Monday 14 April 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Just for this week, I’ve joined the Writing Process Blog Tour. This is a worldwide event where writers share insights into their work by answering the same four questions. I was introduced to this tour by my Twitter-friend and Young Adult writer, Antonia Lindsay. Check out her Writing Process blog here.

What am I working on?

Right now, I'm about 3/4 the way through draft 3a of a new book called TYGER. I can't say too much about it, as my books always change a lot as I write them, but I can tell you this: it's a story set in a parallel world; one of the main characters is a tiger; and I'm really enjoying it!

I started thinking about this parallel world about 25 years ago. About 6 years ago, I found a story to set in that world.  And about a year ago, when I finished Phoenix, I started to write it.

This is a very different process for me. Usually, I start with characters, and then the world develops around them. With Varjak Paw, it all began with the idea of a kitten leaving home for the first time in his life.  With Phoenix, it began with the idea of a boy going on an epic quest to find his absent father.

But in the case of TYGER, it all started with the world, and the writing process feels very different. More solid, somehow – though that might just be because I'm a more experienced writer now!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I have to admit, I don't really think of my books in terms of genre. Varjak Paw and Phoenix might seem different in genre terms – an animal story and a space epic – but to me, they're very similar. They're both stories about characters who feel small in a big world; characters who don't start out with power, but have to find a way to save the day.

I think of my books as places where I can put all my favourite things. I enjoy reading all sorts of genres: sci-fi and fantasy, adventure stories, horror, realist fiction, historical fiction, romance, crime, animal stories, martial arts stories, superhero stories, ancient myths… I just love stories, of whatever genre!

So I think that although I use elements from lots of genres, in the end, the stories I'm trying to write are 'my' stories; stories that no-one else could write.

Why do I write what I do?

I think you can only really write what you love. I've tried writing other things, but it doesn't work for me. I always go back to the single best piece of writing advice I've ever heard, which is by JD Salinger.

"If only you'd remember before ever you sit down to write that you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world would you most want to read if you had your heart's choice? The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself."

How does my writing process work?

Drafts, drafts and more drafts. On a first draft, I just try to have fun. I set myself an achievable target - 1000 words a day, or 4 sides of A4. In this period, I don't edit or look back, and I don't ask myself if what I'm writing is any good – I just move forwards.  If I think of something that needs to be changed, I make a note about it in a notebook, and move on until I reach the end of the story.

Then I have a break, and re-read what I've written – but as if I was the reader, not the writer. I ask myself what I would want to see different here, as a reader – and my answers to that question form the basis of the next draft. I go all the way through it, finding any possible way I can to make it better.  At this point, I'll often make big structural plans.  Here again, notebooks are very useful!  I think it's helpful to have a good notebook by your side, so here's one I've used for TYGER:

I go through this process again and again until I can find no possible way to improve the story; until it has all the effects on me as a reader that I want it to have. Then I show it my agents and my editors, and we go through the process all over again! As many times as it takes, until everyone feels it's as brilliant as it can be.

Only then do we publish it. Many, many drafts will have happened by this point. That's why my books take such a long time! I complain about it a lot, but the final draft is always the best, and it always feels worth it in the end.

If you want to know more about my writing process, I'm doing a series of writing tips here on my blog, and I also talk about it on Twitter, where you can find me as @whatSFSaid.

And now I’m handing over the Blog Tour baton to another friend and fellow writer who will share his thoughts next Monday: Joe Craig, author of the Jimmy Coates books. Here's Joe's own introduction:

Joe Craig writes novels, songs and movies. He’s best known for the Jimmy Coates thrillers, which The Times calls ‘The Bourne Identity for kids... Pure gold’. He lives in London with his wife (broadcaster/adventurer Mary-Ann Ochota), his dog (Harpo the labradonkey) and his dwarf crocodile (Professor Sven). His website is and on twitter, facebook and instagram, he’s @joecraiguk

Saturday 12 April 2014

School Visits: Foxford School

Most of the schools I visit are primary schools.  I love them, but I love visiting secondary schools too, and I'm always very glad to be invited to one.  So I'd like to say an extra-big thank you to the brilliant Hannah Thomson and Foxford School, who I had the enormous pleasure of visiting this week!

I met some outstanding readers and writers at Foxford, mainly from Years 7 and 8, but also some in later years including Year 11, which was fantastic.  There were also some visitors from Holbrook Primary School and Grangehurst Primary School, mainly from Year 6.  We talked about Varjak Paw and Phoenix, and the process of becoming a writer.

I was asked lots of great questions, including one about the ending of Phoenix which made me really happy, as the ending was something that took a long time to get right.  It was an absolute pleasure at the end of the day to sign copies of Phoenix for students, and on their way out, a lot of people told me how inspired they felt by the visit.  All I can say is that I felt exactly the same – so thank you to everyone who made it such an inspiring day!

Sunday 6 April 2014

School Visits: Yeomoor Primary

I'd like to say a very big thank you to Matt Walker and all the Year 4s and 3s I had the pleasure of visiting at Yeomoor Primary last week!  It was a great visit, and a really warm welcome – I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you all!

It was fantastic to see all the work you'd been doing on Varjak Paw, and to hear such enthusiasm for reading and books in general.  It was also very inspiring and encouraging for me as a writer to see the brilliant reactions of Year 4 to my reading from my new book Phoenix!  If you'd like to know more about it, here's a short book trailer that Dave McKean made, which brings the opening of the book to life with animation based on his original illustrations:

I'd love to hear what you think if you have a chance to read it!  And if anyone would like to leave me a comment about any of my books, or about the visit, this is the place to do it!