On a blog roll
Before switching to writing for teenagers, I read every YA novel I could lay my hands on. Among them were The Angel Factory and boy2girl, both by Terence Blacker. They made me realise two things: 1) how wonderfully imaginative teen fiction could be, and 2) how far I had to go before I could write anything even half as good.
I knew Terence. He’d been the hugely popular writer-in-residence during my year on the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia, way back in 1994. Since then, we’ve played football in a park in Builth Wells. We’ve watched QPR together (though not cheering for the same team). We’ve discussed literature. By which I mean we’ve moaned about our publishers. Not our current publishers, of course.
And now, in the great tradition of writers, from Shelley and Byron to Joyce and Proust, we’ve become tagged in a blog chain.
Here’s how it works: a YA writer posts the answers to four questions on his or her blog, then tags another YA writer to do the same. And so on. C.J. Flood tagged Terence and now Terence has tagged me. Click here to read Terence’s post. Then, if you wish, read mine:
What am I working on?
Right now, I’m taking time out between drafts of a teen/YA novel to write a short story for a science-fiction anthology set in the year 2070. The anthology, to be published by Comma Press, has paired 15 writers with scientists specialising in the field of Artificial Intelligence – I’m collaborating with Dr Jim O’Shea, of Manchester Metropolitan University. I might have I misread the email but I’m pretty sure we get a free trip to 2070 to conduct our research.
I don’t want to say too much about the teen novel-in-progress, for the same reasons as Terence. But I can reveal that it’s provisionally called 20 Questions for Gloria and the first draft needs a lot of bloody work doing to it. Of course, while I’m in 2070, I can download a published version of the book and copy-and-paste it straight into the manuscript. Who said rewriting is difficult?
How does it differ from others in its genre?
If, by ‘genre’, this means horror, dark romance, crime, thriller, adventure, fantasy etc., then I don’t write genre novels. Some critics, bookshops and publishers have categorised my adult books by genre – psychological thriller, speculative fiction, even erotic fiction in the case of The Houdini Girl – but I didn’t conceive them as such and don’t see them in that way. As for my teenage novels, Flip, Never Ending and 20 Questions for Gloria are not genre fiction either.
I wonder, though, if the originator of this blog chain intended ‘genre’ to mean the teen/YA category in general. If so, then I’d have to say that my novel-which-was-in-progress-before-I-broke-off-between-drafts differs from other young adult fiction because it has different characters and a different storyline. But that makes me sound like a tosser, so I won’t say it.
Why do I write what I do?
There isn’t space to answer this one. Obviously there IS space – space is infinite, as far as we know – but what I mean is that each of my novels and short stories has come from a different place and has been written for different reasons. So, to explain why I write what I do, I would have to answer that question twenty times over and fill several pages each time.
A very short answer, in relation to Never Ending, is that I wrote it because I very nearly had a car crash which would have wiped out my wife and daughters and me as well. But what if I’d been the only one to survive? The novel is my way of exploring how a person (a 15-year-old girl, in this case) can possibly live with the guilt and grief of having caused the death of someone she loves.
There, that’s cheered everyone up.
How does my writing process work?
Typically, I write straight onto a laptop at a desk beneath the eaves in my attic-conversion bedroom (although one day a week I tuck myself away in a corner of Caffe Nero with a notepad and pen and write longhand, for a change of scenery and approach.) All of my novels have been written in the order they’re read – i.e. I start on page 1 and carry on straight through to the last page. I don’t write a scene here, a chapter there, and arrange everything afterwards, as some writers do. Even when I have more than one narrative strand or viewpoint, or alternating ‘past’ and ‘present’ sections (as in Never Ending), I still write the novel in a linear way.
My approach has always been to press ahead to the end of a first draft without editing or revising as I go, although I do a little tweaking here and there. Often I’ll start a new day’s writing by re-reading the previous day’s work and making the odd small adjustment. Once I’ve got a complete first draft down, I leave the novel alone for a month or two before doing a fairly major rewrite in which I shape the narrative – cutting some bits out altogether, expanding some scenes, contracting others, moving stuff from one part of the narrative to another, adding some texture to the characters. Some tidying up of the prose happens in this draft, too, but the major line-by-line tightening and polishing, and any adjustments of voice, tone or style, come in the third draft, once the overall narrative shape is more or less how I want it to be.
That’s my official strategy. But each novel raises its own problems and complications and requires a degree of flexibility in the way I tackle it. In fact, now I come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve written any of my novels in exactly the way that I’ve described above.
So, that’s my link in the blog chain.
I now pass it on to Keren David, author of the brilliant sequence of novels which began with When I Was Joe and who reconfirmed her standing as one of the UK’s finest YA authors most recently with Salvage. Click here for a link to her site. Take it away Keren . . .