Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Guest Post: Lisa Williamson Talks About The Art of Being Normal's Opening Chapter!

Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he's gay. The school bully thinks he's a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth - David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal - to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long ...

The Art of Being Normal is one of the best UK debuts I've read for a long time. It's published by David Fickling Books in January and I have a feeling it's going to be HUGE!

The first chapter is being revealed today, and in celebration Lisa has written a piece for me all about how she wrote the opening chapter. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did (thanks, Lisa!) and do look out for the book in 2015.


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Writing the Opening of The Art of Being Normal
by Lisa Williamson


The more time I spend writing, the more convinced I am that it’s the literary equivalent of putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces, all of which kind of look the same until you try to wedge them in the wrong space. Although the opening chapter of The Art of Being Normal was one of the very first I wrote, I had no idea it would remain in the final draft, never mind open the story. When I began work back in Spring 2012, all I knew was that I wanted to write a book featuring a trans teen as the main protagonist. At this point, I had no idea of plot, setting or the audience I was writing for, which is an exciting way to start a project but also rather scary, a bit like riding a roller coaster blindfolded, albeit slower (a lot slower!). I initially wrote in the form of vignettes and character sketches, with structure taking a definite back seat. Gradually possible plot lines appeared although it took me a very long time to ‘jigsaw’ them together into a story with a satisfying beginning, middle and end.

One thing that did come to me quickly was the character of David and I vividly remember writing his first words. I’ve checked the original draft of the chapter and although a few details have changed, the essence remains very much the same. I think we all have pivotal moments from our childhood that stick in our minds whether we like it or not and David’s is especially powerful, capturing that moment of realization that he might be different from his classmates. For me, it has proved a real anchor. Any time I felt I wasn’t sure what David would do in a certain situation or sensed he was behaving in a way that didn’t feel quite right, I would go back and read this chapter and more often than not, the confused yet determined kid in the classroom would set me straight.

I don’t tend to write in sequence, particularly early on in the process when I’m still getting to know my characters. I want their actions to come across as organic and believable, so the more I can dig under their skin and embody their quirks and passions and dreams and fears, the less likely I am to force them into doing things that don’t ring true for the reader. I like to think of myself as a very literal devotee of Hemingway’s ‘Iceberg Theory’ and have a HUGE file on my computer (imaginatively titled ‘Spare Stuff’) dedicated to the numerous chapters, scenes, characters and entire plot threads that never found their way into the final book. I often find the only way to know whether something works for sure, is by writing the scene and seeing how it feels. In the early stages, when I’m still finding my way and the plot is very flexible, the odds are it won’t make, so I’m pretty proud of this very early chapter for not only surviving the cull, but bagging the first page too!

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