First, many thanks to Joan Lennon for letting me have her slot. I've just managed to publish a book on Kindle, and am feeling ridiculously proud of myself, so wanted to jump up and down and shout about it - just a little bit!
Admitted, I had it pretty easy really, because I still had the original Word document, which makes it much easier to create an ebook. And those nice people at Walker let me use the original cover, so I didn't have to make a new one. All in all, then, it's really pretty ridiculous that it's taken me well over a year to get round to what was actually a pretty painless and very interesting procedure.
The book concerned is called The Willow Man. It was the first 'serious' book I wrote, and it was very close to my heart. I felt unbelievably proud when I held the new book in my hand, it garnered some very nice reviews, and it was taken up by Hodder for use in a reading scheme. All of this was very satisfactory - but unfortunately, it didn't sell shed loads of copies - or even wheelbarrow loads - and so it went out of print. But now, thanks to the glories of the digital revolution (or is it the electronic revolution? Whatever!), The Willow Man is on the move again!
So what's the book about? Well, interesting you should ask. Because when I came to edit the original Word document before converting it for Kindle, I realised that it wasn't about quite what I'd thought it was.
|The Willow Man, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons|
So there he was, waiting to be written about. Other ideas gathered round him. One was what had happened to my daughter some years before, when she was seven. She had a stroke. One minute she was bouncing about all over the place, the next she was paralysed on her right side and couldn't speak. Should I have written about something so close to home? Well, I'm a writer. Writers write about things that matter to them, and nothing had mattered more.
Then there was the work I had just started doing, with young offenders - not locked up, but in the community. Here were young people who were almost always out of school. Few of them could read very well - John Dougherty wrote an excellent post about prisoners and literacy a couple of days ago which will provide you with some of the figures. Most of them had an absent father, and a mother who was struggling desperately to survive. The pattern seemed always to be the same - they struggled in school, they got into trouble, they truanted and/or were excluded, they got in with older youths and began to drink, they got into fights and damaged things, they went before the courts, and then they came to us.
So the book was to be about children who were stuck in one way or another. After it was published, I went into schools and talked to lots of children about it, and it was always so rewarding to hear the boy at the back - the one with that look about him that tells you he's teetering on the brink - say that he'd enjoyed it, because Ash was like he was. Someone else would always ask, rather shyly, about my daughter: had she got better, as Sophie does in the book? (The answer was yes: she did and she's wonderful!)
Reading it through before uploading it to Kindle, I saw that it was indeed about all these things. But it was about something else, too. It was about communication - or the lack of it. At the beginning, Sophie can't speak. She has to struggle to regain her words. Her brother Tom doesn't know how to cope with his feelings about what's happened: he certainly can't express them. Ash can't tell the teachers not only that he can't read, but also that the reason he keeps being late is that he has to drop his little brother off at school so his mum can get to work on time. His mother has never told him why his father isn't around. Perhaps, Sophie thinks, the Willow Man can help - but then something terrible happens...
When I was nearing the end of writing the book, I went to see Serena de la Hey. I wanted to explain to her that I had, in a way, hi-jacked her creation, and I wanted to know more about the way she worked, in order to write the final scene. The Willow Man - her figure, not my book - has had a huge impact. His image has been used in advertising for Somerset and the County Council, and people who are interested in the arcanery attached to willow/whicker figures used as a kind of sacrifice are drawn to him. She shrugged. She'd made him, she said. That was her job, done. What he went on to do after that wasn't up to her: he took on a life of his own.
Her figure wasn't meant to last; it was made of willow, not stone or bronze. Yet there it still is, and, thanks to Amazon Kindle, there my book still is - whatever it's about!
Incidentally, Lucy Coats wrote on this blog a month or two ago about Pinterest, and how she's begun to use it to create her characters. Emma Darwin has written elsewhere about how she's also used it to gather images to do with her books. I decided to have a play myself, and I've done a couple of boards, one about the landscapes inThe Willow Man. It's a work in progress - I haven't done Bridgwater yet - but if you'd like to take a look, it's here. The photo is taken from Brean Down, one of the key locations in the book - it's not on the board yet, but it will be!