Monday, 30 January 2012


Hello and Happy Monday to all! I hope everyone had a productive weekend, or at least a peaceful one. Personally, I spent most of mine buried in Jill Paton Walsh's The Attenbury Emeralds wishing very much that I had my own Lord Peter Wimsey, collywobbles and all (and I know this sentence will be incomprehensible for a lot of my Dear Readers - never mind, the ones who get it will GET it).

But since there aren't many Donne-addicted aristocratic amateur private detectives wandering around my part of the world - or any part of the world, more's the pity - instead I thought I'd talk about a little revelation I had recently. Because the reason that I was able to enjoy my book so happily this weekend was mostly down to that.

For years, Dear Readers - since I left college at the age of seventeen, in fact, and got a job which kept me occupied from 8:45 to 5:15 Monday to Friday - I've had a routine. Saturday is my Day Off. A day off from everything, not just my salary-paying work, but also my writing. It's the one day of the week when I give myself permission to relax and stop worrying about clunky backstory, first versus third person perspectives and the role of foreshadowing. It's supposed to be my day of rest, since Sunday is my day of get-as-many-words-down-as-possible.

However, inevitably, since it WAS the one day I wasn't committed to do something else, Saturday was also the day I did all my chores. Including heading to the supermarket and loading up with a week's worth of groceries, pet food and household supplies.

Back when I *was* seventeen, this weekly shop was actually kind of fun for me. It was the first step I took to being an independent adult. Walking around the shop with my little list and my calculator and my trolley made me feel grown up and competent.

Unfortunately, this sensation didn't last for long. On a Saturday morning whatever shop you go to will be crammed full of other people, mostly families with over-tired, screaming/crying/whining children and stressed out parents who are way too busy to know or care if they just dislocated your knee with their trolley as they wrestled a chocolate bar out of their five year-old's hand. All the checkouts will have queues at least two trolleys long before you get there, no matter how early you get there, and all the checkout staff will be in a mild psychotic rage. The car park will be like a warzone, with the drivers apparently suffering from a strange form of PTSD which makes it impossible for them to notice other people exist, meaning pedestrians take their lives in their hands the moment their foot hits the tarmac. You go in there with a short shopping list and end up being trapped for a minimum of a couple of hours, and that's not counting the travel time. Basically, it sucks up the whole of Saturday morning.

For months, maybe years, I've been aware that I actively dreaded this weekly shop. If I woke up with a sore throat and a headache or maybe a bad stomach on a Saturday, and realised I shouldn't go out, I was glad to be ill just to avoid it. But I still kept on doing it week after week. Even after I went part-time in my office job. Even after I lost my office job. Even after I became a full-time writer. When every practical reason for it had dissolved, I still clung to that routine.

I could have chosen to go shopping on a different day or at a different time. Or if my hatred of grocery shopping had become so intense that this still made me cringe, I could simply have done the shopping online (as I had been forced to do before in cases of emergency) and have it delivered. But I didn't take steps to make this change. I told myself that other than walking my dog, some weeks going to the supermarket was the only time I got out of the house at all and without it I'd turn into a hermit. I told myself the delivery charge of between £3 and £5 was an unnecessary expense. I even told myself that shopping online was too fiddly.

And then one week I got up on a Saturday and just could not face that trek to the supermarket one more time. Couldn't do it. Wouldn't do it. It wasn't that I was ill, or too busy or anything like that. The dread was simply overwhelming. As a reasonably well-adjusted, generally rational adult, it was tough to come face to face with this sudden burst of irrational emotion. I mean, I'm used to being a flake when it comes to writing, but in the rest of my life I'm usually (more or less) sane. So what was going on here? Why did I refuse to get out of my jim-jams, put on some make-up, grab my carefully written shopping list and get out of the door like I'd been doing every Saturday of my life since I was seventeen?

And just like that, the question re-ordered itself in my head. Why SHOULD I get out of my jim-jams, put on make-up, grab my carefully written shopping list and go do something that I'd been doing every Saturday of my life since I was seventeen?


I hated doing this. I'd been forcing myself to do something I hated on a weekly basis for years, for no real reason other than habit.

So I got on the computer and ordered my shopping online, noting that due to the lack of impulse buying, my total bill actually came out a little less than normal, even with the delivery charge, and also that the whole process took about twenty minutes.

Then I spent my Saturday actually doing things I wanted to do instead of rushing to the shop in a fruitless attempt to get in before the crowds (never happened), rushing round in an attempt to get my shopping done quickly and efficiently (never happened), rushing home to try and stop anything from melting or going bad (mostly managed that one) and then collapsing in a heap feeling bruised and stressed out and strangely guilty because my day of rest was half over and I'd not managed to do anything I wanted to do and now probably wouldn't due to feel as if I'd been beaten by cudgels.

I watched a little TV, caught up with my writing group online, talked to a friend on the phone. I went out and had a leisurely lunch, then browsed in the bookshop. I had couple of lovely long walks with the dog. I even made time for some other chores which had been sitting ignored for longer than I cared to think about.

"I don't have to do it anymore," I thought to myself with a dawning sense of joy and relief. "I don't ever have to do it again!"

The sense of a weight lifting off my shoulders, was really extraordinary. You'd have thought I'd figured out a way to fix world hunger rather than simply deciding I was going the online shopping route.

But I think the fact that it was such a small, easily made change is what was so joyful about it.

In life - as in writing - there are always going to be horrible, boring, essential tasks that you can't get out of. But there are also dozens of little unpleasantnesses that you CAN get out of, if you just admit you want to. There's usually no real reason for suffering through this stuff except that you always have, and it's habit, and for some reason human beings cling to habit as if it were their only life-raft in the swirling sea of chaos. Even if it's not actually a life-wraft at all, but an anchor dragging them down to the bottom. They will cling and cling and cling and...oh dear, now they've drowned. But their cold dead fingers are STILL clamped around that anchor, because it's habit and even in death they don't know how to let go.

Small changes can make a huge difference. Taking the time to think things through honestly can make a huge difference. I now feel as if Saturday truly is a day of rest, and the freedom to do what I actually want on that day instead of what I think I should is like a wonderful, unexpected gift.

Dear Readers, have a look at your routines. Have a look at your writing. Those little things that make you cringe... do they really need to be there? Are you sure? Don't let yourself make up bull excuses but be truly frank with yourself and if you've got the option, try cutting that cringe out of your world. Try it just once and see how you feel.

It might transform your life.

Friday, 27 January 2012


Hello, Dear Readers! Friday has arrived, and so it is time for another glumptious helping of that well known delicacy RetroFriday, where I present to you a post which you might have missed the first time around, or may benefit from reading again. Today's post?

Happy Friday, dear readers! The end of the week has rolled around again and here I am submerged up to my chin in FrostFire, so close to writing The End that I can literally smell it (hmmmm. Grilled cheese). Before I type anything else, I'd like to encourage everyone to head over to the Undercover Reads blog and become a follower or bookmark it. And this is not just because Shadows on the Moon will be on this blog in July and will be getting an Undercover book trailer and promotions of it's own. It's because this blog is really fascinating and an excellent resource for young writers (it's run by the editors of Walker Books!).

So just a quickie workship today, inspired by the lovely Vivienne DaCosta (of Serendipity) and designed to help you do something that all writers want to do: Kill those cliches stone dead (and yes, that's a cliche).

I'm not talking about cliched plots or characters here, because those are a bit of a deeper problem. This workshop is about is cliches at prose level. The first thing to realise about cliches is that they became cliches - over-used, meaningless phrases which a reader's eye skates over - because they WORKED. The first time that someone wrote these phrases: 

It was a white knuckle ride

My heart sank into my stomach/my heart was in my mouth

He had an iron fist in a velvet glove

She was as white as a ghost 

They were dead tired

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I had a snowball in Hell's chance/when Hell freezes over

They were SO good, so clear, so apposite, that everyone who read them said: WOW. And promptly stole them for their own writing, or to use in every day conversation. And after ten years, twenty years, fifty years of being used over and over again, these phrases have become basically meaningless.

See - that's the problem with a cliche. It's not just that it isn't original. It's that when a reader sees those words, that is ALL they see. The words. The phrase is so familiar that it no longer evokes an image or a feeling, as it should. It acts as a placeholder for what the writer wants us to know without actually telling us anything interesting or unique about this character or the situation. In most cases, the writer might as well just have written: Joe was scared, or Beth had no chance. Because the cliche is every
bit as flat and obvious.

No matter how beautifully rounded your characters, how stonking your plot or how unique your setting, if you're expressing these things using cliches your reader is likely to be stifling yawns. Language used correctly allows us to get to a reader's heart. It's a tool that we can utilise to shoot images directly into their brain. Using a cliche to do this is like trying to hammer a nail into the wall with a marshmallow. Cliches obscure everything bright and brilliant about your work.

Cliches turn words into a barrier between the reader and what you want them to feel.

When you're drafting, quite often the ideas are coming so fast that you shove a cliche in there just so you can keep going - and that's fine. I have friends who actually put notes in the margins with 'Make this better' or 'Wrong Word' so that they can pick these up in revision. Revision, you see, is the key to eliminating tired, bland phrases from your work.

When you come across a cliched phrase in your work you need to stop and think about WHAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO SAY. This might sound blindingly obvious, but it's not. So Ranjit 'gasped with shock' did he? Really? Is that what you actually want to convey to the reader - that your character reacted to this shock with exactly the same reaction as every other character who had a shock, ever? If something has just jumped out of the shadows at Ranjit, or another character has just confided something horrifying, the reader is smart enough to work out that Ranjit is shocked.  

Tell them something they don't know.

How is this person reacting to the shock and what does that say about them? Maybe Ranjit was so shocked that he felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach? That's a cliche too, but at least it's a better cliche, one that tells us Ranjit's shock affected him physically, which tells us something about who he is.

Strip it back a bit more. What does being punched in the somach really feel like? Are you talking about this character literally staggering back, or maybe you just mean that his stomach cramps up and makes him hunch over? That's a reaction we can all sympathise with.

Having gotten this far, let's strip it back a bit further. What's going on in Ranjit's head, right now? Is he scared-shocked? Appalled shocked? Laughing-shocked? That's going to have a big affect on how he feels.

Maybe Ranjit is shocked because he's heard that his friend is dead. In the instant when this terrible news hits him, Ranjit doesn't want to hear it. He wants to block it out. In fact, for a second, it feels as if he's deaf, because his brain is trying to avoid having to cope with this awful news. Realising this about Ranjit (that he's the kind of person who reacts to shock by wanting to block it out, that it causes physical discomfort for him) is very good, because not only does it give the reader a deeper insight into him, it means that we - as the writer! - are going to know him well enough in future to hopefully avoid even more cliches.

So: Ranjit gets bad news. He feels a terrible pain in his stomach and has the sensation that his ears have stopped working. He's almost as devastated physically by what he's learned as he is emotionally. That's a powerful moment.

We've gone from:

Ranjit gasped with shock, staring at Sandeep as if he couldn't believe his eyes. (Reader reaction - BOOORING)


Ranjit felt as if his ears had stopped working. A terrible pain cramped through his midsection - he doubled over, struggling for air. It took a moment for him to hear the rest of what Sandeep was saying. He didn't want to hear. (Reader reaction - Poor guy)

By stripping back the meaningless cliche and really thinking about the character, about how he feels, what he's going through, you've shown us reaction that truly feels real, one that has the possibility of moving us. One that, for that split-second, makes us think maybe we know just how he feels.

More than that, this description of how Ranjit reacts to learning about his friend's death tells us a lot about Ranjit himself, about who he is. That's every writer's Holy Grail (cliche alert!) - to convey character in every line. Someone who punches a wall when they hear this terrible news would be a very different Ranjit:

Sandeep's face blurred in Ranjit's eyes and pain exploded in his right hand. He realised that he had driven his fist into the wall of the barn. Sandeep was talking to him quietly, trying to coax him away, trying to look at his stinging, bleeding knuckles.

Someone who passes out would be a different Ranjit.

Someone who turns on the bearer of bad news would be a different Ranjit.

Someone who walked away before the bearer of bad news could even finish would be different:

Ranjit heard Sandeep's words distantly, but he didn't try to process them. He already knew. Sandeep's face had told him everything the second that his friend rounded the side of the barn. Ranjit jerked away from Sandeep and walked off, the noises of the farm rushing together in his head and turning to choked silence.

So many possibilities! So many ways to teach us about Ranjit and so many ways to make the reader feel. And we're even learning about Sandeep in the process! (Does anyone else totally ship Ranjit and Sandeep now? No? Just me then...)

The cliche tells us nothing. The good description tells us everything.

You probably can't do this for every single cliche in your book. You may have noticed that while the cliche took up one line there, the good piece of description took three lines. There are times when, in order to pick up the pace, you will need to skip the detailed analysis and allow the reader's eye to skate. There are also times when a reaction or an event isn't that important. Not every shock that the character gets is going to be a your-friend-is-dead-emo-angst type of shock. Ranjit doesn't need to double over with pain when he finds out there's no coffee for his breakfast (although I might).

But when you're depicting important events, when you're writing key scenes of action or emotion, make an effort to comb through them and catch the cliches. Then kill those suckers so that your characters can live.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link - or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.

This Week's Topic
Pick two of your favorite YA characters and write a dialogue between them.

Well, you know what? I'm going to pick two of my own characters here (even though I don't think that was the purpose of the thing) because as soon as I read this the most funny, ridiculous pairing popped into my head. And that pairing is Akira, the fabulous fairy godmother from Shadows on the Moon, and Arian, the tortured, gruffly-wuffly lieutenant from the upcoming FrostFire.

(Bear in mind that I'm taking a few liberties with them here, just to allow them to exist in the same space)


Akira: Oh, hello! I didn't see you there - who are you?

Arian: (Stares, blushes, looks away) *Mutter mumble*

Akira: I beg your pardon, I didn't quite...

Arian: (Blushes harder) *MUTTER mumble growl mumble*

Akira: My apologies, perhaps there is something wrong with my hearing this morning. Could you repeat yourself for me one more time?


Akira: (Jumps a little) Goodness me. Is there something wrong, young man? Because I can assure you that no matter how handsome you are, in this country that is not what passes for good manners. (Starts to turn away)

Arian: (Blinks) Handsome?

Akira: Oh, that got your attention? How typical. (Turns away again)

Arian: Wait!

Akira: (Sighs) Yes?

Arian: *Mutter mutter mutter*

Akira: (Sighs louder) Oh, will you please just come out with it? I'm starting to get the worrying sensation that I might be going deaf, and I'm not nearly old enough for that.

Arian: I think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen.

Both: Awkward pause.

Akira: Oh.

Arian: (Blushes brighter than a thousand suns)

Akira: Well, that's...that...ahem...very nice of you...ahem. But I think maybe...(Steps a little closer, leans in) *Whisper whisper whisper*

Arian: Oh? Oh! Um...well, I don't mind if you don't. 

Akira: What? Really? 

Arian: Well, just between you and me, there's this guy I was trying to get over, and then this girl...I'm open minded, you know? What's always mattered to me is - um - what's inside. And there's something about you...

Akira: (Stares, open-mouthed)

Arian: (Shifts uncomfortably)

Akira: All right. Come with me. You and I are going to get better acquainted. (Grabs his arm)

Arian (Allows himself to be dragged, a tiny smile on his face)


And there you are folks! That's what it looks like when an author writes fanfic for their own books - and ships a couple no one else probably ever thought of :)

Monday, 23 January 2012


Dear Readers, I have a wonderful friend. She is called Barbara and she lives in Canada, and she is part of my writing group The Furtive Scribblers. Barbara, on top of being an intimidatingly talented word artist, is also a dedicated craftsperson who is determined to hone her abilities to their very sharpest. As part of this, she goes to a lot of writing and genre festivals and conventions, and she meets a lot of other writers, including some very famous ones.

Now, as I may have mentioned on the blog before, I live in somewhat of a geographical cul de sac. Travel from my home, pretty much anywhere is both expensive and exhausting, and as a result of this and the fact that I need to look after my father, I don't often get to go to writing related events. And this means that I don't have access to something which I love and adore. Something which Barbara gets her hands on quite often.

Signed books.

Barbara, dear, lovely Barbara, knows that signed books are like crack to me. She is the one who managed to get me a signed and personalised copy of The Other Wind by Ursula Le Guin, the book which I mention here as one of my ultimate writing influences (and by the way Ursula Le Guin? WE ARE NOT WORTHY *Bows Down*).

But this time, B. you have outdone yourself. This time when I opened the unexpected parcel that arrived on my doorstep I was not prepared for the awesomeosity that was to spill into my lap, oh no. 

Remember this story about The One, Dear Readers? About the lightning-struck moment of clarity when my life changed forever as I realised that I wanted to write fantasy for young adults? And the author whose book I was reading at the time was...

That's right.

B. it's possible I might have had a heart attack when I saw this. But it was totally worth it. You are a bright and shiny star, and like a star, you always lead me home eventually. I'll see you back in the FSC soon, promise.

*Snuggles book*

Friday, 20 January 2012


Is there any day of the week that I cannot engulf with my very own brand of randomosity? I think not. Onwards, Dear Readers!

First, I'd like to share this excellent post about sexism (thanks for bunting this my way Saya!) written by Rae Carson, author of last year's kickass debut fantasy Girl of Fire and Thorns - which I reviewed, glowingly, here. Everything that she talks about experiencing in her article, I experienced during my time in the working world, at three separate work places. And what was more, I didn't realise there was anything wrong with it for the longest time, because this is how young women and girls expect to be treated in our society. Once I did realise that something wasn't right, I felt powerless to change things because I had accepted being treated that way for years - and whenever I did try to stand up for myself, I incurred even more abuse.

I'm not sure even I understood the full extent of the bullying, harassment and abuse I dealt with on a day to day basis until I actually left my day job and worked for myself for a while, and was able to look back with some perspective. So it's sobering to realise that there are people out there - men and women - who believe sexism is a myth. And that women have somehow taken over the world and are being unfair to men. And that discrimination and anti-bullying laws should be scaled back, either to 'boost industry' or because they're no longer needed.

Next, I want to share this wonderful blog where an artist envisions Disney heroines as real people: 

Seriously - how awesome is that? Go check out the other images on his blog.

Now for a question: What does everyone think about my website?

Do you think it needs a redesign? I first put it together nearly seven years ago and at the time it was the envy of everyone who looked at it - it was pretty and comprehensive and back then a lot of authors didn't even have a website. In the years since, though, all those writers who were hesitating on the brink of online activity have taken the plunge, and most of them paid web designers to create their sites, which means that the homemade nature of my little site has become startlingly obvious. What do you guys think? Do you like the wonky, homemade look the thing has now? Should I redesign myself? Or should I invest in something a bit more professional? That last one is expensive, so it's not a decision to be taken lightly.

If you think I should spring for a professional's help, do you have any favourite author sites - ones you think are particularly attractive, fun, or easy to navigate - to direct me to so that I can check out their designers?

Finally, since it's a brand new year and we've not talked about it for a bit - does anyone have any suggestions for what my challenge should be if/when the blog reaches 400 followers? It doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon, since we've been hovering around 320 for months now, but it would be nice to have something up there.

Well, that's all the random I've got right now. Have a great weekend - read you later! 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


I'm very excited today, Dear Readers! I've got two lovely things to share with you.

Late yesterday evening (due to the time difference) I received an email from my editor at my U.S. publisher Candlewick Press. She told me that Shadows on the Moon, which is due to be released in a hardback edition in America on the 24th of April this year, has been chosen as a Junior Library Guild Selection.

I've heard of the JLG before but they've never picked any of my work to recommend, so this is wonderful news. I'm pretty sure it's also happy-making for Candlewick - my editor says the jacket of the book will be amended before it comes out to show the selection on the flap. The book isn't up on the JLG's website yet (presumably because this news is hot off the presses) but you can bet I'll be checking back frequently until I see it for myself!

Hot on the heels of this news, I realised that the final cover for the U.S. edition of Shadows on the Moon was up on the Amazon pre-order page. It's been up on various other websites for a while - NetGalley and Goodreads - but in a tiny thumbnail. Now, Candlewick had asked me not to put the artwork on my website until closer to the release date, so I've held back on that. But since we're now within a few months of U.S. publication, and the image is there in enlargeable form on both Amazon and the publisher's website, this seems as good a time as any for me to do a belated unveiling. So...

(Drumroll please!)

I know there's a lot of affection for the U.K. artwork (although I've seen some people dismiss it as generic too!) but I really love this. For a start - and believe me, I know how lucky I am! - there is No Racefail Here. The model is very beautiful, very Japanese, and has a flavour of that same mysterious Suzume expression which you see on the U.K. cover, and I adore that.

The most fabulous thing about this artwork, though, is the way that Suzume is fading away into the trees behind her, like a ghost, while at the same time luminous with a kind of fearsome beauty, her hair becoming a hood of shadow. The artist has captured something very important from the story: the idea that someone can project an image of beauty while their inner self is hidden or even dying. There's a great spookiness about this, too, which I like.

What do you guys think? And can anyone tell me how to get the larger image up on Goodreads when the thumbnail version is already there?

Monday, 16 January 2012


Heeellooo, Dear Readers! Today I bring you a teensy snippet of the upcoming Daughter of the Flames companion novel FrostFire, which is coming out from Walker Books in July of this year. Since the manuscript is in edits now, there's less chance than usual of this scene being significantly cut or changed, but you never know, so bear that in mind.

Since this is probably the last sample I'll be able to post for some time (if at all), it seemed only fitting to head back to the beginning of the book. Or...nearly the beginning. There's a preface, but that would give away far too much, my pretties (mwaa haa haa!). So here's the start of the first chapter proper. Click the cut for more:

Friday, 13 January 2012


Happy Friday! Gosh, what a week it's been - I'm really glad to see the finish line in sight, let me tell you. Before I launch you into RetroFriday, I want to share this link for the 2012 Leeds Book Awards website. I'm up there, along with the other shortlisted titles and authors, and anyone who wants can write a review, although you need to be attending school in the Leeds area to actually vote.

And now it's time to dust off an antique post from days of yore (well, only 2010, actually), which sprang to mind this week because of the interesting discussion about empathy in the comments of Wednesday's post. Enjoy!


Okay, I know you've all heard that one before.

I guess how you react to it will depend on who you are. If you sailed single-handedly around the world at age fourteen, or volunteered to go abroad and build orphanages for the under-privileged in Borneo at fifteen, or climbed Mount Kilimanjaro when you were sixteen, then chances are you're making a smug face right now.

But if you're like me, a fairly normal person who's had a few interesting experiences but has generally lived an average sort of life, you're feeling a leeettle annoyed that someone's brought that old chestnut up again. And you kind of hate the adventurous people making disgusting smug faces (don't worry, so do I. Just a bit). But hang on just a minute there, Smuggy McSmuggerson! Read on, and you might find that you need to think again before writing your epic story about the smug single-handled sailing/orphanage-building/mountain-climbing kid from Ohio!

I'm going to let you in on a secret. Write what you know is the most widely misinterpreted piece of writing advice EVER. It does not mean what most of the people repeating it think it means. And that includes your teacher, your mum, and most probably that guy on the writing forum who laughed at your story about vampire unicorns. Trust me.

How do I know? Well, look at me, kids. Do I seem like a girl whose three brothers were turned into swans and who swore an oath of silence while weaving nettle shirts in order to save them? Do I seem like the kind of person who can take on three murderous mercenaries simultaneously and whip them into a souffle without breaking a sweat? I only have one brother, and he works in a doctor's office in Sheffield, quite happily, without any untoward avian illnesses. And if I tried to pick up a sword and defend my one true love with it, I'm fairly sure I would disembowel myself.

But did I write from the point of view of people who were going through those experiences - and I got published anyway. So did I break the Write what you know rule? No, actually. Because the true meaning of this saying isn't that if you're a fifty year old dentist in Scunthorpe you're only allowed to write about other middle-aged Scunthorpian dental-technicians. It means that what your character feels, you, the writer, MUST FEEL TOO.

It doesn't matter if you're writing about three headed Smargle-Lizards from the far off planet of Squink. It doesn't matter if you're writing about a child soldier fighting for her life in Uganda. It doesn't matter if you're writing about a young person very much like yourself, going through the same things in life you are right now. What makes the reader care about your story is not their (or your!) similarity to the characters. It's that they can identify with your character's emotions.

Readers want to be touched in their hearts. If the Smargle-Lizard is weeping over the grave of her dead mother, your reader wants to feel her pain, understand her grief. If you can achieve that, they won't care about her three heads anymore. All they'll want to know is if she's going to be all right. But if they can't feel the character's emotions and understand why she feels the way she does, they won't care if the character is exactly the same as them. The story simply won't matter to them. They'll close the book and move on.

It's not easy - in fact, it's the hardest thing a writer ever has to do. But we all have grief inside us, sadness, worry, as well as laughter, love and joy. When you put a character through an ordeal, you have to be willing to reach down into the deepest and darkest bits of your own soul and pull those emotions out. You have to live them along with your character.

If you can do that - if you find yourself laughing at your character's jokes, crying when she does, feeling joy when she does, then the reader will too. At that point you will have fulfilled the command to Write what you know in the best and the only way that really matters. Like the saying goes, if there are no tears in the author, there will be none in the reader either.

Write what you know means write from the heart. It means be brave enough to let yourself grieve and laugh and fall in love, for the world to see, right there on the page, even if you're doing it inside the character of a three-headed Squinkian Smargle-Lizard. It means, be true to yourself and your characters.

Do that? And you'll be a writer.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! How are you all? We're in this weird troughy bit of the year when it feels too early for anything new to have started, and spring still isn't here, but all the wintery holidays are behind us and nothing's festive anymore. I've always found this time a little depressing - a bit like being in a seasonal waiting room, kicking your heels, longing for your name to be called.

So today's reader question is an appropriate one, dealing as it does with the strange troughy period between getting your work down on paper and actually being ready to call it finished, and the uneven emotions created thereby. Anonymous asked (via comments):
I remember you saying in one of your previous posts that you go through a few drafts before calling it your "first draft," but when you do your actual first draft, how do you keep your spirits up? There are some parts that I write that I really love, but other parts don't seem as good. I know you always improve what you write after your very first draft, but how do you keep your spirits up in the meantime? I love my idea and my characters and I'm not going to desert them, but every now and again I do get insecurities about whether my writing is, or will be, as good as some of favourite books. I feel like I'm on a rollercoster. 
Well, Anon - you've summed up the way I always feel very nicely there. Especially the part about the rollercoster. When I'm writing the first draft (scribbling in my notebook, typing up my scribbles, revising the typing up, putting the manuscript aside to mature before I revise again) it really does feel like a rollercoster.

One moment I'll be flying high, convinced that the scene I've just written is the best thing I've ever committed to paper, knowing deep down in my heart of hearts that the story I want to tell is worthwhile and that my characters really have inner life that jumps off the page. *Cartwheels* *Starjumps*

The next day I'll re-read that scene and be plunged down into despondency. The prose is flat and clunky. None of it feels important. The characters are just 2D cut-outs. The story is - must be - fatally and inherently flawed. *Weeps* *Wails*

I used to think that when I got a bit more experience I'd get over these extreme fears and joys. I used to think that if I ever became a full-time writer I'd have the confidence to sail through smoothly with no crises and just get on with things in a sensible, even-keeled sort of way. I actually got quite cross and impatient with myself when that didn't happen. Why can't I keep it together? Why do I always react in just the same way? Why can't I be professional?

I read an article in a magazine not long ago where a writer confessed that at some point in every book she writes she will sit down at the table with her other half and have a mini-breakdown. 'I've made a horrible mistake. This book is the worst idea I've ever had. The whole thing is dire. I'll never make it work. My talent has died. My publisher will cast me into outer darkness. My agent will stop returning my calls. We won't be able to pay the mortgage and we'll end up on the streets.' And her partner nods wisely and drinks his tea and when she's finished and is staring blankly into the abyss, he asks her to pass the muffins. And they go on as before, and eventually she finishes the book and the mortgage is paid after all.

Libba Bray, international bestseller and YA superstar, confesses to much the same sort of rollercoster experience here.

Writing is not plumbing. It's not accountancy. It's not baking. Yes, just like all those things, a writer does have a toolkit (words and metaphors and tenses and semicolons) but what we don't have is any raw material except ourselves. A plumber uses his tools and expertise to get the water flowing. An accountant uses theirs to make the figures match up. A baker combines ingredients to produce the final product. Writers? Writers only have their own emotions. Our medium (contained and shaped and channeled by our words) is human feeling, and we have to literally pull that straight from our own hearts.

When you're putting your characters through Hell, there's a tiny part of you - the part of all your creations that comes from you, that allows you to understand and inhabit them and make them work - that is going through Hell too. Your empathy for them pulls all your emotions to the surface. And that means, outside of the story world, that your Real Life (TM) emotions about your writing are likely to be a bit more sensitive than the average bear's.

So the secret to keeping your spirits up, I think, is to accept the rollercoster. Give yourself permission to experience those highs and lows, to get a bit freaked out and emotional. It's going to happen anyway, and by telling yourself that it's OK and natural you take away some of the power of that rollercoster to reach outside the writer part of you into your Real Life (TM) and make you a wreck there.

Just don't ever mistake the feelings you have on that emotional rollercoster for REALITY. The dizzying feeling that you've written the greatest single kissing scene in human history? The sickening conviction that every word you've just put down is the wrong one and anyone who reads it will be violently ill? Both wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. When writing your first draft you are in no position to judge the quality of anything. All you can do is keep putting one word in front of the other until you reach the end.

It's OK to be on the rollercoster. It's OK. So long as you realise that it is a rollercoster, and not the actual ground beneath your feet surging and bucking and trying to throw you off. And just like a rollercoster, eventually it will come to an end. There's a little jolt and some juddering, and then you push the bars up, step out, walk away - your legs just a little wobbly - and look back at it without any of that visceral fear, and say 'Wow, that thing's really high, huh?'

I hope this is helpful, Anon! Any more questions? Pop them in the comments, or email me :)

Monday, 9 January 2012


Hello, Dear Readers! Here we are again. The weighted rubber mallet of Monday has slammed inevitably into our skulls. If you're anything like me, you're clutching your head and staggering around making muffled whimpers of suffering (no? Just me? Oh, well). But fear not! I offer the wet flannel of randomness to drape over our foreheads and soothe the ache.

1) Daughter of the Flames Kindle edition became an Amazon bestseller in several categories for a brief moment last week and this weekend. This was mostly to do with the fact that it was part of the Amazon Twelve Days of Kindle sale, and the price was reduced to 99p. Of course, as soon as the sale was over and the price went back to the (still rather reasonable!) rate of £2.69, it dropped off the bestselling chart like a lead balloon. But it was still fun to see it there in the company of such luminaries as Cassandra Clare, Chris Priestley and Joss Stirling for a while. A very nice start to the New Year!

2) This weekend I was on Twitter, bemoaning the fact that one of my all-time favourite songs, 'All I Need' by Within Temptation, is written in a key which makes it impossible for me to sing along without my voice breaking. Well, ask Twitter and ye shall receive: lovely Twitter people brought this cover of the song to my attention, and I loves it:

3) This picture which a lovely reader sent me a while back and I forgot to share. My heart still melts whenever anyone takes the time to show me my books in the wild, especially where the book's clearly been displayed with such enthusiasm.<3

4) The Hunger Games Trilogy. Although I was determined to wait until the film came out and so not spoil it for myself (as the book is pretty much always better) I finally gave in over the weekend and read them. I'm still dehydrated from all the weeping. Holy Emotional Devastation, Batman! Ms Collins pulls no punches, and I'm in awe - I couldn't write something that bleak, something that *truthful*. The places she must have had to go, internally, to create this world! Normally I can call who will live and die fairly reliably early on, but the utter pointless randomness of the deaths in these books...eugh. So truthful, especially amid the alien decadence of the setting. I WILL NEVER GET OVER THESE BOOKS.

Friday, 6 January 2012


Hello, my Lovely Readers! Somehow it's Friday again, and I hope you've all had a great week.

Today's post is just a little glimmer of inspiration about writing that I thought I would share before it slipped away. And yes, as the title suggests, this inspiration comes to you courtesy of a club sandwich.

Yesterday was my dad's birthday and, as is my tradition, I dragged him out for a birthday lunch. He's a tiny bit of a hermit, my father (probably where I get it from) and so getting him to eat out is challenging. But he usually enjoys it when I manage it, and that ensures I keep up the effort. He's a simple guy at heart, though. Even when I do shoehorn him from the house he never wants to eat anything fancy or indulge himself, not even on his birthday. Despite my taking him to a posh bistro with all kinds of interesting things on the menu and offering him free rein, the man ordered a simple chicken and bacon club sandwich.

However, because it WAS a very nice bistro, I was pleasantly surprised when my dad's lunch arrived. It looked pretty spectacular - there must have been half a roast chicken in there, along with about five slices of bacon, and he also had an amazing salad garnish and curly fries. They'd stuffed so much into the sandwich that they'd been forced to put those little wooden cocktail sticks through it just to keep the toasted bread together. I was sort of wishing I'd ordered the same thing when I realised that my dad was not making pleased sounds. He was sighing.

Restraining my instinct to interrogate him (no one likes being interrogated by me, least of all on their birthday) by way of eating my own lunch, I watched as my dad tried to pick up half the sandwich in three or four different ways without causing it to disintegrate. When he finally managed to get the thing off the plate he had just as much of a struggle taking a bite out of it, as it was twice as wide as his mouth. Eventually he ended up just using a knife and fork to dismantle the thing. He ate about two thirds of it, and most of the curly fries, and then sat back and poured himself a cup of tea.

My good intentions evaporated. "Is something wrong with it?" I asked him anxiously. "I mean, it looked nice, but if it wasn't..."

"It was fine," he assured me. "It was all really good. There was just...too much of it."

"Too much? But it's all your favourite things! How can there be too much?"

He shrugged. "I don't know, flower. I mean, I like chicken and I like bacon, and I like both in sandwiches. But the amount of filling stuffed into this was overwhelming. It felt less like eating a sandwich and more like trying to eat a two course meal slapped between slices of toast. After the third bit of bacon or whathaveyou, you're just struggling on. But it was still good!" he added hastily, seeing my crestfallen expression.

Now, this may not seem to have anything to do with writing. In fact, it doesn't. But my brain, as we all know, is hardwired to try and turn pretty much anything that happens in life into a writing related metaphor. So later on, I found myself thinking about this, and deciding that there's a lesson about plotting to be learned from these lunchtime shenanigans.

When you first come up with an idea for a story, it can often be vague. You know, to bring the metaphor into it, that it's a club sandwich, but what KIND of club sandwich is another thing entirely. You've got a beginning or an ending or both in mind if you're lucky (like slices of toast on either side of the plot, holding it together). Maybe some blurry ideas for one or two developments in the middle, or some characters you really want to get to know better (that's the chicken and the bacon). You might have an idea for the feel of the thing (mayonnaise or ketchup or barbecue sauce? White bread or granary? Extra salad in the sandwich?).

What you don't have is an actual club sandwich. All you've got is scattered pieces.

And so the temptation, like the temptation given into by the chef at the bistro, is to quickly throw all the ingredients together in the traditional way (quick, quick - no time to consider trying different things or experimenting) and if it looks a bit thin, just grab some extra bits of bacon or chicken (plot twists you've seen in other books or half-developed echoes of characters that you have in the back of your head) and stuff those in. In fact, the more the merrier! Chicken and bacon are good, right? So if you add more, it can only make the sandwich better. When you finish the whole thing seems a bit shaky and like it might fall apart, but no big deal. Get out your cocktail sticks (maybe a stock romance that you've seen a hundred times before, or some other plot element that always seems to work for other writers) and pin it all together that way. Then add some garnishes (some pasted on descriptions that leap to the top of your head) to pretty things up, and off it goes, looking amazing! Job well done!

The problem is that this sandwich hasn't been put together with any thought of the person who is going to be eating it on the other end. How is this person supposed to pick up such a towering confection, or even take a bite out of it? This thing isn't even a sandwich anymore! For the reader, this book may be stuffed to bursting with cool and interesting things, but it's hard for them to appreciate any of it because the writer's not taking due care with what they present. It's a jumble. It's all too much. It's not a story; it's a mishmash.

Have you ever read a book like that? Where brilliant ideas were almost falling out of the sky, where there were dozens of interesting characters, and yet the whole thing just didn't work? It felt less like a story and more like an endless series of events and people, with nothing was properly explored? I come across these all the time and it exasperates me, because I know that if the writer had just waited a bit, considered a bit more calmly and carefully, they could have selected one or two of those plot elements and characters - the ones they truly loved and were interested in - and made them amazing. They could have allowed the fineness of the ingredients to shine through, like a lovely sandwich with just the right amount of filling. Instead of which, you're forced to slog through seemingly endless amounts of filler until it all begins to taste the same.

I think the lesson to be learned is that less can quite often be more. Sometimes a few morsels of delicious, succulent chicken and a couple of pieces of crispy bacon, beautifully cooked and carefully arranged between the toast is enough. Concentrate on making what you've got to hand the best it can possibly be and putting it together with love and care. Don't fill your story with dozens of extraneous elements. Take the time to construct something the reader can pick up easily and sink their teeth into, instead of trying to wow them with a gigantic plate that looks exciting at first glance.

(And BTW - I'm making this up to my dad by taking him out for a fish and chip supper over the weekend. He likes the fish and chip place better than fancy bistros anyway. *Shrugs*)

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Hi everyone! Today I'm sharing some exciting news about Shadows on the Moon. I've known about it for a while, but I was asked to keep quiet until after the new year (and you all know how hard it is for me to keep secrets - argh!). So I'm delighted to finally announce this.

Shadows has been shortlisted in the 14-16 category of the Leeds Book Award!

 This is the full award shortlist for my category:

  • Angel’s Fury by Bryony Pearce
  • Wreckers by Julie Hearn
  • Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
  • Quarry by Ally Kennen
  • Department 19 by Will Hill
  • Flip by Martyn Bedford

Which I think you'll agree is pretty darn impressive company to be in! I'm absolutely thrilled!

There are also shortlists for 9-11 year olds:

  • Moon Pie by Simon Mason
  • Gold Seekers by Jane Johnson
  • Gravehunger by Harriet Goodwin
  • Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis
  • Magicalamity by Kate Saunders
  • Muncle Trogg by Janet Foxley

And 11-14 year olds:

  • My sister lives on the mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
  • Dark Woods by Steve Voake
  • The truth about Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne
  • Fifty Fifty by S L Powell
  • Sektion 20 by Paul Doswell
  • Wereworld: The rise of the wolf by Curtis Jobling

There's a really great mix here of bestsellers, critically acclaimed work, and lesser known books (that last one includes me!) which I always love to see, because it means the awards are aiming for excellence but at the same time are accessible and helping to raise the profile of deserving books which might otherwise be overlooked. My heart always sinks a bit when I see an award list which is made up of the same old 'buzz' books that have been nominated for every other award in the world. I think this wonderful diversity comes about because the shortlists are voted on by the people who really matter - the young adults themselves. Cheers pupils of the Leeds area!

Last year's winner in my category was ANGEL by L. A. Weatherly, which, as you all know, I adored, and which makes me all the more gleeful to see my work nominated. I'd love to win this, but just seeing my name up there surrounded by so many other wonderful authors and knowing the quality of past winners is pretty darn all right by me.

This year's award website isn't up yet, but I'll probably post a link to it when it is, so watch this space for that.

Monday, 2 January 2012


Happy Monday - and Happy New Year - Dear Readers! And whoa, that's a lot of capitals in one sentence. But you deserve them! And so does this shiny, bright, beautiful new year that we're all just beginning right now.

Today's first order of business is to note that I, like most of Britain, watched the BBC's SHERLOCK last night and adored it to the point where I'm going to have to exercise iron-clad control to hold myself back from some serious fanfic writing. O. M. G. I'm sure a lot of people have far more intelligent comments to make about it, but all I can say is that the exquisite beauty of this episode made my heart ache. It's definitely for the over sixteens, but if that's you and you haven't seen it yet, make sure you do and soon (and if not, maybe plead with your parents because just watching it will probably boost your IQ by a few points and make you do better in your exams. Honestly).

And now onto the non-squeeing part of the programme!

Following the tradition we started last year, I'm going to share some goals that I'd like to aim for in 2012, and then when 2013 cycles around I can present myself for your congratulations, or your pointing/jeering/mocking etc.
2012 GOALS
  1. As I mentioned in my last post, in 2011 I had a slight problem with over-working myself. I didn't end up passing out or being rushed to the hospital with heart pains or any of those other melodramatic symptoms that TV characters who over-work always get, but more often than not I'd be in my Writing Cave when eight or nine in the evening rolled around, and I'd end up shoving a microwave meal in and collapsing on the sofa - and then doing the same the next day too. I saw less of friends and family, made less time for healthy outdoor activities and new experiences and reading, and generally turned into a Writing Hermit to match my Cave. So this year, I'd like to prove to myself that I can do my job WITHOUT being a hermit. In 2012, I'd like to stick to a reasonable writing schedule of no more than eight hours of work six days a week, making time for other important stuff as well.
  2. The last year has been an amazing one for this blog in every respect. My follower numbers nearly doubled, my unique visitor numbers quadrupled, and I wrote some posts that not only make me feel rather proud in terms of the discussion they generated, but which also brought in astonishing numbers of readers (The original Mary Sue post has had nearly 12,000 hits to date - for realz). Apart from a few early experiments, I've never really gone in for the traditional, accepted methods of driving traffic. I don't usually require people to follow the blog to enter giveaways, I don't take part in memes or post awards. I just write the best stuff I can come up with and try to interact with my readers in a way that shows how much I love and appreciate you - and somehow it's paid off. It's humbling and heartwarming. In 2012, I'd like to carry on posting here three times a week every week (with a few holiday/hiatuses as required) and growing my blog readership through sincerity and the pursuit of excellence.
  3. I suppose this next one's fairly predictable, because I didn't manage to get to it in quite the way I wanted last year - instead of writing two completely new books, I ended up writing one new book and completely revising and revamping a book that I'd written the year before. However, it's a bit more urgent now. In order to meet the publishing schedule that's been worked out for me over the next several years, I really do need to write a book and a half in 2012. And if I'm going for a book and a half, why not go the whole hog? So: In 2012, I'd like to finally manage to write two books in twelve months.
  4. Last year I made my final goal about promoting Shadows, but this year I'm going for something a bit less fun (and probably less interesting for you - sorry!). I've just had my first full year as a full-time writer, and it's made me acutely aware that my skills as an accountant are horribly lacking. You may wonder what one thing has to do with the other. Well, as a self-employed person, I have to keep records of all my earnings and expenditures, keep receipts, and complete my own tax returns. It's been hard enough up until now, when the largest part of my income was a non-taxable grant. The coming year is going to bring me more income from my writing, which is great, but it's also going to bring me concern over voluntary VAT registration. U.S. tax payer numbers, and pay coding notices. It's vital that I stop dithering and start to really keep on top of my records. Frankly, it makes my stomach churn. In 2012, I'd like to seek out professional help with book-keeping and learn how to run myself as a proper business so that I can stop panicking about this issue all the time.
Phew. Well, that's me done. What about you guys? What would you like to aim for this year?
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