So Laura Has A Girlfriend

Ever since the idea for the novel I’m currently working on first sprung to mind, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Not so much the YA books, though (which, let’s face it, I should probably get around to reading because I know very little about the other books in my genre), as it is the criticism of them. Knowing what my main problems with (what I’ve read from) the genre is, I thought it’d be interesting to see what others’ were. Not so much to tailor my novels around it as to, y’know, just satisfy my Inner Judgmental’s curiosity. (I.J. loves to hear people complain about stuff.)

For those of you who might not know, people’s problems with this genre are plentiful, and while some are downright silly, there’s a vast amount of them that aren’t, and they’re made even less so due to YA’s intended demographic (yes, there are older readers, but the target audience is adolescents and young adults (which, by the way, Wikipedia doesn’t see fit to think is the same, so neither will I. We all know Wikipedia is never wrong)). Considering how crucial a time those years are, I understand the concerns voiced by those who wish these novels had more diversity in them – racial and social alike. Knowing how much of an impact Harry Potter had on its generation (granted, not a YA book to begin with, but there’s no denying it went there eventually), and Twilight on the one that followed, I understand why some wish that there were other role models to find in those novels than the white, heterosexual ones we’re presented with.

I’ve got a document called Food For Thought in the folder reserved for things for my novel. In it I’ve collected a multitude of quotes I’ve stumbled upon since embarking on this YA novel of mine, and one of my absolute favourites is one by Amber Benson, who played Tara Maclay on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For those of you who don’t know, she’s one half of a whole that was the first proper lesbian whole on US television (or so Wikipedia says, and we all know I love good, ol’ W). This is what it says –

‘I got letters from girls saying that I changed their lives and I met people who would cry about it, and that had such an impact on me. You don’t realise what an impact television has on people. But when you get letters from young girls saying, ‘I came out and I have a girlfriend now because of you’, it’s great.’

It’s a quote I’ve kept because I think it’s inspiring. It’s a quote I’ve kept because it’s a nice reminder of how something that to some people seems like a tiny thing – a girl liking a girl instead of a boy – can be a big thing for someone else. Being the straight girl that I am, I could never imagine the (potential) qualms of having to (and do shoot me if this is a horrible phrasing (mind you, I’m foreign and mean no harm)) come to terms with being in love with someone of the same sex in a society that generally thinks of girls as liking boys and boys as liking girls, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there, those people, with those worries, those fears, that confusion. When I read the above quote, what I see more than anything is a platform. One that, yes, on the bigger scale was important because Joss Whedon here treated a relationship between two women as equal to that of one between a woman and a man (though let’s be honest – it did take several seasons for them to be able to kiss on-screen and, I’m fairly certain, even longer than that for them to do something that even remotely resembled sex), but, more importantly, on a much smaller and more individual level handed every girl who needed someone to relate to, someone to take those first steps with, someone whom they could do that with, because not only did Joss Whedon have a relationship between two women on his show – he had one girl’s transition from ‘into guys’ to ‘into girls now (too?)’. A transition met, in turn, with both accolade and concern, as some believed that ‘Willow’s lack of panic or self-doubt when she realizes she is in love with Tara [made] her the best role model a teen could ask for’ whereas others felt that Willow not identifying herself as a lesbian (she tells Buffy that the Oz situation is complicated because of Tara, thus indicating that she has fallen in love with the latter) was a failure on her (or, maybe more correctly, the show’s) part.

Which kind of brings me to one my personal concerns: how to satisfy these critics?

First off, let me make one thing abundantly clear – I will not be tailoring my novel to suit anyone’s preferences apart from my own. I know what my story is, I know what I want to say with it, and I stick by that. Does this mean I won’t be doing my homework? No. Last night saw a lesbian character make her way into my novel. As a result, a character who was, until then, straight suddenly turned bi, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit intimidated by both their sexualities. Partly because, within the confines of the novel itself, the character who just turned bi is one of the major(er-ish) ones (meaning she is of great importance to my main character), but also because it’s one of those things where, if you do it, you want to do it properly. Especially when you’re straight.

It took me less than a day to do my first searches and read-throughs of what a bisexual thinks it means to be bisexual. Non-scary stuff thus far, and I admit that I feel very encouraged to go about it the way I initially intended to, which is the Joss Whedon way – treating it like any other relationship (only difference being that the B’s and L’s of this relationship will undoubtedly be addressed at some point). Because, surely, the love part is the same, no? I mean, love is love, after all.

Why then the mention of the critics? Undoubtedly because of the lack of LGBTQ characters in YA literature, which has left some LGBTQ writers asking where they are. As far as my novel goes, they’re (finally) there. Neither is a main character, mind you, which I know some of said writers have also complained about – them being degraded to secondary characters (those so-called sidekicks) – but in the interest of being honest, genuinely honest, and maybe casting some light on why we may not include them as much as they should be included (at least, this is the reason I know I have erred on the side of caution), it very much comes down to the importance of them, as contradictory as that may sound. Because, as mentioned earlier, if you do include them, you have to do it properly. Not just because there will be LGBTQs out there, reading it, critiquing it, but because, with a YA novel, odds are that your words may just fall into the hands of someone who needs them to be the right ones, real ones – their ones.

Which brings about what I suspect might be one of the issues: the worry. Because I do worry about whether or not I can provide that – their truth in lack of a less cheesy word. I worry about whether or not I can pull it off, because I’d want to be able to do that, and splendidly, too, I may add, if I finally went there (regardless of main character or side-kick status).

That said, I am curious as to which is worse: a YA novel void of LGBTQ characters, or one that has them, but less good ones (think: stereotypes)?


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Filed under Criticism, Sexuality, Writing, Young Adult

4 AM Writing Sessions Songs

(The list as per April 24, 2013.)

01. Dirty Paws – Of Monsters and Men.
02. 9 Crimes – Damien Rice.
03. Pompeii – Bear’s Den.
04. I Was Broken – Marcus Foster.
05. Overjoyed (A Cappella) – BASTILLE.
06. You’re Bleeding – Ladysmith.
07. Depth Over Distance – Ben Howard.
08. Back to December – Taylor Swift.
09. Winter – Matt Corby.
10. Different – Tina Dickow.
11. Youth – Daughter.
12. Made Of Stone – Matt Corby.
13. Let Her Go – Passenger.
14. Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl – Broken Social Scene.
15. Dry Run – Helgi Hrafn Jónsson.
16. Bible Belt (Acoustic) – Dry the River.
17. We Don’t Eat – James Vincent McMorrow.
18. Begin Again – Taylor Swift.
19. It’s A Test, Pt. 2 – VETO.
20. Medicine – Daughter.
21. Tumble Down – Marcus Foster.
22. History Book (Acoustic) – Dry the River.
23. Our Window – Noah And The Whale.
24. King and Lionheart – Of Monsters and Men.
25. Up, Away – Inge Line Kuhr Brasen.
26. Breathe Me – Sia.
27. Dry Your Eyes – The Streets.
28. The First Days Of Spring – Noah And The Whale.
29. In The Sand – Kashmir.
30. Winning A Battle, Losing The War – Kings Of Convenience.
31. Such Great Heights – Iron & Wine.
32. 7 Bottles (Bonus Track) – Ben Howard.
33. Never Think – Rob Pattinson.
34. Shaker Hymns (Acoustic) – Dry the River.
35. Perfection – Oh Land.
36. A Bigger Man – Jack Wallen.
37. Miss You (Teardrop Mix) – Trentemøller.
38. Olive Green – Joe Banfi.
39. White Horse – Taylor Swift.
40. My Lady’s House – Iron & Wine.
41. In My Veins (feat. Erin McCarley) – Andrew Belle.
42. I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From – Kings Of Convenience.
43. Wild Thing – Misty Miller.
44. What He Wrote – Laura Marling.
45. Breathe – Matt Corby.
46. Heartbeats (José González Cover) – Ellie Goulding.
47. Feather On The Clyde – Passenger.
48. Night Bus – Lucy Rose.
49. The a Team – Ed Sheeran.
50. Red Light – The Rumour Said Fire.
51. 14 Times – Marcus Foster.
52. Another Love (demo) – Tom Odell.
53. Things Change While Helium Listen To Everyone – Your Ten Mofo.
54. Black Flies – Ben Howard.
55. Overjoyed – BASTILLE.
56. Get It Right – Lea Michele.
57. It’s A Test, Pt. 1 – VETO.

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Cornershop Sessions #002: BOYS WHO LIKE GIRLS

(Think of it as Girls Who Like Boys Revisited.)

That aforementioned 4 AM Writing Sessions playlist? It’s got Ben Howard on it, Jack Wallen on it, Bear’s Den on it, and Dry the River. And that’s amongst others, and do you know what they have to say for themselves?

…..Still, there’s things I’d do, darling, I’d go blind for you.’
….. – Ben Howard.

…..And when I wake up you’re the first thing on my mind.’
….. – Jack Wallen.

…..My only sin is that I begin, yes, I begin and I end with you.’
….. – Jack Wallen.

…..I don’t want to know who I am without you.’
….. – Bear’s Den.

…..I named you like a prayer.’
….. – Dry the River.

The guys are following suit, ladies. It’s a Love Fest all around.

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Cornershop Sessions #001: GIRLS WHO LIKE BOYS

I’ve recently found that I do most of my writerly worrying on my way to and from the cornershop. It’s a semi-daily thing, that – going there. Especially these days, what with assessment deadlines falling left, right and centre, and nothing helps writing, I find, as much as a Cadbury bar and a mug of milk. The cornershop, as it just so happens, has both. (Milk and bars, that is. Mugs are my own, but enough about that.)

I cornershopped it tonight. Put my headphones on and pressed play on the 4 AM Writing Sessions playlist on my iPod (six hours early, yes, but yeah – whatever), which does nothing but inspire. Seriously, it’s amazing. Then I left my flat and as soon as that outer door closed shut behind me, my mind pretty much picked up where it left off last – with those girls who like boys.

First off, let’s face it. They’re a pretty common thing in YA literature. At least, to my limited knowledge, they are. L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries has Elena, The Secret Circle has Cassie; Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga has Bella, and The Host has Melanie/Wanderer. Hell, had there been less Hunger Games for Katniss to worry about, let alone participate in, in Suzanne Collins’ series of the same name, odds are she would’ve probably spent more time in those woods with Gale, and something was bound to have come of that. I mean, come on. What he said (at about 1.46, but yeah – the rest of it’s pretty true, too). And as for Hermione Granger? Well, she might have started out as a kid, but by the time the coolest girl in the whole wide world (song starts at around 4.00) became a young adult, even she eventually fell for one Ronald Weasley. Of course, they didn’t all fall in the same way, and that is undoubtedly what makes the difference.

Stephen King once said that ‘Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity’ whereas ‘Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend,’ and that’s stuck with me for some time now. Mostly because my former main character would undoubtedly fall closer to the Twilight end of that spectrum than she ever would the Harry Potter one, and I could tell from that quote, from the way the disdain kind of just reeks out of it, that that was not something you would or should want if you wanted your book to be at least somewhat good. But I wonder, now, if that is a fair point to make? Because, let’s face it, apart from both works being written works, they have nothing in common and I don’t think they ever intended to.

Harry Potter is, as King says, about confronting fears. It’s about the return of what is supposed to be the greatest evil and about how everyone must, at some point down the line, take a stand, for or against. Yes, there is love in it and love is a huge part of it, but it’s not a love story. Sure, some fangirls around the world squealed like fangirls do when Ron and Hermione finally kissed, when Harry and Ginny finally kissed, because they’d been rooting for that for years by then, but it wasn’t the biggest thing in the novel, it never would be. Harry beating Voldemort was. Harry sacrificing himself for those he loved was. Harry doing the right thing was.

Which, to be honest, is quite close to what Bella Swan spends most of Twilight doing, too. I mean, doing the right thing? Kind of check, what with the self-sacrifice to save her mum. Self-sacrifice? See aforementioned check. Beating the evil? She didn’t, really, and wasn’t intending to, but was Harry? I can’t remember, but as far as I recall, he was pretty sure he was going to die until he did, but didn’t, and then Dumbledore dropped by and said hi, because that’s what happens when you’re in Limbo? Is it me or did Harry Potter just totally jump into that death, head first?

If one were to compare, I think, in my books, Twilight’s saving grace is the fact that Bella Swan does what she does at the end to save her mother, not her lover. I always forget that when I do that annual Twilight watching, and every time it annoys me, greatly, until the end comes around and I remember she goes to that ballet studio to save Renée, and I’m all cool with it again. However. That is if one were to compare, which, as I mentioned somewhere above, I don’t necessarily think one should. Why? It’s quite simple. Twilight’s a romance novel. It’s about the love story. Harry Potter? Not sure what exactly I’d pigeonhole that as, but romance sure as hell wouldn’t be it. You can compare the writing (which is why I’m fine with King also stating that, ‘Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good’), but you can’t compare books that fall into different genres, you just can’t. Twilight may be unideal in more than one way, but it does what it’s supposed to – it gives us Girl Meets Boy, They (Eventually) Live Happily Ever After.

Which brings us back to the cornershop worrying because my main character isn’t on a mission to save her mum (though, I admit, I have thought about this). She is (as of a week ago when my novel had a sudden change of main character) on a mission to save her late ex-boyfriend (as opposed to my last main character, who was on a mission to save her late husband). Yes – she goes through all of her troubles for a guy. Did she give up her life for said Guy? No. I wouldn’t say so, but there is no denying that he had an impact on it, and a big one at that. Does she give up her friends for said Guy? No. They were there before he entered her life, and they are there after. Were there when he was there, too, so they noticed said impact, which might just be why they all decide to do theirs to help her out come Ex-Boyfriend’s death, and her suicide mission to bring him back.

Why, then, do I worry? Because the world makes me feel like I should: it’s King with his quote; it’s the Girl Cares About Guy, which, for reasons (almost) unknown, feels like such a no-no route to go down (though, I admit, that may just be me over-thinking it); and it’s the (fanatical ones among the) feminists with their anti-Guy attitudes – more than anything, it’s them. Because God forbid a girl actually liked a guy that much.

Do I think the Twilight love story is ideal? No. Probably not. Do I get where it’s coming from? Yes. Probably not to a Bella-extent, but yes. My mother and grandmother aside (the latter of whom outrode me on bikes well into her seventies), the people who have shaped me have undoubtedly been male. From my father leaving my mum when I was 10, to the first guy who found my ridiculously insecure 17-year-old self kiss-worthy, to that first boyfriend that I hurt, to that guy who told me he wasn’t good enough for me (and, what’s more, meant it), the moments that truly define me have been male-induced – from the lowest lows to the highest highs, I am who I am because of the men in my life. And I say that as someone who quite cherishes her female friends.

Which is why, quite frankly, I don’t get what the big fuss is about because, surely, I can’t be the only one – I can’t be the only product of the males in my life, can’t be the only girl who’s liked a boy too much, the only girl who remembers how willing, at one point or other (though, I suspect, usually in those teen years because weren’t they just a downright pain sometimes? I know some of mine were), she was to sacrifice just about anything for that one love because the thought of living without it was just unbearable (seriously? Do you remember those years? No wonder Bella Swan’s all f*cked up). I know I do – remember them – and I remember the Edward Cullen of that time. I remember two full years of unrequited, of just feeling hollowed out, of painfully despairing misery, of unsteady breaths, of repeated blows to my stomach. Non-literal ones, those last ones, but still – they sucked. And do you know what my only thought here is? At least Bella Swan suffered through all of that for a guy who had the decency to suffer through all of it with her. She may have been willing to give up her life for him, but he sure as hell was willing to give up his for her in return, and that’s something. Something they often fail to mention.

Do I think Twilight is the golden standard? No. By no means, no. Do I think people should stop complaining about girls who like boys? Yes. Absolutely. Because we do and we did (those of us who, y’know, like boys, anyway), and you know what? Sometimes they deserve to be liked – they really do.

Even the ones who don’t think they’re good enough for us.

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Filed under Cornershop Sessions, Criticism, Stephenie Meyer, The Twilight Saga, Writing, Young Adult

Author Q&A with Bryony Pearce

As mentioned in How Bryony Pearce Restored My Faith in YA, I recently stumbled back into fantasy territory and have found it’s a bit of a daunting field, really. Luckily for me, I also stumbled upon said Bryony Pearce in the process and like some kind of Christmas Come Early, she made me feel a whole lot better about the thing. I managed to charm her into answering a few questions for me and have finally, finally, finally got around to posting them up.
……. A lot of the questions asked focus on things I’ve found myself worrying about when it comes to my own series (such as my main character’s name being Seraphina. Why couldn’t I be more original and have made it Emma, because it really does seem like the normal isn’t the norm anymore), things I’ve spent so much time and energy mulling over by now, and one of my absolute favourite things about reading Angel’s Fury was that Bryony really left me feeling like I might not have to compromise my entire belief system to write in this genre after all, so yes – thanks for that, Bryony. You’re a star ;>
……. (And, also, thanks for answering and all that.)

And without further ado, here comes the questions –

01. The first thing most people – if not all – do when they pick up a novel is to read the blurb on the back. The first thing it tells them is who the story’s about. I find, perhaps ignorantly so as my knowledge of YA is somewhat limited, that these people always have a fancy name – one that stands out, sometimes really. In my opinion, Cassiopeia kind of follows that trend. Was this a conscious decision? How (or why – or maybe both) did you choose that name?

Hi Sofie.  This is an interesting question to me, partly because one of the criticisms I have received is that I have given my protagonist an unusual name just for the sake of it and thereby jumped on the bandwagon of oddly named protagonists.  In fact this is not at all the case.  My characters are named very carefully indeed.
……. I love literary allusion and throughout my work you’ll find puzzles and clues to what is going to happen later on.  For example when Cassie sees her father’s begonias just before boarding the plane to Germany a few readers might be aware that in the language of flowers begonias are a warning, meaning ‘beware’, or you may have noticed that water is hugely important throughout the book as a clue to Cassie’s state.  When I name a character I think about who they are and what role they are going to play later in the book and I search for a name that reflects that.  Let’s look at my main characters:
……. Seth Alexander – Seth means ‘appointed’ and Alexander is ‘defender of men’ – so Seth is the ‘appointed defender of men’.  He is obviously going to be the good guy, the ultimate defeater of evil.
……. Pandra Long – The meaning of Pandra is Chief Dragon (from the name Pendragon) and the word dragon in Chinese is pronounced ‘Long’ (the reason for my naming of Pandra in this way will be clear to readers).
……. Lenny: A German name meaning ‘brave lion’ (ironic on two levels).
……. Now we come to Cassie Farrier: Cassie’s name, like Cassie’s character is more complex and contains a lot of information. Cassie’s real surname is Smith and both Smith and Farrier mean blacksmith, as does another surname in the book (I’m trying not to give away too much by writing it here). A smith is a metalworker and the ability to work metal is one of the gifts of Azael to man, indicating Cassie’s link to the fallen angel from the very start.  The actual meaning of the name Cassiopeia is ‘she whose words excel’; it is Cassie who has to persuade the other children to escape the Manor and it is her story we are reading.  Furthermore, Cassiopeia was a queen whose vanity is said in some sources to have resulted in the drowning of Ethiopia. She certainly caused the kraken to be called upon her city (again the water motif, so important to Cassie’s history). She was set in heaven as a constellation and is upside down half of the year (according to Jewish lore, Azael’s brother was set upside down in Orions’ belt as a punishment).
……. Other literary allusions include Orion’s belt which appears again and again throughout the book. The children have a particular affinity with the constellation and it appears throughout their lives.
……. In addition to metal-working Azael is said to have taught man charms, conjuring formulas, how to cut roots, the efficacy of plants, how to make weapons, how to make jewellery, how to use make up, how to brew beer and how to play music.  I use these ‘talents’ as motifs throughout: for example, the twin town to Cassie’s (Kurt and Zillah’s home) is called Hopfingen (hops are used to brew beer) and the lady in the fountain is holding an arm full of hops. When they are trying to escape from the Manor the children plan to meet in a pub (the Blacksmith’s Arms).  In Germany Cassie first learns how to use make-up and she has become a weapons expert over her lifetimes.  Lenny is a musician, Seth is a sculptor and there are many more instances.
……. I wanted Angel’s Fury to be the kind of book you can read more than once and I hope that the inclusion of literary allusions allows the second reading to be a lot more fun – once you know what is going to happen, it is much easier to spot those clues.

02. In a Goodreads blog post I stumbled upon, and now on your own blog (where, I suspect, it might’ve actually been all along, too) – When sleep does not equal rest for those interested in reading it – you open up about your own experience with nightmares, and it’s clear to see where the initial idea for Angel’s Fury (probably – just because we shouldn’t assume) came from. Was it a difficult subject to (re)visit? Not just in planning, but in writing, too. Or was it, in its own way, cathartic? (My fingers are aching to put the words ‘take something that’s out of your control and very much turn it into something that is’ up on screen, but I’ll refrain.) Perhaps both?

You are, of course, supposed to write about what you know, so it was obvious to me to include nightmares in my first book.
……. My own night terrors enabled me to write, I think quite convincingly, about the experience of having a nightmares; the feelings of disassociation, floating above an event, helpless terror as you return into it, that moment of waking where are you aren’t sure if you are safe.
……. It was cathartic in a way; pinning those moments onto paper remind me that they aren’t real.  And it was such a pleasure finding Cassie a cure, enabling her to turn her experiences into something positive from which she will learn and grow.
……. On the other hand, doing that and curing my fellow, if fictional, sufferer rammed home to me that a solution for my own affliction is not as easily obtained.  
……. I mention in the blogpost that I have since started taking some tablets that have helped matters a lot and which, despite my fears to the contrary, have not impacted on my ability to come up with new ideas for stories, so maybe things have turned around for me, as well as Cassie.

03. In another blog post – The Next Big Thing – you answer ten questions about your next project, The Weight of Souls (killer title, btw). As a writer myself, I paid especial interest to question number nine (‘Who or what inspired you to write this book?’), and it wasn’t so much for the ‘who’ (Anne Macaffrey. Q’er admits to having no idea who she is. Should she be embarrassed?) as it was the ‘why’ – her ‘amazing, character driven tales’, the key words here being character driven. I’d say Angel’s Fury is just that – I don’t know if you’d agree? If so, was this something you thought about whilst writing it? I keep thinking of these kinds of novels as the more plot-driven ones, yet when I read Angel’s Fury, all I could think was, ‘honey badger don’t care’. Just how much does pace matter to you?

I would like to think that my stories are character driven.  My characters are very much alive for me, so I hope that I’ve managed to make them real for my reader.  I think about Macaffrey’s work often (You must immediately go out and read The Ship Who Sang, Dragonflight and The White Dragon by the way) and I try to keep everything I do closely related to the personalities of my characters.  I want my protagonists to learn, to grow, to have interesting arcs, to never do something out of character, to make the reader worry about their choices, fear for them and sympathise with them.  I find that if I stick to that then a decent pace comes along with it.
……. That said I am constantly reminding myself of something that I once learned in my short story writing course many years ago – never let your character’s have it easy.   If I’ve gone a whole page without something horrible happening to my protagonist, I immediately have something nasty intervene.  I try and keep the tension and conflict ranging on a scale somewhere between one and ten, never letting it lapse back to zero.  That too helps with pace.

04. And speaking of things that stood out to me – and I know you’re aware of my love for this one, as I’ve mentioned it to you before – there aren’t a whole lot of adjectives in there to put a finger on. L. J. Smith, of Vampire Diaries and Secret Circle fame, throws them around like crazy (‘[p]roud and independent and humorous and sensitive all at once’ springs to mind. As does ‘[i]t seemed cheap and nasty and unnecessary and cruel’ followed by a full stop and the sentence ‘[s]he was ashamed to be part of it’). Could you, for those who’ve yet to hear about the blanket and the diamond adjectives (and for those of us who’ve forgotten just how it went), maybe explain that one one more time?

Adjectives (and also adverbs) in their place are fine, but I think they can be overused and that it is a lazy writer who does so.  In fact I did try to read Vampire Diaries once and gave up after the first few chapters; I just couldn’t get past the writing style.
……. When I do creative writing workshops I have to be careful as many teachers do emphasise the importance of adjectives in creative writing, and in exam conditions I guess ‘good adjectives’ get students extra points.  But I’ve had talented students ask me in horror how they can possibly describe something without an adjective and to me it is sad that they have not been taught that there are excellent alternatives.  In answer I have two pieces of short writing that I show them –

Example one (packed full of adverbs and adjectives):
The tall girl in the shimmering blue swimsuit dived gracefully into the bright blue lake and vanished, leaving giant ripples that shivered across the iridescent water and quickly disappeared in their turn leaving behind no sign of her elegant presence.

Example two:
Emma prepared to dive, lifting her arms over her head and enjoying her stretch.  The sun caught her swimsuit, turning her torso into the body of a kingfisher, feathered with snatches of light.  Even though the lake was opaque as foil, she dived with no hesitation, slicing through the water like a blade to leave behind only a few ripples that vanished as quickly as she.     

I hope that you will agree that the second piece of writing is not only more vivid in its description, but that through my alternative choices, it also tells you more about the diver.
……. I tell students to think of an adjective as a diamond and their blank page as a dark blue piece of velvet.  If a jeweller wanted to showcase a diamond he would place it in the middle of a piece of velvet and it would look amazing.
……. I tell them to choose one excellent adjective that they think will make their teacher turn cartwheels, ‘iridescent’ perhaps, and imagine it as that diamond and their paper as that piece of velvet.
……. Now I ask them to imagine that the jeweller takes a handful of cubic zircons and sprinkles them all around the diamond.  Does the diamond look nearly as good?  Can they even see it?  I tell them to imagine that all the other adjectives apart from the chosen one are cubic zircons; each additional one that they sprinkle on the page detracts from the diamond.
……. I tell them to try and restrict their adjective use to one per page and use alternative ways to describe things.  I ask them to look at the writing of their favourite writer (hoping it isn’t LJ Smith) and count the adjectives and adverbs used.  I trust that they will be surprised.

05. Another thing I noticed was that, in a world where love triangles seem to not just be an increasingly popular route to go down, but the main one, you appear to not be having any of that (and once again, I thought ‘honey badger don’t care’, and it was grand). Yes, there was a second where I thought you might – Pandra was acting strange, after all – but you didn’t, and I was psyched. Was this a conscious decision? To not just go all out on the drama? (She said, knowing the book included everything from rebel angels to the holocaust.)
……. (Either way, I thought you handled it very well. The love story was there, but it wasn’t all-consuming, it didn’t detract from what really mattered – the story.)

The first draft of Angel’s Fury had no real love interest at all.  Seth was there and she fancied him, but it didn’t go any further.  However, I was selling my manuscript at the height of Twlight fever and my editor asked me to ‘big up’ her relationship with Seth.
……. Still, I tried to avoid love at first sight and making their relationship too intense – this book is about Cassie and Kurt after all.  I like to think that I was building up, like an old-fashioned film, to a single kiss (or in this case holding of hands).  You are right in a way though; there is a love triangle.  Cassie very much has to choose between her relationship with Pandra and her relationship with Seth. I feel that a ‘best friend’ bond is just as strong as a ‘boyfriend’ bond and the choice she faces between them just as hard.
……. However, I thought with everything else going on, a standard love triangle would definitely be one plot point too many.

06. And now that we’re on story. It’s common knowledge that what arrives on an agent’s desk (or in their inbox) is usually the first of more drafts to come (not to mention the result of the many that have gone before it). How much did the manuscript change from first draft till that sent to agent, and how much from that sent to agent till final? I do seem to remember you telling me that you’re a plotter (as opposed to a pantser), which means, I assume, that they may not be as far apart as they would’ve been in the hands of others, but still – any noticeable differences? Anything you wish could have made it, but didn’t? Something that went, which clearly had to go?

I do plot out my stories very carefully, so yes, this final version is similar in a lot of ways to the version that first landed on Philippa(Donovan, my editor)’s desk.  There are two big changes from the original version.  First of all the Doctor gets away.  In the original ending the children all end up at Hope Farm, as they do in the final version, but are pretty much divided into two camps – those whose evil past’s have caught up with them and those who are still fighting to be good.  In the original Belinda was on the side of Pandra.  Pandra and Belinda tell the Doctor where the children are and they end up having to hide out on the Moors from the Doctor and her staff until morning, when Seth’s father comes to collect them.  The original version was obviously much more open to a sequel and finished with the Doctor watching them drive off and promising to come for them.
……. I much prefer the new ending, I love the finality of it and the way that the Doctor is defeated.
……. The one change I wish I’d been able to leave alone, is the change in Lenny.  In my original draft Lenny was Kenny Goldstein – a Jewish boy.  I had Cassie hating him, alongside Pandra (for reasons which will be obvious to people who have read the book), realising that she is being anti-Semitic but unable to stop herself.  
……. Then I have her save him from Pandra (pretty much as she saves Lenny in the final version) and together they defeated the Doctor.  I hope you don’t need me to tell you why I thought that had such a lovely circularity to it.
……. I had to remove that because my editor thought that having my main character betray anti-Semitic leanings would make people uncomfortable and open me to accusations of being racist myself.  My Jewish agent Sam had no problem with the storyline, but political correctness won out in this case.
……. The final book is a huge improvement on my original manuscript, but you would definitely recognise one from the other.

07. Which made me wonder – due to yours truly being a plotter, and thus aware of how much a novel can change when it’s in its pre-writing phase – are there any fun facts from the early stages worth noting? Ideas you had, but decided against (perhaps on account of better ideas showing their face, or for plot reasons)?

I think I’ve kind of already covered that one above with the Kenny / Lenny controversy.  The only other thing that didn’t make the final cut was the clear divide between the children.  In my original idea I had them split down the middle, four and four, good vs. evil, with a gradual revelation regarding who was on which side.  I also had a subplot with Belinda and Max – he, a good guy, ended up doing evil just to please her, then later came to his senses and migrated to the ‘good side’.

08. I read somewhere – was it in the The Next Big Thing post? – that Angel’s Fury took seven months to write. I’m assuming you’re here talking about the actual writing time and not the full amount of time you worked on it, plotting included and whatnot? Could you, however briefly you want to, take us through the stages of the novel, from the moment of the initial inkling of an idea to the moment where you stood with the final, published work in your hands?

All my stories tend to start in the same way – at some point an image pops into my head of the main character in a frozen moment. I can see them clearly, I often even know their name but I don’t yet know their story.  When I see Cassie, I still see her in as she first appeared to me in about 2000 – struggling up out of a nightmare, her hair in disarray, her face tormented, patting herself down to check that she is still alive, still herself.
……. It was years ago that I had this first vision of Cassie and I knew I wanted to write about her, so I kept a constant look out for elements of her story to come to me.
……. In 2002 I flew to Bali and the in-flight magazine had an article on reincarnation. Fascinated, I made of point of visiting temples and speaking to the locals about their beliefs – and that gave me a reason for Cassie’s bad dreams: reincarnation. I asked myself what would be the worst point in history for her past life to have come from and the natural answer was ‘the holocaust’. Cue a great deal of research – thank goodness for the Internet.
……. I still didn’t have a story for Cassie though, so she sat there in the back of my mind until I stumbled across the myth of Shemhazai and Azael while doing some research for another idea about fallen angels in late 2007. When I found this myth, from the Jewish Torah, Cassie’s tale fell into place almost instantly and I spent seven months writing it down.
……. Then I sent it to my agent.  Sam loved it, we did a few tweaks together and he sent it out to publishers.
……. I actually wrote Angel’s Fury while pregnant with my son, Riley, and Egmont asked to meet me when I was eight months pregnant. I had a total hip replacement in 2007 (arthritis) so I was still on two crutches. I travelled down to London to meet with them and although they were lovely, they took a step back and said they wouldn’t give me a contract due to my condition (they were understandably concerned that I wouldn’t make deadlines).
……. I asked if they’d tell me the changes they’d want and whether they’d look at the book again once I’d made them. Philippa (my editor) was happy to set up a phone call to go through the proposed changes.  Six hours before the call was due, and three weeks early, I went into labour. I wasn’t missing that call for anything, so I warned Philippa that I might go quiet every so often because I was making notes and I took that call (making sure to have contractions away from the receiver).
……. I made the changes Philippa wanted before Riley was three months (luckily new babies sleep a lot) and Egmont offered me a contract in May 2009.
……. I worked with Philippa for about 18 months on the edits and the book was finally published in July 2011.
……. So although the first draft took seven months to write, you could say that Angel’s Fury was ten years in the making.

09. Being able to say you’re a novelist aside, should that be your initial answer, what has been the most amazing part about being published? The most gratifying?

There have been so many wonderful things about being published.  Feeling my book in my hands for the first time; seeing my name on shelves next to writers that I recognise and admire (while still feeling a bit like a charlatan); getting fantastic reviews; receiving emails, letters, tweets or facebook messages from people who love my book and tell me they are fans; hearing that someone has read my book four times and loves it; getting nominated for awards; winning The Leeds Book award.  Every part of the process has been amazing.

And the ‘on a side note’ ones –

10. The cover. I’ve recently found myself worrying quite a lot about those (though, really, I should be worrying about the writing for now, shouldn’t I?) – I think it’s got something to do with my feeling that the writing is within my control, whereas the cover feels somewhat out of it. It’s about marketing, I know that and I get it, but I’d like to end up with a final product that I can look at without bursting into tears. I think Angel’s Fury falls into the category of such a product. What was your initial reaction to it? Was this the first cover you saw or were there others? Was there much of a say for you in terms of the cover?

The cover you see is the first cover I saw.  I loved it.  Which is lucky as I don’t think the writer normally gets much say.  There was a sticky moment a few months after I thought the cover had been finalised when they said they were going to ‘feminise it’.  I objected heartily.  I thought it would be halving the potential market (as I felt that the book has male appeal as well as female) and didn’t think that a pink cover (or whatever they were planning to do) would represent the book very well.  I got a few testimonials from friends in the industry (other writers, bloggers etc.) who all said they loved it too and Egmont relented, finally leaving it as it was.  I’m glad they did.  I think it draws the eye from a distance.  In a line of books, mine is the one that stands out and I love the imagery.

11. Which brings me to the title. I know from previous author talks that some novels are re-named. Was Angel’s Fury always Angel’s Fury, or is there a working title out there, a submission title, that we don’t know anything about?

Angel’s Fury was in actual fact originally titled Incarnation.  I loved that title because, for me, the book is about reincarnation, not Angels.  However, the marketing team thought that teens would have difficulty understanding my title.  Also angels were getting very fashionable and as the book had an angel in it, they wanted to capitalise.
……. I was given a few options and was able to veto a couple.  Angel’s Fury was the title we all agreed on.
……. For me though it was like someone coming up to me and saying, “yes, I like your daughter’s name, ‘Maisie’ is quite nice, but actually I’m going to start calling her Ingrid, OK?”
……. It’s taken me a couple of years to stop thinking of Angel’s Fury as Incarnation, but the name change has now stuck.  It’s Angel’s Fury all the way.
……. Interestingly, as a result I was unwilling to commit to a title for my next book.  I chose something I didn’t really care about and came a cropper when my new publisher wanted me to come up with a much better name.  I’d spent so long divorcing myself from the title process (so I wouldn’t care when the publisher made the inevitable change), that it was actually very difficult for me to come up with one of my own.
……. I’m very happy though with The Weight of Souls.

12. I asked you about sequels on twitter, and you mentioned that it was a one-book deal. Does this mean we won’t be seeing any more of them, or could we be so lucky? If not, will you let us know how it all ends? (If not the rest of it, then just that whole Seth and Cassie thing. I’m SO rooting for them.)

This is a standalone book and you won’t be seeing any more of Seth and Cassie, but yes, the story does continue in my own head.
……. In my mind Pandra escapes and goes to Afghanistan to locate the other Nephilim mentioned by the Doctor.  Cassie gets qualifications in psychology because she wants to help the younger Nephilim that she was warned would be coming her way.  Seth joins the army.  The other children too have gone in different directions.
……. Eventually Seth and Cassie realise what Pandra is doing and reunite (with the other survivors) to track her down.  Once in Afghanistan earlier former lives start tormenting them.
……. Pandra, it turns out, is the reincarnation of Ghengis Khan.  Cassie was once Alexander the Great.
……. The two raise armies and clash.  Pandra wants to destroy the world and redeem the fallen angel brothers, Cassie and Seth want to save it.
……. Finally Pandra / Khan is defeated.  Cassie and Seth fall in love and live happily ever after.
……. There you go.

13. And just out of plain curiosity: could you let us in on how many words Angel’s Fury actually is? (Am somewhat obsessed with words per page.)

A quick word count on my master document reveals around 63,000 words.

Woohoo! Now go buy it!

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Filed under Author Q&A, Bryony Pearce, Writing, Young Adult

How Bryony Pearce Restored My Faith in YA.

I bought Angel’s Fury by Bryony Pearce on July 12, 2012. Read the first three sentences (at the very least) on August 1, and wrote to her on twitter that very day to let her know that I’d just ‘had my faith in the entire genre restored’. Why? ‘No adjectives whatsoever!’
……. Bryony’s debut novel is the first supernatural novel I’ve actually read since starting work on my own series. I stumbled back into fantasy territory some two years back after five years spent happily apart, and I was surprised to find it a more daunting task than first imagined. Undoubtedly because I’d moved more as a writer in those five years (heck! In the last two of those five years) than I did in the eight years leading up to eighteen and my finally giving up on the genre, which meant that my approach the second time around was quite different. Two years with the National Academy of Writing, spear-headed by Richard Beard and his masterclasses, taught me to read as a writer as opposed to a reader and that, that is the most important thing that’s happened to me yet. It’s also the reason reading Bryony’s Angel’s Fury was such a two-level thing for me in a way that few other novels have been, because my writing in the genre and, maybe more importantly, doing research in it, really has added to the experience of reading novels from it. Coming at it with my own thoughts and ideas and worries (not to mention downright fears) and questions in mind, there’s something utterly intriguing about seeing just how others have gone about doing these things, not to mention something utterly encouraging, which is what Angel’s Fury was to me – encouraging. Why? Let me count the ways.
……. There’s that aforementioned writing. When I first realised that I was indeed going to have another go at this genre, I did what seemed like a pretty good idea, albeit discouraging (and I had a feeling it would be) – I went to Waterstone’s and got, I think it was, five novels from the shelves that I reckoned my series would end up on. Of those five, I remember two were by L. J. Smith, just because I so loyally tune in and watch an episode of The Vampire Diaries every week, and one was by Charlaine Harris. (Ain’t nuffin wrong with a bit of True Blood either, is there?)
……. Of the two, Smith stood out to me the most. Undoubtedly because her writing was far worse than Harris’ (which, I must admit, hasn’t made a lasting impression, but considering what it took for Smith to make one, that may just be a good thing), and it bothered me. Mostly because I wouldn’t have minded re-acquainting myself with Damon, Stefan and Elena, but there’s only so much wanting can carry you through.
……. When I mentioned those adjectives to Pearce in that tweet, and my excitement at their absence, it’s because they’re my biggest pet peeve. Not just in genre fiction, but in fiction in general. Granted, a fan of keeping it simple, keeping it clean, I’m biased. I’d rather have one too little than one too many. Smith? She seems quite fond of them. Moreso in groups of three or four at a time. ‘It seemed cheap and nasty and unnecessary and cruel’? That one will probably always spring to mind when Smith comes up in conversation. Also when adjectives do. Most definitely when that whole commercial versus literary debate takes off, because if this is what people think of when they think genre fiction – and considering how well Smith has done for herself (one successful TV adaptation and a failed one, which, yes, is a failed one, but an adaptation nonetheless), she may just be what some people think of when they talk genre, or the one whom some people know best (I wouldn’t know, but I suspect some people are diehard The Vampire Diaries or The Secret Circle fans before diehards of any other fandom) – if this is what they think of, then I can hardly blame them. Even less so because the sentence that follows that one and its four adjectives, which kind of all mean the same in that particular situation, is summed up in yet another one, which is the adjective ashamed. As in ‘[s]he was ashamed to be part of it’, which, as far as I’m concerned, means she might as well have scrapped that other sentence altogether. Why? The fact that that last adjective covers what she decided to spend five to say aside, this is a prime example of writing making me feel like my intelligence is expected to be at least somewhat below average – Smith pointing it all out to me. You know, just to make sure I got it. Kind of like how Cassie keeps saying Portia’s name at the end of every sentence in chapter one (fact: might be exaggerating here, but still) just so I wouldn’t expect her to be talking to one of the other groups of people on the beach. You know – the ones that are by no means sitting right by them and their conversation. God.
……. Pearce, though, she doesn’t do any of that. Not the adjective overkill, not the condescension. She takes one for Team Subtle, takes her time to get to where she wants. Touches upon things, such as Pandra’s natural dislike for Seth, with such ease that had you any less confidence in her skill as a storyteller, you might think she forgot about it. (Dear reader – she didn’t.)
……. A friend of mine, who is undoubtedly the writer I have the greatest respect for out of all the lots in all the lands, once said to me that the most common mistake among writers, in her humble opinion (which is totally legit in my opinion, but again, I may be biased), is that people don’t give the story time to unfold at its own pace. I think that might be why I liked Angel’s Fury so much – its, to me, complete disregard (and rightly so) for the (expected?) pace. Which kind of sounds like a negative, but it’s not meant as such, because what it does that I don’t feel like novels (to my very limited knowledge) always do properly in these kinds of genres, is that it puts the character at the centre of it all – not the action, not the plot, but the character. I like some stillness in-between the storms. I like some interactions and dialogues that actually pique my interest because you kind of feel like something is being said even though it’s not said explicitly. In short, I like to use my brain. And I like characters that make me want to do that, characters I want to engage with, ones I could actually see myself having a talk with – and a proper talk at that – if I ran into them in the street. To me, Cassie, the main character of Angel’s Fury, is just that.
……. Other things of note as far as this novel’s concerned? (Possible SPOILER ALERTs ahead!) I loved that there wasn’t a love triangle at the heart of it, which mostly seems to be the norm these days. For a moment there, I thought there might be some history (clever, innit? Using the word history of all the words out there) between Pandra and Seth, and while I probably wouldn’t have thought less of the novel, had that been the case – because I honestly think this is a writer who would’ve been able to put a proper spin on it and somehow give the most unoriginal of plotlines an original twist – I was so excited to see Pearce go down a different route that didn’t have a love triangle at its core. (Mind you, the lack of overly hormone-driven teenagers did make for one surprised reader when that office scene went down.) I admit I didn’t see that one coming and it was refreshing. As was the introduction of Seth far enough into the novel for me to start wondering altogether whether or not we’d get a male character to root for (I know. Silly thing to question), and, even though the dreams were obviously unusual, the fact that we weren’t introduced to the facts earlier actually made me start wondering whether or not we’d have supernatural entities despite the fact that the blurb on the back clearly states that they’re there.
……. All in all, more times than not this novel had me questioning pretty much everything, and in those moments when I thought to myself that I didn’t know if Pearce would be able to pull it off (I vividly remember eventually thinking, as Seth had yet to turn up, that we’d gone so long without a love interest of some kind that I didn’t know if it’d feel right if one showed up), she proved me wrong (all he had to do was arrive and I was like, ‘f*ck yeah!’) and that may just be what was most interesting to me, as a writer, throughout – that slight doubt that crept in every once in a while, and how easily Pearce squashed it time and time again. If that isn’t the sign of an author doing something right, I don’t know what is.

Oh, and the cover –

 photo b6b1bbe2-f936-40e2-8651-c9ee9a8050d7_zps23da70f6.jpg

– isn’t it gorgeous? Doesn’t have one single black-haired girl in a black dress standing around, looking all emo on it. Marvellous!

For the Author Q&A, stay tuned.

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Filed under Bryony Pearce, Criticism, Writing, Young Adult