Tag Archives: Fey Flame

Reminding an Author about writing: Visiting Braco Primary School

This post is long overdue. I normally like to post about a school visit within a few days but I’ve been swamped with writing/book related work over the past couple of months.

Finally, I have a little breathing space so I thought I’d pop on and talk about my visit to Braco Primary School.

I was lucky enough to get to talk to the whole school. The children were brilliant, welcoming, and they asked some really interesting, and surprising, questions (like ‘Do you talk about ethics in your books?’ and ‘How does an author make money?”).

Everyone likes a story

multi colour rainbow shoes john bray author crieff perthshireI don’t always talk to younger year groups, as the Jack Reusen books are aimed at children aged 7 years and up. However, I came prepared with a wee story I wrote a while ago called ‘Drip the Bogey Ogre’ (you can read the whole thing by clicking this link). The primary ones and twos were lovely and we had a fun five minutes or so talking about my shoes as well (I wore my multi-coloured shoes).

From there I went on to talk to the older school. There seems to be a collection of would-be authors in the older school and they all had questions about improving their writing and about aspects of the writing process like motivation and inspiration.

I hope I didn’t sound too repetitive but one thing I kept going back to was the fact that writing is like exercise; you need to do it regularly to be in good shape, and you have to have good quality ingredients to put into it.

With writing, you get out what you put in

Just as a healthy body comes from regular exercise and good nutrition, so too does a healthy capacity for writing come from writing regularly and consuming only good quality books.

These sorts of things always have more impact when you use an example. I shared an experience from when I was writing ‘Marcus‘ last year. At the time I hadn’t written a horror story for young adults (12 and up) before so I started reading around to get a feel for the topics and limits associated with that age group.

Some books I read were fantastic but there was one (it will remain nameless) that was less so. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story but I didn’t see what it was doing to my writing until editing time came along. It turns out that the chapters I wrote whilst reading this particular book were some of my worst, characters grew flat and I found it hard to get my bearings. Much editing was needed before they went public.

This was my takeaway advice for Braco Primary’s writers; do everything you can to make sure that what you are reading is good. Combine this with paying attention to the world around you in your own way. Understanding what your own point of view is will enable you to find your own voice. However, you’ll find that, only by reading work by experienced and talented authors, will you be able to make that voice as articulate and coherent as it can be.

Thank you for the enthusiasm boost!

Not only was my visit to Braco Primary an enjoyable one but their questions and enthusiasm for writing gave me a much-needed boost in the midst of this year’s NaNoWriMo (something that’s always welcome).

Thanks again for having me Braco Primary. I hope you enjoy the first two Jack Reusen books and I hope to have book three ready in the near future.

Falling for the Villain

438px-Villainc.svgNot long ago I had a twitter conversation with ‘Amber Medley‘ (a fellow NaNoWriMo writer). The basic idea was how to move forward in writing (tackling the dreaded writer’s block). I suggested a technique I use where I take a character out of the book and look at what they do in different settings.

Eventually the conversation moved on to how we draw believable characters, especially villains; viz. not writing a bad guy who just goes ‘Mwahahahah!’.

The interesting point that came up was the fact that the more human your bad guy gets, the easier it is to like him/her and, as a writer, you typically don’t feel you should like your villain.

I have a confession to make. Originally the primary villain of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ (the ‘Wishmaster’) was going to be the overarching bad guy for the series. The ‘Wishmaster’ was to follow Jack throughout the book series, building in malice and in his capacity for harm in natural stages until Jack would have no choice but to face up to him in a huge final showdown.

This sounds dangerously close to the story of another non-magical boy who discovers he can do magic and faces off against a deadly foe. You can imagine my relief then when, at some point in November 2014, I sat down with a cup of tea, started my writing for the night and, for the first time, was properly introduced to my ‘Wishmaster’. I had gotten him all wrong.

He was still just as dangerous, still as malicious, and cruel, but then I started to realise what had brought him there; a need to share his gifts with others and his discomfort at finding that others actually got by fine without his gifts. He had grown resentful of these people’s lack of gratitude and I suddenly understood who he was and the story he needed to need to tell me.

I still couldn’t let him take over my first book, and I still needed him to take a back seat for ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ but I made him bide his time. I knew his story now and I knew where he was going to have to go. He would remain a frightful memory for Jack and his friends for a while. After all, their story was just beginning. However, I was sure to set aside space in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ and, to an extent, in ‘Thea’s Quest’ (Book 4).

I grew to care for my villain and in doing so I grew to enjoy what I was writing a lot more. It gained more depth and I found it easier to connect with all of the characters (even bit players).

During my twitter conversation the other day ‘Amber Medley‘ pointed out the fact that she was worried about growing to like her villain but if I hadn’t grown to like mine I don’t know if the books would have moved forward at the pace they did. Perhaps sometimes it pays to like the villain.

Neil Gaiman

stardustDuring my wade through a world of words I somehow managed to finish Neil Gaiman’s book ‘Stardust’. To be honest I’m surprised that it took me this long to pick it up, it’s a fantasy book about a town that lies right beside an opening into the land of the fairies. Familiar as this sounds it’s miles away from my own books in plot, themes, characters, and most of all tone.

It’s a book that’s definitely not for kids and as fun as it was for me to read, at times it could be quite jarring to go from reading Gaiman’s work and then delving into writing the wold of Jack and Thea. Sure there’s magic, other worlds, odd creatures, etc. but ‘Stardust’ was so much more adult that I had to be careful to remember to tone down the themes in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’.

I normally make a rule of not reading while I’m writing so that I don’t get caught up writing in somebody else’s style but I was half way through ‘Stardust’ when NaNoWriMo started and I found that I needed some type of diversion whilst writing this time. I think I managed to keep the books separate in my mind probably first and foremost because of the main theme of each. Where ‘Stardust’ is a stand-alone adventure into a slightly Victorian take on the fantasy genre, ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ is a modern disaster novel set in a fantasy setting.

I feel like I’ve had a chance to play with some of my favorite movie genres whilst writing the Jack Reusen books. ‘The Fey Flame‘ is a world building book with a big villain but beyond that I’ve had a chance to play around with some other ideas. ‘Spark of Dreams‘ was my take on the zombie genre (but toned down a lot to cater for children of seven or eight years old and up). Next, in ‘Children of Fate’ we get an ‘end of the world’ themed story (don’t worry, everything is kind of alright in the end), after that we have what I’m thinking of as book three and a half, it’s a Christmas/Yule story and for now that’s all I’ll say about it.

Book four is all Thea’s, in many ways (and yes I know this sounds totally nuts) she seems to be helping me write it but overall it will be a quest, one that takes her through many of the other nations to be found in Fey, it’s a strange place and it’s becoming a huge pile of fun to research.

Anyway back to Stardust, if you’re a fantasy reader like myself I imagine you’ll get a kick out of Stardust. The one unusual aspect I noticed about it was just how rigidly Gaiman sticks to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule for writers. Basically we’re supposed to explain the worlds we create using the characters reactions and by highlighting that world using carefully described action sequences.

Ordinarily writers do a good job of this but in fantasy the rules are often relaxed. It’s not easy to build a world in the first chapter or two of a book without having to occasionally allow the narrator to explain what’s going on. J. R. R. Tolkien basically writes a history of Middle Earth in the first few chapters of ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’. It helps you get to know where you are but it’s not the easiest thing to get through.

To be fair to Tolkien he was writing his books at a time when the modern fantasy genre was in its infancy (Tolkien being it’s godfather after all). A lot of modern fantasy harkens back to Tolkien so in a way he was doing a lot of world building for all of us. That said we don’t all deal in elves, orks, dwarves etc. and even if they did there’s still a sizable chunk of the population who still wouldn’t know what these races are. As a result many modern fantasy writers still have to explain the people of their worlds and describe what they can do.

Gaiman doesn’t really do that, you simply see the characters do what they do and it’s up to you to gauge what they are capable of and to establish what power level they have. Sometimes when two characters meet for the first time it can be surprising to realise that you may have misjudged just what that character is. ‘Stardust’ is a fantasy book but if you’re expecting a big expository element in the first chapter or two you’ll be waiting a while, the story just starts and it’s up to you to keep up. It’s an unusual yet refreshing experience for a fantasy reader and I definitely recommend it (I should also point out again one more time: ‘STARDUST’ IS NOT FOR KIDS).

a-burden_cover_smlAnyway, thanks for reading, and feel free to add suggested reads in the comments below (I’m editing now so the ‘no reading’ rule has been officially dropped). Next up for me is Hiraeth: a Burden (the second book in the Hiraeth trilogy), again not for kids but definitely worth a read, it ‘s a modern-day fantasy set in Wales, Ireland, England, (and a wee bit of Scotland too), and focuses on an underground (not literally) group of Druids who hide their true nature by means of working for the lifeboats service.

Let us know if you’ve come across any particularly good reads, after all the nights are fair drawing in (I don’t really remember having a summer) and nothing completes a chilly night-in better than a good book. All the best, John

Printing has begun!

moving letters printing pressThe proofs for ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ have been approved and sent to the printers (there were a couple of technical issues but I’ve cleared them up). Unusual things happen to almost every main character in this book and I’m looking forward to hearing what readers have to say about it.

I’ve given hints about what the Spark of Dreams will be like at least a few times so I won’t repeat myself here, though I will hint at one little bit of information from the very end of the book. After a quiet few weeks sorting books and helping library patrons, Bob the librarian will meet Granny Reusen. If you haven’t read the first book that won’t much sense, and might sound a lot less interesting than it is, but trust me, it spurs on a really cool story line that I’m writing right now for book three.

I know this wait has been a lot longer than I promised, I just wanted to make sure the story would work properly and I feel like it’s there now. I really hope you enjoy it. I’ll keep you up to date on where the books are and when they’re likely to arrive, and if you want to pre-order a copy you can do that by clicking this link.

I’ll hopefully have more news for you very soon, thanks for being patient with me, all the best, John

Write your book at a virtual writers camp

camp_logo-290f133f1af2562198f3a75b662feb03In just a few days I, and thousands of others, will embark on the beginnings of a mindboggling cacophony of stories. July is the month for Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where you pledge a word goal and a genre and then look forward to the weirdly competitive edge that your writing has been missing.

I say ‘weirdly competitive’ because there’s no sole winner, and you find yourself routing for precisely the people who are doing better than you. In a slightly masochistic way, you’ll find yourself enjoying the successes of those who challenge you challenge you the most. As you push yourself to smash your daily recommended word count, there they are, always a couple of hundred words ahead, but without them you’ll drop back to a hundred and fifty words a day with an ‘at least it’s something’.

NaNoWriMo gives you results; do it right and you’ll finish the month with a solid, real, piece of work but it doesn’t work without a couple of ‘spotters’. Thank goodness it’s virtual, allowing you match your wits with people on other continents just as easily as you can with someone you can meet with for a coffee and a ‘word sprint’ (where you write as much as you can in a set period of time, basically racing each other). I already have a friend in the states set to join me on the adventure, and I welcome any other writers or would-be writers who fancy getting that book finished once and for all.

Please consider signing up, it’s a genuine rush watching that word count go up by significant leaps each day. It’s the movement that pushed me on to launch the Jack Reusen series, and absolutely anyone can do it. Sign up in readiness here, set your word count goal, pick your genre (by no means does it have to be a children’s book) and get cracking. Honestly, if you do it right you will have that first draft done by August.

If you fancy some support along the way, feel free to follow and chat to me on my personal Twitter account. I look forward to sharing the highs and lows of writing a book with whomever of you feels up to it. All the best, John

Comrie Primary

image

Today I was at Comrie Primary School for a book talk. It was lovely to revisit my first primary school, and odd to see how different the school looks now I’m not four feet tall.

By the sounds of it there are a good few budding authors among Comrie Primary’s pupils and they had a lot of interesting (and some very practical questions) about writing.

That’s the fun thing about these kinds of events. Aside from getting a bit of feedback on my writing, these talks definitely help me build self-awareness as an author.

How do you make a character? Why do you write in this genre? What should someone do to become an author?

It’s tough sometimes; some of these questions are relatively easy to answer, yet I feel a little under-qualified to answer others.

What do I do if I want to be a writer? I was tempted to answer ‘you write’ but that’s too glib (and dangerously close to sarcastic) an answer for a budding young writer. The truth is that there doesn’t seem to be one way to ‘be a writer’ but even that would be an unsatisfying answer.

Instead we got into discussing some surprisingly practical elements of the writing process: from sentence structure and grammar, to royalties and the earning potential of writing. It was a surprisingly thorough discussion to be having with primary school children.

I’ve just been informed that the pupils have decided to create illustrations of some of the characters from the book. I look forward to seeing the results and will hopefully get a chance to share them on here if I can.

Of course; if you know any children who have read the book(s) and who feel like sending in pictures of characters these are more than welcome (adults can send things in too if they like).

I love doing school talks so if you’d like me to come to your school please get in touch and we can try and arrange something.

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Some summer holiday reading

Kindle_UnlimitedIf you have a kindle (or something that can run the kindle reader app) then you can get hold of both of the Jack Reusen books (and a whole heap of books by other authors too) by signing up to a month’s free trial of Kindle Unlimited over at Amazon, here’s the link.

Once you’ve signed up you’ll see that both of the Jack Reusen books come up as free, so you can read the whole adventure so far, for nothing.

Jack Reusen and The Fey Flame‘ introduces you to the land of Fey, as creatures (and other things) make their way through to the ‘matter-world’ (basically our world). Jack and his family have to discover a way of closing a collection of ‘breaches’ between the two worlds to make their world safe again.

‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is a slightly different kind of cover with blurb and barcode 2 trimmedadventure. People are losing their ability to dream. Every night more and more people lose the certain something that makes human beings so good at solving problems and creating things; the spark of dreams. Jack discovers that he could be the key to understanding what’s causing this change, and he may even be the only person who can solve it and bring back the dreams and imaginations of hundreds of people.

I hope that both of the Jack Reusen books give you and/or your kids something to enjoy over the summer holidays. Let me know what you think, all the best, John

And…they’re off!

cover with blurb and barcode 2 trimmed

Another wee sample of Karen’s artwork

Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is ready! The artwork is done, the text has been edited, all files have been sent off to the printers, and now comes the waiting. (Though the wait won’t be too long for the kindle edition, which I’ll have ready sometime tonight.)

The process for print editions is fairly simple; first they send me a digital proof (which I expect to receive sometime early next week). After this comes approval of the proof, which is kind of an odd thing to do actually; basically I send them an e-mail saying ‘yes I like my own book, send me lots’. Once I’ve told them I like my book it can take seven to ten working days for them to to print up a bundle and send them to me.

I’ll probably end up posting a lot of updates on Facebook and Twitter once I’ve got a tracking number, so if you follow either account expect to see lots of posts about UPS on the day the books head my way.

To be sure that you get hold of one of the first copies you can pre-order one by leaving a comment below (they’re £6.99) and you can either pick them up at Fun Junction, get me to deliver them to you personally, or if you’re further away I can post one out to you.

Writing this book has been a totally different experience than the last one. Knowing that people have read the first, that some readers might be emotionally invested in certain characters (no I haven’t killed anyone, nor do I plan to), and knowing that there are many more books planned, has meant that I’ve had to be very careful with this one.

There are some scenes that had to be big and dramatic and they change characters in ways that might take them a couple of books to recover from. That’s what all these big delays have been about (I originally planned on having the book out in April). The trickiest part has been the fact that two key story lines run from just one early scene involving Fynn and Thea.

They come out of the event changed, but getting the balance between developing a character in that way, and just all-out changing them is difficult. Every change I made to that one scene (you’ll see what it is soon) had a heavy ripple-effect throughout the book, at times it was like playing Jenga with a sledgehammer. After a lot of work I think I’ve got it right and I hope you guys enjoy the journey that both of these characters go on.

Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘ is darker than the Fey Flame (though not by a lot), my proofreader/editor left me a note about three quarters of the way through the book that simply read ‘this is freakin’ scary!’. Don’t let this put you off though. I’ve left a lot of the scarier scenes open in a way that lets the reader fill in the gaps with their own imagination. This way, readers at my eldest son’s age (seven in a few weeks) will likely find these parts a lot less frightening than their parents.

Overall the story is based around what the world would be like if people didn’t dream, imagine, or come up with new ideas. Some of this is a little scary but mostly I wanted to deal with how important imagination is for everyone. Jack has to navigate a city that doesn’t dream and it doesn’t look like a nice place to live.

I’ve said before that there are ‘zombies’ in this book, but they aren’t undead, flesh-eating monsters; they’re innocent people who are sleep-walking through life and have lost something important because of it. Jack goes through a crisis of confidence but we all know that in the end he’ll have what it takes to help them.

Thea hasn’t been left out either; she gets to be an action hero in this book. Her fight scenes were some of the most enjoyable things I have ever written (though you’ll have to get a fair bit through the book to see them) and I’m really looking forward to seeing what kind of girl she develops into in future books.

Sorry for the long post, as you can probably tell, I’m a little excited about launching the latest Jack Reusen book. I really hope you like it (when the books finally get here). I’ll keep you updated here and on the Facebook and Twitter accounts about when to expect them. In the mean time I’ve got a school book talk to prepare for. I’m off to Comrie Primary on Monday (my school between the ages of five and seven) and I’m really hoping the children there enjoy their introduction to Jack and his friends.

All the best, thanks as always for reading, cheers, John

A word explosion for your enjoyment

Not a real post here (too busy editing), just sharing this word-jumble (from wordle) that features all the most popular words in ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ (size=frequency). It might give you an idea about some of the content.

spark of dreams word jumble4

Running tally of progress: final edit=p132 of 275 (don’t worry this bit doesn’t take that long), cover is done (thanks to Karen) but I’ve got a couple of minor tweeks to do once I have finalised page numbers (matching spine to book width). Once these are done the book will be good to go. I’ll pop a wee update after tonight’s editing session to keep you posted. Off to edit now, wish me luck, John

Magical Realism

Vasnetsov_samoletFiction is changing but what it’s changing into isn’t something new. For a long time a sub-genre of contemporary fiction known as ‘magical realism’ provided a mind-bending literary experience to those who came across it, but sadly it sat at the fringes while traditional fantasy, science-fiction, and even thrillers enjoyed mass-market backing from readers who would no doubt have enjoyed magical realism if they knew it was available.

I was introduced to it by a teacher of mine (Mr Johnstone) at High School. Famous fantasy writers have been known to denounce it as a fancy way of saying you write fantasy fiction but I think there’s one very clear distinction: just as you probably wouldn’t explain the way that electricity is created and sent down power lines to power your toaster, when describing a scene in which you cook some toast, a magical realist writer feels no demand for an explanation for anything that the reader might regard as ‘magical’.

Terry Pratchett said that saying that you write magical realism is “…a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people…”. In some regards he could be correct, fantasy fiction is certainly seen as more populist (and less literary) than magical realism. What’s more, magical realism sports a host of connections to post-modernist art and philosophy that makes it positively intellectual-sounding. However, fantasy fiction can itself be, though isn’t always, a tremendous vehicle for highlighting philosophical concepts as well. Pratchett was one of the best at doing just that.

But now, within children’s literature, we’re finding works that bridge the divide somehow. Explanations of how the magic works are left to one side as authors launch their characters straight into the adventure. Magical Realist sympathies can be especially evident in works like Pratchett’s Discworld (despite his protestations to the contrary), Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kindom’ series (‘Mister Monday’ etc.), Philip Pullman’s ‘Dark Materials’, and many many more. In these books we are witness to a change in the way that magic is introduced, it is left as part of the fabric of the story with minimal exposition.

However, the exposition is still there, as it probably has to be for children. Perhaps we need to delineate fantastical elements in fiction for children. They are still getting a grasp of the reality and physics of their own world so it seems prudent to provide some explanation as to how things work in an alternate one. What’s more the explanation of the magic can itself often serve as a component of the plot.

I’m in this boat. Jack starts in our world (or something very much like it) and is exposed to things he doesn’t understand, therefore a necessary part of the plot (and his character development) involves him gaining a basic idea about how the magic works.

There are things that I’ve left to one side for now and things that may never be explained but I’m happy to admit that there’s simply too much explanation of the magic in my books for anyone to call it ‘magical realism’. While I still enjoy and respect the genre and can see how it really can work in children’s literature I can’t help slipping into fantasy

For me part of the fun of our world is to be found in finding out things. I couldn’t limit my characters by not allowing them to discover the ‘secrets’ behind the magic any more than I could answer my children with the ever-unsatisfying ‘just because’. For a child I expect that a truly magical realist work of fiction could prove equally intellectually unsatisfying, perhaps its one of these odd cases where a literary genre simply doesn’t scale well into a children’s version.

The books I’ve described above have no doubt been enjoyed by more adults and teens than children of twelve and under, they certainly rank extremely highly within my list of favourite books. However, for children reading what’s known as ‘middle grade fiction’ (more about it here) and those younger than them, I can’t help but feel that authors need to be ready for the ‘why’s and ‘how’s from their readers.

What genre of books do you think would/does translate well into ‘children’s’ versions? Which genre’s simple don’t translate at all? Am I wrong about the books listed above, do you think that children between eight and twelve enjoy them as much as teenagers? As always thanks for reading and don’t forget you can buy a copy (paperback or kindle edition) of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ over on this page.