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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The Tree Of Rebels and Disconnection From Nature

So it’s finally here! The day has finally arrived! Sometimes when in the middle of writing and rewriting and crafting a book, publication day can feel like an impossibility. Something so far in the future it feels like it will never happen. The Tree Of Rebels felt like an impossible thing more than once. This was a very tough book to write and one I had a constant love/hate relationship with. It’s very different from my other books and I wrote it with an audience in mind, something I’d never done before.

As I’ve mentioned before, the seed of this book was sown while scrolling through Facebook one day. I’d kept seeing these petitions to sign to stop Monsanto patenting seeds. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but what I did read and digest alarmed me and got the cogs turning in my head. I’ve often thought about nature and who owns it. Have you ever walked through the woods or across a field, only to be stopped by a fence and a Private Property sign? Have you ever stood on a high hill and looked down at the landscape and realised how restricted our movements actually are? How the paths and roads have been laid out for you and how signs and fences stop us roaming as we once did?

The more I thought about large corporations owning seeds and nature and having that control over the food chain, the more I imagined a frightening dystopian world where growing your own food is banned. This might seem like a far fetched idea right now, but for some people this is already becoming a reality. Believe it or not, there are places in America where people are not allowed to have backyard gardens or chickens. Where people can be arrested for attempting to gather rainwater. The frightening future is already on its way…

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Distrustful of GMO’s, hormones in meat, anti-biotics in milk and pesticides on fruit and vegetable, more and more people are turning to growing their own food. Self-sufficiency is becoming popular again, and you can’t deny this is a form of rebellion, of taking back control. It’s vital for our planet too. The meat and dairy industry is literally killing the earth.

Dystopian future in mind, I already knew I wanted to write a young adult book. The protagonist, 13-year-old Lissie had been evolving in my imagination for some time, and now she finally had a place to play and grow. The book undoubtedly evolved into something more than I had envisioned. It’s not just about seeds or a post-apocalyptic future, it’s about rebellion, questioning the status quo, defying your parents and searching for the truth, no matter who it hurts. All classic issues in the complicated journey of growing up.

But one of the main messages I hope people pick up from this book if they do indeed pick up any is the consequences of becoming disconnected from nature.

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. A head in the clouds type of girl. I love nothing more than a walk down the lane, to the river, or across the fields, the common, or the woods. Something special happens to us when we are in nature, when we walk barefoot upon the earth, when we touch trees, smell leaves and view flowers and wild animals. Sometimes I think I might be a bit odd. I have very strong urges to touch and hug trees. They call to me, they really do. Once I lay my hand on the trunk of an ancient Oak, I find it very hard to pull away. I can’t get over the fact they are helping me to breathe! They are eating pollution. Without them, we would all die. The same goes for the humble bee and other vital pollinators. We simply cannot afford to ignore nature. We are nature. And I truly worry that many of us have forgotten.

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Where I live is very beautiful, but I fear that others do not see it. When they race their cars down the narrow lane and hurl their rubbish into the bushes, I fear they never linger long enough to see the beauty and majesty of the trees. I fear they have no clue that they would die if the trees were not there. I’m fascinated by the unseen lives of birds, insects, and animals. I’ll stare at birds in the sky, watching their flight, hearing their cry, wondering where they are going and where they live and what they do. I want to know. I want to be part of their world. Sometimes I feel like I am trespassing. Especially come dusk when the bats start circling and the owls start hooting. This is their time, not mine. How they must despise us, I often think.

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I think the thing we are often missing is gratitude and wonder. I am in awe of nature which makes me want to protect and nurture it. Sadly, others just don’t see it at all. In truth, this means they do not see themselves. They are disconnected from it, therefore they don’t care about it or appreciate it. If you don’t care about something, or see the value in it, you’re not going to go out of your way to protect it, are you?

In Lissie’s world, the people are taken care of. They are housed and fed and educated and worked. There is no war or violence. They have returned to traditional ways, fearful of the technological world that enabled war and destruction to almost wipe out the entire human race. But in order to keep them contained, the people are separate from nature. Food is grown and delivered to them. Animals are raised in domes . Unwanted plants are circled and torn up. Wild animals are feared and killed. They know very little of the natural world. And this is all sold to them as the perfect world. A society without war and hunger and homelessness. A safe, sheltered, catered for life. It’s Lissie who resists this version of life and strives to find out more about the outside world. A true rebel, spurred on by the dying words of her Great-Grandmother, she seeks the truth. What happened to the Old World? Who destroyed it and why?

Please feel free to leave a comment! What are your fears for the future? Do you enjoy reading post-apocalyptic or dystopian books, and if so why? How do you feel about the issues of humans becoming disconnected from nature? What can we do about any of it? I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

Character Interview – Lissie Turner; The Tree Of Rebels

1 ) Tell us what your positive character traits are

I’m loyal…well, some people might disagree with that. But I know I’m loyal to my friends. I’m a dreamer. My parents wouldn’t call that a positive thing, but my Great-Grandmother would. I’m fast! I am the fastest girl in Province 5! I’m fierce when I need to be and I won’t be bullied.

2)What would you say are your negative character traits?

That I’m a dreamer…I have my head in the clouds and I’m not ready to be an adult yet. That I’m nosy and stubborn. I’m rebellious, although I only found that out recently.

3) What are your current ambitions or dreams?

I want to get out of Province 5. I dream about other places and people and other ways of life. I want to know more about how and why the Old World died and I want to have a say in the future. I don’t like everything I see here at home, and I want to explore, try things out, question things.

4) What are your fears?

My fears are that I will never leave the Province or find out what happened to the Old World. I fear I will let my parents down, no matter what I do. I fear destroying my family and being all alone. I also fear the truth. I know we are not being told the truth here and that scares me. Life is pretty good here. No one complains. Everyone has everything they need and everything is calm and peaceful. But I know it’s all based on lies. Sometimes I think the truth scares me more than anything.

5) Do you have any enemies?

Yes, Saul Lancaster has been my enemy for as long as I can remember. I could never work it out before, because his father, the Governor here in Province 5 seems to really think highly of my family and even gave me special duties in his garden. But Saul hates me and has had it in for me since we were little kids. He’s a bully and I despise him. If he ever ends up in charge of this place, he’ll be the worst Governor ever! As for Soren Lancaster, his father, I think he might be my enemy too. He’s trying very hard to keep me on side, but he knows I know things I shouldn’t. He knows I am dangerous.

6) Tell us about your best friend

Ned is my best friend. His parents are friends with mine. I’ve always had to stick up for him because of people like Saul, and because his parents don’t seem to notice he is even alive. Their first son died, you see, and although Ned came along, they never got over t and can’t seem to see him at all. Poor Ned. He’s the best friend ever. He’s not scared of anything. He’s like me. He just wants to be excited, he just wants to ask questions and know stuff! we’re in this together. I feel bad about getting him into trouble too but he says he doesn’t care.

7) What’s your biggest secret?

My biggest secret is my Great-Grandmother’s diary. She wrote it when she was a girl like me, so it’s our only bit of history. It’s a true account of what it was like in the Old World where they had online and cars and stuff like that! It’s so fascinating to read, I just can’t put it down. There are wars going on all over the place and they’re on the run now because they got in trouble for growing their own food! I’m learning so much about how things used to be and how things ended up like this.

8) Do you have any regrets?

Hmm, not yet. I do feel guilty. I feel guilty about lying to my parents, hiding the diary and going outside of the Province. I feel guilty that I am not what they want me to be. But I don’t regret any of it. Not yet.

9) Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

Well, if nothing changes, I will be living in my own hut, probably coupled and probably with a child. I will be working for Animal Control or the hospital like my parents. I will be just like them. But if everything changes? Who knows? I could be out there! Free. I could be wandering around, setting up camp, sleeping under the stars, like Aisha and the other rebels. I could be a rebel. I think I am a rebel.

Where Is My Mind?? On End Of Term Brain Fog

I feel like I’ve done a lot of stupid things lately. You know, how we all have days when our brain just isn’t functioning properly? You go upstairs to get something, then come back down empty handed? You tell people the same thing more than once? You go the shop to buy something and come out with something else entirely? This is all annoying stuff, but what it if gets worse? What if you forget people’s birthdays or special events? What if you make arrangements and then totally forget about them? You start to feel like you are losing your mind.

Last Saturday I had an event to go to. It was a bit of a weird one that came about due to a conversation via Twitter months ago. Another author tagged me in a Tweet from Waterstones asking if there were any YA authors in the Bournemouth area. I replied yes, someone took my email address, and that was that for a while. It later transpired that they wanted someone local to interview two YA authors (proper ones, with actual books in actual Waterstones.) I thought why the hell not? It will be an experience. These past few years I’ve been saying yes to a lot of stuff I once would have said no to, and the results have been quite fun. So I looked up the authors, did my research, purchased some books and put some questions together.

I sorted out childcare and turned up on Saturday afternoon fully prepared and intrigued. Only to be told it was the wrong day.

I wanted the floor to open up and pull me in.

I felt my face catch on fire, mumbled something about it being fine for me to come again tomorrow and hurried out of the shop.

I felt so pissed off with myself after that. I had been utterly convinced it was Saturday. But they were quite right. I checked all the emails later that night. 16th July. Sunday. How could I possibly have got it so wrong? Why on earth was I so convinced the 16th was a Saturday? Why did I not double check? What the hell is wrong with me?

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I really didn’t want to go back the next day, but I did. I didn’t see the shop girl I had blushed in front of the day before, so I decided to play it cool and pretend it never happened. The lady who organised the event introduced me to the authors, we all had a drink in the cafe and then I interviewed them while the organiser filmed us. Scary stuff, and totally new to me, but I did it. Plus, I’d developed a heavy cold overnight and was feeling terrible. I don’t think I want to watch it when it ends up on Twitter. But I did it.

That mistake was embarrassing, but there have been loads of instances like this lately and I think I have a good old fashioned case of ‘end of term brain fog’. I see the other mums in the morning on the school run, and I know from the brief snatches of conversation we get between shoving kids into school, that we are all running on empty, and counting the minutes down to the summer holiday.

Of course, entertaining kids for six weeks and juggling commitments brings its own anxieties, but at least there is less structure, less of a time scale to keep to. We can do stuff or we can laze about. We can book some busy days and we can have stay at home days. We don’t have to get up early or make lunch boxes or iron the school clothes. We can all take our time and just breathe…

Brain fog is horrible. Forgetting stuff and getting in a muddle is really frustrating, especially when you are trying so damn hard to look like you’ve got your shit together! All the mums I know work bloody hard. They all have jobs, many of them self-employed so they can work it around the kids, and they all do the bulk of the housework as well. They spend their days shaking kids out of bed, shovelling breakfast into them, dealing with fussiness and dragging feet, checking the time, finding the car keys, getting stuck in traffic, and all the time your mind is already on all the other things you’ve got to do that day…so much so that on some days you actually can’t wait for the day to be over.

These last few months have been pretty full on. I’ve been preparing The Tree Of Rebels for release (11th August!!!) and I was working for many weeks on a workshop I ran on living the Indie Life. (I ran this the weekend before last and managed NOT to screw anything up!!) I am also in the process of turning my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group into a Community Interest Company. This is taking up a lot of my time. And then have have been all the things I’ve said yes to…

Maybe I need a few months of slowing down…

Perhaps my brain is trying to tell me something. I’ve had so many ‘oh my god, what is wrong with me’ moments lately, I’ve genuinely started to worry if I’ve got some sort of early dementia.

Hopefully not. For now, I will blame it on that frazzled end-of-school-year feeling and look forward to a lovely six weeks with my kids!

Over to you! Do you suffer from brain fog? Is it worse at certain times of the year? Have you done anything really embarrassing lately? Do let me know and feel free to comment and share!