7 things I learned writing my book during NaNoWriMo 2018

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For the first time ever, I decided that 2018 was my year to tackle National Novel Writing Month . If you’re not familiar with ‘NaNoWriMo’, it’s an annual global event that encourages authors-in-the-making to thrash out the first draft of that novel they keep putting off.

I’ve never seriously attempted NaNo before, so this year I decided to just DO IT, partly because I’m a glutton for punishment, and partly because I had an idea for a witchy novel (oh yes) that I was desperate to try on for size.

In all honesty, 30 days later, I’m a mess. But it ended up being an… interesting challenge. I only just managed to hit that 50k on the final day of NaNo, but I’m so glad I took the plunge because now I have 50k of a new novel. Here are all the things I learned…

1. A little planning goes a long way
There’s that saying, ‘You’re a planner or a panter.’ In reality, I fall somewhere in the middle. I can usually scratch out a few chapters of something before I’m chewing on bricks, but it’s always useful to have a roadmap. There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank page and a blinking cursor.

So I spent the first two days of NaNo writing character profiles, planning plot beats and generally immersing myself in the world of the book. Although it meant that, at first, I was writing zero words towards my word count, those days were invaluable in helping me figure out my story – and then formulate a skeletal outline so I always had some idea what to write.

2. Finding time is difficult – but prioritising writing is worth it
We’re all busy. We all have to food shop and brush our teeth and sometimes even work. We might occasionally think about seeing our friends and family. Those are all things we have to do, but that’s the great thing about NaNo – for once, you have to write. If you don’t, you’re not going to birth that book baby you decided to have.

There’s something special about carving out the time to write. Making it a priority. And then seeing what you’re really capable of.

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3. When in doubt, just write
I’m a perfectionist. A part of me doesn’t want to even think about writing unless I know I’m crafting pure word-gold.

Of course, ‘perfect’ is notoriously hard-won, and at the start of NaNo, I really had to give myself the ‘bullshit talk’. As in, “This is probably going to be bullshit, but that’s OK. You can make it better later.” That really helped me to loosen up on the perfection leash and just write. My motto: Write badly. Edit goodly.

4. It helps you focus
I’m guilty of being a bit of a fair-weather writer. I often get intensely interested in a project, and as soon as it becomes difficult for whatever reason, be that plot or character, I find a new shiny toy to play with.

NaNo cuts that bullshit right to the bone. You choose a project and you stick with it until the bitter end (of the month), and oh how bitter you may be, but that sort of commitment is exactly what I need. No bailing, no getting distracted by something newer. This is your project for the month and you have to battle through no matter what.

5. Don’t compare!
Some people are sprinters, some people are long-distance runners. Others are amblers. It’s all good. Although it’s tempting to check in on how other writers are doing, or begrudge them their rejoicing when they’re all “I wrote 50k in a week!”, you’ll only drive yourself crazy.

Celebrate your milestones (NaNo handily gives you badges every couple of thousand words that you can flash around if you so wish), and celebrate the milestones other people reach, too. We’re in this together!

6. Quitting is oh-so tempting
Writing is exhausting, especially when you’re using all of your normal ‘down time’ to do it. By week three, I was sorely tempted to jack it all in.

Luckily, I have an amazing support network – my boyfriend (hi, Thom!), friends and other writers were all great cheerleaders who encouraged me along the way. So no. Don’t quit. You can do it. It may be painful but it feels SO GOOD when you finally hit 50k.

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7. You don’t have to finish a whole book
THIS IS THE BIGGIE. You’re writing 50k, but most books average out at 80k, so it’s unlikely you’ll have a full first draft by the end of NaNo (unless you set a different target or had different objectives, like redrafting an existing project).

About 20k into my witch book, I knew the first draft was going to be way over 50k. That disheartened me at first because I knew that even if I ‘won’ NaNo, I still wouldn’t have an entire finished draft to work on.

In the end, though, that was sort of freeing. I decided to just write whichever scenes I fancied and fill in the gaps later. So even though I don’t have much of the third act written, I do have the final chapter done. And I have two thirds of a pretty solid draft. WHOOP!

All right, that was me, now what about you?

Did you take part in NaNoWriMo 2018? How did you do? Let me know below!

#HalloweenFrights Day 5: Sally Green on real-life Halloween horrors and the terror of Monsters, Inc.

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It’s day five of #HalloweenFrights, and I’m sort of quaking in my boots as author Sally Green swings by – but mostly just because I’m a huge fan. Sally wrote one of my favourite ever series, The Half Bad Trilogy, which saw her putting a very dark, very addictive modern spin on witchcraft.

Given how gritty her stuff can be, I’m sort of surprised to discover Sally’s a self-confessed wimp, but then maybe she’s just saying that to lull us all in to a false sense of security…

What do you do on Halloween?
These days. Get a big pumpkin (I used to grow them but it’ll be shop bought this year) the weirder shaped the better, carve it out, put a tea light in and put it by the front door. Roast squash for soup or stew*. Stay in and have some sweets for kids if they come trick or treating

A few years ago. I used to go trick or treating with other parents (mainly mums, let’s be honest here) and a gang of young kids (I suspect mainly ours but they could have belonged to anyone). Main horror – how much sugar a five year old in a ghost outfit can get through. Main fear – the five year old in flimsy ghost outfit will die of exposure in the rain and cold.

*My only really scary moment was mistakenly eating a bit of a pumpkin stalk and getting a horrible allergic reaction (I’m not allergic to anything else as far as I know).

Have you ever scared yourself while writing?
I’ve cried at the sad stories I’ve written, I’ve laughed at my own jokes (because they are just hilarious), but I’ve never scared myself, possibly because I know what will happen or at least I’m in control. It’s the unknown that’s scary and I’m the writer so I have control.

What’s really scary about writing – missing deadlines, my editor and plot holes/mistakes that are only spotted when the book has gone to print.

jawsScariest thing you’ve ever read?
OK. I have to own up here – I’M A WIMP. I don’t read scary books and I don’t watch scary movies BECAUSE THEY’RE SCARY! I take no pleasure in being scared BECAUSE IT’S SCARY. I learnt this lesson at an early age. I read Jaws when I was young and watched the movie and I’ve never really enjoyed swimming in the sea since then BECAUSE IT’S SCARY.

Most terrifying word(s) in the English language?
“Let’s go into the haunted building.” (Actually the most stupid and terrifying.)

However, in films the words are never as scary as the music – if there was no music most scary movies would be fine. I’ve mentioned Jaws – I hear that music even if I go for a paddle in the sea at Blackpool. Even nice music can be made scary though – Reservoir Dogs manages to make Stealers Wheel terrifying for goodness sake (in the chopping off the ear scene).

Freddy or Jason?
I suspect these are scary people and I won’t even Google them to find out who they are.

What’s the biggest misconception about genre writers?
Probably that children’s writers like children. You don’t really think I have these sweets here for kids do you? They’re just here to lure them in and down to my cellar…

Witches: scary or misunderstood?
Totally misunderstood. They are trying to help and only put a hex on you if you deserve it. Though, I admit, in my books some of them are pretty nasty, and violent and power mad.

Earliest memory of being scared?
Vaguely remember hiding behind the sofa (yes, really) for Doctor Who. I hated the voices of the Daleks and could never understand why people didn’t just flee upstairs or over some rough terrain.

Weirdest nightmare you’ve ever had?
Dreams, nightmares… they’re all weird. Let’s be honest here, the scariest thing ever is when a friend says, ‘Let me tell you about this amazing dream I had.’ And you know you have to feign interest for at least ten minutes.

Somebody painted I KNOW on my front door. Was it you?
Do I need my lawyer present for this interview?

Most underrated horror movie/book?
I think all scary/horror movies and books should be avoided, but some sneak up on you like Monsters, Inc. – the monster that goes invisible, voiced by Steve Buscemi, is terrifying to young children (glad to report that I wasn’t scared by this monster, so I’m not a total wimp).

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A guy calls to ask what’s your favourite scary movie. What do you do?
Hang up. I do not accept cold calls especially from weirdos who are selling subscriptions to ScaryMoviesRUs.

You have a crystal ball: what does your horror future look like?
I’m desperately trying to finish the second book of the Smoke Thieves series. It’s got some scary naked demons and some scary misogynistic men, but no one goes into a haunted house (though actually they do go into the demon world, which isn’t that smart a thing to do).

Thanks so much for stopping by, Sally! Tomorrow, we’ll be hearing from a horror author who knows a thing or two about effed-up folktales. Until then…

#HalloweenFrights Day 2: Part Two – Fran Dorricott asks, Where are all the queer witches?

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Let the magic continue! After Elizabeth and Katharine Corr’s rules for writing a witch story, today’s #HalloweenFrights continues with more wicca wonder from Fran Dorricott. Fran is the author of upcoming queer witch novel After The Eclipse (March 2019, Titan), which I can’t wait to read. Here, she discusses the idea of ‘otherness’ and asks, Where are all the queer witches?

Witches have always been my favourite ‘spooky’ creature. While my friends would dress up on Halloween with their false fangs and fake blood, I’d always be the one in the back smeared in green paint, a black cape and robes and a broomstick in my hand.

It’s no surprise that I’ve been consuming every witchy story I can get my hands on for as long as I can remember. My heart still jumps when I see a new book or TV show about them. What do I like about witches? Well, I’ve been puzzling about this for years, but I think it has something to do with the intersection of power and otherness.

Witches in popular culture do not generally suffer from the same level of persecution as the real women who are hurt and killed for their otherness, but their otherness still defines their lives. My favourite witches often worry about being exposed to others, their powers being abused or their lives changed by their magic.

And yet they are some of the most powerful role models in popular culture. Witches own their magic, use it boldly (whether that is for good or evil), and that has always made me feel strong. They are powerful because of their otherness, as well as despite it.

So where are all the queer and POC witches? Of course they exist, but while I was compiling a list of the witches I remembered from my childhood, the names on it were generally limited to white, straight, cis witches. Despite their otherness because of their magic, somehow the list looks remarkably like every other popular culture list.

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So I dug deeper. Of course we have a few exceptions to the rule. There’s Willow Rosenberg, whose same-sex relationship in Buffy heralds her as a queer icon for ever. And there’s Marie Laveau (I’m feeling special love for Angela Bassett’s portrayal in American Horror Story: Coven), the Voodoo Queen inspired by a real-life New Orleans figure. But otherwise my list of favourite witches is remarkably white and straight.

But things, I hope, are starting to change. I’m seeing a surge of queer witchy projects cropping up in young adult fiction. Anthologies like Toil And Trouble, and books like Labyrinth Lost, giving voice to LGBT and POC witches. The Charmed reboot has a lesbian main character (the middle sister, Mel), and I am so psyched to start seeing myself and my friends in more of the popular culture.

Just for fun, here is a rundown of my top ten witches in popular culture. These are the women who made me feel powerful – because of my differences as well as despite them – and I can’t wait to see more diverse witches in the future.

hida10. Hilda Spellman (Sabrina The Teenage Witch)
Hilda always reminded me of myself. Scrappy, a bit dippy, and very loving at heart. Of course Sabrina and Zelda are awesome too, but Hilda is just so much fun!

9. The Grand High Witch (Roald Dahl’s The Witches)
She was the cause of the very first nightmares I remember after watching a film. Anjelica Huston without her mask on was absolutely terrifying! I later had a dream where the Hocus Pocus Sanderson sisters came to save me.

8. Winifred Sanderson (Hocus Pocus)
Another glorious morning. Makes me sick! Same, Winnie. Saaaaame. Winnie’s brand of humour appeals to me in an ‘I work in customer service, too’ sort of way, and I love her even more as an adult.

7. Sally Owens (Practical Magic)
Book Sally and film Sally are a little different, but her gentle witchcraft always made me feel very safe and calm. Plus Sandra Bullock in braids is just adorable, honestly.

6. Piper Halliwell (Charmed)
My favourite of the Halliwell sisters, Piper’s freezing time powers always made me think I’d never be late to class if I could do it. Piper is the woman I always wanted to be: warm, patient, and kickass to boot!

Marie5. Marie Laveau (AHS: Coven)
Talking about badass women, Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau is top of the list. Somehow her scenes in the show were always the most arresting.

4. Mel Vera (Charmed 2018)
I haven’t seen much in the way of the Charmed reboot but I’ve very excited for the potential here! Charmed was my all-time favourite TV show growing up, so more powerful young ladies being badass is what I’m all about.

3. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Look, who didn’t have a crush on Willow ok? A generation of queer girls everywhere owe a LOT to Alyson Hannigan. Just saying.

2. Manon Blackbeak (Sarah J Maas’ Throne Of Glass series)
Manon is one of my greatest adult-life loves. The perfect amount of cut-throat combined with a love for gross animals and I’m 100% down. Plus, who doesn’t love a cracking redemption arc?

1. Elphaba aka The Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked/The Wizard of Oz)
As a kid The Wizard Of Oz was my favourite movie. And when I found out that there was a musical about the witch telling us HER story I about died (I love Gregory Maguire’s book, too). In my opinion all good story-telling is about point of view, so I love hearing about characters whose story was originally very 2D. And I’m not going to lie and say I don’t support the Galinda/Elphaba ship, because I do. And Gregory Maguire does too.

This is a direct plea to the universe: more queer and POC witches please! With the world in the state it’s currently in, we need all the diverse badassery we can get.

Thanks Fran, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know about you, but after all this witch talk, I’m feeling pretty green. Things are switching up tomorrow as we delve in to one of the most pervading myths in horror with one of my favourite new authors. See you on the other side!

#HalloweenFrights Day 2: Part One – Elizabeth & Katharine Corr’s rules for writing a wicked witch story

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Congratulations! You survived the first day of #HalloweenFrights! To celebrate, here’s a spook-tacular treat – today I have not one but TWO guest posts about witches.

First up, I’m handing over to author sisters Elizabeth and Katharine Corr, who recently cast a wicked spell with their Witches Kiss trilogy (which I loved). Because they’ve written three whole books about spellcasters, I asked them to reveal their six secrets for how to write an awesome witch story. Over to you, ladies…

When writing The Witch’s Kiss trilogy, we spent a lot of time researching all things witchy. Luckily, witches – like vampires – seem to have an enduring appeal, both in literature and on screen, so there was plenty of good source material. Here’s what we learnt…

1. Do your homework. In more recent history, witchcraft has been associated with the occult, satanic worship, cursing your neighbour’s cows and other generally bad stuff. In a modern context – and, funnily enough, if you go further back in history – it’s been associated more with healing and harnessing the power of nature. In our trilogy we’ve mixed elements of both, trying to pay homage to both versions of witchcraft.

hermione2. Make your witch believable – as a person first, as a witch second. A good witch story needs a believable protagonist. Think Hermione, Mildred, Granny WeatherWax. Each of these witches has vulnerabilities and strengths that we can relate to. Modern witches, even the wicked ones, tend to be more well-rounded than in fairytales (the Angelina Jolie version of Maleficent, for example). Have your witch be malicious and evil by all means, but also show us why.

3. Dress them right. Actually, dress them any way you want to as long as it fits with your setting. Personally, we love a pointy black hat. But witches, like everyone else, come in all different shapes and sizes. Some witches have wands, brooms and all the traditional witchy paraphernalia. Some have the latest technology and do power dressing. Our hero, Merry, lives in modern day Surrey and looks like a regular teenager. Her gran – the head of the coven – has a smart bob and pearl earrings; not a wart in sight. There are no rules regarding witch fashion.

3. Think outside the box: witches don’t have to be women or belong to a coven. There are modern male witches that would be very unhappy to be called warlocks (if you don’t believe us, Google it). We have a powerful male witch in our trilogy, who, unlike the wizards in our books, inherited his powers straight from his mum. Again, some witches enjoy being part of a group, whilst others are solo artists. Your witch doesn’t have to be part of a coven. Merry definitely didn’t want to be part of hers.

5. Know your powers. Magical powers vary. Some witches use cauldrons, wands and spell books. Granny Weatherwax prefers ‘headology’ (basically outsmarting your opponent by getting inside their headspace). Some witches make human/animal sacrifices, whilst others use the power of the land and, where possible, fresh herbs. If your witch casts spells, try to make them sound convincing. We spent a lot of time researching stuff in Latin and other languages.

6. Have a good antagonist. Harry Potter wouldn’t have been quite the same without Lord Voldemort, and a witch is always at her best when she’s in mortal danger. Either through clever spells or pure courage, facing down the Big Bad is when she comes into her own.

Big thanks to Elizabeth and Katharine for this. You can follow them on Twitter by clicking their names (ooo, magic), and make sure you check out their books if you’re a fan of all things witch-y. Want more spellbinding stuff? Check out part two of the #HalloweenFright witch special later today.

5 reasons I wrote Vicious Rumer

 

  • Because I’m an outsider. Sure, I’m white, I’m male, I’m relatively tall (or something) in a ridiculous society that values those things, but I’m also a nerdy gay guy who grew up feeling, for the most part, misunderstood and a little bit weird. That’s why Rumer is so important to me. She’s an extreme version of me – my dark twin; the twisted sister I never had. (I actually do have a sister, and she’s nothing like Rumer.)
  • Because I wanted to write about mothers and daughters. In Killing Rumer, Rumer’s mother is dead, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t write about their relationship. In fact, the fact that her mother is dead only complicates Rumer’s relationship with her even more. How do you argue with a dead person? Or figure out who you are?
  • Because I had an idea that terrified me. That idea was: what if you could transfer all of your bad karma into your unborn child? That’s what Rumer believes happened to her, and it’s a pretty horrific thing to believe about yourself. I wanted to explore how that belief shaped her and influenced every decision Rumer’s ever made.
  • Because I wanted to write something with no easy answers. Is Rumer cursed? Why does a gangster want her dead? Is it possible to change who you are? Is something true just because you believe it? They’re all questions I chucked around while writing Killing Rumer. There may be answers, there may not, but that’s sort of up to you to decide.
  • Because it was fun! There’s tons of dark stuff going on in Killing Rumer, but it’s also a gleefully lean thriller with loads of twists, funny characters and crazy set-pieces. It was an absolute blast to write (I scribbled the first draft over a feverish eight months) and, hopefully, that also makes it a blast to read.

Pre-order your copy of Vicious Rumer here!

5 women who inspired Vicious Rumer

1. Nancy from The Craft
I had a picture of Fairuza Balk (actually, the one above this text), aka Nancy, on my desktop all the way through writing Killing Rumer. It’s not so much that Rumer is like Nancy – rather, I wanted Rumer to possess the same dark humour and edge-of-crazy personality as Nancy. They’re both outsiders, slightly unhinged and believe in something dangerous. Also, they both have black hair.

2. Stevie Nicks…
…and Crystal Visions, the compilation of her biggest hits. That album both inspired, chilled and nursed me through Killing Rumer – so much so that I, of course, HAD to make Rumer a fan. I’ve been a little bit obsessed with Stevie ever since I saw a tiny indie film from 1998 called Edge Of Seventeen, and her music is perfect for Rumer; ethereal, weird, haunting. It has it all and then some.

3. Holly Hunter in Top Of The Lake
Shocking revelation – I’ve only seen the first episode of this (ducks). I know I know. BUT the thing that really made me sit up in that first episode was Holly Hunter and her ghostly silver hair. Without her, I wouldn’t have created one of the main characters in Killing Rumer – the image of Holly’s wise-but-wary loner stuck with me throughout writing and I couldn’t be more grateful.

4. Daphne du Maurier
Nobody writes women like Daphne du Maurier. Strike that, nobody WRITES like Daphne du Maurier, and I’d be an idiot to try to, but she’s been a literary hero of mine ever since I devoured Rebecca as a teenager. Killing Rumer is nothing like that book (I mean, what is?), but it certainly inspired me to tackle writing in the first person, something I’ve never attempted before. If I failed, I blame Daphne.

5. Joan Jett
Alright, maybe not quite as ‘kooky cool’ as Stevie Nicks, but her song ‘Bad Reputation’ is anthemic for a reason (and not just because it’s the Freaks And Geeks theme tune). Those lyrics and that guitar really helped get me into ‘angry teenager’ mode for the book’s all-important flashbacks. Without them, Rumer wouldn’t be half as badass.

Pre-order your copy of Vicious Rumer here!