Friday, 27 September 2013

Month of Guests 2013: Catherine Bruton

We have the amazing Catherine Bruton here today!!  She's done an awesome post for us - hope you all love it as much as I do!! :D

Confessions Of A YA Writer

Did you know that Michael Morpurgo writes in bed, propped up on pillows? Or that Truman Capote scribbled his novels on a chaise longue with a glass of sherry in one hand and a cigarillo in the other? Were you aware that John Cheever penned his novels wearing just his underwear, whilst the poet T. S Eliot reputedly composed caked in green make up and answering only to the name ‘The Captain’. And not many people know that Nabakov wrote all his books on gold rimmed index cards or that Thomas Clayton Wolfe had to lean over a fridge to scribble his first drafts because he was too tall for a desk (how does that even work?).
You see, we writers are funny creatures; we all have our quaint quirks and secret scribbling idiosyncracies. And so I figured, in the spirit of honesty and open-ness, I’d tell you mine. I may regret this later, but here they are – confessions of a YA Writer aged 39 3/4 . Don’t judge me, please! Oh, and then you have to tell me yours.

Confession No. 1: Writing a novel is like being pregnant. And no, I’m not talking about being temperamental, forgetful and  eating for two  whilst I labour for months to gestate my works of literary genius (although  that does all sounds a bit like me -  apart from the genius bit, that is!) No, I’m talking about weird food cravings!
You see, for me, every book is associated with the compulsive consumption of a particular food stuff. For ‘We Can be Heroes’ it was those fizzy astro-belt things. You know the ones that strip the skin from your tongue if you eat too many? And I definitely ate too many!  I blame this on the fact that they are the fave food stuff of 12 year old Priti who  slurps strawberry laces and bubble gum astro-belts throughout the book, whilst  whizzing around on heelie shoes concocting  crazy plans like catching suicide bombers and solving kidnappings (usually with pretty hilarious – and explosive consequences!) I ate so many bags of astro-belts them whilst writing that book, that now I always take them along to  give to students at school events (because everyone in the whole world loves and astro-belt, I think you’ll find!). And even now and the taste takes me back to writing about the summer Priti and friends caught a suicide bomber and prevented an honour killing, bought Ben’s dad back from the dead and made the 10 o’clock news for all the wrong reasons!
With ‘Pop!’ it was Cheesy Wotsits and I’m not actually sure which came first – me munching the dusty orange tubes or them featuring in the book? Either way, it’s no coincidence that fourteen year old Elfie feeds Wotsits to her baby brother Alfie to keep him quiet at the ‘Pop Factor’ auditions. In fact she claims they are actually one of his five a day because they are made of cheese, and so practically the same as milk (!). But then again, Elfie also tells the judges that Alfie is her  son and that her poor unsuspecting friend Jimmy is the father of her love child so you can’t always believe everything Elfie tells you. What I can tell you is that Wotsits are great creative fuel – although they do leave a lot of orange dust over the keyboard!
The book I’m writing now, ‘I Predict a Riot’, is all about cake. Don’t ask me how a book about gangs, riots and videotape features cake, but I can confirm that all types of cake are highly conducive to literary output. On balance, I think chocolate cake is most potent but a good lemon drizzle can do wonders for writers’ block! I wholeheartedly recommend you try it sometime!

Confession No. 2: All my books contain secret messages. I think this all comes down to an unfulfilled childhood ambition to be a spy. Because I honestly think I’d have been brilliant at the whole super-sleuthing, code-breaking 007 bit. In fact, so determined was I about being a spook that I chose a module at university purely so that I could have tutorials with a professor rumoured to be recruiting agent for MI5. Needless, to say he was unimpressed by a five foot giggly undergraduate and I never did get that call up from ‘M’ (although I am still available at any time if Her Majesty’s Secret Service are reading this).
It’s probably also the reason that Priti and friends decide to ‘turn detective’ in ‘We Can be Heroes’ to foil the bomb plot, prevent her big brothers from honour killing her big sister, and find out who kidnapped Stevie Sanders. I had great fun writing about code-breaking and undercover missions which all goes to show that being a writer is the perfect way of living out all your unfulfilled fantasies. If you can’t do it in real life – do it on the page. Perfect!
So I may never get to be a super- spook but I can also content myself by popping secret messages into my novels. Mainly I do it for family and friends but occasionally I pop one in for some of my pupils past and present (when I’m not writing books, I teach English part time at a school in Bath). So, for example, in ‘Pop!’  the graffiti in the toilets at the ‘Pop Factor’ audition venue is a little love note to my long-suffering hubbie.  And all the postcards Ben’s mum sends in ‘We Can be Heroes’ contain secret messages for my kids! And there’s a little something for my lovely Year 11s in my next book too – but only they will be able to break the code!

Confession No. 3. Writers  talk to themselves. Well I do, anyway. When I’m writing I turn into a kind of schizophrenic, role-playing, one-woman-Punch-and-Judy-show.  Seriously, if you saw me at my desk some days you’d have me carried off in a straight-jacket.
I think it’s because I plan my novels in quite a cinematic way and always write dialogue before anything else. This is probably because I watch way too much TV and films (‘We Can be Heroes’ is inspired by ‘Son of Rambo’  and the black and white version of ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’,  whilst ‘Pop!’ is basically a mixture between ‘Shameless’ , ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘The X factor’).  I write chapters as scenes and often see them in my head in terms of camera angles and close ups etc. So much so, that the main character in my next book ‘I Predict a Riot’ is an amateur film-maker and the whole book is written as scenes in the film she shot, a film which ultimately causes the death of one friend and the disappearance of the other. But you’ll have to find out why when it comes out next year!
I think it’s also because (and I’m going to sound weird here) I see writing as a bit like acting.  I was a bit of thesp in my younger days (my greatest claim to fame is that I starred with David Walliams in the National Youth Theatre the days when he was still called David Williams!) So I find when I’m immersed in writing a book the characters totally take over my head. So much so that I end up thinking in their voices. It sounds odd, I know, but I find to really understand my characters I need to ‘climb into their shoes and walk around in them’ (to misquote a far greater writer than myself) –  even the  baddies. And it’s the way I find my characters’ voices. I sort of let them chatter in my head  - or out loud! I’ll even find myself driving or walking round the supermarket  muttering to myself sometimes.
Yes, I sound like a nutter! I said I might regret some of these confessions, didn’t I?

Confession No. 4 Every writer has privately cast the film version of their book. Any writer who denies day-dreaming about which celeb they’d want to play the lead in the
Hollywood version of their masterpiece is telling you porkies. I personally have a little daydream which involves Daniel Craig falling in love with me on the set of ‘We Can be Heroes’. I’ve decided he can play Ben’s dad who was killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York when Ben was only three and who therefore only appears in flashbacks, because this character is sort of based on my husband which means I technically won’t really even be unfaithful when Daniel and I run off into the sunset together – right?

When it comes to ‘Pop!’ Michael Fassbender is a shu-in for Elfie’s  dad, the militant striker, and of course Gary Barlow would have to be head judge on the ‘Pop Factor’ panel, alongside Jessie J and Sharon Osborne and I think Will-i-am could make a cameo appearance. Elfie’s feckless, walkabout mam would be played by Kiersten Wearing from ‘Fish-tank’ (an incredible film which was a huge influence on the book) and I think I’d give myself a small cameo as another contestant on the show. I’d like to play Agnes, the shy but beautiful Portuguese girl with the voice of an angel whom Elfie decides is her ticket to fame and fortune but I fear the fact that I am tone deaf and considerably older than 14 might rule me out for that particular role.

Confession No. 5: Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. I’d like to claim that I came up with that little gem of a quotation but, alas, it was the incredible writer Iris Murdoch what said it first. I actually met Ms Murdoch once. It was on my very first day at university and my friend Martin threw up on her shoes - but that’s besides the point. The point is that love that quotation – I have it stuck on the wall above my writing desk (apparently, Ian Rankin does too so I’m in good company!) and I take great consolation from it.
The thing is that every book starts out in your head as staggering work of literary genius – a kind of platonic conception of the perfect novel, an ur-text from which the final fatally flawed and infinitely less brilliant version finally descends. I suppose it sounds depressing because Murdoch is saying that you are always disappointed with the final book you write, but it’s actually a quotation that represents writerly idealism  and that’s why it resonates with me. Because I suppose I am an idealist as a novelist. I set out to write about contemporary issues like terrorism, child poverty, the culture of talent TV, urban riots, family breakdown, strikes and inner city gangs, and I do it because I want my books to make an impact. I hope they’ll make readers laugh and cry and care about the characters enough to open their eyes to the issues they are facing. I’d like my books to make readers think. Not that I want to tell them what to think, but I would like my writing  to raise questions, challenge assumptions, open doors -  open minds. And I think if you set off on your writing journey with the highest of ideals, believing in what literature can, at its best, be and do, then you may fall short of the perfection you strive for but at least you’ll be going in the right direction.

So there you have it, the confessions of a lunatic author who talks to herself, thinks she’s a spy and uses unhealthy snacks as her muse. What can I say? I’d love to hear any anecdotes you may know about other strange writers’ quirks – maybe your own. Go on, I can’t be the only utterly bonkers YA author on the block – can I?   


Wow, thank you so so much Catherine!! I love this post more every time I read it!!  
My crazy writing confessions: The only people I can brainstorm with are my dad and my younger brother because my dad is ruthless and my younger brother loves the characters as much as I do.  I talk to my characters - one in particular, who is especially snarky and always makes me laugh (sometimes in public)...  And I tend to get distracted from writing by other books... I have a really sucky attention span... ;)
Hope you all enjoyed Catherine's post!   What are your crazy writing quirks?  :D  

And don't forget to follow Catherine's Site, follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and check out her books on Goodreads! :D
And keep up to date with MonthOfGuests on Twitter using #MonthOfGuests2013! And stop by tomorrow for a brilliant post!!


After graduating from the University of Oxford, Catherine Bruton began her career as an English teacher and later went on to write feature articles for The Times, among other publications. She started writing fiction while teaching at a school in Africa, inspired by the children she was working with, and the culture that surrounded her. She still teaches, and her pupils continue to be one of her main sources of inspiration. We Can Be Heroes is her first novel for Egmont. Catherine lives near Bath with her husband and two small children.

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