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Friday, 4 April 2014

AUTHOR ALLSORTS POST

Happy Friday, my duckies. Just a quick reminder that I've posted today over on The Author Allsorts - about my writing process, such as it is. And there are pictures! Head over and check it out if you have the time. And have a lovely weekend :)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

THE NAME OF THE BLADE: AMERICAN EDITION

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday to all.

People have been asking me for a while about the cover for the U.S. edition of The Night Itself - which is coming out in November under the title THE NAME OF THE BLADE from Candlewick Press. Originally they were going to go with the illustrated UK cover, but obviously then the UK cover changed to a photographic one. So they went off again and designed an entirely new piece of artwork, which I was asked to keep firmly under my hat for the time being.

However, yesterday I recieved a lovely package from Candlewick, containing advanced reader's copies (or ARCs) of THE NAME OF THE BLADE with the US cover in place. So I decided it was probably OK to share the cover artwork now. This is based on the fact that the last time I had a book coming out in the US, I held off from sharing the cover for a very long time, waiting to get official permission, even after the image had turned up on the publisher website, NetGalley, and Amazon, and people started sending it me asking me what it was. I ended up feeling like a bit of a twit. This time I'd like to get in first.

So without further ado, I present to you:


On the physical version, I'm told that the yellow and metallic bits you see - the lettering, and the sword - will be in silver and gold foil, with the rest of the cover in a matt finish. As far as I'm aware this will be a hardcover release.

It's very different from any other urban fantasy covers, isn't it? What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments!

I have a couple of ARCs of THE NAME OF THE BLADE going spare, so I'm thinking about maybe combining these with other bits and pieces I have to hand and doing a giveaway next week - more on that when I've worked it out.

Oh, and heads-up that I'm posting on the Author Allsorts about how I write this Friday, so tune in for that. I'll probably post a link here just as a reminder :) 

Monday, 24 March 2014

MORE LOVELY UPDATES

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! It's a crisp yet bright spring morning here on the east coast of England. Some of the apple and cherry trees in my neighbourhood have started to bloom, there are magpies hopping around on the field in front of my house, and there's still frost on the ground under a cloudless blue sky. I'm very much looking forward to taking Finn for a nice long walk once I've finished typing this up.

Thanks so much to everyone for your kindness and good wishes over last week's news. It's *still* hasn't quite sunk in. It'll probably be another couple of weeks before the first installment of the money comes through, so maybe it will seem real then. I'm going to start work on my Beauty and the Beast retelling in April, and since I'm - wonder of wonder! - up to date with everything else and basically waiting for Super Agent and Wonder Editor to get back to me on various things, I've decided to take this week off. Properly off. Not like that last time I took a week off and spent the entire time thinking about, planning and working on New Secret Project before getting back to work on Book #3 of the trilogy (fun though that was). I mean off-off. As in, I've got a whole heap of DVDs that I bought over the past year and which I got got for Christmas that I haven't even opened yet, and a small mountain of books to read, some of which have been waiting for more like two years, and dagnabbit, I'm going to get to them all. Or at least, as many of them as I can without my head exploding.

How long I'll be able to stick to this decision without my workaholic self going into a tailspin is unknown, but right now it's giving me a delicious sense of freedom. I'll be heading out to the shops later to buy lovely ingredients for various recipes I intend to try out this week, but other than that my schedule is completely clear - and it's blissful.

Now for updates! First, I've heard the lovely news from Candlewick Press, my U.S. publisher, that there will be an audiobook of the first volume of The Name of the Blade when it it released over there. It'll be made by Brilliance Audio, the same people who did such an first class job of producing Shadows on the Moon in audio format. I'm really happy and excited about this. Remember, the official release date for the book (and now audiobook) is November of this year, and it's coming out as The Name of the Blade rather than The Night Itself. When there's a cover or any other news rest assured I will share it.

Secondly, here is the full-wrap cover art for the UK paperback reissue of The Night Itself:


And Darkness Hidden:


When I showed my mum these, she read the cover copy on DH and said: 'Oh no!' Which is pretty much the reaction I was going for, so I'm happy. But mostly I'm spellbound by the utter gorgeousness of these covers. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Larry Rostant for the amazing photography and to Maria Soler Canton for being a genius of a designer and artistic director. These will be out in early June of this year. As soon as I can get my hands on a finished copy, I will take pics and share, promise.

That's it for this morning, Tweeps. If anyone would like to ask any writing, reading or publishing related questions in the comments for me to answer in a future post, I am open for business :)

Monday, 17 March 2014

A GRANT FOR THE ARTS: LIFE CHANGING NEWS

Happy Monday, Dear Readers - today I'm going to share the amazing news which made me so giddy on Friday. Here goes!

At the beginning of February I saw a blogpost by a fellow author in which she was celebrating having recieved an Arts Council for England Grant for the Arts. My mind was boggled. I'd heard of Grants for the Arts, and had even called the Arts Council up once, years ago, asking advice on whether I might be eligible. I was told 'No' - that writers like me, who were published, were ineligible. But now it looked like either I'd been mislead or things had changed, and I might be eligible to apply for a grant after all.

This was a huge deal. I'm in a weird position with my contracts this year, coming to the end of my three-book contract for the Name of the Blade Trilogy (which was negotiated by my current agent) with one single book contract left outstanding that was negotiated by my former agent.

Now, my publisher divides each advance that they offer for a book into three portions. They pay one third of the money on signature of the contract, one third on delivery and official 'acceptance' of the manuscript, and the final third on publication. I'd already had the signature advance on this contract in 2010, which meant I wasn't due another payment until I'd written the book and it was accepted - and it usually takes me between a year and eighteen months to write a book, and a few more months after that before the book is officially accepted. That's a long time to wait, and the level of my carefully hoarded savings was looking dangerously low. My only option was to try to find a job. And in the middle of a recession, and with a huge gap in my CV.

I'd be lucky - and I mean that sincerely, lucky - to get a place at McDonald's, or stacking shelves in a supermarket.

Guys, I've done the part-time writing while working at a day job to pay the bills thing. It's not, generally, so bad (although it depends on the day job, of course). But the prospect of being forced to do this, especially after the physically and emotionally exhausting last few years that I've had, caring for my father and slowly watching his health go downhill, was... profoundly depressing. My health is currently awful. My asthma is acting up in a way that it hasn't for years, and I'm only just starting to be able to move about normally again after a recurrence of a prolapsed disc in my spine AND a cracked rib. And if I even managed to get a job interview - which wasn't a certainty - I was going to have to go in there and explain all about what happened to dad in order to account for what I'd been doing since 2010. The mere thought of that, of all the stress, made me want to cry.

Trying to get a job, and then working at whatever job I could get, while at the same time attempting to write this book and make it as good as or better than the books that came before was going to mean hassle and anxiety at the exact time when I needed to be quiet and peaceful more than anything. When I *needed* to concentrate on the one thing that makes me feel better: writing.

So: Grants for the Arts. Possible life-saver. Possible life-changer. Could it be possible?

I looked into it and realised, yes, regardless of what I'd been told before, I was eligible to apply. But even if getting a grant was possible, that didn't mean it was *probable*. I needed to write a grant application which would give the ACE a huge amount of information about me, my book, the people who would engage with that book and how, and convince the assessors that I and my novel were worth investing in. The information on the website makes it clear that Grants for the Arts is a competitive programme and that each application is compared against others within the same field to see which are the strongest - that some people with good applications don't get funded simply because there isn't enough money to go around.

To say that I approached the extensive online application form for a Grant for the Arts with trepidation would be an understatement. Anyone who's ever been in despair and has suddenly been offered a tiny, shining glimmer of hope will tell you that it almost *hurts* to reach out and try to grasp that light. It takes a lot of courage. I emailed that other author for some advice (thank you, Nicole!) and did as much research as I could, and then, unable to stand it any longer, launched into it. I spent nearly twenty hours working on the form, most of it in a single day. I stopped to take the dog for walks, make cups of coffee, and use the bathroom, but that was it. I HAD TO GET THIS RIGHT. And yet I knew that even if I did, I still might not get the grant.

I submitted my application with a feeling of cautious optimism, which was bolstered when I got a confirmation email few days later to say that my information had passed the initial checks and that I was definitely eligible. But the normal turnaround on a decision for these grants is six weeks, and while that sounded like no time at all before I submitted the form, it suddenly stretched out to an eternity when I had to live through it. Even though I knew I wasn't going to hear anything much before the six weeks were up, I couldn't stop myself waiting for the postman each day with painful fear that he would bring a thin white envelope telling me that my application had been refused.

By week four, I had spiralled into pessimism and was feeling more anxious and low than I ever before. I was convinced - completely convinced - I'd mucked up the application and had absolutely no chance of success. I actually started to wish that I'd never applied at all, because waiting for the inevitable rejection was torture.

After all that, it seems almost anti-climactic to say that last Friday, a few days before the six weeks were up, a letter did arrive. It wasn't a slim white envelope, but a fat, brown, A4 one, and it contained an offer to give me a grant for the full amount that I'd requested. The maximum 'small' grant available from Grants for the Arts. Enough to support me financially for eighteen months and allow me to write my next book without having to (try to) find a job, or constantly do scribbled sums on the back of bank statement envelopes in a desperate attempt to pay all the bills.

It hasn't really sunk in yet. I keep thinking that if I jump up and down too enthusiastically or whoop too loudly I might break the spell somehow - wake up, or maybe catch someone's attention who'll tell me that it's all a mistake. But in the little moments when I can make myself believe it's true, the sheer relief of it is dizzying, overwhelming. I really wish my dad was here to celebrate this with me, or that I'd known about it before he passed away so that I could have reassured him by telling him that I would apply for it. He worried that I was going to have a tough time after he was gone - and he was right. I just hope that he's somewhere watching me now and smiling his big, golden grin and telling everyone who'll listen to him up there about how his little girl pulled it off. Now I just have to make sure I write something that will make him even prouder.



Supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Inspired by David Marriott, the best dad in the whole world. And motivated by Dear Readers, the best readers any writer could ask for. I really have no excuse not to make my next book my best ever, do I?

Friday, 14 March 2014

HAPPY FRIDAY

Hello, Dear Readers - and happy, happy Friday to you all!

You might remember that in my last post I asked for everyone's good thoughts, prayers and positive vibrations because I was waiting for news that could make a huge difference to me financially over the next year. Well, today that news has come - and it is GOOD, Dear Readers. Very, very good.

I'm so excited and relieved right now that my head is pounding, my skin feels like it's on fire, and my bones have turned into noodles. I'm not capable of making any kind of a coherent post explaining what's happened in detail. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for those good thoughts, wish you all a wonderful weekend, and promise you a long and juicy post explaining everything for early next week.

*Hugs everyone*

Monday, 3 March 2014

MUSICAL MUSES

Hello and happy Tuesday, Dear Readers.

I'm sorry that I didn't post last week. As I mentioned (rambled on about) here, I've been really unlucky with my health for the past few months. I've had bronchitis for about six weeks now and have been unable to shake it; constant coughing eventually caused a cracked rib, which is a particular agony that I'll probably inflict on a character one day, just to be nasty. And then, when I thought things couldn't be worse, I had a recurrance of the famous prolapsed disc. So I was pretty miserable, physically.

But I'm not going to lie - I could probably have managed a quick update even with all that. I mostly didn't post because I was feeling really low and melancholy all of last week, and I couldn't find the energy or enthusiasm. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook will probably have noticed that I've barely been around. Basically, I went into hermit mode.

I've started to feel a little better already this week. I think partly it's to do with spending time with my adorable nieces over the weekend, partly to do with the sun making an appearance, and partly to do with forcing myself to really get stuck into my revisions on The Name of the Blade #3 and finding that it's not quite as much of a hot mess as I was afraid it would be.

With all this, it feels like a good time to share some new pieces of music that are helping me to feel motivated and inspired. I hope you like them too.

Finally, either this week or next week I'm going to get a really important decision on something which could make a huge difference to me over the following eighteen months. I don't want to get more specific about that - although I will tell all if I'm successful - but if anyone has any spare good luck vibrations or positive thoughts to send my way, I'd appreciate them. Thanks.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

WHAT NOW?

Hello, Dear Readers! Have some Rihanna to start your day off right:


As you might have guessed, today I'm talking about what comes next. Last Monday I finished the first, very rough draft of the final Name of the Blade book, and although there's still a lot of work to be done on it, it does mean that my mind is starting to turn to all the other imaginative landscapes that I'm soon going to be exploring and writing about.

Before I move on though, something of interest to U.S. Dear Readers - especially the ones who've been asking me, with various degrees of confusion and annoyance, just WHEN the Candlewick Press version of The Night Itself will be coming out over there. Well, the lovely Bonnie tweeted me a link the other day to this. It's a new Goodreads edition which I assume has been set up by the publisher, showing that The Night Itself will actually be coming out, in a hardcover version re-titled simply THE NAME OF THE BLADE, on the 11th of November this year. It's been a really long wait, and it's not over - but at least we have a date now!

Onwards!

I honestly can't remember how much detail I've given everyone about the book that I'm contracted to work on next. I am so excited about it. I've had the characters and story living in my head for years and years - right the way back to 2011 - and I almost can't believe that I'm going to get to start work on it, like, THIS YEAR. I'm fairly sure that I've let the odd tidbit slip, but I have no idea what the tidbits were or who saw them so I'll just start afresh.

The working title for this story has the initials BotW. I'm not sure if it'll keep that title, so I won't share it right now; when I've convinced my editor, I'll spill the beans. But what is absolutely safe to say is that it's a book following in the footsteps of Shadows on the Moon. It shares the same setting, the Japanese-inspired fairytale land of Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni, or the Moonlit Lands. It's another fairytale retelling, this time of Beauty and the Beast. Once again, this is me tackling what I think the fairytale is trying to say, while addressing all the problematic bits that I personally think mess that message up.

Just as Cinderella is supposed to be a story about virtue triumphing over wickedness, but in most common versions is really is a tale about passive beauty winning out over 'ugly' activity and ambition, Beauty and the Beast is nominally about learning to love people despite their outer appearances - but really, most versions show it as a story of a prince signally failing to learn his lesson and coercing/bullying/emotionally blackmailing a female prisoner into agreeing to marry him not because he loves her, but because he wants to break the curse without really having fulfilled it's terms.

B&tB is one of my favourite fairytales, by the way, and Robin McKinley's Beauty is one of my favourite fairytale retellings ever. But I've never seen anyone really tackle my issues with the story. Mostly the bits where the Beast acts like an irrational monster are just glossed over and then the authors will put a lot of effort in showing that no, really, he's a great guy, and never deserved to be cursed in the first place - so it's OK if he acts like a monster now in order to break free, right? Right?

My major issues? 
  1. The beast lures an old man into his cursed palace, and tricks him into committing a minor indiscretion so that he can then threaten his life and demand the right to hold the man's daughter prisoner. 
  2. Following this successful acquisition of a Generic Girl (he doesn't know her - clearly any girl will do) and in his position of immense power over her (he's huge and strong, she's small and weak, he controls her environment down to where she goes, what she eats, what she wears) he asks her to marry him *every night* without even giving her a chance to get to know him, although he can tell that she's terrified. 
  3. At the end of the story, he magnanimously agrees to let her return to her family for seven days - but tells her that if she doesn't return to him, he'll die. He then ensures that this is the truth by *immediately* setting out to starve himself. Beauty overstays, but that doesn't actually matter because even if she'd come back on time, she would have found a famished Beast passed out on the floor anyway. And the moment that the Beast revives and finds poor Beauty crying and distraught, he piles on the emotional blackmail and asks her again to marry him, AGAIN, even knowing that she's never wanted to before, because he realises she'll feel too guilty to say no.
D*ck move, Beast. D*ck. Move.

And the fact that he turns into a handsome prince at the end of the story doesn't fix any of this. He wasn't acting this way because he was a monster. In fact, it was this kind of callous behaviour that got him cursed in the first place! 

These sorts of dark, knotty issues always get my creative juices going. I try to figure out situations or character motivations which could make these morally questionable actions read as understandable. Or how to allow those events to take place while ensuring that the narrative doesn't validate them. Or how to flip them on their heads so that something equal yet opposite occurs in their place. One of the key things is usually to put power back into the female character's hands. In traditional versions of B&tB, Beauty supposedly has power because she is permitted to refuse the Beast's advances. But what does this really mean? In practise, very little. She may say 'No' to the Beast's proposals - but no matter what she says, he keeps her locked up and afraid, keeps control of her, and keeps forcing her to endure his presence at dinner and answer his question 'Will you marry me?' day after day after day.

So for me to feel happy with Beauty and the Beast, and feel that it's truly a story of learning to love despite appearances, I needed to find a way to show that the Beast has learned his lesson - that he has become a person worthy of love inside, regardless of how he looks - and that he wants to be with Beauty not because it will break his curse, but because he loves her. And Beauty must not only have agency within the story, but her decision to say 'yes' to the beast needs to be motivated by love rather than guilt and emotional blackmail.

A tall order, yes. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.

My version of the story takes place in the dark, haunted forests of Mount Moonview, which we glimpse but do not visit in Shadows on the Moon. The story is of a young girl - a strong and resourceful village girl, rather than a fragile aristocrat - taking up her hunter's weapons and stalking the deep woods in order to find and kill the beast that attacked her father. The very first line (at the moment) is: 
There is a monster in the forest.
A few images that sum up the sort of mood and imagery that I'm aiming for:










Now, as for other things that I'm working on... well, after I've written and submitted BotW, I'll officially be out of contract for the first time since 2006. Which is a bit scary. But I'm hoping that my publisher will be interested in New Secret Project, which I've been working on over the past few days. It's another series, but very different to The Name of the Blade. There's no over-arching storyline. Each book will stand alone, with its own self-contained plots and characters, and you'll be able to read them in any order. They're linked by a unique setting and a theme: timeless love.

More on that later, with any luck!
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