Haven does something else

haven does something else

It’s been one week since Haven Wakes was published by Burning Chair, and I’ve been delighted with the response so far – so many kind words, reviews, and shout-outs on social media.

So what now? Well, I suppose I’d better write the next book in the series.

Book two in the Haven Chronicles has the working title of ‘Haven Journeys’ but I don’t think that’ll be the final title. It does, however, give a hint of what Steve will be doing.

Haven Wakes introduced you to:

  • our main boy, 12 year old Steve Haven
  • his normal life
  • his world
  • a new, hidden, magical world
  • his new, magical friends

The second book in the series will continue Steve’s adventures. I can’t tell you too much, but the second book may include:

  • Steve’s magical friends mentioned above
  • the powers that be in the magical world
  • a jaunt off abroad (with less jaunt and more danger)
  • more background to the world of magic
  • a new dilemma for Steve

What will I be researching to help me write Book 2? Many, many things but I can tell you that I’ll be looking into how a desert city might look in the future.

My target is to finalise my chapter plan by the end of October at the latest and have the first draft finished early 2020. Wish me luck.

Haven Wakes is almost here

Haven Wakes is almost here

It’s Monday morning – the last day before my debut novel Haven Wakes is published – and I’m preparing for the big launch tomorrow.

To say, I’m excited has to be the understatement of my life, but I’m also incredibly grateful for this chance to share my stories.

I’m grateful to my publishers, Burning Chair for setting me off on this brilliant, new career path.

I’m grateful to my family for never giving up on my dream, even when I sometimes doubted it.

I’m grateful to all the beta and ARC readers, bloggers and reviewers who have helped me to hone and promote my novel.

I’m grateful to the friends who have been my cheerleaders over the last few months.

And I’m grateful to every reader who joins Steve on his journey into magic.

I’ve always been a writer, but tomorrow I become a published author. I still get a bit giddy when I think of that (I really should drink less coffee at the moment) and I haven’t stopped smiling for days.

Tuesday is a brand new start for me, and Haven Wakes, and all of the novels I have lined up to write.

Bring it on.

The inspiration behind Haven Wakes

The inspiration behind Haven Wakes

If you ask what inspired me to write Haven Wakes, I’d have to say…

Hang on, let me think for a moment. Hm. This could take a while.

Well, I suppose the first thing was:

Magic

Ever since I read my first fairytale, I’ve been fascinated by magic – magic witches, magic beasties, magic wands and books – and just how a world rich in magic would operate.

In Haven Wakes, magic is hidden from the non magical world, kept in protected areas where magic-users can live with a level of freedom and acceptance. It’s part of their DNA but it comes at a cost.

So that’s the first – magic. What else inspired me?

Colourful folk

My childhood was spent ricocheting between Leeds, where my mum came from, the homes of various family members in Scotland (my father’s birth-country), and York where we lived.

In Leeds, I would meet the people of my mother’s past. There was the little old lady who lived in one room with her grown-up son and a gathering of cats, having filled the rest of her large terrace house with junk shop finds.

There were the elderly couple whose narrow home squeezed into a gap in a terrace of houses. She was tall with rosy cheeks, big arms and a warm, overflowing sense of humour.  He was small, quiet, and a man of the earth, always happiest in his garden.

The Scots were just as colourful. There was the auntie who would send me home after each visit with a gift of dolls or jewellery,  the uncle who would catch crabs in the harbour to the music of his portable radio, and the other auntie who would tell me tales of Nessy the monster and how to call her.

All of them were magical to me.

The travelling salesman and the dark fairy

I wrote a story called The Crystal Prince many years ago and where I might have left the story gathering dust on a shelf, two characters from that tale always called to me to re-write them.

One was a travelling salesman called Hartley Keg. He’s the kind of person who makes you smile, even when you don’t want to, who always has the right gadget to hand for any dilemma, and who carries a force of personality that speaks of authority and trust.

The other was a dark assassin, dangerous and intent on her mission. Even though she was a villain in the original story, she was always one of my favourite characters. I pulled her out of my writerly filing system, re-writing her for Haven Wakes as a dark fairy reluctantly on the side of our hero.

What will the future bring?

I live in a house of technology-fiends with gadgets galore, and that’s before you even think of computers.

My teens are the generation that has grown up with computers and mobile phones and VR just there. Whereas it was something new, at some point, to me and their Dad, they just accept all of that tech as a normal part of life.

During my lifetime, there have been so many technological changes in a relatively short period of time. Computers have gone from room-sized, to possible to fit on a desk, to small enough to sit in your palm. Phones used to be big, clunky, resin monstrosities. Nowadays everyone, including me, seems lost without their hand-held, fit it in a pocket, mobile phone.

Cars talk to us and soon self-driving cars may be the norm.

My inspiration for the futuristic world of Haven Wakes came from the thought of where these technological advances will take us. Robots? Fabrics that change colour at the flick of a switch or the brush of a hand? 3D printed food outlets? You’ll find all of that in my book.

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So there you have it, all the things that inspired Haven Wakes. I’m sure there are others too, but these are the main ones.

Magic

Colourful folk

Hartley and the darkling

Thoughts of future tech

And now Haven Wakes will serve as inspiration itself for book two in the series. But that’s another story, quite literally.

7 facts about how I write

7 facts about how I write

When my publisher asked me to create a blog post to explain how I write, I thought, ‘that’ll be simple to answer, I just…

And then it struck me. There’s no just about it. The act of writing, in fact, the whole process of writing, isn’t just anything. It’s complicated, and meandering, and sometimes a complete mystery.

So instead of discussing the whole mysterious and mystical machination that is writing, I broke it down into 7 facts about how I write.

I think

Or is that daydream? What I mean is that before, during and after the act of writing, I do a lot of thinking about my story. I have this whole internal conversation going on most of the time.

It might be

  • snippets of conversation,
  • or where the story is going next,
  • or changes I need to make to a chapter,
  • honing a description,
  • or even the name of a character.

Long before I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, the action of writing begins with a thought.

Brainstorming

This is probably my favourite bit of the writing process. Before I begin to write, before I work out the plot or what will happen in each chapter, I have a mahoosive brainstorming session where I throw all of my ideas about a story down onto paper.

I use an A3 art pad so there are no lines to limit my scribblings. I write down

  • the title of the novel, or ideas about what the title might be
  • conversations between characters in my novel
  • characters – whether they have a name or not
  • settings
  • questions the book should answer
  • things to include to get the story where it needs to go
  • plans for future novels in the series so I know what path to follow
  • if this happens, then what? scenarios
  • topics I need to research
  • mythological beasties
  • spells and other magical details
  • character descriptions and backgrounds
  • details about the world my story is set in
  • problems I need to solve in my story
  • clues I need to reveal
  • locations of off-stage characters
  • character family connections

and anything else I need to know before I can begin to write.

It’s only when I’ve regurgitated all of those details that I can begin to build the story.

Later on, I’ll use my brainstorm chart as a reference tool to return to too.

I’m a devoted plotter

I’d love to be one of those people who can just begin a story with no plan, but I always write myself into dead ends and plot holes.

I make a plan of the different stages in the story (what will happen in the beginning, middle and end) and then carve the middle section up into anywhere from three to five sections.

Then I plot the path of my story in a sequential manner (this happens, then that, then that, and so on until the end).

Now, comes the fun bit, working out exactly how I’ll present my story:

  • Do I want to start the story-telling at the ‘beginning’ mentioned above, or do I want to start the story later?
  • Do I want to jump back and forwards a little?
  • Do I want to reveal everything, or will some scenes be shown through witness statements or clue-solving?
  • Is the story revealed through one person’s experiences or two simultaneous character paths?
  • Finally, does my story end with the ‘end’ mentioned above, or does it go on further?

I’m a firm believer, however, that plotting should always carry a level of flexibility. After all, when a character decides that they want to walk rather than take the train, they’re usually right.

Where I write

I generally write at my computer in my study. I say study, it’s actually the dining room and my desk is the dining table. My family have long since given into the fact that my need for a devoted place to write and work is more important than their need to eat around a table. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to afford a garden office, or at least a shed.

I tend to switch between typing and handwriting my story, depending on my mood. If I’m struggling over a chapter or section, then making that change usually helps.

Very occasionally, I’ll write in the garden or at my local coffee shop, but generally I find those places too distracting to get any work done.

I don’t wait for inspiration

I’ve learned this lesson from working as a playwright and copywriter with client timescales to meet. I can’t just wait to be in the mood to write or have some wonderful idea to write about. If I did that, I’d rarely get any writing completed.

If there’s writing to do – whether it’s for a copywriting client or the next chapter of my work in progress – I have to just park my bum, pop on my glasses and get on with it.

Boring but true.

20 minute bursts

My writerly brain works best if I write for twenty minutes at a time. Why? Well, twenty minutes allows me to get quite a large chunk of writing done but doesn’t allow me to get bored or distracted. I end my twenty minutes still enthusiastic about my writing and wanting to return to it after my break.

I also find that taking a break allows my brain to cool off enough to solve any problem I may be having with my writing and/or plan out how to continue when I get back to it.

Reading back

When I return to a piece of work after a break, I read back over what I wrote during the previous twenty minute burst. This serves a number of purposes:

  • It reminds me where I left off.
  • It gets me back into the same tone of voice and pace of writing.
  • It allows me to check that the last twenty minutes weren’t wasted and that I didn’t get off track.

It might take a little extra time to read back but it always helps me to continue with whatever I’m working on.

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So there you have it. This is some of how I write.

Visit my Books page to find out exactly what my novel is about.

Once upon an edit

once upon an edit

One of the most frightening things I have ever done is hand over my manuscript to an agent or publisher to read through. Eek!

Haven Wakes and I have been through our fair share of rejection but it doesn’t get any easier to say, “Hi, here’s my baby. Are they good enough?” which is exactly what a writer does every time they submit their manuscript.

So when Burning Chair Publishing said, “Yes. Your baby is not only good enough but we want to give them a home,” it was the best feeling in the world.

Then the word ‘edit’ is mentioned. Reality kicks in and trips you up in your happy dance. You land in a pile at the feet of your muse who tuts and pouts because this is where her counterpart, the editing elf steps in.

The ability to write and to edit are often portrayed as two very different things. The first is whimsical and carefree, while the second is dry and disciplined, and never should they be done at the same time, oh no, that would be disastrous.

Here’s the thing. While I fully allow the muse to rule while I’m writing, and the elf keeps me on track while editing, I also know that the two can work well together on occasion.

Elf

Now, we need to show that the main character has developed and changed throughout the course of the novel.

Muse

Ooh, ooh, maybe he could dye his hair sparkly blue to signify the new magic in his life.

Elf

He doesn’t have time to dye his hair, and even if he did, he’s a twelve year old boy. He wouldn’t want sparkly blue hair. What we need is to show him in his old life but acting in a new way.

Muse

How exciting. I know just how we could do that. If we bring…

I’ve had a similar conversation with my publisher about how to improve my manuscript too, ‘conversation’ being the key word. From the outset, they had ideas on how to get the best out of Haven Wakes from character development to plugging plot holes to writing up the rules of magic in the world of my novel.

The editing process went like this:

  • Burning Chair’s initial thoughts on how to improve my novel.
  • I made changes and emailed off the amended copy.
  • Si carried out a developmental edit, looking at the manuscript as a whole and in detail too, and reported back to me with suggested changes.
  • I made the changes I agreed with, re-writing a number of chapters and adding in a new one.
  • Pete carried out a copy edit, to pick up inconsistencies in the manuscript (such as how I signified a thought instead of speech).
  • I made more changes.
  • Next, my manuscript was put into e-book format and forwarded to my wonderful beta readers. Their responses, after a few weeks, resulted in more discussion and a number of tweaks that I can honestly say improved Haven Wakes even further.

Throughout the whole process, Burning Chair made it clear that this was my book so the final decision was with me on any changes made.

My muse and elf have both had their say as Haven Wakes has been edited and re-written. They actually make a good team (although the elf would rather the muse sat down during their sessions instead of pirouetting around the room).

Haven Wakes has now arrived at its final stage – ready for all that technical formatting malarkey that I don’t know anything about really – and will soon be available to order. I can’t wait to have a copy in my hands. I may even join my muse in doing a little dance.

You can download the first eight chapters of Haven Wakes here.

My bumpy road to publication: a cautionary tale

my bumpy road to publication

Asking ‘how long does it take to write a book?’ is almost the same as asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’. Or at least it was for me.

I began to write Haven Wakes in its current form as a children’s novel back in 2013 under the title ‘Haven Falls’. The backbone of the story was basically the same as the book that will be published this year but a lot of changes have been made along the way. Characters have been and gone, subplots have taken a different route, and the original villains were put aside for a book of their own.

Why did it take that long to write? I’ll tell you.

I took too much advice

Advice is a good thing, isn’t it? Well, yes, it can be but here’s the thing. Sometimes, advice is well informed and valuable, and sometimes it’s just an opinion. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.

I took too much advice from some very well-informed people. I won’t say how many exactly but it was more than I could count on one hand.

All of them had valid points and with each I altered my manuscript:

  • Wrong age group – I altered the ages of my main characters
  • Too many viewpoints – I cut them down to two
  • Not complicated enough – I simplified
  • Too obvious and predictable – I added intrigue

I can honestly say that Haven Wakes/Falls improved in some ways because of the advice, but it also got a little worn and patchy in places.

At the beginning of 2018, exasperated by another round of professional advice, I sat down with my manuscript and all of that advice and took a long, hard look at it all.

One thing became clear. All of the advice I had been given, although valuable and from a place of knowledge, was coloured by opinion. We all know what we like in a book and it’s rarely the same from reader to reader. All of my advisors had based their advice on their knowledge of writing ‘and’ what they liked in a book.

Change of mindset 1: What do I think of my book?

I waited for perfection

Most writers have a habit of tinkering with our creations, continually changing a line here and a line there, then maybe changing it back, or completely deleting a chapter.

‘Kill your darlings’ – that’s what they say and yes, plenty of my characters have been culled (well, asked politely to leave the room) when I felt they didn’t fit.

I fell into the perfection pit. I kept chipping away at my masterpiece until I had no idea whether it was finished.

Here’s the thing about perfection though: it doesn’t really exist.

Most things can be improved, even if that’s only in the opinion of one or two people.

Perfection is boring anyway. It’s an end point. Writing (and reading) should be a journey.

Change of mindset 2: If it’s not perfect, is it good enough for now?

I took the well-trodden path

I started the search for a literary agent back in 2015. I’d submit a batch of queries over a number of months and once every one had said no or enough time had passed for me to realise I wasn’t going to get an answer, I’d gather any pearls of wisdom from the rejections and re-write my novel. I did the same in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

By that last year, I was getting a majority of ‘almost there’ or ‘great but not what we’re looking for at the moment’ replies that were more frustrating than an out and out ‘no’ or no reply at all.

Over Christmas 2018, I made a decision. 2019 would be the last year when I would try to publish Haven Wakes. If I couldn’t land a literary agent, I would put my darling book on the shelf and begin a new novel.

The end?

I still don’t know exactly how this happened, or what I was searching for, but I came across an online article listing small, independent British publishers.

I eagerly checked down the list but found that none of them published fantasy novels. That couldn’t be right, surely? Where were all the small publishers dealing in books like mine?

By almost the end of 2018, I had found one small, independent publisher who might be interested. On 28th December, I submitted my manuscript to Burning Chair Publishing and waited.

Happy ever after…

By March 2019, I had been offered a publishing deal and the process of getting Haven Wakes to market had begun.

Haven Wakes will be released later this year. To download the first 8 chapters of my fantasy novel for free, click here.

Image coutesy of troy williams on Unsplash

5 reasons I write Fantasy

5 reasons I write fantasy

Since I first wrote a fantasy story, back when I was a child, I have always been drawn to this genre, both as a writer and a reader.

Let me tell you why.

Seeing beyond the mundane with a writer’s eye

I don’t think I’m the only writer who does this, but I’ve always looked at the world from a curious, searching and to an extent alternative eye.

When I look at a photo, it’s the quiet background details that stand out to me, such as the reflection cast on the window glass behind the family posing for a holiday snap or the half hidden gateway beyond the beautiful garden.

My inspiration is often drawn from a ‘what if’ mindset. What if the family were unaware of the shadowy presence that stood just beyond the photographer’s shoulder? What if that half hidden gateway led to a world of mystical wonders?

My ‘what if’s always lead me to fantastical scenarios and magical characters.

It’s all about the magic

By definition, fantasy stories must always include some element of magic, be that magic spells, magical artefacts or mythical creatures.

I suppose my love for magic began with the fairytales I read as a child. There was the fairy godmother in Cinderella and her transformation of the pumpkin (to a carriage), mice (to footmen and horses) and of our heroine herself, the curse cast over Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, and the little mermaid’s transformation into a human.

Magic opens up so many more possibilities for a story, like a magical doorway to escape through, runes that imprison, and mystical healing powers (all of which you’ll find in Haven Wakes).

Fantastical beasties

There are countless mythological and magical animals in fantasy stories to write about or use as a basis to invent a new animal.

There are mermaids, and goblins, and giants, and dragons, and… I could go on forever. Alongside those childhood fairytale favourites, I also read a lot (and some more) of mythology stories.

My mind brims over with fantastical beasties to include in my stories, and I love them all – even the dark and sinister ones.

Fantasy spans all age groups

You’ll find fantasy fiction written for all of the readership age groups. There’s the Harry Potter and Skulduggery Pleasant books for the younger readers. Fantasy-loving teens can enjoy books by writers like Cassandra Clare and Suzanne Collins. For adults (young, new or more mature), there are plenty of fantasy novels like the Game of Thrones novels, the Terry Pratchett Discworld books, and The Night Circus.

Haven Wakes is written for an 11+ readership but I also have ideas that would work better for teens, and others that would definitely be for mature readers. Writing in this genre doesn’t limit the age of my potential readership.

I keep coming back

I’ve read plenty of other genres, especially as a literature graduate, and I’ve tried my hand at writing outside the fantasy genre (I spent two decades writing murder mystery plays) but the genre that I return to time and time again as both as a reader and a writer is fantasy.

It’s where I feel most at home. It’s the genre I read when I need to escape the hardships of life, and the genre I write when at my most inspired.

Progress, a chat with my muse, and much much walking the dog

Progress, a chat with my muse, and much much walking the dog

When I started this blog, it was with the honest intention to post on here a couple of times a month. So what happened to my June posts? Well, I’ll tell you.

Progress on my novel

Do you know what a developmental edit is? I didn’t until the lovely folks at my publisher, Burning Chair, let me in on the secret.

A developmental edit is what happens when your publisher/editor takes your manuscript and scours it for improvement opportunities. In essence, they make it better, on a line by line basis and also from a godly overview perspective.

June was spent applying the findings of my developmental edit to Haven Wakes. Here’s what I learned:

  • Where it’s relatively easy to rejig a manuscript in the making (move the order of chapters around, change a character’s motivation, send the cast to the beach rather than the city), making changes to a manuscript that you have fixed in your brain because, in your mind, it’s finished, can seriously chafe your aura. It means mentally retracing your steps, if only just a few, to make the necessary changes.
  • I am exceedingly protective of my baby, I mean, manuscript.
  • A second pair of eyes is always useful. I thought Haven Wakes was already a fully formed being, but 98% of the changes that my editor suggested will produce a much more polished, pacy and intuitive read (sorry, couldn’t think of a third ‘p’).

I finally emailed the edited version to my publisher this week, with some re-ordering of events, and a couple of completely new sections too. Fingers crossed they like it.

A chat with my muse

You know how avid readers have a tendency to buy new books even though they’re not only mid-read of one book but also have a humongously long to-be-read list? Well, writers are similar in that we are prone to coming up with brilliant ideas for new stories long before we’ve finished the one we’re working on.

My muse keeps doing that to me. “Yes, I know you’re editing your manuscript but if you could just stop for a moment, I’d like to tell you about the next book. I have this wonderful idea to…”

I tried to ignore her but, in the end, she won. She’s good, my muse, very imaginative, but also a touch random. I have pages of ideas for book two (including some cross-continental travel for my main characters) but it’ll take a massive sorting session to put them in order.

Much much walking the dog

Working on my novel this month has meant taking a ‘bigger picture’ view. For me, this requires a bit of open space and a lot of sky.

I’ve spent much of this month out walking the dog and envisioning the bigger picture for Haven Wakes and its follow-up novels.

If I let this character live, what do I do with them in book 2?

If this character intervenes here, how does this other character get away so they can do what needs to be done?

How could I bring this character back in future books?

What clues do I need to seed in book 1 for the rest of the series?

That’s the kind of question I’ve been considering on my dog walks.

What else can I tell you?

The book cover for Haven Wakes is still in the works but it’s coming along nicely. For me personally, and maybe for all writers, seeing my book cover come together is one of those giggly moments when you realise that your dream is becoming a reality.

My short story is at the editing stage and should provide a lovely taster for the world of Haven Wakes. I’m hoping that it’ll be the first of many related short stories.

We’re still on target to release Haven Wakes later this year. You’ll be the first to know when there’s a definite launch date.

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There’s a lot of lovely blue sky out there today so I’m off to walk the dog for some of that bigger picture thinking. Talk soon.

Inspiration: My top 5 World Builders

I love a good novel, but as a reader the thing that elevates a novel to the next level for me is when that story isn’t alone. It stands as merely one of many paths into a world created by the author.

There are some real writerly experts out there who are adept at crafting worlds that pull us back in time and time again.

Here are my top 5:

Stephen King

Prolific. I think that’s one of the most fitting words for the writer Stephen King. The prolific-ness (is that a word?) is down to not only the number of novels he’s written, but also the many genres he’s crossed and writing forms he’s successfully tackled.

He’s known mainly as a horror writer, but his stories have spanned fantasy, science fiction, and thriller too. He writes novels and short stories, stand-alone novels and series, and has even been involved in screenplays.

You might think that because he’s written across so many genres that it would be impossible to build a world to contain them all, but you’d be wrong.

In his Dark Tower series, Stephen King creates a hub that links to all the outlying worlds where his stories take place. If you’re a long time reader and fan, you suddenly see exactly how the stories work together.

I’m not sure if Stephen King had the Dark Tower hub in mind when he began writing his books, but for me, it works incredibly well.

Clive Barker

For me, Clive Barker has always written books that are both horror and fantasy. Two of his books – Weaveworld and Cabal – are linked, taking certain species and their culture from Weaveworld and turning them on their heads by locating them in our own world in Cabal.

In Weaveworld, a magical world is hidden away inside a tapestry to keep it safe from mankind and those who would harm and abuse it. In Cabal, a disturbed young man who is apparently guilty of murder finds his way to a sanctuary for supposed monsters called the Nightbreed.

I loved this dark mirror effect of taking individuals who are seen as good and talented in one book and presenting them in the other book as monsters when seen from the perspective of those who are ignorant to their culture and intent.

J K Rowling

I couldn’t talk about world building and not mention J K Rowling. Her take on the world of witches and wizards, the related culture, and all the magical beasties imaginable, has been a game-changer in the fantasy genre.

The Harry Potter books, and slightly later the films, became a phenomenon in themselves. You only have to look at the amount of merchandise available all over the world and the massive range of fan fiction to see how much the Harry Potter monster still has us in its clutches.

It was reintroduced, or maybe just strengthened, in the Fantastic Beasts films and books, adding a past and even more rich layers to J K Rowling’s magical world.

However you approach it, be it from the Harry Potter books, the stage play or the Fantastic Beasts films, it feels like a tightly-woven world with a colourfully imagined culture.

Derek Landy

‘Buffy meets Dr Who meets Ghostbusters’ is how the Skulduggery Pleasant website describes this series of fantasy novels.

A dead, sorcerer detective (that’s Skulduggery) and a normal teenage girl who is pulled into the dangerous and magical life of her late uncle are our guides in this dark, exciting and multi-faceted world.

I found Skulduggery Pleasant in our local library as a book to read to my son. I can’t say who enjoyed it most, me or him, but this series has been a favourite of my family (me, my son and my daughter) ever since.

Cressida Cowell

My daughter began to read the How To Train Your Dragon series of books long before there was a film (or three). She was fascinated from the first book and even now, as a teenager about to leave school, the HTTYD books are still a treasure to her.

The world of Hiccup, his Viking tribe, and the dragons he comes to love, paint a heartfelt picture of a place I’m sure most children (and many adults) would love to visit.

What inspires me most about these books is the fact that there is a level of familiarity that most people can connect with. There’s a boy who feels he’s an outcast and not living up to his family’s expectations. Then, there’s Cressida Cowell’s take on the Viking culture too.

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What about you? Which fictional worlds do you love?

The books that made me the writer I am today

For many writers, probably all, the starting point to becoming a writer is the act of reading.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was an only child brought up in a house of books. There were no siblings to amuse, distract or terrorise me. My parents were attentive but busy. I was therefore encouraged to become comfortable with my own company.

I was especially encouraged to read because, let’s be realistic, a child reading is a lot less disruptive than a child lining up her toys on the stairs to watch an imaginary theatre production (yes, I did that).

I read hungrily and constantly, devouring whatever books were in the house and the local library, and begging my parents to buy more. I have probably read and forgotten more books than I can remember. To house all those books, assuming I had never let any of them go, would require a dedicated library (still working on that dream).

There are a handful of books, though, that inspired my imagination and started me writing. Thankfully, I still have the original or a replaced copy of each title.

Fairytales

One of my first books, long before I was given Ladybird books or picture books, was a massive, hardback collection of fairytales.

What I loved about the fairytales – be they Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, or The Little Mermaid – was that along with the magical adventures, kingdoms and beasties, there was always an element of danger.

And danger didn’t necessarily come in an obviously wicked package. Sometimes, there were gingerbread houses and seemingly kind saviours who showed you how to weave gold.

The phrases ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’ were code for ‘Here there be monsters’.

The plays of Shakespeare

My parents each brought a tome of Shakespeare’s plays to their marital home. As a child, I would leaf through both books, choosing a role to play and casting the other parts from my favourite filmstars or childhood friends.

I read the plays in the same way as I would read a story. I suppose it’s no surprise that, as an adult, I earned a living as playwright for a number of years.

I learned three things from Mr Shakespeare:

  • Pacing – You can’t have periods of low energy on-stage or your audience will switch off. It’s just the same with a novel.
  • Purpose – every piece of dialogue or stage direction had to be there for a reason.
  • Character consistency – characters may develop through the journey of a story but they will always act within the rules of their personality.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

When I was in hospital as a child, my primary school bought this book for me. I had never read anything by Roald Dahl and my first reaction was to be offended. A school friend of mine was in the same hospital ward briefly. The school bought The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for her. I wanted that.

I couldn’t have been more wrong though. Charlie’s adventure in the chocolate factory was a modern day fairytale. There might not have been magic spells but there were lessons to be learned, danger to be faced, and tests to pass.

I was instantly hooked by Dahl’s lyrical writing and dark imagination. None of it was predictable. All of it was exciting.

Thankfully, one of my father’s colleagues bought me the follow-up novel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator when I eventually went home, and every Christmas or birthday wish list after that included a new book by Roald Dahl.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein is one of those novels that everyone has heard of but I didn’t actually read it until I was an adult.

In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who would become Mary Shelley), Percy Bysshe Shelley, their son, and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont spent the summer near Geneva in Switzerland, holidaying with the poet Lord Byron and his doctor John William Polidori. Bad weather kept them indoors and conversation turned to Erasmus Darin’s experiments to re-animate dead matter, and ghost stories. At the suggestion of Lord Byron, each of them wrote their own supernatural tale. Mary’s short story came to be the novel we now know.

There are many things that I love about the novel. The structure of the book – a story within a story within a story – always struck me, and still does, as a wonderful way to get at, and point to, the heart of the tale. It’s even inspired me to write a stand-alone fantasy novel using the same structure after the Haven series has been finished.

The novel also questions the idea of ‘monster’. Does a monster have to look monstrous? Is a monster created by the monstrous deeds they commit? Can a monster ever change? The novel Frankenstein stares darkness in the face and says, ‘what are you?’.

The True Game

This collection of three novels by Sheri S Tepper, at first glance, is a traditional fantasy novel. There’s a chart of lineage, maps showing the lands of the novel, warriors, sorcerers and healers.

The further you delve into The True Game, however, the more you come to realise that this is far from the Tolkien-esque kind of adventure it might seem.

The story is actually set in the future, there really is a game being played, and gradually technology makes itself known and then prevalent.

This mixture of magic and technology, and the hiding of this duality behind a curtain of genre expectation, made me wonder how I could play those two factors off against each other in my own writing.

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Those are my five inspirational reads. What books have inspired you?