Tuesday, 13 March 2012

GUESTPOST: Miriam Halahmy - Writing a cycle of books – not a trilogy, not a series

Today I want to wish a very happy publication day to ILLEGAL by Miriam Halahmy. 

ILLEGAL is the follow up to Miriam's wonderful first novel HIDDEN, which has been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. HIDDEN told the story of Alix (who, incidentally, was Leading Lady in my 2011 Books, Bonnets & Full-frontal Blogging awards) who, along with her friend Samir, rescues an asylum seeker off the coast of Hayling Island. Then they have to decide what to do with him...

ILLEGAL is Lindy's story. Lindy was a character in HIDDEN who at first seemed pretty scary - she'd sharpened one of her nails into a spear point and didn't seem afraid to use it. But you started to realise that there was far more going on under the surface - and in ILLEGAL you find out what. 

I'd like to welcome Miriam to my blog. Here is a fantastic guestpost about how a story grew into a cycle and how characters can demand a book of their own. You can also read the post here over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, along with some interesting writerly comments!     

Writing a cycle of books – not a trilogy, not a series.

Miriam Halahmy

I started to write Hidden, the first book in my cycle of three novels set on Hayling Island, in 2007. At the time I had no idea that I was going to write three books or that I was at the beginning of writing what I would come to call, a Cycle of books. However, I do know that very early on a character called Lindy Bellows presented herself on the page and grew and grew until I knew she needed a book all of her own.

In Hidden, fourteen year old Lindy is an outsider at school, hostile to the other kids and the staff. And she had a nail sharpened to a spear point. Her family were notorious. Her older brother Terrence ran one of the worst gangs in town. Lindy and her family lived on an estate near the school. They didn’t live on Hayling Island.

But when the chips were down in Hidden, Lindy could have given away the asylum seeker that school fellows, Alix and Samir, were hiding in a hut near the beach. However she turns out to have a heart after all. She doesn’t tell the police or her brother  ( who guesses anyway and causes all kinds of trouble) and she actually protects Alix at a vulnerable moment.

Halfway through writing Hidden a story for Lindy began to bloom inside my head. I decided I would write a second book called Illegal. As an author I wanted to challenge myself to write something completely different. Hidden is written in the first person present tense. Illegal is written in the third person past tense. Both books are set on Hayling Island and the kids go to the same school. But new characters are introduced into the second book and the story is completely stand-alone.

Illegal is the story of a teenage girl driven to take desperate measures when all other choices are taken away from her. It is a novel about growing up and gaining independence against the odds. Since Lindy’s baby sister died, her family have been caught in a downward spiral. Her brothers are in prison and her parents have turned to drink. Soon Lindy is out of her depth too, caught in the centre of an international drugs ring, with no way out. Then Lindy finds help from an unexpected ally: weird, mute Karl from school, and together they plan a daring and desperate escape. But when you’re in this deep, can you ever be free? 

As I was writing the second book I felt that two books felt uneven and there was a character, Jess, who had a minor role in Hidden and a bigger role in Illegal, who seemed to be asking for her own book. As Jess became more and more prominent, an idea for a story blossomed and so when I had finished the second book, it was quite natural to commence writing Stuffed.

Stuffed is told in two first person present tense voices, Jess and her boyfriend Ryan, a new venture for me again. Jess and Ryan start to fall in love but both of them are keeping a terrible secret from the other. This is a story of secrets, lies, betrayal and responsibility. Will their love survive the pressure?

Three books, all set on Hayling Island, but not a trilogy where the story concludes in the third book; and not a series, with the same character in a different situation in each book. This is my Cycle of novels, taking a minor character from the previous book as the main character in the next and then putting them in a totally new situation. In a cycle of novels, the books can be read in any order. Each story is stand alone, but in my cycle the common thread is the school on the mainland and the wonderful landscape of Hayling Island as the backdrop.

In theory my cycle could continue. There are always more stories, more places as settings on the Island and more characters to emerge from the shadows. I have loved developing a cycle as opposed to a trilogy or a series and may well write a completely new cycle of novels set in a completely different place. But Hayling Island will always be my first love.
Miriam Halahmy
January 2012

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