Archive for the 'Mind Blind' Category

The history of an idea…

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I’m asked that question at almost every author event. It’s a great question, but there’s no quick easy answer!

My ideas don’t come from a place. I don’t think it’s possible to draw a map of where ideas come from. Maybe we need a history of ideas, rather a geography of ideas? Because I can tell you the history of the Spellchasers idea coming to life in my head…

All stories start with a spark of an idea, usually a ‘what if…?’

But Molly’s story started with three different sparks, at three different times. Which is probably appropriate for a trilogy!fabled beast chronicles storm singing

The first spark arrived when I was writing the third novel in the Fabled Beast Chronicles. That must have been in 2010 or 2011 – 6 or even 7 years ago. One of the new characters in Storm Singing was a mermaid called Serena. I had lots of fun writing her, partly because I was never entirely sure whether I liked her or not. And Serena was cursed. She was taking part in the same Sea Herald contest as my main character Rona, because she thought winning would help her to lift the curse on all mermaids. And one little line of Serena’s dialogue made me think about whether there was a right and wrong way to lift a curse, ie whether there were rules of curse-lifting, and I wondered if there was a story in that.

But I was still in the middle of editing Storm Singing and I knew there was another Fabled Beast Chronicles book to come, so I just scribbled the thought down and put it to one side.

So that was a wee spark, about the rules of curse-lifting. And it sat in my head for a while.

Then there was the moment that the story arrived. That wasn’t a spark, that was a firework, exploding in my head. I still remember how it felt.

It was in January, 2012, so just over 5 years ago. I was meant to be doing my tax return, but that’s really boring, so instead, I was having fun typing up a list of possible future book ideas. IMG_4106I found the little note I’d made about Serena’s curse, and I started to add it to the list, but as I typed, the sentence about rules of lifting curses became a question about ‘what if…?’ ‘What if there was a workshop about lifting curses, and what if lots of young cursed fabled beasts met on that workshop… ?’ And suddenly I wasn’t typing a list of possible future books, I was typing characters and curses. Then I started to see and hear what I thought might be the first scene, in a room with desks, and they were all snarking at each other and arguing about curses…

This is a blog post I wrote that day, showing just how excited I was… Rereading the post now is quite odd – I can still remember that physical sense of a story coming to life in my whole body, not just my head. (Also notice how I carefully didn’t give anything away about the details of the idea!)

So that was the point when I knew that this idea was strong enough to be a book.

But I was still finishing the Fabled Beast series and I knew I wanted to write Mind Blind next. So I put this idea to the side again. But I was really excited about it, and I was sure it was one I was going to write very very soon. However, at that point, the idea was based around a mermaid, not a hare. So it still wasn’t Molly’s story.

And then, the third spark:
winter book spring flowers 2
In 2013, so almost 4 years ago, someone asked me to write a very short story about winter, to publicise a book of winter stories I was launching. The first image that came to mind for a winter tale was a hare’s pawprints in the snow. So I wrote a page about running like a hare, about being chased as a hare. And as I wrote, I knew this wasn’t a real hare, it was a person who had become a hare.That was when I knew who my main character was, and what her curse was. And I knew this book was no longer about a mermaid, which I’d honestly never been convinced about, it was about a human girl transformed into a hare.

That was also when I knew that I had to write this book as soon as I could. In fact, I never sent the winter hare story (I wrote something else about paper snow) because I knew this character’s adventure wasn’t a short story, it was a novel.

But soon, it wasn’t even a novel, because once I went on the curse-lifting workshop with Molly and the others, there was so much story, so much magic, so many questions to answer, that it become a trilogy.

And now you can read the trilogy (well, the first two parts anyway!)


So that, as far as I can remember it, is the history of how the idea for the Spellchasers trilogy arrived in my head and grew into the story I started to write. But it’s still not a complete answer to the ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ question, because every other novel idea has arrived in a completely different way!

Though one common factor is noticing the ideas when they arrive, and remembering to write them down. And the other common factor seems to be that writing stories (or even lists) gives me ideas for other stories! So that’s not a ‘where’, that’s a ‘when’ and a ‘how’ and maybe even a ‘why’…

Archive for the 'Mind Blind' Category

Riddling Adventures

I love riddles! And I don’t try to hide my love of riddles: I’ve put riddles in every single one of my novels so far…

I shamelessly used the Halloween guising scene in Mind Blind to slip in one of my favourite short riddles.

You to look at bit sideyways to find the riddle in Rocking Horse War.

FBC quadrantBut riddles are an essential part of the plot of the Fabled Beast Chronicles, with the task of solving or matching riddles of some kind  in every single one of Helen’s adventures.

And riddles are an even more important part of the Spellchasers trilogy, because they are an essential part of the life, job and self-image of one of the most important Spellchaser’s characters: Atacama the sphinx.

Dragons-Hoard-CVRI slip riddle tales into my folklore and legend collections too, like the Russian girl who solves the Tsar’s riddles in Horse of Fire, and Odin putting on a silly hat to solve a king’s riddles in Dragon’s Hoard

Where do all these riddles come from?  In the folktale and legend retellings, I often use or adapt the original riddles. But for the novels, I always write original riddles. I could probably add riddle-writing to my CV now, I’ve written so many…BsG smaller

But why do I write them? There are so many fantastic riddles out there (I know because kids often bamboozle me with ones I haven’t heard!) so why do I make up new riddles?

Because the riddles need to fit the story. Sometimes the answers are linked to the plot, sometimes the riddles are designed to allow the characters (usually Innes…) to argue about the answers. Also, I want to surprise readers, rather than give them a riddle they might already know.DonSpellchasers2-ShapeshiftersGuide17

Also, honestly, I like inventing new riddles. There’s a satisfaction to it, an elegance and a logic that you usually only get with numbers.  I sometimes call it maths with words – two of my favourite things together!  (Yes, I love maths. I did maths at university. I love algebra and circles and straight lines and triangles and problem-solving… ) Also, one of my daughters is a riddle-master, and sometimes we collaborate on the riddles, which is great fun.

a cauldron full of riddle answers

But I don’t just write riddles for books. Last autumn I wrote five new riddles for The Beginner’s Guide to Curses launch, and was very impressed at how fast all the young adventure fans answered them.

And now I’ve written three more riddles (with the help of Atacama, of course) for a competition run by my publishers to win a signed copy of the next Spellchasers novel: The Shapeshifters Guide to Running Away.

I wonder if you can answer them? Good luck…

(I might be doing a few riddle-writing workshops once Shapeshifter’s Guide is published, so keep an eye on my diary if you want to learn my riddle-writing secrets!)


Archive for the 'Mind Blind' Category

Voices in my head; voices in my ears

Writers often talk about hearing their characters’ voices in their heads, but last week I heard Ciaran Bain’s voice in my ears, through headphones, along with his scary uncle Malcolm… because I spent a day in a recording studio, watching (and listening) as the RNIB in Glasgow started the process of making an audio book of Mind Blind.IMG_1314

As part of the Adapt-ability Audiobook project, run by Publishing Scotland and partly funded by Skills Development Scotland, Mind Blind was chosen to be made into a talking book by the experts at the RNIB studios in Glasgow, and part of the project was that the writer and editor were allowed to watch while the audio book was recorded.

And it was a fascinating experience. I was in awe of the skill of Kris Wallace, the producer, and Cameron Mowat, the actor narrating the story. It was also very weird to hear words that I’d written being read, so seriously and dramatically.

It didn’t sound exactly the way I expected. There are scenes – the kidnap scene, the first time Ciaran and Lucy meet – which I read out to classes and book festival audiences quite regularly, and I read them in a rhythm that has become familiar to my ears. So hearing Cameron read those scenes in another way was both weird and refreshing.

And Cameron added something new to each of the scenes and chapters. He often added a drama or a darkness or an emotion or a danger that I wasn’t even aware I’d written! Listening to him read the scene where one of the characters dies was incredible – I actually felt scared hearing my own words. And the first time I heard Cameron’s deeper growlier Glasgow gangster voice for Uncle Malcolm was quite a shock.

In a strange way, hearing someone use their training, skills and talents to tell my story, was like writing picture books (though there are fewer fights in my picture books.) One of the greatest privileges of writing picture books is sending my words away, then seeing the illustrator’s pictures come back. A picture book is not just words with a few pictures stuck on the page to make it pretty. In a picture book the pictures tell the story, the pictures add another layer of creativity, another artist’s view of the story. And watching Kris and listening to Cameron, I realised that their skill and experience, and their interpretation of Mind Blind, was using the sound of the spoken word to add another layer to the story. Just like pictures in a picture book.

But listening to Cameron read my words, and stop and start and test out different stresses and emphases, and watching Kris rewind and rerecord again and again, I realised that I don’t always think about whether what I write can be read out loud easily.

the scarily talented (and scary, when the story requires it...) Cameron Mowat

the scarily talented (and scary, when the story requires it…) Cameron Mowat

I frequently read my books out loud as I’m editing them, but mainly to look for clunky phrasing, clichés and repeated words, not to see if it’s possible to read that whole sentence in one breath without tripping over those clashing words.

So as Cameron was reading, I kept saying: “Sorry, I should have cut that sentence in two,” or “Oops, I should have put a few more commas in there,” or “My fault! I should have used italics to make the emphasis clearer… “

I do consider the ‘read-out-loud-ability’ of picture books (because I’m imagining an adult with a child on their knee, reading and rereading and rereading, and I want to make that repetition as fun and easy as possible) but I don’t think the same way about the text of a teen novel (because I’m mostly imagining it being read in messy bedrooms, inside someone’s head…) So I did find myself apologising occasionally for ridiculously long stream of consciousness sentences with no obvious opportunity for a reader to take a break or breath. (But even so, if that’s how the characters need to talk and how the story needs to be told, that’s how I’ll write it next time as well. Though I might consider more commas and fewer inadvertent tongue twisters!)

Apparently the Mind Blind audio book is going to be unusual, because it will be narrated by two people. I wrote the book with chapters from Ciaran’s point of view and in his voice, but also with chapters from Lucy’s point of view and in her voice, so half the audio book will be narrated by Kirsty Eila McIntyre. I wasn’t able to listen to her days in the studio, unfortunately, but I am very keen to hear what she’s added to Lucy!

One final thing that has come out of being in the studio last week – I heard a throwaway comment that the producer made to the actor about one of the minor characters and how that character’s voice should sound, which made me think “aha!” because it confirmed the potential of a direction I’d been considering for a sequel. (Along the lines of ‘oh, if you like that character, it’s probably time I did something horrible to them….’ )

And I’m now absolutely sure that when I’m getting closer to writing the sequel, Cameron and Kirsty’s voices will be the ones I hear in my head!

(You’ll be able to hear them soon too – I’m not sure when the audio book comes out, but I’m sure I’ll mention it when it does. And thanks so much to Publishing Scotland, Skills Development Scotland and the RNIB for this brilliant project!)

Archive for the 'Mind Blind' Category

Mind Blind – ticking none of the usual boxes

So, what is a Lari Don book then? 

I’ve written 21 books, 6 of them novels, so it’s probably fair to claim that I don’t write just one kind of book. But up until now, there have been a few recognisable threads running through most of my books – if it had magic and myth and fabled beasts and Scottish landscapes, then it might be a Lari Don book.

But now I’ve written something totally different to anything I’ve ever written before. Because Mind Blind, my first teen thriller, is published this week.

Mind Blind is for older readers. I’ve written picture books (about bottoms and wolves), I’ve written short chapter books (about tigers and wolves), I’ve written adventure books (about dragons and wolves), I’ve written collections of legends (about heroines and wolves). The nearest I’ve come in age so far is novellas for reluctant readers (no wolves, yet).

But I’ve not written a full length novel for older readers before and it was a very different book to write. I could do a lot of things I’ve never done before. Swear. Injure people. Kill people. Make texts and smart phones an important part of the plot. Use public transport rather than dragons.

And Mind Blind is about a boy.  A teenage boy. I’ve written as a boy before – a male phoenix and a blue loon in Maze Running – but only for a couple of chapters.  Becoming a teenage boy for months on end was an interesting experience.

Also Mind Blind is written in the first person, so we are inside Ciaran’s head, seeing the world through his eyes, all the time.  (Except when we’re inside Lucy’s head. This was meant to be a book about Ciaran, but Lucy became so important to the story, that almost half the novel is from her point of view… )

Ciaran Bain is not a goodie either, unlike Helen or Pearl in my other novels. He’s a criminal, he does a lot of dodgy and illegal and even cruel things. And yet I am asking the reader to care about him and what happens to him – which was a bit of a challenge!

So.  Mind Blind has no magic, it has lots of crime, and it has no lovely Scottish landscapes.  No mountains or forests or islands or caves or castles. Mind Blind happens on rooftops and at bus stations and in docklands.  It’s not even set completely in Scotland!  It starts in London, spends a fair amount of time on a bus (not a fun journey…) then finally ends up in Edinburgh and Leith for the last third of the book.

Mind Blind doesn’t tick any of my usual boxes. That is exactly why I wanted to write it. And exactly why I want to hear what you think of it!

(Though, as I write this, I realise there is one book which was almost the precursor to Mind Blind, in a tangential way: Drawing a Veil – a novella about a girl who decides to wear the hijab and how her best friend and classmates react. When I wrote it, I did keep thinking – gosh this is tough, solving plot problems without magic! The story also ends on a bridge in an industrial area, just like Mind Blind. In fact, both endings were inspired by the same bridge in Leith, but in both books the bridge has changed slightly to fit the plot. So anyone who’s read Drawing a Veil might have thought that I was heading for teen thriller territory. I didn’t realise it myself when I was writing about Amina though!)

I’m always keen to know what readers think about my books. Feedback is very important to writers, and especially so with Mind Blind – because it’s like my very first book all over again!

So, if it sounds like your sort of book, please go and read Mind Blind (paperback, ebook, from a shop, from the world-encirling amazon or even FOR FREE from your local library) and let me know what you think!

Many Mind Blinds in a box

Many Mind Blinds in a box

And here is Mind Blind IN A BOX even if it doesn’t tick the usual boxes!

Archive for the 'Mind Blind' Category

Why read a manuscript when you can no longer change it?

Today, I’m going to sit down and read Mind Blind, my new teen thriller. Which isn’t that unusual. I’ve been reading, rereading, redrafting and tweaking Mind Blind constantly over the last few months.
But today, I can’t change anything. Mind Blind has already gone to the printers. It’s going to be available in bookshops on the 20th of March. Next month! Today I’m going to be reading the manuscript without the power to change anything, which will be a bit strange and frustrating.
So why am I reading it?
Because this time I’m not looking for things I can fix or improve, I’m looking for quotes and readings.
My relationship with Mind Blind is changing. For a long time I was writing the book: getting to know the characters, following new ideas, finding out what happens next. Then for months (most of last year!) I was redrafting and editing: working out the best way to tell the story. But now, I’m getting ready to promote the book: telling people about it, getting readers interested in it.
To do that, I need to find readings and quotes.
It’s an odd time. It feels like the book isn’t really mine any more. I’m a writer, but I can’t WRITE this book any more. I can’t come up with new ideas, I can’t change any words, or cut out any flabby bits. All I can do is help the book get out there and find readers. Because once a book stops being mine, when I can’t write it any more, it becomes the readers’ book instead.
So today, I’ll be rereading Mind Blind, looking for:
Sections to read during author events (in classrooms, in bookshops, in libraries, at book festivals etc)
Short quotes to give a flavour of the book
Sections to film on location
All of these readings need to be different – different lengths, focussed on different bits of the story – but they all need to have similarities too. All the readings must be exciting and self-contained, but they shouldn’t give away too much about the plot. They need to introduce the characters and their problems, but not give away how those problems are solved. They need to be short and punchy, and not need much explanation.
None of that is easy to find! So it means reading the book in a different way, almost with different eyes.
Also for the first time, I’ll be filming sections of Mind Blind in both London and Edinburgh, where the story is set, and that’s going to make things even more complicated. Normally I don’t choose readings from near the end of a book, but we’re planning to film in several locations in Leith which only appear in the final couple of fights and chases, so it’s going to be difficult to find readings which don’t contain spoilers!
But there is one other thing I will be looking for today, and it’s the most exciting thing of all. While I’m reading through Mind Blind, I might glimpse a few wee hints of story and characters and ideas that might, just might, point me in the direction of a sequel. And that would give me a whole new relationship, as a writer, with these characters.
So, here I go…
“I killed a girl today, just after the school bell…”

the first page of Mind Blind

the first page of Mind Blind

Archive for the 'Mind Blind' Category

All Change!

2013 has been a weird year for me. I moved house twice and had six books published, but not one of the six was a new novel.
So in 2014, I plan to stay put, publish fewer books and get stuck into some serious novel writing.
It seems weird that I published more books than even before in a year when I was distracted by house moves (and selling and buying and decorating and lawyers and packing and unpacking – all of which manages to be both boring and stressful.) However almost all the books I published in 2013 were written in 2012 or even 2011, and not one of them was a novel.
I was delighted with the new books though: The Magic Word has the most amazingly magical and funny pictures by Claire Keay and my first proper cat character (hello Beanie…); Masha and the Bear is possibly my favourite of the Barefoot Animal Stories so far, because I think Masha is the cleverest little heroine (nothing like Little Red Riding Hood – she doesn’t need anyone to rescue her from the animal she meets in the woods); but I love the Hungry Wolf too, because the lamb in that is so cheeky that you almost feel sorry for the wolf, and Melanie Williamson’s pictures of the daft wolf still make me laugh out loud.

2013's picture books

2013’s picture books

So, three beautiful books with great pictures and stories that I’m proud of. I hope I’ve done that before though.
The big change for me in 2013, apart from the constant house moves, was the publication of my first (and second and third) collections of myths and folklore. I’ve retold old stories before, in the Mountain’s Blood, or the gorgeous Little Red Riding Hood. But this year, full length collections of Scottish stories (Breaking The Spell), heroine legends (Girls, Goddesses and Giants) and winter stories (Winter’s Tales) all came out. I wrote the Scottish stories a couple of years ago, and the heroine tales last year. Winter’s Tales is the only book out this year which I actually wrote this year – it was pulled together in the spring before the first house move.
And I am so happy about these collections. Every single one contains stories that I love sharing with children, stories which inspire the fiction and novels that I write, and it is wonderful being able to share them with even more people.
Breaking The Spell includes the legend of Tam Linn, Girls Goddesses and Giants includes a seven-headed dragon, and Winter’s Tales includes Loki the Viking trickster god – all stories I love sharing, all stories which have inspired plots and scenes in the First Aid for Fairies series.

2013's myths, legends and folktales

2013’s myths, legends and folktales

Though it was weird writing these stories down! These are stories that I tell all the time in schools and libraries and at book festivals, to show what inspires my fiction, so I was typing exactly what I tell. And I think that’s worked (the books are getting really good reviews and reactions anyway…) It was also a fascinating challenge choosing the right balance of stories – dark and light, long and short, gory and funny, stories from lots of different places – and researching the background to them all. It felt like being a student again, only getting to choose my favourite thing in the world (stories!) to write my essays on.
So, lots of new books this year. Which is great. But unfortunately, there wasn’t much new writing in 2013. I often say that I can write anywhere: trains, staffrooms, cafes, outside dance studios… but that only works so long as I have my own study to go home to at night, so I can pull it all together. But when I didn’t know where I’d be writing next, and when all my stuff was in boxes, it was really hard to see ahead in novels, to concentrate on what happens next. So my writing this year has been a bit stop start…
Anyway, that was 2013. Three different studies and six different books. But no novels. I do feel bad about that.
However, 2014 is nearly here. And there’s a novel!
In March 2014 my first teen novel, a thriller called Mind Blind, will be published by KelpiesTeen. And I am SO excited.

Mind Blind

Mind Blind

This is another big change for me. Mind Blind is for older readers, it’s not about magic, it has some very nasty characters and some very dark and dangerous scenes. I loved writing it (last year…) I loved editing it (this year, on lots of different floors in lots of different houses) and I am so excited about what readers will think of it (next year!)
And also, now that I’m settled in my lovely new bigger brighter study, I’m working on a new adventure. But I can’t tell you about that yet. You’ll have to wait until next year, or maybe even the year after….

(And yes, those are not-yet-unpacked boxes in the background of the photos. I’d rather write than unpack…)