Thursday, 12 October 2017

THAT D'UH! MOMENT

Hello, lovely readers! It's been a while since I've updated, I know - I've been spending a lot of energy rewriting and refreshing posts for my Patreon, a lot more energy settling into my RLF post at York St John University, and what was left over working on the new WIP.

And it's the new WIP that's been causing me to tear my hair out. You see, two days a week I've now got access to a lovely quiet office in York from 9am until 6pm. There's light, heat, a window, a computer and the internet - not to mention my WIP notebook and the copious amounts of stationery I've ferried over there, plus ready access to coffee and the odd snack - which ought to be everything that I need to work.

Now of course, I'm there to see students and help them to improve their writing. But currently it's quiet (things pick up toward exam deadlines) so most days I have a few free periods, or even a whole free morning or afternoon in which to work in total peace, plus the time after my work day finishes but before the Student Centre closes and I need to leave my office. No dog that needs walking, no parent calling me in a panic over a leaking roof or virus-infected computer, no meals to cook (I'm staying in a hotel), no cleaning or other household chores to do. It ought to be bliss! I ought to be churning out thousands of words! I even made myself a Pacemaker schedule confidently expecting huge amounts of progress!

I haven't managed to write more than one or two awful, stilted paragraphs on any day that I've been in York.

It's baffling and infuriating. This is a book that I am super excited about. I mean, super excited. I LOVE this idea. I've been sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night to scribble down ideas in my notebook, I love it so much. I've done my research. My Pinterest board is stuffed. I have a playlist on Spotify and a white noise mood track on Noisili. My agent loves it. My editor loves it. I'm ready.

And yet... no words.

What's going on?

What's going on is I'm being deeply stupid, is what.

I realised it yesterday, and it made me want to smack myself in the forehead.

When I first went full-time as a writer I used to get up early, do all my household stuff (cleaning, walking the dog, breakfast, whatever) and get myself into my study by nine... and then sit there, staring at the screen in mounting frustration, wanting to write, needing to write, but paralysed. There just weren't any words! WHERE WERE THE WORDS??

It took me weeks to work out what the problem was and work out methods around it - many of which I shared with you on the blog over the years.

Don't sit down at 9am and expect yourself to write for three or four hours straight off. It's far too intimidating and your brain freezes up. Set a timer and work for half an hour or forty minutes, as fast as you can, then break and do something else for five or ten minutes (check emails, Facebook, get a new coffee, stretch) before you look over what you've done. Forty minutes is way more manageable than three hours - and usually you've then broken the morning-blankness and can carry on in forty minute sprints until you're done for the day. But even if you can't, you'll often surprise yourself with how much you can write in a timed sprint like that - certainly more than you'd write if you stared at a white screen for an hour and then gave up.

If you get well and truly stuck, don't just sit there staring at the screen until you either cry or get a migraine, or both. Get out. Work somewhere else - the library, a coffee shop - or if you can't face that, go for a walk, get the blood pumping, think about your story and what makes it special, work through the problem in your head.

Write longhand so that you remember this is just scribbles, just noodling about with ideas, getting stuff wrong so that you can work out what to get RIGHT, not deathless prose that needs to be perfect.

Don't sit down with vague ideas like 'Today I've got to get Sarah from the bridge over the river to the Capital City'. Some days - great days - you'll be inspired and can take a boring task like that and run with it, but MOST days you'll spend ages trying to just figure out WHAT COMES NEXT because it's so non-specific and anyway what you want to write is the scene where Sarah gets to the Capital and runs into the King's Guard. Always jot down a quick plan the day before, a few bullet points that will act as a road map to what you want to achieve, the shape of the next section. For instance:
  •  Sarah wakes up under the bridge (covered in dew? Frogs in hair? Stiff and damp)
  • Wearily washes in icy water while remembering swimming in river as a child (family memories! Better times)
  • Packs up (brief descrip) and slogs down hill
  • Avoids riders on the road in case it's Kings Guard, then hitches ride w/friendly farmer
  • Arrives in city, smells food, feels lifting of spirits, crosses through City Gate (jostling other people, seeing Castle on the hill)...
  • Bumps straight into Captain of the Guard!
Even if the scene you want to write is really cool and you're dead keen to get started on it, it can be a bit scary to start cold - especially if there are lots of actiony bits or subtle foreshadowing or information threading you need to do. Make a quick note of what you need the scene to accomplish just so that you're not searching for WHAT HAPPENS NEXT at the same time as figuring out the words to describe it. It's much easier to find great words to describe something you've already visualised and can imagine perfectly.

Dear Readers, I know all of this. This is how I work. It's how I've worked for over six years. And yet. I've basically been rocking up to my RLF office at the uni at 8:50am every morning, logging into my OneDrive and sitting there staring at a blank page in my Word doc, waiting for words to come. That's not going to happen. I can't even describe how much it's not going to happen. I know this. AND. YET.

During my lunch break yesterday I went for that long walk. I was feeling so cross with myself, and really gloomy. I didn't even want to eat, which anyone who knows me knows is Bad Juju. But as I wandered around the leaf-strewn Minster Park - with glowering brow and slumped shoulders - I slowly, slowly felt my brain clearing.

I realised I should have gone for a walk an hour before instead of just sitting there during that free period staring at my computer and willing the monitor to burst into flames. And that reminded me of all the other things I normally do on a working day - and eventually I worked out what was going on. Finally. It was a true D'UH! moment. I had to sit down on a bench for a little bit just to comprehend it, and to sigh with relief and actually appreciate the autumn colours I'd been way too grumpy to look at before.

This is is a lesson. Stupidity can happen to anyone, and that includes professional writers. You can spend years figuring out the best methods of working for you, but when faced with a new situation it's all too easy to revert to bad habits. And even the very best methods (and mine have worked pretty well for me so far) will be useless if you don't employ them. Basically, I'd been cheerfully sabotaging myself for weeks and then wondering why I wasn't getting anywhere.

*Le Sigh*

I hope no one else is self-sabotaging at the moment, but if so, and you're reading this? Knock that right off, muffins. Tell me all about it in the comments.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

PLOT EMBRYO VIDEO

Hi everyone! Happy Tuesday to all. Various exciting and/or nervewracking things are happening here at Casa Zolah (or, more accurately, in London and Wales, but directly affecting Casa Zolah) over this week and next week (and maybe the week after, Iunno), and I basically can't talk about a single one of them, which is making it... a liiitle tough to know what to blog about right now?

BUT! I have found this great new YouTube Channel (belonging to the author Rachael Stephen) and one of her videos is already making me have a big-ol' writer-crush on her because it is BRILLIANT.

So here it is. Check it out and see if it helps you the way it helped me today when I came across it!


 

In other news, my Patreon is still steadily ticking over with updated content every week. I'd love to see some new subscribers, but although I only have three right now I very much appreciate each and every one of them, and the fact that they're motivating me to re-read, update and improve so many essays I've written in the past. It's fun!

If you can't subscribe but you've found my writing and publishing advice useful in the past, or have had questions answered by me, please do share the page to your Facebook, Twitter, or wherever and maybe some other folks will have their memories jogged or their interest piqued and decide to subscribe themselves or share too.

Read you later, my lovelies!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

ARE YOU A PATREON OF THE ARTS?

Hello, Dear Readers! BIG ANNOUNCEMENT today!

No, I'm not giving up on writing and moving to Tibet to herd yaks. I'm not changing my name to Lady Floreline P. Scumbletrump, getting a nose job, or switching genres to sexy romance novels with barechested hunks on the cover and titles like 'Seducing the Laird's Virgin Mistress'.

It's far more exciting than that.

I've launched a Patreon page!

Right here: https://www.patreon.com/zoemarriott

What the flying pamplemoose is a Patreon page, you ask? I would be happy - nay, delighted - to explain, Dear Readers.

But first we need to back up a little bit.

You see, for years and years and years here on The Zoë-Trope - since 2010, eep - I've been writing in-depth essays about all aspects of the writing craft and providing individual advice on issues like writer's block, motivation, publishing and the reality of the writing life. The blog's grown from teeny-tiny beginnings to the point where it gets around 1500 hits per day - nearly 50,000 a month. That's more than I ever could have dreamed when I started out! I used to get excited if I got 30 hits a week!

Professional writers have (with permission!) reproduced my essays in their classrooms order to teach creative writing at university level. My words have been quoted in writing magazines and even national newspapers. The All About Writing Archive contains hundreds of posts, hundreds of thousands of words, and represents years of my life. It's helped make me so many friends and I also believe that it's made me a better writer.

What it doesn't do at the moment is help to support my actual job, which (to my continuing surprise and joy) is writing ground-breaking, diverse, Feminist fantasy novels for young adults.

I'm a full-time writer. This means I'm effectively running a small business on my own. I spend a lot of time on things like organising receipts, keeping accounts, writing and sending and chasing up invoices, completing tax returns, arranging and attending book events, and promoting my work. If I don't have a contract with a publisher (and right now I don't) I need to find the money to support myself through other work (like my Royal Literary Fellowship) or through writing grant applications and entering competitions and prizes and crossing my fingers.

All of this takes time. A LOT OF TIME. I can't emphasize this enough. Actual writing doesn't even make up 50% of the time I spend working. Every writer I know is the same: we're constantly scrambling for any extra moment (in a cafe, on the bus or train, while in the hospital waiting room) to actually get some writing done.

And one of the biggest draws on my time, historically, has been my blog.

Now, I love this blog. I love YOU GUYS and having the chance to interact with you and talk to you about books and publishing and writing. I can't even express how much it means to me. But if I spend a day organising my receipts and chasing invoices, that has a direct and positive result on my business - I know what money is going out and am making sure I have money coming in. If I go to a book event to promote myself and sell a bunch of signed books, that is literally keeping my business afloat. And if I spend a day writing, and produce 2000 words, then that's contributing towards my art AND hopefully producing a piece of work which I can one day sell so that I can keep my business going for another year.

But if I spend a day writing a 2000 word essay for this blog, or answering someone's writing related question? It doesn't contribute towards my income or the well-being of my business at all. This isn't promotional stuff - it's not like sharing updates on book releases or events or even snippets of what I'm working on. In fact, it's taking time away from tasks that DO help to bring in some income. In other words, running the blog basically costs money that I (and, you know, my dog and the cats) need to live on.

As a result, the busier I've got trying to keep my business going - and the more worried I've been about money - the less time and joy I've had to dedicate to answering questions and writing essays.

That's been pretty sad for me, if I'm honest. I'm sure it's also been sad for you, Dear Readers. I've let Reader Questions and Tips for Young Writers nearly disappear from the blog at this point. The All About Writing archive hadn't been updated for over a year, and it was never really complete. Given the somewhat sucky search function on Blogger, that's a lot of advice and information that's not being utilised to its fullest extent, and a lot of questions going unanswered.

And that's where Patreon comes in. 


Because Patreon is a rather cool platform on which artists and other creative people like myself can offer exclusive content and rewards to fans who help support them.

I've taken down the (somewhat crappy) All About Writing page that used to live here - and I'm going to recreate it there. But better. I'm going to re-write, revise and refresh every single essay and piece of advice I've ever given and then repost it on my Patreon feed. I'll post at least one, preferably two pieces of writing or publishing related content every week, and sometimes more. I'll go back to answering reader questions on a regular basis. Once I reach a certain number of followers I'll open up a monthly poll that Patrons can vote in to tell me what aspects of writing they'd like me to explore, explain, and offer advice on.

This blog will still exist, and will still be updated a couple of times a month. I'll still rant here occasionally about Feminism, offer book reviews, and talk about what I'm working on and what I've got happening in terms of book releases and events. But readers who want more than that - which I know isn't everyone! - can subscribe to the Patreon for as little as about two quid a month in order to have access to that archive of in-depth, up-to-date writing advice. People who subscribe at the higher tier get to ask questions and have them answered, and those on the top tier (still under eight quid a month) get all that AND will get to see their names in the acknowledgements of all my books, as well as receiving advanced copies and other cool things.

Readers who chose to support me and want that extra content will have an ever-evolving resource where they are always guaranteed to get exactly the stuff they want, every week. And I can spend the time required to maintain and expand on that resource without feeling harried and guilty about taking the time away from 'real' work. Because creating writing essays and answering questions will now BE PART OF MY JOB.

How cool is that?

Head over to my Patreon and check it out, lovelies. There's one free post already available there and two more in the Patron only feed waiting. If you feel it's good value for money, you can become a part of a brand new community of writers there. And even if you can't subscribe yourself - which I totally understand! - you can still really help by sharing the page on social media and sending links to any of your writing friends you think might be interested.

I'm very excited about this. So like it says on the Patreon page itself: JOIN ME! We'll have fun and learn stuff :)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

YALC EVENT REPORT

Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Wednesday! I meant to write this report yesterday but honestly it's taken me this long to recover from the wonderful yet exhausting whirlwind that was my very first proper Young Adult Literature Convention (I did do the winter pop-up in 2014, but that was so teeny-tiny in comparison it literally does not count).

First up, thanks must go to all the people I've stolen photos from for this, because I don't have a smartphone and although I did take my camera I was so busy running around that I remembered to take it out of my bag exactly once. You are good people, Emily, Imogen, Kerry and Shanna!

I got up at about 5:30am on Saturday and walked and did obedience training with my dog for nearly an hour in a quest to quieten him down so that I didn't feel quite so guilty about dropping him off with my mum. Because he's a maniac. Sorry mum. Then I did various elaborate (but ultimately futile because humidity and rain) things to my hair, slapped on some make-up and a dress and hopped on the train to London, filled with fizzing nerves and excitement. This was me on the train, before my hair gave up the fight.

Ah, sweet volume, we hardly knew ye...

Sadly, despite the weather forecast insisting that it would be a fine and sunny day in London, and therefore that a dress would be a practical choice, by the time I arrived at the Olympia venue in Kensington where YALC was taking place, it was POURING. I don't just mean a drizzle here, folks. It was so bad that the pavements were mostly puddle. It was therefore in a rather damp and dishevelled state that I presented myself to the helpful staff members who directed me to the entire floor of the venue which YALC had commandeered this year.

I stopped by the Walker Books booth (looking good, ladies!) to say hello and then, in true book geek stylee, headed to the bookshop, where I snagged an armful of books, including one from the lists of each of my fellow panelists, and took this:


This was just past 13:00 on the Saturday and, as I confirmed with the Waterstones staff running the shop, Barefoot on the Wind and Shadows on the Moon had already sold out. Which was YAY but also BOO because obviously I didn't want people to not be able to get the books I was going to be talking about on my panel! Oh, well. I decided to be positive about it. As I was stuffing my haul into my tiny roll-on bag, two more lovely Walker people (Hi Rosi! Hi Kirsten!) appeared and gently led me away, reminding me that I needed to collect my author pass and sign in before going off on jollies. Oops.

I did see and get to hug the lovely and talented One Italian Summer writer Keris Stainton on the way, though. Hi Keris!

As we were collecting my pass and then heading to the green room, I confided in Rosi and Kirsten that I'd hoped to get a book signed for my sister, but that the signing queue was so long I doubted I'd get to the writer in question before my panel. Then Emily, who's been working with me at Walker while Wonder Editor has been on maternity leave, turned up, along with several other authors I had wanted to meet - Hi Laura Lam! Hi Elizabeth May! - and Imogen Russell Will who was running my panel, and much book related discussion ensured.

Suddenly, a text on my phone! Cunning Kirsten had slipped off and had a chat with someone running the signing queues, and had managed to get them to let me jump the line and get that book signed for my sister! Joy! But also FREAK OUT because the author in question?


Yes, that is LAINI TAYLOR. Actual real-life Laini Taylor. And me next to actual real-life Laini Taylor trying not to be the one weirdest person she met at YALC... but failing oh so miserably. I nearly fainted at her feet.

But no matter, for the signed book was in my grasp! *Uncontrollable fangirl giggles*

And then, since we were there and her signing queue had just about come to an end, we went to talk to lovely fellow Walker author and superstar Lauren James as well. Her book The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was the number one bestseller at YALC this year and one of the first books I snatched up at the shop. She very kindly signed my copy for me:


And our dresses nearly match, how cool is that? Although hers had spaceships on and mine had golden flamingoes, which probably says something profound about our personalities...

Or maybe not.

Anyway, back to the green room, where the other authors from my panel were beginning to collect. I nattered away at the fascinating Deirdre Sullivan, Julia Gray, Joanne Harris and Peadar O Guilin and also managed to grab Laura Dockrill to ask for her opinions on mermaid retellings before the panel started. But eventually they herded us together, took some pictures:


And then the real fun began! 
What is my face doing in this shot? I dunno, but it's hilarious.

This was one of the best panels I've ever been on - it was delightful. Imogen Russell Wills had prepared really well, and her questions were SPOT ON. Even though there were quite a few of us talking we all managed to get time to express ourselves, and have some back-and-forth between us.

The best thing was that the audience was 100% there for this event - really involved and not afraid to ask questions. I was quite sad when it was over, and they firmly took us away and took us to the signing area. Where CELL7 author and lovely person Kerry Drewery was waiting for me with a hug and nice words about the panel to calm me down - hi Kerry!

To my surprise - and delight! - my queue turned out to be... huge? I was sure that with so many other, much more famous authors there everyone would be far too busy to come and wait for my autograph, but apparently not!



I signed for about an hour and a half before my queue ran out, and thanks to the lovely Shanna, there was a seat saved for me at the one panel I was going to have time to attend, and the one panel above all that I was desperate to attend - the Books That Made Me panel with V.E. Schwab, Laini Taylor and Joanne Harris, run by (a beautifully costumed) Katherine Woodfine. It was everything I'd hoped for, and I even got to ask a question during the Q&A. It was glorious and a perfect end to my YALC experience, especially since I got the chance to say hi to Victoria Schwab in the green room before she left.

We won't dwell on the fact that the rain was still pouring outside, that I narrowly missed the Tube to Earl's court and had to wait for nearly 30mins for the next one, that rush hour was on (making Tube travel an utter misery on a normal day, let alone a rainy one) or that it took me nearly two hours from there to get back to my hotel. None of that matters. All that matters is: I'll never forget my first proper YALC and I really hope to be invited back again next year.

Before heading home on the train the next morning, I even had a little time to eat breakfast in the sun with one of the excellent books I'd obtained on Saturday:


And then I nearly fell asleep on the train, so I wrote 1000 words in my notebook in order to stay awake... but that's another story.

Did you get to YALC this year, Dear Readers (I know some of you did, 'cos I met you!)? What have you been up to? Throw your answers in the comments, darlings! xx

Thursday, 20 July 2017

F/F LITTLE MERMAID SNIPPET

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Thursday to all - I hope your week so far has been great, but if not, only two days to go before the sweet, unhealthy-coping-method oblivion of hiding under the covers all weekend. Hang in there!

Before I deal with today's main business, I have some sad(ish?) news to share. My publisher have just confirmed my very first novel, The Swan Kingdom, is now officially out of print in the UK. I wrote this book when I was twenty-one and it was published when I was twenty-four. At the time I didn't even realise how lucky I was for that to happen, or how lucky I was to recieve such an amazing critical and award response, but looking back with hindsight I'm astonished my quirky little fairytale retelling did so well. The book earned out its advance nearly immediately and stayed in print for almost ten years, which is no mean achievement for a debut novel from an unknown. So while this development is, of course, bittersweet, I'm still very proud.

You can currently buy the book as a paperback in the US or as an e-book in the UK, but I don't know how long that will be the case, so if you wanted a copy then now is probably the time to get your hands on one. I might buy a couple of secondhand copies for myself, since all my author copies have long been given away and I'd hate to be left with no trace at all of the novel that changed my life so much. 

OK, now that's over with - onto the snippet! Though Goodreads, Twitter and the blog, you guys have let me know that the new WIP you're most interested in seeing more of right now is the Little Mermaid retelling. Which is cool, because that's the one I'm actually working on this week. This is the opening part and a bit different than anything I've written before. Let me know what you think in the comments or wherever, my lovelies! Snippet under the cut.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

JULY UPDATES

Helloooo ducky darlings! Happy Thursday to all. I know it's been a while since I blogged so here are some updates on what's been happening at Chez Zolah.

First up, my Mulan inspired fantasy is now officially on submission to Walker Books, where they're waiting for my usual editor to come back from maternity leave at the end of the month so they can start discussing it and making decisions on whether they want to publish it. Any crossed fingers, held thumbs, prayers to the writing gods or sacrifices of chocolate, crockery or goats would be entirely welcome and appreciated.

Obviously I'll update you as soon as I know something and get the OK to share it. This will probably be a lot sooner if it's a 'no' and we take the book out on general submission. If that happens it'll be the first time I've gone on general sub with an agent (last time, which was in 2004, I was sending my manuscripts directly into publisher's slushpiles) and it will be a fairly nerve-wracking, yet also exciting, process. Eep.

In WIP news, I'm working on two new proposals (that means sample chapters and detailed synopses) both of which I've mentioned in passing here on the blog before. Both are YA. The first is a 1920's timeslip story. The second is a retelling of the Little Mermaid which centres a queer relationship. And I love BOTH of them to bits, so dedicating all my nerves and anxiety to getting these new stories kicked off is is helping with the wait on Mulan quite a bit. Let me know in the comments below which you like the sound of more, and I'll post a snippet next week.

Next! YALC is swiftly approaching and I believe that tickets are still available. The event schedule is now up, so you can not only see when I will be there, but also all the vast swathes of other, far more famous and awesome authors (if I don't get the chance to see Laini Taylor speak at least once I may choke myself on my own fountain pen). IT IS VERY EXCITING. I hope I'll get to see lots of Dear Readers there and sign their books, give them swag, and generally adore them for being the discerning and wonderful people they are. That means you, cutie. Yes, you!

Finally, I recently read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit, which are adult works of speculative fiction by Becky Chambers. Thanks for the recommendation on these, Emma Pass!

I enjoyed the first one a lot, and although I was strongly aware of the parallels between it and a certain cult SF TV series I shall not name (*cough*Firefly*cough*) that didn't lessen my enjoyment because I could see the author turning all the tropes over and messing with them in a really aware, diverse and interesting way. The second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, though, really blew me away. It went off in a quirky and unexpected direction that I just loved. I can't wait for the next book in this loosely connected series to come out (each book stands alone, with a few characters in common) and I heartily pass the recommendation to read them onto you, Dear Readers.

That's all for today - just remember to let me know which of my WIPs floats your boat in the comments if you'd like a sneak peek next week. xx

Monday, 12 June 2017

ENDANGERED VILLAINS?

Hello and happy Monday, Dear Readers! Today's post is part of PewterWolf's Disney Villains Takeover. There've already been a bunch of smashing posts from other writers and bloggers on the topic, so click through and check those out.

When Andrew proposed this topic to me, I started thinking a lot about the way that Disney films have evolved in recent years. These changes have generally been for the awesome, giving us more well-rounded, active heroines - like Tangled's Rapunzel, Brave's Merida, Frozen's Anna - heroes with a sense of humour and something other than their royal title going for them - Flynn/Eugene, Kristoff - and some fantastic subversion of tired old tropes, like love-at-first-sight and true love's kiss, or the idea of fighting over the Princess's hand. We've even had some heroines who were so strong and inspiring in their own right that they didn't need no man, and ended their stories liberated and happy about it - Merida and Elsa.

What we haven't really had recently is... any great new villains?

Think about the classic Disney villains you grew up with: The Lion King's Scar, The Little Mermaid's Ursula or Beauty & the Beast's Gaston. Think about how much you loved and hated those guys, how you'd happily sing along with their big theme song and maybe even felt just as strongly about them as you did about the hero. I know all the words to 'Poor Unfortunate Souls' to this day even though that film came out when I was around seven. And my nieces, born decades later? THEY know all the lyrics, too.


Maaan, that's a good villain song.

These guys were not particularly nuanced, let's be real. They weren't meant to be. They were evil. They stood for darkness, and they were often drawn in a way that made it clear the filmmakers intended us to find them unattractive (Ursula's tentacles and rounded figure, Scar's comparative skinniness, darker mane and his facial disfigurement) which would be problematic if we didn't actually find them super amazing and cool instead - seriously, give me Ursula's tentacle dress over Ariel's shell-bra any day.

They were there to offer a direct contrast with the main character's cuteness and innocence - and for the most part they owned their own wickedness and offered no apologies for that.

Even Gaston, heralded as the specimen of physical perfection, and lauded and loved by everyone in his village, is drawn and characterised in such a way that no one for a single instant thinks he's anything like sympathetic. His hairy chest, stinky, holey socks and arrogant brow turn us off, and his song makes it clear his soul is as shrivelled and rotten as a Cox's Pippin that's been hidden under the bananas at the bottom of the fruit bowl for a month.

So no, villains like this were never, ever intended to make us root for them.

But somehow... we liked them anyway.

Each of them embodies something, some character or person who might almost be real.

Scar stands for men who do not fit with the macho stereotypes of our culture, who despite having excellent qualities of their own, are pushed aside, ignored and under-estimated because they are not physically dominating. But despite Scar's intelligence, he's still not able to see through the hypermasculine ideals that tell him he's unworthy. He's not strong enough to reject their paradigm. So instead of walking away and finding something that would make him happy outside of those ideals, he fights, lies and kills in an attempt to gain the 'Prize' which his society has taught him all real men must seek.

Ursula stands for women who are condemned by our patriarchal society for being 'bossy' - powerful and ambitious - and don't conform to ideals of unthreatening, conventionally attractive 'prettiness'. She too, despite immense gifts of her own, struggles throughout the whole film to gain an ultimately empty prize -  a power that will signal she is equal to the King who has rejected and exiled her. Why does she want to be his equal? Why not see him for the blustering bully he is, and use her magical talents to build her own world, her own community? She can't. She craves his recognition, even if she must kill him to get it.

And Gaston is that guy, the one we aaaall love to hate. He presents himself as a Nice Guy who any girl ought to be glad to get - and any girl who isn't grateful for his attentions must be stupid, a b*tch, insane. He embodies toxic masculinity at its height. Despite immense physical strength and skill, he really has no redeeming personal qualities, and honestly believes his most repulsive actions are right and justified because no one has ever, ever questioned him or told him 'no'.

We'd hate to be stuck in an elevator with these guys, but they light up the screen. We enjoy them. Each one gets their own song, their moment to dominate the story. When they sing, whatever the apparent topic, it's actually all about THEM. There's no doubt that each of them is the hero of their own narrative. They aren't nice people. They aren't subtle, or sympathetic. But they are interesting and well realised. Like an extreme version of a real person you might cross the street to avoid in the real world.

In recent Disney movies, though, the increased time spent on characterising the heroes and heroines and developing them into fully rounded, interesting protagonists seems to have had a sad impact on the quality of our villains. In fact, as strong characters in their own right, they seem almost to have disappeared.

Why no love for villains, Disney? I mean, I get that after the success of the live-action Malificent film and the popularity of Evil Queen Regina in the TV series Once Upon a Time you maybe wanted villains to evolve. That you wanted something more nuanced and potentially sympathetic, rather than the operatic cackling of yonder years. Maybe you took that 'A villain is a hero who outlived his story' thing to heart. But... that's not what you've achieved. Instead of giving us more human and real villains, you've mostly cut the heart right out of your antagonists.

Take Mother Gothel. What is her terrifying super power? Passive aggression. Despite interesting character design that suggests she might once have been the heroine of her own story, she never actually gets to tell us anything about herself. She's defined as a stereotype of a toxic mother figure who refuses to let her children grow up or leave - and that's interesting. But instead of letting the talent of the actor voicing her shine out in some massive ballard of selfish justification we get 'Mother Knows Best', a song which is all about Rapunzel. It tells us nothing about Mother Gothel that we don't already know. In an otherwise fantastic film it feels hollow and disappointing.

Brave offers up a mythic story of a prince who craved power so much, he transformed himself into an immortal monster and destroyed his own family and kingdom. I love Brave, and I love the way that myths, ballads and folklore are woven throughout the narrative as a warning to Merida and her mother. But there's no catchy villain song. You might argue that Merida doesn't get to sing either, but actually there are songs in the soundtrack - great songs, like Learn Me Right and Touch the Sky - which are clearly positioned to stand in for the heroine actually breaking into song herself. Because of the way the film is written, there's honestly no way that can happen for the villain. He's barely a villain, really. He's a BEAR. Not even a talking bear. Just a big scary bear.

Frozen's Hans is the one who gets to me most, though. There's a lot of praise for this film for the way that it subverts Disney tropes and pokes fun at them, and don't get me wrong, I do love it for that. But because Hans is a bait-and-switch villain, unmasked only at the very end, we never get to know him  as a villain at all. He reveals his villainy to us and is dead about three minutes later. His justification, while easily understandible (younger son seeks power through lying and deceit, hello baby Scar!) is never fully realised because, again: WE DON'T GET A SONG. He only gets to sing a love song with Anna at the beginning of the film. It's a great, sinister joke in retrospect, but it doesn't count as characterisation when he was just singing exactly what Anna wanted to hear.

Why not give us Hans cackling operatically as he reveals the emotional torture of always being overlooked in favour of his older brothers, despite knowing he's by far the cleverest of them all? Why not give us a great, unforgettable villain moment? The story could have spared three minutes for that, even if it came at an unconventional place in the narrative.

Instead, Elsa and Anna's victory over him seems all too easy because we've barely had time to accept his character reversal. We never have time to truly know and hate him. Instead of making him seem more significant as an antagonist, someone we desperately want to see thrown down, this hasty change wipes away all the previous characterisation and makes him into a practical nonentity. An EVIL nonentity, but a nonentity all the same.

I haven't seen Moana yet, but I'm told (no spoilers!) that it might suffer from similar problems in terms of its resolution and antagonist. So it seems this problem is ongoing.

Disney, how are little boys and girls going to dress up in curtains and tin-foil crowns and sing the songs of villains with bloodthirsty relish the way that my nieces sing Poor Unfortunate Souls... if you don't give us any villain songs or even any decent villains anymore? Up your game. Bring back the classic Disney villain, before we forget how much fun it can be to see our heroes go up against a truly loathesome opponent.

Who is your favourite Disney villain, and why? Let me know in the comments! :) Read you later, guys.

Monday, 29 May 2017

YAY!




Hello, lovely readers! I hope you had a great week and weekend despite the lack of a blog from me. Said lack of blog was due to my being in Londonium for two days - and said trip to London (in the middle of our first mini-heatwave of the year) was due to BAREFOOT ON THE WIND being up for the Hillingdon Book of the Year awards.

After a morning working with the brilliant, clever and just all-around *awesome* kids who'd voted for my book, we came up with a presentation about why they thought BAREFOOT should win, including a dramatic rendition of a scene from the book complete with talking trees, a bow-wielding 'Hana', and the most adorable tiger in all the world. 

 


Sadly we lost out on the best presentation award to Nicole Burstein's 'Wonder Squad' (very well deserved, Nicole - and it was lovely to meet you!). But I'm delighted to say that despite this, BAREFOOT ON THE WIND won the day after all!



Yep, that's me - with the Mayor, no less! It's the first reader-voted award I've received - other things like the Sasakawa Prize and the USBBY Outstanding International award, although I'm very proud of them, were voted on by panels of adults in offices far away. So this means a huge amount to me. Thank you, Hillingdon! Especially the lovely teachers and librarians who looked after me, and the gorgeous and talented young ladies of the Tiger Team. RAAWWRRR!

In other news, I'm quoted this week in the Guardian, in an article about cultural appropriation and whether it should stop writers from creating characters outside of their own experience. I'd just like to make it clear, though, that I wasn't - er - addressing admonishments to Antony Horowitz, or anything. I've never met him, and my remarks were intended to be general! Eeep.

Finally, a reminder of a couple of other events coming up. Firstly, I'm going to be doing a panel event at Bradford Lit Fest again this year (thanks for inviting me back, guys) with some absolute legends. Tickets are still for sale and you can find out all about it here.

AND, if that wasn't enough, I'm going to be at YALC this year! I'm not allowed to share details of my event just yet, but I can say that I'll be there on Saturday and that I'm very excited about my panel. You can book tickets here, so get on that if you'd like to attend.

Have a great week, Dear Readers! Don't get sunburned - or drowned, when our brief burst of nice weather inevitably ends in tears...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

HONESTY IS A DANGEROUS POLICY

Hello, my lovelies! Happy Wednesday to all. New post today, hosted on the Author Allsorts - it's a long and perhaps rather controversial one, on the topic of online honesty and how it can go wrong. I think it's quite important, and I'm hoping it will spark discussion, so please do click over there and check it out.

In Other Stuff: the secret it out! I'm going to be at YALC this year! I'm so excited - I haven't attended since the first winter pop-up event in 2014, and some of my absolute favourite writers (and some of my absolute favourite people) are going to be there this year. I don't know yet which day or days I'll be attending, or what events I'll be part of, but tickets are available now, so get in there if you can. Whoot!

Finally, here's a lovely thing I found on Twitter - an award to help support unpublished writers to finish their debut novel. It's a really good amount and as far as I can tell there's no entry fee. This year's award doesn't open for another six months, but that is GOOD, because it gives you time to pick out your very favourite idea or else come up with one, write the 20-30,000 word sample they're asking for, and then polish, polish, polish that baby until it shines like a gem. The actual entry window is quite narrow, so to have the best chance you'd want to be ready well before October, not panicking at the last minute. Bookmark it and keep it in mind, Dear Readers.

WAIT! Don't close the tab! Click through to Author Allsorts first and check out my real post for today. Talk to me in the comments there and share your experiences if you feel comfy doing so.

Read you later, muffins.

Friday, 12 May 2017

FIVE THINGS ON A FRIDAY

Hello and happy Friday, muffins! Did you have a good week? If not, at least we're nearly at the weekend, and I hope that's better. Today I'm bringing you a random list of five things that are on my mind this Friday, and I hope you will enjoy them.

Personally this week I had a list of things as long as my arm to get done - including my tax return, eugh - but none of it happened, because Super Agent turns out to be a super speed reader as well, and was undaunted by the prospect of ploughing through 123k of first draft. It only took a week!

So Number One of my Friday Five: an update about the WIP. Super Agent and I had a loooong chat about the manuscript on Monday, and despite the detailed disaster scenarios I'd constructed in my head ("I'm sorry, but I've realised that you are aren't suited to being a writer after all. I'm going to have to ban you from writing ever again and banish you to outer darkness...") she DID really like it, and all the issues she raised were totally fixable. Super Agent also turns out to be super good at editorial stuff - who knew? We've never really worked together on a manuscript like this before because all my books, even the trilogy, had contracts before I wrote them. As usual, I finished our conversation suffused with a sense of well-being and optimism. I've been feverishly cutting and then putting new bits in all week long. I finished the first round of revisions (there might well be more) yesterday and sent the book off again, around 5k shorter. Fingers crossed my agent thinks I've managed to improve it.

Number Two: Mostly for USian Dear Readers this one. For the whole month of May The Swan Kingdom is on sale in ebook for under $2. You can get it on Kindle, Nook, and from Apple among other places. So if you've been wanting to read it, or just add a digital version to your ereader, now is the time my lovelies!

Number Three: This brilliant, incredibly detailed and *important* piece from an anonymous, impassioned reader about the problem with recent Mulan retellings that divorce the story from its cultural roots. I was moved and shaken by this. My version isn't a straight retelling but more a fantasy inspired by Mulan, and I know that it won't be judged perfect - nothing ever is. But reading through that article I was able to feel that, at the least, I had thoroughly considered all the points the writer brought up before I ever started writing. I'm so glad I found this. I just wish I could get in contact with the writer to thank them - but I also want to think Justina Ireland (YA writer extraordinare) for opening up her Not A Blog for these anonymous reviews, which is a really brave thing.

Number Four: I wanted to drag this post back out from archives in response to the above - my opinion on the difference between diversity and cultural appropriation and why this is so important.

Number Five: There's going to be a long, rather personal, and possibly controversial post from me over on Author Allsorts on Wednesday. It's about some not-so-nice things that have been happening in my life and how those have affected me over the past year. I'd love it if my account of those experiences could spur others to share theirs, so we can have a discussion about it and maybe all feel less alone. I'll do a link back post here on Wednesday to remind you, but I wanted to mention it here too because it's very meaningful to me.

SURPRISE NUMBER SIX: Ha ha! Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! I'm so excited about the Wonder Woman movie that I could pretty much burst into song at any old moment, and I can't believe how little media coverage there's been. My tickets are BOOKED. Book yours too! This film looks awesome and we all need to support it and show Hollywood that *good quality* action films with nuanced and well-realised female heroes (not fighting sex toys!) are a great investment. Here's the trailer. Watch it. AND GET EXCITED.

Monday, 1 May 2017

HELLO MAY!

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! I am so sorry for the complete radio silence throughout the entire month of April. There's one big reason for that silence. Very big. 123,000 words long in fact.

That's right! The WIP is finally 'finished!'

Celebration writer-stylee
I had promised to send the complete manuscript to Super Agent before the beginning of May, but I really needed to put my foot all the way down and block out everything else in order to get it done by that deadline. Hence no blogging.

After I finished the first (actually third, but officially first) draft of the book, I printed it out and tried to ignore it for about a fortnight. I do this for everything that I write, if I can. Then once I've gotten that crucial bit of distance, it usually takes me about a week to ten days to work through and mark up a manuscript and then another week to ten days to actually make the changes to the book. This story took double that time to mark-up and nearly that again to get the changes input. I put that down not only to the length - which was 133k before the edit, longer than Shadows on the Moon, up until now my longest draft ever - but also the density of research involved.

I have never done this much research for a book before in my entire life. No, not even Shadows on the Moon. I might have to open up my own little secondhand bookshop in order to dispose of all the reference books just so that I can see the walls of my study again.

This makes editing a fine balancing act.

Which bits of research honestly need to be woven into the book to give the reader crucial information? Which parts are vital to make the story cohesive and believable? Have you managed to impart this information in a subtle and interesting fashion or does it need to worked on some more - broken down further or conveyed less directly. Which bits of research probably ought to be there to create mood, atmosphere or immediacy, but can really be cut down a lot, moved, or rejigged? Which bits needed to be there for you, the writer, to work through certain elements of character or plot development, but can safely be excised now that the draft is complete? Which bits probably never needed to be there but you worked them in anyway because they were cool or you wanted to make the best of that super boring book you forced yourself to read cover to cover which really only had one interesting thing in it...?

Do any of these alterations leave weird gaps or obvious joins in your prose, or effect your story's pace?

Then there's parts of the manuscrupt where you suddenly panic because you realise you didn't give enough background or detail... but you can't find the notes/reference book/link that would help you to correctly convey that info, and you have to spend a day tearing your house/internet search history apart to try and find it so that you can add one delicate little line to the end of chapter nineteen, and a paragraph in chapter twenty-two, to ensure that the entire secondary subplot makes sense to someone other than you.

All that in addition to the usual prose, pacing, characterisation and plot stuff! It makes for a lot of work. It was fun, but still super intense.

And yes, you did see sarcastic quotation marks bookend the word 'finished' (I did it again, can't help it). This is because although I've written my first draft and revised it to the best of my ability, this is actually only the beginning of the process. I await Super Agent's judgement. Is it too long? (Probably). Too slow? (Probably). Too boring? (I really hope not!).

Depending on her feedback I could be revising it for months more - but there's no way for me to know at this point, since I basically have zero objectivity left after working on this monster for - er - over eighteen months now, on and off? Eeep.

This book doesn't have a contract yet. I really believe in it, and think it's not only a good story, but an important and timely one. But any crossed fingers or prayers to the book gods that you might feel like offering up would be super appreciated anyway.

In the meantime (while waiting for my agent's verdict and then waiting to see if any publishing houses feel like offering the book a home) I'll be doing work related to my Royal Literary Fellowship and, after the usual period of frantically tearing through my dusty TBR pile, probably noodling around on various other projects just for fun.

What are you up to, my lovelies? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

SUPPORT THE SELF-EMPLOYED

Hi guys, I hope you're having a great week so far (or if not, that you're hanging in there for the weekend). A quick post today to ask for your support for all low earning self-employed people, which includes me and many of the talented children's and YA writers I know.

Some of you might be aware of the recent uproar over the proposed (unfair) changes in National Insurance Credits. They were going to make self-employed people pay more National Insurance, bringing them in line with employed people, even though self-employed people don't get access to most of the contribution based benefits that employed people do, such as statutory sick pay. The government were forced to do a u-turn due to widespread resistence, which was a great thing. But another issue to do with the tax paid by self-employed people has managed to slip under the radar, and it's just as serious.

They're goung to abolish something called Class 2 National Insurance credits, and this means that many very low earning self-employed people will face losing their state pension, even though many of us have already paid into it for years and despite the fact that self-employed people have no entitlement to any employer subsidized pension, which means any pension provision we make for ourselves already costs us way more than an employed person would expect to pay (that's if we can afford to do any saving for retirement at all).

Here's some more background if you're interested.

If you (whether you're self-employed yourself, or hope to be one day) think that targeting the lowest earners and forcing them to stump up massive wads of cash just to keep themselves above the poverty line in old age, while leaving higher earners untouched, is deeply unfair, then please sign and share my petition here.

It's all I can think of to do right now, and you never know - it could make a difference. And thank you in advance for supporting children's and YA writers.

Monday, 20 March 2017

LINKITY AND WHOOPS AND WIP STUFF

Hello, Dear Readers! It feels a bit insensitive to wish you a happy Monday (especially if the weather where you are is as filthy miserable as the weather where I am right now) so I'll just say that I hope the week's getting off to a good start for you so far.

As you can probably tell from the blog title this week, I've got a sort of gallimaufry to share today. First up, some links to a pair of posts made by the lovely Bonnie of A Backwards Story and her friend Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl where they interview me about BAREFOOT ON THE WIND and you get a chance to win a copy, or a copy of one of nearly a dozen other Beauty and the Beast themed novels, as part of their week of Beauty and the Beast. It's an international giveaway, so get in there!

This is celebrating the release of the Disney live action B&B this week - which, by the way, I really want to see, but have mixed feelings about too. So if anyone's already seen this and wants to give me yays or nays about the film in the comments, feel free!

In other BAREFOOT ON THE WIND related news, the book has been longlisted for the Southern Schools Book award, which is super fab. The longlist is rather intimidating, but it's great to see my strange little Feminist tale there among all the big names, and some friends of mine too.

Finally, *deep breath* at long, long, loooooooong last... the work in progress known as Codename: DTH... is finished!




WHOOOOOOOOP!

Well, I mean that it's finished in first draft. And a particularly messy, rough, incomplete first draft, too. I haven't even written the epilogue, because although I know the book needs a closing chapter to tie up lose ends and give the reader that satisfied The End feeling, I feel as if anything I write now will just be a placeholder that immediately ends up going in the bin once I've re-read the manuscript. So I decided to leave it instead. I've never done that before and it gives me a really queasy, guilty feeling.

However, since the book is already 130,000 words long (yeeeee!) which is as long as Shadows on the Moon was in first draft, I definitely don't feel like I need to be adding any unnecessary new length at this stage!

The book's now printed out in an entirely different font and format than the one that I'm used to working on, and has been secured with a veritable fleet of bulldog clips, since I don't have a folder big enough to fit it (yep, it's a bit... chunky. In a loveable way!). Since I've finished this a little ahead of schedule I'm going to give myself some extra time to get distance from it before I do a complete hard copy re-read and mark-up, write that epilogue, and then get to cutting, revising and polishing. I'm hoping that I'll be able to make substantial reductions in wordcount before I take that scary step of sending this off to my agent to see what she says.

Once it's in a state my agent can live with, then we'll be on a quest to try and find a home for the book - whether that's with my beloved Walker or someone else. I honestly, truly love this story and these characters and this world. I think it's the best and most challenging thing I've written since Shadows. And I believe the book is one that needs to be out there for readers to find. Fingers crossed that there's an editor (and marketing and finance teams) out there who can love it and believe in it as much as I do. If/when it does sell, I should be able to give you all a bit more detail about it.

In the meantime, I'll be refreshing my brain a bit by ploughing through as much as my To Be Read Pile as possible, and also working on some other - COMPLETELY DIFFERENT OMG - stuff, just for fun, to keep the writing muscles limber

Read you later, my muffins!

Monday, 6 March 2017

RETROTUESDAY: WOMEN DOMINATE? IN WHAT UNIVERSE?

Hello, lovely readers! It's time for RetroTuesday, when I delve into the archives of the blog and drag an older post (squinting, blinking, perhaps weeping) back into the daylight for readers who may have missed it the first time, or might enjoy reading it again. Today's post?

WOMEN DOMINATE? IN WHAT UNIVERSE?

I want to share with you an article I read today, which made me feel like choirs of heavenly voices were singing and casting golden light on me: Gender Balance in YA Awards

The glory of this article, Dear Readers! It has confirmed what I always suspected based on knowledge of my field: while there may be slightly more female YA authors (and why is that supposed to be a problem? More on that below!) men still dominate in terms of critical attention and also (although this is not covered explicitly in the post) tend to dominate in terms of sales, with the average NYT Bestseller list (as pointed out by Shannon Hale and Maureen Johnson) showing an 8:2 ratio in favour of male writers.

And yet! It is still widely accepted as fact that YA is 'dominated' by female authors and female stories, and that somehow the ladies are to *blame* for a drop in boy's interest in reading during teenage years. So widely accepted that while that post was making the rounds on Twitter this afternoon I actually saw a male author arguing that there is a 'boy crisis' in YA, and that the stats in the Gender Balance post don't work because male authors win a disproportionate amount of awards.

Um. What? If male authors win a disproportionate amount of awards in the YA field, doesn't that merely illustrate the same point?

I'd really like to know what the people who continually harp on about this issue in this way - lack of 'boy books', 'feminisation' of YA, failing a generation of young men, etc. - would like to see as a solution. Female authors realising the error of their ways and discarding their silly novels about silly girls, and henceforth writing only books about young men being traditionally manly? Female authors taking on androgynous pseudonyms in order to avoid scaring young men off with their lady cooties? Female authors retiring from the field of YA writing altogether and running cakeshops instead so that the men can take their rightful place as leading lights of YA?

Surely I'm overreacting - no one would ever suggest that! Except that I've read at least a couple of industry professionals making serious arguments that there needs to be a drive to create an influx of male editors, publishers, cover designers and writers into the YA sector - presumably to produce books which are sufficiently manly to drive away the girl cooties.

But what am I so worried about? If women were to stop writing YA books and the number of female protagonists were to drop, that wouldn't hurt anything, would it? Everyone knows girls are happy to read about the universal experience of being a boy. Whereas boys are naturally horrified by the suggestion they should read about that weird niche experience of being a girl. You can't expect them to care about the stories that have female protagonists. It's unfair and goes against all their instincts. It's not like women and girls actually make up just over half the human race - and therefore half of the human experience - or anything.

And even if literacy rates among girls did drop - maybe to levels similar to or lower than the current levels for boys - well, that wouldn't really matter, would it? That's the way it always used to be, boys coming first in everything, and it never did anyone any harm, did it?

Has anyone stopped to question why it is that there *are* slightly more female authors and more female editors in the field of children's and YA publishing? I should say it's fairly obvious. It's for the same reason that there are more female pediatricians, female nursery-school/kindergarden assistants, female elementary/primary school teachers, female nannies etc. etc. Because our society teaches us, every day and in every way, that being interested in and looking after children is women's business. That's it's OK and natural for us to get into any job that is concerned with kids.

Men don't go into those fields very often because, in general, it's not considered normal or natural for them to be interested in or want to care for children. You only have to watch the episode of Friends where seemingly sensitive, New Male character Ross is repelled by the very idea of a male nanny, to see the attitudes that are likely to put young men off from any career where their primary business is dealing with kids. Not to mention that any field in which the majority of roles are filled by women is likely to be far lower paid than a field which is dominated by men. We're still nowhere near pay equality anywhere in the world.

Why the sudden outcry, then, at the idea that there may be slightly more females working in YA or children's publishing and writing, even if guys do in general win the majority of the awards and get the majority of the sales in that field?

Because, all of a sudden, YA and children's publishing have become high profile and lucrative. And this has caused all the people that previously dismissed writing for children or working in children's publishing as petty and unimportant - and therefore, naturally felt that it was 'women's work' - to discover a deep interest in it.

But to their shock and disgust, many of the biggest names in children's and YA writing are women. Many of the most successful agents and editors are also women. Many of the books seem specifically aimed at girls. Is it really possible that women are contributing more to this field than men!? Not in terms of general sales or award attention or anything, but - there are still all these women everywhere!

What is the world coming to when such a high profile and lucrative field is full of GIRLS? Women are taking up all the room and attention that the men need!

No wonder boys don't read!

Bunkum. It is that attitude, that very one, which causes boys not to want to read.

The fall in literacy rates for boys is nothing to do with icky female authors and their icky books that dare to treat female characters and their stories as important. It is everything to do with a society that teaches young men that in order to be 'normal' they must embrace traditional ideals of masculinity - and that means rejecting any activity which might might be considered feminine, even tangentially.

Like reading.

It is everything to do with a society that teaches young men that being a great reader is nerdy and girly or even - worst of all! - GAY. So if they do read, they must be careful to never, ever, ever betray any interest in a book with a woman's name on it or a girl protagonist. In fact, to be safe, just play video games. Or football. Those are safe, boyish activities.

It is everything to do with a society that accepts male dominance as so natural, so unquestionably normal and right, that the NPR list of Best YA Novels, which was split quite equally between male and female authors - 59 women, 44 men - is heralded as evidence of something unnatural or sick, a forced 'feminisation' of the publishing category. The people who reacted with shock to this list feel instinctively that YA ought to be dominated by men, just like TV, films, advertising, academics, medicine and every other profitable field in our world.

So what if male YA authors do appear to get more awards and more sales? That isn't enough. The idea of a significant amount of women being prominent beside men in any important field is so alien that a slight majority of female YA authors (even if they're not receiving as much critical attention or getting as many readers) is considered, in itself, a problem.

Things will only be right when things flip the other way and male authors not only dominate in awards and sales but also sheer numbers. Only then will the natural order be restored, and boys miraculously become great readers - even though, of course, they will still scorn and turn away from any books written by, giving starring roles to, or marketed at, girls.

What is the betting, Dear Readers, if that through some twist of fate being a nanny suddenly became a high profile and lucrative field, people would be leaping out of the woodwork straight away to condemn the female domination of this profession? That suddenly fingers would be pointing at the women who've been quietly doing this job for decades and blaming them for the 'feminisation' of the young people under their care? That there'd be talk of trying to encourage men into the field so that boys - those poor, misunderstood boys! - didn't miss out unfairly?

Listen up.

Fewer boys read because our society teaches that it is not 'normal' for them - ie., 'manly' for them - to be interested in sitting quietly in their room, alone, reading books. Since they're also taught that the most horrible, awful thing to be accused of in the world is being unmanly or, in other words, 'girly' (or, le gasp, GAY, quelle horreur!) of course many of them jump ship from reading to killing things on computer screens as soon as they hit puberty.

Fewer men enter the field of children's and YA publishing because our society teaches that a career focused on children and young adults is not 'normal' for them - ie., manly - and because they are aware that 'women's jobs' are not as well paid (even though it turns out that many men will be rewarded for entering this field with better sales and critical attention).

THIS IS NOT WOMEN'S FAULT.

Stop blaming us for the effects of a society that oppresses us. We're not the ones that built it (even though many of us are so indoctrinated by it that we will fight to defend it). That's why it's a patriarchy. If you don't like it, try dismantling it. Good luck. I'll be over here writing the stories I want to write in the way that seems best to me, without any regard to you, or any other group that apparently sees my contribution to my chosen field as so utterly pointless and insignificant. I don't need to justify the fact that I'm female or that I'm interested in the stories of female characters, and nor do the other lady children's and YA writers out there.

WE HAVE THE RIGHT TO EXIST, THE RIGHT TO CREATE, AND THE RIGHT TO PROSPER.

If you feel that mere fact threatens you and the young men in your life? The problem is yours. Not ours.

If you need anymore background on the different ways that boys and girls are socialised to act? Read this: Boys Will Be Boys Is No Excuse.

Oh, and if you think that I'm wrong, and We're All Equal Now, So We Should Shut Up And Go Home? That post has some pretty telling points to make on the skewed idea of 'equality' that the media presents too (but this has adult language and a trigger warning, so stay away if it's not for you). 
 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

IS BAREFOOT ON THE WIND #OWNVOICES?

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers!

Today, as you might guess from the blog title, is a piece with some thinky thoughts. These are the thinky thoughts I've been having, on and off, about BAREFOOT ON THE WIND since it came out and since and I began to see reviews of various aspects of the story.

It's by no means a definitive Voice of God type of thing - I've no wish to lay down the law about the book or how anyone else should interpret it. I just thought that it might add value for some readers to know some things about the book and how it relates to my own experience and identity.

So, really this post came into being at this point because of the urging of some lovely folks on Twitter. One person DM'ed me to ask if I had meant for Hana to read as an asexual or greysexual character. I told her that I had written Hana very deliberately as greysexual, because I was a greysexual teenager once - although sadly I didn't even know that term existed at the time! I now identify as asexual, however.

Another tweep listed the book as a piece of respectful representation on the grounds that it portrayed mental illness in the form of Hana's apparent depression, but said she was unsure if she should call it #Ownvoices or not. I told her that I, too, have suffered with depression since being a teenager. What's more, after the death of my Father I also went through a period of what is known as Complex or Complicated Grief in which I was unable cope with my bereavement, suffered with overwhelming feelings of guilt and responsibility for what had happened, and wished fervently that I had died in my Father's place. I based Hana's mental state on these experiences.

It suddenly occurred to me that because I had written this book in a secondary world in which terms such as greysexual/asexual and depression simply did not exist, that some readers who might be eager to find representation of those marginalised identities might completely miss it. I'd already read several reviews which expressed disappointment that Hana's relationship with Itsuki in the book wasn't more 'passionate', or mentioned that it seemed more like a friendship than a romance. Those choices were deliberate - they charted the progression of a greysexual person's developing feelings as I experienced them - but how could readers know that when I'd been unable to put the correct label on Hana's identity without being unforgivably anachronistic? Should I be tweeting about this book and calling it #Ownvoices in order to help ace/greysexual and non-neurotypical readers know that stuff was in there?

I looked on the website of the writer who coined the #Ownvoices hashtag - Corrine Duyvis (Hi Corrine!) - and she said she didn't really want to try regulate the term: she just wanted others to be able to use it in whichever way seemed valid. But she felt as long as the author and the protagonist shared a specific marginalised identity, it pretty much counted as far as she was concerned.

This all led an animated discussion on Twitter. Many people chimed in to say they DID feel the story counted as #Ownvoices. But then the author and We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh (Hi Ellen!) chimed in to say that you can't really call a book #Ownvoices if the author doesn't share the protagonist's ethnicity. And I don't. Although Hana's secondary world is a fantasy one, and her ethnicity doesn't really exist in this world, her culture is BASED on Feudal Japan, which means her ethnicity is, too. And, as Ellen pointed out, for a white author to put the hashtag #Ownvoices into play to promote a book in which the main character does not share her ethnicity feels perilously close to a form of cultural appropriation.

At this point it became clear that this was all way too complex to really sort out on Twitter. So I thanked everyone and went off and continued to think about it for a while more before deciding: yes, I should address this on my blog. Because that way people have the relevant information - a more nuanced and complex version of the information than I can possibly offer up in 140 characters - and they can make their own minds up.

Tl;dr - BAREFOOT ON THE WIND features a greysexual, mentally ill protagonist, and those parts of her marginalised identity were based on the author's own experiences as a greysexual, mentally ill teenager (and on later experiences of bereavement). But the author does not share the character's ethnicity, in so far as that ethnicity is based on Japanese culture.

Phew! I hope that all makes sense! Any questions or comments, muffins - toss them in the comments :)

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

ARE FAIRYTALES FEMINIST?

(Originally posted on PewterWolf's blog - revised 15/2/2017)

When the title of this post was suggested to me, I found myself a little conflicted. Can fairytales be Feminist, I asked? Or is this an unanswerable joke question, like whether Grumpy Cat has a Communist agenda?

Let’s just take a moment to remind ourselves what Feminism actually is – untainted by any of the wonky ideas that society may have about it, or any of the behaviour of individual people who reject or embrace the concept. It’s pretty easy:
Feminism
noun
“The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
Basically, Feminism is the struggle to ensure that all sexes (there are more than two, FYI, but that’s a whole ‘nother blogpost) have equal rights. A Feminist individual is someone who believes in equality regardless of gender and hopefully works in whatever way they can to bring that about.

So... are fairytales Feminist? Maybe that's the wrong question. Maybe a better way to phrase it would be: Can fairytales be Feminist? Do they have the potential to embody Feminism? Or is that impossible?

Because the thing is, folklore and mythology from pretty much any society you care to name certainly seems to depict a lot of highly sexist attitudes, not to mention celebrationg the Patriarchal societies that spawn those attitudes. And this makes sense. Though initially fairytales were contemporary, evolving narratives, they began to be written down - and considered ‘finalised’ - in Western Europe throughout the 18th and 19th century. They reflect those historical modes of living which were prevalent during that time – when men wore trousers and girls wore skirts, and if they swapped at all it was for reasons of comedy or in order to preserve female virtue.

They haven't really been allowed to evolve since then. We consider those versions the 'originals' or the 'classics' rather than just one of many different possible iterations of archetypal tales. As such they’re filled with a lot of ideals that woman are still fighting against - hello, diametrically opposed innocent damsels (virgins) and wicked ambitious older woman (whores) all desperately hoping to snag a man! And there are an awful lot of young, aggressively heterosexual males rushing in to save the day... and the depictions of people of colour or non-Christian people is pretty awful. The depiction of non-straight people is nonexistent.

But fairytales – the ever changing, oral stories to which our current, sanitised, Disney incarnations are only distantly related – stretch right back to the time when humans were still figuring out what humans even were. When firelight was all that stood between us and the howl of creatures in the dark, and for all we knew a fairy, dragon or young God might be lurking around the next tree trunk any time we went out to cut wood. They contain archetypes, larger than life, fundamentally human characters and quandaries which, while they MAY be warped and stretched and manipulated to reflect the politics of whichever person or society promotes them, are still able to rise above – or sink below – cultural mores in order to share essential truths.

What are fairytales about after all? What questions do THEY ask US?

What is love? What is good – and what is evil? What does it mean to be brave? How should we react to injustice? How can we better our own lives, and what are the risks if we try? What makes a monster? What is a hero?

These questions are ultimately ageless. And a-political.

Our individual interpretation of fairytales, the prejudices and perspectives we ourselves bring to these archetypal stories, are what make them either positive or negative. And individual interpretations can vary, at last count... preeeetty much to infinity.

For instance, Cinderella may be a dutiful and obedient girl who never takes any steps to better her own life because her highest goal is the proper, 'feminine' one of attending a ball in a pretty dress – whose beauty is rewarded when she happens to be young and lovely enough to catch the Prince’s eye (marrying up in society being any woman's dream, of course).

OR... she might be a resolute and morally ambiguous young woman, who cunningly uses the ball to leverage her youth and beauty in order to gain the prince’s power for her own ends.

Beauty might be a dutiful and obedient girl who allows herself to be sacrificed in place of her father, and who, after being bullied or emotionally blackmailed into marrying the monstrous being who imprisoned her, is rewarded when he turns out not to be physically repulsive anymore (though his personality may still be in question).

OR... she could be a ferocious young hunter who goes after the Beast of her own free will in order to destroy him and the curse, and who chooses instead to save him, in the end, because he has proven to her that despite his beastly exterior, he is truly worthy of love.

But these Feminist ways of re-imagining our familiar fairytales – taken from my books Shadows on the Moon (Cinderella) and Barefoot on the Wind (Beauty and the Beast) – can be very controversial. Not just among Mans Right's Activists! Even from a Feminist viewpoint.

The recent Disney live-action Cinderella promoted itself with the motto ‘Have courage... and be kind’. You’d think this was a mild enough statement that no one would get cross about it, but you’d be wrong.

Online, many people rose up against the idea that a young woman suffering under injustice and abuse from her family ought to care about being kind – surely survival would be the order of the day? ‘They’re encouraging young women to be weak!’ was the battle cry. ‘Don’t tell them to be kind, tell them to fight!’

But before anyone could blink, an equally strong counter-argument blew up, stating that kindness was a Feminist virtue, that striving for some kind of unrealistic butt-kicking ideal of femininity that eschewed goodness and kindness for macho ideals of ‘strength’ was ignoring the real struggles of real women who had survived – and might still be living with – abuse. ‘Living in a bad situation you can’t get out of isn’t weakness!’ these people declared.

Who’s right? Who knows! Both, most probably.

The fact is that, just as with magic itself, fairytales can be used for good or evil. They have the potential to be both damagingly misogynistic AND empoweringly Feminist. Like most questions of story, the final interpretation is down to the reader themself to make.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

KINDLE HALF TERM PROMOTIONS!

Hello, lovely readers - no, your eyes do not deceive you, this is the second post in one week. *Le Gasp!*

Not a long one today, unfortunately, as in real time I'm actually on my way to a meeting at my prospective university for my Royal Literary Fellowship, which is both super exciting and super intimidating. But I have other good news!

As of today The Swan Kingdom and Shadows on the Moon are both in the Kindle half-term promotion, which means they're on sale for 99p and £1.09 respectively! Pretty good deal, especially when that's the new version of Shadows on the Moon with exclusive new content, which retails for £7.99 for a paperback.

I'm hoping that being included in such a high profile promotion aimed at young readers over their February half-term will give the books a chance to find a new audience (since, depressingly, many of my young readers have basically grown up now and are adults whose achievements both stun and humble me).

So if you want to share details of these rather spiffy deals on your Twitter feed or Facebook (or Instagram or any other newfangled thingie) for your friends or relatives to peruse, then do feel free - or just grab a copy of one or both of these books for yourself if you've been wanting one.

Have a lovely Wednesday, muffins. Here some new picspam of Ruskin for good measure:



Why does he always appear to be half asleep in these photos, you ask? Because it's literally impossible to get him to stay still without lunging for and attempting to consume the camera at any other time, I reply with a faintly unabalanced laugh! Puppies, folks. They be trippin'.

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