Vanessa Harbour and I have never actually met, but we email and skype regularly and have become close friends. I have tremendous admiration for Vanessa’s tenacity, her passion, her caring and her dedication to story and writing.
Vanessa has a PhD in creative writing and is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Winchester where she lectures on creative writing at both undergraduate and post graduate level. She is also part of the amazing Golden Egg Academy. Vanessa is currently working with Imogen Cooper on her new YAF and is writing a book for Palgrave Macmillan on how to write young adult fiction. You can read Vanessa’s post on the Tour about Writing Cold, Editing Hot here.
The Writing Process Blog Tour, for those who don’t yet know, involves answering four questions and then passing on the baton to three others. So, here goes:
1. What am I working on?
I’m currently working on a YA novel in the magical realism genre. It is the first novel which I’ve set almost entirely in my home country, South Africa, and is informed by things which have fascinated me since childhood and a brutal attack which took place last year in a village about 2 hours from Cape Town.
Given all things “nightmare build” related, which regular readers of this blog will know about, it has taken me an inordinately long time to get the first draft down. Getting stuck into the rewrite does not seem to be going any faster…
Meanwhile, I’m also, somewhere in the recesses of the compost heap that is my mind, fermenting the rewrite of another YA novel, initially written about three years ago.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My current WIP is set in South Africa, and that is probably the thing that sets it apart and makes it different from other gritty contemporary YA. South Africa being what it is, it is impossible to write local fiction that doesn’t take into account the dramatic juxtaposition of violence and dysfunctionality with the astounding natural beauty and warmth of people. Then weave in the magic of ancient mythology of the First People, and the differentness becomes pretty clear. In writing this story, I’m deeply conscious of weaving a complex tapestry, one in which different people will see and feel different things.
3. Why do I write what I do?
When I was in my 20s I read, for the first time, The Chronicles of Narnia. I fell in love with children’s literature, and, having written in some shape or form all my life, decided this was what I wanted to do. As my writing progressed, I realised my voice was more attuned to YA fiction than
4. How does my writing process work?
It’s been fascinating to read the various responses to this particular question and one thing is clear: there is no right or wrong way in which to write – there is only your way. In answering this final question, Vanessa’s Writing Process post – “write cold, edit hot” really struck me. As a general rule I’m a pantster. I sit down with a germ of an idea and not a clue where I’m going. In a mad, rollercoaster fashion, I furiously scribble a first draft in a month or two. And then the very hard work of making sense of it all begins – and because the first draft is such a hodge-podge, the rewriting inevitably takes considerably longer and involves multiple, evolving drafts, huge frustration, growing impatience – and devilish determination. (And a lot of chocolate.)
Now, with the first draft complete, the next stage begins. First, I’m letting the story brew and compost, taking notes as and when flashes of inspiration or new ideas appear. I’m using the “resting time” to do further research so that I can deepen the story. I’m rereading writing-craft books to keep the focus. I’m getting to know my characters better. When I feel I have all the pieces together in mymind and on various bits of paper, I’ll start the rewrite. I say rewrite rather than edit because for me editing feels too much like tinkering and I inevitably know that from first draft to final draft some big changes have to happen – and editing doesn’t seem to cover the enormity of some of those changes! Editing happens at a later point when I eyeball individual sentences, looking to create the perfect metaphor, trying to finding the ideal word.
In the past, I would share my first draft with my wonderful critique group while the writing was in progress. I’ve subsequently learned this doesn’t work for me. It’s better to get the first draft written and to begin work on the second draft before showing the work to anyone. Criticism, while a lifeline for writers, needs to be given at the right time. Given too soon, no matter how constructive, it can be both off-putting and destructive. Most of us writers are Princess and Pea types, deeply sensitive about our work. We need to be ready to show it to our peers at a time when we our “babies” are sufficiently mature enough to be seen by the world. And let’s face it, no one wants their baby novel to be struck down by a gut bug – the resultant literary diarrhoea or constipation could be fatal!
When peer feedback has been received another draft will be written/edited and slowly but surely I will edge towards something submittable. Ultimately, the entire writing process is an evolution, from germ of an idea to finished work – and fuelled by large quantities of chocolate!
I'm handing on the Writing Process baton to other writers now. I've chosen three writers who I think you'll find interesting. All will be sharing their writing processes on their blogs on Monday 14th April. Be sure to check them out!
Sue Hyams grew up in Hertfordshire with countryside, horses, and books. She's swapped all that for South East London, a postage stamp garden, and cats, but still the books keep coming. She loves nothing more than traipsing about the city looking for story ideas and this has, so far, taken her to a Victorian mortuary, an old operating theatre, and some very dark alleys. She can often be seen leaning perilously over Hungerford Bridge with her trusty Lomography camera, trying to get that perfect shot of her favourite place; the South Bank. She is currently working on a middle grade novel set in London's Victorian docks. You can learn more about Sue on her blog: http://suehyams.blogspot.co.uk/
Larisa Villar Hauser is a translator and children's book writer. She is currently working on a Middle Grade novel that has been a work in progress and obsession for longer than most people can remember. Determined to finish the manuscript some time this decade, Larisa is exploring the indie route as a viable option for publication. She shares her thoughts and findings on the self-publishing and writing process in her blog www.handmeamirror.wordpress.com.
Kathy Evans is an old hand at the rejection game. Now happily with an agent’s roof over her writerly head she offers what scant wisdom she’s gleaned from her many years climbing up the rickety publishing ladder on her blog mrsbung.wordpress.com. Her blog is mentioned in Bekki Hill’s NLP for Writers, a fact of which Kathy is immensely proud. Kathy writes for the Funeverse, is a staunch supporter of SCBWI and collects odd hobbies that she fantasizes might one day earn her a living. If there’s ever a need for a belly dancer with her nose in a book and a sword in her hand, Kathy Evans is your woman. Learn more about Kathy on her blog, Mrs Bung: http://mrsbung.wordpress.com/