Friday, 19 January 2018

'Second Best Friend' & Writing Real Life Fiction, starring Non Pratt.

You lovely readers all know about my insane, borderline obsessive love for all things bookish. But under that - okay, let's be honest - obsession umbrella, there are smaller but equally important loves. Certain authors, and publishers, whom I will always have an extra soft spot for - and admiration aplenty, too. 

What I'm trying to say in this messy, over-excited intro is: get ready for some gushing. You've been warned. 




Non Pratt is one of my all-time favourite UKYA authors. Her debut, 'Trouble', was one of the first YA novels I read, while at uni (when I really should have been reading, y'know, my 'set texts' or something?), then I inhaled 'Remix' not long after. It was a tough call, but up until now my favourite Non read was 'Unboxed', closely followed by 'Truth or Dare', which came out last year while I was interning at Walker Books (meaning I got a proof just before sending the rest out to my fellow bloggers, mwahahaha!).

Well, now 'Second Best Friend' is out in the world and let me tell you, readers, you are in for a treat. 

Here's Non talking about it recently:



And here's the blurb:

Jade has a near-perfect best friend in Becky - until a throwaway comment triggers a serious inferiority complex. How come Becky is better than her at everything? So, when life offers Jade the chance to come out top, she grabs it. But there are some popularity contests that you just can't win...


I devoured this book. I'd just finished a tough holiday read - one that had taken weeks to get through - and I needed a truly great read to follow it. 

'Second Best Friend' kept me company on the beach for a day and lifted me right out of my funk, as I knew it would. Non's writing is always so impossibly good and ridiculously relatable - you befriend her characters, travel on their personal and physical journeys, hear their conversations in glorious surround sound HD (seriously, her dialogue skills are wicked). 'Second Best Friend' is an all too familiar story; school girl besties pulled apart by a silly boy's careless comment, then resentment bubbles below the surface for a while, then BOOM! Yep, been there. My sister agreed, when I loaned her my copy after finishing it in a few hours - it's something readers young and old can absolutely relate to, and it's written perfectly. 

Another wonderful thing about this book, is that it's published with the utter babes at Barrington Stoke. These guys do the most wonderful thing in that they publish shorter novels specifically designed for readers who struggle, to help get more kids into reading. I've absolutely loved reading their releases in the past couple of years since discovering them, and have passed on/bought a few of each for my dyslexic and visually stressed friends. Everyone needs to check these fabulous book makers out, ASAP. 

I am now lucky enough to share with you an exclusive piece by the brilliant Non, on 'Writing Real Life Fiction'! Enjoy!

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MY FICTIONAL REAL LIFE.


All the books I’ve written so far have been set in the real world and the one that’s just come out is no exception. (SECOND BEST FRIEND - do a girl a favour and read it, K?)
With contemporary there is (sadly) no solving plot holes with magic and (happily) no need to know how many parsecs* it’ll take my Fillenium Malcom to whiz through hyperspace.
But the thing about writing a story set in the real world is that people actually live there - very specifically readers. While I don’t have to build a whole new world, I still have to invent something that doesn’t exist: a story. And that story has to obey the laws of physics in this world.
If writing fantasy is an episode of Grand Designs, then writing contemporary is like walking into an empty house and working out how to decorate what’s already there.


SPACEY-WACEY
Look. We’re not at Hogwarts. The places your characters go are fixed and stable. So you have to know where they are. The level of detail depends on the size of the thing you’re navigating.

Room
You should definitely have an internal vision of the following: main character’s bedroom; kitchen; sitting room. If they don’t go in a room, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Try and think not just of the layout, but the details. How is the bed made up? Where’s the computer (if there is one… not everyone can afford one)? What posters are on the walls? Is it messy? Tidy? Every detail of a room tells you something about the people who use it. Any effort spent on decorating your character’s bedroom will pay off because it will a) help you get to know them b) all you to drop in a detail in the narrative to convey character.


House
Just because you don’t go in a room, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know where they all are. I suggest looking up properties on Rightmove and screengrabbing the floorplan of an appropriate-income house. Much easier than turning temporary architect.


School
Honestly? I’m lazy. Every school has the same layout in my head as the one I went to. Because almost every school, unless it takes on a character of its own, will look like whatever school your reader goes to. Don’t worry about it, pet.


Town
I mostly think of my fictional towns in much the same way as someone who has only navigated London using the Tube. I know can totally tell you which exit brings you out next to Topshop at Oxford Circus, but I’m not able to describe how you’d walk from there to Trafalgar Square… but I know where it is using the Underground. You don’t need to be Googlemaps to know how a fictional world fits together. It’s enough to be a Tube map.


Country
I mean. Only if they leave their town, right? (Wrong… you should know what the weather and the economy is like. Sorry.)




TIMEY-WIMEY
All writers are a slave to time, but not all of them are slaves to the school timetable. I am. So far I’ve constructed timetables for four out of the five books I’ve written. (One of them was for a music festival, but it’s still a freaking timetable.)
My theory is that you can play with reality, so long as it’s believable. In 'SECOND BEST FRIEND' I can get away with inventing three lessons a week where my characters study politics under a ‘new government initiative’ called Social Responsibility, but only because I’ve structured the rest of the timetable so you know they do other normal lessons too. The action can’t just happen in one lesson, or people will be suspicious.
Again, internet downloads are your friends, but teachers and parents on twitter can be helpful too.


LAWS OF THE LAND
A fifteen-year-old in the UK can’t legally drive a car. They can’t catch a midnight train going anywhere, because those only run Friday and Saturday and they only run in London. Cigarettes and alcohol aren’t always easy to come by and sexual activity is limited by opportunity. (I’m also aware that there’s been a decline in all these hobbies since I was a teen… more on that later.) Unless it’s the holidays, people are in school. And if they’re not, they have to be somewhere that won’t get them in trouble. You have to know the legal and practical limits placed on teenagers in order to write about them.


SOME DOPE LANGUAGE THERE, PRATT
Just talk like a normal person. I think readers are much more forgiving of an author who uses marginally dated language naturally rather than shoe-horns in words and phrases that they themselves have never used in their life. I also think that time spent on the internet keeps you on your toes – it’s somewhere you can see language evolving. As for swears? Well… would your character swear? If so, then have at it. This is about writing not editing.


TO POP CULTURE OR NOT TO POP CULTURE?
Eh. Jane Austen didn’t worry about making real-time references in her writing in case it dated it. Why is everyone so hung up on this? If a book was written in 2014, then let it lie there. Much better to worry about making sure your moral references are up-to-date than your pop-cultural ones. That said, as with anything left on the page, it has to do something. Dropping a reference to Dan and Phil videos (ahem) doesn’t make you cool… understanding that your characters watch YouTube makes you believable. Pop culture references shouldn’t be about what matters to you, but what matters to your characters, ergo your audience.
(As an aside here: teenagers use mobile phones. Incorporate them into your plot or risk someone throwing your book across the room in a fit of pique.)


A CODA ON THIS LAST POINT…
If you find yourself making a reference to something irresistible – like Buffy for instance – that your audience won’t consider ‘theirs’, you can always, subtly insert one of the other characters mocking the reference. You literally get to have your pop culture reference cake, eat it and smash it satisfyingly into your own face.


THINGS THAT DON’T FIT IN ANY CATEGORY
The thing I think is important about contemporary is to care about the things that are happening in teenagers’ lives now – not when you were a teen. (Unless you are a teen now, you talented foetus.) I was very definitely hung up on hooking up, but there’s studies show there’s been a shift in interest in sex stuff – that doesn’t bother me as a writer, because I don’t only care about the sex stuff now. I care about how the internet has impacted personal relationships, the increasing pressure placed on teens to jump through academic hoops and the constant demonising of young people as lazy and disengaged and always on their phones. I am a passionate advocate of teen voices and I want to listen to teens who want to talk when I see them in schools.
I think the key to writing contemporary teen fiction is to care about contemporary teen readers.


P.S. Yes. I know a parsec is a unit of distance. We all do now.

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Now, here's a couple of chances to win a copy of this excellent book: 





Thank you to Non and Barrington Stoke for this wonderful book.
Readers, you can find it on Amazon, Waterstones and The Book Depository now.

2 comments

  1. Very very excited to read this one! And Non Pratt in general, I haven't heard about her before.

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    Replies
    1. It's awesome! Everyone needs some Non in their lives - maybe start with the debut, 'Trouble'. That one has a special place in my heart. x

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