Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill **Blog Tour**

Hello lovely readers! Today I have something very special for you.
Jo Cotterill, author of the wonderful Looking at the Stars, which is released in the UK on Thursday, is visiting Pen to Paper, with an awesome guest post, all about her writing and editing process! For me, as a Creative Writing degree graduate, and a (as yet unpublished) writer myself, this is something that definitely interests me, especially as with some of my stories, I don't plan much at all (I call it 'organic' writing). I hope you find Jo's post as interesting as I do.
But first! Here is everything you need to know about Looking at the Stars.

Looking at the Stars
Series: None
Pages: 384
Publisher: Bodley Head Children's Books
Release date: 30th January 2014
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

Add to Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
Amina's homeland has been ravaged by war for many months, but so far she and her family are safe, together. When a so-called liberating force arrives in the country, the family think their prayers for peace will soon be answered, but they are horribly wrong . . . The country is thrown into yet further turmoil and Amina's family is devastated . . .

Through it all, Amina has her imagination to fall back on - of a better place and time. But can her stories get her through this?

Story of a Pantster – and how to polish words until they shine

Authors all write their books in different ways, but you can divide them roughly into two camps: the planners and the non-planners (I have a friend who calls the second group ‘the pantsters’ because they ‘fly by the seats of their pants’!). I used to be a pantster (LOL!) but when I wrote six novels in a row for the Sweet Hearts series, I had to plan them from the start. Planning can be a very good way to iron out all the problems before you begin the writing proper, but some authors find that too much planning can spoil the creative process.

Looking at the Stars was an unplanned novel, written back in 2008. I had been trying to write something else, and was getting rejections from everyone (yes! Even published authors get rejected!). In despair, I took a notebook and pen down to my garden shed and stared at the view. At the time, the news was full of the war in Iraq and the terrible state of Afghanistan. It seemed that every time Great Britain waded in to ‘rescue’ another country, things got worse for the people living there. I found myself writing: ‘The day the soldiers came, we cheered’ – and that was it. The start of my story. I wasn’t sure where it was going, but I knew what was happening: there was an ordinary family, living in a country where they didn’t have basic rights – and soldiers had arrived to liberate them.

As I wrote, I knew more and more about my characters and what was going to happen to them. There would be a horrific death (sorry, readers!) and a dividing up of the family. There would be a long walk to a refugee camp. And, most importantly, there would be stories.

But books don’t plop fully-formed onto the page (though I REALLY wish they did because I am one of those authors who HATES rewriting!) and this one was no exception. First, my agent read it and suggested some changes. So I rewrote it, but the publisher we sent it to rejected it. I put it aside, because I was by then writing the Sweet Hearts books. It was another three years before I found space to write a third draft. And then when my lovely editor at Random House accepted it, she also suggested some major rewrites. But I was having a baby that year and so it took me MONTHS to complete the rewrite! Thankfully after that it was a question of tidying up.

What changed? A lot! You can see the initial opening from my handwritten first draft. (I didn’t write it all longhand; after the first two thousand words, I switched to computer.) This is the final version of that beginning:

Click to enlarge the photo
The day the soldiers came, we cheered. We weren’t supposed to, of course; if Potta had seen us, he would have been furious; but we couldn’t help it. Jenna and I were on our way back from the reed beds, our arms full of plants for use at home, when we saw the dust rising up in the distance. The road was empty apart from a woman walking towards us with a basket balanced on her head. The dusty, scrubby track wound off into the distant mountains, with only the occasional tree to break up the landscape. Usually there was nothing to be seen at all, but today there was a low cloud growing bigger and bigger by the minute.
‘Horses?’ I was puzzled.
‘Wagons?’ suggested my sister.
The woman with the basket turned to look behind her. ‘Soldiers,’ she whispered. ‘The liberators!’

You can see that apart from the first line, everything else has changed!

I hate editing but I always find that I end up with a better book – always. That’s why agents and editors are SO important (and I’m lucky that I’ve had some BRILLIANT ones) and why I’m doubly proud of Looking at the Stars. It’s a real team effort.
I don't know about you, but I love the idea that a story like this came spontaneously, with no original planning! Hating the editorial process or not, I think Jo has done an incredible job!! 
If you've not already checked this book out, make sure you do! Get it on those wishlists!


Anonymous said...

hi Dani, thanks so much for having me on the blog! Did you get the photo of my notebook to go with this post? It shows the first page of the first draft and if you add it above, readers can compare it with the final version. If you haven't got it, I'll send it over pronto! Jo x

Anonymous said...

For anyone wanting to see the photo of my handwritten first draft, I've uploaded it to my own blog, so please click here! http://jocotterill.com/2014/01/28/why-looking-at-the-stars-was-a-pantsters-and-not-a-planners-book/ - thanks :-)

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