Sunday, 17 June 2012

Writing A Novel-The Chicken Run by Lynne Whelon

Lynne at the launch
Lynne is a member of my writing group and has just had her first novel published. She has kindly agreed to do a guest post here about how the novel came about. Sadly I was in France, or more accurately on my to France, when Lynne had her book launch. However, I'll be joining the group for our third anniversary dinner on 27 June and look forward to toasting Lynne's achievement with her then. Details of how to buy her book at the end of this piece. Now, over to Lynne: 

I have always dreamt of writing a book as many of us do, so when I first held the paperback in my hand two months ago it was a wonderful moment – slightly spoilt when I looked through it and found about seventy mistakes. Of course it had to be returned but it was still a glorious feeling!

I began to write ‘The Chicken Run’  about twenty years ago. This may seem like an incredibly long time but it was only when I retired from full-time work three years ago that I looked at it again and thought,  ‘I may be able to do something with this’.

I was inspired to set ‘The Chicken Run’ in East London as, when I worked there in 1960’s, it was one of the happiest times of my life, changed my whole way of thinking and made me a completely different person. I learnt the importance of loyalty, sense of community and humour and have as a result tried to uphold them all my life. I also recognised how privileged my upbringing had been. My life chances would never have been available to any of the people I had met during those years. Life certainly is a lottery.

Anyway I am waffling, back to the book.

I worked with a lovely lady called Elsie in Hackney. Every day, when the air raid sirens were used to signal lunch break at the factory opposite the nursery where we worked,  her whole body trembled so much she had to sit down.

‘She was at the disaster at Bethnal Green Station during the war,’ one of the nursery nurses explained. ‘Her sister died.’

‘So why do they still use the sirens?’ I asked. ‘If it upsets people like that?’

She shrugged her shoulders. No-one ever thought to question it and no-one in authority had the sensitivity to stop it.

I had never heard about the tragedy. It was only years later I read an article in a newspaper about this, the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War.

I knew then that Elsie would be in the book that one day I WAS going to write!  I had my setting and one of my main characters.

I had always worked with children. In day nurseries, nursery schools, holiday camps, nanny work, many years as a nursery stewardess on cruise ships, playgroups and in my work for the last thirteen years in a primary school. When I did any other job I missed them so I figured children would be necessary in my story but these wouldn’t be ‘cosy’ middle class children. They would be street kids, bad language an’ all but with all the qualities mentioned above.

Back in 1955, the year in which ‘The Chicken Run’ is set, there were very few people with televisions, certainly no computers or playstations. Kids played out all day with their catapults, footballs, bows and arrows (all home-made) and go-karts – oh and not forgetting, their incredible imaginations! Parents didn’t have a clue what their children were doing. They only came home for tea.

In ‘The Chicken Run’ you can see exactly what they got up to.

The adults too, were far removed from the children’s lives. The kids were told nothing. They never knew about the secret desires of their parents or anything about their poverty stricken pre-war childhoods in the depression of 1930’s. Yet they were no different really from adults today except there were more consequences to their actions. The strict moral code of the 1950’s ensured most of them stayed on the straight and narrow but there were exceptions and most of my characters will fall into that category. It would have been a very boring book otherwise.

So now I have my characters. What will my main plot be? My inspiration was an old black and white film ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ starring Hayley Mills and written brilliantly by her mother Mary Hayley Bell. Although her story was set in the Yorkshire Dales and the farming community, those children in the fifties had the same imaginations as my little street kids. So I needed a plot. Misunderstandings between adults and children, keeping the truth from children and the children’s great imaginations. These lead to the children in Whistle Down The Wind mistaking an escaped prisoner for Jesus Christ and almost culminated in a violent ending. So this was what I set out to do with ‘The Chicken Run’.

As for any more planning than that – not really!  I never had a strict writing schedule and my story just seemed to unfold as I wrote, characters became alive and often did things I wasn’t planning on them doing. ‘Old Bones’ only came into the story after a workmate complained about her ‘old bones aching’ What a great name for a character I thought. He became an important part of the book. I knew my ending very early on and I knew I wanted it to be positive and optimistic.

I also wanted people to accept that it wasn’t all friendly folk and jollity in those days. There were many things that needed changing and fortunately some have. I wanted ‘The Chicken Run’ to be real, not cosy. There is some strong language but I believe it to be necessary and make no apologies for it. Not that I ever swear of course!

I do agree with whoever said that everyone’s first book is total self-indulgence. That is not the same as an autobiography. Having said that, a little bit of me and most of the people I have ever met will be found, probably in every character.

After sending my manuscript to about five publishers and waiting, often up to six months for a standard rejection letter, I decided to publish myself and last November my novel was on Amazon Kindle. I had already gained a lot of very valuable feedback on the first chapters from a writing site called

At the launch with fans!
Before self- publishing in paperback I did pay to have a professional critique. I took most of their advice and the fact that they told me ‘The Chicken Run’ was ‘comparable to published works and had genuinely original qualities’ encouraged me to go ahead.

I held a book launch at a hotel near my home and invited everyone. I sold out and had to order more copies. It was a lovely afternoon and my friends all brought cakes with them so my Weightwatchers diet went out of the window!

The great thing about self-publishing now is that it can be done at almost no cost on sites like Feedaread and I really was very pleased with the quality. Waterstones in Lancaster are looking at ‘The Chicken Run’ now and fingers crossed that they will have it on their shelves soon.

The easy bit of ‘The Chicken Run’ was the writing, the last year has been mainly about editing and proofreading with the help and suggestions of a friend who has advised me from the beginning and a great amount of technical help on the computer from one of the girls in my writing group!

I have had some great feedback  and have been asked if I will be writing a follow-up. I think I may have to. I’ve got quite attached to my characters and would like to intrude into their lives for just a little while longer.

As I’m sixty three now I’d better get a move on in case this one takes twenty years!

Now, what to do for a new plot...

Thank you Greg for asking me to guest on your blog! ‘The Chicken Run’ is now available on Amazon paperbacks at £7.99 and Amazon E Books at £1.97

Many congratulations Lynne, a wonderful achievement!

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