Friday, 26 February 2010

My 'Special Feature' Interview with Reading Zone Book Club (YOUR SCHOOL CAN ALSO WIN BOOKS!)

I was interviewed a few weeks ago by Caroline Horn (who also works for The Bookseller).  This is how it went....

Lucy Coats has been fascinated by the Greek myths and she has written a new series for younger readers (aged six to eight years) called Greek Beasts and Heroes. The myths are told by a storyteller, Atticus, during his journey to the great storytelling festival in Troy.

The series will cover about 100 Greek myths in a largely chronological order, making the books also useful for older readers, too, as an introduction the Greek gods and heroes – especially if they are planning to see the recently-released Percy Jackson film.

The first four books of the planned 12-book series are published by Orion this month, February, with the remaining eight titles to follow in May and August. The first, The Beasts in the Jar, includes the story of creation and readers are introduced to the gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, as well as the myths of Theseus and the Minotaur, Icarus, Pandora, Arachne and Midas, among others. The series will also include less well-known stories, like the sharp-eyed King Sisyphus. Each of the stories carries colour illustrations by Anthony Lewis.

Coats, who studied Ancient History and Classics at university, says her interest in Greek mythology began at a young age. “From the age of about eight I read everything I could get my hands on and that has stayed with me. I love the fact that the myths can be endlessly recycled and told in different ways. If I am writing a contemporary story, I can take a character or two from the myths, adapt them and make their stories relevant to today.”

When setting out to write this series, she wanted to link the myths to the real places in Greece in which, according to local traditions, the myths are set. “I have always been interested in that side of the myths, that you can actually visit places where the stories are set such as the birth place of Aphrodite in Cyprus,” she says.

Coats decided that she could tell the myths through the character of Atticus, a storyteller who is travelling through Greece with his donkey. “I had done a lot of travelling through Greece and been to a number of the islands so I had a sense of the geographical landscape.”

She planned the series using “the most enormous map of Greece” that was covered in stickers and bits of string as she mapped out Atticus’ journey and the stories he would tell. The books will lead up to Atticus’ arrival in Troy for the storytelling festival, when he will tell the story of the Iliad. “I have been to a place they believe was Troy and it made me realise how tiny it is. I had never understood how Hector’s body could have been dragged around the city walls and then I understood, because the city was really small.”

While children often have to learn about the myths in school, Coats reminds us that the Greek myths were part of everyday life for Ancient Greeks which the children and adults would have learned from storytellers and during visits to their local temples. “They would also have learned the myths through theatre, which was very much a part of their lives.”

She encourages children at the schools she visits to tell their own myth or to imagine themselves to be like Achilles or Odysseus. “ They draw pictures of their heroes, write and illustrate their own stories and act them out, so it becomes very interactive and easier to relate to and to remember.”

The stories they most enjoy are the "slightly more gory ones" says Coats, with Heracles and his labours often a favourite. "They enjoy it when they bring back the cowardly king something nasty and the king hides from him in a jar, and of course when he has to shovel all the horse poo from the Augean stables in a single day."

Naturally some of the material in the adult myths has been slightly adapted to make it suitable for children – although, says Coats, children largely accept aspects like Zeus’ infidelity without too much questioning.

One of her favourite Greek myths is that of the fates which she explores in the story, The Cloth of Life. “The fates sit and weave and spin and work out all the fates of people. It’s my favourite story because it tries to explain why the world is as it is and it is so universal, you find it in many different cultures.”

You can find THE ORIGINAL INTERVIEW HERE and, if you have links to a school, please encourage them to join up and enter the COMPETITION TO WIN THE FIRST FOUR BOOKS

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Writing 101 Production - Part 7 Writer's Block (Feel the Fear)

People don't like to talk about it much (and here by 'people' I mean 'writers', obviously.)  It's as if, just by naming it one might be infected, jinxed, hexed, hoodooed, blighted, corrupted, defiled, tainted, tarnished (ok, I'm bored with the thesaurus thing now.  You get the idea).  Oh, I've had brief conversations-in-passing and discussions in hushed corners about poor so-and-so who has it ("Plague carrier--avoid at all costs" is the unspoken subtext to this). But, personally speaking (and remember, this is MY experience, so I can't speak for others) I've never sat down with a bunch of other authors and had a proper long and detailed chinwag about how it affects them.  Or doesn't. So I thought I'd break some taboos (I'm like that, me--Lucy Coats, helpful rebel and rule breaker extraordinaire) and name the forbidden name.  Here goes...
There. Did anyone die? Nope.  I checked. Absolutely no one. 

You see, I've had it.  And I've survived it. And I've gone on to write again (Hallelujah! Praise the Lord).  So what happened?  And how did I survive to scribble on?

Well, a long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away.... Oh, all right. I know that's not my story--but it just sounds less prosaic than.... Six years ago my back gave out on me for the umptieth time and I had to have three major spinal operations in less than a year. I had a huge book contract at the time--lots of research, all very complicated, and a (cue scary music) d-e-a-d-l-i-n-e.  I'd never missed a deadline, not even by a day (HATE being late for anything). So it was a bit of a shock when I came out of the fog of all those mega-painkillers (some of them pretty Class A-C), and all those hours and hours of anaesthetic and slicing/dicing, (not to mention the 3 month trauma of having to wear a rigid white plastic neck to thigh corset which made me look like Boudicca's fat ugly sister) and found that I c-o-u-l-d n-o-t w-r-i-t-e.  No, really.  Not a word.  I just looked at the immensity of this particular book, and the deadline loomed closer and closer, and it became like a big hairy ugly elephant-with-fangs in the corner of the room.  The one no one mentions because it's so scary. The trouble was, I couldn't talk to anyone about it because it frightened me so much, and because I felt like such a failure.  I did finally pluck up courage to speak to my agent and my publisher, who were both really supportive, and gave me nearly an extra year to complete the contract. But I didn't admit it was writer's block (though they must have known, neither are stupid).  I just said I needed 'more time to convalesce' because I was utterly convinced they'd think less of me (and probably sack me forever/cancel the contract) if I told them the truth.  I am aware that this was irrational--but writer's block does not live in a rational place.

Now we all have days, as writers, when the page stays blank, but this was more than that.  Usually, if I can't write for a long time (because of other non-writing pressures like life, children, housework etc) I get really grumpy and snarly (I am, after all, a wolf with teeth!).  But the ideas are still there, piling up, scrambling and jostling to be first out. This was different. It was a sick emptiness in the head and the heart--an absence of idea, a lack, a missing part of what makes me myself. And of course the longer it went on, the worse it got. My muse had packed a bag and gone on indefinite holiday to parts unknown.  I was lucky, I think. Having the deadline pressure lifted meant that slowly, surely, I could dip an occasional toe in the writing water and test it for comfort.  I did a lot of research stuff at this time, got my mind back into the way of thinking-about-writing, fanned the excitement of 'what if'.  Eventually, after about 6 months, I slipped back into the ocean and was able to swim without a lifebelt, and the muse came back from her extended holiday.  But I've never forgotten how it felt--that utter desolation of the creative desert.  Trust me, 6 months can feel like an eternity. 

Now here I can see that you're going to ask why I was so hard on myself when I'd had all that pain and trauma.  I just was, ok?  And that was a very big part of the problem.  I've just had further spinal surgery (2 weeks ago), and the writing landscape is very changed because I've learned to do things differently now.

  1. I joined the Scattered Authors' Society (open to all published UK children's writers), and through them I now have a wonderful network other authors--quite a few of whom I know I could talk to privately and confidentially if I suffered with writer's block again. Or I could post it on their online forum and share it with everybody openly. A support network of people who will understand where you are coming from is essential.
  2. I have learned to be kinder to myself.  Not to beat myself up so much. Not to feel like a failure if I only write 150 words in a day instead of 1500. Or even nothing at all.
  3. I've learned that writing is infinitely malleable.  If I'm having difficulty with the novel, or series or whatever, I write something else--anything elseIt's all about keeping it going even if what you are writing is utter crapadoodly.  If I'm stuck, I don't force it, or panic (well, I don't panic MUCH).  I move onto something else for a while, until the ideas flow again. A poem. A writing exercise which will never be for public consumption. I plan this blog.  It's all about giving the muse variety to play with and keeping it interested and on my side.
  4. Because I suffer from depression too, I try and use the Flip It technique to see things in a new light. Old way: "Can't seem to write?  Oh God! You're such a failure.  Stare at the screen! Come on!  You HAVE to do this or how can you call yourself a writer.  You're such a failure."  (repeat ad infinitum until paralysis sets in). New way: "Can't seem to write today? That's fine--it'll give you an opportunity to declutter that cupboard you've been meaning to do for ages/make marmalade/go outside and see how the snowdrops are coming along! Don't stress--it'll look different tomorrow.
  5. Talking of going outside--I am the last person to advocate a brisk walk, being terminally opposed to organised exercise.  But it is true to say that pacing across the landscape (or pacing anywhere, really, even corridors) with an empty mind and open eyes can be an excellent creative trigger.  I'm coming round to this idea more and more--and it's mostly how I write my best poetry. It's also a good way to sort out a plot problem. The very act of moving the limbs somehow moves the brain along as well.
I'm now confident that I can conquer writer's block if it ever happens to me again.  I'll admit, I was scared before this latest operation because of what happened last time. This time round I don't have the deadline worry, but I've had to cancel a lot of school visits and publicity stuff for the first four books of my new and exciting Greek Beasts and Heroes series, and that's very sad for me because I don't like letting people down. But I'm not going to beat myself up about it--I'm going to concentrate on getting better and putting my own socks on without help.  Then in May, when the second part of the series comes out, I shall be firing on all cylinders.

Knowledge is power--and I know how to deal with the problem now. So I'll say this--if anyone wants help and advice,on this subject, I'm very happy to oblige.  Talking about the Writer's Block Monster--dragging it into the harsh light of day--is the best way to slay it. At least, that's what I think. Feel free to disagree. I always appreciate a good comments fight!

Bye for now--I'm off to do serious battle with the socks again and probably have a little restorative nap. Tiring, this convalescence stuff.

See all my other Writing 101 Productions

Part 1 An Overview of Author Platforms
Part 2 Author Platforms (Facebook)
Part 3 Writing Resolutions
Part 4 Spambush or Tweettack?
Part 5 To Plunge or to Plan?
Part 6 Blogging Lessons

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A Writing 101 Production - Part 6 Blogging Lessons

See?  Said I'd Beeeee Back Sooooon!  Still alive, if now with more rare and exotic metals pinning my vertebrae together than Bionic Woman.  I'd share the gruesome x-ray photos they gave me in the hospital (so that I can show the nice airport security people I'm not a terrorist hiding an Uzi along my spine when the thingy pings as it inevitably will).  But then you might sue me for making you throw up your breakfast (or lunch or dinner or whatever the hell the timezone it is that you're in when you're reading this).  Well, I don't know, do I?  The ex-morphine effect is probably making me more mad and ditzy than before, as I warned you it might.  Posssibly hard to believe--but sadly true.

Anyway--what pearl of wisdom was I going to give you today?  Ah, yes.  Blogging.  It's just over a year since I started this one.  What are the THREE MOST IMPORTANT BLOGGING LESSONS I have learned? 
  1. FIND YOUR VOICE: I was a blogdabbler at the start, writing about all sorts of stuff--whatever took my fancy that day (and it was nearly every day at that stage).  Some sample titles of the early days are: Muse Wrestling (A Bit Like Mud Wrestling), Writing Trials and Tribulations (Part1) and (Part 2), which were at least about writing, as well as Seeds of Promise and The Poetry of Trains, which were, frankly, just a bit random.  Nice--but random.  Now, a year later, I know exactly what I want to say, how I want to say it, and who I want to reach, hence the advent of Writing 101 Productions late last year, which I hope will build into a nicely eccentric-but-useful Library of Writing Tips and Hints and Other TechnoWritery Stuff for those wot are interested in such things (a surprising large group of diverse people, as it happens).
  2. BROADCAST YOURSELF SHAMELESSLY: Yep.  Time to find your inner blogslut.  It takes work and time and energy to spread yourself widely around the webiverse, but YOU MUST DO IT! What?  Did you expect people to flock to you, yea verily! and marvel at what thou has written and comment thereof as liberally as the waters cover the sea?  Nah-ha. I have news.  Ain't gonna happen, baby. See all those crazy buttons on the right of the page from BlogCatalog and Fuelmyblog and Blogged and Technorati  etc?  They represent hours of time getting my blog verified and filling in forms and all that boring stuff.  But it casts the net into the webwaters and scoops up people who won't otherwise know or give a damn, my dear, who you are or whether you exist blogwise.  Entice and blackmail your friends to promote you.   Put your posts on Facebook and Twitter.  Sign other blogs' comment pages with your own blog address (yes, I know I've said that before), if they're good and interesting, follow them (and they'll probably follow you)--if you really really like them, put a link on your blog (see Blogs Wot I Like to right of post).  Put quite simply, ENGAGE WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD. Stranger danger?  Take the normal security precautions.You can always block or moderate inappropriate comments.  If you don't want to interact, and instead be some mysterious Salinger-esque figure, don't blog. Easy.
  3. FOCUS AND PLAN:  As I said above, at the beginning I used to blog nearly every day.  I didn't find it sustainable, I found I was running out of interesting stuff to say, and it was becoming a millstone round my typing fingers.  Can't cut off the blood supply to those, so guess what?  I stopped blogging even mildly regularly and then panicked because I wasn't doing it.  Pointless, eh?  Throwing away all that hard work?  Feeling pressured and rudderless? Not at all conducive to creativiy of any kind is it?  So once I had taken a long hard lookie-look and decided I wanted to continue on my new Messianic path to bring Writing Wisdom blah blah blah see previous, I began to focus and plan.  Now, at any one time I have at least 6 or 7 potential Writing 101 titles in my drafts box--I just put 'em down as they come to mind, plus any scribbled notes or ideas.  I also try to plan writing time once a week or so to put them together, and I plan to put one up about that often.  If it's once every ten days or longer than that, well, fine.  The last weeks are a case in point for me.  Stuff happens. It's called Life.  Just let your readers know you'll be away and back--they'll understand. 
Now I'm knackered from all this thinking stuff and I'm going to turn the 'bednet off and do the rest thing.  Got to obey Surgeon's Orders--or most of them anyway.  I'll be back when I am.   You'll understand, won't you?  After all, I am worth waiting for (modest, you see--always modest and unassuming).  Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

See all my other Writing 101 Productions
Part 1 An Overview of Author Platforms
Part 2 Author Platforms (Facebook)
Part 3 Writing Resolutions
Part 4 Spambush or Tweettack?
Part 5 To Plunge or to Plan?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Off for a While - But I Will Return

I may not be blogging for a little while as I have to go into hospital for a back operation. I know.  B-o-r-i-n-g (yes--it IS).  But just as soon as I can sit up to put fingers to keyboard Writing 101 Productions will once again be bringing you the finest and best morsels from the authorial mind.  I'll try and make it as compos mentis as possible--if it's a bit mad, blame the morphine.  Bye for now and....


Monday, 1 February 2010

Over at the Other Place Today

What do I do about Book Dedications and Acknowledgments?  Find out over at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure today--and there's a mystery to solve too!
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