Tell Me About Your WIPs

On Twitter, @writer_gem frequently posts interesting writing-related questions that I rarely find the time to answer. A while back she tweeted a positivity thread about WIP which I couldn’t stop thinking about — below are my answers about Darksight. ​Let me know yours! 

1. What are your three favourite things about your MC(s)?
Maeve is both vulnerable and strong: she’s no superhero, but she confronts problems head-on. She’s determined, which gets her into all sorts of trouble but adds to the fun. And unlike novels were being supernatural is over-glamorised, Maeve desperately wants to be normal, and I respect her for that.

Lewis is loyal to his ideals, fighting for what he believes in. He’s an enigma; every time I write about him I discover something new. And he’s just generally badass, although I won’t say why. :-)

2. What are your three favourite things about the premise of your WIP?
Darksight is set in contemporary London; this is the first novel I’m writing set in my home, and it’s fun to explore the places I know through the eyes of a story. I also like the range of issues it’s trying to explore, including religion, racism, broken families, financial difficulties, and my favourite problem: love. Lastly, I love that there are so many more stories to tell in this universe — I have to fight to keep myself from getting distracted!

3. Ctrl + F these words in your WIP and post your favourite sentences (can be any variation of these words): Power, fire, tree, fresh, love
I’m surprised all five words existed in my WIP!

Kay sensed it immediately, tasting the word’s power, its secrets.

The creature opened its mouth as if to inhale the boy’s strangled scream, and the carriage was all of a sudden brighter, illuminated by the fire in its throat.

The wind was rising, the trees tall specters against the sky.

The wooden surface was freshly scrubbed, and for once didn’t smell of cigarettes.

When she left, I became a priest, because I knew I would never love again.

4. Pick 1-3 things that are really unique about your WIP.
This was a lot harder than I thought it would be, perhaps because I’m too  close to the work to know. So:

  • Maeve, the protagonist, has a visual impairment that plays a prominent role in the story.
  • How demons are born/created, and more generally the depiction of Heaven and Hell, is very untraditional.
  • I’m writing it! There’s only one of me in the world after all. :-)

5. Do you have any visual art that represents your WIP?  
Yes: check out the trailer video and placeholder cover on this page.

6. What is a line of dialogue by one of your characters that perfectly illustrates their personality?

“When I look at him,” Lewis said, “I see the only man willing to do whatever it takes to fight against evil. Why would I side with anyone else?”

7. What would Young You think if someone put the finished version of this WIP in their hands?
I hope that Young Me would want to read it, and want to write something like it. There are so many books from my childhood that inspired me to write, and I hope this would rank amongst them.

If I knew it was by me? Young Me would realise that slogging through writing all those terrible stories would eventually pay off. (In fact, I wish I could see the writing of Future Me, to encourage me to keep at it when I hit a wall.)

8. What are the ways in which your WIP is feminist/intersectional/generally progressive and badass?
I didn’t actively go about trying to make my WIP progressive, so thinking about this question really surprised me.

  • The heroine is part of an all-female non-traditional family unit. Her mother and grandmother are fierce and independent.
  • A few characters challenge the role of women in existing organised religion, and how women are unable to progress past a certain rank.
  • Female demon hunters. Nuff said.
  • The protagonist is mixed race, living in a multicultural society where there are growing racial tensions.

What about you? Tell me about your WIP.

The Forward Ripple

In all but name, my great aunt Vera was a grandparent to me.

I write “was” because Auntie VV passed away two weeks ago. My first ever funeral. (In retrospect, getting to 29 without having attended a funeral seems an impossible feat.)

Yet as I sat there in church, listening to the eulogy, I didn’t feel sad; I felt thankful.

Thankful for the long holidays in Spain as a child, walking along the beach, Auntie Vera buying me ice cream and giving me hers when mine wasn’t enough. I remember sitting on the veranda together as the sky darkened and bats flitted overhead, playing cards and gambling with her enormous stash of pennies

Thankful for how much she made me laugh as I grew older. I remember sitting at her table in Dublin, talking about everything and anything as her latest rescue cat stared distrustfully from the doorway. I remember the throaty rasp of her dry chuckle, her eyes brightening with wicked humour.

Thankful for her friendship, the easy camaraderie despite the years stretching between us. She used to call me her little chicken, but I never thought of Auntie Vera as a mother hen. She was one of the girls, a trusted confidant of our many little secrets.

My entire childhood — when I had no concept of age — I thought she was 75 (an insult to her, at first, but eventually a compliment). Over the years, I noticed her getting older, but it was always in a passive way, unacknowledged.

But then, in one moment, things changed.

At her 90th birthday, in the confusion of a large family gathering, for a split second she confused me for my cousin’s wife. I bent down to hug her — careful now, she chuckled, don’t spill my rosé — and she said it was nice to meet me.

That was when I truly realised she wouldn’t be there forever.

I sat through the meal refusing to think about it. After dessert when the family furore had quietened, I went to sit next to her and we talked as we always had, as if nothing had happened. She quizzed me on “Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome” and then leaned in to tell me a secret: I can’t drink like I used to, she whispered, have a vodka for me, won’t you? 

The last time I went to visit her before her death, she was at home in her favourite chair with a blanket over her knees. Cigarette clutched in one hand, crumpled lottery tickets on the mantlepiece behind her.

Everything looked exactly as it always had, except her. She was smaller, somehow, as delicate as a bird in my arms.

Not long after, she was admitted into a care home. I never made it back to Dublin to see her, but I sent her postcards, photos, flowers, chocolates.

And now she’s gone. Yet no matter how hard I try to accept the finality of her passing, I can’t.

My great aunt Vera helped make me into the person I am today. She helped shape the lives of many others both in my family and beyond.

So when I think of her now, I think of the beautiful ripple effect of her influence, stretching forward into the endless future.

And I think that, one day, I’d like to leave a ripple like hers.

Recapturing The Dream

Three months ago I started a new job. 

I’ve always worked in boring publishing. Fresh out of uni, many of my classmates wrangled their way into the big names: Random House, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury, and so on. They jumped headfirst into the dream we’d all wanted. 

Me? I met a guy on a night bus and ended up in legal publishing.

I told myself it didn’t matter. I was paid more than my classmates, given more responsibility, and had my writing to satisfy my personal interests.

Eventually I needed a new challenge, and moved into financial publishing. (I did warn you: boring.) My career progressed even more as I ultimately ran all print operations. 

But something wasn’t right. 

I didn’t believe in the work I was delivering. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to read it. 

So I started job hunting again, determined to recapture the dream. 

The problem was that now all the traditional publishers took one look at my CV and said no. I hadn’t worked in fiction or books before, hadn’t slogged my way up the chain. Some publishers offered me an entry-level salary as if my last six years’ experience counted for nothing. 

I started to question what I was worth, whether I’d been deluded all along. I started to wonder whether I’d be stuck in boring publishing forever, because I couldn’t afford to take a cut. 

And you know what that feeling reminded me of? That sliver of doubt whenever a negative review hits too close to home. When I start wondering why I bother writing, when I’m never going to be good enough anyway. When I’ll never reach my dreams. 

It’s so hard to remain enthused about writing when so many other commitments have to come first. It’s even harder when those other commitments – like my job – aren’t going the way I want. 

If I can’t get the job I want despite years of hard work, how can I succeed at anything else? 

Then, one morning six months ago, I had an email in my inbox. A job alert from a more modern publishing house. The role was right. The salary was good. 

First thought: I’m never going to get it. 

Second thought: What do I have to lose? 

Two months and several interviews later, I was in. A part of me still can’t believe it. It’s been a whirlwind (hence my silence on the blog front), but each night I come home energised. At last I’m working in fiction. 

And you know what? 

Now that I’m working so closely with books and editors, the dream of being a full time author has never seemed closer. 

I’ve just got to keep working.

Breaking Down The Expectation Barrier 

​Last week, I rediscovered an old story.

It was a piece of fanfiction I wrote over 12 years ago and had been immensely proud of, featuring a protagonist who mysteriously looked and spoke exactly like me. She even owned my favourite t-shirt!

I settled down for an excited re-read. Then I spent twenty minutes wondering what drugs convinced my younger self that this was good writing.

Eventually the realisation hit me: this story wasn’t merely good, it was brilliant.

I’ll tell you why in a minute.

As I’ve mentioned before, my own expectations have blocked my writing. I’d decided that my current project would be traditionally published. I even had an agent who wanted to look over the finished manuscript. So the pressure mounted. I missed deadline after deadline. And now it’s too late.

Ultimately I’ve lost what could have been an amazing opportunity, and I have no one to blame but myself.

Which brings me back to my terrible fanfiction, and why that cringe-worthy story is, in fact, BRILLIANT.

You see, writing is like climbing a mountain. At the very summit are your Neil Gaimans and Frank Herberts, sipping mojitos in the brilliant sunshine. I’m somewhere along the twisting, turning crags, toiling in the shadows.

My endless expectations mean I spend most of my time looking upwards. All I want is to wrap my fingers around a mojito, but the summit is distant. Unreachable. Disheartening.

That horrible fanfiction made me stop and realise how much I’ve already accomplished.

The pressure of my own expectations can also be a force for good. It pushes me to improve. I might not be sipping mojitos any time soon, but I’m a damn sight closer than I was 12 years ago.

This experience has taught me that I might never be as good as I want to be — and I have to be okay with that.

So I’m faced with a choice:

  • Keep writing stuff I’m not 100% happy with, and in another 12 years have even more stories to shudder over.

  • Write nothing at all, and let the mountain defeat me.

It’s a non-choice, really.

Maybe I’ll never be the next Neil Gaiman. But if I keep writing, there’s a 0.01% chance that I’ll find myself sipping mojitos on that mountaintop.

And who doesn’t like a good mojito?

Why Change Is A Good Thing

I dyed my hair yesterday.

For an hour the bathroom was transformed: the L’Oreal do-it-yourself kit spread out over every available surface, the contours of my face greased with vaseline, purple dye splattering the sink as I contorted to reach every strand.

When I finally emerged from the shower in a haze of chemicals like a butterfly lifting out of its cocoon, my other half took one look and said, “I don’t know why you do it.”

I shrugged and said, “Because.”

But inside my mind was whirring. Why do I dye my hair? Is it boredom, something else? I turned to my trustworthy friend Google but found no answers to explain my behaviour.

Dyeing my hair is an unintentional quasi-annual tradition. A switch goes off inside my head and it’s all I can think about: the transformation, the change.

Who cares if the process is tedious? For a few pounds and an hour of my time, I’ve explored the frontiers of mahogany, chestnut, and yesterday’s experiment: dark cherry. (The verdict’s out so far — I’ll let you know how it settles after a couple washes.)

But why?

We are primed to think about our physical appearance in terms of how others perceive us. Any alterations to our looks – make up, clothes, hair dye – are therefore assumed to be for other people’s benefit. Yet I’m not seeking male attention, nor believe that a new hair colour will make me more beautiful/desirable/noticeable.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that there’s only one possible reason for dyeing my hair: for a change.

Change is a good thing.

I’m a creature of comfort. But every so often I force myself to change, to jolt out of the normal routine to discover other parts of myself. To push myself into reading a new genre, or visiting a new place.

More recently, I’ve broken through my writing block by starting a paranormal romance novel. I’ve never written or even imagined myself writing romance before. But faced with the longest dry spell ever, I wondered: what if I need to write something different?

So maybe dark cherry is the wrong hair colour for me. And maybe this new romance novel will be a complete pile of poo.

But unless I try, how will I know?