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Advice for Authors Darley Anderson Authors Debut author interviews On Writing Podcasts

Mary Hargreaves’ top podcast recommendations for aspiring authors

Writing – it’s a solitary business. ItMary Hargreaves’s often difficult to stay connected with the wider industry and fellow writers when you’re cooped up with just your keyboard for company. But as author Mary Hargreaves has discovered, one of the best ways of feeling part of the writing community is through the power of podcasts.

Mary, whose debut novel, This Is Not a Love Story, publishes next summer with Trapeze, works full-time alongside her writing and is a big advocate of podcasts being an easy way to keep her passion for writing and reading alive whilst on her commute to work. Here she shares her favourites…

As an author, whatever stage you’re at in your writing career, you will probably fall into one of three camps:

  • Full-time, living-the-dream, oh-my-god-people-are-paying-me-to-just-write
  • Part-time author, part-time money-maker in something bookish/writer-y e.g. journalist or publishing professional.
  • Part-time author, part-time side hustle in something so far removed from the world of books that you almost feel like Spiderman, living a double life and frantically changing your clothes in the staff loos so nobody catches you with the wrong hat on.

Whichever camp you fall into, I think it’s safe to say that you probably love books. The sheer dedication and perseverance it takes to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) over and over again until a novel pops out indicates that if you didn’t, you’d have probably chucked the towel in a long time ago.

Personally, I fall into camp three. My day job is wonderful, but it’s about as creative as a boiled egg. With my writing time consigned to the evenings and weekends, it’s sometimes difficult to keep the fire alive as I’m trundling along the rain-soaked streets on a double-decker bus every morning, my head spinning with thoughts of meetings and overdue signatures and my daily ham sandwich vs. superfood salad lunch debate.

Unfortunately, I barf at the thought of reading in a moving vehicle, so I had to find another way to stay connected to the world of words. I am not an audiobook person (they’re great, just not for me) but eventually, with the help of Twitter, I discovered podcasts.

My commute was instantly transformed from a stressful wasted hour to a timeless, thrilling adventure into the minds and lives of incredible authors and their tales of struggle and success, joy and heartbreak and – most importantly of all – favourite reads. I felt connected, like my writing was more than just me and a microwave lasagne at a makeshift desk every evening. Because no matter what camp of author-dom you fall into, you’re doing all the hard stuff yourself, and it can be pretty lonely at times.

Here are four of my absolute favourite bookish podcasts.

You’re Booked – Daisy Buchanan

Daisy Buchanan is a journalist and author, and every week she visits a fellow author’s house and rifles through their bookcase, quizzing her subjects on their reading habits. The author tells us about books that changed them, shaped them and stayed with them, and it’s a goldmine of new discoveries to add to your TBR pile. So far, Daisy has snooped around in the literary collections of Sophie Kinsella, Lucy Vine and Holly Bourne, and her list just keeps growing. It’s also helpful that Daisy has the most gorgeous, soothing voice – perfect for my commute home towards my bed and that next exciting read.

The High Low – Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton

Pandora and Dolly are journalists by background, who began their podcast in 2017 (spoiler – it exploded). They discuss, as their tagline goes, ‘current affairs and pop culture’, and they also do ‘author specials’, where they interview writers such as Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, Fatima Bhutto and David Nicholls. Both Pandora and Dolly are almost unbelievably good at articulating the things we’re all thinking, and I walk away from every episode feeling like my brain has gained 6lbs.

How To Fail With Elizabeth Day

If you think you’re alone in feeling like an imposter, think again. Elizabeth is also a journalist, with an incredible knack for interviewing all kinds of people and extracting the most interesting information from them. Each interviewee (many of whom are writers) recounts three ‘failures’ they have encountered in either their personal or professional life, and heads-up: it can get pretty personal. In an industry where failure is a rite of passage, it’s so reassuring to hear that the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sebastian Faulks and David Baddiel aren’t so perfect either.

The Honest Authors’ Show – Gillian McAllister and Holly Seddon

We’re done with the journalists now; Gilly and Holly are authors (cue cheers from the back of the room). Once every three weeks or so, they either chat to each other about their books, lives and writing strife, or interview an author or publishing professional to gain precious insights from their side of the camp. As the title suggests, they’re honest, and I particularly love that they place focus on debut authors such as Imran Mahmood, Will Dean and Lia Louis. It’s (literally) like listening into a conversation between a couple of great friends.

And that’s a wrap. I’m sure there are many more undiscovered nuggets of podcast gold out there, just waiting for my ears to receive them. If you know of any, please do let me know via twitter: @MKHarg

Podcasts have been transformative for me, and have aided in immersing me in a world that I felt so distantly attached to. No matter what kind of author you are, whether you’re querying or a number-one bestseller, I think we could all benefit from an hour-long one-sided chat with our colleagues every once in a while.

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Advice for Authors Darley Anderson Authors On Writing Submissions Uncategorized

A. M. Howell on the highs and lows of the submission process and her journey to publication

In case you misseAM Howelld it (if you’re living under a rock, or have become a hermit, or get all your news delivered by snail), last week was the Frankfurt Book Fair. It’s where everyone announces their big books, and it’s easy to get lost in the buzzy deal headlines and general excitement. And that news is great – but it isn’t necessarily normal.

What we don’t talk about is how many titles don’t get published, or how long it can take agents to find a home for their authors’ books. Publishing is an industry peppered with failures and it’s safe to assume that every single author out there will have faced rejection at some point in their careers.  

Someone who knows this better than most is middle-grade author A. M. Howell. In this week’s post, A. M. Howell gives a brave and honest account of her experiences submitting to agents and of her sometimes difficult journey to publication, as well as some invaluable advice for aspiring authors.

I often think back to summer 2015 when my internet search history mostly consisted of terms like ‘how to get an agent’ and ‘my journey to publication’. I picked up quite a few tips when I was submitting my first book to agents, and since then, and thought it might be helpful to share them, as well as talk a little about my own (quite lengthy!) route to publication.

It’s really tempting to start submitting to agents as soon as you’ve written those magic words ‘The End’ on your manuscript. But it can be really helpful to put your book aside for a few weeks and then re-read with fresh eyes. You may find ways to tighten that tricky ending, develop a character a little more or correct some annoying typos, all things that will help make your story shine even brighter before it goes hurtling out into the world.

Buy or borrow a copy of the latest edition of the Writers and Artists Handbook. It contains a wealth of information on literary agencies and the types of manuscripts they accept. I created a spreadsheet of my top twenty ‘dream agents’ then also visited the individual agency websites to see what was required for submission – normally a full synopsis (detailing the ending), the first few chapters of the book, along with a covering letter.

Do your research and spend some time tailoring your submission – a little personalisation can make you stand out from the crowd. If an agent tweets that they are looking for a comedy about unicorns, and that is what you have written, then you can mention that in your covering letter!

As hard as it may be, try and prepare yourself for some straight rejections. I don’t know a single author who hasn’t received some. It’s natural to be upset, and by all means rant and rave internally, but try and resist firing off an email to the agent saying they are missing out on the next big thing. Agents do, of course, know other agents and word is likely to get around! Focus your efforts on taking on board any feedback you get, grit your teeth and send off another submission.

Many writers and authors I know have had their first book rejected by agents and/or publishers. Try not to be disheartened. If you have received positive feedback it might be worth re-writing. But the best thing might be to start something new. Don’t view that book as wasted work though, as every word you type helps to hone your skills as a writer.

If you do get a full read request from an agent it is time to celebrate! If this is followed up with an offer of representation, your instinct may be to accept immediately and go and eat lots and lots of cake. But perhaps take some time to consider if this agent is good fit for you and your book. When I began submitting my first book, I got some straight rejections, then one agent asked if we could meet. She offered to represent me and I was over the moon, but when we met there was something that just didn’t quite click.

I chased up the other agents who were still reading the full manuscript and then Clare Wallace from The Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency, an agent at the very top of my wish list, asked if we could chat. We shared the same vision for the book and I didn’t hesitate in saying yes when she offered to represent me.

Clare went on to submit that book to publishers but even though it had positive feedback sadly it didn’t get picked up. I was very upset, but dusted myself off and got back to writing something else to take my mind off the disappointment. But then the very same thing happened with my second book! It wasn’t until my third book that I got to the stage of talking to an editor at a major publishing house on the phone, with the book subsequently going to acquisitions. Clare and I felt quietly positive, but then we got the sad news that while overall they loved the story, the sales team had concerns about sales of similar types of contemporary teen fiction and so they would not be making an offer. This was another real low point and I wondered what to do next. After a few weeks off and chatting things through with Clare, I decided to try something new – historical fiction, something I have always read and enjoyed. I remember sending Clare the first three chapters of what was to become The Garden of Lost Secrets and she emailed me straight back. ‘I love it – just write it,’ she said. So I did.

In the end it was my fourth book – The Garden of Lost Secrets – that was The One that eventually got me the book deal of my dreams with Usborne this year. I guess the moral of this is to stay determined – both at the ‘trying to get an agent stage’ and the ‘trying to get a publisher stage’ but also don’t be afraid to experiment with different genres and styles of writing if what you are writing doesn’t seem to be working. While my first four books will always have a place in my heart, the switch to historical fiction was the best decision I ever made and now I can’t imagine writing anything else!

The Garden of Lost Secrets was published by Usborne in 2019 and has gone on to experience great success. The Times chose it as their Children’s Book of the Week, calling it ‘an impressive debut … [with] an effective twist that goes off with a bang’. It’s also had rave reviews in the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the i, and it was picked by The Bookseller as One to Watch, who described A. M. as a ‘brilliant new voice’.

A. M. Howell’s latest book, The House of One Hundred Clocks, will be published in February 2020. It’s full of dark secrets, ticking clocks and mysterious ghostly figures, and you can read an extract here. You can follow A. M. on Twitter and Instagram or visit her website where she shares her future projects.

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Advice for Authors Darley Anderson Authors On Writing Submissions

Beth Reekles’s Five Top Tips for Writers

Beth author photo TO USE1When did you decide you wanted to be a writer? For super-star author Beth Reekles, that urge came at fifteen when she started sharing chapters of The Kissing Booth on story-sharing platform Wattpad. It quickly accumulated over 19 million reads and was snapped up by publishers Random House. Since then, Beth has written three more Kissing Booth books and three other YA novels, had her story turned into a smash-hit Neflix film starring Joey King and Jacob Elordi, and is now writing for adults too.

To achieve all this around university and a job (as well as parties, holidays and, well, life), Beth has had to develop some strategies for her writing, from editing all the way down to just getting started. We asked her to share her top tips for budding authors out there, and she came up with some brilliant suggestions:

Five top tips for writers

  1. Write the book you want to read

I absolutely swear by this advice. I consider it my motto! I find myself so much more inspired and motivated when I write the kind of book I’d like to be reading, and I definitely would never have written The Kissing Booth if I didn’t follow this advice – I wrote it when vampire romances were all the rage, and I was just a little bored of that, wanting a regular high-school romance instead.

  1. Read

When I’m not reading, I’m less inspired to write. I think a lot of that is because when I’m reading, I’ll end up thinking about the kind of storylines and characters I’d like to see that maybe aren’t showing up in the book I’m reading. But also: reading definitely helps you develop your own writing style and pick up on techniques that you might struggle to learn otherwise.

  1. Set goals and get organised

I wouldn’t get anything done without my ToDoist app and lists of monthly/yearly goals. I’m a forgetful person anyway, but holding down a full-time job and working on seven books in one year keeps me pretty busy – so organising your time is vital. I’d really advise scheduling in any chores or commitments first, so you can figure out what time you have to write… and set yourself goals, even if it’s just hitting a milestone in your word count, to hold yourself accountable and treat yourself a little when you meet them!

  1. Get social

Social media can be pretty daunting and difficult, and I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t unfollowed certain authors because they make me feel like a failure sometimes. But overall, I’ve found the bookish community – especially on Twitter – to be so supportive. It’s great to connect with other writers and something I love to do is share when I am writing and how many words I’ve managed to do in a particular writing session, because it helps drive me. Plus, there’s the added bonus of broadening your audience and connecting to more readers.

  1. Just start!

The worst thing you can do when you’re thinking about writing a book is to worry about how to start it. Editing is hard – but trust me, it’s so much easier to edit a bad chapter than to try and write a perfect one in the first place. You’ll edit your novel no matter what, and they do say ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect’. Give it a try and get stuck in! You never know what might happen.

Beth Reekles is the author of The Kissing Booth series (The Kissing Booth, Going the Distance and The Beach House, Penguin Random House) as well as three other novels for young adults (Out of Tune and Rolling Dice, Penguin Random House, and Cwtch Me If You Can, Accent Press). Her first story for adults, It Won’t Be Christmas Without You, is out now in eBook from One More Chapter and will be available in paperback on the 31st October. Beth has also been selected as one of the World Book Day authors for 2020, and her World Book Day £1 book The Kissing Booth: Road Trip! will be published in March 2020.

You can follow Beth on Twitter, Instagram or visit her website where she shares more of her top tips as part of her Writing Wednesdays series.

It Won't Be Christmas Without You - Beth Reekles

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Advice for Authors Darley Anderson Authors On Writing Submissions

Samantha Tonge’s Top Tips for Writing

Sam Tonge new photo 2018_nSamantha Tonge is a contemporary women’s fiction novelist whose debut, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction Best Ebook award. She has also won the Love Stories Awards Best Romantic Ebook award, and is a Top Ten Amazon Kindle bestseller.

Learning the craft of writing is a task with no end. After eight years of writing manuscript after manuscript, and receiving numerous rejections (yes, a couple from Darley Anderson!) my debut finally came out in 2013. Since then I’ve had 11 books published. My 12th is out soon. And during the last six years every new project has taught me something new.

Thank goodness. Because if I ever got to the complacent point of thinking I knew enough, it would make for one very boring career – and probably wouldn’t produce my best work. Part of the joy, for me, is a sense that I am always improving and that there is fresh knowledge to take from each new book.

Here are my five top tips.

1 – At all times work to propel the reader forwards to the next page. To do this make sure the end of each chapter is gripping. This doesn’t have to mean a series of big cliff-hangers. In the first manuscripts I wrote (before getting published) I eventually noticed that I used to tie up each chapter nicely at the end, as if each one was a complete short story. This was satisfying for me as the writer, but where was the hook for the reader? Why should they carry on turning pages? I soon learnt to always leave the reader wanting more.

Then a fellow writer shared a tip a prospective agency had given her – to begin each chapter with a hook as well. Again, this doesn’t have to be anything momentous, just enough of a hint of intrigue in the upcoming chapter for the reader to keenly plough ahead. Or it might just mean a really tightly-written, crisp first paragraph. Don’t ever get lazy and feel that because you are a few chapters in you can take your foot off the pedal. Yes, pace needs to wax and wane – otherwise the reader will feel exhausted – but this doesn’t mean the intrigue needs to disappear.

And don’t forget the crucial first line or lines of the whole novel. It/they must grab the book browser and reflect the tone of your story. Here are examples from some favourite books of mine.

Even before stepping into the cottage, Gary knows that this is bad.” The Taking of Annie Thorne by C.J. Tudor

The thing about lying to your parents is, you have to do it to protect them. It’s for their own good.’ Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella.

From the very beginning there was not the slightest doubt that Olga da Polga was the sort of guinea-pig who would go places.” The Tales of Olga da Polga by Michael Bond.

I am old. That is the main thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe.” How to Stop Time by Matt Haig.

2 – To really grip the reader – and any agent/publisher considering your manuscript – begin where the story really starts. In other words, cut the backstory. My 2018 novel, One Summer in Rome, is about a woman fed up with her London life who decides to escape her problems and move to Italy. Originally my opening chapters were about her life in England and what was wrong with it. But as my agent pointed out, the story is really about her trip abroad. So the final published version actually starts with her sitting on the aeroplane and all of that previous set-up is instead threaded through the following chapters.

3 Raise the Stakes – you want the readers to really be rooting for your main character and to become totally invested in their story. For this to happen the stakes need to be high. My 2019 women’s fiction novel, Knowing You, is about Violet, an unassuming young woman taken under the wing of a domineering new best friend. The result of this threatens a romance, threatens her friendships… but I realised, after feedback, that this wasn’t enough to really pull the reader into the story, and might produce an almost “so what?” reaction. Therefore in the final version her whole career and livelihood are put at risk as well.

4It’s all in the detail. Really explore the five senses whilst writing your novel, in order to offer your reader a fully escapist, satisfying, realistic read where they can imagine the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of the literary world you are inviting them into.

My upcoming release, The Christmas Calendar Girls, is my 3rd festive book and in those novels I work hard at creating that magical December atmosphere by describing the smells – of pine needles, mulled wine, roasting turkey… the sounds – jingling bells, children’s laughter, Christmas music… and so on.

Readers don’t just need to know how to simply visualise your characters and settings – after every paragraph you write consider if you’ve offered a full sensory experience.

5 – A brief one here – yes, you often must “murder your darlings”. You know, the parts of your novel that you think are outstanding, those paragraphs or ideas that you’ve harboured and held onto and possibly lifted from a previous unpublished work, that you’ve polished and re-read hundreds of times because you think they are so good (or is that just me!)? Often you’ve become too attached to them and they need to go. But no matter. As I’ve learnt from experience, the mind of a creative is a fickle thing and you’ll soon replace them with something new.

Don’t give up – and good luck!

The Christmas Calendar Girls will be released on the 3rd of October and is available to pre-order here

You can follow Samantha on Twitter or Facebook and visit her website here, where Samantha also blogs about her writing journey and mental health.

The Christmas Calendar Girls

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Adolescents with Cathy Cassidy

On Writing is back. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be bringing you some more invaluable writing tips from the DA Agency authors and the DA Children’s Book Agency authors. This series will lead us into the beginning of September, known in the publishing industry as the beginning of ‘Frankfurt Book Fair fever’.

To kick off the new series, we’re looking at writing characters who are at one of the most pivotal and life shaping stages of their lives: adolescence. A teenage character is quite often one of the hardest age groups to accurately portray or write convincingly. Nothing is more jarring, or even cringe inducing, than reading a teenage character who is evidently written by an adult (e.g.  if you’re writing dialogue that includes “far out” or “tubular” in 2019 – it’s pretty safe to say it’s not an accurate portrayal of a contemporary teenager).

To help guide us, we have the critically-acclaimed and bestselling children’s book author Cathy Cassidy. Cathy is the author of over 30 novels for children and young people, including the outstanding Chocolate Box Girls series and the Lost & Found series. She has now sold over 3 million books worldwide and has been lauded for writing ‘touching, tender and unforgettable’ characters. Her unique and distinctive voice always feels  truthful to a young person’s experience.

We asked Cathy a few questions to give us an insight into how she brings this authenticity to her writing:

Sasha's Secret - cover image - 29 05 19

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Inspiration is everywhere… things I see, hear, remember, imagine! People are a huge source of inspiration – I am a real ‘people-watcher’ – and I’m fascinated by emotions too, so there is never any shortage of ideas! My readers are constantly in touch with me and I meet them regularly at signings and events and book festivals, and sometimes readers have unwittingly inspired a story. By the time I put that spark of inspiration through the whole daydreaming, story-making process, they wouldn’t recognise that the story had any links to them at all!

 

How do you make your characters feel and sound authentic?

The characters are ‘real’ to me, I think that’s the key! The story unfolds in my mind in daydream form, as if it’s a movie, and as the author I get to pull the strings and direct what the characters do. They don’t always listen! I always feel that I know far more about my characters than is ever revealed in the books. I always draw the main characters, which somehow makes them come alive for me. I think if those characters are real and authentic to me, that carries over into what I write. I hope so!

 

What is the biggest challenge? 

Managing my time and staying disciplined… and meeting deadlines! Sometimes it can be hard to get a good balance in life, especially when life throws a few curveballs at you, but once you jump into the story it generally grabs you and pulls you right in, so then it’s just a case of sticking at it. I don’t plan on paper, so I sometimes go off at tangents… but sometimes they are the best bits!

 

What are things to bear in mind when writing for teens or a younger audience?

I think that for me, it’s just the way my stories come out – the ‘voice’ is not a conscious thing, it’s instinctive. I’ve written for that age group for most of my life, even before the novels… short stories for teens, work as a teen mag journalist etc., so the way I write is very much natural and ‘from the heart’. I think kids do pick up on this… if you’re not being authentic or true to yourself, they’ll spot it. I’d say it’s important not to ‘write down’ to children or young people… not to be patronising or twee… and to tackle difficult issues (if you are going to tackle them at all) with honesty, warmth and hope.

 

How do you keep up with relevant issues for teenagers?

I don’t think too much about it to be honest. Many of the themes are timeless, though the details may change with time… for instance, when Honey is stalked in Sweet Honey, it’s cyber stalking and that whole online safety issue and the concern of internet safety is explored. I suppose I stay pretty much up to date on what concerns my readers have because they email and message me constantly to tell me just what worries them! I think if a reader identifies strongly with a book, they then come to trust the author and perhaps confide in them. Either that, or it’s my past experience as a teen mag agony aunt coming out!

 

Be sure to follow @cathycassidyxx on Twitter and pick up a copy of her latest novel Sasha’s Secret (Lost & Found #3)

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Advice for Authors DACBaccess Darley Anderson Authors Interviews

Why Dave Rudden is supporting #DACBaccess

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Dave Rudden is the author of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy, and is our partnering author for YA books in our #DACBaccess month. Here is why Dave is supporting the open month:

When I’m not writing, I run a live roleplay show in school for 10-year kids. It’s glorious and chaotic – the kids all play characters, I and the other performer tell them a story, and they provide suggestions at crucial moments. That’s all stories are really – a selection of crucial moments, and what people decide to do in them. We’ve had kids defeat the story’s villain by proposing to them, unlock magical cages by singing, and teachers are always so impressed that the kids not only accept the crucial moments we throw them, but are well fit to come up with a host of solutions that have sometimes surprised even us. We could just tell the kids a story, but we learn a lot more when we listen and they tell us theirs.

The thing is, kids are immersed in nick-of-time rescues and famous last stands from the moment they’re old enough to be read to. By the age of ten, kids are fluent in adventure. Proficient in peril. They soak up every rule and detail of the stories they hear because it’s at that age that you believe you may need them.

The only time I’ve ever seen a kid nonplussed is when we unveil the artwork for our characters. The leader of our party of heroes is Lady Jayna Falchion, who has armour, a sword that talks, and dark skin. When we clicked through to the slide with Jayna’s picture (drawn by the very talented Dearbháil Clarke) a little black girl at the back of the room exclaimed;

‘She looks like me!’

She didn’t say this with joy, or pride, or interest, but with a blank sort of shock. She simply had no frame of reference for seeing herself as a main character, let alone a leader of a band of heroes. When I hear white, straight people (usually men) complain that the world is being taken over by diversity, that every character now must be a person of colour, or LGBTQ or other than themselves, I don’t think about the numbers –

(though the numbers are damning. Bigotry is as irrational as it is systemic, but research shows that, no matter how loud certain protests are, no such takeover is taking place)

– I think about just how much children learn from story. Stories tell kids what is possible, and what is impossible, and all the odds in between. We are soaked in the visual language of narrative, and when you present heroes as all white and straight and able-bodied, you are lying to your audience.

You are letting them know where they stand, telling them that crucial moments and the options bound into them only belong to others, and not to them. It’s our responsibility as authors and creators – especially those who have directly or indirectly benefited from being on the inside looking out – to not right this wrong, but to make room for the voices that have not yet had a chance to speak, because you can only learn so much from telling your own story again and again and again. There are better stories out to hear.

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Advice for Authors DACBaccess Darley Anderson Authors Illustrators Interviews On Writing Submissions

Rashmi Sirdeshpande’s Tips for Picture Books

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Rashmi Sirdeshpande is a picture book author, writing both fiction and non-fiction texts, and is our partnering author for picture books for the #DACBaccess month. Here are her thoughts on why the open month is important, and her very best tips for picture book writers and illustrators.

 

A note about the open submissions month 

 

The agency is ALWAYS open to writers and illustrators of ALL backgrounds and they actively seek them out too (I can vouch for that bit!). But this is a shout-from-the-rooftops kind of initiative to make the whole process feel more accessible to underrepresented groups. Sort of a “yes, I mean YOU”. Before I was selected for Penguin Random House’s WriteNow programme, I didn’t think children’s publishing was really open to writers like me. WriteNow was my “yes, I mean YOU” moment. I hope this can be yours! 

 

Rashmi’s top tips for new picture book writers and illustrators 

 

1. READ! Oh my goodness, if you do nothing else, READ, READ, and READ! Pull apart picture books you love to really understand what works. Get a feel for the language, the page turns, how the words and pictures work together. If you’re a writer, you need to leave space for the illustrator to work their magic. Leave out anything that can be expressed visually. By reading lots, you’ll get a sense for how this is done. There are also some brilliant blogs out there with lots of guidance like SCBWI’s Words and Pictures, Notes from the Slushpile, and the Picture Book Den!  

 

2. WRITE/ILLUSTRATE LOTS and if you do, call yourself a WRITER or ILLUSTRATOR (drop the “aspiring”!). It sounds like a tiny thing but it’ll make a big difference to how you see yourself and your work. We all have other commitments so don’t beat yourself up if you have a slow patch but you know what works for you – get that practice in. Writing/illustrating is a learned craft. Don’t let anyone scare you with the idea that you either got it or you ain’t. If you ain’t got it, you can go and get it. The more you do, the better you get. 

 

3. DON’T WORRY ABOUT TRENDS or if someone is doing something similar. If you’re a writer, write the story YOU want to write. If you’re an illustrator, work in the style or styles that speak to you. Publishing takes AGES and by the time your book is on submission or even on the shelves, everything will have changed. Be yourself. Tangent: if you’re looking for an agent, find someone who really gets you, someone who can back your entire career. I’m lucky to have found that here at The Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency. 

 

4. SEEK OUT HELP. Surround yourself with writers and illustrators you look up to and with people who love and believe in you and your writing. When Imposter’s Syndrome strikes (and it will!), go back to those people. Find mentors who can bring out the best in you. Find other writers on similar journeys – look for them in groups like the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Join a critique group (online versions work too!) – it’s a great way of getting fresh eyes on your work but ALSO, reviewing and commenting on someone else’s work will fine-tune your own skills. Win, win. Just make sure you work with people on the same page as you. Fit is everything. 

 

5. BE PATIENT. Publishing takes time. Pictures books can take two years to publish even after they’re acquired by a publisher. A lot depends on book fairs and illustrator availability but also what else is on the publisher’s list. So many factors out of your control. The one thing you can control is this: keep working on your craft. It’s not a race and it’s not a competition. Well, OK, it’s business but there really is enough pie for everyone. Keep writing and illustrating, and keep believing in yourself. Somewhere, somehow, when the time is right and the stars are aligned, it WILL happen for you. And when it does, be prepared to keep LOTS of secrets. Publishing is full of them! 

 

Can’t wait to see what you come up with! Good luck! 

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Advice for Authors DACBaccess Darley Anderson Authors On Writing

Why Polly Ho-Yen is supporting #DACBaccess

d7ab377c9fb0a45131800085199c77e1Polly Ho-Yen is the award-winning author of Boy in the Tower, Where Monsters Lie and Fly Me Home. She is our partnering author for Middle Grade writers during our #DACBaccess open month. Here’s why Polly is supporting the open month, and her top tips on putting together a submission:

‘There was a winding line of children waiting to have their book signed at the school I visited last week. We’d been doodling ideas for stories. Each student, as they approached me, was gripping on tightly to their piece of paper as though their idea might take flight and disappear if they didn’t. I talk to school groups about the value and the richness of their everyday experience – how no one else in the world is quite like them and so whatever they choose to make will be completely original because they made it. I tell them about my family. I show them a picture of my dad when he’s about four, with a little rounded sticking out pot belly. I tell them about small things that I’ve experienced that become big things when I write them down. We talk about soggy broccoli (possibly too much.)

I love visiting schools because it’s as though you can see a switch has been flicked; I can almost see them thinking, ‘well, if she can do it, then …’ Possibilities swarm the room, with excitement following as its tail.

The next boy stepped in front of me. “I’m like you,” he told me, grinning so widely that his cheeks expanded out. Two inflating balloons. “I’m half Chinese too. Only it’s my mum who’s Chinese. My dad’s English,” he went on. He told me the story of how they met, finishing with, “There’s no one else like me in the school” before launching into his idea for his book, without pausing for breath.

Next month I’ll be reading submissions made to Darley Anderson as part of their open submission month for BAME writers. #DACBaccess is a simple idea – over the month of November BAME authors can submit their work to a dedicated inbox to be read by agents over December and a shortlist will be given detailed feedback from both an agent and an author. I’ll be looking at the middle grade stories. I’m doing this for a very simple reason: we need more diverse writers and we have to do more to find them. Of course, submissions are open to all, all of the time but #DACBaccess has been created to make little more space for BAME writers to send in their submissions.

Like the standard submission, #DACBaccess asks for a covering letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters. It has to be a piece of work that you have finished (and that you feel that you’ve finished – it needs to be as polished and edited as you can possibly make it.) You might be reading this and decide here and now that you’re simply not at this stage in time for this open access month. I would urge you not to give up and wait until you truly feel that you have the whole book finished and that you’re as happy with it as possible, before you submit, open submission month or not. You need to be at the point where when you whisper softly to your book, “Are you the best you can be?” and it solemnly nods its head back at you, before you think about submitting. If you’re at this stage, then approach the covering letter and the synopsis like they are writing exercises. I’ve got to say I hated writing my covering letter because I felt a bit like a fraud and that I definitely was not good enough and I HATE talking about myself and I’m not even sure that my writing is any good in the first place. So if you’re feeling like that’s you, take a deep breath and remember these things when writing your covering letter:

Try to keep it short and succinct. Don’t give the agent a sinking feeling that they have to trawl through reams of writing to try and work out who you are and what your book is – make it nice and easy and clear for them.

– Start with a basic introductory sentence that tells them the title of what you are submitting. (There’s no point reinventing the wheel here.)

– Followed by (roughly) a one or two paragraph summary/introduction to your book which will tell them why it will interest them. This is the tricky bit of the letter – it needs to be direct, clear and communicate the plot, tone and style of what you have written. Think of that one line hook that captures what your book is. For ‘Boy in the Tower’ I wanted to communicate that it was a kind of ‘The Day of the Triffids’ for kids in a modern urban setting that I knew.

In fact, this is exactly what I wrote:

I would like to submit BOY IN THE TOWER for your consideration.

I started writing this book after I couldn’t get a picture out of my head: A lone tower block standing, amidst a lush, jungle-like landscape. I work in a South London Primary School, which is surrounded by tower blocks, estates and a network of busy roads, and so perhaps it was a reaction to the inner city that brought me to BOY IN THE TOWER.

It tells the story of a nine-year-old boy called Ade who is a survivor of the attack and invasion of the Bluchers, a type of plant or fungus which feed upon the buildings of the city, dissolving them down into nothing. Ade finds himself trapped in his tower block as the world around him changes beyond all recognition. I am a fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film and I wanted to create a modern day story for children on this theme, with a nod to Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.

I can’t say it better than Patrick Ness who in his tips for writing at Booktrust (which are brilliant – maybe don’t read this anymore and check them out: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/tips-and-advice/writing-tips/writing-tips-from-authors/patrick-nesss-guide-to-writing) to remember that the covering letter “is an advertisement for yourself and for the book, so make it as good as possible. It must serve the same function as your fiction: it must be good enough to make them turn the page.”

I also hate writing synopses and so I’m sorry that we’re asking you to have to write and send that in too but the agent needs to see quickly what happens in your book. They want to get the sense that the plot is strong and will hold up. Be as short and clear as you can, but include all the plot twists and turns – it needs to tell the complete, full story.

Then those first three chapters. That should be the easy part, as you have already written those and read them to yourself a million times and have had anyone you’re living with asking you why you’re talking to yourself because you’ve been reading them aloud when you think no one else is in.

Then press send to access@darleyanderson.com and think about something else for a while. Maybe eat a brownie.

I hope that you will think about submitting and that this is just the start of things for you. I wish you all the luck for the beginning of your book journey and beyond, and hey, I can’t wait to get reading!’

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On Writing Submissions

Why We’re Launching the #DACBaccess

Last week, we announced the launch of our open submissions month for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writers and illustrators. Running from the 1st – 30th November, our open month is designed to give aspiring writers the chance to get feedback from both agents and our brilliant partnering authors, and we’re excited to get reading.

But why are we running this month? After all, we are always open to submissions from authors from under-represented backgrounds, including BAME authors. Why do we need a separate competition?

Our springboard for this was the CLPE’s Reflecting Realities report, which showed that only 1% of books published in 2017 featured a non-white protagonist. 1%! That’s in contrast to 32% of primary school pupils who come from minority ethnic backgrounds. Clearly, if we want children to read books that reflect their own experiences, we have to do better.

When this study was published, we reached out to see what the barriers were for BAME authors to submit to us. We know that you are out there, writing, illustrating and being incredibly creative, but that wasn’t reflected in our submissions inboxes. And one of the key things that we found is that authors and illustrators from minority ethnic backgrounds didn’t necessarily feel that they were welcome to submit – that this wasn’t a space for them.

We want to change that, and so we hope our open submissions month will give authors the encouragement they need to send their work to us. We’re also partnering up with authors at our agency who have been through this, and understand the challenges involved. We really hope that we’ll find some incredibly exciting new authors from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, and that we’ll be able to sell books that really reflect our classrooms.

In the coming weeks we’ll be introducing our partner authors and giving you some tips on how to submit to us, so follow #DACBaccess to keep up!

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Cross-genre novels with G.X. Todd

In today’s On Writing blog, G.X. Todd, the author of the incredible and genre-defying Voices series, talks about the importance of writing what you love and not to a current trend.

Join G.X. Todd tonight for the  event, at 8pm GMT on Twitter, which aims to promote the outstanding female authors in the often underrepresented Science Fiction genre. More details here on her blog.

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Hunted (Voices #2) was published by Headline on 31st May – get it here 

On Writing: Cross-genre stories that defy categorisation

The Voices series falls into a number of genres. The two books so far released (Defender and Hunted) have been described as thriller, science fiction, horror, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, speculative, action and adventure, and probably some more that I’ve missed. I’ve seen them shelved in the Crime & Thriller section and I’ve seen them sharing space on the Fantasy and Sci-fi tables. Did I set out to write books that didn’t easily fall into genre categories? Nope, I didn’t. In fact, it can make things tricky. How will your books be marketed and to whom? Where will bookshops place you? How will the publisher decide on cover designs, etc.?

Well, dear readers and writers, none of those are easy questions to answer. And, really, you won’t have to answer them anyway. It will be your publisher’s job to figure it out. All you need to do is write something that excites you, something that keeps you awake at night thinking about it, something that has been rattling around in your head and insists on being purged in the only way you know how. You, dear writer, need only write what you want to write. Don’t worry about all that other stuff. It’s peripheral and it’s distracting. The truly great stories are the ones that come out of nowhere, that make you feel something, that immerse you so completely that you never want them to end. Who could have predicted that a boy wizard in a magical boarding school would sell millions upon millions of copies world-wide? Who knew that an epic fantasy series, the first of which was published more than two decades ago, would twenty years later become one of the most successful and beloved TV shows ever made? Point is, no one can predict that stuff: not publishers, not bookshops, not even Mystic Meg herself.

There will always be the argument that you should work on something you know might sell. Stack the odds in your favour, as it were. Write that psychological thriller and put Girl or Sister in the title somewhere. Make sure to add a twist, even if it doesn’t fit or it comes out of leftfield and makes no sense. Sure, it could land you an agent – it could even land you that coveted book deal – and congratulations to you if it does! It’s a tough business to break in to and lots of writers fall by the wayside along the way. Making it all the way to publication is a real achievement. But you’ll be swimming in a very busy pond, filled with many, many fish that are all performing similar strokes. And if your dream is to make a career out of writing, you’re probably going to be spending a lot time writing those same kinds of books, over and over and over again.

What this is all building up to is: write what you love. Write the things you want to read. Write the things you don’t think have been written yet. Don’t be scared. Don’t second guess yourself. That can all come later when you’re about to embark on writing book 2 for your brand-spanking-new publisher and you’re holding a beautiful finished copy of your novel in your hands, a novel that no one could have written but you. And if you need permission to go and write that special something that might not easily fit with what all those industriously-swimming fish are doing – which you don’t, by the way – I hereby grant it to you. Go forth and slay.

Head to gxtodd.com and follow @GemTodd on Twitter to find out more about the acclaimed Voices series and #ReadWomenSF

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Advice for Authors Debut author interviews Interviews

Interview with G X Todd

20180415_222900When her debut came out last year, G X Todd was hailed a talented and original new voice. Defender, a post-apocalyptic thriller ‘already worthy to take its place alongside The Stand in the canon’ (John Connolly), has had readers eagerly awaiting the next installment in the four-part the Voices series.

Hunted, the second book of the series, is out today in hardback. To celebrate her first day as non-debut author, we’ve asked Gemma to look back on life as a new author…

What made you first want to become a writer?

It really comes from being such a massive reader through my formative years. I found the school library when I was eleven and books pretty much became my life. I spent a lot of time in imaginary worlds, daydreaming and making up little stories of my own. Yeah, I was one of those kids. I grew up to be just fine, though… *shifty eyes*

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One of those little stories is now a four-part series! Where exactly did the idea for the Voices come from? 

Initially, I wanted to write something that explored a person’s ability to cope with loneliness. Would it send them mad to not have anyone to talk to? That’s really where the idea of “the voices” sparked from. Survival instincts have always interested me, too. How far would we go to protect ourselves or those we love? Would we run or fight? Maim or kill? I find humans fascinating when placed in such extreme circumstances.

Now for the stories that didn’t get published… Did you write anything before Defender?

I did! It’s what I like to affectionately call “crap”. Defender was the third full novel I wrote. The first was called The Wilds and it was packed with every single idea I’d ever had and, as such, it was 150,000 words of chaotic, messy word-diarrhoea. The second book was a YA crossover called Innocence Falls and, you know, I still really like that book. I might have to revisit it.

What else can we expect from you in future?

I want to write everything. Is that allowed? Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Thriller, Teen, YA, Romance. Okay, maybe not Romance, but definitely the others. I’d love to have one of those ‘Also by’ pages at the front of a book that lists fifty of my previously published books. That’s The Dream™.

Every writer has their own routine – so how do you actually get it done? 

No writing in the mornings. Seriously, I’m no good before 10am. So I generally start around 11-12pm. If I’m writing a first draft, I write until I have at least 2000 words down, whether it takes me three hours or eight. During the editing or redrafting stage, it’s not often I can work for more than five hours a day. My brain dies if I attempt to do more. I generally try to write six days a week (Saturday is my day off), but I can be flexible if I need to be.

Defender final

Do you sit down with a plan, or let the story write itself?

Well, I don’t really plan. I have scenes that I want to get to at some point, and a destination where the characters need to go or people they need to meet (and I often have an ending in mind). But other than those basic bones, I tend to just sit down and let the characters lead me where they want. I find it’s always the characters that speak to me most loudly, rather than, say, plot or story arcs. So I can have a first draft in around four months. Then subsequent drafts are used to backwards plot – where I develop themes, insert better formed ideas, and flesh out characters, etc.

Did your writing change in the process of writing Defender? 

I think I learned a lot about voice (no pun intended), and how to really get into the heads of characters. I didn’t hold back with exploring the darkness inside people, either. I really let my imagination run free with Defender and the Voices series, more so than with anything else I’ve written. It’s been quite the journey so far.

What have you found most difficult as a new, published author?

Having to be extra social. Ha. I’m actually fairly decent at being sociable, but the sheer volume of social events I have to navigate now is x1000 to what I’ve been used to up to this point. Oh, and the edits. For me, the edits are rarely any fun at all.

Finally, what would be your one piece of advice for a new author?

People will tell you that you’re a literary wunderkind and that you’re shooting rainbows out your butt. And you’ll read reviews that say your writing is awful and that your book should never have been published in the first place. Positive or negative, it’s important to keep your feet on the ground and a realistic head on your shoulders.

 

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Characters in Children’s Fiction with Kim Slater

Writing with a voice that feels authentic and distinctive is one is one of the key elements of a great book. It’s something that all writers strive to hone and need to nail in order to hook the reader.

It’s a long process and that process becomes more complicated when you are writing for a younger reader and, perhaps, even harder when your protagonist is also a younger character.

On the publication day of her new novel The Boy Who Lied, multi-award-winning YA author Kim Slater gives advice On Writing younger characters for a younger audience. Kim has been nominated for the prestigious CILIP Carnegie Medal three times and has won and been nominated for numerous other awards for her outstanding novels Smart, A Seven-Letter Word and 928 Miles From Home . As someone who clearly knows what she’s talking about, we asked her how she manages to create such authentic and convincing young characters and voices.

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How do you write a teenager that feels authentic?

I use the same method as I do to get inside any character’s head; I imagine I am that person. I think about challenges they may face and how it might feel. And after all, most authors are at an advantage when it comes to writing for children and young adults . . . we have all been there! So, for me, it is taking some time to think back, to put myself in that younger mindset once more and think how certain issues or events might feel.

So in my latest book, ‘928 Miles From Home,’ there is a character called Sergei who comes to live in the UK from Poland with his mum. I invested some thinking time and put myself in Sergei’s shoes; he didn’t care about making a better life in another country . . . a detail that was important to his mum. Sergei was more concerned and upset about leaving his best friend, his pets, his grandfather.

I think these things would be uppermost in any young person’s mind and I think the reader would agree that these considerations would be authentic to young people leaving their home.

 

Are there any touchstones you use to make your characters come alive first for you and then your reader?

I’d say thinking time is my first rule of writing a new story. I always begin by setting aside some space to become the character and I begin by thinking in first-person, even if ultimately I know I’ll be writing them in third-person POV. I begin by free-thinking and then graduate to free-writing where I just write about anything at all but from my main character’s POV.

That really finds their voice for me and once I have the voice, everything else – like back story – soon follows. I like to get to know my characters well and, even if I don’t use all the information I ‘know’ about them, I feel it gives a depth and authenticity to the writing which the reader can somehow sense.

 

Do your characters appear three dimensional with a story in your head immediately, or do you have the character then work on their story, or vice versa?

The character voice always comes first for me and the main character is usually strong from the outset, although I wouldn’t claim they are immediately three-dimensional. That takes extra thinking time, ‘simmering’ as I call it, prior to starting to write. Once I feel I have a handle on the character, the next stage, for me, is to think about some of the things that might happen to them.

In my second book, ‘A Seven-Letter Word,’ Finlay, the main character, has a debilitating stutter. When I felt I had a good sense of his character, I began to think about some situations he might find himself in.

The only way you can hide a very bad stammer is to not speak, so I asked myself, what would be the worst place you might have to go? And the answer came; school. Because it’s a very difficult not to speak at all. So I have lots of scenes in school with challenges that Finlay is forced to face on a daily basis; stuff that most young readers can identify with.

 

Your protagonists are all around 14 years old – what is significant about this time of life?

I think it’s quite a profound time in a young person’s life. It’s an age when they begin to form their own opinions and maybe question others’ opinions too. Maybe they start to think about what they’d like to do in the future for the first time when choosing subjects to study at school.

Without doubt, around this age can also be a frustrating time; difficult relationships at home and school and feeling more grown up but still getting treated like a little kid. For an author . . . very interesting material!

There is also the consideration that younger readers tend to like to ‘read up’ a couple of years. I’d say my books are probably most popular with 11-12 year olds, so having a 14 year old protagonist fits just about right.

 

Is it important for the reader to like the main character in a children’s book?

For YA, I think that ultimately, the answer is yes. I tend to naturally write flawed characters who often have facets of their personality that are not so likeable – on the plus side, I feel this makes them rounded and more realistic.

I want the reader to understand the protagonist, empathise with them; even if they don’t necessarily condone or agree with some of their behaviour.

But one should remember that young readers tend to place themselves in the shoes of the main character. So, for this genre, there must be a lot to like in the protagonist, I think.

 

The Boy Who Lied is published by Macmillan Children’s Books today. Follow Kim on Twitter: @Kimslater01

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Family Dynamics with Annie Murray

The dynamics of a family always make for a good story. You probably think your own family is not very interesting and that you’re just like any other. But it’s the small idiosyncrasies of each family member and the relationships between them that never cease to pique people’s interest – and makes for excellent reading.

In this On Writing post, the Sunday Times bestselling author Annie Murray talks about writing family dynamics. As a prolific and successful author of over 20 sagas, she knows how to write a great drama and tells us why it’s always interesting to keep it in the family.

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How do you do justice to the complexities of family dynamics in fiction?

 That’s quite a question. While it’s true that very often people feel typecast in their family – she’s the clever one, or the one who’s always in a mess and so on – this is fatal in fiction if that’s as far as it goes. It’s important to be able to identify characters and not get them muddle because they are too similar, so of course they need defining characteristics. But I think the main thing is to introduce characters in a way so that you can recognize them readily, but to add layers, contradictions, cross-currents – above all in the main characters. If a character is always an ‘angel’ and sickly sweet, never thinks or does anything anyone could disapprove of or dislike, they are unbelievable and in the end, how can anyone else identify with someone like that?

I often write books in which there are large families. If the book covers a long period, there may be a child born near the beginning who, until they have grown up a bit, I have no idea what their personality is or their role in the novel, but a role for them arrives later – like watching a ‘real’ person develop. And in being born into that particular family, they have found a place in something that is like a constellation. Family members occupy a space that makes a unique pattern for that particular family. That pattern is held in place by the ebb and flow of the way personalities interact and how people forge their identity differently from each other. All this gives energy to the family as a distinct shape, which may shift over time – people leave or take on a different role – but the characters need to be held distinct in it. I’m not sure if that makes sense!

 

 Novels often depict families – how do you take a fresh angle?

I think any family is a fresh angle of itself because the dynamics of each are unique. When I’m planning a novel I don’t look for ‘issues’– I like to write books about life in the round which necessarily includes quite a variety of events and moods and often covers quite a long period of time. What makes any family interesting is its very particular character, which, as Tolstoy pointed out, makes it ‘unhappy in its own way.’

 

 Do you have a clear idea in your head who each character will be and what their role in the family/novel will be?

No – hardly ever. I find it’s a matter of focus and time. Once you start thinking about a novel, characters seem to present themselves as the figures you are going to spend time with. Something comes through, a kind of energy that says, I’m the one this time. They are not in any way fully formed – that has to be worked on, and thought out consciously as well as intuited. Sometimes I have to do a Q & A with a character, often asking them really basic questions. It always helps to know where they have come from and something of their birth family’s dynamics – even if that is not in the story itself.

I have tried many times to plot and plan everything because it seems like a way of alleviating anxiety in writing the novel, but it only ever works up to a certain point. I find that the only way to know characters is to write them. It’s very like getting to know a person you have newly met. As the number of encounters you have grows, as you talk more and see that person forced up against challenges, you get a feeling of what motivates them. You work out what it is they want, what their underlying emotional complexities are. The more major the character is in the novel, the more time you spend with them. Once I’ve reached the end of the first draft I usually feel, aha, I’m really beginning to see who you are now. But it takes re-writes to get that better in place. A bit like turning the colour up in a black and white photograph.

 

 Do you use story circles or any other kind of story-boarding device to help you fine tune your ideas?

 I really don’t. Obviously I make notes but it’s more about doing the writing and thinking in between, asking yourself, ‘who is this person?’ What are the things that have marked them, what drives them, what do they fear and long for?

 

 Why do you think that stories about ‘the family’ continue to be popular and interesting?

 ‘Home is where we start from’ as Donald Winnicott said. That’s one of the things that make orphans so fascinating and touching – because home in that way is missing for them. But in general, it’s an experience everyone has in common – in an endless variety of ways. And the more we learn about the impact of early years experiences on infants, the more true it becomes that family is absolutely the cauldron of who we become. I sometimes think the ‘saga’ genre should be called the ‘Family Album’ genre as there’s going to be something in these stories that nearly everyone can relate to.

 

What other authors, in your opinion, have nailed family drama and why?

There are so many. One that springs to mind in terms of what I’ve been saying, is in a book most people have read; the way Jane Austen differentiates the characters of the Bennett daughters in Pride and Prejudice and shows the family dynamics at work through them. It’s even harder when all siblings are the same gender (Barbara Kingsolver does something amazing with this in The Poisonwood Bible with all the main voices being female.) Writers of regional/family sagas also have to do a lot of it as we often write about large families!

 Annie’s new novel Sister’s of Gold, the first of a trilogy set in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, is out now, get it here. Follow Annie on Twitter: @AMurrayWriter

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Historical Setting with Margaret Dickinson

The latest blog in our On Writing series looks at Historical Setting with bestselling author Margaret Dickinson. Today marks the publication of The Poppy Girls, the 25th novel from the Queen of Saga. 25 novels? Most writers struggle to finish one! Huge congratulations to Margaret and thank you for taking the time to share your incredible author wisdom with us.

The Poppy Girls

When I found Darley Anderson in 1991, it was he who suggested that I should try to write a regional saga and he gave me three very useful pieces of advice, which I still do my best to follow with every book I write.

  • A strong woman as the central character, whom the reader can visualise from the first page
  • The story should ‘breathe’ the place you’re writing about; your readers must feel that they’re walking down the same streets that your characters are walking down.
  • A satisfactory ending so that the reader closes the last page and says, ‘yes, that’s a good ending to that story.’

And that’s all there is to it, really…  Well, not quite!

Regional sagas are traditionally set during the first half of the twentieth century, though I did once go back to the 1850s with Pauper’s Gold so that the background of the pauper apprentice system in the cotton mills was historically correct.  Sagas, too, are usually spread over several years, so consequently the author is always running into one war or another!  However, that can be a very useful way of getting rid of an unwanted character!  And also, there is ready-made conflict in a war situation.  For example in The Clippie Girls, set in Sheffield, I already had the tension of the Second World War; the rationing, the bombing, the blackout, women doing men’s work and the constant fear for the soldiers fighting overseas.  But I wanted more conflict so I invented a household of women; the grandmother, who owns the house and never lets anyone forget it, her widowed daughter and three granddaughters, all with very different personalities.  Once the time, the setting and the characters are all in place, then the story begins to flow.

There is no right or wrong way to write a novel, but this way works for me.  Before I write anything down, even notes, I have my central character and probably one or two more around her.  Then I know when the story takes place, where it’s set and the background; i.e. farming, fishing, tulip-growing, lace-making and so on.  I know how it is going to start and I already know how it will end and I also have a vague idea what will happen through the story, though this may change as the plot develops.  At this stage I don’t do detailed research.  I may make a preliminary visit to places and talk to a few people to make sure that when I do want to do in-depth research I know where to find it.  I also collect numerous books on the subject in readiness.

Then I write the story, going straight through a first draft to the end without pausing to edit or to refine.  This works for me to keep the pace going, though I do make ‘notes to self’ throughout reminding me where more details need to be filled in during the research stage.  (By the way, editors always talk about ‘pace’!)  At the end of a very rough draft that is fit for no one but me to see, I then go back to the beginning and work steadily through the script, doing detailed research and filling in the blanks.  At this stage I will visit museums and speak to experts as well as reading non-fiction books on the subject and researching on the Internet.  Newspapers of the time are a great resource, giving not only the news of the time but also an insight into people’s lives from advertisements as well as articles.

Another read-through of the script will concentrate on the characterisation asking myself questions such as, are all my characters fully rounded so that the reader will believe in them as real people?  Have I got enough emotion into the story?  Is the plot line credible?  Everything that happens must have sound reasoning behind it; editors do not like plots that hang on coincidence or chance!

I believe it is important to get the facts right, especially if you are writing about a real occupation.  For example, if you are writing about a mining community, they have always been very special people and not to represent their lives accurately could be insulting to them.  Even though it is fiction and all my characters bear no resemblance to real people, I like to think I am paying tribute to the kind of people I am writing about.  And, of course, it’s vital to get historical facts right.  Your readers are intelligent, well-educated people, who will soon spot a glaring error and lose faith in your accuracy and therefore probably in your novel too.

As regards the amount of research needed, this will vary with each book and it’s quite a difficult decision to know how much to include.  You want to give a realistic and accurate background and yet not overload the reader with facts that detract from the plotline.  I have heard readers say that if they come to a page of description, they skip reading it!  What I try to do is weave in descriptions and facts amongst conversation and action.  That way, the reader will absorb it without really being aware they are doing so.

But the most important thing to get right is to create a ‘page-turner’ that will keep your readers wanting to know more about your characters and what happens to them until the very last page!

Margaret’s new novel The Poppy Girls is published by Pan Macmillan today, get it here.

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Advice for Authors Darley Anderson Authors On Writing

On Writing: The Difficult Second Novel with Gillian McAllister

 

On the publication day of her outstanding new novel Anything You Do Say, Gillian McAllister tells us about the pressures of writing a second book after your debut novel was a Sunday Times bestseller…

Anything you do say - amazon.jpg

I remember the exact moment I had the idea for my second novel, Anything You Do Say. I had wanted to write a Sliding Doors novel for years, and had been brainstorming ideas with my boyfriend. And then – out of nowhere – two ideas came together: what if a novel followed a woman committing a crime on her way home from a night out, and then split, following a strand where she hands herself in and goes to trial for attempted murder, and a strand where she leaves the scene and goes on the run? I thought it was an interesting concept: that a single second could change your life forever, but showing both outcomes.

I emailed my agent, Clare, and she replied immediately, saying I LOVE THIS IDEA.

Two months later, she sold my first novel, Everything But The Truth, to Penguin. Suddenly, I was under contract with a two-book deal, and the big idea I’d been wrestling with would have to be delivered at the end of the year. I was still working full-time as a lawyer, and I had a moment, standing in my kitchen late one night, thinking of the scale of my novel, where I thought: what have I done? I wasn’t sure I was a good enough – or experienced enough – write to pull it off.

I made sure I had a first draft down by the April, but the strand where my protagonist, Joanna, goes on the run needed more work. In the spring, I pasted all of those scenes into a new document, and tried to forget about the rest of the book. I wanted each parallel narrative to stand on its own. It was  hot spring/summer, and I spent it re-writing that strand of Anything You Do Say in the the garden, my cat for company.

The characters needed work, too. One of the biggest issues with writing a parallel narrative plot is that there is twice as much character development: in one strand, my heroine is a fugitive, on the run, hiding things from her husband, Reuben. In the other, she’s a defendant, in the justice system. Her husband develops differently in each strand as he faces different problems. Likewise, her best friend makes a different life choice in each version, because what she sees Joanna go through has an impact on her. It took several months to get the characters down. But something still wasn’t working. I remember sitting in my garden one evening, the summer air warm against my legs, and wondering if I was ever going to face up to the fact that there was something wrong with my novel. It seemed too big, somehow, on that July evening. The stakes were too high. I went to bed and hoped it would resolve itself.

In the meantime, while also working full time, I was editing my debut, Everything But The Truth, and beginning to promote it. I could see how distracting that would be, and so I was determined to finish and deliver Anything You Do Say before Everything But The Truth came out.

In the very early autumn, I was talking to my father in my kitchen while we waited for a pot of tea to brew, and he said, ‘really, split narrative novels are about a whole life changing, aren’t they?’ and it was as though everything slotted into place. Of course: the novel shouldn’t end with my heroine’s trial, and with the result of her attempts to cover up the trial: time should move on, and show how her entire life life is affected by the moment, the split-second decision, in the first chapter. Of course.

That night, the weather crisp and cool and the air drifting in through my open spare room window, I wrote a plan for what would become the final third of Anything You Do Say. As I wrote it, I got a very specific feeling: it’s working. It was going to work.

I wrote fast, the nights blurring into one. I wrote in train stations with gloves on, in Halfords while my car had its MOT, and before work in coffee shops. Finally, in the late autumn, it was done.

I had often worried about the tricky second novel, but – as is often the way – it wasn’t tricky for the reasons I expected it might have been. It wasn’t to do with contracts or the pressure of being published, and being read. It was just that particular book; my tricky, sprawling, extra-special second novel. It’s published this week, and I hope you enjoy it if you read it.

Anything You Do Say is published by Michael Joseph today, find it here. You can follow Gillian on Twitter: 

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Dialogue with Kerry Fisher

It’s easy to talk, for most people. On average, we speak around 20,000 words every day. But trying to replicate the ease and nonchalance of conversation with your best friend is tricky. Dialogue is, notoriously, one of the harder things to get right when writing a novel. How often have you read a piece of dialogue in a book and thought that it didn’t sound right or was pointless? It can often be tough to nail the style, delivery and keep it useful to the story.

Today, on the publication of her ‘layered and poignant’ new novel, The Secret Child, bestselling author Kerry Fisher gives us her top tips on writing dialogue.

The Secret Child - amazon

1. Listen to how people speak – in shops, on the train, on TV. Dialogue is influenced by background, age and where you live, as well as the environment the character finds himself/herself in. People speaking in a job interview or making a complaint on the telephone will sound more formal than when they are at the pub with their friends.

2. Teenagers are a tricky age group to write dialogue for because their favourite/current words are constantly evolving. Keep checking with someone in the right age group that the words you’ve used are not from the 1990s.

3. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt about dialogue is not to be too formal. This is where listening to how people really speak comes in. Don’t overthink it – just imagine your character is rushing into a bar to tell his friends what he’s just seen in the street – ‘There’s a right old commotion going on outside. Some bloke just fell off his bike in front of a lorry and everyone’s getting out of their cars to have a good old stare.’ Which is much more natural than ‘There’s been an accident outside. A man’s fallen off his bicycle in front of a lorry and lots of people have got out of their cars to have a look.’

4. People do swear, so if you have a character who would use colourful language, you just have to forget that your mother might be reading (anything, ever). In my experience, most readers will tolerate moderate swearing even ones who don’t like profanity if it’s in keeping with the character. I’d be reasonably sparing with the F-bomb and think very carefully about whether the C-word is absolutely necessary unless you really want to shock or expect your readership to be fairly young.

5. Dialect or an attempt to convey an accent onto the page can be tiring to read. Give your character a couple of words to give a flavour of the accent and leave it at that. Readers hate having to decipher what’s written before they can enjoy the story. In my debut novel, The Not So Perfect Mum, one of my characters had a Basque name, Etxeleku, and I got more complaints about that than anything else in the book because people didn’t know how to pronounce it.

6. Most people don’t often use other people’s names in conversation once they’ve been introduced, unless they are calling them over or trying to get their attention so keep the ‘Would you like a cup of tea, Paul?’/ ‘Where are you going tomorrow, Sandra?’ to a minimum.

7. Usually people don’t speak for very long without someone chipping in or interrupting. Try to avoid huge paragraphs of speech without any action in between.

8. Dialogue should help you distinguish between characters in a book. There are lots of ways to do this but it could be that one character speaks very informally with lots of slang, gives everyone a nickname. Another character might use long, rather pompous words. In my novel, The Silent Wife, I tried to differentiate between two women from different social classes by using specific vocabulary for each one e.g. sitting room/drawing room/lounge/front room, sofa/couch/settee. If, like me, you’re not sure which is the ‘posh’ word, the internet is alive and kicking with forums to debate these things!

The Secret Child by Kerry Fisher is out now, get it here. Follow Kerry on Twitter: @KerryFSwayne

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On Writing: Scaring Kids with Helen Grant

Halloween may be behind us, but that’s not to say that the scary fun is over.

I (Kristina) was one of those children who just loved being scared. It started with a book called The Finger Eater by Dick King-Smith. A book that had such an impact on my brother that he shoved blankets and clothes down the side of his bed so the Finger Eater wouldn’t gobble up his pinkies in the night. Then I moved on to some Robin Jarvis, Goosebumps, and later Cliff McNish’s Doomspell series and the classic (and fantastic!) Point Horror series – highlights include Twins and The Babysitter, thanks R.L. Stine.

Now, for a good spooking, I read Stephen King and Shirley Jackson, but it’s the childhood scares that stay with me the longest. They’re the stories I can recall most vividly. We’ve had a number of conversations about Point Horror in the office and EVERYONE interrupts each other with, “Do you remember the one…” It’s something special.

Today we have an author who knows a thing or two about scaring kids, Helen Grant. Her outstanding YA novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden left me utterly chilled – read it if you haven’t yet. We asked Helen all about how she gets her inspiration and what she thinks makes a great scary novel.

vanishing-act-of-katharina-linden US

What are the three key building blocks when writing a scary novel?

One of the most important things is to remember that a scary novel is meant to be SCARY, not so gory that it’s horrifying. For me, the pleasure of reading a scary book is that spine tingling feeling.

Secondly, I think creating relatable characters is really important. If the reader doesn’t empathise with the hero or heroine, they won’t feel the same sense of tension about what happens to them.

It’s also key to have a really strong plot with lots of thrilling scenes. In a short ghost story, you can build up to one single terrifying event. In a full length novel, you have to maintain that tension for a lot longer, so you have to include lots of scary moments as you go along.

 

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I love to visit scary and atmospheric places, and many of them end up featuring in my books and short stories. Places I have visited in the past include ruined castles and churches, catacombs, a deserted railway tunnel and the Brussels sewers!

I also love folklore and legends, and some of these have definitely inspired my work. My first book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, includes local German folktales retold in my own words.

Glenfarg railway tunnels

How do you avoid clichés and write with real menace and tension?

That’s one of the biggest challenges, I think. If you are reworking folk tales or creating a plot about some horrible secret buried in the past, obviously you are going to be covering old ground to some extent. There are also certain expectations of a creepy story. My teenage daughter says she reads ghost stories especially for the clichés!!

I think there are several things the writer can do. It’s useful to read the same kind of thing you are trying to write. I love thrillers and ghost stories so I read loads of them. This means that you become familiar with what has already been done many times. A ghost haunting a deserted house is pretty old; if you can think of a really unusual reason for the haunting, it becomes a lot more intriguing.

I think the other thing is that the details of the story should really bring the characters and setting to life. If you can share the character’s terror and absorb all the striking details of a scene, it makes it so much more vivid.

 

What is the scariest book/story you have read?

Hmmm, that’s a very tough question. When I was a child, I think the book that scared me more than any other was – oddly – a Victorian anthology called The Silver Fairy Book. It always astonishes me, the things people thought were suitable for kids in the past! There are various grotesque stories in it, but the one that stands out is The Palace of Vanity, translated from the French. It’s about a place where everyone’s wishes come true, but in horrible ways. For example there is a woman who wishes for a “wasp waist” and becomes so thin that she cannot stand up any more for fear of snapping. It’s horrible! Brrrr.

As an adult, I found Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road, about a father trying to protect his son in a post-apocalyptic landscape, so unbearably tense that I have only ever read it once. It’s still on my bookshelf, but I can’t bear to open it again.

If I want a pleasurable scare, though, I read the ghost stories of M.R.James. Some of those give me the creeps so badly that my eyes water!

 

Is there a big difference between writing to scare children and adults? Obviously less gory but what else?

I think there are lines I wouldn’t cross when writing for young people.

As well as my young adult novels, I write short ghost stories for adults, and in some of those, the ending can be quite grim. Well, okay, in practically all of them, the ending is very grim…

In my young adult novels, people do die, and horrible things do happen, but I can’t imagine writing one in which every good character died at the end and the villain got away scot free. I like a sense of justice to prevail at the end. I also like to show my hero or heroine actively battling to bring about that justice – taking control. In some of my adult stories, there is a sense that the protagonist is being carried along by events, or that their own failings (greed, naivety, selfishness) lead to their downfall. My young adult protagonists are more sympathetic characters than that, and they also try to take control of the situation. Lin, the heroine of The Glass Demon, is pretty much the only proper adult in her family, even though she’s only seventeen.

Follow Helen Grant on Twitter: @helengrantsays

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On Writing: Supporting Characters with Phaedra Patrick

While some books can hold their own with a solid, unshakeable protagonist (ahem, Jack Reacher), most books need to have an array of interesting, fully-realised supporting characters. Where would Bridget Jones be without her chain-smoking, straight-talking friends and family? Or where would Frodo be without the Fellowship? Probably wouldn’t have made it past his front garden, if we’re being honest.

Phaedra Patrick is an author who knows the value of an eclectic group of supporting characters. Her outstanding debut novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, wowed critics with its ‘oodles of charm’. Now she’s back with her highly anticipated follow-up, Wishes Under the Willow Tree, which once again is brimming with a number of unforgettable characters. We want to know how she does it.

Wishes Under the Willow Tree cover

Both of your novels have a fantastic array of supporting characters, how do you create supporting characters who are three-dimensional and with distinctive personalities?

Main characters have space and time throughout a novel to grow and develop, whereas supporting ones enjoy a more fleeting appearance. So it’s important that they are memorable for readers.

I always try to think of a couple of distinguishing attributes for each minor character, a little like a caricaturist might select strong features to exaggerate in a drawing. Or it might be something about the way they walk, or talk. I try to make them a little out of the ordinary – a llama keeper who ties up his long hair with a child’s pink bobble, a lonely lady who cares for others by baking cakes and who wears rhinestones on her fingernails, a lord of the manor who dresses only in cobalt blue and who hand-raises tigers.

It also helps to give minor characters a passion, obsession or duty. It doesn’t have to be anything big, just something that allows them to have a journey or goal of their own. They may love trying out different flavours of crisps, or be hunting for a place to live. They might have a secret unrequited love, or be trying to save a floundering relationship. It’s great if it’s something readers can relate to or recognise.

 

What should good supporting characters contribute to the story?

We all have other people in our everyday lives, even though not all of them are helpful! Some have large parts to play, and others have smaller ones. Main characters need people around them too, whether that’s friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, strangers…or even enemies and rivals.

Supporting characters are there to encourage and help the hero or heroine on their journey. Or to throw hurdles in their way.  They can add variety to the story, offer solutions, or a bit of humorous relief. They should help the main character to shine, rather than try to hog the limelight themselves.

 

Are the supporting characters initially vehicles for the plot or do they come to you first and you figure out a way to fit them in?

In both my novels the supporting characters often showed up unannounced, as I wrote. It’s a little like a casting call for extras and you never know who is going to turn up on the day.

 

Has a supporting character ever found its way into a more prominent role, if so who/why?

In The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, Arthur’s interfering neighbour, Bernadette, initially had a smaller role. She was there to bother and provoke Arthur. However, the more she turned up on his doorstep with her home-made pies, the more it became apparent that they both needed each other, in order to move on with their lives.

 

Which book/film/play has outstanding supporting characters? What do they have that makes them special and what can writers learn from it?

One of my favourite introductions comes from Tony Stark, the main character in the film Iron Man, when he introduces himself as, ‘Genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist.’ These four words give us such a clear picture of his character. I actually think it’s brilliant film too, one of my top three. All the characters are distinctive, their interaction is exciting, the main character has an interesting journey full of highs and lows, plus there’s a great bad guy.

Describing your friends and family in four words can be a great writing exercise to try out. Or, why not ask them to describe you? It’s a useful trick to apply to the cast of your book, to give you a strong framework for their characters.

Once you have four words to describe your main character, you can think of contrasting or complimentary ones for your supporting ones, so you have a real mix. If you have a workaholic protagonist, try giving her a lazy assistant and see what happens. Or if you have an unlucky-in-love bachelor, give him a flat mate who’s an expert on Tinder. The combinations are endless.

 

How do you know when to cut a minor character out? Have you ever had a ‘kill your darlings’ moment?

I’m guilty of committing a few murders when necessary. If a minor character doesn’t contribute to your main character’s journey or quest, then they should leave or change. You can often ‘feel’ when they aren’t quite working. My second book, Wishes Under the Willow Tree (known as Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone in the US), featured a Yorkshire hairdresser who just wasn’t doing her job. It’s only when I turned her into an Italian florist instead, that she came to life.

Wishes Under the Willow Tree is out now on e-book: get it here. Paperback will be published April 2018. Follow Phaedra on Twitter: @phaedrapatrick 

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Characters in Love with Jo Platt

Love stories in literature continue to be some of the most enduring. They’re not limited to one particular genre or set up. While some, like a meet-cute, can make you feel warm and fuzzy, others make you weep and ugly-cry with grief and some love stories make you feel sick, worried and rooting for its untimely demise.

So what’s the hardest thing about writing about love? How do you make the readers care about whether the characters’ romance comes together or happens at all? In this On Writing instalment, Jo Platt talks us through how she makes her readers fall in love with her characters’ love stories.

 

You Are Loved
The funny and up-lifting You Are Loved by Jo Platt is out today – 14th August 2017

 

How do you keep the reader rooting for your characters?

Well first and foremost, by rooting for them myself. A happy ending never feels like a foregone conclusion for me as I write, and I like to include at least the possibility of an alternative ending, for example when a character misses a crucial opportunity to reveal their feelings, or when another potential love interest enters the narrative.   So I’m just as eager to see how things work out for my characters as everybody else is, and I hope that my own curiosity and enthusiasm transmits to the reader.

Also, of course, it’s important for my protagonists to be relatable and ultimately likeable.  I say ultimately because I’m not always presenting them at their best.  As the novel opens, they may be at a professional or personal low, and miserable characters aren’t particularly engaging or sympathetic.  I counter that problem by encouraging the reader to judge them, in part at least, by their friends and family.  If a character is surrounded and loved by emotionally intelligent, interesting people, that reflects well on the character themselves, even if when they’re first introduced they’re wallowing in self-pity, or drowning in cynicism.  It gives them collateral, hinting at what they were and what they could be again, and making them attractive by association while we’re waiting for a better them to shine through.  It helps to make them a character for whom, from the off, everybody is keeping their fingers tightly crossed.

 

How do you avoid clichés and keep narratives fresh?

I don’t think I make a conscious effort to avoid clichés.  After all, some clichés are simply tried, tested and rather beautiful truths, aren’t they?  But I do make an effort to keep characters and situations as real and relatable as possible.  Hopefully this avoids things becoming unsubtle or trite.

With keeping things fresh in mind, I am aware that I read comparatively few romantic novels.  Again, I’m not sure that this is a conscious choice on my part, but I do feel that focusing too much on what others are writing, or what is popular, in your chosen genre isn’t always helpful.  Just tell your own story, in your own way.

And do keep your eyes and ears open: fresh narratives are all around you! People meet and fall in love in a thousand different ways and all you need is a starting point.  I had a friend who met her (eventual) husband through a newspaper personal column and then framed his ad and hung it in the hallway, where it has remained for the last twenty years.  Another realised she was in love with her friend of many years only when he said he was thinking of moving to the other end of the country.  And my mother seduced my father by slamming a door in his face.  These are just three of so many beginnings which have caught my interest, and which as an author I can transform and make my own, twisting the histories and shaping the characters. The possibilities and permutations are endless.

 

What is your favourite love story?

My own, of course.  It’s thirty years long and still ongoing.

 

You Are Loved by Jo Platt is published by Canelo today. Be sure to follow Jo on Twitter for consistent laugh-out-loud tweets: @JoPlattTweets

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: The Power of Setting with Erik Storey

A sense of place is pivotal when writing a novel. It’s important to hook your reader but also to keep them, and immerse them in the world you created. From the haunting moors of Wuthering Heights to the expansive Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, the environment can create atmosphere, drama and even, as many have said before, become a character in its own right.

The latest instalment in the On Writing series looks at the power of setting with Erik Storey, author of the outstanding Clyde Barr series, resident of the Colorado high deserts and former ranch hand, wilderness guide, dogsled musher and hunter. Erik’s unique understanding and experience of his environment shines through in his debut Nothing Short of Dying and now in A Promise to Kill, the rip-roaring follow up which is out this week. The wilderness has never been more beautiful and brutal – make sure to check them out if you haven’t already.

A PROMISE TO KILL - revised cover

A PROMISE TO KILL - UK HB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your setting is at the core of your writing, how did it affect the shape of your novels in terms of character, plot, tension, etc?

The setting is at the core because I believe it is extremely important, second only to the characters who roam and fight and love in the world that I’m describing. I actually came up with the idea for my first book by thinking of where I wanted it to take place. There aren’t many books that are set Colorado wilderness, so I decided to try and write one. Once I had the location and came up with characters tough enough to live in the area, the rest was relatively easy.

Setting is so important because of how it can be used to affect all that the question mentioned, and more. It can also become a character of its own. In a wilderness setting, storms and extreme temperature shifts can be used as villains, or as ways to raise tension and harass the characters. Same for traffic jams and stuck elevators if you set your novel in a major city. On the other hand, setting can be used as a sidekick for the characters if they are smart and use their environment to their advantage. The same storms and elevators could be used by a wily character as a way to better their odds against an enemy that doesn’t have the same knowledge of the setting.

 

What do you think is the most important thing to get right with your setting? Do you have any techniques that you use in order to ensure this?

I believe the number one thing to get right is the feeling of the place. This sounds obscure, like a grand generalization, but stay with me and I’ll explain. When you look back and think about a place you are fond of, or a place that you loathe with all your heart and soul, what do you remember? You remember how the place made you feel. This feeling is an accumulation of remembered stimuli and details, and these have to be spot on in order for the reader to feel the same way about a setting. If you are writing about a real place, then the small details need to be right because people live there or visit there and they want it to be right. And others want to get a genuine feel of the place, so the details help. Not too many, so that it doesn’t bog down the story, but enough to put the characters in a real world. The black gum marks on the sidewalks next to the streets that smell of urine in a city. Or the burble of the small creek lined by Aspen trees that smell of licorice when wet.

This brings me to another point, and an important and overlooked one in my opinion. Fiction is one of the few mediums that allow us to try and convey the sense of smell and taste. By all means use them. Have your characters go to a popular diner in the city, and describe one of the locals’ favorite dishes. If camping, have the characters eat the memory-evoking s’mores or a can of pork and beans. Describe the smells of the pine trees with a small breeze blowing through them, or the smell of exhaust and ocean that permeates cities by the sea.

 

You have first-hand experience living in the Colorado wilderness, how much research do you think is necessary for setting?

I think research is essential. First hand is best, if possible. If you can, walk the streets of the place you want to write about. Walk the trails. Talk to the people that live or visit there. Take notes on the weather, sunsets, smells, strange sights, and the small things that make the place different. These are the details that matter and make the setting real in the reader’s mind. Nowadays you can use Google Earth, YouTube and other internet tools to research, but you only get the audio and video of the place. Which are important, but not near as important as the things you can’t get from a movie or clip. Books allow us to tap into the other senses and bring in memories and feelings. Because of this, it is imperative that writers try and get the small things right. There is a reason so many writers place their books in the area that they live in and love.

 

If you were to write about any other place where would it be?

Because of an immense closeness with my area, I would say that I’d be leery to write about anywhere else. But if I did, I would want it to be similar in climate and peoples and vegetation. Semi-arid deserts or tall mountain ranges anywhere in the world would be acceptable, if I were to switch locales. Australia, the Himalayas, South Africa (or other smaller parts of Africa) would all be fun to write about, and my lead character Clyde would thrive in any of those spots. It would also be fun, considering how anti-technology and backwoods Clyde is, to put him into a city and see how he fares. The only problem there would be the research involved. I’m very similar to Mr. Barr, and would have almost as hard of a time researching the area as he would navigating it.

Which authors do you consider to be masters of setting and why?

There are so many that I admire and respect for their prowess in setting that it’s hard to narrow it down. I’ll try by naming a few of my favorites. There is a common theme running though the list, however, and it’s the fact that all of them are writing about a place they know and love.

  1. Louis L’Amour—He walked the land, sailed the seas, and fought the fights that he wrote about. His knowledge of place was amazing, as was his life. In fact, his autobiography is as fun to read as any of his Westerns.
  2. Wilbur Smith—I love his descriptions of Africa almost as much as he loves his continent.
  3. James Lee Burke—whether he is describing his beloved Louisiana, or his newer Montana environ, his setting descriptions are pure poetry. Almost no one describes things more eloquently.
  4. CJ Box—The writer describes his wonderful state of Wyoming better than anyone, and that’s because he truly loves where he lives.
  5. John D. MacDonald—His Travis McGee series was a major inspiration behind my Clyde Barr character, and I try to reread the series every year. With each reread, I notice more and more how well MacDonald described the Florida that he was worried was being destroyed by tourists and Industry. He was also a master of describing something brilliantly in one line or less. An important skill if you want to write fast-paced thrillers.
  6. Edward Abbey—One of my favorite writers, and it was his Desert Solitaire that showed me how to write about the desert that I know and love. I’ll never write with the same skill, but I believe we have the same devotion to the land we love.
  7. Jim Harrison—Another of my all-time favorite writers. The only one who can beat Burke when it comes to a poetic description, and the only one who can beat MacDonald with brevity. This is probably because Jim was a poet first, and a novelist second. I think we can all learn from this, and remember to include poetry in our reading.

A Promise to Kill is published by Simon & Schuster in UK on 10th August and by Scribner in the US on 14th August. Follow Erik on Twitter: @ErikStorey

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Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Villains with Chris Carter

We all need someone to hate. It’s good for the soul, we reckon. And while it’s not that useful to hate a real person, literature gives us a plethora of scumbags to choose from: Hannibal Lecter, Cruella de Vil, Voldemort, Iago – all so absolutely awful that you wish them dead.

But how do you tap into that part of people’s brain? And how do you stop the villain from veering into the pantomime and ending up with a moustache-twirling man tying a blonde woman to the railway line ?

Chris Carter, master of monsters and author of the #1 Sunday Times bestseller The Caller, tells us how to get the most out of your villainous characters.

TheCaller-PB-BE-CAREFUL
The Caller is out in paperback  – get it here

Do you get inspiration from true crime?

Yes, I do.  I think that every crime fiction writer draws from true crime. In my case, I do draw a lot from past cases that I either worked in or read about during my time as a criminal behaviour psychologist.

When writing a villain how do you ensure that they are realistic? Is realism the most effective tool to scare your reader?

I do believe that realism is the most effective tool that not only myself, but any crime fiction author can use if his/her intention is to scare his/her readers.  The reason for that is simple psychology – when it comes to stories, being those in books, films, soap operas, whatever, we as humans tend to become more emotional when we can relate to the plot, scene, passage, character and so on. If an author creates a villain who seems to be too over the top, too unbelievable, most readers will fail to fear the character for that exact same reason.  For example – no matter how much you like the story, or how much you want to believe it; subconsciously your brain knows that no real person can shoot fire through their eyes.  That subconscious knowledge will stop the reader from becoming truly scared.  But if the villain is a character who the reader could truly visualize, someone who the reader could picture hiding inside is/her own house, or approaching him/her at a bar or something, they would undoubtedly fear the character a lot more.

All I do to try to ensure that my villains are as realistic as possible is – I try to imagine him/her as my neighbour, or the shop assistant down the road, or the pub lord around the corner. Someone believable. Someone who any reader wouldn’t have to stretch his/her imagination any further than the person sitting next to him/her on a bus to visualize the villain in their heads.  Don’t write your villain too quirky, too exceptional, too crazy, too fantastic, too anything.

If it helps, think of someone you know and base your villain on him/her.

If you could give 3 tips of things to avoid when writing villains what would they be?

Well, please refer back to question two, but in any case:

1 – Don’t make your villain too unrealistic.

2 – Don’t make your villains crimes too unbelievable, unless you’re writing a 007-style story, or anything on those lines.

3 – Don’t take anyone’s advice. It’s YOUR villain

When writing do you imagine the villain or the crime first?

I have no set way of doing it.  I have created villains where I first thought of the crimes that would be committed and I have also created villains where their image came to me first.

Which villain/s in literature, film or theatre do you consider to be the greatest and why?

I’m afraid that I will sound quite cliché on this one, because I will have to go with Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Jonathan Doe in Seven and Kaiser Soze in The Usual Suspects.  The reason I chose them is quite simple.  They are all very believable, and so are their crimes.

The Caller was published in paperback on 27th July by Simon & Schuster. Follow Chris on Facebook here 

Categories
Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Plotting Advice from Tim Weaver

For a reader, there’s nothing better than a book that twists, turns and surprises you – all tied up nicely with a satisfying end. It’s fair to say that while books like that are easy to read, they’re certainly not easy to write. So in this instalment of our On Writing series, we talk to Tim Weaver, whose ingenious plots never let a reader down, and ask him how he keeps the reader guessing to the very end.

I Am Missing
I Am Missing by Tim Weaver is out on 27th July – get it here

What’s your starting point when coming up with a plot?

All of my books are about weird, unexplained disappearances, so because they’re part of a series, I suppose I have a slight advantage, in as much as I know they’re going to begin with someone going missing. But, even if you’re not writing a series, the theory’s pretty much the same: you come up with a hook, something that’s going to jump-start the novel and immediately get readers interested. Once you have the hook – a man gets onto a Tube train but never gets off again; a family vanish midway through dinner, leaving the table set and the food cooking on the stove; a man with no memory searches for himself – you have the foundation on which to build a novel.

But the hook is only a foundation. I think a mistake that’s often made is to believe that one cool idea is enough. Sometimes, in very rare circumstances, it is; very occasionally, you can hold an entire novel together with one amazing concept. However, most of the time, you need to work harder than that. So many thrillers run out of gas in the last third because they’ve been built on just a single, neat idea that has already run its course by the midway point.

Your plots are very intricate, with real surprises. How do you make sure you’re always one step ahead of the reader?

Meticulous planners will definitely disagree with this – I’m thinking of people like Jeffrey Deaver here, who writes plans almost as long as the finished novel – but, for me, a lot of staying ahead of the reader comes from consciously not planning. Of course, ultimately, you have to approach a novel in the way you find most comfortable: planning gives you a terrific overview of the book from the very start of the writing process; not planning is a terrifying leap into the unknown. But where a lack of a plan starts to make an impact, I believe, is when it comes to delivering effective twists, avoiding over-used thriller tropes and – most importantly – constantly surprising and exciting the reader.

At a basic level, if you’re writing a twist that you never thought about until you got there – in essence, if you’ve surprised yourself, because something you’ve written was never part of any plan – there’s a very good chance you’ll surprise the reader too. And these moments can only come from that organic approach. If you know a twist is coming a mile off because it’s been in your plan from day one, the novel will be bent and shaped in preparation for that twist, giving readers a hint – consciously or not – of what’s coming down the line  (Remember, crime and thriller readers are smart. They read more thrillers than you do, so they know all the tricks. Outwitting them is very hard, which is another reason why there are benefits to a less formulaic approach.)

Sometimes, of course, none of that matters because your twist’s so mind-blowingly good no amount of set up can ruin it, but a great twist has to make sense, and it has to remain true to the story you’ve told, so you have to lay the groundwork for it, and in that groundwork, there will be some foreshadowing. There will be, because there has to be. So there’s definitely a lot of value from being more free and easy with your approach to plotting – in theory, because it’s more spontaneous, it helps disguise some of that groundwork.

Of course, as I’ve already hinted, this is also a scary and frequently very stressful way of working, because you’re never ‘ahead’ of the story – you’re discovering what the characters are like, up to, the decisions they’re making and the consequences of those decisions at the same time as they are. And, again, it’s important to underline that my method might not be for everyone. Some authors may argue that it’s actually detrimental to the writing process because it adds an extra layer of stress and anxiety to the mix. But I’m already a very anxious writer, constantly trapped in a whirlpool of doubt and self-inflicted stress, so what’s a little more?

Do you have any methods  for keeping track of all the aspects of the plot and how they fit together?

It’s possible that I’m the worst person in the world to ask this too, because I do so little planning. I may write a couple of pages of set-up at the start – covering, say, the first 10-20,000 words – and I’ll always have a relatively clear idea of where it’s going to finish, but everything in between is up for grabs. At about 70,000 words, as the book slowly begins to make a turn towards the finale, I may start to write out important things to remember on Post-It notes and stick them up, but at no stage will I commit anything to a proper plan. Those last 30, 40, 50,000 words are huge: this is when you deliver on everything you’ve set up, so those great, umprompted moments are even more important now, because they will be what readers remember.

Normally, if you’ve grown your book organically like this, it means – when you’re done – you’ve got things that don’t quite tie up or fit together, and that’s fine. I normally do a second run-through, fixing loose ends and tightening those twists (sometimes changing them completely!). It isn’t a rewrite, not even a second edit, just a really focused attempt at ensuring the book keeps readers on their toes. (This lack of drafting, or rewrites, or whatever you want to call it, is a consequence of another weird habit of mine: I can’t move on to the next chapter until I’ve got the current one as perfect as possible. If you’re a speed writer, who prefers to get a first draft done quickly and then go back and edit, edit, edit, this will obviously be different.)

Of course, at the end of the writing process (it takes me 10 months to write a book), it’s very hard to judge how effective anything in the book is – I’m lucky that I have an agent and an editor to help me – so once you think you’ve done as much as you can, it’s definitely worth giving it to someone you trust to read. Ask them to be honest. Honesty, as much as it can sometimes hurt, really is the best policy. However good you think you are, you can always be better.

Have you ever painted yourself into a corner, plot-wise? If so, what steps did you take to tackle the issue?

This, unfortunately, is one of the worst parts about not planning. Very often, you will write yourself into corners, and won’t be able to see a way out. When this happens, I normally take a day or two off to clear my head. I go walking, which is often where I do my best thinking, or I’ll do really boring things like admin, or VAT returns, or really great things like answering reader emails. Basically, anything but the book itself. The worst thing you can do, I think, is chain yourself to the desk and keep writing. Often, in a ten-month project, I’ll have moments where I don’t have a clue where I’m supposed to go next, but I always, always find a solution. It might not come straight away, but it will come. So don’t panic – this is a perfectly normal part of being a non-planner.

There will also end up being lots of times when you’re really trying to make a character arc or a storyline work, but in your heart of hearts, you just know it’s not happening. The reason a lot of people don’t turn back from there is because they look at all the words they’ve wasted – sometimes thousands of them – and feel frightened/guilty/dismayed about all the hours they’ve ploughed in and see the culling of those efforts as dispiriting and reductive.

Cull them. If you don’t think it works, it’s because it probably doesn’t. If you’re going to avoid rigid plans, you have to accept this will happen and factor it into your writing time. However, even if you don’t end up using what you’ve just spent a couple of weeks writing, never throw it away. I’ve re-used tons of stuff I cut from one novel in the next, or the one after that. Sometimes what I cut at the time I absolutely loved (though most of the time I didn’t!), but even if you’ve written something gorgeous, ultimately it has to adhere to the world you’ve built in this novel. That’s one of the most important things: not trying to shoehorn in something you like because you can’t face dumping it. Nothing is ever wasted, even if you decide never to use it again, because writing itself is a constant learning process.

 

I Am Missing is published on 27th July by Michael Joseph PRH. Follow Tim on Twitter: TimWeaverBooks

Categories
Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: The Magic in Storytelling with Polly Ho-Yen

Do you remember those stories that used to make you feel like you could do anything? The magic that was sprinkled in your world from the chapters of books like Matilda, A Little Princess, Tom’s Midnight Garden or the Chronicles of Narnia?

Today’s instalment in our On Writing series is from Polly Ho-Yen and examines the art of magic in storytelling.

Polly is a critically-acclaimed and Carnegie nominated author who writes especially wonderful middle grade fiction. Her books, whilst real world set, are peppered with magic and the extraordinary.

As her latest novel, Fly Me Home, has just been published, we wanted to share Polly’s tips for creating those extra-special magic moments in children’s fiction…

FLY ME HOME

Your novels always include an element of wonder – why do you think it is important to have this in books for children?

Children are full of wonder. They are curious, amazed and fascinated by the world. I’m always reminded by this when I spend any time with my young nephew (who is captivated at the moment by switching a lamp on and off.) Writing an element of wonder into my books for children is something that has happened quite naturally for me and not exactly by design. It is though perhaps heavily influenced by being part of many wondrous children’s lives as a primary school teacher and now, as an auntie, and I see its importance in its reflection of its audience.

I like to throw around the idea of stories happening in a world that is just like our own, but with one thing that’s different. I then explore how that one thing has a knock-on effect on everything and everyone around it. Having this is in mind has also led me to delving deeper into wonder – and so perhaps it’s particularly important as a way of investigating difference.

 

Does the magical element of storytelling need to represent something more significant or can it be there purely to entertain?

 I’m often surprised when I’m reading over what I’ve written how themes and issues are interwoven throughout the story that I made no conscious decision to put there. I might think that a magical aspect of a story I’m writing is merely entertaining. I might believe that it is designed to engage the reader (and I hope it is!) but when I look back on it, with the benefit of perspective, I realise what my unconscious was really trying to do. I then see the representation, and its significance – the message that lay hidden, even to me!

 

Are there any books/authors in particular that inspire or influence your work? What do they do well?

 Too many to list! I’m always grateful to the authors who wrote the books that I’ve reread and reread and never tire of – To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diddakoi, Northern Lights are just a few. Reading the current (and brilliant) work of authors writing currently – Patrick Ness, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, Meg Rosoff – made me itch to pick up a pen and get going myself. I think what they all do fantastically well is creating a world and characters that feel incredibly real to me.

 

Is magic just for kids?

Magic is for anyone who has an imagination and likes to use it.

 Fly Me Home was published by Random House Children’s Books on 6th July. Make sure to follow Polly on Twitter: @bookhorse

 

Categories
Advice for Authors On Writing

On Writing: Pace and Tension with Tom Bale

The latest instalment in the On Writing series, which features our authors who are no longer debuts, examines the art of pace and tension. Tom Bale is well on his way to becoming a classic thriller writer. In his signature style, he takes ordinary people, often families, and throws them into extraordinary and terrifying situations -the bestselling All Fall Down is a particularly scary but brilliant one!

On the publication day of his latest nail-biting thriller, Each Little Lie, we wanted to ask the seasoned author just how he keeps the reader on the edge of their seat…

Each little Lie FINAL.jpg

Are you consciously structuring the pace and tension in the first draft of the novel or is this something that you consider more in your editing?

My first drafts tend to be quite messy and unwieldy, but fortunately I love the process of getting stuck into a really intensive rewrite! For me, the twin priorities of the first draft are to get the story down in a coherent way and bring the characters to life. Having said that, I do pay attention to pace and tension from the start, because these components are so fundamental to the success of a thriller. One of the clearest indications that I’m falling short is if I find myself losing interest in a particular scene or a storyline – that means it’s time to back up and change something.

During the editing stage, a lot of work can be done to speed up the pace and increase tension, and this is where some of the famous screenwriting tips come in handy: start each scene as late as possible, cut away anything that doesn’t move the story forward, etc.

 

Are there particular techniques you use to heighten the tension, or pace? If so, what are they?

If you’re writing thrillers, the essential thing is to create both empathy and suspense. The reader has to fear that something bad is going to happen to someone they care about. To that end, there are various techniques that can be employed. The key is to withhold information, introducing a series of little mysteries or questions and then gradually revealing the answers. It’s a delicate balancing act: release too much information and the tension is lost, but not enough and the reader may become frustrated or bored.

Even if you’re aiming for a breakneck pace, it’s important to have some variety. The slower moments give the reader time to breathe, and these scenes are a great opportunity to build character. Interest can be maintained by introducing new questions, or perhaps a little foreshadowing of what is to come. One of my favourite ways of raising tension is to allow the reader to know something the protagonist doesn’t about the dangers that lie ahead.

 

What is your signature masterstroke in creating real tension that shocks and grips the reader?

I’m not sure if I have any masterstrokes as such, but I do always try to introduce a few twists or setbacks that come out of nowhere. Even if a novel has been plotted in detail, new ideas tend to pop up during the writing and I’ve learned to trust my instinct and go with them, even if I have no idea how they’ll tie in with the main storyline. It could be an entirely new character, or perhaps an element of someone’s backstory – and it’s a wonderful feeling when I approach the final quarter of the book and suddenly see how the random idea I introduced two hundred pages earlier can dovetail neatly with the climax of the novel. Of course, it doesn’t always happen that way, but any extraneous additions can be removed during the rewrites.

 

What storytellers do you consider to be the greatest at creating and controlling pace and tension?

There are many writers that I admire in this respect, but I’d say Lee Child is an absolute master. Even during the quieter sections there’s an absolute compulsion to turn the page, and I think a lot of that comes from his prose. The sentences are so perfectly formed, and build on each other with such a compelling rhythm, that it’s almost impossible not to get drawn in: “Just one more line, one more paragraph, one more chapter…” and then you realise you’ve stayed up half the night to finish it.

Each Little Lie is published by Bookouture today. Be sure to follow Tom Bale on Twitter: @t0mbale

Categories
On Writing

On Writing: Olivia Levez and The Second Book

For a debut author, the publication of your first novel feels like a dream come true. An exciting and very rewarding end to, possibly, years of blood, sweat and tears.

But now you must write your second novel which comes with a stricter deadline and the added pressure of living up to the hype and enthusiasm of your first. It’s known to some authors as Second Book Syndrome. So what are the some of the problems you come up against? And how do you deal with them without pulling all your hair out and eating every single thing in the fridge (including the mystery condiments)?

In the second part of our On Writing series, Olivia Levez talks about her experiences writing The Circus, the follow-up novel to the critically acclaimed The Island.

P.S. Olivia really had nothing to worry about as The Circus is an exceptional YA novel with a truly distinctive voice – check it out!
Olivia Levez The Circus launch
Olivia at the launch for The Circus

Writing a second book is hard. Really hard. The first one is written for yourself, with the freedom to explore, to be creative, to find your own style, to dip in and out of different writing methods, to lose yourself in words. That feeling of being in the zone, utterly at one with your writing and your passion. No one’s looking over your shoulder, not really.

Then comes the second, and the deadline looms just as you’re in mid publication frenzy for your first ever published book. This time it’s different: as well as writing the thing, you have your daily life to maintain, complete with job, (in my case lesson planning, teaching, exam marking), and family commitments and all of the tiny things that make up your daily existence. Eating. Food. That sort of thing. But this time, there’s another set of pressures, because now you have to learn how to be a self promotion guru, a whizz at keeping up with the white noise and nuances of social media; an organiser of events, school visits, trips to London, split train tickets, best Premier Inn offers; an arranger of school assemblies, book tours, book sales.

And somehow, in the midst of all of this, you have to try to find the time and head space to write another book. You have to keep your head clear as reviews come in, news of others’ successes, triumphs, fellow authors who all seem to be doing bigger and better things than you. You have to not cringe as you post yet another promo author post on Facebook, wondering whether your friends are truly sick of the sight of you and your damned book yet.

It’s hard. And scary.

I hit the wall three times at 30,000 words with The Circus and each time had to start from scratch. It got so that I started to sweat as my word-count crept up to the 27,000 mark, wondering when that truly awful blankness and book hatred would strike. And it did. Every time. By far my best circus act with this one was Hitting The Wall: a death defying feat of pure unperformance and inaction.

Slam. Three times.

What should I do? My deadline was scarily close, and all I really had to show for it was a girl named Willow and a few nicely described circus scenes. What did she want? I wasn’t sure. Why was she running away? I didn’t really know. Where was she actually running to? Nope. Didn’t know that one either.

I did have her voice though. I knew she had a story to tell, if I could only access it and stop panicking. In the end I took a deep breath and sent my agent, Clare Wallace, an email with the header: HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

She phoned me straight away and listened calmly as I hiccupped my way through all of my worries and frets. Within the hour she had got my deadline extended, offered practical help with my upcoming launch and reassured me that she got this a lot from debut authors and I wasn’t alone. Immediately the huge burden had lifted and I was able to focus on enjoying the publication of The Island.

Clare gave me permission not to write anything at all for a few weeks. And paradoxically, because I wasn’t supposed to be writing, the ideas came flooding in. I grabbed the dog, took myself off to my caravan and sat outside the pub with a pint of SA, staring over unspeakably beautiful Cardigan Bay, daydreaming.

And that’s when it came to me. Willow needed a friend. Of course she did. She needed someone to complement her spoilt selfishness and lighten up the darker moments of her experience of being on the streets. I thought about my favourite film, The Midnight Cowboy, the poignant tale of a naïve country boy seeking his fortune in New York City, starring Jon Voight as Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman as his trickster friend, Ratso. That was it:

Willow Stephens needed her Ratso.

So Suz was born, Willow’s companion through all of her adventures. She was already present in my story, although I hadn’t realised it. In an early scene I had a brief description of a homeless girl feeding ham to the pigeons in Charing Cross, and this girl grew to become Suz, Willow’s friend and circus manager.

Next, how to fix the setting? Originally, The Circus was set in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, an evocative town which manages to be seedy, magical, squalid and glamorous all at the same time. I’d visited Plovdiv the previous autumn as part of my research and watched children throwing each other up into the air on trampolines outside its Cirque Balkanski. Miniature ponies pulled at trampled grass in the circus grounds – a carpark outside Lidl. I sat in our hire car, scribbling notes and watching. I loved the juxtaposition between the tawdry and the surreal. Those descriptions made their way straight into my circus adventure, but I kept drawing to a halt every time I tried to get Willow there. How to get a runaway to Bulgaria? I didn’t have enough technical information, hadn’t had time to travel by train to follow her possible journey.

I tried setting it in Paris, made her a stowaway in a coach (that was the second draft that grinded to a half at 30,000 words). No good. Panic.

Then I visited my brother in Hastings. Immediately I stepped off the train I knew I had found my setting. Hastings has it all: edge, street performers, a creative vibe, down-at-heel bits, upmarket bits, tattiness, an ineffably lovely seafront and plenty of weird and wonderful places for Willow to stay as she attempted to find the circus and herself.

Suz. Hastings: the missing ingredients. The rest was a whizz to write, a breeze after all of the juggling acts, the tightrope walk, the knife edge.

Ultimately, there was the final performance: an amazing book launch at my school, complete with talented student and staff performers!

What have I learnt about writing book two? What I’ve always known, what all writers know in their hearts. You’ll get there. Just keep doing what you’re doing, one wobbling step at a time.

The show must go on.

The Circus was published by Oneworld on 4 May 2017. Follow Olivia on Twitter: @livilev