Finding Your Voice

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Yesterday I read a great piece by Lev Grossman (author of the Magicians trilogy) on finding his author voice through writing fantasy fiction (‘Finding my Voice in Fantasy‘). He admitted that he felt something was missing in the two ‘literary’ novels he had published and that, when he was producing those works, the writing came slow and hard as if he hadn’t quite found his ‘voice’ yet. For Grossman it was writing fantasy, and the liberation of writing against the literary expectations he had imposed on himself, that gave him the chance to discover his true ‘voice’ in his writing.

For Grossman “it was the most profound, intense writing experience I’d ever had. The icy grip of reality on my fiction cracked, and a torrent of magic came rushing out”. I love that line – for it encapsulates beautifully the experience of truly being in the writing ‘zone’ when your author voice takes over and allows the story to emerge. 

I’ve recently delved into the writing world of YA and middle grade fiction and what occurred to me was most surprising. I expected my YA voice would be an easier one to access (I still feel most days like I’m 16 after all…) but instead, it was the middle grade world that set my voice free. Maybe it’s because I feel attuned to my nine year old twin boys’ world, perhaps it’s because I still read aloud to them each night and these books tend to be for the most part middle grade fantasy novels…who knows? Whatever the reason I felt the exact sense of liberation that Grossman describes. 

I remember when I was writing my first book, Consequences of Sin, I certainly felt as if I was channeling the voice of my heroine Ursula Marlow – and when I returned to writing the third book in the series, Unlikely Traitors, that voice was inside me, ready to be channeled once more. I hesitated before deciding to write a middle grade book because I wasn’t really sure I’d be able to access that kind of ‘voice’ within me.  To my surprise the voice that emerged was just as strong as Ursula’s. 

The upshot of all this, is that I think many writers need to dabble in different genres to explore aspects of ‘voice’ which they may never have expected. I know plenty of writers who consider themselves ‘literary’ and, by default, superior to those of us who write commercial or genre fiction. For many of them the act of writing is a struggle (sometimes I wonder if they feel that the angst of it all somehow adds to the mystique). I wonder, if they allowed themselves the freedom to explore other genres, whether they would discover a new and more accessible ‘voice’ within them. I can only hope that others take Grossman’s lead and realize, as he did that: 

“Writing about magic felt like magic. It was as if all my life I’d been writing in a foreign language that I wasn’t quite fluent in, and now I’d found my mother tongue. It turned out I did have a voice after all. I’d had it all along. I just wasn’t looking for it in the right place.”


Isn’t that great?!

So tell me TKZers how did you discover your writer’s voice?

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The YA Market

Now that I have finally finished the third Ursula Marlow book, Unlikely Traitors, I’m turning my attention to a few ideas I have for a young adult novel and I need help! This is pretty much an entirely new area/market for me. I confess I’ve always been a sucker for children’s and YA books – I’ve devoured Harry Potter, guiltily polished off the Twilight series, relished the Luxe books and when it comes to TV and movies I have been known to have more than a passing interest in all things high school. I guess I just never grew up…so now I want to indulge my passion for history, mythology and mystery in the YA market – but where to start in terms of looking at the YA market? Here’s where I need some help.

My first question is the state of the YA mystery market…Is there even such a thing? It seems from my initial research that the YA market is dominated by paranormal and fantasy books. Even in the historical context what I’ve read has a decidedly paranormal bent – either that or it’s Gossip Girls for the 1900 set. So does anyone have any recommendations or insights into YA mysteries? Are there any that you would highly recommend? Is there even a market for YA mysteries anymore (most seem designed for a younger more middle grade or elementary school readership…)

The second question is – does history totally suck for most YA readers? This is another concern I have – that history equates with deadly dull – do you think that’s true? What about recommendations – any really cool historical YA books out there that I should check out?

Finally I have to wonder, am I actually thinking about a YA book or is it an adult book with a young protagonist??? At this stage it’s difficult for me to tell. I guess what I’m really wondering about is voice and which authors out there have a strong grasp of what I’d call the YA voice…Again any recommendations?

I’m at the research phase at the moment so any insight or recommendations you could provide would be greatly appreciated. It’s my first foray into the YA market but it feels right…Of course, writing the next Twilight series would definitely feel very, very, right…but at the moment I’ll settle for just gaining some insight into this market and (hopefully) writing the best book I can…
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Just Released – The Serpent and The Scorpion!



By Clare Langley-Hawthorne
www.clarelangleyhwthorne.com

Well it’s blatant self promotion and birth announcement time! I’m so excited the second Ursula Marlow mystery, The Serpent and The Scorpion, comes out tomorrow and I can’t help myself! It’s hard sometimes to remember that it takes such a long time, 18 months typically, from manuscript to print, so for an author it’s like a very, very long pregnancy (and trust me I know what that feels like having had twins!) So now it’s time to celebrate – and I confess a few glasses of champagne have already been drunk (and the book isn’t officially in stores until Tuesday!)

When describing The Serpent and The Scorpion, Kirkus Reviews wrote “Pre-World War I England is a seething cauldron of conflicting ideologies as Bolsheviks, suffragettes, socialists and merchants of death battle for control.” I couldn’t have summed it up better – and reading this it’s obvious why I was drawn to this period in history!

All this month however I’m going to explore the themes in the book rather than the historical period in question – because I’m fascinated how, as an author, I find certain elements in a book suddenly coming to the fore. In my first book, Consequences of Sin, there were past betrayals and lost innocence. In The Serpent and the Scorpion, Ursula Marlow is still recovering from the events in Consequences and trying to make her way in the world as an independent businesswoman (a rarity in Edwardian English Society). The themes in this book are therefore a little different – the betrayals are more personal, the stakes are higher and Ursula is now older and wiser – yet still all too vulnerable. So I get to explore lust and greed, the pursuit of power and the cold calculation of those who relish the prospect of war with Germany. Whoever said history was dull and stuffy!

Next week I will be focusing on the theme of lust in my books: not just lust for another person but also lust for power, independence and revolution. The Serpent and The Scorpion is set in 1912 against a backdrop of socialist activism, militancy amongst the suffragettes and an escalating arms race. Oh and there are a couple of murders thrown in for good measure. My mother-in-law advised me when I started the manuscript for The Serpent and The Scorpion that I also needed “more sex…tastefully done of course!” and I’m pleased to say this aspect of lust is also taken care of. Ursula Marlow is named after a DH Lawrence character after all…

October is a big month for my fellow Killzone authors with Joe Moore and Kathryn Lilley having new books released as well, so it will be ‘champers’ all round for us here! Over the next few weeks I’ll be traveling on tour so I hope to meet some of you in person as well as in the blogsphere. For all the details about events, locations and times please visit my website at: www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com

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