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05 November 2020

#WriteCBC tip and task from Polly Crosby

Polly Crosby, author
by Jennifer Kerslake Events, Writing Tips

I’m excited to be introducing this month’s #WriteCBC, with a writing tip and task from special guest Polly Crosby. Polly was a student on our six-week online Write to the End of Your Novel course, and then joined our six-month online Writing Your Novel course in 2018 after being awarded the Yesterday Scholarship (generously funded by author Felicia Yap). She went on to secure an agent and a brilliant two-book deal with HarperCollins. Her debut novel The Illustrated Child came out in hardback last week, and the reviews have been incredible: ‘Bewitching’ Woman & Home; ‘Captivating’ Daily Mail; ‘Enchanting – a future classic’ Veronica Henry.

We’re delighted to celebrate Polly’s publication with an enigmatic #WriteCBC challenge about keeping secrets and covering your tracks.

If you haven’t taken part in #WriteCBC before, we’re delighted to have you join us and can’t wait to see what you come up with! For guidance on how to play, check out this blog with further information and all the rules. I hope you have fun, and you just might win a free place on a course with us (whichever of our six-week online writing courses you’d like to take).

Polly’s writing tip:

Secrets and concealment lend suspense and energy to fiction and keep your readers turning the pages. Try to drip-feed clues to the reader that are hidden from some of your characters so that they’re constantly trying to untangle the mystery.

Clandestine relationships, long-lost relatives, covert identities and shady pasts – secrets in novels can make for a gripping, exciting read. The revelation of a secret can change the course of a novel. It can turn a friend into an enemy, rip lovers apart, or bring a family back together again. Whether you let the reader in on the truth or keep them in the dark until the very end, a novel filled with secrets helps to create high-stakes drama and suspense.  

In Polly’s novel The Illustrated Child, Romilly lives in a ramshackle house with her eccentric artist father – she knows little about her past, but she knows she is loved. When her father finds fame with a series of children’s books starring her as the main character, strangers appear at their door, convinced the books contain a treasure hunt leading to a glittering prize. But as time passes and her father begins to fade, Romilly is left isolated and alone – and she turns to the secrets her father has hidden in his books, realising that there is something darker and more devastating locked within the pages . . .

Read this excerpt from the novel and see how Polly hints at a family secret kept from Romilly by her father…

I turned the pages of Romilly and the Kitten, trying to find the scary lady the boys had spoken about. It took me two searches of the entire book before I found her.

It was a picture of the garden in full summer bloom. Monty and I were sitting on a swing tied to a branch of the beech tree. In the distance, on the path that led to the meadow, was the silhouette of a long-haired woman. The boys were right: there was something sinister about her blank face that stirred an uneasy feeling inside me.

But what kept me awake that night was not the shadows of her face or the lack of features, but the fact that I couldn’t work out which way she was going; away from us and down to the meadow, or creeping towards us as we swung under the beech tree, oblivious.

It’s an enthralling passage – one that left me with so many unanswered questions! Who is the long-haired woman with the blank face? Why didn’t her father fill in her features? Is she skulking away or sneaking closer? What’s her relationship with the children? Romilly doesn’t have any answers for us but we know the woman is important – and that the only way to find out more will be to read on, to journey into the lands of her father’s imagination…

Polly’s writing task:

One of your characters is hiding something from a loved one – this could be a secret or an object. Write a mini-scene that lets the reader know something is being concealed without revealing what it is exactly. Hint at the secret without giving it away!

You could take two characters from a novel or story you’re working on and put them in a situation where it becomes clear one is keeping something from the other. Or you could take this opportunity to come up with something new: an exciting story – or fragment of a story – which hints that all is not as it seems.

What we’re looking for is an intriguing little scene that draws us – the reader – into a mystery. We need a clear idea of your character – what type of person are they? What are they trying to conceal, and who from? What would happen if their secret is exposed? Consider their motivation – are they protecting a loved one or only interested in saving their own skin?

You could give us a glimpse of what your characters get up to when no one is watching: A wife swallows her birth control pills in the bathroom before her husband wakes up… A neighbour refuses to let the gas man in to check his metre… A government worker tucks a foreign passport into a shoebox under the bed…

You could make the scene really dramatic and use all the senses to show us what’s happening. Or you might want to explore the psychology of your character through interior monologue – ‘If they find out the truth, then …’

Whatever you decide, don’t make it too easy for your readers! Drop hints and clues to give them an idea of what’s going on, but don’t spill the beans. Keep them guessing so they’ll want to read on.

This month’s winner is… Carole Tyrrell @cattyrrell

The family tree’s finished at lastall thanks to Becky and Granny!’ George led the applause and cheers as everyone raised their glasses in toast. Becky blushed.

Granny smiled grimly to herself as she sipped her sherry.

We really enjoyed the subtlety of Carole’s mini-scene. It open in with a warm, familiar domestic setting. A picture of familial bliss that is disrupted by Granny’s grim smile – contrasted perfectly with Becky’s innocent blush. We know that Granny is hiding something about the family genealogy – but what could it be?

Carole has won a free place on the six-week creative-writing course of her choice!

Well done to our runners-up! 

@halmckend and @helene_lac each win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice. 

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