A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
When the first draft of a novel is flowing well then yes, I can write it extremely quickly. It only took me six weeks to write the first draft of Earth Girl, but that was because I already knew my main character and her world. Before I wrote the first line, there was a lot of time spent just playing around with ideas. Walks in the countryside are great for helping me think about how my fictional world works or what happens in the next chapter.
Writing the first draft is far from the end of the process though. I spend a huge amount of time polishing text and throwing out sentences I don’t need.
As an author of a standalone novel, I am always impressed by writing colleagues working on series. Could you tell us a bit about your writing process as you’ve worked on the Earth Girl books?
Earth Girl is the first book in a trilogy. When writing it, I had fun exploring the future world of Earth in the 28th century and establishing a set of characters.
Writing the second book was both easier and harder. Easier because I already had a world and characters to work with, and an idea for a whole new challenge for them to face. Harder because I was aware I was writing for two audiences at once. Those who’d read the first book and those who hadn’t.
When I was writing the final book in the trilogy, it was different again. I wanted each book in the trilogy to have a satisfying ending to its particular plot line, but the final book had to bring everything in the trilogy together for an overall ending.
And I’m sure lots of fans will be keen to know, how is the third book coming along?
Book 3 is complete and now in the editing process. I’d love to talk about what happens in it, but I mustn’t give spoilers.
You talked in a blog post at the Allsorts about how strong Jarra was as a character in your imagination from the off, and this really comes through in the novel. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers about how to create unforgettable characters?
I think the main thing is you have to make them feel real to yourself or you don’t stand a chance of making them feel real to a reader.
Young Adult literature is a hotbed of strong-willed, skilful female protagonists like Jarra, which of them could you see her making friends with?
This is an interesting question. In theory, Jarra could be friends with Hermione from the Harry Potter books. Jarra suffers from the stigma of having an immune system that traps her on Earth. Hermione has Muggle parents. They’re both obsessively trying to overcome their backgrounds and prove they can be the best. Beyond that though they’ve little in common. Hermione is very academic, while Jarra rejoices in physical action.
Jarra could definitely be friends with Katniss in the first Hunger Games book. Jarra would totally identify with Katniss sacrificing herself to save her sister, and the moment when she cries out Peeta’s name. I could imagine them enjoying hunting together. However, they change in very different ways through their trilogies. Jarra has her weak point in the first book but grows stronger later.
I get the impression that you had a lot of fun writing the Earth Girl novels, but what has been the most challenging part of working on them?
The change from writing as a hobby to writing professionally. It’s not just that writing a book for yourself is very different to writing a book you know will be published. You’re also juggling multiple tasks. Editing one book while writing the next one and spending time on things like updating websites and interviews!
A lot of reviewers have been impressed by the world-building in your novel, and this seemed to me something that must have taken more than a year to develop. When did you start working on the idea?
I think I was playing around with the idea and the future world for about a year before I actually started writing Earth Girl. It was originally a short story idea. I make a quick note when I get ideas, usually by writing a paragraph-long fragment of story. The one for Earth Girl reads:-
Davinn’s desk chimed musically. “Attention. You have a new client, unnamed female newborn. Born Hospital Leonis. Received Hospital Earth Emergency 1 August 2771 23:19 hours. Client stabilised. Genetic code registered and blocked from portal access.”
The idea was about a future where everyone portalled freely between hundreds of colony worlds scattered across space. Everyone except those born with a faulty immune system that meant they could only survive on Earth. The story would be told by a Hospital Earth Child Advocate, trying to persuade the parents of a newborn baby to come to live on Earth rather than abandoning their daughter.
The idea was too big for a short story and the viewpoint character didn’t work. Every now and then, I spent some time thinking about the concept. On 1st December 2009, I wrote the first paragraph of Earth Girl. The newborn baby had grown up, she was angry, and she wanted to tell her own story!
It was on Wallam-Crane day that I finally decided what I was going to do for my degree course Foundation year. I’d had a mail about it from Issette that morning. It showed her jumping up and down on her bed in her sleep suit, waving a pillow, and singing: ‘Make your mind up, Jarra! Do it! Do it! Make up, make up, make up your mind girl!’ She was singing it to the tune of the new song by Zen Arrath. Issette is totally powered on him, but I don’t think much of his legs.
I’m not a natural plotter. When I start writing a book, I usually know the ending and perhaps a few landmark events in the middle, but I mostly discover stories by writing them. At the end, I go through and throw out sections that may be interesting but aren’t really part of the story.
Could you tell us a bit about your journey to publication?
I wrote the first draft of Earth Girl, and instantly did a quick revision, re-ordering a few scenes and throwing away a couple that weren’t really needed. In February 2010, I put the book aside, planning to come back to it in a couple of months time with fresh eyes to do a proper polish before maybe sending out some queries to agents.
Things didn’t happen that way. In March, I went to a Birmingham Science Fiction Group meeting where there was a visiting editor and agent. I was introduced, asked what I was working on, gave what was probably the worst book pitch in history, and was amazed to be asked to send in the full book. I spent the next two days madly polishing it and sent it off. By the end of the 2010 I’d signed with the agent, Ian Drury of Sheil Land Associates, and had two publication offers for Earth Girl.
And finally, which books or authors inspired you to write the Earth Girl Series?
I’ve read thousands of books by hundreds of authors. I could give you a huge list of authors who inspired me to write in general, but none of them inspired me to write Earth Girl in particular. It’s always hard to pin down exactly where a story idea starts, but that one came from multiple real life things. I’d had a long illness where I couldn’t leave the house to take part in all the interesting things that were happening outside. I wrote about a girl who couldn’t leave Earth to take part in all the exciting things happening on other worlds.
Thanks so much for answering my questions, Janet. Happy book birthday!