Sunday, 28 February 2016

Litsy App for iOS - First Thoughts

I've downloaded the new IoS app Litsy ('where books make friends') to try it out as it's currently in beta testing, and thought I'd share some first impressions here. Many thanks to Rachel (@_sectumsemprah) and Caitlin (@CaitLomas) for taking a look at this and giving me feedback!

Thoughts so far

It's currently VERY simple. There are five icons on the menu bar - home, search, add, notifications, and profile.

Your home page shows a feed of people you're following's updates, which as far as I can see is just in reverse chronological order. When you scroll down your home page you can click on a book someone's mentioned and it will show all posts about that book in reverse chronological order. (You can also get the same thing by searching for a book)

When searching, you can look for books by title, author or keyword, and look for people by name or username. Book search is powered by Google and seems reasonably solid although there are some strange results - searching for Harry Potter brings up Jody Revenson's Harry Potter: The Creature Vault and a Harry Potter fun book up before any of the novels, and there are a few books which seem to have multiple editions listed, meaning content can be split across them (it's not duplicated, as far as I can see.)

That said, while I've seen one or two tweets saying people are looking for books that aren't on there, I've tried searching for quite a few that I'd consider to be fairly obscure (including out of print ones and self-published ones) and have only found one that wasn't included so far.

To add your own updates, you just click the + button on the menu bar and choose review, blurb or quote. For reviews, you choose one of four icons - for pick, so-so, pan or bailed. You can (optionally) attach your own photo, and your review is limited to 250 characters max (not including the book's name or author, which you add in by searching for it.) You can tag people in the review (not sure if there's a limit to how many?) and you can mark it as containing a spoiler, in which case the review will be hidden with a spoiler warning when it appears in people's feeds.

Blurb works exactly the same way except for there being no icons, and seems to be being used for anything prior to finishing the book - so people are posting thoughts about how excited they are to read, or updates while reading.

Quote works the same way as blurb does - I've seen people typing the quotes as text, or just uploading them as the picture. Others can comment on your review/quote/blurb, like it, or add a book to one of their two 'stacks' -  either 'to read' or 'read'. Notifications show you when they do any of these things, and when they follow you.

Your profile shows every post you've added, in reverse chronological order. You can also see your followers, who you're following, books you've marked as 'to read' and ones you've marked as 'read' (handily with an icon by them to show if you've reviewed) and your 'Litfluence' score, which is derived from books you've read, total pages you've read, and people who've liked/commented/added books to their own TBR/read via your posts. You can look at the profiles of other users as well, and get the same information.

Things I'd like to see Litsy do next

I think that part of the app's charm is that it's super-simple, and adding in TOO much stuff runs the risk of making it into a 'Goodreads lite' with less of a userbase, so I'm not convinced there need to be many major changes. A few things that, personally, I'd be keen to see. (Disclaimer: Not a programmer so no idea how much work any of this would be.)

1. Sorting the different editions out for books like Looking For Alaska seems an important thing to do.

2. My big hope is that there'll be some way of browsing more - at the moment I'm limited to searching for books, or seeing them appear in friends' updates. I think potentially adding an age range (picture book/MG/YA/adult) and genres, and creating a timeline for each one, would potentially be useful to help readers discover more new books.

3. Tying into this, would be great if there was a way we could mark ourselves as being interested in particular genres/age ranges and that people could use these to search for new users to follow.

4. The reverse chronological timeline when looking at quotes/reviews/blurbs of a book is fine at the moment given how small the site currently is, but as they gain new users it would be great to see an option to allow you to have people you're following's updates at the top.

Have you tried it yet? Or are you planning to? (Version for Android is in the works, I believe.) Would love to know what you think, if you're using it (and your username! I'm yayeahyeah there and it would be great if you added me.)

Friday, 26 February 2016

Classics: Rachel McIntyre on How Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff Influenced The #1 Rule For Girls

I am SUPER-excited by two posts in my irregular classics feature, as we have authors talking about how classic novels influenced their own writing! Next week, Katherine Woodfine talks about The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and her new book The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, and today, Rachel McIntyre is posting about Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and the influence it had on The #1 Rule For Girls

Brief spoiler warning - this tells you quite a bit about Rachel's book, one of the best contemporaries I've read this year! If you want to go in there with minimal knowledge, it may be worth bookmarking the post and coming back to it after you've read the book. But either way, please do read the post AND the book - really fascinating!

Why I Broke Up With Heathcliff

If you’re a bookworm and you live in Yorkshire, one day you will inevitably find yourself on a school trip to the Bronte parsonage. You will stand in the bedroom and look at a pair of Charlotte’s doll-sized shoes (She was only 4’9’’!)   and downstairs in the parlour, you will feel incredibly sad staring at the couch where Emily died. Then (although it’s freezing and blowing a gale) you will hike up to Top Withens. And if, as I did, you also grew up on street named after the Brontes, you are pretty much destined to read Wuthering Heights (Emily’s only novel) at an impressionable age.

I know Wuthering Heights Chinese box narrative structure backwards, forwards, inside out. I’ve analysed it from Feminist, Post-colonial, Marxist and Gothic angles…but something has changed in recent years. Not the book, obviously: my love for it hasn’t altered since the day my 13 year old self first picked it up, but my take on it definitely has.

It’s Heathcliff who’s the problem. Whereas younger me book-crushed on this doomed romantic hero, now (having lost the rose tinted glasses sometime in my twenties) I want to warn every character to get the hell away from him. (Even when he is being played by Tom Hardy.) Poor Isabella! Poor Linton! Poor Cathy-the-younger! Poor Edgar! Poor Hareton! Poor Isabella’s dog! Poor starved baby birds!...everyone is a  victim of Heathcliff’s s ruthless obsession with the (equally unpleasant) Catherine.

 Yes, he had a terrible childhood thanks to Hindley and Catherine destroys him by marrying Edgar and then dying… I feel achingly sorry for him, but I can’t forgive him. He’s the baddest of the bad boys: selfish, cruel, fuelled by revenge and more of a stalker than a lover.

When I came to write The #1 Rule For Girls, I’d recently read a string of books featuring mad, bad and dangerous Byronic heroes in the Heathcliff mould. You know the type: he’s mysterious, aloof and tortured by hidden angst. The heroine is drawn into his world, simultaneously fascinated and compelled to cure his inner anguish so they can live happily ever after. And it set me thinking about the difference between bad boys in fiction (sexy, dangerous, keep you hooked, end up tamed) and bad boys in real life (annoying, mess you about, make you sad, stay the same).

Alongside this, an episode from when I was teaching kept nagging me. Imagine this: two college students, a couple, in the canteen. The boy sitting with his mates shouts over at his girlfriend using a very unpleasant term, his friends laugh. And she walks over to sit with them without a word of protest.

This triggered memories of me at that age (and older…), in particular the bad boyfriend behaviour I put up with because I didn’t really recognise I was being manipulated or bullied. Sometimes, it was because I didn’t have the courage or the self-confidence to object. Mainly, though, it was because I grew up in a household where domestic abuse was a fact of life: I honestly just didn’t know any different.

Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire crossed with Heathcliff were my biggest influences in writing the character of Toby. Handsome, aloof and mysterious, sexually compelling but, in the end, irredeemably bad. Not sexy-bad, just bad-bad.

Daisy – the main character- has fantastic role models in her soulmates-turned-parents, but she’s lonely and vulnerable when she meets Toby and makes two classic mistakes: 1) being too nice and 2) thinking he’ll change. He’s manipulative, she forgives him. He lets her down, she forgives him.

I wanted readers to think about how it’s easy to see the red flags flying from the outside. But when you’re on the inside and emotionally vulnerable, it’s easier to kid yourself they’re teething troubles; to be persuaded everyone deserves a second chance.

People can and do change in the real world, but it happens with a lot less frequency than fiction would have us believe. As the story progresses, I want the reader to lean into the pages and shout Don’t take him back! (Interjection from Jim - this worked, I was doing this A LOT! But I found it completely believable each time Daisy did.) But of course, when you’re emotionally vulnerable, it’s hard to make any decisions, let alone the sensible ones. Daisy has to learn the hard way.

Bad boys in YA fiction tend to be the “tameable” kind but Toby in The #1 Rule for Girls isn’t. Like Heathcliff and Stanley Kowalski, he’s a fictional bad boy who stays bad to the end. Nowadays, I’m all about the real world nice guys but I can still appreciate a bad boy hero who has the potential to be tamed.

Me and Heathcliff, though…well, we’re never getting back together.

Thank you for a brilliant post, Rachel! For more from Rachel, follow her on Twitter at @rachinthefax! and don't miss the #1rulechat on Sunday at 8pm GMT. The #1 Rule For Girls was published by Electric Monkey yesterday and I highly recommend rushing to a bookshop to buy ASAP!

If you enjoy reading classics, or if you want to read more, why not join the fantastic Classics Challenge hosted by my friend Stacey over at Pretty Books? It's a great way to find other classics lovers, discuss books, and get and give recommendations. Check out this post and don't miss the hashtag

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Happy YA Books

Another week, another jaw-droppingly ignorant article about YA in a mainstream newspaper. I knew the #CoverKidsBooks hashtag should actually have been #
CoverKidsBooksWithoutResortingToSadClickbait but felt it was probably too long.

Anyway, for those who've missed it, there's a Daily Mail piece about how 'right-on obsessions' are 'taking the joy out of children's books'. I'm not linking, partly because it's the Daily Mail, and partly because I feel most of my readers have read 80% of the article previously as so much of it is repeating the same stuff that gets thrown about all the time.

A few things do stand out - mainly the way that the author talks about growing up in the 1970s and reading books which gave her a sense of hope, although she only uses examples published much earlier than her own childhood (some from the 1950s, others from previous centuries). Thankfully, I think all the books she refers to are still in print and available to today's teens just as they were to her!

But also, if she'd only asked a bookseller, librarian, or blogger about the lack of joyful books in YA today, I think she'd have found that her fears are greatly exaggerated. For example, as Susie Day pointed out on Twitter, Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison's Lobsters, about two teens trying to find love and lose their virginity, is a hilarious read and is sure to appeal to those teens, like the writer's son, who find Friends hilarious. While that's aimed at the older end of YA, the two authors have also teamed up for a brilliant book for slightly younger teens, Never Evers, about two school winter sports trips and a girl and a boy who meet up on them and start to fall for each other.

Speaking of teens falling for each other, romance with happy endings are NOT hard to find in recent YA, although I know plenty of teens swoon over Mr Darcy still! Stephanie Perkins has achieved huge success by writing brilliant heroines who teens adore, and fabulous love interests. Anna, Lola and Isla are much-loved characters as are the boys, St Clair, Cricket and Josh. Over on this side of the Atlantic, Holly Smale has become a massive bestseller (and a winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize teen category!) with Geek Girl (and sequels), telling the story of Harriet Manners, a superb lead who overcomes clumsiness and not fitting in at school to get into the world of modelling.

While the piece in the DM clearly didn't think of The Art Of Being Normal, by Lisa Williamson, as a happy book, I would completely disagree. It shows teens who are finding their identities, friends supporting each other, and has a wonderfully warm and hopeful ending. Similarly, Becky Albertalli's boy/boy love story Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda features a main character who's being blackmailed about his sexual identity, but shows him receiving huge support from nearly all of the people around him. Other gorgeously happy LGBT novels for teens include Keris Stainton's delightful girl/girl romance Starring Kitty, and Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour (although could someone PLEASE get that one a UK publisher ASAP?!)

Add in books like Tom Easton's Boys Don't Knit, Candy Harper's Faith trilogy (which would, in my ideal world, win ALL THE PRIZES for its brilliant way of showing teen friendships as well as for being hilarious), Katy Jo Cannon's Bake Club series, Natasha Desborough's Weirdos Vs... duology, mother-daughter duo Perdita and Honor Cargill's Waiting For Callback, Katy Birchall's It Girl books, Don Calame's Swim The Fly and sequels, Jenny McLachlan's Ladybirds books, Sophia Bennett's You Don't Know Me, Jaclyn Moriarty's Ashbury/Brookfield books and Andy Robb's Geekhood series - all are superbly funny as well as being wonderfully happy.

I do think there's something to be said for the way prizes often seem to reward darker books more than light ones, and the way that some schools have a reading list consisting of mostly these kind of novels, but I think that it's the kind of discussion that needs to be started without ignoring a large amount of the great light books that ARE out there. (And, while I hope it goes without saying, I'm not suggesting that there's an issue with the 'darker' books, many of which I'm a huge fan of - just that the article misses the point in saying that they are the entire of what's available.)

What do you think? Are there any favourites of yours that I've missed? (It's not meant to be a complete list, by any means!) Comment, or check out the #happyYA hashtag on Twitter that I started!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Recent Links 7th - 13th February

The biggest news of the week has to be the launch of Safe Space, a site started by Jess of Jess Hearts Books to be 'a place where a group of women bring you posts about trying to hold their shit together.' The first week has seen the fantastic team introduce themselves - I would definitely recommend you check out every post! Individual links:
Jess, Rachel, Jo, Emma, Debbie, Joy, Laura

Safe Space has already become a must-read blog, just like my friend Caitlin's Chronically Caitlin blog, which she started last month. Two great posts this week, on getting ill when you're chronically ill and on not feeling guilty for not reading.

And speaking of must-reads, one of the people I've learnt most from over the past year or two is Justina Ireland - this Brief Guide to BeyoncĂ©'s Formation for White People is superb. 

It's sad to read this anonymous Tumblr post on How Closeting in Entertainment Works, but it's definitely another one you shouldn't miss!

Going from must-reads to must-attends, if you're an author who can get to London on Monday 14th March, don't miss BatNon and Robin's guide to author events!

This guide for authors to getting involved in the UKYA community was written after last year's BatNon and Robin event - I've moved it over to my blog after the closure of Bookish Peeps.

Other bookish stuff of interest - a great SLJ interview with Heidi Heilig, a brilliant Guardian piece from Elen Caldecott on class in children's books, Samantha Shannon's diverse YA recs (so jealous of her having read Wing Jones by Katherine Webber!) and my friend's Julianne awesome post on her local library. Also a new feature which I'm THRILLED to have been the first person to take part in last month, Shelf Swap on Pretty Books, continues with Robin Stevens making the choices - Stacey, I adore this feature idea!

Various stuff on my blogs - here we have a 5-4-3-2-1 from Melissa Keil and on Teens on Moon Lane 5-4-3-2-1 with Rachel Delahaye, the first 6 Degrees guest post from awesome author Melinda Salisbury and a top ten twins list from Elen Caldecott.

One of the posts recently I've most enjoyed writing is my Valentine's Day antidote, top ten non-romantic relationships - but if you DO want romance this Valentine's day, check out 15 contemporary YAs that make great Valentines from Dahlia Adler.

Book-related things I've really enjoyed - Amber's post on how blogging can help your career and Waiting For Callback co-author Honor Cargill interviewing Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell.

In exciting news, Lianne Oelke announced that House of Orange - which I've known about via a web forum for quite a while and have been DESPERATE to read - will be published in 2017 from Clarion.

Finally Mr Ripley is compiling a great list of YA and children's book bloggers based in the UK! If you're a blogger who's not on it, get in touch with him!

What have you read and loved this week? Anything I'm missing?

Thursday, 11 February 2016

5-4-3-2-1: Melissa Keil

Great to have Melissa Keil, author of The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl, posting today. We've 'borrowed' 5-4-3-2-1 from its usual home of Teens on Moon Lane as a one-off!

FIVE songs that sum up the last novel I wrote perfectly

Forever Young, the Rod Stewart song, but this acoustic cover:

What Are You Doing New Years Eve. For obvious reasons (well, obvious if you read the book!) This version is great (though a ukulele theme does seems to be emerging):

Featherstone’ by the Paper Kites. I don’t know why, but something about the feeling this song inspires perfectly fits Cinnamon Girl. And it has an awesome video too:

It’s the End of the World as We Know It by REM – it playing in the background of a particular scene in the book, and I listened to it a LOT while I was writing (mostly trying to learn the words, which I don’t think I ever successfully achieved).

The Last Day on Earth’ by Kate Miller-Heidke. Though unnamed in the book, this song is also playing in a key scene, and it’s gorgeous and sad and perfect for a particular moment.

FOUR places I love to read

Bed. Definitely bed, in winter when it’s stormy outside, with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle and my dog curled up beside me. Perfect.

Outside, in summer (or any warmish, sunny day), in the park, under a tree, with a blanket and a big bag of chips.

My very special green reading couch – I think it’s actually a vintage kids’ couch so it’s too small for even short me to stretch out on, but it’s covered in soft green velour and has lovely sink-y cushions.

Any long train trip – I love getting lost in a book and then looking up to find I’m in a totally different place.

THREE books I’d save from a burning bookcase

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – easily my all time favourite book, and one of the weirdest, funniest, most re-readable comfort books I have.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. I read this (and then re-read it several times) just after high school, the first time I travelled independently overseas, after picking it up from a tiny bookstore in rural Minnesota where I was living for a few months. It has a special place in my heart because of the moment in time its reading is tied to (it’s also a gorgeous book).

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, the illustrated Dame Darcy version, because in all the multiple editions of Jane Eyre that line my shelf, this is the most plush and lovely.

TWO relationships I love reading about

Watts and Mycroft from Ellie Marney’s Every Breath series. I’m a sucker for smart characters, and relationships that are based on genuine friendship and trust and chemistry. Oh, and it has a few super-hot kissing scenes too!

Baz and Simon Snow from Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, only because I have just finished reading it, and I so wanted more of them. I’m also a sucker for a great enemies-to-friends-to-more-than-friends story.

ONE item of swag I’d love to see made

Alba’s The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl comic book, the final version that she creates. I have zero artistic talent and can barely draw a stick figure, but I have such a clear idea in my head of what Alba’s comic book art would look like – I would love someone to be able to bring that to life.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Advice For Authors On Getting Involved In The UKYA Community

This was originally posted on Bookish Peeps, but gets referred to quite a bit so thought it made sense to have it over here too!

So quite a few people have asked me about this, and while I'm not claiming to be an expert, I got feedback from half a dozen or so others to knock this together. Thanks to everyone who helped out! If people want to add their thoughts, would be v welcome.

Okay, this is aimed at authors - especially recently signed ones - working with trade publishers in the UK. Some of it may be useful to authors abroad, and some may be useful to self-published authors - but a fair amount of it boils down to ASK YOUR PUBLICIST, who you may not HAVE if you're a self-published author, so that might change things!

 Do I NEED to get involved?

If in doubt, ask your publicist. I am in contact with numerous publicists (in-house and freelance) who, between them, work with nearly every major YA/MG publisher in the UK. Things they have in common? They're passionate about children's books and they're REALLY good at their job. I think it's awesome to talk to bloggers and get involved in the incredible UKYA community because it's FUN. This does not make it a career requirement; if you don't want to (apart from anything else, there's only so much time in the day!) you can leave it to your publicist and have faith that they will be doing a great job.

Assuming yes, you do want to get involved, meet bloggers, etc, just don't know where to start, then I will try and give you some tips. But firstly, the GOLDEN RULE FROM #Batnon - be nice to people! Simples. This was the key advice both Non and Robin gave for dealing with anyone, and I totally agree. As a debut author, you are INCREDIBLY unlikely to run into issues with people online if you follow this. (Disclaimer: sadly, if you get REALLY successful then random nastiness seems more likely.)

Meeting in person

Come to events! Lots of publishers do 'meet the author' type events and it's great to ask if you can get involved in these. Most events at Waterstones Piccadilly have several bloggers around - the big ones may have dozens. In addition there are usually LOTS of other authors around as the UKYA/UKMG community is so supportive! There's also #drinkYA and #picnicYA (which I run with @LouieStowell), #drinkYAMidlands and #picnicYAMidlands (which @ChelleyToy runs), and lots of other opportunities - follow @MeetUKYA on Twitter for details of these. If you're shy and socially awkward in big crowds you don't know (like me!) and you're not keen on walking into events by yourself, you can always try seeing if anyone you know from Twitter is going and asking if you can meet for a quick coffee or something before the start. I've done this with a few people and it's always great to have a little bit of extra time to chat!

ALSO – not everywhere has a literary scene quite as vibrant as London. I know there are other cities with amazing events going on, but if you don’t live near one of them, this can be frustrating. If you live elsewhere and feel disappointed by this, why not try and start something? Reach out to local authors/bloggers/bookshops, perhaps? I am always willing to use @MeetUKYA to promote events further away if anyone wants extra visibility!

Meeting on Twitter

Hashtags are your friend - in particular #ukyachat and #ukmgchat, but also #bookadayuk and my own monthly #CountdownYA. Use these hashtags to talk about books you enjoy, and to find people with similar tastes to you. PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT USE THEM TO RELENTLESSLY PLUG YOUR BOOK. That's not to say you can't mention your book when appropriate to the hashtag; that just means that constantly spamming them with Amazon buy links is counter-productive.

Also commenting on blog posts and/or sharing them via social media is really awesome!

When you've found bloggers you like, follow them on Twitter. DON'T necessarily expect them to follow you back - I don't follow everyone who follows me. However I will try and respond to people who tweet me and if I find myself talking to people a lot I'll naturally follow them then. Also, if someone does follow you, please don't immediately DM them saying BUY MY BOOK. It looks needy.

Join in conversations! If someone asks for book recs, etc, share yours - it's a great way to meet new people. Also it doesn’t have to be just books; plenty of authors and bloggers talk about lots of other things as well. (If you’re a Dance Academy fan there are probably half a dozen bloggers who’ll be keen to discuss that! And there are even people who talk about Harry Styles quite often.)

(Also from #Batnon last year - like bloggers, don't be unkindly negative about books you don't like. If there's a real issue and you think something is genuinely harmful it may be worth saying something, but for the majority of the time, it's more worthwhile to focus on talking about things you really enjoy.)

The balance between talking about your book/other books/general stuff on Twitter is an interesting one and I don't think there's a RIGHT answer. Some of my favourite authors barely even mention ANY books on Twitter, others flood me with so many recommendations that my bank balance will never forgive them. At the end of the day, talk about things you're interested in, and are comfortable talking about in a public setting. This CAN include your books - I think it was Adam Christopher in 2014 at NineWorlds who pointed out that most of your followers have presumably got at least a slight interest in your writing so it's bizarre not to mention it ever. Some people take being modest too far! 

Speaking of picking your battles, DON'T RESPOND TO NEGATIVE REVIEWS. I have seen numerous negative reviews go viral. This has only ever happened when an author has responded. In 2 cases, there have been genuninely funny, self-mocking, responses from the author which have made me think "Hey, they seem like a cool person." In every other case I have facepalmed HARD. And long. Again, I have NEVER seen major attention focused on a negative review without an author (or someone close to them) fanning flames.

Review copies

Firstly, if you are approaching bloggers yourself and offering review copies, PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR PUBLICIST THAT THEY CAN SEND THEM. Sometimes it's just not possible to send to all bloggers interested especially if there's a limited number of proofs available - offering before checking just puts EVERYONE in an embarrassing position. To repeat the earlier advice, going through your publicist is a REALLY GOOD IDEA.

If you do find bloggers you like - especially if you get to talking to them a bit - and they follow you back, then I'd say it's perfectly acceptable to message them to see if they want to read your book. I would STRONGLY advise checking their blog for a review/recommendation policy before doing so, though, as many people are closed to requests. If they say they're closed to requests, respect that. (The exception here would be if someone's specifically tweeted you and said that they're interested in your book - in that case, even if closed to requests, I'd say that offering them a copy would be fine, although it's great to acknowledge you've read the policy - even something like "Hey, I know you're currently not accepting copies but you mentioned on Twitter that you really wanted to read my book - would you like me to send it to you for when you have a chance to read?")

I would seriously advise AGAINST chasing up bloggers to ask if they've read books. (As I mentioned at the Batnon event, apart from anything else, if I've read it and haven't mentioned it to you it might mean I didn't like it, and that's just an awkward conversation.)

On that note, I would generally avoid joining in conversations about your book on Twitter which people aren't using your Twitter name in. Some people can feel awkward knowing that authors are reading their tweets. Not everyone, by any means - but I think it's probably more tactful that way. Also, I know some people feel they have to respond to EVERYTHING when they’re tagged. I don’t think you do. Firstly, don’t feel guilty if you’re just flooded with notifications and don’t get a chance to answer them all. Also, if it’s something you’re tagged in but don’t feel comfortable responding to, leave it. (Or DM to explain this if you’re worried you may offend the tweeter.)

Guest posts

If a blogger contacts you and asks you if you'd like to take part in a feature, YAY! This is good, as it shows people want to read what you are writing - yay! Two things - firstly, DOUBLE CHECK WITH YOUR PUBLICIST. They may have lots going on for you and may need to think carefully about the best time to schedule something so it doesn't clash, etc. Secondly, if someone asks you to do something then it's good, as I've said, but YOU DON'T NEED TO SAY YES. It is perfectly and completely understandable if you want to concentrate on writing BOOKS rather than blog posts. No-one should be offended by this. Again, if you don't feel comfortable refusing, put them in touch with your publicist who will be able to explain how busy you are.

Also you are MUCH better off concentrating on doing a few good blog posts than trying to do a couple of dozen short ones. People are more likely to read your posts, and far more likely to spread the word, about one really great post than they are about a number of less great ones. Oh, also, if at all possible, please get posts to the blogger a few days in advance of when they're going up, to allow them to schedule without being rushed!
On that note, it was pointed out at the Batnon event that there's not as much of a need for everything to be close to publication date in the world of YA and MG as there is in adult fiction. You'll find new fans between releases when doing school events, etc. I think that that's also true online - great if you can get a blog tour near your publication date, but the occasional feature in between is awesome too.

To recap – the TL;DR version.

1. The book community is AMAZING!
2. Publicists are FANTASTIC!
3. Talking to people can be nerve-wracking and make you panic (or is that just me?) but it is also SO MUCH FUN!

I would LOVE other people's thoughts - I'm definitely not claiming this is THE ULTIMATE GUIDE!! (Although advice from lots of smart people has moved it closer to being so - thanks everyone!)

If you have thoughts, please leave a reply!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Recent Links Recap: 31st January - 6th February

Recent links feature continues, with some brilliant posts around the internet!

I loved Debbie's January in review, and Caitlin's, and this bookish one from Maximum Pop!

Caitlin's blog is still a must-read, by the way - this post on not feeling guilty for not reading (or for anything else you're not doing) is especially great.

Superb post here by Samantha Asamadu about Bare Lit Festival, happening in a few weeks time! Sadly I'm away for that weekend so won't be able to make it, but if you're around I'd strongly suggest going - it looks brilliant!

Brilliant interview with mother/daughter writing duo Perdita and Honor Cargill on the Waterstones blog!

Monday marked the start of Faye's Finish It Feb, which I should probably have signed up for if I could remember WHICH books I'm halfway through at the moment...

There's been a fair bit about Trinity College's consent classes - I thought this piece written by Carl Kinsella, talking to Hannah Beresford, one of the students putting the classes together, was excellent.

One of my favourite things to read was a fascinating Racked post on Kendra Scott, 'The Jewelry Queen of Texas'.

Fabulous Gillian Berry post telling people to stop what they're doing and watch Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - I couldn't agree more!

I'm still newish to Instagram but really enjoying it - and I'm loving Dahlia Adler's #AuthorLifeMonth!

Brilliant post by Sarah on reading A Month In The Country for the Classics Challenge! (Remember to sign up on Pretty Books if you want to do the Classics Challenge yourself, by the way!)

MG Strikes Back launched #CoverKidsBooks! Great responses from various people, with Charlotte Eyre's awesome article here and the campaign immediately bearing fruit as the TES announced new plans to have kids and teachers reviewing books.

Yet another brilliant Mugglenet author takeover, this one by Alwyn Hamilton, author of the just-published - and completely wonderful - Rebel of the Sands!

The HUGE book news for me is that Fox (previously known as Sarah) Benwell has just announced that Kaleidoscope Song will be published in the US by Simon Teen! And also amazing TV news as VE Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic is being adapted for screen, with the author writing the pilot episode herself.

Lauren Laverne with a great piece for the Pool, probably my favourite non-bookish website at the moment, on how some amazing women thrive on Twitter.  

Also a really fantastic piece on the difference between anxiety and panic attacks by Louise Jones.

I love Rosalind Jana's writing and can't wait for her book later this year! Brilliant post here on tearing up the fashion rulebook.

And a must-read post from John Underwood on cancer for the BBC.

Louise O'Neill, superb as always, about the revenge porn at UCD. (DON'T READ THE COMMENTS, though.)

Lots of awesome novels on the Branford Boase longlist! I would LOVE to see The Art Of Being Normal get the win, but there are a lot of others I love here as well. Special congratulations to Annalie (AJ) Grainger for being one of the very few people (but not the only one, as Nick Lake pointed out!) to make the longlist in the same year as author AND editor, for writing Captive and for editing Lauren James's The Next Together.

Great to see Perdita and Honor Cargill's Maximum Pop Twitter takeover went so well - highlights here in a brilliant piece by Grace.

And a fabulous post from Grace on her own blog on meeting and greeting the greats.

One of my favourite sci-fi novels for a long time was Emily Skrutskie's debut The Abyss Surrounds Us, out next week! I love this interview with her on Lloyd Reads.

An awesome opportunity for 7 - 13 year olds to write with the fabulous Abi Elphinstone at half-term here! An another really cool opportunity for readers aged 10 - 14 to join the Best of the Best Children’s Book Award judging panel here!

And also on Caboodle, brilliant giveaway for signed copies of Katherine Woodfine's brilliant The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, and sequel The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, which I can't wait to read, along with a Fortnum & Mason hamper!

Fans of colour, please don't miss the chance to get a free NineWorlds membership via Con or Bust. 

The first BatNon and Robin event, last year, was awesome. I'm sure the second, focusing on events, on Monday 14th March will also be awesome - don't miss the chance to sign up!

And another excellent opportunity for authors that week, with Scott Pack doing a Guardian masterclass on how to pitch your novel to publishers

Lots of authors I really love are using Ko-fi, which allows people to buy them a coffee to show their appreciation for them. This is a really cool way to help people out - especially those I admire and whose blog posts and tweets I'm hugely grateful for, but who don't have books published yet so I can't buy them. (Or whose books I already own all of!) Here's a handful of people to consider supporting - and who you should definitely be following on Twitter! Katherine Locke (and her cats!), (@Bibliogato), Nita Tyndall (@NitaTyndall),  Justina Ireland (@JustinaIreland), Tristina Wright (@TristinaWright), Hannah Moskowitz (@hannahmosk), Camryn Garrett (@dancingofpens), Kayla Whaley (@punkinonwheels) and Sarah Hollowell (@sarahhollowell).

Speaking of Justina, by the way, I've learnt a LOT about diversity from following her. This recent post on 'Diversity 101: An Introduction to the Diversity Discussion' is superb.

It was National Libraries Day yesterday and there've been some outstanding pieces about it - this Guardian post from an anonymous librarian is excellent as is Cathy Cassidy's.

On my blogs - my bargain hunter's guide to London theatre tickets and my January stage, screen and bookish events recap.

On MG Strikes Back, our biggest ever happy book birthday feature!

And on Teens on Moon Lane, Perdita and Honor Cargill with our first ever joint 5-4-3-2-1, an awesome one from Sara Barnard and the launch of #6degrees! A huge thanks to everyone who's taken part in the meme so far - check out posts from Viv, Darren, Katrina, Sophie, Chelley and Mikayla. It's running all month, so plenty of time for you to join in on your blog/Tumblr/Instagram or in our comments section!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

January Recap

Having seen some awesome January recaps - I particularly liked Debbie's and Caitlin's - I thought I'd do my own, to share some of the brilliant things I did last month!


I got a Cineworld Unlimited card at the start of the month - finally tempted away from the Curzon! While I loved being a member of the Curzon for the last 2 years and have seen so many amazing films there, the chance to see films with friends more often (Debbie, Stacey and Faye also have Cineworld unlimited) persuaded me to make the switch and I definitely haven't regretted it; there have been some great films already with some fabulous friends.

Highlights - despite having never seen any of the Rocky films, I went to see Creed and really enjoyed it. It's a brilliant underdog story, and while Stallone is excellent, I'm stunned that Michael B Jordan's incredible central performance wasn't recognised with an Oscar nomination. I also thought Tessa Thompson was superb and loved the chemistry between her and Jordan.

As a big fan of Michael Lewis, who does a great job of making books about the financial world engaging and accessible, I was keen to see The Big Short (even though I haven't read this particular book). I thought that Adam McKay and Charles Randolph's script, and McKay's direction, did a brilliant job of making the subject of the 2007-8 financial crash easy to follow. Lots of outstanding performances here, with Steve Carell perhaps the pick of them. It manages to be funny while also (justifiably) incredibly angry about the way ordinary people have been completely screwed over.

I read The 5th Wave when it was first released, reviewing for The Bookbag but never got around to the sequels despite enjoying it. I was intrigued to see the adaptation and jumped at the chance to go with Stacey. This was really enjoyable; Chloe Grace Moretz is excellent as Cassie and I thought the screenwriters did a great job of converting it to film. In particular, the most important revelations were brilliantly done. The pacing could be improved slightly, admittedly, although that was an issue I had with the book as well. The theme of survival in the immediate aftermath of an alien invasion sets it apart from dystopian releases like The Hunger Games and Divergent and I'd be interested to see the sequel.

Film of the month for me though was Room, which I saw with Debbie and Stacey. I've never read the book and had managed to avoid spoilers, which I think really added to my enjoyment of this one so will try and avoid saying anything specific about it - however there's an exceptional central performance from the wonderful Brie Larson, it contains perhaps the tensest scene I can remember seeing in the cinema for ages, and I thought this was outstanding overall. Of the Best Picture nominees I've seen (5 out of 8 so far), this would have my vote.

I was less impressed by Youth (but it has a great soundtrack), Joy (superb Jennifer Lawrence performance but terribly paced) and The Danish Girl (well-acted but problematic in many ways.)


(Side note: I wrote a few days ago about sites, and an app, that I use to get cheap tickets, which is the main reason I was able to see six things this month!)

Oh wow, what an AMAZING month for stage shows! I saw two of my favourite actors live, with Adrian Lester outstanding in Red Velvet, which I got a cheap ticket to last minute, and Ralph Fiennes wonderful in the title role of The Master Builder, which I saw with my sister, her boyfriend, Faye, Debbie, Caitlin and our new friend Lili, who's just moved to London for a few months. I wasn't sure about seeing an Ibsen play because I didn't know how easy it would be to follow, but I'm so glad I grabbed tickets after Caitlin suggested it. It was much easier to follow than I'd feared, surprisingly funny early on, and built to a stunning (if admittedly predictable) climax.

I also saw two really fun dance shows - the first #DanceYA of the year saw me, Charlie, Annalie, Sarah and Rachael head to Sadler's Wells for Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty. As ever with Bourne, this was a spectacular show and I loved the set and costumes as well as the choreography and dancing. The second #DanceYA was just last weekend, with me and Debbie going to see Sadler's Wells Sampled, where we saw performances from some of the upcoming shows at Sadler's Wells and the Peacock. Everything here was enjoyable and I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of them in full, but while I was expecting the highlight to be 7 Fingers, who I adore, the combination of Julia Hiriart Urruty and Claudio González in pieces choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui were the best of the night. I don't think I've seen tango performed live before but am now incredibly excited for their show m¡longa next month!

Shows of the month - I've been trying to select for ages but just can't choose between two completely outstanding productions. I saw In The Heights for the second time in about six weeks, heading to Kings Cross Theatre with Grace. Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical is a gorgeous story with some great songs, while the dancing blew me away. I've already booked to see again in a few weeks time and am hoping to maybe catch it once more before it closes as well! I also saw Guys and Dolls, an old favourite of mine, getting 2nd row stalls seats with Debbie thanks to Last Minute. Jamie Parker - soon to become Harry Potter in The Cursed Child - was brilliant as Sky Masterson, heading a great cast overall. (Siubhan Harrison as Sarah, Sophie Thompson as Adelaide and David Haig as Nathan Detroit round off the central quartet.) Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat was amazing, with an incredible response from the audience - thunderous applause at the gaps in the song as well as at the end - and the choreography from Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright for all of the songs was utterly spellbinding. I think it's also got my favourite book of any musical - Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows did such an outstanding job when they adapted Damon Runyon's stories to form this show! Parker's performance somehow has me even more excited for The Cursed Child, which I didn't think was even possible, also.

Other cool stuff

It was great to catch up with friends at various points after being away for Christmas - it was especially lovely to go out for a meal with most of my book club to celebrate Debbie's birthday, while our actual book club meeting this month was improved hugely by us playing Pictionary instead of Telestrations! I also went to the British Library's Alice in Wonderland exhibition with Caitlin - I'm so bad at keeping track of exhibitions and things that I knew nothing about this until Caitlin asked if anyone was interested! It was a really cool one to go to, though; it was fascinating to see the different editions throughout the years and so many varied adaptations. (It also made me realise that I think I've only ever seen or read adaptations rather than the original, which is definitely going on my TBR list for Stacey's 2016 Classics Challenge!)

For bookish events, I saw Juno Dawson and Dr Olivia Hewitt talk about Mind Your Head - the very first event ever at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road! With the wonderful Jo Elvin chairing, it was an interesting talk and it was great to see so many people turn out to celebrate this really excellent book. The other Waterstones event I went to was Anna James chairing a dream panel of Holly Smale, Holly Bourne, and CJ Daugherty at Waterstones Piccadilly. This was, as you'd expect, awesome, and while I'd love to try and give you the highlights it would probably double the length of this post! Thankfully, over at Maximum Pop, Sophie has it covered! (Huge congrats again, by the way, to Sophie and Grace, who both joined Maximum Pop in January - such brilliant news!)

I also took part in a panel myself! Jon Walter was kind enough to invite me to join in a discussion in Lewes, which he chaired. Along with brilliant authors Jenny McLachlan and Rob Lloyd-Jones, and four teen readers, we discussed social media - whether it's essential to YA/MG authors, what sites are best to use, and a host of other things. It was a very interesting discussion and it was awesome to hear which sites people used. (Big surprises for me were that Tumblr was barely mentioned, Twitter seemed much more popular amongst the teens and their peers than I thought it would be, and several teens were huge fans of Wattpad.)

I also joined my regular quiz team of Tim, Tara and Jen, to win the quiz at the Grapes Limehouse once more, beating Sir Ian McKellen again!

In addition, there will be a books recap over on Teens on Moon Lane later in the week - I read more than I have done for ages, so it's taking a while to write, even focusing on just the very best stuff. However I wanted to draw special attention to my book of the month, Laura Nowlin's This Song Is (Not) For You. I have wanted to see some really well-portrayed asexual representation in YA for a long, long time, and to find it in this book makes me incredibly happy!

So, a busy month! February seems somehow even more packed - I loved The Sleeping Prince launch a few days ago, and have several others coming up! Plus more theatre tickets, three films to see in the next day and a half, and other stuff.

Have you written a January recap post? Link me!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

London Theatre Tickets - A Bargain Hunter's Guide

I've been asked a bit how I see so many shows at the theatre, and I'm expecting several similar comments when I post my stage and screen recap in a few days' time, so thought I'd share some of the sites I use. My philosophy is to see ALL THE THINGS wherever possible, even if that means going for less than ideal seats - in fairness, I find most of the theatres in London have few really bad seats (and Theatremonkey is invaluable for avoiding them!) - I went with Debbie to see Guys and Dolls a few weeks ago, expecting to be stuck towards the back of the theatre as we'd paid just £15 each, and we somehow ended up with second row tickets in the stalls! This was AMAZING and if you're not bothered where you sit you can get some very nice surprises like this. - Taking a chance on Showstopper: The Improvised Musical as I'd heard mixed things, me and Debbie found tickets for it for just £15 each here. This was well worth seeing, and we got great tickets in the centre of the stalls for that price. - Hit and miss at times in terms of bargains but occasionally have some great things! I saw Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games (again with Debbie!) for £10 each last year.

Sadler's Wells/The Peacock Theatre - The two Sadler's Wells theatres are the ones I go to the most often as I love dance! (I also organise frequent #DanceYA trips to both.) With tickets starting from just £15 at the back of the stalls (great view!) and £12 towards the back of the second circle in Sadler's Wells, and most shows having 20% off if you book two shows at the same time, there are huge bargains available. We've seen too many brilliant shows to list here, but stand-out are The 7 Fingers' Traces, Rasta Thomas's hip-hop Romeo and Juliet, and a couple of wonderful Matthew Bourne productions.

PWC Previews - The Old Vic does half of the tickets for each of the first five previews of most shows there for just £10! I've seen The Lorax, in the stalls with my friend Stacey, and The Master Builder (with Ralph Fiennes starring!) in the dress circle with Debbie, Caitlin, Faye, Lili and my sister and her boyfriend thanks to this. Tickets can go VERY fast - they go on sale on a Monday 5 weeks before the start of the production - but they're well worth trying to book if you get a chance!

Today Tix - I've only used this once, but was really happy to get a decent seat last week to see Adrian Lester in Red Velvet for just £20 instead of £55! I'd entered the lottery on the iPhone app, where you can win £15 front row tickets (you enter on the day, find out around 4 or 5 hours before the performance if you've won, and then have an hour to pay and claim your tickets) and lost out; however was offered a cheap ticket which worked perfectly for me.

Also, of course, going to the theatre in person can be rewarding with some great day seats available! I've  had front row tickets for Rock of Ages at the Garrick for £25, and a great stalls seat for Handbagged for £20, I think.

The TKTS booth in Leicester Square comes highly recommended by many, although it's ages since I've used it I seem to remember getting some good stuff.

Are you a theatre fan? Are there any sites or other places to get cheap tickets that you'd recommend? I'd love it if you left me a comment!