Friday, 30 December 2011


Heeellooo, Dear Readers! It looks like we've survived Christmas (hopefully - you're still alive, right?) and as we head into the New Year it seems only right to take a look back at everything that's happened over the last twelve months, reflect on events, see what went wrong and why, and be thankful for what went right.

Following the tradition I started last year, I used the Year In Status app on Facebook to take a look at what I've been talking about most in 2011, and it's not a surprise to see that what I've mostly been talking about is writing, writing and more writing. This year was my first full twelve months as a full-time writer. It's been unbelievably wonderful, and there have been a lot of challenges, many of them not the ones I'd have expected if you asked me this time last year.

2011 saw the release of my third book after a gap of over two years, and it was a relief and a joy to get my place in the nation's bookshops back again. That's the main landmark, and that's how I'll probably always think of 2011, the year of Shadows on the Moon. Highlights included getting a five star review from Books For Keeps, getting shortlisted for the St Helen's Book Award, and seeing the amazing book trailer for the first time.

But a lot of other stuff happened as well! Too much stuff to go back and list, really. So instead, I decided to go back and have a look at the list of not-quite-resolutions-but-something-like-them for 2011 and see what worked and what fell by the wayside.
  1. Write six days a week, using my notebook. Did I succeed here? For the most part, yes, I did. A lot of this year was taken up with reworking and revising and rewriting, but there were many weeks when I worked seven days, and many days when I worked twelve hours, scribbling away either on my laptop or in my notebook. In fact, this year it was a challenge to hold myself back from turning into a writing hermit, and force myself to take the time to get out and do other things now and then.
  2. Write two books in 2011. This was an ambitious one! And in a strange way, I did manage to achieve it - but not in the way I'd hoped. I spent several months completely revising FrostFire and turning it into an entirely new book than the one I'd written in 2010. Then I wrote The Night Itself, the first book of the Katana Trilogy. I'm proud that I managed to get both those things done, and I\m proud of the way both books turned out... I just wish that I'd managed to get FF right the first time.
  3. Carry on blogging three times a week, and try to vlog once a month. Well, I managed to do the blogging thing - apart from my one week holiday hiatus and the hiatus over Christmas, which I think were an OK compromise. It wasn't always easy! It's always been rewarding, though, and this year I've seen reader numbers surge, as well as getting fairly widespread attention for my posts on the Mary-Sue issue. But as for the vlogging...ha! That fell by the wayside early on, as I realised that each five minute video I made usually took at least one day to put together. I actually did apply to join the vlogging group The YA Rebels this year, which would have meant vlogging once a week. I didn't get in, and when I realised that instead of disappointed I felt relieved, I realised that I generally MUCH prefer writing my blog posts than talking them out loud!
  4. Do all I can to promote Shadows so that it gets into the right hands, gets the right reviews or award nominations, catches the imagination of the people who will enjoy it, and finds its place in the market. Well, I tried my best! At one point this year I felt as if I was almost drowning in reviews and interviews and guest blogs (and thanks so much to all my blogging pals who made it more pleasure than pain) and because the book came out in July I still haven't seen my first royalty statement encompassing this period, so I don't have a concrete idea of how it went. But I do know that the book went into reprint within a week or two of release, and every now and again people still send me pictures of it in their local bookshops, which is unbelievably thrilling. So it didn't vanish without a trace, as I'd half feared :)
All in all, it's been a tiring, exciting, happy, slightly scary sort of year. The kind of year that I wouldn't mind having again in 2012. So in my next post I'm going to make some new goals, bearing in mind all I've learned (and I've learned a lot!) in my first twelve months as a full-time writer.

What did you guys achieve in 2011?

    Tuesday, 27 December 2011


    Hello, Dear Readers. I hope you all had a marvellous Christmas and Boxing Day. Mine were surprisingly relaxing and happy. Today I'd vaguely planned one of a couple of posts, depending on my mood - one about dialogue tags, the other a run down of my Christmas loot. But today I've woken up to a blinding pain in one eye which signals that looking at my computer (or the TV, or any bright, blinky thing, including Christmas lights) for more than a few minutes is going to trigger a migraine. And I'd really...rather not. So I'll be back on Friday instead. Sorry guys. Use the time to read something awesome, 'kay?

    Tuesday, 20 December 2011


    Hello all! Did anyone notice the date today? It's the 21st! Only four more sleeps 'til Christmas! How did this happen? *Hugs self with mingled panic and excitement*

    In honour of the holiday season, I'm going to be taking a tiny hiatus here, and won't be posting on Friday this week or Monday next week. This is to ensure that the levels of nonsense on the blog remain low, because what with sorting out last minute presents, cooking Christmas dinner and various other baked treats, dealing with relatives (including my brother who only comes home once a year) AND the fact that I just got my edits back for The Night Itself, anything I post is highly unlikely to be thoughtful and good quality. What can I say? I'm good, but I'm not THAT good.

    So, as a special treat this Wednesday, I'm going to share a teaser from a book that you won't be seeing on shelves until 2015 (although I will be telling you more about it before then!). It's not one of the Katana Trilogy books. It's a standalone high fantasy, but it's set in Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni (or The Moonlit Lands), the setting I invented for Shadows on the Moon, and like Shadows on the Moon, it is inspired by a fairytale. This book is literally only a few pages and a synopsis at the moment - the literary equivalent of a twinkle in my eye, and that means the sample you're getting is even more subject to change or deletion than normal.

    Bearing that in mind... Follow the cut for teasing!

    Monday, 19 December 2011


    Hi everyone! Once again Monday has dragged its reluctant behind through the door and is slumped, grey and slightly hungover, on the couch of life. So what better way to cheer it up than by looking at some lovely things related to Shadows on the Moon?

    First up - Shadows on the Moon has been shortlisted for the St Helen's Book Award. My publisher let me know that a while ago, but at the time I was so caught up in talking about Katana with them that I forgot to pass the news onto you (bad blogger! No cookie!). There's no info online about the award, but apparently it's linked to the St Helen's school and library district which means it was most likely voted on by teachers, librarians and young people, making it very valuable in my eyes. Whoot!

    In addition to this, the lovely Cass of Words on Paper has given Shadows on the Moon her Faves of Twentyeleven Award for Most Original and Imaginative Book, as well as making it a runner-up in the Most Atmospheric and Vivid Setting category. I'm delighted - thank you, Cass!

    In early reviews of Shadows from US bloggers, we have:

    Sassyreads 4.5/5 Star Review

    Colorimetry 4 Star Review

    And in just-down-right-cool-stuff:

    This review of my books by author R.J. Anderson (who, if you remember, blurbed Shadows on the Moon and whose books I really LOVE).

    A lovely review of Shadows on the Moon by the very lovely Y. S. Lee (a fellow Walker Books and Candlewick Press author).

    I also found myself on this list of favourite books read in 2011 on the New York Public Library.

    Finally, for any readers who are over sixteen or eighteen (or the age of consent in your country! Seriously there's a lot of sex and swearing in this one, don't go there if you're not old enough!) and who have a liking for both historical novels and gay romances (as I do) a book recommendation: Out of the Blue by Josh Lanyon, a bittersweet, absolutely beautifully written novella about the love between First World War fighter pilots. This made me cry over the weekend, and I shall be seeking out the author's other work post-haste.

    ETA: My terrible spelling. Shame. Shame on me to the tenth generation.

    Thursday, 15 December 2011


    Happy Friday, Dear Readers! We made it to the end of the week - which probably seemed impossible somewhere around the middle of the week - so let's all have a pat on the back. Now the time has come for me to delve deep into the cool, secret shadows of the blog archive, emerge with a dusty old post, give it a quick polish with a damp cloth, then pop it onto the dinner table so that new readers can experience its delicious vintage, and long-time readers can sip of its rich sweetness once more. That's right! It's RetroFriday!

    The topic of writing roadblocks was inspired by regular commenter Megha, who asked me a couple of separate questions in various comments, which I've smushed together to make this:

    "Do you ever feel that your plot is too... big? Too much? I'm scared of starting my novel. It has been planned and plotted properly, and now I'm too scared to start. It's not writers' block, I know. And I know that all the writers go through this. My planning's done. There's nothing LEFT to plan about. I need to start, but I can't."

    This is a writing roadblock.

    Megha is right - this does happen to most writers at some time or other, for various reasons. In my case I'm usually scared the story is too SMALL, rather than too big. I worry that not enough happens, that I haven't made the right choices to stretch my characters, that I'll just run out of stuff to write after 30,000 words. I worry that it's all flawed because I've missed some huge, vital conflict that would have made everything worthwhile. Hence this Post-It stuck in the first page of my FF notebook:

    But being scared that the story is too big, that it's too ambitious, that you won't do it justice, that it'll be too long...those are crippling fears too (I know, 'cos that's The Scary Place I've posted about here, and which I usually enter at around the 50% mark of my manuscript).

    These roadblocks are hard to break through specifically because they don't come from the logical part of your brain. They're not based on anything you can put your finger on. They just appear out of nowhere, causing a nebulous sense of dread that makes us feel we'd do anything, even scrub the bathroom clean with a toothbrush, to avoid actually writing.

    This isn't about writer's block in the sense that I think writer's block normally has one of several concrete causes (which you can read about here). This is basically about your own fears, your conscious and unconscious worries about writing, getting all snarled up and taking all the fun out of everything. And there's only one cure. One way to kick that writing roadblock to the curb.

    If you've read many of my writing posts before, you probably know what I'm going to say next.

    The one way to destroy a writing roadblock is to write.

    It will NOT go away on its own. You won't wake up one day and find it's miraculously evaporated. You may wake up on many mornings thinking 'This is the day! Today I will write!' and then find yourself making excuses, procrastinating and pottering until it's midnight and you need to get to bed, but that's obviously not very useful. You will never be able to escape the sense of horrible foreboding until you punch through it and actually write. And the longer you leave it? The harder it gets.

    I know it's horrible! Believe me, I know! But taking charge is the only way.

    • Put the plans/notes/story outlines/folders of maps you've made for this story away.   
    At this point you're using these as an excuse to avoid writing. They've become part of the problem. Put them at the bottom of the draw. You are forbidden to look until you actually NEED to check a fact or remind yourself of something. 
    • Leave your normal writing place. 
    If you've been sat in the same room in the same chair, or lying on your bed, or sat at your desk, every day, stewing over his for hours at a time, your brain has now incorporated the location into your sense of dread. Go somewhere else. Somewhere you would never normally associate with writing. A new coffee shop. A corner in the library. A friend's house, if they can be trusted to leave you alone. I find trains very good for this, personally. Anyway, chose a place and go there. 
    • Set yourself a time and stick to it. 
    Tell yourself that you will start writing at precisely whatever-o'clock and that you will write for a certain, set amount of time. Make it manageable. It's no good saying you'll get up at 6:00am and write for three hours. You'll fail and feel even worse. Give yourself a reasonable start time, and a reasonable writing period. Half an hour is a good stretch to start. 
    • Remind yourself that you're just scribbling. 
    You're just writing to fill up the blank page at this point. It doesn't have to be great. It doesn't even have to be good. I find it useful to use a pencil and paper when doing this, because it looks messy and smudgy and reminds you that it's just scribbling, not actual writing. But if you normally write with pen and paper, maybe you'd want to switch to a laptop, so long as you're okay taking it with you to wherever you've chosen to write.

    That's all. 

    As soon as you've started writing again, as soon as you've defied the dread and the worry and the stressing-out and put pen to paper for fun again, you remember why you actually wanted to do this writing lark to start with.

    Don't go too fast - don't put pressure on yourself when you start to feel better. But don't let yourself off the hook either. Keep doing your half-hour scribbling sessions until you get to the point where you're starting to over-run, to not want to stop. Then stretch yourself with forty minutes. Maybe think, 'Today, I'm going to use my forty minutes to play around with opening lines. Opening paragraphs for the first chapter. Hmmm...'

    Then one day you'll find you've written for two hours straight and that you've got a first chapter staring at you.

    Writing roadblock? Dust.

    Right - time for me to get back to my precious. Hope this was helpful everyone - and have a great weekend!

    Wednesday, 14 December 2011


    Hello, my lovelies! Happy Wednesday to all. Today I'm continuing with the theme of Monday's post - How Editing Works. Which all sounds terribly grand and grown-up, so I'll just add a quick reminder that I'm a relative newbie to working with editors, and that your mileage will of course vary when it comes to this stuff.

    Last time I talked about how editing generally falls into a few distinct stages, with each part of the process relating to the improvement of an aspect of the manuscript (major structural edits = big picture issues, line edits = prose, copy edits = everything else, pass pages = final polishing/error catching).

    What I'd like to discuss today is the way that authors react to edits, and how you can manage that reaction to help ensure a good working relationship with your editor, not to mention getting the best possible result for your book. Because that's what you need to always, always bear in mind when you're editing. This process isn't about you as a writer, or your feelings or your ego. It's about what is best for the book you've created, and how to make the characters and story shine.

    Generally I find that my reaction to the comments my editor makes in her editorial letter and line edit falls into three distinct categories:

    The Blinding Epiphany: Saint Paul on a pogo-stick how did I miss this? Argh, this is so embarrassing! But of course she's right - and now that she's put her finger on it I can see just where I went wrong and what to do to sort it out! *Rolls up sleeves*

    Guilty Avoidance: Oh hell, she noticed. I was so hoping it was a minor issue and no one would pick up on it. But I have no idea how to fix it! That's why I sort of handwaved around it in the first place! Maybe I can get away with ignoring this? Or fudge some stuff around it to make it work? *Hides under duvet*

    Frustrated Anger: What? WHAT? Just...what??? That makes no sense! There's no problem there! I can't change that - I won't change that - it's fine as it is! Having to mess around with this bit would ruin EVERYTHING! If she hates the damn book so much why are they publishing it in the first place? *Kicks wall*

    What do all these reactions have in common? They're knee-jerk and not entirely reasonable. If you act on any of them right away you will regret it. Dive straight into the manuscript to 'fix' an issue by slapping on the first idea you have like a sticking plaster, and you may mess things up worse than they were. Try to fudge an issue so that you won't have to deal with it, and you definitely will mess things up. And writing an angry email or making an angry phonecall to your editor to tell them how very wrong they are and ask why they're publishing the book in the first place if they hate it so much is such a d*ck move that I shouldn't even have to explain why you'll regret it.

    The best - probably the only - way to deal with each of these is time.

    When I get an edit letter or my line edits, I read through them once, carefully but quickly. And then I walk away. Literally. No matter what my reaction is, how eager I am to get to work or how much I want to curl into the fetal position and commence with soft, pained moans, I force myself to get my dog, put on some waterproof boots and go for a nice long tramp through the fields. Rain or shine, sun or snow, I walk. I'll let everything I've just read marinade in my brain as stomp and mutter, throw biscuits for my dog, and occasionally wave my hands around emphatically. When I finally get home an hour later, shivering or sweating or sodden wet, I will generally feel much calmer and more rational.

    But having had my therapeutic stomp, do I THEN dive straight into the manuscript or writing a snotty letter? No, no, and no, Dear Readers. I leave it at least another day before I look at the letter or notes again. I know some authors who leave it a week. You have to give your brain enough time to get over any initial knee-jerk reaction that you had so that when you read those notes or that letter a second time, you see what the editor actually wrote, rather than what your offended ego or eager-to-please nature is telling you is there.

    Trust me. When you return and look at your editor's words twenty-four hours (or more) later, you will be stunned to find that somehow they've changed. They're not calling you a talentless hack after all. They're not saying the book is terrible. And many of the quick fixes that sprang into your head on the first read will now feel a bit hasty, as if they rather missed the point. Whatever your initial reaction was, you will be profoundly glad you waited before you acted on it.

    I'm not saying that walking away from the edits will make it easy to deal with them when you come back. It won't, necessarily. When we worked on Shadows on the Moon my editor had a problem with the way a certain plot thread was resolved. She felt that it was unsatisfying for the reader, and in the back of my head I agreed with her. But unfortunately I was completely stumped as to how to weave that thread back in without tangling up five others that were vital to the end of the story. And what was more, leaving that part of the plot like that had been in my original plans, from when I very first started the story, and my stubborn back-brain was convinced that it should work like that, dammit.

    I avoided and fudged around the issue every way that I knew how, but my editor (thank heavens!) didn't let it go. Every time she came back to me she prodded me about it more and more insistently. In response, I got more and more frustrated because I thought she should be able to see how impossible it was to do anything about it and just accept that this was the best I could do.  

    But of course, it wasn't impossible.

    Nothing is impossible. A book is words on a page. If you change the words the right way, you can fix anything. And so, on one of my bad-tempered stomping walks by the river, I got a glimmer of an idea. I worked it out as I tramped, and went over it again and again in my head, checking for problems and flaws, and realised that it was the perfect way to fix things. Yes, it would mean doing away with a few things that I liked, but the result would be worth it. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before. I got home, scribbled it all down, and within a few days I'd sorted out the issue which had been holding the edit in limbo for weeks.

    This was a defining moment for me as a writer. It made me realise that I had the ability fix pretty much any mess I'd made, given the time and space to work it out, and the confidence to accept that sometimes things needed to be changed. I had to let myself believe that needing to change things, even things I'd planned from the beginning, even things that my editor had spotted rather than me, didn't reflect on the book or on my skills, or mean that I was admitting I was a talentless hack.

    The object of the edit is to get things right. This grace period, this time spent working on a book with a dedicated, passionate professional editor who won't let you get away with fudging, is a judgement free space. It's a blessing. A gift. A chance to go back and fix your mistakes - a rare thing in life. How to fix them might not always be obvious or simple or easy, but it's always possible, so long as you believe it's possible.

    Looking back, I'm so glad that I had this revelation working on Shadows. If I hadn't, I don't think I would have had the determination and confidence to deal with the work that I needed to do on FrostFire. In fact, I know I wouldn't. So that's something else to bear in mind: when you work with your editor on making a book the best it can be, you're also learning. You're learning craftsmanship, and confidence, and you're learning how to make the next book even better.

    However, from time to time you'll get a note from your editor which you actually disagree with. Not a note that makes you guilty or frustrated or angry but a note that, on reflection, you truly believe just isn't right. You can't do what they're asking you to do. Not because it would be difficult or mean admitting you'd made a mistake, but simply because it would be wrong for these characters or this book.

    When this happens, you'll find that the relationship you've built up with your editor to this point pays dividends. If you've always been polite and professional, and if you've always been willing to admit that changes need to be made and work through them (even if it took a while!) then when you come back to your editor here with a problem, they'll be more than willing to listen to what you have to say and you'll be able to work out why there's an issue.

    For example, while I was working on The Swan Kingdom with my U.S. editor, she gave me a note in which she said she felt a certain confrontation in the middle section of the book should be radically changed to play out a different way. At first I felt devastated; it was the first time that I flat out 100% knew I couldn't make a requested change. I just couldn't do it. What was more, the fact that the editor had asked for that change made me feel as if the book as a whole couldn't be working, because if it had been, the editor would have seen that changing the outcome of that confrontation would completely go against every bit of characterisation up to that point.

    Heart in my throat, I politely emailed my U.S. editor and explained that I couldn't do what she'd asked me to do, and why. I braced myself, not sure what the reaction would be. I'd heard so many things about awkward authors who thought their words were golden, and I didn't want to be like that, so the minute I sent the email I wanted to call it back, but no matter how I looked at it, I just knew I couldn't change the story that way.

    The editor got back to me within an hour - with an apology. She completely saw my point and she realised the note had been wrong. It was fine, and I should ignore it and keep working. Oh, the relief!

    I've since learned that this is normally how true disagreements play out between writers and editors. Sometimes you go backwards and forwards about things, and sometimes the author changes their mind and sometimes the editor does, but you can nearly always work it out. As a writer, if you've demonstrated the willingness to work hard to produce the best possible end result, and if you've got the courage to argue your case both intelligently and with passion, you will get a lot of respect from your editor when it comes to the changes you're willing to make.

    Sometimes these disagreements are an opportunity to improve things in unexpected ways. Going back to Shadows on the Moon, after the initial edit letter, it was clear from my editor's comments that she and I perceived a particular character in very different ways. She pushed me to make changes to his behaviour to make him more vivid and understandable to the reader. But I felt that this would change him so profoundly that he wouldn't work at all. We debated it over the course of several emails and through a couple of edits. Being forced to defend this character's actions and choices against my editor's extremely perceptive and insightful comments brought him into such sharp focus for me that although I didn't make the changes my editor wanted, I did make several other changes to the way I showed the reader who this person was - and my editor loved them.

    It wasn't that she necessarily wanted me to change the character to fit her vision. She had just seen that there was something missing in the way he was characterised, and in prodding me about it, she allowed me to fix it in a way that worked for the story.

    Again, I've gone mega long here, so I'll finish by saying this. Editing can be fun. It can also be stressful. And frustrating. Even a little painful. And that's just within one page! But I honestly would not want to be published if I had to share my work in its unedited state. Working with an editor is a chance to learn wonderful things about the craft of writing in general and your own strengths and weaknesses in particular. Having a great editor allows you to take risks, try out crazy stuff that might not work because you know you've got someone in your corner who will lay it on the line for you and tell you if you messed up and how.

    It not only makes for vastly improved books. It produces vastly improved writers.


    Monday, 12 December 2011


    Hello, Dear Readers! I realised over the weekend - much to my embarrassment, although not to my surprise - that I promised to do you a post about editing/working with editors last week, and then forgot all about it. Frankly, sometimes I'm amazed that I can tie my own shoelaces. But anyway, here that long-awaited post is, and if anyone has any questions about this or would like any points clarified or gone into in more detail, bring it up in the comments.

    In my leisurely roaming of the writing-centric parts of the interwebz, I've noticed a lot of general assumptions and misconceptions about editing - that is, the work that writers do with the professional editors employed by their publisher. Often I see people talking as if its an editor's job merely to fix typos and spelling mistakes (and that this means the writer shouldn't bother about those things) or bemoaning this widespread idea that 'real editing' is dying out because of the heartless paper-pushers in charge of publishers (and this can be proved by all the typos in published books).

    Both of those ideas are, in my experience, dead wrong.

    I can't claim to be a huge expert on this topic. I'm a relative newbie compared to many authors, and all my books have been published by one publisher (and their international sister companies). But over the course of five YA books (one of which never ended up being published) I've worked with three different editors (two at my UK publisher, one with the US one) and at least four copy-editors, so maybe I do have a bit of insight about the editor/author relationship that could be useful.

    First: Fixing grammar, spelling mistakes and typos is only one very small aspect of a huge array of responsibilities that fall under an editor's job description - those things are primarily the author's job. Editors act as a safety net to catch the mistakes which everyone, no matter how careful, makes from time to time. Land in that safety net too often though, and the people in the circus will rightly wonder why exactly you climbed up there on the high-wire in the first place if you didn't know how to do the walk. Any writer who thinks they don't need to worry about those things themselves is operating under a tragic misapprehension.

    Second: Editing is not dead. Neither is it a 'lost art'. Editors are not a dying breed; they're not even feeling off-colour, as far as I can tell. All the editors I've worked with have been fiercely intelligent, intimidatingly well-read and PASSIONATE about making the books they've acquired the very, very best they can be. These guys are hardcore; without them, half the books on your shelves would not be on your shelves at all, and the other half would be much the worse. Blaming the editor for a handful of typos which were most likely introduced during typesetting is like blaming the head engineer of a ship for a handful of lose bolts rattling around in the hull of a giant ship. Yes, the rattling is annoying. However, if the head engineer weren't around the ship would probably have sunk by now.

    So, bearing that stuff in mind, how does working with an

    Generally, once you've managed to get your foot in the door with a publisher, the editing process breaks down into a few distinct steps. Reading author blogs, you can get the impression that these stages of editing are somehow set in stone, but I've found that it changes not only from editor to editor but from book to book. It's an organic thing. The steps I've listed below can blend into each other, be repeated multiple times, or sometimes be skipped altogether.

    There's even rumour of a wondrous thing known as a 'clean' manuscript. This is a draft so perfect, so beautifully formed, so effulgent with divine beauty, that on being submitted by the author it needs no editorial work whatsoever before going off to the printers. Please note - If I ever manage to produce such a thing, you'll probably want to find a sharp implement (a shovel or a woodaxe perhaps) and remove my head immediately, as it will be a sign that I've been taken over by a malevolent alien intelligence and am plotting the end of human civilisation as we know it. *Shudder*

    Basically what I'm saying is that this is just a guide, rather than a set of commandments.


    Structural edit/edit letter: Mention edit letters to published authors and you get one of two reactions. Either they groan and hold their head in their hands, or they bounce up and down with feverish excitement. The first reaction probably means they've just received an edit letter. The second kind are still waiting for it to arrive.

    The structural edit is the first stage of getting a book ready for publication. It's all about the big picture - characterisation, plot, pacing, setting. The things that hold the book together and make it what it is. This is the stage where an editor may request big changes, such as transforming your main character from an elf to a vampire, killing off the erstwhile heroine in chapter four with a poison dart, or moving the whole story from Medieval Florence to the purple rainforests of Gundi'iip Prime in the Taurus Nebula. It addresses issues the editor has with the book as a whole and offers suggestions on how to fix them. The edit letter pretty much tells you what the editor thought of the book (from 'I love it! Let's talk about a few issues...' to 'I'm so sorry, but in its current form...') which is why writers tend to get very excited and scared about them.

    The edit letter I received (via email) for Shadows on the Moon mentioned that my editor felt two important characters were a little vague - they didn't come fully into focus throughout the book and their motivations were unclear. She also felt that the middle section of the book was too long and contained too many secondary/minor characters, and that the ending was too abrupt and left a major plot thread inadequately resolved. We eventually cut nearly 30,000 words from my first draft.

    If that makes you gulp? Brace yourself. With FrostFire, I never got a formal edit letter. My editor felt that it would be best for us to have a phone conversation about the book and the extensive changes that would be required. We talked for over an hour, going over all the issues that prevented the story and characters from working, and tossing possible solutions at each other.

    At the end of that conversation I went away and produced a new, detailed synopsis for what I called FrostFire #2 - an entirely different version of the book in which the plot was turned inside out and most of the characters swapped sex. This served as a kind of backwards edit letter. My editor read it, and came back to me with detailed notes. I amended the synopsis accordingly. She read the outline again and approved it, and then I revamped the book based on that. FrostFire #2 was around 15,000 words longer than the original version in its final draft.

    Subsequent structural work: After you've done your first run at any major changes and re-writing, you send the manuscript back to the editor. She may love the changes you've made and be happy to accept the book as 'delivered' at this stage. Or she might feel that you've not gone far enough to address the issues she brought up in the edit letter. Or she might now have new concerns caused by the changes you made.

    The book can go back and forth between the editor and the writer several times at this stage. With Shadows on the Moon, I think we did about four or five structural passes (one of which included notes from my US editor). I tried to beef up and clarify the motivations of some characters, but in the process I made their actions seem contradictory in some places, so I needed to dig deeper into them and make the reader understand why they acted as they did. I cut some characters from the middle portion of the book and compressed it, but it still felt overly long and crowded. I extended the ending, but one plot element still felt unresolved.

    We worked on those issues until each one was fixed. Every pass that we did moved us closer to that Eureka moment when all the elements of the story clicked together and worked - but it took at least six months for that to happen.

    With FrostFire, after I finished rewriting the (radically different version of the) story and sent it in, my editor loved it and we moved straight onto the next stage with no further structural work.

    Line editing: This is probably my favourite part of the editing process. This is where love of language really comes into play, as the editor and author work together to make sure that every line of the book expresses the author's ideas in the best possible way. We want to make sure that the words on the page are acting as the reader's gateway into the world of the story, rather than a barrier.

    Normally at this point, the writer will receive a copy of their manuscript (either as an computer document or printed out) which has been 'marked up'. That is, the editor has taken out their red pen and gone through the whole thing, literally line by line, noting problems with sentence construction, clumsy wording, repeated words, grammar, places where the author's meaning is unclear, where drafting has left inconsistencies in the fabric of the prose or where ideas could be better presented.

    Because my first draft of Shadows on the Moon was exceptionally long for a YA novel - 130,000 words - we did a huge amount of trimming during this stage. My editor would take two or three pages of lovingly researched descriptions of clothing or food or nature, or two or more seperate scenes that served a similar purpose, and suggest changes that snipped away extraneous words, clauses, sentences and paragraphs, reducing three pages of description to half a page, or compressing two or three scenes down into one. She also made sure that in my efforts to create a convincing fantasy world and weave authentic details into the story I didn't lose track of the important themes I'd introduced early on.

    In FrostFire (probably because the book had already undergone a massive overhaul) the line editing was far more focused on polishing the prose and hunting down and murdering any sections where all the cutting, pasting and re-writing I'd done had caused jerky transitions or repetitions, or where characterisation or plot didn't track quite smoothly.

    Copy editing: This is where, quite often, someone else will get involved in your work on the book. At my publisher they have dedicated copy editors who provide a fresh pair of eyes to double check everything in the manuscript, since by this point both the editor and the writer will have read it many times (in fact, it's normally at this point that I become convinced the book is utter dreck and start begging my editor to reassure me that they're not just publishing it out of pity). I'm told some publishers contract this stuff out to freelancers, which I think is a shame, as there's enormous potential to develop a friendship with your copy editor. One of mine used to make little pictures in the margins, which always made me smile.

    If you thought that your editor was tough, be prepared for your copy-editor to bring tears to your eyes. Every little tic in your writing (words or phrases that you've taken a liking to and reused several times, the tendency to start sentences with But or And, incorrect use of semi colons, overly long sentences, overly short sentence fragments, repetition) is going to be mercilessly highlighted. Every mistake you made (changing a minor character's eyes from brown to hazel without realising it, making the moon gibbous in chapter two when it was cresent in chapter one, having the heroine scratch her head without first showing her letting go of the war-axe she was holding five pages ago) will be noticed.

    No matter how much work you've put in up until this point - in fact, sometimes because of all the work you've done - this stage will usually drench the manuscript in red. By the mid-point, you will feel like a talentless, careless, moronic hack. You will swear that if you ever have to meet your copy editor, you will grovel at her feet for having forced her to wade through this awful soup of errors, although secretly you will be tempted to tip itching powder into her underwear for pointing out every single flaw your book has.

    But sometimes copy editing can yield delightful surprises. During the US copy-edit of Shadows on the Moon, it turned out that the copy-editing manager at Candlewick Press was a haiku scholar and a Japanophile. So along with Americanising the spelling and grammar, we ended up re-writing most of the haiku in the book to reflect a more traditionally Japanese aesthetic, which made the whole process unexpectedly fun.

    Pass pages/proof reading: This is the final stage of editing before the book goes off to be printed, and sometimes it sort of blends into the previous one, depending on how long the preceeding steps have dragged on. Basically, this when you get a massive envelope in the post which contains the typeset/formatted manuscript or pass pages. For the first time, you see your book laid out as an actual book, with chapter headings, section pages, page numbers and the correct font. This is when you will see the internal design and any extras that the designers have decided to surprise you with, like artwork or a special font for your chapter headers. Usually it arrives on very large pieces of paper which show two pages on each side.

    This is your very last chance to make changes to the book - to catch any typos or errors that have been introduced at any point along the way, or which have been caused by the typesetting (or even, perhaps, overly enthusiastic copy editing). It's very much NOT the time to make radical changes to anything, since cutting a paragraph on page one of a chapter is going to have a knock-on effect on the typesetting of every other page in that chapter and cost the publisher money. But you should still mark anything that you notice, and approve or stet (that is, withhold approval of) any changes which have been made since the last time you saw the manuscript.

    Seeing the pass pages for Shadows on the Moon actually made me tear up a little bit, as I realised the book had been decorated beautifully throughout with the same sakura that illustrated the cover, and that the final product really would be gorgeous. I remember reading a certain line in an early chapter about the low, wavering moan of the wind as it swept over the deck of a ship, and just being struck by it in exactly the same way that I would have been if I was reading anyone else's work. This sort of thing is what makes pass pages special.

    And anyone who has seen the sublime swirling frost designs on the inside of FrostFire can probably imagine my reaction to that :)

    Okay guys, this post is already mega, mega long so I'm going to stop here for now. I think we'll come back to this topic on Wednesday, and I'll talk about how writers tend to feel during editing, how you work out disagreements with your editor, and how you ensure your book is the best it can be.

    Friday, 9 December 2011


    Hi everyone! Happy Friday. I hope you've all managed to get through the week without too much of a struggle. And if you did, please tell me how?

    Today I bring you a heaping postful of randomosity with a side of cool sauce. Enjoy!

    1) I got a cover flat of the FrostFire cover in the post yesterday, so now you can see how gorgeous the entire book really will be. The lettering is in shiny red foil just like on the cover of Shadows on the Moon. Icy fires and swirly bits? Wolf eyes? YES PLEASE.

    2) A big thank you to everyone who responded to Monday's somewhat controversial post about the Dead Girl cover trend. Many people disagreed with me, either that there was a problem or that the problem was what I thought it was - but the discussion stayed both civil and informative, and no one can ask for more than that.

    3) It looks like the U.S. hardcover version of Daughter of the Flames has gone or is going out of print (no one's informed me of this officially, but the publisher's website no longer lists it and it's not available to buy new anywhere anymore). Frankly, this is one of the most beautiful hardcovers I've ever seen, with copper foiling on the bindings to match the flaming phoenixes on the dustcover, so if anyone else is a book junkie and likes to collect them for their beauty - now is the time to snap up a copy.

    4) This picture, which is from my inspiration file for an upcoming project I've mentioned a few times. Love it!

    5) This album from the band Sleeping At Last. I'm ashamed to say that I'd never even heard of these guys until their song 'Turning Page' started turning up everywhere as a result of being on the latest Twilight soundtrack. But their music is just GORGEOUS. Lush and sweeping and romantic and playful. I adore it, and have been listening non-stop since I downloaded yesterday.

    6) Unexpected-extra-list-item-no-jutsu! Guys, do you have any suggestions for topics you'd like me to blog on in the future? Are there things you'd like to ask about? A particular kind of post that you really enjoy? Let me know! I can't promise that I'll be able to create a scintillating response to everything you ask for, but I'd love your input, and I'll do my best.

    Have a great weekend, my duckies!

    Wednesday, 7 December 2011


    Hi everyone! As Wednesday rolls around again (and after the seriousness of Monday's post) I'd like to share something fun and rather beautiful - this video made by long-time blog commentor Alex, which she calls The Enaid.

    The Enaid, for anyone who hasn't read the book, is the name of the magical earth energy or spirit of the land which features in my first novel The Swan Kingdom. In the video Alex uses quotes from The Swan Kingdom to highlight the loveliness of shots of one of her favourite places, which happens to remind me very much of the marsh/meadowlands where I live. Since the countryside surrounding my home was a partial inspiration for the book, I find what Alex has done here very effective.


    Monday, 5 December 2011


    Hi everyone! I hope you all had a good weekend. I, personally, celebrated the release of The Deathly Hallows Part Two by barricading myself in the house with several bags of Doritos and having a non-stop Harry Potter marathon. So I face Monday feeling emotionally drained and borderline dehydrated (salty snacks + constant weeping) but content.

    In the midst of this important business I did spare quite a lot of time to think about the discussion that's recently been going on in the YA community with regard to 'dead girl' covers.

    For anyone reading this who may have sexual assault triggers (or if you're under sixteen), it might be a good idea to either skip today's post or get someone else that you trust to read it first to make sure you'll be all right with it. I really want to talk about this, but I don't want to hurt or upset anyone. OK? *Virtual Hugs To All*

    Dead girl covers are the glamorous images of young women in sexy dresses (girls in trousers, or jeans, or a nice warm jumper, don't really have the same impact) sprawled out (on grass or flowers, in a river or the sea, sometimes floating on a cloud or in darkness) either with their eyes closed or staring vacantly in such a way that you can't work out whether they've just finished having sex, or just died, or both.

    There's been a low-level buzz about this for a while, but the real conversation about whether these images were OK started here, on Rachel Stark's rather wonderful blog (where she provides a whole raft of examples). It was taken up by reknowned literary agent Kristin Nelson, here.

    I was happy to see this debate taking place, because it's been something that my writing group (several of whom are YA writers) have been feeling queasy about for...years, actually. Supposedly these books are aimed at young women, but the way that the models are dressed and posed smacks strongly of something called The Male Gaze, which is where the cameraman or woman makes the assumption that all (important) viewers are heterosexual males and focuses on portraying what they shoot in a way that appeals strongly to a heterosexual male perspective.

    As a result, I feel as if these covers speak less about what young women are interested in, and more about what the world itself is interested in - ie, images of young women in which the women are passive and sexualised.

    You just don't see images of young men like this in the mainstream media, with barely any clothes on, airbrushed limbs carelessly sprawled across the ground, hair trailing gently around their faces, and a dreamy/dead look in their eyes. Images of men on covers (and in the general media) are much, much more likely to be active and even heroic. Boys or men will be found standing, leaping, climbing, holding weapons, reaching out. Their faces will be filled with emotion. If they aren't looking directly into camera their eyes will be focused on some distant goal that only they can see, with a look of stern concentration. For some strange reason, we don't really find a man attractive if he looks vacant or possibly dead.

    But having read and written a few mini-rants on the topic, my writing group and I moved onto other things. I don't have any dead girl covers as yet myself, and without really thinking about it I can state that there are few to none on my own shelves. Whether that's due to the content of books with these sorts of covers generally not appealing to me, or because I'm unconsciously avoiding books with covers that I find disturbing (and heck, why not?), I don't know. In either case, as worrying as I found this trend, I didn't feel that I had much to add to the conversation that was taking place about it.

    Then last week Rachel posted again, talking about how some commentors had defended the fascination with the glamorised, sexy corpses of young women by reminding us that this is a trope that stretches back a long, long way. Back to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It's a fairytale archetype, they said - the heroine undergoes a spiritual or even a physical death and arises changed and transformed.

    Rachel's response to this is great - she points out that just because the trend for beautiful corpses has been going on for a long time, even back to fairytale time, that doesn't mean it's healthy. It just means it's deep-seated.

    But seeing the current deluge of dead girl images related to sleeping princess fairytales made a lightbulb pop up above my head. I think what the people talking about this don't realise is that the sleeping heroines they brought into the discussion are rape victims.

    I can practically feel readers sucking in a horrified breath as I type this. I know that's not the common conception of these beloved, Disneyfied princesses. And I know that when parents read Snow White or Sleeping Beauty to their daughters before bedtime, they're imparting what they feel are beautiful stories of true love conquering all. After all, waking a princess from a terrible spell with 'true love's kiss' has become a trope in itself by now.

    Unfortunately, that is not what those stories were originally about. If you read the earliest versions of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White - the versions you find in Italo Calvino's Italian Fairytales, the versions which had not yet undergone the benign censoring hand of Grimm and Anderson and the Victorian Era, you find stories in which true love's kiss has nothing to do with the awakening of the poor, unconscious girl lying in the castle or in the crystal case.

    What really happens is that a travelling prince, in the course of his adventures, comes across an apparently sleeping young woman who is unable to defend herself, and rapes her. Then he goes on his merry way. About nine months later, the girl gives birth to a child, and this experience (not surprisingly) finally wakes her from her slumber. And then (the part which always makes me feel the most squinky) the girl is so grateful for having finally escaped the curse that she goes after the travelling prince, thanks him very much for his random sexual assault, and ends up getting married to him.

    This represents a fairly strong and very dark male fantasy - that of the unresisting victim. A girl who can't fight or struggle because she is incapacitated. A girl who, although unable to offer any kind of consent to sexual activity, of course actually wants it. A girl who will even thank you for it later on. So why not go ahead and, as the original fairytale text puts it 'enjoy [your]self thoroughly'?

    Time may have prettified the fairytales, removed the sex and replaced it with a sweet kiss, but it says a lot about all of us that hundreds of years later we're still telling those stories to our daughters. As a folklore enthusiast I can list dozens of fairytales and folk stories which have completely disappeared off the radar and which no child today would recognise. But somehow the image of the sleeping princess - the dead girl - still endures.

    Recently there was a rape case in the U.S. where a young women who was out having fun got extremely drunk and called a taxi to take her home. She was unable to get out of the taxi on her own and the driver was worried about her, so he called the police and two officers came and took the girl out of the taxi and got her into her apartment. They then sexually assaulted her. When she woke up and realised what had happened, she reported it. But even though it was shown that the two police officers had lied about their whereabouts during the time they were in her apartment, and that they HAD both had sex with a girl who was so drunk that she was incapable of even getting out of a taxi on her own, they weren't convicted of anything. The jurors apparently believed that any girl who allowed herself to be incapacitated to that extent was 'asking for it'.

    When you've thought about that for a little bit, go look at those beautiful images of dead/unconscious girls in thin dresses, with their trailing hair, sprawled limbs and closed or empty eyes, again. Somehow they've stopped being a little disturbing now haven't they?

    Instead, they're downright nauseating.

    Friday, 2 December 2011


    Hello, my Dear Readers! Happy Friday to all - I hope your week has been productive and fun. Today's RetroFriday is unusual in that it's not one of my big editorial posts where I rant about stuff. It's a reader question (from the lovely Isabel!) which I answered a while ago and which I decided would be interesting to dig out of the archives. That's because I'm thinking about doing a post next week that will offer some insight into the editorial process for a published writer; the stages you need to go through to get a book into a publishable state. Hopefully this post will give some background for that one.

    On with RetroFriday!

    You may remember that not long ago I posted some questions from reader emails. Faithful blog reader Isabel left a question of her own in the comments. It went a little something like this:

    I'm doing an essay (well, have been doing several) and have been getting some comments from teachers on my work and how I should change it that I sometimes don't quite agree with. What should I do when this happens and how do I know who to trust on giving me good tips? Just so you know, I go to a really small school where the writing teacher is the same as the math teacher is the same as the history teacher and so on. so the people who teach me writing class don't specialize in writing.

    This is tricky. When you write, you need to believe in yourself. If you strongly disagree with someone's comments about your work you need to have the courage of your convictions and argue your case. On the other hand, your marks for your essays come from your teachers - effectively they're the ones you're writing for, and if they say you haven't accomplished what they want and need, you won't get the marks you want and need.

    In a way, this is a bit like a writer's normal life. We create a unique world and characters that belong to us and then agents and editors read it and come up with comments and often suggestions for changes. Sometimes those ideas are great and by going with them you find your work improves so much you can't believe you didn't think of it yourself (as often happens with me and my editor - thank you, Annalie!). Sometimes the comments seem so 'out there' that you wonder if the person making them even read the same thing you wrote, and you feel as if trying to follow their suggestions would really hurt your work.

    Usually the answer to which way you need to go will lie within you. Quite often you will KNOW there are weak spots in your work. If the person making the comments has put their finger on something that bothered you when you wrote or re-read it - something that made you squirm a little bit and go 'Oh, well that'll do' - then they're very likely to be right. That doesn't necessarily mean you need to follow their suggestions exactly. I'm pretty sure my editor makes out-there suggestions sometimes just to stimulate my imagination! They are not you, which means their mind will work in a different way and their idea of how to fix the problem might be completely different than yours.

    Combine what they've said with your own instincts and look for an answer that will fix the weak spot and make you happy. Sometimes it can take a while to figure it out (I find going for a long tramp with my dog helps) but it'll come eventually. Believe me, when you've fixed those weak spots you will feel much better about your work.

    There are also times when a comment will come completely out of left field and you think: 'Oh no! How did I miss that? Oh &*)$F£"@?! Well, *I* don't know how to fix it! It's impossible!' and you decide to ignore it and hope they forget. Don't do that. Once again, you shouldn't expect to figure out an answer straight away. Don't get impatient and decide it can't be fixed and give up. Go over it calmly in your head and let it sit there for a while until you can see the light.

    However, if you seriously believe that the suggestions your teacher has made are not going to improve your work, that they've missed the point, then stand by that opinion. Do your best to find and fix your own weak spots and mistakes. Often doing that will change things enough that their previous objections will go away.

    If not, then chances are that while you're at school you will probably need to buckle under and do what your teacher wants in order to get the good marks you deserve. You don't really have the power to fight your teacher, and they're the final arbiter of what's 'good' when it comes to your essays. When I was at school I had a teacher RUIN a poem of mine which was going to be published in a collection of work from local children. I felt then that the change weakened the work at lot, and looking at it now I still can't understand what he was thinking. But if I had refused to listen to what he wanted the poem wouldn't have been published at all. I know this is not much fun - but then essays aren't much fun anyway (at least, I didn't think so, when I was at school).

    When it comes to writing stories of your own, though, you shouldn't ever 'buckle' this way and go against your heart and instincts. That takes all the fun and life out of things.

    I hope this was helpful, Isabel - and as always, if anyone else has questions they'd like me to answer, pop them in the comments or send me an email, and I'll do my best to answer.

    Wednesday, 30 November 2011


    Hello, my lovelies! Wednesday has rolled around again, and it has brought various bits of news about Shadows on the Moon in the US.

    The rather beautiful hardcover edition from the rather lovely Candlewick Press (still not allowed to share the cover - sorry!) will be coming out for definite on the 24th of April.

    I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but the text will be slightly different than the UK printing. That's because, by a nifty coincidink, the copy-editing manager at Candlewick Press is a ninja haiku scholar. OK, possibly not the ninja part (I mean, who knows? It's not like a ninja would tell me that she was a ninja. That's all part of being a ninja) but she IS a genuine expert on the fine art of haiku writing and she very kindly helped me to make some of the poetry in the book more faithful to the spirit of Japanese aesthetics. Not that I don't love the original versions, you understand. This just means that American fans get a special gift from me; a unique version of the haiku for their very own.

    I've just received a couple of the very first advanced reader copies, hot off the presses. I'd take pictures of these for you, except, again, not allowed to share the cover. The audiobook will be coming out at the same time in April next. No news on who's going to be reading that yet, but I'm still mega-excited. You can find the pre-order links for both here on Amazon. Which brings me to my happiest piece of news, which is that three absolutely WONDERFUL authors agreed to blurb the US edition of the book.

    Just in case anyone's in the dark as to what a blurb is - it's when a well-known and well-respected author 'recommends' another writer's work via a snappy sentence or two, which the publisher puts on the book or on promotional materials for the book. I've never had blurbs before, and I'm just. So. Excited!

    So these are the blurbs which will hopefully be on the Candlewick Press edition of Shadows on the Moon:

    Beautifully written, with diverse and fascinating characters, an intriguing plot, and a romance that will steal your heart. One of the most innovative fairy-tale retellings I've read in years.—R.J. Anderson, author of Spellhunter and Ultraviolet

    Shadows on the Moon weaves a spell as deft as any by its main character. Beautiful and cruel; a mesmerizing read with an intoxicating love story.—L.A. Weatherly, author of Angel Burn and Angel Fire

    The lyrical prose of Shadows on the Moon captures the essence of the fairy tale, while the love story will capture reader's hearts.—Jaclyn Dolomore, author of Magic Under Glass and Between the Sea and Sky

    Right? OhEmGee you guys. I can't believe such wonderful authors said such nice things about my book! I honestly can't thank them enough.

    In other news, I just saw Megamind and I haven't had this big a crush on a primary coloured character since Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles captured my heart when I was nine. *Sigh*

    Monday, 28 November 2011


    Hello, Dear Readers - and Happy Monday! I hope you've all had a productive weekend. I enjoyed the tiny bit of autumn sunshine we got, and also watched Disney's Tangled for the first time (and adored it! Animated films really are better than live action ones at least half the time these days).

    Today I'm going to tackle a couple of reader questions which are looooong overdue for an answer.

    On Twitter, the lovely Liz asked me: "When does the world building stop?" Followed by (as far as I can remember, since TweetDeck ate the rest of the question) "If you want a complex, intricate world with lots of detail, obviously you need to do a lot of planning and world building. How do you know when you should stop, and start the actual writing?" My apologies if you actually said something different, Liz!

    Then, in the comments, Megha said: "I'm not much of a person to plan - it's horribly hard. I know I need to do it, and I do plan before I start a story, but I feel like I don't plan enough. I know what will happen, but I don't know my characters as well as any other writer. Is this because I am young, because I am a sort of beginner writer, or because I'm one of the people who can work finely without planning? Is it okay to be one of those people who don't plan as much and like to improvise as they go along, or is that a bad thing? I can't control this urge of plunging into my book. You know when you have a special beginning scene in your head? I just need to write it straight away, and hence I start my story. Is there any way I can plan enough? I really think I need to plan more, I'm just horrible at it."

    Since these questions are basically coming at the same idea from different directions, I'm going to save on waffling by answering them in one go. 

    First of all, I think it's important to state that every book is different. Some stories and characters will shape their own world and their own narrative shape as you write, and you'll find yourself throwing all kinds of stuff in there that's pure invention, and then knitting it together into a coherant whole later on, when you revise (this is how I worked with The Swan Kingdom). Some characters and stories respond very well to planning, and need a lot of forethought into how the plot will unfold, and research into real world analogues before you can see a clear way to make everything work (this is how Shadows on the Moon was).

    And some books (like Daughter of the Flames) are somewhere between the two.

    I've seen writers say that they find it easy to get very carried away by their research, that they love diving into reference books and making notes and reading up all about their topics. That before they commit a single word to paper they produce intricate, bullet pointed synopses which break down every chapter into colour coded lists, and that they always know just what their characters are supposed to do.

    I've seen other writers say that the very idea of figuring all this stuff before they begin their story makes their soul die a little. That it literally sucks every bit of fun out of their process to try and plan ahead, and that if they don't know what happens next they make a note that says 'Research this!' or 'Insert scene that makes sense of the stuff in the river' and then move onto something else, letting the characters do whatever they want and finding out about the world and story that way.

    And then there's me. I'm somewhere between the two.

    What am I trying to say here? Really, that there's no foolproof way of doing this. Not only is every writer different in what helps them, but every book is different in terms of what it needs. There's no calculation you can run which will work out if you've done enough planning or enough world-building. You can't pencil in two weeks or two months of planning/world building and then know, for certain, that you've done enough. And no one is going to point a finger at you and say 'Hey! What you doing there, diving into this story without a plan?! Stop it at once!' or 'Oi! That world building is way too intricate! You're wasting time!'

    The only way to know if you've done enough preparation for the story is to start writing it.

    If you get past your brilliant first chapter and then feel at a complete loss because the world feels like a fuzzy mess that you can't visualise and you don't know how to move forward with the characters? Then you didn't do enough preparation. Go back and start again. It's not the end of the world. If you spent six months researching and planning and then find, a chapter or two into the story, that your characters want to do something entirely different and that you need to change key details to make that work? Does it hurt anyone or anything? No.

    When you find yourself aching to write and holding yourself back from writing because you just need to research this one thing? You probably ought to just write. Similarly, if you start to feel like you'd be happy to keep world-building forever and have no urge to write the story at all? You may have taken it too far.

    A key thing to remember:

    The only way you can truly reveal your world to your readers - the way you make their ears ring with strange and haunting songs, choke them on dust, cause them to shudder in the cold, taste the sweet, soft flesh of ripe summer fruits or experience the warm breath on the back of their neck - is through the protagonist(s).

    The way that your readers will experience the plot and other the characters - the surprise of a story twist, the horror of a betrayal or the joy of falling in love - is by the protagonist(s) is experiencing them.

    Trying to figure out EVERYTHING before you begin work will always be impossible. Until your characters experience it in the story and make the readers do so, it's not real in the story world anyway. If you're in doubt about whether you need to plan in more detail or do more research, go back to your characters. Put yourselves in your character's skin, ask yourself what they will be or are experiencing (and how their unique perspective shapes that experience) and then you'll understand what they need to know, what their world and their story needs to provide.

    You can do this before you begin work to show you how to start, or twelve chapters into the book when you start to feel lost, or (as I did) in the very last chapter of a book when you need an ending that resonates with everything that's gone before. You can do it as a planner or a pantser. I honestly believe that the characters are more important than anything, and that if you always place them at the apex of your list of priorities, you won't go far wrong.

    I hope that's helpful, my lovelies! I'll be back on Wednesday with more shenanigans. Read you then!

    Friday, 25 November 2011


    Hi everyone! Happy Friday to you all - and I hope you've had a good week. If not, I next week will be better. Positive Thinking No-Jutsu!

    First, a request: Liz and Megha submitted questions for me to answer (on worldbuilding and planning respectively) but now the TweetDeck page where I'd saved Liz's question is unavailable, and I can't find Megha's question in the comment trail. So if you guys would still like me to talk about this after waiting for so long (sorry!) then can you comment here or email me and ask me again, so that I know exactly what to answer? *Smooches*

    Onwards now, to a review of HALLOWED by Cynthia hand.

    US Hardcover

    For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.


    I read the first book in Ms Hand's angel-lore based trilogy last October (you can see my review here) and I really, really liked it. I was surprised how much I liked it, since the set-up, on the face of it, seemed to be that basic paranormal romance staple of a new girl coming to town and then getting involved with two boys, and various supernatural shenanigans.

    The difference with UNEARTHLY was that the author had an unexpected knack for characterisation which immediately drew me into the story. With a cast of such endearing, human (even if not actually human) people on the pages, the outcome truly mattered to me. And once she'd drawn me in, the author set about creating a really convincing (and in places quite dark) mythology for her angels and angelbloods. I gave the book four stars because I felt it ended on an unsatisfying cliff-hanger, but I was desperate to get my hands on the next one.

    I'm very happy to say that HALLOWED lived up to and exceeded my expectations. I loved it. The problem is...I can't say all that much about it! Pretty much anything I tell you is going to be a huge spoiler. Let me borrow a phrase from Mark (of Mark Reads Harry Potter fame) and say: You are not prepared.

    Australian Edition - my favourite!
    This story carries on almost directly from the first one and the developments within are exciting and shocking and, despite being pretty much the opposite of what I expected, the book grabbed me by the heart and didn't let go.

    The author takes the hints of darkness she embedded in the previous installment and runs with them, creating a world for Clara which is much less certain and far more frightening. There's still the trademark humour which I enjoyed so much in the first story, but now there's a more bittersweet flavour to everything, because Clara, at the end of UNEARTHLY, chose to ignore her 'Purpose' (that is, the task that was set before her by way of celestial visions) and to save the 'wrong' person. She did it for all the right reasons. She did it for love. But in the wake of that choice, the world goes from black and white to shades of grey for Clara, and her mother and brother. Quite literally.

    When you read HALLOWED you're going to find that a lot of the things you were absolutely, positively certain of in the first book will dissolve. Certain facts you took for granted turn out to be major plot twists in disguise. Your suspicions will turn out to be cleverly planted red herrings (although I still have some ideas which I think will play out in the final book). Characters change, or come to see the world in such a transformed way that their motivations flip - or maybe it's your understanding of them that flips. I don't even know how to describe it, except to say that it rocked.

    If the first book made me tear up a few times, this one made me flat-out weep on at least two occasions. It's brutal. But it's also beautiful. I felt as if Ms Hand's confidence and skill were literally unfolding before my eyes here. All the promise that gleamed in UNEARTHLY burst into blazing life.

    UK paperback
    That's not to say, however, that this book was perfect. I felt certain plot threads and certain characters got short shrift (Jeffrey, for example - at the end of the book he seemed to just disappear, and this hardly had any impact on Clara's life and decisions, which seemed odd given how close they once were). And I also wonder...if the first book's message was about free will...what was the theme of this story? That fighting against destiny/fate/God's plan causes only suffering and pain? While I can see how that sort of of underlying assumption would be of comfort to a religious person who puts their faith in a higher power, I found it a little bit discomforting at times because I believe that we all have an absolute right to make our own choices and the responsibility to do so, rather than expecting anyone (or anything) else to guide us or fix our mistakes.

    Despite these niggling qualms, I can honestly say that HALLOWED is a moving, well-written, gorgeous follow-up to UNEARTHLY. As soon as it becomes available in hard copy, I'll be snapping up a copy for my own. Recommended.

    Wednesday, 23 November 2011


    Hi you guys! Happy Wednesday. I didn't actually realise that it was Wednesday until five minutes ago. Whoops. Sorry about that.

    Today I fully intended to present you with a) a book review or b) a post answering some reader questions. But I haven't written either of them. I'm really very sorry!

    In the past few days I've gotten caught up in all kinds of fiddly little jobs (like making an all-new playlist for Katana Book Two) and going to see Breaking Dawn (OMG lolarious epic insanity - all the actors take it so seriously and act their little hearts out and I swear I actually teared up a couple of times. Also, I can't believe THAT was a 12 rated film. Yikes) and then having to research new computers because The Scalpel's shenanigans are scaring me and then trying to read some of these books I have for review and figuring out how to work AIM chat on Skype wwwaaaaah not enough hours in the day!

    I promise you that I would have written a great post for you anyway, if it weren't for the fact that I thought it was Tuesday. Before you ask how an actual adult grown-up person could not know what day of the week it is, just remember that I don't actually have to leave the house to work. I always know what DATE it is, because that shows up in the bottom right hand corner of my computer display, but the DAY is something I know because of my routine. And my routine has gotten messed up lately.

    Basically, as some of you may be aware, as well as being a writer, I'm also a carer for my father, who is disabled and has many chronic illnesses. Normally I regulate my schedule around when my mum is at work during the week, so that I can do things like help with his medication and get his meals ready when she isn't there. But this past week my mother has been struck down with a nasty virus and so she's been at home the whole time, and I've been looking after both of them. And without an office job of my own to go to, it's been very easy to literally not realise if it's a Sunday or a Thursday or whatever.

    So...that's the sad story of why there's no decent post today. Many apologies. I think I'm going to try and  do that reader question post (featuring Liz and Megha) on Friday and then next week I'll try to review Hallowed by Cynthia Hand (hint: liked it more than the first one).

    Read you later, Beloved Peeps. In the meantime:

    Monday, 21 November 2011


    No cover art for this book yet! Boo!
    The Blurb:

    “Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

    Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

    In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world.”

    The Review:

    As soon as I read the part that mentioned dragons taking on human form, I was sold on this book. I’ve come across this idea in a only few fantasies but it’s one of my so-called ‘bullet-proof kinks’ – that is, an idea I love so much that even if nothing else about the book interested or excited me, I’d still read it from beginning to end. I just want my dragon-in-human-skin fix (and yes, one day I will write a book with dragons in, it’s on the list).

    How lucky for me, then, that it turns out Rachel Hartman has a profoundly meaningful grasp of high fantasy language, description and dialogue, which made this book an absolute joy to read on prose level! That her characterisation is deft and beautifully subtle! And her main character – the eponymous Seraphina – was a fascinating, complex and unique creation who captured my heart with her resourcefulness and bravery!

    Dear Readers, I read this book in one sitting, and I loved it.

    First, however, a confession: at first the writing style did not quite gel for me. And I’m not sure why. It might be that after a chapter my brain snapped into the right mode and I was able to appreciate what the writer was doing and relax into the flow of things. Or it might be that the first chapter is a bit stiff (as first chapters often can be) and after that the writer herself relaxed, along with her prose. In either case, I recommend you persevere. By chapter two I was completely hooked.

    The slow burn love story between the heroine, a certain endearingly honourable and inquisitive male member of the cast was really well done, show-casing instant attraction (which is not the same as Insta!Love, no matter what certain Goodreads reviewers seem to think) followed by a brilliant build up of meshing interests, ideals and understanding. It was pitched perfectly and I believed in it. I wasn’t driven to roll my eyes, mutter ‘Oh, come ON!’ or to wish that the plot would just ‘MOVE, damn it!’ instead of wasting time on pointless repetitions of how hot the love interest was. Instead I was always eager to return to this part of the story, and the assured way that the writer handled the bittersweet nature of the relationship without going all emo was extremely enjoyable.

    Going back to that bullet proof kink thing? I actually don’t think I read anything else in the description before I pressed the request button on NetGalley. If I had, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to find, on opening the eGalley, that Seraphina was so devoted to music. I’d have liked that characteristic regardless, but Ms Hartman’s descriptions of music and the way making it feels to a musician, the way that understanding it transforms people’s hearts, scored a direct hit. The passages relating to music were completely inspiring - in a book that was filled with magic, the music was one of the most magical things of all. THAT is an achievement.

    Ms Hartman also managed to do something else which makes the writerly geek in me grin happily, which is to take an inhuman race, in this case the dragons, and showcase them as exactly that – inhuman, a discrete and alien species – without a) making them seem like big scaly humans despite their long lives and differently wired brains or b) falling into that smug assumption that if dragons are really different then of course human ways must be better. I loved the logical, analytical dragons, from their incessant wind-vector calculations and their contempt for human small-talk and rituals, to their reluctant fascination with human art and, on occasion, their helpless addiction to human sensation.

    Seraphina is a cracking read, filled with three-dimensional people living in a three-dimensional world. It’s full of delightful surprises – humour, beautiful descriptions, unique ways of looking at the world – but it has a deep, rich undercurrent of genuinely moving reflections on family, and humanity, and choices, and lies and truth.

    Although it’s the first in a series, and the characters have definitely not completed their journey by the end of this book, the initial challenge faced by Seraphina has been well resolved and you’re left feeling, if not satisfied (Hell no, I want the next one yesterday) at least comforted that Goredd and its people are ready for the trials ahead, as long as they have Seraphina and Kiggs and Glisselda looking out for them.

    Seraphina comes out in May next year, highly recommended by yours truly.

    Friday, 18 November 2011


    Hello and Happy Friday, Dear Readers! Today it's my very great pleasure to finally unveil the cover and synopsis for FrostFire, the companion novel to Daughter of the Flames! FrostFire is due to come out in the UK from Walker Books in July of next year.

    First, what is the story about?:

    Frost is cursed - possessed by a wolf demon that brings death everywhere she goes. Desperate to find a cure, she flees her home, only to be captured by the Ruan Hill Guard. Trapped until she can prove she is not an enemy, Frost grows increasingly close to the Guard’s charismatic leader Luca and his second in command, the tortured Arian. Torn between two very different men, Frost fears that she may not be able to protect either of them ... from herself.

    FrostFire's characters were a first for me. They arrived in my head as a trio.

    I was haunted by the outline of three situations which would define the characters. The first was of a pair of injured, lost people, talking to each other in the cramped darkness of a tiny cave while a river flowed by outside, confiding secrets that might never emerge in the light of day. The second was of a golden person with stars in their eyes, standing in ripples of sunlight, reaching out to someone else and givng them a chance to change their life, and the sense of fearful exultation that second person would feel. And the final one...that was the most emotional, the most shocking of all. But I can't tell you about that one, as it would spoil the whole book :)

    I saw a sort of triangle of personalities, each of them vulnerable and broken in a different way, each of them extraordinary and heroic in a different way. I saw how the flaws and strengths of these individuals would both support and aggravate the others, causing them to love and hate one another in unique ways, and to change and grow and eventually - hopefully - heal.

    FrostFire deals with all the issues that I never had a chance to explore in DotF. Betrayal on a fundamental level, betrayal by someone that you love, how, in the middle of a war, bad guys and good guys sometimes merge into the same thing, how it feels to love someone who is utterly beyond your reach, and the way that people can transcend suffering and horror and become true heroes.

    So now that you've scrolled past all those boring's the cover!

    And can I just say? O! M! G! I love it! Love, love, love it. Like, it's my favourite cover of mine EVER. It's right in ways that you can't even understand unless you've read the book. The colours! The flaring blue flames! The WOLF EYES! When my publisher asked me what Frost, the heroine, ought to look like, I sent them these reference pics of a Native American actress:

    And they found a model who could almost be her sister.

    And also? SWIRLS, baby! My own, my precious swirly bits! *Flails*

    Oh, and just in case that wasn't enough to send me into a blissed out author coma for a week? When FrostFire comes out next year Walker Books are also going to reissue Daughter of the Flames with a brand new cover? You wanna see it? Yes? Yes?

    Heeee! #NoRacefail covers that accurately depict and celebrate beautifully diverse heroines? Oh yeah. Walker Books is all over that. I love my publisher!

    P.S. Why yes, Dear Readers - that is the gorgeous Elizabeth May, writer and photographer extraordinaire, on the FF cover! Where can I find more of her haunting and lyrical photography you ask? Why, here!
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