It’s October, and that means NaNoWriMo is almost upon us! It also means Beautiful People, the monthly meme hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In, becomes Beautiful Books, where we talk about our current projects or what we’re planning to write during November.
What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?
COCKLE SHELLS & SILVER BELLS is a YA contemporary fantasy inspired by The Secret Garden, with supernatural themes, LGBTQIA+ characters and a remote seaside setting on the North Yorkshire coast. It’s a combination of a few ideas I had scribbled in my notebook, some for a YA contemporary about a girl who moves to a quiet seaside town and falls for the girl who works at the local ice cream parlour, and some for a modern Bloody Mary story. I started piecing it together about six months ago when I thought I was finished with my other MS, THE FAIR QUEEN, and was outlining for Camp Nano in July.
Describe what your novel is about!
My MC is an orphan who, on turning 18, inherits her family estate on the North Yorkshire coast. There, she comes across the charming but mysterious housekeeper and groundskeeper, a petite, mermaid-haired firecracker called Dillon, a sassy cat with a bizarre habit of turning up at opportune moments, and a friendly ghost with the key to her family’s secrets.
What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!
I’m hoping to combine the atmospheric moodiness of classic novels by the Bronte sisters, like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and whimsical fantasy elements of books by Maggie Stiefvater. I was initially hoping to venture into YA contemporary, but my fantasy heart wouldn’t allow it, so I had to throw in a few magical bits and bobs!
Introduce us to each of your characters!
Marie ‘Em’ Haigh – Em is 18 and an orphan, she grew up in Provence, France until the age of 10 when her parents were killed in a car accident and she moved to North Yorkshire to live with her great uncle Archie on his farm. She’s pretty isolated and self-reliant, having been home schooled on the farm. She writes gender bent Pride and Prejudice fan fiction on Tumblr and her friends are all either online or fictional. Until she meets Dillon…
Dillon Thackeray – Dillon is a petite, curvaceous lesbian with pastel coloured mermaid hair and an array of neon running gear. She works at the ice cream parlour during the holidays, and goes to university a couple of hours away during term time. She’s a confident and outspoken girl with big dreams and an even bigger heart.
Clemence – Em names Clemence ironically (it means mild and merciful). This cat couldn’t be any saltier, but ultimately she helps Em find some pretty crucial information and leads her to various important items throughout the story. She’s sort of like Em’s spirit guide, but with added sass. Plus I just really like the name Clemence, like Clemence Poesy.
Billy and Maggie Partridge – the Haigh family’s resident housekeeper and groundskeeper. They come with the house, but there might be something more to them…
Ghost boy – I haven’t decided on a name for my spook yet, but he represents Colin, the boy with vitamin D deficiency in The Secret Garden. I haven’t fully outlined his role in the story, but I’m thinking something along the lines of a twin brother to Em’s father who died in childhood and was never spoken of again because it was too painful for the family… Any suggestions on this front would be gratefully received!
How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)
I’m a proud plotter, so I have a document full of notes, character bios, summaries of the chapters/acts etc. I do quite a bit of research before I start drafting, I choose names that mean something, either by googling baby name meanings until I find what I’m looking for, or naming characters after famous/fictional people who they share something in common with. Then, especially for Nano so I can keep track of where I am up to, I create a spreadsheet with thirty or more scenes or important events that I need for the story. I find that outlining quite rigorously helps me to keep writing even when I don’t feel motivated, and if I want to skip ahead to a juicier scene when I’m not in the mood, I can come back to where I was later.
Also, lots of tea or coffee and snacks, and breaks to walk the dogs and give me a chance to think through plot holes! Getting some fresh air and walking in nature does wonders for writer’s block.
What are you most looking forward to about this novel?
All the spooky scenes where the ghost is messing with Em, before she actually discovers him. I’m hoping to give it a real Woman in Black vibe up until the point she meets the ghost and realises he’s just a young boy with no intention of hurting her, and he didn’t mean to scare her, he’s just been alone for so long. You’re really going to feel for this ghost, guys!
List 3 things about your novel’s setting.
A beautiful, imposing manor house on a cliff’s edge, overlooking the North Sea.
A cutesy, vintage ice cream parlour full of cold treats and warm hearts.
A secret beach filled with cockle shells that feels like the edge of the world, but is actually where Em’s life really starts…
What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?
Em is looking for two pretty conflicting things at the beginning of the book. She wants independence and to stand on her own two feet, she feels like she’s got a lot to prove after her parents’ deaths when she was just a little girl. She wants to make them, and her uncle Archie, proud. But she also wants to learn as much as she can about her family and feel closer to them, hence why she decides to move into Haigh Manor, leaving the farm. Unfortunately, most of her family are dead, and Archie is a pretty reticent old man with secrets of his own (he’s Em’s grandmother’s brother). Plus, Em’s social skills aren’t exactly up to scratch, she struggles with social anxiety and moving from one remote house to another does nothing to change that.
How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?
She opens up a lot, thanks to Dillon, and learns to accept her quirks for what they are. She finds a new passion, makes some great friends, and discovers more about her family history than she could ever have imagined. At the end, she’s a more mature, confident and content person. Plus she might fall in love…
What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?
The overall theme is hopefully going to be self-acceptance, Em is going to go through a pretty huge journey of self-discovery and growth that should give readers the feeling that she’s found herself in some ways. There’ll still be a way to go before she’s completely happy and comfortable in her own skin, but by the end of the book it should be clear that she’s headed in the right direction.
That was so much fun! I hadn’t thought this much about CS&SB in months, and digging deep into the story and my characters has really given me a boost for Nano next month. I’m looking forward to reading more about all your WIPs, let me know in the comments if you’re taking part in Nano, and add me as a buddy, my username is lyndleloo!