Geek Girl Brunch Nottingham – October 2015

Geek Girl Brunch - October
“Hi, I’m Riley Reynolds and today I’m going to read to you from my novel, The Winter Passing.”

Yesterday was the second meeting of the Nottingham chapter of Geek Girl Brunch and I was thrilled to be asked to read from my novel as part of the literary theme.

I was also terrified, but that’s the beauty of saying a Reckless Yes to things you’re invited to do! You say yes, then let the commitment power you through any fear.

It was a small but perfectly formed gathering of geeky girls including a few who had cosplayed as part of the literary theme – we were joined by a Coraline, an Alice and a Mary Poppins.

We talked about our favourite fandoms, reclaiming the label ‘geek’, the various ways we each celebrate our geek tendencies and the everyday sexism that still accompanies being both female and geeky.

We also did a book swap – I gave away a copy of Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Although I’m sure most of the Brunchette’s will have read this it seemed a fitting tale not only for the setting but because it was an incredibly important book to me in terms of the way I think about being a woman and the female role in society as well as vital to me as an author and as a reader who loves dystopian fiction.

And then, as dessert was served, I read an excerpt from The Winter Passing. Despite being incredibly nervous about sharing the contents of my imagination I enjoyed the reading. It was actually really nice to give the characters a wider stage, to let them take the story forward.

A few people asked where or when they could read more – if you were at the brunch you will have a little card which provides you with a code for this page of the site. Here you can read the full first chapter of The Winter Passing. The rest? Well, you’ll have to wait for publication I’m afraid!

I want to say a big thank you to chapter founder Kelly Race for organising another great brunch and to all yesterday’s brunchettes for indulging me and my novel. If you do read the first chapter I’d love to hear what you think – please be honest, but be kind!

The next Geek Girl Brunch is in early December and I’m already looking forward to another great meal with a great bunch of like-minded girls!


The Winter Passing at Geek Girl Brunch Nottingham

Eggs Royale at Geek Girl Brunch NottinghamIt’s with absolute delight, and utter terror, that I announce I’ll be reading from The Winter Passing at the next Geek Girl Brunch Nottingham on 17 October 2015.

Geek Girl Brunch is an international network of in-real-life meet ups that “hope to create a safe environment where identifying geek girls can be themselves to give voice, network, create friendships, inspire each other and hang out!” They say Geek Girl Brunches begin with  “kindness, tolerance, acceptance and empathy” which makes it my kind of place.

I went along to the inaugural Nottingham chapter meet up in August as The Other I and blogged about it over here.

The second meet up will be held on 17 October and will have a literary theme. Brunchettes are invited to represent their favourite literary character, author or book in a way of their choosing – it could be full cosplay or it could be a t-shirt.

And it’s an honour that the founder of the Nottingham GGB and one of my beta readers, Kelly Race, has invited me to share a chapter or two of The Winter Passing at the meet-up.

This will be the first time I’ve read any of my novel aloud, and the first time it will have been heard by people outside of my beta reading group and the publishing panels it went to over the summer.

It’s really exciting – and really scary too. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of you there!

You can sign up for Geek Girl Brunch Nottingham here and you can also follow them on Twitter. You can check out the hashtag #GGBNotts on Twitter and Instagram.

You can find me on Twitter too.

Offers, decisions and yet more words

“I feel weird. I feel like the end of summer. Everything is too warm but fading away. And I’m really tired.” Centaury, The Winter Passing

It feels like it’s only been two minutes since I revealed to the world (ok, to my corner of the Internet) that I had written my first novel and given myself a pen name. In fact it’s been more like two months since I posted about doing this thing that scared me and my reasons why.

And it’s been a wonderful two months – still scary, but exhilarating and creative too. I’m still a bundle of self-doubt but am gaining confidence in my writing and the story I am telling right now. It’s led to some really exciting ‘I never thought this was possible’ stuff and associated celebrations, some marvellous and funny conversations with my beta readers and light shining brighter on what my future might hold.

I want to share some of this stuff in a bit more details with you:

  • The Winter Passing has been through a couple of readings by beta readers. I can’t thank those people enough (from the one who read the whole novel in a couple of hours to the one who hasn’t made it through the first chapter but has told me helpful things all the same). It’s a complete story in itself although I’m really aware I still have some editing to do.
  • It hasn’t just been read by beta readers and people that know me. It’s been off on a little journey to a couple of publishing houses too. And it fared well. Really well. Better than I could have ever dared hope. There have been heart-racingly exciting conversations and some grown up looking at contracts. My book, started almost by accident and created in a flood of words, was deemed Good Enough to be published. No-one is more amazed or delighted by this as I am.
  • But, my book isn’t ready. My story isn’t told. So those offers have been turned down for now (although massive thanks to the editorial panels at the publishing houses for their time in considering my novel and for offering contracts and advice). Maybe I am making a huge mistake and letting a one-off opportunity pass. I’m at peace with that. It’s taken the summer, and those offers, to know that it isn’t quite time right. Nearly, but not quite.
  • Because something rather lovely happened in July. Although The Winter Passing is a complete story and can be read alone, my beta readers fell in love with the characters and the world and they asked me if there would be more. They started to ‘what if’ me. And then I started to ‘what if’ myself. I decided to jump down another rabbit hole and see what happened to some of the characters after that first novel.
  • What happened is this: The Winter Passing got a sibling, The Ides. The second story, in what I think is a trilogy (working title is currently the Aubade trilogy), is now complete in first draft form (yes, since July I’ve written another book-length story. It’s utterly bonkers but somehow true). The Ides will be going out to beta readers this week and I’m excited to hear whether this think these characters, and their longer story, work for a second book.

The most important bit out of all this – more vital to me than publication – is that I am still enjoying writing and I’m still turning up to do it each day. That my imagination is revealing things to me all the time and that, just like with The Winter Passing, in The Ides I have written a story that I would like to read.

What next? I don’t really know, but that doesn’t worry me because I haven’t really had a plan so far and I’ve had the most amazing journey over the last six months.

I’m now going to take at least a month off writing fiction (mostly because the rest of my life has some big moments coming up) and then think about what feedback I get on The Ides to see where I go next.

Wherever that is I’m enjoying learning about my own ability as a writer and finding that maybe I’m good enough to have my words, my stories, published one day.

Introducing The Ides

I don’t know how long, on average, a novel takes to write.

The idea and characters for The Winter Passing have been spinning around my head for a long time and I’ve had a couple of false starts but at the end of March the words started coming and this time they didn’t stop.

Ten weeks and 118,000 words later that first story was told. I’ve spent the last few weeks revising and editing, as well as getting feedback from some beta readers. Whatever happens to that novel now – however, whenever it gets published – I am more in love with those characters than ever. I really missed them when I realised that adventure was told, that I had no more words they needed.

But that wasn’t quite right. The first part of their adventure was told but their story is far from done. They still have need of my words about love, loss, music and magic. They want me to tell the tale of the next part of their journey.

So, last week I started to write the first words of book two, chapter one, scene one. The second story from the Morrigan bloodline, the one I’m currently calling The Ides.

I’m a couple of chapters in now, about 12,000 words committed to this tale. I want to talk about it but can’t given barely anyone has read The Winter Passing. My team of beta readers is getting a lot of teasers at the moment, just so I can scratch the itch I have for talking about what’s happening, or might happen, to my characters.

So far though The Ides is dealing with grief, where The Winter Passing dealt with loss. It is about human relationships and their complications where the first book showed the place of nature and the simplicity of instinct. It shows the consequences of the characters actions in the first book and it already has a playlist starting to grow.

I know what is going to happen to these characters in the course of this story but I don’t know whether the words will continue to flow. I have even less idea of whether this story will follow the first out into the wider world. I do know I’m going to keep showing up and writing, writing, writing. I’m going to continue to fall deeper for the now familiar characters with every sentence I write, and that I’m excited by the possibilities some new characters are set to bring.

What I’ve learnt so far? Writing one novel was a surprise, a thrill. The idea of writing a second one seems to require even more courage – it’s not just something wonderful that accidentally happened, it is a commitment to writing that I haven’t dared make until now.

Playlist: The Winter Passing

As The Other I, I spend a lot of time writing about music so it’s probably no surprise that the characters in The Winter Passing are wrapped up in sound.

The main character has synesthesia (she sees the colour of sound) and it’s a chance meeting with a musician that sets her story going. Throughout the book the records they love, the songs they play each other and the ones he sings are mentioned (although fairly obliquely). Music is a comfort and a connection between them.

I don’t think I could have written this story without weaving music through it. More than that I don’t know that I can (or want to) write words that aren’t in someway connected to sound.

So, mainly for myself (and during fits of procrastination) I made a playlist on Spotify of the tracks that filled the ears of my characters. You can find it here.

Roughly in the order they would appear in the novel, they are:

  • The Cure – Pictures of You
  • Pixies – Where is my mind?
  • Fuzzbox – Irish Bride
  • The Yards – Fireflies
  • Tom Petty – Wildflowers
  • Francoise Hardy – Stars
  • Vashti Bunyan – Train Song
  • Blind Faith – Can’t Find My Way Home
  • Felt – Primitive Painters
  • The Charlatans – You’re A Big Girl Now
  • The Staves – Let Me Down
  • Graham Coxon – Brave the Storm
  • Trashcan Sinatras – All the Dark Horses
  • Jeff Buckley – Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
  • Alice in Chains – Don’t Follow
  • Imogen Heap – Hide and Seek
  • Bat for Lashes – Moon and Moon
  • Nick Drake – Northern Sky
  • Big Star – I’m in Love with a Girl
  • Kathryn Williams – The Mind is its Own Place
  • Sara Forslund – Water Became Wild
  • Otis Redding – That’s How Strong My Love Is
  • Drugstore – Fader
  • Juliana Hatfield – Simplicity is Beautiful
  • Belly – Seal My Fate
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers – Wild Horses.

Maybe the playlist, like the bigger story, isn’t quite done but it feels right to share it.

Starting to let go

It feels a little bit sudden to write about letting go of this book when I’ve only just started being open about having written it. But it is where I am at right now.

The Winter Passing is now in its third draft. Most of the rogue apostrophes have been corralled, the tenses have been kicked into shape. And a lot of the slack plot points and under-developed characters have been tightened and rounded.

It feels like it is ready for more than my inner circle of beta readers. Which means I have to be ready to let go of a story that has been just mine. That I have to be ready to take on external criticism and face a few fears.

Fears? Sure. I’ve found a few.

  • Can I write?
    Something that constantly bothers me and to which I sometimes feel more sure of an answer than at others.
  • Can I write a long story?
    It would appear that yes, I can.
  • I bet you think this book is about you.
    Will people who know me think I’ve based characters on them? Probably. But they’d all be wrong. All of the characters in The Winter Passing are entirely fictional. Sure, they might share a hair colour, or a profession with people I know but none of them are lifted out of real life. If I wanted to write a biography of someone inspiring, I would go right ahead and do that. This is just made up stuff from my head.
  • Have I written the book I wanted to read? This was one of the drivers behind starting to write. That I’ve read loads and loads of good books, great books even. I’ve fallen in love with characters and got caught up in stories. I’ve laughed and cried and been followed by their words and actions long after the last page is turned. But I’ve also been left wanting. Rather than wait for someone else to stumble on the gaps I wanted filling I tipped the story out of my own head. Is this the story I wanted to read? Pretty much, yes.
  • Can I do it again? Do I want to?
    I don’t know, but I think I want to try.

So, fears faced and still felt keenly I’m going to send my book out into the world on the next step of its journey. It will go first to an editor and then we’ll see what happens from there.

For me the characters are already chomping to get me to tell the next part of their story. And so, it is in a clean manuscript that I write again today, ‘Chapter One’.

I’m already excited and nervous about where this piece of writing will go.

Becoming Riley Reynolds

Last week I wasn’t Riley Reynolds.

I was just a woman who had surprised herself by writing a novel and was wondering what to do with it. It still feels very new to be writing under this new name.

As The Other I (the real me – Sarah Lay) I have written about why I’ve taken a pseudenym and where the blast of creative energy to write the book came from. You can read that here.

But I didn’t become Riley straight away – a couple of years ago I was blogging excerpts from very early drafts of The Winter Passing (working title was – imaginatively – Winter).

I was also distracting myself by writing about writing. I was deep under cover and this is the first time I’ve mentioned that I played with that identity and shared those sketches.

None of the bits that I shared back then made it to the drafts of The Winter Passing which are now with beta readers. The story shaped up over the last couple of years, the characters revealed their true selves and then in the last two months ALL of the the words fell out of my head.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do with the novel I’ve written. I am still working out how to be Riley and how to be a writer of long stories.

But I’m really pleased to be here and sharing all of it.