Guest Post – J.R. Wallis Reads From The Book of Mysteries

Today is a vey special day indeed as I have a guest post to share with you from the lovely J R Wallis, author of the Badlands series. Book three, The Book of Mysteries is published TODAY! and so I’m so very delighted to welcome Rupert here to read an excerpt from it. He also provides us with a fascinating insight into his writing practise, giving tips that will inspire writers of any age. What an absolute treat! I have loved the Badlands series right from the very beginning when I first read The Boy with One Name . I was equally enamoured with The Black Amulet and so am so very excited to read this latest adventure with Jones and Ruby. Before I hand over to J R Wallis, here is a little more information about the book itself.

The Book of Mysteries

Volume Three in the Badlands Series

Welcome to the Badlands … a hidden part of our world full of creatures which most people think exist only in fairy tales and nightmares.

Ruby is trying to change the future. Her fate is in the hands of the council as they prepare to decide once and for all if girls can be Badlanders too.
Jones is running from his past. He’s determined to help Ruby fulfil her destiny, but first he will need to shake off the vengeful ghost of Maitland, the Master he betrayed.

Then they are challenged to solve a notoriously unsolvable case from The Book of Mysteries, and Ruby and Jones think it might just be the lifeline they need. But there’s a reason no Badlander has ever returned from Great Walsingham, and the two friends will have to rely on more than magic if they want to survive…

Dive into a world of magic in an adventure perfect for fans of Abi Elphinstone, Jonathan Stroud and J.K. Rowling.

Now over to the man himself…. Dear friends, may I introduce you to J R Wallis.

J R Wallis shares his 4th reading from The Book of Mysteries

My Writing Practice – J R Wallis

Sometimes, events I envisaged being in my story at the outset don’t work when I get to them because they don’t fit. It can be hard to get rid of them if I really liked them!

Everyone approaches storytelling differently and the more you write the more attuned you become to an approach that works for you. Here are a few things I’ve discovered about my own writing practice:

  • Some writers are drawn to developing an idea because of the story they ‘see’, I.e. they immediately envisage lots of great moments and events with emotional punch. Other writers might be interested in an idea because they have a vision of how to organise the events in the story, I.e. the plot. There are other writers who click with an idea because they are attracted to the way the story can be told – parallel storylines, diary format, point of view etc. – which is to say the narrative. Whatever the initial lure is there are certain pitfalls to be aware of, for example being too focused on particular events in a story can mean trying to fit them all together when perhaps they don’t all go, forcing a plot to make sense of it all. On the other hand, focusing too much on plotting can compromise the spontaneity and value of discovering new ideas and moments as you write deeper into the story. Personally, I tend to be drawn into an idea because of the characters. I’ll spend time getting to know them, learning about their wants, needs and fears until I have enough confidence that not only will readers be emotionally invested in them, but they’ll also help me tell the story as I write it, trusting that their decision-making will create plot for me.
  • If it feels as though I’ve arrived at a dead end when writing a story, I try and see where I am through a character’s eyes, imagining what options are open to them about what to do next. There’s usually something they can or must do that I’ve missed. By putting myself in a character’s head, I usually discover I’m not at the dead end I thought I was. If I do find myself stuck, with the plot not seeming to have anywhere to go, then I look at the choices my character has made at important moments up to that point. Often, I’ll try making them take a different choice instead to see if that opens up a different route for me to bypass the dead end I’ve reached. I try not to be afraid to take a step or two back in my storytelling sometimes and adjust my course to see what happens.
  • I find it really useful to have an idea of certain things I want to happen in my story at various points along the way. Having these moments in mind can be useful markers to aim for as I write and it can become a question of getting to each one in a logical way, that makes sense as the story unfolds, through cause and effect, I.e. of ‘something’ happening as a result of what’s happened before it. Sometimes, events I envisaged being in my story at the outset don’t work when I get to them because they don’t fit. It can be hard to get rid of them if I really liked them! To help me, I always think of writing as being like crossing a river using stepping-stones. I might get part of the way across and start finding different stepping-stones for a better route that I hadn’t seen from the bank. This idea of using stepping-stones helps me think about taking a new course in the story legitimately.
  • Storytellers talk about the midpoint in a story. It’s a point which is literally somewhere near the middle but which is also representative of an emotional shift in a character perhaps through realising something about the world around them or about themselves. This realisation has consequences and often gives the story dramatic fuel to get to the end as one writes on. But I also find that when I arrive at what I think is roughly the midpoint I can look back and see all the questions in the first half of the story that I know will need answering in the second half. So, I become aware of a symmetry that I’ve got to create with the first half as I go on to write all the way to the end.
  • I have discovered that writing is all about rhythm – from having the routine of a writing practice to refining the flow of the prose in a sentence – but I have become acutely sensitive to one rhythm in particular. It’s the constant switching of my writerly eye between the big picture of the story – the macro – and the small moments – the micro – such as looking at scenes or paying attention to the sentence level. When I’m writing, I often think of myself having one eye trained on a telescope to see the big picture and one eye looking through a microscope to check on the small stuff, always switching between the two. It’s a difficult rhythm to develop, to constantly take a step back from the words and moments and look at the bigger story before plunging back into what’s on the page. But it’s a rhythm that allows me to have all the various working parts of the story in mind as I write, juggling them as best I can to create a coherent whole.

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It has been an aboslute pleasure hosting J R Wallis on Tales Before Bedtime today and wow – what an interesting article and many tips that I’ll be able to apply to my own writing too. If you haven’t read the Badlands series yet then I urge you to do so. It’s perfect for ages 9+ and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to my KS3 students at school as well. As a much older reader I absolutely loved it but each and every young reader I’ve recommended it to has loved it too – you can’t say better than that. It’s a brilliant series, filled with adventure magic, thrills and a few scares along the way.

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