I’m lucky to have known the elusive Cally Black for many years now, and was aware of her incredible talent long before she was discovered by the Ampersand judges, and awarded the 2015 Prize.
I have seen Cally’s YA novel In The Dark Spaces transformed from a great piece of writing to an even greater book.
I can’t even begin to imagine where she gets her ideas from. They are so unique and compelling and amazing. You really have to read her books to understand what I mean.
But you couldn’t find a more hardworking, more deserving or humble author than Cally, always willing to share her knowledge and craft with others.
Today she is sharing FIVE fabulous tips on how she wrote her prize winning novel, In The Dark Spaces. Did I say already … you should read it? 🙂
The latest winner of the Ampersand Prize is a genre-smashing hostage drama about 14-year-old Tamara, who’s faced with an impossible choice when she falls for her kidnappers.
Yet this is no ordinary kidnapping. Tamara has been living on a star freighter in deep space, and her kidnappers are terrifying Crowpeople – the only aliens humanity has ever encountered. No-one has ever survived a Crowpeople attack, until now – and Tamara must use everything she has just to stay alive.
But survival always comes at a price, and there’s no handbook for this hostage crisis. As Tamara comes to know the Crowpeople’s way of life, and the threats they face from humanity’s exploration into deep space, she realises she has an impossible choice to make.
Should she stay as the only human among the Crows, knowing she’ll never see her family again … or inevitably betray her new community if she wants to escape?
This ground-breaking thriller is the latest young-adult novel to win the Ampersand Prize, a stand-out entry with a blindingly original voice: raw, strange and deeply sympathetic. With its vivid and immersive world-building, this electrifying debut is The Knife of Never Letting Go meets Homeland, for the next generation of sci-fi readers.
Over to you, Cally.
CALLY’S TOP FIVE TIPS
Tip 1 – Experiment
Don’t be afraid to try something different. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Don’t be afraid to write it out. Write your way into the story. Write it in a new direction if you get bogged down. And write it over and over, until it becomes what you want it to be. I wrote In The Dark Spaces to experiment with some ideas and styles. I wanted to combine values often associated with different genres into one book. I wanted to see if I could do it.
Tip 2 – Write What You Want To Read
I think you have to trust that you as a reader have common interests with other readers and just write what entertains you. If you are writing to entertain yourself, you’re not going to be bored or held back by the expectations of others. Who knows if anyone will ever see your work, especially if you set out just to try some things, like I did. Of course you’ll have a general idea what age group you are writing for, but write for you at that age. Write for the fun and joy of telling yourself the story. I think that definitely shows through in the prose, the plotting and the themes.
Tip 3 – Be Open to Change
I’d written and rewritten In The Dark Spaces to tell myself the story, but once it won The Ampersand Prize and editing was underway, it was clear that it needed a major overhaul. Originally, it was relentlessly harsh, and all action, all the time. The poor reader was in danger of dropping the story from sheer exhaustion. There wasn’t enough hope or light to keep the reader caring and believing. I was pretty much bruising the soul of any reader brave enough to keep reading. That’s no way to reward them for their reading efforts! So it was great to have sweet loving editors offer me suggestions to go away and run with. A new character to the story brought new motivations for my main character, and introduced the balance needed. There were a few major edits required and then a lot of smaller edits. It was a lot of back and forth, changing one thing, following the implications, changing something else, to see if it worked, and I’m in the habit of throwing out scenes and writing them over from scratch because I like flow. In The Dark Spaces may be a short novel but there are two more novels worth in its trash file! Even if the editorial suggestions weren’t quite in line with my ideas, they always revealed a problem, and working on a change always improved the manuscript.
Tip 4 – It Takes Time to be Intensive
Often when you’re writing a whole novel, especially one with many action scenes, there is an urge to rush, move, keep it hopping, but if something important happens, if something terrible happens, then if you don’t linger and evaluate that thing from your character’s perspective, feel all the feels, it’s as if it’s had no impact on them at all. It should affect them deeply, it should shock them, then linger and niggle at them if you want it to be real, and that requires you to slow down and find the pain or the love or whatever has impacted your character.
Tip 5 – If You Make Characters That Are Smarter Than You – How Will You Keep Them Under Control?
I know… what writer in their right mind would make a character smarter than themselves? I did. I made Tootoopne, and I never knew what she was up to. She always had a plan. She schemed. She pulled surprises. She dangled my protagonist on a string. She had a completely non-human logic, further compounding my problem of understanding her. She almost killed the manuscript, just because I could not get her to behave. I think though, that maybe, I’d write her into being all over again, because characters like that are special.
Tootoopne is special … and so is Cally’s book. Thanks for sharing your journey and your great tips, Cally 🙂