Monday, 3 May 2010

Guest Post: No Idea Is Wasted: Nicola Morgan

I am a big smug show-off because I have lots of writer-friends. But I almost never ask my friends to discuss their own books on my blog because it gets embarrassing when I don't like their books.

There's no danger of that happening today. When the wonderful Nicola Morgan (who we all know, right?) asked me if I'd host one of the stops on her blog tour I was pleased to say yes because I knew it would be a good book; now I've read Wasted, I know that it's a fabulous one. Wasted is one of the best books I've read all year and if you feel even slightly put off by the idea of reading a book for young adults, don't be: if ever there was a crossover title, Wasted is it.

Right. Nicola now owes me at least a tenner. Over to her.

First, thanks so much to Jane for letting me visit her blog! [I should hope so too! -J] I've never done a blog tour and it feels like a lot of fun. Since Jane's blog is about publishing and how it works, I thought I'd say something about ideas and how they work before publication - and if any of you writers are at that horrible stage of feeling that your idea just isn't going to work or isn't going to be published, I hope you'll take heart from what I'm about to tell you.


In theory, I don't believe that "everything has a purpose". In practice, I make damned sure it does.

It was a simple chance event on a London underground station that got me thinking about luck, chance and randomness and led many years later to my new novel, Wasted. It wasn't an earth-shattering event but it got me thinking. Obsessively. So, I began a novel for adults - I'd two unpublished ones languishing already - about chance, quantum mechanics, and unpredictability, involving repeated multiple possibilities. The idea was that if there is a god - which I know there isn't - he will either play dice or at least have a lot of fun observing. But halfway through, a completely different idea hit me, this time for teenagers. I abandoned god and quantum

That new idea became my first published novel, Mondays are Red. And then came others and suddenly I was a YA novelist and left the adult stuff behind. The other book lay half-written somewhere. But ideas are never wasted. They become other things. They strengthen the foundations of our writing lives. Sometimes, later, they seek sunlight. So, after 15 years, thedormant seed sown randomly in a London underground station began to grow and I began to write it. I didn't look at the first version because this one would be different. I was different by then, though still fascinated by chance and luck.

A bit of my heart is in all my books, naturally, but Wasted has all of me. When I started it this second time, I didn't care about publication. I decided not to show my editor and or get my agent to ask for a contract. It was a case of, "If you like it, you can have it; if you don't, I'm writing it anyway and sod anyone else." This was my story and no one could stop me writing it.

She loved it, as did my agent. It was a wonderful feeling: writing the book I always wanted to write. And although I want some people, enough people, any people, to love it too, the odd thing is that I slightly don't care if lots of people don't. Obviously, I hope readers don't say horrible things...

I guess you want to know about the incident, the random event on a London Underground station? I had travelled from Edinburgh, where I live, to London for my first ever business-trip, first public-speaking event. (I was a dyslexia specialist then.) I'd done the event and my head was spinning; I was high on adrenaline and seeing things in a brighter light. For some reason which I will never understand, I decided to take a different underground route from the obvious one. So, I was on an escalator at Charing Cross station, when I should have been at Victoria.

What happened was trivial really, the sort of thing that happens all the time: you see someone you know, somewhere they shouldn't be. So, I saw a friend from Edinburgh, on the same escalator. We were both shocked, laughed, and had that "fancy meeting you here, 350 miles from home" conversation. Nothing happened - we didn't have an affair or even a drink!

Now, maybe it was my heightened adrenaline, something getting the creativity going, but I had a light-bulb moment, a kind of "thought experiment" which has absolutely obsessed me ever since. It was: "What if there was something like a god, who could observe every human and know everything about them; and what if he could see everyone passing and meeting and mostly not meeting and weaving unpredictably from place to place, NEVER aware how narrowly they had just missed an important encounter with someone they knew or someone who might influence their lives? What if humans could be tracked like radioactive particles, bobbing around in a kind of Brownian motion, in patterns, and that the god was sitting there cackling at the powerlessness of these poor humans as they went down that street or took that turning or missed that train or smiled at that person or had this thought caused by that sight or sound or breath of air on their face? What if he could show us all that, and we could observe the almost happenings, the near-misses, and if we could, just by observing, change the tiniest things that affect lives invisibly? And what if we could then tell the story of some of those things, show the inner workings of our world?"

And that, essentially, is the idea behind Wasted. And if it hadn't been for that trivial coincidence on a London escalator, in my state of heightened adrenaline, I would never have written it.

To all writers: when you have to give up an idea - if it wasn't working, didn't get published, whatever - it's not wasted. One day, you might see how to write it entirely differently, and better. If not, the seed can lie dormant for as long as it's needed, and when the right time comes you will find a way to grow it. Or if you don't, it will still strengthen you. So, never view an idea as wasted.

Nicola Morgan

Wasted is Nicola Morgan's new young adult novel, published today. She has created a special blog for the book, with competitions and stacks of background information, ideas, snippets and fascinating discussions about chance, risk and luck. Do visit it for some really interesting fun!


Sally Zigmond said...

I'm part way through reading 'Wasted' right now. In fact, I had to drag myself away from it and sit at my PC to do a day's work--only I can't because my head is buzzing with the ideas it has set in motion in my head.

Jane Travers said...

Oh crikey. I've been dying to read Wasted as it is, but now the longing is an almost physical pain.

I love the way your brain works, Nicola. It strikes a large chord with me. I'm in a similar position to yours of years ago; while working on an adult novel I've been blind-sided by an idea for a YA. I've started tentatively writing it but I don't know where it'll go, and I'm terrified of losing it. I'll try to feel a bit more positive about it's role in my future writing now.

Come on Book Depository, I ordered it over a week ago. Delivery, already!

Catherine Hughes said...

I've experienced this with an idea that I had. I wrote 50k of a novel before abandoning it because something just didn't feel right. Then, inspired by an editor I met to have another crack at it, I wrote another forty thousand words.

Then feedback from that editor arrived, pointing ot a very fatal flaw in my idea.

The novel is resting for a while now, whilst various methods of sorting it out are percolating in my hindbrain. I thought I had abandoned it once before - now I know that, in fact, it is just taking some time to get right. The idea will come to fruition eventually, but it just may take me some time to write this particular novel in this particular genre.

And wasted is a fabulous book. We loved it!

Mistakes Writers Make said...

Hope you'll permit me a non-fiction example...

I once interviewed a journalist for Writing Magazine who told me she regularly submitted speculative pieces to national newspapers. Most journalists would consider this amateurish or a possible waste of time and energy, but she was adamant that even if her work was rejected, she would use it in some form some day, perhaps when on a tight deadline and needing a ready-made or fully fleshed-out idea.

Although I don't submit journalism on spec, she did change my thinking about investing in ideas that you worry may not eventually come to anything.

Now, when students of mine say they will abandon an idea, I advise them to only set it aside. File it away under Future Ideas. Every idea has its time. And this excellent post from Nicola has reminded me of a truth which I'd pretty much forgotten.


Marisa Birns said...

It is always great fun--and inspiring--to learn how other writers get their ideas.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Those chance events always should be filed away. As you've shown, they make themselves useful where one least expects.

Jane Smith said...

My apologies for the nasty comment-spam which appeared here briefly: I've deleted it now, will keep on deleting any more that appears, and hope that no one clicked on the links which were left behind.

And now, back on topic.

As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed Wasted: I thought it was very clever, and very well-written, too: not that I expected anything less from la Morgan.

Jane, I'm sorry your copy is taking so long to arrive: but it'll be worth the wait, I promise. It's a fabulous book.

Nik Perring said...

Brilliant piece, Nicola (and thanks Jane too!). It sounds like Wasted was a book you HAD TO WRITE and I love that.

Gillian Philip said...

I finished WASTED in the car this morning (I wasn't driving). By that time I was desperate to find out what happened (I got Heads) - I'd taken longer to finish the book than I'd hoped because I kept having to go back and re-read bits that had got lodged in my head. Can't remember when I last read anything so addictively thought-provoking. I loved it and I really enjoyed this post too... thanks Nicola & thanks Jane!

Charmaine Clancy said...

Book looks great and post was inspiring - thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to stomp my feet and cry because I can't get Wasted on this side of the pond. Anyone have a hankie?

Jean said...

um...the two links at the bottom of the post are not working :-(

Glynis Peters said...

What a great post. How wonderful you should meet the friend, or the world would have been deprived of a great book.

I am waiting for the post to settle from UK because of the volcano. Then I can order my copy.

Jane Smith said...

Jean, thanks for alerting me--I've fixed the links now.