I’d like to introduce you to some very important people. Those amazing kids up there all played an important part in Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter getting into print. Three of them were the inspiration for characters in the book (Alfie, Amy and Lizzie) and all of them read the story and told me what they liked, and what they didn’t. And yes, you will notice a certain family resemblance between me, Aiden and Niamh; they’re my children. Write what you know 😉
These kids (especially Joseph, the young man nearest me wearing the black coat) kept me going through the grind of editing, through the rejection from agents, through the uncertainty about whether, having written one I could do another. They asked interesting questions, they answered my questions, and they showed me that kids really love Alfie, Amy, the Monkesto and Mr Monk.
With just two days until the book launches, I’m feeling incredibly grateful to lots of people for helping me along the way but I will always have a special place in my heart for these guys. They’re amazing, they really are.
So, pre-order copies of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter are going out now, and I’m asking people if they’d like them signed. One friend of my husband’s asked if I could write a message encouraging her daughter, known as Piggle, to keep writing. Piggle, she said, was losing her joy in writing because of the technical way that stories are taught in school these days.
Well, that just happens to be a bit of a bugbear of mine, and try as I might I couldn’t come up with a pithy comment to scribble in the front of a book to address it. So I wrote Piggle a letter, and I’m sharing it here in case it’s helpful to anyone else.
I heard a rumour that you sometimes get discouraged from writing your amazing stories and poems because of all the rules that they teach you in school. I can understand that. I am still learning about writing, so I can do it better: At the grand old age of 46 I have started working towards my Masters Degree in Creative Writing. I’m learning a lot, but when I sit down to write stories, I hear all the voices of my teachers, the authors of books about writing that I’ve read, and the other students on my course whispering to me and telling me that I’m doing it wrong.
But here’s the thing : There didn’t used to be any ‘wrong’ when it came to stories. Stories are wild things. Stories are thoughts, that swirl around in people’s brains and until very recently the only way that stories (and I mean poems too) were told was orally. When the light faded, people would sit near the fire and those who were good at weaving them would entertain everyone else with stories. Those stories would be a bit different every time, they were never really finished and certainly never perfect. They relied on the memory of the person telling them, and I expect that they changed a bit depending on who was listening. The storytellers told the story in the way that people would enjoy them the most.
You know how books are sometimes called novels? And that novel means ‘new and different from what has gone before’? That’s because when books started to be printed, that was something new. That was the first time that stories had to be finished. The only way something can be finished is if we know what ‘finished’ looks like for that thing. That’s when all these rules about how you should use punctuation and things came about; they weren’t designed to help with storytelling, they were designed to hold stories into a set pattern.
And just like I did above, sometimes it’s good to break those rules. There’s a writer called Cormac McCarthy who hardly uses any punctuation and would definitely fail his SATs. When asked why he didn’t punctuate, he said he didn’t want to, ‘blot the page up with weird little marks’. His most famous book, The Road, won a Pulitzer Prize – if you haven’t heard of that, it’s one of the biggest writing prizes in America. Sometimes, breaking the rules is exactly the right thing to do.
Like I said, stories are wild things. They live in our brains, feeding off our imaginations and they don’t like being put in cages. They’re also a part of us, and that’s why it can feel like we’re the ones being constrained when we have to use all those rules to hold the story on the page – especially if we’re writing to show our teachers that we have learned all the rules they wanted to teach us. Writing like that can make it feel like you’re doing it wrong, it can suck the fun out of it. Do you know why? Because the most important thing about writing stories is leaving enough wildness in them, so it can leap off the page and start whizzing around in someone else’s imagination.
Still, learning about writing is important; it’s the only way that we are going to get any better at it. Do you know what has taught me the most about writing? Writing. For all the courses I’ve done, the books I’ve read, the Literacy lessons I’ve helped with at my children’s school, the thing that has taught me the most is writing more stories. Each and every story that I write teaches me something different: What worked well? What didn’t? Which parts of the story were exciting? How did other people feel about them? So, even when I feel like I’m doing it all wrong, or that I can’t tell the story the way I really want to because of the rules, I keep writing.
I hope you will too, because there is only one Piggle. You are the only person who has seen everything you’ve seen, done everything you’ve done and felt everything you’ve felt. Your stories are unique, and wonderful and important. You are the only person that can set your stories free, so they can inspire other people.
You’re about to read Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter. It’s my first book and even though I’ve read it about a zillion times, and it’s been proof read by a professional, when I look at it now there are still some sentences that make me unhappy, things I would like to change. I don’t think most readers notice them though, they’re too busy enjoying the story.
Very soon, I’m going to have the second Alfie Slider book ready to send to agents and publishers but before I send it to them (who will judge it by the rules) I need to know if the people I wrote it for (smart kids, like you) will enjoy it. Would you read it for me? Not to tell me about my SPaG, but to tell me whether you like the story, how it made you feel, whether there was still enough wild imagination left in it to spark ideas in your brain too. And, if you like, you can send me something you’ve written and I will do the same for you.
It’s easy to be excited about 2017. Just 20 days into the month, Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter is published! I’ve got a book launch, school visits, author events, comicon and more planned to promote the heck out my first book next year. It’s going to be amazing!
I’ve been blown away by the pre-order sales I’ve made myself, I have copies of the book in hand and delivered them in my local area on Christmas Eve. Children (and a few adults) unwrapped copies of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter for Christmas. Wow!
I’m going to start the next round of edits on Alfie Slider vs the Frozen Prince, too. Feedback from beta readers has been very encouraging, and I’m looking forward to polishing it to a publication-ready shine.
Mirrorball is going great, too. Dan is working on the big finish, and I think the timing should work out well; Alfie 2 edits will be done when Mirrorball first draft is done which will leave me free to write something new – but what? Alfie 3, or one of the ideas that have been stewing for a while looking to be written? Sasha Stone, Eboracum, Words of Power…
But looking back on 2016 is more of a mixed bag. For me, personally, it was an amazing year. I’ve had work included in six anthologies, had successes in almost 20 competitions and, of course, got Shape Shifter published. It felt like a much tougher year for the world, though; Wars, Refugees, Terrorism, Extremism, Division…there have been times when I’ve felt helpless, that the world is being taken in a nightmarish direction. And of course it was the year of celebrity deaths, where every week seemed to see the end of another icon including recently the death of the wonderful Carrie Fisher. It will come as no surprise that this geek girl was hugely influence by Princess Leia, and by Carrie herself, from the first time I saw Star Wars at age 5, up until the present day.
I won’t be sorry to say goodbye to 2016, and I am very excited to meet 2017. In 2015, I proved that I had the talent to write. In 2016, I laid the groundwork to make writing a career. 2017 will be the year that I live my dream; a published author, spending time with children encouraging them to read, write and change the world.
Back in September, I was the astonished recipient of the Aine Marie Chadwick Trophy at the National Association of Writers’ Group Awards for my take on a ghost story, The Pause.
That story, along with the other winners writing was put into an anthology, and I received my copy this week. I’ve been called many things, in my time, but being described as an award winning writer was pretty special.
It isn’t the only new title that I need to come to terms with this week, though. I was expecting my first delivery of Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter in January, but had the delightful sensation of unpacking a box of my own books before Christmas instead! Holding the book in my hands, I realised that I could now call myself an author.
If you’ve been paying attention over the last few months, you’ll have noticed me talking about a book I’m co-authoring with Danny Crow which had the working title of Wonderling. In this story, a Wonderling is a special kind of person who has the ability to see and experience things which others can’t; or at least they were.
I mentioned the title to a friend the other day, and they said there was already a book called that. I was pretty sure there wasn’t, because I’d Googled the name when we first started work on the book and nothing had come up but I checked again. Sure enough, I soon found that a writer called Mira Bartok had just sold the film rights for her novel, The Wonderling, to Fox Studios. Incredibly, the novel isn’t even finished yet! Bartok’s agent sold not only the publication rights but the film rights on the basis of the first few pages (and her reputation as a nonfiction writer).
I’d love to say that I was a big enough person to say, ‘Well, how lovely for her! And I don’t mind that we have to change the name of our novel, 50,000 words in, because she’s sold hers on the strength of a few pages!’ but I’m not. I sulked. I grumbled at the injustice. I pouted.
Then I started coming up with new names for those who can see what others can’t. Once we’ve decided on a new title, I’ll let you know; in the meantime we’re calling it Northings, a significant location in the story.
Resilience is a great quality to have as a writer. No matter how good you are, you will get rejections. There are people who will love your work, and people who will hate it. It’s a tough industry, with so many hopeful authors out there trying to achieve the same things as you. Then there will be set-backs like this, coincidences that upset your personal apple cart a bit. It’s OK to get knocked down, now and then, just as long as you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.
I woke up this morning, checked my email and found the results from the second challenge in round 1 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge were up. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about this one; I placed fifth in my group for the first one with ‘The Bunker‘, and so was in a good position to get through if I did well on the second story. I had been happy with it, but had posted it to the forums and had feedback that it was confusing, particularly the timeline.
Fortunately the judges didn’t agree! I finished third in my group, which put me an amazing second overall and through to challenge 3.
The initial field of 2,200 has been narrowed down to 300 – it’s going to be incredibly tough competition going forward. There’s always the chance that I will get a genre that I’m not familiar with or good at (comedy, romance, political satire; these things are sending chills down my spine as I think about the weekend!) or that I get a migraine, or some other illness and I’m just off my game.
I am incredibly lucky that my family are really supportive of my writing, my husband will take the kids out so I can write my entry, he’ll also be my first reader. I have friends who are always willing to read stories in draft stage and give me their honest opinions.
So, while I am nervous going forward, I will give it my best shot.
Feedback from the markers on ‘The Ashrey’ is due later today.