10 Fun Facts About My New Book

Wow, time goes fast! Too fast! Although I have been working on YA novel A Song For Bill Robinson for three years, it’s release date is suddenly almost upon me and I do not feel ready! Life has been very busy lately and I feel unprepared for this book release and I’m ever so slightly panicking. I did consider delaying the release until after Christmas but I’m not going to. The good thing is this time around I have paid for a blog tour, so this is really going to help with the promotion and take some of the pressure off me. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a while and if it has good results I will definitely save up my pennies and arrange another one for one of my older books. Anyway, my new book will be released on 7th December and the next few blog posts will be related to it, so if you are curious about the novel, stay tuned and learn more!

  1. I first wrote this book when I was 16. An early version of this story was written when I was 16. Most of the characters have remained the same in this new version, although a few have been added and some have had their names changed. Some of the storylines are the same and some are new. The character who remains most unchanged from my early teenager version is the protagonist, Bill Robinson.
  2. I forgot about it until I found it in a suitcase. I had totally forgotten about the book I wrote aged 16 but never managed to finish, until I found it in an old suitcase under my bed. The suitcase was full of my old diaries and stories and things I had written for school. Amongst all that was a huge lever arch file with the unnamed manuscript in it. What an exciting find! I sat there on the floor and flicked through it. It was handwritten on shabby A4 paper and I’d kept a separate notebook for character bios and plot developments, much like I do now! There is even a handy map! I was actually very impressed with my 16 year old self and decided I had to rewrite and finish this novel!
  3. I wrote two short stories first. As I was already working on another novel, I couldn’t just start rewriting A Song For Bill Robinson right away. I was also putting a short story collection together so I decided to pen two short stories related to the novel, in a bid to keep the rest of it at bay. Bird People and Night Prowler can be found in my collection; Bird People and Other Stories. Bird People is really a character snapshot of Bill Robinson and I really enjoyed getting to know him again. Night Prowler serves as a prequel to the novel, explaining what happened first.
  4. The original book was inspired by The Commitments. Yes, when I was 16 I watched the film The Commitments and it inspired me to write a story about a grumpy working class boy who wanted to be a singer. The book has very different storylines but the singing part was definitely inspired by that film!
  5. It has evolved into a trilogy. My characters do this to me all the time! One book is just never enough for them. So, while I was already developing The Boy With The Thorn In His Side into a six book series, A Song For Bill Robinson ended on a cliffhanger that just had to be addressed in a follow-up. I wrote that book and will release it next year but the same thing happened at the end of that one! I am now working on the first draft of that third book.
  6. It has an amazing soundtrack. If you’ve read any of my other books, particularly The Boy With The Thorn In His Side books, you will know that I am a huge music fan and will write songs into my books if I can. Of course, with this book being about a singer, I was able to have a lot of fun choosing songs! From The Clash, to Jamie T, to The Four Tops and David Bowie…this book rocks! You can listen to the playlist via this Pinterest storyboard
  7. The characters gave me an extra storyline. Yes, they are so naughty like this. I already had a plot and some sub-plots. The attack on Bill starts the novel. Who attacked him and why, and is it connected to the unsolved murder of a local boy? These revelations come throughout the book as does the ongoing feud between Bill and local thug Charlie McDonnal, who Bill suspects of the murder. There is also the community centre under threat and the singing contest held to try to save it. Bill, of course, is a contender in the contest, but can he keep Charlie and his own inner, drink-related demons at bay long enough to win it? And in the middle of all this, my characters suggested a love triangle between the three main characters and best friends, Bill, Summer and Adam. This is a storyline that runs on into the next books.
  8. My daughter helped me edit it. My oldest daughter finished her GCSE’s and had a long summer ahead of her. Her main priority was reading lots of books! She offered to read the paperback proof of A Song For Bill Robinson for me and was an invaluable help. It’s aimed at her age group so I was curious about her reaction to it. She sped through it and loved the characters and she also sat with a pen as she read it, correcting typos and reordering words for me. She was brilliant! Of course it has had further edits and revisions before and after that as well as beta reader feedback, but her being the age it’s aimed at, really was a massive help.
  9. I wrote some songs for it. Well, sort of! You see, in the book, Bill ends up joining a band and playing covers with them. They want to write their own music though, so he starts trying to come up with some lyrics, something he does not think he can do to start with. So this meant I had to come up with some lyrics! And that’s mostly what there is in this book, disjointed lyrics for unnamed songs. But in the next two books those songs develop and become actual songs the band start singing at gigs.
  10. It’s set in a fictionalised version of the estate I grew up on. Just like Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, A Song For Bill Robinson is set on a council estate called Holds End. This is a fictionalised version of where I grew up. The books link slightly as Elliot mentions the Robinson family in his book and Elliot’s mother Laura, appears briefly in the next book in the Holds End trilogy. As for the location, I’ve kept most of it the same, changed a few roads names and added the community centre.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these random facts about my next book. In next week’s blog I should have news about the release date and a pre-order link for you!

The Mess Of Me Now

In 2013 I released my debut Young Adult novel, The Mess Of Me. Originally, it was part of the self-publishing platform, Autharium. I then got a publishing deal with a small press and removed it from Autharium. This did not go to plan as a whole year later the small press had done nothing and not responded to my messages, so I decided to take it back and put it back with Autharium…who then closed. Since then, it has been with Pronoun, who also closed, and with Amazon. Currently, like my other books, The Mess Of Me is self-published through the indie collective Pict Publishing, and there I hope, it will stay.

Six years though! In that time I have published eight more books, had another child and started my own Community Interest Company; Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. Life has indeed changed a lot.

But in many ways, Lou Carling, the 16-year-old narrator of The Mess Of Me, is still with me, perhaps increasingly so. I will perhaps explain in another blog post, another day, but for a while now I have not been feeling myself and in times when I am feeling down, Lou is the voice I hear the loudest.

Perhaps because she is the character most like me. They say that a grain of truth seeps into every work of fiction and I agree. They say that characters are often at least partially based on people we know, or on parts of ourselves, and again, I agree.

In fact, Lou is not just the character most like me. She pretty much is me. When I wrote that book, it was perhaps the most cathartic process for me. I had an idea for a plot, for characters, back story and so on, but more than all of that, I had a burning desire to just speak my thoughts through her. Everything Lou says, thinks and feels in The Mess Of Me comes from me. Me when I was a teenager, and me now. I still think of myself as a mess and I probably always will.

The issues with food are still there, just as I suspect they will always be there for Lou. It’s just that as you grow older, you work out ways to rationalise your irrational thoughts. Or as in my case, you have your own children and are determined to set a good example and not let them down.

But for me, The Mess Of Me is a voice in my head, and Lou’s voice is one I hear more than ever lately. I feel the strongest urge to write the sequel, which contains a storyline which is also something true from my own life, but at the moment there are too many other books in progress to focus on it.

Anyway, here are a few reasons why Lou is me and I am Lou;

  • She is obsessed with being thinner
  • she thinks her life will be better if she is thinner
  • every day she thinks and obsesses about being thinner
  • if she does not do anything to help her get thinner she feels like a failure
  • she puts all her thoughts and feelings in writing rather than actually telling people
  • she’s feels the pull of self-destructive behaviour and tries hard to resist
  • she thinks everyone else’s lives are far more interesting than her own
  • for this reason, despite not really liking humans too much, she is endlessly fascinated with them
  • she is in love with her best friend

For those of you perhaps interested in reading about Lou and Joe’s messy summer, the ebook is currently just 99p on Amazon and all other ebook platforms. Please consider leaving an honest review if you do happen to purchase the book. Many thanks!

5 Ways This Crazy World Helps My Writing

I could also have titled this post; ‘5 Ways Writing Helps Me Deal With This Crazy World’, because it works both ways. Writing helps me cope with this world and everything going on in it, and the world helps my writing by providing so much inspiration and material! Win win, if you want to put a positive spin on it. I could also have called this post; ‘How The Hell Do Non-Writers Even Survive?’, because seriously, I have no idea. If I didn’t have writing, I don’t know how would I cope. Anyway, here goes. The world is a messed up place but I don’t let any of it go to waste;

  1. Anxiety– I use the mess in my stomach and pretend I’m one of my characters. I play out the scene. I feel the churn and the dread weighing me down. That tightness in my chest. Like it’s hard to breathe. Like you don’t want to think about anything for too long or you might start crying and never stop. I take all that and put it into my characters. I become them. I play act. I change my worries and fears to theirs. I make use of it.
  2. I explore darkness – through my characters. Their stories are nearly all ones I have stood on the edge of. I’ve stood there and peered into the darkness. I’ve wondered about it and thought about it and been tempted by so many things inside the dark. But I have my characters and I explore it through them. I don’t have to go into the darkness, because I do it through them instead.
  3. I leave behind a legacy – For someone who is not religious, I’m not particularly scared of dying, but I do think about death a lot. Because the world is so messed up, and humans so delightfully flawed, I sometimes like to think of my books as my legacy. I’m leaving my thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and hopes inside my books and these will live on after I do. My response to this world and this life is my writing. All my books, all my stories, my characters are all little bits of me, all part of me and who I am and when I die, my ancestors will be able to know me better than anyone, by reading it all.
  4. I weave the craziness into my stories – I make sense of the world and politics and social issues by writing about them. Anything that angers, upsets or confuses me is woven into my stories. My books all deal with social issues and I love delving into gritty subjects in this way. It gives me a chance to sort through my own thoughts and beliefs, and this dying world gives me a lot of material.
  5. People watching for material -It’s weird being a writer because on the one side you are naturally introverted and shy, but on the other, you are constantly baring your fragile soul to the world. You often distrust people and try to avoid them, yet they are endlessly fascinating to you and provide juicy material for characters and stories. It’s great though because you can go out into the world, soak up all the messy people then come home and expel it all through words.

So, there you have it. I don’t like this world or the people in it a lot of the time. I’m terrified of where we are all heading. But at least I’m getting the constant urge to write! What do you think, folks? Please feel free to comment and/or share. Does writing help you deal with the state of the world right now, or the worries in your own life? Or is the world happily providing you with enough material for a lifetime?

 

The Seeds that Sow a Book…

As launch day for my next book,Β Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human NatureΒ 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.Β 

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.