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Starting to write can be a daunting process for some. The words do not always flow naturally and stories don't always take the shape you thought they would as easily or as quickly as you want. The key is to keep at it and have confidence in your work, says Helen Cross, author of four novels, many short stories, radio dramas and screenplays. Her novel My Summer of Love became a BAFTA award-winning film starring Emily Blunt.
‘The world of publishing can be intimidating to a new writer with no connections in the industry. And what I know now that I didn’t when I set out, is that you, the writer, are the lifeblood of that industry: everything comes back to you, the creative artist. And not just the publishing industry, but the film industry too.
You are more powerful than you know and if you can trust your ideas, take risks, follow your instincts, work hard and hone your talent honestly and bravely there really are no insurmountable barriers to connecting with readers.’
I love these words from Helen. Whether you are traditionally published, or self-published, Helen reminds us that if it wasn’t for us, the writer, there would be no industry: no kindle store: no Waterstones.
We should remind ourselves of this throughout our working day. If we’re experiencing writer’s block, or having a wobble of self-doubt – we must sit back, take a deep breath and think: what would readers do without us?
You can find more words of wisdom from Helen at https://www.helencross.net
Every writer faces barriers along their way: not having enough time: not having the right space for writing: not receiving support from those around you. However, for many, internal barriers are the biggest blocker. It’s our internal dialogue that often holds us back. Spaghetti Head is all about internal dialogue and how to try to turn it into a positive influence in your life.
Helen Cross, tutor for a Getting Started workshop I'm co-hosting in September, is also very aware of the internal battle that many writers face, and she gives this advice: ‘Personal confidence is a big barrier for many writers: why on earth would anyone be interested in your thoughts or opinions even if you did manage to craft them into a work of fiction? Why would anyone care about someone you have made up, within a sequence of events you have invented, when there is so much real drama in the world? There are no easy answers to this and the solution comes with writing, writing, writing. As you fall under the spell of your own fictional world and become deeply intrigued by your characters and their problems, your book becomes a story that just has to be told and you begin to enjoy writing it. As your ideas are tested on the page, as you wrestle with the truth and pin it down, you grow in confidence about your place in the world. You start to wonder if someone else might also enjoy reading your writing. Then you realise not everyone has to like it, just some people.’
Helen has written four novels, many short stories, radio dramas and screenplays, so her advice to just write, write and then write some more definitely works. Write your way through the fear is the message that I am taking from her words above. She has more wise words on her website also: https://www.helencross.net
Personally, it took years before I shared Spaghetti Head’s manuscript with anyone – and when I did finally hand it over I felt sick with nerves. Why? I was afraid of being told that it was grammatically awful and the story was rubbish – in short, that I was no good. But as I waited for my reader’s feedback I started to change my thinking to ‘hang on a minute – I’ve just handed out the second draft of my novel – which I wrote, all by myself. So stuff what they think – I’m flipping brilliant for having got that far!
When the feedback arrived, it was very constructive and motivated me to continue re-writing. I had broken through that initial fear barrier. Three years later and I’ve just self-published.
How do I feel now with all my friends and family being able to access it? I feel proud that I have achieved something that so many people would love to do. How many times have you heard people say they’d love to write a book? Well I wrote one! And that’s what over-rides my fear button. As Dr Susan Jeffers says, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway.’
The first writing workshop that I'm co-hosting in September, is focussing on how to Get Started on that book you’ve always wanted to write. I started mine so long ago that I’ve almost forgotten how I did it!
Thankfully we have Helen Cross leading us: who has been through the ‘starting’ process on many occasions. And although I’m sure that everyone’s experience will be different, a common thread running through is the need to be armed with some basics to make that first step seem less daunting, and to help keep us focussed. Helen will be giving us techniques and exercises to achieve exactly that. We recently asked Helen what advice and tips she would give to people who are looking to start writing a book:
‘Start by putting your thoughts, memories, ideas, anecdotes into words. Writing prose fiction is different to writing a diary or a letter, you are creating an imaginative landscape, internally and externally, and you should let your writing style rise to the challenge. Read your paragraphs aloud and consider what sounds best. As you get into a habit of doing this regularly, you will begin to identify your own writer's voice, a style of expression that is uniquely, and engagingly, you.
Then begin paying attention to characters - noticing and noting details about any forming in your mind. Try to write with concrete nouns rather than abstract nouns – place an emphasis on things rather than feelings. Tell me what a character wears and says but also how they smell and sound. A great help to you will be learning to eavesdrop, noting down snippets of revealing, funny or astonishing conversations. Travelling on public transport is good for this. When you have characters who interest you, begin to build their world: think what is happening within them as well as without. What is their problem and what could happen in a story as they start to solve that problem?'
Helen’s top-tip is to carry a notebook so that you can write things whenever they spring into mind – often those initial raw thoughts are the purest.
In my experience, I have found there are times when I am unable to jot ideas down, so instead I use my voice recording facility on my iphone, because, did you know – our short-term memory only retains information for three minutes. Three minutes! That's nearly as bad as the memory of a gold-fish - no wonder I’ve forgotten so many excellent one-liners!
Hello, I’m Laura, Sarah’s Niece, I had the exciting job of creating Spaghetti Head’s front cover!
After reading Spaghetti Head I was excited to ask Sarah if I could give the front cover a go, and luckily she agreed! Because I’d already read the book I had a few ideas of what I thought would be suitable. We wanted something feminine but not too chick flick; colourful but not too in your face; and it needed to be a little bit ‘out there’ because Spaghetti Head isn’t just any old novel!
I guess I started with a ‘mind map’ of ideas, I put a few of these together and sent them over to Sarah to get her thoughts. Luckily, she really liked some of the designs so we narrowed it down.
Below you can find out how we chose the title font and the spaghetti strand that runs across the cover:
Spaghetti Head Title
Obviously one of the most important areas!
We both agree that a bold font was best to make the name stand out, but to also emphasise the bold statements that Spaghetti Head makes throughout the book.
We wanted a fun font to represent the tongue in cheek personality that the lead character, Nell, has throughout the book.
The pink semicircle on top of the ‘i’ represents a Pink Coconut Shell. This Coconut Shell plays a large role in Nell’s therapy sessions. As part of the therapy, Nell has to revisit past memories to understand them in order to let go of the issues she still holds onto in adult life.
You might be asking what a pink coconut shell has to do with that? Well, you’ll have to read Spaghetti Head to find out!
The Spaghetti Strand (my favourite part)!
What’s the relevance of Spaghetti you might be wondering? Well, here’s Sarah’s description for you:
“I was in a relationship with a man who wasn’t entirely honest, and one day I got to the point where I felt I couldn’t think clearly anymore. My head and my heart were one big jumbled mess. I drew a picture of a massive pile of squiggly lines, and named many of the lines with my emotions. I then tried to figure out how I could get from all of the jumbled squiggles to a nice tidy pile - which I hoped would lead to a calm mind and a calm solar plexus."
As I looked at the drawing, I thought of a big pile of spaghetti - and Spaghetti Head was born!”
Sarah and I both agreed that we liked the idea of having a Spaghetti strand across the front cover.
As you can imagine, it felt like there was an infinite amount of Spaghetti shapes and we were finding it hard to pinpoint the shape we were looking for. I’m based in Dorset and Sarah in France so most of our communication about the cover was done via email or Skype. This made the process of agreeing on the perfect stand a little more time consuming!
Here’s an email snippet so you can visualise how rubbish we were at deciding what spaghetti pattern we liked the most:
“Thanks for adding more squiggles, but that doesn't feel right - and it's an optical illusion - but it makes the page look much wider than the others - bizarre.”
“I like it, but I think the strand is a bit bold, and maybe a bit fat? I think it looks a bit like a snake! I like the left hand side with the loop - maybe follow it with another smaller loop and a twist - something a bit more chaotic.”
So Sarah decided to take it back to basics! Oh how I chuckled when I found this in my inbox on Monday morning:
“Morning, and a Happy Monday to you, it’s been pouring here since Friday evening.
Now then, are you sitting comfortably? At the risk of you disowning me as any blood relation, and being branded totally anal, I have to admit to spending a very happy half hour with a strand of Spaghetti on Saturday night.
The strand on the cover design has been niggling at me, so I threw my Saturday night strand in the air and took photos of my favourite landing configurations. Below is one. I’ll send the other one in next email.”
Here are our finalists:
And how did we narrow it down to one? Here’s another email extract to explain:
“The more I look at the one on the right, the more it looks like a stick figure doing a kind of bicycle-in-the-air gym exercise.”
The squiggly bendy one was the winner! We moved it around a little, but doesn’t it look proud!
So there you have it, the regimented and rigorous process of putting together the Spaghetti Head cover! If you’ve read the book, I think you’ll agree that Nell Greene wouldn’t of had it any other way!
“Nobody has ever refused the Award, and given the importance
of the task ahead as a race, you need to know we may have to
review your status if you are not pregnant by your thirty-seventh
birthday in eighteen months’ time.”
Journalist Nell Greene is intelligent, beautiful and quirky – but a failure at relationships, thanks to her untrusting and disruptive inner voice. She has received The Award, and refusing to help repopulate the earth can seriously complicate your life: it is time for Nell to change.
In a world where greed, war, and an environmental disaster have massively reduced the population, survivors have introduced a new system of governance - led by women but delivered by robots, and designed to promote peace and remove opportunities for abuse of power. Or at least that was the intention…
Will Nell overcome the challenges of life in a post-apocalyptic world to find happiness, or will the System win?
Spaghetti Head is Sarah Tyley's debut novel that addresses issues of modern womanhood, environmental devastation and the impact of technological advances on our freedom, relationships and mental health.
Spaghetti Head will be available as an ebook on Amazon from 20 March 2018; and as a paperback via Amazon and www.sarahtyley.co.uk from June 2018.
-- ends --
About Sarah Tyley
Sarah Tyley grew up on a dairy farm in Somerset, England, where she developed an unwavering love for cows. After various adventures around the world as a young adult, she went on to study sustainable agriculture and worked for nine years in overseas agricultural economics. These days she cares for gardens and plays tennis in South West France.
Spaghetti Head is her first novel – inspired in part by the female peanut farmers in Mali whom she worked with for three years, and who encouraged her to believe that maybe, one day, women will govern the planet.
For more information and review copies:
Please contact Becky Slack at Slack Communications on firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)7854221568