Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Apologies and Celebrations

Dear Readers,

On 13th August, sitting in a Starbucks in Belfast with the half-finished dregs of a coffee by my side, I finished the first draft of my novel. For those who know me, you'll know this has been a long time coming.
The Finished Product - First Draft
(Please ignore the cat - she insisted on being present)

First of, I apologise for being away for so long. Back in February I got a job which ate up far too much of my time and, worse still, killed my creativity. I won't go into that here; a writing blog isn't the place for such things, and I wouldn't like to bore you with the details. Thankfully that job is now behind me, and its absence allowed me to finally finish my first draft.

Finishing was odd, to say the least. I've finished stories before, of course, but not ones that occupied so much of my life. The conception of the story occurred around six years ago, as I have said before, and although it changed somewhat in that time before it came to be what it is today, the core story always remained the same. I have known for a long time how the story would end.

As such, writing that ending was a surreal experience. As I wrote the final thousand words, knowing my time with those characters was coming to an end, I actually began to feel quite dizzy. This was it; this was the moment I had been waiting for, the scene my characters had been plummeting towards for a hundred thousand words. This was their destinies. I wrote the final chapter, wrote the epilogue ... then wrote 'THE END'. And that was it.

It ended up being far longer than I had originally anticipated, too. My original estimate was 90,000 words, an average for Young Adult fiction, particularly debut novels. As I approached 90,000, I realised how much I still had to go. Each 10,000 words I climbed, so did the final estimate, until the final word count reached just over 130,000 words and I was left with the monstrosity you see above.

I've included a photo comparison of the thickness of the manuscript, and a British 50 Pence coin. Sadly, it's not to scale, but it should give you an idea of the size. For my American readers, I believe you can use this link to compare.

So, what's next for me? A writer and editor friend, the wonderful Helen Falls, will be reading the manuscript over the next few weeks and months and, hopefully, tearing it to pieces. She's a great editor, able to view the narrative arc as a whole and thus assist in weaving the various story threads together. In the meantime, as suggested by many, I will try to distance myself from the story so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes, ready to begin the second draft. Helen is the only person who may read it in this time; in fact, she is one of the only people who knows the story in full. Only when I finish the second draft will I begin looking for beta readers.

I'm not sure how I'm going to distance myself from it, to be honest. I feel so close to it, and only by working on something else do I think I can sufficiently forget about my characters, and that world, and try to focus on something new. There are a few short stories I need to go back to but I'm having trouble picking which one to go for. There's a novella, 'The Shadow of Death', which I may have mentioned before and which will require a substantial amount of research before I can continue writing it. There's a short story, 'The Coins Upon The Rocks', which I wrote for my Master's Degree and would like to rework, since my style and skills have evolved since then. There's an untold number of stories I have only considered but not worked on. Spoilt for choice, a 'first world problem' to say the least, and yet unable to pick any of them. Hopefully that'll change soon.

If you've made it this far, then I have a bit of a treat. A while ago I posted a blurb for the novel, which I've now reworked with the help of a friend. It's a lot better, I think, at conveying exactly what the novel is about. It's not professional in any way, though may one day be again reworked as a hook for a query letter. I hope you enjoy.

There are horrors that lurk beyond the veil between worlds, and seventeen-year-old David Gardener can see every one of them.

They haunt his every waking moment; now, those things are tearing his life apart. He has no family, has nowhere to turn, until a chance meeting with the enigmatic Lucian Ducant turns his world upside down. Lucian knows why David can see beyond the veil. Lucian, he learns, is from a parallel reality; he’s come to take David home.

Desperate to discover where he comes from, clinging to the promise of answers, he joins Lucian in a world of cobblestone streets and clockwork, where history took an entirely different turn and magic is fact. But something evil is stirring beyond the veil, and Lucian is not being entirely truthful with David. What of the strange dreams he is having, of the war-torn trenches and the dying, and the wall of fog so dense that it blocks out the sun? What of the strange disappearances in Lucian’s world, and the troubling sightings outside of town?

A terrible destiny awaits David, centuries in the making; a destiny he will have to meet head on if he is to survive. Should he fail, he threatens not only the fate of the world he comes to think of as home, but also the fate of every person in every world.
I'll leave it there for now, but I hope to come back to you again soon with updates on how the redraft is going, what I'm working on next, plus a few fun interviews in store. In the meantime, you can catch me on twitter @falcon_feathers, or leave a comment with any thoughts, suggestions, or concerns. Here's to brighter pastures, new stories, and the readying old ones for print!

As always, thanks for reading!


Friday, 11 January 2013

Sex in Young Adult Fiction

'Romeo + Juliet' (1996)

In the next few days, I will be writing a scene for Lucian which has been on my mind for quite a while. It's one of those pivotal, milestone scenes, the ones that feel like a long time coming and, when they do, you're left feeling like a little part of you has washed away with them. If the title didn't already give it away, let me spell it out for you. I'll be writing a sex scene.

I write chiefly for the Young Adult market, and Lucian is aimed at the mid to upper bracket - those late teens who have already experienced sex, or are about to. I recently found a 2009 article in the New York Times which said that 47.8 percent of High School students have had sex, and while this number is down from previous years, it's still higher than I would have expected. Teenagers know sex. Sex is a huge part of the life of any teenager, and if writing is truly about honesty, then sex isn't something that can be avoided.

I'm not saying that every Young Adult novel should have a sex scene, far from it. However as with fiction of any genre, if a sex scene is important to the plot, whether the natural progression of a relationship or the one night fling of a distraught character, then sex can find a place. I've read plenty of terrible sex scenes in my time - ones which have absolutely no place in the story other than to sell a few more copies. Horror writer James Herbert immediately springs to mind, it seems his characters are constantly having sex. I remember one novel in which a succubus fellates the main character in his sleep. After much thought, I think the sex scene in Lucian is crucial.

Why is so crucial? Because it comes from a moment of fear and desperation, at the cusp of the day everything in the novel has been leading up to. David, my main character, is afraid. He's afraid he won't be able to do what is required of him, what he is destined to do, to save the day from an enemy which knows no reason. In fact, he doesn't even know what is required of him, having to rely on faith and fate and the ambiguous riddles of more powerful beings than he.

David's always had self-esteem issues, so having this destiny thrust upon him, and having to appear to be strong and confident, takes its toll. There comes a moment, on the eve of his destiny, that he cannot pretend anymore. He cannot act like a saviour anymore. He finds comfort in his girlfriend, Aurora, who he has fallen for over the course of the novel. There's a touch of fate in their relationship too -- she has a part of play in the coming events, as do they all.

Afraid that he won't be able to protect the ones he loves, David breaks down, and Aurora is there to pick up the pieces. In her effort to comfort him they kiss, and it goes from there. It's a break in the tension, not only for David's worries but for his relationship with Aurora. They both need this catharsis, need the consummation of their relationship. It's entirely unexpected, as sex often is, and it's their first time. It's awkward, and he feels like he cannot stop shaking, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the emotions that pass between them, the taste of tears, the need for each other.

The scene won't be graphic, of course -- no Fifty Shades of Grey here. That isn't what the scene is about. The scene is about the emotions, the catharsis, and most of all the honesty. Aurora and David love each other, they trust each other, and that is what counts. If I didn't feel the scene was necessary I wouldn't write it, and if I don't feel it works when I'm redrafting, I'll cut it.

Literary Agent Sara Crowe wrote an interesting article on sex in Young Adult literature, and lists a few great examples. This is one of my favourites. Although I've never read it, the following is an extract from Jenny Downham's novel Before I Die, in which the terminally ill main character Tessa puts sex on her 'bucket list'. This is her first time, a one night stand with a boy she met at a club.

He lies down, moves my legs apart with his, presses closer, his weight on top of me. Soon I’ll feel him inside me and I’ll know what all the fuss is about. This was my idea.
I notice lots of things while the red neon numbers on his radio alarm move from 3:15 to 3:19. I notice that his shoes are on their side by the door…
He supports himself with his arms, moving slowly above me, his face turned to one side, his eyes tight shut. This is it. It’s really happening. I’m living it now. Sex. (25)
Notice how, in this scene, the most important thing about Tessa's experience is her disassociation with what is happening. This isn't romance, this isn't erotica; this is sex for the sake of it, another thing on the bucket list. What I love here is the focus on everything but the sex -- the numbers on the alarm clock, the seconds ticking away; the boy's face turned away from her's. It's really happening, she's living it, but Tessa's mind couldn't be further away from it if she tried.

Later, now close to dying, Tessa has sex a final time, and this time she's in love.

His hand slides to my waist to my belly to the top of my thigh. His kisses follow his hand, work their way down until his head is between my legs and then he looks at me, asking permission with his eyes.
It spills me, the thought of him kissing me there.
His head is in shadow, his arms scooped under my legs. His breath is warm on my thighs. He very slowly begins.
If I could buck, I would. If I could howl at the moon, then I would. To feel this, when I’d thought it was over, when my body’s closing down and I thought I’d have no pleasure from it again.
I am blessed.
This time the emotions are what is important, and Tessa is really living it. Every moment counts. This is the kind of scene I plan to write, focused on the moment.

I've written one line of my scene, quite a while ago -- perhaps the end of it, before we fade to black. This is what I've written, and it could change.

They rose and fell with each other, letting themselves become lost to the pain, and the fear, and the sadness of it all, until nothing existed but them, in that moment, alone.
Here's hoping I do the scene justice.

If you are a fellow writer, have you written a sex scene before? If so, was it graphic, or more tame? Why was it necessary? I'm interested to hear about your experiences with writing, so sound off in the comments below. As usual, thank you for reading! Until next time.