Fanfic and me

This one seemed worth re-posting, given the recent announcement from Amazon about publishing fan fiction. Since I wrote this I have deleted my livejournal but I expect there are still copies of my stories in various places there, as well as at the other sites mentioned below.

There is a really fascinating series of posts about fanfiction over at Dear Author at the moment. What’s most interesting to me is the variety of ways in which people have engaged with the fan community and how it relates to their route to original fiction. So by way of adding to the discussion, here’s my story.

I’ve always written fanfiction. Years before the internet and years before I’d ever heard the term, I was writing it. I’d finish reading a book and find that I was still living inside it. I’d want to know more. I’d imagine what happened next, or what happened to the secondary characters, or think about events which had been mentioned in passing but not described in detail. And to get those out of my head, I wrote them down. It wasn’t for other people to read, it was just for my own satisfaction.

At first I scribbled in notebooks, and then I got a computer which I found helped me to write longer, more structure stories. I wrote most of a sequel to Heyer’s The Masqueraders that way and a very long, rambling, shapeless sequel to Antonia Forest’s Marlow books.

And then there was the internet. And on a dull, rainy afternoon, I looked for something to read and after a couple of false starts, I found After The End. I was hooked. This was, I think, after the 5th HP book had been published and it’s a story set after the imagined events of the end of the series. It’s interesting reading it now to see how much they guessed right – and, of course, how much they got wrong. It’s wonderfully written, with a plot of its own, with good characterisation and prose of a high quality. The site that hosts it also had an active forum which included an area for writers interested in developing their skills. Two things happened there: I found someone else who was interested in the Marlows, who pointed me in the direction of their little fan community; and second, I found the people who are still my writing group.

The Marlows was significant for me because the fandom is so small that there is hardly any fanfic at all, and that was what persuaded me to put mine online. People were very kind about it, and that gave me confidence to write more and post more.

The writing group at the Sugar Quill was brilliant. We put up excerpts of writing for feedback each week. We set each other prompts or challenges to try to stretch ourselves. We took it very seriously, even though we were ‘only’ writing fanfic. Practically everything I know about how to write, I learned there. I loved the freedom of fanfic to work on different elements of the craft at a time – characterisation, action scenes, dialogue, world-building, scene-setting, emotional intensity etc, without having to do it all at once, and with immediate feedback. Plus, it’s just really, really fun.

For a long time, I was very clear that I only wanted writing to be a hobby for me. I’m a PhD student in real life and I didn’t want any extra stress. But I did start writing more original stories. It was a natural progression for me – a lot of my HP stories feature original characters. One of my favourites was about an American witch sent over to the UK to work at the Ministry of Magic (she works at the US Ministry – the Pentagram), where she meets in successive chapters each Weasley brother, before finally falling for Charlie (most of my heroines fall for Charlie. It’s the dragons. And the tattoos.)

And then, I can’t quite remember why, I was suddenly submitting books to editors. I had several rejections, self-published a couple, and finally made a sale in November 2011.

I haven’t written fanfic for a while. Partly due to lack of time, and partly because the places where I found my community mostly aren’t very active any more. I’d like to go back to it. Every time I read a book that lives on in my head, I find myself itching to start writing a little scene. One day, maybe I will.

If you’re at all interested, I wrote under the name girlyswot. You’ll find my stories at Phoenix Song, the Sugar Quill and in the Yuletide archives. Or at my livejournal.