Showing posts with label Lucy Coats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lucy Coats. Show all posts

Monday, 19 August 2019

Poetry for Parlous Times -- Lucy Coats

We live in parlous political times, and for me it is hard for that not to inform my writing, and in particular my poetry. Writers have always stood up against tyranny and injustice. It is part of our job description to put down the things we see happening around us in words, to comment on them so that when history and herstory look back, they have a snapshot of how things were from a particular perspective. Right now, and for some time past, journalists and writers globally have been attacked and indeed killed on a daily basis for telling uncomfortable truths. The latest attack, on Owen Jones, is just one of many, and they are like canaries in the coalmine, warning us that free speech and democracy are under threat from thugs and worse.

As children's writers, it is important for us to show young readers how things could and should be as far as kindness, compassion and equality are concerned. So, for instance, I write books about a young boy who stands up for the rights of animals against the bullying and cruelty of gods and heroes and hope it strikes a chord. But sometimes, like today, poetry is the only way I can find to express how I feel. So I wrote the poem below because I am scared to death about what is happening in the world. It is a very small pebble against a huge mountain. But maybe it will roll, gathering others with it. Please feel free to share it if you would like to.

Tiresias Speaks, 2019

No.

The gas chambers
did not pop up
out of nowhere and nothing
like mushrooms in autumn.
They were fruit
of tiny mycorrhizal roots 
matted and tangled underground
long incubating in darkness,
spreading capillaries of prejudice,
veins of violence,
aortas of blind hatred. 

Those same roots wait now,
nourished by vicious orange words,
vile blossoms of dead demagoguery,
red hats and caged children,
walls and closed borders
and the killing of different.
Watch them. 
They will grow sooner than soon
into poisonous panther mushrooms
unless we stand up first
and all say

“NO.”                                       

©Lucy Coats 2019

Out now:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram

Friday, 19 July 2019

Bee Love -- Lucy Coats

Photograph: (c) Lucy Coats 2019


Right now I am studying bees, both for writing purposes, and because I love them and think they are incredibly important to our world. As some of you here know, I have been involved with shamanism for many years, which has led me, by various convoluted routes, to be currently training on the shamanic bee path. To that end, some time ago I discovered a marvellous book by the shaman, Simon Buxton, called The Shamanic Way of the Bee. It is utterly fascinating (to me at least) to have had the mystical life of bees and beekeepers revealed in this very new and different way, and confirms me in my belief that they are extremely magical beings.
Brahmari the Bee Goddess

Bees are very prevalent in mythology, present in almost every religion from the beginning, and in stories from the Rig-Veda to the Norse Eddas. Athena's mother, Metis, was challenged to a game of shapeshifting by Zeus. Eventually, she turned into a honeybee and flew up his nostril, landing in his brain, where she gave him advice--I tell that story in Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths, and it is only one of many in the Greek mythology canon, including the stories which tell that the three Fates are actually three Bee Maidens, and that the sea-god Glaucus was brought back to life when buried in a jar of honey. In Celtic mythology, the bee acts as a psychopomp, travelling with messages between the realms of the living and the dead, and as a guide.
The Bee Goddess of Rhodes

In 2007, edible honey, hives, comb and evidence of a 3000 year-old beekeeping industry was found in Northern Israel, giving weight to the biblical description of 'a land of milk and honey', and there is written testimony to the fact that in Ancient Egypt, Ramses III made an offering of 21,000 jars of honey to the god Hapi. Bees and beekeepers are also present in art from the earliest times, carved on tombs, and jewellery, and found in temples. The tradition of 'Telling the Bees' when someone has died, and involving them in the life and events of the family is still practiced by some beekeepers even today.


On a more practical and educational level, I have also been reading Jacqueline Freeman's beautiful and lyrical book, A Song of Increase, which has taught me so much about a gentler and kinder way of keeping bees. (Do go to her website if you are interested.) Because keeping bees is what I am going to do! There is a long way to go still, and I have a lot to learn, but on Saturday I attend my first meeting at the Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group, and I am VERY excited! I'm sure the bees will have a lot to teach me, and I am certain that they will appear very soon in one of the books I am writing. Watch this space!

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman  
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram

Friday, 19 April 2019

Ways Back to Writing - Lucy Coats

It's been a long time since I've written anything at all apart from lists and ABBA posts -- and not character lists either; shopping lists, lists of furniture, mundane everyday lists. I have written here before about my battle with depression. This last bout of it has been very bad indeed, including terrible panic attacks (sometimes several a day). I don't say this to garner sympathy, but I hope that by being open and honest about this, I may help someone else who is struggling. That is my aim in writing this piece.

I always visualise my creativity as a deep well from which I draw. This last year, the well has been dry, with only cracked mud at the bottom. It has, frankly, been terrifying. Under normal circumstances, even in the bad times, I have ideas floating through my head all the time, tiny snippets of potential storylines, dreams that turn into book plots. This time, nothing.

I have so many strategies I use to get myself going creatively, and I teach them to my writing students. Normally they work. I tried all of them. None of them worked this time. Inside my head was an arid desert, devoid of anything. So in my saner and more reflective moments, I gave myself permission not to write, but to concentrate on getting well again, and work at that instead. Several months down the line, the well of creativity is beginning, very cautiously and slowly, to fill again, and I'm starting to find the way back.

'Bees' (c) Lucy Coats
In fact, I didn't start with writing itself, but with drawing and painting, beginning with a pattern of bees for a shamanic drum. The repetition of drawing the same thing over and over was very soothing -- each bee was the same, and yet I soon found that each of them was slightly different in the way they related to each other. Then I started spinning with a distaff and drop spindle, creation and meditation in one. I'm not very good at it yet, but the act of making one thing into another with my hands -- wool to yarn in this case -- was and is something I find very satisfying.

One thing I missed greatly in the arid time was my dreams. I am a prolific dreamer, and have had many good writing ideas from them in the past. But my depression nights were either black and empty or full of insomnia and anxious thoughts. Again, I chose to let them go, trusting that they would reappear in time. Eventually, a couple of weeks ago, they did. What's more, quite soon I had one of those middle of the night post-dream wakings which necessitate lots of incoherent scribbling down of an Important Idea at 3am. In the light of day, it turned out to be a good idea, though something entirely different from anything I've done before, not for children, and not fiction. I'm loving the initial research for this, and because it is so different, there is no pressure.

This morning, though, brought the real delight. I woke early, with the germ of a story in my head. A proper, bona-fide children's story. I'm taking time away from it to write this post, so forgive the brevity, as I'm longing to get back to it!

Having been through this depression cycle so many times, the most important thing I have learned from this round is to give myself both a literal and mental break from writing, to ask for help, and not to feel guilty about any of it it. Mental illness may not be something that can be seen, like a broken leg or arm, but it is just as real and just as painful, and just as slow, if not more so, to recover from. I have never been more thankful not to be under a deadline this year, for the first time in forever. If you are struggling right now, do be kind to yourself. And don't try and deal with it on your own. As writers in what is quite a lonely profession, we tend to beat ourselves up a lot, and to continually question the validity of what we do. Coupled with depression and anxiety, it is a toxic mix. There are people around you -- friends, family, therapists -- who can help. I know the inside voice all too well which says things like 'nobody will care'; 'why should anybody be interested?'; 'don't be a bother/bother anyone.' Trust me, they will care, they are interested, and you're not a bother.


OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review 
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Emilia Report on Gender Equality for Authors - Lucy Coats



Equality is important. That is why I urge you to read The Emilia Report, an investigation by Danuta Kean and Isobel de Vasconcellos into the gender gap for authors, which was published yesterday. In the introduction, playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, creator of the eponymous play Emilia, (which 'celebrates not only a great woman writer but every woman and marginalised community that has been given the silent treatment'says this:
The findings of the Emilia Report are important because they show why it is vital to listen to those outside a tiny group of white men. That the idea of women’s writing being unimaginative and “domestic” is a lie and that our creations have as much to say about the human condition as those of men.
I entirely agree, and I find it extraordinary that in 2019 we should still have to be having this conversation. But have it we must. Danuta Kean, who was commissioned to do this research to coincide with the opening of Lloyd Malcolm's new play about Emilia Bassana, Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady', has this to say:
It may seem that the struggles of a 17th Century woman to be taken seriously as a poet are incomparable to modern women who have benefitted from three waves of feminism, 40 years of equality legislation, universal suffrage and advances in science that have freed them from the tyranny of their bodies, but, though the landscape of their lives may be different, the structures that inhibit their path to recognition and success are not.
Kean and her co-author focused on ten writers, five male, five female, in different genres and the coverage they received in national newspapers for their work. I think women who write are mostly aware, if only in a tenuous way, of the fact that coverage of male writers is greater than that of female writers. This report breaks down the actual figures and percentages with targeted research, as well as things like personal references (women are far more likely to have their age, marital status and family referenced than men, forinstance), and it does not make for encouraging reading.


As a female children's and young adult writer with 40+ published books under my belt, I have got used to questions and comments like:

'Still writing then?
'Of course, writing is only a hobby, isn't it?'
'Writing's not really like a proper job, is it?'
'Oh, but you just write for children. don't you?'
'When are you going to write a grown-up book, then'


...and many more. I have got less tolerant of these quips now, but I used to just laugh them off, buying into the 'Imposter Syndrome' so many women suffer from, where our brains give us the fear message that, however successful we are, someone will find out that we are really frauds and don't deserve the reputation and achievements we have worked so hard for to be recognised or acknowledged. Even though what we do is an essential part of opening and informing young minds, children's writers know all about being less valued than our adult counterparts, especially where newspaper coverage is concerned. This is, in part, why this report rings so true. Adult women writers suffer many of the same problems, and Rowan Coleman aptly describes this in the report.
'For a woman, so often her writing is treated like it's a hobby, it is a nice thing to do on the side. That attitude is deeply embedded in our culture.'
That 'pram in the hallway' attitude, first promoted by by the notoriously sexist Kingsley Amis has to change. That's why I hope you will read this report, and disseminate it widely. Change has to start somewhere, and it is only by openly addressing and shining a light on inequality in publishing that we will ever begin to change it.

Read the full Emilia Report


OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency



Saturday, 19 January 2019

Hadestown: Interpreting Myth the Musical Way - Lucy Coats


Last month, I talked about rebooting old stories, and this month I want to continue that theme, in a slightly different vein. As many of you will know, reinterpreting myths is my bread and butter, whether as straight retellings, or using them as the bedrock of my fiction. So when I found out that one of my favourite Greek myths was being put on the stage as a musical, I had to go. Hadestown: The Myth, The Musical is based around the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, a tale of love and loss, and the power of doubt -- and what better myth to use the power of music to connect with an audience? This iteration of the tale has taken a long time to evolve -- it's over ten years since Anaïs Mitchell, the lyricist and composer, took the album which became the beginnings of a folk opera on the road in Vermont, with a school bus, some puppets and some musicians. Now it's had a massively successful run as a full-blown musical at the National Theatre in London (still on till 26th January, and if you can get a ticket, please do!), and will be on Broadway from the end of March.

Mitchell and her director, Rachel Chavkin, have set the story in a speakeasy in Depression Era America, with live music right on the stage. Orpheus (Reeve Carney) is a starry-eyed songwriter, searching for the perfect notes to recreate the lost song of summer, and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) is a starving, homeless, streetwise waif shivering in a too-big coat, who just wants to assuage her hunger and be warm. In this particular version, it is this hunger and homelessness which is the key to Eurydice's journey to the underworld, seeking a better life, rather than the original death by snakebite. Deserted by Orpheus, who is locked into his quest for the perfect note, summer is over, Persephone has departed again to the Underworld and the cold winter winds have returned, along with doubt and desperation. In the absence of any other choice, Eurydice makes a devil's bargain with Hades, as women so often have to do, and are so often wrongly judged for. She will give him what he wants (her soul, her labour), although she doesn't really understand until she is down in Hadestown, working for no wages, what she is signing up for. It is an all too poignant metaphor for the precarious nature of the decisions so many real-life women have to take just to survive.

In the underworld itself, world-weary capitalist Hades (Patrick Page) and a bored, S.A.D.-haunted Persephone (Amber Gray) are having marriage problems, as Hades concentrates more and more on the task of building his never-ending wall, and less and less on the happiness of his wife, who turns to drink and drugs to survive.

When Mitchell first wrote the piece, President Trump was nowhere on the political horizon, but today the words of 'Why We Build the Wall' have a resonance she probably never imagined, and listening to Page's gut-trembling bass singing it as his chorus of grimy workers toil unendingly in the darkness is an extraordinary coming together of ancient myth and present day reality. Just close your eyes, listen to the clip below, and imagine that desperate train of northward-bound immigrants hoping for a better life, for a way out of poverty. But they are unwanted. even in Hell:
"Because we have, and they have not, because they want what we have got, the wall keeps out the enemy, and the enemy is poverty, and we build the wall to keep us free."


Of course, poverty, with its companions unemployment, starvation and degradation, was a very real enemy in the American Depression. The roots of it lay in the mistakes and cynical exploitations of the financial sector, much as it does today, but the resonance this piece has now goes much further. Poverty is not just an internal problem. Poverty in this case has expanded (because it is virtually impossible to watch this piece and not think of Trump's America), to include the demonisation of the other, the immigrant, anyone with a different religion or skin colour, or sexual orientation. It's not overt, but it is there, lurking in the shadows, and it gives Hadestown a chilling relevance I had not expected.

The music itself travels through jazz, blues, folk, indie and rock in a fluid rhythm, and the audience is guided through it all by the psychopomp Hermes (Andre de Shields), whose wise asides give us the clues and keys to untangling the final destination of doubt and despair.

I will freely confess that I had doubts before I went. I'm not a particular lover of musicals (no, not even Hamilton, which I am maybe the only person in the world not to like), but this was more of a folk opera than a musical, and I was fascinated and engaged from the first note. I said earlier that Orpheus and Eurydice is one of my favourite myths. I was trying to pin down why that is, and I think the answer is that it is one of the great love tragedies, the ones which provide true catharsis, which suck you in and spit you out on the other side of them, changed. I have seen many versions of this story performed, from Jean Anouilh to Tennessee Williams, and each time I have had the feeling, (much as I always do with Othello) that this time, this time, it will be all right, that he won't turn round too soon, that Eurydice will be saved. But, of course, she never is. The utter stillness and silence in the theatre at that moment, the sense of loss and sorrow, was palpable, and I didn't see how the cast were ever going to find a way to end it which didn't leave the audience desolated. But Hermes managed it, telling us that the eternal retelling of the tale, the renewal of the cycle of storytelling is what gives us life and hope that maybe one day things will change. It was a masterclass in bringing us back from the brink of despair.

I truly hope that if you get a chance to see Hadestown, you will. It is the best thing I've seen on the stage for years, and the music will ring in my bones for a long time to come. Myths are only alive for as long as they are retold and refreshed -- this one will live forever.


OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review 
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram






Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Old Stories, Rebooted - Lucy Coats

Old stories (and old poems), rebooted, are pretty much how I got started on my writing life. After a brief foray into rhyming picture books for my first publication, I wrote a book of 'new' nursery rhymes, based on the old versions, but updated for the modern child.
From First Rhymes by Lucy Coats, illustrated by Selina Young

After that I worked for Dorling Kindersley, retelling stories like Heidi, A Little Princess and Oliver Twist for a young audience, and was then asked by Judith Elliott at Orchard to provide some retellings of stories by Oscar Wilde and others for a various anthologies. It's work I loved -- and still do -- and I always try to stay true to the spirit of the original, while making it fresh and accessible for today's readers. My real break came when Judith asked me to take on the task of retelling Greek myths. Atticus the Storyteller's 100 Greek Myths was the result, and 18 years later, it's still in print, has sold around the world, and has informed the rest of my writing career as a mythology 'specialist', with my latest Beasts of Olympus series just having sold its 8th and 9th translation rights.

What set me thinking about this was none of that, though. Being Christmastime, my thoughts generally turn to the story which underpins it all -- the Nativity. This is a story which has been retold and rebooted probably more than any other. And yet, amongst the commercialism and overhyped excitement of Christmas, the central magic still remains for me. When it is pared down to its essentials, the old beauty of a candlelit service of nine lessons and carols takes me straight back to the Christmas story of childhood, with the sharp coolness of pine and the bitterness of cut holly, wavering flames, shadows and the voices of children.
From First Rhymes by Lucy Coats, illustrated by Selina Young

Tonight, however, I am going to see the Nativity story -- and be part of it -- in a completely different way. We have just moved to a new village, a farming community, where there is a 'walking' Nativity, complete with sheep, ponies, a real baby, and a cow. There will be angels and shepherds (I'm one), and wise men, inn folk, a Mary and a Joseph. We will start in the church, walk around the houses, singing carols, and then end up in the village hall for the stable and inn scenes, topped off with mulled ale. It will be a very different way of experiencing the Christmas story I've known all my life, harking back to medieval mummery, and I can't wait.

Merry Christmas to you all, and a very happy New Year when it comes, with lots more wonderful and enlightening ABBA posts from all my fellow blogging cohorts from the Scattered Authors' Society. May the writing gods and goddesses be with us all.



OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website - Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency


Friday, 19 October 2018

When Life Hands You (Rotten) Lemons -- Lucy Coats



I've written several times on these pages about mental health and wellbeing. I think that it is important to talk openly and honestly about the struggle that many writers, including me, have with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and associated conditions, although I am aware that not everyone is able or wants to do this. Despite the enormous strides which have been made in widening public conversations and awareness about mental health in general, it is still a sad fact that, as an 'invisible illness', there are those who still dismiss it as a self-indulgence, or think we should just 'pull ourselves together'. I wish it was that easy.

For personal reasons, which I will not go into, this summer has been full of the (rotten) lemons which title this piece, hurled at me one after another. I do not wish to make lemonade (the normal advice for when life hands you them). For one thing it would taste bitter and vile for lack of sugar and sweetness, and for another, nobody would wish to drink it. These particular rotten lemons have been toxic to both mind, body and creativity. Not only do I feel physically poisoned, (not least because my physical body has reacted very badly to the combined stress of anxiety, depression and panic attacks, enhanced by what my doctor tells me is an excess production of cortisol), but my creativity levels have gone through the floor.

I am not a doctor. I do not usually talk about science. But cortisol is an interesting little stress hormone when allied to a writer's brain. In short, high levels of cortisol mess with memory and learning skills (among other things), and are also a trigger for all kinds of mental illness including depression. The basic science tells us that cortisol is part of the fight or flight mechanism of the human body, and is released by our adrenal glands as a response to fear or stress. Normally, once the fear or stress event is over, and there has been a physical release from either fight or flight, the body returns to normal. The problems arise when there is no such physical release, and when the stress levels continue day on day, at which point the cortisol levels build up in the blood, and turn into a 'saboteur within' of both the mind and body.

This is, quite literally, how my creative brain is feeling at the moment. Sabotaged. If there is such a thing as a 'well of creativity', mine has been blown up and is in pieces, with the water of ideas all leaking out. So how the hell am I going to mend it? There are many tried-and-tested solutions for alleviating high cortisol levels -- exercise, mindfulness techniques and so on. I do all those, and they help. But they help only to the point of keeping me functional, and able to navigate day to day life without too many disasters. There just doesn't seem to be anything much left over to boost my creativity levels.

Caroline Brothers wrote an interesting article for Autumn 2018 edition of The Author magazine, in which she quotes Paul Silvia, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina. Silvia says that: 'Creativity isn't a part of the brain, but something incredibly complex that the brain can do.' That strikes me as very true, and it gives me a little hope. That complexity is something my writing brain can't quite manage right now. But if I carry on with those tried-and-tested solutions I mentioned above, eventually it will. I've written this piece, after all, and even if it's not a creative piece in the true sense, at least it is words strung together that (I hope) make some kind of sense. Maybe the next will be a poem, or a piece of flash fiction. One thing is certain. I won't let the damned rotten lemons win.

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram










Sunday, 19 August 2018

The Art of Tidying -- Lucy Coats

I've just moved from the house I've lived in for the last 25 years, into a much smaller one. This has, naturally, involved a lot of letting go, including letting go of many many possessions. But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Moving house has also meant moving my writing office -- and my books (3 TONS of them, which seems like quite a lot, really). Obviously, many of them have had to go into store as I just didn't have the time to sort them out, so that's a task for the future. What I did bring here were my precious research books -- the ones I can't do my job without.


And of course, I had to bring everything else the office contained. Or did I? Some kind person here recommended Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, which appears to have sold over a million copies.

I've always been a hanger-onto of stuff, 'just in case'. But Kondo's method (which truly works) is to categorise, and then go through EVERYTHING in that category, sorting and throwing anything away which doesn't give you joy, or is useful to you in your life. It does help, the categorising, and I was pretty ruthless. The recycling benefited to the point where I had to take carloads to the tip. And now I feel so much lighter. In my new office, there is only the stuff I really need. Everything has a place. I can put my hand on anything I need within seconds, without having to think about it. It is truly marvellous to have given up all the junk (years of proofs, compliments slips, filing going back to the 1990s, old pens and pencils, badges from long-ago conferences and so much more). I have tried to curate, so that the 'bones' of my career as a writer are still there, so the important letters, the contracts and all that, but instead of being in drop files, everything is now in a series of lever-arch files, in date order, and categorised. I have never been this tidy! All I have to do now is to go through the pile of 'to do' and 'misc' sitting on the left of my desk, and I will be more organised than I've ever been in my life.  Oh -- and actually start writing some more books!

What to you hang onto, and what do you find most difficult to throw away? And how many of you are hoarders?

PS -- I did try to upload more photos, but the only bad thing about the new place is the painfully slow internet. One was all I could manage!


OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

JM Barrie and An Awfully Big Blog Adventure - Lucy Coats



Before this blog existed, when it was just the germ of an idea, the first thing we needed was a name. So that was the question we asked each other. What should we call this new venture for the Scattered Author’s Society? There were many suggestions, some more whimsical than others, but then somebody suggested An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, a play on the words of Peter Pan: ‘To die will be an awfully big adventure’.

It therefore seems fitting to remember JM Barrie, the man who wrote those words, who died on 19th June, 1937, exactly 81 years ago today. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was published in 1906. However, that story of a ‘Betwixt-and-Between’ half-bird boy is much less well-known than Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, aka Peter and Wendy, first a 1904 play and then, in 1911, a novel, which has been in print in one form or another ever since. My own treasured copy of the former, with the original Rackham illustrations under onion skin paper, belonged to my grandmother as a child, and has been handed down through four generations now.

However old-fashioned the idea of children in nightgowns with nannies might seem to today's tech savvy kids, the story itself, with a boy who never wants to grow up, the ultimate pirate captain and crew, Lost Boys, a ticking crocodile and a dying fairy is still intriguing enough to stand the test of time.
However, some of the elements, such as the ‘native American’ princess Tiger Lily, and her tribe are now rightly regarded as dated stereotypes, and have thankfully been quietly excised from modern versions. Peter Pan has now appeared in the form of films (both of the story and spin offs), the perennial Christmas panto, a musical, and endless book adaptations, as well as TV programmes and associated productions such as the biopic Finding Neverland. The boy who never grew up remains perennially young. I wonder if JM Barrie himself would believe that his creation was still being talked about over a century after Peter first stepped out of a London window and flew down to Kensington Gardens to meet with old Solomon Caw and Queen Mab. I suppose that’s the true memorial every author really wants (if they are honest) — for their work to live on, and themselves through it. So, happy death day, JM Barrie — and thank you for letting us adapt Peter’s words as our name. You definitely live on in our hearts here at ABBA.


OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram


Saturday, 19 May 2018

Desk Worrier vs Desk Warrior - Lucy Coats

How many times have you sat at your desk, staring at a blank or partially-filled screen and worrying about words? Words that won't come, words that seem wrong, words that don't sound right, too many, too few...  Writing is not always a jolly picnic, and I'd like to bet that every writer has sat staring into the black hole of despair over words at some point. I certainly have and do, and as I suffer from depression anyway, I have to be careful not to let myself get sucked in, or to let the anxiety over any of those wordy panics grow, especially when deadlines are looming.



Sometimes I go and do something else till I've calmed down. I have some strategies that mostly work, but not always. Sometimes writing something totally different works -- a poem, maybe. Or using a random slew of word prompts from a writing friend who posts them on Facebook to write something that doesn't really matter (one recent collection was bellybutton, conquest, dark, shock, date, cool, kisser, sprawled, melt, split, wrist). Sometimes I give in and procrastinate on social media, which is not good for mental health either. Or I take a creative nap, which means lying horizontal and sleeping for a bit.

What I've never done is to take the advice of many (including my doctor and some well-meaning friends) and go for a walk, convincing myself that I couldn't do any form of physical exercise (and that I hated it). For many reasons I won't go into at length, I gave up on exercise a long time ago. Copious amounts of steroids, a myriad operations, mental and physical illness all gave me perfectly valid excuses (I thought) to just let my body do what it wanted, which was mostly to sit down and eat chocolate whenever the mood took me, with predictable results. After all, I was in my mid-50s, I told myself, it was too late and who cared if I was a size 20? Then, in March last year, I hurt my knee and it wasn't getting better, even with physiotherapy. That was when the knee surgeon came in and shocked me out of my lethargy with a diagnosis of pretty bad arthritis, and a few well-chosen words.

"It's a question of mechanics," he said politely but firmly. "The more weight on your joints, the more wear and tear. You'll be in a wheelchair by the time you're 65 if you don't do something about it now." 
 A year later, I have indeed 'done something about it', and a month ago, much to my own surprise, I took up the Couch-to-5k challenge, inspired by two other writers (you know who you are!). And that's where the Desk Warrior bit comes in. Again, much to my surprise, when I'm running, my mind kicks into creative gear. Those word worries seem to disappear, and ideas flow. It's a sort of miracle as far as I am concerned, and I get back to my desk in definite warrior mindstate. Maybe it's those exercise endorphins I never truly believed in before, maybe it's just that running (and the in-between walking bits) free my mind and put it into creative reset again. And I guess that if I, of all unlikely people, can run three times a week (sometimes in the freezing rain) in the face of all the blocks and barriers against exercise I set for myself, then a mere writing block or word worry seems much less scary. My running is still very much a work in progress, but I'd like to apologise for all the snarling I did in my head (and sometimes aloud) to all those people who told me that exercise would help more than just my depression. It really, truly does. And it turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.


OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Monday, 19 March 2018

Dreaming and Creativity - Lucy Coats

All humans dream, even if they don't remember doing so. We can't exist without dreams, indeed, some of our sanity depends on dreaming, since it is the way our brains process both trauma and the stuff of everyday life. Prisoners who are tortured by sleep deprivation and thus the lack of proper REM sleep quickly lose all sense of reality. So dreams are essential to health.

Back in 2008 I wrote a little about dreaming and creativity here on ABBA. Since then, I have incorporated dreaming and dream journeys into my writing workshops, and learnt a lot more about how other cultures, particularly the Senoi culture, use dreams (for more on this, see Creative Dreaming by Patricia Garfield, PhD). I now see dreaming as an even more essential part of my creative life -- but not just in the random, unconscious way that most of us dream, where the dream drains away with the morning light and is forgotten at once. I now dream consciously, and can affect the 'story' of the dream while I'm dreaming it. This takes effort and practice, but is remarkably rewarding. When I teach a particular course on fostering creativity, I get the participants to keep a dream diary for a week or two beforehand. It is extraordinary how doing this actually makes your dreaming more fertile and more 'rememberable'. It's not a tool of analysis, but it can throw up some interesting patterns which relate to a writer's creative concerns.

When and if you get to the point where you are an active participant in your dreams, it is a very powerful medium for story ideas. Some time ago, I wrote a whole novel based on an idea I'd had in a dream, and I'll often dream the solution to my characters' predicaments by being an active observer of what they do within my dream.

So, if you are stuck on plot, or out of ideas, do try keeping a dream diary for a while. Even if you find it hard at first, the more you do it, the more you'll find you dream. The human mind is an extraordinary thing, and I think a focused and active dream life can be a very helpful tool in any writer's creative toolbox. Why not try it and see!

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Monday, 19 February 2018

The new Book Buddy scheme - Lucy Coats

Authors almost always have too many books, and we're not the only ones. I know I do, because I like to keep up with what's going on in my industry (code for I am an inveterate and avid reader). Sometimes I'm lucky enough to be sent them by publishers, most times I buy them, and occasionally I'm given them by kind friends. In my house, they're in piles everywhere, double shelved on the groaning bookshelves, and generally taking over the whole place with their lovely colours and tempting contents. Quite regularly, once I've read them, I give some away to random kids, and to schools I visit. But there are still too many, and now I'm moving house, I need to downsize them considerably. That's why I was so thankful when the brilliant Maz Evans (author of the marvellous Who Let the Gods Out and Simply the Quest) set up the brand new BOOK BUDDY scheme. 


Book Buddy is very simple. It pairs people who have too many books (and who would like to donate them) with schools. It is a sad fact that school budgets are squeezed to the limit, many schools struggle to provide basic supplies to their students, and most often it's book provision which suffers. This is not a state of affairs any of us like, I don't think, and there will be some who argue that the government or local authority should step up and deal with it. They absolutely should, but meanwhile, while the politicians argue, kids are left without access to a school library or books which they can borrow.

I'm am no doubt preaching to the converted when I say that many studies have proven that the act of reading itself enhances intelligence and boosts brain power. But with school libraries either absent or ill-supplied and public libraries closing at a scary rate, many kids are left with little or no access to books in school or at home. We shouldn't need Book Buddy. But we do. So I've signed up to help, and it would be great if you could too. I personally would rather give my surplus books to kids who need them than have them hanging around like unread ghosts on my shelves.

If you're interested in finding out more, you can do so at book buddy.org.uk -- and if you have a local school, do encourage them to sign up too. The more the merrier!


OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review 
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Friday, 19 January 2018

Claire McFall: An Unusual Success -- Lucy Coats



Way back in early 2013, I was sent a proof copy of Ferryman, a debut novel by an author called Claire McFall. It's a YA romantic retelling of the story of Charon, the ferryman of Hades, so perfect for me as a lover of all things Greek myth. Once I'd read it, I raved about it to all sorts of people, urging them to read it too, because I'd really loved it. That's how I get half my own book recommendations -- from people I know and trust. After that, I looked eagerly for McFall's next book, which was a dystopian thriller called Bombmaker.

In these pages, I wrote about that book that it was 'almost literally heart-stopping'. Even all these years later, I can recall that feeling of adrenaline as I read it, hardly able to turn the pages fast enough. Today, I am delighted to learn that McFall has just signed a film deal for Ferryman with Legendary Entertainment (Inception/Jurassic World/Batman Begins). This is where the unusual bit come in. Because the book is going to be made into not one film, but two, one for an English language audience, and a second for a Chinese language one. McFall has sold over a million copies of Ferryman in China since 2015, and her agent, Ben Illis, of The BIA, described visiting China with her as experiencing a kind of Beatlemania, complete with massive queues and even a fainting teenager. This is an extraordinary coup for a writer who is probably not as well known as she should be here in the UK. In fact, of all you readers and book lovers who read this blog, I wonder how many of you had heard of McFall before today? I hope it's a lot, but I wouldn't put money on it!

Book success is such a strange business, made up in part of luck as well as brilliant writing -- so what exactly is it about Ferryman that has entranced all those Chinese teenagers? Well, it definitely entranced me -- and I guess the territory it covers, the no man's land between life and death is fertile ground for any imagination, and any culture, somewhere where no normal rules apply, and where anything can happen, even love. I got distracted, and lost track of McFall's writing for a couple of years, but now I see that Ferryman has a sequel, Trespassers, published last year, and I'm looking forward to reading it greatly, as well as her Scottish Teenage Book Award-winning novel, Black Cairn Point.

I do love it when a success story happens after a lot of hard graft, and one of the things I hope happens here is that a lot more people are led to McFall's books. Trust me on this one, if you haven't read them yet, I urge you to, and her range is so wide (from romance to dystopian via spooky) that there should be something to suit most tastes. In many many cases, a film starts with a book, and authors often don't get enough credit. So let's hear it for the writers who start it all off! And let's applaud Claire McFall for reaching an audience most of us only dream of.

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman

Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
 
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram

Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency



Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Haya's Snow for UNCHR -- Lucy Coats




This time of year is full of festivity and light and, yes, snow (whether you like it or don't, it is beautiful when it first falls). But as we all know, there are many who aren't looking forward to the Christmas period, or the snow, for many reasons, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot, especially when it comes to the dreadful plight of refugees. We all have so many calls on our time, and our pockets, that it's hard to know who to give to and what good it does if you do, though you hope it all gets through to the right place and people. This year, I've chosen to support UNCHR (The UN Refugee Agency) rather than sending cards, and with that in mind, I wrote this little 100 word story especially for Awfully Big Blog Adventure, in the hope that maybe someone out there who reads it will consider supporting them too, or another refugee agency. There are too many Hayas out there.


Maybe it would snow, Haya thought. The last snow she’d seen had been on tents in Calais, on ground mushed up by thousands of feet into slidy slush which melted through the rags round her sandals, making her toes pinch and tingle as they slowly froze black. Now she had only eight toes to put inside her new trainers. The people were not unkind here, but she missed Mama and Ranim. Because only Haya had made it safely through the tunnel. Now some scary officials were trying to send her home. Wherever home was. Haya couldn’t remember that any more. 
You can find out more about UNCHR's work here


photo from care4calais.org

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency