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!

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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, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Catch-up Interview with Author Kate Rigby

Just over a year ago I posted my very first author-to-author interview to this blog. I was honoured to host the wonderful Kate Rigby, an indie author I had discovered by chance. You can read the interview here. I’m a huge fan of Kate Rigby, and I’ve been working my way through her huge back catalogue since I came across her on social media. I think we’re fairly similar in style and content, and we certainly have the same views in life, so inevitably we’ve become friends and even got to meet up with each other a few months ago! Anyway, I thought it would be great to celebrate a year of author interviews by catching up with Kate to see what she’s been up to since the last interview! Kate has the experience of being both traditionally and independently published, so it’s always interesting to talk to her.

1- It’s been a while since we last chatted – can you tell us what you’ve been doing since then? What books are you working on etc?

Yes, the only new book I’ve been working on at the moment is one I began circa 2005. It’s about a neighbourhood conflict but the political climate of that time which formed the backdrop has changed a lot. So in a way it’s been more difficult trying to bring it up to date than if I was starting it anew. I have spent many years converting my backlist into digital format, this was the one I left until last and inevitably it got more and more out of date! The more out of date it got the more daunting the thought of updating it became. But I need to finish it this year. I planned to finish it last year but things didn’t quite work out that way! I think it’s nearly there or it may be I’m just tired of it now but I’m struggling with the title, not something I usually do.

2- Thalidomide Kid is a story about Daryl, who was born without arms due to the Thalidomide tragedy. Could you tell us what inspired you to write this novel?

thalidomidekid

I think it was a gradual evolution and dovetailing of several ideas. I had an idea for a short story involving someone who cut the limbs off their rag dolls (as my sister and I did!) and the idea for a Thalidomide survivor very much fitted together with that idea. I also had an idea about writing a book in a school setting. I wanted it to be retro and to draw upon my own schooldays, so that side of it became (partially) autobiographical. I spent the same years in Cirencester though I slightly changed the name of the secondary school. There was a boy who was a Thalidomide survivor at the school I went to in Liverpool, although I didn’t really know him and visually he was very different to Daryl. But I wanted Daryl’s disability to be incidental and not the raison d’etre for the story. Yes, it has an impact on his relationships and the way his peers relate to him, but he’s also just another kid growing up and having to deal with what all adolescents do: romantic encounters, sexual awakening and friendships with his added disability.

3- How do you think things have changed for people with disabilities since you wrote Thalidomide Kid? Are they better or worse?

I’m not sure how they are for schoolchildren today, I am hoping things are a lot better with all the strides that have been made by people with disabilities for parity in all spheres of life, the Equality Act and so on. I like to think that things like the Paralympics have made a lot of difference to how kids view disability but at the same time I think the pendulum is swinging the other way due to contradictory government policies. You only have to look at the rise in disability hate crime and the number of attacks on people with disabilities, stoked up by the right wing tabloids to justify stripping people of their benefit entitlements. I could get very political here! But it does make me really angry and ashamed to think this is the way society is heading, after all the decades of progress. It just goes to show how fragile progress is and that we can’t take anything for granted.

4- How much research went into the book?

I mainly based it on observation although I will always try and research around areas where there are gaps in my knowledge. But I do like to be accurate and authentic if possible and of course I had a publisher – Bewrite Books – for this novel so had the added input from the wonderful editorial team at that time. I often get my information from TV programmes or documentaries that just happen to be on during the course of writing a book. But having been a child in the 60s I do remember the climate and the impact of the Thalidomide drug. Every child of that era knew of it.

5-I know you are politically active, and in our last interview, you mentioned keeping a ‘campaign diary’, perhaps with a view to releasing another ‘Guide To…’ style book. Is this still something you might do?

Yes, this follows on nicely from the question about whether things have changed for people with disabilities. I began the Campaign Diary in 2012 when I saw how bad things were getting for people with long term health problems and disabilities under the Welfare Reform Act. After yet another person died, quite needlessly, I felt I needed to record it in words. I didn’t really know her, although we’d spoken now and again on Social Media and her name was mentioned on Question Time. But there have been so many needless deaths. There’s much solidarity along many campaigners. This is important because all the time the government rely on divide and rule tactics to divert us when we need to be united. I just had to begin writing down all the terrible things that were happening, as some sort of outlet, and as documentation. Some of it is just copying and pasting from articles until I can get round to shaping into something. Now it has moved on to Brexit and Trump and other depressing things, although Welfare Reform still plays the largest part. It is all too close and depressing but one day I may have the energy and the distance to distil it. Having said that, there are various things relating to it that I’ve incorporated into my current novel.

As for the Little Guides, yes, they are a lot more fun! I have only written Little Guide To Unhip so far but that went down well on Authonomy when I first showcased it and subsequently when it was published. I have ideas for several more but they are stuck in the backlog! But they don’t require a lot of planning and plotting, so they could be done relatively quickly.

6-Do you have any promotion/marketing tips for newbie indies out there? Has anything been a particular success?

Ooo, I wish I knew the answer to that one! I think it’s what all indie authors want – to find that golden goose. Things are changing so fast too, that what worked a few years ago, or today, may no longer work tomorrow. I do the occasional paid promotion with tried-and-tested promo sites but if I break even that is good. The general advice is to build up your reviews so that you get more visibility on place like Amazon. But people rarely leave reviews these days, even friends who mention how much they’ve enjoyed a book, and I’m not very good at asking people to post reviews! I don’t wish to sound as if I’m nagging. I prefer to approach review bloggers who like my work and there are some wonderful dedicated bloggers out there doing a fantastic job of featuring or reviewing indie authors on their blogs. It’s just a question of finding the ones who review in your genre and like your work. And of course interviews and guest posts like this all help to garner visibility! Another area that is growing is audiobooks and that’s something I would like to explore at some point. The thing that has been most successful in all my years of writing was having a traditional publisher. I was very lucky to find one back in the day when books were all paper and there were many more bookshops. They did all the marketing, they had the contacts and they did get me some reviews in some thrilling places like The Times and The Face as well as publication in the States. But those times are gone. Even people with traditional publishing contracts these days are expected to put in a lot of the leg work and time on social media, so the lines between different publishing contracts are blurring.

7-If you could rewrite any of your novels now, would you, and if so what would you change?

Not so much a major rewrite but maybe some major tweaking. Nowadays that is easy to do with the advent of digital technology but with my first published novel, Fall Of The Flamingo Circus, once it was in print that was it! If I was writing it now I would have included more about punk music and bands than I did and also I’d have had Lauren in a band. In fact she was based on a character I invented called Donna who was in a band so I just don’t know why I didn’t translate that into the book. When I brought it out digitally a few years ago that was the time to rewrite it but because it was successful as it was I decided to leave it be. I also should have properly capitalised on the relative success of Flamingo Circus. I had a publisher and an agent at that time and they were trying to help me with my follow up book but I didn’t really take on board their feedback. They say that it’s harder to get a second book published than a first and I think that was very true in my case.

8-You’ve covered so many gritty social issues in your novels, such as domestic abuse, substance abuse, homelessness, racism, runaways, disabilities and even feral children. What else is left to do? What else would you like to get your teeth into?

I think humanity is such that you never run out of things to get your teeth into! It may seem as if I’m an issue-based writer but often it’s the characters that come first. I have a backlog of ideas for novels and short stories. Sometimes a couple of ideas for short stories, for instance, will be combined into something longer. I also want to get on with the Little Guides and have also been doing some poetry so I have an idea of putting together a collection of that too at some point. Shorter pieces in the form of poetry, flash fiction or short stories seem to be the way forward, not only because of my own health and time restrictions these days, but also seem to lend themselves more to the 21st century way of life where there’s so much more vying for people’s attention but only the same number of hours to read it in, and that’s just the literature! The same is happening in art, photography and music. If people have to leave Facebook and click on a link to read more or listen to something they tend not to. So their attention needs to be held before that. This is where poetry, art or photography have the advantage in their immediacy. I also want to write something more autobiographical, not that I’ve led a particularly exciting life but I have a plan to do a slightly different take on it. My mum, on the other hand, lived through WW11 and has written an autobiography of her early years but she doesn’t want to get it published! But it would be nice to get it into print form for the family and the technology exists for that too these days.

9- Do you currently have any characters in your head who are waiting their turn to get written?

At the present time, it’s more a question of following up on characters from former novels to see where they’re at now. I already decided to do a follow up of Down The Tubes as some readers wanted to know what happens next! I already knew in my mind some things that have happened so thought I should write about it but just haven’t caught up with myself yet. I’ve never been one to do series or sequels but one reviewer expressed an interest in a follow up to Thalidomide Kid and I’ve also left other novels open-ended, like Savage To Savvy, which would lend themselves to a sequel. So maybe I will do some sequels after all!

10-What are you hoping to achieve in 2017?

For the last two or three years I’ve tried to set myself writing goals as well as other goals. This year I tried not to be too ambitious as for the last couple of years I found that I didn’t achieve them and then felt very disappointed with myself. So this year I have been more realistic and then I won’t feel as if I’ve failed dismally! My writing goals for 2017 are to finish the novel I’m currently working on, bring another of my books out in paperback (perhaps Fruit Woman or The Dead Club, both would be nice) and begin the follow up to Down The Tubes. I think that is manageable!

Thanks very much, Chantelle, for this interview – I’ve really enjoyed it.

If you would like to find out more about Kate Rigby and her books, here are the links!

Amazon Page / Facebook Author Page / Goodreads / Website/Blog