Friday, 18 January 2013

The Next Big Thing

I have been tagged for this Q and A by the lovely Linda Green, bestselling author of several novels including And Then it Happened and the forthcoming Mummyfesto. She was also once my writing tutor and helped to inspire me to give this writing lark a serious go.  You can read her answers to the questions here
Meanwhile here are mine:

What is the working title of your next book?

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? 
Fourteen year-old Stella is in trouble, worse than that, her Trouble has got out: she’s called Eris and she’s an ancient goddess who specialises in misunderstandings, conflict and asking really awkward questions.

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
My day job is as a question writer and verifier for quiz shows.  This leads me into reading and researching a wide variety of subjects. One day it led me to Eris, and once I'd found her I just knew I had to write about her. I then had a “what if?” moment - what if Eris was the Inner Goddess of a teenage girl, and what if, one day, she got out…?

What genre does your book fall under? 
Young Adult / Teen fiction

Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
As the main characters are all between 14 and 16 I imagine they would be young, upcoming actors rather than established names, which is another way of saying I don’t know of any 14 year old actors that would fit the bill! But for Eris I’ve always imagined a young Agnes Deyn, in spikey elfin hair mode. The main character Stella is Emma Watson circa ‘Goblet of Fire’. The two main boys are Ray / Raven - a teen Richard Armitage and Davey Lord, who would be an ideal role for a Harry Styles lookeelikee.  And my daughter would never forgive me if there wasn’t a part for Tom Felton, so he could be the escapologist Slippery Steve.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve written short stories for years and have had several published in anthologies and one broadcast on Radio 4. I took part in the Gold Dust mentoring scheme with the novelist Jill Dawson which really helped me to get my head round plotting and structuring a longer piece of work. 

When it came to writing this novel the Young Adult / Teen genre seemed to come most naturally. I have a teenage daughter and she loves to share her books with me. I particularly love Jacqueline Wilson, who has made me cry, Louise Rennison, who makes me laugh and Tamsyn Murray who manages to do both.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
I’m hoping to find an agent.  I am just honing my synopsis (with the help of the highly-recommended ‘Write a Great Synopsis’ by Nicola Morgan) and then I will be submitting it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About five months for the first draft, mainly writing first thing in the morning before starting work.  Then I let it lie for a bit and worked on something else. I returned to it last October and started a substantial edit, which I finished just after New Year.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
The book is set at a small music festival, a fictional amalgamation of many I have been to.  I have always loved the magical feel of festivals and the often surreal sights and events that take place. It seemed the perfect location for Eris to make an appearance and I enjoyed combining the modern setting with a thread from Greek mythology. Eris’s story is an ancient one, but the themes of choice and loyalty are still relevant today.

I’m handing these questions over now to the extremely talented Karen Clarke.  I have always loved her short stories and now she has a novel out - and I love that too! It’s called ‘My Future Husband’ and you can find out all about it over at her website and  blog, where you will also find her answers for The Next Big Thing

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Katy Bush and the Chain Mail Bikini

“She's a lovely girl that Katy Bush.”

Nana's knitting needles continued their clicketty clack, clicketty clack.

“She was one of your Grandad's favourites.”

Nana was sucking a mint and 'favourites' came out sounding like 'fivers', but it didn’t matter, I could translate Nana speak. She was always sucking a toffee or sipping a cup of tea. She managed to knit at the same time and do the TV Times crossword. I sometimes wondered if she had extra arms hidden in her cardigan that she juggled in and out so quick no-one ever noticed.

Stevie had shuffled right across the floor. His face was so close to the TV screen I was surprised his glasses hadn't melted.

“It means Grandmother.”

I turned to Nana, “What does?”

“Baboushka. That song she's singing. It means Grandmother. In Russian. It was a clue last week.” She tapped the magazine by her side. “Had me flummoxed.”

“Out the way Stevie,” I said. But he didn't budge. Round his head I could just see Kate Bush's arms waving about. I prodded my little brother with my toe and he shifted to one side. I could see her properly now. She didn't look as though she was singing about grandmothers. One minute she was dancing with a big cello thing and the next she was all angry warrior, hands on her hips. She was wearing a chain-mail bikini.

I've seen chain-mail. There was a Medieval Day down at the park with jewellery stalls and hawks and a real blacksmith. There was a man dressed as a knight and you were allowed to touch his armour. Mum said to be careful, like he was a dangerous dog or something. But he just smiled and let me hold the edge of the chain-mail shirt. It was heavy. Really heavy, all those little loops. I said it felt cold, and he said that was why he was wearing a wool shirt underneath.

Kate Bush wasn't wearing a wool shirt, or anything else, under her bikini. I pulled a face at the thought of all that cold metal between your legs.

The sound of the knitting needles stopped.

“I could make you one of them Sally love. I'd whip it up in no time.”

For a second I had a vision of Nana forging metal loops on an anvil, the sleeves of her cardigan pushed up to her elbows.

“I'll pop down to Boyes in the morning and get some wool. I'll rummage out something sparkly with a touch of lurex.”

Stevie sniggered.

“Lurex, I said, our Stevie, lurex.”

She wasn't daft my Nana.

I'd sort of forgotten about it, until Nana turned up the next Thursday to babysit as usual. Her green knitting bag bulged like a fat frog. Poking out of the top, amongst the needles and the end of a tape measure, was a large ball of grey wool. She held it out to me with a sniff.

“This was the best they had. I told them they're missing a trick. They've got to be more adventurous. Young people these days want a bit of pizazz in their knitwear.”

The ball was surprisingly heavy. There was something silvery running through it like thin tinsel.

“That,” Nana said, looking sternly at Stevie, “Is the lurex.”

Kate Bush wasn't on Top of the Pops that week, but Nana said it didn't matter. A bikini was a bikini. She sucked on a mint as she looked me up and down.

“Hope I've bought enough wool,” she said.

It wasn't really wool. The label said 95% acrylic. Nana pointed it out.

“Wool would only shrink,” she said. “And that wouldn't go down right well in Scarborough.”

I stared into the depths of my glass of milk. Oh. Please. No. There was no way. Absolutely no way I was wearing a knitted bikini on the beach at Scarborough.

I glanced over at Stevie. His eyes were fixed on the screen. Olivia Newton John this time. Eleven year old boys are so fickle.

Mum was no help. I told her about it at breakfast the next morning. She was pinning up her hair while eating marmalade on toast. It always amazed me how she could do that and not get all sticky.

“You've got to humour her, Sally love. She's still mourning your granddad. We all are. This is the first year he won't be with us in Scarborough. Just do this for her, please.”

She cleared away my cereal bowl with one hand while reaching for her shoe with the other.

“Anyway,” she added, in the fake cheery voice she used when she was trying to sound convincing.

“You've got a lovely figure. You've nothing to be ashamed of.”

I sometimes wondered if my mum had ever been fourteen. Judging by the photos in the old albums she'd skipped straight from cute curly-haired toddler to Miss Pontin's 1964. And she didn't know that I'd overheard her talking about me to her friend Jean last week “She's got my hair bless,” she'd said “And her dad's figure.”

Nana came round specially when she'd finished it. It was only Tuesday and she'd had to take two buses, but she said she wanted to make sure it fitted before she added the ‘embellishments’.

The grey triangles sat in my hands like lumps of porridge. I swallowed hard, knowing what was coming next.

“Come on then, try it on. I need to check whether it needs any adjusting.”

I slipped the pieces on over my knickers and bra, my fingers fumbling with the thin woolly ties.

“They're only temporary,” Nana said. “I'll put some proper ones on later.”

She made little clucking noises as she tugged at the fabric.

There was no mirror in the living room, but I caught sight of my reflection in the TV screen. There was a lot of pale flesh. And very little else. I looked away and wriggled my shoulders, even through my underwear the yarn was itchy.

“Stay still.”

Nana's voice was muffled as she approached me with a mouth full of pins. I stood frozen as she peered at my body through the bottom of her bifocals. I felt like a voodoo doll. Or a balloon about to be popped.

There was a burst of laughter from the doorway and I span round. One of Nana's pins jabbed into my shoulder.

I shrieked not so much from the pain but from the sight of my brother and his best friend Jonno bent over double, hands over their mouths, wetting themselves at the sight of me.

I grabbed a cushion and threw it at their heads.

They disappeared into the hall but I could hear them cackling.

I wanted to cry. My teeth were clenched so hard together it felt like they might break. I couldn't let Nana see. Mum had said we mustn't upset her. I didn't want to start her off crying too.

She clucked again, her mouth free of pins now.

“It'll be grand,” she said, “Once I've finished with it. Just you see.” She rummaged in her pocket. “Here, have a mint.”


I loved going to Scarborough. Whole days spent on the beach. We'd set off first thing with everything we needed for the day, and as soon as Dad had set up the windbreak, that was it. We stayed there 'til teatime. Only torrential rain or a hurricane counted as reasons to pack up and leave. Nana always said “Whatever the weather, there's always the flask.”

It was the one time we were allowed tea. Hot and sweet with lots of sugar, because that was the only way Nana would drink it. It was my favourite taste in the world. Huddled behind the windbreak, wrapped in a towel, my skin pink and prickling from the cold North Sea.

As we passed the plastic cup round Nana and Grandad would tell us about their courting days, when they would cycle fifteen miles to Scarborough and spend the day on the beach. And how Grandad always treated Nana to a cone of chips before the cycle back.

It wouldn't be the same this year without them. Nana decided at the last minute that she wasn't up to it and was staying at Aunty Jen's instead. I couldn't help feeling a bit relieved. No Nana, no chain-mail bikini.

Or at least I thought so. I'd packed my own suitcase, including my navy blue swimming costume and a baggy 'specially for the beach' t-shirt. But Mum was in charge of the beach bag and on the first morning once we were settled on the sand she passed me a horribly familiar bundle of greyness.

“Here you go love. Nana gave me this before we left. Perfect day for it. Get yourself a tan while it lasts.” She was already in her black swimming costume. The one with the plunging neckline and the non-existent back.

It was the hottest day ever. I stayed in my t-shirt and jeans all morning. I was baking, literally, my body was even beginning to smell like bread. Just along the sand from us two women in white bikinis were stretched out on stripy towels. They looked so cool and unbothered by the heat, as if they were used to being somewhere far more exotic. They'd probably start playing with a beach ball any minute, giggling and flicking their long blond hair. I sank deeper inside the oven of my t-shirt.

The sea was doing its very best sparkly thing and the waves looked like the froth on an ice-cream float, fizzling out onto the sand. The water would be freezing but I could imagine how delicious it would feel lapping round my legs. Maybe I could just turn up my jeans and have a paddle.

Dad had been playing football with Stevie. Now he flung himself down on the sand with a big “Ouf!” The usual signal that he was going to have a sleep.

“I want to go in the sea,” said Stevie.

“Not on your own love.” Mum said, without looking up from the pages of her book. “You go in with him, Sally.”

I looked at the sea and the crashing waves. There was no way I could get away with just turning up my jeans and Mum would have a fit if I went got sea water all over my new t-shirt. It was going to have to be the bikini. Once I got in the water I would be OK, I could sink shoulder deep and no-one would be able to see me. I could rinse off this horrible breadiness and feel fresh and human again. But the water was a long way off, the beach a vast expanse that had to be crossed. Mum tugged her sunglasses down her nose and peered over them at me.

“Come on get your new bikini on and get in that sea. It'll do you the world of good.”

“Saa-llee come on!”

Stevie was inching his way backwards down the beach.

I unfurled the grey sludge of the bikini bundle and saw Nana's promised 'embellishments' for the first time. She had lined and edged each triangle with cotton material, blue with tiny white dots. There were new wide straps too made of the same fabric.

I reached for the biggest beach towel and wrapped it round my body before I peeled off my jeans and wriggled into the bikini. It fitted perfectly, no sagging, no itchiness. The cotton was cool against my skin. A piece of paper fluttered to the floor. It must have been wrapped up inside. I picked it up, expecting something inspirational, Nana telling me to “knock 'em dead”, to “make her proud.”

It said 'Handwash only. Rinse after swimming. DO NOT IRON. xxx”

I grinned, picturing Nana blowing kisses as she always did when she said goodbye. And suddenly I could see them, Nana and Grandad as teenagers, splashing each other in the sea. Chasing each other across the sand. Holding hands as they wheeled their bikes along the cliff path to the road.

Standing up I let the towel slip to the floor. The world kept turning, Dad kept snoring, a seagull by the sea wall continued to peck at a discarded chip. Mum looked up and smiled and nodded her head before turning back to her book. The two beautiful women in the white bikinis had gone.

Stevie was already up to his waist in the water, arms windmilling like mad. I raised my arm and waved back.

“That Katy Bush, what was she thinking of, she'll have given herself an awful rash.”

Nana's voice was only in my head but it was as clear as if she'd been sitting by the windbreak with her flask of tea.

Baboushka, I thought. And then, still grinning, I ran. A polka dot warrior queen, across the sand to the sea.

Sarah Dunnakey, 2012

Friday, 26 March 2010

Synchronised Thinking

I had one of those weird moments of synchronicity today.

My novel has a fair number of mythological references (not too surprising as one of the central characters is a Greek goddess). I was editing a scene today in which one of the (non-goddess) characters is holding a glass of wine like a bowl in her two hands and another character thinks she looks like an oracle looking for answers in a scrying cup. Shortly afterwards the glass breaks and the goddess character has a ponder about bad luck quotas, 7 years for a mirror, how much for a glass?

I decided to Google the whole 'breaking a mirror = 7 years bad luck thing' and discovered that the 7 years bit goes back to the Romans who believed we renewed ourselves completely every 7 years and therefore that's how long a damaged soul (ie one that was broken when a mirror smashed) would take to heal. BUT the superstition goes back further than that, beyond early mirrors and polished shields and slices of obsidian, back to the scrying pools of dark water that were used for divination.


Wouldn't it be satisfying though if my novel ever gets published and I get a letter saying, "Did you know....?"

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

It's Good to Talk

The edit/rewrite continues. I'm loving adding to my word count in the side bar each day. Over 14,000 words edited so far. And I'm actually really enjoying it. The lovely Anna Chilvers author of the splendid Falling Through Clouds told me I would and I should have just believed her - thanks Anna.

Had a particularly chewy scene to deal with today. On the original draft I had scrawled 'what is this scene trying to do?' across it. After reading this post on Calistro's blog and doing some big doodling with a sparkly purple pen borrowed from the daughter's pencil case I found the answer. Then I looked at the scene. It wasn't doing it. The characters were there, Id set the scene but 'it' wasn't happening.

What to do?

I was so mired in the original scene that I found it really difficult to imagine rewriting it even though I knew it had to be done. Then I remembered an exercise we did recently at my Stephen May writing class. I got a blank piece of paper and a non-sparkly pen (optional) and wrote the scene completely as dialogue. I didn't worry about style or precision. I just let the characters chat, pretty much as I thought they would do in real life. Their conversation veered off in various directions but in the end after pages and pages of chinwagging and confabulation I knew that in amongst it all I had managed to tell 'it'.

It took me the rest of the day to edit it down, getting rid of lots of the dialogue in the process, especially the 'Well yeahs' and 'What do you means?' and the bit when they started discussing house prices in York (?!). Then I put back in all the description and action bits.

The scene is now so much better. There is a point to it. The reader learns more about the characters and their desires and fears. It moves the story on. It has a beginning, a middle and an end - yay!

A sigh of relief and a new technique learned. I imagine it won't be the last time I will be using it. 66,000 words to go.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


Yeuch its a bit dusty in here. Where've I been? Working mainly but also, ahem, on Facebook. Have decided however that the occasional two-liner on FB isn't doing it for me, so am planning to blog more regularly again.

Couple of things brought me back here.

One was wanting to talk about reading out loud.

I've been told many times that reading your writing out loud is a useful part of the editing process but I've never really taken it on board. Then last week my writing class (taught by the splendid Stephen May) had a reading session in the cocktail bar of a local pub. It was a brilliant night, with some fantastic stories (and the cocktails weren't bad either).

Earlier in the week I chose the story I wanted to read. It was one I had recently entered into a competition and was quite pleased with. I practiced reading it out loud. Eek. How come I hadn't spotted the repeated words, the clunky sentences, the dodgy dialogue. All fixable and I did alot of editing before I read it in the pub, but I really wish I'd done it before entering it into the comp.

Ah well, lesson learned. In future I am going to make reading aloud a compulsory part of my editing (might even progress to taping myself and playing it back - gulp!)

Second thing was The Novel. Still Novel #1 although Novel #2 does exist in a skeletal form.

Quick catch up - wrote novel in 2008-9, March 2009 started sending out initial chapters and synopsis. Throughout 2009 I received 6 rejections - but all with positive feedback- and one request for the full manuscript. Nothing (not even a rejection) has resulted from the request for the full ms despite me sending a follow up enquiry.

Anyway I sort of decided to shelve novel #1 and get on with #novel 2. But novel #1 wouldn't stay quiet. It's a story I really want to tell, and has a central character who just won't stay quiet. So, I got out my rejection letters and tried to work out exactly what they were saying. Turns out they were all saying pretty much the same thing, they loved the concept, they even said they loved the writing BUT they didn't 'fall in love' with the book.

I re-read my novel.

I didn't fall in love with it either, and with the benfit of a six month absence from it I saw the glaringly obvious - no bloomin' conflict. At least not enough of it, not of the immediate and necessary kind anyway. All my conflict was in the past and my characters were just dealing with the repercussions . One of the knock on effetcs of this was that most of my characters were pretty flat. I wasn't showing them at their fictional best ie when they were under real pressure and facing immediate conflicts. This is all basic 'how to write a novel' stuff that I'm theoretically well aware of and yet had somehow managed to miss out on in practice.

So. Major rewrite about to begin. I have gone through my ms with a pen and scribbled sweeping edits - 'drop this character', 'completely rewrite this scene', 'do I really need this chapter?', as well as a few ticks here and there for bits I'm happy with. It's almost like starting all over again.

I've got a month off work and I'm determined to finish this edit by Easter. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Yes I know I should be working or writing but...

The Guardian Book Blog is just too distracting and it was from there that I pinched this:

42 Essential Third Act Twists

I especially like 'Reverse Robot Reveal' and 'Dark Lord Reasonable'

Wonder if I'd get away with either of them in my act three...

Monday, 19 October 2009

My first ever book review

Apologies for the blog gap, all the usual excuses, plus I have been busy reading this

If there's anyone left out there who isn't aware of this new novel by the very talented Cally Taylor, then listen ye - its fab!

I'm not too hot on book reviews, in fact I've never written one before. I have that problem with non-fiction generally (except my blog but then I'm JG not SD so it's OK). And indeed my contributions to my monthly book club meet-ups are usually along the lines of "Sorry I didn't get round to reading it", "Yeah, it was good, erm yeah, I especially liked the bit, you know..." and "These crisps are great!" But here goes:

I read a whole lot of stuff across all sorts of genres (except horror cos I'm a scaredy cat) but this is my first 'supernatural chick-lit' and - I loved it. What makes it so good? - (I mean apart from the fact that I just bloomin' well enjoyed reading it and was torn between wanting to get to the end and not wanting it to finish).

OK, totally real main character. Lucy is someone I know, I mean she must be cos I feel I know her so well, she's 100% believable and rounded which is not a bad feat considering that she's dead. The supporting cast are fabulous too, all with enough personality for you to want to get to known them better (even smelly Brian). The premise of a 'wannabe ghost' (in fact a whole house full of the) is brilliant and the plot unfolds in a way that keeps you wanting to stick by Lucy through everything that the afterlife throws at her. The pace is page-turning and the dialogue and observation, witty and clever. Erm, what else - oh yes - wonderful ending, and I don't just mean the last very satisfying couple of pages but all the twists and turns that build up to it.

Yes Cally is a blog friend (and I've even once met her in the flesh!) but that wouldn't be enough for me to praise her novel, or to buy multiple copies for family and friends this Christmas (including hopefully one in Spanish - it's been translated into at least seven languages already) - but that is what I am doing.

So go and hound your local bookseller for it. It's already waiting for you in Waterstones and Borders and it's hit the charts at WHSmith. It's also flying into baskets like hot buttered scones over at Amazon. Look I've even provided the link