Second Draft Joy

Back in December, I penned this post Why My Favourite Draft Is The Second, while I was busy writing the first draft of a YA novel called A Song For Bill Robinson. I was enjoying the first draft, but also realistic about its ugliness, and I was excited about going back to the second draft for the reasons I mentioned in the post.

Well, three months on, I am now well into that second draft, and enjoying it every bit as much as I said I would! It is easier than the first because the basic framework is there and the hard work has been done getting the story out of my head. I already know I can make it better and I have already listed and made notes of how to do this. The second draft is just fun!

I had to have a think about this earlier. Has this been the case with all my books? And I think the answer is yes. The first draft is the hardest for me. The later drafts are the most tedious because you know the story, and really you want to be writing something new, but you have to polish this thing up, cut bits out, sharpen it and refine it and make it as good as it was when it first appeared in your head. I think of the first and the final drafts as the real hard graft. The second, for me, is much more fun.

can you tell I'mhaving fun-

In many ways, the second is more of a read through than a rewrite or a detailed edit. After a break, I am familiarising myself with the story and getting to know the characters again. I read through each chapter, getting a sense of them and their motivations, making notes and finding my way back into it all. Of course, I fix any typos I come across, and I do a lot of deleting unnecessary and repetitive words or phrases. I tidy it up as much as I can, but at the same time, I know the more brutal cuts, the reshuffles and the changes in direction will all come much later. This is still very early days, and I want to enjoy it. I don’t feel the need to make any major decisions at this point.

At the moment, I am totally addicted to this particular story, which is also how I felt when I first wrote it. I suppose it’s more familiar ground for me as an author and a person. A gritty, contemporary YA drama with lots of dysfunctional family behaviours and social issues thrown in. I feel a passion for it. I want to tell these stories. And there are so many stories in this novel…

It’s fast paced. Which is good. I hope! On later drafts I might feel the need to slow things down a bit, my niggling worry being that it might come across as unrealistic for teens to have a life this dramatic. It’s literally a roller coaster of events, repercussions, consequences and drama. It’s full of highs and lows with plenty of unrequited love, dangerous lust, and familial miscommunication and resentment. Oh and of course, a rather wonderful soundtrack (the male protagonist is a talented singer) which ranges from The Four Tops and The Foundations, to Arctic Monkeys and Jamie T. There is just so much to play around with!

And I know I haven’t got it all right yet. I know I need to keep fleshing out the characters and finding stuff out about them. I know I need to work on the visuals, the environment, such as their homes and bedrooms and so on. I tend to forget about all that stuff on a first draft, knowing that no one else is going to read it for a long time. I just want to get the nitty gritty down first.

But at the moment I am enjoying the ride, and just felt the need to share that with you. Adding bits and cutting bits. Reading it like a reader and bloody enjoying the process. I can’t get enough of it.

I doubt I will feel this way by the time draft ten comes around, so this is why I savour the second draft so much. I know the time will come when I almost come to hate this book. I have been there with The Tree Of Rebels many times, and Elliott Pie reached that point just recently before I sent it out to a second round of betas. I was sick of it. I am sick of it. Diving into this much fresher book has been just what I needed.

So, for me anyway, I give my thanks to the wonderful second draft, with the foundations laid down and the really hard work yet to come. I shall enjoy the party while it lasts.

 

I’ve Got A New Book Out!

Happy Friday everyone!

This is just a quick and cheeky post to let you all know I have a new book out. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you will already be more than aware of this! But I wouldn’t be doing the whole social media thing right if I didn’t post the news to my blog too, would I?

Bird People and Other Stories is a short story collection I have been putting together for about a year now. In fact, I have another blog post and the very wise words of a follower on Goodreads to thank for this whole thing!

You see I wrote this blog post almost a year ago, which was all about getting my arse into gear the next time I had a novel out. I wrote a detailed plan regarding promotion, and some kindly fellow on Goodreads suggested writing short stories related to my novels as an added promotional tool. As soon as he suggested it, I got excited. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

My mind went into overdrive over the next few days, and within the week I had several short stories already drafted. You all know how I feel about my characters, so the thought of writing extra stories from different character points of view was too enticing to resist. I had all sorts of ideas swimming around in my head, and the pen to paper was in overdrive. It was fantastic. I felt like there was no limit to where I could go with this.

Well, here it is and I really hope you like it. For people who have already read my work, you will find in this collection, two stories related to The Mess Of Me (one story from Leon’s point of view and one from Marianne’s.) You will find three stories related to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side ; one from Jack’s POV, one from Lucy’s, and one which is actually the ending I had in mind at one time! You will find a short story called The Collection, which is a teaser for my work in progress Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. (It’s essentially the basic plot squished into a short story.) You will also find two stories related to a book I wrote when I was sixteen and discovered fairly recently in a suitcase under my bed (blog post here) I have since plotted the book and titled it A Song For Bill Robinson. Nightprowler is a prequel to the novel, and Bird People a character snapshot. You will also find a short story called She Is… This is another fledgling idea for a novel, one that I do not have the time to write for a while, but writing the short story helped ease the pressure! And finally, Tales From Province 5 includes three short stories which are teasers for my next novel The Tree Of Rebels.

Hopefully, there is something here for everyone. For loyal readers, something new, something different, and lots to tease! And for newcomers, a genuine taste of the way I write and what I write about…all for the attractive promotional price of 99p/99c.

Enjoy! And thank you 🙂

What Comes First? The Characters or the Plot?

 

What comes first? The characters of the plot? I guess the answer is different for every writer, and often different for every book. I’ve been thinking about this since one of my daughters showed a rare interest in my writing and asked me what came first; my characters or my plots? My immediate answer was the characters, as this is how it so often feels. But as I went through the novels one by one, I had to admit that it’s different each time. For example, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was an idea that grew into a character, followed by a more complex plot. The Tree of Rebels, which will be my next release, was undoubtedly plot before characters, more so than any other book I’ve written. I’ve blogged before about how difficult this made the process, and how it has taken longer for me to understand my characters and feel comfortable with them. With Elliot Pie (a book only in its first draft) it was the character first, but his character, in being someone who was intrinsically curious about strangers, was the plot. So they evolved simultaneously.

Having thought about it for some time I realised that my novels, This Is Nowhere and The Mess Of Me both have something in common. They were both written in the same way. I had the character first, and then had to create a plot to go with them.

I’m not sure this is the best way to write a book, but it’s just the way it worked with these two. With This Is Nowhere, I had the character in my head for some time, and with the character came the whole feel and tone of the book. Slightly sombre, dark around the edges, yet gentle, confused, struggling through mystery. I knew the character was a male in his late twenties or early thirties, and I knew he was rootless and aimless, a drifter. He had never grown up, but why was that? I knew he had a bad relationship with his father but the rest of that came much later. I knew he had a recurring stomach ailment, and had turned his back on the religion he had been brought up with. I had images in my head of a boy running across a sun baked field, though running from what I had no idea. The whole thing seemed to evolve in my head through feelings and images. I got the idea for the plot involving his missing mother when I was walking my dogs in the woods one day. I’m pretty sure, though it is hard to recall now, that my daughter had spoken to me about a missing persons case, and that had set something off in my head. What if this drifter was to return to his small home town in order to find out what happened to his mother, who vanished when he was a child?

With The Mess Of Me it was harder. In this case, I would probably not advise coming up with the character before the plot, although in all honesty I had absolutely no control over this!

Lou Carling started talking to me when I was about half way through writing The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. This was fantastic to me at the time. Having had a long break from writing, in tackling The Boy I was giving it all a go again, seeing if I still had the urge and the passion. When Lou started talking and grumbling, I was overjoyed because I had that feeling again. Of fireworks and ideas exploding in my head, of panic and excitement knotting in my belly, of wanting to hurry home to the laptop, of needing to scrawl notes onto scrap paper so I wouldn’t lose a thing. Essentially, Lou let me know that it was back. Writing was back.

I let her babble on for a while, mostly because she really amused me. She had just finished her GCSE’s and had a long summer before A-Levels ahead of her. She was deeply cynical about everything and everyone, and had a rather filthy mouth. Her best friend was a boy called Joe, a lanky, hazel eyed boy whose mother was her mother’s best friend. I could see Lou and hear her. In fact she barely left me alone. She would have constant conversations in my head, really interesting little nuggets of dialogue I just had to scribble down for later. But I had no plot. What was this book going to be about? What was going to happen to her? What did she want? What did she fear?

It took a while, but I got there in the end purely by listening to her, and being witness to the world that started to build around her. The claustrophobic council estate, growing up without money, feeling exasperated and embarrassed by her family. Hating everyone, especially herself.

I’m happy to admit that large parts of Lou are based on me, on my own experiences, on my own views and feelings growing up. In many ways, she is the character closest to me, at that age anyway. But I allowed her more freedom, letting her express herself when I was too shy to. Immensely liberating, I can tell you. The plot I ended up with actually came from a strange childhood memory.

When I was young, my mother had a friend who had five sons. She was a larger than life kind of woman, large in build and large in voice. She would sweep you in for a cuddle and nearly break your bones. She used to make jokes about swapping my mum’s daughters for her sons, and I used to think she was serious, and I was just a little bit afraid of her. I loved going to her house to play though. With her two youngest sons, me and my sister and brother used to trespass onto the grounds of their local school and play games with their pet dog. We would climb and hide in trees and bushes and behind walls and the dog would look for us. I can also remember playing with a huge mound of cardboard boxes in their back garden, making dens out of them, climbing up them and leaping off to crush the boxes below.

Her three older sons were teenagers when we were small. They flitted in and out of the background, and as I was so shy I probably never spoke to any of them. I watched them get the odd clip around the ear. One even had his mouth washed out with soap one day. But they were like mysteries to me. Part of my life, and yet totally unknown. They could have been anyone. They could have had any kind of life without me knowing. I had no idea who they were, where they went to, what they did, or what they dreamed about.

One day we were coming up the front path and one of the teenage boys was sat on the doorstep with his head in his hands looking absolutely miserable. In the cool dark of the kitchen, I overheard my mother’s friend telling my mum he was in so much trouble. They muttered and murmured in there for some time, while he remained on the doorstep. I never did find out what he’d done wrong.

So somehow, for some reason, this all crept into Lou’s world. The house full of boys. The mother on the warpath, driven to distraction by her unruly brood. Having these people you’ve grown up with, and yet never really know. Mysteries that unravel just out of reach and over the heads of young children who are told to go out and play.

The drug running storyline was of course utterly fabricated. It could have been anything really, the trouble the boys were in. Everything else from here on was pure imagination!

In many ways the drug running activities of Joe’s older brothers, and the way both Joe and Lou get pulled into it all, is a sub-plot to the main one, which is simply Lou’s journey over that summer. Her determination to lose weight and get skinny. Her finding herself, without it sounding too much of a cliche, was central to it all.

So that’s the story of The Mess Of Me. Where it came from and how it happened. It is probably my most character driven book, with the plot almost taking a back seat to the characters.

What about you? As a reader, do you ever wonder what came first, the plot or the characters? Can you ever tell?

What about you writers? Is it always the plot first, the characters later? Or the other way around? Which way does it happen for you, and does it make it harder to write if it happens in a way you are not used to?

Feel free to comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Kurt Cobain; Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

The Boy

“People always say they can remember exactly where they were when a big news story broke. You know, like Kennedy being shot, or Martin Luther King being assassinated, or Elvis being found dead on his toilet. I didn’t used to care, or pay much attention, until it happened to me. I will remember forever and ever where I was, what I was doing, even what I was fucking wearing the day I heard that Kurt Cobain was dead.

I was in The Record Shop again. I had only been in about five minutes, brimming with excitement, clutching the money to pay for the stack of singles and albums I had piled up behind the counter. Beck’s Loser, Oasis’ Supersonic, Talking Head’s Remain In Light and Pixies Surfer Rosa. See? Remember them all. I was wearing blue baggy jeans, and I had just been thinking that I must have lost a bit of weight because I had to keep hitching them up, and I was feeling pissed off about this. I wanted to be getting bigger for God’s sake, not smaller. I had on an old Clash t-shirt I had picked up in a charity shop, and my beloved baseball boots which were coming apart at the soles. I went around the counter, and clutched the records to my chest, inhaling the musty smell of them while Terry chucked my money into the till. He was drooped over his stool, mug of tea steaming in front of him, and a stack of dusty cassettes to one side, waiting to be shelved. 

You still don’t have a record player to play them on do you?’ he asked, struggling to disguise his own amusement.

Gonna’ ask for one for my next birthday.’

You’re weird, you know that? All the other kids are getting into the CD’s mate. That’s the new thing! You’re going bloody backwards!’

I like old things,’ I shrugged defensively. I stayed where I was behind the counter, stalling for time by gazing longingly at my records and wondering if he would allow me to turn off the radio and put one on. We heard the news announcement at the same time. We both lifted our heads instantly when we heard the words spoken. Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain has been found dead at his Washington home. It was a long, stretched out moment, dizzying and sick, and I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world, just crashed on out under my feet. I was standing on nothing. The fat man was staring at me and I was staring back at him. My mouth fell open in slow motion, registering the horror. Terry’s face seemed to twist in shock, his eyes becoming loaded with despair and disbelief. I was rigid and could not speak.

Oh my God,’ Terry whispered as the news reporter rattled on.

I held my records to my chest and shook my head. ‘Can’t be true,’ I heard my voice croak. I walked stiffly then, around the counter and towards the door.

Oh shit,’ he was saying behind me. ‘Not another one. Jesus fucking Christ, it’s never fucking Michael Bolton or Phil Collins is it? Hey? Hey Danny, come on, you all right mate?’

Can’t be true,’ I said. I wrenched the door open and started running.

I ran all the way home. I stumbled up the driveway with my sweaty hair plastered to my face. I barely paid attention to the two cars parked in the drive as I dashed past them, still clutching my records, all my coherent thoughts commanding me to get to the television, to find out more. I ran into Howard and Freeman in the back garden. They had the barbecue going and were lounging in plastic garden chairs, smoking and drinking beers. There was an instant and undeniable light that leaped into Howard’s eyes when he saw me.

Whoa look who it is! Our number one man!’ Freeman greeted me as he often did, with just a silent nod of his head. ‘You heard the big news yet eh?’ I scowled at the snake like smile that crawled across his face, and the delight that shone in his beady eyes, and turned away from them, into the house. There was a roar of laughter behind me. Their footsteps echoed mine. ‘Don’t you love this about Danny?’ Howard was asking Freeman. ‘He’s so bloody talkative!’

I hurried into the lounge, placed my records on the sofa, turned the TV on and started to flick through the channels with the remote. They came into the room behind me, and ordinarily the fear would have started to crawl down my spine, but I was too absorbed, too desperate to hear it was all a joke, a mistake. 

Ah looks like he already knows,’ said Howard, drinking from his beer bottle. ‘Oh damn, I was looking forward to telling you. What a fucking loser eh Danny? That so called hero of yours, that idiot junkie? Worthless piece of shit, blowing his own head off when he has a wife and a baby daughter!’

I barely heard him, and I stopped flicking channels because I had found him. There he was, locked inside the TV set like so many times before, on Top Of The Pops and MTV. They were playing the video to Smells Like Teen Spirit, and there he was, in his striped top, peering through his blonde hair as he snarled the lyrics. He came up to the camera lens, shook his hair from his eyes, and I mouthed the words as he sung them.  My eyes tracked down to the information that was running along the bottom of the screen.  Kurt Cobain found dead in his Washington home. 

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My mouth fell open and I reached out with one hand, placing it shakily on top of the television to steady myself. I forced a deep breath of terrible, heart breaking shock. I listened in mounting sorrow, as the reporter relayed the information that he had probably been dead for a few days, that it appeared he had died from a shotgun wound to the head, and that a suicide note had been found at the scene. But at the same time, there he was, alive and kicking, killing his guitar, thrashing the hell out of it, while the cheerleaders bounced up and down in slow motion. They started playing shots from their other videos and from live performances, Kurt destroying his guitar and hurling himself into the drum set.

I wanted to reach into the TV. I wanted someone to speak out, to voice a doubt, to suggest it was someone else, not him. The footage then went on to show the thousands of distraught and weeping fans that had already gathered outside his home. Howard made a disgusted sound from behind me.

Oh Christ look at them all! Pissing and moaning! What a bunch of babies. Christ, they all look like you Danny, like they’re fucking homeless! It’s a bloody uniform, the way you all dress.’

Shut up,’ I growled the word from the very back of my constricted throat. It was all so wrong. All of it. He was just a young man, just twenty-seven years old, how could he be dead? How could it be over? I pressed one hand to my mouth and became slowly aware of the icy silence behind me.

You better not have told me to shut up.’

I didn’t reply. I chewed at my thumbnail and tried to take it all in. They were talking about drugs and depression now, showing clips of him looking ill, or sad, as if that was all it came down to. And it made me feel angry the flippant way they discussed the loss of this genius young man.

Don’t get it,’ Howard announced. ‘Do you Jack? Don’t get all the fuss. It’s not like when Elvis died for God’s sake. Just some drugged up scruff who made whiny depressing music. You wait now, bloody hoards of ‘em will start topping themselves! Come on, turn that off now. We’ve had enough of that shit.’

I want to listen,’ I protested, not looking at him.

Pathetic,’ he sneered, coming closer. I stood my ground, spreading my legs and holding onto the TV. ‘Turn it off I said.’

I gestured in frustration. ‘It’s not finished, I just want to listen!’

Don’t fucking argue with me, turn it off now, or I will!’

I gritted my teeth and stepped closer to the TV. ‘I just want to listen. You weren’t watching it.’

What else do you need to hear for fucks sake? Your hero is dead, little man. There you go. Who gives a flying fuck anyway?’

Shut up!’ I pushed the words through my tightly clenched teeth as my eyes bored into the TV screen, both my hands now balled into fists at my sides. The thick hand crashed into my skull from behind, knocking me into the TV which rocked back slightly on its stand. Then the hand was closing on my neck, wrenching me backwards and hurling me down to the floor.

Don’t you ever tell me to shut up you little prick!’ The hateful face was right there, breathing beer and juicy fruit chewing gum into mine. I shuffled backwards, back towards the sofa, holding onto my head and weeping. I pressed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see any of it anymore, didn’t want to hear it or believe it was true. Howard straightened up and stalked arrogantly around the back of the TV where he ripped the plug right out of the wall socket. There was only watchful silence from Jack Freeman in the doorway, and I didn’t care anyway, because nothing mattered, because everything was shit. They’d killed him; they’d taken him from me… ‘You better watch yourself,’ Howard warned me softly before leaving the room.

I crossed my arms over my knees, buried my head in them and let the sobs wrack my body. I felt overwhelmed by this gutting grief as it ripped right through me, and it felt like it would never stop, would never end. I heard them laughing at me. In the kitchen, or outside, they were laughing about it, so I jumped angrily to my feet and stormed recklessly into the hallway. I rubbed my hands viciously into my eyes and thought well come on then, you might as well kill me you fucking bastard! 

That’s right laugh!’ I yelled at the kitchen.  A stunned silence followed. I moved back, positioning myself against the front door, ready to run. I used each palm in turn to rub at my wet cheeks. ‘Just laugh then!’

Howard appeared in the kitchen doorway, his head slung low on his shoulders, while a deep frown hooded his stone like eyes. His expression was stunned. He could not fathom why I had shouted at him. 

What did you just say?’ he asked me, stepping into the hallway, and I could read him like a book. He was pissed off and worried, doubting his power all over again, losing his good boy.

You wouldn’t understand anyway!’ I cried at him. ‘You don’t even like any music! You have to have a soul to love music and you don’t fucking have one!’

The phone rang then. It was so sudden, so shrill and loud and unexpected in the shrinking space of the hallway, that I jumped about a foot in the air and Howard visibly flinched. I snatched it up before he could even move, pressing the receiver to my face with trembling tear stained hands. I heard a snivelling in my ear, and I let the air flow freely from my sagging lips. 

Billy?’

The snivelling gave way to a hicuppy sob. ‘Danny…have you heard it?’

Yeah. I heard. I’ve just seen it.’

Howard backed off slowly, his expression wondering and pensive. He turned on his heel but paused to point one finger back at me.

Pathetic,’ he hissed and was gone. I immediately sank back against the door, my legs going weak on me, my spine folding in, as I dropped my head heavily into one hand.

I don’t want to believe it…’ Billy was saying, his voice small and dazed. ‘Why would he do that Danny?’

I don’t know Bill. Don’t know.’

Do you think it’s really true?’

I think it is. It looks like it Billy.’

I can’t believe it,’ he sighed hopelessly into my ear. ‘I can’t. I fucking love that band man. I fucking love them…’

I could only nod. I knew exactly what Billy meant, and exactly how he was feeling, and yet there were no fit words to explain it. Later I wrote in my diary that it felt like we had been cheated, and stolen from. Something had been taken from us, something we would never be able to get back, no matter how hard we tried, and no matter how much more music we fell in love with. It had been ours. We’d all loved it, all of us. It had united us like nothing ever would again. I lay on my bed for the rest of that heart-breaking day, with Nevermind on constantly. When Something In The Way played, the emotions got the better of me, floored me and battered me, and all I could do was cry.

My mother came up to see me when she arrived home. She viewed my swollen eyes from the safety of the doorway and sighed in sympathy. 

I just heard, and I’m so sorry love,’ she said. ‘I know how much you love that band.’ She sighed again and gazed around at the posters that adorned my walls. ‘I know he was like a hero to you. I just don’t understand,’ she said then, with a small and nervous shrug. ‘I don’t get it. I don’t get why they do it when they have all that money and success!’

Maybe he hated his life,’ I told her stonily from my bed. ‘Maybe he despised all that. Maybe he hated waking up every morning. Simple as that.’

I expect it has more to do with drugs and depression,’ she said knowingly, making me writhe with fury and contempt. ‘They all seem to go the same way. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison. Such a pity. And with all that money and fame you’d think they’d be happy!’

For God’s sake,’ I spat at her then. ‘Money and fame don’t equal happiness mother, there is a lot more to it than that! Like maybe his parents did a really good job of fucking him up!’

Oh that’s nice! That’s lovely! Why do the parents always have to get the blame?’

Because you reap what you sow.’

She shook her head at me, edging away. ‘You what? What is that supposed to mean? You don’t half come up with some crap Danny!’

I think it’s true.’

Well I don’t know where you heard that nonsense, but one day you might be a parent and then you’ll find out how bloody hard it is young man!’

I rolled my eyes and laughed at her. ‘I’ll do a better job than mine!’

What is your problem?’ She made a stance that filled the doorway, hands on hips; head cocked to one side, staring at me as if I were some kind of alien, not the very child she had grown inside her own fucking womb. Her eyes flashed at me angrily, so I tore mine away, found Kurt’s poster above my bed, and fixed them there.

If I ever have kids,’ I said, ‘I won’t disappear and never see them again, and I won’t let psychotic bastards come into their lives and wreck everything!’

Oh,’ she snapped. ‘So now we’re back to Lee are we? Well I don’t have to stand here and listen to this thank you very much, I’ve heard it enough times by now. I came up here to offer you some sympathy!’

More like to gloat,’ I grunted at her. ‘Just like he did. Yeah, he couldn’t wait to laugh at me and rub it in!’

Danny, it’s called teasing, and it’s no surprise he’s not a fan of that music…’

He’s not a fan of anything except himself! He stood there laughing and gloating, the bastard!’

Danny, we are getting married next Sunday whether you like it or not…’

Yeah, and that’s what you’re marrying Mum,’ I said bitterly, not taking my eyes from the poster. ‘Someone who makes fun of me being upset about something that really, really matters to me. But then you already know that don’t you? You just don’t care. Now just leave me alone and close the fucking door behind you.’ I closed my eyes and dropped my arms across them so that I would not have to see whatever depressing look she gave me before she went away.” (Extract from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side by Chantelle Atkins) RIP Kurt Cobain xx

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain