Tag Archives: books

The Writer, The Entrepreneur

Firstly, apologies to those of you who are regulars to the blog for my absence …  September was a pretty crazy month, culminating in the Budapest Marathon on Sunday, which I’m very proud to say, I finished, in a pretty respectable time of 4 hrs, 28 minutes.  Thanks so much to everybody who sponsored me, all the money went to Cancer Research UK.

 But enough with the excuses! Back to the writing …

On my way back from work today I was listening to Radio 4 … not necessarily something I’d admit too often, but a debate about entrepreneurship caught my attention.  As the guests – including the head of Google UK – discussed how to become a successful entrepreneur, I began to realise how similar life as an aspiring author must be to life as a fledgling entrepreneur.

Suddenly the advice the experts were offering wasn’t just entertaining background noise, but pertinent to my ideal career.  Because as a writer you’re self-employed … a freelancer … a creative thinker … a gambler of sorts.  And the same tips someone selling a new invention or service might benefit to, can also help someone promoting a story.

The first tip the experts agreed on was confidence.  Self-belief.  You need to be a gambler, and one who sees the gain over the risk.  The more positive your approach, the more positive the feedback.  You don’t get something for nothing, so whatever your area of expertise, you need to put in the effort, and not worry about the pitfalls along the way.  Reach for the stars, and try not to worry about all the space in between!!!

Next of all, rather pertinently, the experts talked about using the internet as a cheap and relatively painless way of testing your product.  The analogy they used was setting up a website as opposed to going the whole hog and renting a shop, only to find there wasn’t a market for your product.  In a writing sense, testing the water could be posting excerpts of a story on a blog as opposed to going the whole hog and paying to publish your own book, only to discover the story wasn’t quite right.  Blogs are an awesome way of finding out if something works, or if it doesn’t … And if it doesn’t, they’re a great forum for development and debate!

The entrepreneurs talked about investors … including business angels.  Friends and family willing to invest in your idea before you have the financial weight to approach banks.  Angels don’t just exist in business.  When it comes to writing, friends and family are your first line of support.  The litmus test.  A biased bunch of readers who can ease you into a world of criticism until your writing has enough weight to gather criticism from strangers.

The final piece of advice which stood out in my mind was ‘knowing your product’.  Understanding what works, and fine-tuning it so that it’s the best ‘form’ of your product.  A woman who owned a company which specialised in hotel bathroom supplies talked about recognising her most profitable market, and tailoring her business plan to that market.  How she had changed a company which supplied every kind of hotel into one which specialised in luxury hotels … Likewise, as a writer, it’s key to know your strengths, and understand what genre and readership your writing style best suits.  Identify your writing strengths, and hone them.

Know your product … Know your writing … and SELL it 🙂

I know I’ll definitely be watching the Apprentice more keenly in future 😉

C-C xxx

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The Writer’s Marathon

In just under two months time I turn twenty-seven twenty- eight … Freudian slip/ wishful thinking, I genuinely first typed twenty-seven! But alas it’s the latter, and to mark the occasion, for some reason still unbeknown to me, I’ve decided to run the Budapest Marathon.

And so, as if to add to the many reasons why I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write for over a month, I’m now spending at least five hours a week pounding the pavements of my hometown.

It was on my run earlier this evening that I began to draw parallels between forging a writing career and a running race.

Getting a book published was never going to be a sprint, that much has always been clear to me. Getting published is an endurance sport. A steeplechase, as you face obstacle after obstacle on your way to getting published. First there’s the hurdle of the idea. The concept of the book. Then there’s the issue of committing that idea to paper, and actually finishing it. Once your book’s complete you have to find an agent … something which many of the authors I’ve met through this blog and via Twitter know all too well is one of the most challenging hurdles of the race.

With your agent onside, suddenly what started as an individual race becomes a team game, and together you unite to get your manuscript in the best working order possible.

But once the editing hurdle’s been tackled, the sport takes on a very different nature, because you as a writer are suddenly in the backseat – a spectator rather than a competitor. After years pushing forward, getting yourself and your writing over one hurdle after the next, you finally have to pass the baton over to someone else … and sit back and wait!

And I guess that’s where I am now …

I can see the finish line ahead … or my current personal finish line – publication – but as for getting there, I’ve done my leg of the race, and all I can do is watch on and cross my fingers, because (crossing sporting metaphors 🙂 ) the ball is now in my agent’s court.

I’m not gonna lie, for me is the toughest part of the whole process. This week a friend at work jokingly called me a ‘control freak.’ And whilst it’s not something I’ve ever been called before, there is some degree of truth in the accusation. I like to be in control. I’m a planner. I’m efficient and organised, and if I want to achieve something, I put my mind to it and get it done. If I didn’t work that way, there would be no way I would have got into Cambridge, or achieved half the ‘extra-curricular’ things I’ve done so far in life.

But getting published isn’t like that. If I want to be taken seriously as a writer, I need an agent. And if I’m going to be represented by an agency, then I need to know when to take a step back and let them get on with their jobs.

The difficult part is that I’ve put all my efforts into my books over the past two years. I’ve spent two long years glimpsing a finish line, and now it’s finally in clear sight, I am completely powerless as to whether I’ll get there. I’ve put all possible effort into the first draft, and every subsequent draft I’ve been asked to do, and that’s my job done … for now.

So the question is, what do I do now? Because frankly, when it comes to life, I’m the world’s worst spectator!

I NEED to be doing something! I NEED to feel like I’m doing something productive. That I’m still making steps in the right direction to becoming a bona fide author.

I guess to continue with the athlete metaphors, I need to stay in pique condition, and work out exactly what training is going to be most beneficial for whatever my next writing race turns out to be.

When Flicker, my first book, was doing the rounds of publishers, I busied myself with The Dream Navigator, my second novel. The book was something completely different, a spontaneous experiment as compared to the tale of Flic Firestone which had rattled through my mind the entire time I was at university. Writing a second book was the cheat’s route to getting to my target … like running in two lanes of a race at the same time, because by finishing another book, and getting it publisher ready, suddenly I was giving myself double the chance of achieving my end goal – publication. Either book might get me there!

And that motivation worked. Sheer determination to get published, mixed with the frustrated futility that an author plays in the final stages of getting a book deal drove me to write, and to write quick. I beat all my previous records, and had ‘TDN’ finished in a few short months.

And now TDN is running the race too. My second complete, edited, novel. My second chance at getting to the publishing finish line …

But now I’m back in the spectator seats, itching to do something that might possibly help my cause.

Except the problem is, I’m tired. I feel like I’ve been running my part of the race on a treadmill, positioned just metres away from the finish line. And that no matter how hard I work, I’m still not getting any closer to that end goal.
I’ve completed three novels, and have the bare bones of three more … but I’m beginning to feel I’m lacking an incentive to write new material. I’m lacking the drive to carry on writing new stuff because I’m yet to see the fruits of any of my previous labours.

Is anyone else at this point? Where you’ve spent the majority of the last few years putting everything into your books, and yet as of yet you haven’t got anything back from them?

I’ll be honest, it IS a demoralising situation, and every day, you’re hopes get a bit smaller, a bit more jaded.

So what is there to do when you’re in that situation? When you’re fed up with playing the role of spectator, and watching from afar with crossed fingers, as an agent queries publishing houses on your behalf?

The obvious answer is to write. But as I’ve tried to explain above, sometimes that really isn’t possible. Writing is the product of inspiration and desire to write, and when you haven’t seen any positive results from your previous efforts, it can be hard to motivate yourself to continue the slog. I guess it’s a bit like running a marathon, but never seeing the mileage change.

So if you can’t write, what else is there to do?

I think these days, that’s where social media comes in. As an aspiring author, you’re not just a writer, but a self-publicist, and so I think as a progressing author, it’s important to keep up with social media. I don’t think I need to repeat how important blogs and Twitter are, it’s a topic I’ve written frequently about. But what else can an author do to busy herself? To keep her hands busy, and her mind occupied, whilst waiting for her agent to complete the relay race?

That’s where you guys come in!!

What do you do to keep occupied? How many of you are in writing limbo? Anyone else beginning to feel a bit jaded and lacking the energy to put pen to paper, despite however many new ideas you might have?

It’s funny … in some ways this is the closest thing I’ve had to writer’s block! It’s like I’m blocking myself … my own impatience and dwindling hopes is putting up a block between the ideas and the writing … because where I haven’t written properly for a month or so, my head is streaming with ideas ….

I know this is less up beat and neat than my normal blog posts, but I’d just love to hear from other authors in a similar position. Being an author in limbo can be rather lonely at times!!!!

C-C xx

 

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Getting Into Your Characters

Have you ever faced the age old issue of ‘what comes first?’

No, not the chicken or the egg … but the book and the film!

Now, obviously, in 99% of cases, the film will be based on a book.  But I’m not talking release dates.  I’m talking about which came first for YOU!  Did you watch the movie Twilight, and then decide to read the books, to then have Edward Cullen forever depicted as Robert Pattinson in your mind?  Or did you conjure your own wolves and vampires, only to be disappointed the moment you took your seat in the audience? It’s a particularly pertinent question for the YA world, with books like ‘The Hunger Games‘ and ‘City of Bones’ being made into films, and the actors portraying famous roles being announced months prior to the films, as if to ask ‘did we get it right?’.

As an author, characterisation, and how detailed the physical attributes you give a character can be a difficult tightrope to tread.

Personally, as a reader, I prefer to read the book before I see the film.  I LOVE to conjure characters in my mind.  To attribute the leading man with unmentioned details which I’m personally attracted, to see aspects of myself in the lead female, if she’s likeable, or perhaps characteristics of people I dislike, in her if she’s not!  My mind becomes a playground, the words on the page simply forming the framework for my games.  It’s my imagination which fills the gaps, populating a world which has been carefully crafted not just to suck me in, but to keep me there by allowing me to combine my own imagination with the authors.

If only we could take a snapshot into the mind of a reader.  A hundred readers.  To see what Hermione Granger, or Matilda, or Prince Caspian ever looked like before the characters appeared on the silver screen.

I say snapshot, because my memory is visual.  I read a book as a series of pictures, which flash through my mind as my eyes see the words.  But not every reader attributes a physical image to a person.  He or she might instead associate a smell, or a sound, or even just a sense.

And because of all that … because I know as a reader I like to colour in the lines, rather than be presented with a fully completed paint by numbers, I’ve noticed something in my writing.

I very seldom describe my characters in great detail!

The reason I’ve even touched upon this topic, is that last month I was very lucky to win Elli Writes’ June writing competition, and my prize is a portrait of one of my characters!  An amazing prize for an author whose artistic talents at school lay more in sketching still life drawings of apples, than bringing a vivid character to life.

But the prize begged the question – which character should I choose?

I’ve now completed three novels, and have the start of three other novels on the go.  That’s seven books worth of characters.  Seven books worth of people, who in my mind are as vivid as the day, and yet, who on paper, I have always been reticent to describe in too much detail.

But I’m not a lazy author.  I just want to give the reader a sense of the character.  A vague physical outline, which hopefully the emotions, and dialogue, and situations will allow the reader to colour with his or her own ideas.

Interestingly, if I squeeze my eyes shut and try to describe the snapshots in my head, I can see figures.  I can see scenes, and situations.  But the people in those scenes are fixed like mannequins, their faces indistinct.  And yet I feel like I know these characters inside out.  I mean, after all, I created them.  I understand their fears, their passions, their ideas.  They are my friends …. My favourite people.  Neat combinations of reality and fiction, some of them spliced together from people I know, others simply conjured out of necessity or situation.

And yet, for me, they’re all faceless!  As if, as an author this time, rather than a reader, I was hoping the readers themselves would fill in the gaps, and see the face of Ellody Rose, or Felicity Firestone for themselves.

So, how exactly do I choose a character for my prize?  How do I tell Liz, the editor of Elli Writes, how to draw a person who for me has no face, just a mass of emotions, decisions, and reactions?

The answer is, I didn’t.

Because in all of my books, it turns out there is always at least one character who has a face!  And these characters always tend to be male!!!

No, they’re not my ideal men, or physical embodiments of my ex boyfriends!  And no, they’re not film stars, or pin-ups  … (Though it is sometimes quite a cool game to play, coming up with who would play your lead men in the movie of your book!)

No, interestingly, the characters who I have the most clear visual impressions of, are the ones who are the most guarded.  The ones who share little with the reader, and likewise with me.  The ones I don’t understand, or don’t want to understand.  The two-timing lady player.  The emo/punk misunderstood Dream Navigator, who spends his days lashing out at those around him ….

(I won’t tell you too much more about those characters, as I don’t want to spoil it for any of you who have been reading the excerpts of Flicker and The Dream Navigator on the blog)

But what I will tell you, is that I’ve made a decision who I would love Liz to draw for me …

In The Dream Navigator there’s a character called Raye.  He’s dark, and perplexing, and only begins to open up towards the very end of the book.  But from Day One, I had the most vivid image of him.  A Korean Adam Lambert.  His hair blue black, his nails painted with black varnish, and his eyes ringed with kohl.

He fascinates me, because I don’t know or understand him, and so writing about him proved both frustrating, and really exciting.  In my head, he was the most visually distinct, and yet the hardest for me to understand!

And so now I will be handing over the gauntlet to Elli Writes 🙂 Will she understand him any better than me?  Will she be able to turn my words into a picture, and see the same boy I see in my mind every time I flick through my manuscript?

Or will she be waiting for the movie (God I really hope some day I write a movie!!!!), to see the actor who gets cast as Raye?

What do you see when you read a book?  Is it different when you’re writing?  Do your characters resemble real life people?  Do you prefer to watch a film before you read the book?  Or would you rather have your own character in your mind, and then shun the director’s presentation of that person?

As ever, please let me know what you think, either in the comments box below, or on Twitter.

C-C xxx

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Anything You Can Do …

As a child, I saw school as a competition.

I wanted to be top of the class, and that meant comparing myself, and my work, to other people.  It’s an attitude which worked as a child, and even through secondary school – GCSEs and A Level exams offered yet another forum for competition.  But, as an adult, studying at one of the best universities in the world, that attitude had to change.  If you try to be the best at Cambridge, you’re inevitably going to be disappointed.  In fact, a number of people I studied with quickly became more than disappointed.  They became defeated, verging on nervous breakdowns because for the first time in their lives they weren’t the best.  They had gone from big fish in small ponds, to tiny fish in an enormous ocean, and they couldn’t handle it.

It was at Cambridge that I realised a change of attitude was necessary, to survive, and to stay sane.  It was no longer about other people, and what they were doing.  I went from being competitive, to being a perfectionist.  I was simply going to do the best that I could do.  Whether that was in my studies, or in my extra-curricular life.  Regardless of how well others were doing, provided I was doing the best I could do, then I was happy.

And for the most part, I think this attitude works as an adult.  If you stop comparing yourself to others, and simply focus on what you want from your own life, then you’re likely to be far happier, and probably far more driven, because you’re doing things you want to do, not things other people want to do.

But there’s a problem with my logic.  Because being an author requires you to constantly be surrounded by the works of other writers.  Most writers start writing because they themselves love to read.  The written word surrounds them, and its not just their own.

I write Young Adult fiction because I enjoy Young Adult fiction.  I love the genre, and so when I pick up a book in a book shop it tends to be a YA fantasy novel.  That’s how I recently discovered the fantastic Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

But not everything you read is fantastic, by any stretch of the imagination!  And I think this is one of the most difficult parts of being in author-limbo.  After months of crafting words and constructing plot lines and sub-plot lines… After gritting your teeth and bearing subjective rejections from agents, editors and publishing houses … You have in your hands, the one thing you’ve been dreaming of attaining.  A physical published book.  Tangible acknowledgment of someone else’s literary success.  And it’s crap!

Now obviously that’s just my subjective opinion! (Just like all those publishers’ subjective opinions of my manuscripts!)And I’ll spare you from the details of exactly which book it is that has got my shackles up, because it’s not the only time it’s happened, and I don’t really want to turn the blog into a forum to bitch about other YA authors … but what I will say, is that as an unpublished author, who has spent the past three years writing and rewriting sentences – treating creative writing as a craft rather than just an outpouring of words – it’s quite depressing to come across something that really doesn’t read like anywhere near the same amount of work has gone into it.  Maybe it just slipped through the publishing net.  Maybe at times the insurmountable hurdle I feel like I’m facing actually gets a bit lower, and some less-deserving manuscripts make it through the ‘Total Wipeout’-like obstacle course to final publication.  Or maybe that’s just the whole point of opinions – they differ, and not everyone agrees that something is very well written.  To be fair, even highly successful recent ‘greats’ – Harry Potter, Twilight, Eragon, are not without copious critics.

So I guess there are several ways, as an unpublished author, that you can deal with reading a published book, which has (if you think competitively) beaten you over the publishing hurdles, and successfully come to print.

1) Accept that everyone thinks different things are good.  That’s why your agent might rave about your manuscript, but it doesn’t immediately get fought over by every publishing house it’s sent to!

2) Sometimes crap stuff gets through the filter – and if you start to see a pattern, and are beginning to lose self-belief, maybe try sending your manuscript to the publisher happily printing all the crap?! (This is a joke … kind of 🙂 )

3) Take on the positive message I always try to convey in my posts – that everything works out in the end, you just have to believe in yourself and your writing, and work your writing butt off … so use the annoyance at someone else’s success to power your own success

4) Use the book as an exercise to improve your own writing – don’t just bin it for being ‘bad’, but really think about why you don’t think the book works, and then try to apply that reasoning, and those criticisms to your own work.  That way your own work can become stronger directly as a result of the poorer work!

 

I think the important thing to underline, is whilst you do need some competitive spirit, or at least some desire to win in this publishing business, that shouldn’t mean you

a) shun all other writing all together, or

b) shun all other writers!

 

Being an author is a lonely enough profession in itself.  Unless you have the luxury of a co-author, you work alone, and the only way to get things done is by spending long hours in front of a lonely computer screen or blank page.  So your own quest for success, shouldn’t result in you losing a sense of author community.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, as blogging authors, we’re have a very real opportunity to create a writer community – published or unpublished – and social media will allow us to communicate in that community.  Don’t become so bitter and twisted because you think your own work is being overlooked, that you shut yourself away from your peers.  Often their feedback and criticism will be the most useful.

For example, I very recently discovered another author, of a similar age, represented by my agency, who not only also writes YA, but is also unpublished and lives within an hour of me.  So now, my plan is to see how many other writers I can find fitting those rough credentials – signed, but not yet published – so that perhaps we can form our own kind of writers’ group.  A forum for discussion, reading, and most of all growth.

And as for stopping reading altogether?  Well that should NEVER happen!  Because, like I said earlier, most writers get into writing a particular genre, because it is THAT genre which he or she loves to read.  So stopping reading a genre, simply because you don’t enjoy comparing the work to your own, is a really sad bi-product of choosing to become a writer.

 

C-C xxx

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No Right of Reply

Before I became a wannabe-author, I was a wannabe-lawyer.  Or rather, I was a law student.  And the reason I became a law student is because I like to argue!  I enjoy a right to reply.  The idea that one person’s opinion might not be the only answer.

And then I became an unpublished author and realised I had no right to reply!

Because my career, my future and my life-plan currently sit in the hands of a selection of faceless editors.  (I say faceless, but nowadays, thanks to LinkedIn and Google, it’s pretty easy to add faces to the names!)  And those editors are unassailable.  THEIR WORD is the law!

These days any book chosen by an editor for their label will become his or her personal project.  He or she will take on your story, and decide how it needs to be edited.  He or she will be responsible for packaging your story as a gift for the reading world.  And so it is essential that he or she likes.  More than that.  He, or she, needs to LOVE IT!

And the obvious problem with that is that liking or even loving something, is subjective.  One person’s decision whether he loves or hates your work … and all the options in between.

These days authors tend not to submit their own work to editors.  Agents act as a middle-man, sifting through the submissions and selecting the ones they deem ‘publisher-worthy’.  After agent-led redrafts, the agent then submits the book to publishers he or she has handpicked (in the same way the author originally submits his manuscript to agents that he or she has handpicked.

So, with this extra level of selection and direction, you’d think that your work is being sent to people who will generally appreciate it.  However, unfortunately, as I’m gradually learning – one rejection at a time, that’s not always the case!

This week I’ve had a particularly bad week – the lowest point being realising I’d written the wrong date down for the Glee concert I bought tickets to, and only realising on the day I thought I was going (the day after the day I had tickets for! DOH!).  So maybe the rejections I received this week weren’t any harsher than the other 8 I’ve received over the past 7 months … but they definitely stung more than normal.  One rejection questioned the ‘strength’ of my writing, whilst the other one found my main character difficult to ‘truly engage’ with my main character.

Obviously those are both opinions.  Subjective analysis.  And completely different analysis to any of the others I’ve received.  Because everyone’s opinion is obviously different.  (And also, less professionally, because apparently some editors send out set rejection responses!)

But the problem I find every time I get one of these rejections, is they kick up the inner lawyer inside me!  I want to DEFEND myself!  I want to DEFEND my writing!

No one likes rejection!  How many of you have been dumped at some point in your life, and itched for the urge to answer back?  To give your side of the story?  To tell your ex their reasons for ending the relationship were wrong!

The obvious problem with this is that feelings are subjectives.  Your feelings can’t be wrong, because they are your feelings.  They are personal to you.  Completely subjective.  And likewise, the reasons why someone rejects your book are subjective.  They’re not wrong.  They’re just how he or she feels.  The editor’s personal feelings.  It’s not a point for debate.  And as such you get no right of reply.

Which is particularly annoying in this day and age, when you can type in a name and a company into Google and very easily arrive at an email address.  A way to actually reply!

Not that being a sane, aspiring author, you ever would, obviously!

But I guess you can always dream 🙂

And so I guess, getting rejected by a publisher is just one of those situations where you have to take the other option to arguing your case.  Taking the moral upper hand.  And to take that upper hand, you keep your mouth shut, and show them you’re wrong NOT with a ranting email highlighting all the reasons why they’re wrong, but by holding your head up high and trying extra hard with everything else you write, so that one day you’ll be the ‘J.K. Rowling story’.  The writer sticking two metaphorical fingers up at all of the editors who have criticised her work and told her she’d never make it as a writer 😉

C-C xxx

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Sex and Swearing!

Right … now that I’ve caught your eye 😉

No, I promise that actually is the topic of today’s post.  Recently I’ve read a lot of different blog posts about the portrayal of sex in teenage fiction.  Admittedly, most of these blog posts seem to have been written from a very religious standpoint.  From my experiences of searching WordPress for fellow author bloggers, there appear to be a LOT of very Christian writers who blog.  When I say very Christian, what I mean is that their religious beliefs colour almost everything that appears on their blog posts.  Now, there are lots of blogs that I read and subscribe to, of which I know nothing of the author’s religious persuasions, and from my opinion I prefer this, because in my opinion an author’s religious beliefs should be kept separate from their fiction.  Now, I realise I may well be opening up a large can of worms with that comment, but unless you are specifically writing a religious story, or the characters in that story clearly adhere to certain beliefs,  then in my opinion your own personal religious beliefs should not colour the fiction.  Because it is just that – fiction.

To better express myself, I’ll use Twilight as an example.  Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon.  And whilst none of the characters in the books are of that faith, the main criticism often hurled at the book is the unrealistic portrayal of teenage romance and sex, an aspect clearly affected by Meyer’s beliefs.  In the books this attitude is explained away as a result of Edward having grown up in a very different era, however, as the high levels of criticism indicate, that explanation didn’t necessarily sit too well with the majority of readers.

This brings me on to an interesting issue of writing teenage fiction.  And that issue is sex.  Now, no matter what religion you adhere to.  No matter what your personal views are on sex before marriage, the stark reality of today’s society is that the vast majority of teenagers ARE sexually active.  Just to clarify – I’m from Britain, where the legal age of consent is 16, and where to my knowledge there is far less support from teenagers for chastity movements as there is in the United States.  Now, that’s obviously not to say that everyone is doing it!  But, from my experiences as a teenager growing up in the United Kingdom (and just to clarify, I went to a selective all girls’ school and grew up in a nice area of affluent South East of England), probably 95% of the people I grew up with lost their virginity before the age of 20.  Those who didn’t, abstained mainly for religious reasons, or because they were extremely shy around the opposite sex.

In my opinion, teenagers have sex!  Something I’m sure teenage pregnancy figures the globe over will support!

Now, I realise that as an author, you have certain responsibilities to your readers, and that particularly as a children’s author, those responsibilities can be rather profound.  You and your characters can act as role models to the people reading your books, and obviously the teenage age bracket is a particularly impressionable.  However, I think as an author, you have to tread a fine line with issues like sex, and swearing.

I guess for a start you have to decide how you personally see your role as an author, and ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with your books.  Are you writing as a Christian for other Christians, are you trying to convert people to a religion, are you trying to be a teacher and teach moral values, or are you trying to be a realist?  Are you trying to be a fantasist?  And how far do you want to push the realism of your book?

They are all questions which you as a teenage bracket author need to decide where issues like sex and swearing are involved.  Because lets be frank now – MOST teenagers are to some degree sexually active (and if they’re not, a fair few want to be!) and MOST teenagers swear.

So where do you draw the line, if you do want to include these things in your books?

Personally, I try to write realistically.  And interestingly, when I first wrote ‘Flicker’, and a male friend of mine (who is 27, swears like a trooper and is not shy about sharing his sex life!) read it for the first time, one of his first comments was ‘do you think you should include a sex scene?’ and he also suggested I remove the swearing.

Now, just to clarify, when I admit to including sex and swearing in my books, I’m not writing porn, nor am I writing the script for Shameless!  When characters get angry I might use the S or the F word, and if the plot requires someone to sleep with someone else, I might mention it happened, or if, as in Flicker, the reader needs to know a little bit more about the situation, expand it to a paragraph or two.

But even this can be seen by some to be overstepping a rather big line!

Obviously it depends on your target audience.  Flicker and The Dream Navigator, are both written with 15+ year old readers in mind, and the central characters are 19 years old.  19 year olds have sex and swear, so these were things which I figure should feature in the plot just like all the other things 19 year old characters might do.  But only where necessary.  For this reason, Ellody, the main character in TDN doesn’t actually have sex, because, as anyone who has read the start of TDN will realise, she’s not a normal 19 year-old.  She’s lived a really socially-repressed life because of her abilities, and struggles with her relationships with other people.  The most the reader might see her do is kiss another character, because for her that’s a really big step.

What I’m trying to say, is that sex and swearing ARE everyday things.  Particularly for older teenagers.  And it seems a shame to censor them from an artform, if you are trying to be realistic.  But, like all other events, actions and devices, they should only be used when necessary. If the situation and the story don’t merit it, or if you are writing for a younger audience – say the 11-14 year-old bracket – then don’t introduce those two things.  Tailor your story to your audience and your purpose!   There’s no need to turn a book into a swearing dictionary or a porno mag just for the sake of it!  But equally, don’t patronise your audience!  Don’t have a nineteen year-old burst into a tirade of ‘Oh fudge!  Golly gosh I’m so angry!’ because you then you will lose your target audience!  Your readers aren’t looking to you to be their religious leader, or their teacher – they already have those things.  They are looking to you as a writer to entertain them, and to tell them about the real world …. or not, in a responsible but realistic manner.   Or at least that’s my opinion!

So I guess it’s down to you to decide exactly what role you want to play!

C-C xx

 

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Filed under Blogging, C-C Lester, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

Get It Write ;)

As I explained in Blog Etiquette I think it’s really important as a blogger to read other peoples’ blogs, particularly those of your personal readership.

I love to read, and so reading other blogs is definitely not a chore.  It can, however, prove extremely irksome, for one reason.

I’m a wordy … I LOVE words.  It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing so much.  I like to play with words, and images, and word play.  And encompassed in all of that is GRAMMAR.

Now, I’m not talking about anything too high-tech.  I know that blogging is like documented chatter, and that often grammatical rules get stretched, because, like I discussed in The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger, blogging is a very different kind of craft.  However, that’s no excuse to be sloppy, ESPECIALLY when your blog is about writing!

I’ve come across not one, but several blogs by writers, where they have misused apostrophes!  Come on, surely that’s something we learnt about at the age of ten?  Simple plural nouns don’t have apostrophes.  With singular possessive nouns, the apostrophe comes before the S, with plural possessive nouns, the apostrophe comes after the S.  Surely it’s not that hard?

Sorry to sound like a nag, but I think this also links back to Getting Represented.  Everyone makes the odd mistake, but if you want to be taken seriously as writer, you need to at least have basic grammar nailed.  I know if I were a literary agent, with a huge slush pile at my fingertips, then spotting huge grammatical errors in the introduction to someone’s work, would definitely put me off – a great example of this is describing yourself as a kid’s author.  Is that just the one kid?  Do you only write for one specific child?

When I was on my pre-university Gap Year, I taught English and American Cultural Studies at a Chinese university.  True story …. don’t even get me started on what a joke system it was that a 19 year old could become a university lecturer, but I did it for 6 months, and absolutely loved it.

My students were in their early twenties, and I soon began to see them as friends rather than students.

In China ALL students are expected to sit an English grammar test before university, regardless of whether they are planning on studying English.  For fun, a group of my students gave me the test to sit.  If I scored over 98% they would buy me dinner, if I scored less, I would buy all of them dinner.  I think I scored around 93 or 94%.

Now at the time I was probably the brightest and most engaged student I have ever been.  Fresh out of A Levels, with an A in English Literature under my belt, and a place at Cambridge University awaiting me, I tried to explain to them, that I was probably an unusually bright English person.  And yet, they simply couldn’t fathom why an English native speaker wasn’t able to score 100% on a test about her own language!

The test highlighted how many grammatical errors have become commonplace in our mother tongue.  And whilst this CAN be used for slight errors in sentence structure and syntax, it shouldn’t wash over the fact that the simplest of grammatical rules are being let slip because of the prevalence of text speech and abbreviation.

Ok, so Twitter only allows you 140 characters … but the real world doesn’t! (As evidenced by my epic blog-posts!) So don’t cut corners, otherwise you may well be cutting out (more pedantic!) readers like me 🙂

C-C xx

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Filed under C-C Lester, General, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing