Category: Books

Interview with chart-topping author, Emily Organ

I'm very excited to interview Emily Organ, who talks here about researching historical fiction, the importance of pacing, and the inspiration behind her strong female characters. Emily’s other books, The Last Day and The Outsider, were downloaded over 46,000 times last year with both books hitting number 1 in the UK free download charts. Her third novel, Runaway Girl, is published today. Me: I’m loving Runaway Girl – it reminds me of historical mysteries by writers such as CJ Sansom, but from a woman’s point of view.  This is your first foray into historical fiction – what inspired you to switch genres? Emily: Thank you Becky! I’ve always been fascinated by the time periods throughout history and they provide writers with endless inspiration for stories. I have wanted to write historical fiction for a long time and it was a matter of convincing myself that I could do a good job…

The rules of speculative fiction

Photo: Taiyo FUJII I haven't written a blog post for the last couple of weeks - I've had my head down responding to line edits on the manuscript of Baby X. Overall it's been an affirming process - I like it when my editor says ‘Alex wouldn't say that’: it encourages me that the character's voices are real enough for her to hear when I slip up. I’m discovering that I use a lot of commas, more than are strictly necessary. It turns out that just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about punctuation there’s this whole other level (like working your way up to a black belt in karate, and suddenly discovering the Dan system.) And there's the (occasional) joy of seeing an entire page without any changes or comments, and breathing a sigh of relief. My editor is also asking questions about the text, reminding me that just because something seems obvious to me,…

Resolutions (and a writing to-do list) for 2016

On top of all the usual resolutions about being more present, less judgemental, and meditating every day, here are some resolutions for my writing life in 2016.   1. Work through the teetering pile of books beside my bed, books people gave me or told me I absolutely must read in 2015 and I never managed to, plus those I got super-excited about reading, but didn't. Oh, plus the twenty or so books I got for Christmas and for my birthday... At the moment I'm reading 'Sweet Caress' by William Boyd. Up next, I'm very excited to read 'Starlings' by Erinna Mettler and 'My Brilliant Friend' by Elena Ferrante.   2. And in the likely event I acquire a whole load of new books this year, I'm committing to buying them from independent bookshops or direct from the publishers rather than from certain (ahem) online suppliers which squeeze the margins of independent publishers…

The courage to go to dark places

Image: courtesy of Jessica Shirley A couple of years ago I wrote the first draft of a novel called He, She, It.  It's a dark book, touching on dangerous and complicated themes, but looking back at it now, I realise I didn't quite have the courage to let it be dark or dangerous enough. For example, there's one scene where my fifteen-year old protagonist encounters a predatory adult in a position of power.  Anna escapes unharmed, and tells her Mum, who acts impeccably: she immediately believes her daughter's account of events, and acts strongly to protect her. I found it very upsetting to write that scene: I was shaking as I typed, and I cried a lot afterwards. At the time, the only way I could cope with the feelings it triggered in me was by making the Mum swoop in immediately and save Anna.  I had to put an end to the…

Loud Literature!

Last Thursday I was very privileged to join children's authors Charlotte Raby, Sheila Rance, and Helen Baugh at the Loud Literature event as part of this year's Hurst Festival. Earlier this summer, a group of local children attended a creative writing workshop at The Mint House led by Belle Amatt, who was also our compere for the evening. Having had time to finish and edit over the summer, the children read their stories and poems aloud in front of an audience, and the authors gave feedback to each of the young writers individually.  It wasn't difficult to be enthusiastic and encouraging because the work was so diverse, imaginative, and passionate. The children's writing included farmyard action, fantastical tales of sharks and monsters, moving descriptions of loved ones, thoughtful poems, and even philosophical meditations on the nature of creativity. The authors also gave readings from their work, either published or in progress.  I read a section of my novel Seal…

Reading aloud (or which circle of editing hell is this now…?)

I've tackled what I *hope* is the last set of structural edits to Baby X, that is, changes to the mechanics of the story, rather than the writing itself. I'll only know for sure once my editor has taken a look. But before I hand in the manuscript, I've made myself do what I've been meaning to do for ages: read the whole dang thing aloud. I know it's the right thing.  If I'm going to let this book leave the nest, I want it to be in the best shape possible. Though I have to admit I wasn't super enthusiastic about the sore throat reading 276 pages out loud might give me, let alone listening back to my own voice (*cringe*). For a while it felt like my resistance was rational - I was still getting the story straight.  Why polish darlings you might ultimately have to murder? That's no longer a valid excuse, but it's hard to…

Criticism as crime scene

Photo: Tony Webster Even when criticism comes from someone you trust and respect, someone who has your best interests as a writer at heart, and who's guided you well in the past, it's hard not to have an immediate, emotional reaction. You've worked hard on creating something, and now it's been trashed and trampled.  The dismay and 'Oh God, what now?!' is reminiscent of discovering a burglary. Of course, the critic is not a criminal. She's doing her job, she's helping you make the book better. But still. I've recently been reading The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. Levitin, a neuroscientist, explains the human brain is hardwired to organise information - the world around us - into categories. By harnessing our innate powers of categorisation, and externalising the complex contents of our brains (into systems, lists, notebooks, spreadsheets) we free ourselves up to do the important work of creative thinking: making connections, generating…

Who owns popular culture?

Something very weird happened in the run up to this year's prestigious Hugo awards, voted for by science fiction fans.  In the culmination of a long campaign against what they see as the takeover of the awards by liberals, progressives and feminists, a right-leaning group calling themselves the Sad Puppies, led by author Brad Torgersen, successfully lobbied for an approved slate of books to receive nominations. Although the Sad Puppies actions are legal within the rules of the Hugos, they have also been controversial.  Some people feel it's not playing fair, and others are concerned by their motives. Marko Kloos and Annie Bellet, authors who'd been nominated by the Sad Puppies, withdrew their works from the competition, with Bellet saying, 'All joy that might have come from this nomination has been co-opted, ruined, or sapped away. This is not about celebrating good writing anymore, and I don’t want to be a part of what it has become.' George…

Red Riding Hood reimagined

Welcome to ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ Carnival This post was written especially for inclusion in ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of their latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience: The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Today our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘Fairy tales’. Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. *** I'm loving The Forgotten and the Fantastical, the new book of fairy-tales from Mother's Milk Books.  I'm enjoying the diversity of the voices and the breadth of these stories, the way modern fairy-tales always feel so familiar, but at the same time so fresh and surprising. Reading these tales inspired me to dig out a bunch of fairy-tales I wrote a while ago, and rereading them, what struck me was the rawness of the emotion, through stolen babies and…

How it’s really going when you ask me how it’s going

Friends and family members have been asking me how it's going with the rewrite.  Which is sweet of you.  I'm grateful for your interest, sincerely I am. Only, what mostly happens is I look shifty, and say 'Erm, you know.'  And look at the floor.  Then I make something up, something I think sounds like a reasonable response. The thing is, when I first set up this site I promised (myself mostly) I'd blog about rewriting and publishing a novel.  So in the spirit of that original promise, this is how it's going. Some background:  I wrote the first draft of this book almost a decade ago, and I was a different person then.  It's not that I'm no longer interested in the themes - I am, very - but my opinion on these themes has become, if not different exactly, at least more nuanced. The impulse to write this story came from something inside me I was trying to understand.  I…