Today I have the pleasure of hosting Melanie Cusick-Jones, author of Hope's Daughter, here at the blog to talk about her writing journey. I'm going to have my review of Hope's Daughter for you guys tomorrow, and if you enjoy science fiction and dystopian, you're going to love this one.
For now, I hope you enjoy learning about Mel's writing journey as much as I did!
My Writing Journey
Before Marie suggested that I do a piece on my own writing journey, I had never really thought of it in that way. I might read things, wonder about ideas, make notes, plan little scenes in my head and then occasionally – when life permitted – I’d open the laptop and actually write. But these were all things that ‘just happened’ there was no real pattern to them. I was mistaken.
I was on a journey. Even though I hadn’t realised it, the first moment I decided I was going to try and write a book I was setting out on a new path. Funnily enough my second action, after deciding I was going to write, was to pack up a huge (if metaphorical) suitcase full of ideas and research along with a couple of characters who were half-forming in my mind and we all set off merrily along the road together.
Unfortunately, we hit a traffic jam pretty quickly: there were so many different ideas and themes I was trying to cram into my newly conceived story, so much ‘world building’ for my rather large paranormal fantasy scenario that we ground to a halt. My difficulty as a complete novice novelist was balancing my desire to deliver big themes and action with the smaller scale activities of the characters. Although I’d spent much of my life reading and certainly read a huge variety of books during my years as a university literature student, it didn’t mean I had the skills to simply sit down and run off a book in a couple of evenings.
After a time of sitting in this traffic jam, with two lovely characters Ally and Filip in the backseat, I realised that I needed to start in a simpler place…in a time before I met these people who were going to have such epic adventures. That was when Faris happened along, he just knocked on my window and invited me to join him for a while. He was a lovely young lad of eight, sometimes nine and sometimes seven years old (I struggled with the continuity in my own book’s logic in the first few drafts). Anyway, Faris had a lovely horse named Jack and so we left the car on a motorway verge with much of my mythological research and I went on to write my first novels with them. Faris and Jack were great company, life was a little simpler and the dangers – though very real – were much more manageable for me as a baby writer.
The longer I spent with Faris and Jack the easier the writing became: the world I wanted to build became clearer for me as we were starting with better foundations and I got to understand how you ‘tell a story’: holding back key pieces, creating little mysteries whilst drip feeding clues as to what the future holds. I spent four years on-and-off working on the Faris books – two full MS and two detailed drafts – and am considering putting them out in the world now for younger readers.
Time had moved along and I missed Ally and Filip, knowing that I still wanted to get on with telling their story. Occasionally – though I wasn’t very organised at doing it – I would gather my chapter samples, book synopsis and cover letter together and post them off to an agent, but after a couple of ‘no thank you’ notes I decided it would be better to pitch the whole series together (middle-grade and YA books) to demonstrate versatility. And so that’s what I did.
When I went back to work on The Elementals series I made a lot of changes, planned out the remaining books and characters and linked them together. Then I went right back to the beginning to pick up Ally’s story and that was when I realised that the first book wasn’t actually hers, it was Filip’s. There’s an early sample of this unfinished book on my own blog – if anyone’s interested in meeting Filip themselves. He’ll definitely be coming off there in the future, but I put the whole Elementals piece to the side in 2009. Overall, I’d spent six years working on the series, the ideas and characters – I think the problem was that I needed something fresh to do, before I could really continue with this again.
That was when Hope’s Daughter began – late spring 2009, I’d been reading a lot of sci-fi and adult dystopian books (Philip K Dick, H G Wells, George Orwell…) which always appealed to me – and on the flip side for the first time in a long while, I read some YA novels: Twilight, the Darkest Powers and Hush Hush series all made it into my reading pile. There was a publisher’s writing competition coming up in October that year and I decided, rather than working on what I’d been doing for a long while, I’d do something new.
Needless to say, I didn’t win the competition but I was hooked on the story I’d written and I continued working on Hope’s Daughter, refining the key points, redeveloping some of the ideas until in September 2011 I got the opportunity to work on it full time for a couple of months. Writing every day helped me improve my skills and speed up my work rate; it was as though I’d got back into my car – a rather fast one at that – and jumped straight on the motorway and was now hammering down empty lanes towards publishing my first novel.
Those couple of months were the best thing that happened to me in terms of writing. Since December I’ve not stopped – whether it’s writing or reviewing for my own blog (a new love I discovered only through promoting my own book) or trying to work on the next book, I feel like my writing journey has come on leaps and bounds in a short time. True, I hit some speed bumps and occasionally get off at the wrong junction – the ‘day job’ exits seem to come up frequently and take me on detours away from writing, but the good thing is I know where I’m going now. The nicest bit about this journey has been meeting new people – real ones who read and blog and talk to you online, rather than just my characters who were there before – it feels rather Canterbury Tales when I think of it like that.
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Thanks for being here today, Melanie!
Be sure to come to come back tomorrow for my review of Hope's Daughter.