Valuable Advice from Celebrated Author Cathy Cassidy

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…

Cathy cassidy book cover

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.

Cathy Cassidy Chocolate Box SecretsAlong 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

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.

http://www.cathycassidy.com

Advertisements

Perfecting Your Novel’s Opening Page: Advice from Novelist Emma Rea

I’m very pleased to welcome Emma Rea, author of Top Dog, who has some really helpful advice on perfecting your novel’s opening page with the help of a little x-ray vision.

Last Minute X-Ray Vision

Top_DogThe importance of the first page can’t be over-emphasised. For the rest of the novel, you can just tell your story. On the first page, however, you not only have to get your story off to a roaring start, but you have ‘admin’ jobs to do, by which I mean establishing things like age, setting, character – and you have to slip these in so the reader has the information they need without feeling as if they’ve been clobbered over the head with it. I rewrote the first chapter of Top Dog countless times, feeling as if I was coming at it from different angles, chipping away until I found the clearest, simplest start. Here’s an early version:

‘Dylan shoved his hands into his pockets and sauntered out of the Year Six classroom as if this was just another ordinary day. His blood was fizzing around his body like a bottle of shaken up coke with the lid half undone, but he ambled with deliberate slowness across the playground. While Matt and the others were yelling and jumping around Dylan fixed his eyes instead on the school gates, where his headmistress, a knobbly great stick insect disguised in old ladies’ clothes, stood guard. She was trilling goodbye to everyone in Year Six as they left, snatching at an unlucky girl with quick, spindly arms and fussing with her uniform.’

All I really needed to do in the first paragraph was establish Dylan’s age and his excitement about his plans for his summer holiday – and create curiosity in my young reader about what those plans might be. Nothing else. Someone asked me if the headmistress was going to feature again in the story, which of course she wasn’t. So my description of her was redundant. It didn’t matter how clever I thought it was, it had to go. So I tried again.

‘The last few seconds of the last minute of the very last day of Year 6 were ticking to an end with every step Dylan took. And the first summer holiday without a reading list and a threat that his life would not be worth living if he did not mutter his times tables hourly was rushing towards him. Dylan had had enough of school rules. He’d had enough of standing in line. He’d had more than enough of wearing a tie. Six free weeks stretched out in front of him and he knew exactly how he was going to use every minute of it.’

It was only at the final edit, days before the story went to print, that the first page came into clear focus. A strange, x-ray vision made it easy to see every extraneous word. Let me show you what the final edit produced:

‘The last few seconds of the last minute of the very last day of Year 6 were ticking to an end. With every step Dylan took, the first summer holiday free from times tables came rushing towards him.

Dylan had had enough of school rules.

He’d had enough of standing in line.

He’d had more than enough of wearing a tie. Six free weeks stretched out in front of him and he knew exactly how he was going to use every minute.’

Now we’re ready to get on with the story and the stick insect headmistress is free to go off and join another novel where she has a decent role to play.

About the Author

IMG_1402

Top Dog, set over one summer in a Welsh village, is a story of intrigue and youthful determination among a group of boys. Emma Rea lives in London and Wales with her husband and three children. This is her first novel.

Click here to buy from Amazon

emma-rea.weebly.com

Twitter: @emmarea8

Want to Make Your Dialogue Sparkle?

image

Have you ever finished writing a scene of dialogue, re-read it and wondered why it doesn’t sparkle?

Below is an example of such a piece of dialogue:

A: ‘I knew the day I saw Maggie we were going to get married.’

B: ‘Oh, yes. Why was that?’

A: ‘She had the loveliest smile. It reminded me of my mother.’

B: ‘I never met your mother, did I?’

A: ‘No, she died of cancer the year before you started at the college.’

B: ‘I’m sorry. That must have been hard.’

A: ‘It was a difficult time, but I’m over it now. Life goes on, as they say.’

B: ‘I’m not sure I could feel the same. My parents and me are very close.’

A: ‘Maggie sometimes says I haven’t dealt with it yet, that I’m burying the pain, but I don’t think I am.’

B: ‘Sounds like she knows what she’s talking about.’

A: ‘Maybe? I’ve always respected her opinions. That’s why I promised her I’d go and see a counsellor about it. I don’t suppose you could recommend someone?’

So what’s wrong? It’s dialogue that shows the characters’ feelings, history, relationships, emotional tone. It even goes a little way towards driving the plot – character A’s impending visit to a counsellor. So why doesn’t the scene work? Why does it lack that special spark?

The answer is a simple one: dialogue needs conflict.

Give each character a goal they are trying to achieve within the scene, and then add something which stops them achieving it. In dialogue each character can become the other’s conflict.

Perhaps character B has spoken to A’s wife and is trying to recommend a counsellor to him. However character A wants to talk about more practical, work related matters. Maybe he’s worried about a new policy in HR which means he has to undergo an interview with the college psychiatrist.

Have a go re-writing the scene giving each character a definite goal which is somehow thwarted by the other during their conversation.

If you’ve found this post helpful I’d love to hear from you, or you might like to use the Share buttons below to tell others about it.

Picture c/o hovercraft doggy

Recycling Familiar Characters: Sue Barnard Breathes New Life into Old Stories

Today’s guest post comes from Sue Barnard, a member of the Manchester Crafty Writers’ group, whose debut novel, The Ghostly Father, makes an excellent Valentine’s present for anyone who loves the story of Romeo and Juliet.

NEW LIFE FOR OLD

Sebastian Faulks, Charlie Higson and Anthony Horowitz have all done it for James Bond. Alexandra Ripley did it for Scarlett and Rhett. Jill Paton Walsh did it for Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, and more recently PD James has done it for the characters from Pride and Prejudice. There have been numerous attempts to solve Charles Dickens’ unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood. And even Thomas the Tank Engine has been given a new lease of life, by the son of his original creator.

So what is it that makes authors want to write new stories centred on existing characters?

In one respect, I think, it’s because once the original author has died, there can be a great sense of regret that there will be no more from the same pen. So if the authors’ stories and characters are popular, why not give their fans more to enjoy, in the form of sequels, prequels, or simply more adventures? Or you can even give the original story an alternative ending. More on this later.

You don’t need to be a famous, or even a published, author to take advantage of this very useful literary device. Using a well-loved character (or set of characters) as the basis for a new story can be an excellent way of dealing with an attack of writer’s block. Think of a favourite character from a book, a play, or even a poem. Imagine what it might be like to meet that character face to face. What would you say to them? How do you think they would respond? Try writing a short dialogue between the two of you, and see where it leads. You may well find that it gives you a springboard to a whole new story. No writing is ever wasted, even if it doesn’t end up in the final version.

Or think about how the character behaves in the original work. If his or her behaviour is unusual, what might have happened in the past to affect actions in the present? Let your imagination run riot – prequels make fascinating stories!

When, more than thirty years ago, I saw Franco Zeffirelli’s wonderful film of Romeo & Juliet, I came away thinking: Why did it all have to go so horribly wrong? That question has haunted me ever since.

Then, a few years ago, I read one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die. To be honest I found most of them pretty underwhelming, but the one which stood out was Write the book you want to read. And this was what first inspired me to start writing the book I’ve always wanted to read: the version of Romeo & Juliet which has a satisfactory outcome. (I’m not by any means the first person to have attempted to re-write the Bard. As far back as 1681, a writer called Nahum Tate produced an alternative version of King Lear, in which Cordelia marries Edgar, and Lear regains his throne at the end!)

The Ghostly Father

My debut novel The Ghostly Father (published by Crooked Cat Publishing in 2014) takes the form of a backstory for the character of Friar Lawrence, and is a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original Romeo & Juliet story. It explores what might have happened to Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers if events had taken an alternative course. In the play, the lovers fall victims to a sequence of misfortunes which combine to produce a double-catastrophe. But what if just one of those unfortunate events had not occurred? What difference could this have made?

Read the book and find out…

About the Author

Sue Barnard

Sue was born in Wales some time during the last millennium. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in French, she returned to Manchester (where she had spent her formative years) and got married, then had a variety of office jobs before leaving the world of paid employment to become a full-time parent.  If she had her way, the phrase “non-working mother” would be banned from the English language.

Sue is now a member of the editorial team of Crooked Cat Publishing, who also publish her debut novel The Ghostly Father (a new interpretation of the Romeo & Juliet story).

She lives in Cheshire and Anglesey with her husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

You can find her blog at: http://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.co.uk/

Stimulus and Response: Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty

cute fluffy cat kitten string playing adorable pet animal fun

In fiction, stimulus and response work like a ping-pong game. They make you look at the line-by-line progression of a story.

Stimulus is external, and so is response, and as such they must be shown on the page. Action and dialogue are key. However, action can include a character interacting with the setting, showing an emotional response, or describing a sensory input. So long as these are ‘shown’, not told.

Character thoughts do not create an external stimulus or response.

So let’s have a closer look. The first stimulus might be an event or action which affects Character A. Character A responds. Their response creates a stimulus for Character B. Character B responds, which in turn becomes a new stimulus for Character A.

For example we could take the following initial stimulus:

Continue reading

Tricks for Creating A Strong Character Voice in Dialogue

Making dialogue sound genuine is an art in itself. Creating a distinctive voice for every character in a story is no easy task.

Below are a couple of things which may help you write dialogue for each of your characters which steps off the page in a unique and individual way.

A Rainbow of Shoes and Legs for Breuninger by John Breed (1)

Vowel changes

Continue reading

How to Write a Book in Four Drafts

I’ve learnt a huge amount from writing this blog. One of the most important being, ‘you’ve always got something else you can learn.’ But now I’m back to writing a first draft, I find all this information on writing techniques buzzing around my head is getting in the way.

It’s like buying a new house and trying to re-decorate everything at once. Nobody chooses the colour scheme, paints the woodwork, puts up the wallpaper, and changes the light fittings all at the same time.

Learning so many wonderful and useful things about writing craft is all well and good, but I’m beginning to feel like I’ve gone to B&Q and bought the whole shop, so now I have no idea where to start.

What I need to remember is a first draft is just that; the first draft of many. So I’ve come up with a plan and it compares surprisingly well to my decorating techniques. Continue reading