Wednesday, 31 July 2013


Happy Thursday, Dear Readers!

Today we bid a sad farewell to July 2013. It's been an epic month. Somehow we managed to fit in a Wimbledon win for Andy Murray, Britain's first heat-wave since 2007 (the year The Swan Kingdom came out!), a royal baby, AND - let's not forget - both InCreWriJul, and the publication of The Night Itself. Frankly I feel we could all use a bit of a holiday after that, but it's not to be, at least here in Zolahland: Darkness Hidden edits have landed. This means I'll be spending today and most probably the next month wandering around muttering to myself, with a permanently furrowed brow, inky fingers and pens sticking out of my hair (whenever I'm not glued to my computer). 

It seems entirely appropriate, then, that I should offer you a RetroThursday about one of the slightly shady secrets of the writing life: THE LITTLE VOICES IN MY HEAD.

Oh, the little voices! They whisper to me, my precious. They whisper in my heeeead...

Freaked out yet?

Well, don't be. You have these little voices too. The difference is that I am *aware* of mine; and that's all part of being a writer (or any creative sort of person, really).

What, what, WHAT? Am I saying that all writers suffer from auditory hallucinations and/or are dangerously unstable? Am I saying that EVERYONE hears voices? Stop the madness!

No, no, my precious. The madness goes on. This post was inspired by a comment from Isabel, who asked in the comments if anyone else finds themselves mentally 'narrating' their life. That is, as you move through your ordinary day, somewhere in your head there's a constant voice-over of your hair-brushing or your walk to school or your biology lesson, as if it were a scene in a book that you were writing. You find yourself picking out the details that you would chose to describe, the ones you would change, pondering if 'pale gold' is a better phrase than 'honey coloured' for sunlight, considering what scene should follow, etc.

For some of us this voiceover is a constant thing that we are always aware of. For others, it's something that you notice occasionally and are slightly worried by. I'm sure there are also people who never experience this and who are, as they read this blog, edging away from their computer screen and checking the doors and windows just in case a deranged Zolah comes bursting in with an axe.

Let me explain. You know that question? The dreaded question that writers get asked the most out of all the questions in the universe? That one. Where do you get your ideas?


It's true. The narrating voice that tries to turn your Monday morning bowl of cereal into an exciting scene of cornflake versus Cheerio suspense, that ponders how to describe your P.E. teacher in a way that would make her seem like a possibility for an undercover supervillain, that observes every detail of your daily walk home and speculates on what would happen if the house behind the wall was haunted, or if you suddenly heard someone crying for help in that tree - that is the WRITER'S VOICE. Or the artist's voice. The actor's voice. The sculptor's voice. The musician's voice. It's where all the ideas come from.

The thing is, this constant voice-over can be...disturbing. Let's face it, it's not pleasant when in the middle of being horribly sick, you hear it whispering 'Wow, you should be making notes on this, you'll never remember the exact texture of that vomit'. It's worrying, when trying to comfort a friend, that a tiny part of you is thinking 'The way she's crying without making a sound is really moving. I should use that'. It can be horribly upsetting when you yourself are in the midst of terrible grief, to realise that there's a tiny part of you which is standing off to the side memorising it all in case of future need.

The little voice is not an emotional thing. It's DETACHED. It's like a flash-drive plugged into your brain, recording everything without being touched by any of it. It's so detached from you and your emotions that it can even seem a bit alien, like someone else talking in your brain. Because, after all, you would never be so callous as to make mental notes on the way that your sister's face flushes up when she cries, just on the off-chance you wanted to write a crying scene. Right?

Here's a quote from one of my favourite books, an adult mystery novel from the 1930's by Dorothy Sayers, called Gaudy Night: 
"Detachment is a rare virtue, and very few people find it lovable, either in themselves or in others. If you ever find a person who likes you in spite of it — still more, because of it — that liking has very great value, because it is perfectly sincere, and because, with that person, you will never need to be anything but sincere yourself."
I love this quote, because it's so very, very true.

Humans only use a tiny part of their brain capacity for conscious thought. Most of our grey matter is a constant, flashing lightshow of electrical impulses, sensations, instincts and memories that we're barely aware of, if we're aware of them at all. The average brain is processing millions of tiny fragments of information brought to it by our whole bodies every second of the day. Our brains are always listening, smelling, feeling, tasting, reacting. In any given moment they're keeping all our organs functioning, giving us the manual detexerity and ideas to scribble notes for homework, carrying on a conversation with our friend on Facebook, listening to the TV with one ear, thinking about making an omelette and running through all the combinations of ingredients in the fridge, and noticing absently that the dog needs a bath.

That detached little voice is an added extra. And if you don't train yourself to make use of any added pieces of brain capacity you have (even in the form of a Voice in the Head) how on earth will you ever manage to notice any story ideas floating past in the middle of all the information that is flying at you every moment you are alive?

You won't, is the answer.

And what a tremendous, tragic waste that would be.

The ideas will still be there. They're everywhere! Ideas are like dust motes. You can't breathe without stirring millions up. But most people are so busy getting on with their lives that they don't notice them. THEY DON'T EVEN SEE THE IDEAS ARE THERE. That's why Where do you get your ideas? is the most popular question writers get asked. Non-writers think ideas are rare, precious, fragile. They're not. It's the ability to actually *see* the ideas that is rare and precious and fragile.

Everyone's born with it. Few keep it into adulthood. Entirely well-meaning people, like your parents and relatives, will try to crush it. Many teachers crush it all day long with one hand tied behind their backs. Friends who want you to fit in will crush it too, from kindness. None of these people realise what they're doing, of course! Most would be horrified at the thought. It's just that they want you to focus, concentrate, act normal, stop day-dreaming, pay attention, not be weird, get outside and play in the sun with all the other kids, stop telling silly, you've probably heard them all.

So here it is. If you want to be a writer, if you want to be able to see the ideas drifting past you, if you'd rather not be 'normal' thanks very much? Hang onto the little voice in your head with both hands, and your fingernails. And your teeth if necessary. Pay attention to it. Feed it by opening your eyes to the world around you. Embrace that tiny detached part of yourself as the gift it is. It will repay you a thousandfold.

If not? Resign yourself to asking other people where they get their ideas from, and seeing the look of resigned boredom in their eyes as they struggle to explain.

How many of you hear that little narrating voice? And who's willing to admit to it??

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

InCreWriJul: The Final Check In

Hello, hello, hello my ducky darlings! The month of July is drawing to a close, and with it our International Creative Writing challenge. Welcome to the final InCreWriJul check in!

Before we get onto that, however, a massive thank you to Dear Reader Rachel who sent this photo of The Night Itself in the wild:

This was in the Kingston branch of Waterstones, and got Rachel excited because she hardly ever sees my books in Waterstones. I hardly ever see them in Waterstones either (or any physical bookshops, really) so it's exciting for me, too. Let's hope someone adopted my hot-pink darling and took her home very shortly after this picture was taken. Sadly over the weekend The Night Itself dropped down from its all-time high ranking of No. 45 in the Waterstone's Not Just For Teens list to the rather less exciting No. 356. But never mind - I'll always have my screencaps. However, if anyone was wanting to cheer me up a bit, and they had any thinky thoughts about TNI to share, you could nip along to Waterstones website, or Amazon, and leave a review for the book, even if it's just a couple of lines.

Also over the weekend, this lovely feature interview with me went up on Dear Reader Maya's blog. The questions were really fun to answer, so check it out.

Now, on to to InCreWriJul!

I've had a frustrating week since we caught up on writing progress last. To illustrate it, here's a picture of the calendar in my Writing Cave, which I wrote my weekly and total targets on at the beginning of July:

Sunday and Monday of last week went brilliantly. On Tuesday I realised that the scene I had been intending to write next just wouldn't work, which caused my progress to screech to a halt as I stomped around my house bad-temperedly, snarling at the walls and flinging scrunched up bits of paper around. Eventually I did come up with a solution, though - the next day, as you can see, I was delighted to produce seventage pages of handwritten notes.

But sadly that's where it all went wrong. Because after my morning writing sprint (during which I'd been so caught up that I didn't really notice my hand hurting a bit more than normal) my hand stopped working. This is not an exaggeration. Within about an hour of putting my pen down and going to make some lunch I could no longer pick up a pen at all. My hand, wrist and elbow were throbbing, and my shoulder wasn't happy either.

Bewildered and a bit frightened, I worried that I'd done myself some kind of repetitive strain injury, although in the past I've written far more than seventeen pages in one sitting without having problems (the only time I'd had pain in my hand that bad was after my legendary 9k in one day writing sprint, during which the entire ending of TNI was written, and even then, it was only my hand and forearm that hurt, not the whole arm). It had come on very suddenly, too. I borrowed a wrist brace, took some anti-inflammatories and applied heat and then cold to my hand and wrist, hoping desperately that I wasn't going to join the ranks of unfortunate writers who have to type everything. I've tried doing that before, after all, and it was a disaster.

I tried some typing the next day, but had to give up very shortly because as soon as I hit my normal typing speed (about 98 words a minute) the pain was unbearable. Also during that day my other hand and both feet developed similar symptoms, though not as badly as my right hand and arm. They felt as if someone had folded them up tightly and now the creases wouldn't come out. And this is what eventually made the lightbulb go off. I'd had this problem once before - after an insect bite. I'm incredibly allergic to insect bites. At the very least they cause a swollen welt the size of about half a tennis ball, and often they also give me flu-like symptoms. But on one occasion, several years in the past, I'd reacted to a bite with just such pain and stiffness in my joints, although that time the bite was on my leg and my feet were far more affected than my hands.

Guess what? I'd found a bite on the back of my right arm on Wednesday.

So I've basically been babying my arm and hand along since then, scared of causing any permanent damage to the tendons or ligaments by forcing myself to use them too much. I've got the mobility in the hand back, but there's still quite a lot of pain in my thumb joints and little finger, and these are causing shooting pains down to my wrist and even elbow. I have no idea how long it's going to take for the symptoms to go away, but in the meantime typing is harder than normal (although I can do it, providing I do it slowly and carefully) and handwriting is out of the question.

I'm really sad about this, because if it hadn't happened I'm sure I'd have hit my 50K target for InCreWriJul. Actually, looking back on July, something seems to have attacked me every single week - whether it was a horrible headache, a nasty bug, or a real bug that chowed down on my arm. I've also had insane amounts of personal issues, mostly to do with my father and his condition, going off like bombs around me the whole time. But I'm so so so glad that I decided to run InCreWriJul, because without it I have no doubt all these set-backs would have caused me to lose far more days out of my month, and be far less productive overall. I might have given up on July completely - but knowing that everyone else was writing with me and that we were all doing it together gave me that little extra push that kept me going.

I'd estimate that once all my hand written notes are typed up I'll probably have something in the region of 47,500 - 48,000 words, which is not to be sniffed at. I hit and passed the 50% mark of the manuscript and got a really good handle on my people, which I know is going to stand me in good stead when my edits for Darkness Hidden come back (probably this afternoon!). So for me, despite the universe apparently deciding to throw a whole bunch of sneaky, underhand tricks my way, InCreWriJul has been a fantastic success. I want to thank everyone who came on the journey with me.

So now's the time for everyone else to share an account of their month in the comments. Did you hit your target? Did you change your target and if so, why? Did you struggle or fly? Share all! And remember that everyone who has commented on each check in, including this one, will be entered into a prize draw. I'll pick the winner and announce the prize next Tuesday.

Thursday, 25 July 2013


Hello, my lovelies! First the news that after slipping down quite a few places on Waterstones Not Just For Teens Bestseller Chart, today The Night Itself shot back up again to No. 45, its highest ranking yet! Thank you so much to everyone for helping this happen! Again, I'm not entirely sure what it means in terms of actual sales numbers, but I do know that it must be a good thing - at the very least for my peace of mind. Let's all cross our fingers it stays there for a little while, or maybe even climbs higher. *Hugs for all*

As a way of sharing my sheer happiness over this, Thursday's post brings you adorable The Night Itself fan-service goodness and a link so that you can enjoy adorable fan-service goodness for yourself (or your characters) if you'd like.


Mio, the heroine of the pice! Isn't she so cute? There was no hand-held katana in the Chibi-Maker arsenal unforunately, so she had to have a normal longsword instead. Boo! Everything else is pretty good, though.
Ah, Jack, our mischieveous and wise-cracking sidekick. The minute I saw that skull t-shirt and tights, I knew she would be happy. Shame I couldn't add the pink and purple highlights to her hair, though. Just imagine those.
Shinobu! Look at his gorgeous worried little face. The Chibi-Maker did offer twin katanas for his back, but they got lost in his hair, so again he got a normal broadsword and a ninja-knife to symbolise his katana and wakizashi.

Rachel, Jack's sister and perpetually exasperated baby-sitter, with her beloved mug of tea. This outfit is so her, I clapped like a seal. 
Last but not least, fan-favourite Hikaru! Oooh, you cheeky rascal you - is that a foxlight in your hand? Who did you pinch that from? Don't swish your tail at me, either! I know your tricks!
Making these gave me a disturbing amount of satisfaction - but they're cute, darnit! I regret nothing! Here's a link to the Chibi-Maker for all your own fanservice/character building needs.

If you'd like to know my answers to 20 intriguingly random questions, pop long to Sister Spooky's new feature.

Oh! And another link to where you can buy the fancy-pants hardback version of Shadows on the Moon (with different haiku to the UK edition, and red foiling and endpapers) for under £4 with free postage and packaging! Anyone who loves to own hardbacks or wants to know how the US haiku turned out should get in there pronto, before they run out of stock.

That's all for today, my duckies. Remember, next week is the final InCreWriJul Check In, so if you want to be entered into the prize draw, make sure you've commented on ALL the Check Ins so far and that you turn up for this one, too. Happy writing!

Monday, 22 July 2013

InCreWriJul WEEK FOUR: Check In

Hello and happy Tuesday, Dear Readers! I hope you've had an excellent weekend and a productive Monday. Probably many of you are glorying in or cursing the hot weather. I didn't get any. My weekend and Monday have been chilly, drizzly, cloudy and cold. So count your blessings, ducks!

Some good things that cheered me up despite the miserable weather! Lovely Kristina from The Madeleine Project sent me this shot of The Night Itself in the wild in Hong Kong (thank you)!

Wow. And what a lovely sticker too! So tastefully placed! I've actually done a guest blog for Kristina's Like A Virgin Pitch Contest about how I figured out what kind of writer I wanted to be, so you can go and check that out if you like to hear tales of writerly self-discovery.

And then, even more exciting than that:

That's right. This weekend The Night Itself climbed up to No. 55 and then No. 47 on the Waterstones Not Just For Teens bestselling list. I'm not sure what this really means in terms of sales, but Waterstones is the largest physical book retailer in the UK, and I'm fairly sure no book of mine has ever climbed that high in their rankings before. Today The Night Itself has dropped down to No. 58, and I would love it if the book could cling to that place, or perhaps climb a little higher again, so if anyone was wanting to read it, maybe hesitating a little... my completely partial advice is to run out and get it from the shops ASAP :)

Onwards! We're apart to start WEEK FOUR of InCreWriJul, so how did WEEK THREE go here in Zolah Central? Pretty well, actually! I hit my target on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - Wednesday seeing me hit the 50% mark in the manuscript's projected final length, which was awesome. All this work moved the plot forward a tremendous amount. I'm starting to hit really exciting, crucial plot events which I've been planning for years, and that's both intimidating (can it be as good as I've imagined? Can it live up to the build-up? Am I going epic enough?) and motivating (I finally get to write this part! Oooh, I can bring that cool thing in that I saved the picture of all this time! I'm really writing this at last!).

On Thursday I also hit my target, but it was a bit of a cheat. I had a huge chunk of notes that I had written for a certain scene back in 2010. Parts of those notes were inevitably completely wrong now, because of the evolution in the characters, their voices, the exact nuances of what they've been through. Surprisingly, though, some parts were just beautifully, perfectly right, and other parts, although they required tweaking, served as fantastic prompts for me. I decided to copy and paste these notes right in - which immediately put me a healthy chunk over target for the day - and then spent the rest of Thursday re-writing them to fit. This, again, made me feel a little conflicted, because I loved getting to fulfill, in part, the vision I'd had three years ago, but at the same time it meant I didn't *really* write anything new that day.

(This is bulkhockey logic, by the way. Of course the words I put on the page that day count, and because I re-wrote them extensively and added new sections, I actually wrote a lot of new stuff. I just have a weird habit of beating myself up when I don't think I've spent my day working hard enough. Don't do as Zolah does, folks! Develop healthy mental habits about writing and give yourself credit, not guilt, when you do well and meet your goals).

On Friday I was too busy/exhausted to write anything at all, even though I'd hoped to get at least a few pages down. Friday is always trickier than any other day because it's my dad's final home dialysis treatment of the week - the day when he needs the most help and looking after. In addition, we've just been trained in a new method of tube-lining the dialysis machine, which has made our lives temporarily a lot more complex (we ought to get the hang of it soon, but at the moment it's slowing us down and leading to a lot of mistakes that we have to be on the look out for, leading to stress even when nothing goes wrong, and freak-outs when something does). After finishing the treatment, and cooking and serving my dad some lunch, then sorting out his medication and cleaning the treatment area at my parents house, I crawled back home and napped in my chair for a little bit, then pottered around for a couple of hours enjoying (what I didn't know would be) the last little bits of sunny weather.

Saturday I took off as normal to deal with my own chores, grocery shopping, and miscellenious stuff. On Sunday I finished re-writing the last section of the notes I'd copied in, and then continued and finished the scene that the notes belonged to, creating what may be the most awkward confession in the history of my books, and possibly in the history of books ever (and that's all the spoilery goodness you get, kids). And on Monday I wrote a really emotional scene that made me cry a couple of times and left me feeling really wrung out - but in a good way. More of those emotional scenes to come over the next through days.

I finished my week's writing on target, with just over 44,000 words logged on the manuscript in total. This means I've broken the back of the story, and conquered the awkward beginning which is always my least favourite part of any book. It also means that all the most epic, challenging, emotional and heart-wrenching parts are coming up very shortly. Eeeep. Wish me luck, Dear Readers.

And as for all of you - how has your week been? Have your goals changed? Would you like congratulations, commiserations, or advice? Let it all out in the comments!

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Today brings much happiness from me, because yesterday the final book of The Name of the Blade trilogy crossed the 50% mark! WHOOHOOO!

What that really means is, I'm half way to my estimated word goal for the first draft. Now, the book will almost certainly end up being a little longer or shorter than I've estimated (some of my books have ended up being literally twice as long as I guessed). And this is only the first draft - I often add up to 10-20,000 words in revisions, both on my own and with my editor. But because The Night Itself and Darkness Hidden were both 73,000 words long in the first draft, I feel pretty secure in thinking this book will be somewhere around that. Crossing that line is a big deal for me. Writing the middle and ending of a book is my favourite part - and I've got so much cool stuff lined up for this one. Three books worth of set-up, characterisation and foreshadowing, all rolling to their inevitable yet unpredictable conclusion! I'm going to blow your minds, my babies! *Evil laughter*

Now, onto today's question (which is extremely appropriate)! It was left in the comments by Shaun, and reads:
I'd love to write a duology or trilogy but my problem is finding what kind of story to tell in each and I can't seem to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) until I have an idea of what each story may be. I have the world set. The rules. And a couple characters. But the actual story I am unsure of. How did you go about coming up with each individual story? Just brainstorming? It's really frustrating. 
So, to clarify a bit - you have an idea of the overall story arc that you want to take your characters on and explore your world with, but you're not really sure how to break that down so that each book has it's own story and distinct action.

Hoo-boy! Are you in a fix. I know just what you mean. Why isn't there more advice about this? It's so hard, I can't believe that all the authors of trilogies and series aren't talking about it constantly. I definitely struggled with it, and as a result I've already written a couple of blog posts that should help. Here are the links:

TURNING IDEAS INTO PLOTS - Part One, Part Two and Part Three 

Other Tips:

Mental Subtitles; For me, one of the things that helped was to give each book a little subtitle in my mind which summed up what it needed to do within the trilogy to make the overall story arc work. To tell what these are would be spoilery, but I'll give non-spoilery examples - let's say you decided that your first book was The Chase, the second was The Seige and the third The Battle. That way, you would know what ultimately needed to be achieved and could focus on bringing in elements to make each book a cohesive narrative that fulfils that mission statement.

Wriggle Room; Whether you're a planner or a panster, when it comes to writing a trilogy I think you need to give yourself some wriggle room. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you simply must know each and every little thing that is going to happen in books #2 and #3 because I guarantee you that the way things play out in the first book will give you all kinds of amazing ideas that you want to incorporate, and those need room to breathe. Those things in turn will make book #2 into a slightly different book and cast a new light on events in book #3 which will again cause you to have all kinds of new ideas for that story. Plan, but plan *loosely*.

Pick Your Essentials; By contrast, I believe that you definitely DO need to make some decisions now about the key points of your trilogy, because you need to know how to seed book #1 with hints and foreshadowings that will allow the development (book #2) and conclusion (book #3) of your story to be satisfying. Stories are more than just one thing happening after another. Everything needs to be there for a reason, and everything needs to be working together, which is especially hard to achieve with a series or trilogy because by the time you're editing the second book and drafting the third, the first book may be on shelves and so you cannot go back and ret-con it to make everything dovetail. I do know of one writer who pantsed their way through a whole trilogy, but I would not recommend it. Most of us just aren't that brave! Decide what your non-negotiable, heart-of-the-matter plot threads will be and make sure you love them enough to stick to them for three whole books without wavering. Each detail you put in the story now needs to pay off later. As Chekov said: 

"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."

I'm also going to refer you to the writing advice page of Cassandra Clare, the author of two of my personal favourite trilogies. I find her advice excellent, though I'm not as strict an outliner as she is.

I hope this is helpful, Shaun! If there are any more questions, please pop them in the comments for me, and I will get to them as soon as I can.

Monday, 15 July 2013

InCreWriJul WEEK THREE: Check In

Hello, my lovely lovelies! Once more, Tuesday is upon us - and it's time for the third check in of International Creative Writing July.

My progress this week isn't much to write home about, sadly. I stuck to my one and a half hour writing sprints and my more leisurely typing up and revising sessions, and managed to produce 8,000 words during the week, which I was really pleased about. I had my normal Saturday off (and, incidentally, watched HANSEL AND GRETEL, which may be the worst film I've seen for years, blergh) but by Saturday evening I was starting to feel a bit... off. On Sunday I dragged myself out of bed feeling like death warmed over, did my usual chores, and took the dog for a walk, all shadowed by this weird fatigue and sort-of-queasiness that wasn't quite strong enough to make me run for the bathroom, but almost. It was really hot and humid here that day, but that didn't seem quite enough to explain it. Just laziness, I told myself. Get over it.

I fully intended to head up to my writing cave but instead - get this! - I ended up falling asleep in my chair downstairs like an old lady before eleven o'clock in the morning. When I woke up I forced myself to drink a mug of coffee, and then had a cool shower, hoping that would wake me up. It didn't. After staring at my notebook for twenty minutes I came up with a complete blank; the scene I needed to start on was already really complex and causing me trouble, and I just couldn't seem to get a grasp on it. How could I make this work? What on earth was wrong with me today?

I decided to try and loosen up some creative muscles by listening to soothing music while lying on my bed and doing deep breathing exercises. No one will be surprised to hear that I fell asleep again, this time for nearly two hours.

When I finally stumbled downstairs, feeling worse than ever, it dawned on me (since I'm so quick on the uptake and all) that I might actually be ill. At that point the realisation was a relief, since it meant I could at least give up on trying to work. Basically I just flopped around in my chair for the rest of the day groaning and feeling sorry for myself, since my brain was too squadgy to even let me enjoy reading or watching TV.

That means I started this week 2k short of my 10k per week goal - 30,000 words into the first draft of The Name of the Blade Book #3.

However! After going to bed early and sleeping like a rock all night I woke up this morning feeling 100% better, and decided to kick that difficult scene right in the pants. 'So what if I mess it up?' I asked myself. 'That's what drafting is for! I'll make the biggest mess of it I can! It can all be fixed later!'

And that's what I did. I actually managed to finish the darn thing, too. In revising, re-writing and typing my longhand notes up, I think I improved them a lot, but I also know this scene will need a bit more work when I finish the manuscript and come to edit it. That's fine - again, that is what drafting is about. Now that the tough part's done, I can move on to scenes that will hopefully be more fun for me to work on.

My check in this week, then, finds me at a smidge more than 32k in total on my manuscript, which is 2k less than I'd hoped for, but I'm still feeling pretty good about it. I've decided that as long as I can get to about 50k by the end of July I'll feel extremely good about InCreWriJul - it really is motivating!

What about everyone else? Who hit their target? Who missed it, or kicked it into next week? Is anyone changing their goals this week, and if so, why? Share it all in the comments, folks!

In the comments here, of course! Tell us all!

Thursday, 11 July 2013


Hello, hello, hello my darlings! Happy Thursday to you all. Today I'm going to tackle a question from the comments, left by Dear Reader Rebecca, which reads as follows:
After reading about Jack in The Night Itself, I was reminded about a problem I am having in my book. Like Jack, I have a character who is a bit of a joker. The problem I am experiencing is making my character funny in a way that seems natural. He always says funny comments at the most inappropriate times, and the characters in the book find him funny, but I don't know if readers will find him funny. Did you experience this when you were writing Jack? I want my character to be the one that makes the future seem a little brighter, even under the direst circumstances, but I don't think I am executing it as well as I hoped.
I wish I had a really amazing answer for this - it's a great question. The problem is that it's kind of... unanswerable? Because humour is one of the most quirky and individual traits we have. What makes one person laugh until they cry makes another person cringe or simply say 'I don't get it'.

For example, the most celebrated comedian of recent times, Ricky Gervaise, fills me not with the urge to chortle but the urge to hit him in the head with a bag of wet cement whenever he shows up on TV. And 'Get Smart', a film starring Steve Carell, which tanked at the cinema and was roundly condemned as unfunny by everyone, tickles my funny bone so hard that I have a DVD which I take around to my parents place to cheer my dad up whenever he's ill (seriously, I've watched it about twenty times now).

And that's not the only problem. Sometimes even if you do succeed in making a character generally funny - that is, funny to the largest possible section of your potential audience - that can still work against you. Unless you're writing 'a funny book', a book which has the sole aim of making readers laugh, you have to be really careful that the humour you use works *with* the rest of the book. That it's adding to the other effects that you were trying to create, helping to characterise your people, adding to your atmosphere, moving your plot forward. 

When I was writing Jack (and, indeed, Mio) I really wanted her to have a real teen voice, to sound like someone you could overhear sitting behind you on the bus any day of the week. So I burrowed down into my memories of being a teen and linked those up with the memories of all the young adults I've been privileged to meet over my years of doing school visits and book-signings and library bookclubs, and I chose a certain tone for her.

That tone was one of a really clever, sensitive young woman who sees a lot more than people realise she does, and who responds to most of it with a joking, insouciant tone which hides how deeply she cares. She acts tough and like she takes nothing seriously, but underneath she's a big softy.

However, when my editor came to read The Night Itself (and indeed, Darkness Hidden, the next book) she didn't really see that big-hearted, bright teen. The facade which I'd written for Jack was too good. Her defense-mechanism humour was so effective that it stopped the reader seeing who she really was.

My editor said she laughed out loud constantly at Jack's jokes. That's good right? Well, not always. As a result of all these moments of humour, she was constantly being thrown out of moments of tension or sympathy or even fear because Jack (or Mio) made some light-hearted quip. Jack came across like she just wasn't scared of the terrifying events that were going on around her, like she thought she was invulnerable. And if Jack wasn't scared, why should the readers be scared for her? Why should they empathise?

The big re-write that I did on The Night Itself ended up being mostly a process of scaling back the humour in the story. Not just Jack, but Mio, needed to be shown to the reader as more than brave, wise-cracking teens. Their vulnerabilities, their fears and insecurities, their uncertainty about the situation and themselves, all needed to be painted in with just as much care as I had used on their one-liners. And sometimes that meant cutting a really killer line that made me laugh out loud, and my editor laugh out loud, every time that we read it.

I fought for a lot of those lines. Like you, I wanted to use humour to undercut moments of high tension and stop the story and characters from getting too pompous. I wanted to contrast light-hearted moments of my young adult characters just acting the way that young adults do with moments where they're confronted with challenges that most adults couldn't face, and take them on, teeth gritted.

But if you've worked incredibly hard to build up a chilling, frightening, or exciting scene where the reader is on the edge of their seat, not knowing what will happen next or if someone might get hurt or even die, and then you have a character throw a quip in there that makes the reader unexpectedly laugh, a lot of the time not only have you *defused* the story tension that you worked so hard to build, but you might also have made it that much harder for the reader to empathise with your character.

There are moments when even the most hardened joker is going to choke on their own feelings and come up empty, and you need to be able to show that - because that's the moment when the reader will fall in love with your character and all their glorious vulnerability. That's the moment when the reader will see the complex, nuanced character that YOU, the writer know and love.

Basically, it's a balancing act, and there's no easy way to ensure you don't fall off.

My advice to you is this. The only person you can be absolutely sure of making laugh is yourself. So go for it 100%. Make this character as funny as you want them to me, for you. Don't hold back for fear of offending anyone else or getting it wrong.

Then, when you've finished, you're going to hand your manuscript over to others. Beta readers or critique partners or a trusted friend - or maybe even an editor or an agent. And those people are going to say 'Hang on, this joke right here... it kind of ruins this tension you were building up and now I find I'm not scared anymore' or 'I actually had a real feeling of sympathy for their situation then, but then the character joked about it and I got annoyed...'.

When this happens you must be prepared to go back into the manuscript with a ruthless pen and pare the humour right down so that it shines through only at moments when it really improves your story, increases empathy between the reader and the character, or undercuts a moment that needs to be undercut. The end result may be a story that causes less belly-laughs in the reader, although I think you'll be surprised at how quite a small amount of humour can go a very long way. But it should ALSO be a story that touches the reader more, moves them more, and leaves them with a sense that they got to know the characters well, instead of just glancing off the surface of their humourous defense mechanisms.

I hope this is helpful, Rebecca! Any more questions from anyone? Please leave them in the comments, and you may get a post of your very own :)

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

InCreWriJul WEEK TWO: Check In

Good morning, my lovelies! Welcome to Tuesday. How are you all feeling? Good weekend? Good week for writing? Before I start journeling my first week of InCreWriJul, a few bits of other bizniz.

News about The Night Itself! BLISS Magazine (which I remember fondly from many years ago when I was a mere kiddliwink) chose TNI to be number one on their Summer Reading Chart in their August edition:


Dubray Books, a marvellous independent bookshop in Ireland, chose TNI as their Teen Choice Book of the Month:

Amanda Craig of The Times gave TNI a mention in the Times Summer Reading Guide (13+ section). This is what she said:

"Next month the fantasy writer Zoe Marriott explodes back on to the scene in THE NIGHT ITSELF, a manga-inspired romance about a half-Japanese girl in London whose grandfather's antique sword turns out to have supernatural powers."
Yay! (although Mio is actually British-born-Japanese, not half Japanese). And today the lovely Megan from the U.S. emailed me with a pic of her copy of TNI nestling on her shelf after it arrived yesterday:

Thank you, Megan! All wonderful stuff. And if anyone wants to make my day even better, I'd absolutely love to see a few more Amazon reviews for The Night Itself go online; there are five lovely ones up there now, which is brilliant, but reviews like company and I think they may be just a leeeetle lonely :)

So! Let's talk about Week One of InCreWriJul!

Well, I started out on Monday last month with about 12k in on The Name of the Blade: Book #3, as you know, and my goal was to do at least one 1.5 hour long-hand writing sprint per day, write up those notes and revise them as I went, and end up with about 10k of new words at the end of the week. Did it work?

It did and it didn't. Tuesday and Wednesday went absolutely to plan - about twelve pages of handwritten notes each day, which translated into two thousand words when typed up, making a total of 4k for both days. But on Thursday I woke up with a thundering headache which threatened to turn into a migraine despite all my best efforts. I wrote about half a page and then just had to give up - I could barely focus on the page - which was very frustrating because that was The Night Itself's official publication date and I really wanted to be working on the last book in the trilogy!

The next day the headache was still with me, but slightly better, so I decided to get stuck back in and hopefully make up for the wasted day. At which point I screeched to a halt, completely nonplussed. I realised I had no idea what to write next.

It was time to start work on a particular part of book #3 - a part I've been looking forward to for ages. I've had this amazing idea in my head since almost the beginning of planning these books out, where I wanted to send my characters on a sort of mini-quest and have them explore a wondrous and dangerous new environment like nothing we've seen in the books before. I've been collecting inspiring Pinterest images for it for three years, and frankly I couldn't wait to get started.

But because of how long I've been looking forward to it, and because of all the images I've collected, and because I wanted to absolutely stuff this section with cool stuff, I realised it wasn't good enough just to plough in and hope for the best. I needed to pull back, go through all the research I'd done and all the photographs I had and make a plan for how to fit everything that I wanted into this part of the book WITHOUT it becoming a rambling, pointless travelogue. My characters and plot still needed to be moving forward, after all.

Curses! That meant another day in which I couldn't do my writing sprint. Instead I spent the whole day covering Post-Its with scribbles and making bullet-pointed lists and clicking through my Pinterest boards. By the end of the day my headache was raging again and I felt very sick, but I did have something like a workable plan.

The next day was Saturday, my official day off (and the headache was finally mostly gone). But now I had two wasted writing days to make up for, so I chucked the idea of a day off in the bin and did my long-hand writing sprint; I just didn't type the notes up immediately afterwards. Then on Sunday I needed to do a bunch of things that I hadn't had time to do in Saturday, so I did my writing sprint, but again didn't type up the notes.

Monday rolled around. I did my writing sprint (in a rapidly filling notebook) and then it was time to type up my notes. I did a quick count and once again screeched to a halt. I had over thirty handwritten pages to revise, re-write and neatly type up. THIRTY. Eeep.

Well, I did my best, but after typing my little heart out for most of Monday I got to dinnertime and realised I still had eighteen pages to go. So I gave up for the day and watched The White Queen.

The wordcount for my manuscript is now 23.5k in total. That's 500 words less than I need to be on target - remember, I wanted to do 10k a week, and I started out with 12k. But I do have those eighteen pages of notes to type up, after which I'm confident I'll probably be a few thousand words OVER target, so I'm not beating myself up about it.

As first InCreWriMa weeks go, this one was pretty good (apart from the headaches - no more of those, please). What about you guys? Did you hit your target, blow past it, miss it completely? Tell us what happened and why in the comments. And remember, those who comment on every single check-in post will be entered in a prize draw at the end of this month, so don't be shy!

Thursday, 4 July 2013


Welcome to Thursday, Dear Readers! It's a very special Thursday indeed: the 4th of July and the OFFICIAL RELEASE DATE FOR THE NIGHT ITSELF.

Holy cr*p, guys. I thought it was never going to get here.

I mean really, seriously, at times I doubted that I ever had the guts or talent or skills to pull off a trilogy, or even the first book of one. I doubted that my agent would want to try to take on and sell something so different and, let's face it, kind of weird. I doubted that any publisher would be interested in investing in a trilogy from a writer who had never written anything but standalones in a different genre. I doubted that I was going to be able to handle the unexpected and extensive re-writes required to turn The Night Itself from a funny, fast-paced urban fantasy thriller into something that still held all those elements but was deeper and more intense. I doubted everything and everyone, and at each turn the amazing publishing professionals in my life proved me wrong - and I proved me wrong too.

It feels so amazing to be that wrong, and to know that the proof will be turning up on shelves in shops and homes all over the country today.

The Night Itself is so special and personal to me, it's almost embarrassing to talk about. It (and the rest of the trilogy) is the most 'me' thing I've ever written. That's me in those pages. Me as a teenager, me now. All the stuff I think is cool and funny and amazing. It's my special-unicorn-rainbow-cupcake-angel-baby project and I love it, even while it scares the cr*p out of me. Seeing it go out there into the world is a little like being a kid on mother's day, when you pull your homemade card out from behind your back and offer it up to the most important person in the world. You're so full of fear and anticipation. All you want to say is: I made this for you. I want to share it with you. I hope you like it.

And I do I hope - God, I really, really hope - that you guys can kind a place in your hearts for this book. That you will get it, and love it even a little bit as much as I do. Because you are all such important people to me.

I felt like this called for a special, The Night Itself (The Name of the Blade: Book One) themed post, so decided to do a little linky round-up for you.

First, I did a post for Diversity in YA about the Five Things I Learned writing this book, and that should be up some time today. Check back if you don't see it the first time.

These other links are posts from this very blog, dating back to when I first had the idea for The Name of the Blade, aka, The Katana Trilogy, aka Big Secret Project, just because I thought it would be interesting to chart my progress from 'OMG, cool idea!' to 'It's a real live book %$"$@KH*"!GN!!!' What's amazing about this is that when I went into OneNote to look at my very first rough notes about this? I realised that the idea dates back to September 2010, which is way earlier than I thought. I've been dreaming about seeing The Night Itself on the shelves for nearly three years!

The very first post where I refer to Big Secret Project (and another book which... I don't even know guys. Do you remember this? This was the Giant Killer Clockwork Praying Mantis Death Robot book! I totally forgot about that!).

My post on the challenges of plotting a trilogy - where I ask for your help in deciding if the character of Jack should be a guy or a girl.

The first post where I gave you all hints - in pictorial form! - as to the nature of Big Secret Project. This was before Pinterest, and you can definitely tell...

A Letter To My Characters about 70% of the way through writing the book.

In which I get a visit from the Muses.

Big Secret Project's Publishing Deal Announcement (finally!).

The Making of The Night Itself's Cover.



I think this is all I have to say. Apart from that I intend to spend today celebrating in the way I know will make me happiest: by ploughing on with book #3 of The Name of the Blade.

Read you later, darling duckies!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

InCreWriJul WEEK ONE: Check In

Hello, hello, hello, lovely Readers! It is now ONE DAY (not counting today) until the official UK release of my beautimous book The Night Itself! You can read a slightly early book birthday interview with me here at the Author Allsorts (conducted by soon to be debut-author Natasha Ngan) for inside information and pretty pictures. If it's not up when you click, check back later, it's definitely scheduled for today. *Excited*

But! Today is also the first Tuesday of July! So it's time for our first InCreWriJul check-in.

The idea today is for each of us to set a realistic but challenging goal for what we'd like to achieve in July. We'll share it - me in this post, you guys in the comments - and basically make a pledge to try our best to meet it, and be there for everyone else who is trying to meet theirs, during this month.

Here goes! I started work on book #3 of The Name of the Blade last week, and I have just over 12k, which is around 16% of the projected first draft total. This is based on the word count of the first drafts of The Night Itself and Darkness Hidden, which were each about 73,000 words (subsequent drafts with my editor plumped them both up to between 78,000 and 80,000 words).

I'm not going to try to finish book #3 this month, because I know the moment I put that kind of pressure on myself things inevitably go wrong (see the story of what happened when I tried to participate in NaNo one year).

However, having finally nailed the right ending for Darkness Hidden in the last round of edits (well, I think, anyway) right now I am overwhelmed with enthusiasm for book #3, and I really want to take advantage of that and get as many words as I can down on paper before the end of this month. This is not just because of the constraints of the InCreWriJul deadline, but because I'm expecting to get the next (and hopefully final!) round of edits on DH back somewhere around the end of July/beginning of August. I'll also need to take a break then to get all my ducks in a row and do my tax return (another facet of being a self-employed author no one ever warns you about). Both those things are going to interfere with my focus on book #3 like crazy; it's inevitable. I need to make the most of the focus and time I have now, and that's where InCreWriJul comes in!

Most of you guys know that I'm a longhand drafter. 90% of my work gets scribbled in a notebook first, and then typed up and revised and re-drafted on the computer. So, keeping the idea of 'achievable and realistic' in mind, this is my goal:

For the month of July I will write five days a week, starting off with a longhand writing sprint of one and a half hours. During that one and a half hours I will not check emails or Twitter, stop to look something up on Wiki or in my series bible, pause to edit, or engage in any other procrastinatory activity. At the end of the writing sprint I will take however many scribbled pages I managed to achieve and type them up, revising and rewriting as I go. This will take as long as it takes. If I have time when I've finished typing, I'll do another writing sprint of the same duration, but the goal is to do ONE of these each day, first thing in the morning.

My final goal will be to produce around 10,000 typed up words per week.

This timed writing sprint is a new thing I've been trying over the past week, since I started book #3. It's based on the fact that when I was working full time in an office, I used to produce ridiculously huge amounts of scribbled notes during my stingy tea and lunch breaks, even while sitting on the bus to and from work. I also noticed that when I had a short-ish train journey and knew just how long I had before I arrived at my destination, I could write like crazy and end up with large quantities of scribbles which were just as good as anything that I might labour over for a full day when I had the time. I'm not sure if my years as an office drone conditioned me to like to write fast in short bursts, or if that's just the way my brain is wired, but I definitely find that knowing I have a limited time helps me to get some frelling words down without lots of umming and aaahing.

The five days a week target is based around the hours that I spend looking after my dad. Sometimes after I've done my writing sprint, I'll be too busy to write the notes up straight away. Sometimes my writing sprint might be broken up into a few different chunks because I'll be doing observations, checking meds or doing other things. But none of that matters so long as five times a week, I do that writing sprint. Even if I end up having to wait and type up several days worth of notes in one go, it won't matter. The longhand notes will be there on the page waiting.

I also think it's a good idea for me to have one day a week off - from both looking after my dad and working - in which to do all my shopping and chores and the rest, and also do a bit of baking or read a book, see friends , go to the cinema, etc. Much as I feel the urge to hole myself up in my Writing Cave in every spare moment that I have, I know it's not particularly healthy, and that making time for some Real Life (TM) is a good thing.

We'll see how I managed to do next Tuesday, when we do the Week Two check-in!

Now it's your turn, guys. What are you working on? What is your target and why do you feel that it's useful and realistic for you? What is your ultimate goal - where do you want to be at the end of July? Do you have any worries or need any encouragement? Share it all in the comments! (And remember, if you want to be included in the prize draw at the end of the month? You need to comment on THIS post and on each InCreWriJul post until the final one on the 30th of July!).

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