Tuesday, 30 March 2010

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.

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