Writing Journeys – Laura M. Hughes
Laura is one of those people beloved by authors. I don’t know anyone else who promotes others work so enthusiastically, and she’s a successful author herself. Her novella, Danse Macabre, is picking up 5 stars across the board. I read it around Halloween and it was the perfect spooky read. If you want to be creeped out, then best to go read it. And now, over to Laura!
So says Bilbo; and the same is true for my work-in-progress, currently titled simply Ashwake. An epic fantasy series influenced by the works of Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson, Terry Pratchett and Mark Lawrence, Ashwake is the story I’ve always wanted to tell, but have never quite found the words to write.
For years, I carried the seeds of Ashwake inside me; I was excited and proud to do so, especially once I announced its conception to the world. ‘When’s it due?’, ‘What’s the sex?’, ‘Who’s the father?’ – questions that no one ever asked me, but which indicate the sort of expectant impatience that would soon begin to stress me out when I discovered that my story’s gestation period would be much, much longer than I could’ve anticipated.
NaNoWriMo 2013 was the first time I ever put fingers to keyboard. I was rather taken with my half-baked story about two dreamy male travelling companions: one, a graceful warrior; the other, a loveable rogue. (The fact that this had already been done to death did not deter me in the slightest).
I was, as a friend of mine would say, ‘enthusiastic’; that month (my ‘honeymoon period’ with NaNo) I bashed out 60K words about the adventures of Kylo and Finn. Then I forced myself to sit on my hands for a month before eventually returning to it, eager to re-read the sheer brilliance of what I’d written.
Ah, 2013-Laura. You sweet summer child.
My ‘manuscript’ was shit.
With growing horror – and embarrassment – I revisited every awkward dialogue, every tired trope and every cheesy stereotype. No longer were my protagonists a source of pride and delight. The rose-tinted glasses were cracked, and truth’s harsh light hurt my eyes.
As it happens, a few months earlier I’d started a blog (The Half-Strung Harp). After my messy breakup with NaNo (and the obligatory aftermath of self-piteous wallowing) I pulled myself together and switched my focus to non-fiction reviews, as well as weekly lists like Tough Travels.
Things went well for a while. I began to dabble in writing again and even wrote a story titled Danse Macabre (which I later self-published as a novelette) which won a writing competition on a book forum I frequented. But when a long period of tumult in my working life dragged me into an even-worse-than-usual bout of depression, I shut down my blog once and for all.
Thankfully, I soon became involved with the Fantasy-Faction group on Facebook. A friend and beta reader, Kareem Mahfouz, persuaded me to apply to join the review team; before long I was not only writing reviews for Fantasy-Faction but also helping them with the 2016 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO).
The fantasy community has inspired me tremendously. Having such a positive and wide-ranging network of support (in addition to a handful of gorgeous individuals with whom I can talk to in depth about various aspects of writing, reading and life in general) has proved critical not only to my success but to my wellbeing . . . which, in my mind, is far more important.
Stephen King said that if you don’t have time to read then you don’t have time to write. I’d also venture to say that the writer who exists as an island is likely to create fictions that are less inclusive, less relevant, and much more harmful than the writer willing to open their mind and interact with the folks they’re writing for.
My manuscript has evolved – flourished, even – along with my own expanding awareness of societal issues such as diversity; in particular, the representation of race and gender in genre fiction. Every time I revisit a scene or a set of notes, therefore, my perspective is different. I myself am constantly adapting, changing, growing (I hope) more mindful as a result of daily interactions with fellow readers and writers. Every day I’ll see, or hear, or read something that makes me question everything I’m doing; it’s these ideological changes, no matter how minuscule, that I try to focus on when revising my story – not ‘let’s go hunt for a better verb’, or ‘this MS could really use less semicolons.’
Of course, I still cringe when I read my own work. And (of course) I still waste precious minutes (*cough* hours) browsing Thesaurus.com. But I’m learning that that’s part of the process; that the answer isn’t just ‘toss it all and start afresh’, but to take the time to find which bits are causing the cringe and why, and then to alter or remove them.
I’ve also thrown chronology out of the window. I enjoy constructing stories in a non-linear way, in this case selecting a character who appeals to me at the time of writing and then choosing a scene from the overarching plot summary to begin work on. (Scrivener helps a lot with this, because it enables me to summarise each scene using the corkboard feature and then rearrange them at my leisure. I like the call this ‘the patchwork quilt’ method.*)
(*I’ve never made a patchwork quilt. I’m operating under the assumption that it’s like piecing together a big, floppy jigsaw.)
To sum up: there was a time when I thought that ‘learning the craft’ meant getting a handle on (e.g.) what makes a ‘good’ book; who’s who in the publishing industry; what’re the most fashionable literary techniques, and how to ‘master’ social media platforms like Twitter. Now, I realise that learning the craft is inseparable from learning the world.
In case anyone thinks I’m dissing NaNo: I’m not. National Novel Writing Month is a great concept and a brilliant midwife that has helped ease thousands of great stories into the wide world. For me, though, it induced me before I was ready; and while I am still trying hard to manage my Ashwake time more effectively, I’ve also accepted the fact that like so many things in life, it’ll be ready . . . when it’s ready.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to work on other projects alongside it. A novella about a gang of thieves, several poems and a couple of short stories are just a few examples of things I currently have on the go, as well as plans for a darkly humorous serial featuring a Jalan Kendeth-esque protagonist.
As for where Ashwake is up to right now . . . well, let’s just say that the original incarnations of Kylo and Finn are dead, buried, dug up again, burned and scattered to the winds.
But Cailoh and Fin? Watch this space . . .
Laura M. Hughes was born and raised beneath the grey pigeon-filled skies of Rochdale, northern England. As a child she enjoyed collecting insects, reading about insects, and looking at pictures of insects.
Shortly after turning twelve she experienced a life-changing event: the cinematic release of The Fellowship of the Ring, which smashed through the French windows of her imagination like a fantastical half-brick and let in all sorts of new and exciting ideas.
She currently spends her days working, reading, and faffing about with numerous writing projects. In her spare time she can be found at home switching off lights in the rooms her husband has been in, as well as foiling frequent assassination attempts by their four crafty cats. Oh, and writing reviews over on fantasy-faction.com!
Tomorrow we’ll be hearing from Jen Williams, author of the witty and action packed Copper Cat Trilogy, and the upcoming Ninth Rain.
Danse Macabre, fantasy authors, Laura Hughes, Laura M. Hughes, writing journeys