A guest post from Andrew Norriss and your chance to read the 1st chapter from his new novel for free

Jessicas ghost jacket frontAndrew Norriss has written many books for children; he is perhaps best known for AQUILA, a novel that won the Whitbread Award and a Smarties Prize, and was made into a BBC television series. His latest book, Jessica’s Ghost, is published on World Book Day, March 5th.

Francis has never had a friend like Jessica before. She’s the first person he’s ever met who can make him feel completely himself. Jessica has never had a friend like Francis before. Not just because he’s someone to laugh with every day – but because he’s the first person who has ever been able to see her. Jessica’s Ghost is a funny, moving and beautiful book by a master storyteller, about the power of friendship to shine a warm light into dark places.

To celebrate the publication of Jessica’s Ghost, Andrew has written us a guest post all about writing its first chapter, which you can download for free at the bottom of this post.

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“A ten year old boy once told me that the reason he liked my books was that I didn’t fill them with ‘long descriptions of trees and things’. He said I just ‘got on with the story’. I was very flattered.

My Ladybird book on How to Succeed in Writing told me how important it is – particularly in the first chapter – to ‘get on with the story’. Those opening pages need to grab the reader, draw them in, make them want to know what happens next… because if they’re not hooked by the first chapter, they’ll never make it to the last one. Or even chapter two…

I had what I thought was a cracking opener for my book Jessica’s Ghost. It was going to start with a girl who finds herself in hospital and slowly realises that the reason everyone is ignoring her is that she’s dead. She doesn’t know how she died (nor did I, at the time) and she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do next (I didn’t know that either) but the story was going to watch her attempts (and mine) to find out.

In my first draft of the book, Jessica meets a boy, Francis, about her own age, who can see her, and she does indeed find out how she died and why she is a ghost. However, as Terry Pratchett said, the first draft is where you find out what your story is really about (then you go back and write it properly) and what emerged from my first draft was that the central character of my story was not Jessica, but Francis.

This meant, as my editor at the wonderful DFB pointed out, that I would probably have to abandon my brilliant opening chapter. Constructionally, there was something basically unbalanced about starting a story focussing on one character, but finishing it with someone else. With remarkable stoicism and only the one tantrum, I agreed, threw away a fortnight’s work, and sat down to write a new opening that saw things from Francis’ point of view. Where would they meet? What would they talk about? How does one talk to a ghost? How does one even find out the other person’s a ghost in the first place…?

I tried a variety of locations and wrote innumerable possible conversations before I settled on what you’ll find in the book. And when I read it now, I have to tell you that I am quietly proud of the result. It might not grab you, exactly, but then not everyone likes being grabbed. What it does do is introduce my two main characters, tell you something about their situation and makes you, I think, at least a bit curious about what happens to them next.

It also helps, of course, that I was very careful to make sure there are no descriptions of trees.”

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You can download the first chapter of Jessica’s Ghost for free here (you’ll need a pdf reader, such as Adobe). Happy reading!

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