By Olga Gibbs, an author, a creative writing coach and a writing mentor, studying for her Masters in Creative Writing, with a background in adolescent psychology and mental health, with years of experience working with young people in therapeautic and supportive settings.
Working with people, no matter the age, through their parental attachment and abandonment issues has always been the hardest for me. The moment when one realises that his or her parents haven’t loved or wanted him or her… It’s world-shifting. Suddenly, the rug is pulled from under their feet. Everything that they knew suddenly becomes lies. Their understanding of their world and their place in it comes off its axis, and begins its free-fall.
We love our parents with all of our hearts, without reservations, without looking back. As children, we open our souls and hearts to them the moment we are born. Our parents is our sunshine and our night sky. It’s a horizon of our worlds. Our world does not exist without them.
As children we never wonder if our parents feel the same, if their parental love matches ours. We don’t care about it. Our love to our parents is so absolute and colossal, that it can survive without returned love.
Only years later, once we’re older, we look back and analyse our lives, looking for a reason for our own failed relationships, our our acceptance of abuse, our low self-esteem, only then, shining light onto our past, bringing forward childhood memories, we realise that we were never wanted or loved.
This understanding is a huge trauma on its own, without the realisation of the past neglect, abuse or rejection.
Our parents are our safe harbour: the place where we should be able to wait out storms in our lives, where we would be “mended and made better”, where we are loved, sometimes becoming the only place where we are truly loved, sometimes becoming the only love we experience in our life.
But many of us don’t get that safe harbour. Many of us denied that unconditional parental love, and watching healthy relationships of our luckier friends with their parents, we begin to wonder. The jealousy comes through too, the desire to attach to someone, anyone, burning strong for the rest of our lives. That desire to be loved, which is rooted in our childhood, could be more dangerous than our other past traumas. It can become a starting point of a string of self-destructive behaviours, abusive relationships, failed marriages, our own poor relationships with our own children, self-loathing, substance abuse, depression and more.
And one day a mental health professional would bring that question forward, asking questions, whilst gently probing the subconscious, investigating the level of our denial.
That is the hardest part of my work and this was the hardest work for my self-discovery I ever had to make: to accept that I was unloved and unwanted.
This idea of parental rejection is life-changing. It sours our lives. It damages us. It could break us, because it brings with it one inevitable question: “What is wrong with me that they didn’t love me?” That question begins to spin in our minds on a loop, echoing on repeat in our empty hearts and broken minds, and at that point, I wish everyone had a support around them, a support who’d affirm one single truth: Nothing is wrong with us. Nothing is ever wrong with a child. Children are born perfect and godly. It is the parental sole responsibility to love their children: love to their best ability, love with all their hearts. But that first step is the scariest and hardest: to accept that you were never loved. It is life-altering, but it’s the step we’d have to take, to confront the monsters of our past, silencing them, putting them behind us.
I am neither an experienced writer nor a psychologist, and as a consequence I do not pretend to give any lesson; especially since I’m fully aware that we are all different and that, as a consequence, not everyone respond the same way to a trauma… And of course, since we are all different, our writing experiences will necessarily be different. No, no lesson will be given here; I will just try to explain why and how I wrote this book, how it turned from an idea to a reality… to a real book. It’s all about my experience, both as a victim of sexual assault and as a person who tried to write something about her trauma and its consequences. I sincerely hope, however, that this will persuade you that it is possible (and that it is a relief!) to write about past trauma.
I must admit that when I started writing, I didn’t imagine that I would produce more than a few sentences and paragraphs. Actually, my mind was confused; I was clueless regarding what had happened to me first: I was totally lost, ashamed, frightened… I wasn’t able to talk about it… I certainly didn’t want to! I was like trapped in a tiny bubble and could hardly look outside. I only had one certitude: I was now a failure; I wasn’t sure whether I deserved to live or not. All I wanted was to forget… but I couldn’t. Nightmares, panic attacks, depression: that was my life since….
Several time, my counselor at the Rape Centre insisted that I should write something about what had happened to me… anything! She pretended that it would be a way to express my emotions and make my spirit soar. She stated that keeping this secret was like keeping an enormous burden on my shoulders; she added that it would be good for me AND many others to SHARE, to explain what it is to be a victim and to explain the consequences, etc… But I then didn’t feel like a survivor; I mean, I was still overwhelmed with fear, shame and darkness. Hence, there was no question to explain or to share my story with anyone… never ever!
One day however, lost in the quiet of my room, I started writing a few words, a few sentences; they came naturally… I didn’t know what I was going to write or how I should proceed… I was certainly not ready to start writing a book; especially about… But sentences came after sentences. I kept on writing, every day, generally in the evening. I didn’t even realize what I was doing… but I enjoyed it! Page after page, my life slowly came into words.
Surprisingly, writing about the little girl I once was, the teenage girl I became and the mess that was destroying my family, how I fell head over the heels in love for a boy, and how… well, writing about my life helped me to organise my ideas, to understand, to make peace with myself. In other words, writing helped me to recover. Yes it did! Writing is a fabulous medicine.
But I would be lying if I pretended that it has always been easy. Actually, the hardest part came when it was time to explain what happened that night and the following days, weeks and months. It was hard, extremely painful sometimes, because it forced me to go through that nightmare, again, and relive the horror. Yet, I have to be honest: reliving my nightmare wasn’t something new since it was permanently haunting in my mind. Every day, every night, flashbacks tortured my soul. However, writing about the events of that tragic night was a different way to relive the drama. Above all, it required the ability to face the reality and to remain calm in spite of the flood of emotions I felt… No that wasn’t easy; but this experience helped me to organize my ideas, to calm down, to make peace with myself. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but what a reward!
Ultimately, I also came to fully realize that I wasn’t the only one girl who had been in such an awful situation. More importantly, I was becoming aware that it is a common occurrence for victims to feel as if they were somehow responsible for what had happened to them, even if THEY ARE NOT!! They are the victims, not the culprits!! But that is the way it is… the way we feel; and that is not tolerable!!! It is as if victims looked at themselves through the eyes of the society, the eyes of a society that wants to ignore them and which is willingly condemning them! Understanding this, I felt the urge to do something; it was clear that I shouldn’t keep this for myself. I had to explain, to tell people what it is to be a victim, and what are the consequences… for themselves and for the society. Because when a person is emotionally broken, she/he is like excluded from the society, marginalized; and this is no good for neither the victim nor for the society.
A rape is not an ordinary crime, because the victim suffers twice: the assault, the terrible humiliation… and the aftermath, made of neverending despair, fear, loneliness… Yes, someone had to speak! Unfortunately, I was still trapped in my own bubble and wasn’t ready to speak or to face people: speaking about what had happened to me was just impossible (and it remains a very hard and painful task, even today). Hence, writing (and making my paper publicly available) was the only way I had (I have) to tell, to communicate, to explain. But this was also taking the risk to expose myself! No, this paper was mine and shouldn’t be shared!
Writing is a process which includes important changes. As I explained, there was no question to share my story when I decided to start writing… and even after. I was writing for myself, for myself only, with my own words, my own ideas and feelings; it was a way to communicate with myself and to reorganise my ideas and feelings. There was no plan, no vision: just an awful experience and what came to be an uncontrollable need to write my story on these friendly sheets of paper (which were soon growing in number). This book wasn’t supposed to be a book; it was my personal diary.
Writing helped me to distance myself from the frightening nightmare that haunted my existence! As such, it was a way to heal! However, there is more to it than that: writing also contributed to raise my awareness (with the help of my counselor) that there were other victims of assault and sexual violence, victims who experienced the same kind of abuse, victims who were sometimes totally unable to cope with life. Then, shouldn’t I try to help them? If I could… of course!
My counsellor (and my mom) repeatedly asked permission to read my paper, and I finally agreed to give them a copy of what was already written. They both told me that this paper was very interesting, insisting that I shouldn’t keep it for myself. I tried to resist the idea, but I also wanted people (everybody!) to know what it is to be a victim of rape, to understand that the consequences are devastating! I wanted to tell the world that victims are not criminals: they are not those who committed a crime!!!? I wanted to yell out… to explain that this is utterly unfair, that we cannot or shouldn’t tolerate that victims suffer twice or more (the assault and the aftermath), that it is not acceptable that victims remain like trapped in some sort of a virtual prison while criminals (rapists, abusers) are free, happy, and stay unpunished!
Yes indeed, something had to be done! Yes, I now wanted to do something! But I was definitely not ready to tell the world that I had been… I wanted to speak, yes, for sure! But I also needed to hide (to speak the truth, I still feel the same today: it’s much easier to “speak” hidden behind a screen or a book; is it cowardice? Yes;, but I can’t help). Writing is definitely the best way (and for some of us, it remains the only way!) to express ourselves, to tell our truth. Writing frees the person who writes… and, hopefully, it might also help free the reader.
Writing about past trauma isn’t an easy task! Definitely not! The decision to start writing is certainly one of the most delicate one can take. You have to face and fight your fears. You feel like if you were on the verge of the abyss. You feel alone and weak; it’s scary. But once you start writing… your perception, your feelings change. After a long period of solitude and loneliness only inhabited by despair and fear, writing is a way to express yourself! And even if it is with your self only, it’s a significant breakthrough: you talk! You say something; you come back to life! This will help to reorganize your ideas, your perception, your feelings. Hence, you feel a little less insecure and hopeless. And when, ultimately, you decide to really communicate, accepting to make your paper and your ideas public, you might even feel useful.
No, there is no doubt in my mind: writing about past trauma helps the victim to come back to life! Yes, indeed, writing is freedom. It brings freedom to the writer… and possibly to the reader and to the society; because a healthy society is a society where everybody is allowed to speak her/his truth. This is the only way for a society to grow!
Due to unforeseen circumstances our 2020 competition has been cancelled. Although we appreciate it’s disappointing this development is out of our hands. We hope to return in winter 2020/2021 for free-entry competition that we’ll be run for writers from marginalised and underprivileged backgrounds. Stay tuned!
Writen by Olga Gibbs, author of the “Celestial Creatures” series.
When I was faced with a blank page at the beginning of my fantasy series, I didn’t know what it would become in its completed form. I knew the “A” and the “B” of my story, i.e. where, with whom, it will begin and where it will end, but I didn’t know how this journey, that “Highway to Hell” would actually look.
Having completed the series, I now know my strengths and my weaknesses. Now I know that I am great at writing action scenes, fighting and battles scenes, but not good at all with the romantic, fluffy stuff.
So, based on readers glowing feedback of emersion, I am happy to share with you how I write my fighting scenes.
For example, take the final chapter in the third book, “Harbinger”. The entire chapter is one big fight scene: the protagonist, female, is confronted by a several male assailants with weapons and, in order to escape, she needs to fight them. (The excerpt of that fight scene is available below).
When I was asked by a fellow author how I write such realistic and immersive fight scenes, where she, as a reader, felt sweat rolling down my characters’ backs as they swung their swords, whilst ducking and diving, where she could smell the iron tinge of spilled blood on the ground, I said: “I imagine it clearly in my head first, then closing my eyes, I visualise it, playing it as if on a screen in front of my closed eyes, and then I describe it, blow by blow, dive by each dive and slash by each slash”.
The fighting scenes not only add excitement to a story, transforming a book into a bestseller, but often they becoming a turning point in the story, used as a tool to resolve a conflict. The fight scenes are tricky to write and not easy to work with, mainly because of the complexity of them, of the amount of “moving parts”. There are the actions of your heroes, which are offset by the actions of assailants, the location and surroundings to keep track of, a dialogue during the fight, which should add depth to your characters, sometimes revealing a backstory or past. The fighting scenes are not thrown into a story just to fill the void, like you can do with, say, landscape descriptions. The fighting scenes are too tricky for that and too much work.
A tightly written fight scene can influence readers’ perspectives on characters, enhancing their enjoyment of the story, and is the excellent tool to ramp up the stakes or resolve the conflict.
Now, what I find to be the main issue when I come across a boring fight scene that doesn’t engage me is the lack of the visualisation on an author’s behalf, with the subsequent failure to breakdown the entire scene (the fight) into a clear sequence of events of tight and neat components.
So, when you write your fighting scenes, first of all, slow the action down in your mind, way down, and then describe it. Press the “slow” button on the image which plays in your mind. Don’t rush when describing your fight scene. Imagine everyone’s action, everyone’s facial expression, as they dish out or receive blows, imagine your characters’ surroundings, listen to and hear everyone’s heartbeat, as the slowed-down image plays in your mind, and notice every small detail, from a flip of her hair as your character swings underneath a slashing sword to a fat droplet of blood that lands on the ground from a cut of her cheek, because then, your fight scene will emerge with full, bright colours. You don’t need to describe every detail to a reader, but by noticing every detail yourself, you would be able to bring the best and most dramatic moments of that fight to your readers.
Choose your opponents and make sure to write actions of every character involved in that fight. Make sure to describe actions of every participant involved in your fighting scene. If your book is written from 1st POV of your hero, then write the actions of the hero AND the actions of his opponents: every action your hero sees, hears or senses, while remembering to utilise all five senses. If your character is scared and has decided not to take part, that’s fine too, as long as you’ve mentioned it, noting that “James cowers under the desk, watching the feet and legs in front of his eyes dance”. Your fight scene could be a “one on one” duel style or one against many brawl, but irrelevant of the chosen set-up, make sure that an action of each character echoes with an answering action, or reaction, in another character and that is recorded. If your assailant advances, taking a step forward, your hero must retreat, either taking a step back or maybe jumping to the side, or salto backwards, landing on top of the bar, whatever his response is, visualise it and then write it down. If there are a few characters involved in a brawl, make sure you keep tabs on all of them and know the locations of the each one at every moment of the fight, noting that for your readers. The main character could be surrounded by five gang members, swinging his gun from one gangster to the next, glancing behind him, and but when the fight explodes, your character should be aware of his surroundings, and as the writer, you should too.
When describing a battle, or a fight, use all five senses. “War is a terrible trade and it smells”. If you ask anyone who was in a battle, in war, they will tell you of the cacophony of noises and of the smell surrounding that pain and suffering. So when you write your fight scene, immerse your reader in it by engaging all five of the readers’ sense. Your character must feel the weight of a sword’s hilt in his hand, feel and hear grinding of sand on his teeth, hear the sword’s slicing the air above his head, smell sour sweat and iron blood, as well as see his opponent and the surroundings. The better you utilise the five senses in describing your fight scene, the bolder and more realistic the fighting scene will feel to a reader.
Notice and use the settings. This one is important. The surroundings are your stage and it needs to be set. You need to describe it, so readers can feel inside it, and once you’ve set the scene for your readers, you’ve set it up for yourself too. Make sure to use and utilise these settings during the fight for your hero and for his assailants just as anyone would during a fight. Your character could hide behind a trunk of a wide oak tree or jump over a chair in a bar, or maybe dive off a sharp cliff into a running river below, but whatever the setting and surroundings are, imagine them in full, describe all relevant details to your reader and then use them.
If giving your characters weapons, learn how these weapons are called, held and handled. Of course, at some point there might be a need to write a character fighting his way clumsily out of a bind, using unknown or a never used before weapon, but most of the time, your characters come loaded with their past experiences, knowledge and backstory, so if you’re writing a medieval fantasy for example, make sure to learn the parts of a sword and how that sword could be handled, swung, what would be its reach etc. Or if it’s a contemporary crime thriller you’re writing and your character is “packing”, make sure to check the basic info about that gun: how many rounds it holds, how heavy it feels, the force of a kickback etc. For example, in the first book, my hero was given a whip to use against her assailant, so I had to read on the types of whips, how they are handled and as it turned out, it takes practice to learn how to crack a whip correctly, without hurting yourself, so armed with that knowledge, my hero’s first throw of a whip forward had resulted in a cut on her own cheek. Make sure to watch videos, read up on your weapons – the basic research in this is highly advisable. Your knowledge will make your fight scene more realistic to readers, enhancing their reading experience, and before long they’ll be calling you “an incredible wordsmith”.
“In fight” dialogue. There will be a dialogue in your fight scene, very rarely a fight scene comes with none. While writing a fight, you will note your hero’s surroundings, the location of your hero and his assailants, maybe your hero’s mental state, his and his assailants’ weapons, their actions, and then you will add a dialogue. It might be a short (or long, depending on needs of your story) taunting or tearful exchange prior to the explosion of action; it might be clipped and “out of breath” exchange of words in the heat of the fight, as participants exchanging their blows; it might be a short grunt from a looser or a remark from a winner at the end, but more often than not, there will be a dialogue, and as a writer you need to place yourself into your hero’s, and assailants’, mind and write that dialogue following the story and your hero character’s arc.
Be careful of clichés. Clichés annoy a lot of readers. It portrays certain groups in a certain light, often following misconception. For example, not all women would cry after a fight, just as not all men would smoke before a battle or punch each other on a shoulder, while calling comrades “bastards”. The world is changing and now readers don’t expect to see damsel in distress in every female character or a “strong and silent” type in every male. The world is growing and our characters should to. But no matter what you decide to do with your character, make sure that your characters’ responses to the fight itself, before and after, follows your character behavioural pattern, his or hers mental and emotional strength and state. Make your characters’ response consistent and genuine.
That is my a bare-bones version of the advice on writing fight scenes. But if you want more, if you are after detailed explanations with some examples and suggestions, watch this space, as I am in the process of writing a book on guiding writers through the entire process of writing exciting and engaging fighting scenes.
Yours truly, Olga Gibbs, author of the “Celestial Creatures” series.
Below is the promissed excerpt from “Harbinger”, Book 3 in the “Celestial Creatures” series.
… I cross over my arms, and just as I’m finishing the turn, my arms fly open and wide at the sight of the leather-clad body, as if inviting him into my embrace.
The two deep slashes blossom across his leather tunic and his white chest underneath, and within a second, blood fills the cuts and he cries out a short surprised gasp, before dropping to the ground.
Now I’m awake.
My blood had woken me and his blood energised me.
I spin around, counting five more Butcher’s soldiers, scattered around the room like the settees.
They are smaller, projecting less hate and lethality than their fearless leader, but just like him, they are sealed in black, sleeveless, leather butcher tunics, with tightly stocked weapon belts criss-crossing their torsos. All five of them flaunt a pair of grey wings behind their backs, just like their commander.
Fleetingly, at the back of my mind, I wonder why their wings are grey, identical in look and the colour of the Butcher’s? Why Baza’s soldiers from the clearance had grey wings too? Were these angels bred or changed when they joined his service? Is there a reason for it, a deeper meaning or just a coincidence? Although I have to say, these heavenly worlds don’t operate in sloppy realms of coincidence.
My musings are interrupted by the movement of the angels, who slide closer, quiet and agile on their feet.
I spin around. My gaze darts between the six of them: Butcher and his five “helpers”.
But Butcher doesn’t move.
Patient, he stands by the door, waiting for his minions to do his job, and I wonder if I’m a training tool, seemingly an easy prey to catch that was not taken seriously, as otherwise he wouldn’t be away from the action, by the door, cleaning his nails. He would’ve been in the middle of it.
But lately, I’ve found a bubbly rush in the freedom of being underestimated.
I’ve found a heady excitement in it, the excitement of seeing their wide-open surprised eyes the moments before the life leaves their bodies, the excitement of over-powering the enemy that is larger and more experienced than me, the excitement of being the last one standing, as if proving them wrong.
It gave me the edge.
I push at the nearest armchair and it slides away. I nudge at the settee. I pick and throw a gilded chair, for shits and giggles aiming at the one of the minions, and I’m pleased to see him duck, when the chair flies above his head and I smile.
Now, I have the space I need.
“Not bad, girl”, Butcher calls from by the door.
I don’t know what he’s talking about. It might be about my killing of his soldier, but maybe my area clearance skills have impressed him, or maybe something else, but I can’t afford to stop and chit-chat.
I can’t be distracted. I can’t afford to pull my gaze away from the tightening ring of his soldiers on me.
“You grew two pairs since the last time I saw you”, he says with approval.
Surprised, I glance at him only to see that he is looking at my wings.
“Did you honestly think you would get away with coming here?” Butcher calls to me. “With causing trouble, stealing Baza’s troops? Baza knows everything that happens in his domain, little human, everything! That’s how he stayed in power for all these GA.”
Butcher maybe feels relaxed and chatty, but I can’t afford to stop my spinning. I’m back to my spinning “Ottoman whirling dervishes” dance.
His soldiers are silent and restless. Their advance is ceaseless and unremitting, and before long, with a peripheral vision, I notice one of them on the left, dashes towards me, jumping on the back of the settee I just pushed away.
I turn in time with his landing.
His black axe is raised above his head, and the second his feet touch the floor next to me, the axe screeches through the air, flying towards me.
I twist at the waist and sideways, away from the axe’s wheezing blade, which cuts the air where I stood only a second ago, and when after missing the target, the leather-clad angel rises his axe again, coming closer this time, I drop to my knees and cross my arms over my chest.
I breathe out, letting my arms spread and my swords glide.
In a slight downwards trajectory, my glowing swords fly through the air, cutting through the muscle and bone of the angel’s legs, and just like the lizard before him, he roars.
But his roar does ring in the air for a while before his body crashes to the ground, and without looking at him, at his so human face, I reach somewhere to the side of me and sink my sword into flesh.
“That was impressive”, Butcher calls to me, and then to his minions: “Hey, useless slugs, watch her and learn, and for Arllu sake, do better.”
The remaining four minions take it as an instruction to crank it up a notch, as suddenly all four take to the air, their bodies and grey wings obstruct the light from chandeliers and from the windows...
“Harbinger” is available to purchase via all major retailers.
Raw, disturbing, uncomfortable, unique. When a writer is a non-conformist and tells stories that don’t meet the financial bottom line but rather spark debates, while making readers question ongoing status-quo or look behind curtains, hiding an average-looking family, that writer takes risks.
Cheryl Butler, the author of “A Proclivity to Prurience” speaks about confronting stereotypes, her need to share honest and raw stories and staying true to her story and self.
‘The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.’ Rudyard Kipling, quoted from Interview with an Immortal by Arthur Gordon, Reader’s Digest (July 1959).
As a person, I’m an optimist, fun-loving and silly, yet reading my books, you’d be forgiven for thinking the opposite, so why is that?
Is it some undiscovered side that is only expressed through my writing? Or is it the result of some deep trauma I’ve not yet come to terms with?
I’d disagree with both of those and suggest that I want to create debate; I want to delve into the psyche of people I would avoid in reality; I want to understand more about our world and what makes us us, in all our glorious imperfection. People’s differences, quirks, are what draw me to them, rather than push me away, and I’m fascinated by the disparities in our characters, so for me, it’s a given I should write about the very same. I would also like to add that my books write themselves, and I am just the facilitator.
So, what the hell does all that have to do with Rudyard Kipling? Nothing other than the fact that I see myself as non-conformist, I ‘own’ myself, but again, it’s something I can’t/don’t take credit for; it’s simply the way I’m made, and as such, it’s extremely difficult for me to do anything that doesn’t conform with my non-conformity, hence, A Proclivity To Prurience.
My novel is harsh. It’s uncompromising and direct, yet it is still full of emotion, much of which, however, is anger, but there is still enough to tug at the heartstrings. There are no heroes, no happy ending, but it hasn’t put my readers off… well, the majority, at least. It’s explicit, and there are many scenes involving sex, but more importantly, it’s realistic.
I started writing to rid myself of a niggling storyline that I couldn’t shake, yet my husband’s suggestion that I should try writing a book was initially met with mocking laughter! Five chapters in, and I was hooked, determined to see what Abbie and Joe got up to and where the story would end. Early on, however, I realised that the tale of a young man’s obsession with an older woman was not going to revolve around her love of board games (she doesn’t actually have a love of board games…), so I would need to write about that which we should not speak of; yes, I was going to have to write sex scenes, and NO ONE wants to do that, unless you’re writing erotica, and I DEFINITELY wasn’t writing erotica. I persevered, and the more I wrote, the easier it became, but then, no one else had read it yet…
Cut to a year later, and a meeting with my publisher, fine-tuning the marketing process, and I was taken aback by the fact that my novel was, indeed, to be categorised as erotica! I debated it for a while, but because of the language and content, it had to belong to that genre. If ever there was a time I was annoyed to be pigeonholed, it was then.
Erotica is designed (in my mind) to stimulate, to excite the reader in a fairly obvious way, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that was never my intention. I wanted to tell a story that was realistic, and whilst that would have to involve sex, in all its brutality and colour, it wasn’t intended to arouse. Added to that, two flawed and deeply troubled MC’s, gave some very disturbing plotlines that blurred the lines of morality and the law, but they were necessary.
Readers have contacted me to ask if that was my intention, to argue the inarguable; my response would always be, my intention was for you to ask the question, and then more. As an author, it is not my place to tell you what to feel about a character, how to assess him or his deeds, but to present specifics and allow you to decide for yourself, and I have done just that, creating situations that cause readers to question said situations, their perpetrators and, indeed, me; the upshot is a series of uncomfortable scenes that many would rather avoid – both writers and readers – but I felt were essential to the plot.
But isn’t life uncomfortable? And, don’t we all shy away from the nastiness we know exists, if it doesn’t affect us directly? Of course we do, but we can’t hide completely.
My aim was to defy stereotypes, in many ways, and highlight our own personal hypocrisies, that side of us that allows our nearest and dearest to behave as they do but condemn the very same behaviour in others, and I have done that; granted, not to many, but that is down to the nature of the book, this crossover of genres – erotica or thriller / thriller with an erotic edge or erotica with a thriller edge? Or neither, just a novel that depicts a society we long to believe doesn’t exist? That’s up to the reader, but so long as they get the underlying intonation, I’ll take that as success, no matter how many or how few copies I sell.
And this is what I wanted to do, draw people into a world they never wanted to enter, to encourage a different perspective, because that’s what we non-conformists strive to do. Having lived in a rather closed world, we want to open the doors and force the sheep into a different pasture, to taste different grass and experience a different view, because there is SO much more to see if you open yourself up to the peripheries and don’t confine yourself to the vision of tunnels.
At my age, I’m not going to change, and despite the difficulties associated with the unwillingness to follow the herd, I have never wanted to change, because I’ve witnessed the damage caused by concurring with the (sometimes marginal) majority, and what can be missed by not looking at the entire landscape of opinions.
Despite the internal debates I had when first faced with the reality of what I was writing, I wouldn’t do it differently now. My first three books are a trilogy, so with the same characters and an ongoing story, the explicit sex scenes have continued, and why not? Sex is a huge part of life, and an extremely interesting subject if you actually take the time to think about it. But regardless, that’s not to say there will be the same level of carnality in my next venture; if it’s not essential to the plot, it won’t be necessary; if it is, however, I have absolutely no qualms about including it.
So what’s the point to my musings? Simple: I have never felt the need to agree, compromise or change just to suit, and that is never more obvious than in my writing. I don’t want to write what you’re writing; I don’t want to write what’s expected of me, what will automatically sell, because that would be to settle, to be too obvious, and I’m not comfortable with that. Neither am I comfortable with going against the grain just because – what’s the point? I’m not a politician, so it’s not a prerequisite, but writing about distressing, unpleasant events gives a voice to those that may have experienced such times, and that deserves a place, but only if I can do it justice.
I was turned down by more publishers than I can remember, and it was always for one very obvious reason: my novel was too risqué.
I had many compliments, and no doubt if I’d softened the tone of it, the language, I may well have had better luck in the publishing world, but that would have compromised my story and, indeed, myself. Unlike the world of art or music, the world of books is still very safe, very reserved, and I didn’t fit the mould. There may come a time when the work I produce sits better within a genre or a trend, but I’m certainly not going to bust a gut to ensure that happens; I can no more write prescriptively than I can live that way, but it’s a risk I’m happy with, and I will continue to write what challenges me.
Writing can be a daunting process. You ask yourself where do I start? What do I want to write?
You have a blank canvas in front of you, waiting to be coloured in your ideas and the written word.
Below, are a few tips to help you pull your ideas together and get writing.
1. Write down your idea, a few sentences or words, and then brainstorm the idea. Flesh out what you want to write. Add words that can expand your idea and take it to another level. Think about themes, setting and place!
2. When writing, especially when writing prose, it’s essential to think about character. Who is your character? It sounds simple but I find writing character profiles for my main character and a few side characters extremely helpful. It can bring the characters to life, you can make them unique and give them each different quirks to make them stand out.
3. Who’s telling your story? Is it your main character? Or is your story being told through the third person? If you’re unsure, it doesn’t hurt to experiment around and see what works best for the story. For my own novel, I have tried both first and third person but found the latter delivered the story better.
4. By now you should have quite a lot of your story planned out and have a rough plan. It’s important to remember you don’t have to stick to this plan too carefully. You’ll find when you’re writing it will spark off other ideas that you might prefer. For this step, it’s time to figure out whether you’re writing prose or poetry? Once thats decided choose whether it’s a short story, a novella or an epic poem, a sonnet, etc.
5. Finally, the most important step: WRITE!
Write and just keep writing. Don’t worry about the quality in your first draft. You can make the edits later. It’s vital to get everything out on the page before you begin editing and fine tuning your work.
I hope you find these steps helpful in the early process of writing.