Friday, 29 July 2011


Hello, dear readers! It's Friday again and I have the most awful edit hangover.

An edit hangover? You ask. What on earth is that? Well, let me tell you. An edit hangover is what you get when you stay up until 2am doing edits and then get up at 7am the next day and YOU STILL HAVEN'T FINISHED.

*Clutches head*

Why did I write such a long book? Why? It's like I enjoy punishing myself! It's not that there's any problem with the edits themselves. It's just that I've been trying to get them done all week while at the same time being frantically busy with other stuff (like vet appointments, optician's appointments and major cleaning/gardening projects) which means that instead of being able to blissfully barricade myself in the Writing Cave, I've been snatching ten minutes here and half an hour there, always keeping one eye on the ticking clock. I hate that.

Never have I been more grateful for RetroFriday, the one day of the week when I get to dazzle you guys with my brilliance without actually have to write anything new. Here's Part Two of the TURNING IDEAS INTO PLOTS series. I hope it's helpful!

So you've had this idea. Chances are the idea is incomplete and actually has a few separate pieces to it. Mostly my ideas come with a vague sense of how it all starts, a couple of really strong, hit-me-in-the-head scenes that probably fit somewhere in the middle, and then a vague sense of how it ends. Your ideas might come with the beginning perfectly formed and no end, or a perfect end and no middle scenes. But whatever, you have to try and figure out how to fit these events together into a plot. How to bridge the gaps between them in a way that makes sense, that is entertaining to read, that is worth writing.

Some authors recommend making character or story collages, where you get yourself a huge pile of magazines and cut out any images - of people or locations or phrases - that 'sing' to you, as being something to do with your idea. You stick them all to a big sheet of paper and somehow seeing everything like that acts like a giant magnet for other ideas to start zipping out of your brain and attaching themselves to the original idea.

Some writers like to use index cards or bullet points to list everything that they know about characters, setting, story, mood. They find that as they write these down, more and more details materialise in their heads, until their bullet point list is twice as long, or their stack of cards twice as thick as they expected.

I think the really important thing at this point is to PIN THOSE SUCKERS DOWN. Otherwise tiny details can sometimes slither away from you and it's really hard to get them back. What's more, the very act of writing down your ideas makes them feel more concrete and get-at-able.

So, now you have a whole bunch of ideas, loosely linked. Great. The thing is, this scatter of ideas doesn't actually make a story. A plot for a book needs to be more than a series of events that happen one after another. There needs to be a shape, rising tension, rising stakes. The story needs to move through events of physical and emotional and mental significance (if it's going to be a really good book, I mean). Sometimes when you've pinned all your ideas down you still won't feel you have enough stuff to make a story. Other times it all looks like way too much.

This is where diagrams come in. Tada!

A disclaimer here: this is the way *I* think of plots. You might like a square, or a circle, or a list, or a corkboard covered in post-its. But fitting my puzzle pieces into this shape works for me. You might find that although following this exact method does not fit for you, trying it shows you the way you DO like to work. Anyway, let me 'splain.
  1. FIRST PLOT EVENT: This is pretty self-evident. It's the event that kicks off the story proper. It might not be the first thing the reader sees, though. Sometimes a story starts off by showing the character's world, ilustrating the most important characters in their life or establishing their ambitions or deepest wishes. Leading up to a dramatic or significant event - as in the Lord of the Rings, where we're introduced to the idyllic Shire and Frodo's longing for adventure - allows us to understand what is at stake for the protagonist when the first plot event occurs. Some writing books will tell you that you must cut straight to the action, but I don't think that's necessary. What you must do is make sure that you begin with something RELEVANT to the story, something which will show its significance when you light the fuse and let the plot explode.
  2. CHARACTER TAKES ACTION TO CHANGE COURSE OF PLOT: A little more tricky, this one. Usually, after the first major story event the character will react with shock, fear, disbelief. They might refuse to accept what's happened, struggle desperately to get away from the new character or place that is threatening their normality. However at some point most characters that are strong enough to be a main character will get a grip and attempt to take control of their situation. Sometimes it backfires, sometimes it works but triggers further events. In any case, this is the moment when the character first begins to truly affect the plot and it's usually an important moment in the story. Using Lord of the Rings again, this is moment when Frodo, having reached the safety of the elves and Gandalf, steps forward and volunteers to take the Ring to the Crack of Doom.
  3. MAJOR DISASTER OR SETBACK: The events triggered by the interaction of the main character's choices and the plot now reach a critical point. Things might seem to be going really well - but at the moment when success seems assured, disaster strikes and changes the course of the story again. Often the reader will have seen this setback coming all along. Sometimes even the characters can see it. But they're powerless to prevent it, either because of an essential flaw in their own character or strategy (established prior to this, of course) or because the forces of opposition are overwhelming. For example, in Disney's The Little Mermaid, this is where Ursula the Sea Witch sees that Ariel and the Prince are falling in love and casts a spell to enchant the Prince and make her his own.
  4. THE PLATEAU OF AWFULNESS: I read this term in a writing book and it's stuck with me. This is when, in the midst of the fallout from that great disaster, something even worse (and often contrasting to the main disaster) happens. Think back to the events at the end of The Matrix, where half the team have been slaughtered by a traitor and Neo is stuck in the Matrix fighting (and losing) against Agent Smith. Then the alarm on the ship goes off - a killer 'squid' is approaching. It starts ripping the ship apart and the only way the crew can save themselves is to set off the EMP. But if they do that, Neo will die. Things just cannot get any worse. The attack of the killer machine contrasts with the main disaster - Neo's battle against the Agent - because while Neo is a blur of action, running and fighting for his life, the crew are forced into stillness, silence and inaction, waiting for Neo to get out of Matrix, unable to fight for their own lives. The stakes now reach their highest point. All or nothing. The character is propelled forward to the final events of the story.
  5. LAST PLOT EVENT: Hang on a minute, you say! There are only FOUR points on that diamond! How can there be five points on your list? Well, the last plot event is where everything comes full circle. It's where you fulfil the promises that you made to the reader at the beginning and the story comes to a natural close. Just like with the last plot event, this might not be the actual last scene, but it's the last point in the story where events are still in flux. Further chapters may tie up lose ends, but shouldn't significantly alter what has occurred in the last plot event. In the Matrix, this is the scene where Trinity kisses an unconscious Neo and tells him that she loves him - and he responds by proving he is The One and destroying Agent Smith at the same moment that Morpheus presses the EMP button and kills the squid that is tearing the ship apart.
Not all stories are going to fit into this exact pattern, but it's a good place to start. See if the events you have in your head fit these definitions in any sense. If not, how could the scenes you see lead to or lead from such events? Open your mind to the most interesting ways that things out play out. If you can fill in three or four of the points on the diagram you're well on your way to having a complete story.

Stay tuned to this bat channel for the next installment of our exciting (well, kinda) plotting workshop, when we will discuss Cinderella and there will be more diagrams (yay!).

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Hi Everyone! I hope you're all having a great week so far.

In the excitement of reviewing Witchlanders on Monday I made a glaring ommission and forgot to point out that rather spiffy new sidebar banner which is glamming up my blog at the moment (look, it's there on the right - see? With the cherry blossoms) and explain that the wondergirls at The Book Memoirs have decided to dedicate a whole week on their blog to a certain writer. You know the one - the blonde. Loud girl, makes a lot of strange jokes. Has freakishly big eyes and a permanently worried expression? Yeah, her. Heaven knows why, but she's really honoured by the whole thing! I mean, she didn't even have to blackmail them or anything!

So when the 8th of August comes around I'll be directing you over to The Book Memoirs every single day of the week for guest posts, Q&As, reviews and giveaways. Like a Zolah-Themed blog carnival. It's going to be AMAZING. I'm so excited!

And for today's post I'm going to set that precedent by directing you to the Walker Undercover Blog where you will find an intriguing discussion between me and Wonder Girl, Mistress of Awesome, She Who Must Be Obeyed - otherwise known as Annalie, my editor.

Anyone who has ambitions of becoming a published author one day ought to click on this, because it sheds light on the way that editors think, and the working relationship between editor and writer. And it would be great if you could leave comments there on the Undercover Blog and let Annalie know how much you appreciate her taking the time to do the interview, because she's a very busy lady.

Well, that's all for today, peeps! See you on Friday, when I'll be continuing the Plotting series.

Monday, 25 July 2011


Hello Dear Readers! Monday again, and today I bring you a review of another fantastic book (I'm having a really great reading streak lately): WITCHLANDERS by Lena Coakley

The Synopsis:

High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future.

It’s all a fake.

At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated?

But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic and about himself will change, when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned—

Are about him.

The Review:

Firstly I have to say that although that synopsis above sounds really cool, it bears very little resemblance to the book I read. I'm going to take a wild guess that it was not written by the author of this book, but by someone who was (in a well-meaning sort of way) trying to make the book appeal to the widest possible audience by giving the impression that the book is a traditional high fantasy with the character of Ryder as The Chosen One and a romance with that 'beautiful and silent witch'. Perhaps part of the same team that put a wistful looking, long-haired girl on the cover in the style of a paranormal romance, when there is, in fact, no female viewpoint character?

In any case, Lena Coakley's book is far from a traditional high fantasy, and nothing like a paranormal romance. And thank God for that!

In fact the character of Ryder is one of two narrators in Witchlanders, and the other isn't the witch of the synopsis, but Falpian, a boy of the Baen, the historical enemy of Ryder's Witchlander people. Neither of them precisely fits within the heroic stereotype of The Chosen One.

Ryder dreams of leaving the hardscrabble drudgery of his parent's border farm and going to sea, but when his father unexpectedly dies, he's forced to stay at home and keep the farm going, driven by a curmudgeonly sense of responsibility that doesn't really conceal his deep love for his eccentric, crumbling mother and effervescent younger sisters. He pooh-poohs his mother's bone-casting and resents the high-handed witches who serve as religious and political leaders from their mountain fastness. And he struggles to deal with his mother's increasingly erratic behaviour as she falls deeper and deeper into her dependency on ingesting hallucinagenic flowers.

Falpian is a sensitive, pampered young man who is sent to live alone in a tiny cottage on the Baen border during the winter of the story by his father, as part of the traditional mourning period for his twin brother, who recently drowned at sea. He's fighting not only his own loss but the despair of knowing that his father despises him for failing to inherit the war-like 'singing magic' that supposedly runs in their family. He wants nothing more than to see his father look at him with pride again, and when the man escorting him to the cottage gives him a special scroll which he is to open after fifty days, he believes he has been offered the chance to complete a mission which will win him his father's respect.

This pair are opposites in every way, from their appearance to their religious views to their family backgrounds. By every rule of both their societies, by everything either of them has ever been taught, they are destined to be bitter enemies. And they are. But they are also fated to form a friendship which will endanger and save both their lives, bring them closer than brothers, and thrust them into experiences that no one else alive can understand.

Lena Coakley's command of language in this novel is breathtaking. She narrates both viewpoint characters in a close third person, unspooling the essence of their souls onto the page with seemingly effortless skill that never resorts to awkward info-dumping, and creating a pair of voices which are utterly distinct, even as Ryder and Falpian's different worlds collide. So deeply enmeshed in their emotions did I feel that when I came to write this review, I had to go back and check that I wasn't imagining that the story had been in third person, because normally only first person creates that kind of an empathetic bond for me.

Witchlanders is a daring story. It deals deftly with themes of religious and racial prejudice. It takes on the horrors of war and the effect that these can have on the survivors even among the victors. It looks at the more personal tragedies of ingrained misogyny, addiction and self-deception within families. It offers no easy answers. It focuses not on any traditional romantic relationship but on the deep, brotherly love and respect that grows up between two young men despite the fact that each of them is working to preserve their own people, even at the expense of the other.

Given the trends in the current YA market, I'm delighted that a publisher was willing to take a risk on such an unconventional book, one that defies categorisation and which doesn't offer a High Concept hook. But I can see why. No editor with a soul could have passed up such a beautifully written, perfectly characterised, masterfully plotted book when it happened across their desk. Witchlanders is good enough that it doesn't HAVE to fit neatly into a genre or sub-genre. It strides confidently past them and makes a space for itself.

It's well known that I'm not a fan of cliff-hanger endings, and I suppose that some people might term the open-ended conclusion of this novel a bit...unresolved. It's clear that the Witchlander and Baen people both face uncertain futures, and that none of the characters we've grown to love are necessarily safe. I really hope that the author continues the story she has begun in Witchlanders with a sequel or even two. But even if she doesn't, after the unexpected and profound emotional experience of reading this book, it seems ungrateful not to be perfectly satisfied.

Friday, 22 July 2011


Hello, dear Readers! Following the HOW I PLOT blog from last RetroFriday, I've decided to dig out and repost a detailed three part series that I wrote last year, since it's probably about as useful as I get when it comes to talking about my own personal nemesis - The Plot. Look forward to parts #2 and #3 next Friday and the Friday after!


All right my lovelies, I've had a look at my previous posts about plots, and it occurred to me that, while they might be interesting to a writer who has already completed a few stories or books and who needs some advice about a fine-tuning technique for pacing and structure, it probably wouldn't be terribly helpful to someone still trying to work out what a plot actually IS.

I started thinking about how much I used to stress out about not doing things 'properly' or 'the right way', and how I used to get stuck in the middle of stories with no idea where to go next, a cold sweat broke out on my brow. I decided it might take more than one post to cover this sprawling topic in a useful way.

So here, in Part One, I'm going to look at putting plots together from the point of view of one of those young writers who often emails to ask me the immortal and much groaned over question: Where do you get your ideas?

Because the standard response to that one is rather dismissive - that ideas are easy to come by, and it's execution that counts. But what I think those young writers are really asking, a lot of the time, is actually more like: How do you turn an idea into a story? How do you know what happens next? How do you fill a whole book up with all that STUFF? 

I get it. Really.

Most writers that I've talked to or read articles by say that when they *get* a story idea, it's usually actually the result of two or more little idea fragments which were spinning around in their head frantically until they all collided. The POOF! Suddenly there's a story there. Only it's not a complete story. This is what I need to get across to you guys. With some notable exceptions, stories, characters, plots, settings - none of it appears in the brain fully formed. You might get some sort of inking of how things kick off, or maybe one or two vital scenes from the middle, or a faint impression of how it should end. Or all of them. Or just a vivid image of a certain character or place.

It's vital to realise at this point that those impressions? Aren't set in stone. They're giving you hints about what you want your story to be ABOUT, hints on the themes or particular twists you want to explore. The fact that you clearly see a fearless heroine fighting a Samurai in the middle of a bleak orange desert could mean that you want to write about a kick-ass girl's adventures, or that you want to write about the desert, or a lonely Samurai who wanders across the world, or that you're interested in having a romance where the couple fights each other with swords for fun. The important thing could be the tiny snatch of dialogue you get where they taunt each other about bad technique, or the colour of the sand, or the general bleak tone of the thing. OR NONE OF THE ABOVE.

This is your brain opening doors and showing you possibilities. Glimpses of what could be. They're telling you your characters *could* be these kinds of people, or your world might be like this. They're inviting you to think long and hard, make choices, sink into the mind of the people whose story you need to tell, to immerse yourself in their world. They're inviting you to walk through as many of those doors as you like, have a curious wander around, then either move in or walk away and close the door behind you.

So you have an idea for a beginning, a couple of middle parts and an end that have nothing to do with each other and you have no idea how to get from one to another? That's fine. It's way too early to panic and give up. It might be that you'll be working things out as you go along, just writing until you hit one of those key scenes. Or it might be that you never actually write any of those middle scenes because by the time you get to the middle you realise an event like that simply couldn't happen in the world you've created, or that your character just wouldn't act that way. The same with endings. You could be like J K Rowling and write the final scene seven books in advance and stick to it (yikes) or you could be like me and aim for that final scene as a guide but usually end up realising the actual events are all wrong, and it's just one or two things, like a character's feelings, or the location or mood that you need. Or you might be like Leah Clifford and have no IDEA how it's going to end (she's a better man than I am, Gunga Din).

This point, where you have the compelling image and some odd bits and pieces of a story is usually the point where beginning writers plunge in and start writing, carried away with the desire to see What Happens Next. If that works for you, fine. But a lot of the emails I get come from young people who've had this AWESOME IDEA OMG and started writing right away and then got lost after a few chapters and now they don't know if this means the idea was just wrong to begin with and they should give up, or what.

So, in the next post, we're going to look at a couple of ways to work out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, including revisiting that diamond-shaped diagram that I showed you before. Stand by for that. And if anyone has any more specific ideas about plotting, toss them in the comments and I'll try to work them in.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


Hi everyone! Congratulations on making it to Wednesday alive.

Today I'm going to review The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (which I received as an eARC via NetGalley - thanks NetGalley!) a book which held me utterly spellbound on Monday, and which I still can't stop thinking about now.

The Synopsis:  

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do. 

The Review:

I honestly don't know what to say about this book. It's not enough to say that I loved it. That I admired it. That I swallowed it in one gulp and that my heart is still filled by it. Or even that, despite the book's carefully crafted and well-resolved story arc, I'd sell a kidney to get hold of the next book in the trilogy. 

As a writer I love and admire many books, and crave their sequels. 

But I don't often read books that I wish, with my whole soul, I had written myself. 

That's a odd statement to make, I know. Of course whenever I like a book I kind of wish that I could have written it. But most of the time know I never could. I don't have the fiendish plotting gift needed to create a trilogy like The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, or the epic vision to come up with a story like Veronica Roth's Divergent, or the skill required to put together a double-crossing Baroque family dynamic like the one in The Demon Trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan. My brain simply doesn't work the way those author's brains work. Not only could I never have written their books the way they did, I know that a story like the stories they have told would never have occurred to me to be written in the first place.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is different. It's a high fantasy which deals with almost every one of my all-time favourite themes to write about. It tackles religion and the dividing and uniting aspects of religion. It deals with the physical and mental transformation of the protagonist. It takes on tragic, forbidden love, friendship, resistence against overwhelming odds and female power. It is written in a voice which is the perfect combination of lyricism and intense sensory description. Its characters - from the main players to the most minor spear-carriers - are beautifully nuanced, multifaceted and complex in just the way I always strive to achieve. The story follows the path which I would have chosen myself, and yet it is utterly unpredictable.

In short, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is the book I want to write when I grow up.


Sometimes I regret that I got published at such a relatively young age. I mean, I don't regret being a published author, and I'm proud of all my books, imperfect as they are. But I wonder - if I'd waited a few years, trunked a few more stories - maybe my first book could have been like this? Because if you're going to blast your way onto the market with a high fantasy, THIS is the way to do it.

Let me offer a few more reasons why you should go out and get this yourselves the moment it hits the shops.

Firstly, if you want to see a heroine who is (painfully, excruciatingly) realistic in her flaws and self-doubts, and who gradually matures and hardens into an extraordinary woman of courage, power and wisdom (and also the sort of badass who pretends to beg at a traitor's feet so that she can steal the knives out of his boots and then threaten to cut his throat with them) then you will definitely enjoy this book.

If you love far-flung, unpredictable plots which drag the characters through every possible physical and mental test and then come full-circle to allow them to use all they have learned, you will like this book.

If you hate insta-love and you want meaningful relationships (not just romantic ones!) which develop slowly out of respect and knowledge, this book is for you.

If you love richly textured non-standard fantasy settings which are filled with people of all ethnic backgrounds, and dark-skinned heroes and heroines who take leading roles, you want this book.

If you want a book that carefully examines the idea of religious faith and 'God's Will' and which eventually demonstrates that all humans, whether by virtue or weakness, are part of God's plan, then this book will thrill you.

Finally, if you want a book that will make you gasp, and cry, and curl up into a little ball of shattered emotions, a book that will wreck you and then put you back together again with bittersweet grace, The Girl of Fire and Thorns is your book.

I've recommended books to you guys before, books that I loved and admired. But this book? This book I am not recommending. I am *ordering* you to go get it. You need it. You want it. You must have it. Go on. Pre-order it now.


Sunday, 17 July 2011


Hello, dear readers! Today I propose to tantalise you with a snippet of my fourth book, FrostFire, which is currently in edits with Wonder Editor (otherwise known as Mistress of Awesome, She Who Must be Obeyed, or sometimes just Annalie). As a quick reminder, FrostFire is a companion novel to Daughter of the Flames, set in Ruan but featuring a completely different cast of characters.

As always, any teasers posted here prior to the final proof-read are subject to changes both large and small, and may even end up on the cutting room floor. So enjoy it while you can. And tell me what you think!


Luca strode ahead of me. By the time that I, carefully carrying my axe, had reached the tent, Luca had already lit two lamps inside and was rummaging in the chest at the foot of his bed. I laid my axe carefully on my pile of furs. When I turned, I saw that Luca had laid a drying cloth on the floor next to the low table, and had a brush in his hand. The brush had fine white bristles and the back of it was silver. Such an item had never been near my shaggy mess of hair before.
“This will get the dust out,” he promised. “Come sit on the cloth, and that way it won’t get all over the rugs.”
I smiled as I went to sit cross legged on the edge of the towel.
“Nothing. Only...sometimes you can be a little...m-motherly.”
There was a long pause. I glanced over my shoulder at him. He was still by the bed, mouth hanging open.
“Motherly?” he repeated. I couldn’t tell from if his voice if he was angry or just shocked. I shrugged, taking a little petty satisfaction in having wrong-footed him for once.
“Sometimes. Can I have the brush now?”
“No,” he almost snapped, coming to kneel behind me. “You can’t see where the dust is.”
A tiny laugh escaped my lips. I put my hand over my mouth. After a second I heard him laugh too, if reluctantly.
“Any more jokes like that and I’ll make you go and dunk in the river again – and it’s cold at this time of night, believe me. Here, hold this.”
He shoved the brush at me over my shoulder, and as I fumbled to catch it I felt a quick series of tugs at my hair. My braid uncoiled from around my head, falling down my back with a puff of rock dust.
“How do you know how to do that?” I demanded.
“How do you think? My hair’s longer than yours. I pin it under my helm all the time. Give me the brush now, and no funny comments, please.”
He tugged the tie from the end of the braid. Feeling him comb gently through the long wriggles of hair with his fingers, I abruptly lost the urge to tease. My breath left me in a long, shuddering sigh. Goosepimples sprang up on my skin. Mortified, I pressed my lips together and prayed this would be over soon.
“Lean back,” he murmured, tilting my head. His fingertips brushed the curve of my ear. My teeth bit into my lip.
The brush made a soft shushing noise as he ran it through the thick, fluffy layers of my hair, parting it gently to get at all the dust. I felt myself slumping back further towards him – I couldn’t help it – and put out a hand to steady myself. My palm landed on his leg, stretched out beside me.
The firm, warm bulge of muscle above his knee tensed under my fingers. The brush paused in mid-stroke. I froze.

Friday, 15 July 2011


Hello everyone, and happy Friday. Well done for surviving this far. Before we move onto today's archive post I need to share this supremely brilliant post by fantasy writer N.K. Jemisen on the limitations of 'traditional' feminine roles. Read it, my babies. Feel your mind expand.

Now onto RETROFRIDAY, where in a post from early last year, I answer that much asked question: HOW I PLOT. 

Recently the YA Rebels (whose vlogs I highly recommend for helpful hilarity) have been vlogging about plot and structure. I've enjoyed their videos, but no one's really touched on anything LIKE the method I use (and one of my favourite rebels, Leah Clifford, even stunned me by asking 'What is structure?').

It seems I am an unusually structure-focused writer. Not that I always called it that. For a long time I just talked about the 'shape' of a story. That's still how stories feel to me; like something solid, which has a shape, with bulgy bits and thin bits, that I need to sort of pat and squash into place. I can remember struggling with a scene for days, and then adding two or three lines to the beginning which changed the 'shape' of it for me, so that I was able to move forward.

While I was in the middle of writing Shadows on the Moon I read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. I wasn't convinced by all of it, but one thing that did strike me was the way that Mr Vogler illustrated the three act structure. He used a diamond shape, which actually looks more like a four act structure to me. Not that I cared about 'acts'. What I cared about was the fact that I could see how my own story fitted onto that diagram.

There were, of course, four points on the diamond. Each point had a major event on it. The sides were filled in by the smaller events leading to each major event. I realised I could adapt the diamond shaped diagram to keep track of time elasping in my story world, how old my heroine was at each event, and to make sure that the pacing of the story was even, with a certain amount of smaller events building in momentum until a major event erupted, and then the drama flowed back down to smaller events again.

These plot diagrams aren't set in stone for me. For Shadows I think I drew out three our four of them. Working on FrostFire, I think I've already hit three. But this process of evolution itself is helpful.

I was going to take a picture of the last plot diagram for Shadows, but then I realised it was (as you would expect) basically the most spoilerific thing EVER. So I made up a plot diagram, which doesn't make that much sense, but which gives you an idea how I use one of these.

My real plot diagrams show a lot more detail. I draw them by hand, and use highlighters and lots of different coloured pens, and put arrows pointing from one event to another to show how they relate, as well as notes on how old the protagonist and other main characters are at each event and anything else significant (for example, if the location has changed).

I've never been able to use the index card method. I love the idea of having different cards that signify a certain subplot, but for me each event is such a tangle of different developing plots that I can't separate them out. And, as most writers would agree, synopses, while good for giving people a general idea how your story plays out, don't help much at all. But if you, like me, tend to have trouble with pacing and structure, the Diamond Plot Diagram might be for you.

Anyone else want to chip in here? How do you plot?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Hello, dear readers! Today we're still working through the questions that I put off answering during Shadows on the Moon release week, and by a lucky coincidence both of today's questions are publishing related. First of all Rebecca asked (via comments):

"Do you have to get an agent before you get published or can you go straight to the publisher with your book if it is a trusted and well-known publisher? And if you do need an agent how do you know which ones are trustworthy, because generally I don't know the agents of authors I like?"

I'm going to assume that you're talking about writing children's or YA books here because that's my area of expertise. Children's and YA publishing is distinct from adult publishing in that many well-known, successful authors represent themselves with no help from a literary agent, and many children's publishers still accept submissions from unagented authors. In fact, I found my publisher and started revising The Swan Kingdom with them before I got an agent. So no: you don't HAVE to get an agent before you can get published.

SHOULD you try to get a literary agent before you get published, on the other hand? In today's marketplace, I think the answer is definitely yes. You see, no matter how reputable and NICE a publisher is, and no matter how much they like your book, a publisher is still primarily a business. They need to make as much money as possible from selling books, and the less money that they give to you, the author, the more money there will be for them.

This sounds really awful, and as if I'm implying that publishers are out to con authors. That's not the case at all. They don't want to con anyone. But like any good business people, the contracts department of your publisher will want to get as much as possible for the smallest amount of money. That's how you make a profit. A publisher's most straightforward, standard, boilerplate contract - the one you get as an unagented author - will basically take all your rights (world export rights, translation rights, audiobook rights, film and TV rights, ebook rights), and pay you an advance against royalties for them, plus a percentage of profits. The advance will be the smallest one they think is fair, and the percentage of profits will be low as well. And that's it. Everything's out of your hands from then on. And usually there will be clauses in there which are to the publisher's advantage in other ways, such as one that states the publisher gets first refusal on anything else you write in the future, and that if they decide to buy your next book, it will be 'on the same terms'.

An agent, on the other hand, will get stuck right into that contract and extract every right that they think they can sell on your behalf for more money. And if an agent sells, say, your audiobook rights, you get all of that money minus only the agent's commision (usually between 10-15%) right away, rather than having to split that money 60/40 or 70/30 with your publisher, and then have them subtract that money from the advance which you still need to repay (it's more complex than that, but I don't want to waffle on too long here).

Your agent will bargain for a larger advance and a bigger share of profits, and they will make sure that there are no sneaky clauses stating that the publisher gets to hang onto your next book for a year before rejecting it. They will be your advocate in every part of your career, and it's in their interest to make sure you do well, because they make no money unless YOU make money.

Basically, unless you are an industry veteran with years of experience in the business and a very logical, analytical mind, who doesn't mind brangling and arguing with professional legal staff at your publisher, you are going to want to have an agent.

So, how do you find a reputable agent? Well, you go and get a copy of The Writer's and Artist's Yearbook or The Writer's Handbook for this year (buy a copy, get one second hand, borrow it from the library), and you look in the Agents section. They're all listed there - including their contact details, whether they accept unsolicited submissions and who their clients are. If an agent represents a well-known author, an author that you admire, they are likely to be an excellent agent. Some agencies are new and have no well-known authors in their stable - this doesn't mean they're not good too. In fact it can mean that they are more likely to take on new authors as they seek to build up their client list.

Before you approach an agent, do a Google search on them. Most agents now have websites. Does everything look solid and professional on their site? Is the site really out of date? Are  there any silly spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or things that strike you as odd? If so, back away. If not, great. Now, look more closely. Is there any mention that the agent charges ANY kind of a fee, for any of their work? If so, cross them off your list. NO REPUTABLE AGENT should charge to read a manuscript, or for any other aspect of their work. Good agents make their money from the percentage they charge once you've started earning. If they can't get by on that, they're no good.

Have a look at other Google results. If you come across anything dodgy, like people complaining that the agent has charged them hidden fees, or lied to them, then again, cross them off the list. The same goes for any worried or unhappy feelings if you do approach them and they agree to be your agent. Your instincts are good, and if you feel anxious about your agent instead of calm and happy, then they're not right for you. A bad agent, a neglectful one or an uncommitted one can do a lot of harm to your standing as a writer and your chances of making a good living. This might sound crazy, but I'm completely serious: a bad agent can be worse than no agent at all.

Be prepared to be rejected by agents in just the same way that you might be by publishers. Agents are just as exacting, and they won't take on work that they don't think will sell. But once you get an agent, your chances of being published - and what's more, WELL published - will shoot up. Good luck!

Today's second question comes from Megan, via email, and asks:

"I was wondering if you could give me some information on how to get a book published, because I've written something and quite a few people have read it and said it was really good. Now I want to see if I can get it published but I don't know how to. Can you give me some info please?"

Here's where my cunning, time-saving plan comes into things. Megan, see all that info that I just gave to Rebecca about getting an agent? If you want to get published, you need to do everything that I've just said there. Do your research, find an agent, and THEY will then deal with the practicalities of finding you a publisher.

NOTE: Just as with agents, if any publisher asks you for any money whatsoever - run. The number one law of publishing is that money flows towards the writer, not the other way around. Any person in publishing who tries to take money from you is a wrong 'un.

OK, I hope this was helpful, guys! Thanks for tuning in, and come back on Friday.

Monday, 11 July 2011


Hi everyone - I hope you all had a great weekend! I had a signing on Saturday at my local bookshop and despite it being a very quiet day in the shopping centre (it was a beautiful, sunny day and everyone wanted to be out soaking up rays) I managed to sell a fairly good amount of books. Then I spent Sunday recovering because WHOO that was an exhausting ordeal.  

Just a little reminder for you again that once the Shadows on the Moon book trailer gets up above 1,000 views, there will be...goodies. Very good goodies. Keep watching it, recommend it to your friends, send the link out - it would be great if the trailer went viral.

Just in case you missed it, the final stop on the Shadows on the Moon Blog Tour was at the Overflowing Library with the lovely Kirsty. She had an extract of the book and a swag giveaway, so head on over there if you haven't already.

Now onto some reader questions! I really meant to get to these much much earlier, but all the release day stuff kind of derailed me. Sorry about the delay.

First up, then, is Gabbi, who emailed me about a dozen questions. A lot of them were things that I really think only Gabbi can answer for herself, and others were things that I've already answered here or on the website. So I picked out the question which I really think is vital:

" question to you is that even though it's very unlikely for me to get published, is it silly to plan a series of novels, rather than just a single debut. I know most author's debut novels are the first in a series, but most of them have also completed a book before. Needless to say, I haven't." 

Gabbi, you won't ever get published until you finish a novel. Unless you're a celebrity or a respected university professor with lots of non-fiction publishing credits behind you, you will ALWAYS have to finish at least one book for a publisher to take you seriously. They're not going to publish any first time novelist based on a few chapters and a synopsis, no matter how brilliant they are, because there's no guarantee you'll be able to finish what you've started. But publishers don't care if you have thirty bad novels hidden under your bed or if the one that lands on their desk is your very first. All they care about is that it's good.

So, bearing that in mind - no, it's not silly for you to plan a series if that's what you really want to write. In today's publishing climate, as you note, many debut authors begin their careers with a trilogy (Cassandra Clare, Veronica Roth, Sarah Rees Brennan). Publishers and agents now seem to negotiate multibook contracts as standard, and knowing that you've got a plan in place for the follow-up books is very reassuring for the publisher, I think.

What you have to do is write the first book, create a really good plan for the next ones, and then start trying to get an agent/publisher with that (noting in your queries that you're hard at work on the second book). But remember that writing a series is a really challenging undertaking. If you're doing it because that's just the way you think things need to be, then stop and consider whether the story you really want to write can stand alone. There are still many single volumes being published.

Good luck with it, Gabbi!

Next up we have a great question from Borko, who asks:

"I have a problem with my characters (In my book). More specifically, one of the main. I'm worried that people would hate him or like him less then others. He reacts a bit sharper, but ... But this is not a reason!"

I sympathise with you on this one. When I was writing Shadows on the Moon I worried that my heroine's often self-destructive behaviour would put readers off. When I was writing FF I was anxious that one of my main characters would never get any sympathy from readers because he made such a bad impression initially. But I couldn't change who those characters were, make them more sensible or less harsh, because that was who they WERE. That was who the story needed them to be. 

So, it's possible that the reader will react as you fear and dislike this person. And that's OK, so long as the plot doesn't depend on the reader sympathising with them

It's no good trying to create a sense of tension and jeopardy with life or death situations if the reader doesn't care that the main character is in danger. You're going to need to give them something else to care about. 

Maybe a wider situation (the world is going to end!), or some innocent's life at stake (the crying baby in the corner). If this sounds a bit complicated, then you can go a different route. The easiest way to get someone to keep reading is to give them someone to identify with. Readers normally need and want at least one person whose motives they can get behind as they begin the journey of the book. If you give them that - even if the character providing the contrast is only a sidekick - they'll hang in there long enough for you to begin to show the more vulnerable, softer or more loveable sides to the character who might initially have repulsed them.

That's the secret of getting away with an anti-hero. They might seem flat out nasty at the start, and maybe they are, but in real life everyone has depths and a reason for being who they are. Once you realise that, you begin to view their actions from a different viewpoint and while THEY may not change, the reader's opinion of them does. A person who is cruel, cold and even violent will suddenly shine with the light of a hero if we see that s/he's also unflinchingly honourable and never breaks her/his word. A weak, fumbling, obnoxious character will become an object of sympathy if we're given an insight that shows us they were once proactive and strong, but they have been emotionally crippled by some terrible loss. And once you've shown us that they're more than just a shell, you can begin the task of having them develop and change via their interaction with other characters and the ordeal of the plot.

The final thing to bear in mind is that readers will often develop an unexpected soft spot for the most unlikely characters. Look at the legion of fans that Draco Malfoy has. He's written as a villain, and he gets in Harry Potter's way at every turn. He's bigoted, cruel, unprincipled, and at the end he shows that he's also weak and cowardly. Yet (to J K Rowling's astonishment!) he's actually an object of adoration for a lot of readers who are convinced that one day he will be a hero. 

So go ahead and write your character the way he needs to be. Just bear in mind the points I've made here.

I hope that was helpful, guys! Barring anything unexpected coming up, I'll probably tackle a few more of your questions on Wednesday, because I think you've all been waiting long enough!

Thursday, 7 July 2011


Hello everyone! Today is official release day for Shadows on the Moon - the day when the online retailers like Amazon and The Book Depository change the book's status from Pre-Order to Order Now, the day when bookshops nationwide will start putting it out right there on the shelves for people to pick up and leaf through and hopefully BUY.


Just for your information, I have made another pledge, this time to my Twitter friends, that if Shadows on the Moon makes it onto any UK bestseller's chart, I will film myself doing the famous Zolah Happy Dance and post it on YouTube for all to see (and mock, and laugh at). So, if you'd like to see (and mock, and laugh at) that, now is a great time to order Shadows on the Moon in either paperback or Kindle edition, or pick up a copy (or two!) from your local bookshop. You could even ask about it at your local library and make sure that they've ordered one for their shelves. Just sayin'.

And now that bit's over (phew!) I'm going to talk to you about the thing causing all this fuss. My story. The story that was, at various times, called 'The Moon Mask', 'Fair as the Moon' and 'The Shadow Mantle'. The story we now know as Shadows on the Moon. The following post is based on the talk I gave at the Walker Undercover event in winter last year.

Sometimes as a writer you get an idea that is crazy. So crazy that you have no choice but to write it. In my case the idea came when Memoirs of a Geisha, Cinderella and The Count of Monte Cristo all collided in my head. At the time I was struggling with another book (which is still unfinished) and my crazy, Japanese influenced idea looked incredibly shiny and fun and easy in comparision. So, with the blessing of my editor, I switched.

Guess what? It wasn't shiny. It wasn't fun. And it definitely was not easy.

Almost straight away, things began to go wrong. My heroine turned out to be much darker and more complex than I had bargained for. The story developed twists and turns I never expected. The world expanded until I had lost track of its boundaries. Within a chapter or two I was having a crisis of confidence. The monologue running through my head went something like this:

I made a mistake. This story isn't ready to be written. It's too big. I should never have started it. I’ll never finish it. 

I got stuck for months at a time. I blew two deadlines, one computer, and more braincells than I care to think about.

And it was worth it.

Because when I finished I found that despite the panic attacks, temper tantrums and ripping my hair out over my rising word count, something really extraordinary had happened. A story had forced itself out of me into the world, and even I felt a bit shocked at just how special it was.

It might be surprising to learn, especially for those of you who know how much I love fairytales - but I have never been a fan of Cinderella. In fact, if you'd asked me growing up, I'd probably have said she was my least favourite fairytale heroine of all. Let’s face it, she’s the classic wimp. Throughout the entire fairytale Cinderella never seems to take a single action to improve her lot in life. All she does is sigh and whine and wait for other people to save her – which they duly do, first her fairy godmother, and finally the prince.

But what did Cinderella do to deserve any of that? I'm sorry, but being beautiful and obedient just don't cut it in my view. She never shows a scrap of determination, strength or intelligence. I mean, if I was in her situation and my fairy godmother had arrived in a puff of smoke asking what I wanted, I’d have requested something a bit more practical than a nice dress and a ride to the ball. How about a box of my mum’s jewellery and a coach ticket out of town? Who would just throw away their one chance at freedom to go and sip lukewarm lemonade and get stepped on by some random prince's feet?

For years I'd been rolling my eyes at Cinderella and crossly muttering to myself that no real person - no real girl, with a real heart and a real mind - could be that spineless. And then one day, out of the blue, it occurred to me to ask: What if Cinderella wasn’t? What if she WASN'T a wimp? If that persona was an illusion. A disguise...
What kind of person would play that part? Hide every vestige of their soul beneath a mask of obedience and beauty? And why?

The story flipped in my head. Immediately I saw that a character who was intelligent, cunning and devious enough to play the role of Cinderella would have to have a really good reason to endure all that she does in the story. She would have to want something very badly, badly enough to risk her own soul to get it.

REVENGE. Revenge for the murder of her father. After all, the first important thing that happens in Cinderella is her father's death. The story never says how he died, but what if it was murder?

I began to see that my Cinderella would hide as a common drudge in her enemy’s kitchen in order to preserve her life. And when she rose from the dirt and ashes she would become, not some imitation fairy princess, but the most beautiful courtesan in the land, determined to go to the ball, not to wear a pretty dress and dance with the prince, but to crush her enemy.

And then I began to think of all the ways it could go wrong. All the ways that living a life of such darkness and deception would hurt and twist and eventually destroy a person, no matter how strong they were. I began to wonder just what could save my Cinderella from the vengeance she had sacrificed everything to achieve.

So in the midst of this ruthless quest for vengeance, I knew that my heroine would meet a boy. Not just any boy. The one person in the world who saw through her magic and her beautiful illusions and her mask of Shadows. Someone who could sees all her fury and her hurt and her darkness...and love her anyway. This boy wouldn’t give her up - not even to the prince she was determined to snare.

Shadows on the Moon is a story about transformations, and about how sometimes in our quest to leave our pain behind, we can accidentally leave ourselves behind as well.

It's a story about how deception hurts everyone, even the one practising it.
It's a story about illusions and how - frighteningly often - is it easier to believe in lies than truth.

But most of all, Shadows on the Moon turned out to be a story about love. About how, like my version of Cinderella, it can wear many faces. And some them are dark and terrible. But ultimately, the story is about how love can bring you back to yourself when even you thought that you were lost forever.

Here's the trailer again, in case anyone missed it on Sugarscape (or just wants to see it again). And I've been authorised to tell you that if the views on this trailer get up to over 1,000, there may be extra trailer related goodness on offer - like deleted scenes. Yeah, baby! Tell your friends!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


Hello dear readers! Today is a momentous day because it is FINALLY time for me to reveal to you the Shadows on the Moon trailer!

I'm really incredibly proud of this (even though my contribution to it was fairly small) and so delighted that my publisher decided to put this much effort into making it something special. They've arranged for it to debut exclusively on, which is a digital magazine for teens with a fantastic online book club, which will hopefully get it the attention it deserves - but of course if you want to share it on Facebook or Tweet about it, I'll be very pleased.

But before I give you the link, another quick round-up of the blog tour.

Monday's post was on Writing From the Tub and included a sneak preview of the book and a swag giveaway too.

On Tuesday the wonderful Sarah at Feeling Fictional also offered a sneak preview, and a review - and a brilliant giveaway of two copies of the book, one of which is for INTERNATIONAL readers. So get over there and enter if you haven't already.

Today, lovely Lynsey at Narratively Speaking is doing another exciting giveaway and she will be reviewing the book tomorrow too, so make sure to check that out.

Also tomorrow, in defiance of my normal posting schedule, I'm going to be doing a very special blog post for you, which is based on the talk I gave at the 2010 Walker Undercover event, about the origins of Shadows on the Moon - where the idea came from, how it developed, my experience writing it and what the story means to me. I'll be hosting the book trailer here too. This post won't go up until after 5:30 in the afternoon (due to the exclusivity period which has with the trailer) so make sure to check back then for interesting insights into the book.

OK. Now for the moment you've been waiting for. *Deep breaths*

Here's the link to the Shadows on the Moon trailer.

Don't forget to come back and tell me what you think, guys!

Monday, 4 July 2011


Hi everyone and a very happy Monday to you all. Today is the day when we pick the names of three hardworking blog readers from the hat (well, the random number generator) and make them very happy, with any luck.

Before we get to that, though - a Blog Tour update.

Saturday's post is about my most influential writers, and is on the Undercover Blog.

Sunday's post reveals the soundtrack of Shadows on the Moon and is at the lovely Emma's Book Angel's Booktopia.

Today's post will be on Writing From the Tub (I think it's going to be another sneak preview of the book - there might be a giveaway too).

And don't forget to check out Tuesday's at Sarah's Feeling Fictional.

In other news, the Shadows on the Moon ebook is now available for pre-order and it's only £2.49. That's nearly 500 pages for under three quid!

All right, onto the part which I know you're all really here for:

The first winner, who will receive the grand prize of an ARC of Shadows on the Moon, signed and personalised for them, a sparkly UK paperback of The Swan Kingdom, a gorgeous US hardcover of Daughter of the Flames, both also signed and personalised, and a one of a kind piece of artwork created by my own fair hand during the process of writing Shadows on the Moon is...



Rebecca Lindsay! 

Which, given how many times Rebecca and her family entered, was probably inevitable. You really worked hard for this Rebecca - well done.

Now, the winner of the second prize, which is an ARC of Shadows on the Moon, a one of a kind piece of artwork from my Shadows on the Moon sketches, and a bag of swag, including signed bookplates, magnets and postcards is...

*Trumpet fanfare*



And again, I can't say I'm all that surprised, as I think Isabel entered nearly as many times as Rebecca. You were determined to win this one, Isabel, and you've never won anything from the blog before, which I know has been disappointing in the past. I'm really, really pleased for you. Congratulations! 

Finally, the runner up, who will get a one of a kind piece of artwork and a bag of swag, including signed bookplates, magnets, postcards, fans, and anything else I have on hand, is... 

*Heavenly chorus of angels*


Scattered Laura!  

Congratulations, Laura - I hope you'll be happy with your prize!  

I'd like all the winners to get in touch with me via my email (zdmarriott at g mail dot com) as soon as possible to give me their postal addresses. I'm going to try to get all these prizes in the post by Friday of this week so that you get them pronto. 

Congratulations again to all the winners. Commiserations to those of you who didn't win. I'm sure you're feeling a little depressed right now, but there will be other giveaways and maybe you'll be lucky another time.

See you all on Wednesday!

Friday, 1 July 2011


Hello everyone - I hope you're enjoying this fine, sunny Friday? I certainly am, after a half hour of yoga, a bracing dog-walk and a pint of coffee. Later on I plan to lay out a blanket in my garden and read while soaking up as much vitamin D as is possible for a pasty-skinned girl wearing factor 30. O, lazy holiday lifestyle - I shall miss you when I go back to work next week. Well, not really. But I shall pretend to.

All right, the first order of business today is to remind anyone who hasn't entered yet that the Blogiversary Extravaganza giveaway is still open. You have until midnight on the 3rd of July to collect those points. Clickity clickity to read the rules and the list of prizes.

Next up on the agenda - the Shadows on the Moon Blog Tour has begun! Yesterday the lovely Liz and Sarah of My favourite Books hosted an extract of Shadows on the Moon, a review, and swag giveaway/guest post by me about fairytale and mythology retellings that I love. Check it out!

Today's tour post is up on the Serendipity Blog, hosted by charming Vivienne, and recounts A Day In My Crazy Writing Life (with pictures) AND a giveaway of a copy of Shadows on the Moon!

See how good to you I am? Two posts and three giveaways in one day! I really urge you to head over to both these blogs and comment - let my publisher see your enthusiasm!

Finally, an update on the Shadows book trailer. I have seen a tough cut, and although they intend to trim it down with a little more editing, I am...well...speechless pretty much covers it. I cannot WAIT to show you what they did. I think they're launching it next week, and there are hush-hush things going on as to where, but I'll let you know the second I've got a link.

Have a lovely weekend everyone!
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