Wednesday, 30 June 2010


As anyone who's read my first book The Swan Kingdom knows, it's based on a fairytale called The Wild Swans, which is a Hans Christian Andersen story. When I actually came to write the book lots of other influences crept in there, like Celtic mythology and some Japanese folklore, but the original spark of inspiration was the fairytale.

This was my favourite fairy story growing up for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I liked that the heroine got to be the one to save her brothers. I also admired how bravely the heroine suffered in silence, and the fact that she lived by herself in a forest and managed to find things to eat on her own and arranged her own shelter. Badass.

But the biggest reason that I loved the story was that when I was fairly young my sister bought me a picture book of it. It was a cancelled library book. It just turned up in the rickety plywood 'For Sale' box one day. If I remember correctly, I had loved the book for some time and borrowed it continuously, and the thought of the book being sold away to some stranger reduced me to tears. With much sighing and tutting, my sister forked over the 25p to the librarian, and the book was mine.

Frankly, I was obsessed with it. It followed me everywhere. I used to use it to lean on when I was drawing (and before I discovered the joys of writing, I drew CONSTANTLY). I stored my completed pictures - maps of fantasy countries and princesses and castles - between the pages. That book, with its curled over plastic cover, its shiny pages and purple end papers, and it's magnificent illustrations, became so much a part of me that I suppose it seeped indelibly into my imagination's landscape.

So I thought I would post some of my favourite pictures from the book here, to show how they offered me inspiration in writing The Swan Kingdom.

This shows the scene where the wicked stepmother turns her stepsons into swans and banishes them. On the face of it nothing from this image - or this event in the original version of the story - survived in my version. But I always remember thinking how very much like clouds the swans wings looked here, and that idea does turn up in the book. Plus, just look at that stepmother's face! Ooh, she looks triumphant and evil.

A picture of the picture book heroine, after she runs away from the palace and her stepmother. This doesn't really happen in The Swan Kingdom. What you can see here though, is that the heroine has red hair, like Alexandra (I just couldn't think of the heroine of this story any other way) although Alexandra has green eyes (like me) and the heroine of the picture book has grey eyes. I also think this picture sums up the way my heroine, Alexandra perceives her brothers throughout the book: as a part of nature which she cannot quite reach. The picture book reads: All night long Elise dreamed of her brothers. Once more they were children playing together, carefree and loved... This may have been why dreams played such an important part in The Swan Kingdom.

Next, an image of the storybook princess on the shore, looking for her brothers. In the original story, the princess meets her brothers here and they rescue her and carry her off across the sea. But in my version the heroine does not see her brothers - only great white birds in the shapes of the clouds - and she walks the beach alone. Until she meets Gabriel...

Here's an image of the hunting party that finds the princess in the woods and carries her off to be married to the King (without asking her, I might add!). Look at those exotic hunting creatures! In The Swan Kingdom, there are no leopards, but there are some very friendly hunting dogs, which belong to Gabriel. He's been looking for Alexandra, and has trained his hounds to know the scent of her magic.

This is one of the final illustrations in the picture book. In the original fairytale, the heroine is about to be burned at the stake by her husband the King! She just has time to throw the nettle shirts over her brothers before the fire is lit, and when they transform back into princes, the heroine is cleared of all charges of witchcraft, and the pyre where she was to be burned blooms with roses. That certainly does NOT happen in The Swan Kingdom, but this image of the roses blooming at the moment of the heroine's triumph stuck with me, and turned into the legend of the King's Rose, which blooms when...well, you'll just have to read the book to find out!

I think what's interesting about looking at the pictures and comparing them to the way The Swan Kingdom turned out, is that you can see how tiny, random details in the original story, or impressions of the illustrations, became so significant to the novel. And how major parts of the original fairytale just fell by the wayside! That's they they call it 'inspiration' I suppose.

Monday, 28 June 2010


This is a post I've been saving up for a little while, just because it's hard for me to really express how important music is to me when I'm writing. I have literally spent months - miserable, blocked, unproductive months - desperately trawling through my CDs, checking out artists on YouTube and iTunes, hoping against hope that I would find The Song.

The Song is the one that captures the mood of the story, it's emotional heart, perfectly. Once I have that, I can build a playlist for the book around it. I mean, I have my generic playlists called things like 'Love', 'Sadness' and 'Fight', but when I sit down in the morning, first thing, and I'm cranky and reluctant and I can't think of a single word to put on the page, I need The Song to fix it.

I can and have written without The Song. I think I wrote most of The Swan Kingdom without the song that belonged to it (which was 'Cumulus', by Imogen Heap, if you're wondering). On the other hand, if I have The Song from the start, it speeds things up immeasurably, like with Daughter of the Flames ('Now We Are Free' from The Gladiator). I wrote the first ten chapters of Shadows on the Moon before I found 'Seraphim' by Dead Can Dance, and later had to throw nine of those ten chapters away.

So, for FrostFire, I was working with a place-holder soundtrack made up of songs from the soundtracks of Curse of the Golden Flower and Avatar. And then I happened to be checking out another author's blog (Courtney Allison Moulton - can't *wait* for Angelfire, even if the title is way too similar to FrostFire) and she had posted a YouTube video of the song 'Alibi' by 30 Seconds to Mars.

Now. I'm familiar with this band. They're okay. I can't say I was really a big fan. But this song - the lyrics, the mood, the voice, the slow build up - were all perfect for FrostFire. It basically expressed the character arc of my heroine and her relationship with the love interest. Everything snapped into place, and I've now built up my proper playlist. Sure, there are days when I turn the music off and write in silence, or days when I click on 'Fight' or 'Love' and listen to them instead.

But I always know that if the white page is starting to throb in front of me, and I can see swirling, mocking faces forming in the blankness...I can turn on The Song. And suddenly everything is so much easier.

Below is part of the playlist for FrostFire. Only part because many of the songs I'm using aren't available on As you can see, if you're reading this blog in the UK (like me) you can't actually play the songs on this little insert, but you can always look them up on iTunes or Amazon and have a listen. If you're in the US you've got it easy.

What are your go-to songs for writing, and why?

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones

Saturday, 26 June 2010


I'm just going to reiterate the points made in the vid above in case, you know, I talked too fast or my English accent was too confusing for anyone. So:

The list of goodies to be given away will include,
  • A signed and customised copy of The Swan Kingdom
  • A signed and customised copy of Daughter of the Flames
  • Pretty bookplates, signed by me
  • Chapter One of Shadows on the Moon - the first few pages of this are already on my website, but this will be the full first chapter, which no one but my editor and agent have seen
  • Playlist CD of my writing music
  • Various other goodies
The contest will be open to EVERYONE no matter where in the world you are. And to enter? Well, it couldn't be simpler. Here is the points system (as suggested by the lovely Saya of The Rock Pool):

+ 1 if you post about this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube (etc) and link back here
+ 2 if you post the contest on your own blog and link back
+ 3 if you become a follower of this blog

ETA: it's been brought to my attention that I've neglected to mention how many points you receive if you subscribe to my YouTube Channel. That's an additional +3, and it doesn't even hurt or anything!

Gather as many shiny points as you can! You must comment on this post, tell me what you've done and show your links, my pretties. Don't miss out on the awesome.

This competition is open for ONE WEEK. Entries will be drawn from the hat NEXT SATURDAY.

Well, what are you waiting for? Have at it!

Friday, 25 June 2010


All right, firstly, if you don't know about the Goodie Giveaway starting on Saturday, clicky clicky on that link on the left.

Now, today's post is a trimmed down and revised version of one I did on someone else's blog last year. I get a lot of emails asking me what people can do to get published. I have one here from the mother of a nine year old who wants to get his book on the Irish Potato Famine published! Still not sure how to answer it. But for those of you who are at a more advanced stage of asking these questions (like, your mum doesn't have to write your email for you), the list below may be useful.

First, a disclaimer: I'm not Stephanie Meyer, J K Rowling, or Meg Cabot. The advice which is about to be imparted comes, not from a legendary, best-selling author before whom Hollywood directors grovel, but a you-might-meet-her-in-the-supermarket- any-day-of-the-week kind of writer. Make no mistake. My advice is good. But if you're looking for the super special awesome secret to becoming an overnight billionaire? So am I. Tell me if you find it. Seriously.

TIP NUMBER FIVE: Please, please, O please, do NOT just write what you know. It’s boring.

Some of you know you're doing it. Some of you honestly don't. Either way, this is the kiss of death when it comes to getting published. What I'm talking about here is the most common (and cringe-worthy) problem that I see with young writers on every writing forum I visit: accidentally writing fan-fiction, when what you really want to write is original fiction.

It doesn't feel like stealing. It just feels like loving that other writer's work so much you're inspired by it. You want to write your own story about a heroine who moves to a strange town and falls in love with a mysterious boy, but in your story the heroine is orphaned and a musician and she moves to the desert – so that's okay, right? Or you want to have a hero just like that one, but yours is way more cheerful and less sparkly and has different hair. That doesn't count, does it? Oh, yes Sunshine, it does. True inspiration comes from within you, your own unique hopes, dreams and fears. Your soul. And if you start a novel using something that you have borrowed, even if you think you've given it a unique twist, you're letting yourself and your future readers down.

Also, even if you don't think anyone could ever possibly figure out where you took your plot/character/setting day, when you least expect it, someone will notice and call you on it. You don't need the guilt and humiliation, guys, trust me. Don't go there.

TIP NUMBER FOUR: Research is your BFF.

The second most common mistake made by young writers is thinking that research is for other people. No, no, young grasshopper. Research is everyone's BFF.

Now, it's not true that you can never do too much research when it comes to writing your story. You can, if it stops you from actually getting your story written. But that's it. Other than writing, research is your number one job. Real horses can't gallop for an hour without stopping. Really. They drop dead if you do that. Real bows don't shoot if you get the string wet. At all. Most guns don't work after they get wet either. Real people who get stabbed or shot are unable to move for days because of the agony – they don't get better after someone digs the bullet out, slaps a bandage on and gives them a hot drink. A hot drink will not cure hypothermia either. Maybe other writers or the people on TV have gotten away with this, but shame on them. You can do better.

The other time that research will be your BFF is when the book is written and you're trying to figure out how to put together a professional looking manuscript, what you write in a submission letter, and where to send everything. There is a Writer's Guide, Writer's Handbook or Writer's and Artists Yearbook in every English speaking country in the world. The rules within apply to everyone, including you, and the addresses for agents and publishers are invaluable. Use your skills to find this book. Read it. Live it. Your chances of getting a publisher go up by about 75%. Yes, really.

TIP NUMBER THREE: Believe in yourself.

In the words of Meg Cabot's grandma – you are not a fifty dollar bill. Not everyone is going to like you. The same thing goes for your work.

Strangely, when it comes to writing, the people who you love and trust the most will often be the least supportive. Your friend, who was completely wonderful that incredibly embarrassing time you got sick during your ballet show, for some reason acts like writing is pointless and boring. Your teacher, who seemed really cool up until now, just gave you your precious story back covered in sarcastic red scribbles about how he would have written the story better if it was his. That person on the internet who was helpful before has sent a piece of your story to a bunch of other people and they're all making fun of it. Your mum just sighs and asks you why you can't write something more 'cheerful'.

This is the time when you need to believe in yourself and the story that you want to tell. Just like I cannot understand the urge to sail around the world single-handedly in a yacht, those people in your life do not understand your need to write. That doesn't make your writing any less important, just like my not really wanting to sail the world does not make that achievement any less incredible for the guy or girl who does it. It's your passion. Your dream. Sometimes you'll be the only one who gets it. Be strong and believe in yourself.

TIP NUMBER TWO: But don't be a jerk about Tip Number Three.

Sometimes other people will criticize your work, AND THEY WILL BE RIGHT. Horrible, isn't it? You've written your little heart out, you've suffered, you've shed blood, sweat and tears, all because of that belief that your story is worth writing. And then some jerk comes along and tells you that your main character is a Mary-Sue, that your middle section drags, and that your ending is predictable. Who the heck do they think they are???

Your editor, that's who. Or maybe they're some other person whose opinion you know is good, like a friend who reads and writes just as much as you do and likes all the same authors as you. Or an agent who you submitted your work to, who was kind enough to send you a personal rejection letter. They're someone who deserves to have an opinion.

For a start, even if you think everything they have said is a bunch of gubbins, please don't rip them into teeny tiny shreds with your bare teeth. They were probably trying to be supportive and helpful. That's worth something. Be gracious and polite and thank them for their interest, even if you are completely, utterly, without a doubt, convinced that what you've written should not be changed.

Or...are you? Is there a niggle of doubt? Did you feel a little worried when you re-read that part yourself, but you didn't know how to fix it, so you just ignored it? Maybe a couple of different people have said the same thing now? Then it might be time to learn a really tough lesson.

The road to publication is lined with criticism. You need to learn to take it. Not just ignore it, but actually listen to it, pick it apart, figure out which bits have worth and which don't, and then use it to improve your work. It's painful but true that it might take another person blasting your favourite scene for you to realise - it isn't so great after all. Yes, sometimes you have to ignore everyone and do what you believe is right, but other times you need to take a step back and admit that you can do better. And then do it.

TIP NUMBER ONE: Don't give up. Never. Not ever. I mean it. I'll come to your house and kick your sorry backside, I swear to God I will.

Yeah. Like it says above. Maybe you've read the statistics that say you have something like a 1% chance of getting published or another depressing fact like that. Well, those statistics can kiss my dog's furry face. You have a 100% of never getting published if you don't try.

A caveat here. Despite the news stories, most people who get published do not become overnight successes, make huge pots of money and buy a Lear-Jet. Most writers have to struggle to get success, and that struggle can go on for years. You must write because you love it, otherwise the reality of a normal writer's life will be a serious disappointment to you.

So if you're bored of writing, sick of your story and don't know why you bothered trying to get published in the first place, then fine. Take up some other creative work like painting or maybe join the local choir. If after six weeks you're happy and occupied and you barely think about stories and characters anymore, then writing isn't for you. It's not for everyone.

But if at the end of your six weeks, you still find that no matter how tired, upset, frustrated, sad or furious you get, there's a little voice in the back of your head whispering: make a note of this. You can use it in your next book. Then you're probably someone who's never going to kick the story habit. And in that case, keep trying. Keep writing. Keep researching and submitting. One day, it will happen.

I managed it. You can too.


Popping in briefly to mention this liver-shiveringly exciting competition by new author Courtney Allison Moulton to win an ARC of her upcoming book ANGELFIRE. This book sounds so intensely cool that the mere thought of getting my hands on it early (it's not released until February 2011) makes me drool like an ancient Cocker Spaniel. If you are also drooling right now, head over and there and comment to be entered for a chance to win it too.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Okay, first of all - if you didn't see yesterday's giveaway post go here at once and make a note. You do not want to miss out on the free awesome, oh no. It is free. AND SO AWESOME.

Now what was I going to blog about today? Oh, right.

I got a new webcam a little while ago. One that's got a nice, long lead and which sort of clips onto things. Like maybe the top of the laptop, or even a shelf above someone's writing desk...

And I thought - Hey, what if there are young readers and writers out there who might be interested in seeing what it looks like when a sort-of-professional writer rolls her sleeves up and gets some work done?

I filmed myself working for about an hour. When I payed the footage back (speeded up, because otherwise it would have been way too boring) it was so obvious, to me, what was going through my head that it made me laugh. But I wasn't sure if anyone else would get it. Subtitles were clearly called for.

Some cutting, some sticking, and one rocking Thom York tune later, I was finished. Tread carefully, Dear Readers, speak softly. For you are about to get a glimpse into that twisted and frightening parallel world known as....The Writer's brain. Dun-dun-DUUUN!

Oh, and after that, I thought I'd do a little clip to show how my morning Get Ready To Write Ritual goes too.

Yes, I know. I should spend less time playing with my webcam and more time writing. I'll get right on that. After I post this...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


So, in order to celebrate the first full week of my blog existing (Blog-iversary? Hmmm...) I'm going to hold a competition from this Saturday. I give this warning so that people can make sure to come back then and check it out.

The list of goodies to be given away will include,
  • A copy of The Swan Kingdom
  • A copy of Daughter of the Flames
  • Bookplates for the above, signed by me
  • Chapter One of Shadows on the Moon - the first few pages of this are already on my website, but this will be the full first chapter, which no one but my editor and agent have seen
  • Playlist CD of my writing music
  • Various other goodies from me, which I guarantee you can't get anywhere else
The contest will be open to EVERYONE no matter where in the world you are. And to enter? Well, it couldn't be simpler. Here is the points system (as suggested by the lovely Saya of The Rock Pool):

+ 1 if you post about this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter and link back here
+ 2 if you post the contest on your own blog and link back
+ 3 if you become a follower of this blog

So that last one means your name goes in the hat three times!

The competition does not *officially* start until Saturday, because I'm wanting the news about this to disseminate through the blogosphere so that everyone who might be interested will get a go. However, if you want to start Facebooking, Twittering, blogging or following now - don't worry. You still go in the hat.

I'll post again on Saturday to officially open the giveaway and then everyone else will get another week to be involved!

In the meantime: does anyone have an opinion on which hat I should draw the names from? I'm leaning towards the 1930's red with sequins myself, but what do you think?

ETA: on more advice from the sage Saya, I'm back to add a little more detail. Link backs from MySpace, BeBo or any other place where a lot of people are passing through are also counted. If you want to embed one of my YouTube videos on your blog, Facebook etc, that will also gain you three entries in the hat. In order to enter the competition you must comment, either on THIS post, or the one I make on Saturday, and tell me just what you've done. I am excepting early entries, but you must comment on this post for me to count you.

Finally, I've had such a cool idea about how I'm going to make these prizes interesting and unique. I'm really stoked. Check back on Saturday for more details!

Monday, 21 June 2010


As I write this chapter, I am irresistibly reminded of the fact that, when I came to revise Shadows on the Moon, I ended up having to literally chuck the first nine chapters away (I had printed the whole manuscript out to edit it) and re-write them again from scratch.

It wasn't fun.

Today, I wrote a couple of thousand of words and then realised I had completely forgotten about Important Plot Point no. 6 and the equally important fanservice which I have long promised my readers (to wit, a cameo appearance by Sorin from DotF). Like an utter dolt, I had forgotten to consult my plot diagram and had wandered away down the garden path of story digressions, all the time asking myself why I had a vague sense of unease.

As soon as I realised what I had done, my day's work became useless. Erased. Gone. Every bit of it. I've spent the rest of the afternoon desperately trying to write at least one thousand words so that I can pretend I did something useful today.

I sometimes wish very much that I could be one of those authors who writes things all out of order - because my beginnings, despite all the blood sweat and tears, invariably suck like a toothless ninety year-old with a Mint Imperial. But I can't seem to get to the good stuff, by which I mean the middle and ending, without having gone through the sucky mcsuckerson bits first. It's like, unless I spend nine or ten chapters struggling and angsting and making mistakes, I just don't know my characters well enough to plunge into the depths of despair with them later on.

So...knowing this, do I feel any better about my day of lost work?

Not really, no.


Sunday, 20 June 2010


Hoorah hooray! Callooh callay! O frabjous day! Chapter Eight, that demon monster of chapters, that vile untamed beast, which emerged from the primordial scum of my unconscious mind to taunt and torment me and make mocking jokes in the face of my despair, has been defeated!

Joy! Happiness!


Chapter Eight of FrostFire was supposed to be a sort of training montage, in which we saw our heroine pass through various physical tests, get stronger, lose her rag with her best friend/captain and then repent. I started it five different ways, but it just wouldn't work. Every now and again I think this happens to all writers. We've got our story perfectly plotted out, we've got a page of notes on what needs to happen in this next chapter, we know just what we need to do. And yet, it WILL NOT HAPPEN.

Sometimes it's because you need to come at the events from a new direction. Maybe you didn't consider how all the characters involved would really react to these events, and so you have a missing element which makes everything you write seem hollow until you figure it out. Sometimes the events themselves are flawed, and it's only when you work out that the shape of the chapter is wrong, that it's clumsy to have this character spill the beans so early, and THIS bit needs to go here instead, and THAT bit doesn't need to happen at all, that you can get on.

And sometimes, which I think was the case here, the characters themselves dig their heels in and say, nuh-uh, that's not what happens next.

If the characters are in a good mood, they might tell you what should happen next instead. Unfortunately, the character dragging her heels in this case was not in a good mood. She was bloody furious, in fact.

Why? I asked myself. Why, when a few pages ago she was mellow and in control, is she now acting like an editor when an author asks for her third extension on a book due last Christmas? Why do I keep finding myself writing about rain and mud, instead of the sunshine and good healthy exercise I had in mind?

It was only when I stopped resisting, let the skies of my fictional world open and allowed my character to be furious on the page that I was able to get on with the scene. Which turned into something completely different than I had originally planned. Something with a suspicious lack of training montages, but something way more powerful, and something which, I now see, was completely necessary to the story at this point.

Of course, once I'd finished letting my character spew her rage all over my nice clean page and reveal all her inner vulnerability (which will be vital to the development of the plot later), I had to go back and figure out just why she was so suddenly and inexplicably livid, and with who - and then, how I was going to impart this information to the other characters and the reader.

Le sigh.

Still, I've now got a much more powerful scene than I would have, had I followed the original plan. The training montage still needs to be written - Chapter Nine, coming up - but now it will be infused with more meaning than ever before. Now the emotional bonds between the characters are clearer and more poignant. We can see that the captain/best friend needs our heroine as much as the heroine needs her. And my other main character got a chance not to be an ***hole for once, which is nice.

But mostly, I'm just so happy to have finished this damn chapter! WWWWWHEEEEEE!!!!!

Friday, 18 June 2010


Does that count on your own blog? Oh, well, whatever. Hello, and welcome to the Zoë-Trope, or as I like to think of it, the Wheel of Life (but someone else already called their blog that. Sigh).

I've never really maintained a blog before, but it seems like everyone else is doing it - besides which, I love to talk and I don't get the chance to talk to my readers enough. So here I am. Let me know if there are questions you want me to answer, topics you want me to cover. I'll do my best.

Video for everyone today. Two videos. Like a Bogof, only you don't have to buy one! I'm a genius.

Firstly, a sneak peak at my new novel which is coming from Walker Books (in the UK) in almost exactly one year.

Next, for any young writers in the audience, some helpful tips from me, inspired by a reader email.

And finally - because I like to surprise people - a THIRD video! This song is helping me plough through the very difficult eighth chapter of my current WIP. What's that you say? This writer is made of awesome? Why thank you, kind reader! So nice to be appreciated.

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