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This post is revisited from my old blog Lock Stock & Barrel. I am migrating (one blog post at a time) over to WordPress because apparently it’s pretty cool…and I agree!

 

Dear friends, slightly lost internet surfers & fellow writers,

I am often asked how I came up with some of the ideas for Poker Face, what made me put pen to paper (or indeed fingers to keys) and why. In brief I’d discovered a new writing tool, one that really worked for me and my ideas, and this is what Blog 11 is all about.

Ruby Palmer’s dangerous and rocky life with the mafia starts after she walks into a lawyer’s firm on her last day of school. Though she’s still awaiting the results of her exams she knows full well they are going to be terrible. She’s had more important things to worry about, like avoiding the painful beatings dished out by her abusive dad and fighting off Matthew Dean’s relentless advances. It’s funny because when I first started writing I read all the advice ‘Write, write, write’ and ‘Read, read, read,’ and ‘Write about what you know.’ I was already writing and reading but I struggled on the ‘Write about what you know,’ score. In my mind, in a nutshell (not that my mind is a nutshell) that advice only really worked if you were a maths professor and you wanted to write curriculum based books. Or you were an expert horse rider and you wanted to publish a book entitled ‘Caring for your foal.’ I was already writing stories, I’d written a sci-fi, a fantasy and a romance, but I was still struggling. I wanted the confidence that I was sure must come with knowing you were an ‘expert’ in your field.

I sat and contemplated, as I often do, and it suddenly occurred to me that I am an expert in something. I am an expert in being me! Though that might not be something everyone else wants to learn how to be (at least I hope they don’t because that could get quite scary!) I discovered that I can talk about what I know of the experiences I have had. I am an expert at coping with an unusual childhood. I am an expert at leaving school with no qualifications. I am an expert at walking into a job anyway. I am an expert at handling a boss with a tendency to declare the colour of my underwear to clients. I am an expert in recognising and getting out of said unhealthy administrative posts. I am an expert at understanding the property ladder and getting my feet on the slippery rungs. I am an expert in showing people that it is possible to leave school with nothing and later obtain a degree. I am also an expert at being a mother and a wife. There are so many things that I can do, that I have experienced, and they all entitle me to write in a realistic and honest voice. I found while writing Poker Face that I do have something I can share; life’s experiences. I might still be fairly young but I’ve been through a lot and, more importantly, lived to tell the tale.

On Ruby’s last day of school I understand the sheer overwhelming panic she is feeling about her future and lack of prospects. I never bothered at school. I spent my lessons singing the theme tune to Only Fools and Horses and laughing about the kinky sounding words and all the sexy ways you could say them in French. I didn’t revise for my exams and I didn’t complete my coursework, so it was no surprise that my exams were going to be awful. Even so, I was gutted on the last day that I hadn’t done more. Suddenly the day we had all been dreaming of had arrived. Even though throwing eggs and flour and defacing our school uniforms was great fun, it didn’t stop me feeling like I’d messed up big time! My friends were going on to sixth form or college or had jobs lined up. They had made plans for the future and all they had to do now was enjoy the summer and wait for those exam results they had worked so hard for. I, on the other hand, knew I was going to fail, though I was pleasantly surprised when I got an ‘A’ in drama and a ‘C’ in English Literature. How you ask? In truth, I really don’t know, perhaps a natural flare for pretending and analysing. That makes sense seen as I’d spent my adolescence doing just that, pretending I didn’t care and analysing why, if I could convince everyone else, I couldn’t fool myself into believing that too.

In some of the scenes in my book I have been able to take personal experiences and apply them to situations I haven’t experienced. For example, in a scene where someone gets shot, I did a little research and applied that to an experience that I deemed to be the next best thing (childbirth!) With the second book in the series I have used experiences where I have had little control, experiences that have accompanied high levels of fear and attached those to some of the ‘way out there’ nightmares I’ve suffered over the years.

So if you are a writer, perhaps starting out and not quite sure what you want to say or, indeed, what you are ‘qualified’ to say then try some reflection. No don’t go checking yourself out in the mirror! Save that for when you’re famous 🙂 Take the advice and information you find out there laterally not literally. I personally struggled for quite a while, feeling like I had no justification for writing the things I was writing. I couldn’t say I was a librarian or a school teacher and I couldn’t boast a degree in English either. I didn’t have famous friends and I hadn’t had anything published before, not even a short story. But when it finally clicked I realised that actually you don’t have to have any of those things (although I’m pretty sure all of them would help!) What you need is to be creative with what you do have, whether that’s qualified knowledge, personal experience or both. Fear is fear whether that’s fear of the dentist or a real life encounter with an armed robber. Love works the same way. All encounters are real, all are valid.

Being creative with our talents and abilities is nothing new. It’s something we’ve had to work on to cope with a struggling economy, a market that has squeezed jobs and demanded more from applicants. There are fewer jobs out there so you can either accept that you’re going to be unemployed for a while or you can take your skills and talents and transpose them, make them fit. Take that square brick and hammer it until it passes through the round hole! As far as I’m concerned, the same can be said for writing. Take a good look at what you have done, where you have been, what you have experienced and how you experienced it and then do exactly what the advice tells you, pick up your pen, adjust your keyboard and then ‘Write what you know.’ Hope it helps!

Take care from me guys, Jess 🙂

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