I’ve started writing my first blog post probably six times.
Now, thanks to the generous advice of the wonderful Lori Oster (http://professoroster.blogspot.com/), I have found a direction for my blog that makes me both comfortable and excited, in anticipation of sharing with you.
I write fantasy and urban fantasy, and sometimes science fiction. I am a writer, yes, but I don’t really feel qualified to give writing advice to other writers. I don’t have a degree in English, or anything associated with writing of any variety (I have a BSc in Animal Science – doesn’t quite count, does it?) And besides, there are already plenty of excellent blogs out there doing just that.
So I am going to blog for readers. When I do blog about writing, it will be about the creative process, not technical aspects.
But aren’t writers also readers? Well, yes, so they are. But how about all you readers out there who don’t want to write, and have no interest in the nuts and bolts of the writer’s craft? What do you want to read, on a writer’s blog? Leave me a comment at the end and I’ll do my best.
Birth of a storyteller
I thought I’d start by relating my genesis as a writer; give you a chance to dip into the wonderful (and often very weird) psyche of a compulsive storyteller. It’s different for every writer but most share one common thread: a compulsion to commit stories to paper or screen as a means of sharing our imaginings with others.
Like many, it started for me at an early age: 7, or thereabouts. On holiday, in St. Ives, Cornwall, surrounded by a thriving artists’ community, the idea of adding my own contribution seemed natural. It appeared in the form of a comic strip: The Adventures of Galloper.
Galloper was a small, stuffed, green horse who went everywhere with me and got into all sorts of scrapes – acted out with a little help from yours truly. I freely admit, I’m no artist, but I loved dreaming up those comic strips, and amusing the adults upon whom I inflicted them.
‘Samantha the Adventurous Poodle’ came next. Why a poodle, you might ask? No idea! She just popped into my head and I started typing away – one fingered, you understand. I was 9 years old by that time, and utterly committed to becoming an author. As I understood it, all I needed to do was write a book and someone would publish it.
Life gets in the way
School seriously interrupted my plans. Study curtailed writing time; probably a good preparation for the world of work.
Thwarted by homework and revision, my mind decided to find another way to tell stories. These were exclusively for my private consumption, but they allowed me to continue expanding my imagination. I became other people, living a Walter Mitty style life. First I was a secret agent, masquerading as a school child to gather information for MI6. Then I was an alien, being raised as a human, in hiding from my own kind who were trying to kill me.
Finally the writing urge became too strong, and with my best friend, Sally, I embarked on a saga of two footballer’s wives who had the wildest adventures – lost at sea on a yacht in a storm, kidnapped, solving murders: the sort of thing that happens to every footballer’s wife. Hmm. We wrote alternate chapters. Sally always upped the romance; I would get us into danger. Might have made an entertaining TV show…
English Language lessons were always a bit stuffy, but I did write my first psychological thriller there. The set title: ‘Trapped!’ gave me a character stuck in an office block lift on a Friday evening. The story charted his thoughts as they swung through panic to desperation, on into delusions and finally a total breakdown. By Monday, when the lift got fixed, he refused to leave, believing it to be his home.
See what I mean by weird?
Reading is an absolute requirement for a writer. I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can recall. ‘Wuthering Heights’ almost beat me (aged 9), but I’m stubborn. At 10 I found Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’, and I was hooked on SF. One enlightened school mistress then introduced Ursula Le Guin’s, ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’, and my life was transformed. Fantasy fiction forever!
To me, science fiction and fantasy allow the ultimate expression of imagination, and my passion for them has never waned. The fact that people like Le Guin routinely wrote in both SF and fantasy genres escaped my notice, at that time. I just assumed all authors did, so I did too.
That first novel
There’s no question writing a novel is a huge commitment. But then so is anything worth doing. I grew up with some fabulously imaginative TV shows such as Gerry Anderson’s series: Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, UFO. Films like Star Wars blasted SF into the general populace. Star Trek, Dr Who, and Blake’s Seven, for all their wobbly cardboard sets, encouraged me to invest in my dreams.
After a particularly great episode of Blake’s Seven, the only show at the time to pack out the common room at Uni, I went back to my digs, bursting with the need to create. In that evening, a dedicated novelist was truly born.
My first attempt proved to be Star Trek with different characters and I scrapped it after one chapter. Undeterred, I started again, this time with an opening scene that permitted me to explore on the grandest scale.
My central character wakes drowning inside a malfunctioning stasis chamber. After escaping, she finds herself in an abandoned warehouse thick with years of dust. She has no memory, not even a name…
So was born ‘Priestess!’ SF magnum opus to the grand tune of 200,000 words. Once I started, I couldn’t stop: I had to find out who she was, what she was, why she was there in the first place, whose lives had she touched (billions, as it turned out), and what she was going to do with this new life. Reborn, in effect.
I loved every moment of writing that book. I love it still, whilst recognising that in no way is it fit for publication. Perhaps, one day, I’ll find the time to re-write it as it deserves, although my best friend Kimberley Battleday may get there first; she has the original print copy and has already made a start.
‘Priestess!’ gained me a place in the Montpelier Literary Society’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Group. I’ll talk more about what we do and the wonderful writers I’ve met there another time. Suffice it to say they taught me how to critique and re-write, and much of the other stuff you need to know to write saleable books.
We meet once a month and, aside from critiquing each other’s work, we share news, competitions, publishing opportunities and the like. Some years ago, a venture in short novels had us all writing enthusiastically. I chopped a novel I’d been planning to the required length and was just polishing it ready to send when the company folded.
My first real lesson in how volatile the publishing industry can be.
Undeterred (writers are an ever optimistic bunch – we need to be!) I got on with my next project: a second novel set in the fantasy world I’d created.
‘The Prince’s Man’, is a story of court intrigue, spies and magic, treachery and love. Think James Bond meets Lord of the Rings. The central character, Rustam Chalice, is gorgeous, but mentally screwed up. When he is forced to work with the ice-cold assassin, Lady Risada, sparks fly in abundance.
I had so much fun writing it.
I entered it in a writing contest: the UK Arts Board Award for 1st chapter by an unpublished novelist, and it won! The prize was a one week writing course with the Arvon Foundation: fantastic! I learned oodles that week, but more than anything I gained confidence. Writing is such a solitary occupation and your friends and family will always love what you write. Having strangers love it too is the most amazing boost.
‘The Prince’s Man’ also gained me an agent. I’d never tried for one before and had no idea it was such a coup to be taken on by the first one I approached. She suggested a few small revisions to flesh out (so to speak) the romance, and then it went off to the ‘big six’ publishers.
It took six months to get all the answers back. They each made the effort to praise my writing, but none of them bought it.
More reality from the publishing world.
And that’s why, with the advent of epublishing, I am publishing ‘The Prince’s Man’ myself, as an ebook. I’m currently working on a July 2013 release – the cover is almost complete, and the text is being proofread as I write this.
Being that compulsive writer still, (and forever), I’d started the sequel to ‘The Prince’s Man’ whilst those publishers were taking their time. I have a trilogy planned, and ‘The Prince’s Son’ is half written, with ‘The Prince’s Child’, plotted out. Now I’m venturing into ebook publishing, I shall get back to them.
Urged by my equestrian clients, I took a little time out from fiction at this point to write a couple of non-fiction books on the art of horse training. Both are published and selling steadily, and can be found on the Equestrian Books page of this blog, or on my website, debbylush.co.uk
In the meantime, the rise of Urban Fantasy has grabbed me, and I have, of course, written one. ‘Desprite Measures’ tells Cassie Lake’s story: she’s a water elemental trying to live amongst humans without being noticed. Of course things don’t go to plan….
So, there you have it: a short history of a novelist-in-waiting.
Writers, how does this compare with your own journey? Readers, anything in there surprise you? Tell me what else you’d like to know but be quick: this message will self-destruct in ten seconds…