Monday, September 15, 2014

A blog for all the kids out there

Hello,

Today's blog is going to be a bit different. For a start it's not about writing. I always see teenagers and young twentysomethings on Twitter and Facebook grumbling, moaning, and generally being a bit sad about life. You see when I was that young (twenty years ago), we didn't have social media. We had Teletext. We had toilet doors to write on, and a 'selfie' was something else completely. Life was very different, but I started wondering if we were as whinny and troubled as today's youth. I have no idea, but it gave me the idea for this blog. I'm going to be forty next year and so I thought I'd ask the question: what advice would I give my twenty year old self.

1. The most important thing you get with age is perspective. When I was twenty I cared so much what other people thought of me, but now I really don't care. It really doesn't matter what anyone thinks of you. The only person that matters is you. Be brave, go after what's important to you, regardless of what anyone else says.

2. I wish I'd known when I was twenty that it was possible for me to be a writer. I mean, of course I knew it was possible, but I didn't believe it was. I spent years not really writing because I didn't believe I could do it and make a living from it. I lacked self-belief, but now I realise that the only person who can make all your dreams come true is you. Whatever it is you really want to do just do it and don't let fear get in the way.

3. Life is short. When you're young you never imagine you'll be thirty, let alone forty. It feels so far away. But trust me, it happens much quicker than you expect. Don't waste time on friends that let you down, make you unhappy, don't stay in that job you hate because you're afraid of leaving, and....well this leads me onto point 4.

4. Travel. I was lucky enough to spend a year travelling and it was the most fun I've ever had and I learnt more about myself in that year than the previous twenty combined. I travelled alone and loved it so much. It really does change you. So if you're 18 or 28, and you're thinking about it...STOP and just do it because trust me, it's something you can only do like that when you're young, before the responsibility of careers, marriage, kids, etc. Of course I still plan on travelling a lot with my wife and kids, but that first year away, young, single, alone in the world for the first time, is something you'll never, ever regret.

5. OK, lastly, because you're young and anymore than 5 points you'll start drifting off, playing XBox, or watching hilarious videos on YouTube. You kids today, no attention span. Anyway. My last point. The last thing I'd tell my 20 year old self. Be nice to people. I think I always knew this and I always tried to be a good person, but as I get older I realise how many people in the world are just miserable buggers. Don't be. Choose to be good. Choose to be polite. Choose to be happy. Choose to be nice because you'll be happier and you'll surround  yourself with other happy people too. Life is better when you smile.

OK young people. If you made it this far...well done. I hope something in this blog speaks to you. I know I'm just an old man waffling on about things that probably seem like a bunch of rubbish to you. But one day you'll be nearly forty too. Trust me, it's going to happen, and I hope when it does you've achieved all your dreams and that you're happy. Because you can be happy. You don't have to be grumpy. You don't have to complain about everything. And stop eating McDonald's, it's really bad for you.

Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X

Ps: A few more that just came to me:

6. If you fancy someone just ask them out. Don't be afraid because it's never as big a deal as you think. I was sitting on a bed once with a girl I really fancied, had liked for a really long time, and didn't make my move and I regretted it for a very long time. The pain of regret lasts a lot longer than the pain of rejection.

7. Things don't happen for a reason. The world is random, we have free will, and success, a million pounds, or the job of your dreams isn't just going to fall into your lap because it was "meant to be".

8. Don't ever be jealous of anyone. We all have our demons.

9. Stay fit. Trust me, it's a lot harder to shift that weight in your thirties. Go to the gym.

10. Be nice to your parents. We just want what's best for you.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How to (or not) write a novel

Hello,


It's me, Jon. I hope you're well. You look fantastic by the way, and what's that smell? Are you wearing a new scent? And a haircut? OK, I'll stop now, I can see you're blushing. I'm here today talking about my new book - the secretly named book four. I'm currently in the middle of draft/edit number six (or is it sixteen?), and so I thought I'd write a blog about how to write a novel (or not).

When I was an aspiring novelist (I still am in my head and according to my bank manager), I read every blog or article about writing a novel. I still to this day love reading about and watching clips on YouTube of writers talking about their work. I find it fascinating. We all work so differently, and yet there are these books telling us how to write, how to be a huge Kindle success overnight, how to write a novel in ten easy steps..what? It's that easy? Yes just ten steps..apparently. Surely you jest? Well yes they do because writing a novel isn't just a question of filling out an Excel spreadsheet, plotting the story correctly, filling in the characters by number, and meeting one of the standard required endings. Writing a novel isn't painting by numbers. If you think it is, stop reading this now because you'll shit yourself. I jest not.

I started book four back in January, although the actual idea I had a few years ago and it was stored away on my computer in the folder called..Novels. I have about twenty novel ideas in this folder I might one day write. I'd already submitted about six or seven ideas to my agent, all of which she said weren't strong enough. I was beginning to think I'd never write again and then I pitched her the idea of book four and she loved it. A few weeks later I started work.

I don't know how you write, but I just get stuck in. I plan a bit, but for me the best way to think about a book is to start writing it. The first draft is in many ways my notes. Of course this means that the first draft is usually awful. Characters names change mid-sentence, the plot holes are plot craters, the middle-bit is rubbish, the beginning flabby and dull, and the ending just doesn't make any sense. And so this is when the real work starts. With book four I wrote the first draft (about 80,000 words) in less than six months. I then spent the next two months revising it, editing, improving every part of it, until I was fairly happy to send it off to my agent for her opinion.

The best thing about my agent is that she doesn't pull any punches. She tells it to me like it is. This is a must when you're a writer. One of the problem when you're starting out is that you don't have that person. Friends and family tell you you're brilliant. Other writers are afraid to really lay into you and so you go along thinking you're the greatest writer in the world. Agents don't do that. They tell you how it is. They also have the experience and knowledge to know exactly what's wrong with it and what it needs. She came back a few weeks later with some good news, but also a lot of bad. The thing is, I don't mind. I love good feedback because it makes the book better. If you can't stomach being told that something you've slaved over and love is awful and stinks the literary world up, then don't become an author. And definitely don't get an agent. I love my agent though because her only interest is making the book brilliant. 

I'm now in the middle of editing with her notes and the book is taking shape. It's about 100,000 words at the moment. The story is getting there, the characters are coming alive, the jokes are funny, the touching scenes really tug at the heart (I almost cried myself today reading one scene back), and I'm super happy with how it's going. Of course, when I'm done. When I think it's brilliant, I'll send it off to my agent again and wait. Waiting for feedback is one of the hardest things as a writer. I'm hoping she'll love it and only have a few changes, but she might want a complete re-write, which could take another six months.

You see writing a novel isn't easy. It takes time, years sometimes, it's painful, difficult, and when you finally put it out there no-one might buy it, you might get awful reviews, you might make a tenner for two years work. Or it might become a multi-million best seller and you'll get a three book deal with piles of money. Right now though I'm still in the middle of writing the book. There's lots of work to be done, lots of heartache, bad news, tears, and late night cups of tea to be drunk before I can think about typing 'The End' for the last time and sending it off into the world. 

So next time you read an article about writing a book in ten easy steps, or making millions by becoming the next Kindle star, realise that writing a novel is hard. Really bloody hard. And there's millions of books out there making no money because the person writing them didn't realise how hard it was. I'm on book four and I still have so much to learn about the craft. I love it though. I love every painful, difficult, beautiful thing about writing novels. I'll still be in here twenty years - writing book number twenty - probably still trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing. 

Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hello,


This isn't really a blog. I've lured you here under false pretenses - not in a creepy way, of course, but you're here expecting a blog and instead it's just this poster and me telling you that my latest novel 'This Family Life' is 99p for only 72 hours. It's a part of the Kindle Countdown Deal and so I made this snazzy poster to prey on all the bargain hunters with 99p burning a hole in their pockets (you know who you are). If you aren't feeling the pressure yet, just pop on over to Amazon (that's right I even added a link to the word Amazon), and there's a handy clock ticking down the time you have left to get it at this incredible price (no pressure!). Tick tock tick tock...the Kindle clock is ticking!


http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LDG3854/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d5_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1YCH18CP3EHBATGKMP64&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=455344027&pf_rd_i=468294



Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X
Hello,


I'm in the midst of editing book number four and it got me thinking about genre. Actually I started thinking about it after I read a Ricky Gervais interview, which you can read here. Ricky was talking about his latest show Derek, and how it isn't really a comedy and it isn't really a drama, it's just life. I feel exactly the same about my latest novel. 

Why do we always feel the need to label things and put them snugly into a certain genre? On Amazon we're forced to select what genre our novel is. Agents and publishers want to put books into a nice little box so they're easily defined and therefore easier to market. Personally I've always loathed the idea of genres. Yes I understand that it makes it easier to categorise and sell, but I don't start writing a book thinking this is a comedy or this is a drama. I write a book with one goal - to write a story that means something. I want to write something true to life, honest, emotional, and with great characters. I'm always trying to write about life and as Ricky says in his interview, life isn't just funny or sad, it's a combination of the two. 

Now I'm working on book number four, I feel to a certain extent a sense of calm about my writing. After book one and book two, I was nervous and worried all the time, hoping they'd do well, trying to figure out new ways to promote them. However, after watching three books come out, I sort of realise that most of what happens with books is out of my control. The only thing I can control is writing the book, but after that it's all a bit blurry. Yes I need to promote my books, and I do (I did a 17 stop blog tour for 'This Family Life' - and I have something coming up this week!), but I've stopped obsessing about it.

I guess this blog is about obsession. Obsession with genre, with marketing, promotion - all the things that go along with being a novelist - but which don't have anything to do with actually writing books. I think a lot of new writers probably get trapped into this whole circus of promoting (working out Amazon's mystical algorithm system, blog tours, interviews, giveaways, Facebook parties, making t-shirts, mugs, pens, and all the rest of it), but never, ever forget that at the end of the day, our job is to write incredible books. All the other stuff is just fluff. Some of it is enjoyable - I enjoy writing blogs, I had fun with my blog tour, and I always enjoy doing interviews - but the thing I enjoy the most is writing and whether it's a comedy, drama or a contemporary romantic family comedy drama, it's all the same to me - it's about telling stories.

Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hello,


I literally have one of those good news, bad news things to tell you. I know, it sounds so cliché. But before I start, I'm being rude, how are you? All good? You look fantastic today by the way. OK, sitting comfortably? Right, let's get cracking.

I never know whether to give the good news or the bad news first. Personally I prefer the bad news first - the kick in the balls, before the nice cup of tea and warm hot water bottle that is the good news to follow. So bad news first. I really wanted to write a Christmas novella this year. I spent a long time thinking up ideas, writing a few beginnings, a synopsis or two and I even decided on a final story idea...But...I don't have the time to write it. I so desperately wanted to write this story because it's so lovely, funny, charming, and I think it would have been really good. Plus, I love writing about Christmas. The thing is though, I refuse to put out work that isn't the very best I can do. I could have rushed it out, but the truth is it wouldn't have been my best work. So they'll be no Christmas novella from me.

Instead of rushing out a novella, I'm spending all of my time writing book number four. I want this book to be amazing. It has to be amazing. I'm working harder and longer on this book than any other book because I see that it has enormous potential. The story is fantastic, it has great characters, it's funny, sad, heart warming, and all the things I want in a great novel, plus it has a great hook. So I decided that I didn't want to a half-hearted Christmas novella and a half-hearted novel - I'm focused entirely on one to make it the best book I can write. I honestly feel like as a writer we're under so much pressure to keep churning out book after book and financially I need to, but I also believe that writing great books is the most important thing.

So that's the bad news out of the way and so time for the good news. I have a great promotion coming up next week. I can't go into enormous detail - I'll do that next week - but from next Wednesday I have a great deal that I'm super excited to announce. So stay tuned and I'll write another blog for next Wednesday. OK, so I guess the good news is a lot shorter than the bad news. Typical.

Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hello,


A happy weekend to you all. Today's been a weird day for me. My eldest Charlotte starts school on Monday and I'm at a bit of a loss. Five years ago I worked full-time, but then we had Charlotte and I decided to stay at home and be a full-time dad/writer. At that time I hadn't written much. Two full length novels, a bunch of short stories, and I'd had nothing published. Part of the reason I decided to stay at home was that I thought I'd have more time to write. I knew then that I wanted to be an author (not a marketing office bod), and so this was my chance. I didn't know, of course, how much  that decision was going to change my life.

I love being a stay at home dad. Yes, some days are horrible. Yes, I occasionally get lonely and crave adult company, at least a proper conversation that doesn't involve talking about poo, pee, or puke. Sometimes I start drinking before my wife gets home because I'm at the end of my tether...but, without being a stay at home dad, I wouldn't now be a full-time author.

My first published novel, 'This Thirtysomething Life' was mainly written when Charlotte was young (and still napped a lot and so I actually had some free time), and it was inspired by having her. After my wife gave birth to Charlotte, the idea for the book came to me. A funny book about childbirth and becoming a parent from a man's point of view. If we hadn't had kids, I could never have written that book (write about what you know, right?). If we hadn't had kids, I would have kept on working full-time and maybe I would never have become a published author. All what ifs, but having Charlotte changed my life, in so many more ways than one.

So, back to today. It's her last day at home with me before she starts school on Monday. I'm going to miss her so much, more than it's possible to write about in a blog, but I owe her so much. I still have my three old year Jack, who's off to preschool two morning a week (and finally giving me some much needed writing time), but Charlotte is off now and will never completely come back. People talk a lot about being parents. There's so many quotes on it, books about it, but the truth is until you do it, feel that love, that pain, that sadness, that life changing happiness, nothing can prepare you for it.

I've loved every single moment at home with Charlotte. She's an incredible little girl. She's so funny, smart, goofy, and always has a smile, a kiss, a hug, and lots of love for me, but she's going away to school and she's going to change. The world has a bit of her now that I'll never get back and it makes me sad. I know it's OK though because the last five years are in her, they've made her who she is. 

Five years ago I was a full-time office worker with dreams, ambitions, and a child on the way with no idea what to expect. Now I'm a published author, with a five year old going off to school, a three year old off to preschool, and although I still have no idea what to expect...I know we'll all be OK. Although, we're moving back to England in January (after 10 years in San Diego, CA), and life is going to change again...I guess I'll let you know how I'm doing in five years.

Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hello,


I'm pleased to have a very special guest back on my site for the third time. He's a man who needs no introduction, but I'll give him one anyway. He's the award losing author (twice) of eight best selling romantic comedy novels, and he's written about life, love, and relationships for The Times, Guardian, The Sun, and for a number of magazines including Cosmopolitan, Company, Elle, and Glamour. He lives in London and previously worked as a lifeguard and an I.T. headhunter, before realising that writing novels was a far better use of his time. Any guesses? Of course, it's the brilliant, funny, and talented Mr Matt Dunn, and he's talking about his latest novel, 'What Might Have Been'. 


Mr Matt Dunn


A couple of years ago, I read a book called “The Seven Basic Plots”, which outlines the seven story lines that every book/film/play can be summarized by. As a writer about to embark on his eighth novel, this was more than a little concerning.

Fortunately, another old writing maxim, ‘write what you know’ came to my rescue. Years ago (oh, the shame), I was involved in a ‘love triangle’ (no, that’s not a Fifty Shades-type perversion involving Dairylea cheese) – I started seeing a girl who already had a boyfriend. In my defence, she didn’t tell me, and whether she began seeing me to test her feelings for him, I’m not sure, but one thing I knew – I was mad about her.

Unfortunately, I was even madder when I found out, so I did the decent thing and walked away. And ever since*, I’ve wondered what might have been had I stayed and fought for her (*until I met my lovely wife, of course, if you’re reading this, sweetheart).

And that struck me as a great premise for a novel; the idea that someone was so scared that they’d once turned their back on the love of their life that they’d do anything – risk everything – for another chance.

Evan McCarthy’s such a person. Knocked off his feet by Sarah Bishop, he’s convinced the two of them are meant to be together. So why she’s marrying someone else is beyond him. But Sarah’s sure she’s doing the right thing. Or at least she’s managed to convince herself she is. Until Evan arrives back on the scene. A week before her wedding.

Normally, I’d end that paragraph with ‘...and hilarity ensues’, but while What Might Have Been (for that’s the title of the book) is still a rom-com, it’s perhaps a little more serious than my seven previous novels - perhaps because the subject matter’s a little darker. Or maybe because I’m getting older. Or maybe – just maybe – because I’m still wondering what might have been


http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Might-Have-Been-Matt-ebook/dp/B00JH1IP1O/ref=pd_sim_kinc_9?ie=UTF8&refRID=1HN3F5VKS5GYXRM626DT
Pick up your copy of 'What Might Have Been' at Amazon



Cheers Matt. I've read nearly all of Matt's books and they're always funny, always entertaining, and always keep me turning the page. So pop on over to Amazon and get your copy today - you won't be disappointed.

Follow Matt on twitter: @mattdunnwrites
Matt's website: www.mattdunn.co.uk

Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hello,


A very happy Friday to you all. I hope you've had a lovely week. I'm in the middle of editing book number four, and so I thought I'd write a last blog about 'This Family Life' before I move on. It's funny being a writer because we spend so long writing books, getting to know the characters, submerging ourselves in the worlds we create, but once we finish them we never really going back to read them. At least I don't anyway. Maybe it's because I read them about fifty times while writing them. Anyway, so before I say goodbye to 'This Family Life' for good (at least until I write 'This Fortysomething Life' anyway), here are my final thoughts.

When I started writing 'This Family Life' I struggled a bit at first. I found it hard to find the story. The trouble with writing a diary novel is keeping the main story going alongside all of the day-to-day more mundane entries. If you've read 'This Thirtysomething Life' or 'This Family Life' you'll know that a lot of the comedy comes from observing life. I like to take things that each of us go through in life and point out why it's funny - almost like an extended stand-up routine. It's these observations that form the basis of a lot of the comedy in the book. Like for example when Harry goes to management training, which I've done myself, and just the absurdity of it. Writing this book I had lots of funny ideas, especially on being a parent, but how to form all of that into a coherent story?

A couple of things happened which brought the plot together. I'll try and explain this without giving too much away. Probably the biggest breakthrough I had was deciding to bring Harry's parents into the book in a big way. In the first book, they only played a very small part. They were peripheral characters, who although I loved writing, didn't really play a big part, but I decided that they would play a much bigger role in this book. I also think it makes sense because speaking from experience, when you have children grandparents do play a bigger role in your life and so it felt only natural. Once I knew they were going to be in it a lot more, I had to create a storyline for them and this is when things started to click.

The second thing that happened was that I introduced new neighbours. I sort of knew from the start that I wanted to create some new characters for this book. I loved the characters from 'This Thirtysomething Life' and most of them are back, but I felt like I needed a new set of people who would dramatically impact Harry and Emily, and so new neighbours seemed like the obvious choice. Having a new couple on the street with their own child, set off a whole new world of story ideas. So from struggling with ideas for a strong plot line to thread through the book, suddenly I had almost too many ideas. Actually when I sent the first half of the book to my agent, the first thing she said was that I was trying to do too much. There was too much going on and that I had to focus the story more.

The good thing about having too much is that it's easier to cut back rather than think up new ideas. I was soon decided on the main story lines and after that the book wrote itself. Not literally, obviously, but it it did come together very quickly. I already had so much comedy material, so many ideas for set pieces, scenes, and characters that once the main story came together, I just needed to hang everything else on it.

I love writing these books and I'm definitely going to revisit Harry, Emily, and baby William again. I'm turning 40 next year and so once I have some very real experience of that I'm sure I'll be able to write a 'This Fortysomething Life' and who know where Harry will be, if he'll have more children, the same job, etc, but one thing is for sure, whatever happens to Harry and co, it's going to be funny, heart warming, and I'm going to really enjoy writing it.


http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LDG3854/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d3_i2?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0CB87QRF92Y1BK4AJMCH&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=455344027&pf_rd_i=468294
Pop on over to Amazon and pick up your copy


Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hello,


So this is it! August 1st - the last day that my new novel 'THIS FAMILY LIFE' is on sale for 77p. After today it's going to be its regular price of 1.99. The books been out for a month now and it's been 99p and then 77p for the last few days, but it's time to put the price up (sorry). So if you want to get it cheap get it now! If you haven't read it, here's what people are saying.

'This is my first book of Jon Ranch and I can't wait to read the rest....sooooo funny....couldn't put it down....read it in 2 days.'

'Absolutely hilarious read. There aren't too many books that can claim to be a laugh on every page, but this classic comedy from Jon Rance is truly funny. It's refreshing to read rom-com from a male point of view too. Highly enjoyable!

'The perfect Summer read.'

'What an amazing book, I finished it over two days and was gutted every time I had to stop reading to do something else, Jon has an amazing talent to make you feel like you know each and every character and you feel so engrossed in the story it's untrue.'

'Characters you will love and recognise, a story line anyone can relate to that has experience of children ( either their own or friends) and a laugh on every page turn.'

'Best 99p ever spent!'

'This is a touching, humorous, adorable read. I defy you not to read it all in one go, it's fantastic.'

I put my heart and soul into this book and it means a lot to me. These characters have become a part of my life and I love writing them and I hope that comes across in the book. It also means a lot because some of this stuff actually happened to me. I'm a dad. I survived the first year of parenthood and so it's about a part of my life I'll never forget. If you want a very real, funny, and heart warming story about parenthood, family, and being a thirtysomething man trying to deal with both (and often failing) then this is the book for you. It's also only 77p for one last day...TODAY!


http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LDG3854/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i2?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=16J60V0PTSCAJ1B7QJES&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=455344027&pf_rd_i=468294



Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hello,

It's here - the final day of my blog tour for 'This Family Life'. I must say that it's been brilliant and a huge thank you to everyone that got involved and did their bit. I'll see you all again for my next book! 

Today is a double blog day so you can see my final blog over on Katy Regan's site right here, and on my website I have a real treat for you. The bestselling author of 'The One Before The One', 'How We Met' and her latest, 'The Story Of You' Katy Regan has written a brilliant blog about trying to add humour to drama - something I often struggle with myself. Before I leave you with Katy's blog, please, please, please, if you haven't already, pop on over to Amazon and have a look at 'This Family Life', it's only 77p at the moment. Cheers!

The very lovely Katy Regan



Hello Jon Rance fans! Thanks so much, Jon for having me on your blog tour. Today I am writing about the difficulties I experienced when writing my latest novel, THE STORY OF YOU. In particular, how I finally learnt to inject comedy in a book that deals with some dark and difficult subject matter.

Have you ever thought, when you’ve read a book how hard it was to write for the author? Like, oh wow, that’s a good scene, I bet they spent a long time in a prison / in Jamaica / in a swinger’s commune for that. Or, how did she come up with that character’s voice or write that sex scene? That must have taken her MONTHS (and a whole lot of getting over her embarrassment.)

Perhaps you have a little (especially if you are a writer) but chances are, not that much, because if the book is doing its job, you are too enthralled in the story, too busy watching the scene to think about what’s gone on backstage.

For me, it’s the same; certainly when reading other books but even with my own. At the time of writing it, obviously, it’s hard. The last book I wrote (the one out now) The Story of You was hellishly hard. In fact I often thought it would never see the light of day.

I always say, writing a book is like trying to do a Bayeux-sized tapestry without your reading glasses: fiddly, intricate, takes forever and you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Then the book comes out and I still can’t read it. It’s like I’ve got post-book-baby-depression: It gave me such hell on the delivery that I don’t want to look at it, I’m not bonding! Then, hopefully a few nice reviews might come in and I can at least read it. A few months down the line and I haven’t forgotten the general trauma, (!) but when I read it, I’ve forgotten which bits hurt the most, which chapters I slaved over, banged my head against a brick wall about and thought would never get finished.

However, I think it’s a useful exercise at some point, to sit down and ask yourself, why was it so hard? What made this book such a beast? If only so that you do not make the same mistakes again, or at least to give yourself a pat on the back and say, I overcame those difficulties and did it in the end.

For me, with this book, there was one over-riding difficulty (amongst everything else: you know, plot, character, structure….the whole blasted thing!) And that was TONE. I like writing funny. All my other books have had a certain degree of comedy, although admittedly have become darker in shade as they’ve gone on. This, my fourth, was definitely my darkest and yet, I still wanted to make it funny. I still wanted that light and shade. That bitter-sweetness which I think reflects real life.  The problem was, when the subject matter is so harrowing in places (I won’t give any spoilers but you can imagine……) how do I inject humour? What is remotely humorous about the sorts of events that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy?

I struggled. A lot. I really struggled to get the balance right and I am not even sure if I’ve managed it now.  I wrote passages then deleted them all when they made me cringe. I cut whole chapters, lots of chapters! I tried to inject comedy where there really shouldn’t be any and vice-versa and it was only a matter of trial and error (A LOT of trial and error) and re-writing that I ended up with something I was happy with.

So along this journey, what were my thought processes?  What specific ‘comedy’ issues did I have? Well, for a start, the main female character in the book is called Robyn and she’s a psychiatric nurse. Obviously her patients are mentally ill and this gave rise to some great narrative potential, drama, conflict and, essentially humour. However, I had to get the humour right, or else it would look tasteless: I couldn’t have her laugh AT her patients – I wouldn’t dream of that and nor would she – but patients do funny things, my research showed me that. I talked to endless psychiatric nurses who told me how nothing was unusual on a psychiatric ward, how literally anything could happen. Every ridiculous scenario I put to them, they said ‘Yep, happens all the time’. However, there is a fine balance, between maximizing the colour these scenes could give in a book, and taking the P out of mentally ill people. One of the central characters in The Story of You is Grace Bird, who has schizophrenia. I wanted her to be central to the drama, but for Robyn to treat her empathetically and sensitively – and also for their scenes to be funny when appropriate.  Much harder than it sounds! Nathan Filer, the author of The Shock of the Fall, which is narrated by a schizophrenic and won the Costa prize, no less gave me some fantastic advice. “Just don’t send her up” he said. “And remember anything is possible on a psychiatric ward”. I tried to remember that as I wrote and I really hope I’ve pulled it off.

My second issue with comedy was the fact that Robyn herself had gone through an awful lot of trauma, but I wanted her to be a funny, humorous person. How could she be irreverent? How would she be an optimistic person? Above all, I didn’t want her to be a moaner and I wanted her to fall in love. And yet, I worked out (sounds obvious but when you’re in it, it’s not always easy to see the wood for the trees) that just because awful things have befallen you (in fact often BECAUSE awful things have befallen you, some of the funniest, certainly the most resilient people I know have been through the worst things) doesn’t mean you aren’t essentially the same person inside. A funny person. Victims of trauma are often the most optimistic of people, because the worst has already happened. This then became the basis for Robyn’s character: She was as strong as she was vulnerable, she still had so much hope despite the fact she’d actually been very unlucky so far. This is the type of person I decided, I’d want to read about, and ultimately who I would want to spend time with (lucky when the book took me eighteen months to write.)This unlocked the ‘Robyn’ key for me.  Comedy can be found in the darkest, deepest of places, after all. It’s just a matter of how you bring it to the foreground.



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The brilliant 'The Story Of You' out now!

Until next time.

Hugs,
Jon X