War, Violence and Brutality

In rewriting Child of War I’ve been drawn back to researching. Google is my best friend. During the first draft many (many, many, many) months ago I researched topics ranging from what it’s like to get high (I had a sheltered adolescence), to the effects of a bullet wound, to internal state violence and the impacts on the population. I find this sort of stuff fascinating (and yet I’m not a riot at a party…strange).

My most resent researching has been in an effort to portray the experience of my protagonist, Jedda, more accurately. Why, in civil wars, do civilians become targets of violence and abuse? What forms does this take?

This answers were simultaneously fascinating and horrifying. Stories from African countries featured frequently in the articles I read. The testimonies of boys and young men who had been abducted and sexually, physically and psychologically abused were heart wrenching and sickening as were the stories from girls who were taken from their homes to be used as ‘entertainment’. It’s difficult to believe that these young people will grow up to be whole, healthy and happy adults.

As I sit in my warm, safe, home I wonder what I can do. I was drawn to this topic for my book because I hope to create awareness and , through awareness, perhaps action and change. I feel pathetic and impotent just writing that last sentence.

I have no answers.

Do you? What do you know about this topic and what are your thoughts and feelings? I would love to hear them.

Can you help me?

I’m currently doing a rewrite on Child of War, the manuscript I’ve been trying to find a good home for. After rejection number four (or is it five?) and some reading to improve my skills (may I suggest The First 50 Pages by Jeff Gerke) I decided to put my current work in progress away for a bit and do some tweaking on my ‘finished’ manuscript.

With that as background, I’m looking for your comments. I’ve copied the first 200 words below and I would be grateful if you would read them both and let me know which (if any) you prefer and why.

Be brutal (but constructive). I’m keen to know what you think.

1)

Hunger slapped Jedda awake, clawing at his insides. His eyes snapped open, and he sat up. Nothing ruined a good sleep like the knife of hunger twisting in your stomach.

Pale yellow light sliced through a gap between the thin floral curtains, and caught in the dusty cobwebs that looped down from the corners of the room. There was a cat-shaped damp patch on the wall behind Jedda’s bed and he gave it a friendly pat, “Morning Flossy.”

Jedda stretched, pushing the tips of his toes out from the end of his bed, and swung his legs over the side. Cain’s bed was already empty, the thin covers pulled up over his pillow, his sketch pad and nub of pencil resting on the corner of the narrow set of drawers the divided their beds. Jedda stood up and shoved the edges of his blanket onto the mattress. He dragged a pair of jeans and a t-shirt out from under the bed, gave them a quick sniff, and pulled them on. With a yawn he headed for the kitchen.

Mum was standing at the sink, steam rising from the water and condensing in the curls of hair around her face, her cheeks flushed pink from the heat. She was scrubbing a cast iron pan and the water slapped and gurgled in the basin. She glanced at Jedda with brown eyes that matched his own.

2)

Jedda was going to die. He knew it. His heart, smashing against his ribs like it wanted to break out from his chest, knew it. Even his fingers, curled around a rough skinned branch,  stiff-jointed and burning, knew it. He was going to die at seventeen, and a virgin, and when he fell to his death it would be all Cain’s fault.

He edged his foot upwards, searching with his toes for another branch that he could use to lift himself higher. The slick, worn, sole of his sneaker slid on the damp bark. A shower of pine needles pattered over his hair and fell down the back of his coat collar where they bit at his skin. He hugged himself closer to the tree trunk and tried not to look down.

“Jesus Jedda. Could you hurry up?”

Jedda gritted his teeth. “I can’t find a foothold.”

“Just a little bit higher. Keep going…keep going. There. Can you feel it?”

Jedda’s foot connected with the stump on a broken branch. He wriggled his foot forward until it poked into the arch of his foot and his knee was almost in his chest. He bounced, once, twice, on his other foot, sending another fall of pine needles to the floor, and pushed up with his other leg. His chest scraped against the tree, sweat pasted his fringe to his forehead. With a final grunt he was standing on the stump, his other leg dangling free.

So. Which is it? 1 or 2? And why?

Chickens Are Like Babies…

Want a weird observation?

Take a small (about 1kg), whole, chicken.

Wash, pat dry, and remove skin. Snip off ends of wings at the joint.

Coat with seasoning mix (I used Tandaco Southern Chicken – if you want to know).

Pick up chicken underneath the wings. Notice how the little arms flop over your hands and the legs sort of hang loose.

Isn’t it disturbingly like holding a new born baby?!

It is! Yikes! It’s creepy, creepy, creepy!

What are you meant to do with an observation like that? Why have an observation like that?

Let’s play a game…try and write the nude chicken/new born baby analogy into a scene/piece of flash fiction. I would LOVE to see what you can all do!

PS I’m not really into dinner tonight, just so you know.

Zest!

I love that word. Zest. Sharp, surprising, exciting. My children are full of zest. Let me give you an example.

6am: My husband and I wake up. We groan. We roll over and pull the covers higher. We stretch. We half roll, half fall, out of bed and drag our feet zombie-style to the bathroom or kitchen where we try to jolt ourselves to life with hot water and strong tea (respectively).

Compare with…

6am: My children wake up. One calls out, “Are you awake?” and the other calls back, “Yes. Is it morning?”

“Yes. It’s morning, it’s morning.”

“Yay. It’s morning. Let’s get up.”

“Yay!”

I’m not paraphrasing.

Now where can I get some of that enthusiasm, that zest for life?

Repeat after me. 6am is the best part of the day. My novel is a satisfying challenge. Rejection does make you better.

Feeling zesty.

 

Writing Through the Fog…Or Not.

Heard the saying, “the best laid plans of mice and men…”? It’s a beautiful phrase from a beautiful but (I think) a profoundly sad poem by Robert Burns. We’re all like the little mouse, doing our best to prepare and plan for what is to come, not realising that very soon our plans could be changed drastically (although I hope that your and my plans don’t go as awry as the poor little mouse’s).

My plan was to send my completed novel ‘Child of War’ out into the world and, while I waited for someone to realise that they just had to publish it, finish the first draft of my current novel in four months. Enter some health concerns, medication changes and a general feeling of ‘humpf’ and I find that I haven’t written for weeks. So much for completing my first draft by the end of this month.

So, I’m curious (and a little desperate) how do you shift your mood when you’re feeling a bit ‘beige’ and your plans have been ploughed up?

All you need is love…

Ah, love.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day which brings out as many cynics and sceptics as it does lovers and romantics.

Whichever camp you fall into, there’s no denying that love is a universal emotion. Perhaps not in its expression but certainly it exists in all cultures.

Which brings me to writing about love and sex. Because as a YA author it’s an area I walk through in the same way I would a field seeded with land mines. Teenagers are intense, their bodies are becoming more sexual, as are their thoughts, and they love and hate with all their might. As an adult, I can remember that but it takes effort to remember it without filtering those memories through an adult view point.

For example, I remember loving a boy in my class so much that just sitting next to him during a lesson made my day. I honestly heard bells whenever I saw him (not the school bell). I was insanely jealous of his girlfriend and just waiting out the days until they would break up and he would be available (but still unattainable).

Now that I’m thirty I can laugh at the intensity of my emotions but at the time it WAS NOT funny. Similarly, my friends’ own crushes, loves and infatuations were not funny to them at the time, they were deeply felt and real.

When I write I try to respect that, although my characters are young, their feelings are real, their love is real. Although I know now that the feelings you have as a teenager may not last, I know that my characters don’t know that yet, they can’t and…they shouldn’t. After all, being a teenager is full of highs and lows and one of those highs is the feeling, the rapture and regrets, of your first love.

I hope you all had a happy Valentine’s Day.

Getting Out of Limbo

When I was 22 (only eight years ago and yet it feels like a life time) I graduated from my Bachelor of Education degree and took my first teaching job. For the first two terms I felt like an imposter, a fraud who was going to be found out at any second. Partly this was because I’d taken a job teaching at my old high school (where I’d been a student only four years earlier) and was still getting over calling my old teachers by their first names but for the most part I think it was that limbo that comes with starting down a new career path. By my fourth year as a teacher I felt like a belonged in the classroom.

Now, I’ve sent out my manuscript to two publishers. I wrote it, rewrote it, asked other people to read it and incorporated their feedback into my work, polished some more, rewrote some more, polished again until I had to wear sunglasses just to glance at it, and sent it out into the world.

I am pretty extremely absolutely sure that my manuscript won’t find a publisher this time round but in the meantime I back in limbo. I’m committed to writing as a career but I’m not yet published (or getting paid). So I keep writing, writing, writing.

But how do you deal with the limbo stage? I’d love some ideas on how to get through it, because I could be here for looooooong time.

Time Efficiency and Other Salad Ingredients

Are you one of those efficient creatures who starts a task and sees it to completion before embarking on the next project? If you bake a cake do you clean up the dishes before sitting down to a cup of tea? If you are writing do you finish the chapter before getting up to make a cup of tea and rummage around in the pantry for some chocolate?

Or are you like me? A doer of half done, half finished, half started and (sometimes) half thought through? This is where I hope that the Pomodoro Technique will be of use to me.

Have you heard of this technique? I hadn’t until it was mentioned on ‘Writers in the Storm’ but, given my obvious deficiencies, I looked into it. Basically, you choose a task, set a timer for twenty-five minutes and focus only on that task until the timer goes. When it does go, take a five minute break – make a coffee, do star jumps, change the kitty litter – then get back to it for another twenty-five minutes. These intervals are called Pomodoro and after four Pomodoro you can take a longer break. For a more detailed explanation of the technique click here.

My plan is to use this tool to improve my use of time, specifically my writing time. Between the kids, the husband and everything else that goes along with that, I need to prioritise my writing when I have the chance to do it. So, no more stopping mid-sentence to make a cuppa for me…

What time efficiency tools do you use?

A Lesson in Anticipation

In a few days Basil, the evil overlord/cat, will be leaving us and returning to live with my parents after three and a half years, which means that today I had to venture into our shed to collect his things.

Our shed. Draped in cobwebs, as though someone decorated for Halloween a decade ago and just added to them every year, rather than taking them down. Our shed, humming with the last requests of brown bodied flies, dusty moths and bright winged butterflies. Our shed, crawling with eight legged creatures.

And so I clamber up the ladder. The shelf where we’ve bundled Basil’s stuff is just above my eye line. We didn’t bother to pack anything into plastic boxes, instead blankets, beds and balding cat toys are draped in dusty threads of silk. My neck prickles as though eight tiny feet are scuttling over it. Something brushes across my hair and my stomach twists like a balloon animal.

I reach my hand over the edge of the shelf and…

Well actually nothing very spectacular happens. No spiders leap out at me, this isn’t Arachnophobia after all. But I did get a good lesson in the power of anticipation. The fear that, at any second, I would wrap my hand around a big fat spider was much worse than the reality would have been.

Which applies to fiction as well, doesn’t it? Will the heroine escape the psycho murderer? Will the prince fall for the beautiful but outspoken peasant? Will the rocket full of model/scientists disappear into the sun without a trace? We don’t know, but we want to know and that’s what keeps us turning the pages or watching the movie.

Hopefully I’ll remember to apply this lesson to my own writing. Maybe I can revisit a few horror movies for a refresher in anticipation. But NOT Arachnophobia. I’ve had enough of spiders for a while.