Posts Tagged ‘novel’

I’m never sure of terminology, but I think “magic realism” is magic introduced into a real-world setting.

This is something I love. It resembles a flight of imagination that sees the possible amid the mundane. And I like that attitude. It brings something extra special to a novel to have these things happening. I suppose that’s why I brought in a talking mouse in the chapter book I am redrafting. Why limit things by being prosaic all the time??

This probably explains why I so enjoyed The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. And that’s also why I’m now reading her next book, The Bedlam Stacks.

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It was a little bizarre at first, though not magical. And then there appeared a statue that had moved. But, supposedly, no one had moved it. Then later it faces a direction from which to watch the narrator. I’m only 20% through, so I’m not sure how much more “magic” will happen. But guess what? It leaves the possibility open and makes me read on. The story will definitely not be boring!

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And then I came across Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus. This is aimed at so-called middle grade. A good reader of 10 would love it.

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This is the intriguing first bit – how can anyone resist that last sentence??

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I leave you to decide if magic realism grabs you like it does me. But discovering new books is such fun anyway, so I thought I’d tell you about these two – three if you include The Watchmaker – I read that three times. Not something I normally have time to do!


Someone pointed me to what Chris East has written in a blogpost about successful writing not being a single goal but a series of milestones you keep passing without ever finally arriving as a writer.

At one point, East says:

“There is no finish line. If you’re like me, you’ll probably look for one. And occasionally you’ll think you’ve crossed one. But in the end, ‘finish lines’ in this business are illusions, and they only keep moving.”

So that’s my excuse for the long period of no posting here. I didn’t think I’d finished – I was trundling along chasing illusory finish lines that kept multiplying into the distance.

One was the revision of the manuscript I completed. Another was the editing of same. A third and fourth were two journals I had to put together. A fifth was end-of-term stuff to do with written evaluations of the coaching pilot I’ve been running since January. A sixth, ongoing, is my other paid proofreading and copyediting work. A seventh, my clients – and yes, they too require notes written up (sometimes I wonder how many hats I can fit on my head).

But I never stopped writing and yes, Chris, I will never arrive. I realise that now. This is not merely because Cornerstones has my novel sitting somewhere in a dusty corner while the poor editor thinks of a nice way to couch her comments! It’s because I seem to move words around every single day. Lots of waystations. For myself or other people. They never stop. But I always move on successfully.

So I think I CAN justifiably call myself a successful writer, despite chasing that completely wrongly identified “goal” of being a published YA writer.

In the meantime, I really am hoping that the Cornerstones editor will constructively deconstruct whatever she finds wrong with the novel, and that I will find the energy to put it back together again.

But I can’t hang around. I have some graphs to proofread and some commissions to sort out… Would someone please put the flag in the 18th (agent) hole when it comes in sight, so I’ll know where to pitch my ball? I’ve just bought the new Nicola Morgan book so I’ll be ready! Because publishing that particular novel is dear to my heart, even though it’s a mere waystation, not a goal as such, oh no.

It’s May 28th 2012 – I have just written THE END. My new novel is finished. Or maybe just started. Depends how you look at things.

So OK, this is the beginning – of the redrafting, the working out of things that don’t work too well, the rectifying of inconsistencies (though I’ve tried really hard to monitor and check as I was writing), a serious tidying up, and the ongoing debate about a suitable title. The working title makes it sound like fantasy fiction, when it’s not. It’s a real headache.

But this post is to mark “an” ending. I wrote it. I got there. I’ve drafted a whole new book. And now I must polish it over the coming months.

In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate today  – or, more probably, sink down exhausted to munch on some nuts and cheese.

Before I go, I want to register some gratitude:

For my MacBook Air that has lived with me on my bed for the past seven months, recording every word of this drafting.

For my trusty work tool, Scrivener, that has made the task such a pleasure.

For my lovely daughter Esther, who has read and commented as I worked (send her some virtual hobnobs please).

For my tarot decks – especially the lovely Dragons Tarot, that is so crucial to the story – for their inspiration. (How come my middle grade novels had dragons in them and now this one has a dragon deck? *message to self to grow up*)

For friendly SCBWI folk, a few of whom (at the last conference and in York) have seen a couple of excerpts and given really useful feedback.

And now I’m tired. I hope to be back here regularly in future, with comments on the editing process and other wonderfully imaginative posts for your delectation, but right now, I’m out of words for the while. All 74,000 are written elsewhere!

I’ve discovered the secret of getting one’s youth back. You don’t believe me? Well, OK. Fine. But I think you’re probably desperate to know how my latest novel has been coming on in recent weeks. You are, aren’t you? So remember that youth thing and read on.

It’s confession time. I’ve reverted to my favourite way of writing – the present tense in the “I” form. It was working fine in the third person past tense. But it was not “me”, if you follow. That mode worked fine for dragon books for middle grade  (but see my post here about why Jervan, my third MG novel, is in the present) but it wan’t what I wanted for this YA book. It was missing punch, although I believe it has the plot and characterisation.

So 44,000 words in, I’ve started on a rewrite. Hence my bloggy silence. You see, it sounds pretentious, but if you say you’re a writer, you have to write, and that means deserting the blog occasionally to painstakingly work through my novel making it first person present.

The rewrite is in two stages that work parallel to each other. Firstly there’s the literal translation of it into the correct form, but at the same time, executed section by section, I’m carrying out what would normally be termed a second draft.

The reason for the dual rewrite is that there are some things you simply wouldn’t write in the first person version. It’s a different world out there where the narrator is the teen. I was already writing in a closed third person position but even so… it’s different. You have to try it to understand. But it’s definitely different.

Then there was the issue of whether, having stopped the flow of things for a while, I would ever get back into it, or end up with the equivalent of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

After much thought, and discussion with my writerly daughter, I decided that I didn’t want to finish the last 16,000 words how it was, because I wanted to write the last portion of the book in the flow “as” my narrator in the present tense. I reckon it will be much more powerful that way. So it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Another concern was whether I would lose the habit after writing new material so consistently every morning for well over a month. But actually, I’ll have been living it all again by the time I get to that point, 44,000 words in, so it isn’t going to be an issue. It’s more a mental thing – it feels good to report increasing word counts, whereas this is less obviously progress. Well, as the teens themselves say: get over it.

And the good thing is, I’m dead excited about how it’s going. I am the heroine in a way I wasn’t before. Yay! The foolproof way to get one’s golden years back. I told you so, didn’t I?

There are numerous websites (and books, of course) telling us how to make sure the opening chapter of our book shines/jumps out/pops/enthralls/grabs, and all the rest of it. And naturally, I wouldn’t want mine to fail.

I went away at the weekend and achieved my 3,000 words, although they consisted of 1,500 written twice: once in third person and again in first person. The latter is not an exact translation of the former but contains most of the same material. So I now have two versions. And I’ll deal with that later. And only half a chapter. I’ll deal with that later, too!

The most important thing for now is to measure the success of the 1,500 words as a beginning for YA readers. Otherwise, it’s pointless going on. Readers won’t dally over a poor beginning.

Darcy Pattison, on his website, lists some main points (I don’t know Darcy but I picked his webste at random to help me think) and this is the gist of his main points – do go look:

1 Grab the reader – in my story, this is probably mood and action combined. My lead female clearly has too much to deal with and is unable to make decisions for reasons that become clear pretty soon. Hopefully the reader will align with this character’s frustration at and reaction to this state of affairs in the first paragraph.

2 When and where – ah, well. When is current and she’s in Year 11, though the date isn’t too clear (but it’s clearly modern), and where is her bedroom, which she marches out of to do something important at that minute, also upstairs, having managed finally to make one small decision.

3 Intriguing character – plus make sure there’s lots of stuff the reader now knows about them. Right, let’s count… okay, 17 facts so far in the half-chapter. Is that too many things? Or does it allow the reader to get involved in 1,500 words?

4 Something to solve or worry about – yes: the reason why her brother is not there is not explained yet, but it clearly affects her. And why she pushes the thoughts of another girl away is also left hanging at this point. This will work so long as my reader is interested enough to worry!

5 Start with a scene – if that means with an event, a conflict, and not achieving the goal, I guess this is where she does what she does to try and rescue her “real” self from the mess she is in mentally and physically, and it doesn’t succeed, only makes matters worse. Not sure if this is strong enough yet.

6 No back story – oops, I have allowed her to remember an event earlier with her brother, but it’s shown as an event with enough interest and relevance that I think it will be okay. But I do take note on this point. I certainly haven’t told any backstory. Maybe that’s why I’m writing in the first person on the second try, because this way her thoughts are in her voice, alive and vivid. (No explaining, because that would be her explaining what she already knows, which even I can see is ridiculous!)

Well, thank you, Darcy Pattison, that’s really helpful and fuels my next move.

And when I’ve had a rethink, I’ll pop off to the the inimicable Nicola Morgan’s blog and study this post hard. Because, actually, she says it all really well. And then I’ll just get on with it. Right to the end. Before I have another fit of doubts.

This morning I got back to the novel I’m writing for 10s-12s, called (for the moment) Kipper’s Pride. Most mornings, I open the MacBook Air while drinking two mugs of tea in bed, and scribe another several hundred words. That doesn’t sound a lot but it mounts up – 25,000 words to date. Probably half way through. So I thought I’d tell you about it.

I had two initial struggles with this story.

1 The plot struggle

The plot proved tricky just before Christmas, simply because I didn’t plan a chunk of it. Going back to outlining was the answer and I’m back in business.

2 The point-of-view struggle

What proved harder to establish from the start was the POV. I always knew it would be the 15-year-old boy Jervan Krasniewski’s story. He has a twin, he has an English-Polish family, Dad is off sick from the army, having suffered something traumatic in Afghanistan, and the twins and Mum have gone on holiday to Seahouses without him. Mum disappears, and the story is the search to find her. So far so good.

Seahouses: setting for Kipper's Pride

I started writing this piece of fiction in the 3rd person inside Jervan’s head (limited perspective). The first part was Very Highly Commended in the UKAuthors Opening Words 2009 competition (results were only announced in September 2010). Not too bad considering the overwhelming number of entries they had which held up the results for so long.

But straight after submitting it, back in Dec 09, I had rewritten the existing chapters in the first person because I wasn’t happy with it. And that’s when I found Jervan’s voice and personality. It’s so much easier to make him authentic this way. While I’m writing, I’m him. So this is the version from which the opening chapter won the WriteLink Novel Beginnings first prize in the summer, so I guess something is indeed right about it.

One other issue

There’s been one other major decision so far. Was it OK to change viewpoint for a while half way through?

This follows the chapter where Jervan finds his sister has gone missing, too. It really makes sense at this point to backtrack to the day before, when Mum disappeared. I need the reader to know how she disappeared because this offers so much more tension when Jervan has to up his game to solve everything. Knowing she’s alive doesn’t spoil anything now, but knowing what might happen if Jervan doesn’t succeed changes everything.

I think the only way to do it is in the 3rd person from Mum’s point of view. This will only be a few short chapters (or even one long one) compared to the Jervan strand that is the major part of the book. But I think it will be worth it. I can always rethink, if it doesn’t work.