Yesterday (you can see the post here) I talked about the background to Worse Things – from the initial selection of a theme and a topic, to the idea to have two viewpoint characters, who soon morphed into three. I touched on having tried to use three points of view (first second and third). The idea initially was that my two characters would be aware of each other but not really interact directly – and so when one was watching the other, they would refer to them as ‘you’. From there grew the idea that this watcher could be a third character. The idea to use first and third person for the two initial characters – who became Blake and Jolene – did not last long into the first draft. I have always written my verse novels in first person ‘I’ and I just couldn’t convince Jolene to let me tell her story as on observer (she/they). It became apparent that she wanted to speak for herself. So I had two first person characters.
The third character, Amed, let me persist with something akin to second person. Initially he was a watcher, observing the other characters and talking about what he saw. He was nameless, to the reader, and this, I hoped, would reflect the fact that the others ignored him, but that he was really a wise observer, in spite of his language difficulties. However, tow problems emerged. Although Amed was talking about ‘you’ (meaning either Blake or Jolene, whoever he was watching), I also wanted to gradually reveal his own story. I needed him to tell us his own thoughts and experiences. And so, he became another first person narrator – although he does still use second person to talk (in his head) to each of the other characters, as in his opening poem, which begins “You can’t see me watching you…” Getting Amed’s voice right was the most challenging – initially he was doing a lot of watching and not enough of anything else, and he came across as a bit too stalkerish.
Finally, though, I had the three voices, and the three sports and I managed to get going on bringing their stories to life. Although this process was more convoluted than my earlier verse novels, what was similar in my writing process was that I really didn’t know their full stories until I started writing. Each character’s story unfolded as I wrote. Parts of the story appeared before others, so it wasn’t written as sequentially as the others either. It felt a little more of a jigsaw puzzle – piecing together the different poems, the different storylines until it gradually came together.
The other thing that happened along the way was that I realised that my plan to write something less emotionally challenging had failed. Without giving two much away, some pretty tough stuff happens in this book. And I balked at some of it. I tried to convince my characters that they didn’t need all of that stuff happening – but they were insistent. It seems I never win these battles with my characters but, looking back, I know they are always right, and that in spite of the emotional toll, I like finding a way to tell such stories.
I had feedback of various drafts and parts of drafts from my doctoral supervisors and, when I was happy with it, I put it aside to work on other aspects of my thesis. This in part explains the six years it took to get to publication. But there was also, in that six years, quite a bit of toing and froing with the publisher, to get it right for them. In the end, I had to set aside trying to get it published, and complete the thesis, because the demands of a doctoral thesis, even in creative writing, and the demands of commercial publication, are different and often competing.
Finally, though, I finished the PhD and passed (I even got to wear a floppy hat to graduate) and then I could attend once more to trying to get Worse Things published. To cut a long story short, eventually Walker Books decided the time was right, and the manuscript was right, and said yes. Then Sarah Davis read it, and set to work illustrating and designing that amazing character. And now, here it is, out in the world, ready for you (and you – and you too) to read.