Inish Carraig audio is live, and I’d heartily recommend it. Last week I started, at last, work on the sequel (in between a few other active projects, so it will take a while).
Inish Carraig 2 (working title - Culchies I Spas – country bumpkins let loose in space), isn’t schelduled until next year at the earliest. Actually, schelduling makes the process seem a little more formal than it is – it’s vaguely in my mind as suitable for coming out around then. But there will be no publisher driving it: I will self publish it.
But I’m struggling with my newest work in progress – specifically, I’m not yet hearing the voices in my head that I need to write it. Which means I need to give a little more time for them to grow.
When I wrote Inish Carraig, it was to give me confidence that I could write something other than Abendau. I knew I wanted a writing career and I knew it would take more than one book and more than one world.
I did not expect Inish Carraig to be as popular as it is, and I didn’t expect people to ask me about a sequel and keep asking. In fact, I nearly trunked the project. At around the 20000 mark of draft one, I wailed to one of my critique partners that I could not write this book. I knew everyone in Abendau so well, I could write their voices. But these guys, this angry teen from Belfast and posh landed-gentry cop. Nope. It would not work.
This week, when I started typing the sequel, I had no such problems. Straight away, I was into John’s voice, knowing his thoughts about Carter and Neeta. I had her voice in my head, too, and Henry’s. I knew each intimately and in a way that makes writing them easy.
How then, I wondered, do I get from one place to the other. How do I come to know my new characters as well as my own? (I do know that Amelia, my shiny protagonist, likes to use brackets, which none of my other characters have ever wanted.)
Time, I think, is critical. Characters are shy to begin with. I’ll find out about them only as I write them. As I do, their little mannerisms will become clear – Henry being messy, for instance, or Kare cracking his fingers to bring sparks of pain when he needs to refocus. None of those traits existed when I started.
But, also, being them. I’m about to take a quick walk to avoid getting DVT from typing all morning. I’m going to take that walk as Amelia. She’s a painter, and I’m not. She’s psychic (although, bless her, she doesn’t know it yet, so shhhhh…) and I’m assuredly not. What would she notice on the walk that I won’t? What would she think about? Another time, I’ll walk as Joe, her boyfriend, and try to see the world through his eyes.
Slowly, slowly, their voice – their mannerisms, their life view and the way in which they communicate it – will become clear. Only when I get to that point, will I be able to write their story smoothly, as if they were telling it.
I’m not sure there are many masterclasses about finding your characters’ voice, as opposed to your author’s one. Certainly, I thought I only needed to find the darn thing once, and then I’d carry it from book to book. And I do, a little – in the length of my sentences, in my use of semi-colons, in the rhythm and pace. But I also use my characters’ voices and each is different from another’s.
Here, for instance, are four of those voices:
The cold deepened. The steps were close now, and he knew whose they were. He wanted his power back. The thought came to him, raw with anger, immature in its simplicity. If he had his power, he’d hurt the Empress like she’d never been hurt before. She couldn’t do this to someone from the tribes. It wasn’t right.
(Abendau’s Legacy, Tickety Boo Press, 2017)
(In that excerpt Kare changes to Baelan’s voice partway through. The thoughts become more direct, less considered. The language becomes plainer. In my head, I hear this as two separate voices.)
Compare that to:
She watched him leave, and pursed her lips. He thought she was going to give him cover so he could play at being a rebel soldier? If he were ten years older she’d blame a mid-life crisis.
(Abendau’s Legacy, Tickety Boo Press, 2017)
(That can only be Sonly. So waspish, yet smart. Prickly, if you like, and a little prim.)
If I move to my Irish work, this is how the voices change:
His stomach churned, loud in the empty room, and Taz didn’t even take the piss out of him for it. Carter would only lie if is was bad news.
Bollocks; they were in trouble.
(Inish Carraig, 2016)
(That one is John. The casual curse words he uses without thinking are part of his internal narrative and make him distinctive.*)
I can see, within those examples, that some of my voice is constant. The blend of action and visceral feeling. The closeness and the lack of filtering (Sonly watching Lichio leave is not a filter – it’s a deliberate action on her part), the pattern of 3-cadenced sentences, and the balance of long and short. But I can also see where I adapt it for nuance, to make it sound right in my head - and especially when I read it out loud – to make it into the character’s voice.
Having written this, I’m now in a better place than where I was. I can see that my process for writing the new book is slightly changed – in the past I would have worked on something new along with something older that needed to be edited; this time, I’ll work on two new things, but one with voices I already know. Perhaps that was, actually, what I was doing before. Because the two processes are different creatively. I’m also going to be more confident in allowing things to sit for a while if needed, until the voices fully develop. I can’t force this process. I can only sit back and enjoy the ride.
Jo Zebedee is the author of four books to date and numerous short stories, all unashamedly character-led. More about her can be found on www.jozebedee.com, including links to her blog jozebwrites, which she updates weekly.
The audio version of Inish Carraig can be found here: