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Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The book wrote me
I write romance novels. Contemporary women’s fiction is the category I’ve decided they fit into. I’ve started (and almost finished) four. I like female protagonists in their late-twenties / early thirties (like I keep thinking I still am). My protagonists are women who are searching for their place in the world, coming to terms with realistic relationships and (lately) havingchildren. The novels are written in the third person, often from both male and female perspective.
So why is my first self-published novel written in the first person. By a sixteen-year-old girl.And why is it about dragons?
I didn’t set out to write the book. The book found me: Last Easter to be precise. (You can read about it here)
I woke one morning, after a broken night full of strange dreams, and the entire story was in my head. Unfortunately by the time I’d wrestled past two small children to find pen and paper (or more accurately my mobile phone) the story had evaporated, as they so often do. I believe if I could only capture my dreams writing would come much easier to me than it does now.
All that remained was the idea of dragons and the first line of the story. “My name is Leah, and I know the time and place of my death.”
In the twelve months since I wrote that first line it hasn’t changed much. It now reads
“My name is Leah. For a quarter of my life I have known the time and place of my death. I have spent the last four years running, from the truth, from the place. I can’t run from the time. It's tomorrow.”
And that’s how Dragon Wraiths was born. By the beginning of May (less than a month afterthe dream) I had written 35,000 words and I still didn’t really understand what the novel was about. I hadn’t got to the part with the dragons. I was lost and decided Young Adult literature was not for me.
I abandoned the novel and concentrated on releasing my contemporary novel, Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes (or Pictures of Love as it was called then) as a self-published ebook. My writing journey is interspersed with self-doubt, not just about my abilities as a writer but about combining writing with the raising two small children. I often feel that, if I’m going to send them to nursery two days a week, I should be earning money on those two days. I wanted a finished book out there earning pennies and I felt the contemporary fiction was a better bet.
Then in July I found out about the Mslexia Children’s Novel competition and remembered my languishing YA novel. Baby Blues was with beta readers and I decided why not?Suddenly I had a deadline of September for completion of the first chapter and November for the finished/edited manuscript. I discovered I work best to deadlines. Generally I’m terrible at knuckling down and getting on with editing but I really wanted to enter the competition.
To cut a rambling story short I entered the Mslexia competition and was long-listed (meaning they requested the full manuscript). I didn’t make the shortlist but I was encouraged enough to pass the novel to friends and family. Their reaction was amazing. My stepdad, who is a slow reader, finished the book in a day and said “Next one please.”
I started querying the novel, although it is over-length for a YA book at 109k words (the average is 60-70k). When that didn’t work I decided to self-publish and see what happened.
And so here I am. It’s early days, I haven’t sold many copies but over 400 have been downloaded during free promotion days. I’ve only had one review, a lovely positive one that compared Dragon Wraiths to Anne MaCaffrey's Dragons of Pern series. Praise indeed.
I’m still not sure self-publishing is for me. Or Young Adult for that matter. But I’m gladDragon Wraiths found me, in my sleep-deprived state. I enjoyed writing and editing it more than anything I’ve done before or since. And who knows, one day it might be as famous asDragons of Pern? Now wouldn’t that be nice?
An excerpt from "Dragon Wraiths."
Part One: The Summoning
My name is Leah. For a quarter of my life I have known the time and place of my death. I have spent the last four years running, from the truth, from the place. I can’t run from the time. It's tomorrow.
I stare out the window, past curtains so grubby even Father would have shuddered at the sight of them. Outside I can see birds lined up along the power cables like notes of music on astave. It reminds me of tortuous piano lessons with Miss Hay. I wonder what song they show. Is it morbid enough to mark the occasion?
Past the power-lines I see hills. Not the dancing green hills I grew up with. These are craggy, a huddle of grumpy old men on the horizon. The sky is grey, the hills pewter and ochre, mixing to form a muddy palette of colours. It doesn’t feel like summer. The nearest thing to sunshine is the gold swirling pattern on the curtains. I know if I turn around to face the room I will see the matching bedspread and frilly lampshade. It’s a wretched place to spend what could be my last day on Earth.
Uncle Theo says he chose this place, “for the location, Leah, not the décor.”
Just as well.
They’re downstairs, Luke and Uncle Theo. I wonder what they’re talking about. What is there left to say? Either we have done enough, and I am far enough away to escape my fate, or this time tomorrow they’ll be heading back south without me. It doesn’t seem the basis for a jolly conversation.
On the dressing table in front of me, between a vase and a box of pink tissues, sit two journals. One is blank. It was a Christmas present from Uncle Theo. I want to write down my story, to leave some evidence behind of my existence. If – when - I die tomorrow, the only people that will remember me will be Uncle Theo and Luke, and I only met them last autumn. Sixteen years of thoughts and emotions will be snuffed out quicker than candles on a birthday cake.
Every time I sit down to write, my memories all merge together and I can’t decide where to begin. I have lived with the knowledge of my untimely demise for four years and it still makes no sense to me.
Next to the empty journal is The Book. Part diary, part scrap book, part mumbo-jumbo. I flick through the pages, even though I know every sentence, every symbol, every newspaper clipping by heart. On some pages the writing is faded and smudged by fingers running over and over the words. It doesn’t matter. They are etched on my soul. I only wish I understood them.
I glance at the cuckoo clock above the bed. It wasn’t working when we arrived but I got the landlady, Mrs Simpkins, to wind it.
“It will drive you crazy my dear. The little bird seems charming at first, but when he’s warbled at you every hour through the night, you’ll be ready to wring his neck.”
I won’t be provoked by a wooden bird. I find it strangely comforting to have my last hours marked by the chirpy cuckoo.
11.34pm. Nearly lunchtime. This time tomorrow. Well, best not think about it. Theo will send Luke for me soon, to call me down to eat. I think Theo keeps hoping we will make up, before the end. I don’t see how, unless Luke has a personality transplant in the next five minutes. I am tempted to stay up here, where I can breathe. There doesn’t seem much point eating lunch.
I still haven’t written anything. The blank pages of the journal pull at my eyes, taunting me.
Just write, I tell myself, write anything. But where do you start, when your life is about to end? Do I start with my birth, nearly sixteen years ago? My happy childhood, the little cottage in the Welsh mountains, where the rabbits were our only neighbours? Or do I start with my parents?
A shiver prickles my skin. I reach forward and open The Book. Tucked into the back is a photograph, the only one I have left. I take it out and hold it up so the light coming through the dirty window shines on the surface.
They look so young. The photo was taken before I came along, before Mother must have given up hope of ever having a child. I worked it out once: she was nearly forty when she had me. Didn’t make it to fifty.
Father looks amazingly chilled. They’re standing on a mountain peak somewhere, beaming at the camera, sunlight highlighting the flecks of gold in Mother’s hair, the hints of grey that - even then - speckled Father’s head. They look happy.
I prop the photograph up against the vase. Without taking my eyes from theirs, as they beam their smile at me their only child, I reach for my pen. It sits heavy in my hand. A proper pen, with ink and a nib. I have practised writing with it on scrap paper, so that I don’t blot my first words in the journal.
I try to think where to start and then it is obvious: there is only one place. The day of endings: The end of hope, of childhood, of my future. Not that I knew it then. It started as the best of days.
I touch the nib to the paper and watch as the ink sinks into the grain.
Time to begin.
Amanda Martin was born in Hertfordshire in 1976. After graduating with first class honours from Leeds University she wandered around the world trying to find her place in it. She tried various roles, in England and New Zealand, including Bar Manager, Marketing Manager, Consultant and Artist before deciding that WriterMummy summed her up best. She lives in Northamptonshire with her husband, two children and labradoodle Kara. She can mostly be found at http://writermummy.wordpress.com where she is currently writing a novel in daily instalments called Two-Hundred Steps Home
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BKZTRP8