Who Am I?

61nqqvtzerlI recently bought the Moana soundtrack and it’s become my new favourite CD. Partly because I spent a year in New Zealand and the music makes me homesick. Partly because I called my first venture, selling abstract art, Moana Studios (Moana means ocean). I play it non-stop partly because the songs are so catchy with cleverly-crafted lyrics. But mostly I think the soundtrack is awesome because it reminds me why the movie is so good.

All Disney movies are great, particularly the newer ones, with strong female leads and a lesson to learn. They support values like family and being true to yourself and following your dream. As the Disney ‘Dream Big Princess’ advert suggests, there is a princess for everyone. If that’s true then Moana is mine. (And even though she’s not a princess, Maui says she must be because she has a skirt and a sidekick – very clever!)

Disney movies often show writing at its best, with a compelling story and a carrying theme, and Moana is the perfect example of this. It has all the ingredients: personal growth, humour, the whiff of death, and an upbeat ending. Most of all it has a unifying theme. One of my favourite things in literature (and movies) is when it is all tied together with a theme, but one that you don’t really notice until the end. The new non-animated Cinderella (another favourite) has lots of repeating tags throughout that tie it all together.

I didn’t realise it when I watched it, but Moana’s theme is about answering the question ‘Who am I?’ Not just for Moana, but for other characters like Maui and Te Fiti as well.

What makes Moana such a realistic character, and what I most love about her, is that she is conflicted between disparate things that all mean so much to her. She is torn between her family and what’s inside her heart, doing her duty and doing what brings her alive. Actually I guess all the Disney princesses have that battle, and I certainly think we can all relate to it.

In my favourite song, in answer to the question, “Do you know who you are?” Moana says,

“Who am I? I am a girl who loves my island. I’m the girl who loves the sea, it calls me.”

maxresdefaultShe then lists all the conflicts that have resolved into making her who she is. When she belts out the last line, “I am Moana!” it gives me goosebumps every time.

And envy.

Similarly Maui has to come to terms with his past and find happiness inside himself instead of in the approval of others, and Moana helps him do that. Even though he is the demi-god. Talk about girl power!

At the end of the movie (and avoiding spoilers) Moana says to Ta Fiti,

“They have stolen the heart from inside you… but this does not define you. This is not who you are.”

You are not defined by what others have done to you. What a message.

The movie closes with Moana leading her entire island to a proper understanding of who they are inside. By following her own dream, her own calling, she brings happiness to everyone.

Now isn’t that a lesson to takeaway?

 

The Negative Effects of Binge Reading

Sorry I’ve been quiet recently. Life has been plodding on, I’ve done my amazing abseilling/caving/gorge walking/canoeing/via ferrata adventure. And I’ve been binge reading.

I was going to talk about the Big Five adventure, but I’m still hoping one of the lovely ladies we did it with will send me some photos (since our group all forgot to take cameras that weren’t attached to our phones) so I’ll save that for another day. Except to say it was awesome, and I didn’t really want to come home.

Aside from that, though, I’ve had my usual April stinking cold and so have been non-stop reading to stay sane.

And, oh my, I’ve read some amazing Middle Grade and Young Adult books. I don’t really go in for book reviews here on the blog, since you can’t do a book justice without giving away the essence of the story. A quick summary will have to suffice:

The Venice books by Holly Webb (MG)

hw_0001_7647_the-mermaidssister1I was so excited, when I was in Brighton, to see that there were three new books by Holly Webb, set in Venice. I bought them all, The Mermaid’s SisterMaskmaker’s Daughter, and the Girl of Glass, having loved The Water Horse.

I read the first one in a day (nearly missing my train). I loved Maskmaker’s Daughter too, but I’m saving Girl of Glass for a really bad day. Like the last biscuit in the packet, although who am I kidding, I never save that.

If you didn’t know that Holly Webb writes anything other than cutsie animal books, I definitely recommend her magic series for any avid reader over the age of around seven. The Rose and Lily series start it off, but these Venice ones can be read as standalone books (although they do follow on from each other in time).

The Twelve Minutes to Midnight Trilogy (MG)

20twelve20minutes20to20midnight-69446-3-456x699I picked these up in the library while the kids were playing, and consumed them in about a week. Brilliant historical / fantastical / detective novels which I only chose because I read another great book by the author, Christopher Edge. (The other book was The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, and caused me to swear at my husband for the first time ever, but that’s another story.)

The Twelve Minutes to Midnight Trilogy is published by Nosy Crow (which is another reason I picked them up, since I don’t judge books by their covers anymore but by their publishing house! Namely the ones I’d like to belong to.)

As an aside, these books inspired me to create a male pseudonym. Not because I think Christopher is secretly a girl, but because I wondered if gender bias extends into literary agencies. I’ll keep you posted.

How I Live Now (YA)

howlivenow050705_300x450This book by Meg Rosoff broke me. Seriously. I’d bought it ages ago and, like scouring the cupboard for forgotten chocolate, I needed to continue my binge and found it lost on a shelf.

It’s an amazing, compelling, shocking, unputdownable book. Although written thirteen years ago, it rings horribly true particularly now.

But the ending sucked big time. I walked around in an angry funk for days, genuinely hurt and hurting. I see they’ve made it into a film. I won’t be watching it.

51dyqcwyjjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Snow Merchant (MG)

This is another random Library pick up. God love libraries. Rather surreal and definitely weird but I still haven’t put it down.

Interestingly I’ve just googled it to put a link here, and I love how the author, Sam Gayton, describes writing it. Read the account here.

Rather brilliantly, that leads me on to the title of my blog post.

This binge reading has been brilliant, but it has had a rather unfortunate side effect. Writer’s block. Again. But this time linked with super-weird creative I-must-write-or-I’ll-go-mad dreams.

I wake up feeling exhausted, but with no idea of a story.

You see, the problem with binge-reading awesome books for me is that I think ‘I can’t ever write something that good, I don’t even know where to start’. So I don’t.

I want to write something new. Something amazing. Something unputdownable. And therein lies the problem. I don’t think you can start writing a book hoping that it will be amazing. I think you write a book because you are driven to write it, by the story or the characters or the theme.

I don’t feel driven, I feel depleted.

And still the words build up inside me. The crazy ideas, the vivid dreams. But I feel like all the good stories have been done, the ideas taken, all fleshed out into brilliance I can’t ever achieve.

They say you have to read to be a writer, and I know that it’s true. But for me, there has to be a long gap between one and the other.

Let’s hope I’m just in the reading phase, and when the kids go back to school next week (month, year) inspiration will strike. Or at least the energy to sit at my computer and write rubbish. Because I know, in my heart of hearts, none of these books started out brilliant. They all took slog and doubt and rewrite upon rewrite. I just need to begin.

But, until then, there are books to read.

 

 

Looking for Focus

Haven't Even Planned it Yet!

Haven’t Even Planned it Yet!

One of the problems I never thought I’d have with writing was too many ideas.

When I started as an author, I had to do a free-write, and then pants-out the first draft of a novel, to have any idea of a plot or story. If I sat down to think it through, my mind went blank and ideas refused to come.

As a result, I have half a dozen unfinished novels with some potential to be good stories, albeit with a LOT of work. (Pantsing tends to result in huge plot problems unless you have a rough idea of the outcome of the story!)

Every now and then I think I should grab one of those manuscripts and give it the attention it deserves.

At the same time, though, there’s no rush like the rush of starting a brand new project. Especially now I have some vague concepts of planning and character arcs and the like. And I have ideas. Oh yes. Although mostly those ideas come in the middle of the night, or while walking the dog, or are born out of convoluted dreams. (As an aside, I’m reading Gone by Michael Grant at the moment, and boy are my dreams weird and wired!)

On top of all that – the half finished stories and the stories yet to be born – I have a dozen stories already published that need some love. The adult books need promotion and possibly revamped covers. The YA book needs a sequel or two (well, a complete rewrite from part one, actually!) and the eight children’s books need illustrations. Or an agent.

Unfinished Sequel to Moon Pony

Unfinished Sequel to Moon Pony

Recently I had some image credits to use up on iStockphoto, after doing the covers for Josie and the Unicorn and Alfie Stanton Half-Baked Hero. I dug around to see what other stories were near completion and remembered I have sequels to Moon Pony and Will on the Water that are two-thirds done.

So I did covers for those.

And another idea for a YA book has been kicking around my head recently. So I did a cover for that.

And I’d love to write a period children’s book, as I’ve really enjoyed reading Katherine Woodfine’s stories recently – set in Edwardian London – so I used my last credit on a potential image for that.

To top it all off, I had the vague idea of writing a fun book for hubbie, like I wrote Josie and the Unicorn for my niece. The kids threw in some ideas and we came up with Dad and the Dinosaurs. I wrote the first three-hundred words and ground to a halt.

Arrgghh!

That makes eight potential projects: Two NaNoWrimo projects, two Dragon Wraiths books, two half-finished children’s books, and two new ideas. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the Bridport Prize now has a category for novels with a deadline in a fortnight.

So what have I decided to do?

Sleep. Iron. Sleep. Clean. Kill dinosaurs. Sleep.

It’s two weeks to the end of term, and only two months until the children break up for the summer. If I could pick one project, it’s a good amount of time to get stuck in. But with no feedback, no direction, no deadlines or external force driving me, I’m in a quicksand of indecision.

Oh well. At least I’m on top of the ironing!

Books, Builders, and Bloomin’ Colds

Alfie Stanton

Alfie Stanton

We’re into the fourth week of our ‘two-week’ bathroom refit and I’m about done with having builders in the house. Especially builders that appear to be more pantsers than planners. Who looks at the toilet that’s been ordered the morning they’re going to fit it? Then has to send the client off to the nearest DIY store to buy a different one because the ordered one won’t fit?

And the mess! Anyone who has had building work done will know that dust travels faster and further than gossip. Add to that the new radiator that required pipes to go down an old chimney (think of a soot-apocalypse and you won’t be far wrong) and it’s hellish.

For someone that never does housework I’ve done more cleaning in the last fortnight than in the last year!

I’m trying to write a book for my niece amidst this chaos and that is also behind schedule. It was a crazy plan to begin with, as I started the book last Monday to be ready for her birthday on Saturday. I’ve written a book in a week before, it didn’t seem too hard, but I hadn’t factored in the gazillion tiny decisions that have to be made every five minutes when there is a bathroom fitter, a heating engineer, an electrician, and a decorator in the house.

There have been some wins. Alfie Stanton Half-Baked Hero is now available on Amazon in print and ebook format. I found a couple of great illustrations for the front cover when I was looking for something else, so went ahead and got it live. It’s enrolled in KDP Select so I can try and bribe people to leave the odd review with a free copy! Watch this space.

My Niece's Book

My Niece’s Book

And I have almost finished the first draft of my niece’s novel – Josie and the Unicorn. I would have finished it yesterday but I keep getting these bizarre dizzy spells that last all day and one hit me in Waitrose as I tapped away at my final climax. I’ve pretty much been in bed since! Might be time to see a doctor.

But before then I have to go see the lovely man at Oundle Carpets because the decorator says the vinyl we bought for the floor won’t match the violent violet paint we’ve chosen for the walls (regretting that decision already, but it’s only paint!)

Toilets and vinyl and tiles and soot-sweeping and washing my hair in a sink. This author is really living the dream! J

Lying Dormant

Nothing Blooms All Year

Nothing Blooms All Year

There’s a phrase I’ve seen on Facebook recently (although a quick Google search has failed to produce an origin, so call it ‘anon’) that says, “Nothing in Nature Blooms All Year Round.”

It’s been echoing in my head for the past few weeks because, hey, January.

I don’t do January well.

All the hubbub and frantic organisation (and, let’s be honest, shopping and gift wrapping – my two favourite pastimes) of November and December are replaced by the guilt of January.

There is shopping in January too, as it’s my daughter’s birthday, but that is overlaid with the guilt of how much I spent at Christmas. Add to that exhaustion after the holidays, erratic sleep patterns from having a lark daughter and an owl husband and son, and I’m quite frankly a wreck.

I’ve written before  (more than once!) about the January blues. I beat myself up that I can’t start writing the minute the children return to school. I become low.

This year has been no different. Except I’ve been playing Minecraft instead of mooching on Facebook. Same screen, different brain-dead.

And then that phrase: Nothing blooms all year round. It’s like a ray of winter sunshine in my head. Perhaps it’s okay that I sleep during the day, or hit the sack at 8pm (or both), hardly seeing my husband at all. Perhaps it’s okay that my mind is like sludge, and I crawled through 7,000 words of a new novel, (that’s 70%, as it’s a Chapter Book) and then realised the plot had a hole to end all gaping plot disasters.

Perhaps it’s okay just to think of myself as dormant, awaiting the spring sunshine to bring me back to life. The fact that I’ve written virtually the same post for the last two years shows it isn’t me being rubbish. Not really.

It’s just January.

The Book I Wrote In a Month

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

This is a post about how NOT to self-publish – experts like Kristen Lamb and Catherine Howard should look away now.

My last post was all about how I wrote a first draft in four or five days, in response to finding out my Chicken House novel was a bit pants.

I came up with the idea of a girl called Esmerelda Smudge (in tribute to Esmerelda Weatherwax from the Discworld novels). I sketched out the character and most of the plot during a 30-min dog walk, and wrote 20,000 words over the next few days.

That was on 12th November.

On 17th November I sent my tweaked draft to an editor I’ve used before, who I love because she writes Children’s Fiction and has kids too. She edited Dragon Wraiths for the competition last year, and her insights were super helpful. Plus she charges proofreading rates! It’s Christmas, I don’t have much money to spare. I also sent Alfie Stanton The Half-Baked Hero to her (the ‘pants’ book) so I could work out from her comments which one to enter in the competition.

On 27th November (because, did I mention, she’s awesome?) my editor sent back the annotated manuscript, with excellent comments on character arc, dialogue, research and all that good stuff. I made the changes that week, while waiting to hear back about Alfie Stanton.

On 4th December I got back Alfie Stanton, with the view that – with some hard work on dialogue – it should be my Chicken House entry. So, being me, I ignored those edits and decided to publish Esmerelda instead!

My purchased iStock Image

My purchased iStock Image

I purchased a great set of composite artwork from iStockphoto for the princely sum of £8.40 and set about turning it into a passable cover design. Did I mention money is tight at Christmas? I bought the image because I knew I could cut and paste and adobe photoshop the hair to make three images of the same girl doing different things, things that Esme does in the novel.

I used an existing novel template (Moon Pony) that was already set up for CreateSpace to create my print document, just dropping the novel into place. I uploaded the files to CreateSpace on 9th December.

Yesterday, one month after first dreaming up Esmerelda Smudge, I ordered a print copy. And so did someone else! Don’t know who, which means I made my first sale. 🙂

This is obviously NOT how to self publish. I have several things that made this a smooth process: practice (I’ve written and published six children’s books this year), a willing and wonderful editor, and the urgency of a competition deadline.

The final cover doesn’t look quite right on the print copy and my new one doesn’t seem to have uploaded, although sometimes there is a lag on Amazon and the printed version will be fine.

Did I mention this is how NOT to do it – a proof version should always be printed before setting a book live. But the proof versions for me come from overseas and can take ages to arrive. So it’s quicker and cheaper to set it live and order my own copy. Except no one is meant to buy one in the mean time! 🙂

I spent a total of £51.99 including ordering a print copy. I won’t even make that amount back in sales unless something miraculous happens. But I released a fun, sweet, heartwarming story into the world for the price of a meal out for two.

For me, that’s how to self-publish!

You can find the kindle version of my book here for the bargain price of £1.98 (I haven’t checked the formatting on that either, that’s my next job, but hey it’s not expensive!)

Merry Christmas

 

 

My Mini NaNoWriMo

Latest incarnation of Alfie

Latest incarnation of Alfie

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year. I am desperately trying to get an entry together for the Chicken House/Times Children’s Fiction competition, so I’m all about the red pen, not the free-flowing first draft.

Except.

I gave the latest version of my Alfie Stanton manuscript to my husband, waiting for applause, or at least constructive feedback and got … Nothing.

The story is doomed. I started it two years ago, with a character called George. Resurrected it for Chicken House last year, but had the first chapter trashed by a children’s editor so shelved it and entered Dragon Wraiths instead. In fact, after being told by the editor that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be an author if I wouldn’t break my manuscript down to the smallest part, I nearly quit writing for good.

I don’t do ‘edit to death’. I find my work tends to get worse rather than better if I overthink it and let ‘analyst’ brain take the wheel. But anybody who’s anybody in the writing world will tell you to edit, edit, then edit some more. Even last year’s Chicken House winner gave that as her main piece of advice.

So this time I thought it was time to grow up and do it properly. I broke my manuscript down, looked at characters and themes, description, language, conflict. But mostly I got in a huge muddle and came to hate the story and everyone in it. The harder I tried, the flatter and duller my writing became.

It wasn’t a great surprise, then, when husband’s silence screamed, “this is shit!” although I thought it was just the first draft of anything that was meant to be that.

And do you know what, I think he’s probably right. By trying to be literary and funny and to incorporate all of Barry Cunningham’s advice, I broke my story.

What would once have killed me made me stronger. Seven days ago, I came up with a brand new character – Esmerelda Smudge. Six days ago I started writing, and two days ago I sent a 20,000-word lightly-edited brand new story to my (new) editor. 20k words in just over 4 days. That knocks the spots off NaNo.

Rough Cover

Rough Cover

Is it good enough to enter in the Chicken House competition? I’m not sure. I still think Alfie, for all his flaws, is more what they’re looking for, which is probably why I can’t quite get him right. My style has always been more mainstream than award-winning. But Esmerelda has a great story. I gave the first 14k words to hubbie to read, and he polished them off in an hour. Not that he’s the best judge, but at least he’s honest.

Maybe, instead of trying to follow all the advice, to force myself into a mold and mode of working that doesn’t fit, I should continue on my own deluded way. After all I wrote Two Hundred Steps Home that way and it’s proved popular. Dickens wrote in serial form – he can’t have analysed his story arc to death on every book.

And I do put in the work. When I’m drafting, my brain buzzes and sleep is scarce. I carry the story arc, character profiles, the motivation, the continuity and conflict and comedy, all around in my head and pour it into each chapter. But it’s written fast, with no time for fear. And, for me, it works.

Most of all, it produces books that I would choose to read. That at least is one piece of writing advice that I can follow!