Wendy Beasley & Bethany Rivers chat to Amanda Huggins about their work in progress.
Q. Hello Bethany, it’s lovely to chat with you here on the VP blog. I think of you predominantly as a poet and writing tutor, but I understand your current work in progress is a Young Adult fantasy novel. Have you written YA novels before, or is this a new direction for your writing?
A. Yes, this is new territory for me, though I’ve always wanted to write something for young people. I’m very excited about it. I love being involved in a longer narrative, and seeing where that takes me. I’ve not had to think about conflict between characters for a very long time, I don’t need to bother with that in a poem!
Q. The novel is set in a pre-industrial age on a planet with two moons, and the story is centred on a princess who discovers she has magical powers as the only female Moonkeeper when she flees after her family are murdered by an enemy army. It must be fascinating to create a whole new world and way of being. What do you find the most satisfying and the most challenging aspects of world-building?
A. I could say that almost everything is challenging about world-building, having never written fantasy before. I’m finding out as I go along what the magical powers are, what the social structures and beliefs of the people in that world are. It’s also very exciting, whenever I discover something new. The writing knows what it’s doing, so I trust to that, and enjoy seeing the world unfold.
Q. As I mentioned earlier, you are a creative writing tutor of longstanding, and I hope I’m correct in saying that you firmly believe in writing as a cathartic process and a spiritual tool. I’d just like to mention one of your courses which starts on November 1st – Mindful Words for the Bereaved. You describe the six-week Zoom course as ‘Gentle and soothing explorations of words to accompany you in your grieving/healing journeys.’ It sounds wonderful – a ‘safe’ and non-intimidating way to engage with others as part of the grieving process. Can you tell us a little more about what participants can expect over the six week course?
A. Yes, so it’s a six week course, where various poems will be offered as jumping off points, in order to open out different themes and perspectives, exploring grief and healing. You don’t need to know anything about poetry at all. And it’s not about analysing or understanding the poem. It’s about being met by the poem, just where you are right now, and seeing if anything resonates. And an image or one line might become meaningful, and set off a whole new train of thought.
If the poem doesn’t resonate, that’s also fine too, there will be other exercises to enable the participant to discover what’s meaningful for them, and tap into their own wisdom in relation to their grief.
And that’s all held in a safe space where people can share as much or as little as they want to. A sense of community develops in the group and people have found it invaluable to have their grief heard and witnessed in the kind of supportive environment that the course offers.
All emotions are welcome and there’s no judgment around that. Previous participants have used the tools and the poems again and again, after the course has ended, to enable expression and further understanding of their journeys, and shared these findings with their families too.
-Take a look at Bethany’s website where you’ll find details of all her courses: https://www.bethanyrivers.com/
Q. Hello Wendy, it’s great to chat with you today on the VP blog. I know you’ve just completed your novel, The Girl in the Cupboard, and to use your words it was “a long time in the writing”. How long did it take from when you first came up with the idea to getting it all down on the page? And did you find the story developed and changed over that time, or are you a rigid planner who maps out every chapter before you start typing?
A. Hello Amanda, thanks for the opportunity to share news of my work. Yes, you’re right, The Girl in the Cupboard did take a long time. The beginning was easy; I had the idea and then rushed to get it down on paper. My method of storytelling is quite unusual in that I only ever start with a beginning and then wait to see where it takes me. I literally don’t know what will happen next until it happens, and I usually let the characters drive the story as they develop. Except, with this one, they didn’t! Nothing else came into my head, and I was left uninspired and uninterested for about three months. Then, suddenly, I knew where it was going: the beginning changed, the characters changed, and they took the story forward. From picking it up again it only took a month to complete and I couldn’t wait to get to the keyboard each morning. I went from not really liking the idea of the book and thinking it wouldn’t work to loving it and losing myself in the plot. I hope readers will feel the same.
Q. The Girl in the Cupboard is about Anna, a girl who is snatched on her way to school by a woman who believes her to be the daughter she lost at birth. The book explores similar dark themes to those in your recent novel, Angel – kidnap, coercive control, unresolved mental health issues. Was that deliberate, or is it just the direction your imagination takes your stories without you consciously noticing? When I am writing a novel, I find myself carrying the characters and the narrative around in my head as the story unfolds – I imagine that would be quite hard to do if the story was very dark. Do you find it easy to write about these themes, and can you switch off easily when you walk away from the keyboard?
A. I think the similarity in my books is the strong, resourceful women I write about. They have all proved themselves to be able to overcome adversity and show ingenuity and courage as well as a certain degree of dark humour. Perhaps this is my alter ego, as I certainly admire the characters I write about, and am in no way as strong as they are. Or maybe the dark themes are my attempt at dealing with scary situations from the comfort of my safe seat. I don’t find the subjects hard to write about as my head retains the ability to recognise them as unreal, but I sometimes surprise myself with how dark they are, and this trend continues in my present work in progress.
Q. You mentioned that you have a very strong idea for your next book – and a title already! I love it when I have a title before I start – it makes me feel as though the book will definitely happen. Tell us a little more about it – will it be another dark psychological thriller, or is it something entirely different?
A. Yes it is another dark psychological thriller that brings back the two female detectives from The Girl in the Cupboard. Here’s a taster:
Just like animals at a watering hole, when people gather in crowds they’re vulnerable to predators, sooner or later one will become separated; one will wander off or get left behind. There is the volunteer I’ve been waiting for, they’ve chosen themselves . . .
Thanks Wendy! Good luck with both of these books!