A YEAR HAS PASSED SINCE THE ART OF NOT BREATHING HIT SHELVES IN THE UK. IT FEELS LIKE YESTERDAY AND IT FEELS LIKE A LIFETIME AGO. ANNIVERSARIES ARE ALWAYS A GOOD OPPORTUNITY FOR A BIT OF SELF-INDULGENT REFLECTION, SO HERE’S A LIST OF MY TOP EIGHT HIGHLIGHTS.Read More
NEWS & RAMBLINGS
How to write a book: the magic answer
Before I started writing The Art of Not Breathing, I spent many hours googling ‘How to write a novel’. The internet was full of helpful advice for people who weren’t me, like, ‘You must write every day’, and ‘So-and-so wrote ten books on their commute to work and won loads of prizes’. Back then, it seemed impossible to adopt this method of writing a novel – for one thing, my commute involved my face being squished under someone’s armpit and not having the space to breathe, let alone getting my arms into some kind of writing position. Eventually, I realised the internet wasn’t going to give me a magic answer. I had to find a way that worked for me, and that took a bit of time. This is how I did it:
1. I spent a good few years (twenty-ish) writing the first few thousand words of many different novels. I noticed some similarities in the half-novels I’d written and decided those must be the things I really wanted to write about (probably). Those things were family, siblings, sad things and water.
2. The Art of Not Breathing started with a scene. Elsie and her mum were running down a hill – talking, laughing, but not really saying anything. I knew they were in pain. I noted down everything about them – their looks, likes, dislikes, desires, strengths, the things they weren’t saying, the people they might love, the people they might despise, the secrets they would never divulge.
3. I gave myself a timeline for the events – six months. I plotted the main action (diving) around the seasons and the weather. I drew a map of where the characters lived. I promptly forgot about my timeline and map.
4. I started writing scenes, not in any particular order, just the ones that popped into my head. Then I tried to stick them together to make a plot.
5. I rewrote the first ten thousand words eleventy million times because they were the most important. I did this for a year, writing mostly at weekends and never on my commute.
6. After a year, I realised it was more important to write the other sixty thousand words. I did this by writing nearly every day, in 45-minute bursts before and after work and on my lunchbreaks. At weekends, I continued to stick my scenes together. Sometimes I wrote the words at weekends and did the sticking together in 45-minute bursts before and after work, etc.
7. At the beginning of each week, I made a list of potential scenes and conversations to write so that I didn’t use my writing time for thinking. If I got stuck on one scene, I could move to the next. I made these lists on my phone … on my commute (shh, don’t tell anyone).
8. When I was almost done with the first draft, I took a week off work to get the Damn Thing finished. I put so much pressure on myself to write that I gave myself insomnia and sleep-deprivation-induced migraines, and didn’t write anything. It took another three months to write the final few chapters. Then I took a break to plan my wedding.
9. For the second draft, I took a pair of shears to the manuscript and hacked away almost half of it, then built the story back up again with a couple of new subplots. This all happened within a couple of months.
10. For the third draft, I did the same again but not so drastically. This all happened within a couple of weeks.
11. GOT A PUBLISHING DEAL!!!
12. Worked on another two drafts with two different publishers. The edits included remodelling a character, changing the age of a character, more cuts and more additions.
13. The day before the final manuscript was due I noticed there was a gaping hole in my timeline (see #3). I spent three days fixing it and no one will ever know.
EASY AS PIE!
What's this all about?
It's all about Tommy. Tommy Donbavand is a children's author, playwright, actor and an all-round amazing human being. I haven't actually has the pleasure of meeting him but I feel like I know him through his honest and heartfelt blogs about his battle with cancer – that is how I know about his amazingness.
Tommy was diagnosed with throat cancer in March this year and, due to the loss of his voice and time needed for treatment, has had to cancel or postpone many school visits. These school visits are where a large proportion of Tommy’s income comes from so this blog tour aims to raise funds to help ease his financial worries while he focuses on his treatment. Throughout the month of June, an army of bloggers and authors has been reading and reviewing Tommy’s books as part of a MEGA blog tour.
Today is my stop on the tour and I'm thrilled to be here!
rEVIEW OF WOLF
On the back cover
Adam didn't have much planned for this afternoon - head home from school, grab a snack, maybe play a video game before tea. No way did he plan to grow some claws. Or fur. Or a tail.
At this rate, Adam will be having his mum and dad for tea. And they don't seem exactly surprised...
I was drawn to Wolf by the stunning and very creepy cover – those eyes! And the story is just as compelling. It's a short book but packs a real punch. I raced through it in one sitting because I was desperate to find out what would happen to poor Adam. Oh my, that ending!
Wolf, published by Barrington Stoke, has a dyslexia friendly sticker on the cover and there are fantastic illustrations in every chapter that add to the mood – it's perfect for reluctant readers. The language is straightforward but that doesn't take away from the story. I was gripped from the first page. The suspense builds with every sentence as you get drawn into Adam's frightening world – I could actually feel his pain as he progressed through the transformation. Ouch. The book is gory in all the right places but there are also some wonderful and humorous moments between Adam and his parents. Tommy Donbavand weaves the uncanny into everyday life in a way that makes you believe things you never thought possible. In fact, since reading, I've been checking my fingers for emerging claws... and I've had some very strange dreams.
I'd recommend this to anyone who loves a bit of horror. If you scare easily, I suggest sleeping with the light on. A delightful, thrilling read. I can't wait to pick up more of his books.
Tommy is the author of the popular 13-book Scream Street series for 7 to 10 year olds, published by Walker Books in the UK and Candlewick Press in the US. His other books include Zombie!, Wolf and Uniform (winner of the Hackney Short Novel Award) for Barrington Stoke, Boredom Busters and Quick Fixes For Kids’ Parties (How To Books), and Making A Drama Out Of A Crisis (Network Continuum).
In theatre, Tommy’s plays have been performed to thousands of children on national tours to venues such as The Hackney Empire, Leeds City Varieties, and Nottingham Playhouse. These productions include Hey Diddle Diddle, Rumplestiltskin, Jack & Jill In The Forgotten Nursery, and Humpty Dumpty And The Incredibly Daring Rescue Of The Alien Princess From Deep Space. He is also responsible for five episodes of the CBBC TV series, Planet Cook (Platinum Films).
As an actor, Tommy played the Clearlake MC in the West End musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story for over eight years, in addition to roles in the movies Zombie Love Stories (where he battled hordes of Scottish undead) and Going Off Big Time (where he was beaten up on a bouncy castle). A veteran of pantomime, he has portrayed just about every comic character from Abanazer to an Ugly Sister.
Tommy lives in Lancashire with his wife and two sons. He is a HUGE fan of all things Doctor Who, plays blues harmonica, and makes a mean balloon poodle. He sees sleep as a waste of good writing time.
How you can help
There are lots of ways to support Tommy. You can buy his books. You can donate. There’s also an opportunity to become a patron – by pledging just £1 a month you can receive exclusive content from Tommy, including short stories and articles, and there's a special pack for schools. Check out the links below for more information.
You can follow Tommy’s blog here. He talks about his treatment and how it’s affecting his life. I highly recommend you take a look and send some love and support Tommy's way.
And finally, please do spread the word! #TommyVCancer
I'VE BEEN A BIT QUIET BUT I'M BACK.
Facebook told me this morning that ‘140 people who like Sarah Alexander’ had not heard from me for 29 days. I am so, so sorry. I’m sure you’re wondering where the hell I’ve been. Or perhaps you haven’t – because 29 days isn’t really that long; to me it feels more like 29 minutes.
I’ve been having a mini break from social media because it gets a bit overwhelming sometimes and I needed to step away to recharge. But, I’m slowly making my way back and thought I’d start by letting you know what I’ve been up to since my debut novel was released into the wild. Warning: you’re about to get an insight into the more glamorous side of being an author.
Who knew there’d be so much? There are the fun bits, like reorganising my writing files, colour coding character notes and lining up my sharpies. And then there’s all this:
- Filling in tax forms (finding receipts from previous tax years, digging out bank statements from previous tax years, doing endless foreign currency calculations, scanning, signing, emailing, posting, etc.)
- Filling in other forms, e.g. registering my book for library lending
- Reading and signing contracts and remembering to post them
- Signing up for various author membership groups
- Setting up and maintaining my website
- Responding to emails from publishers, agents, bloggers and readers in a semi-timely manner
- Posting giveaways
- Buying stamps and remembering where I’ve put them
Promoting THE ART OF NOT BREATHING
If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you will have seen a number of online interviews and blogs featuring me. With time and geography limitations, the best way for me to promote my book at the moment is online. I’ve been yabbering about my inspirations behind the book, plotting my ideal movie cast as well as talking about some of the more serious issues in the book. I’m not sure how many interviews and guest posts I’ve done but the spreadsheet I use to keep track of them all has several tabs and involves quite a bit of scrolling.
But promotion doesn’t only happen from behind the safety of my desk. I’ve been popping into book shops across the country and signing my books. It’s the stuff of dreams! In my dreams, though, I was never quite as awkward, or as shaky when holding the pen. Look out for exclusive signed copies of The Art of Not Breathing – you may even come across a bookmark or two. I also have some exciting in person events coming up later in the year. Watch this space for more info soon.
Huzzah! Finally to the bit that makes all of the above worthwhile. I’m a writer and what I like best about this crazy new job is writing. Now things have calmed down a bit, I’m back to writing every day and Book Two is shaping up nicely.
PS It has a title now but it’s still a secret.
PPS I can’t wait to tell you more about it.
Having a full time job, promoting one book and writing another doesn’t leave much time for this thing called life. Fortunately, I have a husband through whom I can live vicariously. I send him to the shops for emergency supplies of tea and biscuits, and then ask him what it was like out there. He usually tells me I’m not missing much. I send him to the family get-togethers that I can’t make and after those he tells me I am missing out. So, this month, with social media and Book One promotion taking a backseat, I’ve been out and about, and it’s glorious!
I’ve visited friends and family, spent time in coffee shops having bookish chats with writer folks, signed up for a 10K race with work folks, binge-watched two seasons of Orphan Black (why did I wait so long to watch this?), and I’ve booked a holiday. The next challenge will be whether I can get through my holiday without writing or logging onto social media. Probably not. Because this IS my life now.
If you’re not one of the 140 people who likes Sarah Alexander on Facebook, what are you waiting for? I promise to post more frequently than every 29 days from now on.
Announcing a very special blog tour
I’m proud to be joining forces with an army of book bloggers and authors on a MEGA blog tour to help raise funds for children’s author Tommy Donbavand as he battles cancer.
Tommy was diagnosed with throat cancer in March this year and, due to the loss of his voice and time needed for treatment, has had to cancel or postpone many school visits. These school visits are where a large proportion of Tommy’s income comes from so this blog tour aims to raise funds to help ease his financial worries while he focuses on his treatment. Throughout the month of June, the army of bloggers and authors will be reviewing Tommy’s books. We want to increase sales of Tommy’s books and raise awareness of his donation page. Look out for my blog tour stop on the tour on 27th June.
You can follow Tommy’s blog here. He talks about his treatment and how it’s affecting his life. I highly recommend you read it.
There will be four main giveaways sponsored by various publishers and agencies throughout the tour which will be hosted on specific websites. Visit the blog tour stops below to enter – you’ll be asked to donate £1 (or more) to Tommy’s paypal fund. The winners will be announced during the Twitter chat on 30th June.
Sister Spooky – 2nd June
A Daydreamer’s Thoughts – 9th June
The Pewter Wolf – 16th June
A Very Special Twitter Chat – 30th June
There are lots of ways to support Tommy. You can buy his books. You can donate. There’s also an opportunity to become a patron – by pledging just £1 a month you can receive exclusive content from Tommy, including short stories and articles, and there's a special pack for schools. Check out the links below for more information.
And finally, please, please do share any posts you see about the Tommy V Cancer Blog Tour and spread the word. See you on the tour! #TommyVCancer
A year of holding on and a day of letting go.
I’m always a bit behind the times when it comes to movies. Despite having several nieces and nephews who are Frozen obsessed, I only watched the film for the first time last week. The let it go song has been looping around in my head ever since and, finally, I’ve had an Elsa epiphany.
Exactly a year ago today, I sent my final version of The Art of Not Breathing to my editor in the US and she sent it straight to copyedit. The book was done. But instead of it being a glorious moment – no more edits, no more plot-hole filling, no more spending every waking minute attached to a keyboard – it marked the beginning of a twelve-month period of unfathomable anxiety. I’d emerged from my writing cave into blinding, disorientating daylight. The cave was dark and lonely at times, but it was safe and silent and there was always a tiny sliver of light – at some point, I would be handing over a perfect manuscript and everyone would buy it, read it and love it. Until then I had time to work on it, make it better, make it the best I could. And the best I could make it would be good enough.
When I handed over the manuscript, I knew it wasn’t ready – I wasn’t ready. Here are some of the thoughts I had at the time: I could have worked harder, I shouldn’t have done Day Job at weekends, I should have said no. I should have learned how to write properly before I tried to write a book. I should have re-read the entire manuscript every time I worked on a new draft instead of only fixing the bits that were marked as wrong, not making sense, too violent, too clichéd, too weird. I should have asked for more time to do another draft. I should have written a different book, a better one. I should have read more. I should have pulled the book from publication, I should have said, ‘Don’t print it yet – it’s not ready.’ I didn’t do any of those things because there weren’t enough hours in the day, because I was exhausted, because the rational voice in my head – the very teeny far away one – told me that this was a normal reaction, that I was too close to my writing to have an opinion on it, that soon I’d get over it, that after a couple of months I’d be able to let go and move on, focus on the next book. I discovered that most writers feel like this at some point. Knowing this didn’t help. I discovered that knowing this doesn’t help most writers. That didn’t help either. I wanted the book to go away. I wanted everything to go away. Imposter Syndrome was aggressive and debilitating. In a few months, everyone was going to know the truth – that I couldn’t write, that I wasn’t interesting.
Between January and April this year, I received a number of trade reviews. They were all very positive. The reviewers used phrases such as, ‘atmospheric writing’, ‘vivid and breathtaking’, ‘strong debut’, ‘haunting and heartfelt’. None of the reviews was starred. If I’d just done one more draft, maybe I’d have gotten starred reviews. I stopped reading reviews online. A few days before publication, someone tweeted a beautiful picture of my book on a display table in Foyles. And there it was – a tiny, fizzy bubble of excitement. Relief. Finally, I was letting go, wasn’t I? The bubble dissipated within a few minutes. I tried to run after the pieces, but they had gone high into the atmosphere where the air was too thin to breathe.
The day my book came out I was at the office doing Day Job for thirteen hours. I went home and cried. I wasn’t ready to be an author. I wasn’t ready for anyone to read my book. I wasn’t ready for people to tell me that I must be delighted and proud. My cheeks ached with forced smiles as I shrugged, said the whole thing was weird and then changed the subject.
Sometimes I felt like the world was strangling me; other times like it was so far away I’d never find my way back to it. My brain bubbled constantly; I was a kettle on the boil with no spout. I’ve had panic attacks on trains, in the office, in other people’s houses, on walks – miles from home, in hotel rooms miles from home and alone, in the car, on planes, in the shower, in my sleep – the little sleep I’ve had. I’ve spent months lying awake all night rewriting the book in my head, as if that would magically change the words on the pages.
Last weekend, exhausted and plagued by a fear that I would never be good at anything, I hit rock bottom and decided I couldn’t be a writer. I wasn’t even sure if I could be a person. On Monday, I had to get up and go to work and make normal human interactions with people, even though on the inside I was raw. I got through the week on adrenaline and caffeine. I told people about my book. They said they were proud even though they didn’t know me. I slumped in my seat and told them I wasn’t proud. The conversations moved on. Later, embarrassment hung over me like a heavy wet blanket when I realised I’d been so negative, that I'd let anxiety win. Something had to change, and I had to make it happen.
It’s been six weeks since my book came out in the UK and three weeks since it came out in the US. My feet have barely touched the ground – not because of being inundated with interview or book-signing requests, though there has been a bit of that, but because of life and work. I forced myself to have a day off today. On TV, 24 Hours on Earth took me to the bottom of the ocean and I glided along the seabed, listening to the roaring of whale bubbles. On the way up, I exhaled until my stomach went concave, until I’d released all the stale air I’d been hanging onto. I drunk tea, ate a bagel, didn’t check my phone or social media for nearly two hours. Outside for a few minutes, I let the sun warm my eyelids. It was the first time in months I’d allowed myself to not think about writing or work. A friend called to invite me to his seventieth birthday party. He asked me how sales were going, I politely told him it was too early to tell. He talked about the book he wrote sixteen years ago. The publisher went bust just after publication – his book never made it into any bookshops, and after the few printed copies available sold out through Amazon, it was never reprinted. I have his only remaining copy (there’s no electronic version) – I’ve had it for years. He trusts me with it because he values me as a friend and a reader. He’s OK with his book not being in the bookshops because he had fun writing it and though he’s proud of the achievement, it’s not his only achievement. We talked about travelling and our gardens. My friend is turning seventy. He’s met hundreds of interesting people throughout his eccentric life and yet I’m on his guest list. Then I realised, I am more than a writer. I am more than one book. This one book has consumed my life for too long.
One of the main themes of my debut novel is letting go. I spent years writing about letting go and months talking about it. I’ve spent a day doing it. The files on my computer are tidied and archived. The whiteboard outlining the synopsis for my first book has been wiped and replaced with an outline of Book 2, and ideas for Book 3. I’ve made plans for several weekends throughout the year without wondering if I should perhaps be spending those weekends writing. I had a conversation with a lady in the Cherry Lodge charity shop about how much I love jigsaw puzzles and I smiled and laughed without it being forced.
My book is out there. People are buying it, reading it, loving it. I’m never going to have the chance to rewrite it, but why would I want to write the same thing again? It’s done. I am proud of the fact that the first book I ever wrote is in the hands of readers. It’s over to them. And it is the best I could make it; it is good enough. In fact, it's more than good enough – it's a great book and I'm lucky to have so many champions of it. Believing in the book isn't my real problem; believing in myself is. My job now is to remember how much I love writing, how much I love exploring the world, how much I love talking to my friends and family. Today, for the first time in a year, I’m taking deep breaths without them catching in my throat and oxygen is getting to all my vital organs. I’m not saying every day will be like this – but it’s a good start. This is The Art of Breathing. This is The Art of Letting Go.
If you’re still reading, thank you. Here is your reward.
Fellow YA author, Caroline Leech, interviewed me about writing, freediving and Scotland.
The interview was originally posted on the Swanky Seventeens website. This is the bonus extended version.
Caroline: What came to you first – freediving or Elsie?
Sarah: Elsie and her mum came to me together, almost fully formed. I always wanted to write about loss and grief, and also about an interesting mother/daughter relationship, so they came as a package. Originally I wanted Elsie to be quite down, not really knowing what to do with herself or with her life. She was just keeping her head down and getting on with it, but then I realized that she needed to find a passion. I had the seaside setting in my mind, but it took longer for the freediving to emerge. In the end, the themes of suffocation, isolation and escape combined with the seaside setting led me to the underwater world.
Caroline: So are you a swimmer or freediver yourself?
Sarah: I’m actually a scuba diver, rather than a freediver, because I like to breathe when I’m underwater! I have tried freediving though I don’t go very deep because that’s really scary, but I like to go a bit beneath the surface to see what is down there. I love the water, especially having that space to myself where no one can speak to me and interrupt my thoughts.
I qualified as a scuba diver in 2004 in Thailand and though I’ve not dived in Scottish waters, I’ve dived all over South East Asia, the east and west coasts of Australia, South Africa, the Red Sea, Egypt, Jordan, and the Galapagos. In Brazil, I even dived in an underground lake. To get to it, I had to rappel 300ft into a cave, and then the scuba gear came down on the rope. Once I’d had a scuba around, I then had to rappel myself back up.
Caroline: You and I have both written books set on the Black Isle in Scotland. What was it that drew you to let Elsie live in Fortrose?
Sarah: The idea for the setting came to me when I visited there. I have spent lots of time in Scotland because that’s where my father is from and I’ve other family up there, so I’ve spent lots of family holidays on Scottish beaches being whipped by the wind. To me, Scotland always felt like an idyllic family place but also the weather was perfect for my setting because I wanted somewhere windy and cold, with long dark winters and balmy summers. Interestingly when I did go on my research trip to the Black Isle, it was July and we had the most incredible weather, like being in Turkey. That was a bit weird, but I loved the long twilights, when you think it’s about to get dark, but an hour later it’s still the same, and that gave me such an eerie setting.
I also wanted somewhere that had some British wildlife, so the dolphins and the otters are in there, and obviously very cold water.
Caroline: There are several serious issues addressed in the book – bereavement, parental separation, fat-shaming and eating disorders. Did you set out to make them part of the book?
Sarah: It was always going to be a story about loss and grief, and all the characters have their own way of dealing with it. Elsie discovers freediving, her mum Celia drinks and stays out, her dad is absent. And I always wanted to write about male eating disorders. I didn’t know it would be in this book, but it just came with Dillon. I realized that there was a real physical connection between starving your body of oxygen and starving your body of food. So though the issues weren’t really at the forefront, as I got to know the characters they each told me how much pain they were in.
Caroline: Elsie smokes, drinks, steals, skips school and generally disobeys every instruction anyone gives her, yet we still know she is a decent person at heart. How did you know you could maintain Elsie’s good soul amid all the “naughty” stuff she does?
Sarah: I’m not sure whether I knew that I could or not. I just knew that she had all of these amazing qualities that no one else saw, and she was really the one that held her family together. She does all the caring, she looks after her mum, she keeps any eye on Dillon and also on Eddie when he was alive, so for me that was always at the core of her. And the badass stuff was her being a typical teenager and thinking, “What can I get away with?” She just tries things. I think that’s what drove her character forward. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, and that’s what I love about her.
Caroline: So how did you, as a writer, get to this point?
Sarah: Luck! No, that’s not entirely true. A lot of it is to do with luck, and the rest is just bloody-mindedness. It took me two years to write this book. I started it when I was doing my creative writing MA. I wrote a chapter for a class that I was taking, and to my surprise, everyone loved and said, “you’ve got something there”. So I went with it. It took me a couple of months more to get the story straight in my head, and then I spent about six months faffing about with the first ten thousand words. I then realized it was never going to get finished, so I gave myself a deadline of when it had to be done and stuck to it. Fortunately, an agent loved it too, although she made me do endless revisions until she thought it was ready to go out on submission.
Caroline: And what is your writing process – every day or weekend binges?
Sarah: Both. Sometimes I block out all Saturday and Sunday, and write all day and all evening, and then other times, I’ll just do half an hour before work, half an hour at lunchtime and again after work, and that’s enough. And then I’ll spend a day bringing all those bits together. I didn’t really have a plan with THE ART OF NOT BREATHING, I just had an end-goal in mind, and knew I had to get it finished by a deadline I set myself.
Caroline: So what’s next? Another book?
Sarah: Yes, it’s work in progress… in my head and partly on paper… and in my phone… and on post-it notes… and on the back of my hand. It’s a standalone contemporary about fear. Fear in terms of being afraid, and also about not being afraid of anything.
Caroline: You are having an almost simultaneous UK/US publication, so how are you dealing with that transatlantic split personality?
Sarah: It is like having two different books. The US has different lead-times to the UK, so the draft of the US version was done months before the final draft of the UK version. That meant that every time I was doing a round of edits, I was making them in two different places, not to mention the process of Americanizing something when you don’t really understand American. I shared that task with an editor, though there was a fair bit of going back and forth. They changed the spellings, and they’d flag up something that they didn’t understand and ask me to ‘translate’ it, which was interesting. I’ve no plans for a US book tour yet, but hopefully one day.
Happy ending or realistic ending?
Realistic, even if it’s painful. This is really hard because, as a reader, I want realistic endings, but I also hate being unhappy and I like resolution. But as a writer, I want to tell the story the way it should be. I want to acknowledge that in life, stories don’t end when we think they end. So it’s a battle between my own needs and a reader’s needs, and hopefully I manage to get a balance between it being realistic, with a little bit of hope, but leaving it open because who knows what might happen next?
How’s your diet – caffeine and sugar or herbal and fiber?
Depends on my mood and whether it’s a day ending in a Y. My favorite writing snack is carrot sticks… with wine. But if someone brings me a cake, I won’t say no.
Playlist or peace and quiet?
Usually peace and quiet.
What are you reading right now?
REBEL OF THE SANDS by Alwyn Hamilton which was recently published. She’s awesome.
What’s the best word to describe how cold the waters of the Moray Firth are?
Bloody freezing! Or Ball-achingly cold!
And the big question: do you consider yourself Scottish or English?
British! I don’t think I can consider myself Scottish because I’ve always lived in London, but if anyone asks, I do tell them that I’ve got Scots blood in me. I suppose that I’d break myself down to 25% Scottish, 25% Welsh, 50% London!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Caroline Leech is a Scottish writer who somehow found herself in Texas. As well as writing YA fiction, she blogs a lot, reads a lot, and almost always has an audiobook playing through her headphones. Caroline lives in in Houston with her husband and three teenage children. Caroline’s debut, WAIT FOR ME, is set in Scotland in the final months of World War Two and will be published by Harper Teen in early 2017. You can find Caroline online at www.carolineleech.com.
The Art of Not Breathing hits bookshelves in the US today!
To celebrate, here are my top five quotes about the ocean:
1. "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." – Jacques Yves Cousteau
2. "We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came." – John F. Kennedy
3. "The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” – Christopher Paolini
4. “In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans.” – Kahlil Gibran
5. "For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always ourselves we find in the sea." – e.e. cummings
Number five is my all time favourite – it's even at the beginning of The Art of Not Breathing. What's your favourite watery quote?
With just a few days to go until the official US release of The Art of Not Breathing, I thought I would celebrate with giveaway on both sides of the pond.
This DOUBLE giveaway is being hosted by the wonderful Caroline Leech, a British author living in Texas. Her debut YA novel WAIT FOR ME, out in 2017, is also set in Scotland and I can't wait to read it. You can find out more about it here. Caroline recently interviewed me about writing, reading and Scotland. The interview will be featured on The Swanky Seventeens website on 29 April, and you will be able to read an extended version of the interview on here too.
To enter the giveaway, either head over to Caroline's website or go to the Rafflecopter entry forms below. Check you are entering the right form for the country you live in - UK or US. The winners will be announced on 6 May. Go forth, and win books!
Continuing with the theme of writers’ anxiety (and general anxiety), here is a whirlwind tour of my journey to publication.
I’ve spent the last few years wondering whether each bit of good news related to my writing was a joke, a miscommunication or, most likely, a case of mistaken identity, and then Usborne announced that my book would be published on April Fools’ day. NOOOOO!
But, it seems now that it was not a joke. And if it was a case of mistaken identity then it’s too late. Mwahahahahaha.
I started writing when I was very young – first, a story called Jack and the Magic Cap about a boy who could swim with whales, followed by Pigface, a story about a girl who stood up to her evil bullies. I clearly remember the day I decided to be a writer – I was seven years old and realised after watching MY GIRL that I was already too old to become an actor – I needed to have gone to stage school from the age of four, according to my wise seven-year-old self – so instead of being in the stories, I should just write them. And also, my parents wouldn’t pay for stage school. I kept writing all through school and university, and then at the age of twenty-three, with no less than ten half-finished novels on floppy disks, I stopped because I didn’t feel ready to write.
In 2011, After spending a lot of time having life experiences so I could be a writer, I finally worked out that being a writer was not about having experiences but more about actually writing. In need of a kick-up the bottom, I signed up for an MA in Creative Writing. Thank god for DEADLINES because I actually wrote stuff. Despite harsh criticism at times, the course gave me confidence and bunch of like-minded people to hang out with. The idea for The Art of Not Breathing came while I was on the course and when I shared it with my critique class I got a sense that I had ... something. I told myself that I had to finish this one and so I didn’t stop until I had.
Meanwhile, I continued to write short stories and one got spotted by my now-agent. She got in touch to ask if I was working on anything longer. I sent her the first ten thousand words the following week and not long after that she asked if I could come and meet her. I was CONVINCED she had emailed the wrong person – on the way to her office I practised my reaction for when she finally confessed that she’d contacted the wrong Sarah. But she didn’t confess, instead she made me do endless revisions until she thought it was ready for submission. (Side note: going on submission is a horrible, horrible process.)
My agent was away somewhere exotic when the offer came through and I was getting married (literally, yes, really), but luckily WiFi enabled an email from Usborne’s office in London to get to my agent on the other side of the world, to get back to me in London shortly after my nuptials. After a couple of days, though, that familiar feeling came back – was it mistaken identity? Had Usborne emailed the wrong agent? Perhaps they did want to make me an offer initially but since re-read and withdrawn the offer. But they didn’t withdraw the offer, they damn well published my book. And so did HMH in the US.