The Magpie Diaries Volume 1: For Sorrow
Marc Owen is fresh out of school and ready to get to grips with university life and the opposite sex.
Follow him as he navigates his way through the twists and turns of his first academic year, aided in his decision making process by the voice in his head.
Annie seems an unapproachable dream, but is she really as great as Marc thinks? Her friend Kirsty seems to have a soft spot for him, but how to tell if it’s any more than that?
The Magpie Diaries Volume 2: For Joy
Marc Owen survived his first year at university relatively unscathed and got his girl – Kirsty. The trouble is that now that he has her, he can’t stop thinking about her best friend Annie.
To add to his problems, his dead father’s girlfriend Joy keeps calling him, his lesbian friend Amy is in trouble, and Jude the schoolgirl wants to visit.
Follow Marc as he navigates through the twists and turns of another year at university.
The Magpie Diaries Volume 3: For a Girl
In his second year, Marc dumped Kirsty for Annie, and it seems that he is incapable of keeping hold of any girlfriend he gets.
Like a magpie he always seems to be looking for the next glittering prize. The trouble is all that all that glitters is not gold.
In this final volume of the Magpie Diaries, follow Marc as he navigates through the twists and turns of his third academic year.
Writing The Magpie Diaries
I chose the title The Magpie Diaries because the main character has an imaginary magpie talking to him inside his head. The idea for this predates the arrival of The Beach and Donald Duck talking to the main character in his head, and besides that’s a dead man, not an imaginary bird! Still, I was slightly annoyed when I read Alex Garland’s book, but not so much to stop writing. The trilogy was originally just one long book called Students Union but I found the title too dry and I prefered something to do with diaries in the title – maybe in answer to Bridget Jones?
But why a magpie? Well because they have always kind of spooked me and generally get bad press in our culture. And also I liked the idea of something that on first impressions appears black and white, but as you look closer you can see that the black isn’t really black and also there’s blue in there too.
Someone said that the whole idea was ‘a bit Stephen King’ but I’ll give a shrug and say that I’ve read all his books so you’d expect something to rub off. Don’t think he’s ever written a love story unless you count Lisey’s Story. The trilogy is very slightly autobiographical but as anyone who was there at the time will attest the similarities are only slight. For one thing I don’t have a bird pecking away inside my head.
The books were written on and off over a very long period of time spanning from about 1996 to 2009. Originally Kirsty was called Becky, but then I dated someone called Becky and didn’t want to make unnecessary mental connections to her, so it got changed. Annie was named after the Elastica song of the same title and Jude after the Beatles song. There were a lot of Beatles references in the story to begin with and these got stripped back somewhat to allow the inclusion of more bands ‘of the time’.
I did go out with someone called Annie and someone called Anna while I was writing the books, but they’ve had no sway on how the character ended up. It was always my intention for her to be a right bitch.
The character John is more like me than Marc and his story matches mine a little better – I met a girl, went out with her for a long time, and didn’t sleep around. Her name wasn’t Deborah though – that name was obviously pulled from a Pulp song.
Claire was always Claire because I was using a shorthand for the original trio of girls Marc knew – A for Annie, B for Becky, C for Claire. Toby was an amalgamation of the posher type of person I knew at university and deserved an obvious public schoolboy type name.
Amy was subconsciously inspired by the lead female character in Chasing Amy although I know that she isn’t called Amy. I wanted someone that Marc had absolutely no chance of being with but that he could buddy up with easier than John or Toby. Kelly was named after the Air track ‘Kelly Watch The Stars’, no other reason. I wanted to represent the lesbian community of Loughborough somehow in the books and the two of them were my attempt at a non-stereotypical gay couple. Not sure if it worked.
Volume 1: For Sorrow
It soon became clear that the book was too big to publish in one volume as it exceeded the maximum page count for the ‘pocket’ format I used on Lulu, and so was born volume 1 etc. Splitting the story into three gave me more scope to have a definite theme for each book while still following an overall arc. It seemed obvious to split the story into three academic years. The themes also naturally came from the title of each volume, so of course ‘one’ had to be for sorrow.
Continuing to think superstitiously, I decided that bad news would happen to Marc in three stages. The idea of three also being attractive to me since it is the magic number, I was now writing a trilogy and there were three main female love interests for Marc.
Meanwhile there is quite a simple tale of sexual lust versus genuine loving freindship offered by Annie versus Kirsty.
I wanted to write a lot more about Marc’s granddad, but felt that it didn’t fit in with the premise of the three books in total so I held back. Maybe I’ll do some kind of WWII novel at some point in the future and I can revisit the character. For those of you who are interested in the Nottinghamshire Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry then I recommend By Tank Into Normandy by Stuart Hills.
Volume 2: For Joy
I initially struggled with the theme of this book. I’m no great expert on joy. The closest I have got is when Liverpool beat AC Milan in Istanbul, and that was more a sense of disbelief and relief!
So Marc’s dad’s girlfriend got a name change from Milly to Joy. It seemed like a really cheeky thing to do at the time, but then I thought why the hell not? Milly seemed to connected with BBC’s This Life anyway and this was confusing me when I was trying to write about my character. Marc kept turning into This Life’s Egg every time he met Milly. So my character became Joy and the theme of the book then seemed obvious. I wrote about someone who is totally without joy and is in fact suicidal.
The main storyline continues exploring the idea of someone being really stupid and not realising when they’ve got a good thing going. I wanted Marc to be tempted by Annie again and to break up with Kirsty. Break ups are something I have had plenty of experience of, but I wanted to explore what it would be like to have to still see the other person on an almost daily basis – something I have not had to endure very much.
Volume 3: For a Girl
In Volume 3 you have to get the pay-off of the main story. I didn’t feel the need for much of a sub-plot in this one apart from perhaps the story of Toby and Claire and Amy’s relationship with Kelly.
I wanted to contrast what was happening with Marc with John and Deborah on one extreme but then a perhaps more realistic scenario where it takes a whole lot longer for people to come together (Toby and Claire), and maybe then it’s too late because it’s the final year. I’m sure everyone knows of people or has been that person that has finally had the courage to ask out someone you’ve had a long-standing crush on only to find that the carpet is pulled out from under by circumstance beyond your control – in this case the looming split up of the group of friends as they finish at university.
The book is supposed to be melancholy and make people remember their last days at university. It’s also supposed to provide a happy ending in which Marc ends up with the right girl even though he’s an emotional retard and can’t really see the wood for the trees. I wanted this to be realistic so it’s not clear cut, there are contradictory feelings running through his mind, and nothing is certain until the last pages of the book.
I also wanted to show Joy in a recovered state. I thought it was important to give the character some ‘closure,’ and to demonstrate that it is possible to carry on with life in the absence of a lost love. That’s me trying to be uplifting I guess.
Football and sex
The amount of football in the books was a bit of a pain to write around, but I couldn’t just ignore Euro 96 and France 98. It wouldn’t pass the boys by without any comment. Also I think it helps in some way to nudge the reminiscent brain cells to conjure up a nostalgic feeling; these books are written for people of the age that they would have been at university in the late nineties. Hence the other references to Princess Di, Michael Hutchence etc.
Also one final little note on the sexual content – trust me, it was a lot worse before Siggy read the drafts and told me that it was filthy! So what happened between Kirsty and Marc in the hotel room will be left to your imaginations… Actually, hopefully, you will see that Marc is quite willing to reveal all about Annie, but not so much about Kirsty. This is supposed to show you a difference in the level of respect he has for one but not the other.
As you can probably tell from the images below the covers were designed and created by me using various bits of art software and very loosely based on silhouettes from nature photographs. The sequence of red white and blue is a vague Beatles reference and the blue background is actually a colour scan of a watercolour painting of mine.
I have been tempted to write a Volume 4 (For A Boy) where Marc is older and has a son. Annie turns up again in his life and he has to decide whether to see her or stay with his wife. But it’s been done quite a few times by other people and I have no experience of that kind of thing, so I think not.
I think if I had the time to do these stories ‘over’ I would really go to town with the magpie character and have Marc have some kind of mental breakdown where he ends up in a special hospital like Brad Pitt’s character in Twelve Monkeys. Maybe Broken has picked up where The Magpie Diaries left off in that respect. I like the idea that in the end the magpie is actually a lucky figment of his imagination that has helped to guide him to the right shiny curiosity.