Friday, September 25, 2015

A Girl Made of Stars


What do you write after an epic trilogy about the end of the world as we know it? Write something small, I told myself. That’s what to do. You’ve done big and what story is bigger than a drowned Earth?
I never should have asked myself that. It’s just the kind of question my imagination loves and before I knew it I was staring at the answer, right above my head - and all around me, stretching far beyond the Earth.

The universe, that’s what. 

I floated in the idea. I was hooked.

My plans for a small story were out the window and my head was in the stars.

Life doesn’t always let you do what you want when you want. Several big life crises, other projects and one major neck injury all got in the way of my book... 

But I wrote my first graphic novel, EARTH-PLANET UNIVERSE, the story of the world's first ecologist, Scot John Muir, for Scottish Book Trust. 20,000 copies went into schools across Scotland. I also mentored for SBT's New Writers and Young Writers Awards, which I loved. Here's an interview with me about the graphic novel below, illustrated by William Goldsmith.
Earth-Planet Universe, The Story of John Muir (my kindred spirit)

Two things I’ve learned about writing. 

Always write the book you'd want to read, the one that doesn’t yet exist. Also, what you do on the page is only part of the work. Some of the most important writing happens off the page. So when I couldn’t type, I thought about my story. I dreamed it up and let it fizzle and ferment inside me. I read and read and fired myself up with energy and ideas. I lived scenes in my mind and when I finally got to write them they felt as real as my own memories. 
At long last, the stars aligned for me and I could write again. It felt like the story I’d been waiting all my life to write.

The Book I’ve Always Wanted To Write

Some writers have rituals or need to work in the same place. Philip Pullman has a particular kind of notebook. Some can write anywhere, on trains and planes, like Jacqueline Wilson. I’m in between. I like bit of city cafe buzz, a bit of routine at my desk. I love writing in the special notebooks my daughter buys me at Christmas and birthdays. 

What really makes my imagination come alive is travelling, being somewhere vivid and new. That feeling of moving across the Earth or writing in a place that feeds into the book I’m working on. It feeds something in me too.

So when we had to take my student daughter (in a car packed so tight we could barely close the doors) to the University of Nantes and my friend offered her house (two hours away) as a writing pad, my husband and I grabbed our own gap year in France.

The amazing skies and sunsets and stars of the Loire countryside blazed through me as I wrote A Girl Made of Stars.

Winds swept across the vineyards and seemed to whirl ideas inside me.

My writing desk under the cherry tree

Then the world burst in on our idyll.

There were terrorist killings close by in Tours, in Nantes and Paris. 

France felt precarious, broken-hearted. 

It all seeped in strange ways into the world of the book.  

Writing THE END felt like finishing a marathon. 

I emailed the manuscript to my agent and waited. 

I couldn’t settle. 

What if she didn’t like the book I’d put my heart and soul into? What if it wasn’t good enough? Was the story too crazy, too wild? 

We went back to France for a week. There was a mad cat there who needed babysitting, but that’s another story. Maybe even a book...

One night I was staring up at the big skies I’d missed so much back in Glasgow when my phone buzzed. It was an email from Sarah Davies, my agent. But it wouldn't download! Often when the wind blew hard across the vineyards, the wifi went AWOL. So all I had for ten agonising minutes was this…. 

Was that a good eeeeeeeeeeee or bad? I sweated... It turned out to be the best eeeeeeeeeeee ever. Sarah loved the book. 

There was still work to do. Hard editing, revising. I was determined to make this the very best book I could. Some nights at 4am, the sky was lightening and I was still writing, not quite sure what planet I was on, what universe I was in…

The fate of my story is now in the hands of the writing gods. 

I’ve done all I can for now. I hope you get to read it one day because writing it was a blast and took me on a journey into the unknown, to places I never thought I could imagine.

Writing this book was the time of my life.