If you follow me on my social media accounts (and if you don’t, sign up to check me out on Twitter here and Instagram right over here) you’ll have spotted that, last week, I was part of an Author Dream Team touring around Dublin leaving signed copies of books all over the place. It was so much fun.
Vashti Hardy (author of Brightstorm and Wildspark (with more wonders to come from her magical pen), James Nicol (author of The Apprentice Witch series, and with more work on the way), Lorraine Gregory (author of Mold and the Poison Plot and The Maker of Monsters) and Pádraig Kenny (author of TIN and Pog and, hopefully, loads more stuff in the future) and me spent the day going from bookshop to bookshop, meeting booksellers and readers and unsuspecting members of the general public (who probably wondered who on earth had let us loose on the bookshop stock with a packet of Sharpies), and we all had a thoroughly wonderful day. It’s wonderful to meet and talk to other authors, people who really love books and stories as much as you do, and I know I gained so much from listening to the others talk about their work, their upcoming projects, their methods and secrets – and, of course, gaining lots of insider knowledge and sneak peeks, which is (seriously) the BEST part about writing books for a living.
Here’s a brilliant photo of all of us, with added Mary Brigid (Hodges Figgis’s amazing children’s bookseller):
I’m also pretty chuffed to be able to announce that Oakhill Publishing have acquired the rights to release an audiobook of my first novel, The Eye of the North, which is AMAZING news. I’m so delighted! There’s something really special about being able to listen to a book – it’s like someone telling you a story. I know the folks at Oakhill will do a wonderful job, and I’m delighted to think of my book reaching new readers. Thank you to my agent, Polly Nolan, and my brilliant publisher, Stripes Books, for doing the deal on my behalf.
And, while I’m here, did you know I’m appearing at this year’s Bath Festival of Children’s Literature? Yes, really! Catherine Doyle (author of The Storm Keeper’s Island and The Lost Tide Warriors) and I will be in discussion about myths, monsters and making stories on September 29th at 12 noon. You can get tickets over here, if you fancy coming to see us.
And now for the not-so-good stuff (I should have begun with this, really…)
I’m working on a new story at the moment (all very hush-hush just now, sorry about that) and it had been going well. I’d reached the 45,000 word mark, I had a detailed synopsis in place, I knew exactly where the story was supposed to go, but for some reason I just – stopped. I hit a wall that I couldn’t break through. For weeks I laboured over one particular (not very significant) plot point that simply wouldn’t come right, no matter how many words I threw at it, and finally, after spending at least 20,000 words trying to make it work, I had to do something drastic.
I gave up.
(*This is the Awful Catastrophe, by the way.)
However, like most Awful Catastrophes, it actually turned out to be the best thing, in the end. I’ve learned by now (though, of course, sometimes I forget) that when I reach a complete block in a story, and when absolutely nothing I try helps me to get through it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m simply being lazy/unoriginal/untalented/ridiculous/insert adjective here. What it sometimes means is that the problem I’m trying to solve is better off left unravelled. In this case, what it meant was that despite the fact that I’d already done so much work (almost five months of drafting), and that I had a synopsis which had passed muster with people much more knowledgeable than me, what I’d actually done was start the story in entirely the wrong place. (I didn’t work this out on my own: I have to thank Vashti Hardy for her brilliant suggestion that I try to find a different place to enter my story from. She’s brilliant. Go read her books.)
As soon as this realisation dropped, I knew I’d have to junk the work I’d already done – but that actually made me feel happy, and relieved, because I knew I’d written the story wrongly in the first place and this was my chance to tell it the right way round. Yes, it’s more work; yes, it’s hard to say goodbye to all the effort I’d previously made. But oh – the joy of knowing I’m finally on the right path, and the draft I’m aiming to complete now will be the story I should have been telling all along.
What I’m saying is: I gave up, but I didn’t really. I just wrote my story upside down in order to find out how to write it rightside up, and sometimes that’s the best (if not the most time-efficient) way to do things.
So. I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful summer. It’s almost my favourite time of year, and I’m working on a book that excites me, and it’s almost been TWO WHOLE YEARS since The Eye of the North was published in the US and Canada (which makes me itch to do some sort of giveaway – watch this space), and I’ve also had a little bit of good news about my US edition of The Starspun Web (coming in November, and no I can’t tell you what the good news is), so all in all, I’m feeling pretty professional around here.
I hope you’ve all been reading and writing with your usual gusto and aplomb, dear people, and until the next time I have a chance to update this sadly neglected blog, I bid you all farewell!
Dear SJ O’Hart, I love your honesty and your integrity about your work. I write in a completely different genre. (My recent book ‘A Good Death: a compassionate and practical guide to prepare for the end of life’ was published by Murdoch Books in May this year.) But I feel as though I have travelled with you. I am 65,000 words into a novel, my first attempt at one. That’s involved a lot of turning upside down too. Reading your candid rumination on letting go of 45,000 words is to meet a soul-mate, even though on the other side of the world. Love you, love your work! Margaret Rice
Congrats on the audio! Listening back to mine has been a really emotional and transformative experience – it’s weird to experience a text you know so well in a completely new way. As for the catastrophe, that sounds like a lot of my redrafts 😀