Friday, 11 April 2014

Grasshopper Jungle: Review(ish)

I haven't reviewed any books here, or been on for a while, since my day job has taken all the time I would like to use for writing and reading. Meaning I had hardly read anything or written anything or had any time to write about the things I had written, never mind written any new things of my own.

It's not been a huge amount of fun.

Casting around for a recommendation, and carefully avoiding my TBR pile, my agent Molly suggested Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. And I would suggest everyone should read it, because it really is extremely good.

It's stunningly odd in places, but I can't represent this in good conscience by quoting because although there are lines that- out of context and to a reader uninitiated in Austin's super-strong voice- would be thrillingly weird and exciting, I really feel it's best to leave the stranger elements unspoken and unhinted at. When the oddity is normalised by the intense internal logic of Smith's world and the gripping authenticity of Austin's voice, it will give greater delight than merely ogling from outside.

This a novel that really chimes with the way I like my stories; real life, but having taken a step into the shadows, into the surreal. It captures a teenage boy's mind with quite alarming sharpness, is howlingly funny, is original and builds the story in satisfying layers. Teenage sexuality is represented with humour and sensitivity in a manner that is truly enviable.

This is just the book I needed to read after a bit of a lay-off and when I'm trying to find my way back into writing book two. It's given me a real shake and reminded me of the freedoms and possibilities that exist in writing for children and young adults.

For anyone interested in writing YA fiction, this book is an essential read; it is bold and confident and has a powerful voice.

For anyone interested in reading YA fiction, this book is an essential read; I wish I'd read it when I was 14- it would have blown my mind.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Editing Editing Editing

Over the past couple of months, as I recover from surgery and step back into a world of work and writing, I've been trying to edit my novel. I've edited it before, of course, hugely, dramatically, adding and cutting and turning out something of which I could feel proud, and- as it turned out- something that was good enough to get the attention of my agent, Molly Ker Hawn.

This time, though, I'm editing not simply to satisfy myself, and having that thing of wondering whether the ideas and thoughts in my head are actually what is on the page. I'm editing at the behest of my agent, who has read my book with forensic expertise, held into the light elements of it I had believed set in stone, or at least functionally sound, and said:

"Do you really need this?"

"Yes," I think. "I mean, I must do, right?"

So then I look and think... "No, I don't. Actually, something else would work so much better I can't believe I let it out the house like this. Yikes."

It's been incredibly invigorating and rewarding going through this process. As a result, all future edits I undergo myself will involve a fairly clinical use of tables and charts and other things that help track and organise. I say clinical, because as an amateur writer I think there's something fanciful and spiritual about my process, if it could be called that, like these ideas exist somewhere in my soul and the book- the twisting golden thread of it- exists somewhere in the ether as a perfect thing, waiting to be discovered by patience and by me alone. When I thought of my book I thought of it in terms of the feeling I wanted people to have when they read it. Which is great, and very lovely; but it's a bit ethereal, a bit unpindownable.

Writing stuff in charts helped me begin to understand what I had written, rather than what I hoped was there. And all the stuff I was slightly fearful of- cutting/merging characters, examining my work, having someone else examine my work, asking rigorous questions of my characters and my plot- has been great.

A brutal and honest edit will probably always hurt a wee bit, but will always leave my work so, so much better- and I'm convinced it's impossible to achieve this alone. I am delighted to have the support of my agent now, and for anyone who's querying I'd say that critique groups and writer's circles are brilliant things- I wish I'd taken that kind of leap a long time ago, rather than mouldering, Havisham-like in my attic, wearing my lonely sweatpants and having my ideas and reflections bouncing around in only my head.