Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Hello, my lovelies! Wednesday has rolled around again, and it has brought various bits of news about Shadows on the Moon in the US.

The rather beautiful hardcover edition from the rather lovely Candlewick Press (still not allowed to share the cover - sorry!) will be coming out for definite on the 24th of April.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but the text will be slightly different than the UK printing. That's because, by a nifty coincidink, the copy-editing manager at Candlewick Press is a ninja haiku scholar. OK, possibly not the ninja part (I mean, who knows? It's not like a ninja would tell me that she was a ninja. That's all part of being a ninja) but she IS a genuine expert on the fine art of haiku writing and she very kindly helped me to make some of the poetry in the book more faithful to the spirit of Japanese aesthetics. Not that I don't love the original versions, you understand. This just means that American fans get a special gift from me; a unique version of the haiku for their very own.

I've just received a couple of the very first advanced reader copies, hot off the presses. I'd take pictures of these for you, except, again, not allowed to share the cover. The audiobook will be coming out at the same time in April next. No news on who's going to be reading that yet, but I'm still mega-excited. You can find the pre-order links for both here on Amazon. Which brings me to my happiest piece of news, which is that three absolutely WONDERFUL authors agreed to blurb the US edition of the book.

Just in case anyone's in the dark as to what a blurb is - it's when a well-known and well-respected author 'recommends' another writer's work via a snappy sentence or two, which the publisher puts on the book or on promotional materials for the book. I've never had blurbs before, and I'm just. So. Excited!

So these are the blurbs which will hopefully be on the Candlewick Press edition of Shadows on the Moon:

Beautifully written, with diverse and fascinating characters, an intriguing plot, and a romance that will steal your heart. One of the most innovative fairy-tale retellings I've read in years.—R.J. Anderson, author of Spellhunter and Ultraviolet

Shadows on the Moon weaves a spell as deft as any by its main character. Beautiful and cruel; a mesmerizing read with an intoxicating love story.—L.A. Weatherly, author of Angel Burn and Angel Fire

The lyrical prose of Shadows on the Moon captures the essence of the fairy tale, while the love story will capture reader's hearts.—Jaclyn Dolomore, author of Magic Under Glass and Between the Sea and Sky

Right? OhEmGee you guys. I can't believe such wonderful authors said such nice things about my book! I honestly can't thank them enough.

In other news, I just saw Megamind and I haven't had this big a crush on a primary coloured character since Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles captured my heart when I was nine. *Sigh*

Monday, 28 November 2011


Hello, Dear Readers - and Happy Monday! I hope you've all had a productive weekend. I enjoyed the tiny bit of autumn sunshine we got, and also watched Disney's Tangled for the first time (and adored it! Animated films really are better than live action ones at least half the time these days).

Today I'm going to tackle a couple of reader questions which are looooong overdue for an answer.

On Twitter, the lovely Liz asked me: "When does the world building stop?" Followed by (as far as I can remember, since TweetDeck ate the rest of the question) "If you want a complex, intricate world with lots of detail, obviously you need to do a lot of planning and world building. How do you know when you should stop, and start the actual writing?" My apologies if you actually said something different, Liz!

Then, in the comments, Megha said: "I'm not much of a person to plan - it's horribly hard. I know I need to do it, and I do plan before I start a story, but I feel like I don't plan enough. I know what will happen, but I don't know my characters as well as any other writer. Is this because I am young, because I am a sort of beginner writer, or because I'm one of the people who can work finely without planning? Is it okay to be one of those people who don't plan as much and like to improvise as they go along, or is that a bad thing? I can't control this urge of plunging into my book. You know when you have a special beginning scene in your head? I just need to write it straight away, and hence I start my story. Is there any way I can plan enough? I really think I need to plan more, I'm just horrible at it."

Since these questions are basically coming at the same idea from different directions, I'm going to save on waffling by answering them in one go. 

First of all, I think it's important to state that every book is different. Some stories and characters will shape their own world and their own narrative shape as you write, and you'll find yourself throwing all kinds of stuff in there that's pure invention, and then knitting it together into a coherant whole later on, when you revise (this is how I worked with The Swan Kingdom). Some characters and stories respond very well to planning, and need a lot of forethought into how the plot will unfold, and research into real world analogues before you can see a clear way to make everything work (this is how Shadows on the Moon was).

And some books (like Daughter of the Flames) are somewhere between the two.

I've seen writers say that they find it easy to get very carried away by their research, that they love diving into reference books and making notes and reading up all about their topics. That before they commit a single word to paper they produce intricate, bullet pointed synopses which break down every chapter into colour coded lists, and that they always know just what their characters are supposed to do.

I've seen other writers say that the very idea of figuring all this stuff before they begin their story makes their soul die a little. That it literally sucks every bit of fun out of their process to try and plan ahead, and that if they don't know what happens next they make a note that says 'Research this!' or 'Insert scene that makes sense of the stuff in the river' and then move onto something else, letting the characters do whatever they want and finding out about the world and story that way.

And then there's me. I'm somewhere between the two.

What am I trying to say here? Really, that there's no foolproof way of doing this. Not only is every writer different in what helps them, but every book is different in terms of what it needs. There's no calculation you can run which will work out if you've done enough planning or enough world-building. You can't pencil in two weeks or two months of planning/world building and then know, for certain, that you've done enough. And no one is going to point a finger at you and say 'Hey! What you doing there, diving into this story without a plan?! Stop it at once!' or 'Oi! That world building is way too intricate! You're wasting time!'

The only way to know if you've done enough preparation for the story is to start writing it.

If you get past your brilliant first chapter and then feel at a complete loss because the world feels like a fuzzy mess that you can't visualise and you don't know how to move forward with the characters? Then you didn't do enough preparation. Go back and start again. It's not the end of the world. If you spent six months researching and planning and then find, a chapter or two into the story, that your characters want to do something entirely different and that you need to change key details to make that work? Does it hurt anyone or anything? No.

When you find yourself aching to write and holding yourself back from writing because you just need to research this one thing? You probably ought to just write. Similarly, if you start to feel like you'd be happy to keep world-building forever and have no urge to write the story at all? You may have taken it too far.

A key thing to remember:

The only way you can truly reveal your world to your readers - the way you make their ears ring with strange and haunting songs, choke them on dust, cause them to shudder in the cold, taste the sweet, soft flesh of ripe summer fruits or experience the warm breath on the back of their neck - is through the protagonist(s).

The way that your readers will experience the plot and other the characters - the surprise of a story twist, the horror of a betrayal or the joy of falling in love - is by the protagonist(s) is experiencing them.

Trying to figure out EVERYTHING before you begin work will always be impossible. Until your characters experience it in the story and make the readers do so, it's not real in the story world anyway. If you're in doubt about whether you need to plan in more detail or do more research, go back to your characters. Put yourselves in your character's skin, ask yourself what they will be or are experiencing (and how their unique perspective shapes that experience) and then you'll understand what they need to know, what their world and their story needs to provide.

You can do this before you begin work to show you how to start, or twelve chapters into the book when you start to feel lost, or (as I did) in the very last chapter of a book when you need an ending that resonates with everything that's gone before. You can do it as a planner or a pantser. I honestly believe that the characters are more important than anything, and that if you always place them at the apex of your list of priorities, you won't go far wrong.

I hope that's helpful, my lovelies! I'll be back on Wednesday with more shenanigans. Read you then!

Friday, 25 November 2011


Hi everyone! Happy Friday to you all - and I hope you've had a good week. If not, I next week will be better. Positive Thinking No-Jutsu!

First, a request: Liz and Megha submitted questions for me to answer (on worldbuilding and planning respectively) but now the TweetDeck page where I'd saved Liz's question is unavailable, and I can't find Megha's question in the comment trail. So if you guys would still like me to talk about this after waiting for so long (sorry!) then can you comment here or email me and ask me again, so that I know exactly what to answer? *Smooches*

Onwards now, to a review of HALLOWED by Cynthia hand.

US Hardcover

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.


I read the first book in Ms Hand's angel-lore based trilogy last October (you can see my review here) and I really, really liked it. I was surprised how much I liked it, since the set-up, on the face of it, seemed to be that basic paranormal romance staple of a new girl coming to town and then getting involved with two boys, and various supernatural shenanigans.

The difference with UNEARTHLY was that the author had an unexpected knack for characterisation which immediately drew me into the story. With a cast of such endearing, human (even if not actually human) people on the pages, the outcome truly mattered to me. And once she'd drawn me in, the author set about creating a really convincing (and in places quite dark) mythology for her angels and angelbloods. I gave the book four stars because I felt it ended on an unsatisfying cliff-hanger, but I was desperate to get my hands on the next one.

I'm very happy to say that HALLOWED lived up to and exceeded my expectations. I loved it. The problem is...I can't say all that much about it! Pretty much anything I tell you is going to be a huge spoiler. Let me borrow a phrase from Mark (of Mark Reads Harry Potter fame) and say: You are not prepared.

Australian Edition - my favourite!
This story carries on almost directly from the first one and the developments within are exciting and shocking and, despite being pretty much the opposite of what I expected, the book grabbed me by the heart and didn't let go.

The author takes the hints of darkness she embedded in the previous installment and runs with them, creating a world for Clara which is much less certain and far more frightening. There's still the trademark humour which I enjoyed so much in the first story, but now there's a more bittersweet flavour to everything, because Clara, at the end of UNEARTHLY, chose to ignore her 'Purpose' (that is, the task that was set before her by way of celestial visions) and to save the 'wrong' person. She did it for all the right reasons. She did it for love. But in the wake of that choice, the world goes from black and white to shades of grey for Clara, and her mother and brother. Quite literally.

When you read HALLOWED you're going to find that a lot of the things you were absolutely, positively certain of in the first book will dissolve. Certain facts you took for granted turn out to be major plot twists in disguise. Your suspicions will turn out to be cleverly planted red herrings (although I still have some ideas which I think will play out in the final book). Characters change, or come to see the world in such a transformed way that their motivations flip - or maybe it's your understanding of them that flips. I don't even know how to describe it, except to say that it rocked.

If the first book made me tear up a few times, this one made me flat-out weep on at least two occasions. It's brutal. But it's also beautiful. I felt as if Ms Hand's confidence and skill were literally unfolding before my eyes here. All the promise that gleamed in UNEARTHLY burst into blazing life.

UK paperback
That's not to say, however, that this book was perfect. I felt certain plot threads and certain characters got short shrift (Jeffrey, for example - at the end of the book he seemed to just disappear, and this hardly had any impact on Clara's life and decisions, which seemed odd given how close they once were). And I also wonder...if the first book's message was about free will...what was the theme of this story? That fighting against destiny/fate/God's plan causes only suffering and pain? While I can see how that sort of of underlying assumption would be of comfort to a religious person who puts their faith in a higher power, I found it a little bit discomforting at times because I believe that we all have an absolute right to make our own choices and the responsibility to do so, rather than expecting anyone (or anything) else to guide us or fix our mistakes.

Despite these niggling qualms, I can honestly say that HALLOWED is a moving, well-written, gorgeous follow-up to UNEARTHLY. As soon as it becomes available in hard copy, I'll be snapping up a copy for my own. Recommended.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Hi you guys! Happy Wednesday. I didn't actually realise that it was Wednesday until five minutes ago. Whoops. Sorry about that.

Today I fully intended to present you with a) a book review or b) a post answering some reader questions. But I haven't written either of them. I'm really very sorry!

In the past few days I've gotten caught up in all kinds of fiddly little jobs (like making an all-new playlist for Katana Book Two) and going to see Breaking Dawn (OMG lolarious epic insanity - all the actors take it so seriously and act their little hearts out and I swear I actually teared up a couple of times. Also, I can't believe THAT was a 12 rated film. Yikes) and then having to research new computers because The Scalpel's shenanigans are scaring me and then trying to read some of these books I have for review and figuring out how to work AIM chat on Skype wwwaaaaah not enough hours in the day!

I promise you that I would have written a great post for you anyway, if it weren't for the fact that I thought it was Tuesday. Before you ask how an actual adult grown-up person could not know what day of the week it is, just remember that I don't actually have to leave the house to work. I always know what DATE it is, because that shows up in the bottom right hand corner of my computer display, but the DAY is something I know because of my routine. And my routine has gotten messed up lately.

Basically, as some of you may be aware, as well as being a writer, I'm also a carer for my father, who is disabled and has many chronic illnesses. Normally I regulate my schedule around when my mum is at work during the week, so that I can do things like help with his medication and get his meals ready when she isn't there. But this past week my mother has been struck down with a nasty virus and so she's been at home the whole time, and I've been looking after both of them. And without an office job of my own to go to, it's been very easy to literally not realise if it's a Sunday or a Thursday or whatever.

So...that's the sad story of why there's no decent post today. Many apologies. I think I'm going to try and  do that reader question post (featuring Liz and Megha) on Friday and then next week I'll try to review Hallowed by Cynthia Hand (hint: liked it more than the first one).

Read you later, Beloved Peeps. In the meantime:

Monday, 21 November 2011


No cover art for this book yet! Boo!
The Blurb:

“Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world.”

The Review:

As soon as I read the part that mentioned dragons taking on human form, I was sold on this book. I’ve come across this idea in a only few fantasies but it’s one of my so-called ‘bullet-proof kinks’ – that is, an idea I love so much that even if nothing else about the book interested or excited me, I’d still read it from beginning to end. I just want my dragon-in-human-skin fix (and yes, one day I will write a book with dragons in, it’s on the list).

How lucky for me, then, that it turns out Rachel Hartman has a profoundly meaningful grasp of high fantasy language, description and dialogue, which made this book an absolute joy to read on prose level! That her characterisation is deft and beautifully subtle! And her main character – the eponymous Seraphina – was a fascinating, complex and unique creation who captured my heart with her resourcefulness and bravery!

Dear Readers, I read this book in one sitting, and I loved it.

First, however, a confession: at first the writing style did not quite gel for me. And I’m not sure why. It might be that after a chapter my brain snapped into the right mode and I was able to appreciate what the writer was doing and relax into the flow of things. Or it might be that the first chapter is a bit stiff (as first chapters often can be) and after that the writer herself relaxed, along with her prose. In either case, I recommend you persevere. By chapter two I was completely hooked.

The slow burn love story between the heroine, a certain endearingly honourable and inquisitive male member of the cast was really well done, show-casing instant attraction (which is not the same as Insta!Love, no matter what certain Goodreads reviewers seem to think) followed by a brilliant build up of meshing interests, ideals and understanding. It was pitched perfectly and I believed in it. I wasn’t driven to roll my eyes, mutter ‘Oh, come ON!’ or to wish that the plot would just ‘MOVE, damn it!’ instead of wasting time on pointless repetitions of how hot the love interest was. Instead I was always eager to return to this part of the story, and the assured way that the writer handled the bittersweet nature of the relationship without going all emo was extremely enjoyable.

Going back to that bullet proof kink thing? I actually don’t think I read anything else in the description before I pressed the request button on NetGalley. If I had, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to find, on opening the eGalley, that Seraphina was so devoted to music. I’d have liked that characteristic regardless, but Ms Hartman’s descriptions of music and the way making it feels to a musician, the way that understanding it transforms people’s hearts, scored a direct hit. The passages relating to music were completely inspiring - in a book that was filled with magic, the music was one of the most magical things of all. THAT is an achievement.

Ms Hartman also managed to do something else which makes the writerly geek in me grin happily, which is to take an inhuman race, in this case the dragons, and showcase them as exactly that – inhuman, a discrete and alien species – without a) making them seem like big scaly humans despite their long lives and differently wired brains or b) falling into that smug assumption that if dragons are really different then of course human ways must be better. I loved the logical, analytical dragons, from their incessant wind-vector calculations and their contempt for human small-talk and rituals, to their reluctant fascination with human art and, on occasion, their helpless addiction to human sensation.

Seraphina is a cracking read, filled with three-dimensional people living in a three-dimensional world. It’s full of delightful surprises – humour, beautiful descriptions, unique ways of looking at the world – but it has a deep, rich undercurrent of genuinely moving reflections on family, and humanity, and choices, and lies and truth.

Although it’s the first in a series, and the characters have definitely not completed their journey by the end of this book, the initial challenge faced by Seraphina has been well resolved and you’re left feeling, if not satisfied (Hell no, I want the next one yesterday) at least comforted that Goredd and its people are ready for the trials ahead, as long as they have Seraphina and Kiggs and Glisselda looking out for them.

Seraphina comes out in May next year, highly recommended by yours truly.

Friday, 18 November 2011


Hello and Happy Friday, Dear Readers! Today it's my very great pleasure to finally unveil the cover and synopsis for FrostFire, the companion novel to Daughter of the Flames! FrostFire is due to come out in the UK from Walker Books in July of next year.

First, what is the story about?:

Frost is cursed - possessed by a wolf demon that brings death everywhere she goes. Desperate to find a cure, she flees her home, only to be captured by the Ruan Hill Guard. Trapped until she can prove she is not an enemy, Frost grows increasingly close to the Guard’s charismatic leader Luca and his second in command, the tortured Arian. Torn between two very different men, Frost fears that she may not be able to protect either of them ... from herself.

FrostFire's characters were a first for me. They arrived in my head as a trio.

I was haunted by the outline of three situations which would define the characters. The first was of a pair of injured, lost people, talking to each other in the cramped darkness of a tiny cave while a river flowed by outside, confiding secrets that might never emerge in the light of day. The second was of a golden person with stars in their eyes, standing in ripples of sunlight, reaching out to someone else and givng them a chance to change their life, and the sense of fearful exultation that second person would feel. And the final one...that was the most emotional, the most shocking of all. But I can't tell you about that one, as it would spoil the whole book :)

I saw a sort of triangle of personalities, each of them vulnerable and broken in a different way, each of them extraordinary and heroic in a different way. I saw how the flaws and strengths of these individuals would both support and aggravate the others, causing them to love and hate one another in unique ways, and to change and grow and eventually - hopefully - heal.

FrostFire deals with all the issues that I never had a chance to explore in DotF. Betrayal on a fundamental level, betrayal by someone that you love, how, in the middle of a war, bad guys and good guys sometimes merge into the same thing, how it feels to love someone who is utterly beyond your reach, and the way that people can transcend suffering and horror and become true heroes.

So now that you've scrolled past all those boring's the cover!

And can I just say? O! M! G! I love it! Love, love, love it. Like, it's my favourite cover of mine EVER. It's right in ways that you can't even understand unless you've read the book. The colours! The flaring blue flames! The WOLF EYES! When my publisher asked me what Frost, the heroine, ought to look like, I sent them these reference pics of a Native American actress:

And they found a model who could almost be her sister.

And also? SWIRLS, baby! My own, my precious swirly bits! *Flails*

Oh, and just in case that wasn't enough to send me into a blissed out author coma for a week? When FrostFire comes out next year Walker Books are also going to reissue Daughter of the Flames with a brand new cover? You wanna see it? Yes? Yes?

Heeee! #NoRacefail covers that accurately depict and celebrate beautifully diverse heroines? Oh yeah. Walker Books is all over that. I love my publisher!

P.S. Why yes, Dear Readers - that is the gorgeous Elizabeth May, writer and photographer extraordinaire, on the FF cover! Where can I find more of her haunting and lyrical photography you ask? Why, here!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Hi everyone! Welcome to a random blogpost of randomness, in which I will share a few things that have made me smile this week, in the hopes that they might make YOU smile, too.

First, this music video for the song A Thousand Years. Yes, it comes from the Breaking Dawn soundtrack and yes, the video does contain some clips from the film. And yes, you know I'm not really a fan of this whole Twilight thing. But this song is gorgeous and it works just as well for the lead characters of The Katana Trilogy (aka Big Secret Project) as for Bella and Edward. So I'm reclaiming it. As of now, it belongs to Shinobu and Mio.

Next, this picture (courtesy of YA Highway) which goes a long way to explaining why I have turned out the way I am.

How about this trailer for the new Snow White and the Huntsman film? I'll tell you the truth, this gives me shivers down the spine - it feels like it came right out of my imagination. Can anyone say 'Zella'? Can't wait to see this!

And this picture, which I found on Pinterest and absolutely adore: I'll be using this as inspiration for Barefoot on the Wind (the Other Novel that I'm going to be working on, and which I'll tell you more about some other time):

And finally, yesterday I realised that one of my absolute favourite musical artists, Two Steps From Hell, had released a new album and I'd somehow missed it! The thrill of this is almost impossible to describe. Nineteen new epic tracks! Love! Joy! Happiness! So here I offer you the first track from the album Archangel, which I can tell is going to be inspiring the heck out of me for many years to come.

Monday, 14 November 2011


Hello, Dear Readers. Happy Monday - I hope you've had a great weekend.

Over here in Zolahland I'm still mostly lying flat on my back and getting a teensy weensy bit sick and tired of it. Typing in this position is uncomfortable in the extreme, and so is trying to write with a pen and paper, which means that the book - Big Secret Project Book Two, aka The Katana Trilogy Book Two - which is practically BURNING inside me (ohmygodyouguysit'ssoawesomecoolandheartbreakingandbeautifulillluuurrrvvveit) is not getting written.

And that makes me cranky, Dear Readers. Very cranky. Who'd have thought that a writer with a perfect excuse to do nothing but lie around procrastinating for days on end would feel so cross about it? Not me! Turns out I'm not ready for my silver procrastinating medal quite yet.

Signs are that I'm probably on the mend now. I've made the decision to stop taking the powerful muscle relaxants that made me feel drunk and groggy all the time, so my back is hurting again, though it's not nearly the blinding agony that it was last Tuesday when it first happened. All the lying flat on my back does seem to be helping. I'm hopeful that I might be able to sit upright like a normal person within a week or so.

However, I know that I promised the lovely Liz and the lovely Megha to do a post for them today tackling planning and worldbuilding, and this has been weighing on my mind. I just can't do it. Believe me, I'd like nothing more than to get at least *some* writing in, but I just can't stay in this position long enough to do it. In fact, it looks like all my posts for the next week at least will be short and sweet. It's so frustrating for me, and I know it must be for you.

Please bear with me while I heal up, Dear Readers! I will try to keep to my normal posting schedule during all this, even if all I do is offer you a pretty picture or a YouTube video that I like. And forgive me for not writing the planning/world-building post that I promised. I will get to it, honestly, once I'm back on my feet!

Friday, 11 November 2011


Hi everyone - and Happy Friday!

Today, I have a confession to make. A confession which will already be fairly obvious to anyone who's checked my NaNoWriMo profile and seen my current wordcount.

I fell off the Nano wagon. *Sob*

No, I'm not really that upset, to be honest. After the catalogue of woe I've endured the past week I feel lucky just to be alive. Getting stressed out over Nano would be a bit silly.

As you know, I did try to push on despite the Nanovirus (with the pounding head, achy joints and sore throat) that struck me on November the first. In fact I did so well that I was ahead of target and gave myself Saturday off. But on Sunday I started to feel really ill again, and not the kind of illness that you can write through. I draw the line at taking a notebook into the toilet with me. Ew.

Despite feeling like death warmed over until Tuesday evening, I was still prepared to press on with Nano, adding words to my daily target to try and catch up. I was determined to start bright and early on Wednesday morning, motivated by getting to announce my news about The Katana Trilogy (aka Big Secret Project).

Then, as I was about to get into bed on Tuesday night, I crouched down to pat my dog, caught my foot in his bed, slipped, and felt an explosion of burning pain - like a red hot wire being ripped out of my spine and dragged down my leg. I couldn't sleep all night because of the pain in my back, which kept throbbing no matter how I arranged myself. I was on the phone to the doctor first thing the next morning. Those close to me know this is a last resort; I really hate going to the doctors. But I couldn't sit up, and was in pain even when I was walking. I was scared I'd done something really serious.

Turned out I'd done something medium serious - a prolapsed disc, which is when one of the discs of soft, cushioning tissue between the bones of your vertebrae bulge out and press into the nerves of the spine in a not-good sort of way. Not permanent but definitely very painful until it subsides.

Trying to sit upright in a normal position is agony. I'm typing this lying flat with my knees propped up by a pillow so that I can lean my laptop against them, and that's the position I'm more or less stuck in for a while. The only breaks are to eat (standing up) and take my dog for his walks. The pain is starting to ease off a little, although I'm not sure how much of that is actual progress and how much is due to the strong anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxant and painkilling drugs my doctor prescribed (these drugs make me feel a tiny bit drunk aaaaall the time, so please excuse any mistakes in this post based on that and the fact that it's hard to type in a horizontal position).

Given all that, I was forced to accept that I'm going to have to give up on hitting any kind of meaningful Nano target this year. It's a little frustrating. I'm SO keen to work on the second book of the Katana Trilogy. Everytime I think about all the cool stuff I get to write I want to clap like a seal. But I can't risk making my back worse, because that's just going to add to the delays. So for the moment I'm mainly watching American TV programmes on iTunes (I <3 Castle) and napping, and daydreaming about the feel of a pen in my hand and a notebook on my knees (yes, it's sad, I know).

Anyone who's been following this blog for a while will know that this is only the most recent in a serious of hilarious comedy pratfalls that I've been through (dislocating my toe while walking down the stairs was a good one) and might wonder if I have some heavy Karmic debt that I'm paying off or something. I can only wonder that myself, since I haven't managed to get through a year without some form of injury since I was about twelve. But never mind! My motto is that it could always be worse, so make the best of what you have.

With that in mind, I hope everyone has a great weekend - and I'll read you on Monday when, barring mishaps, I'll hopefully be answering some reader questions about planning and world-building :)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


Yes, you read that right!

At long last, after a YEAR of teasing you, and writing and revising furiously, and crossing my fingers, and long phonecalls with Super Agent and exciting emails with my editor... I can FINALLY tell you all about Big Secret Project.

*Deep breaths, deep breaths*

OK - first, some theme music. Well, I mean, clearly I'd love to provide a drumroll at this point, but not only is it hard to find one that lasts more than five seconds, but it would get really annoying after a minute (a bit like all this waffling I'm doing right now) so instead, the song which I've been listening to most throughout the writing of Big Secret Project:

For the full experience, click now, wait for the music to play, and then scroll down to read.


What is all this fuss about?

What is Big Secret Project?

Read on!
THE KATANA TRILOGY. A breathtaking new urban fantasy trilogy from the critically acclaimed, award winning author of The Swan Kingdom and Shadows on the Moon.

When fifteen year old Mio Yamato furtively sneaks the katana - an ancestral Japanese sword - out of its hiding place in her parent's attic to help liven up her Christmas party costume, she has no idea of the darkness she is about to unleash on modern day London, or the family secrets that she is going to uncover.

The paralysing paranoia that descends on her before she gets to her friend's party is her first clue. The vivid and terrifying visions that nearly get her killed are a pretty good warning too.

The giant nine-tailed cat demon that comes after the sword and tries to rip her throat out? Overkill.

Seconds away from becoming kitty-food, Mio accidentally releases Shinobu, a warrior boy who has been trapped within the sword for centuries. He saves her life and sends the demon running. But it's already too late. Mio has ruptured the veil between the mortal realm and the Underworld, and now the gods and monsters of ancient Japan stalk the streets of London, searching for her and the sword. 

With the help of her best friend Jack, a fox spirit named Hikaru - and the devoted protection of the betwitchingly familiar Shinobu - Mio attempts to discover the true nature of the sword and its connection to the Yamato family. Because if she doesn't learn how to control the katana's incredible powers, she's in danger of being overwhelmed by them. And if she can't keep the sword safe from the terrible creatures who want it for their own, she'll lose not only her own life... but the love of a lifetime.

The Night Itself, Book One of THE KATANA TRILOGY, is due for publication in summer 2013 from Walker Books, publishers of Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments Series and Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking Trilogy.

Monday, 7 November 2011


Hello, Dear Readers - and Happy Monday! This weekend I realised that I had never posted the wonderful interview which Elle and Kate from The Book Memoirs did with me for their Writer's Workshop. I'm not even sure I posted a link, since I'd kind of forgotten about it (bad Zolah! No cookie!). 

And so, I present it now, for your consideration. Some great questions here, which I've never been asked in quite this way before.

Hej, Memoirites! Hvordan har du det? It feels appropriate to say hello and ask you how you are in Danish because today’s author is young-adult novelist Zoë Marriott! No, Zoë herself is not Danish but her wildly popular first book, The Swan Kingdom, is an ingenious retelling of the fairytale ‘The Wild Swans’ by Hans Christian Andersen… (See what I did there?) Zoë is also the author of the acclaimed fantasy novel Daughter of the Flames and the highly acclaimed Shadows on the Moon, currently available in a bookstore near you. We love Zo and we’re always delighted to have her on the site.

Elle: Hi, Zoë! Thanks so much for agreeing to be here. In prepping for the interview, I spent some time working through your treasure trove of a website and all of your tips for aspiring writers. If you had to pick one single piece of all-important advice to give to budding novelists, what do you think it would be?

Zoë: Thanks so much for inviting me, girls! Now, this first question… Oh, heck – where’s Yoda when you need him? The thing is, the One All-Important Piece of Advice probably changes from writer to writer, from day to day, even from minute to minute. It all depends where you are in your book, your life and your career. If I’m going for a one-size-fits-all type of thing I’ll probably plump for a reminder that the only difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is that the published one never gave up. So don’t ever give up. Persistence is three times as valuable as luck.

Kate: As a big fan of fairy tales and folk stories, I’m curious: what made you decide to use an Andersen story as the backbone for your novel? Was this a conscious decision at the get-go, or an evolution as you worked through ideas?

Zoë: I’ve always been fascinated by fairytales, and The Wild Swans was my favourite fairytale growing up. Looking back, I can see that what really captured my attention about the story – and all folkloric works – is the wide gaps left for the imagination within the narrative. Fairytales always tell you who did what and where, but somehow that essential WHY is never provided. Just why is the wicked stepmother so wicked? Why is the father or King always so willing to banish and forget his own children? How do the children themselves feel about it? What kind of courage does it take to go on when your fairytale world has fallen apart like this? I promised myself that I would explore these questions when I got older. And then I forgot about it. But when – several years later! – I realised that I wanted to write young adult novels, The Wild Swans immediately presented itself as a story that I needed to re-tell. It was as if it had been waiting patiently at the back of my mind all that time for me to grow up and notice it.

Elle: I’ve noticed that in my search for information, I haven’t seen anything which speaks to your writing process. Do you story-board? Are there lots of pieces of paper stuck haphazardly on your walls or do you have nice, neat index cards full of plans?
Zoë: Here’s where I bust out my camera! As you can see here, I’m a devotee of notebooks. Generally when I get a little spark of an idea I’ll pick out a notebook that seems right – I have nearly a hundred neatly stored in my Writing Cave – and I’ll start shoving Post-It notes into it with all my random thoughts. Later on, when the idea has matured or collided with another idea to make something that seems juicy enough for a book, I’ll get the notebook out again, pop a working title and a date in the front and start scribbling like mad – everything from fully formed scenes to one-line snatches of dialogue, to character sketches.

I do almost all of my rough drafting with a pencil in a notebook, which means that about 75% of my notebook is full of messy stuff which bears no resemblance to anything in the finished book at all. I’ve tried typing directly into a computer but I find it adds a lot of hard work to the revising later on – things look so official once you’ve got them in a Word Doc., it’s much harder to be flexible, play with ideas, change your mind. When I feel like I’ve rooted the story firmly in my brain I start trying to write a synopsis to contain all the craziness. Oy vey, synopses! I’m terrible at them! Plotting is definitely my week spot. I’ve developed all kinds of elaborate graphs and diagrams to try and keep control of my plots (as you can see!).

I’m not sure any of them really work – they’re more like a comfort blanket that I need in order to keep going when really I have no idea how things are going to fall out. For instance, after finishing the first draft of my current book I was forced to go back and change the gender OF EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER except two, and completely re-write it to make that work. I feel as if I’m a 50/50 mix between a planner and a pantser, and I hope one day to find a combination that works for me a bit more smoothly.

Kate: As someone who’s fairly private with her own writing, I always wonder this about published authors: when do you share your writing with other people? Do you have a sounding board you bounce ideas off of from inception or do you wait until you have some or all of a first draft done?

Zoë: Oh, you’re not alone, Kate! Lately I’ve been feeling like a bit of an anomaly in this regard, because Twitter and other writers blogs show me that everyone – but everyone! – seems to have teams of alpha readers, beta readers and critique partners. But I don’t. I never have. The only people who even get to glimpse what I’m working on before I’ve completed the first draft are my agent and editor – and when I say ‘first draft’ I actually mean ‘third or fourth draft that I call a first draft because I don’t want to admit how awful the actual first draft was’.

When I was first writing this was because I couldn’t find any person in my real life who was a) interested enough to comb through a first draft on my behalf and b) capable of doing so in a meaningful or helpful way. Seriously, you can’t exactly ask your mother, can you? By the time I became aware of the huge online YA community and the critiquing boards on places like AW I found that I didn’t really want feedback from anyone who wasn’t going to be directly involved in getting the book published, because so often the comments I saw online were contradictory and unhelpful.

But even though I don’t have any beta readers, I do belong to an informal writing group which was founded by an online friend of mine several years ago. We call ourselves The Furtive Scribblers and you’ll find them mentioned in the acknowledgments of everything I write. We have enormous, no-pressure fun, brain-storming, bouncing ideas, testing plots for holes, and pushing each other through writer’s block. I adore them, and without them my books would be HALF as good, if that.

Elle: I’m really interested in your experience of planning a fantasy novel and the alternative rules of that world. For high-fantasy, everyone’s advice is to start with a map, urban-fantasy seems to carry the recommendation of working out the mythology first. What did you do first whilst plotting your brand of fantasy novel?

Zoë: Panic, normally. As soon as I start to get an idea of what my fantasy world is going to be, I freak out and become convinced I JUST DON’T KNOW ENOUGH OMG. I wear out my library card, spend all my cash on reference works, documentaries and world music CDs and Google until my fingers bleed. Because my fantasy worlds so far have all had a historical basis (Daughter of the Flames was a mixture of India, Africa and Tibet, Shadows on the Moon is Japan and a sprinkling of China) it would have been all too easy to get things wrong.

Which may sound crazy when I’m making up my own world – but if you’re creating a pre-industrial country with no mass production and you have your characters pull out a ‘tarp’ or carry water in a metal bucket, you’ve already messed up. If you’re going to create fairytale Japan you need to know about real Japan or instead of an homage you’ll create a stereotypical parody, and not only insult the real culture you’re using but embarrass yourself. I do not like to embarrass myself!

Only when I’ve stuffed my brain to bursting point with every real life fact I can find do I feel as if I have the right to start messing around and actually making stuff up. This is the fun part. I used to draw incredibly detailed maps, but my publisher doesn’t like them and won’t actually put them in the book, so now I mostly sketch out relative areas so that I don’t get mixed up later on. I have a mental check list of vital facts I must know before I start work in earnest, like – what is the primary religion or religion of this country or countries? How strongly does this affect the day-to-day lives of the people? What does the general populace look like? What is the climate like, what are the major geographical features and natural hazards? What are is the wildlife like? The list goes on for quite a long while. But once I’ve filled those boxes I’ll give myself freedom to make other things up as I go along and as the plot or characters require. Some of my favourite bits of world building have come from impulse invention – like the facial tattoos in DotF.

Kate: Do you have any writing “rituals”? Do you have to cut yourself off from the outside world? Do you start rereading what you last wrote? Is there anything that has to be done for the juices to get flowing?

Zoë: I try not to let myself get into too many rituals, because I have an addictive personality and I feel as if I would just end up strangling myself. So, generally, I try to be in my Writing Cave by 9:00, I usually have a large mug of tea or coffee with me, and I generally try to re-read and revise what I wrote the day before, and then go onto new material. But if I blocked the doorway of the Writing Cave with three baskets of un-ironed laundry and I have to write downstairs instead? I try to be OK with that. If the dog rolled in something awful and needs a bath and I can’t start until 10:00? Golly, I really, really try to be OK with that. I think the only things I absolutely must have are my notebook/pencil and my iPod. Music is one thing I can’t do without. I mean, I can write without it, but I find it so hard to get started, it’s just easier to give in.

Elle: You’ve mentioned in one of your Q&A answers on your website that the ending to The Swan Kingdom changed drastically halfway through as you got to know your characters. Do you tend to find you start a novel with a fully-formed character in mind, or do you often begin with a handful of details and surprise yourself as you go?

Zoë: Actually, the ending itself stayed exactly the same. What changed was where the ending took place, how it took place, and all the characters involved!

I always start with a character. Stories come to me through the filter of a character’s eyes. I get that little whispering voice in the back of my head, and their life begins to unreel itself before my eyes. And because of this I fool myself that I know who they are and what’s going to happen. But of course, I’m not actually receiving messages from an alternate reality – it’s all coming from the little Writer Plugin in my hindbrain. And so what seems to come to me as incontrovertible ‘fact’, like this character’s actions, or that character’s traits, are all negotiable.

It’s only when I actually put the characters in the world, set them against each other and and let them get to work, that I truly start to understand them, and see how their histories, personalities, and conflicting desires, work together to create what I hope are fully realised people. And as soon as this starts, the story – what it means to them and what it means to me, and hence what actually happens – begins to warp and change.

This is a good thing. Even if it does cause the occasional panic attack…

Kate: At what point do you abandon an idea – be it for a plot twist, a character, or part of your fantasy world – as unworkable? Is there some threshold that lets you know “this won’t work”?

Zoë: Nope. I’ve not yet figured out how to be well adjusted about this stuff. There’s things that I love, and things I don’t. The things I love stay no matter what, and the things I don’t go out the window in a constant stream. Then I send it to my editor and she cuts half the things I love, brings half the things I don’t love back from the flowerbed under the window, and tells me to make it work. And I groan and clutch my head, and try to sneak as many of the ‘love’ bits back in as I can, but it’s never as many as I wanted. If anyone else has any tips on how to handle this? I’d be extremely grateful!

Elle: I’ve taken great pleasure in putting this question to everyone else but I especially can’t wait to see what you say! Writers are often asked who their biggest influences are but I would instead like to know which novels most influenced you as an individual and as writer, barring the most obvious answer (cough, cough)!

Zoë: The Holy Trinity for me as a young person was – The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce, and Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. If you’ve read these, you’ll sense a common theme – resourceful, brave, compassionate heroines, with bag-ass swords. These books taught me who I wanted to be and I like to think I’ve lived up to that, at least in a small way. Even though my sword is only a wooden one.

When it comes to writers who influence me and my work as an adult, though – writers that I’m still striving to emulate, writers whose books have expanded my horizons and continue to make me a better writer myself – the picture changes a little. Suddenly I’m looking at a new top three:

Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold and The Other Wind by Ursula Le Guin.

These books have a lot less in common on the surface, but each of them has a core of… something, some indefinable thing, that I’m constantly trying to breach and understand. I’ve re-read each of these so many times you’d think I’d know them by heart. Instead, I find myself reading a new book each time. THAT is greatness. I bow down before them.

Thanks again for having me Elle and Kate, and for coming up with such different, intriguing questions!

Friday, 4 November 2011


Hello everyone! Happy Friday to you all!

I'm a bit dazed and confused that it *is* Friday already, but despite the attack of the Nanovirus (and the pouring rain) I'm pretty cheerful. I'm slightly ahead of my NaNoWriMo target, I'm starting to feel a little better, and most importantly Super Agent LOVES Big Secret Project Book One. Yippee!

So it's time to bust out the RetroFriday goodness, and drag a post from the archives which you may not have seen before or may find interesting to re-read. Given last week's ranting about the problems of Mary Sue in our sexist society, it felt about time to pull out some of my earlier thoughts on the topic. And so I give you:


Today, as part of my random, FF-is-eating-my-brain programme of entertainment, I present a post on what I think is wrong with the way our society perceives and enforces gender roles. To read the article that inspired this blog post you can click on this link.

In summary: This very clever lady used Zoë-Trope favourite Wordle to create these. 

  Wordle: Words Used to Advertise Boys' Toys
Wordle: Words Used in Advertising for Girls' Toys

The first one is a Wordle made up of the terms used in advertising boy's toys. The second is made up of terms used in advertising girl's toys.

These toys were marketed at boys and girls between the ages of six and eight - very young. But not too young to already be assessing and questioning their place in the world and who they should be. In fact, this is exactly the period when children are assigning themselves the gender roles that they may carry for the rest of their lives.

By this age I was already rejecting my mother's desire to dress me in sensible jeans and dungarees and begging for pink, flowery dresses. By this age the boys I knew were already wearing mostly blue and bright red and camoflage colours, and saying things like 'Ew, giiiirls!'

These behaviours all seem perfectly natural - until you realise they're not.

Until the age of around eight or nine, boys and girls have precisely the same hormones running through their veins. If you took a group of boys and girls under ten and dressed them in the same grey sack and cut all their hair to the same length, you would be unable to tell boy from girl, even if they spoke or hugged you or danced around the room.

There is no pink gene on the X-chromosone that automatically makes little girls crave flowery dresses and ribbons and baby dolls. There's no blue gene on the y-chromosone that automatically makes boys crave fast cars, swords and buzz cuts. There's definitely no 'Euw, giiirls!' gene that requires boys to treat girls and anything that girls might be interested in with disdain and contempt.

And yet these are all behaviours which are so common, so normal, so 'natural' to us that we not only don't QUESTION them? We get all het up and bothered if kids *don't* conform to them. Like, for instance, when this American blogger helped her little boy's wish come true by allowing him to dress as Daphne from Scooby Do at Halloween, and dozens of people descended on her to say that she was a bad mother.

It's not that either of these Wordles presents any bad words. There's nothing wrong with a child of either sex liking dresses and babies or dragons and heroes. The problem is that the companies creating these toys, and the people marketing them, are making an assumption that girls - and only girls - are vitally interested in fashion, perfect nails, babies, love and hair. And that boys - and only boys - are interested in battle, power, heroes, stealth and beating people.

Which is only true if we make it so, by pushing a narrow, reductive take on what male and female mean onto children and telling them 'this is what you are'. There is simply no reason for young children to be treated or act differently based on their sex, other than the fact that we, as a society, want them to be different.

What a terrible thing to do to a child, right? How awful to bombard them with films, TV shows, music videos, books and toys and toy catalogues (not to mention unconscious assumptions on the way that children should develop and behave) and try to force them to conform to unnatural, artificial ideals of gender, without any good reason.

What are kids, especially kids who don't enjoy the roles arbitrarily assigned to them based on their reproductive organs, absorbing from this?

Looking at these Wordles makes me think of all kinds of other things that worry me. Like the commonly held idea that boys don't read because not enough 'boy books' are on the shelves, and that the dominance of women editors and writers in Young Adult and Children's publishing is somehow hurting boys and preventing them from becoming readers. The arguments about this are summed up beautifully in this article by YA author Maureen Johnsonand the comment trail is particularly interesting.

Why is it so impossible for us to expect a boy to read a book that has a girl main character? Why is the idea of reading about a girl so disgusting to boys that, apparently, they won't even go into the bookstore because they have to pass by books with girls in them? What are we teaching boys - and girls - about the value of their role in society by encouraging this, and by placing the blame on female authors and editors intead of a society that raises boys to look at girls (and anything that may be considered to be 'girly') with contempt? Especially since we're also raising the girls to believe that they must conform to 'girly' behaviour and interests in order to be 'normal' and 'natural'?

It's not normal and natural.

Babies, love, perfect nails and romance are awesome. So are battles, dragons, flames and heroes. What I want to know is, why can't both sexes be interested in both without being shunned by our society? Why, 500,000 years after modern man first emerged as a species on earth, are we still trying to play by the strict rules of a hunter-gatherer society that died out with flint axes and stone circles?

And will people like me still be asking this question in another hundred year's time - or a thousand?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

BLLLLEUUURRRGHHHHLLL... I said to someone on Twitter. No, seriously. That was about the height of my wit at 7:30 this morning, and I'm afraid I've not moved on much since.

Yesterday was the first day of Nano, and it brought with it just over 2,000 words of Big Secret Project Book Two (YAY!). It also brought with it a strange bug which has given me a fuzzy head, achy joints, an extremely sore throat, and this creeping red rash on my face and neck (BOOO!).

And I need to try and hit my Nano target again today. Folding after just one day would be too pathetic for words. But since I'm still feeling like the grey slimy thing that one of my cats left on the doormat, those are about the only good words I'm going to be capable of, I think.

See you on Friday - when hopefully I'll look and feel and WRITE less like a grey slimy thing and more like, you know, a person.

*Waves feebly*

*Totters away to wWriting Cave*
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