Thursday, 2 July 2015

Amy Alward Blog Tour: Where I Write - Woman Cave Tour

I'm currently reading, and really enjoying, Amy Alward's Potion Diaries, and I was lucky enough to go to the brilliant launch earlier in the week - so I'm very happy to be on the blog tour! Over to Amy, to tell us about where she writes.

At the end of last year, I moved out of London to the gorgeous medieval city of Winchester- and consequently moved from a pokey flat into a house with actual stairs. (What is it about stairs that makes you feel so grown up? I have no idea).

Multiple levels aside, by far the best aspect of the move was that I got to turn a small, single bedroom into a dedicated writing space. My creative sanctuary.

In other words… I created my own personal woman cave.

For me, a woman cave is 100% necessary because I have a bit of a weird process when it comes to writing. I often love to recreate that feeling of reading a book under the covers by flashlight- that kind of enclosed space that makes you feel warm and safe. When I feel enclosed, my imagination seems to soar. I’m definitely not what you would call claustrophobic! That’s why I lined every wall with dark wood bookshelves and stacked them floor-to-ceiling with my favourite reads. As a publisher and an author, I’ve collected a lot of books over the years, and somehow they just keep on multiplying. 

In the early stages of writing, I also like to use old-fashioned tools- just a fountain pen, ink, and a good sturdy notepad. I often make the mood even more atmospheric in my woman cave by drawing the blinds and lighting some candles. I admit that sometimes my husband comes home on a bright, sunny day and wonders why his weird writer wife is holed up in her library/cave writing by candlelight and pretending she lives in the Middle Ages…but he quickly gets over it. 

Whatever gets the creative juices flowing, right?

Amy Alward is the author of The Potion Diaries and editorial director for a leading children’s publisher. She is addicted to coffee, books and adventure. Get in touch via Twitter: @amy_alward or Instagram @amyalward!

You can buy The Potion Diaries here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Deep Water Blog Tour: Lu Hersey on The People of the Sea

Lu Hersey's Deep Water - recommended by the wonderful Malorie Blackman! - is high on my TBR pile, so I'm delighted to take part in her blog tour today!

Over to you, Lu.

Some years ago, nosing around a second-hand bookshop, I came across an old paperback called The People of the Sea by David Thomson. It was in the travel section, but a quick look at the cover and the blurb told me that it was more of a book on folklore – covering stories of the seal people, the selkies (or selchies) of Celtic legend. Skimming through a few pages, I knew I had to buy it.

The People of the Sea turned out to be one of my best ever purchases (especially at 50p!), and the most haunting and unusual book I’d read for a long time. I loved it.

First published in 1954, it’s an account of Thomson’s travels through the islands of Scotland and Ireland, encompassing his encounters with the island people and descriptions of the dwellings they lived in. He conjures a sense of place perfectly. You can almost smell the peat fires and the cow dung as you read. But the main purpose of these travels was to collect stories about selkies – creatures who are seals in the water and become people on the land – from islanders who still believed them to be true.

The People of the Sea is a kind of travelogue meets mythic journey – and then some. Irish poet Seamus Heaney described it as a work of “intuitive understanding, perfect grace, and perfect pitch.”

I’ve been recommending the book ever since I read it, but it was only when looking through it again recently that I realized how much of it had embedded itself into my subconscious – and just how far it went towards inspiring my novel, Deep Water. The sense of those special places where the worlds of earth and water meet – the coastal shorelines where even now, you can still sometimes feel the magic – really stayed with me.
Of course I’m not alone in loving The People of the Sea – the book has remained in print ever since it came out in the 1950s. And it’s not just writers who love it either.

In the appendices (got to love a book with appendices!) Thomson has included sheet music to a few folk songs about selkies – including a very ancient chant from the Hebrides said to have been sung by the selkies themselves.

I always wanted to hear what this sounded like – so it was a total joy to discover folk singer Emily Portman (who is also obsessed with selkies) had included the chant in her song Grey Stone. When I found out she’d got the music from the back of The People of the Sea, I squawked so loudly in the library that heads turned…

Anyway, the upshot is I used a part of Emily’s song (including some of the ancient chant) as the backing track to my book trailer – so have a listen. It’s all about the magic – and the people – of the sea. And I hope I managed to convey at least some small part of that magic in Deep Water too.

Deep Water by Lu Hersey, published by Usborne, is out now. Read the first chapter online at or watch the trailer.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten US Books I've Read in 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

I couldn't choose just 10 (sorry!) so I've cheated just slightly, and gone for my top 10 books by US authors here, and top 10 by UK or Irish authors over at the new Teens on Moon Lane site!

Also, special mention to Meg & Linus, by Hanna Nowinski. (I think she's American, anyway!) I couldn't include it as I haven't quite finished it yet, but it's a gorgeous LGBT love story about two friends trying to help each other with relationships. It's over at Swoon Reads, where you can currently read it for free, and where the editorial board will be making selections soon - if you want to read it and share your thoughts with them, you've got until next Tuesday, 7th July, to read, rate and comment! 

Oh, and thanks to Charlie, who lent me Summer Love and was the person who recommended a large amount of this list!

Under The Lights by Dahlia Adler - My entire Twitter feed today is basically screaming about this and RT'ing other people's screaming about this. It's a truly stunning F/F romance with two incredible narrators (Van, the Korean-American actress involved in the romance and Josh, a bad boy actor who starts to develop through friendship with Van.) Josh's character arc is particularly outstanding and the Van/Bree chemistry is mindblowingly good. I've so far imported four copies because, like several others here, this doesn't have a UK publisher, unfortunately.

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli - Like reading a warm hug. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. One of the sweetest and funniest LGBT novels I've ever read (and a rare massively HAPPY LGBT book to get a UK publisher!)

The Scandalous Sisterhood by Julie Berry - Picked up on a whim because I love the UK cover (great job, Nicola Kinnear!); I was a huge fan of this historical mystery which sees seven girls at a small school connive to hide their headmistress's death as they don't want to be sent home. Funny, with lots of great twists and turns.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black - Gorgeous fairy-tale inspired LGBT story with incredibly chemistry, wonderful characters, and a really unique setting in Fairfold, a small town where everyone knows that legends are true.

Summer Love edited by Annie Harper - Would be in here just on the strength of Naomi Tajedler's rich and fulfilling What The Heart Wants, which in 40 pages includes a young girl coming out, a gorgeous first relationship, a strong friendship, sibling rivalry, and a character who identifies as asexual, and some amazingly written characters. However there are others in the collection nearly as good, and overall it's a massively diverse and brilliantly selected anthology.

Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour - Another gorgeously happy LGBT book (although NOT one with a UK publisher, argh!) The love story here between set designer Emi and rising star Ava is lovely, and it's really nice to see a lead in Emi who's out, confident in her sexuality, and supported by her family.

Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz - Black bisexual ballerina Etta, who's recovering from an eating disorder, is one of the best-written narrators in a LONG time. I adored her voice, loved the plot here and the nuanced relationships she has with her crush, her new friends, and her sister. Also, a jaw-droppingly great ending.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky - Gorgeous MG story about a transgender girl finding the confidence to try out for the lead female role in a school play. Really lovely!

Black Iris by Leah Raeder - I have no clue what I can say without spoiling, but diverse as heck, BRILLIANTLY written, and a total mind-screw. MUST-READ.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab - Schwab changes tack completely from last year's stellar superhero story Vicious to give us an even better read here. She creates several compelling worlds, with lead character Kell travelling between them, and the chemistry between him and orphan teen Lila is AWESOME. These are in alphabetical order but I think if pushed, this would be my absolute favourite on the list.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Diversity Panels: In Support of Justina Ireland, Wesley Chu and Kameron Hurley

(Thanks to Michelle from Tales of Yesterday, Debbie from Snuggling on the Sofa, and Caroline Clarke for giving me feedback on below post!)

Partly inspired by tweets I'll quote in a second, and partly by this great Justina Ireland blog post on the subject, I wanted to write a quick blog about diversity panels.

I'm in a slightly emotional state for various reasons at the moment, so this is hitting harder than it normally would, I think, but I'm actually crying tears of frustration here because I generally think of the bookish world as being cool and awesome and then stuff happens which make me realise JUST HOW MUCH PROGRESS NEEDS TO BE MADE.

Wes Chu just tweeted

There was perhaps the biggest collective facepalming my Twitter timeline has seen for a long time. BECAUSE REALLY?! 

Oh, and then Kameron Hurley replied in agreement, saying


It's not like these are minor authors with little to draw people in, after all. Wesley Chu's Time Salvager has been optioned by Michael Bay. Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire is a huge favourite amongst many SFF fans. If they're being told this, how much hope is there for other people who aren't straight white men? 

I am so frustrated about this because of my own teen years, I think. I grew up in a village with very little racial diversity, and I don't think I actually knew any out LGBT people well enough to talk to until after I'd left sixth form. (I'm reasonably stunned by this, looking back, and maybe I'm having a complete failure of memory caused by my raging at the idiots booking panels, but I think that IS true.)

My first two jobs were both in schools in places where, again, there weren't many non-white students or staff. There were a few, certainly, and everyone at both schools took racism really seriously. But for the most part, the teens there were growing up in the same fairly insular bubble that I was - where the vast majority of people were the same race as me, were hetrosexual and cisgender, appeared neurotypical... basically, not a huge amount of diversity. 

Due to the distance away from big cities, I never went to a big bookish event when I was a teen, and I think this would have been the same for most of the kids I taught. But I KNOW for myself, and I'm fairly sure for them, that if I had have gone, I wouldn't have gone to a 'diverse YA' panel or a 'Race in YA' panel or an 'LGBT YA' panel. And that's (hopefully!) not because I was growing up consciously prejudiced - I don't think I did. I definitely don't think that the amazing students I worked with for many years were prejudiced. 

I just wouldn't really have thought of it. And again, while I may be misjudging them, I don't think they would have done either. And because of this, if it had been a choice between a 'diversity' panel, a 'sci-fi and fantasy' panel, and a 'comedy in YA' panel (to pick examples pretty much at random) then the 'diversity' would have come third for me. The other panels would have been on subjects I loved reading about, I'd have been eager to find out more, and back then, they'd have been more to my tastes than something on a subject I wasn't thinking of. But if I'd gone to one of the other two panels and seen authors from another culture talking about sci-fi/fantasy, or talking about comedy in their books, then I might have thought "Hey, they sound cool! I should read them." And maybe that would have opened my eyes to some diversity. 

Because there are times I feel that I sleepwalked through a large amount of my life in some ways. I know there have been a few authors who've said in the past few weeks that they're incredibly grateful not to have had social media when they was growing up because they'd have said something dumb. And I'm looking at that period of my life and thinking GOOD GRIEF YEAH, I'd have said so many stupid things. I'm vaguely happy with where I am now in my views on things. (Only vaguely, because I have a LOT to learn on numerous topics, but I feel I'm moving in the right direction.) But I'm really hoping that teens growing up today get to the point I'm at now a lot sooner than I did. 

And I think that if we want them to get there, we CAN'T just sit around patting ourselves on the back because "YAY DIVERSITY PANELS!" We CAN'T just look at things like #WeNeedDiverseBooks (which is AMAZING and which I don't want to criticise at all) and say "Hey, all kids need to do is click on this hashtag to get fantastic recommendations." We NEED to make it so that people can discover diverse authors, and books about diverse topics, in all sorts of ways. Not just if they're specifically looking for them. 

If you're trying to compile a list on something, or trying to put together a panel, PLEASE think about how you can include diverse authors. I honestly think that if you give me any topic that isn't incredibly restricted, I could name a diverse author or two (minimum, obviously!) who'd fit into it. And as I said, I have a LONG way to go in many ways - there are people like Justina, Wesley, Kameron, Ellen Oh, Malinda Lo, Dahlia Adler, Katherine Locke, Charlie Morris, Wei Ming Kam, James Dawson, and dozens of others, who could no doubt make the same claim with a lot more certainty. If you're in charge of booking panels and you genuinely can't come up with ANY ideas for diverse authors, then maybe ask someone who can? And if you're an author - especially a heterosexual white male author - maybe if you're asked to be on a panel which seems to be seriously lacking diverse representation, please consider saying something.

Your thoughts, anyone? Leave me a comment. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

YALC - Blogger Workshops

I am hugely excited (and a little bit shocked, to be honest) to say that I've been asked to take part in a blogger workshop at YALC! From 1:30 - 2:15 on Sunday 19th July, I'll be joining two of my very favourite bloggers, Viv from Serendipity Reviews and Lucy from Queen of Contemporary, to talk about 'Taking your blog to the next level'. Along with author Andy Robb, we'll be sharing what we've learnt through a few years of blogging, and giving some strategies for blogging and social media. (I'm really looking forward to learning myself from others, apart from anything else!) It would be amazing to see lots of bloggers there! 

Also, for those of you who've never blogged, or are just dipping a toe in, Andrew from The Pewter Wolf, Laura from Sister Spooky and Michelle from Tales of Yesterday are doing a 'Blogging 101' session at 12:30 - 1:15 which should also be amazing! 

 Daily YALC tickets for Friday and Sunday, and weekend tickets, are available (Saturday YALC tickets have sold out, but LFCC tickets are still available.) For full details of both sessions and the rest of the brilliant schedule, click here!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Guest Post: Keren David on The Language of This Is Not A Love Story

Really pleased to present a great guest post from one of my favourite YA contemporary authors, the wonderful Keren David, talking about the language used in her recently released This Is Not A Love Story.

One of the most important things that I do when I start to write a book is make decisions about language. What sort of words would my narrator use? How much slang is necessary, and how quickly will it date?  Will there be swearing? If so much much, how strong?

Writing This is Not a Love Story though posed greater challenges. It’s set in Amsterdam, and one main character is bilingual. How much Dutch should I use? Do I need to translate every Dutch phrase?

Additionally, both narrators are Jewish, meaning I needed to think about their use of ‘Jewish words’ which might be Hebrew or Yiddish or just London-Jewish slang in their vocabulary. How many of those words could I use? How much needed to be explained?

I decided to write as authentically as possible, dropping in Dutch, Hebrew, whatever as suited the character. I’d translate if it fitted into the text without feeling clunky. I’d leave it up to my editors to tell me if a word needed more explanation, or even a glossary.

With my ‘Jewish’ words, the editor took the decision not even to italicise words like ‘frummer’ (a very religious person), ‘shokelling’ (a rhythmic rocking movement associated with Jewish prayer), ‘Shoah’ (the word used in the Jewish world for the holocaust, literally meaning catastrophe) and beck. Beck was a difficult word for me to include, as I don’t like it very much. It means a certain sort of Jewish teenager –rich, spoiled, wearing all the designer labels. It’s a piece of London slang that’s persisted for decades - my mum knew it, I did and now my kids talk about becks. It seems now to mean someone popular - in my day it was more of an insult. Anyway there was no possibility that my characters wouldn’t know and use it, so it went in. Barmy and batty, for barmitzvah and batmitzvah (coming for age ceremonies for 13-year-old boys and 12-year-old girls) are also current slang, and I like them so much that I couldn’t leave them out. 

Hopefully the meaning of these words are clear by context. But if not, then they give my readers a small taste of what it’s like to be in another culture or country, where you don’t always understand what’s being said to you. Do you reach out and embrace the chance to learn? Or are you unsettled by the unfamiliar?  The book is full of examples of cultural misunderstandings and clashes, opportunities missed and feelings hurt because people don’t fully understand what they are being told or fail to be as honest as they could be. 

Ethan is the character in the book who’s suffered from being taken from one city and language (London, English) and put into another (Amsterdam, Dutch) at a very young age. He makes it clear that it was difficult, but rather typically he took the difficulties, mastered them, and now uses them to make other people feel uncomfortable. I hope that readers will find Ethan’s struggle to communicate quite poignant - he has two languages at his disposal, and he thinks he’s embraced Dutch openness, but when something really matters to him he can never quite find the right words. ‘I’m just crap with people,’ he says, and I think a lot of teenagers will feel the same.

As someone who lived in Amsterdam for eight years but never became fluent in Dutch, I noticed how much of the city’s culture is visual - art, architecture, photography, even interior design and gardening. Sometimes communication and culture speaks in a universal language.  Right at the end of the book, one character watches the others’ body language, and it speaks louder than any words. This is not a love story - but it might just be the prequel to an epic romance.