Q&A with Helena Coggan
The young author answer questions from our movellians
Currious about how to write a book in a very early age? Some of our movellians asked the author of the book 'The Catalyst', Helena Coggan, some questions about life and writing. See which of the questions she answered below!
Q: DragonSoulJess: You were saying that you had to cut seventy thousand words... Is there any advice in particular you'd give about figuring out which parts need cutting out?
A: If a scene doesn't contribute to the overall plot or the development of a character, then it should go. You must be able to summarise the point of a scene or plotline in a sentence- it can be a long sentence, fine, but it should still be coherent. It doesn't have to be very profound, either. "To introduce character X" is fine, as long as character X needs to be there. My seventy thousand were mostly superfluous subplots and I was able to use other scenes to do what the deleted ones were originally meant to.
Q: Volleyball_Girl: Do you use your experiences as inspiration for you or writing?
A: No- or at least, not consciously. I make a point of never using real people as inspiration for characters, especially evil ones, because it seems like an unfair and cowardly thing to do, as most people can't retaliate in kind. Nonetheless, I think there's a part of everyone, especially writers- I call it the 'tiny psychopath'- which treats everything you do as fuel. You could fall in love, get your heart broken, be struck down by grief or guilt or illness- and that part of you would be taking notes, going, "Oh, this is BRILLIANT. I can definitely use this. This is going to be great in print. This is GOLD."
Q: The Intelligence Division: What's the first thing you do when you sit down to write? Is it music? (and if so, what?) Is it food? (beyond 'not garlic', any suggestions?)
A: 1. Open laptop. Turn on laptop. 2. Hook up speakers/headphones and start Spotify. 3. Turn on Word so that it's on in the background so, if I end up procrastinating, I'll at least feel guilty about it. 4. Procrastinate, usually on Buzzfeed. 5. Write. Can't say anything about food recommendations, but if you are eating, it's always good to use it as an excuse to take a break. You NEED a break.
Q: SnowyWriter: Favourite CHILDREN's book? And I mean CHILDREN. Perhaps from when you where 5?
A: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Always (heheh...) and forever. I think I must have been about seven or eight when I first read it. Half of what I know about writing I learnt from the Harry Potter series, and most of what I know about fandoms I learnt from the Potterheads. #RavenclawPride
Q: SnowyWriter: Right twix or left twix?
A: Left twix. Of course.
Q: SnowyWriter: Who is your fictional crush?
A: Aaaahhh.... which one? There are a lot of them. My ratio of fictional to real crushes is unhealthily large. But I suppose the Doctor will always be my first love. (And yes, before you ask- Ten and Eleven, not Twelve.)
Q: Luke J.R: What was your life like before you wrote the book?
A: My life was... normal. Mostly. My memory of it is slightly skewed in that I dragged myself from the worst parts of puberty, or at least its mental-health effects- what we might term the Bad Years, everyone has them- about six weeks before I started writing the book. I still slightly suspect that the book was the reason my Bad Years ended when they did. I have been very lucky in a lot of ways.
Q: Luke J.R: Did you ever have a moment of doubt? Like feeling depressed, I guess like a tough time.
A: Oh dear God yes. Of course I do. There are days where I wish I were invisible so I didn't have to deal with people. There are days when I just stare balefully at my laptop, saying sternly, 'You are bad at this. All of this is bad. I don't want to do this. I want a nap. And some chocolate.' But I know that this kind of thing has always passed before, and it will again, and I'll be all right. And I am. But of course there are bad days. Doing all of this doesn't make me impervious to stress and fear- in fact, I imagine it puts me more in the firing line.
Q: Cpt. Alora Wiley C/S W/S: Did people criticize your writing a lot at first? Do you feel good now that, if they criticized you, you have your work published, and you've proved them wrong?
A: Ah, well- you see, the thing is, I haven't necessarily proven them wrong. I don't say this out of any false modesty, because believe me, people don't refrain from criticising your work just because it's published. There will always be people who dislike the book, and I've dealt with my fair share of one- and two-star Goodreads reviews. My original responses swung wildly between, usually whilst wildly sobbing: "OH YEAH? WELL YOU CAN TAKE YOUR OPINION AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR [Ed: do Movellas articles use censorship? Might want to check that before we put this in]," to, "OH MY GOD THEY'RE RIGHT THE BOOK IS TERRIBLE I'M SO BAD AT THIS I NEED TO THROW MY LAPTOP IN A SKIP AND NEVER WRITE AGAIN THIS HAS ALL BEEN A HUGE MISTAKE". Both of these, needless to say, are overreactions. I am no genius, but nor I am totally useless: if I were, I wouldn't be here. So, no, there's no sense of vindication, no "haha, suckers, look at me!". Most criticism has some foundation in fact, and I will always need, and hopefully want, to improve.
Q: ireumeun.chloe: Since having been published at 16, has anything in your life changed at all? Do people look/talk to you differently?
A: My life has changed, yes- mostly to do with this fairly massive, constant workload of, you know, 'writing a book' that I have on the side now, but also, yes, in the way people talk to me. Not the ones who know me- it never fazed them, thank God. But there's always a slightly amusing moment when people assume I'm just at a literary festival because one of my parents is speaking (we've noticed they always assume it's my dad, even when they have no idea who either of my parents are) and then someone tells them and they come back and go, 'Ohhh...' I know the tone and the raised eyebrows very well by now. They always look at me like they're waiting for me to make some sort of slip-up so they can go, 'HA! I've found you out! You can't fool me! You're not an author after all!' Nobody ever expects a teenager to be able to write. I call it the 'talking goldfish effect'.
Q: ᙢᗴᖇᙓᑕᗩ☂: How did you get to the stage of feeling satisfied with what you've written? I find that I write something and I stick with it because I don't want to give up on it but by the time I've finished I hate the whole thing I've written.
A: Whenever you find yourself hating what you've written, you must stop writing. Preferably for fifteen minutes or so. Go away and do something else- watch TV, listen to the radio, take some exercise. Then come back. If you still hate it, take another break and try again. No piece of writing is entirely unsalvageable. Some should be abandoned, true, but all can be learnt from. There is something good about EVERYTHING you write. I'm not just saying this to try and get you to be optimistic and motivated (although if you are, that's great). The two key things you need to be satisfied with your own writing are confidence- in other words, to have multiple, objective people read it and like it- and a dispassionate eye. You can't be attached to any particular scene or plotline enough that you couldn't casually delete it for the good of the story. Writing is very, very inefficient; you may as well come to terms with that early on.
Q: fictionbefourblood: you wrote the first draft of The Catalyst at 13. What inspired you to write it at that age? Was it a book you read? An author you aspired to be?
A: I wanted to write it for no more mature or complex reason than I'd always wanted to be an author, preferably young, and since (I'm not kidding) I was thirteen and 'running out of time', I might as well have a shot. I've never aspired to be an author- seems a fairly pointless and unachievable ambition- but I've always wanted to meet some. If I ever get confirmation that JK Rowling or Caitlin Moran is aware of my existence, I can die happy. Possibly then and there, from pure joy.
Remember to check out our sweeptakes where you can win Helena Coggans book 'The Catalyst'!