Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Truth about Paula Rawsthorne …

I first met Paula Rawsthorne at Foyles bookshop in February of last year, at the launch party for the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices Anthology. At the time, neither of us had a publisher and were somewhat nervous and bemused at finding ourselves in a room full of agents, editors and book industry people.

It's now eighteen months later and Paula's debut novel The Truth about Celia Frost hits the shelves on Monday. Already the response to the book has been fantastic with a real buzz in the industry and great reviews from readers. 

But these 15 minute interviews are all about the writing – attempting to peek around the other side of the typewriter and maybe steal a few secrets of how the magic on the page is conjured in the first place.

So, Paula – what's your secret? 
Lots of luck and an over active imagination! I was the kind of kid who had imaginary friends when I started school and I pretended I had a limp (but that's a different story).

A limp! In an attempt to get sympathy? Or something more sinister?
Attention seeking drama queen is probably the diagnosis! 

Ha! It sounds like you were always focused on medical issues, even as a child. So what was the spark for Celia Frost? Was it your first novel?
Yes, Celia Frost was my first go at writing a novel. Before I'd written short stories for adults. The spark was really the firm idea in my head of what KIND of story I wanted to write. I knew it had to be for YA and I wanted it to be gripping, entertaining, twisting and hopefully thought provoking. From there the image of Celia and Janice Frost came to me.

So, did you make it up as you went along? Or plan the whole thing out? 
Once I had the images of Celia and Janice in my head, I suddenly knew that there was something about Celia that Janice wasn't telling her. From that point the plot emerged and evolved. As it's a very twisting tale I worked out crucial plot points along the way and knew the end but, as you know, with writing things can take unplanned turns and that's always exciting. 

How long did it take to write? Did you write a few dead ends along the way and have to retrace and try a different route?
I certainly had a few Eureka moments when I suddenly realised what should happen or what a certain character would do, but it never felt like dead ends, it felt more like excavating. I worked when the kids were at school and in the end it took a school year to write.

That's fast! It doesn't sound like you suffer writer's block or have that point, about a third of the way through, where you lose faith – like many writers seem to. 
I was fortunate not to get writer's block but at times I suffered badly from lazy, faffingitis!! Eventually, I conned myself that periods watching Home Under the Hammer was time well spent as something was bound to be fermenting in the depths of my mind (hopefully to do with the story)

Yes, allowing your subconscious to mull the story over without interference. That's work. 

With Celia about to hit the shelves, I know you've been working on your next book for Usborne. How's it going? How did you decide what to write next? Did you have a few ideas to choose from? 
I'm glad you agree, Dave! I was lucky to get a two book deal with Usborne and they have been wonderful to me. The only thing they asked of me was to write another thriller, so I went away and had a very big think and put in a synopsis that they really seemed to like. Then they said – off you go and write it (and gave me a delivery date!)

Paula signing books at the recent launch for Celia Frost
I've now written half of it but need to quicken my pace. All the lovely publicity and work to do around Celia Frost has been great but it's taken me away from Book 2. I got to a point were I just had to put Book 2 to one side for a while to make the best job of the book tour, events, writing articles etc. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it again, very soon.

Can you tell us what it's called, or any other sneak previews?
I only have a working title at the moment. It's like having a baby – with some, you know what you want to call it even before it makes an appearance (Celia Frost) but with this one I'm going to have to wait and see what suits it once it's delivered! The only thing I can tell you about it at the moment is that it has a shocking opener and events unfold from that. Plus I was getting far too involved with all the characters so it's probably best i've had a break from them.

I take it then, that this time you're working to more of an outline than you did with Celia. How are you finding that?
Yes, definitely. In fact, this time I went and got a corkboard and note cards and basically made a storyboard. This felt quite comforting but events and plot lines are still emerging and taking on a life of their own – which I love.

What's your daily writer's routine now you're published and have all the other things, besides writing, to take care of? 

Paula's guilty secret? Coffee and cake to summon the muse!
It's not ideal, but as I'm giving up full-time work at the end of this month, I'm hoping my day will be a bit more like yours, especially regarding the cake!

Is there any advice you would give to the Paula who sat down to write The Truth About Celia Frost ?
I've just consulted my kids on this and they've said "Don't eat some many cakes!" I'd say "Paula, this is a bloody long shot but you only live once so keep the faith sister and get that book written!"

Ah, you can never eat too much cake! Good advice. Keeping the faith as a writer is half the battle! You did and look at you now!

Finally, what question do you wish I'd asked you? And what would your answer have been? You can consult with the kids again if you like. Or how about – what question do you wish I'd asked and also what question do they think I should have asked?
Kids would have asked how much T.V I watched when I was meant to be working. 

Mine is- how do you manage to write having to share a laptop with three kids trying to get on the internet all the time!?

Good questions! And what would your answers be?
HA, HA- The kids will never know! 

And- it's a miracle I get anything done because as soon as I leave my chair (even to go to the loo) one of them jumps on it!! 

Maybe it's time you pestered Usborne to buy you your own!
Thanks for sharing 15 minutes of your time with us Paula, and thanks also to your guys for their input.

The Truth about Celia Frost is published on Monday, 1st Aug, available from all good book shops and online here.

To find out more about Paula and Celia check out:

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Top 6 procrastination techniques used when I should be writing

1. Writing a blog post listing my top 6 procrastination techniques. (At least I won't be able to use this one again for a while.)
2. Checking email – this is a bad one. A real time sponge.
3. Letting all my Twitter followers know that I am writing, when clearly, what I'm actually doing is twittering …
4. Research. There's a time for research and a time for writing. When I'm drafting I'm sometimes tempted to go and look something up, find a clever name for a character for example, when what I should do is just put anything in for now and keep going.
5. Walking to the local shop for bread / milk / biscuits / cat food / chocolate (delete as applicable) One needs to be properly prepared before summoning the muse.
6. Organising my books alphabetically by the protagonist's first name. I suspect this is actually beyond the realm of procrastination though and far more serious. I mean, first of all you have to remember who the lead character is, and what if there's two? The Pigman for example? Should that be filed under J for John or L for Lorraine?

This could take all night …

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Reading and Writing

How much does the ability to write well, depend on how dedicated a reader you are? 

For those of us trying to write around the demands of a day job and family, time reading somebody else’s words would surely be better spent creating our own? That’s a logic I have followed from time to time over the years, but one I eventually found to be false – in my case at least. These days I tend to agree with Stephen King, who said, “If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

Me, doing a tough work-out (photo: Dylan Cousins)
Over the years I’ve noticed that when I’m not reading every day, my writing flows less freely. An obvious analogy would be the sporting one: that reading is an important part of maintaining a level of writing fitness, like a footballer exercising in a gym. The activity has little to do with football, but will greatly affect his ability to play well. When I’m reading a lot, my writing feels natural, instinctive – fitter, if you like. Or as The King puts it: “Constant reading will pull you into a place where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness.” For me, it’s about filling my subconscious with words and stories – the rhythm of sentences and paragraphs, the pace of a well spun yarn.

“Every successful writer I know is also a great reader.” – Robert Cormier

When I started to write, I worried that my own stories, or rather my voice, would start to sound like whatever I was reading, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I find that reading somebody else's words helps to clear my head, and stops me thinking about my own for a while, so I'm fresher when I return.

But what about you? I’d be interested to hear other people’s experience of how reading sits alongside their own writing. Does it help? Does it interfere? Does it matter what you read? Please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Fifteen minutes with Bryony Pearce, author of Angel's Fury

Available from Monday 4th July
Cassie has suffered from nightmares her whole life. After a terrifying school trip to Germany, she discovers that she has lived before and that all of her past lives are being manipulated by a fallen angel who is bent on destroying mankind ...

Bryony Pearce, author of Angel's Fury, was waiting by the derelict church at the end of the lane. I wondered why she had chosen this place for our fifteen minute interview, until I followed her into the churchyard and saw the granite angel perched on a tomb. I switched on my tape recorder and began the interview, but as we walked, I could feel those stone eyes watching …

Hi, Bryony, thanks for sparing us fifteen minutes of your time. 

Angel's Fury comes out on Monday –  are you excited? It must seem a long time ago that you sat down to write the book? 
I started writing Angel’s Fury at the beginning of 2008, the first draft took me about seven months. So I can’t believe it’s now the end of June 2011 already. I'm really excited, but mainly nervous. I guess because I've had the book for a while, the big thing about the launch for me, is that other people can now get hold of it. I'm worried about opening up my Amazon page one day and finding a bunch of reviews! I guess it would be worse if there weren’t any ... 
Yes, anything is better than being ignored – I think. Once the book is on the shelves I suppose we have to take a step back, leave it to make its own way in the big bad world!

If you could give a piece of advice to the Bryony who started to write Angel's Fury three years ago, what would it be?
There's no rush! I have a tendency to get a bit insane when I'm writing – and reading – and focus on it too much, to the exclusion of other things. I did the initial rewrite when Riley was a baby - I spent the first three months of his life working like mad. I'll never get that time back. Of course, if I'd gone slower, I might not have got that publishing contract.
It’s difficult getting that balance right. I suffer similar guilt at the amount of time I spend writing when I could, possibly should, be doing other things. 

I'm always interested in other writer's processes, so can I ask you a bit about how you write? Are you a discovery writer or a planner?
Planner, definitely! For my first book I only planned out half, then I wrote the second half as I went. My feedback from publishers was that the first half was great, but the second half was a mess. Message received. I planned Angel's Fury from start to finish and it sold.

I like to plan - for me it means I know where I'm going, I know what kind of foreshadowing, motifs etc. need to go in, and at each point I know how far I have left to go – which can be quite motivational. Also I know what needs to happen in each chapter - which is important when you can't sit and write for solid chunks of time - I need to be able to pick up two or three days later and know exactly what needs to happen next.

Did you stick to the plan? Did Angel's Fury end up as the book you set out to write?
Certainly the first draft did. I had to make some fairly big editorial changes, but this final version is the book I would have planned to write if I could have imagined myself writing this well – editors improve your writing so much ... well mine anyway. I had to lose a couple of things along the way – the title and one of my main characters – but I'm really proud of my book.

That's brilliant. After so much work and many days of doubt (if you're anything like me!) to end up with something you are proud of is great. What was the original title, by the way?
The original title was 'Incarnation'. The publisher was concerned that some potential readers wouldn't know what it meant. Also Angels are very ‘in’ right now and they wanted to capitalise on the fact that the book has an angel in it. They're probably right, but it was a bit like someone suddenly saying 'you know, I like the name of your kid, but I'm going to start calling her Emily instead of Maisie, OK?'. It's hard to get your head round. 

Does planning mean you don't ever suffer 'writer's block'? If you do, how do you 'unblock'!?
I don't suffer from writers block often. I do suffer from writers malaise though - which is when I lose my mojo and just can't be bothered to write - but that's not the same thing. With both block and malaise, my solution is to write through it. With a plan in place I can do that. Just keep on going, no matter how rubbish it is, and once I've got my groove back on, I can go back and fix the blah part. I sound like Austin Powers now, don't I?
Yeah, baby!

So, what are you working on now?
I'm actually taking a break. I've written two books since Angel's Fury – The Society and Windrunner's Daughter – and I have another one I'm about five chapters into. Windrunner is with my agent and I'm sure he'll have lots of changes to send to me in a while, but in the meantime, I've decided to chill out for a bit and enjoy my book launch. Well, I say, 'I've decided', my brain switched off when I sent WD to Sam, but at some point it will kick back in again – as it does – and start screaming at me to get going on another story, but until then ... time off. Sad to be dictated to by an organ isn't it?
Quite a vital one though, and possibly the supplier of the magic, so probably best to keep on friendly terms.

On the subject of enjoying the book launch, do you have any plans for Monday – the day Angel’s Fury officially lands on the shelves? Are you going to march into your local book shop and buy a copy? Or will you be having a quiet toast at home with the family and doing the happy dance in the back garden? Or maybe just sleeping off the hangover?
I'm having a party on Sunday, so I had planned to be sleeping off the hangover, however, my editor has invited me down to London for lunch and asked me to sign some books – given that you can now pre-order signed copies on Amazon, I wonder if that is somehow related. Tempted by the offer of decent Thai food, I will be spending two hours on a train (both ways), having lunch with Philippa (my editor), Sam (my agent) and Jo (from my publicity team), then book signing and hanging around London till the off peak trains start to run again. I'd love to find my book in a shop in London and take a picture of myself with it, but I'm not sure that'll happen just yet. Might be a bit early.
Sounds like a good way to spend the day, though I don't envy you that early train journey south!

My fifteen minutes is just about up, but before we go – what question do you wish I'd asked? And what would your answer have been? 
That's a hard one. Really hard. How about … 

(You) I notice you like Thai food. … Would you like me to order you a takeaway?

(Me) Yes please! 

Ha! What is it about authors and food bribes? Bill Hussey wanted a pint and Miriam Halahmy, dark chocolate.

Cheap dates …

And with that Bryony departed. I looked for the stone angel on the way out, but couldn't find it. I suppose we  must have left by a different gate …

Angel’s Fury is available from Monday 4th July at all good book shops and online here. Signed copies are also available from Amazon.

For more news from Bryony, check out her current blog tour (see left) or visit