Tag Archives: aspiring writers

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 

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

On Writing: Cesca Major talks Plot

For any writer, first time or otherwise, you are inevitably going to come up against some issues with your plot: Is there enough drama in the second half? How do I get from A to B in an exciting and original way? Who should I kill off next?

In the first of our ‘On Writing’ blog posts, Cesca Major, author of the evocative and beautifully written The Silent Hours and The Last Night gives you 3 Top Tips on how to get yourself out of a plotting rut.

The Last Night is out in paperback on Thursday 4th May. 

Agency Newsletter: February

Hello all you bloggers out there,

I am very pleased to present you with the first Agency Newsletter, a roundup of all the exciting things that have been going on at the agency and with our lovely authors.

I’m Kristina, I recently joined the agency as the Rights Assistant, supporting Mary and Emma who work incredibly hard securing the foreign rights for our talented writers.

There is so much amazing stuff going on at the moment we couldn’t fit it all in! So make sure to follow us on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

We would love to hear from you, feel free to leave comments below and let us know what you would like see in the newsletter or on the blog.

Happy Friday!

Kristina

Delving into the DA Authors’ Inspiration – Part Two

Now it’s Friday, and we are officially starting to count down to Christmas (!!), we wanted to continue what we started last week with all of our wonderful Adult authors… it’s time to share how some of our Children’s authors got to writing…

Cathy Cassidy, Puffin’s bestselling author for girls and of the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series:

I was scraping a living as a teen mag agony aunt and freelance mag journalist but had never managed my dream of writing a book-length story – until a new friend’s disbelief that I wanted to be a writer goaded me into finally getting past chapter three. Her tough-love comments pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to achieve that dream.

Fortune Cookie

Polly Ho-Yen, author of the award-nominated BOY IN THE TOWER (Random House Children’s Books):

It started slowly for me. I have always loved books and working with books but I simply didn’t think that I was good enough to write one, let alone for it to be published. I started writing just for my own pleasure, with no ambition of what might happen, and quickly found that I enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t stop. When ‘Boy in the Tower’ was published, I still had the nagging feeling that I wasn’t good enough to make it as an author.

However, when I was looking for a new job, I realised writing was the thing that I liked doing most in    the world. I was also encouraged by my lovely readers, who told me to keep going and who were endlessly enthusiastic. I suddenly knew that if I didn’t give writing a chance then it never would be my career and, though it was perhaps scarier than other paths, I was more afraid of not giving it a go. Now, I can’t imagine having a day without writing in it and hope that I won’t have to.

FINAL COVER BOY IN THE TOWER

Dave Rudden, author of the upcoming KNIGHTS OF THE BORROWED DARK (Puffin):

 I first started writing when I was seventeen. Fanfiction, actually – grimdark far future military sci-fi with lots of glorious last stands and lantern-jawed heroics. I used to lurk on a website called Imperial Literature. Reading stories graduated to the occasional comment, and the community was so welcoming that eventually I put up my very first piece of fiction. Just five hundred words, just an experiment to see if I could. Looking back, I don’t mind admitting that it was dreadful, but every comment I got was kind and constructive until finally someone commented ‘love this. When’s the next one?’

 The question had never occurred to me before. When’s the next one?

 Helen Grant, author of THE VANISHING OF KATHARINA LINDEN and THE FORBIDDEN SPACES trilogy (Random House Children’s Books):

 I’ve always wanted to write. When I was 10, our school teacher asked us what we wanted to do when we grew up, and I said very firmly that I wanted to write. He looked at me and said , “And you will.”

For a long time other things got in the way: university, first job, travelling, then two babies. Then in 2001 we moved to Germany. The children started at kindergarten and all of a sudden I had my mornings free. On the very first day they were both out of the house, I booted up my PC and started writing, and I’ve carried on ever since. My first book was published in 2009. 

URBAN LEGENDS FRONT COVER

 Caroline Crowe, author of PIRATES IN PYJAMAS (Little Tiger Press):

I’ve written silly rhymes for friends since I was at school and I knew by the time I left University that I wanted to be a writer, but the two things didn’t come together to make a picture book text until a few years ago. After I graduated I was very lucky to get work experience at a national newspaper and ended up never leaving. It wasn’t until 10 years later when I decided to go freelance that I started writing texts for children. I love picture books and we have a huge collection at home. I don’t think there was one defining moment, but as soon as I had the time, writing picture books was exactly what I wanted to do.

Pirates in Pyjamaas cover

Olivia Levez, author of the upcoming THE ISLAND (Oneworld):

 Definitely the morning that I walked into my head’s office and asked for a sabbatical from teaching. I had a wonderful creative year in which I joined SCBWI and went on my first conference,  went to art college to do my foundation, and most importantly, wrote my first book, which I’d been trying to do for years and years.  Although that first book was pretty dreadful, it did get a request for a complete from an agent, and that gave me the confidence to carry on writing.

The Island B.indd

Kim Slater, author of the Carnegie nominated SMART (Macmillan Children’s Books):

For the last three years since securing my first book deal, I’ve stuck doggedly to the same routine; wake up and write 6-8 am each morning, then off to my day job as a full-time self-employed school bursar.  On top of this, I’ve also written in the evenings, at weekends, on holidays (including my recent honeymoon!) and at Christmas-time.

To me, writing isn’t a chore, it isn’t a job – it’s something I love to do and I ache when I can’t do it. The greatest luxury for a writer is having the time to think, to simmer ideas and well, to write.  So, this summer, when the opportunity came to write full-time, my resounding response was, YES PLEASE!

Smart jacket small

An Interview with G.X. Todd

G.X. Todd, agented by our Camilla Wray, is the newest author to join the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency! Gemma’s debut series was snapped up in a knockout six-figure pre-empt by Headline’s Publishing Director, Mari Evans. Translation rights have also already sold to Brazil. (Full summary of the series below!)

Emma Winter was able to catch five minutes with Gemma between writing and her day job (*coolest job ever alert*  mobile librarian) to discuss Pilgrim, heroes and everything in between. 

Gemma Todd May 2015

Emma Winter: Firstly, congratulations! How does it feel to know that there are going to be lots of people reading your book?

G.X. Todd: Well, I was ecstatic when I got three people to read it, so the thought of more is…what’s a better word than ‘ecstatic’? That.

EW: How did you develop the idea for DEFENDER? Did you always know it was going to be a series?

GT: I like writing about isolation. I like putting people into harsh situations. And, most of all, I like writing about things that interest me: in this case, the human psyche, loneliness, and the psychology of violence.

I wrote the first book as a standalone, but as soon as I typed The End, I thought ‘You know what, I love these characters. There’s so much we can do with them, do with the world. Let’s run with it.’ So I ran, and I’m still trying to catch up.

EW: Could you give us a little summary of the series – how do you see it panning out across all four books?

GT: 21st Century life no longer exists. Mankind has disintegrated. A locked part of the human psyche has been awakened, and the Voices have emerged. In a desolate world, paranoia and survival are the new laws of the land, and when dangerous factions of Voice-hearers begin to gather their numbers, bent on eradicating anyone who can’t hear a Voice of their own, it comes down to a chosen few to stand up and fight.

In essence, I’m seeing it pan out in epic terms, but on a very individual, human level. The core characters (Lacey, Pilgrim, Alex, Addison, etc.) are the real heart of series, and it’ll be in their struggle, their fight, that the story truly lies.

EW: All of the characters are very compelling, did they arrive fully formed in your head or did some take some work to become fleshed out?

GT: Pilgrim came fully-formed as if he’d been waiting for me to find him. He’s fun to write, too, because he’s pretty cantankerous. Lacey is what I think my eldest niece might be like in another 8 years (and if we suffered a catastrophic event), so her head took some work getting inside. Alex was maybe the hardest of them all because she’s the most unlike me. And finally Voice is a smart-ass. Strangely enough, writing Smart-Ass comes naturally to me.

EW: How did it feel to be told your book was going to be published?

GT: *add ALL the superlatives here* Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures. And when the big emotions settled, I felt sad because my dad isn’t here to share it with me. He’d have been really proud.

EW: How long did it take to write DEFENDER?

GT: The first draft took maybe six months. It was a pleasure to write; it came out all in one go. It’s the redrafting that can be a slog. It began life at around 90,000 words, and is now hitting 120,000.

EW: By day, you’re a mobile librarian tell us a little bit about your amazing job; what are the best bits, what are the worst bits?

GT: Best bits: the books (obviously); the people I work with; having enthusiastic conversations with customers; the pride that comes from squeezing the library van through a tiny gap without demolishing any car side-mirrors.

Worst bits: Seeing how isolated and lonely some of our elderly borrowers are. Government cuts. Bad drivers (they’re everywhere).

EW: Where do you get your inspiration for writing from?

GT: The belief that it’s possibly the only thing I’m decent at. So I’d best make the most of it.

EW: Which authors do you most admire?

GT: This list could be endless. Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Karen Joy Fowler, Miriam Toews, Jim Thompson, John Wyndham. (Honourable mention: Richard Laymon.)

EW: If you were going to have a literary dinner party, who would you invite?

GT: I have this answer already prepared! Margaret Atwood, JK Rowling, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury (if he were still here).

EW: Do you have any tips for writers?

GT: If you’re writing a series: PLAN EVERYTHING IN ADVANCE. It’ll make your life so much easier.

Generally, though, just keep the faith. If you believe you’re writing something that deserves to be read, don’t give up.

EW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

GT: Peel your bananas from the bottom. It’s how monkeys do it. They know what they’re doing.

EW: What do you think are the key things for debut authors to keep in mind?

GT: Don’t be afraid to ask for help or clarification. You’re not alone anymore – you have a team of people who want you to succeed.

Keep writing stuff you enjoy, and stories that excite you. Because believe me, you have to love it – you’ll be reading the damn thing a 100 times over before you’re done.

EW: What are you most looking forward to on your publication journey?

GT: Definitely meeting the readers. It’s such a lonely job. To have someone outside of your own head read it, experience it, and then want to talk to you about it. That’s pure magic.

EW: Who inspires you most?

GT: My mom. Cheesy, I know, but she’s the strongest person I know. Brain surgery at age 42, living daily with disability, and losing my dad three years ago to cancer, and she’s still getting on with it. Rock solid.

Manuscript Wishlist: Camilla Wray

As it’s the beginning of a shiny, fresh new year we thought we would get our fantastic agents to write up their manuscript wishlists for 2015.

We’re kicking things off with what Camilla Wray hopes to find in her lovely slushpile…

#MSWL If I could wish upon a storytelling star…

As agents we’re always looking for what I secretly think of as business mind wants; stories that fit trends (in publishing and culturally), fill gaps in the market, are natural steps forward from bestsellers, or stories and characters that fall into a publisher’s wish list. These are what our agent minds keep an eye out for and what we then often have to fight tooth and nail to represent.

However, also creeping alongside these wants are our heart’s greatest wishes; characters, settings and stories we’d personally fall head-over-heels in love with and would kill to find as readers, even though they might not be what’s en vogue right now. For me, this is why #MSWL is so exciting – I can already hear the beat of my heart’s wishes thundering away. A way to find your dream book? YES, please!

For #MSWL there are three manuscripts across fiction I’d absolutely adore and crave to find. They are career goal finds in a way but whenever they’re ready to cross my path, I’m ready for them…

One: Soldier, Soldier

You may not remember this TV programme but growing up I was obsessed with Soldier, Soldier. The drama, characters, and idea that life and death can live so close together really fascinated me.

I would absolutely love to find a modern day story or series that touches on how it really feels to be in the armed forces; for a soldier who’s had to watch their best friend be changed forever by war, for the husband or wife who can never really understand, for the child whose parent has lived for stretches of a time where every decision could kill them only to come home and be faced with decisions about dinner, washing and what to watch on TV. It’s the real life grit, tears, hopes, devastation and laughs that I feel deserve the chance to be part of a fiction series.

I recently had the amazing luck to start watching Grey’s Anatomy after our brilliant Rights Executive, Emma, told me to give it a try, and in a sense this is what I’d love to find based around the armed forces. Perhaps set in a barracks following a group of people – soldiers, friends, husbands, girlfriends, lovers, sons etc – and the reader really learning what it’s like to be them. In a sense, also like how Jilly Cooper took a village and we obsessively followed her characters; warts and all. As readers you believe these people are real and live everything as they do, you become addicted to finding out everything about these people and the life they live which is so different from yours.

Two: Animal drama for all ages

When I was little I adored listening to my Dad read Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood, and Robin Jarvis’ The Deptford Mice. Although an animal obsessive (at eight, I covered all four walls of my room in ripped out National Geographical Magazine pages) they equally intrigue and, if I’m honest, scare me. Do we really know what they’re thinking, or what they’re actually doing when we’re watching (or not watching)?

It’s so easy to view animals from a human point-of-view and so instinctively we push our homosapien assumptions and emotions onto them; but what is it really like to be the little mouse with a stump of a tail that lives on the Turnpike Lane underground tracks? (sadly I ask this question too many times).  Or the little scrawny pigeon with a melted right foot that is always the last to get any food? (Did you know people actually put acid on buildings that erodes away pigeon’s feet? Or that pigeons mate for life and always live where they’re born?)

I really think we’re really ready for a new big scale animal drama adventure series and would absolutely love to find this. Something that either creates a whole new world around everyday animals or creatures; or takes something like wild animals in cities and shows us things we’ve never thought of before, a social hierarchy whilst telling a brilliant tale readers of all ages can become obsessed with.

Three: Sliding Doors…

Ever since the film Sliding Doors the idea of ‘what if’ has been an obsession. We make little decisions every day without thought, but what would have happened if we’d gone left instead of right? Would we have met someone – the one – and left everything else behind? Or would we have been faced with a huge catastrophe that would change our lives forever? It’s a really simple idea that has so much power behind it and I’d love to find a story that follows this idea. Perhaps two storylines running parallel following the same character(s) if they’d gone left that day, or right, or back, or forward, or just stopped…

It doesn’t just have to sit in women’s fiction; a thriller with this angle could also be mind-blowing. We’d have the same crime, but would it be the same outcome? It’s this manipulation of fate and time that really excites me and, as we’ve seen with books like One Day, I think there is a huge appetite for stories that take something simple like one day a year, or one decision, and shows the reader what could have been.

NB: To quickly touch on ‘business mind’ wants, we could rattle away about this for hours and it really deserves its own blog slot down the line. But, as a whole, I think the key is to look around, push yourselves to think as a reader living and breathing today, and then push harder and slightly outside the box. What’s on the charts today? Is it a surprise sell, or does it fit into a trend? How long has this trend been in our lives? What would you love to read and are finding it hard to put your hungry mitts on? These are all a great place to start.

Check out Camilla’s twitter feed for more @CamillaWray