Tips For Writers from Sally Nicholls, Author of ‘Things A Bright Girl Can Do’

Today on Heart Full of Books, we have the pleasure of hosting a spot on the Things A Bright Girl Can Do blog tourIf you haven’t heard of TABGCD, we’ll give you all you need to know: it follows three girls and their fight for women’s votes. They come from vastly different economic backgrounds, and two of them even fall in love. Gay Suffragettes, I mean, come on? Do you really need to hear anymore? If that still hasn’t convinced you to check it out, then know that Louise O’Neill (as in Louise O’Neill, author of deeply feminist and totally kick-ass Asking For It and Only Ever Yours) is calling it:

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Now, you’re all caught up, Sally Nicholls has some writing advice to share!

Sally: Most of these tips are very boring – you’ve probably heard them a thousand times before. That’s because the business of writing a book is boring. If anyone has ever told you to only write the book you NEED to write or if it’s hard, you’re doing it wrong, then those people don’t know the first thing about writing. Writing fiction is like any other long project; a report, a dissertation, a house refurnishment, a revolution. It takes a long time. Sometimes it’s boring. Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes you hate it. I tell kids in schools it’s like doing the same piece of English homework every day for a year. Because sometimes it is.

  1. Writers don’t own time-turners. I know, gutting right? But they don’t. Writers have families, and jobs, and elderly parents, and social lives, and partners, just like you do. I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me they don’t have time to write, and it always makes me want to shake them. Do you have time to see your friends and partner? Read books? Watch television? Surf the internet? Cook dinner? Then you have time to write. Neil Gaiman famously wrote Coraline in fifty-word chunks in the time he would otherwise have spent reading before bed. I have a friend who wrote her first novel while at home with two small children, on the basis that she was going to be this busy for the foreseeable future, so she had to do it now or never.
  2. Make writing one of the most important things in your life. I’m not saying it has to be the most important thing, but it should definitely make your top three. When you have a spare half an hour, writing should be a very strong contender for what goes there. I like to blame writing for my messy house and unwashed dishes, but let’s be honest – I was messy long before I was a writer. I just have an excuse now.

  3. Read. This should be obvious, but it isn’t. Read lots. Read widely, read genres you wouldn’t usually read, definitely read the genre you want to write. If you want to write horror films and television, watch horror films and television. If you want to write poetry, read poetry. It all goes in, and it all comes out somewhere.

  4. Write what you love. Not all science fiction writers have gone to space, but they all love the idea of space. Write about the things that get you fired up with excitement, and they’ll get your readers fired up too.

  5. Follow the market, but don’t be lead by it. It’s a good idea to stay current in the area you’re trying to write, partly so you can get excited by all the great stuff that’s being written, but also because crime editors really, really don’t want any more dull Agatha Christie rewrites, and children’s books have moved on somewhat from Enid Blyton. Also because when your weird obsession suddenly becomes popular, you want to know about it. On the other hand, don’t write something just because it’s currently popular. See 4.

  6. Hate your books. Seriously. If you don’t hate something, how will you ever spend the months and months (oh, god, the months) editing it? If you can’t see all its flaws, how will you fix them?

  7. Love your books. Every author secretly thinks this one is going to be The One. Why? Because why else would they ever spend the months and months (seriously, the months) writing a first draft.

  8. An idea is not the same thing as a plot. Again, not always obvious, but it should be remembered. In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit is an idea. Not a plot. And a wizard dragged him off on an adventure to rescue a treasure from a dragon? That’s a plot. Once there was a boy who didn’t know he was a wizard? Idea. And he had to defeat the greatest dark lord the world has ever known? Plot. Make sure you have both before you start writing, or you’ll get stuck halfway through chapter one.

  9. The ability to string together a decent sentence is a tiny, tiny part of what is needed to be a professional writer. There are a lot of people in the world who were good at English as kids. Probably a couple in every class in the country. Most of them aren’t professional writers. It actually isn’t that difficult to write a competent paragraph. Plot, story, character, pacing … these are all much harder. And harder still …

  10. Be a professional. Put in the legwork. Research publishers and agents. Read their submissions guidelines. Write professional-sounding covering letters and synopses. Send the submission to every agent in the yearbook. And when they all turn you down? Get started on the next thing and do the same again.

Good luck!

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Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

only ever yoursOnly Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
Genre:
Feminist, Dystopian
Published by: Quercus
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Rating: ★★
Where to Find:
Goodreads | Amazon

‘Only Ever Yours’ was my first book of this genre, for the YA market. I think the only similar style think I’ve read is ‘Volpone’ by Ben Jonson, and that was for my English Lit course. I say the books are similar because they’re both satires, critiquing society in a way that isn’t overtly saying this is wrong. ‘Only Ever Yours’ was obviously written from a feminist perspective (I don’t know how this book could have been written any other way) and dealt with issues of materialism, body image, the objectification of women and female homosexuality. Overall, the five different ‘sections’ of the book all seemed very different, and I found it difficult to believe the ending was the same book as the beginning.
‘Only Every Yours’ is different from any other ‘dystopian’ style book because Frieda, the main character, doesn’t actually manage to break the society she lives in. She’s 100% subject to it, and can do nothing to change that, and in a way, that’s what gave this book a scarier feel than ‘The Hunger Games’.

Continue reading “Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill”

How To: Write a John Green Novel

You will need:

1. a male protagonist with a quirk.
2. a manic-pixie-dream-girl love interest who is ‘damaged’ and that the protagonist can use to find/fix himself.
3. one polar-opposite best friend and, optionally, one obnoxious best friend.
4. a setting that is based in reality, but somehow feels ethereal.
5. one hella good road trip.
Optionally you can add a missing girl (see 2.) into the equation.

It’s to be expected that any author is going to have some patterns in their writing style, and it’s particularly easy to spot them when their collected works so far and just the one genre. As a disclaimer, I am in no way trying to dissuade any one to not read or not enjoy John Green’s novels! They’re pretty wonderful, and Paper Towns is even on my favourites list, but just because I like the author doesn’t mean their writing is perfect. Despite whatever I say in this post I will not stop reading and enjoying Green’s works, and I look forward to whatever he publishes in the future. So be warned.

John Green is such a prominent author on any book shelf, be it library, supermarket or personal, that it’s become hard to criticise his work. This is partly due to the fact that he is also such a prominent member of the internet community, which makes him feel like a friend, or at least someone that we know a little more than the average author, and you wouldn’t criticise a friend, would you?

There’s no disputing the fact that ‘The John Green Formula’ (I will hereby refer to it as the TJGF) is a bestselling formula. The TJGF gives readers carefully developed characters and intricate love stories, not to mention they’re fun to read – I can not stress this enough. As much as a I enjoy the TJGF (which, I guess, technically makes it The The John Green Formula, but ‘The TJGF’ sounds better, so we’ll roll with it) I also find it a little frustrating.

I’m writing about the TJGF in my EPQ project about the way in which the first love is presented in YA and how it relates to character development, and it got me thinking more about the frequently occurring tropes in YA. The Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl being one of them, I’m not entirely sure where this came from, and it would be ignorant to say it must have started with the TJGF, but that seems to be where it’s most commonly recognised. Lauren DeStefano, author of the Chemical Garden trilogy, wrote a piece on the MPDG (I’m really going for the initialisms) and you can read it here. Her main point is that the MPDG trope objectifies women, and I can totally see where she’s coming from. (See 2.)

The MPDG trope is just as problematic as the ‘damsel in distress, need a boy to save me’ trope (the DIDNABTSM?) and this leads to questioning the representation of women in YA – and you can see how this controversy has spiralled out of just talking about the patterns in bestselling John Green novels. It brings on a whole feminist debate and issues about consent in YA literature – and let me tell you, they definitely should be discussed. I could go on and write a dissertation on the problematic tropes of the YA genre, but I’ll leave you with what I’ve got, slightly abruptly if anything, so that we can take some time to think about this stuff.

It’s almost strange to look at YA in such a critical light, as I normally think about YA as something I can read to take a break from the books on my English Literature course. But they’re so much more than that, the content and issues are just as serious as the ones in what are regarded as ‘the classics’.

Thanks for reading! It’s been a wild ride, and all I can say is ‘that escalated quickly.’