Chain of Fools er Authors

I've been tagged on a blog chain for YA Authors. Four simple questions about writing fiction for young adults. I guess I qualify because my new book Shine is definitely in the realm of older readers. But before I answer the questions, here's a tribute to Keren David, who tagged me.

Keren David
Photo: Faye Thomas
On the day I finished the final chapters of Tall Story, my debut novel, I happened to be writing at the Caffe Nero in Highgate when I heard a soft voice somewhere in the room say 'Carnegie Medal'.

Of course, to anyone immersed in the children's book world, the words 'Carnegie Medal' are a stimulant. I suddenly found my radar ears switching into high. The words were swiftly followed by an exchange that included words like 'YA Fiction', 'Geraldine McCaughrean', 'Kevin Brooks' and 'Patrick Ness'.

This was my final day of writing Tall Story and here I was, eavesdropping on people that I couldn't even see from my favourite seat somewhere in the middle where the chatter from both ends of the room dulled to a soft mumble. Get a grip, Candy! I forced myself to concentrate and continue working on that last chapter.

Then suddenly I felt a light tap on the shoulder and someone said, 'Candy Gourlay? Is that you?'

I looked up and realised that the soft voice discussing things I would rather be listening to than writing my book, was Keren David, an author who had recently friended me on Facebook.

I had never met Keren in the flesh, but already felt like I knew a lot about her. Her debut novel When I Was Joe was already doing the rounds as an ARC. Which meant that there was already a bit of a buzz from the kidliterati. A good buzz, in fact.

The brilliant cover of Keren's
latest book Salvage.
Read my review on Amazon
That was 2009. In 2014, I can honestly say that to me, Keren - now the author of five young adult books - epitomises the label 'YA Author'. Someone who writes specifically for this challenging, demanding and rather awesome readership.

In fact, when I saw that nominations were open for Queen of Teen, I went straight over to nominate Keren.

Except it turns out you've got to be a teen to nominate someone. Which, sadly, I'm not. Just.

So here's the nomination that I wasn't allowed to submit for being old (if you're a real teen, feel free to copy and paste this onto the nomination form): "Gutsy, acerbic, sharply observed, thoughtful, wise. Keren David's writing captures the world of teen with precision and honesty. And it's all unput-downable. Every teen should discover her."

Right. Keren's ears must be burning. Good. Now here's my link in the blog chain.

What am I working on?

I am writing a novel set in a bit of not-very-well-known history. It is told from the point of view of tribal characters who are so far removed from our own experience of the world that at the moment, the story is coming across as fantasy. If you don't know any better, you might think you're reading something like Michelle Paver's Wolf Brother -- except it really did happen.

How does it differ from others in its genre?

I've been spending a lot of time on Open Library, reading public domain writing from the period. But my characters are a people who never told their own story. The writings I've found are patronising reports by colonial officials who objectify them as primitives and do not see beyond to their humanity. So I'm discovering most of my information not from histories but from ethnological and anthropological reports.

In a way, the isolation of my tribal characters and the lack of many specifics gives me a freedom to spin stories around them.

But I am also gripped by a deep sense of responsibility. I am giving a voice to a people who have not been heard in children's books before. Though I am writing fiction, I must make sure my story captures their humanity and their truth.

Why do I write what I do?

I loved Keren's answer to this question so much I was tempted to copy and paste it here. She wrote: "Why don’t I write Harry Potter meets Fifty Shades and get mega deals from multiple publishers?"

I did actually try to write Twilight once. I was determined to write a more commercial book than my debut Tall Story. Why should Stephenie Meyer make all the money?

Boy. What a mistake. I wanted to make a living. But I couldn't make it happen. It was like there was an invisible force dragging me to a specific story that I didn't want to write. There were things going on in my life that made that story too painful to explore. So I tried to write my vampire novel. I finished something. It was crap so I simply threw it away and started again. The next finished novel turned out to be a story about trafficking. It was crap too.

By that time I was tired of resisting those invisible forces. In the end, I allowed these forces to take me into a story that explored obsession, loss and living in a trap of your own making. The final product is Shine. It took me three years.

Here's a picture of Shine to remind you to buy a copy so that my children can wear socks to school.

Why do I write what I do? I don't know. But choice doesn't seem to come into it.

How does my writing process work?

I was just explaining this at a school visit yesterday.

When I start a book, I am a rabbit staring at several rabbit holes.

These are ideas for characters, stories, settings.

I dive into one rabbit hole. I go right in. Go as far as I can go. Write a few chapters. Do I want to write some more? Oh, that is an interesting thing. Shall I explore that? I keep going until I don't want to keep going. If I don't want to keep going, I climb out of the rabbit hole and dive into the next one.

And if I don't like that rabbit hole I climb into another one.

I keep doing this until I find the book I want to write.

Then I write it.

Which involves a lot of resisting social media while trying to look like I'm paying attention to my family. And being in the paragraph, in the moment, in the chapter, and not outside looking at this massive project that is probably going to use up yet another year or two or three of my life.

And then I finish the book.

And then there I am again.

A rabbit staring at rabbit holes.

 To continue the chain, may I tag Celia Rees, whose breakthrough YA novel Witch Child in 2009, showed me that I knew nothing, NOTHING, about writing and that I had to get better at it fast!    

The Chain So Far (or at least as far back as I had time to search):
Iain Maloney (First Time Solo)
Chris Becket (Dark Eden)
Tony Ballantyne (Dream London)
Fletcher Moss (The Poison Boy)
Sarah Naughton (The Hanged Man Rises)
CJ Flood (Infinite Sky)
Terence Blacker (Boy2Girl)
Martyn Bedford (Flip)
Keren David (Salvage)
Me (Shine)

Read my previous posts:

I love LibrariesBeast QuestStory is not colour blindOrigami fan mail
The Writer is You
Whoever You Are
Dear Candy Gourlay
Letters from
Ellis Guilford School
Multicultural is about
inclusion not
Monster Typhoon
in the