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  • sarahjmaxwell

A picture speaks a thousand words

I sometimes think it’s easier to write when life is a challenge. Flawed—interesting—characters are easier to bring alive when I feel my own failings. Hurdles/death/despair easily accommodated when the world appears bleak, despite the blue sky.

We need to keep talking about mental health, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all secrets will out. We might hold on to aspects of our life we know to be unjust, downright wrong. We might pick up a pen, a paintbrush, write music, express ourselves with our art. Sometimes, we use the dark side of our histories to create something that breathes and speaks, not only to ourselves, but to someone reading/listening to/looking at, what we've created.

I hold up my hands and acknowledge this ‘dark side’ of my soul. I’M NOT ALWAYS THE SUNNY PERSON I PRETEND TO BE. I created the character of Billy before the story. This boy was clearly troubled, and I had no idea why at first. Then I devised the plot, but here’s a question, could I have created the character of Billy’s dad if my life was kittens and puppies? Could I imagine this?:

I tried to pull away, but he drew me close, dragging me into his lair, spinning me around. The smell of him filled my nostrils and made me nauseous, but I focused on that rather than the sensation of his hands on my body. I was powerless. A rag doll in his arms.

The answer is 'yes'.

I’ll let you into a secret, writing a story, or a book, can be developed from a single memory—imagine an ocean from a tear drop—but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to write dark, wish to challenge your reader, perhaps make them feel uncomfortable, look at pictures. Find the person you want to write about, create their history and make it as dark as you like. Give it teeth.

That’s how I created the Knocker-Upper. From this single picture. I looked at the cobbled stones, the dirt on the woman's cardigan and wondered what her life was like. How far she walked every day, how exhausted she felt.

This is a London I never knew, though the cobbles remain in some places. This is a London devoid of hope for this class of people. This London set the scene for ‘What the Knocker-Upper Woke Up’, but it was the dirt, the uncertainty, the desperation that inspired me.

I write YA. My stories are hopeful, but they can be challenging, bleak, even sad. Beware the monsters under the bed!

No official release date for 'What the Knocker-Upper Woke Up', but we’re getting there. Tick, tick, tick…

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