Monday, March 31, 2014

What, Why and How I Write

Recently, I was asked by fellow writer Keris Stainton (left) to take part in a blog tour on the theme of What, Why and How I Write. I was thrilled to be asked by Keris because she is a super writer, all-round good egg and tireless supporter of UK YA writing.

This is how it works! A participating author answers four questions about their writing on their own blog, and then nominates other writers (ideally three) to answer the same questions on their blog one week later, and nominate further participants. This was Keris' contribution last Monday: What, why and how I write by Keris Stainton

Keris nominated me and Sophia Bennett - and today it's our turn to answer the questions! So here goes.

What am I working on?

I’m just about to start the edits on Urban Legends, the third book in my Forbidden Spaces trilogy (the first book was Silent Saturday, the second is Demons of Ghent, coming out in June 2014). For obvious reasons I don’t want to say too much about Urban Legends, but the book continues with the theme of urban exploration, this time taking the lead characters into more extreme and terrifiying locations. And of course there are some very nasty deaths!
Once I’ve finished with Urban Legends I’ll be starting on something completely new. It will be quite hard doing that. I love the characters in the Forbidden Spaces trilogy and I’ve really enjoyed writing about Flanders.


Above: Urban Legends doesn't have cover art yet so you'll have to imagine that one
with the help of this handy sign generator thingy.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I guess my genre is “YA thrillers”; I haven’t read tons of other books in the category so I can only really give my own opinion about what makes my novels different from any others. The big thing is the use of international settings. My first three novels were set in small-town Germany, and the Forbidden Spaces trilogy is set in Brussels and Flanders. So there is a lot of local cultural stuff going on – the Saint Martin procession in Germany, the Silent Saturday tradition in Flanders. This also means that I can put a different twist on the old “teen hero(ine) as outsider” thing: Pia Kolvenbach, the heroine of my first novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was half English and half German, which meant she was in both worlds and in neither.

Above: me in Bad M√ľnstereifel (left) and Ghent (right).

Why do I write what I do?

I write the sort of thing I like to read. I’ve always been in love with the idea of “abroad” so I revel in foreign locations. Also, I like thrilling stories myself. I read a lot of ghost stories, crime, thrillers and apocalypse fiction. So it was not really on the cards that I was going to write domestic comedies.

Above: despite the kitchen knife, not a kitchen sink drama...

How does my writing process work?

I’m always working on the next book or the one after that in my head whilst I am writing the current one. I like to mull ideas over for a long time – sort of like marinating them to allow the flavour to develop! By the time I actually sit down to start writing a new book, I like to have the plot mapped out in my head. I’m definitely not one of these people who sits down in front of a blank screen and just wings it. I like to know where the book is going before I write the first line.
The longer I’ve been writing, the keener I’ve become on having a detailed synopsis before I start work. It’s a great way to iron out any plot wrinkles. On the occasions where I’ve been under a lot of time pressure and have started with a less detailed idea of what was going to happen, I’ve inevitably ended up with a whole heap of rewriting to do.
I work Monday to Friday except in the school holidays when I work until my kids wake up! (So I don’t urge them to get up at 7am to go for a healthful run or anything…as far as I am concerned the teenage lie-in is God’s gift to writers). I have a set number of words that I try to write each day. If I get ahead of myself and have the week’s target done by Thursday, I take Friday off. This might sound mechanistic but it works for me. If you don’t have targets it is too easy to end up with nothing done at all thanks to the Scylla and Charybdis which are Facebook and Twitter…

Above: looking for inspiration for future books...

Those are my answers to the four questions! And so now onto my nominees for next week's blog tour posts. I was glad to have a bit of warning about this blog tour because this allowed me to pick three authors whom I can wholeheartedly recommend, and then talk them into it! All three write YA/MG books so if that's what you're into, I urge you to take a look. Here they are:

Catherine Johnson is a Londoner living on permanent holiday by the sea in Hastings. She writes YA and MG fiction, sometimes historical, not always though. Her most recent book, Sawbones, is a forensic murder mystery set in the 18th century, with intrigue and danger and anatomy. She also writes for TV and film including Holby City and Bullet Boy. Her radio play Fresh Berries was shortlisted for the Prix Italia and the Imison Award. 
And she's a contributor to the wonderful collection of short stories Daughters of Time edited by Mary Hoffman; the picture (below) was taken at the launch at Aphra Behn's grave in Westminster Abbey.

Catherine would like a pony of her very own and an endless supply of Freddos. She is freakishly good at knitting.

 Here is Catherine's Blog, so be sure to drop by next week and see how she answers the questions!

Next up, Jane Casey! Born and brought up in Dublin, Jane Casey has been twice shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award. She is the author of The Missing and two previous Maeve Kerrigan novels The Burning and The Reckoning.

Married to a criminal barrister, Jane lives in south-west London. Jane has also written two YA novels, How To Fall and Bet Your Life, both featuring heroine Jess Tennant. I devoured both books - they are YA but they make a great light read for adults too. Jane is going to tackle her four questions on her Facebook page, which is here: Jane Casey Facebook page so look out for her replies, which are sure to be interesting! (I for one would love to know whether she is writing another Jess Tennant book - I hope so!)

Last but most definitely not least, I am also nominating the fabulous Che Golden!

This is what Che says about herself on her website: "I have led a typical second-generation Irish life, spending most of my childhood shuttling backwards and forwards between London and Blarney, Co Cork, where my mother comes from. My father is a Scottish protestant, which starts some really good fights in their home.

After graduating from Brunel University, I moved to Dublin where I worked in IT journalism, first as a senior reporter and then as publisher and editor of the ezine IT MONDAY. After ten years in this field I was feeling a little burned out and bored – I had always wanted to be a writer and I had a feeling that I had to just do it. It was now or never! So I moved to Bath, and enrolled in the Masters course in Creative Writing for Young People at the University. and soon after graduating in 2010, I was offered a contract by Quercus for my trilogy, which draws on Irish mythology and faerie tales."

The first book, The Feral Child, was published in 2012 and the second, The Unicorn Hunters, was published in 2013. The final instalment, The Raven Queen, has just been published.

Che adds: "Apart from writing, my other passion is horses, which I share with my two young daughters. We own Charlie Brown, a 10-year-old Dartmoor x, and Robbie, a Highland pony."

Che also writes the Mulberry series  for younger readers published by OUP. The series focuses on the adventures of ponies and their riders at a local riding stable. Here is Che's blog.

NB Friends of Che's and mine on FB will be familiar with our regular slanging matches, in which words like "harridan" and "saggy" are the least offensive epithets traded! Today I'm declaring an amnesty in the name of young adult literature...but normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Che, you have been warned...


  1. I think your strong characters and evocative descriptions also makes your work stand out from other YA writers. I'm really looking forward to Demons of Ghent.

  2. Thanks Penny! Not long now...5th June! I can't wait either - I haven't seen real copies of the book yet!