Friday 13 March 2015

Book Cycle with Jane Casey

As part of The Book Cycle series, I am pleased to welcome Jane Casey onto the blog to tell us how she goes from an idea to a finished book.
For the last three years I’ve written two books a year: a crime novel for adult readers and another for readers of YA. Both always start the same way – with a voice and an idea. The voice belongs to a character – not necessarily the main character, but someone important, saying something that’s key to the novel. And the idea might not be the main plot, but it’s a place to begin building the complicated scaffolding that makes a novel. The voice and the idea might not come at the same time, but I need both to make any progress at all. I have characters in search of plots and plots in search of characters wandering around my head constantly, and every now and then they collide. Put them together with a place – real or imaginary – and you have the start of a book.
Because I write series fiction, I generally have a story arc to develop, and that can be a help – but sometimes it’s definitely a hindrance! When I was writing the follow-up to How to Fall and Bet Your Life, featuring amateur detective Jess Tennant, I really struggled with arranging all of the elements coherently. In fact, I made a complete mess of it first time round and had to do the most comprehensive rewrite ever. The final manuscript is probably 20% first version, 80% new – and all the better for it! I had to go back to first principles with the book, starting again at this point: the thinking.
Okay, yes, it looks as if I’m just sitting around drinking tea but I am actually hard at work! I’m superstitious about writing ideas down until I’ve thought them through – sometimes the idea loses its energy as soon as I write it down, especially if it’s just a bare outline. I also find it’s a good way to test how good an idea is. If I think about something for a month or more then I’ll probably love it enough to stick with it through the hard times (and there are always hard times when you’re writing a book). I imagine key scenes, change how characters relate to one another, and rough out where I’m going to start and how I’m going to finish before I ever put pen to paper. If it sounds like a risky approach, well, it is – but my philosophy is that if I forget something it wasn’t meant to be.
I also start collecting inspirational quotes, pictures, and music as I come across them. It’s not a conscious thing – I see something or hear a song and it makes me think of the idea I’m developing. Sometimes it feels as if everything in the world revolves around your idea – I think they call that obsession . . .
I find I’m usually most creative when I’m supposed to be working on another book – that’s when I start writing notes on a new project! There’s no substitute for pen and paper when I get to the actual planning stage. I have a million notebooks but I always seem to write the most important things on little scraps of paper that are eminently losable. I write out a chapter plan, put in the bits I know (the beginning and the end) and try to come up with a sensible structure for the middle bit. I have to feel I know where I’m going when I start but I don’t stress too much about it – I find that there’s a certain logic to how a story progresses once I get into it. Chapters split into two or join up or move or simply disappear. But a basic storyline is a useful tool for when you feel confused.
If my agent and editor haven’t insisted on getting this already, I write a synopsis now. I know the story works and I have a fairly clear idea of what’s going to happen. The synopsis has to include the main elements of the story, including the ending – though that can change during the writing process. It’s a good chance for my editor or agent to raise any issues before I’ve spent months writing something. I get a little thrill when I write about scenes I’ve been imagining for months. This is the point where I can’t wait to start writing.
And then I start Chapter One and everything I know about the book – the characters, the voices, the plot – fades into the background. Books are written bit by painful bit, and once you get up close and start writing you tend to lose perspective on the whole thing. Your focus is on the next paragraph or sentence, not on how it all fits together. I would be lying if I said I didn’t get panicky once in a while. I go back and look at my chapter plan (which is now just a boring but easily amended table in a Word file, not a beautiful wall-chart or a scribbled-on notebook page). I indulge myself by thinking about the scenes I really want to write instead of whatever I’m struggling with. I never, ever allow myself to skip ahead. I get it right and then move on.
While I write I listen to music that fits with the mood of the book. For Hide and Seek I listened to a lot of moody female singers – Marika Hackman, Gemma Hayes, Lily and Madeleine and London Grammar.
Listening to music also really helps when I’m working in my local library or a cafĂ© or a departure lounge. I can write anywhere – but it definitely goes more smoothly when I can tune out the world. - Lily and Madeleine – Can’t Admit It
I also look at the pictures I’ve collected for the book. Some of them are to remind me of characters: this one, of Ellen Page, really helped me to create a minor but pivotal character in Hide and Seek.
This one made me write a whole scene for Jess and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Will.
And this one was my touchstone for the whole book – this was the one that came closest to matching the tone of what I was trying to write. I love everything about this picture.
I usually work over a single version of the book, making notes to myself if I need to, generally revising as I go along. I can’t move on to the next chapter if I know there’s a problem to be resolved – so by the time I get to type THE END I’ve usually written and rewritten it. Sometimes things change as I go – I have been known to dodge back to the beginning of the book and throw in a clue right at the last minute. There’s something intoxicating about feeling in control of the story – of knowing it so intimately that you can consider it as a whole and in its individual parts. There comes a point where you know a chapter has to change, or a sentence, or just a word because it’s not quite the one you need and you know that now, having written the rest. The best feeling of all is knowing what you have to do to make it right.
Despite all the hard work on rewriting it – or maybe because of it! – Hide and Seek is probably my favourite of the Jess Tennant books. No book is perfect, but I hope Hide and Seek will make a perfect ending to her story.
Hide and Seek will be published by Random House Children’s Books in August 2015.
Jess Tennant's classmate is kidnapped right before the Christmas holiday in this third novel in Jane Casey's brilliant young adult mystery series.
It's Christmas in Port Sentinel, the tiny English town where Jess Tennant has been living for more than a year now. She wasn't sure how she felt about moving away from London when her mom dragged her to Port Sentinel right before the beginning of high school, but even Jess has to admit the town has completely outdone itself for the holidays. There's a Christmas market complete with mini ice-rink, and fairy lights decorate the bare trees all over town.
For one of Jess's classmates, though, the Christmas season is anything but magical. She's been kidnapped and is being held in a dilapidated cottage near a deserted beach. And Jess might be the only one who can figure out where she is in time to rescue her.
To find out more about Jane Casey:

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