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Interviews

My Story (So Far): Girl. Boy. Sea. by Chris Vick

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Chris Vick © 12 August 2019.
Posted in the Magazine ( · Children & Young Adult · Interviews ).

We writers are ever curious about other writers’ habits, histories, fears and hopes. Always looking for nuggets of gold, or possibly the ‘method,’ the mystical ‘way of the writer.’ The path we must take.

Of course, there really isn’t one. Not one you can put into a bullet point list of ‘follow these steps.’ So we listen to each other’s stories instead. Because other people’s stories are the one way we can make sense of our own experience (and possibly, anything).

 So this is my story (so far).

What made you think you could be a writer?

Nothing made me feel I could be a writer. I’m onto my fourth published book and I still don’t feel like one. It never got easier, like I expected it would. I once moaned about this self-doubt to an author chum who is very successful. Her advice? ‘Get over it, it comes with the territory.’ Brutal. But I see what she means.

How do you make the journey, while being one massive bag of writing insecurity on a permanent basis? Maybe because the insecurity is accompanied, hand in hand, with a rock hard belief in the story and the characters, and some sense of purpose as well as deep satisfaction. It’s hard to write, but why the hell would you seriously want to do anything else? I still haven’t reconciled these two extremes.

The challenge. What mountains and dragons stand in the way?

All the writers I know have written several drafts of several books before getting an agent, and then a publisher. And the books that got printed were quite different to the manuscripts the agent accepted. So that’s normal.  But I had no idea of this when I started writing. I wrote drafts and different manuscripts and got the rite of passage rejections. Loads. But I kept going. Maybe because I had what Abi Elphinstone has called the ‘piece of grit in every writer.’ Otherwise known as sheer stubbornness. Which I needed when it became rapidly apparent what was stacked against me. The number of books that are published as a percentage of those submitted is miniscule. And if you read a lot, in your chosen field, (and I did) you quickly realise just how much good work is out there. It was humbling, a bit depressing, but also inspiring.

Opportunities

It began to look like an impossible journey. Lots of time spent on discarded manuscripts, lots of rejections. But I kept going. Partly because I enjoyed it. Partly because each draft or new idea seemed to avoid the pitfalls of the last. I learned by doing, hoping – and believing – that I was doing better work.

Also, the rejections changed. First it was standard slips, then polite notes with some compliments and advice, then really detailed rejections, and, finally, agents and publishers asking to see whole manuscripts based on reading the first three chapters. Those got rejected too, and also came back with long lists of suggested changes. Again, I was naive; I simply had no idea about ‘drafting.’

Finally, one lovingly-detailed rejection suggested I consider doing the Bath Spa MA in Writing for Young People. So, I did.

The journey

It is well known that the hero cannot make the journey alone. It’s far too dangerous and s/he simply doesn’t have the experience. The hero needs mentors and companions. I thought (for years) that writing was a solo effort. I’d even listened and given credence to those who haughtily declared that ‘writing can’t be taught.’

True, there has to be something inside each writer that is just ‘there,’ which no mentor – no matter how capable or experienced – can create. But there’s an awful lot that can be learned and there are great benefits derived from working with others rather than alone; in testing ideas and styles, in experimenting with first and third person, with finding that most elusive of things, ‘the voice,’ and so on.

What did I take from the course? To write with passion regardless of fashion. Keeping it simple. Writing is re-writing. And, above all, listening. To this day I work with other writers and in crit groups. I don’t always take heed of every opinion or insight, but I do listen to much of it, even when it’s painful (e.g. I recently abandoned a book I’d worked on for four months and started something fresh, in part because others told me what I knew in my heart: the more complete work wasn’t very good but the new idea and new writing were much better).

How do you know if you’re making progress?

If there are a few dead dragons and you’re so far inside the mountain you couldn’t find your way back if you tried, then that’s progress of sorts. In other words, I’d pinpoint where I am by having a great agent, having more than one book published (and some in different languages and countries) and some really kind reviews and thumbs up from newspapers, magazines, writers and editors that I respect enormously.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere with my writing by taking risks, experimenting and following my imagination. A book I’ve just published, Girl. Boy. Sea, is a tale of survival, but also the story of a storyteller, spinning yarns as a way to cheat death.  It’s not a fantasy, but the stories within are full of magic. I was inspired by the sea, by tales of survival, by Lord of the Flies, by Life of Pi, and – above all – by 1,001 Nights. I found myself relishing the exercise of writing different versions of the book, trying different things in a different order. I never had to drag myself to the desk, at any stage of writing or drafting (and there was a lot of that), because I wanted to know what happened next. It was a more chaotic process than any I’ve tried before, but I feel it is the most ordered and coherent thing I’ve written.

The destination

Like the mythic ‘one path,’ there isn’t a single destination. For me, writing is a work in progress. Also an ongoing commitment to stories because – to take the dragon metaphor one stage further – as (I think) Neil Gaiman said: ‘Fairy tales are more than true. Not because they tell us dragons are real, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.’

(c) Chris Vick

About Girl. Boy. Sea.

Storm, shipwreck, survival. Chris Vick’s novel delves deep into the might and majesty of the unpredictable ocean, the strength of an unlikely friendship between a British boy and a Berber girl and their will to survive against all the odds.

A British boy narrowly survives the sinking of his yacht in a huge storm off the coast of Morocco. After days alone at sea in a tiny rowing boat Bill rescues a girl clinging for her life to a barrel. Aya, from the nomadic Berber tribe, was escaping to Europe when her migrant ship was destroyed in the same storm. Through endless days and star-spangled nights, they drift mere specks on the vast, empty ocean weakened by fear, hunger, and burned by the unforgiving sun. Aya tells Bill about The Arabian Nights, and Shahrazad, who told 1001 stories to save her life. As hope of rescue begins to fade, they find strength in these tales of magic, brave heroes, wily thieves, greedy sultans, and courageous girls.

When they land on a desert island, they’re surprised to be confronted by a stranger who is not what he seems… and back out on the waves once more in the dark deep, a shadow follows…

Order your copy online here.


Chris Vick’s first book Kook, was published by HarperCollins, as was his second, Storms. Chris has appeared at festivals including Hay, Bath Children’s Literature festival and Mare di Libri (Sea of Books) in Italy. He has written blogs/features for the Guardian and Bustle.com. on YA issues. When not writing, he works parts time for the global NGO, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and does school visits and writing workshops. He lives near Bath, with his wife and daughter.