Today’s guest post is by Helen Peters, author of The Secret Hen House Theatre, The Farm Beneath the Water, the Jasmine Green series, and the forthcoming Evie’s Ghost – out this week. Here’s Helen on Evie’s Ghost’s seven year journey to publication…
I first had the idea for the story that became Evie’s Ghost in May 2010. I started writing it at the beginning of 2011. Six years later, the story is finally done. There are many reasons why it took so long and went through so many changes, but I think they can be boiled down to two things: getting the story right and getting Evie’s voice right.
In terms of the story, my main challenge was to increase the tension and the jeopardy. In early drafts, Evie didn’t know why she had travelled back to the past until quite late in the story. In later drafts I had Evie discover Sophia’s terrible fate much earlier. This added far more tension, because now, instead of stumbling around in a daze for several chapters, Evie knows how much is at stake and is on a mission to prevent Sophia’s fate almost from the moment she arrives in the past. I also tightened the time limit, so that now Evie knows, from the beginning, exactly when the terrible event will take place and she know she has a very limited time to prevent it from happening.
The other element that helped increase the tension was to change Evie’s role. In the original version, she could only be seen by two people in the past, so she could wander around freely, without worrying about being discovered. My editor suggested that it might be better if Evie were not only visible, but had to work as a servant. As well as adding tension, this change made the story much more vivid and lively, since Evie now had many more problems to deal with and many more people to interact with.
Evie’s voice took a long time to get right. I experimented with several different Evies of different ages and in different home circumstances, before I found the one who came alive for me. The earlier versions never felt quite real, so I could never be sure that the actions and reactions I was writing for Evie were believable or consistent with her character, because I didn’t actually know her character.
Finally, I found the real Evie. I think this was down to three factors.
Firstly, I placed her in a different situation. In several drafts, Evie was staying with her godmother because her single-parent mum was in hospital undergoing a risky operation. I put Evie in this situation because I was convinced she needed to be in terrible jeopardy in order to make the story compelling. My editor, however, suggested it would be better if Evie wasn’t in such a difficult situation. As usual, my editor was right. When Evie’s situation was potentially tragic, she was much more likely to be frightened and cowed by the events she experiences in the past. In the final version, Evie’s single-parent mother has just married a perfectly nice man and has gone off on honeymoon. This, although obviously not life-threatening, seems intolerable to Evie, and gave me the opportunity to give her a stroppy thirteen-year-old’s attitude which does not go down well in a nineteenth-century servants’ hall.
Secondly, the point at which the voice came right happened to be at the same time as my eldest child was thirteen. That might have been a coincidence, but I do think it helped, in this case, to write what I knew…
Thirdly, and perhaps more helpfully for people who don’t happen to have a stroppy thirteen-year-old at home, I dug up my own thirteen-year-old memories. This is something I did when creating my previous protagonists, eleven-year-old Hannah and nine-year-old Jasmine, and it really helped bring them to life. Yet, stupidly, I resisted doing it with Evie for years. I kept telling myself that my own experience at thirteen was so different from Evie’s that there would be no point. When I finally succumbed, I was surprised to find it helped enormously.
To bring the memories back, I ask myself questions about my life at that age and write down the answers. I start with basic factual questions. Who were my teachers? What did I enjoy and hate at school? Who were my friends? What were my favourite songs and books? Then I find all sorts of memories get stirred up, and I start to remember more interesting things: my preoccupations, hopes, fears, insecurities and so on at that age. And although my situation and experiences at thirteen were very different from Evie’s, I think a lot of my preoccupations and worries were probably not that different. None of this came out directly in the book, but it made me much more confident when writing in Evie’s voice.
Writing this book was a long and convoluted process, sometimes immensely difficult and frustrating, occasionally joyful, always interesting. It would be great to be able to plan a story and then just write it, with none of the agony and the abandoned drafts, but you never know when you start a book how easy or difficult it will turn out to be, and I guess, for me at least, all the false starts, the dead ends and the constant brain-ache are necessary parts of the process. I’m incredibly grateful to my fantastic editor, Kirsty Stansfield, for her constant encouragement, guidance and patience, and to Daniela Terazzini and the wonderful team at Nosy Crow, for creating the beautiful cover and sending Evie’s Ghost out into the world.
Thank you, Helen! Here’s an exclusive look inside Evie’s Ghost:
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