Lily Upshire Is Winning is a coming-of-age novel about a twelve-year-old girl who finds a foreign object in her favourite smoothie drink, leading to a remarkable sequence of events, not only in her own life, but the corporate world and the English market town where she lives.
Lily resides with her grandmother Grace with whom she has a loving but sometimes fractious relationship. The child knows very little about who her parents were. She is an outsider and a target for bullies who taunt her over her lack of parents and even her name. She self harms but does not cut. At school the view of most teachers is that she is bright but does not apply herself to her work. After finding the pea-like object in her drink, she drags out the old Olivetti typewriter from the cupboard and composes a formal letter asking the company for an apology. Everyone around her considers this the height of eccentricity. The bemused company responds positively to her letter but will not say sorry. Lily is not swayed and more correspondence ensues. Other people such as her neighbours the Peacemakers, who are professional claimants, become involved, and the multinational company soon finds itself embroiled in a public relations fiasco.
From my past work in business, I’ve always been fascinated by how a sophisticated and powerful piece of machinery is vulnerable to the failure of the smallest and most humble of components. It is a similar principle at play in this story.
The original idea was to write a satire from the corporation’s viewpoint, but it begged the question: what about Lily herself? Lily’s story would prove more interesting than the corporation’s, although an element of satire remains in the book, mainly through the CEO Frank Salesman with his wild aspirations and colourful metaphors. In part, the book is a celebration of American idioms.
From the outset, I wanted a straightforward narrative that had a kick to it: the energy, drive and (hopefully) humour that I find in some American authors in particular. The majority of the text is in dialogue and the chapters are short.
The title comes from an English expression ‘Are you winning?’, perhaps heard less nowadays, which is said affectionately and used in the sense of: defeating whatever challenges the person addressed is confronting.
Feedback from a writers’ group can be invaluable in helping to shape one’s work. I belong to two, one of which has met weekly via Zoom throughout the pandemic, and Lily’s story has been a popular feature over the last eighteen months. People seem to be drawn to the main character: her determination and kindness, the liveliness of her verbal exchanges, particularly with her girlfriend Mack, as well as her occasional flare-ups, which get her in trouble with loved ones and teachers alike.
I see the book’s genre as Young Adult / New Adult for a reader already aware of many of the evils of the world, such as online predators and scammers which feature in it. I hope a teenager, or indeed anyone else with (or without) similar difficulties to Lily, would find her a person they could relate to. I also hope that anyone with even the most casual interest in business would find that aspect entertaining and perhaps even informative.
I picked up advice from the Alliance of Independent Authors, which is a great resource, to apply the same creativity we use in writing our books to such things as the cover, formatting, and marketing. I find this a refreshing way to address these aspects, which authors sometimes find an annoying distraction.
When writing I keep in mind two things. The first is the need to avoid being boring, which was English writer Nancy Mitford’s dictum that she applied to life. The second is the need to listen to doubts – if the writer has doubts, why would the reader not have them too?
A question arises on Twitter sometimes about the value of beta readers. I found using one very beneficial because others see things we miss. Issues I had never even considered were brought to my attention and led to changes in the manuscript. Similarly, I originally felt all I needed from an editor was a ‘light touch’ proofreading but again they drew attention to things I hadn’t thought of, including the practical difficulties arising from having British and American English dialogue in the same book.
I have had so many false starts with writing projects that it is always satisfying to see one to completion. I always think the book I’m working on will be my last and after it I will have nothing more to say. Then when it is finished that awful emptiness returns until a new idea arises. I have taken the first tentative steps towards a new work in progress.
I was delighted to find out about ReadersMagnet and be given the opportunity to write about my book in the Authors’ Lounge. I am active on Twitter and can be found at John Holmes @NewickPea.