Tag Archive: Writing


A few weeks ago I had a burst of inspiration. I was adding to old material and creating new work for what felt like a whole week solid. It was just pouring out of me and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) stop it. The last few weeks that wave of creativity has truly crashed and become a pathetic dribble of vague ideas, all due to that frustrating mess of distractions – life. In the past, when I’m struggling, I find I can take inspiration from music. I’ve said before that music is a large part of my life and, aside from the stuff I might sing along to in my car, I’ve got a bank of music I turn to if I want to jump-start a story in my head. Below are five of, what I think, are the most inspirational musicians for writing (as well as providing dramatic soundtracks for your day….or am I the only one who does that?)

Murray Gold – I’m a Doctor Who fan and Murray Gold’s soundtrack comes with a whole TARDIS full of inspiration. Tracks such as ‘The Master Tape’, ‘The Majestic Tale of the Madman with a Box’ and ‘The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble’ are awesome kick-starters for a dramatic showdown or fully-charged finale. A lot of Reset was written with Murray Gold’s series 4 soundtrack blasting in the background, particularly tracks from latter episodes. Not only has he composed some deliciously dramatic pieces, but his tracks, such as ‘The Dream of a Normal Death’, ‘Goodbye Pond’ and ‘The Long Song’ can also be beautifully poignant. I’ve used Murray Gold’s music to inspire my own work but I’ve also played it many times in the classroom to inspire creative writing (and the children always love it). It’s also worth noting that Gold has composed some wonderful incidental pieces for Torchwood, such as ‘Death of Toshiko’ which always makes me a bit damp around the eyes.

Scala & the Kolacny Brothers – I first heard their take on U2’s ‘With or Without You’ some years ago on an advert for Downton Abbey. It was such a haunting piece of music that I had to find out more, and I’ve since added their versions of ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Every breath you take’ to my writing playlist. Nothing quite tops ‘With or Without You’ when it comes to sending shivers up your arms, though.

Michael GiacchinoLost was one of my favourite TV shows and, apart from the bonkers characters and quirky mysteries, I loved it for its music. My favourite piece of incidental music from Lost is ‘Moving On’. I love how it rises and falls, from soft and gentle to a breath-taking crescendo that just makes you cry! (It’s also great for calming down rowdy Year 6s, I’ve found). Giacchino is also behind some amazing scores from films such as Up and Jurassic World.

John Williams – Speaking of Jurassic World/Park, I had to include the film’s original composer, who created that iconic theme tune (and, alright, I may have been guilty of playing it at full blast as I’ve driven around Wales). Whether you’re into dinos or not, it’s really difficult not to get excited when the music swells. Of course, Williams is also famous for the Star Wars soundtrack, which is equally as inspiring for dramatic writing.

Alan Menken – Responsible for creating some classic Disney tunes, I had to include Menken’s work. Regardless of the catchy songs, Menken’s back catalogue of instrumental scores alone is worthy of this list. From The Little Mermaid to Tangled , Menken has created many breathtaking pieces of music. One of my favourites is ‘Transformation’ from Beauty and the Beast. (Close your eyes, have a listen and feel happy!)

I’ve always fancied writing about living in London. I tried to do it once when I dabbled with a sequel to Reset but the whole thing fell flat because….I’ve never lived in London! How could I write about something that I don’t have a clue about? I don’t know street names, hidden locations, shortcuts. I don’t know what it’s like to wake up there every day. To have my faced pushed against a tube window during a morning commute. To dash through the rain and streetlights in the middle of the night. To sip a drink in the shadows of a bar. I don’t know what it’s like to live in London. So I couldn’t possibly write about it.

It might sound like an obvious idea but this lesson has taken me a long time to learn.

When I was growing up my projects usually focused on characters in a theatre group or at school, because that’s all I knew. I didn’t click at first, but my projects all had similar threads. Reset is based in Cardiff because I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. After Caitlyn focuses on a toxic friendship and the repercussions it can have. Alex’s story is about the struggle to find your place in the world. The strongest threads come from my own knowledge. Naturally.

A few weeks ago something happened and the more I thought about it the more I felt the need to write it down. I started with this tiny incident which grew, and is still growing, into a full story. I’ve got a character who is becoming more and more real and situations which I think are running very natural courses because the initial basis of the story is truth.

I’m sure it goes without saying that the best writers are those who have lived through pain and truly experienced life. It’s no wonder I’ve been getting so frustrated with my ideas, feeling like they’re old news, like my imagination is drying up. I’ve used up all my stock. How can I write about different cities if I’ve never visited them? About life experiences if I’ve never experienced them?

The message is to write about what you know. And if you don’t know it, go and find it.

Half term. I’m sat in the window of my apartment at a newly created workstation strategically placed so I can look out over the busy road, the commuters bustling through the train station and those handsome Welsh mountains in the background. I’ve been meaning to set this spot up since I moved in almost 15 months ago but only now have I managed to take action.

The last half term, in October, was a bit of disaster. I don’t have a good track record when it comes to half terms. Christmas, Easter, the Summer – they’re all great, but it’s these week long holidays in between that I can’t seem to handle properly. I always end up with cancelled plans or no plans at all. I just can’t do half terms! This was one, however, was going to be different.

For a few weeks I’ve felt myself bubbling. Frustration tightening a knot around my waist (but for more of that, see last week’s rant!) and I knew that this half term I needed to fix it. The most prominent activity in my busy schedule is ‘writing time’. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to grab quality writing time. A run of a few hours where I can lose myself in an idea. In fact, since September I have only managed to write for the odd hour here and there. And that’s not enough for me.

Saturday night, I settled down in my new spot and began to type. I’ve barely thought of anything else since. I seem to be having some sort of inspiration overload. Closing the gates on work for a week has unlocked a boxful of ideas and I am loving the luxury of time.

My first project to hit was the big one. Reset. I’ve been working on this since 2010 and I’m finally at the stage where its feeling polished. It’s ready. It’s my pride and joy and I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed it.

After a few re-workings of Reset, I bounced over to my second pride and joy – After Caitlyn. Shorter than Reset by a country mile and totally different in tone and style (hmm…perhaps I need to squeeze some poetry into this week) but I couldn’t be prouder of this story. Although it brought unwelcome reminders of the real-life elements that run through the story, I enjoyed being reunited with these characters and adding tweaks to the story here and there. This one is almost ready.

A project that has taken me by surprise this weekend is something I didn’t think I was ready to do. In September, I agreed to lead Performing Arts Club at school. We have lots of fun and the children are buzzing with creative ideas and energy. When the time came for us to consider our big production I was adamant I didn’t have the time (or the energy) to write it. We’d have to order a script in. End of.

Well, here I am, 16 pages into an epic tale of Welsh Myths and Legends. I have to give credit to the children for their inspirational passion. I just couldn’t stop myself and I hope my script provides them with the material they deserve.

And on top of all that, I’ve even had time to re-visit that sitcom (the sitcom that’s not a sitcom. Don’t worry, I’m just as confused as to what it is at the moment) I’ve been talking about for years. If I can get the pilot done by the summer, I’ll be very happy.

So, I’m at an inspirational peak. I find myself thinking about a Reset sequel in the car and those first stirrings of excitement leave my fingertips tingling. I listen to a soundtrack – RENT, some of the most raw, evocative lyrics you’ll ever hear – and I start to think about the characters in After Caitlyn. I look down at the road bringing people to and from my town, and I start to think about a new project altogether, the characters already having a blazing row in my head. I finish The Girl on the Train and I’m in awe of the storytelling. This is what I want to be capable of. My mind is bursting with ideas and I’m relishing the process of channeling them into words. I’m feeling creatively rejuvenated and after a very dry few months, it’s about time too!

 

‘The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.’

I remember reading those final words nine years ago and feeling utterly lost. I had grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and when they finally left my life I mourned them. All these years later, I experienced the same feeling as I finished my re-read of the whole series – a testament to the power of Rowling’s work.

Hallows is not only the perfect ending to an epic story, but a heartfelt love letter to fans. It has everything. Everything! Just when you think Rowling can’t cram any more action packed twists, emotional reveals or heartwarming nostalgia into the book, she pulls something else from her bag of tricks.

I could easily write an essay listing all of the fanstastic moments within Hallows, but I’m going to try and fit it all into this one post.

It’s always been clear that Rowling has the upmost respect for her fans, but I think Hallows is solid proof of this. It can’t have been easy, tying up a story that spans seven books featuring hundreds of beloved characters, but Rowling tackled this with perfection and her hard work shines through every page. I first read this book when I was 17.  I raced through it in just a few days and it never left my side. 9 years later, I feel like I was able to appreciate it even more, taking in every reference and moment but still rarely straying far from my copy.

Hallows is littered with references from previous books – characters, locations, events, objects – it’s almost as if Rowling has challenged herself with squeezing every ounce of Potter into one book. Saying that, the references never feel unnatural or forced. It’s a great feeling when you recognise or revisit something. The visits to the Chamber of Secrets, the Forbidden Forest, the Shrieking Shack, Godric’s Hollow, The Ministry of Magic and Gringotts Bank all bring back welcome memories of the previous stories, like revisiting a childhood den.

But Rowling doesn’t just re-tread old ground. This book ventures out of Hogwarts and sees our friends journey around Britain. Plenty of new characters turn up, including many that have been mentioned before but never seen. Xenophillius Lovegood, Ron’s Aunt Muriel and Tonk’s Parents all make long awaited, if brief, appearances, each progressing the plot in some way.

From weddings, to duels, to undercover missions, to breaking out of a bank on the back of a dragon – the story rockets a long, hopping from tense scene to another. Soon, we’re back at Hogwarts, where the magic all started, for one final battle.

It’s not all fun though. The stories have got progressively darker and this is book with the highest death rate. Hedwig and Mad-Eye start us of in dramatic fashion as they bow out during an airborne battle , leaving us distraught pretty early in the book. The pang of losing Hedwig, Harry’s loyal owl, matches the foreboding doom that comes with Mad-Eye’s death, who was Harry’s last remaining protector. Many characters are picked off throughout the book as the drama escalates but one of the most painful deaths is that of Dobby the House Elf. Loyal friend to Harry since book two, Dobby’s final heroic act is followed by tragedy as he is hit by Bellatrix’s knife (making us long even more for her demise! First Sirius, now Dobby!). Dobby’s death is a beautiful piece of writing, a moment that will have life-long fans snuffling into their pages.

I’ve said before that Rowling is incredibly skilled at writing dark, tricky themes for younger readers. These books tackle so much – death, torture, discrimination, power, teenage angst and jealousy. The list is endless. The scene where Bellatrix tortures Hermione is particularly harrowing to read, not to mention the earlier chapter where a snake is found to be inhabiting Bathilda Bagshot’s corpse. We’re not dealing with Enid Blyton here. Rowling flexes her talent by including these dark moments but never over stepping the mark. She doesn’t mollycoddle her reader, she exposes them to the dark side of the world, but always stops just short of traumatising her reader. I find that incredible.

However, to counter that darkness, Rowling sends a very strong message on the power of love. Love as protection has a strong presence in Hallows particularly that of a mother’s love. Harry’s survival is all down to his mother’s sacrifice for him as a child and Lily Potter’s presence is certainly felt throughout the final book, even more so at the end where she appears to Harry to reaffirm her support of him. Narcissa Malfoy also protects Harry, in a surprising move, by lying to Voldemort in order to protect her own son. So desperate to save Draco, she buys Harry the time he needs to overthrow Voldemort. And then there’s Molly Weasley. I think every reader cheered when she fatefully cried ‘NOT MY DAUGTHER YOU BITCH!’. Mrs Weasley’s fearsome protection of her daughter leads to her killing one of Voldemorts closest companions, Bellatrix (hooray! Justice for Dobby!).

Another kind of love is revealed as we learn that, after all these years, Snape was in love with Harry’s mother and has been protecting him as penance for (accidentally) playing a part in her murder. Snape is one of most wonderfully written characters as his true intentions have never quite been known from book one, but now the truth is out it all fits in to place. His whole story arc is a testament to the subtlety within Rowling’s writing. Snape’s patronus is revealed to be a doe, the same as Lily’s, and in book six we hear small references to Tonk’s patronus changing to reflect her love. Rowling plans every single detail.

I’d forgotten how much I loved these books and just how much they meant to me as I was growing up. Re-reading them over the last few months has transported me back to my teens and I’ve found myself looking forward to my pre-sleep read every night. Rowling makes you care about these characters and the world they inhabit, making it the perfect form of escapism at the end of a long working day. When I finished Hallows, I was eager for more. I spent last night searching Pottermore and can’t wait for the eighth story to be released in July. If its predecessors are anything to go by, it’s going to be amazing.

As a writer, I find Rowling’s dedication, subtlety and ability to make the complex accessible so inspiring and hold her high on my list of role models. As a teacher, I can see the endless lessons these books can teach children, generation after generation. As a reader, I find them utterly magical, with a story I can revisit over and over again, and still find something new. I really can’t imagine life without these books. They bring just as much comfort and wonder to me now as they did ten years ago. They have become classic books which will be read for many years to come and I hope Rowling realises just how many lives she has touched with her stories. She has brought magic to an ordinary life, and for that I’ll always be thankful.

 

 

 

Short post this week as I’m on a roll and determined to spend as much time as possible on the five year project!

So, in the last couple of weeks major developments have happened. The first episode is almost complete. Which, considering this has been five years coming, is a major step for me! I had a bit of an inspiration burst over Easter and began changing my plans for the pilot. One thing led to another and here I am, close to a full first draft of ep. 1. I’m so excited!

I decided to give my planning the ‘Reset treatment’. Whilst I was writing Reset, I stuck a huge piece of paper to the wall and covered it in post-its – each representing a chapter – which details key points in the plot. I was able to mix these around and throw some away and add new ones as well as get an overall view of where my story is going. It also served as a constant reminder (because it was huge!) that I needed to be working. So, when I sat down at my laptop I realised I needed some visual prompts. I took a piece of paper and sketched out an episode map which showed each characters journey throughout the eight episodes. Having this in front of me has been a great help.

Another planning device I used with Reset was to create a scrapbook of images – whether that be actors who would play characters, key props or pictures of potential settings. So over Easter I created the Big Red File. I split the file into sections, one for each main or recurring character. Each section starts with a collage of images of actors who could play that character, then on the reverse I have the random facts page. The random facts page is a working document which I plan on adding to as I go along. This page has the character’s key information (e.g., full name, DOB, family, etc) as well as any other facts (Such as stories from their childhood or guilty pleasures). The big red file is going to be my bible.

Something which I also found handy when I wrote After Caitlyn was to create a playlist of songs. I’ve not reached that stage yet, but I have jotted down a few songs which could feature.

Getting creative with my planning has definitely spurred the project on and rejuvenated my enthusiasm. It’s like looking at the story with a fresh pair of eyes. I can see what works and what doesn’t, and I’m able to make tweaks and changes, which leaves me very excited! I’d be interested to hear of any other techniques writers use to immerse themselves into their stories and develop their writing.

In the meantime, I’m pressing on with Ep. 1 and my next step is to give it a proper name, as five year project is getting a bit naff.

‘How long is this going to take?’ Bobby Fawcett, 2013

I gave those words to a character I’ve been living with for about 5 years and as I read them earlier today I found myself thinking the same thing. How long is this going to take?

I’ve been steadily working on a five-year-long project, but the initial germ of the idea has been cooking away in my brain for about ten years. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear it all pivots around an amateur theatre society.

Having been part of a theatre group for 12 years, I’ve met many characters (many of which are completely bloody bonkers and should never have been introduced to the public) who just wrapped up buckets of writing material and presented it to me with a neat little bow. Whether I was listening to a man drunkenly ramble off outrageous lie after outrageous lie or watching a woman frantically fire proof a pair of knickers (in fear of standing too close to a pyrotechnic), being part of that group was a writers gift. This project was undoubtedly a comedy. It had to be. The material was so ridiculous there was a risk it would be unbelievable unless it was written as a comedy. I envisioned a sort of IT-Crowd-slash-Vicar-of-Dibley style sitcom, with a newbie entering this wacky world of self-obsessed amateurs and pompous, over-stuffed board members who took themselves far too seriously.

For the next four years I made notes of each hilariously bonkers moment or comment so that I could one day combine them into a script. The result is a ten page document listing everything from carnivorous pigs to yoghurt addicts injecting Muller light behind the storage unit and a late night escape from a dogging spot. The characters were 2D, comedy hybrids of people I’d met over the years and, on that level, they worked. But there was something that wasn’t quite right….

Then, last year, something struck me. I continued to read through each unfinished episode, hoping that this wasn’t just funny to me, and trying to work out exactly what the problem was. Then I realised. The story felt stilted and unnatural. It felt fake. It was funny, but this story was lacking heart. It didn’t feel real enough. It felt like a parody of a theatre group and I realised that’s not what I wanted to capture. What made that place special to me was that for all its panto villains and mad people, everyone cared for each other (well…sort of). It was a place where you could find sanctuary (among the madness) when life wasn’t on your side. That’s what I wanted to show.

This wasn’t a sitcom. It was a drama.

I realised the thing my characters were lacking was truth. I’d taken the comedy elements of people I’d met and mashed them into 2D figures of ridicule.  There was no heart. No pulse. Cue a sudden influx of drama. Stressed out Adam suddenly became frustrated with life and on the brink of depression. Cocky, man-magnet Bobby was flirty and sexy on the surface, but hiding a deep self-loathing and a very modern quest for love and acceptance. April, who was once superficial and fake, now hides a fear of the future and grieves for the past. By fleshing out my main cast, I’ve given new life to a project that was starting to grow stale. I’ve realised that with this new tone, the characters can go anywhere.  They can do anything. What I was trying to do before was squash them into a relentlessly laugh-a-minute setting which caged and limited them. Now, they can still be funny, but I’m able to tell their stories properly and, to me anyway, this makes these characters feel so much more real.

So, in answer to Bobby’s question, How long is this going to take?

I’m pleased to say, Not very long at all, now.

 

It’s no secret – I bloody love EastEnders. I could quite happily write a full thesis on my love for this programme, but I will try to condense it to a few hundred words.

Murder, deceit, cockneys. What’s not to love?

My love for EE goes way back. I remember crying as a child when Tiffany died outside the Vic, watching in horror as Dennis was stabbed and the goosebumps as Danielle died in Ronnie’s arms. (Am I showing my morbid side? It’s not just about the deaths….honest.)

I can understand these characters. I don’t know what it is but I find them so real and relatable. Far more than any other soap. (In fact, I only watch EE.) For me, this is the programme that delivers the hard hitting, true to life stories. The stories that get people talking in work, on the street and across all media platforms. It’s true, a few years ago the Square took a bit of a dive and lost its direction. I’m proud to say I stuck with it through these dark times and in the autumn of 2013 things began to pay off. I think the clouds first parted when Queen Ronnie stepped out of the nick. For me, that was the moment EastEnders got it’s groove back.

Of course, it was all down to Dominic Treadwell Collins taking over the helm. DTC has done an amazing job. His passion for the show fizzes through the screen. It’s in the writing….the performances….the whole look of the show! He’s given us bold stories such as Patrick’s stroke, Cora’s homelessness, Jonny Carter’s coming out storyline, Linda’s rape and Sharon and Phil’s wedding shoot-out. Not to mention the juggernaut that is the Murder of Lucy Beale. DTC is a genius, bringing new life to characters and bringing the Square’s history back to the forefront of the show. The character of Jane Beale, for example, wandered mindlessly around the Square for years before she finally departed, having seemingly run out of steam. With the Lucy Beale storyline, DTC has given Jane a new lease of life, as well as providing Laurie Brett the chance to flex those acting muscles. Laurie isn’t the only one. Each cast member has had their chance to shine. There are no favourites. They all have their moments. Another act of brilliance from DTC.

Easties also introduced something special which has given the show a new edge – the surprise return. I was totally bowled over when Jane made a surprise appearance two years ago. Since then we’ve had many a shock come back (Honey, Anthony, Rainie and, more recently, Lucas!). These returns aren’t sensationalised and gratuitous. It’s always the right time for the character to appear – DTC knows what he’s doing. We couldn’t discuss comebacks without talking about the mother of all returns – Kathy Beale. DTC certainly wins the Biggest Balls award for bringing back a legendary character that had been ‘dead’ for years. Things could have easily gone wrong and, although Kathy has seemed to settle back into the Square rather quickly, her return was believable and handled with care.

It’s not just the returns that DTC is good at. He’s also introduced some potentially legendary characters. I should start with the Carters, who have been a breath of fresh air in the Queen Vic. The Square needed a solid family unit and Mick and Linda are the perfect pair to run our favourite fictional public house. My favourite Carter has to be Aunt Babe. Cuddly and harmless on the outside, manipulative and cruel on the inside. Fantastic. I’ve been pretty vocal about my love for the Cokers (long may they stay) but I also think Vincent, Claudette, Kush and Carmel have made wonderfully interesting additions to the cast.

The writing supersedes any other soap. It’s real. You can tell from the Live Week episodes that the writers work tirelessly to produce top quality scripts. They know the characters inside out and they believe in what they are writing. If I could capture a fraction of that in my own writing, I’d be very happy.

For me, it’s not just about the big stories. EastEnders constantly delivers heartfelt, poignant moments – from Christine’s introduction to FatBoy’s tragic demise. What makes the show truly enjoyable to watch is that it’s clear everyone involved loves being a part of it. Producers, writers, actors, crew….they all care about the Square!

Just as the excitement of Christmas and New Year has died down (on par with New Year’s Day 2015 – I am still in shock over that car crash), we’ve been dealt an emotional week that’s included Stacey teetering on the Queen Vic roof, Kat finding out she has a secret son and a tearful goodbye to Charlie Slater.. (Can we all just applaud Derek Martin, please?)

So, yes. My love for Easties is strong and DTC certainly has a spot reserved on my Shelf of Writing Heroes. Based on this week alone, I think 2016 will be a fantastic year for the Square, and I will certainly be watching. Always.

 

I have itchy fingers.

I am itching to write another story. To go on a fresh adventure and get to know some new adventures. The last few months have been pretty hectic and I can’t help but feel I’ve neglected my work. After finishing the first draft of After Caitlyn in September, I’ve re-visited it a couple of times to edit and tweak but whilst I know I should focus my attention on refining that story, my mind can’t help drifting off…..

The bones of After Caitlyn are on paper, it just needs fleshing out. It usually takes me a while to get a story down but I was particularly proud at how speedy I managed to write this. It probably took around two weeks to get the whole first draft down….but after that….I’ve neglected it. This is a writing-disorder I have suffered from in the past.

The work I’m most proud of is Reset, but I cannot get a final edit. It’s huge. It took a good 18 months to write and stands at 64 chapters. The problem I have is each time I come to edit I fix a few chapters and then leave it for a couple of months and by the time I’ve come back….I’ve completely lost track and have to start again. Feeling adventurous last summer, I decided to start planning a sequel. I made a few notes, but then After Caitlyn stole my attention.  When it comes to writing….I’m fickle!

I’ve also had a sitcom project that has been rumbling along for about three years. I’ve updated ideas and written a few scenes along the way but I’m yet to finish a solid episode. The characters in this script fascinate me and I really feel they are the most rounded characters I’ve created. I really think I could have a lot of fun with the material I’ve already collected but for some reason…I just can’t get started!

So my question is, as a writer, is it best to channel your energy finishing each project before moving on to the next? Or should you work on projects as they pop into your mind?  If I relaxed and simply worked on each project when I fancied it, it might take me years to complete something but the work wouldn’t be forced. On the other hand, over the next couple of years I could end up accumulating a laptop full of notes and incomplete documents but not one finished story! Hmm….a severe case of itchy fingers.

For about two months I’ve been haunted by one of my own creations.

I’m in the middle of a re-draft and I am constantly querying my antagonist. Do we need to know more about her? Why is she like this? What would she do in this situation? What would she say to this person? Who is she?

I see her everywhere I go. She’s in the supermarket, she’s in work, she’s in my car, and she’s even joined me in the bath!

I know this is the case with every writer but the troubling thing is…… She is pure evil.

She is the most outrageous, offensive, cruel and manipulative character I have ever written. She’s Voldemort, Patsy Stone, Cersei Lannister and Darth Vader all rolled into one.

Last time I wrote her she was about to be challenged spectacularly in the women’s toilets of a bar by one of my (sort of) protagonists in what could be the campest showdown I’ve ever written. (Seriously, Kathy and Sharon? Pfft!)

To me, she is now real. I’ve created someone who I love to hate.

Now, I’ve always been one for a good villain. When I was a child I was more inclined to be fascinated with Ursula, Captain Hook, Scar and Maleficent than the heroes of their stories. It’s no secret that my favourite book is Wicked by Gregory Maguire that delves into the backstory of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. I am just a sucker for a good baddie. I’m intrigued as to what makes them tick and if they are misunderstood, like Elphaba, that earns them even more points.

I had two sets of villains in Reset. There was the elusive Marston, whose wickedness was probably crafted due to the pressures and experiences of his former career, and then there were Roache and Tremaine. These two weren’t pure evil, they were just doing their job, but happened to be pretty horrible people.

Caitlyn is a different story. From the beginning she is cold and mysterious and as the novel progresses she turns into a spiteful, poisonous bitch. By the end, the only redeeming feature is that she is…well….kind of funny. Her put downs and one liners are cruel and often upsetting but sometimes they can’t help provoke a chuckle. Those who have read the story have all said that it’s a shame she is so evil as she is such an interesting character. Isn’t this the case with all villains? For me anyway, the heroes are safe and boring but the villains have the real fun and there is something satisfying about unadulterated loathing. Look at Joffrey (and many other characters) in Game of Thrones. I hated him so much but his wicked doings were super entertaining (and I did cheer loudly when he finally bit the dust).

Anyway, anyway, anyway, my point is villains are just far more interesting than heroes. I think there is so much more scope for a gritty, powerful backstory with a villain and they, of course, can get away with fantastically wicked deeds. They can also say exactly what everyone else is too scared to say, which is something of a theme in After Caitlyn. I believe Caitlyn is a brilliant villain because none of the other characters realise it until the end. She connives, schemes, manipulates, bitches and backstabs right until the end, remaining mysterious and elusive even up to her sudden exit.

When I think of Caitlyn, I think of Shakespeare.

‘One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.’

Saturday night. Whilst other twenty-somethings were downing shots, snogging strangers and being sick in the back of taxis, I was blissfully reading through the full first draft of my second novel with a glass of milk and a Cadbury’s Flake.

I wasn’t bothered about how tame my Saturday was because in front of me was something I had done all by myself. I love that sense of achievement and I will always crave it.

It was all there in front of me (and now I’m going to say the title for the first time…oh God…ready?) – After Caitlyn, draft one. The total opposite of Reset – shorter, more humble and grounded – but still holding enough power in those few pages to make me feel totally fulfilled.  I’d written the whole thing in about two weeks after a sudden and unstoppable burst of inspiration (see last post!). So, again it differed to Reset which took me about a year and half to write.

Now the tough part begins – editing.

Tough for a couple of reasons (mainly because the editing stage is where I find myself most distracted to a point where I can no longer be arsed. Soon, months have gone by and I’ve disengaged with the story completely and have to re-read!). I’m sure it will be different this time. I start with a team of readers (who are reading as I type) then carry out a second edit following their feedback.

Tough, also, because I can be very indecisive. Several characters in this story have emotionally complex backgrounds which are often given as excuses for their behaviour. The dilemma I have is – how much backstory do I give them? I’ve been careful not to explain too much so as not to distract from the main story. I know what happened to my characters before After Caitlyn begins, but I’m not sure I want/need to share all of that with readers. In some novels I’ve read, the fact that a characters backstory is left uncertain contributes to the brilliance of the book, but in others it’s been necessary to know about the character’s history in order to make sense of their actions. I wanted to make this story as real as possible – focusing on real, human people in a real, human situation – so omitting details from a character’s past might work to promote that as, in life, we can never really know anyone.

One character has their background heavily alluded to but details are not given. I think I’ll stick with that. But another prominent character, who carries out really despicable deeds and behaves in a totally unacceptable way, does not have their history fully explained. By the time I’d reached the end of the story I couldn’t help worrying there was a danger of this character becoming 2D and…hmm…slightly pantomime! This character has had a very tricky past and I’m unsure whether explaining that would make their actions a bit more understandable (but not forgivable!) I don’t want to lay on this character’s backstory too thickly as I think their story needs an element of mystery to fit with their sudden arrival and subsequent disappearance. So, is it necessary to know a character’s backstory? Or can great characters often come from mystery and the reader’s own assumptions?