Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NaNoWriMo writing prompts

Tomorrow is the start of the fabulous National Novel Writing Month, which I may be crazy enough to try for the eighth time. I've never actually completed it before, but I'm trying my own personal Octowrimo challenge and am at 47,500 words out of a 50,000 target. Hoping to finish it in the 12 hours or so remaining, but taking a quick break to publish some writing prompts which have really helped me.

Not all of these have resulted in scenes which will make it into my finished novel, but all have helped me to understand my characters a bit better, and have spurred me on to get moving with my writing rather than come to a grinding halt as usual. I hope they're of use to anyone trying NaNoWriMo - and good luck!

1. Write a flashback scene to the week before your novel starts.
2. Write a scene where two of your characters who AREN'T in a relationship kiss.
3. Write a scene where your main character argues with his or her best friend.
4. Write a scene which has less than six lines of dialogue.
5. Write a scene set in a hot-air balloon.
6. Play a random song (using your iPod, Spotify, or whatever) and write a scene inspired by it.
7. Open the nearest book to you at a random page, read the first full line of dialogue, write something in response to it and build a scene around your response.
8. Write a scene where a character loses an item of clothing.
9. Write a scene in which a character talks to their pet.
10. Write a scene in which your character recites a poem. (But don't just choose an epic poem and use it to pad out your word count!)
11. Write a scene in which 2 characters converse only in song lyrics.
12. Write a scene when your main character is being told off by one of their parents.
13. Write your main character's profile for an online dating site.
14. Write a conversation between your main character and their favourite celebrity. (Either an actual encounter or something they imagine.)
15. Write a monologue in which your main character tries to convince someone else that their 'guilty pleasure' TV series is worth watching.
16. Write a scene in which your main character becomes a superhero.
17. Write a scene in which your main character dances.
18. Write a scene in which your main character talks to someone on Facebook chat.
19. Write a conversation between two of your characters on Twitter.
20. Write a scene from the POV of a character who ISN'T your narrator.
21. Use this line to start a scene. “Do you have any idea how to fix this?”
22. Write a sentence which includes the titles of three different novels in it.
23. Write an epilogue showing your main characters five or ten years after the book ends.
24. Start a scene with the worst first line you can possibly create.
25. Write a scene in the style of a classic novel.
26. Write a scene in which your main character sees a spider in his or her bedroom.
27. Write a scene involving at least one drunk person.
28. Write a scene in which two or more of your characters watch a sporting event. (Either live or on TV)
29. Write a scene in which your character wins a bet.
30. Write a scene which starts and ends with the same sentence. (Repeated, rather than just a one-sentence scene!)

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Kick-Ass Heroines

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

(There's 11, but from 10 books - I couldn't get rid of anyone as they're all great!)

1. Kat (The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series by Stephanie Burgis) - These are technically in no order, but Kat is possibly my favourite ever heroine. Loyal to her family, she's a wonderful friend and a ferocious enemy, as well as being brilliant at magic. Considering she's still only about thirteen in the last book, that's pretty stunning.

2. Verity/Maddie (Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein) - As always, am saying as little as possible about CNV due to being petrified of spoiling it, but anyone who's been reading my blog this year could guess this would be here. Two incredible young women with a wonderful friendship.

3. Brianna (Gone series by Michael Grant) - I could have picked a couple of people from this series, but it's Brianna who's always been my favourite. At an age when dealing with growing up is hard enough, she's also trying to control super speed, fight the bad guys, and deal with people she wasn't expecting to be interested in her having feelings for her. A stunning portrayal.

4. Larissa (Department 19 series by Will Hill) - Larissa, eternally seventeen after being turned into a vampire two years prior to the start of the series, is a kick-ass heroine with real bite. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

5. Abby (Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer) - As the leader of the kids on the island in this harrowing dystopian book, Abby does an amazing job of keeping her community together after the deaths of all the adults.

6. Margo Roth Spiegelman (Paper Towns by John Green) - I'm keeping it to one per author, so Margo edges out Green's nearly-as-awesome Alaska. Right from the moment she crawls into Q's window, dressed in black and wearing black face paint, she's a fabulous character.

7. Gloria (Flappers series by Jillian Larkin) - Hard to choose one from the central trio here, but Gloria's forbidden interracial romance with Jerome is so well-handled that I'll give her the nod.

8. Lottie Biggs (Lottie Biggs series by Hayley Long) - Lottie is a stunning creation who is just a joy to read about. Her courageous battle with mental health issues in the first book, Lottie Biggs Is (Not) Mad, is especially well-handled.

9. Meg (The Anti-Prom by Abby McDonald) - As with Flappers, this is a book with three brilliant lead female characters. Meg, who's quiet and often overlooked but really grows during the one night the book takes place in, is my favourite.

10. Princess Eilonwy (The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander) - Most of the children's fantasy novels from the 60s, 70s and 80s that I can remember had some strong male characters but relatively few really good female leads. Eilonwy bucks that trend, being far more than 'just' a love interest to Taran in this wonderful sequence.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Book Review of The Diviners by Libba Bray

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.



1920's New York City. Jazz and gin mix with murder and mystery. For Evie O'Neill - fresh in from Ohio to the city of her dreams after her demonstration of a strange power caused a scandal in society - this is what she's always dreamed of. But dreams can become nightmares, and when Evie, her uncle Will and their friends find themselves trying to stop a serial killer, she'll have to use all of her wits, as well as her power, to stay alive.

As you'd expect from Libba Bray, there are some really strong points to this supernatural historical novel. Evie is a vivacious main character, her Uncle Will, curator of the Museum of Creepy Crawlies, is a solid foil to her, and there's love interests provided in the mysterious Sam and her uncle's employee Jericho, both of whom seem to have secrets of their own. I loved the dialogue - Evie herself would no doubt describe it as 'pos-i-tute-ly' wonderful. I also thought that the book was very well plotted and it's great to see the first novel in a new series end so strongly - with a definite resolution to the main story followed by lots of intriguing teases to set up the sequel.

That said, I didn't love this as much as I was expecting to, and I think the main issue is that it's so long. I'm far from being averse to huge reads - Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill and The Monstrumologist: The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey both run to over 550 pages but are two of my favourites this year. In both of those cases, though, they're tightly focused on the main story despite their epic length, while in this one there are so many sub-plots and characters to follow that it was difficult to feel really drawn in until the superb last third of the book.

Overall, I wouldn't say this was as spellbinding as Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy, but it's still one which supernatural or historical fans should really enjoy. The satisfying ending is a particularly strong point but I'm also intrigued as to where the series will go from here, and will definitely be eagerly waiting for book 2!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Cath Crowley



This has been an incredible year for YA contemporary books, and I'd be hard-pressed to choose my favourite. A strong contender, though, would be the long-awaited UK release of Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon, an enchanting story of one incredible night. It's lyrical, romantic, and full of wonderful characters. I wa absolutely thrilled to be able to talk to Cath Crowley about it!

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

If I think about my readers too much, I don’t write. I worry about what they’ll think and then the whole process shuts down for me.

But based on the emails I get from people, my readers seem like a lovely bunch. They’re interested in art and language and music and ideas. They’re funny and they’re a little unsure of who they are sometimes. If I have to picture anyone, I picture that type of crowd.


2. I'm a big fan of dual narratives and the main part of Graffiti Moon is, of course, Ed and Lucy's narration - along with some fabulous poems from Poet as well. Did you always know you were going to write it in this way? 

I always (with the exception of one book) write dual narratives. I like the play that it allows – play in dialogue and perspective. I like drilling into characters and I find this easier to do when I’m writing in the first person. The Howling Boy is another dual narrative and after that, I might spend some time experimenting with narration styles to test myself a bit.


3. I absolutely loved the chemistry between your two main characters in Graffiti Moon! What's your own favourite example of fictional chemistry?

Thank you.

It’s hard to pick a single favourite. I loved Westley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride (William Goldman), Lana and Chet in The Decoding of Lana Morris (Laura and Tom McNeal), Anne and Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables, Tristran Thorn and Yvaine in Stardust (Neil Gaimon), Dan and Estelle in Six Impossible Things (Fiona Wood), Dylan and Riley in Everything Beautiful (Simmone Howell).

For family/friendship chemistry I read The Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall).

Out of those, I've only read The Princess Bride and Stardust - sounds like I've got a few to check out when I get the chance!


4. Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was that it all took place in one hugely memorable night. Is there one night of your own teenage years which stands out as particular memorable?

I remember the first time my two best friends and I went to the city to stay with my older brother. I don’t remember the specific details. I know it was the first time we weren’t staying with grandparents or aunties. I remember freedom. I had a haircut and I felt not entirely uncool, like I usually did. I know I wore a dusky coloured 1950s dress from a secondhand shop and big black boots. I remember going to a club full of punks and Goths. I felt scared and excited and in the wrong place and in exactly right place all at the one time. I remember a fat silver moon, but I might have added that detail with time. I remember running along a road, but I’m not sure where to or what from.


5. I mentioned in my review that I wanted to quote a couple of particularly good lines, but couldn't narrow it down past a few dozen. If you had to pick, what would be your own favourite line?

I like ‘a light-scattered dream’, mainly because that’s what the book is meant to feel like…

And maybe Lucy’s description of the heart as a fist-sized forest in our chest’ – the it makes me think about the strangeness of love…


6. Art, of course, plays a massive part in Graffiti Moon. What's your all-time favourite piece of art?

That’s another hard one – too hard to pick my all-time favourite. But the pieces I go back to…

Till the heart caves in by Michael Zavros. I’m lucky enough to have a print of this, sent to me by the artist sent me the piece after I won the PM’s Award. I look at it every day.

I love Claire Morgan’s Here is the end of All Things.

I’m loving The Little People Project at the moment.


7. You've mentioned on your website and on Twitter that you do writing workshops in schools sometimes. What's the best part about working with young people?

I learn a lot – about writing, about the world. Young people have been generous over the years – they’ve answered my questions about music, art, sport and school. I’m able to test my writing out too, which is always helpful.


8. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what was the soundtrack to Graffiti Moon?

I do listen to music sometimes. A Little Wanting Song had a definite soundtrack (Natalie Merchant, Clare Bowditch and Fiona Apple were on high rotation.)

I didn’t have a set soundtrack for Graffiti Moon – I made one for Random Buzzers that you can read here. I listened to Something for Kate quite a bit – the song Say Something in particular.

I tend to pick something that’s fast, that I can play loud because it drowns the doubts out a bit, and I can slip into writing without worrying about whether it’s good or not.

Soundtrack looks really interesting - although I think the only ones I know are I'm Your Man and A Girl Like You. Will definitely check out the rest!


9. If you could collaborate with another author on a novel, who would you choose and why?

I’m collaborating with Fiona Wood (Six Impossible Things) and Simmone Howell (Notes from the Teenage Underground, Everything Beautiful) at the moment. So they were my first choice. I’d like to write more books with them. They capture small moments beautifully, they write smart, complex characters. I feel like I have to strive to be as good as they are…

Wow - sounds fab! Can't wait. 


10. What's next for Cath Crowley?

I’m working on The Howling Boy, out next year (hopefully), and then the book with Simmone and Fiona. And then after that I’m going to take a breath. And see.


Best of luck with both of them, and for the future, Cath. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me!

Friday Feature 1: Kindle Bargains

Later today, I have an awesome interview which I'm hugely excited about posting, but I've just seen Amazon's brilliant Kindle Harvest and realised you can grab five brilliant books for just over a fiver. I wanted to share the details!

The Flip-Flop Club: Whale Song by Ellen Richardson (99p) - Amazon link - Haven't reviewed yet Really sweet book in a lovely MG series, with a really sweet and timeless feel.

The Demon Collector by Jon Mayhew (99p) - Amazon link - My review
Second in Mayhew's very loosely linked historical fantasy series, but could be read as a stand-alone. Creepy mixture of demons and Victorian London, with fabulous world-building.

Koh Tabu by Ann Kelley (99p) - Amazon link - My review
One of the most thought-provoking books I've read in years, this 70s story of teen girls trapped on a desert island is a taut thriler with some great characters.

A Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master (99p) - Amazon link - My review
This story of a young boy in 1947 India trying to stop his bedridden rather from hearing the news of Partition is outstanding. Bilal, who wants to let his father die without having his heartbroken, is a wonderful central character and Master's book is thought-provoking, exciting, and completely charming.

Poison Heart by SB Hayes (£1.19) - Amazon link - My review
Stunning psychological thriller with brilliant characters and an incredibly tense atmosphere.


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of VIII by HM Castor




Hal is a young boy who believes he is destined for greatness. Despite his father's disdain for him, and preference for his older brother Arthur, Hal believe that he is the subject of a prophecy. He thinks that his 'glory will live down the ages'. Is he right?

I'll leave it up to the reader to decide - Hal is Henry VIII, and while his name has certainly survived the four and a half centuries since his death, 'glory' might not be the word that springs to mind when you think of him. Here, though, HM Castor has created a compelling portrait of one of history's most infamous characters, both as a charismatic young teenager and as an aging, tyrannical king. Henry is an outstanding narrator but the rest of the cast are also really well-drawn, with two of my favourites being Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Castor studied history at Cambridge so it's no surprise that she also captures the period with real authenticity.

It's cleverly paced, with lots of jumps forward in time to important scenes. I've seen a few reviews suggesting it moves too quickly towards the end, but I think it's judged very well - when you consider that he was married to Catherine of Aragorn for well over twice as long as the other five wives put together, it's no surprise that the pace of the novel picks up considerably towards the end.

In some ways, I'm surprised this is being marketed as YA. While the book starts with Hal as a child, and moves on to show him during his teenage years, a large amount of it takes place later in his life. I think it has serious crossover potential and will be welcomed by adults and teens with an interest in the Tudor period, or just looking for an exciting historical novel.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

UK Giveaway: 3 YA Paranormal Books

In my continuing quest to get rid of some of the dozens of books I've got lying around, I'm running another giveaway. (UK only due to postage costs, sorry.)


All books have been read but are in pretty good condition, and are finished copies not ARCs/proofs - see photo above.

The books are:
Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr
Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs
My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent

 To enter, just leave a comment below.

(Edit: Oops, just realised I didn't set a deadline - we'll say October 31st 11:59 pm.)

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Book Review of Dark Eyes by William Richter

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.



Born in Russia but brought up in New York by wealthy adoptive parents, before rejecting them to live on the streets with her friends, Wallis Stoneman has never known too much about her past. This lack of knowledge might turn out to be deadly, though, when a chance encounter leads to her being given a letter from her birth mother. As Wally tries to track her down, she and her friends enter a murky world where the stakes are high, the truth is hidden, and every move they make could be their last.
As the plot summary suggests, this is a thriller and it won’t disappoint anyone looking for a high-octane, exciting read. Richter has created a really strong heroine in Wally, sympathetic support from her street crew, her adoptive mother, and the detective trying to track her down, and some especially memorable villains. He also impresses me with a fast pace and realistic action scenes – perhaps unsurprisingly, as his background is as a screenwriter and he definitely makes it easy to visualise the big set pieces here. Wally has been trained previously in both mixed martial arts and shooting, which makes her being able to handle herself against tough opposition seem more believable than some characters doing this sort of thing is. It’s also a book which I can see having major appeal to a crossover audience rather than just teens – in a similar vein to The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman it feels more like an adult thriller than a teen novel in places.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have flaws – for a start, it’s a tad on the predictable side (in fairness to Richter, this definitely isn’t helped by a blurb on the back of the book which gives far too much away – avoid reading it!) There are also a couple of faltering moments when the plot seems to descend into slightly jarring psychobabble for a sentence of two, although they’re offset by some superb turns of phrase, my favourite line being Wallis was an angry and defiant twelve-year-old when she began the training. After two years, she was an angry and defiant fourteen-year-old who now knew fifty different ways to cripple a man. As those sentences might suggest, by the way, it’s probably not one for younger readers – there’s lots of violence and a bit of (tastefully described) sex.
Overall I’d happily recommend this one to both older teens and adults wanting to read a quick-moving thriller and will definitely be keeping an eye out for Richter’s next novel.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

What's Wrong With NaNoWriMo?


What do the following YA novels have in common? Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Jessie Hearts NYC by Keris Stainton and Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

Any idea?

They were all originally written as part of National Novel Writing Month, commonly called NaNoWriMo. This wonderful event happens next month, and the Guardian have created consternation amongst Twitter users, aspiring novelists, literary agents and God only knows who else by publishing a supplement today entitled "How To Write A Book in 30 Days".

There are two questions raised here - firstly, is the advice any good? From what I've read so far, it's fairly awful - I'd personally suggest that if you're trying to write a book in a month then there's no way on earth you should be spending 7 days of that researching it, and it's far more in the NaNoWriMo spirit of things to forget the research, make it up as you go along, and edit afterwards. (Other views will obviously vary there, and if the advice works for you then that's fantastic!)

Secondly, is it absolutely appalling that anyone should even try to write a novel in a month, which seems to be the feeling from some people commenting on it? NaNo has always been rather divisive, with pep talks given in previous years by leading lights such as Peter Carey, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman and Jonathan Stroud, but other literary figures criticising it. There was a bizarre piece in the San Fransisco Book Review last year decrying it for producing work of poor quality, with the author saying "I review a lot of books and I see the very best and very worst of the writing world on a regular basis.  I don’t want to have to trash your work someday because you took the easy route." I'm glad I don't share his complete lack of faith in agents and publishers to, you know, not publish something that's terrible. Authors have similarly criticised it in the past, commenting that it encourages superficial books full of terrible writing. Even today, various agents tweeted disbelief that anything good could come of this.

Well, it's not as if writing a book in 30 days or less was without precedent even before NaNoWriMo started in 2001 - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took 3 weeks to write Sherlock Holmes's debut A Study in Scarlet, while Muriel Spark took only a month to write The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and John Boyne fired off The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas in two and a half days. In all of those cases, I'm assuming the books would then have undergone a fair amount of revision, as many books completed for NaNo will, although Fyodor Dostoyevsky probably didn't even have time to do much of that after writing The Gambler. He started the book on 4th October 1866 working to a deadline of 1st November that year and managed to beat the deadline by two full days.

In addition to the books by Stephanie Perkins, Keris Stainton, and Marissa Meyer mentioned above, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen were both originally written for NaNoWriMo. I'm sure that all of the authors who succeeded with their NaNo projects went on to revise them thoroughly, edit them, and spend a lot longer than a month on them. (I'd also guess that many of them had books planned out prior to November, as NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty advises, and in apparent opposition to the Guardian supplement.)

The general criticism of NaNo from agents seems to be that in the first few weeks of December their inboxes are full of dreadful submissions. This may well be true - I'm quite glad I'm not an agent to find out for myself - but since quotes claiming that 99% of submissions come from people who can't write seem reasonably common amongst many agents, I can't believe that the December period is that much worse than others.

Disclaimer: I've tried and failed NaNo on roughly half a dozen occasions, and am currently trying my own private OctoWriMo challenge, where I've written about 32,000 words since October 1st. Without this focus, I doubt I'd ever finish a novel. (Which may be part of the issue people have with it, to blatantly steal a line from Keris Stainton earlier today!) With it, I have a fair chance of completing my first draft.

But relax, agents, I promise I'll spend at least three times as long revising it before I even think of submitting it!

What are your thoughts on NaNoWriMo? Have you ever done it? And did you find anything of use in the Guardian supplement? I'd love to read your comments below!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Mini-Interview: Katie McGarry on Supporting Characters

One of my favourite YA contemporary books of the year so far is Katie McGarry's outstanding debut Pushing The Limits, and one of the very strongest points of it is the superb cast, which includes lots of wonderful supporting characters. When Katie managed to find some time in a really busy schedule to answer three questions, I knew the topic I wanted to ask her about!


1. As much as I loved the chemistry between Echo and Noah, I stated in my review of Pushing The Limits that "what really stands out is the supporting characters," because I've rarely read anything in which every character seemed quite so well-drawn. What would be your top tips for creating compelling supporting characters?

Don’t consider them supporting characters. Think of them as main characters that never get a chance to have their point of view in the story. What are their backstories? What are their goals, conflicts, and motivations? If you know all of this, then you will legitimately know how they will respond in a scene.

For instance, Isaiah has feelings for Beth in Pushing the Limits. This influences all conversations Isaiah has with anyone. It makes Isaiah and Beth richer characters.


2. Speaking of supporting characters, who are some of your favourites from other books?

One of my favorite books is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Two-Bit and Dallas are definitely favorites of mine. What can I say? I love a good bad boy!


3. I mentioned a few weeks ago in a blog post that I love books which are 'linked' to each other, so I'm really excited to see Beth take centre stage in your next book Dare You To. Can we expect to read more books following some of the same characters?

Beth is one of my favorite characters ever! She was so much fun and absolutely heartbreaking to write. I’m excited that the world will get a chance to know her better when Dare You To will be released in 2013.

As of right now, I do have plans to write more stories in the Pushing the Limits universe!


That's great news! Really looking forward to reading Dare You To - and thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, Katie.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Really Weird Removals.com by Daniela Sacerdoti

(I was provided with this book by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.)




Twelve-year-old Luca and his younger sister Valentina don't know their Uncle Alistair, who had a row with their father about a decade ago. When Alistair returns to the Scottish island of Eilean to try to put things right, their dad doesn't want to have anything to do with him - but when Luca and Valentina meet him and the ghost he's brought with him, they're desperate to help their uncle with his Really Weird Removals Company. While their parents think they're helping to exterminate ants and cockroaches, they're actually relocating mermaids, sea serpents and trolls - but not everything out there is friendly.

This is a charmer of a book with fun characters and a light touch which means even the introduction of baobhan sith (Scottish vampires), dragons and kelpies doesn't make it too scary for youngsters. I particularly enjoyed the central quartet of Luca, Valentina, Alistair and the ghost Camilla, but the various creatures they encounter are clearly described and easy to imagine. (The entries in Alistair's Scottish Paranormal Database do a great job of this, as well, and provide some tantalising teases for possible chapters of a sequel!) It's also great to see creatures like kelpies, selkies and stone fairies rather than the 'usual suspects' when it comes to monster fiction.

Throughout the entertaining confrontations - most of which are solved by helping the creatures people are complaining about - there is a strong central story as Alistair tries to repair his relationship with the children's father by showing him how responsible he's become. I really liked the satisfying resolution but would definitely be interested in reading more of the pair's adventures if there was a sequel in the future.

Definite recommendation to children looking for a funny and cleverly-plotted read.

There's also a rather fabulous website to go with it over at www.reallyweirdremovals.com!



Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Waiting On Wednesday: Colony East by Scott Cramer and FREE Night of the Purple Moon!


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted on Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:


I don't normally do Waiting on Wednesdays, but the news that there's a cover for the 2nd book in Scott Cramer's Toucan Trilogy got me so excited that I decided to run one for once - can't wait for this one next June! There's not much information on it yet but if it's anywhere near as good as Cramer's first book it will be fantastic.

If you haven't read the original book in the trilogy, Night of The Purple Moon, now is the time to get it - it's FREE on Kindle! Get it HERE if you're in the UK, or HERE if you're in the US.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Martha Payne, Whitney Kropp, Games Makers And My Little Sister

The One Show today has got Martha Payne of Never Seconds on, and it's reminded me of a blog post I keep meaning to do.

My little sister (now in her twenties, so not all that little!) has been keen on volunteering for things for over half her life, ever since she was old enough to get involved, really. She's worked with younger students in school, taught in India, stage managed for several years at Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, hitch-hiked to Morocco for charity... (I'll give it a rest there as I'm already feeling inadequate in comparison!)

Her most recent venture, as some of my Twitter followers may have noticed, is as Team V leader for Derby City. Team V is a network of 18-25 year old volunteers run by youth led organisation vInspired which aims to inspire a new generation of volunteers. They're planning, organising, and delivering three social action projects this year, starting with one on youth homelessness, to make a difference in their communities.

She blogged last month about a conversation she struck up with a man on a train as she went to her interview for V. The man, aged perhaps 10 years older than her, said to her after hearing that she was heading up to Leeds from Derby just for the interview "Wow, that's dedication.  Not many people would do that.  Especially your age."

She thinks he's wrong. I agree. Despite the lazy stereotypes of young people in some quarters, I know myself as a teacher that there are a huge amount of people out there who DO get involved in this sort of thing. Whether it's organised volunteering like vInspired, or spontaneous things like helping out elderly neighbours, there are tons of young adults, teens and children who are contributing to their communities.

Take Martha Payne, for example. Martha hit the headlines with her Never Seconds blog about school meals. It was already fairly popular when Argyll and Bute Council scored perhaps the biggest PR own goal of the year by banning Martha from taking photos of those meals, perhaps because they were embarrassed by the tiny portions they were providing. Instant outcry and the involvement of MSP Mike Russell got the ban lifted, and provided a big increase in traffic to Martha's blog. Within 48 hours of the ban being handed down, the amount of money Martha had raised for her chosen Mary's Meals charity had reached £65,000. Since then the amount of money raised has hit six figures, she's travelled out to Malawi herself, and (the book link in this post!) you can now pre-order her book at Amazon for just £6.99. (Buying the book also means you'll be feeding 25 children in Malawi!)

Martha is clearly an exceptional girl, and her dad Dave Payne, who assists her, is also doing an incredible job, of course.

But as well as Martha, there are other youngsters out there who are doing superb things. Take Whitney Kropp. After being voted onto the Homecoming court as a cruel prank by fellow pupils at her school, the 16-year-old could have been forgiven for not wanting to go near the celebration. Instead, backed by donations of gown, jewellery, shoes, hair styling and make up from local people and businesses, she attended the ball after speaking out against bullying. Whitney's handling of the situation was incredibly level-headed. I was hugely impressed by the interview she gave a few weeks ago, saying "The world is proving they do, well not really care about me, but they care about the situation."

Of course, this year, it's hard for anyone in Britain to talk about either volunteering or inspirational people without mentioning the Games Makers who played such an integral part in making the London Olympics and Paralympics such a success. Having loved every minute of the five days I spent in London at the height of Olympic fever, I felt hugely proud as a teacher when I later found out that several boys and girls who I'd taught and were now in sixth form or at university had been part of the vast number of purple-shirted volunteers.

These are just a few examples of the outstanding, inspirational, children and young people out there at the moment. Despite what the man on the train thought, and despite what you'd believe if you watched the adverts encouraging you to vote for police and crime commissioners, there really are a load of them out there.

Cheap plug - my sister's blog can be found at Team V Derby City and her Twitter account is TeamVDerbyCity. I know she'd be really pleased if anyone felt like commenting or helping to get the word out by retweeting a post or two/

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Book Review of Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry


My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.


Echo used to be popular. Until a particular night when something happened, leaving her with scars on her arms and a blank space where her memory of that night should be. As if having a stepmother who used to be her babysitter and a brother who died in Afghanistan wasn't already making life hard enough, she's trying to work out if she'll ever recall what she went through. Then she meets Noah, who shares a therapist with her and is nearly as damaged as she is. Torn away from his beloved younger brothers after their parents died, he's desperate to become their legal guardian when he turns eighteen – but with a hot temper and a dubious academic record over the past couple of years, is there any way a judge would choose him over the foster parents they're currently living with? Could these two broken teenagers help each other to heal?
It's a fair while since I've read a book which had a cast quite so strong as this one. Echo and Noah are an excellent pair of narrators who have great chemistry between them but what really stands out is the supporting characters. Noah's foster family aren't going to win any awards for parenting skills but are interesting, with realistic flaws and good points. His brother's foster parents, Echo's father and stepmother, her therapist Mrs Collins, and even her jock ex-boyfriend Luke all have moments when they're likeable and others when I could happily have strangled them. Going back to Echo and Noah, though, their growth as characters as well as the romance is really well done and they develop very realistically, while McGarry captures both of their voices brilliantly in the dual narrative.
The novel also benefits from an intriguing plot with some revelations which really took me by surprise, and from moving at a fast pace – I definitely found it hard to put down once I'd started it. Throw in a satisfying ending which left me guessing right until the last few chapters but finally provided a clever, well-plotted resolution, and you have one of the best contemporary teen novels of the year so far. I'm already eagerly anticipating McGarry's follow-up, 'Dare You To', centred on Noah's friend Beth.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Tips For NaNoWriMo First-Timers


Next month sees National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo. After getting some great tips from 2013 debut author Josin McQuein yesterday, I thought I'd add some of my own.

My own past experiences of NaNo have been, shall we say, rather hit and miss. Actually, they've been more 'miss and miss by more'. I've made six attempts, the best of which saw me just about break 20k. However, this month I'm trying my own private 'novel in a month' challenge which I'm imaginatively calling OctoWriMo, and have written 25,000 words in 12 days. I thought I'd share some tips on what I'm doing this time that seems to have made the difference. (This is also partly to motivate myself, because I figure that if I post a 'tips for NaNo' post then it will be REALLY embarrassing not to finish this!)

1. Set high targets, and try to exceed them, but don't beat yourself up about not making them. To write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words a day. My previous attempts have seen me aim to do that, and run out of steam after a week or so. This time, I'm aiming for 2000 words a day, and if I can, I'm doing 2500. However, if I don't make it, I'm shrugging my shoulders and thinking "There's always tomorrow."

2. Let people know you're writing a novel, and how you're getting on with it. I'm posting daily word count updates to Twitter to keep me motivated - I'm going to be too ashamed to tweet for ages if I don't get this done.

3. Try and get in a routine - I try to write from 10:30pm until midnight every day, because I've found I write better late at night.

4. If you have an iPod, delete your apps! Get rid of Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and other stuff, and when you have ten minutes spare try and get a couple of paragraphs done.

5. Plot things out beforehand, but don't be surprised if you change things. I was originally writing a dual narrative between a 19-year-old university student and an 18-year-old grieving for her dead boyfriend and fighting with her stepsister. Over the last couple of weeks, it's changed into a tale of the 18-year-old moving on with her life with her stepsister's support. Nowhere near what I had planned, but knowing there WAS a plan gave me some idea of where to go with it.

6. On a related note, don't edit or delete anything! Even if you think you've taken your story in a completely different direction, leave it in there for now - it counts towards your 50,000 words, but more to the point, it's still there if your change of direction turns out not to work.

7. Don't share your work with people. I think that in theory, the idea of reading other people's, and them reading yours, is awesome - but in practice they come back to you with great suggestions, you can't resist editing, and you end up doing that instead of writing. Save the discussion about the book until December!

8. Grab some books. There are a huge amount of writing guides of various quality - my personal favourite is probably Holly Lisle's Professional Plot Outline Mini-Course, which is a massive bargain at just 72p for Kindle. The other book which I'm absolutely in love with is the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, a fabulous resource for someone like myself who struggles with "Show don't tell." (Warning on this one - I'm using it via the Kindle app for iPad and the hyperlinks are fabulous; I've been told that reading it on the actual Kindle isn't as good.)

Have you done NaNO before, or are you planning on doing it this year? Would you like to share some tips? I'd love to see them in the comments section!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Josin L. McQuein

I've been absolutely desperate to read Josin McQuein's YA contemporary novel Premeditated ever since seeing this amazing query letter over at QueryShark. The announcement earlier this year that Random House's Delacorte imprint had bought it was hugely welcome news. Before that, there's also sci-fi thriller Arclight being published by HarperCollins via their Greenwillow imprint. Neither appears to have a UK release confirmed yet - but I'm definitely hoping for one! (Edit - the news gets even better! Just after I tweeted this interview, an Egmont editor got in touch to let me know that their brilliant Electric Monkey imprint (who've brought out two of my very favourite books this year, Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein), will be releasing Arclight over here!)

Clearly, next year will be a rather busy time for Josin - so I was thrilled when she agreed to give me an interview.

1. For those people who haven't heard of your novels Arclight and Premeditated yet, could you give us a little bit of information about each of them?

Sure.

When it first sold, ARCLIGHT was labeled "dystopian," but it's really more of a science fiction story. Thankfully, now that the dystopian wave is passing by, the original label seems to be going with it.

The plot centers on a teen girl (doesn't nearly everything in YA) named Marina who has been brought into a pseudo-military facility known as the Arclight. The name comes from a ring of sunlamps that surround the facility to make sure that night never falls on the people who live there, because nightfall and darkness bring out a race of creatures known as the Fade (for their ability to blend into their surroundings). Marina has escaped Fade territory, and with her rescue the decades-long cease-fire between the humans and the Fade is shattered; the Fade begin a series of nightly attacks on the Arclight. Everyone assumes it's this girl the Fade are after, so the Arclight's citizens are torn between the idea that she might know enough to help them defeat the Fade forever and the fear that keeping her will continue to entice the Fade to attack. But, stubbornly curious thing that she is, Marina starts poking around places she's not supposed to go and discovers that there's a live Fade being held captive by the people who run the facility. This starts her on a quest to find out exactly what happened to her inside Fade territory and decide who her real friends and enemies are.

PREMEDITATED is a contemporary story - no magic, no machines, just a grieving girl's thirst for revenge.

In this case, Dinah (the main character) is in a bad place. She doesn't have the best home life, and things only get worse when her younger cousin Claire apparently tries to commit suicide. It makes no sense because Claire's family had recently come into a large sum of money and she was excited about starting a posh new private school. Tired of feeling helpless, Dinah opens her cousin's diary and discovers that Claire was being used by one of the boys in her new school. So Dinah convinces her aunt and uncle to let her stay with them, and attend Claire's school, while Claire is recovering. She sheds her Goth image and turns herself into a near copy of Claire hoping to find this boy and destroy his life from the inside out the way he destroyed Claire. Unfortunately, things don't always go as smoothly as she has planned, causing a few complications along the way.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I'm significantly more interested in contemporary than sci-fi - but both of these books sound fantastic!


2. Arclight and Premeditated both look fabulous but they also look incredibly different. What made you decide to write two books in such different genres?

I never really considered writing contemporary before I got the idea for Premeditated. In that case, it really did start with a clear image in my head (there's a drawing of it on my blog, under the header "There is Method to my Madness") I saw, very clearly, this girl hiding behind a set of stone steps and wearing the uniform of a private school student. She was fascinating and no matter what else I wrote I couldn't get her out of my head, so I had to figure out her story.

With Arclight, science fiction has always been one of my favorite genres. I wanted something mysterious and a bit creepy, and I think that's what I ended up with. That story also began with an image, but not of the same sort. In Arclight's case, it came from listening to a hiker recount a harrowing account of a trip through South America where they had a run-in with a swarm of army ants. The ants were crawling over furniture and down walls, but it all happened in the middle of the night when the hikers could hardly see anything, and that idea stuck with me for years until it became Arclight.


3. You first came to my attention on Query Shark, with a query for Premeditated which got the response "oh hell yes. Send pages, send the entire manuscript NOW." It's a stunning query which made my jaw drop when I read it. How difficult was it to write that query letter?

I was stunned when she gave that response.

That query was something I wrote in a break from Arclight when I needed something to divert my mind. I was playing around, really, and came up with the beginnings of the count down structure. The rhythm seemed to work, so I asked the fine folks at Absolute Write for their opinions. They helped me tweak it a bit, but I still wasn't sure that an agent wouldn't take one look at the weirdness of it and declare it an improper query that belonged in the trash bin, so I sent it to La Shark (on Christmas Day of all things). You saw the answer on her blog, but you didn't see the one she sent me back  which was a very colorfully worded request for the book accompanied by the very intimidating image of a snarling wolf she promised to send to my house if the novel wasn't finished, yet. That's one email I've never deleted.

The AW forums are one of my favourite places on the internet - a fantastic place full of helpful people.


4. In addition to one of the best query letters I've ever seen, Premeditated has an absolutely awesome cover! How much input did you have into the cover design?

None.

Delacorte did everything and then sent me the final image. I've asked them for a couple of small changes (like adding the "L" to my name), but other than that, it's all them.


5. You have an awesome blog - I really enjoyed reading your 'Wordle as a Tool and a Toy' post and thought your 'Stalking Is Not Perseverance' post was great. Do you think blogging has helped you succeed as an author?

Bleh. I don't think I'm very good at blogging; it feels too much like giving a speech to a room full of people. I'm certainly not a consistent blogger, but it's one of those things that we're told we need to do in order to have an "online presence." (That sounds nearly paranormal, doesn't it?) However, I can't deny that having the blog, and the connections I've made through it, have had an impact. I've met agents and other writers via my blog, and those initial contact points have made things easier down the line.


6. You've blogged in the past about NaNoWriMo. What would be the best advice you could give to someone new to NaNo, or who'd tried for 7 years without ever getting past the halfway mark? (That last bit certainly isn't referring to anyone specific, honestly!)

Don't beat yourself up if you don't make your word goals. Seriously. People aren't computers; we're not actually wired to consistently produce a set amount of material in a given time span. If you need more time to phrase things a certain way, then take that time. Rushing down a road you're not ready to travel might mean you miss out on something fabulous because you didn't wait for it.

Great advice - thanks! 


7. What are you most looking forward to about being a published author?

Having others share the worlds I've created. Writing is the only profession in the world where you can create entire universes and realities full of people and beings who have never existed, talk about them, and still not be considered crazy.


8. Is there anything you're not looking forward to?

Public speaking. I've not had speak in public for a long time and I'm sort of rusty.

I can definitely agree with you there!


9. If you were throwing a literary dinner party, which six authors or characters would you invite?

I could cheat and fill up the slots with my own characters. (Don't give me that look. You know they'd be easier to write about if I could sit them down and ask them questions.) But, I won't.

I'd like to sit down with Stephen King because he seems like an intelligent person who would have some interesting stories to tell.

Neil Gaiman because - well, because he's Neil Gaiman and everything I said about Mr. King applies to him, too. Both can create totally immerse worlds that leave you wondering if reading their books didn't actually pull you into the pages for a while.

I'd have to include J.K. Rowling because you can't have a literary dinner, write for children and teens, and not include her. You just can't. It should be a law. I'd want to ask her how much of the series she actually had plotted from the beginning and whether or not some of the details threaded through the books were intentional or happy accidents.

Since you asked about characters, too. I'd invite Harry Potter, and not because I'm a fan of the series. I'd invite him to see how much of Ms. Rowling comes through in his character and how many of his mannerisms come from her own. It's a commonly held belief that writers pass along some of their traits to the characters, like parents to children, and I'd like to see it first hand.

In the same way, I'd invite both Suzanne Collins and Katniss Everdeen. I wonder if Katniss would find our world similar to the Capitol or she'd see the things we call entertainment as too close to the overly-stylized, hyper-violent spectacles they used to amuse the citizens.

I'm adding one more, even though it makes seven. This has turned into a collection of heavy-weights, so I have to add Stephenie Meyer. (and not just because I'd like to see a conversation between her and Stephen King) She seems like a sweet and genuine person. Plus, as a long-time vampire fiction fan, I'd like to ask her why she decided to write vampires without fangs. In her case, the characters don't get an invite. As much as I'd like to see how one of her vampires actually looked (I'd be more likely to invite Carlisle or Alice than Edward), they don't eat, so it would be awkward.

Sounds like an awesome collection of people!


10. What are you reading at the moment?

Revision notes for a series that's going out on submission at the first of October.


Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Josin - very best of luck for both your releases next year, and for the future.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Review of Seriously Sassy by Maggi Gibson



13-year-old Sassy is an environmentalist who wants to be a singer-songwriter, letting people know about the big issues and doing her bit to save the world. This has led to a couple of, shall we say, embarassing, moments in the past. To avoid any more of these when her dad decides to stand as an MP, he offers to pay for a demo CD recording if she behaves herself. But when Sassy finds out some major local news, she has to decide whether to keep quiet and get the cash for the demo recording, or speak out and risk losing her dad the election.

I picked this up in the library, having never heard of it before, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Gibson has a light touch which makes it an easy read, and her characters are well-portrayed - particularly Sassy herself and her family. I also really appreciated the fact that the choice to make was a bit more of a difficult decision than it often is in books of this kind. While normally it would be fairly obvious that Sassy should speak up and win a small victory, there's the potential for both her and her dad to be in a better position to improve things if she keeps her mouth shut and takes the demo disc.

Overall, the environmental message is strong but it never feels preachy, it just feels right for the characters. I also liked the love triangle between Sassy, hunky Magnus Menzies, and her ex-best friend Megan's stepbrother Twig. (Yes, that's right, I liked a love triangle for the fourth or fifth time this year - that may be a record!) I also thought the rivalry over Magnus between Sassy and Megan was well-written and thought the relationship between the two former friends was very realistic.

There are a couple of sequels which I haven't read yet but will definitely be keeping an eye out for. Recommended read for younger teens looking for something light-hearted but with a bit of depth.

You can check out Sassy's website, as well!


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Can A Spoiler Destroy A Story?


Daniel Abraham - author of my current favourite adult fantasy series, The Dagger and The Coin series - tweeted last week saying "I am coming to the conclusion that if a spoiler destroys a story, it wasn't a good story. Re-readability may be a litmus test for quality."

Do you agree? The quote came back to me when I read what appears to be a major spoiler for Cory Jackson's If I Lie earlier today in an article. I was left fuming at the lack of a spoiler warning, with every book mentioned up to that point in the article having been described without giving away more than what was in the blurb for the book.

Knowing the answer to a question I've been asking myself since I first read about Jackson's book certainly doesn't mean I'm no longer interested in reading it - but I have to admit my anticipation's been dampened just a little. I agree with Abraham that a good story shouldn't be "destroyed" by a spoiler, but I think reading a lot of books can be vastly different if you know the end.

Taking the example of The Dragon's Path, the first book in The Dagger and The Coin series, Abraham introduces several main characters who initially seem to fit easily into certain fantasy archetypes. One of them, in particular, develops into a very different character from the one I would have expected him to turn into. Rereading it, you can see from the start that there are clues about that character's personality and it's fascinating to pick up on them - but I wouldn't have wanted to miss the experience of being blindsided by the big turning point in the character development.

Similarly, Hayley Long's What's Up With Jody Barton? has an absolutely massive twist, to the point where I've avoided reviewing it because I'm not sure what I can say which won't give something away. Reading again, it's amazing to see just how many clues Long drops into the narrative which should have piled up to tell me something, but which I missed. As much as I can admire Hayley Long for doing this, I wouldn't have wanted to know the twist from the start because I loved being surprised.

Even if there's no big twist, I'd still like to read it without knowing too much about it for the first time - it's one reason I stick to reviews from certain people who I'm confident won't give too much away. I've criticised books in the past because the back cover gives away far too much - I don't think the publishers of Dark Eyes by William Richter, for example, did him any favours by revealing a lot of stuff that happens quite a long way through the novel.

Perhaps because of my own thoughts on the matter, I'm absolutely paranoid about spoiling things myself. In addition to the Jody Barton example above, I've struggled for hours with reviews of a few books - notably Claudia Gray's Evernight, which like Jody Barton has a twist so massive that you can't really ignore it, but even mentioning the existence of it is close to a spoiler itself.

What do you think of spoilers? Can they destroy a story, or should a good book be able to hold up anyway? I'd love to read your comments - just do me a favour, and if you ARE going to spoil anything, mark it clearly!

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Ingredients Of A Great Book

SHE CAN TELL A STORY,. BUT CAN SHE WRITE A SENTENCE?

One of the best posts I've read on the internet for ages is Sarah Ditum's "Y'know, for kids", looking at the mixed critical response to JK Rowling's new adult book, The Casual Vacancy. While the entire article, which is about the perception that "Things intended for and marketed to adults" are better than those for children, is a fabulous read, one sentence particularly stood out. "Sure, Rowling can tell a story, said Anthony McGowan on the Today Programme yesterday, but can she really write a sentence? – as if plotting were some low-rent trick and the real artists of literature were putting more effort into crafting their gem-like and subtly revealing descriptions of kitchen tables."


THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS...

It got me thinking - what IS the most important part of a novel for me? Does the plot outweigh the prose? Where do the voice, the characters, the dialogue and the location fit in? I've just started The Casual Vacancy myself. I'm hooked, but can see where McGowan's coming from - I'm not finding the prose to be anything special. However, I'm really enjoying it because the characters are so wonderful, and I think that's always been Rowling's strongest point for me. In the Harry Potter series, I thought that Snape, Neville, Luna, and several others were absolutely wonderful, alongside the main trio, of course, and I was desperate to find out what happened to everyone. Add in a great grasp of plotting, and it's easy to see why the books have thrilled so many readers.

I decided to try and break things down and identify a few books which I think are particularly good at each of these aspects, and work out my own personal order of importance.


CHARACTERS

When I took to Twitter and asked for people's opinions on this topic, Annabelle from Read Write And Read Some More said "Great characters make the story and make the reader more engaged and involved. We root for them to win" and Anna Scott of Anna Scott Jots said "If I can't engage with the characters, then it's a deal breaker for me, no matter how clever the plot." I'd agree with both - I have to find at least some of the characters really likeable, and worth rooting for. For me, that's the key thing.

Examples: Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry - I'm absolutely thrilled that I've got a mini-interview with Katie on supporting characters later this week, because I think Pushing The Limits has got some of the best supporting characters I've read in years. They're all brilliantly described, with their own realistic motivations and everything they do seems to follow on from this.

The Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey - I'm hoping to write a guest post for Word For Teens on the title character from this stunning series, so will keep my praise brief here. Dr Pellinore Warthrop is surely one of the greatest creations of the last decade, a brilliant but egotistical man who has a fierce drive to fight against the monsters he sees but is prone to overconfidence which can be dangerous. Narrator Will Henry, Warthrop's young apprentice, is just as brilliantly portrayed, and the dynamic between the pair is superb.

The Dragon's Path series by Daniel Abraham - Sneaking an adult fantasy in here because I can't resist plugging it wherever possible. Abraham's epic fantasy series is wonderful because it has so many characters who appear to be archetypes - a renowned hero jaded by fighting, a court baron protecting his king, a studious young son of a noble house and an orphaned girl disguising herself as a boy - but Abraham plays with convention and none of them are what you'd expect.


VOICE

For me, a really strong voice can make an otherwise average book worth reading, or push an otherwise good book to 'must read' status. I think the books with a great narrative voice tend to stay with me a long time, as well. YA author Nansi Kunze makes a case for this being the most important element, saying "That's a tough one! I'm going to go for voice, though. It's what really makes an MS unique (& stand out from the slush pile!)."

Examples: Big Woo by Susie Day - I generally think 'less is more' when you're doing internet speak, and quotes like "eeeee sekrit crush" and "Neverneedinganumbrellagirl to the rescue" would usually have me slamming the book shut. They didn't, in this case, because the voice of the book is absolutely perfect. Serafina is a wonderful character who Susie has brought to life brilliantly, and the lolspeak and so on are completely right for her.

The Anti-Prom by Abby McDonald - I picked this one up just by chance, because I thought it sounded fun. I was completely blown away by it because McDonald captures the three voices of her trio of narrators so beautifully. Bad girl Jolene, popular Bliss, and near-invisible Meg are all superb here.

Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar - CVZ gets away with fairly weak characters in the first few books of this series because of the snarky narration which practically drips with money. From the early line "Our **** still stinks but you can't smell it because the bathroom is sprayed hourly by the maid with a refreshing scent made exclusively for us by French perfumers" right until the end, I devoured this one.


PLOT/STORY

This is the next most important thing for me. Live Otherwise said on Twitter that this was the most important because it's "Rare that you can have any of the others worth spending time with without that." I can think of a few with plots I'd describe as so-so but characters than are so fabulous I'd read them again and again, but for the most part I agree this is really important.

Examples: Harry Potter series by JK Rowling - I loved the last book, in particular, because it answered all of the questions and tied up all of the loose ends without ever feeling like it was JUST doing that. Looking back to the earlier books I was stunned by how far in advance JKR had plotted stuff.

The Bonehill Curse by Jon Mayhew - Any of Mayhew's loosely-linked Victorian trilogy could fit in here, as his plots are always fiendishly brilliant. This is my favourite, though, as it's unpredictable, has great action scenes, and a superb ending.

Billie Templar's War by Ellie Irving - Irving follows up the really good For The Record with an even better sophomore novel here. The story of Billie, trying to create a military tattoo to attract the Queen to her village so Billie can ask her to bring Billie's dad back from the war, is fabulous, and the ending is perfect.


PROSE

I have to be honest, I very rarely get drawn into a book by the prose. I'm much more interested in the people in it and the plot. On the rare occasions I do find the prose in a book particlarly brilliant, though, it does tend to stick in my mind really firmly.

Examples: The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson - WOW. I cried my eyes out reading this. Partly that's down to the wonderful storyline and characters, but it's helped by the superb writing.

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley - Gorgeous, gorgeous, GORGEOUS! The most lyrical YA book I've read for ages - possibly ever.

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - Another adult one. It has three of my favourite quotes of all time, with the last paragraph being perhaps the greatest paragraph ever written, at least in my opinion.


SETTING 

Setting, for me, isn't particularly important normally. If the above elements are weak, a great setting would still never really interest me. If all of the above elements are strong, though, a particularly good setting CAN lift something onto my 'favourites' list.

Examples: A Witch in Winter by Ruth Warburton - A brilliant book (as is sequel A Witch in Love) - with a stunningly described setting in Winter. Warburton captures this British coastal town - the kind of place where people whose parents had been in the village for half a century would still be described as 'offcomers' - wonderfully.

Wereworld by Curtis Jobling - The best fantasy world for ages, Lyssia is an example of stunning world-building. Both in the creation of the Werelords and the political intrigue in the Seven Kingdoms, Jobling has done an outstanding job.

Paper Towns by John Green - If high school is in a world of its own in many ways, the last few weeks of high school are on another planet. Green is pitch perfect in capturing the unique atmosphere of this time in his third book.


CONCLUSION

In the end, though, the very best books have all of these ingredients. Author Ruth Warburton perhaps summed it up best by saying "if one element isn't working, it ruins the lot. It's like a cake." Clarifying, she said "obviously writers usually have strengths in one or more areas but if one element is really truly absent/appalling then you notice it to the exclusion of all the virtues, in my opinion."

What do you think? What's the most important element to you? Are there any other ingredients of a wonderful novel that I've missed? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Hollow Pike by James Dawson

My new Sunday Spotlight feature (which actually bears a striking similarity to my old Saturday Spotlight feature) will showcase some of my favourite recent books reviewed for the superb Bookbag site.



Lis London has troubles in her life. She's been badly bullied by girls at her old school. She has bad dreams about an unseen assailant trying to kill her. Moving to Hollow Pike to live with her older sister Sarah is meant to be a fresh start. Except as soon as Lis gets there, she seems to recognise the location of her recurring nightmare. Then there's a death... and Lis starts to wonder whether the rumours of witchcraft are more than just rumours. Will the new start she'd so looked forward to turn out to have a gruesome end?
I think I have a problem when it comes to books like this. I read a substantial amount - averaging a book a day recently - of which a relatively small number of books are horror or scary thrillers. For some reason, I always seem to end up reading the most frightening books late on Sunday evening. So at half-past two in the early hours of Monday morning, for about the fourth week out of the last six, I was yet again sat bolt upright in bed petrified of going to sleep after finishing this wonderfully atmospheric, totally enthralling, and completely terrifying debut novel.
Dawson's writing style is nearly unbearably tense. Right from the first few pages, with Lis dreaming of a mystery attacker and then repeatedly seeing a single magpie - one for sorrow indeed - until the incredible climax, he has the reader fearing for the lives of Lis and her friends. It helps that he's created a really likeable heroine in Lis, and a great bunch of friends. I particularly liked Kitty and Delilah; it's really refreshing to have two characters who are in a same-sex relationship without that being the focal point of the book. As a former teacher, it's perhaps no surprise that Dawson does a great job of capturing the malice and bitchiness of teen girls so well, but this definitely makes the novel stand out as particularly realistic in its portrayal of school life. Another really strong point is Hollow Pike itself, which is one of my favourite locations for a while. Like Winter in Ruth Warburton's wonderful A Witch in Winter, it's a place which has decidedly more to it that meets the eye - as do some of it's inhabitants!
Overall, this is a really strong recommendation - although please take my advice as the voice of experience and read it in bright sunshine rather than the middle of the night! I look forward to seeing more from James Dawson in the future.

If you want to find out more about James, check out his website or talk to him on Twitter.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Friday Feature: Interview with Tammara Webber


I loved Tammara Webber's Easy and really enjoyed the first book in her Between the Lines trilogy, so I leapt at the chance to grab an interview with her.

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see? 

Lots of women of all ages…and a few guys.


2. What made you decide to self-publish your books?

My best friend (a non-writer) hounded me until I did it, after witnessing me (unsuccessfully) query my first book and attend conferences to pitch it.


3. After your huge success self-publishing, was it a tough decision to sign with a traditional publisher in the UK?

Not at all. It’s much simpler for me to sell to an audience in the US, where I can keep a handle on the promotion and how the books are faring. Outside the US, it’s difficult. Distance is an issue, but there are also cultural barriers, even with a common base language. Razorbill proposed answers to answer those concerns, and I’m thrilled that they’ll be presenting the books on their home turf.


4. There seems to be a fair amount of debate on whether 'New Adult' exists as a genre - do you think the success of Easy is likely to inspire more books written with this sort of age range in mind?

‘New Adult’ was suggested as a new category (not genre) three years ago by St. Martin’s Press. Other publishers didn’t take it up. I didn’t write Easy to try to fly in the face of that – I wrote it because the ages of the characters speak to me. I began working on a university campus when my husband was a sophomore, and as he finished his final year, I began taking classes. I was interrupted by motherhood, but went back part-time to finish my degree once my children were in school. After graduation, I began working for the university again. I was an academic advisor there until a few months ago.


5. I think one of the strongest aspects of Easy is your wonderful dialogue - as my review mentions, there was one particular speech that made me want to stand up and cheer! Do you have any tips on writing great dialogue? 

You have to see the scene in your head, I think. It’s not enough to just put words in the characters’ mouths. I write dialogue like someone might write a screenplay – I imagine body language and facial expression, even if I don’t mention these things to the reader.

Fab tip - thanks Tammara!


6. I also loved the setting of Easy - you really seemed to make the college spring to life. What's your favourite fictional setting? 

I don’t really have a favourite setting. My characters go somewhere, and I go along for the ride. I do think it’s easier to follow the old adage: Write what you know.


7. If you could collaborate with another author on a novel, who would you choose and why?

I’ve never been a great team player, for two reasons. One, I’m very shy. In a group or pairing, I’m likely to have a difficult time speaking up and saying what I want to see happen. On the other hand, I have definite ideas about what I want a project to look/sound/feel like. So I get frustrated. Out of authors I know, I’d choose Colleen Hoover, because she and I are very similar in that way. We ‘get’ each other’s stories, but we’d also be like those super-polite Warner Brother gophers: ‘After you!’ ‘Oh no, I insist! After you!’


8. What books would you recommend to readers who enjoyed Easy while they're waiting for your next novel? 

Slammed (Colleen Hoover). I loved it.

That's high on my list of things to read! I'll have to make sure I get to it very soon.


9. Are you planning on writing any more books featuring any of the characters from Easy? I'd love to know what happens next to them all, particularly Erin, who was my favourite of them all. 

I loved writing Erin! I also loved Benji. I don’t plan to do a sequel; however, I was intrigued with a very minor character from Easy, and plan to use him in my next stand-alone. I haven’t started writing that one yet, though, so I’m not quite ready to discuss it.

That sounds brilliant! We were talking about 'linked' books where minor characters from one book took the spotlight in another one a few days ago on Twitter, and it tied into a blog post I did on here as well. 


10. What's next for Tammara Webber? 

I’m currently working on the fourth (final) Between the Lines. Reid is about to face his final battle for redemption. The series began with him and will end with him. I’m a fan of tales redeeming bad boys, but no one turns over a new leaf and makes it stick without a fight. In addition, a real bad boy is always going to retain elements of that badly behaved side of his personality (thank God – it’s why we’re intrigued with them in the first place, after all). Successful redemption, then, is a question of balance.

Given how much I want to punch him in the face after reading book one, I'm going to be really interested to see how it goes!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Thursday Thoughts: Book Review of Between The Lines by Tammara Webber



Emma is a seventeen year old actress, thrust into the spotlight in a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with a co-star who half of America's teens are drooling over. Reid is a Hollywood heartthrob with an ego the size of Los Angeles and a reputation as a player. When the two meet, sparks fly - but can Emma trust the superstar, or would she be better off going for the less-exciting but more sensible Graham?

I picked this up after loving Tammara Webber's Easy, despite there being a love triangle at the centre of it. (For those who know my feelings on love triangles, that's a real sign of confidence in Webber as an author!) There's significant differences between this and Easy - this fits far more into YA than the 'New Adult' genre Easy's one of the standard bearers. In addition to the characters being slightly younger, there's a lighter tone.

The dual narration from Emma and Reid worked pretty well here - Emma is a brilliant character who I really grew to care for, Reid is well-written but punchable. Very punchable. To the point where every 5 pages I was thinking "I REALLY want to punch this guy." I can't recall many other instances where I've actually wanted to inflict physical harm on a narrator, so props to Tammara for making me feel strongly about him! I liked Graham, and was rooting for him and Emma to get together right up until she finally made her choice - I was genuinely intrigued as to who she'd pick, and couldn't have predicted it with any certainty at any point.

I also really enjoyed the setting as the three teens and the rest of their co-stars filmed the movie, while trying to party as much as possible and avoid the unwanted attention of fans. Emily, Emma's best friend back at home, provided an interesting counterpoint as well, living a much more normal life and checking out the Hollywood rumour sites to let Emma know what was being said about her without Emma having to see hurtful stuff for herself.

Overall, I thought this was a fun read and will definitely pick up the next one in the series.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Scott Cramer's Tips For Self-Published Authors

Most regualar readers will know how much I enjoyed self-published debut author Scott Cramer's Night of the Purple Moon, showing children rebuilding their community after the death of everyone who's past puberty. When I decided to do a post on self-publishing, I knew that I wanted his opinion. He was kind enough to share a list of tips for self-published authors which was so good I wanted to give it its own post.

Over to you, Scott!

It’s important to note that I am answering this six months after Night of the Purple Moon went live on Amazon. My answers might have been different a month ago and they might be different next month. Which is to say the business of being an indie author is fluid, ever changing, with a lot of experimentation and surprises.

In no particular order:


  • Readers will determine if they like your story, but you can do the best possible job giving them a quality product. Make sure the book is well-edited, typo-free. I think it’s impossible to get every typo, but too many and you are doing yourself and your readers a great disservice. 
  • Covers are important. Check out the other best-selling books in your genre to get a sense of the tone and style of their covers. One place to look for designers is on deviant art. 
  • Social Media. Before I published the book, my social media skills were in the dark ages. Within a month, I had advanced to the year 2010. Now I feel like I’m hovering around January of 2012. . . which is to say the social media revolution is changing rapidly and it’s important to keep up. Social media (facebook, twitter, and a blog) offer a way to connect with readers, bloggers, and, in general, market a book. 
  • Reviews. Reviews from readers and bloggers offer an unbiased take on the book. Of course, you hope readers like it and you hope they feel motivated to post a review (in my case) on Amazon. The blogging community is perhaps the best avenue to pursue. You don’t have to sit back and wait. You can pitch your book to them. It’s a very interesting match, indie authors and bloggers. Both groups are impassioned about reading and stories and neither group is getting rich. One writes, the other reads and reviews. *You will discover there exists a bias for some bloggers taking on self-published books. See my first bullet. A number of self-published books hit the market before they are ready, and this, I believe, has made some bloggers wary to review any self-published book. 
  • Other online communities to post your work. Goodreads, LibraryThing, Wattpad 
  • Finally, go for it and have fun. Writing, for the most part, is a solitary endeavor. And there is nothing better than making your story available to readers worldwide and receiving comments on it and forming relationships with people you never knew existed.
Some great tips there - thanks for sharing, Scott!

For more from Scott, check out this very blog to find an interview with him, or grab him over at Twitter or on his author Facebook page.