A Letter To The People In My Head…

Dear Characters,

First of all, thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for showing up, as you do, without fail, time and time again. Thanks for that! Because none of this would be able to happen if you didn’t.

Thank you for many things in fact, like keeping me entertained and ensuring I am never, ever bored. There’s no such thing as a quiet moment to myself because if I should find one, you like to join me too, don’t you? Same thing at night time. Hello characters, there you all are. Old ones, current ones, future ones. So thanks for that. It would be nice if the rush of ideas and revelations could wait until morning, but it seems you can never wait. Between 2am and 3 am seems to be the golden hour for you guys to suddenly need to share things with me. I’ll let you off, because it’s always riveting stuff, but you don’t seem to realise it keeps me awake for hours after you’ve told me. I appreciate the insight, of course, but I also need my sleep!

I wouldn’t want you to ever stop though. I’m grateful, really I am. You know more than I do, that’s the thing. Because you started all this. You came to me. Your voices, your stories, your lives. You interrupted mine when I was a kid and you’ve been doing it ever since. I never decide to write a story about a 16-year-old alcoholic singing sensation, or a 30-something woman who can’t leave the house anymore because she hates people so much, you guys just show up! I don’t know how you find me. I guess somehow you know that I want to listen.

You surprise me again and again. When you first show up, out of nowhere. When you start getting chatty, warming up, revealing yourselves. I respect the honesty, because let’s face it, none of us are perfect. You lot are a pretty flawed bunch. But I think that keeps things interesting. You go on surprising me after that. Usually mid-plot. Throwing unexpected twists into the storylines. I suppose you must surprise yourselves too? A sequel? Didn’t see that coming but yes, I can see how you would want to talk about what happened next…A trilogy now, is it? Okay, if you’re sure, if you think you’ve got enough drama, I will keep it coming if you do. And don’t worry, I have already plotted most of the third book, and yes, I will end this one by writing the first chapter of the next. Your incessant babbling has seen to that.

Thank you for keeping me excited. It’s not enough to say you keep me from being bored because it is so much more than that. I have to thank you for the fizzy lurch in my belly every time I think about writing, that excitement, like Christmas, as the time draws nearer. I wake up in the morning and think about writing. I travel through my day and perform my duties, still thinking about writing. You people, you are there, all the time, paving the story, laying it out piece by piece, showing me the way. I race to the laptop in the evening, still excited, and then I bang away at the keyboard, and the excitement never seems to fade.

Thank you for teaching me about people, about human nature and society. I’ve always been fascinated by them, a people watcher from an early age. People pass you by on the street and you watch them go and wonder who they are, what secrets they hold, where they are going, and what they dream of. Being a writer allows me to explore these thoughts and answer all the ‘what if’s…’ You guys, my characters, you keep me curious. You show up with these messy, complex lives. You’re all tangled up, the lot of you. It’s my job to unwind you. To figure you out. Some of you are pretty vile. Some of you have done some very bad things. But all of you are teaching me something about how this life is full of human cruelty, courage, heroes, and villains. I thank you all for that.

You get pretty noisy. You certainly wear me out. I’m always relieved when a first draft is over because you tend to get quieter after that. Sure, some of you still show up years after your story has been told. Maybe you miss me. Maybe you still have something to say. But generally, once the story has been blurted out into an ugly yet victorious first draft, you tend to give me a break, and believe you me, I’m looking forward to it this time! I’m just days away, just chapters away from finishing a first draft. I know there is more work to be done, and yes, somehow you current characters have talked me into a third book in this series, and honestly, I’m grateful and I can’t wait, but I am looking forward to a brief reprieve. I know you’ll start up again pretty soon, but if I get to the finish line on this story in the next few days, maybe you could let me have a few night’s sleep as a reward? What do you say?

Then again, second thoughts, scrap that. If you have something to tell me, don’t hold back. I would never ever want you to fall quiet.

Cheers, guys xx

 

Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash

 

 

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!

 

10 Reasons I Love Writing and Reading YA

On the 11th August my next book The Tree Of Rebels will be released as an ebook. (The paperback is already available!) This will be my sixth release and my fourth YA book. My books fall into both the adult and young adult genres. I never really decide which it will be; that’s a job for my characters. It just so happens that all of my characters tend to be young adults, and in fact, even in my adult books, the young adult voice is very present.  When it comes to reading, I’m not too fussy about genre. I recently devoured horror, crime thriller, literary fiction, autobiography and YA. But it’s fair to say that I am more consistently drawn to YA books, to read and to write.  Here are my reasons for being in love with reading and writing YA;

  1. Inspiration – When I was a kid, the first books I ever really fell in love with were The Catcher In The Rye and The Outsiders. I had enjoyed many books as a child, and I had been writing stories for as long as I could remember, but those two books affected me in a way the childhood books had not. I fell into those books and got lost. I fell in love with the characters and saw them as utterly real. I could totally empathise with the feelings, emotions, and scenarios of both books. I loved the style and the voice they were written in. More than any other books I can remember, those two made me want to be a writer. I emulated them in my teens, writing similar stories with similar characters. From that point on I was always searching for books as good as those. I’m still not sure I’ve found any to top them.
  2. Nostalgia – For that reason, YA evokes nostalgia in me. YA books make me remember the surge of enthusiasm and inspiration I got from that genre when I was a teenager. They take me back to that time and remind me of the impact books can have on your life. This I think, draws me towards reading and writing YA. I’m not a rose tinted glasses kind of person by any means, but I do love a bit of nostalgia!
  3. Feeling Young – There is this. Not that I feel old. I really don’t. In my head, I am still a kid, and I always assume people are older than me and certainly wiser. I still feel new sometimes. I still feel like I have so much to learn. I like reading and writing about young people because I still feel like one of them! What I see in the mirror is not what I see in my head. When I read a really good YA book, I can totally recall what it feels like to be that young. I particularly love a good coming-of-age story. I think being a young adult is a totally unique time in your life. Too many people embrace adulthood too quickly and tend to put up walls, separating their generation from the ones below them. (You only have to look at the amount of millennial bashing that goes on!) I think YA books are important for this reason. They remind you of what it is like to be young, conflicted, confused, with those huge highs and lows, mixed with fear, ambition, self-doubt and hope. If you can read YA and feel young again, perhaps it helps build a bridge between generations.
  4. YA is so varied – This is true. YA is a genre with so many sub-genres and I love them all. I’ll even read Romance, if its YA! Horror, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age, historical, thriller… Having young adult characters just seems to make all these genres better.
  5. YA is fast paced – of course, there are exceptions, but generally I find YA books move pretty fast. Not that I mind a slow moving book. I’m not particularly drawn in by the ‘page-turner’ claim, but YA does tend to grip me. I can’t think of too many YA books I’ve read where I haven’t wanted to start a new chapter as soon as I’ve finished the one I’m on. (Michael Grant Gone series and Unwind dystology comes to mind!!)
  6. Gritty, edgy themes – I don’t want to be bored when I read or write. I want subjects I can really get my teeth into. YA has these in abundance. Frightening dystopian futures, post-apocalyptic disasters, family drama, domestic abuse, substance abuse, self-harm, suicide, bullying, running away, sexuality, sexual awakening, poverty, race relations and more, YA is all about tackling difficult issues head on. As a reader and a writer, this is the stuff I yearn for.
  7. Characters that come alive – I struggle with characters in some adult books because I can’t relate to them. Like I already mentioned, I don’t feel like I am nearly 40, so I find it hard to relate to middle aged characters. I consider myself working class, and so much adult fiction is written by and about middle class people. YA offers a wider spectrum of characters who are flawed, still growing, changing and learning. This in itself makes them relatable and interesting. I’m thinking of Holden Caulfield and Ponyboy Curtis, but also Charlie (The Perks of Being A Wallflower), Katniss (The Hunger Games,) Theodore Finch (All The Bright Places) Leisel (The Book Theif) Jonas (The Giver) Todd and Viola (Walking Chaos Trilogy) and so many more! I really struggle to think of a character from an adult book that has stayed in my head…
  8. You are not alone – Reading YA as a teenager is a life saver. Whatever struggles you might be going through, you are going to find a YA character going through the same thing. There is a YA book out there that is going to help you and show you that you are not alone. This is so important when you are young
  9. Packs an emotional punch – The reason I love writing and reading YA books so much, is the emotional journey they take me on. Writing young characters opens up so many possibilities for reaction and action and motivation when you are throwing dramatic situations at them. They don’t just have the plot journey to go on, they have their own inner, coming-of-age journey going on as well, which I find, magnifies the emotions of everything else! YA books tend to pack an emotional truth and are not afraid to venture into dark or emotional territory. I need this when I am reading, and I find this cathartic when I am writing. What can I throw at these young people and how will they react? How will they change and grow and develop as the story unfolds?
  10. Offers hope – YA books may stray into dark waters, but they are never afraid to offer hope. The characters, being young, tend to veer on the optimistic side. They are not tired or jaded by life yet. They are not cynical. They believe things will get better. These books may not all have happy endings, but you can guarantee most will be fuelled by hope…

Over to you folks! What do you think about YA books? Do you have a favourite from your youth? Or have you discovered any great ones in adulthood? (PS – here are 12 of my favourite ones off the top of my head!)

  1. The Outsiders – S.E Hinton
  2. The Catcher In The Rye – J.D Salinger
  3. The Chaos Walking Trilogy – Patrick Ness
  4. The Unwind Dystology – Neal Shusterman
  5. The Gone series – Michael Grant
  6. The Giver (quartet) Lois Lowry
  7. The Book Theif – Markus Zusak
  8. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  9. All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
  10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  11. The Shock of The Fall – Nathan Filer
  12. Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre

 

The Story Of A Book

While I await and fully expect a complete set of rejections from the small publishers I have submitted The Tree Of Rebels to, I am not resting on my laurels, not for one moment. I am busy planning my launch for this YA dystopian novel, when I inevitably place it with Pronoun, along with my other books. (If you’re interested in my book launch plan, you can read about it here )

I am hoping for a July, possibly August release. At the moment I am having the cover looked at and having an illustration added to the back of the book. I am also reading the book on my kindle to check for any last lingering typos. It’s all systems go, and if I do self-publish again, I predict the next few months to be both hectic and a lot of fun.

But this all got me thinking about the journey this book has had. From the first seed of an idea to the almost finished and ready to be released product. It’s had more ups and downs than any of my other novels and has been a love/hate project in more ways than one. So for the fun of it, and for those who are interested in how an idea becomes a book, here is the story of a book from start to finish. This book, The Tree Of Rebels.

  • A seed is sown. Sometime in 2014 I became interested in the controversy surrounding companies like Monsanto and the altering and patenting of seeds. I’m not going to go into the details here and now, but after reading, researching and signing all the petitions that came my way, I found a seed had planted itself in my head and was starting to grow. I began to imagine a future world where many of my fears had come true. Where people were even more disconnected from nature, had no idea what or who destroyed the old world, and were all living in blind, grateful happiness for the ‘utopia’ the survivors exist in. Then I imagined a young girl finding something she shouldn’t…
  • A character is born…Having read and enjoyed books like The Hunger Games and The Giver, at this time I was devouring dystopian fiction and so were my daughters. I wanted to write a book that would interest them and I wanted to create a character who they could relate to. Lissie Turner is a rebel at heart, only she doesn’t know it to begin with. I went on a long journey with this kid, getting to know her, draft by draft, watching her develop, and encouraging her to resist and rebel.
  • A book was plotted…During 2015 I plotted The Tree Of Rebels in a notebook. I arranged a timeline, wrote character bios, decided on themes, and started to write scenes and pieces of dialogue. I also had a ton of research to do…

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  • It all began on Wattpad…The very first draft of this book was written straight onto Wattpad, with people reading and commenting as I went. I shared the chapters to social media and tried to stick to a schedule of writing a chapter a day. I even had one lovely reader design a fantastic cover for me, which provided the inspiration for the cover I later had put together.
  • It got hijacked by another book…Just as I was about to start writing The Tree Of Rebels I got an idea for another book. I really did not want this to happen. I was all geared up to write this dystopian adventure that would surely enthral my daughters when a new idea and a very persistent character started knocking. The idea for Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature was so strong, I had to start writing things down instantly. And so began to two-year battle between these two very different novels. With me working on one, only to hand it over to betas and work on the other, then swap around and so on. This was not easy!
  • Every time I thought I was finished, I wasn’t…If you are a loyal reader of this blog (and wow, thank you if you are!) then you will already know how many drafts this novel has had. So many I have lost count. Every time I got to the end, it still didn’t feel right. I ended up leaving it alone for months, while I finished Elliot Pie and started another YA novel set in the present day, and at that time I had no inclination whatsoever to rewrite The Tree of Rebels. I’d had enough of it.
  • When I picked it up again, I realised it was done…Funny, that. After finishing what I hoped was the last draft of Elliot Pie and sending to a final beta reader, and completing the messy first draft of the present day YA novel, I decided to look at The Tree of Rebels again. Was it useless? Did it need an entire rewrite? Would it ever see the light of day? And weirdly, when I read it through, I felt something I had not experienced before with this book. Relief and satisfaction and a sense of letting it go. I amended a handful of typos and left everything else alone.
  • I’m proud of the messages in this book…I am proud of this book. Finally. It’s been a long and difficult slog. I’ve struggled with so many aspects of it. I am currently reading it through and enjoying it. I like Lissie Turner and I think her journey into rebellion is an important one.
  • Nearly there now…All that is left to do is finish the read-through, amend any typos and send the document to the lovely girl who does my formatting for Pronoun. I will also send it to the other lovely girl who does my Createspace formatting. The cover is basically done but we’re just playing around with fonts at the moment, and there will be an extra illustrationo at the back of the book. My launch plan is written and in the next few weeks, I will decide a date for release!

And that’s it. That’s the story of this book. That’s the journey it has had; from an idea that grew while scrolling through my Facebook feed… to something that is almost ready to be released into the world.