“A brave, intelligent and thought-provoking novel which may well be one of the year’s best reads.” Burnley Express on The Boy Who Could See Demons
“Carolyn Jess-Cooke is one of my favourite authors. Her novel, The Guardian Angel’s Journal, does not comply with the normal tropes of paranormal fiction, which is why her book stands out from the crowd. I believe Journal is a classic, and will be used in educational institutions, read by book clubs, and read by people who would normally avoid paranormal fiction.” – Nalini Haynes, editor of Dark Matter fanzine.
“So different it’s got it’s own climate” – Bujaczek, Polish reader on The Guardian Angel’s Journal
Be gentle, my dears. This is my FIRST EVER attempt at making a book trailer and my first filmmaking effort in 13 years (I didn’t even realise I had iMovie on my laptop until someone pointed it out. Doh!) but I daresay it will not be my last. I always felt THE BOY WHO COULD SEE DEMONS needed a book trailer but felt too inadequate and generally unskilled to do it myself, but with the US version being released in August I took the headstaggers (as we say in Northern Ireland) & threw one together over the weekend.
PLEASE give feedback below and let me know what you think, your views are very very very wanted!!
By the way, the music is by the awesome Nick Harvey. Do look him up.
In many ways, this is an era of paradoxes. No other generation has had access to so much information, nor with such speed. We are absolutely plugged into information 24/7, witnesses to events hundreds of miles away even as they happen. The internet has redefined time to mean real time, all the time, and information has been unmoored from truth. Possibly to cope with the mass of information we receive everyday, we have hooked on to labels, categories, definitions, by which to process it. This is extremely apparent in publishing. Again, a paradox – this is without a doubt the scariest and most exciting time for publishing, with writers having the tools of broadcasting their work freely at their disposal and readers having all-access to more authors and more writing than ever before. But for a variety of reasons this is countered by an upsurge of labels, with many clinging to genres and markets and demographics as though they were the collective mast of some sinking ship.
Since the publication of my first novel in 2011, my education in publishing has been intense, to say the least. It is interesting that a writer spends so many years in a kind of education that focuses entirely on the craft writing – of course – only to realise that this is a mere dot on the whole landscape of authorship. And yet that dot is the most important part, because without it there is no landscape. Weird.
My point here is that I feel as though I have come full circle after two years of learning about the other parts of the territory. Being a writer is oh so different than writing. Being a writer – now my day job, which of course is a dream come true – involves so much more social media than ever before. I’ve blogged about it before, but to reiterate: it involves a crazy amount of contact with tax people and accountants. It involves more admin than I ever imagined. It involves more rejection than I care to admit. And it involves supplicating the gods of literary trends (hello erotic fiction) and publishing markets.
Amidst the current turbulence of the publishing world, it is therefore crucial to return to that dot on the landscape – the writing – and to forget about genres, trends, markets, and even readers. It is important to return to the READER. An individual. Another human being. The relationship that exists between a writer and a reader is very intimate. A first draft of anything is for the writer. Every other draft is for – yep, the reader. One’s work becomes a gift, a letter from one stranger to another, because beyond the markets and genres and all that jazz, we are all human. We are all dealing with something large at any moment, whether we are oblivious to it or whether it is in our face. We are all wanting to know that there is something more – to life, to ourselves, to the situation we are in, to our unseen daily efforts. This is why we read stories.
So this morning I am working on an idea I had last night for a story. That’s it – a story, and I hesitate even to go as far as that definition. Whereas I have found myself becoming increasingly anxious to nail a label to each and every idea I have, sometimes dismissing those ideas that I just know will never survive the squalls of publishing, this one is being nurtured today. I have no idea what genre it is. I have no clue if it’s adult fiction or young adult. I barely know what happens or who or what might emerge in this landscape. I have this striking image in my mind, or maybe a short film that lasts thirty seconds. I could describe it but then it would be like describing a dream – always so vivid to the dreamer and so rooted in one’s emotions but so much less when described.
What I am most conscious of as I proceed to nurture this idea is that this is the most important part of what I do, and also the most fulfilling – I create. Very simple, and note that it has nothing to do with markets, labels, genres, etc. The work of a writer is to take the seed of something that has been flung into his/her subconscious and water it until it grows into whatever kind of bloom it always was.
So over the Christmas break I decided to do a little project with my kids to stimulate their creativity.
OK, I’ll admit it was also because I was sick of the sound of all their new toys. And the sound of them bickering.
So. I devised a way for them to engage more closely with one of their favourite books EVER:
This is The Snorgh and the Sailor, written by Will Buckingham and masterfully illustrated by Thomas Docherty. Awesome people that they are. My kids adore this book, which is (very roughly) about a character called a ‘Snorgh’ who lives by the sea and encounters a sailor, with whom he goes on many adventures.
And since we live right next to the sea, there’s plenty of scope for them to relate to the story.
My idea for the project was to build their own confidence in storymaking by using this story as a kind of template for them to devise their own.
The book lends itself extremely well to this kind of thing, as it ends with a number of illustrations that gesture at the further adventures of the Snorgh and the Sailor.
When we read this book at bedtime I always get the kids to imagine what happened next.
With this in mind, I began by putting together a very basic little ‘book’ for each of them, retitled ‘Further Adventures of the Snorgh and the Sailor’, with plenty of blank pages for their own narratives and pictures.
Before we did any writing or drawing, we went on a bike ride to the beach. Research, you see.
These are my oldest 3 kids – Melody, Phoenix, and little Summer. We left baby Willow at home with Grandma.
And yes, that is a hanging basket in the shape of a chicken.
We sat for a while and re-read The Snorgh and the Sailor to think about our ideas.
The Snorgh is so grumpy he huffs in the bathtub.
I do that all the time. I might be part-Snorgh.
Next, interaction: we went on a hunt for ‘samphire’, which is something that the Snorgh collects each day to make soup.
I have no idea what samphire is, you understand. But this green looking stuff seemed to be a good substitute.
Having gathered our samphire, we acted out the part of the story where the Snorgh wakes to find the sailor has already set sail.
“Sailor! Wait! I have to hear the rest of the story!”
They shout this every night. It was good to do it on the beach.
Bedtime at our house is not a quiet affair.
I love this child.
Our journey completed, we came home and took out our booklets, then chatted about what further adventures the Snorgh and the sailor could have had.
My oldest 2 kids are only 4 and 6, and are still in the early stages of developing their writing skills. So I gave them a basic framework for their story: they needed a ‘good guy’, they needed to tell me what s/he wanted, and they needed a ‘bad guy’ who wanted to stop the ‘good guy’ from getting it.
Then I wrote out their ideas for them to copy and illustrate.
‘The Snorgh decided to travel to Africa to get special African samphire!’
Both stories involved swords and fights.
My daughter’s story made me laugh out loud.
“The Snorgh and the sailor travelled to Iceland to get the special ruby. But there was a monster – the scariest monster you have ever seen! It had tusks, sharp ears and a wart on the end of its nose!’ [Intermission: I think there's shades of The Gruffalo here... But that's to be expected. They love that story.] “The snorgh and the sailor fought him with a fish-bone sword [yep!] and won! Then they went to the cafe to have a cupcake.’
You can tell cupcakes are a part of my family’s life.
I have no idea where the fishbone idea came from.
Admittedly, I was worried about getting them to write the story and create their own book, for although the idea was to build their confidence I didn’t want it to backfire and make them feel incapable.
I needn’t have worried.
They loved drawing and practicing their writing, and when they’d finished I wrapped it up by making ‘samphire soup’ (code for: hot chocolate) which is always the best way to end a book, I think.
I kept it relaxed and fun, which I think is essential. I told them over and over that there was no pressure for them to feel they had to produce a finished book (this was important as my daughter gets upset sometimes when she feels she hasn’t done something perfectly right, and also I’m mindful that they know ‘mummy writes books’ – so there needed to be a sense that there was absolutely no way for them to ‘fail’ or disappoint).
As for the sketches, I told them that marks on the page was absolutely fine – no need for masterpieces here! It was creativity, which means fun and expression.
The best part of this project is that they have not stopped talking about it - in fact, my 6 year old has just run in to ask if we can have another ‘Snorgh and the sailor day’. They feel ten times more engaged by the story and every book I read with them now seems to generate much more discussion about what else could happen.
One of the challenges of having more than one child to entertain for the school holidays is that it is difficult to come up with activities that they can all enjoy without ending up fighting. Surprisingly, this project brought us all closer together. It involved team work as well as individuality and no one felt left out.
Also, it’s an activity that didn’t cost a penny. Some blank paper, staples, and fresh air. That’s it.
It’s a project I’ll definitely do again. Even those books which don’t leave the story quite so open-ended can be used to spark their imagination. We might try rewriting a story next time, or developing the story of one of the lesser characters. Other favourites of ours include That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown and The Pirates Next Door. Come half term, I’ll devise more little booklets around these books and get them to think about what else could happen in this story. What could come next?
If you fancy having a go at this please let me know how you got on!
Thanks to Will Buckingham for being cool about potential copyright issues and for writing such a great story!
Today’s blog takes the form of The Next Big thing, a kind of interview thing whereby I discuss the book I’ve been working on and tag five or so other writers (Niel Bushnell kindly tagged me in his). Apropos the title of this blog, the two ARE linked. Read on…
1) What is the working title of your next book?
Working title – very much a working title, my dears – is ‘Notes by a Hypnotist.’
2) Where did the idea for the book come from?
Short answer, nice and simple – I dreamed it. It was around about March or April of this year. I was heavily pregnant and my husband kindly told me to go back to bed one morning and take a nap. I woke up at 9am – I remember the time – I grabbed my notebook to jot down this wildly vivid idea I’d had about a female hypnotist in Victorian London. But a few scribbles wasn’t enough to satisfy what felt like a bomb going off inside my brain – so I started writing on my laptop there and then. By 11.15am I had written 6246 words. After months of searching for an idea this one just fell out of me.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a Gothic paranormal historical thriller with romance, feminism and levitation.
4) What actor would you choose to play the part of your character in a movie rendition?
My protagonist is called Cate. She’s 25 and utterly awesome. Gutsy, vulnerable, talented and flawed. I love her to the moon and back. So it would be someone like Jennifer Lawrence (from The Hunger Games) or Anne Hathaway circa The Dark Knight Rises/Les Mis.
5) What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s about a powerful female hypnotist who becomes embroiled in the Jack the Ripper murders when she tells the police she feels a hypnotist is involved.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m represented by the fabulous Madeleine Milburn. I’ve only written a first draft so haven’t got a publishing contract for it yet… Fingers crossed my publishers like it! Good vibes needed, please.
7) How long did it take you to write a first draft of the manuscript?
Hmmmm… after the first 6k I set the book aside as I moved house and had a baby. I picked it up again at the end of Oct and finished it, um, on Tuesday night.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’ll do you one (or several) better – I’ll compare it to films, soundtracks AND books. Think Inception, think The Illusionist, think Carter Burwell’s Twilight composition ‘Bella’s Lullaby’, think Sherlock Holmes, think Daughter of Smoke and Bone, think Memento, The Matrix, think The Killers, think Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade, think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – they have all influenced this book. There’s probably loads more but those are the ones off the top of my head.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The dream was first and foremost. I am interested in Victoriana but had never contemplated writing a book in the period as I knew very little about it and had to go research it. But the psychological/paranormal element is very in line with my previous work, and as an academic I researched memory erasure. I LOVED writing it.
10) What else in the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Ripperologists will be all over this. Anyone who is keen on Derren Brown, David Blaine, or hypnotism, illusion, and memory erasure. It might also interest you all to know that I, um, tried to teach myself to levitate while researching the book. Apparently it is completely possible and, interestingly enough, was very big in 1887/8 when a dude named Daniel Douglas Home flew out the window in Rhode Island. I am still trying to manoeuvre myself out of my chair… Watch this space for details of progress. I’ll wave if I pass your window.
Perhaps the most stunning thing (and I’ll go into this at length in the book’s appendices) is that whilst researching newspapers circa 1888 I found reports that the premise of the novel basically happened – they DID consult hypnotists on the Jack the Ripper case, which is exactly what happens to Cate. Only she becomes a suspect.