A few weekends ago, I was a Writer Who Rocks: up to my ankles in mud in the pouring rain at Hard Rock
Calling at Hyde Park in London.
The Saturday night was reaching an ecstatic finale, fireworks and all, when some person* literally pulled the plug on Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney.
*original word edited to avoid offense
There were looks of complete disbelief and a great deal of muttering – and that was just up on stage. But this was a polite crowd, and everyone soon stomped or staggered off in the mud.
Debate followed in the coming days. They went 10 minutes past curfew. They broke the rules, so the promoter pulled the plug. Fans screamed in outrage. Then there was the backlash: why
should some rocker be allowed to break the rules? There was Boris (mayor of London) saying, this won’t happen during the Olympics. And it hasn't: how late were those opening ceremonies?! And Snow
Patrol went in Hyde Park past 1 a.m. when they wouldn't let Bruce go even to ll p.m.
And I couldn’t help but wonder: is this about an absolute slavish following of rules, or who is allowed to break them?
One question raised was do you expect creatives like musicians to follow the rules? Time keeping is maybe not first on their mind. And this touched a chord with me and some things I’ve been struggling with as a writer:
When should you follow the rules? When should you break them?
Although Slated is my first book to be published, I’ve been writing for years. I haven’t jumped on trends, not consciously – not so much because I thought about it and decided not to, but more because I’ve never been able to write something that wasn’t from inside, something I had to write. Nothing against vampires, but it just isn’t my thing creatively. That I wound up writing a dystopian novel that hit that trend was pure lucky coincidence.
But… I have been led astray. Quite a few times. By things like winning a writing competition and then diverting what I wanted to do to an old project, just because there was some interest in it. I have completely rewritten a book once based on feedback even though I felt it wasn’t right (it wasn’t).
With Slated I wrote the way I love to write – from inside, characters taking over – but the doubts started when I wrote ‘The End’. Slated didn’t follow
the pattern with dystopian novels I’d started reading then in a few respects, and not just because it was set in a near-future UK. It is more a slow and tortured build up of tension – not an
action-fest. The ending isn’t neatly tied up. Should I rewrite it, or send it out?
Out it went, and things have been amazing – first getting an agent, then a publishing deal with Orchard Books. Sure there have been a few voices along the way, and a few reviews, that would have liked Slated better if it followed a more usual pattern. But there have been more the other way – and despite the wobbles I’ve felt about it now and then, I’m so happy I stuck with my guts for how it had to be.
The one critic’s voice I can’t live with if I go a way that feels wrong is my own.
And now I’m editing book 2, Fractured, and thinking about book 3, and how they tie together. And I’m contemplating a big break of the rules in book 3, much more than any I’ve attempted before. I’m still thinking about it, and will be for a long time. But it feels right.
This post with a few changes previously appeared on Demention - a group blog on all things dark and dystopian in YA.