Sunday, 17 August 2014

The challenges of a fresh start

Saying goodbye to Blackbrooke was pretty easy. I knew how it was going to end and I was excited to get stuck into writing something new. It was only when I started that 'something new' that it started sinking in what I was leaving behind.

I have vague recollections of the first draft of Blackbrooke. It was a completely different story, with the Crits resembling ghouls from fairytales - vampires, werewolves and witches. On the advice of a prominent literary agent, I changed it to something I'm now immensely proud of.

It's like any finished product. You forget the blood, sweat and tears you shed getting there and focus on the achievement. Now I'm back in the blood, sweat and tears stage and I'm finding it difficult. When it came to writing Blackbrooke parts two and three, the characters were already formed and I just had to continue their tale, safe in the knowledge the reader knew who they were and how they knew one another. Not anymore...

My new project straddles the line between young adult and plain old adult fiction and I'm trying to get to know the characters, but it's taking a while. It's the same as reading a great book and then having to get into another one afterwards. I'm trying to remember a time when I didn't know Liberty or Cassius but I'm going back a few years. I've slept since then and sank several bottles of wine (and the rest...).

It's a slow process to really care for whom you're writing about. I'm finding music really helps. I've set up a playlist for the new project, avoiding listening to my unofficial Blackbrooke soundtrack, and thankfully my protagonist is starting to form. I underestimated the process and the temptation to push it to one side and write Blackbrooke spin-offs for the rest of my life is hard to resist.

It's not something writers often talk about. I suppose it doesn't reflect well if they confess it's difficult to let go. You're all about the imagination after all, the ideas should be flowing! Well, it's not been the case with me.

This isn't a negative boo hoo post about how amazing Blackbrooke is though. My writing improves all of the time and I know, as long as I keep studying and paying attention to feedback from people who know better than me, my next project will be better. I'm already at the stage Stephen King is with Carrie - it was his first novel and he now finds it too difficult to read due to all of its flaws. I'm a flawed writer in every respect. I'm not a wordsmith and my grammar is questionable at times, but I believe my strange ideas and motivation to get them down on paper (screen?) is what means my books are enjoyed by people all over the world.

I'm going to record my progress on here in the hope someone might read it and seek solace they're not the only ones who struggle saying goodbye to past work. Plus, I'm always keen on getting words of encouragement! Writing is a lonely business after all.

Seeing as I'm discussing Blackbrooke, the third and final part is due out in October and I'm really excited to see what everyone thinks! I'll be doing some giveaways in the coming weeks so keep your eyes peeled if you're a Blackbrooke fan :-)

As always, thanks for reading.

Em x

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

Hamburg, 1946. Thousands remain displaced in what is now the British Occupied Zone. Charged with overseeing the rebuilding of this devastated city and the de-Nazification of its defeated people, Colonel Lewis Morgan has requisitioned a fine house on the banks of the Elbe, where he will be joined by his grieving wife Rachael and only remaining son Edmund. 

But rather than force its owners, a German widower and his traumatised daughter, to leave their home, Lewis insists that the two families live together. In this charged and claustrophobic atmosphere all must confront their true selves as enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal. 

The cover of this book very nearly put me off. As a horror and sci-fi fan, I'm not really a fan of post-war tales of romance, and the attractive woman looking wistfully off-camera on this book didn't fill me with hope. However, it's currently the Waterstones Book of the Month, which is apparently voted for by booksellers, so I figured it was worth a read.

I'm so glad I took the chance.

Far from the romance novel I was expecting, this is an eye-opening view of a nation coming out of the war, confronting the reality of being on the losing side, and having to start rebuilding everything from scratch. It's an emotional thriller that follows each of the complex main characters through the journey to come to terms the situation.

Post-War Germany is painted to be a bleak and desperate place with its people starving and children begging in the streets for 'ciggies' they can trade for food. It's emotionally charged and uncomfortable to read at times.

It's full of subtle twists and turns, nothing you won't see coming, but that doesn't matter. I was particularly fascinated by Frieda, German Lubert's adolescent daughter. She wasn't a likeable character, but the way the grief for her mother manifests itself is interesting and I thought her emotional indifference was highly believable.

It's not all bleak. The underlying sense of hope is what makes this a real page-turner.

Brook's has taken inspiration from his family history and their experience in post-War Germany. It's an eye-opening read that's as unsettling as it is compelling. I'm not surprised The Aftermath is currently being made into a movie, I'll be first in line to see it brought to life.

The Aftermath is published by Viking and available as a paperback, ebook and audiobook now.