Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Today's special guest is British author James Rice. 

His debut novel, Alice and the Fly has been well received and fans of YA fiction will find much to appreciate in this novel about a shy teenager's struggle with fear and obsession when he confronts his attraction to Alice. 

This well-crafted story, told from two points of view -- Greg's journal and police transcripts -- is moving, dark, and humorous in turns as it explores that most difficult concept -- love. 

What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing Alice and the Fly?
Well, the main thing I learnt was that I could actually write a book (which I assumed was impossible). Also I found that writing is a way for you to take some really crappy things you’ve experienced (either firsthand or not) and try make them into something that brings happiness to the world. (And sadness – it’s a sad book too, in parts. But sadness can be good, sometimes.)

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
Well the money’s helped, to a degree, and I feel like I have more of a purpose now. It gets in the way a lot because I have to spend vast amounts of time at the computer when it feels like I should be out frolicking (or whatever people do). To be honest it hasn’t had that big of an effect, really. I thought as soon as I got a publishing deal Will Self would be on the phone inviting me to some olive and cheese party, but life just carries on. It’s still fun though, to go into bookshops and, you know, see it. And I love writing, so I’m pretty happy not to be frolicking, really.

What do you do when you are not writing?
Read. Eat. Sleep. I’ve been teaching at my old university, which has been great and has taken a lot of time. I like to lie down. I think if I was part of the 1% billionaire club and didn’t have to engage with the world at all I would probably just lie down forever and eat peanut butter and not get up.

What led you to write Alice and the Fly?
I wanted to write something about school. It’s a traumatic place to have to spend so much of your childhood, I think, and so I wanted to do something which felt real to me, in terms of what school life is really like. I actually started it back when I was still in high school, but it was terrible. I took a run at it a few times, in different forms. It was a short story, a film script, a concept album (don’t ask). And then when I was studying an MA I wanted to write something longer and so I thought I’d try out that idea again, see how it had aged. I wrote the first chapter and people liked it – it even won a competition. I felt like I was onto something. So I carried on.

 Your book deals with serious topics of mental illness, alienation, dysfunctional families, and violence. What challenges did you face in creating a work that wouldn't become too dark for a YA audience? 
To be honest I didn’t think about audience at all when I wrote it – I wrote it for myself. I mean, these characters are teenagers and I was a teenager when I came up with most of the material and it felt like a very real, teenage experience to me. I don’t really think you have to worry about darkness in terms of teenagers – it’s the darkest period of most people’s lives.
Mental illness is a challenge to write about because there are so many myths and clich├ęs and potential to offend people who have to deal with it. I tried to use all of that, to play with these ideas society has, and subvert them. I don’t know if it worked. I’ve had some people challenge me on it, but (so far) only people who haven’t actually read it.

What would you like readers to take from it? 
That empathy is everything. That you should be kind to others. That you should find love wherever you can and hold onto it. That you should be yourself. That you shouldn’t let fear hold you back. Be brave, be bold, but most of all be kind.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m writing another novel at the moment which feels like everything right now. I’m ‘in it’, so to speak. It’s going well – at the minute I love it. Hopefully it will change the world. We’ll see.

The book alternates between Greg's journaling to share his internal voice and police transcripts to provide readers with an external interpretation of events. What led you to that choice of structure?
It came near the end of the writing process, actually. I liked the idea of finding another found footage-like way to give other sides of the story and this seemed like a great way to hear from some other characters – give the reader a break from Greg’s voice – whilst also hinting at what’s to come. Also it allowed me to get some dialogue in the novel (I like writing dialogue).

Did you have the book plotted to the point where you knew it would end in tragedy or did the ending evolve as the characters developed?
I always had the ending. Apart from that I did little plotting, just ran with certain plot threads and characters. I wrote the scenes I wanted to write and then figured out the structure at the end. I would not recommend this as a writing technique though. Sure, it was fun, but it took a long time. I don’t know if I’d have been able to do it any other way though. There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel, as long as it gets written.

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Teenage love is my favourite theme, probably, because it’s so amazing when you’re a teenager – everything is so new and exciting. I enjoyed writing about that. Also the visual image of the spiders and how much fear and dread they cause (people have refused to read it because it has spiders in). That was where the initial spark came from – this idea that spiders are just the perfect representation of people’s fears.
The main theme is this sort of self-fulfilling prophecy though – that Greg is actually lovely, but because he’s treated a certain way he’s made to act a certain way and this plays into all the preconceptions about mental illness. And this just snowballs. And of course we have his perspective, so we know he’s not to blame, but we also know how it must look like to other people too. Which makes for a great deal of humour and sadness.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Recently I decided to make a pile of all the books that influenced Alice… and I ended up with two huge, towering piles of books. It’s amazing how wide-ranging your influences can be. I like a lot of modern American greats like Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, A.M. Homes, Nicholson Baker. Also British authors like Niall Griffiths, Cynan Jones, Kevin Barry. Stuff that’s experimental and interesting usually, though I’ll read anything. To prepare for Alice… I read loads of teen-narrated books. The most influential were Apples by Richard Milward and When I Was Five I Killed Myself by Howard Buten (and obviously The Catcher in the Rye).

What is the most challenging aspect of your writing process?
Self-doubt is the one thing that holds me back more than anything. I try ignore it, put it to one side. I tell myself: ‘Remember, you can always delete stuff that doesn’t work. But if you sit there too scared to write anything bad you’ll never write a single word.’

Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers. 
Well, read a lot. And give yourself time – time is the most important part. Hindsight is your best friend.  Writing is boring and time-consuming – learn to accept that and you’ll be ok. Bad writing + reading + time = good writing. Stick to that formula

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers? 
Publishers are lovely and nothing to be scared of. And they’re desperate to receive good writing – just as desperate as you are to produce it. So don’t worry about never having your work seen by a publisher – it will be if it’s good enough. Just worry about the quality of the work. That’s your job.


Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 
Just how happy it’d make me if they read it. Even more so if they liked it. And if not, well, that’s ok too. I’ll try harder next time. J

Monday, July 11, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

For other Nonfiction Monday posts click HERE

For Nonfiction Monday: "Animal Atlas" by Animal Planet 

Animal Planet’s Animal Atlas focuses on major biomes for each continent in this world tour of animal ecosystems.  The introduction provides readers with a colorful sample map and photo illustrated definitions of alpine, desert, marine, grasslands, rainforest, temperate forest tundra, and taiga. 

Insect, reptile, bird, and mammal tour guides lead readers through an exploration of each continent beginning with an overview of the biomes and then delve into a colorful cross-section of animal inhabitants in each ecosystem. Special attention is given to ways in which ecosystems are endangered and the ways people are attempting to meet those challenges in a call-out box labeled ROAR. A second colorful box labeled “Surprisingly Human” highlights behaviors such as the gibbon beginning each day with a “song.”  The kid-friendly text offers readers a fun and informative glimpse at animals both familiar and exotic.

Vibrant illustrations and stunning close-up photography make every page “pop.” A glossary and animal index complete the book.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer