Archive for March, 2012

Why editing can be even more emotional than writing

I’m just recovering from the most emotional edit I’ve ever done.
Normally edits are about reducing wordcounts, tightening language, cutting repetition, checking facts, filling in plotholes, and generally telling the story in the best way possible.
And yes, that is what I’ve just done with Maze Running. I found some silly mistakes (I sent a dragon called one name off on a quest, and brought a dragon with a different name back! It’s ok, I noticed and sorted it) and I found a few last minute plotholes (one of which I covered up, literally, with a cloak – handy things cloaks.) I replaced weak wobbly words, made sentences clearer and took out dialogue that wasn’t necessary for the story. I also made a few tweaks to answer questions from my editor. She’s excellent at noticing things which I don’t explain clearly enough, or explain far too often, or which I can’t explain because they don’t make any sense.
By the time I sent the manuscript away a few days ago, it was shorter, clearer, faster and more exciting than the draft I finished at the end of last year. So the editing went really well.
But I was miserable. Actually (and don’t tell anyone this) I was sniffing, wiping my eyes and blowing my nose a lot.
Why? I’m happy with the story and I’m excited about sharing it with people. So why was I sad and upset?
One reason is because my relationship with a book alters once it’s sent off to the printers. I always find it a bit weird reading the printed version of my novels, because I can’t change them any more. If I suddenly think of a different way to express what’s happening, I can’t do it. I have no power over the story any more. I’m not really the writer any more. Just the person who wrote it.
So the final edit is slightly terrifying, because it’s my last chance to get it right. My last chance to spot mistakes, but also my last chance to do the story and the characters justice. Once I’ve sent it away, that’s it. I can’t make it any better. So that’s why the last edit of every book is nerve-wracking.
But with Maze Running the emotional wrench was ever harder. Maze Running is the fourth and FINAL book in the First Aid series. This book is the last adventure I will write about Helen, Yann, Lavender, Rona, Sapphire, Catesby, Lee and the rest all together.
If you think you’re upset about that (and I’ve already met readers who are a little bit annoyed with me for ending the series! But I’ll explain why I made that decision in another blog post soon…) So if you think you’re upset, just imagine how upset I am. I’ve spent more than five years of my life with these characters. I know them better than most people I meet in the real world. I hear their voices in my heads. I put them in terrible situations (worse situations in this next book than any other, sorry guys) and I trust them to get back out again. I work with them, listening to their reactions, letting them guide and sometimes even change the story. And now I’m done. Now I won’t write about them ever again, not as a group, not in this way, maybe not in any way at all.
And it was my decision. I feel like I’ve left them. Which makes me feel sad, guilty and almost like I’m grieving.
I know I will read their adventures out loud at book festivals and in author events. I will read the cliff-hangers, the quests and the fights. But because I won’t be able to change one word of what’s on the page, then I won’t be writing them any more. I’ll be reading them instead.
First Aid for Fairies was my first book. I owe these characters a lot. I really enjoy being with them. And when I handed the manuscript to Floris earlier this month, I was saying good bye to them.
That’s why this edit was highly emotional, and very sad. But also very exciting. Because who knows what I’ll write (and then edit) next…

Archive for March, 2012

Original Questions From School Visits

I’m in the middle of lots of school visits around World Book Day, which you’d think would only last a ‘Day’ but seems to last at least a fortnight!

One of the best things about lots of school visits is lots of great questions from pupils.  I answer questions at the end of every session, so I probably answer dozens of questions a week, possibly even hundreds a week at this time of year.

What amazes me is I’m still being asked new, original and surprising questions.  There are questions which come up pretty much every time (when did you become a writer, how many books have you written, what’s your favourite book?) but I’m impressed that kids are still asking questions which I’ve not heard before, questions which make me think hard about my writing process.

The best question I got on World Book Day was from a pupil at Stockbridge Primary in Edinburgh, who asked: “What’s more important for a writer, imagination or knowledge?”  I thought that was fascinating, because creative writing teaching often concentrates entirely on imagination, but a story won’t be convincing if it’s full of errors. On the other hand, if you have lots of facts, but no flash of inspiration bouncing off the facts, then you haven’t got a story.  I came to the conclusion that both imagination and knowledge are vital, but that I start with imagination then fill the gaps with research.  New writers are often told to “write what you know” but if I only wrote what I know, then I’d write boring books about making packed lunches. Instead I allow myself to imagine stories about injured centaurs or living rocking horses, then I research the time or place or biology and write about the NEW stuff I know.

Another question I was asked recently at Westercommon Primary in Glasgow was: “How do you know when a story is finished?”  That’s a brilliant question, because we spend a lot of time thinking about good ways to start stories, and we may not think hard enough about how to finish them. I explained that my stories are finished when my characters have solved the main problem.  Because it isn’t a story without a problem: a mystery, a quest, a baddie to be defeated.  You spend the story trying to solve the problem, and once it’s solved, the story is over.  Boom.  The End.

A pupil at St Mary’s in Glasgow asked: “When you reach a certain age, will you want someone else to continue your work?”  That made me laugh, because I never want to reach a certain age… But the serious point we discussed was whether someone else could carry on my work, indeed any writers’ work, or whether it’s individual to us.  If a person’s life work is campaigning for animal rights, or planting a forest, or running a jam factory, someone else probably could continue it, but no-one else could write my stories.  Not exactly the way I write them.  Because my stories come out of my thought processes, my experiences, my way of research, and my own individual (hard to explain and impossible to replicate) flashes of imagination.  That’s the magical thing about writing: we all write differently.  So no, if I ever reach a certain age and stop writing, that will be it.  No more Lari Don books.  I’d better get a move on and write another one while I still can!

I’ve been asked other fascinating questions in the last few weeks, but my author events are noisy and fast moving, so I don’t often remember the exact questions afterwards.  If you asked an original question which I’ve not mentioned – sorry!

And if you can come up with a question which you think no-one has ever asked me before, please do ask it!  You don’t have to wait until next World Book Day or until I visit your school, just post a comment here or email me on:

And if any other writers want to share the best or most original questions they’ve been asked, I’d love to read them!