Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Straight on Till Morning - the project

Thanks to the Arts Council, I've now got 5 months to re-write my novel for young people. I've got some ideas about the new structure but there will still be a lot of experimenting to do. As part of the grant conditions, I've promised to share my writing process with young people: through this blog, through The Reading Agency's networking site - groupthing.org and through workshops.

It is my intention to share extracts from my novel along the way and I'm hoping that young people will offer their feedback and be a sounding board for me. I'm also hoping that I can inspire young people to write their own novels, poems, stories and blogs.

I'll be posting weekly and putting out chapters on a monthly basis but there might be some other questions that I want to ask along the way so I'm hoping to gather a community of young readers and writers around this blog and the groupthing blog. On groupthing, I'll be writer in residence over the summer and I'll be setting writing tasks as well as responding to your writing. To sign up to groupthing, just go to www.groupthing.org.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Straight on Till Morning - the history

I've written two books before this one. The first began as a project for my MA in Writing. Entitled Once Upon a Pony Tail, it was a kind of highbrow chick lit experiment which fell between the genres: not highbrow enough for literary fiction and too obscure for chick lit. The second was a children's book called Under the Indigo Waves. Again it wasn't quite right - too short, too long, not original enough. Both books were considered by agents and I even made it to London to talk about my prospects but ultimately they weren't good enough or I wasn't persistent enough to get them published.

I started Straight on Till Morning about 5 years ago and it's been a long journey to get to this point. The book is based on lots of my work experience: over the years I've worked in a range of literacy projects for young people as well as being an education worker in drug rehabs and homeless hostels. Whilst working as a literacy worker at Phoenix House Drug Rehabilitation Centre, I was privileged enough to help around 500 residents write their life stories, an experience that taught me never to judge other people. All of those people (most of whom were heroin addicts with criminal records) had really good reasons for getting involved in the lifestyle and most were really nice people. Likewise with the many homeless people I've worked with over the years. I suppose, in this book, I want to tell some of those stories and share the understanding I've gained with other people. Lorna, the middle-class literary volunteer, is, in reality, a bit like my younger self - naive but well-meaning. She's the vehicle by which we learn about Tag - but hopefully she's much more than a vehicle, as is Tag.

It was the life story idea which perhaps threw me off-track with the telling of the story. The first draft was written retrospectively from the perspective of the two main characters: Lorna from her Gap year travels and Tag from rehab. Tag's life story was thrown in there for good measure and, in the end, the story was too complicated. Agents and a literary consultant liked the plot and characters but not the structure. For the last two years I've been trying to figure out what to do with the book, committing occasional experiments to paper (or the screen) in between looking after my little girl and doing bits of work. For 6 months I was a consultant on Arts Council Yorkshire's new plan for young writers (http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/young-people-and-writing/) and for the last year I've been HeadSpace Project Manager for The Reading Agency (http://www.readingagency.org.uk/young/headspace/) and I've done the occasional stint with the Sheffield Young Writers project which I set up about 5 years ago. http://www.cubeweb.org.uk/sywriters/index.html

You'll gather that I like working with young people and so it seems natural to write for them as well. I'm hoping that this book will be the first of many young adult novels that I write.

Straight on Till Morning - the synopsis

Tag and Lorna are from different worlds and heading in different directions until their meeting at a Sheffield literacy project sets them off on a journey that neither of them expected.

Tag has had a rough life, unable to read and write and growing up with an abusive stepfather, Mitch, and a mother who is too scared and too busy to notice him. His little sister Jax also suffers abuse at the hands of Mitch and ultimately the family break apart. At sixteen Tag finds himself homeless and lost with just bad memories to keep him company. By the time Lorna meets him he has begun his descent into a world of hard drugs and crime and is living at a hostel.

Eighteen year old Lorna is an average middle class girl: good grades, good behaviour and a plan for her future. Underneath her polished accent and manners though, Lorna is struggling too. Her parents are divorced and she feels like an outsider in the home that her mum has created with new partner, Pete. Her younger sister Kate is also unhappy but rather than stick together, the two girls find solace in different things. For Lorna it’s books, travel and voluntary work, for Kate it’s fashion, Bebo and the search for a rich footballer to whisk her away from her life of drudgery.

Tag and Lorna meet when Lorna volunteers at the local literacy project where Tag has recently enrolled. From awkward beginnings a friendship blossoms and it is Tag that Lorna turns to when Kate mysteriously disappears, seduced by the promise of a future with an older man.

In their search for Kate, Tag and Lorna set off on a journey that takes them to the streets of Leeds where Lorna has an insight into the worlds of drugs, homelessness and prostitution – world’s that are all too familiar to Tag. It is a rocky road, fraught with danger and fear for Kate’s safety but in the midst of the crisis a love affair begins between Tag and Lorna. But can they find Kate before it’s too late? And even if they find Kate safe and sound, can there really be a future for them? One man is sure of the answer. Pete and his police officers are after Tag and they’re not going to stop until he’s behind bars.