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Monthly Archives: April 2012

The giveaway is still on for another 10 days, folks.

All you have to do is join an army – pick an element you think you’d like to be (Fire, Earth, Water or Air), and post on a Four Elements Giveaway post (Day One, or Day Six) ‘I am…’ and the name of that element. That simple. On 6th May, the four elements will pick a name from each element. That name will win a signed, brand new copy of Against the Elements to call their own.

You can also enter on Twitter (@Esme_C_Knows) or on the Against the Elements Facebook page.

Tell all your friends – free books up for grabs!

Firstly, I am going to say this. I would not overtly call myself a feminist. I am a feminist, by some definitions and terms, but I do not believe, as some people do, that women should be given everything they want at the click of their fingers. There are things men can do, and things women can do. We have different strengths and weaknesses and must play to those accordingly.

That leads me very nicely on to my array of female characters. Doing a quick tally now in my head, I can say with some certainty that most long pieces (excluding short stories, that is) I have written have a female protagonist. Probably because I’m a female, in all honesty. Not through any feminist choice or deliberate point – as I have previously mentioned, characters come to me with stories to tell and I merely tell their stories as best as I can. I am not trying to say that women are better than men, neither that they are weaker, but I try to explore every female character in every way possible. Women characters, I think, feel more, and are ruled very much by their heads AND hearts, which makes them spontaneous, irrational, and great fun to write about. They often surpass other characters’ expectations because of their gender.

I became very interested, while typing Heath of Fire yesterday, in the differences between Delphi (the protagonist of Against the Elements) and Adeline. Considering that I was roughly a year older than I was when I wrote Elements, the two characters are startlingly opposed.

I am going to attempt to do this without any spoilers.

Let’s start with similarities.

  • Both girls are fifteen.
  • Both of them feel like they are in a place which is not truly their home, somewhere they do not inherently belong.
  • Both girls have the strength and courage to embark on something larger than themselves and their problems.
  • Both girls haveleadership qualities.
  • Both, at the end of their journeys, find peace in some manner or another.

The differences, however, are vast and more varied.

Point Two – Belonging

Belonging is a recurrent theme in my novels. I don’t think anyone need to read too closely into that (I am a sane, normal human being, with a family and friends, and I don’t constantly wander distant places looking for somewhere to call my home – I am very settled, thank you very much), but I think it’s something every teenager desires. In novels, of course, all of these things must be amplified in order to give them any grounding.

So Delphi, fifteen, believes she does not belong on her island home anymore. There is never any real explanation for this, and she doesn’t feel it before she leaves, which I think is important to note. She just has this gut instinct that something there isn’t quite hers, or right. She loves her friends and she is grateful for all she has had. In fact, not belonging is a troubling thought for her.

On the other hand, Adeline has not belonged all her life. She is the girl ‘without a Blessing’, which is a rather taboo subject in her small tribal village. She has grown up not belonging, being excluded, being shielded from things she ‘can’t understand’. And she is resentful of this. She is jealous of everyone; she can’t understand how she can live a normal life being the way she is, and she is desperate to change. She wants to conform. This kind of belonging is different from Delphi’s, vastly so.

The other point here is that Delphi is an orphan (a narrative device usually used by Young Adult writers – if you remove the parents, children can do whatever they want without any thought of recrimination or losing anything dear to them). Adeline has two parents, and a brother. Adeline is rebelling in the only way she sees how; Delphi has become very used to being on her own. Although there is a family unit, it is broken by Adeline – she is a weak link in a strong chain. She believes her family is embarrassed of her and goes out of her way to punish them for that.

 

Point Three – Adventure

Every good protagonist has to go on an adventure at one point or another. The way these start can be many. Delphi is sent. Adeline chooses to go.

I think this is a crucial point between the two girls. Delphi, submissive, subservient (the only behaviour she knows) is sent, and told to return. She does as she is commanded. The first step is not her own. She doesn’t want to go. She can’t think of anything worse. But she knows if she doesn’t go, things she loves will perish. It is a necessity, and she must do it. Her journey is a journey about taking her own steps, making her own choices, learning to think and act by herself. She is becoming something more than she believed she could. And she has to come back. That is what she is driven by. Coming back. People expect something of her, and she must deliver.

Adeline chooses to go to punish her village. That’s her first and only driving thought. She has to get out because it’s the only way she’ll find somewhere she belongs, and her family will suffer, and she doesn’t care. She takes a completely independent but malicious step out, for herself and herself only.

That changes very quickly. Adeline’s journey is a journey of acceptance and forgiveness. She and Heath, interestingly, go out to find ‘the truth‘, although neither of them understand what the truth actually is. When she realises, she changes in an instant; her pain and her stubbornness becomes her strength. Adeline is a far more independent and autonomouscharacter than Delphi.

 

Point Four – Leading and Being Led

That swings smoothly onto point four. Delphi, the servant, the keeper, versus Adeline, the princess.

Adeline’s father is a leader. Her brother will be leader after that. Adeline’s sense of responsibility for others and leadership is inherited. She instantly feels responsible for creatures in worse positions than herself, like Heath and, later on, Hodge. (We will discuss Hodge in much more detail later on.) She makes decisions and she sticks by them. She takes things upon herself not required of her. She has a very clear head when it comes to taking risks and chances.

Delphi instantly panics every time she has to do something a little out of the ordinary. She is used to being told what to do all the time. All her life decisions have been made for her. She has never had to do anything on her own. She clings to leader-like figures for support; she feeds off their strength to learn her own. Alone, she feels powerless. Whenever it comes to making any sort of decision, she turns to someone else to permit her to do what is required. This does not make her weak. It simply makes her afraid. Fear is an important part of learning. Without it, Delphi could not complete her task.

Oh yes, and Adeline has a companion, constantly; Delphi picks them up and drops them as necessary but stays emotionally attached. Adeline has her one man kingdom in the form of Heath. When he acts outside of her expectations, she flips out. Delphi finds strength (leaders, mostly), utilises it, completes what is required, and moves on. Adeline needs something to rule. Delphi needs something to follow.

 

No two female characters are ever quite the same. On the surface, there seems to be two kinds of female character – damsels, and sirens (the theme of which I explore extensively in Son of Songs, but more on that later). That’s not a fair representation. Delphi may seem like a damsel, but when it comes to the crunch, she always delivers; she saves herself more times than she is saved. Adeline is close to being a siren, but without the confidence in herself. It irritates me when I watch a film or television show, or pick up a book, and the female characters have to be beautiful and drippy or badass and sexy and there isn’t any in-between, unless they’re butch and plain.

Why can’t a beautiful damsel save herself every now and then? Why can’t a badass siren need to be saved? There are so many shades of female characters that aren’t ever explored. Someone once said to me that there were no damsels in any of my stories, and I took that as a great compliment.

It means sisters are doing it for themselves.

It’s here. It has been four months since Against the Elements came out. Welcome to the Four Elements Giveaway.

The Four Elemental Kingdoms are drawing their battle lines. Fire, Earth, Air and Water are going into battle, element versus element, friend versus foe.

They need you. Each army needs a new General to lead their forces into battle. That’s where you come in.

All you have to do is pledge your allegiance on Twitter, Facebook, or this blog. Here’s how.

On Twitter: @Esme_C_Knows I am (element here).

On Facebook: go to the ‘Against the Elements’ page, and post a status: I am (element here).

On this blog: comment on this post and this post only: I am (element here).

You have four by four days – that’s sixteen days (the competition closes on 5th May 11.59pm). You can sign up on all platforms if you like – it gives you a better chance of winning.

On the 6th May the Four Elements will sort their entrants into their specified elements. There will be one General chosen to lead each army: one winner from each element, picked at random. That winner will receive, courtesy of yours truly, a signed copy of Against the Elements.

Good luck, soldiers. You’re going to need it.

And so begins my social writing experiment with my tribal-fantasy-young-adult novel, Heath of Fire.

I don’t remember as much about writing this one as I do about Against the Elements. I don’t remember how old I was or what I had written before (although I am certain that Against the Elements came first; I must have been roughly 16 or 17), and I definitely don’t remember in as great detail the actual process of writing it.

But I remember being in a process of change. Obviously, at the age I was at, I was prone to teenage angst, but it was also at this time that the way I wanted to write changed. I was becoming aware of my craft and the particulars of writing. I was aware of my own immaturities and naiveties when it came to writing. I wanted to be a better writer than I was when I wrote, say, Against the Elements.

Heath of Fire is the ultimate product of this. It’s a story about a young girl, Adeline, who, upon turning fifteen, realises that she will never receive her holy Blessing – a major taboo subject in her village. At the same time, attempting to run away from the village to avoid being a social outcast, she surprises a wild boy named Heath, who she befriends. Together they set out to stop a terrible fate befalling the world they know and, in the process, learn about themselves and the people around them.

It has detail. It has some pretty gory and graphic moments. The subject matter is darker and more intense than anything I had really written before. The world is vast and complicated but only lightly touched upon.

The prologue – a scene of mysterious dancing and vague references to events to happen later in the novel – came to me one afternoon when I was walking home with my best friend. We were talking, and all at once the rain came down and – as cliched and daft as it sounds – as soon as the rain hit my face, I saw this scene unfold before me. I insisted I had to run home and write it all down and my friend, bewildered and probably a little peeved that I was cutting our afternoon short, followed at a slower pace.

What I want to do while rewriting Heath of Fire is go back to that detail, those casual inferences, and improve upon them. Yesterday, revisiting the Prologue, I was struck by my 16-year-old-self’s choice ofvocabulary and placement. Of course I got things wrong – I changed a lot even in that two page entrance – but the feelings of the event are there.

Adeline herself, as a main character, is probably as teenage angsty as I ever got. Outcast, alone, sulky about it, excluded from most conversations and convinced her life is over – I got that down to a tee. The first chapter explores her loneliness, the cosiness of the village versus her cold mental state. I’m looking forward to spending more time with her.

And I can’t wait to meet Heath again… but more about him later.

Hello all. Two things today – my social writing experiment and my Four Elements Giveaway.

Let’s deal with the experiment first. One of the things I’ve really wanted to do with this blog is make it about my experiences with writing. I’ve decided one of the best ways to do this is to work through a novel on the blog and let you guys see how I do things. I’m cheating a little, because the novel I’ll be discussing I’ve already written but is not on computer or edited yet. Its name is Heath of Fire and, like Against the Elements, I wrote it very young. I’m hoping that by using this blog as a comment on the way I work with Heath of Fire will not only be beneficial for you guys, but also for me.

The Giveaway is a little more exciting. On April 20th it will be Against the Elements’ four-month anniversary. And I’m planning on doing something a little special for it. Watch this space.

  • Posters and leaflets (the latter of which with your blog, Facebook page etc on)
  • Books – seems obvious, but make sure you have a fair supply with you
  • Something to say – don’t just repeat your book blurb. Be able to think on your feet.
  • Something comfortable to sit on and a warm jumper, especially if you’re going to be outside / in an air conditioned space
  • Pens
  • Other marketing material – some people make bookmarks, fridge magnets, pencils, all in the name of book promotion. If you have the money and the contacts, why not?
  • Diary – not only will this have information of where and when you have to be on what date, but if someone asks you to appear somewhere while you’re out and about, be ready to mark down what they want to say to you.
  • Umbrella

Now all versions of Against the Elements are out (paperback in UK and US, Kindle, and NOOK), I am starting to have to think long and hard about marketing, and how to properly go about spreading the word about the novel.

A lot of authors think that as soon as their book hits the shelves, that’s it: all their hard work is done. While that is not only untrue, it is certainly untrue for your debut novel. Only a very small perecentage of writers get given marketing by their publishing company, especially when they are just starting out. Which means more often than not, you still have a lot of work left to do.

You don’t have to necessarily think big. Let’s run through some examples.

  • The Blog – blogs are probably one of the most easily mantained methods of advertising you have available. They may seem like a time-eater, but that’s only if you don’t have a proper plan for the thing (says me). Try to keep a schedule of posts. Post once a week on a certain day, or twice a week. Make sure you always have something to say. And, above all, join other blogs. Other writers are out there, trying to do the same as you. By following them and helping them out, they might be able to do you an interview or book review for their blog, and you might be able to do one for them on yours.
  • The Social Network – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, Tumblr – whichever, whenever, these bad boys are going to be vital. Not only are they a great way of reaching hundreds, if not thousands of people, but they are brief. You never have to worry about having anything meaningful or worthwhile to say. These places are perfect for those little updates about signings or appearances.
  • The Local Paper – if you can be forthright enough to make yourself a small press release, then there is absolutely no reason why you can’t approach your local paper and ask if they want to do a short feature on you. They might even review the book if you ask, and a face in the paper will always get you more leverage when you’re trying to get into local bookshops.
  • The Local Radio – same thing applies. A twenty minute interview on the radio could lead to big things. Plus, you can ask them for a copy, and put it on your blog.
  • The Schools and Libraries – this mostly applies to YA literature, but it could also apply to other genres. Local schools are a great place to put up posters or hand out flyers about your book, especially if you’re alumni. If you’re brave enough to enter the fray, schools could generate quite a lot of interest. Libraries are also one of those places where a couple of posters could work wonders. If you’re lucky they might get you in for a signing or a reading.
  • The Local Bookshops – small, big, coperate, independent. Just try. Even if all they can do for you is order 5 copies and put a poster up, it’s better than nothing. And who knows? They might want you in for a reading or signing.
  • The Local News – if you do have that press release, send it off to your local news company. They might be interested, and you’d reach your biggest audience by far.

Now, you may have noticed that my main word is local. This is an important thing to remember. Start small. Nobody took over the world by starting a thousand miles away. Be ambitious, but not over ambitious, and use your contacts. It is not cheating to ask your friend in radio to get you an interview, nor is it cheating to go to your old school and ask them to put a few posters up for an ex-student.

I, personally, have two parents in journalism (one who works for the local TV news); a friend who works for a bookshop chain; I work in a pub with a large function room; and I have a big background in academic creative writing. With these four assets alone I could nab myself a few interviews, a room to do a reading and a signing in, a chat with one of the biggest bookshops in the country, and have some of the top creative writers in the UK to promote my book. Not too bad. I have a talk lined up with the Northern Society of Young Publishers and Authors (they want me to read and discuss getting published) and I’m looking at going to my local writing fair and market and asking for a stall.

I think my main point is that you need to do anything and everything that is within your power. Yes, we all have day jobs and bills to pay – but if you have the time, do that little interview. It may not seem like much, but it might be a step on your path to getting noticed.