Guest Post by Alan Gibbons – Author of Raining Fire
I am delighted to welcome Alan Gibbons to Bookbabblers today.
Raining Fire: the writing of a Young Adult novel
By Alan Gibbons
When I do a question and answer session on one of my school visits, I come across a common conception of the process of writing a novel. It goes like this:
1) I want to write a novel.
2) I need something to write about.
3) I get an idea.
4) I do research.
There is one problem. That isn’t how I do it at all. So what comes first? It is research, only I don’t call it that. I start, not as a novelist, picking on the carcass of life like a scavenging buzzard, but as a curious passer by on life’s highway. Say it loud and say it proud, I am a nerd, a geek, a guy who gets a kick from fascinating factoids. Like most people, I have a menu of things that interest me. One of them is conflict and its resolution.
My two home cities Manchester and Liverpool, the places that have dominated my life since I struggled free of the small towns in-between where I was raised, are fantastic places. They are home to the greatest music and football teams Britain has produced. They are the crucible of much of the country’s industry, culture and resistance to tyranny. For all that, there are dark shadows haunting their back streets.
Two shootings in recent years have given me cause to think long and hard about the crime and violence that are part of their psyche. Killers gunned down two innocent young people, eleven-year-old Rhys Jones in Liverpool and student Anuj Bidve in Salford. The gunmen who killed them did it without hesitation and showed no remorse afterwards.
On my travels I found myself having to explain these events to outsiders. Out of those attempts at an explanation came my novel Raining Fire. It starts with a group of teenagers passing round a handgun. Two brothers react in different ways. One is appalled and walks away. The other is fascinated and is drawn deeper into the rituals of a local street gang. A seed is planted that night that will grow into an evil flower.
I don’t usually go for the precept: write about what you know. Often it is better to write about what you don’t know, to come at some aspect of human experience with a stranger’s eye. In the case of Raining Fire, writing about what I knew was the key to resolving the problems that arose in developing the narrative. At first I had a sport element, free running, and a love story involving a middle class girl. Neither worked and the plot foundered on the problems that arose.
I changed tack. I drew on my own background as the football-mad son of a factory worker who married a working class girl. Suddenly, a flaccid and creaking story line took on a new life. I was back on home ground and the writing flowed with renewed conviction.
I think I have come up with a good story that sheds light on the dark shadows of Britain’s backstreets. Now comes the reckoning. Will my potential readers agree? The jury is out.
Raining Fire by Alan Gibbons is published by Indigo on 7 March 2013
trade paperback £8.99, eBook £4.99
Alan Gibbons is a full time writer and organiser of the Campaign for the Book.