Many thanks to fellow Egger Vashti Hardy for passing the baton to me in the blog tour.
You can read her fantastic ‘world building’ post here: http://vashtihardy.wordpress.com/
Reading how others approach their writing is fascinating and it’s good to know I’m not alone!
I’m writing my first YA novel and it’s heavily influenced by the Welsh and Shropshire hills where I live, both steeped in myths and legends. It’s also only a short walk to my childhood home, the source of many adventures and ghost stories but I’ve lived and worked all over the UK. I’m being mentored by Imogen Cooper, on the Golden Egg Academy, and on the road to completing my novel. You can access the Facebook page from the website link too.
Before I tell you about my writing process, have a look at the photo and consider this, what if the bear was alive inside the sculpture?
I thought he was.
Not because I was dizzy from the heat of a glorious summers day, or because I adore making stories up, but because I sensed an energy from the tree stump. Okay, technically that didn’t mean I thought the bear was alive, but the energy I felt gave it life.
Walking in the woods gives me a sense of calm against the noise of life. That’s when I stop thinking about the real world and something else takes over.
Hold that thought…
1. What am I working on?
The Shaman’s Apprentice is an evocative YA Magical Realism story set in a Welsh village.
Cerys is tormented by fears her twin brother needs help − the trouble is, he’s been dead nine years and the killer not found. She felt Gethin’s pain the precise moment he died and cannot let go, despite leaving his grave and the Welsh village behind. At sixteen she continues to suffer nightmares and unexplained bruises, and her only comfort is Gethin’s silver wolf charm on her necklace. When ghostly events signal something is wrong with her brother she feels the pull to return to the village.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Emotion. Some call it ‘baggage’ others call it ‘experience’ but I love bringing a character’s emotions alive. If I don’t feel it, I won’t write it. I have to care. By the time the reader gets to meet them I’ve made sure they’re worth knowing. Cerys’s deep, unbreakable love forces her to return to the place her brother was killed and discovers many things have changed. She must find someone to trust as there’s more to the village than she could have ever imagined. That’s when she meets Ethan.
Layers. I want the reader to think about my book on more than one level; Cerys doesn’t just go from A to B to C. I love using symbols, for example, there’s a bridge in the village that isn’t just about crossing the river, it symbolises her decision to face her grief.
3. Why do I write what I do?
To make the reader think and feel.
I love books that do the same; make me fall in love, laugh, cry or too terrified to turn the light off! Being passionate drives me. I’ve never accepted that this (take a look around) is all there is. I want to make the ordinary extra-ordinary, to “find the back of the wardrobe moment,” as Imogen told me. So, what will Cerys find when she returns to her ‘ordinary’ Welsh village…?
Why am I writing The Shaman’s Apprentice? There isn’t one specific thing, however, my dad had a twin brother who died at birth and I’ve often wondered if he subconsciously felt that sense of loss from that moment. He also has older twin sisters by the way so they kept him company.
I view grief as an internal scar. No one knows how deep it goes. It’s hard to verbalise that pain and even tougher for teens. I wanted to unpick a tough emotion and explore how unquestioning love and hope can impact.
4. How do I write what I do?
When I came to this question I had one of my writer trances. Which way to go: stick to the technical or go with the quirky-me things? I hope I made the right decision and do a little of both.
Before I write on, I need to refer to the ‘writer ups and downs’. I told you I had to care about something to write about it. Well, I don’t go singing on those Welsh hills like Julie Andrews, I don’t have the throttle on full all the time. So the ‘downs’ have to follow the ‘ups.’ That has an impact on how I write, no matter how many writer tools I have. But it’s not a bad thing. Learning to use the low times to read, reflect and even force myself to free-write has brought about some interesting things.
(I am now distracted with thoughts of singing like Julie Andrews… why didn’t I think of that before?)
In its simplest form, this is what I do.
I Think and Feel, I Imagine, I Read, I Organise, I Write and then I Edit. TFIROWE for ease. I repeat any or all when necessary and not always in the same order! If only it were that simple. (There maybe tears or air punching moments in between too)
Golden Egg. I’ve mentioned I’m being mentored by Imogen as part of the Golden Egg Academy and so my writing process has adapted to this. I had a completed manuscript when I first met Imogen but had to go back to the keyboard and write the BookMap©; effectively a chapter by chapter plot plan, with details on the through-line, character and themes. Although it was hard work it was worthwhile and keeps me focused. After much more TFIROWE and one2ones with Imogen I’m currently working through the rewrite. You may have already seen things I’ve been up to with Golden Egg on the website or Facebook page.
However, outside of the Golden Egg, this is what I get up to.
Thinking and feeling on my Worky-Walk. I never switch off. I dream when I’m awake, I dream when I’m asleep. If I can’t sleep I listen to podcasts or audio books. Zumba and yoga are great in between because I have to focus on other things! However, some of my best thinking comes on my Worky-Walk’. The phone is off, no music, no dog (even though I don’t have one!) and no company. I don’t need it when I’m doing this.
My walk takes about an hour and, armed with my notebook, I go and find my characters in the country. Yes, at the same point, about fifteen minutes in, my characters start chatting and they tell me all sorts. I worry about the quiet ones too. For my current book, once I realised Nature has its own story to tell, the shamanic story took shape. It’s amazing how timely a buzzard call has been.
Thinking and feeling, to the coffee shop and beyond. I spend a lot of time alone in the summerhouse but I have to get out too. I like to people-watch and have a notebook for characters where I list obvious and not so obvious traits. I imagine why a woman might be alone, or why a boy has slammed a door.
Thinking and feeling, musical theatre I’ve recently had a few singing lessons to see how it feels to interpret the song and get into a character’s head and I’m staggered at how it’s helping my writing. Yes, I’m still wondering about getting up on those hills…
Reading. I try to read every day. I don’t just read YA either and I love audio books. I think about the story; how it makes me feel, if the plot is too slow, if the characters are interesting enough or if the ending is satisfying. I also love researching. Although much of that has been completed for my current book I love sitting in a quiet area of a library with obscure non-fiction books. (That’s Teacher Ted on my bookshelf; he keeps them in order!)
If I’m having a tough time and can’t write, nine times out of ten, I may have also stopped reading. Dr Vanessa Harbour , who lectures at Winchester University as well as working at the Golden Egg, wrote an interesting blog about the importance of reading.
Organise. I’m terrified an idea will float off and never come back, so I have to organise. Stationery companies heave a sigh of relief! I have a thing about notebooks. They’re sorted into plain and lined, then subdivided into those that have tear-out pages and those that don’t. I also have favourites and they know who they are. Don’t expect to find my summerhouse tidy though. It’s ‘lived in.’
I’m very visual so I have a scrapbook full of research or photos of my characters and settings. An idea from the Golden Egg workshop on Character was to find someone of a similar stature to one of my characters, then draw around their outline onto the back of wallpaper, cut it out and stick it on the wall. It’s like having them in the room with me. Be careful who you grab though!
Write and edit. My story began life from my kitchen table but I now work mainly in my summerhouse, listening to the birds and the breeze. I love the fact it’s my space. It gets cold in the winter but I layer up. I can’t work with with noise as my characters are too chatty!
I refer to the BookMap© and any notes from one2ones with Imogen, however, ideas still pop into my head at the writing or editing stage. It is tempting to add them all but the Bookmap helps keep the focus on the right areas.
When it doesn’t work. I do have days when everything feels bleak. Those are the days when I try to do anything that will help my writing, like developing a theme or character. That’s the great thing about the Golden Egg, I know there’s a community of other writers I can connect with too.
Time and space. It’s taken me a long time to realise that my creative and writing brain needs time and space. More than I ever think; a week, two weeks and more. I push myself very hard because I like to, however, like a good wine, sometimes it’s best just to leave it alone. I can almost hear Imogen sighing with relief.
One final thing, I love writing. One of the best decisions I ever made. I’ve enjoyed reflecting on my writing process and thank you for reading it. Thanks again to Vashti for asking me to join the blog tour. I hope to open my own blog page soon so maybe you will visit me again? In the meantime catch me on Twitter @kayvallely
Magical Realism. If anyone is interested to see what books might fit into the ‘magical realism’ genre have a look at this. Goodreads have classified Magical Realism books and some of my favourites are in there. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold; The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger; Chocolat, Joanne Harris; and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman.
Next week I’m passing the baton to two other Golden Egg Academy members and you can read their blogs on 21st April.
Firstly, there’s James, who I was lucky enough to meet recently. His book sounds great and I can’t wait to find out more about it on his blog. http://jamesnicolwrites.blogspot.co.uk/
The working title is ‘The Apprentice Witches Handbook’ and features a young witch who basically has to save the world from destruction by an evil god, the only problem is she failed a vital evaluation test!
This is how he describes himself, in his own words: I have always been passionate about books and reading, having worked in libraries and bookshops for the past 18 years but I rediscovered my love of writing a few years back, when I started a creative writing course (I should have actually been doing something else but that wasn’t nearly as much fun!) By day I am a sort-of-librarian but spend much of my free time writing, I’m currently working on a middle grade fantasy adventure and very honoured to be ‘in the incubator’ at The Golden Egg Academy.
Lynette would like to point out that she is not actually a snowman but feels this one has a winning smile and so will suffice!
Lynette has been writing for nearly five years and is currently writing a novel aimed at 8-12 year olds called ‘The Curse of the Creepers’. Although this writing lark was just supposed to be a distraction from her mid-life crisis, it has become a secret passion.
She has won two writing competitions with short stories and been placed in several others (and pats the certificates with alarming regularity when the gremlins make her write utter twaddle).
She has worked with young people who have experienced very difficult backgrounds and finds their resilient souls creeping into her characters.
She is trying hard to stop writing dreadful poetry which always seems to have comedy West Country accents and promises that her blog (and all future blogs) will remain poetry free for the sake of humanity.