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12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

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fiction

Inspiration

A second email from Elaine of Dreams and Whispers fame.

Next I would like to find out a bit more about your inspiration for the twelve books – did you already have ideas before you started, or are you taking it book by book and seeing what develops for each one? As you write, do you find that most of your theme/plot/character ideas are coming from things you encounter in life, people you meet, your imagination, or somewhere else?

I had a few ideas before starting, many of which are laid out on the ‘Get Involved‘ page and in the Facebook photo album.  I went into it with the hope that members of the public would challenge me by giving me different suggestions to incorporate as I went along, giving the project a more interactive feel but also forcing me to plan things so that I’d include all their ideas.

As it happens, I think a lot of people find it intimidating to have me say ‘just suggest anything at all’.  For instance with book 2, where I got suggestions from staff at The Byre Theatre in St Andrews, basically everything I got was anecdotal stuff about working in a theatre.  Nobody seemed interested in motive, murder weapon, or red herrings, and I ended up going on Twitter when I’d already started writing to ask people to suggest names for characters I’d just invented.  This meant that the book developed much more out of my own brain than I think I expected.

At the other extreme, with the Western story I got a very in depth story suggestion from someone, but I ended up not using it because it would have required an awful lot of historical research on my part – the suggester obviously knew quite a bit of the history of the west and had some very specific ideas, which frankly I felt a bit dodgy about using!  So hopefully he will write it himself one day!  It helped me though, because when I read it I realised that a traditional story like that was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do, and came up with what I think was quite a strong idea to work from.

For paranormal romance I think the only suggestion I got was a name and occupation for the central character.  I used the name, Jennifer, but changed the occupation very slightly.  I hadn’t planned for it to be paranormal to begin with, and was hoping to do quite a bittersweet story.  I changed my mind to challenge myself – I’ve never quite got the appeal of paranormal romance and have slagged it off a bit, so I thought why not put my money where my mouth is and see if I can do any better.  With all that dithering, though, it probably wouldn’t have made a difference if people had suggested things or not – I had a definite, but at the same time very woolly, plan!

This month is fantasy, and I’ve had a couple of pretty good suggestions for that – clearly it’s a genre that readers of this blog can relate to!  But even then they’re basically character suggestions, so it’ll be me that thinks of the plot, dialogue, narrative and so on.  That sounds like a complaint – it isn’t!  I love making things up – this would be a very strange project to be doing if I didn’t.

I am definitely taking it book by book.  I have to, really.  So far there hasn’t been time to plan any further ahead than that, and in most cases I’ve not even written an outline till I’ve got about 20k in.

None of my characters are directly based on anyone real, but there are elements of dialogue and characterisation which do draw a lot from encounters I’ve had or exchanges I’ve heard in real life.  The first line of my first book, for instance, was, “Nah mate, that’s lies!” because it was something I heard every single day from the kids that came in to my place of work.  For some reason most of my settings have been Scotland so far as well, although that was quite unintentional.

Having said that, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of point in ‘writing what I know’ verbatim.  I recently read an interview with Susan Hill in Mslexia Magazine where she pointed out that the whole point of reading fiction was to escape from the mundanity of every day life, so of course you should write everything from the imagination.  Who really cares about a character who is trying to make it as a freelance journalist whilst also writing fiction and occasionally arguing with her boyfriend about whose go it is to do the dishes?!  But occasionally real stuff bleeds through – hopefully funny, insightful or interesting things, though!

I Have Questions

Further to Monday’s shout out for guest bloggers, for the rest of this week I am answering the queries of Andrew Blair, an Edinburgh-based writer of comedy and other things.  You can see some of his work on this website, or follow him on Twitter @aagb1884.

Tuesday 26/4/11, 08:00

Ali,

I have been reading your blog sporadically. I have questions.

Number 1. You are writing in 12 different genres. This is not a question. What genres of books do you predominantly read and have you enjoyed the experience in researching others? That is a question.

Andrew

Tuesday 25/4/11, 13:01

Andrew,

I don’t really have a favourite genre, although I lean towards books with a sense of humour and quite like things with a fantastical element.  I also like a lot of YA and kids books, and Scottish fiction.

To give some examples: some of the best and funniest books I’ve ever read are the Mr Gum series by Andy Stanton, which I’d recommend to anyone (even though they’re really aimed at 8 year olds).  Meanwhile in fantastical terms, I go from the very dense prose of Isabel Allende to Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman graphic novels with a bit of future dystopia from Aldous Huxley or Margaret Atwood along the way.

In terms of YA, I’ve recently enjoyed stuff by Holly Black and Gemma Malley, as well as The Gates by John Connolly who started out writing adult crime novels.  You can read the first chapter on his website, and I think it’s awesome.

Great kids books I’ve read lately include The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forrester and The Secret Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  I’d also recommend Steve Augarde‘s ‘Touchstone Trilogy’ which is suitable for 11+.  Good Scottish novels include The Ossians by Doug Johnstone and The Incredible Adam Spark by Alan Bissett, and anything by Muriel Spark…  Essentially I like to think I’ll give anything a go, and as such my ‘to-read’ list is very, very long.

In terms of research for 12 books, so far I have probably enjoyed the romance month the most because the genre is often unintentionally very funny.  It’s quite rare to find a romance book that is genuinely romantic, I think partly because a lot of authors tend to get caught up in sex scenes – one of the reasons why I decided to go for unrequited love, actually – and these are notoriously difficult to write well.

Ali

Another Excerpt From Book Two

“What did she mean, we’re stuck?”  Mrs Shiers peered at Bob accusingly.

There was a pregnant pause, then:

“….what?” he said, in the worst feigning of ignorance ever showcased in the whole of Auchtergowrie Theatre’s long and painful history.

“That actor lassie said we were stuck,” Mrs Shiers reminded him, accidentally slipping into a broader accent in her concern.

“Ah,” Bob shrugged helplessly, looking about him for guidance but receiving none, “that.”

“The security system is jiggered, Mrs S,” Lauren volunteered after several long moments.  “We can’t get out of the building, and there’s a high chance nobody else can get in.”

“But we’d rather that it wasn’t common knowledge,” Bob interrupted, “because we don’t want people to panic.  And the police’ll probably want to talk to everyone that saw the show, we think.”

“Why would they want to do that?”

“Well, to get their eyewitness accounts,” Bob said vaguely.  “To find out exactly what happened.”

“Come on,” Elspeth encouraged, holding out her arm for Mrs Shiers, “let’s leave these lot to it and get a stiff drink.”

“In light of the situation,” Mrs Shiers conceded, “that doesn’t sound like a completely terrible idea.”

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