Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

Right, so I'm a bit slow to join this meme.  The lovely Sally Poyton (who is responsible for my joining SCBWI) tagged me for The Next Big Thing ages ago and I, being slightly suspicious of internet memes, foolishly declined.  Having read a bunch of other writers' excellent posts on what they're writing (and learned more about some great upcoming titles), I decided to hop on the bandwagon and tell you a bit about my work-in-progress.

1.  What is the working title of your book?

The working title is Belladonna, referencing a poisonous flower in the nightshade family, the translation from the Italian: beautiful lady, and (extremely tangentially) Stevie Nicks's 1981 solo album Bella Donna.

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was riding the bus home from university on my 20th birthday and I thought of a witch and of a spoiled girl who had to be the witch's servant.  I knew that I wanted it to have fairytale elements; I knew that the spoiled girl (Hazel) and a boy had broken the witch's window in the woods (Hansel and Gretel-style) and that it was set in the nineteenth-century and that my heroine wore white.  It all came to me quite quickly on that bus ride home.  I knew the ending by the time I got off the bus and I think I also knew that the heroine's father was an important part of the story.

So, the answer is sort of "out of the ether".  But it also relates back to the fact that a teenage boy on the bus behind me was chatting away very courteously and kindly with an elderly woman.  And I thought to myself how awkward and shy I would be in the same situation, because I was quite shy with strangers then (I think I'm better now).  Hazel and the witch build their relationship through conversation, some of which is very awkward, and some which of allows for growth on both sides.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?

Young adult fantasy.  More specifically, young adult historical fantasy with fairytale elements.

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters for a movie rendition?

Gah!  This is the hardest question ever.  I have visuals of the characters in my head but I've never tried to match them to anyone before, with one exception.  Also, because the novel is narrated in the first-person, I spend an awful lot of time in Hazel's head but haven't bothered to try to picture her facial features, for instance.

The exception to the rule is Melicent, one of the fairies in the novel, who I picture as a young Christina Ricci or Catherine Zeta Jones.

There's a Puritan preacher Tim and I have decided could be played by Benedict Cumberbatch, becasue I describe him as having a really powerful, distinctive voice.

Other than that, I'm drawing a blank.  Maybe someone who's read the book could help me out with suggestions?  

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis for your book?

 One day late in Queen Victoria’s reign, spoiled Hazel Linwood escapes from her governess, raids an apple orchard, kisses the stable boy, and breaks a witch's window; for her thoughtlessness, the witch curses Hazel: she must be the witch’s servant and cannot return home until she speaks the witch’s one True Name.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope to be represented by a literary agent.  Not sure I would attempt self-publication at this point.

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About ten months.  I had the idea for the novel in March and collected bits and pieces of ideas for a few months.  I started writing the first draft on 17 August 2006 (after being inspired while reading Wuthering Heights one afternoon) and finished the draft in late June of the next year.  I've been revising on and (quite a lot) off ever since.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Books that feel similar to me include Chime by Franny Billingsly, Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt, I, Coriander by Sally Gardener, The Merrybegot by Julie Hearn, and A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.  They are all YA fantasies in historical settings and draw on fairytale and/or folklore.  I think they all have quite strong narrative voices as well.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See above.  Also, see the books I've just listed.  I read most of those either before or during the composition of my novel and I'm sure they've left creative imprints on my work in one form or another.  Also, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had a big impact on me in the months leading up to writing this book.

10.  What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Let's see.  Witch hunts.  Incredibly dangerous fairies.  Love.  Revenge.  Victorians.  A flawed heroine.  A dreamy (but also considerate and sweet) stable boy.

I'm not tagging anyone (as I'm afraid many of my writerly friends seem to have been tagged already), but please check out these other Next Big Things for upcoming books that look great!

Elizabeth Wein on the companion book to Code Name Verity, happily due for release next fall!

Erin Bow on her second novel, Sorrow's Knot.


  1. I would love to read this again! I remember reading and commenting back when you wrote the first draft and I think it's fabulous you're still at work on the story. Seriously though, it just goes to show how stinking long writing a book takes. Why do we do it? :P

    1. I remember well your extremely helpful comments on the first draft, especially when you very kindly told me that the then Chapter Eight just didn't have the right tone, which spurred on a much-needed rewrite. :)

      I'd be happy to e-mail you the most recent draft if you'd like to read it again. Are the e-mail addresses on your Facebook profile current? I'm going to start submitting the novel to agents in February, so any feedback you had would be most useful.

      As for how long its taken... Well, I haven't been the most faithful reviser over the past 4.5 years - but I'll put some of that down to school and work, as well as laziness. It's actually nice that it's had so much time to develop - I've been able to bring a lot of reading/writing/revising/life experience to the novel in the intervening years. I'm feeling pretty good about sending it off into the wide world now, though, especially since *whispers* I think I'm into pre-writing my next book!

  2. I'm at if that's the one on my Facebook. I'd love to take a look at your draft! And starting a new book is so delicious...I think that's why I like writing short stories. None of the commitment necessary for writing a novel but all of the perks ;)