Monday, 27 May 2013

Finding Your Voice - Writing fiction

‘An ability with words is nice, but it's not a voice.’ 
Meg Rosoff (2011)

Back in early December I posted on ‘Writing and the Lost Art of Patience’: the need to pause between finishing one project and taking the time to discover the next one. At the end of November, I had begun working on a new fiction novel – a Young Adult fantasy. I knew this would be quite different to my first two novels, The Glimpse Duet, written in the third person with one main point of view and several alternating points of view. Not only was I entering the domain of fantasy rather than dystopia, I was also writing in first person for the first time, and felt quite conscious of the impact this could have on the voice and style of the work. 

About a hundred and twenty pages into this first draft I had an epiphany about some of the attitudes and feel of my main character and I started from scratch again with a strong sense of ‘capturing’ a unique and specific ‘voice’, which wove like a thread into the atmosphere of the work and story world. I began redrafting, with the uplifting sense that I was making a personal breakthrough. But by around the hundred and twenty page mark, I began floundering. Again! My level of interest dropped off, the shiny feel of something new and special had slipped away and I was in throws of doubt with a lurking sense that something was wrong with my story.

Around this time, I attended a SCBWI writer’s conference. During workshops on pitching, I found myself struggling to write a dazzling pitch for my YA fantasy. Or more honestly, anything remotely good at all. Summing it up in a line or a paragraph seemed almost impossible. To work within the frame of what we were being asked to do, I began altering the basic story structure to come up with a simpler concept, resulting in another light-bulb moment. Followed by panic. 

I’d been grappling with aspects of my fantasy story that weren’t working but I was also reluctant to let go of all my previous hard work. Inspired (and scared) I allowed myself one week to start over and pursue the new idea. I wrote furiously to get as much down as I could, desperate to see if it could really stand up to the long haul, or if it would frazzle and splutter out like previous efforts. Now, less than two months later, I’m sitting with an 80,000 word draft and I’m almost finished. After months of writing and throwing away hundreds of pages, I have a first draft! (*throws confetti*) And I’ve never written so fast in my life. 

But what does this have to do with voice?

In Meg Rosoff's article for the Guardian, (follow the link to read it), she states,

Your 'voice' lies somewhere between your conscious and subconscious mind. Finding that place is a challenging exercise in self-confrontation.

Over the years, as I’ve written and thrown away hundred of thousands of words, I’ve often wondered about the way so many authors advocate scribbling down a first draft as fast as possible, with little prior plotting. It’s an approach that, from experience, I know can run you hard and fast into walls. But I also think it’s a powerful way of reaching that strange and wonderful place where the story seems to flow out of nowhere, where the writer hovers between thinking and feeling, the rational and emotional, the conscious and subconscious. There’s nothing more magical than running after a story, trying to keep up with it, rather than pulling it along behind you. Writing like this gives your characters the freedom to take you to unexpected places, to tell the story their way, to tap into something that isn’t logical but lies beyond analytical or rational thinking.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I don’t believe voice is something you can ‘learn’ like plotting or syntax. It’s something you find through the journey of writing to discover the story only you can tell in the way that only you can tell it. It’s a culmination of how your characters live through and learn from their experiences, how they perceive the world, how they act and react, how they think and speak, and how your own sensibilities and deepest experiences ripple beneath the pages to create themes and subtext that sometimes as the author, you’re not even fully conscious you’re doing.

In life, finding a voice is speaking and living the truth. Each of you is an original. Each of you has a distinctive voice. When you find it, your story will be told. You will be heard ~ John Grisham
So if you're looking for your voice as a writer, my advice is to take risks, write what excites you, what sets your pulse racing, what scares or obsesses you, what you’re grappling with or haunted by. Write and write and write, and somewhere along the line, you won’t have to find your voice, your voice will find you. 

Photos from the March 2013 SCBWI Paris conference

Tuesday, 21 May 2013


Here at Demention we're packing our bags and our books (but hopefully not our wellies) for the Hay Book Festival (Friday May 31st 5.30pm) and the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Wed 21st August am & pm) for DARK, DANGEROUS & DYSTOPIAN debates. Come and meet us - we’d love you to join in. Here’s a taster of what we’re all about...


A boy and girl, oceans apart, fates entwined, fight for a future in a flooded world. 

Julie says, ‘An SOS from islanders at the mercy of rising seas on the other side of the world sparked Exodus, Zenith and Aurora. I kept thinking, what if that happens to us? How would we cope in a climate-changed world? So I began an apocalyptic tale of young survivors on a storm-ravaged Earth.

I set my story 100 years in the future - then climate change kicked in for real, affecting millions. The floods, tornadoes and storms are unnervingly close to my imagined world. Published in over 20 countries, I love that they’ve made lots of shortlists and won awards (even Green awards in the UK & US) but the most brilliant thing for me is that young readers across the world write and tell me how the books have made them think about the future - though some teachers and librarians in the USA have blasted them as too dangerous...’  
Why do we enjoy dystopian and apocalyptic stories when the real world is scary enough? Are they a thrilling escape? Dangerous? Can they inspire hope and change? 



Imagine you’ve been SLATED - your memory wiped clean and you don’t know why. 

Teri says, ‘Slated grew from a dream in the dark murk of my unconscious, so it wasn't a plan to write a dystopian novel at all. But I think I end up writing about my obsessions, things that worry me. Whether I want to, or not. I didn't set out to consider big questions, but the story took me places, and the questions were there.’

If a young person commits a terrible, violent crime, why did they do it? Are people born bad, or made that way? If someone commits a crime as a reaction to horrible things that have happened to them, is it their fault? Should they even be punished? But if they are dangerous to everyone else, you can't just let them go...


In a society divided into Pures and Crazies, a DNA test can destroy your life forever.  

Claire says, ‘I don’t write to be controversial, but I do hope to make readers think. My debut novel The Glimpse addresses mental health issues from a rather different dynamic than is more common in fiction. Some readers have completely embraced and understood the book in the way I intended, but interpretations have been wide and in some cases very surprising. 

I didn’t set out to be provocative. I just wanted to write about a subject that concerns me deeply – the direction western society is headed in terms of the perception, diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems. I’m not a particularly confrontational person, but I could easily end up having a heated debate about a pint of milk...' 
Are dystopias so popular because they take risks, exploring all kinds of possible futures in challenging ways? Should there be boundaries in YA fiction? How far dare authors go?

From the Hay Festival here:

‘Claire Merle’s The Glimpse was welcomed as a grippingly readable and deeply unsettling British dystopian thriller. Her new book The Fall will be out in June. Claire’s website
Teri Terry’s Slated, a dark psychological thriller, was published to great acclaim last year and has now been followed by the engrossing, fast paced Fractured. Teri’s website

Julie Bertagna’s award-winning Exodus is a brilliantly imagined story of love and survival in a climate-changed world. Zenith and Aurora complete this highly-acclaimed, classic dystopian trilogy.’ Julie’s website

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Seige by Sarah Mussi review by Julienne Durber

Siege by Sarah Mussi tells the story of Leah Jackson, a sixteen year old girl who finds herself trapped when her school is overrun by a gang of gun-wielding students, one of whom is her brother.  Told from Leah’s point of view we follow her as she rescues her wounded friends and tries to find a way to escape from the school.

From the cover design, which if it hasn’t featured in the pages of Creative Review I’d be surprised, the reader is fired into an uncompromisingly harsh situation.  The action zips along at just the right rate.  Leah’s internal voice is excelently written and really connects us with the claustrophobia and the harsh decisions she has to face.

Now I remember having a conversation with a friend about the Tarantino film Pulp Fiction after it first came out.  She decided that it was an average film that had been chopped up and re-edited in a funny order to make it seem interesting.  I argued that she was missing the point and that the re-editing was a vital part of the intertwined ‘pulp’ story feel.

But I fell into that exact trap when I started reading Seige.  In fact after twenty pages I was convinced I was going to call this review ‘Die Hard meets Columbine’ (and part of me hopes that was the phrase Mussi used to pitch the book to her agent).

Die Hard meets Columbine

It is undeniable how close to Die Hard this book is.  The violence is visceral and present from the first page.  Leah is caught unawares but escapes as others are captured.  The Nakatomi building is the school, the terrorists are the gang, and the twist … well, that would be giving the game away - if you have seen the film you'll spot the similarity.

And when Leah found herself having to negotiate a corridor strewn with broken glass, in my head she had morphed into a young, female Bruce Willis.  The bald head really didn’t suit her!

I was the one missing the point.

It doesn’t matter that certain elements are familiar.  This is a totally immersive story that raises real questions about society, community responsibility and personal choices.  Leah’s situation forces the reader to question what they would do in the same situation.  And the fact that there have been incidents like this in the news adds a truly chilling edge.  This is a book about today.  Society.  Right now.

Which is why the dystopian thread was the one thing I didn’t like.  It seemed to detract from the purity of the situation – terrified student against terrorising gang.  The events in the school would have had greater impact without it, and it ended up feeling like a device added to allow certain things to be rounded off blamelessly in the last chapter.

The actual ending, however, was excellent.

I don’t think that this is a genre defining book, though I predict some copycat titles are flying towards the shelves as I’m typing this, but it’s certainly genre influencing.

Read and enjoy.  Yippie kay ay …

Royalty free images from