Today I really do have something very different for you all on #IrishWritersWed.
Sheena Wilkinson, author of Street Song (and many more contemporary YA novels), has written a post for us all entitled ‘The Street Song Challenge’. In it Sheena explains a little about her path to becoming a writer and how she took on the challenge of learning something new and stepping beyond the comfort zone.
A very inspirational post so do please read on…
The Street Song Challenge
by Sheena Wilkinson
‘I love a challenge. I guess all writers do, because what’s a book if not a huge challenge? For years, for me, the challenge was always to finish the project. I was a great starter, and a great abandoner.
That all changed about ten years ago when I started to take my writing seriously. The first novel I completed was never published, but it did teach me a lot.
Right now, I have just launched novel six, am doing final edits for novel seven, and working on the first draft of what I hope will be number eight.
“So, you know how to do it now?” someone asked me last week. “I mean, after all those books, you must know how to just…” He didn’t say “churn them out”, but I could sense the words hovering in the air.
The answer of course is yes and no. I know a great deal more about how to plan and write and edit a book – for me, it’s very much a three-stage process. But every book has had its own challenges, so that I have sometimes, in the middle of a project, thought, I don’t know how to write this book!
‘Street Song’, published last month by Ink Road, involved me in a different challenge.
The main character, Cal, is a guitarist and singer, and the whole book is my love song to music. I’ve always loved singing, and have sung in lots of pubs and on stages and at music sessions and competitions, but I never learned to play guitar. I tried.
Once, about twenty years ago. I remember only pain, as the steel strings cut into fingertips unused to such terrain, and frustration at my fingers’ refusal to do what I wanted. I gave up after a couple of weeks.
I pretended I wasn’t interested in the guitar; I mostly sang unaccompanied traditional stuff so it didn’t matter. Truth was, I longed to be able to sing country and folk and pop to my own accompaniment – I just wasn’t up for the challenge.
After all, I had, in those days, a fine tradition of abandoning projects.
But when I started writing ‘Street Song’ I wondered if it was time to try again? I was older, more sensible, and I had, through all those novels, transformed myself into someone who didn’t give up. I should at least be able to strum a few chords, know enough to add authority to descriptions of what Cal was doing.
So I started again, on my 46th birthday. It was even harder than it had been in my twenties. My fingers were less flexible. But my resolve was greater.
And maybe more importantly, writing novels had taught me that achievement doesn’t happen overnight. When I’m writing a first draft I aim for at least 1,000 words a day. Progress seems slow, the achievement of a complete manuscript almost impossible. But word by word, day by day, it gets done.
So with the guitar. I practised every day. Soon it didn’t hurt (my fingers; it probably hurt the ears of any listeners.) I forced myself to bring the guitar to sessions even though I would have been much more confident singing unaccompanied as I had always done. I was stepping out of my comfort zone into a place of terror.
But after all, that’s what writing a book is.
I wrote ‘Street Song’ without a contract, and I told my agent that if it sold, I would pledge to play at the launch. It did sell, to the wonderful Ink Road, the new YA imprint of Black and White Publishing, and the launch was last week.
Did I rise to my own challenge?
I’m always nervous at my book launches, worrying that nobody will turn up, nobody will buy a book, I’ll forget someone’s name – the last thing I needed was the challenge of playing the guitar as well.
And Waterstones Belfast was most gratifyingly full of people!
But a promise is a promise, and a challenge is a challenge. I sang ‘Caledonia’, a favourite song of mine and an appropriate one given that Ink Road is based in Edinburgh. I was joined by Melanie, the book’s dedicatee, and Richard, another old friend, which was lovely, because, apart from making me more confident, it echoed the three characters in Polly’s Tree, the band in the book – Cal and two girls.
For me, it made the launch even more special, and I hope it did for the audience too. It also reminded me that stepping out of your comfort zone is the best way to write, and to live. And I still practise every day.
Wow!!! Thank you so much Sheena. How inspirational is that?? We are all sometimes guilty of sticking with what we know, when there really is a whole world of new experiences just waiting to be discovered.
What will your’s be?
About Street Song:
When life goes off-key, change your tune.
RyLee’s career is over. After winning a national TV talent show and becoming a teen pop sensation, his fame and success has quickly been followed by addiction, media scrutiny, and career suicide. After a brief spell in rehab, 18-year-old Ryan has some rethinking to do.
His stepdad – music promoter and self-appointed creator of ‘RyLee’ – wants him at home and in school, and under his thumb. But after an argument descends into violence, Ryan decides to run away from his old life, his failed career, and his dysfunctional family.
When he meets the stunningly witty but distinctly average guitar-player Toni almost directly outside his front door, the opportunity to start afresh seems too good to pass up. Before long, he has arrived in a new city, joined Toni’s amazingly talented band, and reinvented himself under the name ‘Cal’. For the first time in his life Ryan has friends around him, he’s playing the music he’s always wanted to play, and – despite living in a hostel, busking for his wages, and living under a false identity – he’s finally happy.
But just when Ryan feels like he has truly started over, his past begins to catch up with him.
Purchase Link ~ Street Song
Sheena Wilkinson is one of Ireland’s most acclaimed writers of contemporary fiction for young people. She has won four Children’s Book Ireland awards for her work; a White Raven Award from the International Youth Library; an IBBY Honour Listing; and has been shortlisted for the Reading Association of Ireland Awards twice. Sheena tutors for Arvon, she set-up and runs the Belfast Inter-Schools Creative Writing Network, and is Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Queens University, Belfast. (Courtesy of Black & White Publishing)