I’m very pleased to welcome Zoe Markham to the blog today. Zoe’s second novel White Lies was published by Carina in January. In her guest post, she tells us about writing her second novel for Carina. You can find out more about the book and the author further down the page.
The ‘difficult’ second novel: Plotting Vs Pantsing
White Lies is the second book in my Carina contract, signed at the time as a complete unknown entity “To Be Confirmed”. Not a sequel to Under My Skin, it had to be a standalone in its own right. And when it came to writing it, I discovered that I genuinely can’t outline a novel to save my life.
Books, for me, start out as a random scene or character in my head, where they sort of take root and grow over several years. Decades, in one particular case. White Lies was written in around six months, and my feet hardly touched the ground. Writing under contract and under a timescale was alien enough, but having to get a detailed outline approved before I could jump in and get started was the absolute killer that threw me well and truly out of my comfort zone.
The ‘difficult’ second novel taught me, without a shadow of a doubt, that I’m a pantser not a plotter. I have nothing but respect for plotters. They’re total outline ninja-wizards and I absolutely wish I was one of them. For me though, characters and plots can only truly come to life page by page, in their own infuriatingly unpredictable time. I can’t tell you, or my editor, what the made up people in my head will do until they actually knuckle down and do it.
At the time, I thought this made me a complete failure. There’d obviously been some kind of horrible mistake, and I couldn’t be a writer after all. I doubted everything I wrote. I panicked. I wallowed. And then I ended up doing what I always do in a crisis – I turned to some of my favourite authors for help. I normally do this by losing myself in some old favourites, my ‘emergency’ books; but this time I looked around for articles written by my favourite authors instead of just hiding inside their worlds. And that’s where I found my lifeline, from the writer who probably influenced me the most as a young reader: Diana Wynne Jones.
“Most teachers,” she said, “will tell you that you need to make a careful plan of your story before you start. This is because most teachers do not write stories.”
This made me stop and think. In my head I switched ‘teachers’ for ‘publishers’, and everything slowly started to make a bit more sense. Maybe it was OK that I couldn’t plan. Maybe a lot of people who wrote stories didn’t do it. Maybe it was an actual thing, rather than just me being useless. It was an irritating thing, yes; an awkward thing, given my situation, definitely! But it might not be the end of the world. Not if Diana Wynne Jones didn’t think so! It wasn’t the end of me as a writer, it was just another peak on my ever-increasing, steep learning curve.
Writing White Lies may have almost killed me (dramatic license applied, but it felt like it at the time), but it also taught me a huge amount about how I write, how I thought everyone else wrote, and ultimately how it’s fine if the two don’t match up. Because there’s no Right or Wrong way. There’s just the way that works best for you.
Sometimes you have to write around deadlines, and outlines, and that can’t be helped. But knowing and understanding the way you write best can give you just enough of a leg-up to clear the worst of the obstacles and survive the process.
White Lies – what it’s about
A haunting YA thriller you won’t be able to put down, White Lies is a boarding school story – with a shockingly dark twist. Everybody hurts
For Abigail, a new school could be the fresh start she so desperately needs. With her parents in the army and her sister Beth too far away to run to, she knows this year needs to be different. She’s never been part of the cool crowd and for the first time Abby wants to fit in. And all it takes is just one little white lie…because some truths are too painful to share. Everybody lies
But at Cotswold Community College, Abby isn’t the only one with a past she’d rather forget. And when she stumbles across a closely-guarded secret, Abigail realises that her one little white lie could reveal everything she’s worked so hard to hide…
About the author
Zoë lives in West Oxfordshire with her husband, son and the obligatory two cats. A full-time copy-editor by day, she writes late into the night, fuelled by coffee – not, as she tells all her son’s friends – fresh blood and cold empty darkness.
Zoë likes her fiction dark and disturbing, loathes even the tiniest element of pink fluffiness and has an inexplicable fear of mushrooms. She will do anything to avoid interacting with the Real World wherever possible.
If you’d like to know more, Zoë can usually be found talking books on Twitter, and rarely bites if you’d like to say Hello.