finding myself in the mud

I wasn’t lost after all. I was just hiding in the garden, under a pile of leaves from last autumn, waiting to be rediscovered.

Today was lovely. I got up and sat on the front step (my favourite morning place) and drank tea (my favourite thing) and listened to a starling with a lot to say for himself. And I read a book (Ink, by Alice Broadway, who is a dear friend, which means that as I read I imagine her telling me the story, which is a lovely feeling) and it was good. 

And these are are small and simple things. But when you are a person who gets SAD (seasonal affective disorder) every year and who comes back to life with the changing of the clocks and the lengthening of the days, small and simple things are to be treasured. 

And so then we went to Rufford Old Hall (one of my favourite places) and drank tea and ate cake. And the two youngest made us laugh with silly stories and long conversations about Why Reading Is Good (one) and Why Reading Is Not Good (another). 

And then they built dens, and climbed trees, and we sat in the sunshine and watched them. And then we came home and I gardened and got a spade and dug and my heart felt so full of happiness at the greenness and the loveliness that I realised that I used to take those feelings and those photographs and put them here, on my blog. So here they are. And here I am. 

the story of a book cover

 

Rachel Vale, the brilliant artist behind the cover design for the State of Grace, has written a blog post for me (I like this delegation lark – I should have been off having a painting day in exchange, but in fact I’ve been gardening) about the thought processes that led to the gorgeous cover…

the state of grace - rachael lucas

The cover for The State of Grace was a really great project to work on. As with all cover designs I kicked things off by reading the book – I absolutely loved it! We follow Grace, a teenage girl with Asperger’s, and see how she deals with everything life throws at her. It’s written with great humour, which I wanted to reflect within the design as well as sympathetically referencing Asperger’s. The story also raised questions for me over what is ‘normal’? A lot of the emotions, anxieties and questions Grace deals with feel relevant to absolutely everyone with regards to whether we ‘fit-in’.

So book read and notes made (my keyword list included cat, Doctor Who, pattern, horse . . .), I generated some typography. I knew immediately what I wanted this part of the cover to look like. I can’t quite explain why – sometimes it will take a few attempts and I’ll be working on the typography and image together so that they evolve as one creation. But even without any imagery, I already knew that this had to be big, bold and simple, and to look hand-drawn, therefore giving it a human element.

Typography done, I hit Google and Pinterest for research and image-collection. I wanted to find out more about Asperger’s, and if there was anything visual I could generate that may nod to the syndrome, along with finding a voice for Grace.

Repetitive pattern of behaviour and interests came up quite a lot. So a sort of repeat pattern felt like something I could definitely work with. I generated numerous ideas that included various themes. Some were better than others (as is often the way), but what they all seemed to be lacking was Grace. I needed to revisit her and her journey.

Grace experiences emotions around many different relationships, with her mum, sister, best friend and love interest. A lot of these are conducted to some degree via texting – something we all do and can all relate to. I use emoticons nearly as much as I use actual words whilst texting these days, so a visual take on that felt like something that could appeal to all. For me this idea felt like it relied on simplicity however, so the almost 3D nature of emoticons on modern mobile phones felt too complex – it was the emotion element that I needed, not a fancy rendered graphic.

Using a more ‘old skool’ approach of keyboard characters (brackets and semicolons, etc.) contained in a circle to resemble more recent emoticons felt much more like the right route. A smiley face for the main pattern made me think of Grace immediately. Grace is happy – she’s just a little confused sometimes, so a confused emoticon felt like the perfect way to suggest not fitting in. The change between the two emoticons is subtle (a closed bracket vs a forward slash depicting the mouth), which is perfect, as changes in human emotions can also be so subtle and difficult to read. Obviously I didn’t want this to be so hard to read that it was missed altogether though, so I highlighted it in a different colour. The typography from a couple of months earlier sat perfectly atop my pattern – it’s always nice when these things come together.

Some of the best book covers for me are the ones that don’t try too hard. They rely on a simple and clean concept, and the more you add means the less you actually say. For me The State of Grace does just that. At a quick glance you get it – well, I hope you do! I’ve a copy on the shelf next to my desk, and every time I catch a glimpse of it it makes me smile. I hope it does the same for you. 🙂

the state of grace by rachael lucas

 

The State of Grace is published by Macmillan Children’s Books on the 6th of April.

Whip-smart, hilarious and unapologetically honest, The State of Grace is a heart-warming story of one girl trying to work out where she fits in, and whether she even wants to.

A sweetly funny look at first love, family and faking it told from the perspective of a heroine with Asperger’s and her own particular way of looking at the world. (Red Magazine Online)

This brilliant coming of age novel for young adults is set to become a classic. (AGA Magazine)

Buy here:

Waterstones

Amazon UK

Hive

Book Depository (with free world wide delivery)

The one where I bin 35,000 words

It’s been a bit quiet round here of late. I’ve been on a mission, you see. I wrote The State of Grace in a whirl last year and it sold just before Bologna Book Fair. So with all that excitement over, I settled down to write my next adult book. 


I did the research. I wrote pages and pages of notes. I plotted and character sketched and doodled pictures of the horses who were a major part of the story. I’ve loved horses all my life, and the book was set in Wales, somewhere I’ve loved and visited many times since childhood. 

This was going to be such an amazing story, I thought. And I started writing and it galloped along until I got to 35,000 words and then I stopped.


It’s nearly Christmas, I told myself. I’ll read some comfort books and let the plot carry on sorting itself out in my head and it’ll be fine. 

“How’s it going?” people started asking.

“Good,” I’d say, and change the subject.

It was a perfectly nice story, but I had this niggling feeling something was missing. And whatever the something was, it didn’t seem to be hiding in the millions of post it notes or the pages of research or the piles of notebooks. It was an intangible thing.

It’s fine, I thought. I’ll fix it in the next draft. Only the thought of the next draft made me feel a bit sick, and I started waking up thinking ugh, I don’t want to do this. And I agonised over what to do and didn’t listen to my own instincts (which were by this point parading around the sitting room on a protest march waving placards).


And then a voice in my head said this is supposed to be fun, remember? 

The missing thing was joy. Happiness. I felt like I was writing it because I was supposed to, and somewhere, right in the very heart of the story, it showed. Because the heart of the story was missing. I didn’t connect with the main character and if I did, how could I expect that from a reader? 

So I put all the notebooks in a little pile and shoved them in a file. And I left my messy desk and decided to stop thinking about books for a bit until my brain stops whirling. The words I’ve written might end up somewhere else, one day, but they might not. And that’s okay. 

It’s my birthday today and I’ve decided this will be a year of doing brave things and saying yes to things that scare me (and no, instead of politely going along with things, too). And getting back to writing here – even if it’s about not writing – is a good start. 

Here’s to blank pages. And all the words and pictures to come. 

Imagine (a post for #worldautismawarenessday)

Imagine if you were five years old at a birthday party where the noise and the colours and the feelings were all kaleidoscoping into a swirl that made you feel sick and you couldn’t understand why everyone kept looming their huge faces right into yours and saying “Isn’t this fun? Aren’t you having fun?”.

Imagine if your happy time was hours alone quietly playing with your toy horses, drawing pictures of them, reading books about them, soaking up information quite happily until you were an encyclopaedia of knowledge.

Imagine if you met a schoolfriend in the park when you were with your mum, but you couldn’t say hello because you felt physically sick at the idea of getting the words out, even though they walked past you and you could see them catch your eye and frown slightly, as if they couldn’t quite work out why you wouldn’t speak.

Imagine if you learned to read so early and so quickly that teachers wouldn’t believe you so you learned to fake-stumble over words in school reading sessions while devouring adult books at home.

Imagine if you were sitting in the classroom, and the teacher told you she didn’t want to hear a single word from anyone for half an hour, so you sat there, watching the clock, legs crossed, knowing that you mustn’t interrupt her – until it was too late and the classroom was full of horrified amusement because you were sitting there with a puddle under your chair.

Imagine if you were trying and trying to concentrate at school, but the sound of the clock ticking was as loud to you as the teacher’s voice and the scratching of the pens and the breathing of the person next to you, so you had to work so hard to focus that it made you feel dizzy and every day you went home with a migraine.

Imagine if standing in line for school lunches every day, and the jostling and the noise made you want to cry because it was just too much, and then you went inside and the food all tasted of hot metal and washing up liquid and it made you want to throw up.

Imagine if you didn’t know where to eat at university because you couldn’t work out how the cafeteria operated so you bought expensive sandwiches from the shop every day, running down your meagre student budget which you couldn’t manage anyway because paperwork and bills didn’t make sense.

Imagine if you could hardly ever organise yourself to get to lectures, and when you did get there, you found it almost impossible to concentrate on what the lecturer was saying so you shut down, exhausted, and fell asleep.

Imagine if you spun your way through twentysomething, blocking out the world with whatever you could because when you did the noise and chaos stopped for a while.

Imagine second guessing every social interaction, watching it through a lens, checking your behaviour is okay and your conversation makes sense and your body language is matching your words. And imagine never quite knowing if someone is joking or not so you have to ask, even though you know asking means you’re not playing the game properly.

Imagine walking out of job after job – even though you were promoted, even though they thought you were talented and had potential – because pretending to cope was so hard that you’d have nothing left and you’d lie on the bed crying all night at the prospect of having to go to work.

Imagine having your first child and realising oh, this is it. You can do this. And imagine reading everything you can on parenting and being so terrified that you’ll break a rule and somehow break your child that fifteen months later, broken yourself, you walk into the doctors’ surgery and say you can’t do it any more.

Imagine the love for this solemn, owl-eyed child, who doesn’t like to be held when she’s crying and hasn’t read the same parenting rulebook. Imagine watching her at music class, refusing to join in, realising she is hating every second, crying at the noise and the lights and the chaos. Imagine wishing desperately that she wasn’t like you – that she was child in the middle of the room, dancing happily, instead of sitting in the corner, sullenly clacking on the same blue castanet every Wednesday.

Imagine discovering that there’s a thing out there that describes your child’s behaviour perfectly, and imagine the nursery school notice her behaviour and say look, we think there’s a thing here. And imagine realising when you start reading (and when you start reading, just like always, you read everything) that this thing describes you, too. But then the health visitor shakes her head and says no, look, she doesn’t line up her toys and anyway, it affects boys, not girls.

Imagine years of teaching your child everything you’ve learned about how to be a person. About what’s expected, how to behave. Imagine dealing with the exhausted after-school meltdowns, and going in and fighting your corner and saying look, this child isn’t ever going to tick the people pleasing boxes, because she’s just like me.

Imagine, years later, a teacher finally listens. And you’re told that yes, your child has a thing, and then someone mentions gently – you do realise that you tick all the boxes for that thing, too?

Imagine having a job where you spend all day inside someone else’s head, using your powers of observation and your empathy – yes, empathy, the thing that you’re told you can’t have – to create stories which make people laugh and cry. Imagine being able to stand in front of huge groups of people at conferences and talk, and have people come up afterwards and say “thank you for making me feel like I could do it, too”.

Imagine if the payoff for doing those talks was reaching the end of the day so tired that the noises and the people and the chatter all blurred into one until you felt like you were inside a bell jar, mouthing hopelessly.

Imagine if, despite telling your daughter that she should be proud – fiercely proud – of who she is, of her sense of humour and her kindness and her passion and her loyalty and all the things that make her amazing, you were nervous of saying it out loud for yourself.

Imagine that.

I am a mother, I am a writer, I am a friend. I make people laugh. I am kind. I am compassionate. I am bright. I am creative. I am a lot of things.

I am autistic.

 

the state of grace - rachael lucas

I wrote the above when I first received my diagnosis of autism. Three years on, I’ve written the book I wished I’d had as a teenager – one where I might recognise myself. I wrote it for anyone who ever felt like the world didn’t quite make sense.

The State of Grace is published by Macmillan Children’s Books on the 6th of April.

Whip-smart, hilarious and unapologetically honest, The State of Grace is a heart-warming story of one girl trying to work out where she fits in, and whether she even wants to.

A sweetly funny look at first love, family and faking it told from the perspective of a heroine with Asperger’s and her own particular way of looking at the world. (Red Magazine Online)

This brilliant coming of age novel for young adults is set to become a classic. (AGA Magazine)

Buy here:

Waterstones

Amazon UK

Hive

Book Depository (with free world wide delivery)

 

Wildflower Bay is here!

If you enjoyed Sealed with a Kiss I think you’ll love this…

wildflower bay rachael lucas

This little island has some big secrets…

Isla’s got her dream job as head stylist at the most exclusive salon in Edinburgh. The fact that she’s been so single-minded in her career that she’s forgotten to have a life has completely passed her by – until disaster strikes.

Out of options, she heads to the remote island of Auchenmor to help out her aunt who is in desperate need of an extra pair of scissors at her salon.

A native to the island, Finn is thirty-five and reality has just hit him hard. His best friends are about to have a baby and everything is changing. When into his life walks Isla…

You can find it in ASDA, WHSmith, Waterstones, and all good bookshops.

You can also order it from Amazon or if you’re outside the UK order from Book Depository with FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY which is pretty blooming clever.

I’m off on holiday for a couple of weeks but I’ll be back afterwards with some very exciting new book news, and lots of photos from our trip. Happy reading!

five things you’ll discover on a writing retreat

five reasons you should go on a writing retreat

I know what you’re thinking. The idea of a writing retreat seems ludicrously self-indulgent. (Why would you need to escape when you’ve got a perfectly good study at home? I know this, because I thought it too.)

 

Then I started noticing that writing friends were sneaking off and posting little comments on Twitter saying how many gloriously un-interrupted words they were getting done, and I began to  wonder if I was missing a trick.

writing retreat pen and paper

The thing is, there’s the school run, and the trips to the post office, and the neighbours having their roof re-tiled, and – before you know it the day is over and all you’ve done is rearrange your desk.  So what exactly can a writing retreat do for you?

1. Discipline

The first writing retreat I took was a bit of a shock to the system. I arrived in a daze with a heap of post-it notes, a pack of brand new Sharpies, scissors and sellotape (I don’t know what I was planning to do either – origami, perhaps?)

I pootled around and went for a walk, and was shocked to discover that everyone else had written thousands of words by lunch. So I downloaded the Self Control app and remembered that the secret to a first draft is much like running a marathon.  One word in front of another until you hit The End.

It’s not always easy. It’s not often easy, in fact. One of the first lessons I learned about writing books was that the moments when your fingers are flying on the keyboard are the unusual ones. Some days getting the words out is so painful that you’re completely exhausted by the time you give up. But when you’re on a retreat – and you know you’re paying for the privilege – it focuses the mind and that discipline can really help you get going on a new book, or get you over the tricky middle bit. (You know, the bit you forgot to plan where all your characters start misbehaving. That’s not just me, is it?)

writing retreat

2. Competition (and camaraderie)

I wrote the first chunk of Wildflower Bay in a sprawling manor house in the Somerset Hills, cheered on by a group of writing friends (Cesca Major, Kat Black, Katy Colins, Holly Martin, Helen Redfern and Emily Kerr) without whom I’d probably still be stuck on chapter one. Bolstered by delicious cooking, and inspired by the daily word races we had, between us we wrote tens of thousands of words in just five days.

My love of writing retreats was cemented. I also laughed until I ached – which is definitely the advantage of a group retreat. But when the bell rang to signal the beginning of our hour long word race, the house fell into silence and we all typed like the wind, desperate to be the winner. Word races are a brilliant way to chase off the self-doubt and get your subconscious working. If you don’t know what to write, just leave it and move on to the next scene. The whole point of a first draft is to tell yourself the story, and you can’t work on it until those words are actually on the page…

You don’t need to be on a group retreat to do a word race, of course. You can do it when you’re alone – just set a timer and give yourself a daily target, or shout out on social media. You’ll find word racers willing to join in with you at any time of day or night – have a look at #wordrace on Twitter for inspiration.

3. Location

writing retreat rachael lucas

You’d think following a gorgeous five days in Somerset I’d have been at my desk feeling inspired and writing like a fiend, but one child off school sick followed another, and then there was school sports day, and then the cavity wall insulation (think: sound of a dentist drill but making the walls of the house vibrate) and the first draft deadline was looming.

So off I went, alone, to the Island of Bute for a few days. It’s inspiration for the fictional island of Auchenmor where both Sealed with a Kiss and Wildflower Bay are set so it was just what I needed. I didn’t just write in the time I was there – I took photographs and scribbled notes, listened to the people who would be living in the background of my story, soaked up the island atmosphere, and imagined how it would feel for Isla, the main character of Wildflower Bay, to be trapped there. She’s sent to help out her aunt for a couple of months and island life is not her thing at all. She loves the anonymity of the city, so I wandered around thinking about, putting myself in Isla’s shoes.

wildflower bay

4. Pacing

(Yourself, that is, not your prose.)

Writing daily without interruption gives you an idea of exactly how many words a day you can write before your brain gives up. I have writing friends who are pleased if they manage 1000 a day, and others who prefer to work in furious bursts and aren’t happy unless they get over 8000 done. Most of us lie somewhere in between, and having the time to focus on your writing and nothing else gives you a good baseline which – theoretically – you can then take back home with you.

I say theoretically because I’m still struggling to get into a consistent daily writing routine and I have a very bad binge writing habit…

writing retreats gladstones library

Luckily I live just an hour from Gladstone’s Library which means I can sneak off for day-long writing retreats. I get there at 9am, work until lunch, and write, surrounded by books, long into the evening before driving home in the dark. Often the driving time helps me sort out plot tangles for the next day, which is a plus.

5. Education (or inspiration – or writerly gossip)

Having decided I was definitely more productive when writing alone, I didn’t expect to get much done when I headed to Gladstone’s Library with fellow Prime Writers. But in between coffee and long chats over dinner, delicious chocolate and the occasional glass of red, I managed to write over 30,000 words in five days. (It’s amazing what a tight deadline can do for inspiration.)

Writing with friends, talking about the things we all have in common (we all have habits – my characters are always ‘laying a hand on an arm’ in a comforting manner, and it turns out we ALL pull faces our characters are making when we’re typing) is a real help. And an evening talking about books and writing with other people who are just as obsessed is the best fuel for a long writing day.

Good luck, and happy writing!

This little island has some big secrets…

My new book Wildflower Bay is released in three parts as an eBook serial, before being published by Pan Macmillan as a paperback on August 11th.

You can download Part One FREE here.

Sign up below for my occasional email notes and you’ll have the chance to win a super early signed copy of Wildflower Bay later this month. You’ll also be first to hear about courses I’m offering, and Write for Joy retreats which will be coming soon. I promise not to fill your inbox with rubbish or share your details, and you can escape any time.

Unsubscribe. I mean unsubscribe. Ahem.


five reasons you should go on a writing retreat

the art of doing nothing 

I’m actually not very good at doing nothing. When I finished writing Wildflower Bay I accidentally wrote the young adult novel I’ve been trying to write for ages  and so I’ve only just come up for air. 

You might remember I said in January that I was going to do gentle pottering. Well, I’m starting now. Honestly. 

  

And if that looks like research for another book, that because it – shh, no. It’s just reading. Tiny little bit of research, perhaps. But nice-book-smelling, lovely-dusty-old-pages research. With tea. 

  
And with photographs of gorgeously skeletal hydrangea flowers which I’ve picked from the garden. The new leaves are appearing, and I’m wondering what’ll happen if I plant the now-shooting bulbs which are still sitting in nets in the garage. Reports to follow. (To think this used to be a gardening blog. Ahem.)

  
I’ve discovered that Mabel’s favourite place is the beach so we’ve been spending loads of time there. The tide goes out so far here that you can walk and walk and still not see the sea – and you can collect coal, too, because it washes up with the tide. Someone told me it comes from old ships which were sunk out to sea, but I’ve also heard it comes from a seam out at sea. 

  
And while I miss the rolling countryside of our old village, after almost five years we’re definitely used to seaside life. It’s lovely at this time of year, when the sun shines but the beach is still deserted. 

  
And when you can see skies like this it definitely makes up for the lack of hills. Getting up early in the morning is worth it when you see the world before anyone else does. The only minor detail is that Mabel would happily go for about fifteen walks a day and still want more…

Wildflower Bay, my next book, will be available exclusively as a three part ebook before the paperback publication on the 11th of August. You can pre-order part one FREE right now by clicking this image!

rachael lucas wildflower bay part one

a walk by the sea

I used to blog about walks and stuff and then I stopped, because I got so caught up in writing and work and things.
But I’ve decided 2016 is the year of gentle pottering and peace, of exploring where we live and baking bread and sorting out the garden (oh the poor, neglected garden) and of finding a bit of balance. 

(And writing – but this year it’ll be a more relaxed sort of writing, because I’m saying it here and making it so. No more hurtling up to deadlines in a panic… I’m going to try and be a bit more mindful in my writing as well as my everyday life.)

Armed with my new iPhone 6, which is having to take the place of my much-lamented dead digital camera – I’m going to start blogging here a bit more, as I’ve been promising for ages. 

So hello. Happy new year. Here are some photos of our adventures by the sea with Mabel.