Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Revisiting The World of a Book - Lari Don

I lose myself in all my books, and learn something from each of them. Each book is a little world (or a big world, if it’s a novel) and the time I spend inside each story world becomes part of me. That’s one reason I love doing author events: to share my experience of spending time in an imagined world, hoping to inspire young writers to do the same.

There are creative worlds and creative experiences I revisit more often than others. Even though my final Fabled Beast Chronicles novel, Maze Running, was published a couple of years ago, I still do events about those novels regularly, so I’m used to chatting about working with centaurs, dragons and selkies, about how I came up with the idea and what I learnt about writing adventures.

However, there are other books that were just as important to me as I wrote them, but that I don’t revisit nearly so often.

Drawing a Veil is a novella I wrote about 5 years ago. I revisited it last week, when I was asked by an English teacher to talk to a class who were reading it at school.

He wanted me to talk about how I had researched and written the book. I was a little nervous about doing that, because I honestly couldn’t remember how I’d researched and written it! At a quick count, I’ve written at least a dozen books since it was published, and I’ve probably not done an event specifically about this novella for a couple of years. Also, it’s the only book I’ve written so far that’s set firmly in this world, with no magic or mind readers, so I couldn’t even just witter on about my usual imaginative processes, because they weren’t entirely relevant to this book.

But I said yes, because Denny High is one of my favourite schools to visit, then I sat down and reread the book. (It’s a novella, it didn’t take that long.)

I reread the book with a bit of trepidation. Would I find it clunky or cringe-worthy? I’ve learnt a lot as a writer since I wrote it. Would I be embarrassed by it?

But apart from the usual desire to pick up a pen and alter the odd word, which happens when I read any of my books, even ones published this year, it was fine. I read a couple of phrases that made me think ‘ooh, that’s rather good’ and I laughed out loud once.

Even better, as I read, I found myself back in that world. Not just the world of the book, but the world of writing the book. I remembered what had drawn me to telling the story of a girl who turns up at school one day wearing a hijab, and the reaction of her friends and classmates. I remembered why I’d approached it in a certain way, and the questions and concerns I’d struggled with as I wrote it.

So I was able (I hope!) to do a session that didn’t sound like someone who’d half-forgotten a book, and that opened up the world of writing that book...

But I also did something else. I discovered, in looking back, what effect writing that one book, that one outlier without fantasy or supernatural elements, had on my subsequent writing. Because when you spend time in a story world, you never entirely leave it behind as you move onto the next book. Writing is a journey from one story to another, you take what you learn from one book and one set of characters, and use it to write an even better book next time.

When I reread Drawing a Veil, and when I answered questions about it from the fab S2 class at Denny High, I realised how my time in that book’s world had opened my mind to new ways of asking questions, new ways of seeing this world and therefore new ways of seeing potential story worlds. Which is why as well as reading from Drawing a Veil, I also read from Mind Blind, a teen thriller that I now realise I might never have written if I hadn’t spent time in the smaller world of Drawing a Veil.

 So, in revisiting a world I spent time in a few years ago, I learnt a little more about my own writing, and about my own journey from one story world to the next. I wonder if other writers find it easy or difficult (or embarrassing or illuminating) to revisit their writing processes and experiences years later...

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 22 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. 
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Emma Barnes said...

Did you research the book, Lari? And was there something in particular that drew you to write about this subject, which does seem so different from your other books? (Fascinating post - thank you.)

Lari Don said...

I did my usual rhythm of research, Emma, a big burst at the start when I had the initial idea, to inspire me and help me find out what questions I was really asking. And then another burst at the end, mostly double-checking to make sure I wasn't getting anything seriously wrong! And it wasn't a deliberate plan to write something very different, I just found myself musing on what issues and questions and challenges teenagers and secondary school pupils deal with nowadays, that didn't even exist when I was growing. And that led me to meeting my two main characters, in the middle of an argument, in the middle of a school corridor!

Almac said...

Thanks for visiting us, Lari! My class are now working on a piece of creative writing and your visit has really fired them up. I think that the experience of meeting someone who writes for a living and who is so clearly passionate about storytelling has sparked something deeper in a couple of them; I've seen a good few notebooks appear throughout the class over the last week or so!

Lari Don said...

I'm delighted to hear that your pupils are fired up to write! That's the real aim of an author visit (rather than the author discovering something about their own writing process...) And I hope those notebooks get battered and tatty and ripped and filled with lots of wild ideas!