Sunday, 15 May 2022

Where do ideas come from?

 

This week has been an exciting week. Firefly revealed the cover of my latest novel, Safe, which is being published on 1st September and is the sequel to Flight. The cover is designed by Anne Glenn and I love it. It features Kizzy and Jakob and once again they are off on a perilous journey. They are tricked into making this trip and are in great danger. It is a story I am passionate about. In the main because it feels very pertinent. There are elements to it that feel so close to what is going on in the world now. 

As an author, one of the questions you are asked the most often is 'where do ideas come from?' The thing with Safe is that obviously as a sequel it had a long journey. The idea started initially with those nuggets of ideas that formed when I began Flight. Now, where did they come from?



These two images give a few clues. The first one is an image of Director Alois Podhajsky, from the Spanish Riding School saluting General George S Patton from the US Army near the end of the Second World War. The second is an image from a Walt Disney film made in 1963 entitled Miracle of the White Stallions. This film was inspired by Operation Cowboy, which was where the US Army negotiated with the Nazis so they go could through the German lines and get to Hostau where there were several hundred horses including Lipizzaner mares belonging to the Spanish Riding School and a prisoner of war camp nearby. The plan was to rescue both the prisoners and the horses before the Russians arrived. They drove the horses back through the German lines, cowboy style. Hence the name of the operation. It was doing research into the performance in front of General Patton, what happened to the Spanish Riding School during World War 2, and Operation Cowboy that started the nugget of an idea. I also watched the film. The nugget soon became the eternal answer to the important writer's question 'What if...'

I started thinking about what might happen prior to the performance in front of the General and prior to Operation Cowboy. What if two children, who were in danger themselves, needed to save a group of Lipizzaners. And so started the story of Flight with another great cover designed by Anne Glenn.


That's all very well but then when you are asked by your publisher to write a sequel how do you follow on because the story has come to an end. Where does it go from here? Again you start asking questions. What are the worst possible things that could happen to Kizzy and Jakob now? Make a list of them, then make them fifty times worse than that before inflicting those things on them. 

While doing the research I found out about all the displaced children in Europe towards the end of the Second World War. Groups of children who had lost their parents and relatives would move around together. These were sometimes called 'lost children' or sometimes 'wolf children' because they were in packs. It felt important that as a story Kizzy and Jakob should move beyond rescuing horses so this time they don't just rescue abandoned horses. They lead a group of 'lost children' to safety too. 

The horses are different too. I spent time researching what horses might be around as I didn't want it to be Lipizzaners again as they had done those. I found information on so wonderful horses that I've been able to include. 

I also found out about the formation of organisations like UNICEF after the war and how they tried to help alongside the Red Cross. Obviously, there are many more organisations now that help refugees but I've tried to raise awareness where I can at the back of the book.

Ideas grow and evolve as you find inspiration when you do research, particularly when writing historical fiction. I hope you've enjoyed this little insight into the journey of how Safe and Flight came about. Look how beautiful they look sitting next to each other. I am very lucky. 


Another musical inspiration to make you smile if you remember it:



Sunday, 24 April 2022

A basic guide to Tik Tok


 Tik Tok is proving an important resource in the publishing world. In a recent Publishing Association report, they suggested that total publishing income for the UK reached a new high in 2021, rising 5% to £6.7 billion with surges in both fiction and young adult fiction, which they attributed in part to Tik Tok.

I joined Tik Tok ages ago and I've been a lurker for a very long time. Wary of taking part because I felt I am about to be a woman of a certain age who should know better than to get involved in it. I also watched the brilliant Kathryn Evans, Emma Finlayson-Palmer and K L Kettle do incredible things on it and felt I was just not capable. However, I started to see the videos done by Chicken House Publishing. They were interesting and informative. I was intrigued by it. All my adult life I have always tried new technology. Prior to my academic career, I would teach people how to use various software. I knew I had to get over this fear of making a fool of myself. I had to find a way of using it that worked for me. I wasn't going to dance or be funny.

It was the fabulous YA author and my great friend K L Kettle that finally pushed me into doing my first video by asking me what was my inspiration when I wrote. I did a quick 60 second video in response to her question and thoroughly enjoyed it. I posted on Facebook that I had put up my first Tik Tok and several of my author friends immediately asked if I could blog about how I did it, so here is a very basic guide to posting on Tik Tok. I am no expert. This is very early days for me but this is just based on what I have done so far. (FYI I am using my iPhone to record my videos)

1. When in Tik Tok press the black plus button at the bottom of the screen. 


2. Sort the camera out so it is facing the way you want it to using the flip button on the top left-hand side. You might want it to face towards you or away.

3. You can add filters if you want.

4. Decide how long you want your video to be: 15s, 60s or 3 mins.

5. When you are ready tap the red button and you will start recording. It will continue to record even if you take your finger off the red button. It will only stop when you tap the red button again. 

6. If you want to record a video separately you can use the upload button on the right hand side at the bottom of the screen.

7. When you have finished recording and you are happy with it you press the button with the tick. If you are not happy you press the button with the cross to discard it. 

8. If you press the tick button it will take you to a preview screen where you can add music (it can play in the background), captions (note you can edit these, they are really good), more effects and stickers. When you've done editing your Tik Tok tap next.

9. From the post screen add your description, hashtags and if you want to tag friends. This is also where you can decide who can view your post and disable comments. 

10. You can hit drafts to save your Tik Tok - I have a draft video that I practise on. It gives me a chance to play with all the different options and work out how to do things. I am still not very good at editing so am not going to advise you on how to do that. I am lucky and have recorded a lot of online lectures so am very used to recording. Get it clear in your head what you want to say and do before you start. Having this draft helps you gain confidence. It is a video I will never post.

11. On the other hand if your video is ready to share press post. 

As I said this is a very basic introduction to doing a Tik Tok video, but if this author can do it, so can you. Be brave! 



Thursday, 21 April 2022

The joy of the writing process


 I love those moments when you are writing away and a character suddenly takes you by surprise by doing something totally unexpected that takes the story in a different direction. I had one of those moments yesterday in the adult novel I am currently working on. It has happened to me in the past when a character was getting very cross with me because I hadn't realised they were actually gay. Once I did they suddenly came to life and felt fully formed. 

This is why I love writing and probably why I am not very good at plotting because my writing takes me off in surprising directions. I would say I am more of a plantser. In that, I will know my beginning, my ending and maybe a few key scenes, but how I get there is going to be a revelation. As for my characters, they often evolve as I write. This can prove a major problem when publishers ask for a chapter breakdown because that is not really how I work. I will write one for them but I will tell the publisher it is written with a caveat that it may not be set in stone. I work on the basis that you have to trust your gut and if it feels right go with it. In the same way, if it doesn't feel right you cut it out.


Yesterday's incident was interesting because I had been worrying about how it was going to work with this character and where they were going to fit in. I had various scenarios in mind, but none of them felt quite right. Then the character actually wrote themself out of the story in a totally unexpected way, which solved all my concerns. It wasn't something I had even considered up until that point. I had seen them as a vital part of the onwards journey, but taking them out made more sense and the journey would still work with the other characters even without them. Characters are always powerful, they leave footprints on your heart as they find their route through your story.

I am used to writing for children and young adults and it has been quite interesting writing for adults. In a way, it has been rather liberating. This story started off as a middle-grade, but it was suggested to me that writing it as such was rather constraining and it would be better as an adult story. I have to say as I am writing it, I agree. Also, as a creative writing lecturer, it is always good to try all these different mediums so that I can share my experiences. 


Writing is important for me as it helps with my mental health. I always feel better if I am writing. I have tried different methods including setting word counts, sprints and using apps where I can create trees, but I don't find any of those work particularly well for me. I know they work very well for many others. Instead, I write when and for as long as I can without any pressure. I often find then I can churn the words out. What I always say to all my students and aspiring writers is that there is no write [sic] or wrong way to write. You have to find what works for you and most importantly, don't compare yourself to others. Everyone has their own journey. Just make sure you enjoy yours. 

Happy writing everyone!


I am loving the writing and production of the series The Split. It is very inspirational. This is some of the music from it by Olivia Broadfield



Saturday, 5 March 2022

Fiction echoing Reality

 


It has been hard watching events unfold in Ukraine. Feeling so helpless as you see families becoming separated, refugees fleeing and others determinedly defending their country against Russian invaders, sent by someone who can only be described as a dictator without any thought for others. Seeing children's faces full of fear as they run from the Russians. We feel like we are standing on the edge of something terrifying and am not even going to mention our own government's appalling behaviour towards refugees. #Notinmyname. All welcome. 

I faced the situation last week as these events were unfolding where my fiction seemed to become a reality around me. I was doing the latest round of edits for Firefly on my novel Safe which is coming out in September 2022. Part of the story involves a group of 'lost children' who are fleeing from the Russians. Watching the news and feeling so desperate certainly enabled me to add depth to the emotion of my story even though it is based during the end of the Second World War.

I was very lucky in the past Flight was picked by EmpathyLabUK as a Guided Reading book for Empathy in 2020 so I am very aware of how important reading can be for creating empathy. It can also be a way of dealing with difficult subjects such as invasion, war and all those frightening terms that are being bandied around at the moment. Reading a story that opens dialogue and discussions can make a huge difference. It allows children to consider what it might be like for those children they see on the news. What they might be feeling but also to understand that though bad things happen often good things can occur too and there might be a sense of hope to hold on to. This image by Charlie Mackesy is a perfect example and a great reminder of the importance of love:

 This is why I think it is important that we continue to write stories about the past because it helps children deal with the present and as a reminder to try and ensure that certain events of the past should never happen again. We need to create stories they can empathise and engage with. Writing the best stories we can. 

For inspiration read books by: Phil Earle, Lesley Parr, Emma Carroll, Michael Morpurgo, Tony Bradman, Miriam Halahmy, Ally Sherrick, Rowena House, Hilary McKay or maybe even my book Flight





Tuesday, 21 December 2021

The question is how you react

This post does relate to writing but I'm going off on a tangent first. Please bear with me. 

My feed

It is easy for me to become self-reflective at this time of year. Those who know me well know this story but there is a reason behind retelling it. You see twenty-one years ago this month I had surgery to help stop reflux that my body didn't respond well to. I woke up from the anaesthetic unable to eat properly. Twenty years ago this month I had PEG tube fitted. I am not going to give the long name for it, but basically, it is a tube directly into my stomach through which I can pump nutrition. It saved my life but it also meant I was deemed disabled. 

When I say I am a disabled author people see the crutches I use and assume it is connected with my joints. They are just a secondary issue. The tube in my stomach is, in fact, my disability. 

Why am I telling you this? There is a good reason I promise you. Recently I have been reading a book by Jake Humphrey's and Damian Hughes entitled High Performance. I always like to occasionally read books like this because you never know what you can share with your students. Something I read in there reminded me of the time following the surgery and the years afterwards. In the book, it talks about how you react to setbacks can make all the difference and this is your responsibility. 


After the surgery, I was very ill until the PEG was fitted. At the time, I was a single parent with three children aged 15, 13 and 11 who ran her. own business. Things could not be more difficult. I lost my business because I was too ill to work. I'd lost my identity or so it felt. I could easily have given up. The doctors even expected me to do that. But, I refused to. This was no one's fault and how I reacted was my responsibility. This was not the first time I'd had to start my life again. I'd been divorced when the children were very small and I knew I could do it again. 

People couldn't understand why I wasn't angry. But angry at who? Anger is so destructive. I couldn't change things. I had to focus on a new life and make sure my children and my mother who I cared for, were all right. The rest is history. I went to university and found a passion for learning. I ended up with a PhD became a lecturer and most importantly fulfilled my dream of becoming an author. You might think this sounds glib. Perhaps even that I make it sound easy. It was not. I had family around me. They were my tribe who supported me through the tough times and there were plenty of those which I'm not going to dwell on.

Please don't get me wrong as well, this is not meant to be a 'woe is me' post. The day the surgery went wrong was actually a great day. It meant I could follow my dreams. I'd never have had the guts otherwise (excuse the pun).

Achieving my dream!

Tangent over. Let me bring it back to writing. Being a writer is so often about rejection in some form or another. From an agent, or a publisher, not winning this award or that award, not getting the film rights, not appearing at the literary festival. The list goes on and to some extent, it never stops throughout your writing career potentially. Our friend, social media can ensure that we are constantly reminded of others' successes. My point here is how you react to those setbacks and that is your responsibility as mentioned in the book. It is well worth reading it as they expand upon this. Whatever your reactions to those setbacks are ensure you have your tribe, your people, ready. They are the ones you can talk to in the tough times. 

When trying to get an agent, wear any rejections as a badge of honour. Pay attention to what is being said in the email/letter though. Is it useful? Do you feel they might have a point? If several agents are saying the same thing in their rejection letters then you need to pay attention. Also, remember that it is one person's opinion. In the same way, an agent can reject it, it can take only one agent to like it and start your journey to publication. 

If you follow me you know I will pull this quote out frequently. It is the one from Matt Haig's Notes on a Nervous Planet where he lists a single sentence 'do not compare yourself'. This is vital when thinking how you are going to react. This is your personal journey. Others may on the surface be succeeding in everything you want, but remember that is the edited social media version. What you don't know is what they are facing behind the scenes. They will be dealing with their own rejections and setbacks. 


As far as I am concerned the most important things are to focus on you, your journey and how you react to situations while making sure you are supportive and kind to others. 

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Characterisation Inspiration

Ian McKellen
 Characters are the very life of fiction. As writers, we need to create characters that readers are going to care about and empathise with. They need to believe in them, so the characters need to come across as credible and fully rounded. 

Your setting will exist so that the character has somewhere to stand and it will help define them. You can use your setting to give clues about the character. For example, where they live gives you some hints about them - The squat vs the gated community. While the plot is more about the character discovering who they are, what their needs and wants are, in the process revealing to reader what they are really like. 

All sounds so straight forward really doesn't it? Or is it? So often I see characters in work I am giving feedback on that all sound the same and are one dimensional mean that the reader just doesn't engage with the narrative.

There are many ways and exercises you can do to get inside your characters head. For example: write a letter to you the author from the character introducing themself; answer various questions such what is their favourite music, what's in their pocket, what's their deepest secret etc.

However, I saw a really simple way to think about characterisation when I watched the brilliant actor, Ian McKellen, being interviewed by Graham Norton (Check it out on iPlayer Graham Norton Show, Friday 22nd October)  So simple in fact, it is obvious when you hear it, you wonder why you hadn't thought of it before. Sir Ian McKellen started off by pointing out how incredible it is that we are all different. Different faces, skin, hair, mannerisms, the way we walk, sit etc. He then went to show how he played two of his characters. Hamlet and his most recent one, Firs, in The Cherry Orchard. He did it purely by changing his stance in his chair. As simple as that. It was extraordinary. Hamlet was a young character where he sat up straight, while the other was an old man, so he stooped over. Just small details, but it makes a wealth of difference. 

Become a people watcher. Create a notebook where you take note of people's mannerisms, hair, the way they walk. All those small details that you can use to paint a three-dimensional picture of your character with them. It's not about info-dumping, it's about hints. The notebook will be a resource you can use throughout all your writing, not just one manuscript. Keep it is as a live document that continues to grow every time you see something. Create those brilliant characterisations just like Sir Ian McKellen did through observation.


Conan Gray - People Watching



Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Working with Editors.

I love working with editors. It is such an enlightening experience. Having said that I have been very lucky in that the two main editors I have worked with have really understood my writing and got my stories. Every time they have brought something new and good to the process. I have never once felt like it was a negative process. I do know of others where this has not been the case, so I do count my blessings.

Don't get me wrong when the email arrives with the edits attached I do have that gulp moment and have to let them settle before realising that, yes they are right. They will make the book better. I can see why they are being suggested. You don't always have to agree but you have to have a good reason not to. Editorial comments are there for discussion. They are suggesting you look at an element in the manuscript and consider an alternative way of exploring it. 

It is always important to remember that an editor's opinion is precisely that, an opinion. There is that joke that you put seven editors in a room and give them the same manuscript and you will get seven different lots of editorial comments. I can say the same about writers. If I set my students a writing task where I give them all the same opening sentence, not one of them will write the same story. It is because everything we do, whether it is writing or reading/interpreting what we read is based upon our life experiences. Our education, our upbringing, our politics, our interests. The films we watch, the books we read. Everything has an impact. If you want to get all theoretical you go down the lines of Roland Barthes and his tissue of citations. But let's not. 


This is why it is so important to be open-minded to editorial suggestions and not defensive. Don't be precious about your work. You want it to be the best it can be. You will be too close to it and you won't see the flaws, however, often you have proofread it. Believe me. There have been many a moment when I have cringed when one of my editors have highlighted something that I would have jumped on my students for doing. But I just didn't see it because I was too close to it. I confess I was mortified. Don't be hard on yourself but welcome your editor's input. 

Working with an editor is a joy because they are as passionate about your story as you are. They want to talk about your story as much as you do. Trying to talk to my family about my story is never the same. They are very tolerant of me, bless them, but they don't really care. They are not particularly interested. But your editor is. Make the most of it. Share your ideas when you discuss your editorial notes. Bounce ideas around. It is a chance to get honest feedback. 

Obviously being part of a crit group helps you get used to having feedback, but always make sure it is constructive feedback you are receiving and it is not someone trying to make the book into their book. Always listen to the feedback and ask questions about your manuscript. If you don't agree and you have a good reason not to agree, like with editorial feedback you don't have to follow it. But make sure it is a good reason and you are not just being precious about your work. 

How I envisage the latent 
process
A man reading in the garden
Honore Daumier

I spent years receiving feedback as a student then giving it as a lecturer and as an editor with the Golden Egg Academy. It doesn't make getting feedback from an editor any easier. I still get just as worried though once I have got the edits, I get really excited because I love doing editing and bringing the story to life. Making it sing by ensuring it is the best story it can be. It is all about giving yourself time for latent processing once you have the editorial notes and then enjoy the rewriting. This is why I love working with editors and as I said I've worked with two of the best, Imogen Cooper and Janet.Thomas. 

Happy writing/editing everyone!