Today I have the fantastic author of Anthem For Jackson Dawes, Celia Bryce, on the blog to share some of her writing tips. Anthem For Jackson Dawes is a wonderful, emotional story about Megan and Jackson which I would thoroughly recommend. My review can be read here.
When Megan Bright arrives on the hospital ward for her first cancer treatment, there is only one other teenager there: Jackson Dawes.
He is cute, rebellious…and Megan finds herself falling for him.
Megan is scared and worried about her illness but Jackson seems to be an old hand, having been on the ward for ages. Everybody loves Jackson! He is a whirlwind of life and energy, warmth and sparkle. Megan will need to borrow some of Jackson’s extraordinary optimism to face her and Jackson’s future.
I’ve set Anthem for Jackson Dawes on a hospital ward. If you’ve ever been in hospital you’ll be able to picture it all with no help from me. If you haven’t then you’ll have seen stuff on TV or in films, you might have read a book set on a ward. So why did I bother writing about it?
I did it because I wanted the setting to feel as real as the characters, describing some, not all of it and only those things that Megan could see or experience. At first we see her walking down the corridor of the ward. So it’s the corridor that I describe, through Megan’s eyes and ears and how she feels about being there.
I don’t describe what happens on the main ward, where the younger children are, until Megan is in it. I don’t describe the bathrooms or the sluice room or the linen cupboard. I know they’re there, somewhere. I’ve worked in hospitals before. But Megan never goes to those places in the story so why would I want to describe them? Mind you, if I’d been telling the story through Jackson’seyes, he’d know every inch of the ward and so would the reader!
This is one of the important parts of writing, for me at least. What my character experiencesis what’s important and how she or he is feeling at the time. For example, the first impression Megan has of the place is that she’s heading for a baby ward. She hears babies crying, she sees toddlers, she sees pictures on the corridor walls which are blatantly for little people, not for someone who’s almost fourteen and she hates it instantly.
Later in the story, she’s alone and lonely in the visitor’s waiting room. It’s night time and she’s looking out through the window first to the other buildings in the hospital which seems creepy in the dark and then to the great beyond, the city with all its lights, the trains and cars the aeroplane the people in that other word outside the ward. The fullness of the world outside and the emptiness she feels in that barely lit room with its seats which have gashes in them, like wounds, help to show how Megan is feeling. If she’d been feeling happy, the gashes in the chairs would have been little rips or scratches, shaped like smiles, the colours like something nice. But she wasn’t, so I wanted everything she set her eyes on in that room to be horrible, whereas, looking out in to the bright night time city she sees it in a different light, that’s where the fun is, the real world. And of course she can’t reach it. Like an ice cream melting before you have a chance to even taste it.
Later when Megan’s waiting for Jackson to come it’s as if she’s seeing and hearing things in high definition or through a microscope and that’s deliberate. I wanted to give the impression of waiting, I wanted to experience Megan’s interminable wait for Jackson to come back from his operation. Later still Megan is watching the blood transfusion. Here’s another instance where I wanted the reader to almost feel those drops of blood oozing into Jackson, to almost feel the goodness of them, so I slowed down the action again, as if it was in real time, slower even (if the drip really went that slow the blood would just clot and be no good to anyone) to emphasise the importance of the blood transfusion and Megan’s hope that it would make him better.
Details are important in trying to set the scene. Yet it can be overdone even if you tie in those details to the character experiencing them, or feeling them. I had to cut out an awful lot before I was happy and before the editor was happy. But that’s how it should be. When I’m writing, and it’s possibly the same with you, I want to pile everything onto the page. Sometimes the story becomes buried in detail. But that doesn’t matter for the very first draft. Pile it on, I say. Later, though, it’s a matter of blowing off some of the rubbishy stuff (there’s always some) and making sure that the story can shine through. It’s hard to get it right and sometimes I don’t get it right. Thank goodness for those people who take a look at it through clear eyes and remind me that I shouldn’t use mountains of words when just a small hill will do.