Just what the doctor ordered

‘Write what you know’. It’s well-known advice but, actually, I think you can’t help but write what you know. That’s hardly a revelation; it’s a popular notion that a writer’s politics, experiences, agendas etc will always infiltrate their writing no matter how hard they try to stamp them out. I’ve been in a reflective mood recently, and I’ve been thinking about how my personal circumstances have affected my own writing.

I’ve been in a reflective mood because, last year, I suffered a relapse of my illness and have been spending a lot of time resting/thinking. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I have it easier than a lot of other sufferers (I can write every day and manage low exertions) but, sadly, my illness still defines what I can cope with during my day to day life. Leaving my little village is always a struggle, sometimes even leaving the house.

Looking back, I can see that this frustration underpins nearly all of my stories, narratively, thematically, everything-ly. In the Tethers trilogy (my first book series) Karl and Esther complain about being stranded in their home village of Shraye. To them village life is so tedious that, as soon as an excuse to leave arises, they do so, regardless of any obstacles or dangers they might encounter. Some readers have had a problem with the logic of their decision but, given my own personal experience, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to me.

In Wye (my fourth novel) Wye is travelling from A to B with B being halfway across the country. Travelling so far on foot is arguably a stupid risk to take in the dangerous world that Wye is inhabiting. Once again, however, I’d do it too. Even in my current WIP Seren Temples is running away from her home planet, seeking out the deepest, most remote part of the solar system.

As soon as I write something substantial (in terms of word count) I don’t think I can help but let my personal frustrations and wants seep into the text. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing either. In a way I’m living out adventures through my characters. It’s just happening in my imagination, in my head rather than in reality. Despite being near-housebound for large chunks of the last few years I’ve sailed along Victorian coastlines, sliced through hordes of zombies and dodged bullets in zero-G.

Recently, I’ve come to realise that writing is a kind of therapy for me, not just a career choice. By allowing me to have adventures and explore worlds beyond my village I think my characters help me just as much as medicine and medical advice does. In fact, I think I’d be lost without them!

What do you think? Perhaps you find a different activity therapeutic (I get similar benefits from reading). Let me know in the comments section!

August 2, 201610 Comments

Anchor Leg Vlog #2

Earlier this year I recorded a vlog in which I introduced my upcoming novel, Anchor Leg. Well, the novel is progressing nicely (I’m just entering the editing phase) so I thought it was high-time for another update. Click below to watch me reading from Anchor Leg‘s first chapter.

Let me know what you thought in the comments section, more vlog updates coming soon!

You can view my YouTube channel by clicking here.

June 9, 2016Leave a comment

The 2016 Fishing Magic Writing Competition

I’m pleased to report that my short story Old Monastery Pool has placed third in the 2016 Fishing Magic Writing Competition! A huge thanks to Fishing Magic, the panel of judges and congratulations to Altamash Kabir and Ian Nesbitt who placed first and second respectively. This is my second writing-related prize, the first being Best Short Story at the 2014 eFestival of Words.

Old Monastery Pool is a spooky tale of curses, giant fish and haunted watersides. It’s based on local folklore and you can read it by clicking here.

June 7, 2016Leave a comment

Author Interview: Zoë Markham

Last year I did a joint interview with the ace Zoë Markham. It was so much fun that, after I read her latest release White Lies, I knew I needed to talk to her again! Below is the full interview (which originally appeared on Liz Loves Books).

Schools and school life are an important part of both Under My Skin and White Lies. What makes a school such an effective literary setting?

With YA you often hear the ‘Get rid of the parents!’ line. School tends to work really well in this respect because, whether you chose to get rid of the parents or not, it’s one of those environments where it’s all down to you: parents or no parents, from 9am to 3pm you’re on your own.  And of course it’s an environment that’s familiar to all of us, whether we like it or not.

When you started writing White Lies did you already have the twist in mind, or did it (or maybe several different versions of it) occur to you as you went along?

I did always have the twist in mind, but it became one of those areas in which I really had to compromise, because my editor didn’t like the feel of the ending in my first draft. In the end, it went through, I think, three different variations before we found one that worked for both of us. My initial twist, and the one I was rubbing my hands with glee over when I wrote it, all came down to who was driving the car at the end …

I loved the character of Scarlet, she’s so intriguing, so well-written. Have you ever known someone like her in real life?

I went to school with an ‘almost’ Scarlett, which is where she initially came from. She started out as just a very controlling ‘Queen Bee’ figure – the classic Mean Girl really, but again as the initial draft was edited there was a concern that she was perhaps verging on stereotypical. It was great editorial advice as it gave me the chance to think about why Scarlett acted the way she did, and it brought her background and her own story to light. It made her heaps more fun to write – and it’s why editors are brilliant.

How did you get the idea to incorporate a magpie into the story?

I really liked the idea that Abby, never quite making it as one of the ‘cool crowd’, didn’t score the big, dark, brooding raven she’s familiar with from the books she reads. A magpie felt a bit more urban, and a little quirkier – maybe even more British somehow, although I have no idea why. There’s the whole ‘One for sorrow’ aspect, which I thought went well with her character, and I remembered reading somewhere, years ago, about the whole ‘devil’s blood under their tongue’ thing, which I thought was nicely creepy. I’m all for creepy!

As a reader, what kind of story scares you most?

The ones rooted so firmly in everyday experience that they could, potentially, happen to anyone. Ones where you get the ‘That could be me’ paranoia creeping in around the edges as you read.

How have you found the experience of having your stories, your characters and what might be considered an intimate part of yourself out in the world?

Honestly? Terrifying! I’ve been massively, massively fortunate in finding people who’ve connected with both novels and been absolutely lovely about them – but there’s still part of me that seems to always be hiding in the corner, trembling. I tell myself it’s because I care about what I write, and want to get it right, but I also have to admit to the fact that I’m just a giant wimp, in general. I’ve never been the most confident of souls, and I find release days hard. I’m really going to have to try and get over that somehow!

Is there a genre you’d love to write in but haven’t yet had the chance to? Or perhaps one you never would write in?

I would love to write Epic Fantasy, it’s my favourite genre to read and I’ve been sort of plotting ideas of my own on and off for about two decades now. The world-building becomes so complex and immersive in my head though that I have the feeling I’d only ever be able to write Epic at a time when the day-job wasn’t a necessity!

One day! (A girl can dream.)

What’s next for you?

This year I’m really lucky to have two more YA titles coming out, Blood Bank with Kristell Ink, and Headcase with Tenebris. They’re both very different to my Carina titles. Blood Bank is a vampire novel (these aren’t just any vampires, they’re SWINDON vampires!) and Headcase is a deeper and darker journey into teenage mental health, with a bit of a fantasy twist.

White Lies is available now.

March 24, 2016Leave a comment