The brilliant Leila Rasheed tagged me into this blog tour thingumajig when she posted her own What, Why and How I Write last week. She’s the author of the proper dead funny Chips, Beans and Limousines, and her At Somerton books sound a riot, but personally I cannot wait for her to finish Wish. (Twins! Birthday wishes! These things are my catnip.)
(If you missed it, you should definitely also read Leila’s post Permission to write? My experience of being a British Asian reader, and writer, of children’s books – powerful, honest stuff.)
This week my fellow taggee, YA novelist Eve Ainsworth, has posted her own what/why/how for her 2015 debut Seven Days.
Here’s my own peek behind the scenes…
What am I working on?
Working title: Sam’s Book of Secrets. The fourth and last book in the Pea’s Book series comes out 5th June 2014, and the only reason I’m not rending my garments and wailing is that I’m writing a series of spin-offs, starting with the family next door. The Paget-Skidelskys are two mums and two Sams (plus a dog), and they’ve been a lovely, secure background presence in all four Pea books. Sam’s the one Pea looks to when she needs help, and he’s always very straightforwardly reassuring. I’m absolutely loving making him the centre of his own story, with a problem of his own to resolve: the impending terror of the school residential trip to Treetops Activity Centre. Sam’s the sort of boy who never worries much about anything, so he doesn’t know how to deal with a real obstacle at all.
How does my work differ from others in the genre?
My aim with the Pea’s Book series was to keep all the warmth, charm and storytelling of classic family stories (I grew up on Streatfeild, Ransome, CS Lewis and Blyton) but from a fiercely contemporary perspective. I want my books to be entertaining and sweet, but also inclusive and diverse, and to reflect the world the UK’s kids live in now.
My books are a little longer than a lot of stories for 8+, too, and that’s because a) I can’t help it, they just come out that way and b) they’re jam-packed with lots of extra ‘for you to think about later’ stuff. Pea’s Book of Big Dreams is about a sleepy tortoise, a poorly hamster, panicking about a mean new teacher at school – and also about how much what you do defines who you are, and the meaning of art. Pea’s Book of Holidays is about tents and ice-cream and ghost-hunting – and how we cope with ambivalence, and responsibility.
Oh, and all my books contain a reference to Doctor Who.
Why do I write what I do?
Because I really like Doctor Who!
OK, ridiculous telly-referencing aside: I don’t think ‘issues’ should be kept in a separate box from funny books or cosy, comforting reads – because ‘issues’ means ‘things that affect people’ and I write about people. So Pea’s Book of Holidays is a daft adventure/mystery story, which also touches on casual racism and includes a character with a disability. I’m sure there’ll be those who groan at that description, as if I’m ticking off boxes on a checklist. But it’s 2014. That’s not a world where the only people who get to go on daft adventures in kids’ books are white, straight, able people.
In the same vein, ‘light’, girl-centred, happy-ending books don’t have to be facile: they can and do ask big questions too.
I suppose I write the books I wish already existed.
How does my writing process work?
I’m an outstanding procrastinator (current timesuck: Doctor Who 2048 – I can only apologise for leading you astray, dear reader), and my ‘process’ is more of a how-not-to than anything else, but here it is.
I’m not a big planner, but I need a bit of faffing time to think about the tentpole bits that are going to hold the whole thing up: characters, opening scene, inciting incident, a big event or two, the ending – plus some vague idea of what it’s about (which I will then forget and repeatedly write down in my notes as if it is some epic late-night revelation, only to discover I knew that already). In first draft mode, I try to do 1000+ words a day. Once I hit the second draft I’m usually feeling some deadline pressure, at which point I switch to three working sessions per day (morning/afternoon/evening) and go a bit peculiar. Third draft is where I put the jokes in, and realise it’s actually all going to be ok after all. Third draft is what goes to my editor (unless she’s very unlucky), and then there’s another round (often several) of taking it apart and putting it back together again more interestingly, like lego.
I keep expecting it to get easier, but every book is, at some point, heartbreakingly impossible in a wholly new way. And then you work out how to do it and suddenly everything is wonderful again.
She’s the author of the The Door of No Return (older MG) and Last of the Warrior Kings (YA), which if you haven’t read I cannot recommend highly enough; edgy paranormal YA Angel Dust; and last year’s shockingly dark near-contemporary thriller Siege. Her next book is Riot, another gritty thriller set in the heart of London. Sarah’s also a full-time teacher, and gives fantastic courses on narrative drive to children’s authors via SCWBI. I guarantee her ‘writing process’ will put us all to shame: she gets up so early I’m not sure she actually goes to sleep at all…
She’s the author of the remarkably powerful Looking at the Stars (older MG), and the 6-book Sweet Hearts series – not to mention excellent edgy, unflinching YA fiction such as Red Tears and Screwed under the name Joanna Kenrick. She seems to be writing at least ten books at any one moment, so she’ll probably put you to shame too – but I’m hoping she’ll let on how she does it…
Read their What, Why and How blogs on Monday 14th April.