Wednesday, 29 March 2017

GIVING YOUR CHARACTERS A VOICE



I am half way through my latest young adult novel and want to share with you my experience of reaching that point where the characters ‘speak for themselves’.  This may sound strange, a little weird even, but as a writer it makes telling their story so much easier.

Starting a new book involves a lot of hard work and often months of mulling over ideas.  Several come along but there isn’t enough material to create a whole book from it.  Cast it aside.  Think again.  Wait.  Eventually something will spark an idea with plenty of scope for sixty thousand plus words that others will want to read. Then comes the main character.  Male or female?   How are they going to tell the story?  This is when I am faced with the task of giving my protagonist a ‘voice’.   And it has to fit.  Be credible to the reader.  Chapter one is the hardest.  I don’t know this person yet.  I can visualise them but not much more.  So I start to write.  Tentatively at first.  The dialogue doesn’t come naturally at this point because I am having to think carefully about what is going to come out of this character’s mouth.  Jack, the protagonist is fifteen years old.  Choosing his name, hair and eye colour and putting him into a family started the process but writing dialogue for him was a battle at the outset.  I had just finished CHEESE BOY, a book about two teenage boys, and I had to make sure Jack wasn’t like either of them.  How would he speak?  What would his thought processes be?  His likes?  Dislikes?  What will his role in the story be? 

By five thousand words I start to feel more comfortable with this Jack character. He is beginning to lift off of the page, changing from a 2D to a 3D individual.  By ten thousand words Jack’s dialogue is flowing.  He is taking ownership of his ‘voice’.  As a writer this is where things become magical for me.  Jack has evolved into a fully-fledged teenager with his own thought processes.  This may sound a little odd but something shifts in the writing process at this point, from me thinking how he will respond to an incident, to him doing it all by himself.  I love this stage.  The story flows more freely, Jack says things I type without hesitation.  The book suddenly belongs to the characters I have created and they are ready to do their job. 

I am currently at thirty thousand words.  I know exactly where the story is going.  Jack and the other two main characters have got me this far and I am confident they will carry right on to the end.  I have a pretty good idea as to how the story will resolve itself so all I have to do now is keep my characters on track with the plot and steer them towards the resolution.

Writing can be a challenging, often frustrating business, but when you reach that point where your characters take on a life of their own, it makes all the hard work leading up to it worthwhile.














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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

HERE BE WITCHES by Sarah Mussi



Having thoroughly enjoyed Here be Dragons, Book One, of The Snowdonia Chronicles I have been eagerly awaiting the publication of Book Two, Here be Witches.
                              
Ellie and her friends, George and Rhiannon, find themselves caught up in a battle involving witches, dragons and other mythical creatures.  They need to reverse the spell that threatens to leave Wales in the icy grip of winter.  With the help of Davey, a mysterious stranger, and Granny Jones’ charms and potions, they set out on their quest.  They have just three days to complete it.

For me, the best thing about this book, is how Sarah Mussi achieves a totally credible merging of two worlds: the ‘real’ world and the mythical.  Setting the story in Snowdonia in Wales gives it a solid sense of place.  Together with Wales’ connections to dragons and its folklore this merging of real and mythical is seamless.  There is a powerful sense of atmosphere throughout the book with the landscape of Snowdonia as a constant backdrop. 

Ellie Morgan, the protagonist, is a strong and courageous sixteen-year-old in love with the gorgeous Henry, who also happens to be a dragon.   She is a highly likeable and relatable character.  I thought that her scored-through thoughts in the text were ingenious, showing the reader what she is really thinking.  The use of texts and pings in the storyline also give her credibility as a regular teenager albeit one who is in love with a dragon.

Friendship features strongly in the storyline and the one between Ellie, Rhiannon and Sheila is spot on.  The friendship between Ellie and George is full of humorous banter with poor George declaring his undying love for her.  As the story progresses there are glimpses of Ellie questioning how she really feels about him.  A definite pull into Book Three.

Ellie’s love for Henry is powerful, the thing above all else that she is prepared to fight for.  The fact that she may also be harbouring feelings for George as more than just a friend add nicely to the mix.  By the end of the book I am still not sure who she will ultimately choose.

I loved the humour in the dialogue, ‘maybe she is some kind of Gandalf’.   The text is littered with funny comments that lighten the mood and definitely convinced me I was in the company of teenagers.

Here be Witches has great pace.  Firstly the characters have just three days to complete their quest.  And secondly, the action is snappy, no overlong scenes or lengthy descriptions to slow it down.

The book has a strong sense of right and wrong, good and evil.  I thought the ethereal character of Davey alluded particularly well to this theme giving it religious overtones.  Ellie’s thoughts and comments about him are particularly amusing as it takes her a while to work him out.

So, a brilliant story full of amazing mythical creatures, told by strong, credible characters and set against a magnificent backdrop.  I cannot wait to read the final book in this trilogy.  





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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A QUIET KIND OF THUNDER by Sara Barnard






I was intrigued to read this book as we use sign language where I work and I wondered how Sara was going to incorporate this within the story.  First of all great idea with the chapter numbers.

Steffi and Rhys both have challenges to face.  Steffi suffers from selective mutism and Rhys is deaf.  Communication is obviously an issue but definitely not a barrier to the relationship that blossoms between them.  They are introduced at school by one of the teachers as Steffi knows some sign language which is Rhys’ main form of communication.

Tem is Steffi’s best friend but has chosen not to go to sixth form which leaves Steffi having to face school alone.  Their relationship is warm and funny and powerful.  However, as Steffi becomes more involved with Rhys she becomes less dependent on Tem.  Her courage grows through the story as she discovers she can use her voice although it is still a battle for her.

This books touches on so many things teenagers face.  Friendships, old and new, boyfriend/girlfriend, sex and the desire to chase your dreams.  In Steffi’s case, proving to her parents, and herself, she is independent enough to go to uni.  Watching her grow from a timid, introverted individual to a quietly confident one is extremely moving.  There is a lot of talk on social media about anxiety amongst teenagers at the moment and through Steffi the subject is handled in a very relatable and sympathetic   way.    

Tem is an interesting character.  Although Steffi sees her best friend as being uber confident we see a more vulnerable side to her.  Much of her confidence comes from her relationship with Steffi and once she goes off to college she struggles.  This highlights an intriguing dynamic between the two of them and I particularly like how their friendship is challenged through the story. 


Steffi and Rhys are very real and relatable.  They are both equally challenged but rather than let that define them they use it to help one another.  They fall in love slowly rather than having an instant attraction and this gives their story more credibility and depth. 

I like that this is the story of two teenagers who fall in love amidst all the usual angsts and insecurities of teenage years.  The fact they both have a disability doesn’t alter the fact they are no different from their peers other than in the way they communicate.  This sends a powerful and important message to the reader.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a great story.  If you haven’t read it yet I strongly
recommend you do.







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