“I’ve learned over the years that freedom is just the other side of discipline.” Jake Gyllenhaal
“I’ve learned over the years that freedom is just the other side of discipline.” Jake Gyllenhaal
This is my bed.
I spent most of last Sunday here, doing nothing.
Doing nothing but drinking ginger tea and eating fruit cake and DAYDREAMING.
For so long I thought that doing nothing was a waste of time.
In all honesty, doing nothing made me feel afraid.
Afraid of not earning enough money … every self-employed person knows that TIME IS MONEY.
Afraid of missing out … who knows what world shattering hashtag might be trending on Twitter.
Afraid of feeling lonely or bored … surely it would be way more fun to see who wants to come out to play.
But here’s what happens if you never do nothing; if you never let go of all the crutches and succumb to sweet solitude.
Your brain goes into overload, so full of ‘should‘s and ‘have to‘s that there’s no room for the fresh and the new. There’s no room for inspiration. And there’s every chance you’re going to short circuit.
As I lay on my bed, listening to music and watching the tree outside bobbing in the breeze, all the thoughts that had been cluttering my mind for the past week – about the unfinished projects, and the imminent house move, and the frickin’ cupboard that I still haven’t cleared – began filing themselves away.
I felt light and summer breezy.
The only questions that troubled me were which album to listen to next and which side to lie on.
It was blissful.
And then, completely unexpectedly, some brand new dreams began budding into life.
Instead of being plagued by ‘I should‘s I entertained myself with ‘I could‘s.
I could write this. I could create that. I could travel here. I could have an adventure there.
It was as if inspiration had been waiting patiently for all the din to die down.
When’s the last time you intentionally and deliberately did nothing?
When’s the last time you carved a serious chunk of time out for some serious daydreaming?
When’s the last time you disconnected from the outer world so that you could reconnect with the inner?
Take out your diary now and make an urgent appointment with NOTHING.
Underline it for emphasis.
Don’t break your appointment with nothing for anything.
You’ll thank me for it, I promise.
And so will your dreams.
“Never once in my life did I ask for success or wisdom or power. I asked for wonder.”
What makes a great book for you?
For me, it’s a cast of colourful, believable characters that I come to think of as friends.
The first time I started writing a novel I did very little preparation work on my characters – I was itching to get on with the story and I had a basic idea of what my main characters were like, so what could go wrong?
What went wrong was that, because my characters were only sketchy outlines in my mind, that’s how they appeared on the page.
And because I hadn’t taken the time to really get to know who they were, I didn’t know how they’d truly react in the situations I put them in.
So the writing of the book became very stop start and the actions of the characters inconsistent and unbelievable.
Thankfully, I realised what was wrong and instead of ploughing on regardless, I went back to the drawing board – or rather, the character board.
I decided to spend some time really visualising my characters and I trawled through magazines and websites, looking for images that related to them. Photos of people who looked how I imagined the character to look. And pictures of objects, outfits, phrases and places that I related to them.
And, as I pinned these images to a noticeboard on my wall, my characters finally started coming to life. Actually being able to see them and their world helped them become solid and three-dimensional, rather than sketchy outlines.
Once my character board was complete I sat in front of it with a notebook and jotted down any thoughts or ideas the images gave me for the characters and the plot.
And it was amazing just how many ideas I got.
From that moment on, I’ve always created character boards before I start writing a book.
My new novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, has just come out and it features four very different main characters.
Oscar Wilde fan Amber is an avid blogger and loves vintage clothes and records. Kind-hearted, hopeless romantic Maali is devoted to her Hindu faith and dreams of being able to talk to boys. New Yorker Rose is the daughter of famous and divorced parents and she dreams of owning a Harley Davidson and becoming a patissier. And free-spirit Sky lives on a houseboat with her yoga-teaching dad and dreams of finding the confidence to compete in poetry slams.
You can find character boards for all of them here. Simply click on the character’s name and scroll down the page.
You will see images of clothes and objects and quotes and places that are all in some way linked to the character.
Hopefully by looking at each board, you’ll begin to get a feel for the character and see how creating character boards of your own will help bring your own writing to life.
You can create physical boards in your office / home or you can create them online on Pinterest.
They’re a lot of fun to make and they’ll make the writing of your story so much easier … and the reading of your story so much more rewarding.
… and Amazon have made it their YA Book of the Month.
Find out more and order a copy here.
If there’s one thing certain about life it’s that, at some point, things are going to get tough.
At some point, you’re going to feel as if you’re drowning.
The failure of an exam, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one … or the steady drip-drip of day-to-day stress – any of these can pull you under, leaving all thoughts of achieving your dreams furthermost from your mind.
But it’s at these times that we need our dreams the most.
It’s at these times that our life goals can become life rafts.
One of the nicest things about writing for young adults are the emails I receive from readers.
Six years ago, when my first YA novel was published, a girl emailed me to let me know what she thought of it and to tell me all about her own writing dreams.
Her passion for writing shone through her email and her zest for life was infectious.
We kept up an intermittent email correspondence for the next three years and she kept me up to date on her latest hopes and dreams.
Then it all went quiet.
I found out a couple of years ago that she’d succumbed to an eating disorder and given up on her writing dreams. ‘I’m under too much pressure,’ she told me. ‘I can’t be bothered with writing any more.’
Her words broke my heart.
Because I know better than anyone how important it is to cling to your dreams when the going gets tough.
My own writing dream carried me through and ultimately out of, an abusive relationship. It repaired my shattered self-esteem and brought me happiness beyond my wildest dreams.
And this was the motivation behind my new novel The Moonlight Dreamers – to encourage others to dare to dream, even when the going gets tough. Especially when the going gets tough.
To my absolute delight, it appears to be working: In the weeks running up to publication I started receiving messages from book-sellers and reviewers, telling me how the book had inspired them. Here are a small selection:
‘It has been what I can only describe as a transformative experience. Maybe once every year a book like this comes along to tell me to keep going. I’m definitely a Moonlight Dreamer.’
‘Within the pages of this book I lost myself, but it was within these pages that I found myself too. Sensational and unforgettable, falling in love with this book came as naturally as breathing. The best book I’ve read all year.’
‘The Moonlight Dreamers is the book I had waited to be written for years. Female empowerment, realistic, creative characters with extraordinary ways of looking at the world. We need more of this in the world.’
‘This inspirational story about following dreams and the power of female friendship is as rich,warm and cheering as being curled up with a mug of hot chocolate on a bitterly cold day.’
The Moonlight Dreamers officially launched today and you can order a copy from Amazon – who have made it their YA Book of the Month(!) – here.
My publisher, Walker Books, have also set up a Moonlight Dreamers website – moonlightdreamers.com – which is crammed to the rafters with videos, posts and other fun resources designed to help you dare to dream. There’s also an Oscar Wilde plot generator – what better reason do you need for stopping by?
I’ll regularly be blogging at the new site and featuring inspirational guest posts from some seriously interesting people, so come on over and check it out. And if you’d like to write for the site, I’d love to hear from you.
Let me leave you with the Oscar Wilde quote that forms the beating heart of The Moonlight Dreamers:
‘Yes, I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees dawn before the rest of the world.’
Here’s to Moonlight Dreamers, the world over!
It’s one week until my new novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, is published and to celebrate I’m running a writing competition.
The Moonlight Dreamers is all about the importance of daring to dream. My own dreams have got me through some of the toughest times of my life and I feel very passionately about sharing this message.
I’ve already started running Moonlight Dreamers workshops and one question I always ask participants is: What is your dream for the world?
The answers I’ve been getting are very inspiring, so I thought I’d make that the focal point of this writing competition…
Two of the main characters in The Moonlight Dreamers are avid writers – one a blogger and one a poet – so in keeping with that, entries can either take the form of a guest blog post or a poem, whichever you prefer.
If you need any prompts to help inspire you, try the following questions:
If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?
What makes you really angry about the world we live in?
How could people make a positive difference?
What gives you hope?
The three winning entries will all receive a signed copy of The Moonlight Dreamers + a signed copy of one of my other YA books (you choose which one) + some other fun goodies to help you dare to dream. Your entries will also be published on the (soon to be launched) Moonlight Dreamers website.
Runners up will also have their entries published on the site.
:: Entries should be no longer than 500 words
:: Only one submission per person
:: Please state your name and age on your submission
:: All ages welcome (the entries will be judged in age groups)
:: The closing date = Thursday 14th July
:: Please send your entry to:
Please feel free to share this post with any writers / dreamers you think might be interested.
And if you’d like to find out more about The Moonlight Dreamers, this lovely review from The Blog of a Bookaholic gives loads of info … without any spoilers.
‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ Mary Oliver
It was one of those old roll-top desks, circa 1970, squat and beige and ugly, set on two pairs of spindly legs. I’d been sat at it for three hours, trying to write an essay on the early novelists. Trying and failing miserably.
There was a tightness in my throat – it had been there for weeks – as if someone had placed an invisible cord around my neck and every so often, at tense moments like these, they’d give it a pull. The only way I could swallow was to hold on to something solid to ground me. I clutched the edge of the desk and took a sip of water. Who was I to write about the likes of Samuel Richardson and Daniel Defoe? Literary fiction was as alien to me as life on Mars. I was an imposter. A council estate kid who’d got lucky and somehow ended up at university.
From the house next door came the sound of builders hammering and drilling to the music of Pink Floyd.
‘We don’t need no education.’
These builders, with their thick scouse accents and gallows humour were my people. The kind of guys I’d grown up amongst.
Most of my friends on my course at uni, with their cars and their credit cards and their well-connected parents? Not so much. To them, living in squalor in the middle of Toxteth was an adventure – a brief toe-dip into how the other half live, which they could escape from any weekend and every holiday. For me, the drafty rooms and peeling paintwork and mismatched furniture made it a home from home.
But our run-down student house was where the familiarity began and ended.
In the lecture halls and tutorials and student union bar I felt increasingly alone.
What was I doing there?
I stopped pretending to write and stared out the window.
I’d worked my butt off to get to uni to study English because my goal throughout my childhood had been to be a writer. To turn my love of writing into a career. To learn from the masters and hone my craft. But all I’d really learned since getting to uni was that I didn’t belong in this middle class world. My overdraft was growing out of control, I was having to bounce cheques to feed myself from the £1 bargain basket in Iceland Frozen Foods.
The invisible cord around my neck tightened.
I couldn’t face another year there, not being able to swallow for anxiety. Drowning in self-doubt and debt.
When I went home that summer, I’d never go back.
I’d abandon my writing dream and go and work for the complaints department of the cheapo frozen food company I’d shopped at with the proceeds of my bounced cheques.
At first, I’d feel overwhelmed with relief. I’d make new friends from a similar background to mine, I’d give my brain a break from all the writing and the cramming. I’d be able to pay off my overdraft. I’d be able to eat something other than economy crispy pancakes and beans on toast.
My only #LifeGoals would be to fit in and have fun.
I wouldn’t read a book for almost two years.
I’d seek my thrills on the dance floor.
I’d pretend not to care about anything else.
I’d dumb myself down and I’d numb myself out.
I’d also learn a really important lesson:
A life without dreams is like crawling through a dark tunnel with no light at the end.
Fast-forward twenty years. I’m standing at the front of a huge lecture theatre in Dubai, about to give a talk to hundreds of international students on the importance of daring to dream.
I’ve been invited to speak there by the Sharjah Reading Festival, as the award-winning author of eleven books.
The talk I’m giving – about the importance of pursuing your dreams – is a talk I’ve given all over the world to tens of thousands of young people.
I’ve turned what happened to me into a cautionary tale with a twist. The twist being that it all worked out fine in the end.
Yes, I lost my faith in myself and my dreams … but I went on to overcome my fears and achieve way beyond my wildest dreams.
It took a long time and a few bumps in the road but I now live a life filled with freedom and adventure.
All because I learned to believe in myself and have faith in my dreams.
And now I feel really passionately about helping others achieve their dreams and not live a life dulled down by fear.
This was the inspiration behind my next book, The Moonlight Dreamers (out in July).
And it’s the inspiration behind a new project I’m planning on the soon-to-be-launched Moonlight Dreamers website.
I want to create an online hub where people can talk about their dreams, seek advice about their dreams and inspire each other to achieve their dreams.
On my recent trip to the UAE I spoke to hundreds of students about their dreams for themselves and for the world and I was overwhelmed by their passion and vision. My dream for the Moonlight Dreamers website is to carry on that conversation and broaden it to include young adults all over the world.
If you would like to be featured on the site simply send your submission to:
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions too.
Let’s help each other dare to dream of a brighter future – for ourselves and for the world.