Friday, 6 January 2017

It's 2017 And I'm Writing A Book

And I guess you don't need to read this post because I said it in the title.

NO I'M KIDDING COME BACK.

Happy Christmas and New Year! I hope you've all had / continue to have (because it's Twelfth Night, guys, still Christmas! Unfortunately my true love hasn't sent me twelve drummers drumming -- maybe because I don't have one ...) a lovely time. My holiday has been characterised by friends and family -- seeing a lot of old schoolfriends, going to my two-month-old niece's baptism and playing a lot of Duplo with my two-year-old nephew -- and Kenya preparations. Because I'm leaving Scotland on Thursday ahahahahaha.

I'm totally fine.

*ahem*

On Monday I started LesMisBook.


I had a bit of a weird December, because I wasn't writing a novel. I hate not writing a novel. I don't mean to be melodramatic, but when I'm not writing a novel my existence becomes a directionless void of loss and emptiness. (Not melodramatic.)

Now I am, and life has fallen into place once more.

beautiful books
This link-up isn't currently open, but I'm nonetheless swiping Cait and Sky's questions.
Describe what your novel is about!

It is about Les Mis, Nutella sandwiches, national identity and fancying annoying boys, which are my four areas of expertise.
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Nina Seth is in her last year of school. She's always wanted to be an actress and her favourite musical is Les Mis, so she should be thrilled to land the role of  Ă‰ponine in the annual school production ... right? But as the book begins, everything seems to be falling apart around her: her best friend is her best friend no longer, the stress of applying to uni and knowing exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life is mounting, and she cannot shake her infuriating attraction to the extremely annoying Jonathan bloody Holcroft. He is Marius, and to make matters worse, Nina's nemesis Verity Locke is Cosette, completing the onstage love triangle. For Nina, school cannot finish soon enough.

What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

OK so. In the summer of 2015 I was on camp and had a big epiphany about Les Mis, how it's a perfect musical -- perfect songs, perfect hero, perfect villain whose arc perfectly mirrors the hero's, perfect REVOLUTION, perfect romance, perfect brotherhood, perfect comedy, perfect deaths, perfect themes. And the day after this, I remember it clearly, I was standing in the lunch queue with my friend and we were talking about Les Mis/my epiphany, and it came upon me in a rush: “OH MY GOSH I'M GOING TO WRITE A LES MIS RETELLING!"

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Then I thought about it and realised you can't really “retell" the French Revolution, and the idea got shelved ... until May 2016. You see, there was this great prompt link-up called Starting Sparks, a really cutting edge initiative hosted by two intelligent, witty young writers--

OK I'm kidding, but yes, the germination for LesMisBook did come from Starting Sparks. The prompt was “No, not you, anyone but you", and I decided to write about a cast performing Les Mis. When I wrote the original story the prompt referred to Verity Locke -- as in, “No, not you playing Cosette, anyone but you" -- because for the first two and a half seconds of the idea it was going to be about Strong Female Friendship, Nina and Verity initially hating each other but Overcoming The Odds etc etc.

Then Jonathan bloody Holcroft waltzed in and everything changed.

LMB:
[source] // one of my favourite LesMisBook pictures

Introduce us to each of your characters!

Nina Seth. 17. Misanthropic sass queen supreme. Born in Stoke to a Scottish mother and Indian father, though people are surprised to hear she has a white parent (this got old fairly fast). True loves include Les Mis and Pride and Prejudice. Never ask her if she's PMS-ing, at least not if you value your life. Doesn't brush hair because who can be bothered? Wants to be an actress; currently applying for alll the drama schools. A-Levels: Drama, History and English. Loves Victorian novels because a) they're great and b) are normally big enough to be a handy weapon. At the start of the book she's a best friend down after an incident of racist bitchiness. A harsh judge of others and herself. She definitely does not fancy Jonathan bloody Holcroft. No sir. Not even a little ...

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what can I say?: august + september || 2016:
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Jonathan Holcroft. 17. Charmer, golden boy, infinitely aggravating. Loves plants, dogs, and his family. Two older sisters. Would eat sandwiches for every meal if he could. Also broccoli. Wants to study horticulture. A-Levels: Drama, Biology and Music. Plays guitar and piano and knows how attractive this makes him. Flirt; low-key player. Infuriatingly blue eyes. Refuses to read Les Mis. Hides more hurt than he lets on.
geoff mcfetridge twitter - Google Search:
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Verity Locke. 18. Has never been seen with smudged eyeliner, wrinkled clothes or a hair out of place. Wears ridiculously nice shoes. 5"2 but will fight you (don't make short jokes). Blonde. Wants to study Maths (I know, gross) at UCL. A-Levels: Drama, Maths and Physics. Soprano. Nice to nobody except her younger brother and sister. Losing her best friend to that best friend's new boyfriend. Skilled in choosing accessories. World expert on passive aggression and veiled rudeness.

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Eileen Seth. 48. Nina's mum. Glaswegian social worker. She met her husband Pravit in India when on a gap year and they decided to study in England together. She and Nina are close but they fight a lot -- she can't understand why Nina won't do a bit more armpit-shaving and eyeliner-winging -- or even hair-brushing -- and go to a few more parties. She's the opposite of the That Dress Is Too Short You Stay Out Too Late mother trope -- it's not so much “When I was your age I studied every night and didn't wear make-up", but rather “When I was your age I was backpacking to India alone and falling in illicit love with a Hindu boy". Nina's like “yes, Mum, OK." I don't want to give a bad impression of Eileen -- I love her. She's great.

Pravit Seth. 47. Nina's dad. Indian optometrist. Mostly quiet, but approximately 85% of the words he does say are laced with sass -- where do you think Nina gets it from?

Dipankar Seth. 20. Studying dentistry in Yorkshire. Does sport and other unintelligible activities. Really great guy. Complains -- ineffectually -- about Nina stealing his hoodies. He and she call each other Louis. (Their mother remains mystified by this.)

Also featuring: Shy Adam; Camp Kieran; Infuriating Beth; Extremely Nice Tracey; Equally Nice Ibrahim; Just As Nice Jess; Flappy Mrs Moseley; Annoying Chris; Super Annoying Zenaye. What a cast.

How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

All of the above, though more of the second two than the first ...

I am an incurable pantser and not ashamed. I once heard the author Ian Rankin being interviewed on the radio, and he said, “If I knew how a book was going to end before I wrote it, what would be the point in writing it?" Now, I'm not saying I exactly agree with that -- I do know, roughly (very roughly), how LesMisBook is going to end -- but for me, a lot of the fun of writing a book is in the journey, in me and characters figuring things out together, in things revealing themselves to me in the writing. So I do try to outline a bit, but for the previous book I wrote and this one I only outlined the first section and trusted the rest would fall into place. Which it did last time.


Maybe one day I'll write a post about why I pants. I think it is tied up, also, with why I handwrite.

Research, though. Research is super important.

For the first six months of LesMisBook I forged merrily on writing snippets of sass and banter and completely ignoring all the practical things I'd have to research. During December I did so much research I think my brain is leaking. Mostly about drama school.

If you checked my browser history, you'd 100% think I was applying there myself! So! Many! Drama school! Websites!

Fortunately I've got some amazing friends who've applied for Acting like Nina -- one friend wrote me a whole spate of massive paragraphs detailing her audition experiences in loads of drama schools, which will prove invaluable. Another friend took me around Glasgow's main drama school, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where he studies. How nice of him?!!? So I have walked around and seen where Nina will have her audition, where she'll eat her lunch and go to the loo, etc, etc.

Unfortunately I've not been able to visit any of the schools in London.

But maybe I will before I edit!

What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

Gah, so much. I'm loving being inside Nina's head -- because the razor-sharp sass! All! The! Time! I love her relationship with JBH, obviously (what do you think of Ninathan for a ship name?), so writing them together is so much fun. I'm really looking forward to the national identity stuff. Let me share a poem by Jackie Kay:

In my country

walking by the waters
down where an honest river
shakes hands with the sea,
a woman passed round me
in a slow watchful circle,
as if I were a superstition,

or the worst dregs of her imagination,
so when she finally spoke
her words sliced into bars
of an old wheel. A segment of air.
Where do you come from?
‘Here,' I said, ‘Here. These parts.'

Jackie Kay, the Scots Makar, has lived in Scotland all her life with Scottish adoptive parents. Her father was black Nigerian. Nina has had experiences like the one of this poem -- people asking her where she's from and being surprised when she says England. People asking her if she considers herself British, and then saying, “yes, but you're British Indian, it's different, isn't it?" People's surprise when they discover her mum is white: “but your skin is so dark!"

I am English but have lived in Scotland since I was six. My English friends -- the other girls on my Kenya team, for example -- consider me Scottish and say they hear Scots in my accent. Last night a Scottish friend told me he considers me “100% English". So I'm both, but also neither. I know my experience isn't the same as Nina's -- I'm white and have never been a victim of racism. But the struggle of belonging to more than one country, and yet being considered by those “wholly" of that country not to really belong there, is one I know all too well. And I can't wait to write about that.

I'm also excited to write about finishing school, applying to uni, maybe not getting into your dream uni, and all the feelings that accompany that. And about Nina and Verity's relationship. Love that hate-to-love!

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Ooh, and also Shakespeare. All drama schools, pretty much, want you to prepare a Shakespeare speech for your audition. Nina and I haven't picked it yet, but we're thinking about Romeo and Juliet (because she's such a romantic at heart, she just pretends she isn't!).

Ooh and also (I'll stop after this one, I promise!) the chat about books. JBH refuses to read classics, because they are “too long"/“lame"/“who can be bothered". Nina refuses to read fantasy (except Harry Potter), because “reading about wizards is dumb"/“it's not highbrow enough".

So basically they're both really stupid.

But they're going to teach each other! How cute?!

I'm also looking forward to writing about JBH's dogs, because there's a sad paucity of dogs in the TCATT books. I'm scoring this out so you won't notice that I broke my promise to stop after the last point.

List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

Image result for stoke on trent
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1. So, I'm the worst, because it's set in Stoke-on-Trent, a city I've not visited for years. I was born in Burton-on-Trent, which is near Stoke ... it's on the same river! Let me tell you a story. Last semester I was in a student Bible study group and one of the boys in it is from Stoke-on-Trent. Before meeting him I hadn't really thought about LesMisBook's setting. I met him and asked him where he was from, and he told me Stoke, in a sort of we're-in-Scotland-so-I-guess-you-won't-know-where-that-is voice. And I was like, “OH MY GOSH I'M FROM BURTON", and just hearing his Stoke accent gave me an overwhelming resurgent affection for that part of the world. I picked Stoke over Burton for the setting because it's bigger. That's all.

2. London. Nina is about to go for an audition at LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), and I can't wait! Though as I say, I wish I'd visited ... (Ugh, this is why fantasy is so much easier!)

3. Glasgow. As if I would leave it all in England! Nina is applying to the Conservatoire, and I think JBH is actually going to come up to Glasgow with her! I love the thought of them knocking around Glasgow together! And Nina's mum is Glaswegian, so when they come up we'll get to meet her Scottish granny ... !

What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

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To get into drama school; to quash her feelings for JBH; to resist everyone everywhere's attempts at friendship and sail coldly to the end of term with her sassy misanthropic head held high. Jonathan bloody Holcroft is definitely standing in the way of those second two. As for the first, I'm not sure exactly how it will pan out, but ... (smooth lead into the next question):

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

... but I'm hoping by the end Nina won't feel the overwhelming pressure to go to uni next year anymore. Perhaps more importantly, the way she judges others will also have changed. She will learn not always to trust first impressions; she'll learn that it's OK to depend on others, that she doesn't have to shut everyone out all the time. She'll learn that she doesn't need to be so very hard on herself, either.

What are your book’s themes?

Love is a theme. So are race, racism and national identity, and identity more broadly -- the persona Nina has crafted for herself; her identity has an actress. I'd say the main theme is judgement. This ties into the race thing -- people forming judgements about one another based on colour -- but it's more about Nina's views of others. She judges others and thinks she knows about them (specifically JBH and Verity) when she doesn't. She's too proud to change her opinions (you could say there are themes of pride and prejudice ... ahahaha!). But the book is about overcoming this, opening up to others, and letting yourself care and be cared for.

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~***~

If you read that massive post, thanks! So I'm going to Kenya in under a week. I will post again before that, but I'm glad I've got this one up, because ... I'm excited. About LesMisBook. And you guys have been great, reading the stories. I love you lots. Thank you and goodnight.

24 comments:

  1. I need this. like, now. despite never having read Les Mis (I know, a travesty) or even watched the movies (*shrugs*), I get so excited every time you talk about this idea because I can just FEEL how much you love it. and that amount of passion makes all ideas a million times better. just your description about what this novel is about had me chuckling a little too loudly. I already love Nina, and I can tell that Jonathan is going to be infuriating but just as lovable.

    your bit about belonging to two countries but also kind of not belonging to either really hit me. I've never experienced that, but I can imagine how frustrating and confusing and somewhat hurtful that can be. I can't to see how you show that in this novel.

    I'M JUST SUPER EXCITED ABOUT THIS OKAY?

    hope you have a meaningful and safe time in Kenya! I'll be praying!

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    1. Thank you sooo much, this is such a lovely comment! YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY SEE THE MUSICAL ASAP. Personally I love the 2012 film -- it's the only one I've seen -- but I've heard older versions are great too. And it's even better onstage. And the book is A****. So you've got lots to look forward to!

      Frustrating, confusing and somewhat hurtful! Normally it's a nice problem to have, but sometimes I just want to be one thing, you know?!

      THANK YOU, SO AM I! Also I meant to tell you, I was reading Revelation recently and I read “the great ones and the general" and I was like OH MY GOSH THERE IT IS THERE IT IS because I remembered, then, that you'd said you'd got it from a Bible passage! It was an exciting moment XD

      Thank you so much, and happy New Year! <3

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    2. you have no idea how happy it makes me that you remember the verse for my book's title. literally smiling so wide I could burst over here. thank you for that! <3

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    3. You are so welcome! Lovely to be back here reading these lovely comments <3

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  2. Sounds like such a beautiful story <3 I'm glad you have a solid idea of how it's going to go!

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    1. Thank you! I wrote it while in Kenya and loved it!

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  3. First up, my true love hasn't given me twelve dummers drumming yet either, so it's okay. This looks amazing! Nutella, and Les Mis in one book, holy moly I love this character already. Pravit Seth just grabbed my attention so hard as I'm reading this, a sassy Indian optromotrist???? (ignore the spelling it's early) He sounds like such a doll I'd read a whole story based around him alone. You mentioned being excited to write about applying for uni and all that jazz, and are you going to uni? (right, we are the same age and I'm not tripping out?) where do y'all wanna go?? And yeeessss I'm so hyped to read about your sojourn to Kenya, I really want to go and am super jelly that you are! Am I wrong if I'm saying you're going as a missionary? Or am I getting completely mixed here? Honestly I just want to show off that I do actually remember stuff, but if not... scrap that.

    Have fun though omg!

    Amy;
    Little Moon Elephant

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    1. Amy! I am back! I wrote this book whilst in Kenya and it was fab! (Ish. It was also full of problems, but the point is, I had a great time!) Pravit's a babe, man. And yesss I am going to Oxford!

      I can't wait to write about my sojourn. I was doing mission work, yeah. Soon (hopefully) you'll hear all about it!

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  4. I perk up every time this book is brought up!
    So many amazing themes and characters- fitting for a Les Mis retelling. Though I suppose I shouldn't be expecting as many deaths.

    (heading off to Kenya in under a week...wow)

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    1. YOU'RE SO NICE! About to read your most recent post; can't wait! (And no, not quite so many deaths. That's the problem with contemporaries ... *ahem*)

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  5. SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT THIS POST WHERE DO I START. I loved hearing the behind the scenes: how you came up with the idea and decided to run with it, intros to all the characters, etc. I just can't get over the "extremely nice Tracey" bit. XD MY NAME. I AM IN YOUR BOOK. MY NAME IS IN THERE. And apparently I have a whole crew of nice people around me! :D

    How lovely you get to do such a chunk of your research firsthand. (I agree, fantasy is 100x easier!!!)

    And the conversation about books. I love it! I have wavering opinions on classics, and I adore fantasy but see how some people don't think it's all that sophisticated...so yeah. This should be interesting!

    All the very best with Kenya! Safe travels! I hope it's an amazing experience. ^___^

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    1. YOUR NAME IS THERE. YOU'RE A GREAT CHARACTER. Can't wait for you to read it!!!!

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    2. Typing it is so much fun! (Will editing be as much fun? Meh. Maybe not. But I'm still excited!)

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  6. This book means so much to me, and it's not even a proper book yet. How did you do that?

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    1. SKYE, YOU'RE AMAZING. Seriously, thank you! What a fab comment!

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  7. *flails for eight and 3/4 years even though that doesn't even make much sense* I'm so excited for this book, especially because of all the snippets and stuff you've been posting. (The only downside is that I haven't read and/or seen Les Mis which is slightly an issue but whatever we won't focus on the negatives here.) I absolutely adore the themes and characters and stuff that you've talked about, especially about national identity which is obviously pretty close to my heart.

    AND ENJOY KENYA THAT'S GOING TO BE INCREDIBLE I CANNOT WAIT TO READ A MILLION BLOG POSTS ON IT BE SAFE HAVE FUN DO GOD'S WORK AND DON'T FORGET TO BE AWESOME!!!!

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    1. Victoria! This is a wondrous comment from start to finish. I love your love for this book -- I hope you'll read it one day! KENYA WAS AMAZING I CAN'T WAIT TO WRITE A MILLION BLOG POSTS ABOUT IT!

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  8. I'm so happy about this!

    What about Jonina as the shipname? :D

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    1. Same! Thanks for the suggestion :D

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  9. I'm glad you're excited about a new project. That's always the best way to start off a new year. ^ ^ Have fun in Kenya!

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Tori! It was a lot of fun :D

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  10. *internally flails around like a wild mango* (Yes, wild mangoes flail. . . *ahem*)

    SLKDFJAEKJAEF! Love this post! Les Mis! And this

    "Starting Sparks, a really cutting edge initiative"

    me: smirks

    "hosted by two intelligent, witty young writers"

    me: Aw, stop it! (But we know we're awesome ;) )

    Also,

    JBH "waltzed in and everything changed." He does have that effect on people, doesn't he? XD

    I love Nina! She so fiery and sassy. I cannot wait to read more about her! And Verity. Ok, and JBH.

    SHY ADAM!

    Can I just say that I love her mom? And I love that you gave her parents their own bios! Her dad sounds like a sneaky sassmaster. XD

    Agreed outlining is meh. Where is all the fun if you know everything? I kinda agree with that quote actually. I've realized that if I know too much about how a story or book is going to work itself out, then I procrastinate writing it even longer than if I didn't know? So the not-knowing is the suspense that keeps me writing? I don't know.

    You should totally post a post on why you handwriting!

    I also love the themes. :)

    And your friend gave you a tour of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland?! That's so cool!

    Sorry, I'm not sure if anything I'm saying has much sustenance. I'm pretty sure I'm just fangirling 743% over Les Mis and stuff. But it's nearly 11pm and yesterday I was up until 3am, and I'm running on adrenaline because I took my last spring final today, so summer vacation is here! Anyhow, I should go because I have to drive 7-8 hours to the Louisana/Texas border tomorrow morning.

    Hope Kenya is fun!

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    1. (Kenyan mangoes, though, oh my word. I had a mango the other day, here in Britain, and ... it was not a good experience. I'm now ruined for all mangoes!)

      I love this comment! Can't wait for you to read this book. I love all the characters you mentioned with VERY GREAT LOVE. Seriously, these characters, they get me every time.

      The not-knowing is good! Keeps us on our toes, gives us a healthy bit of fear ... (Because whoever said the author's the one in charge? Lol. As if.)

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Thanks for commenting! :)