Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Hello, and welcome to a very special post this Monday evening, Dear Readers. It's time to reveal the gorgeous cover art for a book that (as I've mentioned a few times) is really special to me: The Hand, the Eye & the Heart.

And I know you're all busily scrolling past this right now, but I'm going to ramble a bit first anyway because a) it seems less basic than just slapping the cover up here with barely any introduction and letting the art do all the talking and b) it's my blog and I'll ramble if I want to.

This cover illustration (including hand lettering!) was created by a legendary artist, Kate Forrester. You can visit her website and see her brilliant work for yourself (and I highly recommend it, because it's a feast for the eyes) but suffice it to say that she's created covers for some publishing greats. I personally think she's outdone herself this time.

This is the inspiration board I'd put together for any potential artist or designer for the book to look at. That's how I've worked with Delightful Designer over my past four books. I share it here because I think it's interesting - there are so many points of convergence that it is spooky, including the fact that I'd actually pinned a cover created by Kate Forrester long before I ever knew she would be involved - not because, on this occasion, it had anything to do with the cover art. It didn't.

Delightful Designer is currently on maternity leave and the designer Walker had working on The Hand, the Eye & the Heart (hi, Genius Designer! We haven't spoken, but you're awesome!) came up with the concept and decided on an artist without any input from me whatsoever. And all I can say is: good call. Honestly, I don't think it could have worked out any better.

So now, without any further ado... THE COVERRRRR!!






I mentioned in the teaser post that every detail in the cover is not only informed by the aesthetics of  the cultures on which the book itself draws, but also by specific details of the story and characters. All the animals (mythical and real) are significant in the story. The flowers you see - peonies and magnolias - are each mentioned in the story. Above all, the style and composition and colours all remind me very much of a glorious kesi tapestry, and since this kind of weaving is an artform which is very important to the main character of the book, that means a lot to me.

I think it's honestly stunning. And so right for this book. I'm also told there's a chance that the finished version maaaay have foil, so my fingers are crossed for that...

Other details about this book which I can now share! It's 448 pages long - the longest book I've ever written. It starts with an epigraph from The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It will also contain a trigger warning (which I'm very grateful to my publisher for letting me include) and a list of resources which I hope might be useful for trans and non-binary folk.

And just to make this as special as possible, now it's GIVEAWAY time. There won't be any ARCs for this book, but I've been promised that there will be early copies and that these should materialise sometime around the new year. So if you'd like to get your hands on one of these early copies, of which there will be limited numbers, as soon as I do? Then RT or share this post and enter the giveaway below for a chance to win The Hand, the Eye and the Heart in all it's (hopefully) foiled glory.

This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY and you can increase your odds of being the winner depending on how often you share and RT this post over the next two weeks. Have at it and have fun, muffins!

Tuesday, 27 November 2018


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday to all - I hope everyone's having a good week so far. My week is definitely looking up, since I've had some fantastic news today.

I'm basically just posting to tease you this week, but I hope you'll forgive my need to share my excitement - because I've had confirmation that the cover art for The Hand, the Eye & the Heart is FINALISED and that I will be able to share it NEXT WEEK!

I love this cover so much, you guys. I've loved it since I saw the very first, very rough design idea, even though it was in bizarrely in black and white. Walker has really outdone themselves this time. They commissioned the absolutely legendary artist Kate Forrester to illustrate and hand-letter the cover, and every detail in her artwork is so respectful to the cultures the book draws on, and so beautifully and directly specific to this story. My first impression was that it looked like some kind of wonderful ancient tapestry - and since the art of weaving is very important in The Hand, the Eye & the Heart, that makes my little heart sing.

And soon I will get to share it with all of you!

*High pitched incoherent squealing*


OK, so here are the details. If anyone reading this has been lucky enough to be invited to Walker's YA Wonderland:

And you can make it, then on Monday of next week you will not only be meeting a bunch of cool authors and eating a bunch of delicious nibbles - you'll also be getting the very first, exclusive look at this cover art.

But don't worry if you're not going to be there. No, seriously - calm down, folks - would your faithful Zolah toy with her Dear Readers like that? Not only will all the bloggers present be tweeting what they see under #WalkersYAWonderland or #WalkerYA2019, but I'll also set up a blog-post all ready to go on Monday too. As soon as the presentation is over I will press 'Publish' and share the full cover on the internet in all its hi-res full-wrap glory.

Stand by on Monday evening to be BLOWN AWAY. I can't wait!

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! I hope you're having a great week so far. I have to be honest and admit that I am not having a great week, but I still hope that it can get better before the end. Cross your fingers for me!

There's not much to report here at Casa Zolah the moment (not that nothing is happening, just that nothing is happening I can talk about) so I thought I would share a couple of playlists that are helping me get into the writing mood. Because you know I'm still writing, even if I'm not able to tell you much about that.

First up is a playlist for a long-time project that observant Dear Readers will know I've mentioned (and even posted snippets from) before: Winterthorne. Although it's actually not called that anymore, but the playlist still is:

And then a newer playlist which is very blandly called Thinking Music 2, but is actually for the very newest idea that I'm still sketching out whenever I have a spare minute or a random brainwave:

Apologies for the cr*p formatting here. Pasting in code always messes Blogger up and for the sake of my blood pressure I have learned to accept it. Anyway, I hope these help to get you into your writing grove, my lovelies! More poetry next week, maybe? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, 5 November 2018


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! I've been super busy with a couple of different projects over the past couple of weeks (one book related, one life related) and forgot to post last week. Sorry about that.

But today at last - the promised poems!

You know how sometimes your dog or cat will have a 'mad hour' and go from peacefully snoozing on the end of the bed to running around in dizzy circles, thudding mysteriously under the furniture, trying to climb the curtains, and scrabbling at imaginary ghosts in the corners? Well, early this year the exact same thing happened to me, except instead of my cat or dog it was my brain, and instead of trying to eat my own tail I wrote poetry.

Look, just go with me here, all right?

As a teenager who was bursting with ideas and thoughts but had not yet developed the ability to finish a longer piece of work (I couldn't even complete short stories) poetry was my number one means of creative expression and refuge. I sometimes wrote three new poems a day, for weeks at a time. I loved poetry and it was as natural to me as breathing.

But when I started channeling my writing juice into novels, slowly but surely that flood of poetry slowed down to a trickle. Those who've read my books know that there are often songs and poems and ballads in there, but those are about expressing things about my character's world or feelings, rather than about putting my own thoughts and feelings onto the page. Up until January, February and March of this year it had been probably a decade since I wrote any poetry that came directly from me, rather than filtered through the lens of what a character was going through.

Then, during the snowy and miserably cold early months of this year - well known and hated by all Britishers under the name The Beast from the East - when I was stuck on Selkie Book (having had to drop it really abruptly when edits for The Hand, the Eye & the Heart appeared) and quite often also stuck on a train for long periods, travelling back and forth to my Fellowship in York, that closed sluice gate on my poetry brain creaked opened juuuust a tiny bit. I found myself scribbling lines of poetry, then verses, and eventually full poems. By the end of that miserable weather system I had a good handful of new stuff, which I worked on fitfully while I slowly got back to work on Selkie Book again.

And then I saw a notice that the Bridport Poetry Prize was open for entries. And I thought 'What the Hell?' I picked out my favourite four poems, worked on them feverishly for a week or so, and sent them off. Lo and behold! They did not win. But I still really like them and feel especially fond of them because that poetry gate in my brain seems to have creaked shut again now. So I thought I'd share a few of them with you now.

I hope you like them! Let me know your thoughts in the comments, lovelies - or share poems you're working on now, if you like :)


the wild iris embraces you
though he would not.

And you are silent now
but the wind singing in the moon-grey bullrushes, 
and the rising heron
speak your name.

you are shrouded 
by reflections of the sun.

And dragonflies shall take flight
from the ivory cage
which imprisoned your frail human heart.

as your face fades
from his memory,
do not fear.

The green river remembers the green girl.
The waters know who you are.


People who tell you
That time heals
Are liars

Time doesn't accrete scars over anyone's grief
Only accustoms them to the pain

You might adapt to living without one of your limbs
And others will learn
To stop staring
At the empty space that follows you around

You'll figure out how to do the impossible
How to live now
Dress yourself again
Make coffee, make jokes, make a bed

But time cannot regrow what was lost
And sometimes, years and years later sometimes
When you had grown so adept at telling yourself
That you had forgotten

Or moved on
Or achieved closure
Or whatever vacuous thing the liars call it now
You will speak, unthinkingly

And in the silence that follows you will expect
For one breath
For just for one tiny infinity
That voice, that voice, that voice, to answer

And then you will feel the agony
Of the phantom limb, and know

Time heals nothing
Only teaches you how to pretend
That you were never whole

Tuesday, 23 October 2018


Hello and happy Monday (if there is such a thing) Dear Readers! Amidst today's glorious autumn sunshine I have some lovely news:


So far you can order here on Waterstones or here on Amazon. Hopefully it will soon show up on other sites. And with the pre-order, I can offer some new information. First, the book's official synopsis:
Zhilan was assigned female at birth; despite an unusual gift for illusions, they know they will live out their life in the perfumed confines of the women’s quarters. But when civil war sets the country aflame, Zhilan is the only one who can save their disabled Father from death on the battlefield.

By taking his place.

Surviving brutal army training as a male recruit – Zhi – is only the first challenge. Soon Zhi’s unique talents draw them into an even more perilous fight, in the glittering court of the Land of Dragons, where love and betrayal are two sides of the same smile. The fate of an Empire rests on Zhi’s shoulders. But to win, they must first decide where their loyalty, and their heart, truly belongs.


I can also tell you that the official release date is the 4th of April 2019 (these are inauspicious numbers in Chinese Feng Shui, but it's my birthday week so I'm hoping that will cancel it out). I've seen roughs of the cover and I can confirm that it is shaping up to be absolutely gorgeous, but I have no idea when it will be finalised or approved for me to share, so I won't tease you with it, except to say that, as always, as soon as I'm allowed, I'll slap it up here.

Now time for some real talk, Dear Readers.

I've written before about how important pre-orders are to the treatment that the book will get when it comes out, but just in case anyone missed that, let me reiterate - it can make a HUGE difference. It will decide where the book is stocked and how widely the book is stocked and how easy it is for casual readers to happen across it and what incentives (such as buy one, get one half price offers or ebook promotions) are in place to encourage them to buy it. And all that will have a vital effect on whether the book is considered a success or not - and if the author makes any money from it.

The part that concerns Dear Readers is that ultimately this will effect whether or not the author is ever offered a contract for a new book, so that you can continue to read and enjoy their work.

I really, really want this book to do well. I really, really want it to do well because I think it's a great and important story that deserves to be read and shared. I really, really want it to do well because I want there to be a popular book out there with an enby protagonist of colour. I really, really want it to do well so that too-often-over-looked readers can see themselves represented on the page by a character who is a goddamn badass. And I really, really want it to do well because if it doesn't then I don't know what that will mean for the other books that I desperately want the chance to write and share with you in years to come.

Pre-orders can help this book to do well.

So if you were intending to buy the book anyway, pre-ordering it sometime over the next few months would be a fantastic thing to do, to help increase the odds of further books from me appearing on shelves in the future. If you can't afford to do that - and I feel you! - then requesting it at your local library would also be great.

Closer to release I'm planning to run a massive competition and anyone who can show proof of a pre-order will have the chance to win all kinds of super cool THTE&TH themed goodies. If you do order the book before then, make sure you save your confirmation email or whatever so that you will be eligible!

In the meantime, much love to you all, Dear Readers. Next week I will probably hopefully finally get around to sharing some recent poetry efforts, so brace yourselves for that...

Wednesday, 17 October 2018


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Happy Wednesday. Without futher ado, let's announce the winner of last week's competition:

**Drumdoll please***






Congratulations! I'm delighted it's gone to a long-time Dear Reader. I know you'll really enjoy this, Jax. I'll be emailing you today to get your address.
I'm currently hard at work on my revisions for Selkie Book, which is defying my usual expectations/process by vearing wildly from pretty good to a deathly vacuum of suckage every couple of pages. I keep getting stuck, thinking 'Eugh, I made a terrible mistake with this, it's AWFUL, it needs a total rewrite!' and then a paragraph later I'm happily skimming along making minor prose tweaks. I don't know if this honestly is as radically different to everything else I've written as I think it is, or if it's just the way it seems to me because I'm immersed in it. Once the edits are done the full, final version will be off to my agent and then I suppose I will find out.

I *hope* to get the manuscript marked up and the edits actually inputted by the end of this month. I emphasize 'hope' there because actually, I probably have no chance in Hell of managing that - but I'm going to try! Mainly because I have two short pieces I need to start AND finish in November (one of which will hopefully be of some interest to Dear Readers) so I really want to be able to relax and concentrate on those without Selkie Book nibbling at the edges of my conscience and attention.

In other news, I've just finished NineFox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, which is one of the densest and chewiest things I've read in a while. On the surface it's hard (operatic) sci-fi, informed by the author's theoretical maths background. But on a technical level it's actually fantasy. I'm quite jealous that readers were happy to accept this as SF, and also that the author was able to get away with so little explanation of his physics defying magic stuff. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'll pick up the sequels for a while.

Read you later my lovelies - next week, to be precise, when I think I'm going to start posting my (failed) entries for this year's Bridport Poetry Prize, because why not? See you soon.

Monday, 8 October 2018


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Today I bring you a real treat - not only a review of one of the the most highly anticipated YA releases this year, but also... a giveaway. Ooooh! Aaaah! Buckle up, buttercups! Here's the synopsis for Natasha Ngan's Girls of Paper & Fire:
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It's the highest honor they could hope for...and the most cruel.

But this year, there's a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after--the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king's interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king's consort. But Lei isn't content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable--she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.
Doesn't that sound FREAKING AMAZING???

OK, let me pretend to be a grown-up for minute and explain a bit more about this.

Although we've never met in real life, I've known Natasha Ngan online for a long time - as a delightful person to exchange jokes or writing related complaints with on Twitter and as a fellow contributor to Author Allsorts. And so I've also known about this book, one way or another, for a long time. Through the #UKYA author grape-vine I knew she was working on something new - an exciting departure for her. I'd even spoken to people who'd read the manuscript and said it was something really, really special. As a result, I was excited to hear more about it from the first.

Keeping my ears open, I gradually learned that it was a high fantasy with an Asian-inspired setting. That it was supposed to be a Feminist story, and one which centred a queer romance. Talk about a list of all my favourite things! Eventually I saw the gorgeous cover.

I actually thought I couldn't get much more interested at that point.

But then I saw the synopsis - THAT synopsis - online and I felt shivers go right down my spine.

In one of those utterly unearthly coincidences of creative zeitgeist, Natasha had written a story which echoed, almost perfectly, the tragic and bloody backstory of one of my favourite characters from my own upcoming novel The Hand, the Eye, and the Heart - which also happens to be a queer high fantasy with an Asian-inspired setting.

It felt as if someone had reached into my dreams, plucked something out, and made it real.

I knew I had to get my hands on this book. I can't even express to you how much I HAD TO READ IT. And with every amazing review that drifted through my Twitter timeline, my desperation grew. So I entered every online giveaway I could find (with thanks to longtime reader B&J, who alerted me to most of these) wished for both the UK and US versions on Netgalley (neither were available to request) and also emailed Hodder and Stoughton - calmly and professionally - asking for an ARC to review. And when that didn't work, I broke down and sent pleading tweets to their children's AND adult twitter accounts, offering up a virgin goat or a kidney, whichever worked for them.

Just when I was starting to lose hope a lovely DM from a member of the PR team arrived, offering me what sounded like their very last available ARC. My exultant hiss of "Yesssss!" startled many unfortunate occupants of the station Starbucks where I was waiting for my train when this message arrived. But did I care? I did not. Soon! Soon, the book would be in my grasp and I could at long last discover if this story really WAS really a fragment of my dreams which had gotten lose and become a book.

Readers, the ARC arrived on Saturday in the early afternoon.

Readers, before nine pm that evening, I had finished it.

Readers, despite its main storyline bearing an uncanny resemblance to the one in my head it was not really a fragment of my dreams which had gotten lose and become a book.

It was something much rarer and more wonderful.

There are books that authors enjoy - love - or admire. Lots of those. But for most authors there's another category, which is the most special of all: books we genuinely wish *we* had written. Girls of Paper & Fire is one of these.

Longtime Dear Readers know that my favourite book out of everything I've ever written is Shadows on the Moon. Right? Well, this book is the book I wanted Shadows on the Moon to be. The book it could have been if I'd been just a bit better at my craft, a bit braver in my choices, a crucial shade more open to possibilities, back in 2009 when that story was fighting its way out of me. Girls of Paper & Fire fulfils every craving for that perfect book I couldn't quite achieve. It is brutal and lyrical, beautiful and savage, heart-breaking and transformative. I loved it.

It's hard to talk about books you connect with this much. There's a strong impulse to ramble on about the details. Everything from craft level stuff - gorgeous, deftly woven prose - or big picture stuff - tactile, sensory world-building with the perfect level of detail and exposition - or the characters - flawed, evolving, both broken and beautiful. But ultimately, it's not really about that. What it comes down to is something intangible. Some connection between you and the text that opens a door in your imagination you never knew was there, but which afterwards can never be fully closed again.

Look guys, if you liked any of my books, go get this. If you're a fan of Naomi Novik, or Leigh Bardugo, or Laini Taylor - same. It's just great. You won't regret it. And then you can come and talk to me about it and we'll squee together and mourn just how long it's going to be until the sequel comes out.

And to increase the chances of your getting to read the book, I'm going to bite the bullet and give away this very special, stained-with-my-own-tears ARC (fully intending to save up to buy it when it comes out, of course). It's going to be a wrench, since I kind of want to sleep with it under my pillow forever more, but that's how much I love you guys.

The entry form is below and it's as simple as I can make it. You get one point for RTing this post and the competition to Twitter (and you can do that once each day if you like) and one point for commenting. The giveaway is open to anyone in UK and Europe - but not the US. Sorry USians, the postage is unreal and I'm trying to save up for Christmas presents.

The competition will run until next Wednesday - the 17th of October - and I'll announce the winner on Thursday and send the book out on Friday. Which means one of the best books you're ever likely to read can be in your eager little hands by next weekend. You might want to get on that :) Read you later, muffins!

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