example… ‘And it was he who had suggested she stay the night. It was he who had talked her out of cycling home or going back to her dads for the night.’ (See? Too much explaining. The second sentence is not needed!)
  2. Repetition – This is similar to over-explaining but much more repetitive and needless. Again, I only notice this when editing a later draft and trying to delete unnecessary words. Here’s one I just picked up and this is typical; ‘He didn’t know. He didn’t have a clue and it was driving him crazy.’ You see, I really didn’t need to repeat the fact he didn’t know!
  3. I write too much – My word counts are ridiculous. This is a very bad thing because publishers don’t want to look at manuscripts with excessive word counts, and a lot of readers are also put off by them. It’s also bad when it comes to editing, formatting and revising. And it’s because I do too much overexplaining and repeating myself. I really need to get better at writing shorter books.
  4. Swearing – I’m getting better at this. I’m trying to rein my foul-mouthed characters in and make sure any curse words are absolutely necessary. One day, when I have the time, I will go back over all my old books and delete some of the swear words.
  5. Making Characters Frown – Ugh, so annoying. Again, I don’t realise I am doing this when I first write the book. But on later edits, it is revealed to me in the most cringe-worthy fashion, that there is way too much frowning going on!
  6. Making Characters Raise Their Eyebrows – Very annoying when you read it. There are many, many other ways to imply expression on a character’s face. I cut tons of these out as I edit again and again.
  7. Sighing and eye-rolling – So embarrassing, but it’s true. You think I would have grown out of this by now. But no. For some reason, when I write a first draft, all my characters sigh and eye-roll constantly. I have to calm them all down on later edits. It’s okay to be silent and still!
  8. Trying Way Too Hard To Make The Reader See Exactly What The Character is Doing – eg; ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea,’ Andy was shaking his head and blowing air out through his nostrils.’ Wait? What? Why did I feel the need to mention the fact he is breathing? Of course he is breathing, and the reader is well aware of that because he is talking and shaking his head. Nothing else needed!
  9. Not Bothering To Research Vital Things Because I Am Too Impatient To Get the First Draft Written – I try to kid myself that this is a good tactic. I am writing! I am getting words down, getting the story out! I don’t want to break that precious flow by stopping to research something as small as how a person is actually signed out from hospital! No, I’ll do that much later. (And then find out that I have to rewrite the entire scene…)
  10. Adding Pointless Needless Words That Do Nothing – eg ‘Andy watched rather helplessly’. He’s not watching rather helplessly. He’s not feeling rather helpless or rather that. Rather is a really horrible word actually and I am never, ever using it again.

Well, there you have 10 of my bad writing habits. Of course, there are loads more, but I didn’t want to bore you by waffling on, which is another bad habit of mine! So, come on then. Be brave. Tell me your bad writing habits. We can cringe together!

Dear Newbie Indie Author…

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Dear Newbie Indie Author at the start of your journey….Panic not. Though everywhere you turn there are rules, and experts, and advice, and do’s and don’ts. Remember that all those who are further along than you, were once where you are now. If I could give any advice to me when I was a newbie indie author, it would go something like this;

  • Attend a course, workshop or conference. Something that fills you with wisdom and ambition. Something that makes you dream and hope and long to get your words out into the world. Something where dreams are balanced with a hefty dose of reality and an honest account of how hard it is likely to be.
  • Remember that Rome was not built in a day, so neither will your author platform. Be aware of it, learn about it, but don’t panic about it yet. It will grow with you, in time.
  • Be brave. But only when you are ready. There is no rush and no reason to change your personality or try to be something you are not. Tip your toes in the water with a Facebook author page, or a Twitter account. Play around with things, lurking around the edges until it feels right to dive in.
  • Don’t feel like you have to be on every social media site, stretching yourself too thin, whiling away precious hours by attempting to engage with them all. There is simply no point. Choose two or three and make sure one is your blog/website. Give these your attention, and enjoy them. Think of them as your own little projects, little mini businesses. Little acorns that will one day grow into Oak trees!
  • It’s fine if you are just talking to yourself. Everyone starts off like that. It’s not a waste of time! Think of it as practice. You can be uninhibited, knowing that barely anyone is there. Practice your voice, try things out, have a giggle. By the time your audience has grown, you will be far more comfortable in the role.
  • Make your blog whatever you want it to be. Some writers just blog about writing. That’s fine. Some blog about other issues, political, social, personal, and that’s fine too. Some blog weekly, some once in a blue moon. It’s all fine. Do what its comfortable for you. A blog is for your writing and writing should always be fun. If it doesn’t feel fun, don’t force it. Try something else.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. We’ve all taken different paths. There will always be writers with more money to spend, more contacts to enlist, more gift of the gab, more luck, more everything. But you are the only one who can tell your story in your way. Hold your head up high and try not to play the comparison game with anyone.
  • Don’t get eaten up with jealousy. When you see others succeed, be glad for them and then try to work out how they did it.
  • Don’t expect your family and friends to rush out and buy your book. Don’t expect many of them to understand what the hell you are doing. Find fellow writers to help you through the frustration and elation that is to come.
  • Remember that the only way to succeed is to never, ever quit.
  • Remember that success means something different to everyone, and only you can decide what it means to you.
  • Be prepared to be work hard, to treat writing like a job, to put in the hours, to find time for promotion and writing, to try new things when nothing is working, to feel like giving up, to want to bang your head against the wall, to want to throw your laptop out of the window, to scream at people to just please buy your bloody book and to go to bed and not be able to sleep for the ideas, thoughts, doubts and frustrations whirling in your head.
  • Be realistic. Dream big with your feet still on the ground. Keep your day job and be proud of it. Write because you have to, because the ideas and the words and the characters are too big to contain in just your head alone, and because you want to share them, to let others feel like you do. Write because you love it, because you live it and breathe it, because it excites you and makes you feel like you are living more than one life. Don’t write to get rich. Don’t write to impress anyone. Write because there is no choice not to write.
  • Know that you’ve got to put the work in to see the results. That inevitably and eventually, you reap what you sow. Little steps sometimes take you further than big ones. Sometimes the only way you realise how far you have come is when you stand still and look back to where you started.
  • Don’t spam people. Don’t become a robot hitting everyone who follows you with a buy my book link or plea. Engage with them. Forge relationships. It isn’t all about you. Don’t follow other people just so they follow you back. Think about why you are following them.
  • Don’t play the numbers game. Likes and follows mean nothing if people are not engaged with your voice and your style and what you have on offer. It’s not about the amount, it’s about the quality.
  • Don’t only post an update when you have a book out. Build an audience. Give them something to read, debate, join in with and get excited about. Then ask them to buy your book.
  • Be proud. You’re doing something some people only dream of. Do you know how many people say they would like to write a book, but never actually do it? You’ve done it. You’ve proved yourself and realised a dream. That’s pretty cool. And be proud of going indie. It’s not an easy road. But it is an incredibly creative and innovative one. Who knows where it might lead? Who knows what skills you will require? What contacts you will make? What friends you will find? What effect you will have on those that read your work? Who knows where you will be one year, or five years, or ten years from now? The possibilities are endless so dream big and work hard. Don’t moan, don’t back out, get on with it, and make it happen.

(Credit to Pranam Gurung for the image.)

Please feel free to comment and share. What advice would you give to a new indie author? What do you wish you had known in the beginning? Anything you would do differently?