Inevitably as a writer, the negative comments in reviews resonate more than the positive feedback. It is incredibly hard not to take them personally or, worse still, respond to the reviewer. However, one criticism of Curve has irked me more than the rest: the idea that Cass should be a stronger young woman in the face of what happens to her. That, in some way, she is wrong for her mis-placed blaming of Flynn. As I’m now in the depths of writing Heart, with Neve as the central character, I know I will be again opening myself up to criticism when it is published in the autumn. Again, I have not written a ball-breaking heroine. Deliberately.
I am a feminist. I believe that every woman, every girl, deserves to be treated with equality and respect. I believe that, if women had equal status in the decision-making spheres of government and large corporations, the world would be a fairer, kinder place to live.
But the reality for many girls is that they have not been brought up in a family or culture or education system that means they have a strong sense of self-worth by the end of their teenage years. Heck, I’m forty, with a decent career and a great relationship, but I still have self-esteem issues (you only need to read my last post as proof!).
When I shaped Cass and Neve, I consciously wanted to create Everygirls. Not strong heroines for readers to look up to and emulate from the outset. Real girls, with issues and worries, struggling to make sense of the world and what it does to them. I want readers to empathise with the situations that confront them, and the decisions they have to make in response. Sometimes they make mistakes – but don’t we all?
As a reader, I have always been drawn to the character arc as much, if not more than, as the narrative. I love the way Jane Eyre is shaped by Charlotte Bronte. The fact that it is Jane who, in the end, chooses to return and is, in many ways, the hero of the story, is a fantastic message for female readers. Yet she starts her time with Rochester very much lacking in equality and confidence. The events of the narrative drive her character development – we see her change and flourish.
Life isn’t easy, especially if you’re a girl. All we can hope for is that, when faced with what it throws at us, we are able to make the best decisions we can. If they prove to be the correct decision, great. If they don’t, that we learn from them with grace. I hope that my readers see that in Cass and Neve: girls like themselves just doing the best they can.
Like you are.
Like I am.
Hi. I’m Nicola Hudson.
I am an author.
My novel’s called Curve.
Have you read it?
Would you like to?
I am naturally shy, verging on the introverted. I feel really uncomfortable meeting people I don’t know. And I have that seemingly inbuilt English reserve. So I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I’m ill at ease with the whole concept of self-promotion. I’m more than happy to chat with people on Facebook or Twitter but the concept of real life interaction as an author scares the bejeebus out of me. I mean, how do I even start that conversation? My full-time job means that I can’t have a public identity as an author so there’s not even a bio pic to make the introductions any easier; nobody would have the foggiest who they are talking to, unless I introduce myself.
Why am I worried about this? In November, I went to the London author event and got to meet many authors. As a reader. I fangirled with the best of the many lovely people in attendance – and stood in almost silent awe at Colleen Hoover’s table. I had self-published Curve three weeks before the event so you’d think I’d have dropped it into conversations left, right and centre, wouldn’t you? Wrong. Other than a pre-arranged meet-up with another author I know through Twitter, I managed to mention it to a grand total of three people. Yes, three. Now, maybe part of it was naivete, having not thought to take any swag etc. with me, but almost all of it was not having the courage to put it into words that I was an author. Any combination, or all, of those simple four word sentences above would have done the trick, but I couldn’t do it.
In July, there is another author event, in Edinburgh. I have tickets but have still not sorted my transport or accommodation. Whilst the expense is niggling at me (it’s the cost of the cover and formatting for Heart), I know that my procrastination is about more than that. Do I go just as a reader and not mention my author name? There’s something to be said for my work-enforced pseudonym, after all. Or do I try to adopt a more confident persona and brave it out as Nicola Hudson? Because, either way, there is an element of duplicity to my choice. Which is why a part of me is secretly hoping that Flybe run out of seats on the only flights I can fit around work. I still don’t know what I’m doing, even though there are a couple of people I would like to meet after getting to know them on social media.
Maybe it’s shyness.
Maybe it’s because I don’t fully think of myself as an author.
Maybe someday it will get easier.
In the UK at least, tomorrow is Mother’s Day and so it seemed appropriate to blog about the unique bond that exists between mothers and daughters.
In Curve, the relationship between Cass and her mum is an integral part of the story. As is often the case, Cass lives with her mum and stepdad, which brings its own tensions. Cass is on the verge of going to university and it is clear that, whilst this is daunting for her, it is an idea that upsets her mum, even though she is determined that Cass will become a strong, independent woman. However, when Cass suffers a horrible event (no spoilers here!), it is her mum who supports her and is there for her. By the end, their relationship is definitely stronger and more honest.
The reshaping of relationships with parents is a critical part of becoming an adult so feels very appropriate to the New Adult category, Yes, at that age we often move away from home and parents, and sometimes the distance is more than physical, but, in my experience, most people still end up with a close relationship with their parents. Close but different, maybe.
This was certainly the case in my own life. Like Cass, I grew up without really knowing my dad. My mum was a real matriarch, with every decision in my life coloured by the idea of ‘What would Mum do?’. The tension between us ebbed and flowed; sometimes we were like friends, sometimes we struggled to co-exist under the same roof.
When I went to university, I spent more and more time away from home, and Mum. She couldn’t cope with the newly independent me. I couldn’t cope with the limits she wanted to impose on my freedom. Almost as soon as I graduated, I moved out of home permanently. Even though I lived in the same town, I would sometimes go weeks without seeing her. However, without fail, just like she had when I was at university, she rang me every Friday evening. I could visualise her routine exactly: watch Eastenders, mute the TV, pick up the phone and dial Nic’s number. My husband knew there was no point picking up the phone. We didn’t need caller ID. It was Mum.
As the next few years passed, Mum was my support when life didn’t go to plan: the end of relationships, health problems, career woes. And I hope that she felt I supported her as well, especially when she lost her own mum.
Four years ago, we were probably at the best point in our relationship. Neither of us expected the other to change. Neither of us wanted the other to change. She would be as excited about school holidays as I was, as it meant we would be able to spend time together, even if it was just popping to the garden centre or out for a pub lunch.
I can remember Mother’s Day, four years ago. I bought her a digital photo frame and uploaded it with photos from her life, secretly borrowed over a series of visits and scanned. I can remember switching it on and watching the joy on her face as the memories from her childhood, from my childhood, came to life. A few weeks later I visited and, unusually, there was no TV on. Mum was sat in the semi-dark, watching the rolling display of photos. It was possibly the best material thing I ever gave her.
In June of that year, Mum became ill.
In July of that year, Mum passed away.
Losing Mum is, without doubt, the hardest thing I have had to deal with. Being at her side as she drew her last breaths was strangely comforting. Planning her funeral in the way I thought she would want it was difficult; we had never had reason to discuss it. Packing up her house, her belongings, her life, was heartbreaking. And then I had the prospect of a six week school holiday looming in front of me. And no mum.
So I started writing.
I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, therefore, that the relationship between Cass and her mum is so important to Curve. I’m sure that I was coming to terms with some of my grief through writing it. I know that one of the later scenes between Cass and her mum made me cry so much when I wrote it that I can still barely read it. Like this blog entry.
Four years but I still think ‘What would Mum do?’.
Four years and I still miss that Friday night phone call.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mum.
We all know how much I love Colleen Hoover’s writing but, seriously, this made me rethink what makes a good novel. As you can see from above, I don’t yet know how to pick up something else to read.
For anyone who doesn’t know, the novel is based on characters who write songs together and fall in love (no spoilers here!). What makes the reading experience unique is that there is an accompanying soundtrack and the reader can listen to the songs when they’re written or sung in the book. This makes for an unforgettable, multi-sensory reading experience.
But, no, I’m not jealous in the slightest. Honestly. Really, I’m not.
*This article contains potential spoilers if you haven’t read Curve.
The storyline around the sexual violence experienced by Cass developed during the process of writing Curve. I hadn’t started with anything other than the idea of someone posting pictures of a girl on social media; there had been a number of stories about similar events in the news and it had got me thinking about the impact on those involved. This was going to be very much a sub-plot behind the romance. However, as I was writing and Cass developed as a character that I started to care about, the focus of the novel shifted and now, to me at least, how she deals with what happens to her is more important than her relationship with Flynn.
A key moment during the writing was when I researched the statistics about sexual violence in the UK. These shocked me so much I felt I had to include them as an Author’s Note. It horrified me that twenty per cent of women will be the victim of a sexual attack as an adult. Even more worrying was the idea that almost thirty per cent of these crimes are committed by young men between the ages of 16 and 19. I hope that Curve shows that a typical, average girl can be a victim, even though she has done nothing to put herself at risk. Through Rob, I wanted to show that sometimes the perpetrators of these crimes can be young men who are popular and successful. The issue isn’t just about the stereotypical seedy bloke pulling a scantily-clad, drunk girl into a dark alley.
Once the storyline developed, and I was increasingly emotionally involved with Cass, I knew I needed to portray the attack and its investigation with as much honesty and clarity as possible, but without sensationalising it in any way. This research was the most harrowing part of writing Curve. Everything that happens to Cass is factually accurate, based on the UK police and legal system. I hope that the emotional experience is also accurate. I read a number of blogs written by women who had experienced similar attacks, as well as some forums. I am deliberately not using the word ‘victims’ here as many of them were writing online as a way of showing their strength in moving forwards after such attacks. I read much that was upsetting, but much more that was inspiring.
Flynn’s love for Cass is a part of her learning to move forwards. I hope that anyone who finds herself in a similar position to Cass also finds that she has someone as loving and loyal to support her afterwards.
*This article was previously posted on the Bookish Treasures blog
Yesterday was Cass’s birthday. Well, the date I’d decided would be Cass’s birthday: March 1st.
But why March 1st?
Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful grandmother: Nan. Nan is still the nicest woman I have ever known. She was loving, caring, thoughtful; but, above all else, she was constant. When things were less than great between me and my mum, Nan was there, offering refuge and wisdom. When I was struggling as a student, Nan was there, sending me a fiver in an envelope so I could treat myself. When I needed someone to talk to, Nan was there, listening and never judging. Nan loved and was loved for every day of her 86 years.
So, when I needed a date that would mean enough to be the birthday of my first ever character in my first ever novel, it made sense to pick Nan’s birthday.
There are lots of tips and strategies out there to help writers remember the important details about their characters’ lives. Even if those details don’t feature in the stories we write, we have to know them; they make the characters real. Some people make fact files. Some people write potted biographies. But I bet that most writers draw on the important moments and people in their own lives to make these characters real.
In Curve, every significant date, address and location means something to me. It’s lovely when readers share that they means something to them as well, but, really, I’m being selfish. I’ve been able to record those details in permanent form. As long as there are copies of Curve around, they exist. Every time someone reaches page 332 of Curve, and reads about Cass’s birthday, that date is marked, honoured.
Happy birthday Cass.
Happy birthday Nan.