Monday, 31 January 2011


Happy Monday, everyone! Today, I thought it was time to look at some essential writing tools - or, actually, I should say PUBLICATION tools. Of course, all anyone needs in order to write is a pencil and a scrap of paper. That's how shopping lists are made. But if you want to write something good and get published, you need to make an effort to aquire all of the following items. I really, honestly think that they are essential, and I will now tell you why.

     1) A notebook which you carry with you at all times

Why this is important: Because your brain, like the brains of all humans, is a sponge. Just as the liquid of inspiration can flood it at any moment, it can equally easily drain out again, leaving your mind dry and slightly crunchy with the bitterness of lost opportunity. Trust me. Unless you intend to take up muttering your ideas to yourself over and over again until you reach home and your computer (which I have done on occasion, and trust me, it doesn't win you any friends) you need a notebook.

     2) Pens and pencils. Lots of 'em

Why this is important: Your notebook is just a hunk of dried out tree pulp without them, and they are surprisingly easy to forget. And even if you remember your one favourite pen that you carry everywhere - it's bound to run out or get lost at the crucial moment. Fill your bag and pocket with the little suckers. I prefer propelling pencils because they're not going to leak and ruin my trousers/bag, but whatever your perferred writing tool, stock up and keep them handy.

     3) A computer

Why this is important:  I know I was just banging on about notebooks and pens, but publishers will not accept handwritten manuscripts. Ever. And they're pretty dubious about typed ones too - not to mention that revising a typed manuscript means re-typing the entire thing every single time. You need access to a computer. Enough access to be able to type up and format your book - eg. a LOT of access. Save up for your own, bargain for extra time on your family model, whatever. This is not optional.

     4) A laser printer

Why this is important: Have you ever tried to print out a four hundred page manuscript on an old fashioned ink-jet printer? Have you ever tried to print out a four hundred page manuscript at the library with people standing in line, muttering and tapping their feet, behind you? If so, I need say no more. If not, count yourself lucky. Back when I first got my first laser printer (a secondhand model which my father had liberated from an office, and which was given to me for my twentieth birthday) they and their toner cartridges were ridiculously expensive. Nowadays they're cheap, reliable and readily available from eBay. Get one You can thank me later.

     5) A copy of The Writer's and Artist's Yearbook (or your country's equivalent)

Why this is important: Because if you read it carefully it will answer around 80% of your questions on how to get published, and if you follow its instructions your chances of getting published go up by about 75%. Yes, I'm seriously. About half of the emails I get ask me to answer basic questions, the answers to which are found in this book, along with the addresses of all UK publishers and agents (or US, or whichever country you come from - and believe me, there is a version of this book in pretty much every country with a publishing industry). You won't understand how vital this book is until you have your own copy.

     6) A library card

Why this is important: I'm astonished by the number of people who don't have them! Chances are if you want to write you're going to have to do various kinds of research and because non-fiction and reference books are generally the most expensive, you can spend hundreds on books which will often only have one chapter or even one page which is helpful. But your library will supply you with these books FOR FREE. Plus, it is everyone's duty to support their local library, especially writers.

     7) Internet access

Why this is important: Most of my younger readers are now asking themselves - isn't that too obvious to be mentioned? But bear in mind that up until a few years ago most people didn't have internet access at home. Agents and publishers only accepted manuscripts via post. Editors and agents were mysterious and shadowy people that you only got to learn about once you'd actually broken through and found one. This is no longer true. Nowadays you can follow an agent or editor's blog and learn incredibly valuable information on their personality, tastes and preferences which hugely increases your chance of making successful submissions. You can save substantially on postage costs by sending queries and manuscripts via email. You can develop personal relationships with agents and editors and benefit from their insights online. You can also - and this is really important - find groups of like-minded writers who are at the same stage of the writing/publishing process as you, and make friends who will not only keep you sane, but maybe even become beta-readers or critique partners. The internet has lifted much of the painful solitude of the writing profession. Take advantage of that.

     8) The ability to accept criticism

Why this is important: Because you'll get criticism whether you want it or not. When you write anything - a book, a book review, fanfic, a blog post - and send it out into the world, you will soon find that eeeeveryone's a critic. A lot of writers don't read reviews and try to shield themselves from this, and I applaud their self control. But personally I think that giving into the temptation to read bad as well as good reviews can help you to understand other people's perceptions of your work, and eventually improve your skills as a writer. Plus, you WILL have to take criticism from agents and editors - you might as well get used to winnowing the helpful comments from the not-so-helpful comments, and to taking both with a smile.

     9) The ability to reject criticism

Why this is important: Because otherwise you'll go (even more) nuts. You can't please all the people all the time. You're lucky if you can please some of them some of the time. If you get published, people you've never met will say inevitably outrageous things, make unfair assumptions, and come to incorrect conclusions about you and your work, whether that's in a respected review journal or on Amazon or Goodreads. Even before you get published, you will on occasion need to argue your point with an agent or editor who has their own opinion on what you have written. Without being aggressive or defensive, make sure that you have a core of self belief in your writing and do not let anyone impinge upon this. That way lies madness (the unproductive kind).

     10) An enduring passion for books and stories

Why this is important: I have never met or heard of a published author who didn't love books. Simple as that. I have recently been noticing a surge in unpublished authors on various writing sites who state that since they want to be a writer and not a librarian, they see no need to read. They say that if they read the work of other authors, their unique voice could be compromised. They say they don't like reading. They say they are dedicated to their writing and have no time to read. They say that they don't want to absorb cliches. They say, frankly, all kinds of cr*p. To which I say: Hahahahahahahahahah. Ha. Haha. Ha. Ha. Those guys are never, ever going to get published. They're never even going to write anything that remotely resembles a book. I mean, maybe once every three or four generations a genius is born who can master an artform simply through sheer talent, like Mozart picking up a violin for the first time and playing a concerto. But guess what? YOU ARE NOT THAT PERSON. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read some more. If you don't like it, keep on doing it until you do. And if you can't fall in love with other people's words and stories and characters and worlds, no matter how much you read? Then just take up stamp collecting or something. Writers are readers. The end.

What other essential tools do you guys think a would-be published writer needs? Or do you disagree with me on any of these? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, 28 January 2011


Well, that post on Wednesday certainly got a lot of attention! I'm still a little overwhelmed but I'm so glad that we had that great discussion in the comments and (so far!) no trolls ruined it.

However, after all that Important Grownup Discussion, I feel like returning to my normal madcap randomness today, hence FIVE THINGS ON FRIDAY!

1. This notebook. It is so pretty. But so expensive. But it has different coloured pages with illustrations. But I already have over seventy blank notebooks in my Writing Cave. But it has a Japanese woman on the front. But I don't need anymore notebooks. But SO PRETTY. Ach.

2. This post from author Marie Brennan on why people seriously need to stop tossing the term 'Mary-Sue' around when what they actually mean is 'I don't like this character' and why they should also stop and think a little about WHY they don't like the character, if the reason is that she's a) female and b) not useless. People have, in several reviews, called Alex from TSK a Mary Sue. I think even Zira got called a Mary-Sue once or twice. I may be flattering myself here, but I'm pretty sure I know what a Sue is, and I'm pretty sure I didn't write one in either case. If people don't connect with or believe in the character, that's fine, but I can't take them seriously if they just say 'Mary-Sue!' without having any understanding of what that actually means.

3. I am currently reading Paranormalcy by Kiersten White. I luffs it. Go get a copy.

4. Another awesome post by N.K. Jemisin on how/why to write disability in SF or fantasy. Very useful, this - but comes with an Adult Language Warning.

5.  Unexpected dog picture is unexpected! Ha ha. This is Finn kindly checking my work. Don't know what I'd do without him.

6. Yeah, that's right - random extra number! I'm just that crazy. Interesting article by author Malinda Lo on not judging books by their covers, and how our drive to encourage diversity ought not to result in being too harsh on writers and publishers.

Ah, that feels better. Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


This post started out one way, and kind of ended up becoming something else. I sat down with the intention of writing a How To article on the topic of world building, with the bullet points and all that. But I started thinking about a discussion I've been having with some writing friends lately, and some really interesting blog posts that I've recently seen from other writers, and instead, it sort of turned into an essay. No, not an essay. A plea.

I don't know if my little essay on my little rinky-dink blog can actually make any difference. In fact, alone, I'm pretty sure it can't. But fear about not being able to make a difference keeps a lot of people silent, and I don't want to be one of them.

So first, I need to make a confession. I'm white, though from a mixed race family. I can pass as straight, although actually I'm not (that's a whole complicated issue and not the subject of this post). And although I suffer with chronic health conditions which can be disabling, I can often pass as able bodied and, during 'good' periods with my illnesses, I actually *am*, or near as dammit. I'm also cis, which means my biological sex and my gender expression match up with commonly accepted ideals of 'feminity' in the modern Western world. Therefore, I have what is called privilege. This term encompasses a lot, but for the purposes of this essay it means that when I turn on the TV, go to see a film or pick up a book, the overwhelming number of characters will be people 'like me'. There are so many characters 'like me' being depicted that it would be extremely easy for me to unconsciously feel that people 'like me' are the majority of the world, that only the stories of people 'like me' are interesting or important. That stories about people 'like me' are somehow universal, archetypal, the default.

It would also be very easy for me to argue that I simply don't have the experience of being in any kind of repressed minority which is required to write about people who aren't like me. I've seen this one a lot. I've also seen writers who have made that arduous effort to include the odd gay or non-white or not-able bodied character talk about how difficult it is to correctly portray someone who is not like them. And I've seen other writers say that they can't be expected to make 'all their characters' non-white or non-straight or non-able bodied, or you know, not just like them because it would be too tough and too artificial.

But here's the thing. White people are not the majority of the world. 100% straight arrow people who fit neatly within the modern Western world's narrow gender binaries are not the majority of the world. Able bodied people are not the majority of the world. We just think they are because the vast majority of the time, people who are NOT white and straight and able bodied only show up in the media in token roles. Look, we included a sassy gay boy who can give the heroine advice on clothes! Aren't we tolerant? Look! We included a sassy black/Chinese/Indian best friend to give the heroine advice on being true to herself! Aren't we racially aware! Look, we included a boy in a wheelchair to give the heroine advice on understanding what is important in life! Aren't we broadminded!

No, I'm afraid you aren't.

Currently, the media is showing a horribly skewed picture of the real world. Fiction writers, with our limitless power to reinvent the world, to hold a mirror up to it or subvert it, are showing a horribly skewed picture of the world. If you are not white, if you are not straight or passing for straight, if you are not physically perfect (and to some extent, if you are one of the slightly more than 50% of the population who is female) you know how it feels to wonder why no one wants to write about people LIKE YOU for a freaking change.

Why isn't everyone - even the straight white (male) people - bored with straight white (male) characters yet?

The more I force my mind to open, the stranger it seems to write about characters that resemble me. Straight, white, able-bodied people are such a tiny minority in the real world that when you're attempting to create any kind of a realistic fantasy world it's quite *un*realistic to keep putting characters with those traits in the majority of the major roles. Unless you're deliberately writing characters that are similar to you or your family because you want to use your own life experience in your story, why would you LIMIT yourself that way?

I mean, that's not to say that writers with blonde hair can never write blonde heroines. It's not to say that straight, white, able bodied people don't deserve to be in books and films. But...come on. With such a startling variety of skin colours, ethnicities, races, cultures, physical traits, sexual identities and preferences available for writers to extrapolate from, I think it's sad that so many writers do unconsciously chose to write about characters 'just like them'.

For example. I love Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments Books. I do. I think they're fabulous page turners and I own them all and recommend them to my friends. These books are favourites with a lot of people because they depict a gay couple and people from different ethnicities. They are set in modern day NYC, and Ms Clare makes a point of saying that her Shadowhunters don't have any racial prejudices because Shadowhunters randomly spring from all countries in the world.

But ALL her main cast are white.

That's hardly an accurate depiction of modern NYC, let alone a small group of people who apparently come from all nations of the world and have supposedly been breeding mostly within their culture for hundreds of years (logically, waaaay more of them would be mixed race). The one major character who is mixed race is Magnus, and he's an immortal warlock, an outsider. A book that embraced the real NYC and all the varied nationalities and races therein would have been even richer and even more interesting. And I think that Ms Clare knows this, because she has given a main role to a mixed race character in her new series The Infernal Devices. This character also struggles with a long-term, dibilitating illness. This character, for me = LOVE (Herongreystairs 4EVA).

So this is my plea to you, my blog readers, writers of the future. Even though it might sound strange, when you're creating fantasy worlds you need to look at the real world first. The REAL world. Not the version you see in mainstream Hollywood films or on TV. The world as it really is. Overcoming our own unconscious assumptions and prejudices is an ongoing process for all of us, and no one is going to get it right first time or probably all the time, even if they're truly making an effort. But the first step to changing the world of fiction so that it reflects everyone instead of just a tiny, privileged portion, is to think about it and realise that things DO need to change.

What do you guys think?

Monday, 24 January 2011


Hi everyone - Monday again. Where the heck did the weekend go? Oh, that's right, I didn't have one because I was locked in my study for twenty hours living on coffee and Quavers, writing seven thousand words in two days. Never mind. *Insane Cackle*

Ahem. Anyway, I fully intended to do you a big, long writing post today but once again the demands of writing Big Secret Project interfered. I swear, this project is going to devour my soul before I'm finished. However, I'm hoping to complete the sample chapters this week, so with any luck the blog will return to its normal schedule soon.

In the meantime, if there are any topics you'd like me to cover - any particular aspects of writing, publishing, being a writer, or any other random subjects that you'd like me to blog on, please comment or email and I'll do my best to accomodate you.

To tide us over until I'm back in the land of the living, I thought I'd once again tease and taunt you with all the stuff about Big Secret Projec that I can't actually tell you. Hence: Wordle!

Wordle: WIP

I used my synopsis here, since I haven't written enough of the book for it to represent the story fairly. Once again, magic Wordle is scarily accurate in the way it presents the story, with all the dramatic words slicing into each other and the way it links up certain words. How does it know? Mio, by the way, is the heroine's name. But that's all I'm saying. Google is your friend on the other stuff.

Read you on Wednesday. If you'd like an actual post instead of me just rambing, tell me what to write about in the comments!

Friday, 21 January 2011


Happy Friday, everyone. Congratulations on surviving another week. It was tough one for me, and probably for many of you as well. Give yourself a friendly pat on the back (if you can reach).

Since I was a big old meanie on Wednesday and didn't keep my world building post promise, and since the reason for that was Big Secret Project, and since everyone wants to know more about Big Secret Project but I can't really give you any details yet...

That's right - today I offer a special, exclusive sneak peek of Big Secret Project, just for you faithful blog readers. And this really is a teaser, because I'm literally on chapter three of the first draft and every single word I post here is likely to change later on. But the response to the FF teaser was so amazing that I thought you'd probably like to see this anyway, so here goes. Let me know what you think. 

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Sorry guys! I know I'm a bad blogging author, but things got away from me and I didn't end up writing the world building post I promised.

Quick run-down: I was in the middle of a really fun and intense world building spree for book #5 (the Giant Killer Clockwork Praying Mantis Death Robot Book) and was going places I'd never gone before, setting up twin moons that cause super high and super low tides, plus doing all the normal stuff I enjoy like creating a complex multi-racial society. I was having such fun that I thought I'd take you on a little journey with me through the process.

But then Super Agent Nancy got back to me about Big Secret Project and asked me to write two more sample chapters for her, ASAP. This meant that I needed to drop the Giant Killer Clockwork Praying Mantis Death Robot Book (and its fantasy setting) and dive straight back into Big Secret Project (with its contemporary setting). I'm currently doing some very quick research with the help of some friends, since it's set in a city where I don't actually live, and trying to disconnect my brain from the third person historical fantasy voice and reconnect it to the first person contemporary one.

So all in all, I've been a tad busy and stressed since Tuesday, and I don't really dare to think about book #5 too much because I'm already having a hard enough time getting my head back into the Big Secret Project. I'll have a look at world building when a) I've completed the sample chapters or b) I feel like I'm stuck into them enough that I can spare the attention.

And now my stomach is rumbling. Apparently it's picky and doesn't recognise coffee as food. *Sigh*

Take care, everyone! And wish me luck...

Monday, 17 January 2011


Hi everyone! Congratulations on surviving Monday. There, there. It's over now, and things can only get better.

This weekend I have been world building, and I plan a looong post on that for Wednesday. Other than that, I baked fresh bread myself for the first time (although my sister actually made the dough - thanks, Victoria!) and joined Twitter, which quite frankly terrifies me. Everything moves *so* fast, and I'm not sure if it's cool to reply to the tweets of people you follow even if they don't follow you. Argh. Hopefully I'll get the hang of it. You can follow my babbling in the new Twitter panel down there on the left - my user name is @ZMarriott.

Right, on with the reader question. Regular blog commentator Isabel says: problem is with my main character. I’ve been having some trouble with her character development. I think about her a certain way, but she just won’t cooperate. I know this may sound like a good thing: that my character is so real that I have no control over her, but it’s not like that. She just doesn’t have enough depth. Do you know this feeling? That every other character seems so real, and yet when it comes to your procrastinator, you’re hopeless? I hope it’s not just me who feels this way. I’ve been making some progress on her development today, but I just don’t know. Is this unusual? Shouldn’t my main character be the one that is easiest to make come to life?

Oh, I know where you're coming from Isabel. Because of course it seems logical that the main character, the character through whose point of view you tell the story, would be the most vivid and real person in the story. It's all about them, after all. You're in their head. How much realer than they be, right?

WRONG! Wrong, wrong, oh so very wrong. It's *because* you're in their head that the POV character will often be the last person that you get to know. The main character is so busy trying to understand the other characters, observe the world that they're living in, and survive the plot - and most important of all, interpret all these impressions and all this information for the reader - that quite often they end up being just a cardboard cut-out through the eyes of which you, the author, peer at the progress of the story.

I've become resigned to the fact that I usually don't really get to actually know my main character until about a third of the way through the story. I mean, I try to get to know them. I think deeply about who they are, where they come from, what drives them (as per this post). But a collection of traits, preferences and backstory does not make a coherant, living character. It just makes a nice list. Only by writing the story, living through the events with the main character, allowing them to react to people and plot twists, will they take on the spark of life. When you begin to see them react to things in ways you didn't expect, when you start to really suffer with them, that's when you'll love them as a person instead of an idea.

That, incidentally, is why I've gotten resigned to chucking away the first eight to ten chapters of any first draft that I complete, and re-writing them from scratch. By the time I finish a manuscript I know the main character so well that those first chapters seem utterly wooden and false. But assuming that you'd like to speed the process up and get more comfy with your POV character right now, here are some helpful character building tips:
  • Write a monologue from the main character's POV. Pick another character that your POV person feels strongly about, whether that feeling is love or hate. Then, using dialogue only, let your main character rant to that character. Let them explain their feelings and actions, complain, get angry, offer excuses and justifications, spill their guts, demand that the other character explain themselves and generally say all the things that have been simmering under the surface. This can help bring their inner voice and their inner life into sharper focus for you.
  • Switch your writing style. Are you writing in first person? Switch to third person for a chapter. If you're writing in third switch to first. Or try writing from the POV of a different character, looking at your main character from the outside. You'll see and experience the character in a different way and this can offer useful insights. 
  • Write a dream or a nightmare. If your character were to have the most blissful dream ever, what would it be? What nightmare would make them wake up screaming? What images would haunt or comfort them in their sleep when they're the most vulnerable? This can show you who they really are inside.
None of these writing exercises are likely to produce any text that will end up in your story, but spending the time really thinking about the problem character can help you feel closer to understanding them. Other than that, it goes back to letting them move through the story and giving it time. And being will to rewrite later!

Hope this is helpful, Isabel. As always, any more writing/publishing related questions can go in the comments or be emailed to me through my profile. Read you on Wednesday!

Friday, 14 January 2011


Happy Friday, guys! Here, as promised, is a FrostFire teaser, offered with the usual proviso - the manuscript isn't edited yet, and any scenes you read here are subject to changes both minor and major, or even total deletion.

Text under the cut:

Wednesday, 12 January 2011



Of course, when I say 'final draft' I mean 'It's at the stage where I can send it to my editor'. And when I say 'finished' I mean 'Now my editor will rip it into itty-bitty shreds and point out all the stupid mistakes and inconsistencies and boring parts and I'll have to fix them and we'll do that two or three more times and then I'll have a line-edit and a copy-edit' but, you know, whatever. For right now, I'm finished. Woot!

Once my editor does get back to me about it (she hasn't returned from her extremely well deserved holiday yet, I don't think, so it'll probably be a little while) and I've got some ideas about her intial thoughts, hopefully I should be able to share some more details with you about FrostFire. It really is completely different to anything I've written before and very different to pretty much anything I've seen on the YA shelves, so I'm excited and scared!

With all this, naturally I ought to be taking the opportunity to live it up on a beach in Malibu, paddling in the warm water, working on my tan and drinking strange substances that come in coconut husks and have little umbrellas in them. But I can't afford it (and I don't tan anyway). Instead I should probably take a little bit of time off and recharge my batteries, loll about, read some new books. But I'm obsessive compulsive and forcing myself to take time off causes anxiety attacks, especially when I've only just had a week off for Christmas. So instead, I'm going to start putting down some ideas for book #5, which is the last book I have contracted with my publisher and which must be completed before I can start work on Big Secret Project (assuming anyone wants to buy Big Secret Project).

Book #5 is tentatively entitled Immortal Flesh, and is fondly known amongst long-time fans as The Giant Praying Mantis Killer Clockwork Death Robot Book. See how that slips off the tongue?

More random stuff: 2010 in Facebook

This is quite fun for me to look at, like a mini-diary, although it's a shame that I didn't actually start bothering to update my Facebook status until April.

Slightly less random is that Walker Books have launched UnderCover Reading, which has its own blog here. Shadows on the Moon will be the featured title in July, which means that readers will have access to exclusive online content and extras, so it's well worth bookmarking/following. Lynsey at Narratively Speaking (hi Lynsey!) blogs about this in more detail here.

Okay, back to my drawing board. Read you all on Friday!

Monday, 10 January 2011


Okay, everyone - I've now officially given up on getting a response from Alessandra @ Out of the Blue. It's a shame, but I've put her name here plenty of times and given her what I feel is a fair chance to respond, and I don't intend to chase her anymore.

What this means for you? I've picked a NEW Shadows on the Moon ARC winner out of the hat. Well, actually I picked one and it turned out to be one of the bloggers who *already* has a review copy, so then I picked another one. And the winner is (drumroll please):


Cue wailing and gnashing of teeth from all the other blog readers/followers. I'm sorry, you guys - especially for those of you who I know were really crossing your fingers for this. But Lady Luck is a Fickle Mistress and maybe it will be your turn next time. Shannon, please email me through my profile to give me your address so that I can post your prize out to you, as per the picture below:

FYI: I'm implementing a new policy with regard to competitions. I don't want to get too grumpy about it, but for every giveaway/competition I've done there has always been one winner who apparently doesn't read this blog at all, even though they're an official 'follower', and who forces me to send them multiple emails before they respond. It makes me a bit miffed to have to go to all that trouble to give people their free stuff, so...yeah, not doing it anymore.

From now on, I will give any winner seven days, not including the day of the draw, to get in touch. If they don't I pick another winner. That seems fair to me.

Anyway, congratulations, Shannon! And happy Monday to everyone else.

Monday Writing Statistics:

  • Pages of FrostFire that have been revised/polished: 135
  • Words that have been cut from last draft: 1,400
  • Pages of FrostFire yet to be revised: 158
  • Estimated final word count: 84,000 (almost the same as DotF)
  • Deadline: 13th January 2011 (3 days left, eek!)
Off back to work with me - for I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, 7 January 2011


Hi everyone! First of all I need to welcome a new member of my family, Kiki the Coffee machine.

Regular blog readers have glimpsed the horror that is me without coffee; to say that it is vital to me would be something of an understatement. However, up until this point I'd been drinking mostly instant with a scattering of Starbucks, and feeling strong pangs of envy whenever I saw vlogs of other authors and their coffee makers.

After a year of procrastinating over buying a filter coffee machine, I finally gave in and bought Kiki just ahead of the tax hike. Here she is, installed in my kitchen in all her cherry red glory. I've not quite dared try to operate her yet. She's just so *shiny*. I'm hoping that she'll help keep me productive in the coming year.

On Wednesday the subject of music came up in the comment thread, and I decided that I'd do a little round-up of music that I've found useful for stimulating the writing part of my brain. I ought to make it clear that this isn't necessarily my favourite music, or even the music that I listen to the most just for fun (though some of it is!). It's music that gets me into the right mood to write, or helps me to write a specific kind of scene, and often I'm not even sure why that is.

One of this year's greatest discoveries for me was Two Steps from Hell and their album 'Legend'. The following track is one of my favourites. I can't really imagine sitting on the bus listening to it, but when I'm feeling flat and tired and not in a creative mood, this song grabs hold of my creative muscle and gives it a good hard smacking. I've been listening to it constantly while writing FF.

Next, the wonderful Florence and the Machine. Yes, I know everyone loves Flo - and I certainly DO listen to her music on the bus, and sing along! - but this track does something special for me and has managed to find its way onto every playlist on my iPod. I often play this while writing fast, chasing scenes.

Moving onto one of my all-time favourite artists Imogen Heap. Some of her stuff I love and adore and other bits I have to be in the right mood to appreciate - but when something works for me it WORKS, and once again this track is brilliant for getting me into a mood of emotional tension so that I can unleash angst and suffering on the page.

Now for something a little more manly - the song Alibi, from 30 Seconds to Mars album War. I love the slow build-up of this piece, it's really sneaky because it slides you into drama without you realising it. It's great for writing scenes which start off quietly but gradually become darker.

Onto a tune which is a little more classical. Many people have asked me what the music was for the Shadows on the Moon trailer, and the answer is a sample from this track, Ending Title, from the soundtrack of the film 'Curse of the Golden Flower'. I love it, and I defy anyone to hear the rising beat of the drums tangle with the rich timbre of the shinobue flute and NOT feel their heart skip a beat.

Next is probably my favourite song ever, from one of my favourite bands. If you have heard the Leona Lewis travesty which was a cover of this song, please try to erase it from your mind. Argh. THIS is the real thing.

This next song comes from another favourite band of mine, Paramore. I loved them waaaay before they got famous for being on the Twilight soundtrack, and this song is brilliant for writing kissing scenes. There, I said it! KISSING!

This song was recommended on Maggie Stiefvater's blog many long moons ago, and I'm really grateful, because it's great for writing anger - when your character is mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore. The steadily rising percussion is irresistible.

Okay, this post is getting horribly long, so I end with a song called Sacrifice from the amazing Lisa Gerrard. This lady was responsible for the soundtracks of such films as Gladiator and Whale Rider, and her music is stunning (she used to be in a band called Dead Can Dance and they were also frighteningly awesome). I used this track a lot when writing Shadows on the Moon, and again for FF.

Music is an incredibly individual thing, but hopefully someone will discover a new favourite here, in which case all the messing about embedding these videos will have been worth it!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Before I move onto the main point of this post, I just want to give a link to my review of N.K. Jemisin's THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS.

I adored it and I'm recommending it to everyone. However, for anyone under sixteen, this review comes with a warning: there's some kinky sex stuff in here, therefore your parents may not approve (that never stopped ME from reading stuff when I was under sixteen, but I thought it best to mention).

Okay, onwards! Normally at this time of year I like to sit down and take a bit of time to think about the events of the past twelve months. I turn everything over in my head, all the good things and the bad, and try to figure out what I did right and wrong. In the past obviously this has been a private thing, but I thought this year I would share it with you and maybe stimulate you all to try doing the same thing.

  • January: Found out that I had won the 2009 Sasakawa Prize for Shadows on the Moon. I also found out that my job was under threat.
  • February: Started work on FrostFire (which was then called 'Wolves in the Wind', eugh).
  • March: Went to London and met with my editor, Annalie, and her boss, Gill, as well as lots of other splendid Walker Books people. Realised that everyone was really exited about Shadows and got rather excited myself. Talked about FF with my editor. Convinced her that the protagonist of FF should change to a girl, and got tentative approval of some contraversial details...
  • April: Lost my job. Wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Gill and Annalie rallied around with encouragement and advice.
  • May: Applied for a grant from The Royal Literary Fund on Gill's advice. Also applied for benefits for the first time in my life and thought that I would die of embarrassment because I used to WORK in that office, and everyone knew who I was. Hadn't had so many fingers pointed or so many people whispering about me behind their hands since school.
  • June: Started this blog! And my own YouTube Channel. Applied for every job I could find and frantically scribbled away on FF, achieving a target of 2000 words a day, six days a week, for six weeks.
  • July: Interviewed for several jobs, then found out that I was being awarded an amazingly generous grant from the RLF, and that they intended to pay off all my debts. Realised that I would now be able to be a full-time writer for the next TWO YEARS and went into a state of utter, incoherant bliss for about a week. Came up with brilliant idea of trying to turn FF into a two book series.
  • August: Finished first draft of FF. Gave myself two weeks off and read approximately thirty books, discovering Kelley Armstrong, Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan and Cassandra Clare. Was gently persuaded by editor that FF would not work as a two book series and got back to work on it.
  • September: Parted ways with former agent, with much sadness and regret. Went to London to present Shadows on the Moon at the Walker sales conference and was blown away by everyone's enthusiasm for the book. Found a new agent and melted with relief.
  • October: Revealed the cover of Shadows on the Moon and was delighted to find that everyone else loved it just as much as me. Finished another draft of FF. Completed copy-edits of Shadows.
  • November: Realised that the current version of FF was utter, complete, wretched nonsense. Wailed, ripped out hair, banged head on desk, then finally threw it out and started again from scratch. Went to London once more and met awesome bloggers at Walker Undercover event. Was snowed in for a full week and realised snow is only pretty when it's not melting in your boots.
  • December: Finished the penultimate draft of FF. Wrote sample chapter and synopses for Big Secret Project and sent them off to agent. Survived Christmas.

Looking at this list (which is only this complete because I had this blog for six months of the year and could check my facts) I cannot BELIEVE how much has happened this year. It's been twelve months of staggering highs and lows - the major lows being losing my job and leaving my agent. And yet the highs more than made up for those bad days: if I hadn't lost my job I would never have gotten the RLF grant and the chance to fulfil a lifelong dream and become a full-time writer. If I hadn't had to leave my old agent I would never have found my new one, who is awesomesauce.

On the whole I'd say that 2010 has been one of the most stressful, joyful and significant of my life. But what's really great is that I have this strange feeling that 2011 will be even better. So...

  1. I'd love to be able to stick to my 2000 words, six days a week regime. But slavishly adhering to that routine caused me to type my first draft directly onto my laptop instead of drafting with pen and paper first, and that wasn't a good thing. So what I'm going to set as a resolution is this: Write six days a week, using my notebook.
  2. I'm not a very consistent writer. One book took me six months to write while I was working in an office full-time. Another book took eighteen months when I was doing my office work part-time. I'm not sure why this is, but now that I have this chance to be full-time as a writer, I'd like to increase my productivity and my consistency, so I'm setting myself a challenging target. I might not be able to do it, but I do want to try: Write two books in 2011. 
  3. I'm really proud of the fact that I've managed to blog three times a week every week this year. It hasn't always been easy! But I've been rewarded with some amazing blog followers. I'd like to keep doing that AND I'd like to vlog more as well, because I think that's a good way of enriching the blog for all of you. So: Carry on blogging three times a week, and try to vlog once a month.
  4. Finally, a goal that I can't really control myself, making this more like a wish than any kind of a resolution. In 2011 I really hope that Shadows on the Moon lives up to everyone's expectations (including mine). I love this book and believe in it, and so do my publisher, but I'm aware that this isn't always enough when you're not a big name with a big marketing and PR budget. My final goal is: 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.
Phew, that was a long one! What are your New Year's Goals, folks?

Monday, 3 January 2011


Hello, everyone! I hope that you all had a brilliant New Year's celebration. I planned to write about New Year's Resolutions as my first post of 2011, but I still owe you all a writing post from last Friday when I could barely bring myself to look at the computer screen, so I'll do that today and we'll see about New Year's resolutions on Wednesday.

Before I get started, I'd just like to put out an appeal again to Alessandra @ Out of the Blue, who still hasn't contacted me with her address to send her copy of Shadows on the Moon. Now, I confidently expected to be posting the prizes out on Saturday - until I realised that it was New Year's day and everything was closed. Then I realised that Monday would be a bank holiday too. So that means I'm not sending anything until tomorrow. But if I don't hear from Alessandra by the end of the week I'll have to draw another name because it's not really fair to all the others who were so keen to win this prize. Please email me Alessandra!

Okay, today I have three reader questions related to writing, from Isabel, Nara and Megha - so I'll try to be a little more succinct in my answers, instead of rambling on (and on and on) like I normally do, or else this post will be way too long. 

NARA: Something that's been bothering me of late is how to keep to the main focus of the story. At the moment, my plot just feels incredibly messy with too many things happening that are not important. Even today I had to cut out an incredibly exciting scene because it just wasn't linked to the main focus of the story. Any tips on how to maanage these sub--plots and events?

My main piece of advice on this would be to not TRY to manage them, Nara. If you're still writing your first draft there will always be unexpected plot off-shoots, characters developing in unforeseen ways and events that bulge out and turn into different ones, and that is a good thing. That's your brain working feverishly away behind the scenes to give you what you need to create original and brilliant stories. If I had tried to cut off all the unnecessary bits while I was still writing Shadows on the Moon, I would never have written the ending that I did - a completely unexpected ending which was never in my synopsis but which turned out to be *perfect* because it played on several parts of the story which had developed spontaneously as I was writing.

I know how confusing and frustrating it can be when your story seems to be flying off in all directions and even you aren't entirely sure what the main point of it is anymore. But that's what the second draft is for. That's when you put the manuscript aside for as long as you can, then read it again, and start making colour-coded pie charts or using coloured Post Its to keep track of different subplots, and get ruthless by cutting out scenes and characters that don't serve your story. You WILL need to do this (and if you go back and look at these posts, that might be helpful). Not in the first draft though, or you might end up nipping the most vital and interesting parts in the bud and killing the story in the process.

MEGHA: Zoe, do you ever feel you have nothing to write? That seems to be my excuse right now. I just got nothing.

And, do you feel like that even when you're working on a novel? Because that happened to me when I was working on my first proper story and felt that... eh... everything's over, all fine and fit, the problems have been resolved, but there's still no way I can end my story like this.

What do I do when I'm stuck in this situation?

I'm afraid it sounds like a typical case of writer's block here, Megha. This could be because:
  1. You've written all the interesting bits of your story and it doesn't have enough interesting bits left to make a full book. 
  2. You haven't thought things through completely and you've written yourself into a corner where you can't see what should happen next. 
  3. You really do know what should come next but you're dreading writing it and so you're stalling to avoid that. 
  4. You've just pushed yourself too hard and used up all your writing juice, and it needs a chance to replenish itself. 
It's happened to me plenty of times. It happened to me for SIX MONTHS in the middle of writing Shadows on the Moon. I wish I could offer you a really quick and easy solution to this one, but if I had a cure for writer's block I'd be a very rich woman (richer than I'll probably ever get writing books!). The only sure fire way to beat it is to give it time.

I don't mean give up on your story. I mean, carry on reading, watching the films and TV shows that you love, carry on fiddling with pieces of poetry or other stories and try, hard as it is, not to worry about it. Believe me, the more you worry, the longer it takes. And eventually, if the problem is  2, 3 or 4, something will randomly spark at the back of your brain (out of the blue, usually with no apparent rhyme or reason) and you'll *need* to write again, just like that, and what's more, know what to write as well. However, if the problem is 1, then after giving yourself a bit of distance you'll realise that and sadly bid farewell to the story, and move onto something else.

ISABEL: I have a problem. I've always written very slowly. Not literally; I type fast, but my progress is always very slow. This is because I always feel as if everything has to be *perfect*. I always have to think about a sentence a bit before I write it, because I can't live with a piece of writing that I don't like much. Do you follow? It's kind of hard to explain. I always tell myself, "It's okay, just scribble something down now and you can edit later," but it always bugs me when my writing isn't that good. I don't know how you could help me with this, but I thought I might mention it to you. Have you ever had this problem? Do you know what i mean?

Well, there's nothing wrong with writing slowly, you know. I mean, I *can* produce 25,000 words a week if I want to - but they won't be very good quality words. And while some people (including friends of mine!) are happy to scribble 'Touching scene of reconciliation' or 'Vivid descriptions of the view from the palace rampart' in the margins and leave it, I've been known to spend an entire afternoon labouring over three or four paragraphs because I know that they way the turn out is vitally important to the way I'll write the rest of the chapter, or even the rest of the book.

I know that I always say: Give yourself permission to suck. And there's value in that, especially if you're scribbling notes in your lunchtime or putting together a rough sketch of a scene that you fully intend to flesh out later. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have fun playing with language, or tell yourself off for taking care and polishing your words before you move on, if that's the way that feels right to you. If working more slowly means that you're happier with what you produce, then work slowly. If there are places where you get stuck and you desperately want to leave them and move on, then that's fine too!

I hope this has been helpful for you guys - thanks for leaving your questions and trusting me to answer them. As always, if there are any other queries about writing or publishing, just email me through my profile or leave them in the comments.
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