I came to know today’s guest in the attic, KM Allan (no relation!) through her fabulous blog which is full of writing tips and tricks. So, I’m thrilled to welcome her to the attic today:
KM Allan is the author of the urban YA fantasy series, Blackbirch. The first two books, The Beginning and The Dark Half, have been published with two more books to come.
KM started her career as a beauty writer and now powers herself with chocolate and green tea while penning novels and blogging about writing. When she’s not creating stories, K.M likes to read, binge-watch too much TV, and take more photos than she will ever humanly need.
Learning From Your Words
as the Writer and the Reader
A lot of things influence a book: childhood, adolescence, life experiences. That’s where ‘write what you know’ comes in: stories feel more authentic when written from first-hand experience, and readers relate if they’ve been through the same thing, connecting via words on the page.
But, as writers know, not everything in a story can come from life experience. Not every character can be a stay-at-home-parent putting down words during naptime. Or an office worker penning chapters on their lunch break. Those things don’t work with a thriller where your main character is a spy. So, you make your main character an office-worker-by-day and a spy-by-night, researching the spy side until you know you could have been a good one if you’d made a different career choice.
Then there are the parts of your story that you write but don’t relate to until, years later, you re-read your work and realize something you wrote back then is now your lived experience. Suddenly, you can relate to what had once been an unfathomable event.
When I first had the idea for my YA series, Blackbirch, I was closer to the ages of my teenage protagonists. The idea was sparked by TV shows of the day, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Roswell, stories about teens who held supernatural secrets, formed friendships and saved each other, whilst their parents turned a blind eye.
I liked the concept of teens dealing with adult problems without the adult help.
Now, with four books of the series written and the first two published, I’m closer in age to those parents and I’ve changed in the years since my original idea. If I were to read those first drafts today, not only would I see a novice writer, but a young adult who didn’t have the life experience to give those drafts and characters the depth they needed. Does that mean I was incapable of writing the story? No. Trust me, I wrote many versions of the basic premise for years, but at the time I was incapable of writing what the story ended up being.
Books evolve between writing the first sentence and typing the last, and when you’ve been writing them across years of your life, they evolve even more.
My main character is a seventeen-year-old named Josh Taylor. The catalyst for his story is the death of his parents in a car accident. In the first draft of the book, he still had his father, and they moved to the town of Blackbirch, the place in which Josh’s mother had grown up. Josh was grieving the loss of a parent with the help of another.
For some reason (probably because there’s something wrong with me), I changed the story so he lost both parents. This gave me a character with an even deeper grief, a grief that manifested in a depression I couldn’t write about with authenticity as a young adult, but could as a woman who has been through some tough life lessons and has felt like giving up, too.
A few years ago, I could add another layer. I moved states and learnt first-hand what it was like to leave behind family, friends and a life you’d always known, and to start afresh in a new place.
As the drafts and years ticked by, life added more experiences. One of my main characters, Sarah Randall, lost a parent to cancer. When my father passed away from the same devastating disease, this became something I knew, too. Now when Sarah talks about feeling nervous in a hospital waiting room because it was the last place she saw her dad, it has a deeper meaning for me.
My other main character, Kallie Jacobs, spends months trapped in a room, and if that’s not relevant for 2020, I don’t know what is.
When I read back over my published books, I learn about myself as I did when I wrote the terrible first draft, the draft that nearly broke me, and the draft that made me finally think I was a writer.
There’s a point when it becomes more than ‘write what you know’ and you realise you learnt from your words as both the writer and the reader. You may have written the book, but the book also wrote you, giving you knowledge and experience that not only makes you appreciate the drafts you’ve written, but the ones you’ll write in the years to come.
KM has kindly donated copies of each of her published books, The Beginning and The Dark Half, to giveaway.
To enter, simply comment on any of the blog or social media posts.
The winner will be drawn 12pm (WST) this Thursday, 23rd July, and will be chosen randomly.
International entries are welcome, but we can only post to an Australian address.