Monday 24 June 2013

Maureen says, 'Is There a Book Lurking in Your Head?'

by Maureen Lynas

I'm writing a book that I didn't want to write.
And I'm illustrating it. 
And it's all come as a bit of a surprise. 

Last year when a very successful agent, who knows what she's talking about, suggested I write a book in this genre I think I pulled a face.

The genre - Witch School.

You can see why I pulled a face. Harry Potter, The Worst Witch. 
How could I compete? What could I do that would be different? I didn't even want to think about it.
So I didn't. 

But then, after a year of writerly disappointments, I was trawling back through agents and publishers emails looking for positive reinforcement that I wasn't useless and I saw the agent's name and remembered the conversation. So I decided to have a go. I thought I'd invest one week in a witchy experiment. Could I write a first draft, 10,000 words in a week? Then if I liked it, I'd keep going, if I didn't, well, I'd only wasted a week.

It's hard to describe what happened next. I actually think I was taken over by the protagonist who must have been lurking in my subconscious just waiting for a chance to get out into the big wide world. For the first time in my writing career I wrote without thinking. No planning (I am a BIG planner), no plotting cards, no character lists or interviews, no chapter breakdowns, no emotional arcs. Just writing. And it was as if my brain was like one of those Chinese puzzles where everything clicks into place because you touch the right spring.

In one week I had that first draft and I felt I'd written a book I was supposed to write.

And I was in love. The little girl telling me her story was an amalgam of all the fictional characters that have made an impression on me for their bravery, cleverness, comedy, and yes, stupidity. 
She was channeling Buffy, Willow, Georgina Nicholson, Adrian Mole.

She has such a huge voice, a sense of purpose, a strong sense of right and wrong and so many OPINIONS! She's so DRAMATIC! 
Full of life and funny.

Then, once I'd written the draft she demanded to be drawn. I had no intention of illustrating any of my books (check out this interesting blog by Cathy Brett on the Guardian site about illustrated books for older children.) I like doodling and doing pics for Notes From the Slushpile but that's as far as it goes. But she wasn't having it. She wanted to be seen. So, I drew her and here she is - Daisy, alias Ophelia, alias Twinkle, who has just been dumped at Toadspit Towers, School for Witches by her granny.

And of course once she was there on the page she became even more real to me. Her problems meant more. But then I was the one with a problem. If I was going to illustrate the book then who else was in it? What did they look like? They weren't talking to me in the way Daisy/Ophelia/Twinkle was. So I just started drawing in the way I'd just started writing. And I came up with this witchy teacher.

And I showed both illustrations to a few people. They all loved Daisy/Ophelia/Twinkle but the reaction to the teacher was lukewarm and I realised I had drawn a witch and not a real person. So I had another go and then something else curious happened. The teacher that appeared from the end of my stylus has a wooden leg. 

Now, I didn't plan that. It just happened. Came out of nowhere. And the wooden leg is called George and he demanded a role in the story too. I know that I would not have come up with George if I'd just written about Ms Priscilla Precisely and not drawn her.

Then a funny thing happened and the first witch began to demand a part and she is now in book 2 and has a major influence on the story. And she looks perfect for that part. She needs to look like a fearsome, traditional, no nonsense witch.

It honestly feels like I'm holding auditions and casting the book! 

So far every drawing I've done has informed the character or added a dimension to the plot. So even if the publishers don't want to use them (if I get a book deal) they have played a huge role in bringing the book to life. I'm now 15,000 words into the second draft and I'm alternating between writing and drawing and I have never had so much fun when writing. Or been so creative.

And I wondered, has this happened to anyone else? Have you just sat down and started to write then discovered there's a character with a complete story lurking in your subconscious? Does anyone else, non-illustrators, sketch their characters and have they influenced the way the plot goes? Or who the character is? Or how the world behaves? 

To finish I would like to say a big thank you to that very successful agent who said, 'Why not try writing a witch school book?' She obviously knows a lot more than I do about who's in my head. Spooky. 

Without her suggestion I would never have met Daisy/Ophelia/Twinkle and I would never have written 

The Best Witch. 
The true story of how Daisy/Ophelia/Twinkle attempts to 
from Toadspit Towers and the spider guards.. 

Maureen Lynas also blogs on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas


  1. I just loved this post. It was wonderful watching the story growing in front of us.

    1. Thanks, Vanessa. I'm enjoying watching it grow here too.

  2. It sounds great Maureen! I particularly love the wooden leg idea, you have definitely got your own angle on the witch genre.
    To answer your question yes I think I had a similar experience with Duck and Bear - the characters still feel very real to me and it was as if the scripts were writing themselves.
    Similar to you I thought that I would give it a try, no matter if it didn't work it would just be a fun thing to do and I put things in to make myself laugh. Maybe this attitude helps?

    1. I think it does, Amanda. Maybe there's a part of your brain that just wants to let go and be far more imaginative than the other parts! I love Duck and Bear, they are real to me because they're talking for all of us. If anyone hasn't seen Duck and Bear on Words and Pictures then go see!

  3. What a great post! I love the illustrations. I hope that very successful agent is reading your post and that your books get snapped up!

    1. Thanks, Anne. I'll be sending it to her as soon as it's finished. Fingers crossed she meant something like this one!

  4. This is very exciting! Love the pictures and the story ideas!!

    1. Thanks, Paula :) I have no idea where they are coming from.

  5. I LOVE that last picture!
    And the wooden leg called George immediately makes me ask 'Why?' what was the leg/tree he came from in a past existence? Was it someone she turned into tree? what sort of tree? Is there a face on her knee? I'm getting beyond myself...

    1. Hi Jan, I have consulted Ms Tremble, headmistress of Toadspit Towers, and she informs me that George was carved from the tree at the centre of the outside inside garden. There is indeed an eye on the knee and he can twizzle to face the other way. Ms Priscilla Precisely and George do not always see eye to eye. (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

  6. Wow Maureen - I've probably been living on another planet but I had no idea you illustrated as well! I hope the book is successful.

    1. Thanks, Elli. This is my first go at drawing something that's in my head rather than copying other people's work and it was a lot of fun but there's also a very big learning curve.

  7. Wonderful news, Maureen, and a great-sounding angle. Very best of luck. It's also lovely to hear that the muse sometimes visits dedicated plotters as well as non-plotters. Does anyone at Toadspit Towers have an enchantment to encourage that?

    1. Thanks, Rowena. I think this is how the enchantment goes.
      Brain, brain, think for me,
      Who is in there, let me see.
      What's the story, what's the plot
      Please take over, write the lot.

  8. Go with the flow I say! This is looking great!

  9. Hi Maureen, this looks great! It's so lovely when an idea just pops out of your head! And that has happened to me ... her name is Mariella Mystery!

    She was just a front cover illustration, but when I was prompted to give it a go, became an actual story. :) I would never have attempted to write a book for that age range until a publisher said they thought it was a good idea I did!

    Weird, all the other things I've ever deliberately tried to pitch haven't worked in the same way.

    Good luck with it!

    Kate x

    1. Actually, Kate, I think I was influenced by seeing Mariella Mystery and that's why I ended up illustrating. I love the way you mix the text and images. It's so playful. And she's so funny and feisty. Maybe I'm channeling her a bit too!

  10. I've read one of your other stories Maureen and I thought it near PERFECT. So this must be WOW to the nth degree. You so deserve to be discovered.

    1. Aw, thanks, Candy. I do still love Florence and the Meanies. Hopefully she'll find a home one day.

  11. This is so wonderful, Maureen! Soon, soon!


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