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Writing a Multiple Character Driven Novel, with Emily Benet

I was lucky enough to meet Emily a couple of years ago now, as part of the Finchley Literary Festival, and she’s doing amazing things with her books.

I caught up with her to hear more about her new novel, The Hen Party:

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I’m a huge fan of the book Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. It’s sharp, clever, funny and fast-paced. I’ve read it about five times. I’ve dissected it with coloured pencils, trying to understand how she so successfully knits together those three main characters and all those other entertaining voices captured purely in dialogue.
I love books written from the perspective of more than one character. Deborah Moggach does it really well too and my copy of Heartbreak Hotel is full of underlining and scribbles in the margin. After writing three books, Shop Girl Diaries, The Temp and #PleaseRetweet in the first person, I was determined to write a novel told from the point of view of more than one character.
I wanted the book to begin with a mystery and for each character to know a different part of the story. I also wanted a story set in Mallorca, because I had just moved there and I was besotted. Multiple characters in a popular holiday destination… aha, I thought, what about a hen party?
Then…

What about a hen party reality show?

…which goes missing!

The Hen Party starts with a director who has lost all the hens and goes back and forward in time revealing what happened. It was a challenge to write and I started it three times. I was determined for it not to be too soppy or cliché. I really wanted the story to be intriguing. Once I had the plot sorted, I ended up rewriting the characters to make them stronger, so they would stand out from each other.
The novel follows five hens and a director, so it’s important they all have different personalities and agendas. I used a colour-coded spreadsheet to help me coordinate the chapters. I used to stick strips of paper on a wall, but now I find spreadsheets more reliable.
Although I have finished The Hen Party I definitely haven’t finished with the multi-character driven novel. For my next book I’m already exploring an idea which focuses on a number of characters, all neighbours, responding to a crisis in their different ways. It’s going to be a challenge but that’s fine by me if it means I get better at my craft.
The Hen Party is a little different from my other books but my stamp is still clearly on it. It has moments of comedy and romance and hopefully enough drama to keep you turning those pages!
Book Blurb
Film Director, Kate Miller, is in serious trouble.  The entire cast and crew of the reality TV show The Hen Party has gone missing while filming in Mallorca.

To make matters worse, the network boss is flying in to check up on her production.

Kate thinks it’s all her fault. She hasn’t exactly been following the guidelines.

But if she is to blame, why were the hens arguing between themselves? And why is the groom-to-be calling her up in tears?

Kate doesn’t know the half of it. The hens have their own secrets and it’s only matter of time before they all come tumbling out.

A party of eight arrive on the island, but not everyone’s going home.

 

Biography

The Hen Party is Emily Benet’s 4th book. Her debut book, Shop Girl Diaries, began as a blog. Her second, Spray Painted Bananas, racked up a million hits on the online platform Wattpad and led to a 2 book deal with Harper Collins. They published her Wattpad book under the new title The Temp as well as her comedy about social media addiction, #PleaseRetweet. She lives in Mallorca with her husband and writes for abcMallorca magazine.

Universal book link for The Hen Party https://books2read.com/u/b5Oyq7
Website http://www.emilybenet.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/EmilyBenetAuthor
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/@EmilyBenet

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On Developing a Thick Skin: The Writer’s Task

 

You’ve slogged away at a book, you’ve received a publishing deal, or have put the effort into self publishing. You’ve written blog posts, updates, tweeted, talked everyone’s ears off about it, and you want people to buy it.

 

But what about when people do actually read it? What about when they review it? I hadn’t really thought about this part up until now, so focused on trying to drum up interest, secure reviewers and bloggers, that I didn’t think about what would happen when I get my first (inevitable) bad review.

 

How can you respond to the idea that someone doesn’t like what you’ve made? Well, in an ideal, rational world you understand that not everyone likes the same things, and you try to ignore it and remain proud of your work. But much as the internet has given us so much, reviews are fast and thick and from everyone. You don’t have to wait for the papers to give you a write up, instead you’re almost overhearing the conversations people are having about your work. 

 

Having looked at other author’s responses to bad reviews, seeing how they’ve almost felt personally attacked, and then had to shake it off, and try and continue, is powerful and admirable. I’m really nervous that a bad review will knock me down from what I’m writing now.

 

Writers (like all artists) are a strange mix of ego and self-doubt. We want to forge forward, secure in the knowledge that we’re making something we like, that has had some good response. That we are justified in doing what we’re doing. But half of us knows that we’re terrible, we’re no good, nothing we create will stand up to judgement, and what’s the bloody point anyway?

 

In these times, it’s good to remember two things: 

 

You’re doing this for you. You wrote your book for you. The process, the outcome, all of that was to make you feel something. Or simply because it was something you needed to do.

 

Also, Fifty Shades of Gray and Twilight are bestsellers. So bollocks to all of it, really.

 

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Regardless of my own personal fear, reviews are welcome (and necessary!) if you want to get a review copy from netgalley- click HERE and if you want to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk, then go ahead. It’s released in ONE WEEK!

 

 

 

 

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The Last Word- Review Copies Available!

Incase it wasn’t clear how excited I am that my first Carina UK novel is coming out this month, let me express that clearly. EEEEEEP!

The Last Word is available for review on Netgalley, if you follow THIS link. Let me know what you think, and be sure to tweet at @almichael_ and @carinauk

 

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Tabby Riley’s online life was a roaring success. Her blog had hundreds of followers, and legions of young fans ardently awaited her every Tweet. Her real life was a bit more of a disappointment. Living in a shared flat in North London, scratching a living writing magazine articles on ‘How To Please Your Man in Bed’ wasn’t where she thought she’d be at twenty-six – especially when there was a serious lack of action in her own bedroom.

Until she was offered the job of her dreams on online paper The Type – and gained a sexy new editor, Harry Shulman, to bounce her ideas off. Tabby had previous bad form when it came to falling for well-dressed, smooth-talking editors, so no way was she going there again…ever! But had she got a little too used to hiding behind her laptop screen? Perhaps it was time for the real Tabby Riley to come out and have some fun!

 

You can also pre-order on Amazon HERE

 

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Authentic Storytelling: Writing the message or telling the story?

 

Writers have quite a responsibility when it comes to the stories they spin. We are constantly looking for the message, the bigger picture. If the good little girl gets rewarded in love, we feel like we must be good to get what we want. If bad characters are punished, we feel we must believe in that punishment.

 

But what happens when fear of the message takes over your storyline? What if you have an ethnic minority character who happens to be the bad guy? Are you a racist? What if your gay character doesn’t end up with a partner but your straight character does- are you prioritising who gets happiness in society?

 

Every web we create sends out vibrations, saying that our belief system sits within these words. And that’s not always true. Sometimes I don’t give another character a love interest because I don’t have time, or I don’t want to end it in a triple wedding like a Jane Austen tie up. Sometimes, the bad guy is just the bad guy, because you want to make it more interesting, and give them a backstory. Not because you’ve decided all people of a certain race are evil.

 

But people will call you on this. They will expect absolute answers for every decision you’ve made, when really, some of them are just based on the fact that they felt right. A friend of mine is currently trying to write a villain who happens to be gay. Now, is there a way to do this without demonising gay people? Yes, of course. But is there always going to be one person with a foghorn standing there and judging her for the choice? Probably.

 

People are complex creatures with endless facets, constantly changing and evolving. To represent one of those on the page clearly is pretty much impossible. But in writing (as in life) reverting to labels never helps anyone. My friend’s character is not evil because he is gay, or gay because he is evil. He is an evil character that serves a purpose of evilness in the story, and also happens to be gay because…well, because he is. Just like how people are, because they are.

 

And what if you don’t have a message? Or worse, if the message doesn’t fit the genre you write in? When coming up with concepts for my new novel, I’d just watched two awful movies ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ and ‘Made of Honor’, both of which deal with the bullshit ‘We’ve been friends for years but now you’re getting married and I’ve realised I love you’ storyline. So I wanted to write a story where a girl and a guy live together, and are friends, and other people don’t get it, and keep waiting for them to get together. But they don’t. Because they’re friends. The message was there. Men and women can be friends, stop demonising it and making it all about romance because we all know that’s not true.

 

Except…well, no-one wants to read a story like that. Firstly, because it’s a story where nothing changes, and people want change, but also because people WANT the main characters to get together. They don’t care about the moral, or the message or what it means for society if we think our friends secretly want to shag us. If there’s a nice guy and a nice girl, and they get along, movies and novels tell us that they’re a possibility. And no amount of talking about the message will make that a satisfying read for people who have become used to the pattern of existing friendships in romcoms. I’m pretty sure we don’t do this in real life. We don’t look at a best friend of the opposite sex we’ve never been attracted to before, and suddenly decide they’ll do. And if we do, it’s more interesting to write about what takes that person to that point, where they are emotionally and how that affects the friendship.

 

My point being, we often feel like a story can’t exist without a message, but a message without a working story just feels like being hit over the head with someone else’s morality. Not fun. My chick lit books tend to work on the same theme, which is taking a chance and trusting someone. Do I do this deliberately? No, but I like writing emotionally distant and strongly sarcastic female characters, so the message comes naturally from how I enjoy writing. The message tends to reveal itself along the way, and if you’re already absolutely sure about what you’re trying to tell the world, well, just try and be careful you’re not hitting people over the head with it. Being able to enjoy a story, even if you don’t agree with it’s view of the world, is one sign of great writing.

 

Don’t forget my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop on 26th April, where we explore things like where our personal inbuilt narratives meet our characters on the page. If you want to explore how and why you write a little better, it’s the perfect opportunity! Plus, if you Quote: WORDPRESSCODE in an email to andrealmichael@aol.com when ordering, you get 10% off the ticket price! Bargain!