Character and Voice - A Guest Post by Olivia Levez

Thursday, 7 April 2016 0 comments
Hey guys! I'm here today with a fantastic guest post by Olivia Levez, author of the newly debuted 'The Island'! In order to promote the release of The Island, Olivia is here today to talk to you about character and voice, and how she met her main protagonist Fran Stanton. So without further ado, I'll pass you straight over to Olivia!

"Character and voice- how i met fran stanton"

In YA fiction, you’ve got to find the voice. But first the voice has to find you.

The first time Fran spoke to me, I was in the kitchen, doing something mundane, like putting dishes away.

Hurriedly, I grabbed a pen and listened.

Then it started to happen more and more. Her voice would slip into my head, and she’d say something so real, so raw, that I’d sigh and look for my notebook/receipt/piece of kitchen roll, and scribble it down.

Eventually, all these random gatherings became, of all things, a letter.

This girl, Frances, told me she was on a desert island. She was fuming mad because she’d been trying and failing to make a recipe out of berries she’d foraged.

I called it ‘Poison berry Trifle’. She was speaking to a fictional daytime cookery show presenter, and it was all very ironic and fairly random. My writing group was quite polite about it. Eventually, I took it out of the book. I mean, she didn’t even have a pen, and I didn’t think she’d be the sort of person to watch daytime cookery shows.

But it was the first time I wrote in her voice.

It needed toning down a bit. I mean, it was very sweary. And the visceral description of the physical effects of food poisoning probably wasn’t necessary in quite so much detail. But there she was, speaking to me. Spitting angry. Scared. Frustrated. Needing to connect, but hating everyone.

This Frances character swore. A lot. And, being mindful of school gatekeepers, I wondered about showing that. In my previous fantasy book I used ‘faecking’. For Fran I came up with ‘frickin’. No end apostrophe, just because it seemed more like her actual word, not an abbreviation. Also, I worried that so many apostrophes could be irritating in large doses. In original drafts she said ‘cause’ instead of ‘because’ (‘coz’ and ‘cus’ being too baby-ish) but that got removed in editing as it was too confusing for the reader.

Another thing my character does is make lists. It wasn’t a deliberate thing, but something that gradually happened, and it became a big part of her voice. Maybe it’s because in her real life, Frances has to forage too. Her mum, Cassie, is too lazy and useless to stock up the cupboards, and Fran and her little brother live mostly on Snickers bars.

It made me wonder why people make lists. Because things are scarce, and you want to keep a check on things? Because you’re anxious you may forget something? Because there are things on your mind that disturb you unless you list them, write them down? Maybe new sensations are worth listing. Maybe lists are a mindful way to connect, properly connect, with your environment.

My current ‘to do’ list – don’t ask about the mould on the ceiling!

The Island is full of lists, whether it’s lists of the disgusting foods Fran finds, or foods she longs to eat, or a list of her first impressions of the magical otherness of the setting. Or when, filled with horror, she lists the noises she hears as she’s cringing and flinching in her washed up liferaft, that very first night by the forest. For whatever reason, lists became a big part of Fran’s voice.

So I had lists, and I had ‘frickin’, but mostly I felt and heard the character; I was her. I felt very low and lonely, writing the parts of the book where she is really suffering. I have already talked about method writing in my own blog, where I became a ‘caravan castaway’ in order to write the book, and this isolation really did make me feel Fran’s experiences.

In my teaching job at a secondary school, I have known Frans. Many of them.

Late for lessons, surly, up for a fight. Looked after. Pupil Premium. Disadvantaged student. There are lots of labels. Often such pupils are carers, for their mum, their kid brother or sister. There are reasons why they’re tired in class, why knowing the success criteria for the lesson isn’t exactly top of their agenda.

Sometimes, creative writing is an outlet. I’ve been a GCSE examiner, and in the past read hundreds of stories, when that used to be part of the exam. And sometimes, you’d read one, and think, uh-oh, that’s too real, that’s not fiction, and the events described would be so harrowing that you’d contact the exam board to report it as a possiible safeguarding issue.

Because students write the truth, in the exam hall; they believe they’re writing to an anonymous audience, that it’s a safe place. So, in the same way, my character Fran writes her ‘story within a story’.

Fran Stanton is streetwise. She’s lived in Brixton all her life, and only once been to the seaside, when her mum took her and her brother to Weymouth. So what would she do on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Already used to stealing, foraging, toughing it out, sleeping on rooftops, how would she use her urban skills to survive? I thought it would be fun (though not for Fran) to make her self -destructive at first. So that she’s the antithesis of your typical Bear Grylls-type survivor.

Tobacco Caye, Belize, one of the places that inspired Fran’s island.

So she wastes everything through sheer recklessness, pours away water and refills with vodka, wastes all the matches by having a seagull party on the liferaft. She doesn’t care if she survives or not, because what’s the point?

But then there’s her brother. And all the memories. And of course the healing nature of the island itself.

And that is how I met Fran Stanton.

I just needed to work out why the frick she was on a desert island…

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Olivia Levez is a YA author who's debut, THE ISLAND was published in March 2016 by Rock The Boat. She is a writer, a blogger and a teacher. She is a Gryffindor and prefers snow days over heat-waves. Her caravan is her writing place - her room of one's own and she can almost do a headstand!

Twitter: @livilev
Instagram: olivialevez


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There were friends once, but they melted away. Things are different now I am a monster.

Frances is alone. Cast away on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, she has to find water, food and shelter. But survival is hard. Especially when she is haunted by memories of the things that she did before, the things that made her a monster. Pushed to the limit in extreme conditions, she battles to come to terms with her past, and find a future worth fighting for.

This is a gripping and thought-provoking story about one girl’s journey to become the person she believes she can be.

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