Friday, 29 October 2010


From the sublime (Wednesday's post) to the ridiculous (today's). Three hundred pages to go. I don't know. Just...glargh.

I'm off to my mum's house to cadge some coffee now. I may be some time...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


So, yesterday I gave into temptation, blew my budget for the month and hopped on the train for another shopping spree in my nearby major city. My reasons for doing this were twofold:

Firstly, I had recieved a voucher for a third off a meal at Yo! Sushi, and I didn't feel I had done *quite* enough research on Japanese food to satisfy me (their katsu tiger prawns, by the way? Fantastic).

Secondly, I knew I had not done justice to the megahuge, fantastically stocked book shop. I mean, I had gone in and bought some books, yes. But they were books that I was already planning on buying - that's not the same thing. And it was near the end of my day and I was tired and my arms hurt from all the bags I had been dragging around with me (they have a Paperchase there too and I stocked up on notebooks. Lots of notebooks. Those beggers are heavy). I just wanted to get in and out and catch my train home.

However, long before I got home, I started having flashbacks to all those shelves of shiny new books that I had never even SEEN in real life before. I began to agonise over the glittering story gems I might have missed out on through my stupid and short-sighted failure to browse.

When I started having bad dreams about it? I knew enough was enough.

Am I saying that I spent a total of three hours on the train on Tuesday, just to be able to spend three hours in a bookshop, browsing? Yes. Yes, I am. And now I present to you the spoils of my book-stravaganza:

 You're drooling right now, aren't you? It's okay. There's no shame in it.

The thing that strikes me most, looking at all these books (aside from how much I am dying to read them) is how individual and beautiful they are. I've been seeing lots of blogs lately that complain all YA books look the same, that bland photo covers are taking over, and saying that the art of cover design is dead. Well, I admit there are a lot of paranormal romances with similar covers on the shelves right now, but...seriously? Have these guys SEEN the cover of Candor? Or Mercy, or Leviathan or Knife? Cover design is clearly alive and well.

Right now I'm reading Need by Carrie Jones and liking it on the whole. I'm hoping to squeeze in The Eternal Ones or possibly Spells by Aprilynne Pike before my copy-edits for Shadows arrive.

What book covers did you guys drool over most recently? What books did you pounce on in your local bookshop with a gleeful cry?

(Is it just me that does that? What about happy dancing in the YA section? Anyone? No? Ah, well.)

Monday, 25 October 2010


It's true, guys. The Pencils are out to get us...

Hello! Monday again (groan) but only three days until Friday (whee!).

Now, since I never seem to be able to participate in Road Trip Wednesday (the Blog Carnival on YA Highway) I've decided to just start stealing their topics at random. Mwaah-haa-haa! Ahem. No, really, I'm sure they wouldn't mind.

I'm particularly interested in first lines because I never seem to be able to start work on a book until the main character has 'spoken' the first line to me. I know this sounds weird. It IS weird. But that's just the way I roll. I can plan, plot, sketch character's faces, draw maps, use up whole pads of Post-Its, but until I 'hear' the character speak, I can't actually start the writing. For The Swan Kingdom, Alexandra piped up to tell me:

My first memory is of the smell of sunwarmed earth.

That line set the tone for the rest of the story, instantly showing me the dreamy, sensory 'voice' that I needed to get used to. It's a first line that, in a way, encapsulates the important themes of the book - a book about memories, about the earth and feeling a connection to it. And it's a sort of mirror image of the final line too, which is:

In the end, I know all will be well.

Coming up with the first line of Daughter of the Flames was a rather different experience. Having just finished TSK, I was trying to give myself some time off, but Zira (typically for her character, it turned out) was having none of that. She wanted her story told RIGHT NOW. And so she spoke in my ear:

I never knew my mother's name.

I mean, who could resist that? I started writing that day and six months later the book was finished. Once again, I see that in a strange way the first line is twinned with the last one, which is: 

My people.

The heroine has gone from being lost, not even knowing who she is, to having a perfect sense of her own identity and her place in the world. Looking at the first and last lines of my two upcoming books, I can see this bookend effect is something I apparently do all the time (without actually realising it before now!) but telling the first and last lines of Shadows on the Moon or FrostFire would be rather a spoiler, so I'll move on.

Although my first line is really important to me as a writer, I'm not sure first lines are as all important to the reader as some people seem to think. Very, very rarely do I read a first line and find myself utterly sucked into the narrative. The last time was Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolomore:

The audience didn't understand a word we sang.

I'm not really sure why that worked for me, it just did. However, because I'm aware that authors agonise over their first lines to the point of bleeding from their eyes, most of the time I tend to open books at a random page, somewhere in the middle, just to see what the writing is like when they've relaxed a bit. To me, that's the true test of the story. After all, you're not buying a book for a great first page, you're buying it for a great STORY.

That's not to deny that first lines do seem to make a big impression. Amazing first lines seem to enter the common vocabulary, even among those who've never read the book at all. Most people know the really famous ones, like the first lines of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen ("It is a truth universally acknowledged...") and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier ("Last night I dreamt...") and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens ("It was the best of times..."). But what about some modern YA ones?

Despite my well documented dislike for the Twilight books, I have to admit that the opening line of Stephenie Meyer's saga is pretty darn good:

I'd never given much thought to how I would die - though I'd had reason enough in the last few months - but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

Not PERFECT, mind. I reckon it would be a lot stronger if it just read:

I'd never given much thought to how I would die.

But still compelling, and definitely enough to get me to read on.

Meg Rosoff's debut YA novel How I Live Now, which is one of the most haunting books I've ever read, begins:

My name is Elizabeth, but no one's ever called me that.

A fantastic introduction to the main character's unconventional voice, and a line which tells you more about the story - with it's themes of alienation, loss and identity - than you can possibly realise at first. Another opening line which recently sent a shiver down my spine was:

Mommy forgot to warn the new babysitter about the basement.

*Shudder* That's from The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong, and, again, it warns you exactly what is coming up next. Spookiness. Lots of spookiness.

I personally think that the main purpose of that first line is to do exactly what Kelley Armstrong's line does, which is to make a promise to the reader about what kind of story is coming next. If you raise a question in your opening, you need to be sure that a) you answer it and b) that it's important to the story over all. By which I mean, not that you need to set your main conflict up right there in the first line, but that you need to understand what tone you're creating and what expectation you're raising. Let's say your first line is:

I never knew how much a dead goldfish stank until Mark Hinkey put one down the back of my shirt in biology.

If you story is going to be a snarky and hilarious contemporary story about school bullying, you're fine. If you story is going to be about an teenage outsider who is obsessed with death and figures out she can speak to ghosts, again, you're fine. If your story is going to be about a modern teen who falls in love with the school bully and has to figure out how to make it work, or how to let him go, fine.

If, on the other hand, your story is going to be a historical fantasy? This is a problem. But less obviously, if the story really has nothing to do with the school setting, if bullying is not a theme and never emerges again, if there's no grim, stinky-dead-goldfish undertone to the tale, then this opening line is not right. It's a great first line, but it's not setting up the right expectations for, say, a lyrical, dreamy story about a girl dealing with losing her sister to drowning. Just like:

Emma watched the sea turn to molten copper as the sun rose, the jagged rock spires casting black shadows onto the sand.

Is a nice opening line, but NOT for a hilarious and snarky story about contemporary bullying. Your first line, for me, is not just about trying to draw a reader in. It's about giving them some idea what they are going to get if they read on.

Now, given my title, I really need to 'fess up about my least favourite opening line that I've read recently - and it has to be the first line of Raised By Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes:

"Bronwyn Alessia St. Vincent Clare!"

I'm not one of those writers who gets all prescriptive about other people's work. I think almost anything can work, so long as it's done well. Open with weather! Open with a dream sequence! Do what makes you happy! But... this - this opening with the main character's name being shouted - is just so overused. And so inefficient. What do we get from it? Only the main character's (overlong, way-too-poetic-to-be-real) name, which could easily have been revealed to us a dozen other ways, and the fact that she's in trouble, in an 'Oh, look how CUTE, he uses her full name when he's cross!' sort of way.  It tells us nothing about the book's tone, setting or themes, and it's also misleading in terms of character - the person shouting is NOT cute, for a start. This is a rare case where the opening line nearly put me off reading the book completely.

What are you favourite, or most hated first lines? Or, if you're feeling daring, the first lines of your WIPs?

Friday, 22 October 2010


Wow, don't they make you want to run out and buy some really tight black pants this minute? No? Okay, just me then...

Well, Happy Friday, everyone. The first thing I need to do is to make a confession. I have been a bad author.

I know that I promised you reviews. Lots of reviews. I've read plenty of books, including an ARC of Afterlife by Claudia Gray, Wings by Aprilynne Pike, Dark Heart Forever by Lee Monroe and most of Delirium by Lauren Oliver. I know that I also promised to review Series One of The Vampire Diaries. And that's where the problem came up.

I was probably the biggest Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan in the world who did not live in Joss Whedon's house. But in recent years this huge surge of romantic, sparkling, brooding vampires clogging up the shelves and screens started to get on my nerves, as a result of which, I have been avoiding vampires of any description for some time. When I read on Sarah Rees Brennan's blog that Vampire Diaries was 'hilarible' (hilariously horrible) I decided to give it a try, just to see if it would refresh my palate a bit and allow me to enjoy the blood-suckers again. I thought it would be a cheesy, over-the-top, badly acted mess. And lo, the first few episodes kept me happily laughing and mocking. I fully intended to come here and snark about it for the entertainment of all.

And then it went and got all GOOD. Good in terms of writing and acting (though I still think Nina Dobrev looks about as much like a normal High School student as I do an international tennis player) and in terms of complex arcs that unfold in unexpected ways. Suddenly Vampire Diaries was going the sort of places that Buffy did, and even dipping its toes into areas Buffy did not dare to. But there was ONE VITAL DIFFERENCE. Humour. Buffy has my eternal devotion because no matter what, there was always a funny side. Vampire Diaries has very little humour amid the killings and suffering and angst and vampire boyfriends and angst and did I mention the ANGST? As a result, watching it rapidly made me feel very grim indeed.

It got to the point where I found myself sighing and groaning through most scenes. But I kept on watching, partly because I had promised you guys a review, and partly because I wanted to see what would happen with my favourite character (one of only two funny people in the show). Yes, he's the insanely hammy Spike-alike. Whatever, his performance made me smile.

And then he got his eyes goudged out by another vampire.  I was...not prepared for that.

So I thought to myself: Self, you did not sign up for this. You wanted giggles and nonsense. There is quite a lot of nonsense - like that outfit that the heroine is wearing right now! Good grief! - but very little giggles to be had in this show. Hence, this show is not fun anymore. Let's stop, Self, before you get so depressed you end up eating a whole packet of chocolate digestive biscuits in one go.

But by then it was too late. I was *already* so depressed that I wanted to eat a whole packet of chocolate biscuits in one go. And there is only one reliable cure for that.

Glee. The mad-cap, whacky US show about the shenanigans of a group of misfit (and yet somehow stunningly attractive and talented) school kids.

I told myself I would only watch one episode, but...anyone who's ever watched Glee will know how likely that sort of promise is to be kept. Basically, I spent the whole of today watching Glee, and I'm not sorry. I feel much better (and I also feel a strong desire to sing show tunes). But I wrote no reviews.

I beg your pardon. I'll try to get to them over the weekend.

Oh, and if anyone has any topics they'd like to see in the coming week - drop me a line in comments and I'll try my best to oblige.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Hello Readers! Today I bring you a review of Raised By Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

And a review of The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan. 

I had planned to write a review of Aprilynne Pike's Wings - which I really enjoyed - too, but I didn't get around to it, so instead I bring you this article on bullying, which is made of awesomesauce with a side of awesome. However there is a LOT of adult language in this, so if you are under sixteen, you click at your own peril!

In other news, on Tuesday I went to Meadowhall (a special treat I had saved up for, to reward myself for finishing FF) and not only bought piles of new books, but also gorged myself at their new Sushi restaurant. I claim that this was research for my upcoming project featuring a modern Japanese heroine. Mind you, that book is not the next one I am working on. In fact, my next book is The Giant Killer Clockwork Preying Mantis Death Robot Book. So I might need to go back and refresh my memory again before I actually come to write that Japanese themed book. Hmmm...chicken katsu curry... 

Anyway, if anyone is ever in the vicinity of the Sushi Yo! at Meadowhall, I highly recommend a visit. What books are you all reading now, and are you enjoying them?

Friday, 15 October 2010


Joy! Exultation! Happiness! Similar Satisfying Synonyms!

As I sit here on this dull and gloomy Friday with my mug of tea, my pink, purple and turquoise fingerless gloves on and Katy Perry blasting on my iPod, the first draft of FrostFire is complete!

In the name of full disclosure I must admit that it stinks. It stinks so much I can practically see the squiggles emanating from it, like PigPen in Charlie Brown. But that doesn't matter, because IT IS FINISHED! Now it goes into a nice, neat folder and gets to wait for two weeks to mature, at the end of which I shall be plunged into the deepest depths of darkness (otherwise known as editing) before the book wings its way to the well-organised desk of my editor. Hurrah!

Before I dive head-first into my newly acquired Series One Boxset of The Vampire Diaries (review coming next week, peeps) there are two things to be dealt with. First, I need to repeat my appeal for information from any Japanese blog readers who do not live in Japan. Or do you know someone who fits the bill? Please contact me if so! I really want my portrayal of a teenage Japanese/English girl to be respectful and accurate, but if I can't talk to anyone about it, I'm just going to have to go with my best guess, and I might get things wrong. It'll be too late when the book's written.

Next, a reader email from a very polite young lady called Aimen who asks:

I left my novel for a couple of days since I was falling behind on schoolwork and when I came back to it, I realized that there was a whole chapter where my characterization was completely wacky... So, now I'm wondering: should I go back and improve the characterization (ultimately editing the whole chapter) or should I just keep on writing? With the latter, there is the possibility that the novel might turn out differently. But with the former, there's a chance that I might get discouraged when I realize that more than 5000 words are missing.
Okay, here's what I think. Generally, 90% of the time, if I realise something is wrong in an earlier part of the story I'm working on I LEAVE IT BE. Otherwise I find that I can't stop with that one scene or chapter and I end by completely revising the partial manuscript, which is a complete waste of time because a) I'll have to go back and revise it again later anyway and b) I can fall prey to a serious fit of the mid-book blues, thinking 'this manuscript sucks, nothing turned out the way it was supposed to, I hate it' and then having to give myself pep talks to convince myself not to give up.

So when people ask me this question normally I tell them to take out their notebook (you have a notebook, right? If not, get one, it will change your life) and make a big, red, highlighted note to fix whatever it is LATER and then move on. Usually, having identified that problem area will mean that you write your later scenes with increased knowledge anyway.

However, in this case it seems like you've already re-read your partial manuscript and you haven't burst into tears and decided to just give up forever (which is a good sign) and also, that you've realised you missed out on a crucial element on your story which could have a critical impact on the way the story and characters develop later on. There are definitely times, as a writer, when you go into a scene expecting one thing and the characters and story want Something Else, and that Something Else changes the whole story. I usually try to go with this because it results in a richer and more complex story.

If you really feel as if this scene, written as it is, is going to hold your characters back, and that carrying on with events as they are wouldn't be truthful to them, then it might be better for you to go back, revise it so that the scene 'sings' for you, with all the right emotions in place...and then see how that effects things. It might be that the logical follow-on from the new scene will have little effect on the full book, in which case, carry on. It might be that now you realise this character is really like THIS and the other character would never do THAT, you also realise your original series of story events won't work anymore, in which case you can change them now, before you've written them, and save yourself much stress and many wasted words later on, when you realise you went down the wrong path.

Whichever option you chose though, remember that the most important thing is always to finish your story. You can fix anything in revision - except a blank page.

Hope this was useful, Aimen.

Have a great weekend everyone! *Skips away whistling*

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic. We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link in the comments - or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.

ETA: Turns out that YA Highway changed the topic for this week to 'Your favourite First Lines' after I had already written this post, meaning that once again I am unable to participate. This is what happens when I try to join in, people. It never ends well. But I thought I'd post what I wrote anyway, because it's heartfelt and it took a lot of effort to get it all down.

I've been wanting to take part in Road Trip Wednesday for ages now, but I always forgot or had something else important to post. So I was thrilled when the stars aligned this week and I not only remembered to check the YA Highway blog in time, but had nothing planned for Wednesday's post.

And then I saw the topic. 

Who did you want to be like in High School?

Brain freeze. Because here's the thing. When I was in school I wanted to be like:

Buffy Summers. Beautiful, brave, resourceful and strong, Surrounded by great friends. Willing to sacrifice her life for the good of others.

Elizabeth Bennett. Highly intelligent, quick-witted and funny, but also doing her best to live to strict principles of integrity, even when her own family were pushing her to make bad choices.

Daine from Tamora Pierce's The Immortals Quartet. Tough and competent, with hidden and still developing talents and a completely no-nonsense attitude.

But since I have a feeling this topic is related to the upcoming book Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard, that means the topic is actually asking, what REAL person did you want to be like in school?

Tricky. You see, I was not and never have been a 'follower'. Most of the girls I went to school with bent themselves into strange and awkward shapes, trying to make sure that they fitted in with everyone else. They all had to wear their hair a certain way - permed and scrunched, with at least one large, teased quiff at the front - dress a certain way - tight trousers, top with a certain label, a particular kind of shoes and bag - speak a certain way - lots of swearing, lots of scornful phrases, all topped off with a certain regional accent.

Of course, the less popular ones came off as a sort of cheap imitation of the really popular crowd, but that was okay, because by showing that they were willing to follow, they gained a kind of protection. Even the girls that I was friends with - the ones I knew were clever and funny and interesting people with their own unique traits - were desperately trying to suppress anything different about themselves so they could follow along in the popular kids footsteps. 

Don't stand out. Don't do anything different. Don't put your hand up in lessons. Don't smile at teachers. If you get a good mark, don't look pleased about it. For crying out loud, don't let on that you actually READ for fun.

These were the rules, and I broke all of them. I refused to pretend to be anything I wasn't, I refused to pretend to be stupid, and I emphatically refused to perm and scrunch my hair. No way. In fact, the more the other kids my age lectured me, made fun of me and picked on me, the more stubbornly I clung to being different.

That had consequences. Consequences which in some cases skated dangerously close to being life-threatening (like being pushed down stairs, having stones thrown at me, having my head repeatedly hit against a concrete wall) but which were always unpleasant (having ink flicked at my back, being spat at, having dozens of tiny balls of chewing gum thrown at my head so that I had to pull handfuls of my own hair out).

One by one I watched all my friends give in to the pressure. None of them defended me against the attacks - verbal or physical - because doing so would have put them in the line of fire. What's more, as time went on, they got angry with me for being the way I was. It was my own fault people bullied me, they said. Why did I have to be so different? Why couldn't I just fit in? In squashing themselves into the box that the other kids had told them they needed to fit, my friends had lost their bravery and compassion. All they gained was a craven desire not to stand out.

So school was a pretty damn lonely place for me. And the hardest part was knowing that with a few tweaks, a few changes, a few things that seemed so small, I could have turned it around. I was smart, and I could have done a really good impression of one of those cool girls - talked the way they did, acted the way they did. I was quite capable of fixing my hair to look as hideous as theirs did. I could stop putting my hand up in class, hide my books. And, just like had happened to my friends, within a short time the worst of the bullying would have stopped. I'd never have been in the popular crowd, but I wouldn't have been defying them anymore. They'd have lost interest.

Looking back, to be honest I'm stunned at the absolute core of steel I must have had as a teen. I remember so many days when I got home and went straight to my room to cry for hours over things that had been done to me at school. I remember broken glasses and bruises, I remember taunting words that used to echo in my head for hours. But I never let the other kids see me cry. I remember hearing someone say: 'She's too stuck up to feel pain'. Well, I wasn't. But I was too proud to ever let them see me feeling it. I was too proud to give in. And I was too proud to change.

For a long time after leaving school, I didn't like to think about it. I tried to block all the memories out. When random images of school days swam into my head, I'd take deep breaths, or hum under my breath, or flick the inside of my wrist, to try and drive them away. But as I've gotten a little older, I've started to realise something about the whole experience. Yes, it was dark, and scary and lonely. Yes, no one should ever have to go through what I did. But I didn't do anything wrong. The fault lay with the other children, and the teachers and parents who let them get away with acting like they did.

Teenage Zolah? She was AWESOME.

I truly don't know if I could find that kind of inner strength now. I don't know, if I was subjected to that kind of daily, constant harassment, the threat of violence, the verbal abuse, if I could stand up to my tormenters. I don't know if I'd last a week, let alone five years. But somehow that girl - that teenage girl between the ages of eleven and sixteen - managed it. She did something that most adults couldn't do without breaking down. She endured. She went back to that school day after day. And in the end she WON.

So. The reason this topic is tricky for me to answer, is that the person I wanted to be like in school?

Was me.

And if anyone out there right now, reading this blog, is going through something like Teenage Zolah did, back in the day? Just take a moment to realise how amazing you - like Teenage Zolah - really are.

You are a superhero. And you don't have to be like anyone but you.

Monday, 11 October 2010


Happy Monday, everyone! Only three days to go until Friday, so cheer up.

I had quite a long post already written for today, but...I'm torn on whether to post it. It's a review of an ARC, which you wouldn't think was a big deal in any way, but unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the book and had a lot of problems with it. There seems to be a general consensus in the YA community that authors shouldn't really talk about books they didn't like, only ones they do. And since this book is not out for a good while and every other review I've seen for it has been overwhelmingly positive, I feel like I'd be making myself really conspicuous if I go ahead and tell the world about my opinion on this novel.

How do you guys feel about this? Do you hate it when authors post negative reviews and criticise other people's work, or are you sick of writers who only ever give five star reviews? Let me know in the comments.

On another topic altogether, I'm appealing for any blog readers who are Japanese but do not live in Japan to get in touch via comments or my email ESPECIALLY if your family lives abroad too. I can't really say too much, but hopefully I'm going to be working on an epic new project next year, and I intend my main character to be Japanese but living in the UK with her family. I'm wanting to double-check whether family honourifics are commonly used when living abroad, and if Japanese holidays and festivals, like Obon, are commonly celebrated while abroad. I really hope someone can help me out!

Friday, 8 October 2010


Happy Friday everyone! How was your week? Mine's been really busy, what with plumbing the depths of angst in my writing and going out and about doing loads of creative writing workshops in local schools.

I've only got one more school visit to do, on Monday, and then that's me done for this year. While I enjoy working with young people a lot, I have to admit I'm relieved, because I'm sooo close to finishing this book now and I can't wait to get stuck in. Only about three more chapters to go! Hurrah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


Dear Un-Named Character,

First of all, I must tell you that I love you. No, really, I do. I admit that when I first started writing about you, I found you an awkward and annoying pain in the - well, you know. But that's all in the past. As you have fallen in love with another one of my characters, so I have fallen in love with you.

I can honestly say, at this point in the story, that I find you one of the most complex and interesting characters I've ever written. I admire your strength, devotion and tenderness, your determination and even your gruffness. Without you, I know this book could never have been.

But the time has come, Un-Named Character, for you to leave me. There's no way around it. I know, because I've been trying to avoid it for weeks now, to the point that I've spent more time procrastinating and watching YouTube videos than I have writing. I've finally - sadly - had to admit to myself to this book can't go on unless you...don't.

I'm going to miss you. And I'm not the only one. The other characters will cry for you too, more than you'd ever have imagined. I hope that future readers will cry over your fate for years to come as well. You were loved, Un-Named Character. You will be loved.


Z xx

Monday, 4 October 2010


Hello, hello, hello, dear readers!

Today I offer you another tiny teaser from Shadows on the Moon. Everyone seems so excited about this book that I've decided post snippets as often as I can - maybe every couple of months or so - given that the release isn't for another ten months. The snippets won't be in chronological order and they'll be short because I don't want to spoil anything. Turns out it's really HARD to find interesting exerpts that make sense on their own but don't give the plot away. Who knew?

Anywhere, follow the cut to find the teaser. Tell me what you think!

Friday, 1 October 2010


Sorry for the double exclamation points there - I got carried away with excitement. As anyone would, I think, if they had been presented with the cover I have been presented with! (I managed to restrain myself to one exclamation point there, though - do I get a gold star?)

So, without anymore ado, let me present you with...the Shadows on the Moon cover.

You see that beautiful, enigmatic, dark-eyed, maybe-smiling-maybe-sad girl on the cover? I'm so proud of her I could burst. Not only is she the spitting image of my heroine, but she also kicks that whole RaceFail argument into the gutter. Well done, Walker Books! My heroine lives in a faerytale version of Japan and so the cover shows an Asian girl. None of that default-Caucasian-girl, have the face half in shade so you can pretend you're not whitewashing nonsense. Hurrah!

What's more, the sakura (Japanese cherryblossom) and the pink and blue are all thematically significant. Also, check out the size of my name - that's bigger than Cassandra Clare's name on her Mortal Instruments books. Yes, yes, she IS an NYT Bestseller, but my name is *definitely* bigger.

All in all, I'm not sure I could be much happier. What do you all think?
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