Today I’m celebrating my 100th post and, doing things in style, I’m extremely pleased to welcome Cathy Cassidy to the blog. Author of the Chocolate Box Girls series and three times winner of the Queen of Teen award, Cathy has kindly offered some valuable advice on how to keep your writing fresh when creating multiple-character books.
Saying Goodbye to the Chocolate Box Girls…
When I started writing the Chocolate Box Girls series a few years ago, I had no clue just how attached to those characters I would become. The bohemian blended family who were a kind of ideal ‘dream family’ for me became so real that I just didn’t want to let them go, but Fortune Cookie, book six, out June 3rd, will be the series finale… all good things come to an end, and it was time for me to step back, move on.
The Chocolate Box Girls series feels very personal to me; each of the sisters has a particular character trait of my own at the heart of their personalities. Cherry is the outsider, the story-maker who carries a lot of sadness from her past; Skye is a dreamer who loves vintage and history; Summer is a perfectionist who pushes herself hard – too hard, sometimes; Coco is eccentric, animal mad and wants to change the world; and Honey is a drama queen who feels things too strongly and often messes up.
I can see myself in each of those characters and I deliberately planned the series to give each girl a chance to tell her own story… that kept the whole thing fresh for me, as one of the things I love most about writing is being able to step into the shoes of a new character, a new narrator. I love that you can find a whole lot more about what makes each character tick by reading their book!
Of course, although the Tanberry-Costello girls may appear to be the perfect family, they’re a very long way from that. Each girl has her own worries, problems and challenges to face, and that makes their stories very real. Trying to find a satisfying ending to the series meant leaving each sister perhaps not with a happy ending as such, but certainly the possibility of one… and finding a way to pull them together at last into the unshakeable family unit they have worked so hard to be.
Right from the outset, I had planned the series and made a story arc to take the overall story forward; I had never written a big series before, and although I don’t normally plan too much on paper, I didn’t want to mess up or get things wrong. I had notebooks stuffed with sketches, character notes, background details; I had a moodboard crammed with pictures, postcards, clippings. I knew what was going to happen. And then, out of nowhere, in the middle of writing book five, something unexpected happened. The book that should have been the last in the series, Sweet Honey, turned out to be the penultimate one, because Honey unearths a huge family secret that has the power to change everything.
It wasn’t in my notebooks, it wasn’t on my moodboard… it wasn’t in any synopsis or plan, but once the idea surfaced I knew it was absolutely the only way to go, and the perfect way to end to the series. Fortune Cookie is told by a brand new character, a half-brother called Jake Cooke, and because he is part of the family and yet not part of it at all, he was the perfect character to tell the very last installment.
Along the way, I fell in love with the Tanberry-Costello family. I wrote a World Book Day short, Bittersweet, from the viewpoint of one of the boy characters, and then four e-book shorts also narrated by minor characters. I even put together a craft/style/recipe book called Chocolate Box Secrets, also out June 3rd,a non-fiction book to help arty, creative readers to grab themselves some Tanglewood cool… because I wanted to hang on a little longer to that magical fantasy world. But in the end, you have to let go, and when Fortune Cookie was finished I felt exhausted, sad, lost… but satisfied, too.
It was a little like seeing six of your children leave home to seek their fortunes, all on the same day. I will miss the Chocolate Box Girls, but I’m very glad to have known them.
About the Author
Cathy Cassidy is a British author of young adult fiction. She was born in Coventry, but now lives in London. She has written 23 books and been the agony aunt for Shout, a teen girl magazine. She has also written the Daisy Star series of books for younger readers.