Tuesday, 29 May 2012


Hello, lovely, discerning, adorable readers! Happy Tuesday to you all.

For a writer, happiness may come in many forms. It might approach you in the guise of a good review, a result from an award shortlisting, some advance copies of your new book in the post, exciting news about book trailers, or the opportunity to do fun stuff for your publisher. Seldom will it come to you as all of the above - but I'm just lucky, I suppose!

First let me just officially tell you that Shadows on the Moon didn't win the Leeds Book Award (14-16 Category) that prize went to the lovely and adorable Bryony Pearce for Angel's Fury, which I have on my Kobo and fully intend to read once Katana #2 has been wrestled into submission. To leaven the pain of loss, the lovely organisers (hey, everyone! If you're reading this, you guys are awesome!) gave each of the shortlisted authors a sparkly pretty shiney shiiiiny - um - oh, sorry, yes, they gave us beauifully engraved crystal paperweights:

Then on Friday, the Lancashire Book of the Year Award went to the vote. Shadows didn't win, but it did come third place in the voting, behind Malorie Blackman's Boys Don't Cry. First place was taken by Chris Higgin's He's After Me which sounds very intriguing, and which I certainly intend to get my hands on now. Third place, especially in the company of such distinguished writers, is nothing to be sniffed at - plus, I still get to go to the award ceremony, where I'll be meeting the young people who voted, doing a panel event, and attenting a dinner hosted by the local university. I even bought new shoes for this. Swish, eh?

Moving onto the next bit of loveliness, a barrage of reviews for the U.S. edition of Shadows have come in over the past few days. These reviews make me glow not only because they say such lovely things, but also because they will hopefully be instrumental in getting the book into American school libraries where youngsters who can't afford a hardcover of their own will still get to read it.

Bulletin for the Centre for Children’s Books, June 2012

No sooner is Suzume’s father murdered in front of her (on false charges of treason against the Moon Prince) than her mother weds his best friend, Lord Terayama, and spirits Suzume away to a new life of luxury. Suzume’s aptitude for shadow-weaving—the ability to create illusions by manipulating light and shadow—allows her to hide her discontent and suspicion, but when she overhears Terayama’s confession of complicity in her father’s death, she realizes her own life is in danger and she must shed her old identity to remain alive. First as a kitchen drudge in Terayama’s household, then as a courtesan attempting to win the position of the Moon Prince’s Shadow Bride (an official, high-status mistress with the power to ask a royal boon), she pursues a vendetta against Terayama and her own traitorous mother. Marriott plays with the motifs of the Cinderella story in fresh new ways, recasting the classic fairy tale as revenge quest in a pseudo–ancient Japan, and her powerful exploration of familial betrayals and the personal cost of vengeance dovetails seamlessly with the more familiar fairy-tale themes of love, belonging, and multiple identities. The book also has a swoonworthy romantic hero in kind, perceptive Otieno (the youngest member of a diplomatic party from the African nation of Athazie), who recognizes Suzume in all of her guises and offers her happiness if only she can let go of her guilt and bitterness. The atmospheric writing, compelling secondary characters (including a transgender woman who becomes Suzume’s surrogate older sister), and emotional complexity of this adaptation give it broad appeal and make it a standout addition to the perennially appealing field of fairy-tale novelizations. Recommended CG

School Library Journal, June 2012

Gr 9 Up–In this spin on ‘Cinderella” set in ancient Japan, Suzume is an only child living with her parents and orphaned cousin, Aimi. The action starts immediately when royal soldiers unfairly accuse her father of being a traitor. Aimi and Suzume watch in terror as her father is killed, and Aimi is also shot as the girls flee through the woods. After her mother remarries, Suzume learns that she is a shadow weaver, “One who can weave illusions from the threads of the world.” Her skills are useful when she discovers that her stepfather had a hand in her father’s death. So begins a domino effect of twists, turns, and shocking revelations that lead to Suzume masquerading as a servant in her stepfather’s house to escape his attempts to silence her. Fleeing altogether when she believes that she has accidentally killed her mother, she embarks on a perilous attempt to avenge her family and redeem herself. Along the way she is forced to question whether hate is more valuable than love and if she can ever consider herself worthy of happiness. A rich cultural context and strong female characters make this novel reminiscent of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling (Harcourt, 2008) and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha (Knopf, 1998). The “Cinderella” theme is interwoven with just the right strokes, creating a magical reinterpretation that is much richer than a mere retelling. Although several hot-button issues such as self-mutilation and gender identity are dealt with in an explicit manner, the fast-moving plot, intense action, and compelling characters will pull readers through to the satisfying conclusion.–Sunnie Sette, New Haven Public Library, CT
Booklist, May 2012

Cinderella is reimagined as 16-year-old Suzume, a young girl of noble birth living in fairy-tale Japan, who takes on various incarnations after the brutal slaying of her father and cousin by means of her stepfather Lord Terayama. In Terayama’s house, Suzume becomes his polite, sweet daughter Suzu-Chan, but she is soon exiled upon the discovery of his treachery, and during her time on the run takes on the identity of Rin, a clumsy kitchen drudge, and finally Yue, the enchanting courtesan bent on revenge against Terayama while vying to become the Moon Prince’s shadow bride—the highest concubine in the court. She pursues this last goal despite her heart, which belongs to a foreign man who shares her ability to “shadow-weave,” the power to cast illusions. Despite the fantasy plot, Marriott gets into heady, realistic territory here, touching on self-harm, sexual identity, and the deepest of sacrifices. Instead of relying on one fairy godmother, Suzume has multiple mentors, as well as multiple motivations, all of which shape her as a flawed, dramatic, and sympathetic lead. — Courtney Jones

My incoherant delight at these may have caused my editor at Candlewick Press some slight concern about my mental state. But she's used to that.

NEXT! Wonder Editor (that's the UK one) emailed me not last week but the week before to tell me that the first copies of FrostFire and the newly re-jacketed Daughter of the Flames had arrived in the office and that she was sending me some. But they did not arrive, Dear Readers! I sat in front of the post-flap each day with my tongue coming out like an excited (possibly unhousebroken) labrador puppy, desperately hoping for a parcel with the Walker logo on it. My lonely vigil was unrewarded.

On Friday I finally broke and emailed Wonder Editor asking if she was absolutely, positively SURE that she'd put the books in the post, and if perhaps they hadn't fallen down the back of the mailshute in the Walker mail room or something. Alas, Wonder Editor had, in fact, been as frighteningly efficient as always. The books therefore could only have been lost as a result of the Royal Mail's equally frightening incompetence.

Cue: Wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of hair and general tantrum-throwing. Especially after I found out that my agent, all the way over in Wales, had gotten her copies. IT WASN'T FAIR, DEAR READERS.

But fear not, there is a happy ending to the tale. Wonder Editor packaged up another copy of each and got them in the post that very day and they arrived on Saturday morning, causing me to frolic and scamper with glee like the labrador puppy when it finally gets its rubber ball. Pictures, you demand? Oh, I am only too delighted to oblige!

The prettiest book that I think I've ever been privileged to hold in my own hands. The internal design alone makes me want to take it to bed with me and hide it under my pillow for ever. Joy!

In other news, at the end of last month I was hard at work writing a script for the trailer my publisher plan to make for FrostFire. A Lovely Young PR Lady (hereafter referred to as Lovely Lass) and I went back and forth a few times (she wrote a version, I wrote a version, then we sort of squashed them together and cut the whole thing in half) and eventually came up with something we both liked and which we thought was the right length. This then went away to get approval from the company who do the actual shooting, and luckily they thought our ideas were doable, although they reserved the right to tweak and fiddle with it as necessary.

Following that there was further scrambling as Lovely Lass was sent details for various possible actors for the roles of Luca, Arian and Frost. A pretty darn perfect Luca and Arian appeared on the scene with relatively little fuss, but for some reason Lovely Lass kept being sent tiny, skinny white girls to play the role of Frost.

You guys haven't read about Frost yet, but she describes herself as 'carthorse'-like, and at the beginning of the story she's making her living from chopping wood, hauling hay, and doing manual labour jobs. She is tall, and tough, and very, very strong. Also, she's most emphatically not white. Lovely Lass strongly suggested that they stop sending her the petite pale-skinned girls, please. Not that there's anything wrong with being petite and white - unless you're being sent out for roles which are completely wrong for you. We found the whole thing kind of strange, and I could tell that Lovely Lass was feeling a bit frazzled about it. The actress we wanted had to be out there!

The on Wednesday, a picture arrived in my inbox, and much ecstatic flailing commenced on the part of Lovely Lass and me. We had our Frost!

By Friday filming was underway, taking advantage of the gorgeous sunshine; perfect for depicting my imagined country of Ruan (which is based mostly on Northern India and Tibet). I'm hoping that in the next week or so I'll get to see some footage and I'm really VERY excited. With any luck I'll be able to do a post fairly soon showing you the casting photos. I'm not sure if anyone from the publisher was there at the shoot to take still photos, but if so I'll try to get hold of them too.

Of course, this week (tomorrow, in fact!) I will be wending my way to Manchester and then on to Sheffield on a two-day field trip in order to meet and interview Cassandra Clare on her UK tour for City of Lost Souls. You all know how much I love CC's books, so getting put up overnight in a nice hotel in order to tag along with her on part of her journey is like being offered a free run at the Make Your Own Icecream Sundae Bar for me. I can't wait. There's still time to pop in a few more questions in the comments here if you have them.

As a result of the tour activity, though, I'm not going to be in the Writing Cave on Wednesday-Thursday. On Friday, I'll be posting my event report and interview with Cassandra Clare. So I'll be posting the final InCreWriMa Check In on the following Tuesday (technically not in May anymore - June 5th - but hopefully you'll forgive me). That gives you a few extra days to pack the words in, so take advantage of it!

Oh, and last but not least! There's a new interview with me up on Lost In Fiction. Check it out :)

See you on Friday, my darlings!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

InCreWriMa WEEK FOUR: Check In

Hello, dear readers! You're getting this week's InCreWriMa check in a little bit early, because (just in case you forgot) I'm off to Leeds tomorrow to attend the Leeds Book Awards!  

Shadows on the Moon has been shortlisted in the 12-14 category and I'm really excited to be going. Not only is it my very first award ceremony, but I'm going to be talking to lots of the kids who read all the books and voted, and I'm hoping to meet some amazing authors, like Annabel Pitcher, Gill Lewis and Martyn Bedford (I'm not sure if all the shortlisted writers will be there, but with any luck I'll get to say hello to at least some of them).

Bearing all that in mind, I won't be around to answer comments on this much, which makes it even more important that you guys chat to each other and offer support and encouragement.

Just a quick update on my progress today! Last time I told you guys that I'd hit 47,800 words in Katana #2. Since then, I've been doing a lot of work directly on the computer in addition to scribbling in my notebook, and to be honest I've lost track of how many pages I've handwritten and how many I've just put directly onto the Word file, and how many are left to still be typed up. But I can tell you that the WIP is at 54,200 typed up words, which means my week total is 6400 words. Not as much as I was hoping for, but not bad either! I'm still steadily pushing on.

The next week is going to be tougher. Not only am I in Leeds tomorrow, but I'll also be popping off to Manchester to a Walker Books reception, and from there to meet Cassandra Clare in Sheffield and interview her (and there's still space for more questions, guys!).

On the one hand, it's going to be a lot of train journeys, which often encourages me to write. On the other hand, it's a lot of nerves and excitement, which sometimes have the opposite effect. So we'll see.

How has your week been? I open the comments to you :)

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


Welcome to the 130th Road Trip Wednesday! 

Art by ASummerTimeSadness
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: 
What book brings back memories?

Hmmm, yeah - as normal I wasn't able to participate in the *actual* RTW over on YA Highway, but I really liked the blog topic so I thought that I would steal it (whilst giving appropriate credit, above!).

You see, books do bring back very strong memories for me. When I look back at my thirty years on planet earth, nearly everything is sort of... watermarked by the books I was reading at the time.

I'm sure some people would find that a bit odd - but I just think it's a sign of how incredibly important books have always been to me, and how much I've learned and grown due to the books I've read. I'm a different person because of the stories contained within me. Each and every one of them - whether I loved or loathed it - has made some kind of imprint inside me, channeling the waters of my emotions and creativity in different ways.

I can remember the book I read before bed the day that I found out about the Royal Literary Fund grant. The book I read on the bus-ride home when I lost my job. The book I shoved into my bag the night I was rushed to hospital. The book I had just finished reading when I got the call telling me my first book was going to be published. The books I got for Christmas the year my father had his first heart attack.

But when I initially saw this topic, the book that immediately sprung to mind wasn't from any of those traumatic or wonderful events. It was Mistress Masham's Repose, by T. H. White - an enchanting little book that tells the story of plucky, mistreated orphan Maria, and her adventures once she finds her way to the tiny, forgotten island of Mistress Masham's Repose (which sits at the centre of the ornamental lake on her family's vast, neglected estate) and meets the people who live there.

When I think about Mistress Masham's Repose, I remember a gloriously sunny, yet slightly frosty morning. I remember how the buttery rays of sunlight streamed through the leaded windows of The Highbridge Cafe in Lincoln, and gleamed off the polished wood of the tiny table where I sat all on my own. I had a cup of tea in one hand and the book in the other, and a plate of homemade scones with honey in front of me, gently steaming because they were fresh out of the oven.

The cafe was bustling around me. Customers, waiters and waitresses moved by. I was on the top floor of this lovely old building, and out of the window I could look down on the swans drifting along on the deep, glossy green of the river, and shoppers scurrying from store to store. I remember how, in the midst of all that noise and movement I felt utterly serene and peaceful. 

I had just turned nineteen and I had finally managed to conquer one of my major fears in life - travelling places on my own. 

Oh, I hadn't gone far! Only to my hometown train station and then on to this rather lovely market town just under two hours journey away. For most people it wouldn't have seemed like anything at all. But up until that point I'd always been terrified of going anywhere - especially new places - alone. I was especially fightened of trains. I used to be convinced that I'd accidentally go past my stop, or miss a connecting train, and inevitably get stranded somewhere miles from home with no idea what to do. This conviction was unshakeable and paralysing. 

In my new job as a civil servant I had recently been sent on a training course which required me to travel by train to a large city quite a long way from home, and I'd found the experience so scary (even with another trainee going along with me!) that I'd ended up having a stress nosebleed on the way there. That was the last straw, and I decided that I wasn't going to be ruled by this irrational fear anymore. 

Part of the problem came from my family. It was widely acknowledged that I was (whisper) terribly clever, you know. But I wasn't supposed to have any common sense at all. Everyone from my little brother to my great aunt believed that I was one of those dreamy creative types: scatty, flaky, and not to be trusted to look after myself. 

I knew that if I said I was going to hop on a train and go to a random destination somewhere (and there was no way around telling, because I lived at home, and they all expected to know what I was doing all the time) just to see if I could, my father would start ordering me to call him on my mobile phone periodically to assure him that I hadn't fallen off the platform or been kidnapped, and probably telling me that if I wanted to go somewhere he could always drive me. My mother would enlist my sister's help to remind me of all the times I'd gotten lost as a child and persuade me it would be better to wait for one of them to be free to go along too, just in case. My brother would laugh in my face and say 'Yeah, right'.

Which seems like an absolutely ludicrous amount of fuss to me now, looking back. But it was what happened *any time* that I tried to go anywhere or do anything by myself. 

My family were genuinely concerned. Their concern had a basis, because when I was younger I did quite often get lost, and even when I was at school I was always getting beaten up and tripped and injured. But unfortunately their concern made all my own insecurities worse.
This terror of going anywhere by myself was basically (underneath all that ancient history) about the fact that I didn't trust myself. I expected to mess up as a matter of course - to forget vital details, get lost, or just plain freak out. I expected to trip, or get pushed, or possibly even attacked, wherever I went.

I had no faith in my own ability to cope with anything.

You're a reasonably clever, averagely competent young woman, I said to myself sternly. You can do whatever you set your mind to. You are going to get over this.

I waited until my parents went on holiday - leaving me alone in the house for a week. Frankly, they were scared to even do that, and left me a list of instructions as long as my arm, just in case. But I found that week of solitude invigorating. On the Friday, which I'd booked as annual leave from work, I gathered up my courage, went to the train station, picked a destination, and went. 

And nothing bad happened. In fact, once I'd gotten over shakily checking that I was on the right train for the twentieth time, it was *fun*.

I got to Lincoln, and spent a wonderful day wandering around the place by myself, basking in the sun, climbing the hill, poking into the shops, eating a solitary lunch - during which I read my book - and then I successfully got myself home again. 

That day taught me two very important things:

One: I could look after myself as well as anyone.
Two: I valued my own company and enjoyed doing things by myself.

The confidence and self reliance that developed from those realisations changed me. It didn't happen all at once, but within a few years I had gone from being the kind of person who got stress nosebleeds (and possibly hyperventilated) when she had to get on a train to go to a training course, to the kind of person who loved exploring new places and meeting new people, and who jumped at the chance to go travelling, especially alone. Eventually it sank in, not just for my family, but for me, that I wasn't helpless, flaky or lacking in common sense anymore. I probably never had been. Resourcefulness, focus and common sense have no reason to manifest if you never go looking for them,

So when I think about Mistress Masham's Repose, I think about strong, determined Maria and how she changed her life. I think about that seemingly insignificant day which was the start of this amazing journey of exploration, not just of the world, but of myself. I think about realising that the picture other people have of you, even the people who love you most, isn't necessarily the whole one. How sometimes what other people tell you about yourself is actually about them, not you at all. And I think about sunlight and scones, and swans on the river. But most especially I think about long, solitary train journeys where I watch the countryside slide away and scribble in my notebook and smile.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

InCreWriMa WEEK 3: Check In

Happy Thursday, my lovelies. Have you checked out yesterday's surprise post about how I'm going to meet Cassandra Clare on her UK City of Lost Souls Book Tour yet? If not, hasten hither. Then come back and let's chat about the last week in the Word Mines.

So! It's our third International Creative Writing May check in, which means we've all technically been beavering away for two weeks now. How is it going in your notebook/laptop/papyrus scroll over there? Did you have an awesome seven days, a terrible seven days, or a so-so seven days? Did you hit your target, miss it, adjust it? Let's hear all about it in the comments, and remember - talk to each other as well as to me! We're all friends in our wordliness here.

My progress this past week has been thus:

Thursday and Friday I got my six new pages in as planned - in fact, I wrote slightly more than that on both days, and found myself on Friday (12th of May) with a total count of sixty-five and a half handwritten pages. My target was fifty-four. I also handed in my edits on The Night Itself and was well-satisfied with my week's efforts.

I had Saturday off and went to see Avengers Assemble. Which, by the way, made me feel as if I'd sat in a darkened cinema for over two hours having someone repeatedly poke my eyes with explosions. AND IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT. Seriously, Tom Hiddleston alone was worth it. Go see it! This is such a great year for geeky films so far.

Then on Sunday something didn't feel quite right. I was a bit achy and headachey and couldn't focus no matter how much caffeine I ingested. So instead of writing new pages I wrote up some notes, but not half as many as I wanted to.

Monday I felt worse. All my joints had gone painful and stiff and I kept hurting myself - I accidentally punched a bookcase, stabbed myself in the finger with a needle, gouged my arm with a planting stake and poured boiling water on my foot *just in the morning*. I'm reluctant to say I had a bug, because I think every time I blog about being ill more germs are attracted to me, but let's say I wasn't exactly in a writing mood. I tried! St Jude knows I tried. But no matter how long I stared at the computer and notebook, no words came out.

Tuesday felt slightly better, but for some reason my notebook looked a bit intimidating to me. I wrote some new stuff directly into my computer instead (about three pages, which is roughly equivalent of six notebook pages) and then typed up some more notes.

Wednesday was briefly, if gloriously sunny. I snatched every spare minute to sit in the sun and, as normally happens when I can sit in the sun, I hit my six pages easily.

So my full week's progress has brought me to 47,800 words typed up - which, if Katana #2 turns out the same length as The Night Itself in first draft, would mean I was about 65% of the way through. We'll say no more about that. I don't want to jinx myself and end up writing another 130,000 word long first draft. I also have seventeen and a half pages of notes still to type up, which means, counting the three pages I typed straight onto the computer as six notebook pages, my current InCreWriMa total is:

Eighty-three notebook pages. My target for this date was seventy-eight pages. VICTORY!

In other news: think I'm going to need a new notebook.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Hello, Dear Readers! I come to you with an unprecedented Wednesday post in order to squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Ahem. I beg your pardon. In order to tell you about the UK Book Tour of Cassandra Clare's latest Mortal Instruments novel City of Lost Souls - which I am going to be part of!

Cassie is going to be doing various events all across the UK, and at each one a YA book blogger (yes, apparently I'm close enough to count) will get to meet her SQUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Huh? Oh, sorry. Yes I get to meet Cassandra Clare and do a short interview with her - on behalf of you, her lovely fans.

This is my stop:

 An Evening with Cassandra Clare: Sheffield
Date: Thursday 31st May, 5.30 p.m.
Location: Library Theatre, Surrey Street, Sheffield, S1 1XZ
Tickets: £3, or £2 for under 18s and NUS cardholders, available from Waterstones Orchard Square, Sheffield. To book call 0114 272 8971. 
For more information visit Waterstones.com

Now, on each tour stop Cassandra will be concentrating on one particular set of characters. And I - O Glory of Glories - have been assigned Jace and Clary.

*Manfully holds back yet another squee*

*Lies down for a minute*

Okay, I'm back.

That's right, I've been assigned the Big Kahuna Ship of the Mortal Instruments, everyone's favourite angelic blonde and redhead couple: JACE AND CLARY.

And I didn't even need to blackmail or threaten or bribe anyone or ANYTHING! How cool is that?

This is how it works:
  1. You ask me the questions about Jace and Clary
  2. I ask Cassandra Clare the questions about Jace and Clary
  3. I give you the skinny on Jace and Clary
  4. PROFIT!
How could it possibly go wrong?

Well, except for the high likelihood of me fangirling myself into hyperventilation and having to be carried from the room with my skirt over my head while Ms Clare phones her agent, publisher and attorney to ensure I'm never allowed with five hundred yards of her again.

*Nervous laughter*


So now it's all down to you, Cassandra Clare fans. What burning questions do you have about Jace, Clary, and their relationship that you would give *anything* to corner Cassie and ask? What simply *must* you know? Tell me in the comments, and I will be your Mortal Instruments related messenger!

And if you would like to get in some questions about Alec and Magnus? Visit My Favourite Books and post a question there.

Are you intrigued by Maia and Jordan? You can ask about them at The Overflowing Library.

But what if you ship Isabelle and Simon instead? Well, there's a place for you at Wondrous Reads.

Perhaps you eschew all these couples and are fascinated by Sebastian? Appropriately enough, you can indulge your curiosity at Dark Readers.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Some authors I admire (for example, Kristin Cashore, here) have recently talked about mistakes they've made in their work, and have examined how that makes them feel going forward with their storytelling. I've done a lot of talking about this - the idea that we can't overcome prejudice unless we're willing to admit fault - and I'm encouraged to see other writers discussing it too.

But as I was reading Kristin's article, which is basically about having done something wrong and then being called on it, a thought struck me. There's a flipside to this issue, and I've never really seen it addressed. I thought I'd talk about it here, for the benefit of aspiring and newly published and (maybe) slightly longer-term published writers who have faced or will face it in their careers.  

What do you do when you've done something (or everything) RIGHT...and no one cares?

With Shadows on the Moon coming out in the U.S. in April, and with all the ongoing discussions about race, sexuality and portrayals of disability that have been going on in the YA community, I've been asked many questions about my decision to embrace diversity as much as I can. One question that comes up again and again is: How do you cope with worries about getting it wrong? Aren't you scared?

Of course I give them my heartfelt answer about stepping out of the Good Person Bubble. I tell them that in my experience, mentally admitting that you can and will get things wrong really does lift a weight from your shoulders, and makes you feel incredibly free on both a creative and personal level.

But for many authors there's an awareness that can sit on your shoulders with a weight nearly equal to that Good Person Bubble. This is the knowledge that you will agonise over your portrayals of diverse characters, of people who have disabilities, mental illnesses, or who are not cis-gendered or straight, and take what feels like enormous risks in order to be truthful and real, and after all your work and your care and your joyful realisation that you got it as right as anyone could...

No one will notice.

The vast majority of people simply will not care.

We've had so much fuss over the colour of Rue and Cinna and Finnick's skins in the adaptions of The Hunger Games books. On one side of the thing you have heaps of praise for Suzanne Collins for including side characters who aren't white, and on the other, people panicking at the mere idea that a character they like might not have pale skin and Caucasian characteristics (like them, presumably) in the movie. But the general reaction to both the books and the films was one of surprise and trepidation, as if no one could quite figure out how to handle books where significant characters might be of any other race than white. As if The Hunger Games Trilogy was somehow groundbreaking in that respect.

It's really not.

There are books out there with truly diverse main characters. Books that give lead roles to people of colour, and people of diverse sexualities and gender presentations, and where characters with disabilities are allowed to not only exist but be heroes. And yet, in the ongoing discussions about race and diversity in YA, those books - the books that apparently answer everyone involved's prayers! - won't be mentioned. Because barely anyone's heard of them.

I feel honestly baffled by this. Everyone and their eccentric uncle Phineas is crying out for diverse books, begging for them, weeping over the lack of them...but if you provide one, it will skate under the radar and the crying, begging and weeping will continue unabated.

I can think of a few authors who write truly diverse books who enjoy brilliant sales - but in every case those writers had to build up their careers over decades and decades, moving agonisingly slowly from newbie to small-time midlist to respectable midlist to a top-selling to bestselling author. Some of those authors, if you look at their publication credits, have massive gaps in their careers during which they gave up and did something else for a while because the lack of response to their work either made their publishers drop them, or discouraged them so much they lost the will to keep on writing. I wonder how many others there have been who started out with the best of intentions and gave up two or three or four books in, feeling that, no matter how many concerned articles were written about the need for diverse YA, there was simply no real market for it.

At a certain point, as a writer who has dedicated so much passion and care to creating books that leave you with a satisfied conscience, you might find yourself looking at your royalty statement, and then looking at the Children's New York Times Bestseller's list and counting up the books with all-white, all-straight, all-able-bodied and all-neurotypical casts - or worse, casts where any characters who don't conform to this are confined to stereotypical side characters - and you will probably feel despair.

I'm not overstating there. It is despair: cold, creeping, whispering and wailing at the corners of your awareness. You will ask yourself, 'If I had written a book like that, a so-called 'normal' book, a book that conformed...would I be a bestseller now? Would I be able to afford a pension, and a mortgage on a nice house? Would I have fans all over the world and a movie deal? In writing diverse books...did I make a huge mistake?'

I know this is likely to happen, because it happened to me. Sometimes, when I see the hype machine grinding away for one of those Hot, Hot, Hot New Novels, or read about a huge deal for a debut novellist, or see a book come out and immediately hit that bestseller list like a canonball and then sit there at the top for weeks - and I can see that yet again any concerns about diversity have been brushed aside in order to create an apparently oh-so-appealing vision of reality where straight, white, able-bodied neurotypical people have all the agency and all the adventures and all the darn fun - I STILL feel that cold, creeping sensation. I still hear the whispering and wailing too.

The sad truth is that on ninety-nine out of one hundred occasions, writing brave, rich, diverse books will not result in any of the stuff you dream about.

It won't result in fantastic, Twilight/Hunger Games level sales figures.

It won't result in movie deals.

It won't result in critical acclaim and glowing reviews.

Why? Because the vast majority of people who read your books (I'm including EVERYONE in this, from young readers to professional reviewers) are so used to the skewed vision of reality which has been blasted at them by society and the media all their lives - and continues to be blasted at them everytime they turn on the TV, watch a film, walk by a billboard - that they WILL NOT NOTICE. They'll flinch from or skim over the descriptions of racially diverse characters, block out the gay ones, imagine the hero with the walking stick as able bodied. Or worse, they'll frown over these diverse characters, label the book 'weird' because it makes them uncomfortable for no reason they can really adequately explain, and put it down. And move onto yet another bestselling book filled with that familiar 'perfect' cast that contains a couple of stereotypical 'minority' side characters and the version of the world that they are used to.

Realising that is so, so disheartening. 

But let me put my arm around you, Diverse Authors. Let me give you a warm hug and a plate of chocolate cake and a mug of coffee and explain the realisation I finally came to about this.

The reason there are no standing ovations for authors who take that risk and write those diverse books, is that much as we YA authors do write with a particular awareness of our audience, ultimately you don't spend hours of your life sweating away over your notebook and keyboard for anyone other than yourself.

When you chose to embrace diversity and create stories which include rich, beautiful, realistic casts of characters, you do that firstly and primarily for you. Because you know deep down that your book is better, stronger, more truthful that way. Because it makes your heart sing, and your brain smile, and your fingers fly.

Occasionally one us may get a heartfelt letter from a fan or a librarian or teacher saying how much the effort we put into diversity meant to them. Or we might get listed for a diversity-specific award. One of our books might do really well. And each and every one of those things is a marvellous validation of the effort that goes into our work. But the best validation, and the only one which will make you feel warm again and banish the weeping and wailing from your ears is the knowledge, that you've written what YOU believed in.

Not for the sake of recognition from peers, not for universal acclaim from review journals, not even for a lightning-leap up the bestsellers list and a movie deal, but for the sake of your own soul.

If you have that, then those years of struggle which are most likely ahead of you while you work your way up from newbie to small-time midlist to respectable midlist to top-seller to bestseller (while still rightly appearing arduous from down there at the bottom) will no longer seem impossible

Don't look for standing ovations. It's entirely possible you will never get them. Look instead for fulfilment and satisfaction within your craft and within yourself as a person. Those things, once attained, will keep you warm for a long, long time.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

InCreWriMa Week 2: CHECK IN

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers - and Happy 300th post on The Zoë-Trope!

*Sets Free The Winged Monkeys of Celebration* Aw, look at their little leathery wings going. How cute. Fly, my pretties! Spread unicorn sparkles and terror everywhere you pass!

Isn't it perfect that my 300th post here should be the International Creative Writing May check in? This whole thing is about bringing writers together, encouraging us all to have run being creative, and sharing our achievements. And that's what this blog has always been about, too! Ah, I love it when a (not-really) plan comes together.

(BTW, excitement may cause me to make more random film references than normal. I apologise in advance).

So today we check in after one full week of InCreWriMa. How did you do? Did it drag as slowly as the last Man of Steel remake, or slip past swiftly like the one about the genius playboy billionaire in a metal suit? Did you hit your target? Fly lightyears beyond it? Miss it by miles? Get all your week's writing done in one day and then chill while the rest of us suckers were slaving away? Have you had to readjust your goal, perhaps. Please, share everything in the comments! And I urge you not to respond only to this post and to what I'm saying BUT TO EACH OTHER as well.

Talk to each other, guys! Offer advice, congratulations, commiserations, make friends. That's all part of the fun.

I will start off by talking about how my week went. Well, on Thursday last week I fully intended to begin properly by writing my full day's target of six pages (you may or may not remember that my target was to write six pages a day, six days a week this month - I hoped to get those pages typed up each day as well). But then I got into a Twitter discussion which spawned this inescapable inspiration for a blog post - which evolved into BLOGGERS vs. AUTHORS. So I basically spent all Thursday researching, writing and revising that. And I can't exactly regret it - it got nearly 1,500 hits the day it went up!

No big deal, I thought. I'll just write an extra two pages on Friday, then squeeze a couple in on Saturday (normally my day off) and with another two extra on Sunday, I'll have caught up!

Fate was listening. Fate laughed at me, and pointed and mocked. As a result of which, after writing my eight pages on Friday, that night a third round of edits on The Night Itself appeared in my inbox. To be fair, my editor had warned me they were coming - I just forgot about it.

After facepalming a few times, until the refreshing tingling sensation in my skin did away with the urge to faint, I made a new plan. I would write my six pages in the morning, and work on the revisions each day as soon as those six pages were done. That would mean I wouldn't have much (if any) time to type up my six pages like I'd intended to do every day, but that didn't really matter - it would just make it a bit more difficult to track my actual word count progress. And my goal this month wasn't about amounts of words written as it was about moving the story forward.

How did that work out for me?

Um...can you spell AMAZING?

It's been fantastic! Knowing that my goal wasn't an unspecified 'as many words as possible (hurry up, write MOAR!)' has really seemed to free me up. Even on days when I've been taking care of my dad, I've still felt OK to sit down, write half a page, get up and do observations, sit down and write half a page, get up and check meds, sit down... I've managed to hit target every single day, and without stressing out about it. And then in afternoon, after my dad's treatment is complete and I'm back in my Writing Cave, I can switch my brain into edit mode without any sense that I'm tearing myself away from my WIP, because I know I've taken my characters a step further on their journey already.

What's more? You guys, several times when I've been writing in my notebook I've completely 'zoned' and ended up exceeding my target but a LOT. I worked out that by this stage in InCreWriMa - seven days in - I should have written thirty-six pages. I've actually got forty-one!

I really hope that next week goes as well.

All right now, your turn. Tell all in the comments!

Sunday, 6 May 2012


Hi everyone! Happy Tuesday. I hope you all had a great, productive weekend and made lots of headway into your InCreWriMa goals (if not, no worries - we'll console you in the comments on Thursday).

Today I'm doing that thing again. You know. The thing where I cast common sense and the wise advice of friends to the wind and venture onto a topic that anyone with half a grain of sense would treat like a canister of highly radioactive material (don't even go near unless there's some kind of life-or-death-Tom-Cruise's-furrowed-brow situation, and even then only while wearing a full hazmat suit and using mechanical pincers instead of your actual hands).

Today, I would like to talk about this whole Authors vs. Bloggers debate.

WHAT did you say?!
Disclaimer: I'm not attempting to be definitive here. I have no ambitions of Saying All The Things and single-handedly producing World Blogger/Author peace. I just have all these...feelings. You know: conflicted, squirmy, put-you-off-your-icecream feelings, churning away inside, and I'll feel better if I spill them out onto the page. If you want clear-sighted wisdom, you might be better off seeking out the Dalai Lama, or perhaps Justine Larbalestier.

I'm also well aware that there are many bloggers and authors who may read this post with puzzled faces of adorable confusion and say 'Huh? I've never noticed any of this! Where's all this going on?' My post today is a response to things I've seen bloggers and authors talking about on various comment threads and websites all over the place, and to several recent incidents of Internet Drama(TM) that have blown up and then blown out again. If it's all Greek to you? Well done; you've successfully done what the rest of us wished we could and steered well clear of all the angst. Go on your merry way and ignore my convoluted ramblings with a light heart.

So. This debate. Let me break it down a little.


Right now we have this vibrant, thriving, book blogging community on the internet. It encompasses book-review sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing and people's own personal blogs, and participants  span the whole of the real world and might realistically be any age between eleven and ninety. This community loves to read, loves books, loves authors, and on the surface of things there really seems to be no reason why all of us shouldn't be skipping through fields of daisies together, holding hands and singing Justin Beiber's Greatest Hits (wait - is that kid old enough to have Greatest Hits? If not, we can just sing Kumbaya, I suppose).

But beneath the surface of the community there are deep divisions - essential differences in approach and philosophy which constantly cause dissent and even sometimes acrimony and hatred. In order to make sense of this, I'm going to talk about the two different kinds of bloggers you tend to find in the reviewing world (most reviewers, in reality, fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes - but this is just to illustrate my point).

Some bloggers regard authors and publishers and the whole book blogging world like this:

Let's all eat cake. And be friends!
They love to able to interact with and be taken seriously by people in the publishing industry. They regard it as a privilege to be part of this exciting and heretofore hidden, secretive world. They get excited about ARCs and swag and blog tours, and enjoy talking to authors personally. Generally these reviewers will have a positive attitude to books they review: they'll usually try to find something good to say, even if a certain book wasn't for them. They might only review books that they love and not mention any that they did not like or failed to finish. Or they may publish negative reviews, but view this as a sad, serious duty. They feel it's only right to treat authors and their work with a lot of respect, so they will, rarely if ever, employ snark or humour when they air their opinions.

These are the bloggers who are usually very happy to have an author for a chum, and who don't mind authors popping onto their blog and commenting on the reviews and features.

Bloggers on the other side of the divide look at publishing more like this:

Oooh, this is going to be fuuuun...
While still on the whole respecting authors and publishers, these guys take a more worldly view. They see the relationship between reviewers, authors and publishers not as a privilege but as a pragmatic arrangement, with all sides getting benefit from the exchange of books/swag and reviews/publicity. Some reviewers don't accept ARCs or swag at all because they feel like it encourages a sense of endebtedness that prevents them from being honest. They take their reviews seriously, but that won't stop them from snarking and using humour (including .gifs or photoshopped images) to make a point either in favour of or against of books which aroused strong feelings in them. If they feel that an author or publisher messed up in some way they will call them on it fiercely, and they post negative reviews without a blink. They don't believe it's their job to shelter an author's feelings by finding good things to say about their work: they believe it's their job to be completely honest and give readers their unadulterated, sincere reaction to books, even if they didn't finish them.

Bloggers in this camp tend to be wary of being too friendly with authors, and they feel a bit squinky and uncomfortable if writers pop onto their blogs and comment, even if the comment is positive. The author doesn't really belong there, to their mind.

Sometimes the most extreme of these two types of bloggers will clash because they have such opposing styles and ways of looking at the business they're dealing with. But the real reason why there's such a huge divide these days? Well, it's because of...


Obviously it's a bit harder for me to be objective here! But I'll do my best.

Basically: writers are now more active online than they've ever been before, and publishers are encouraging us to interact with and form working relationships with bloggers in order to help promote our work.

Quite often writers end up grativating towards bloggers in the first group that I mentioned, just because those guys are the most receptive and the most likely to be happy taking part in blog tours, etc. They can form real friendships with bloggers (the ones that are fine with this) in the course of working with them on, say, an interview feature, and then talking with them at a blogger event, and tweeting and emailing back and forth for a bit. This is hardly surprising, since most writers are avid readers and - look at that! So are bloggers. They already have a lot in common. For an author, getting to know bloggers who like you and your work means that you suddenly have a whole network of new people in your corner.

But not all bloggers can be - or should be - your friend. Not all bloggers can - or should - like your work.

And this, in my purely subjective opinion, is where the crazy starts.

(N.B. I'm aware that there have been authors who had a mental breakdown over a generally positive three star review. But those guys are usually so obviously unbalanced that EVERYONE backs away with wary looks, including other writers. I don't think those people are materially contributing to the Us vs. Them mentality I've noticed - they are outliers. So let's move on).

Authors might be resigned (or tell themselves that they're resigned) to seeing negative reviews of their books. Reviews in which the blogger sadly admits that the story didn't work for them for some reason, that they couldn't empathise with the heroine or that historical fiction/fantasy/Dystopian just isn't the reviewer's bag. Those are the sorts of reviews that our blogger friends do occasionally write, after all. Reviews that the blogger is well aware the author and publisher may read, and which are sensitive to and considerate of the writer and publisher's feelings in consequence. Authors grit their teeth and mumble under their breath, but generally manage to avoid making idiots of themselves over reviews like these.

What writers are really not resigned to seeing, and what normally is the start of The Internet Drama(TM) is a different kind of review. One written by a reviewer who has no interest in what the author or publisher might think if they read it (the review isn't FOR them, after all) and who feels no reluctance about expressing their problems with or outright dislike of the book. A review that may (le gasp) snark, make jokes and outright mock the story. Possibly using .gifs of Tribbles humping.

Writers are not prepared for this. For someone making fun of their book like it doesn't matter. And so, often in a blaze of wild emotion, the author takes to their email or Twitter or Facebook and Says Stuff. They might just say 'Argh! I hate Teh Internetz today!'. They might take it further and make condemning comments about the quality of reviewers on Goodreads. They might go the full cray-cray route and provide a link to the review they didn't like. But in any case, the moment that the author responds to the negative review?


Straight away, people on the author's side of the divide will flinch from their pain and attempt to soothe them. And because this - authors publicly weeping over bad reviews - has now happened approximately 12,900,670 times before, and there's this sense of Authors vs. Bloggers online (why are bloggers so mean? Why do they have to attack books and rip them up like this?) their responses will usually be something along these lines:

'Oh, honey! It's OK, your book is wonderful! Just ignore that silly hater! Goodreads is full of trolls anyway!'

In their urge to reassure their friend, client, co-worker or fellow author, this person or persons have fired the first canon.

Reviewers, who, not surprisingly, are very active online, will catch wind of this. Word will spread quickly that YET AGAIN an author is dissing reviewers (surely not? Don't writers ever learn?). The link is RT'ed, posted on Goodreads, and suddenly reviewers appear on the scene defending their right to write honest reviews without being attacked and labelled a hater or a troll, thank you very much.

This skirmish will last for a bit. Then someone will attempt to pour oil on the troubled waters by offering some variant of:

'Why can't we all just get along? Why do we have to be mean to each other? Why can't we all just...Be Nice?'

Oh, look, that's not oil. It's lighter fluid. Whoosh!

Sometimes the author will calm down, look at this huge Internet Drama(TM) and apologise. Sometimes the furore will make them even angrier and the war will drag on and on and on until everyone's sick to the back teeth with it. But eventually the battle will finish and both sides will retreat to their own sides feeling bruised and battered and wondering: why does this keep happening?

And everytime, that Bloggers vs. Authors feeling just gets stronger and stronger.

The reviewers angrily ask themselves why writers can't get it through their skulls that reviews are for READERS not WRITERS. Why are they even reading reviews and hanging around on Goodreads to begin with if they hate honest reviews so much? Authors put their books out there for people to read and respond to - they presumably WANT readers to have strong reactions to their work. They don't have the right to just take it back and throw a tantrum when someone's reaction isn't all beatific smiles and gushy five star praise. Reviewers are consumers. They're the audience the writer is trying to win over! Why do so many authors think it's OK to treat their own customers like crap?

Writers angrily ask themselves why it's OK for reviewers to respond to an author's book, but not for an author to respond to the review. After all, reviews are for public consumption just as much as books are! If reviewers are all about honesty and freedom of speech, how come they come boiling out of their anthills to eat writers alive the moment one of them dares to mention their feelings about less than favourable responses to their work? Why do reviewers always automatically take a stance of hostility and hatred towards authors when authors dare to involve themselves in a debates about star ratings, or try to correct a reviewer who might have gotten their facts wrong? Aren't we all supposed to be part of the same community?

Well, OK. Let's tackle some of this stuff, shall we?


You guys are writing for yourselves, your friends, your blog readers. You're being honest, you're being passionate and yeah, you're having a few laughs: why the heck not? You shouldn't have to censor yourselves because you're worrying about the author's/agent's/publishers feelings. This is a business: writers/agents/publishers are supposed to be professional, and no matter how much their feelings are concerned with their work, that's not an excuse to act like a five year old whose best friend said their Play-Doh house was stoopid. It's especially not an excuse to mobilise all the other kids in the playground and wage a hate campaign against anyone who doesn't agree that the Play-Doh house is the best one-level soft sculpted domiciliary ever built.

You read a whole heck of a lot of books. You love books. You usually go in there excited and ready to be pleased. But sometimes you get sick of seeing the same crap repeated over and over in every crop of hyped up would-be-bestsellers. Misogyny disguised as romance. Designated Boyfriends and Passive Heroines. Horrible cliches. Bad writing. Predictable plots. Lack of diversity.

And no one ever admits this! YA writers (and agents and other publishing professionals) just don't seem interested in looking at their category as a whole and admitting that there might be problems there. If it weren't for you guys there would be no antidote to the hype-machine - and on a personal note, there have been times when finding a few snarky, honest reviews of a book that I thought was terrible, but which otherwise garnered only positive reviews, might just have saved my sanity.

All too often, when you guys try to discuss troubling trends or issues seriously, authors either play it off or turn on you. And then those authors hold grudges. Certain authors threatened to remember your name if you reviewed them badly, and do you harm further down the line if they could - and they then somehow tried to label this 'Taking the High Road'! And when you started asking yourselves if there was some kind of YA Mafia, Twitter exploded with YA novelists nearly peeing themselves with laughter and making jokes about horses heads and sleeping wit da fishes - but no one ever really addressed your concerns over the pettiness and sheer meanness of that Be Nice threat.

In fact, it seems like the whole YA industry is so concerned with this idea of Being Nice, of projecting an image of child-friendly harmoniousness, that no one is ever going to tackle the issues that lie beneath unless you do.


But you know that oft-repeated phrase 'reviews are for readers, not writers'? Now, I can see where you're coming from with this, I really can. Unfortunately - I'm sorry, but...it's complete and total bull.

Seriously. Writers are readers. We read reviews all the time when we want to decide what books WE should read. We review books to our friends over dinner, we spontaneously tweet about how everyone should run out and get the book we just read because It. Is. So. Awesome. And let's not forget that bloggers with a different approach to reviewing send us emails of reviews they have written, or @reply us on Twitter with links. They *want* us to read them. Reviews are EVERYWHERE, yo.

There's this sense among certain bloggers (and some writers, even) that the best policy is for writers to put their fingers in their ears and sing 'la la la, I'm not listening!' when it comes to reviews. That we should wilfully pretend to have zero awareness that anyone's talking about us or our work - or anyone else's work! But not everyone wants to completely cut themselves off from critical discussions of books just because they got published. Many of us are able to read even quite snarky reviews of our own or our friends work without freaking out and creating An Internet Drama(TM). So please will you stop repeating 'Reviews are for READERS not WRITERS' all the time? You make me feel like I'm doing something wrong when I go looking for book criticism in order to learn from it. And I'm not. You're not my mommy and you can't tell me to stop hanging around on Goodreads if I don't want to, dammit.

Maybe most important of all: please, stop telling us how we should feel about reviews, OK? I understand that seeing newbie bloggers, and your friends (maybe even yourself) get attacked by authors and a hoard of their friends and yes-people over and over has made you feel so wary that now the second an author impinges on your personal space you hit out as hard as you can. But please just stop with that shizz about how 'authors should just get over this!' or 'authors shouldn't pursue publication if they can't take criticism' or 'writers should toughen up and grow a thicker skin', will you? If an author says that 3-star reviews make them sad, that's not them attacking YOU. That is them expressing their own feelings, which they are allowed to have.

When I saw a review trashing my most recent release for daring to feature a transgendered character I got cross and I vented to my writing group. I didn't mention the reviewer's name or link to them, and half an hour later I felt better and got over it. But I needed that half hour to be allowed to be honestly distressed and to get some sympathy, because I'm human. Reviewers don't always have to take every expression of an author's feelings about a bad review as an attack on them and their rights. What's more, you don't have the right to try and silence authors when they express their feelings about getting reviews: we're entitled to free speech too, so long as we're not trying to take yours away.

You don't have to Be Nice with me. You officially have my permission to BE NASTY about my books if you feel they warrant it (not that you need my permission). But don't tell me how to feel about that, please. If I want to read every buggering review ever written about every book I've ever published and then cry myself into a soggy snotty puddle on my teddy bear that is MY BUSINESS.

No, I shouldn't pop up on your blog and try to inflict equal suffering on you. But you shouldn't try to minimise my feelings or my right to have them, either. That's exactly what those authors did to you, so you already know it sucks donkey rear-end. Just stop it.

Did he say 3 Stars? MY LIFE IS OVER!!!

You guys are dealing with a heck of a lot of pressure when your book comes out, and I know that. You've dedicated hours, days, weeks, months and years of your lives to creating this story. You've more than likely made other sacrifices too - financial ones, ones concerning commitments to your friends and family. Your book is important to you and you know that it's the best you can do - your heart and soul is in there and you're allowed to want to know how people respond to it, and feel emotional about that. You're allowed to get angry when you see someone dismiss your heroine as a Mary-Sue when you are extremely-very-bloody sure she is NOT, thanks very much. Particularly when you look at the reviewer's other reviews and see that she calls EVERY female character this! AND SHE CLAIMS TO BE A FEMINIST!? How come the only books she reviews positively are ones written by men or with male main characters? What the Heck?

Sometimes reviews will even seem to be attacking you personally (maybe because they disagree with your stated religious beliefs, or don't like the other writers you hang around with online) or offering statements about your motives in making certain choices in your writing that are not only utterly unfounded but extremely insulting. You know you're not supposed to respond to this and, just barely, you manage not to.

But you are human, after all. So you go and vent a bit to a friend online, maybe on Twitter - and the next thing you know, everyone's wagging their finger at you like you were a toddler. It wasn't like you linked to the review or tried to call the reviewer out - you just said that sometimes Goodreads gives you a headache and you wish people would stop Mary-Sueing all over the place. Now there's a Goodreads thread about it and they're all putting your book on a Do Not Read list? Gaaah! Why do reviewers treat you like the enemy all the time? Do you really have to watch every single word you say?

You should be given a little more leeway to express yourself online if you want without being labelled A Bad Author. After all, you didn't give up your right to free speech when you signed a publishing contract, and if reviewers are allowed to express their feelings, you are too. Sometimes it's that or just explode in a messy heap of guts. It's funny that reviewers will condemn YA authors for not speaking 'honestly' about the work of other authors in their category (for example, if writers chose to only review books that they liked on their blog) but then get on their case when they're honest...about how bad reviews make them feel.


Unfortunately, when you signed that publishing contract, you did become a paid professional, and that comes with certain expectations of professional behaviour. It might not seem fair, and often people who should be encouraging you to hold to that standard will act like it doesn't matter (for example, agents who have shown up on blogs or on Goodreads to 'defend' their clients work) but I'm sorry, it DOES. You have to act like a grown-up online. Cry and wail and get upset in private all you want, but don't take that internal upset online and try to hurt a book reviewer with it. Just what do you expect to achieve? They're not going to change their minds because you go and tell them off, are they?

And no, us writers can't complain that a review isn't 'professional'. Even if the writer of that review was unfailingly snarky and used comical .gifs of Tribbles humping to make our story a laughing stock. Because guess what? 99.99% of the time, bloggers are not professionals. They're not getting paid (no, ARCs don't count. They just don't! Look, if you don't get it, I can't explain). Reviewers do this for free, and while many of them take it very seriously, it is, effectively, a hobby. Do you expect Grandma Bessie to 'be polite and professional' when she takes part in her hobby of strip poker on a Wednesday night? I didn't think so.

And here's another truth that is spikey and hard to swallow. Unless a reviewer makes an ad hominem attack on you personally (something which is generally frowned on within all parts of the blogging community)? THEY CANNOT BE WRONG.

Shocking, I know. But think about it for a minute. There's no universe in which you dismissing someone else's feelings as worthless and invalid is OK. If someone reads five pages of your book and it made them so angry and infuriated that they refused to read another page and then wrote a three page long rant against it? They are right. Their feelings are theirs. You're obviously not going to agree with them (and Hell, if they're ranting because you didn't burn the gay character, maybe they're objectively out of their tree too) but that doesn't mean you're allowed to move into their reviewing space and attempt to erase their feelings from the internet. Especially not using a hastily gathered gang of pissed off friends and followers, as some writers have done. I'll put your book on *MY* Do Not Read list if you try and pull that crap.

The simple fact is that books are written to be reviewed. That's what Goodreads and LibraryThing are for. But reviews are not like books. Reviews are not written to be reviewed in their turn. Yes, they're put out there for public consumption, just like a novel, but bloggers don't ask you or anyone to pay to consume them. As you're an author, they'd probably rather you DIDN'T consume them. Just because there's a comment trail on that blog post or Goodreads review, that's not an invitation from the reviewer for people (including you) to come along and tell them they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Why are you intruding on this place, their place for reviews, with your not-a-review comments?

Go away and cry yourself into a soggy puddle of snot on your teddy bear if that's how you feel. You have that right. Ask for sympathy in non-specific terms - you have that right too. But don't be yet another author who starts a flamewar because they couldn't respond to criticism any other way than with public meltdown. Don't be yet another author who persecutes and devalues the very readers - the passionate, dedicated, searching for excellence readers - we should all be supporting and valuing the most.

Passionate readers are our friends! Snuggle them!

So what it comes down to is that I think we all need to ease our trigger fingers OFF our derringers and stop trying to make each other shut up all the time.

WRITERS: If you can't stand to read a negative review without going into public meltdown then stop reading reviews. If you can, and you want to, then do; but confine any comments you make in response to YOUR space and YOUR feelings, and never, ever, ever name reviewers or link to negative reviews or make obvious references to comments in reviews that will allow your friends or readers to figure out who you're talking about. Reviewers that get attacked because you called them out directly or indirectly will have every right to get a wee bit cross with you.

REVIEWERS: If you can't stand to see authors bitch about how bad reviews make them feel, unfollow them on Twitter or stop checking out their blogs. Writers are human too, and they are allowed to have and express their feelings in their own spaces on the internet, just like you. Unless they call you or a friend out either by name or in such a way that it's clear they're giving the reviewer's indentity away in order to cause a backlash against them, or they write darn stupid posts urging reviewers to stop being honest and start being 'nice'. Then you're free to go to war.

Other than that? Keep up the good work.

And those are my thoughts.

(Why yes, I have illustrated this entire post with images from Ouran High School Host Club. I thought it might lighten the mood.)

(Oh, also - this is actually Tuesday's post. But I'm posting it today because I expect to get a bit of discussion in the comments and I'd like to have the time to respond.)

Thursday, 3 May 2012


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! It is Thursday and so time for the very first InCreWriMa check-in.

Today, I hope we're all going to set ourselves a realistic but challenging goal for what we'd like to achieve in May. We'll share it, and basically make a pledge to try our best to meet it, and be there for everyone else who is trying to meet theirs, during this month.

So here's me. I'm working on Katana #2 right now and as of last night I've got 34,000 words. That's about 45% of the estimated total - based on the word count of the first draft of The Night Itself, which was 73,000 words (although subsequent drafts with my editor plumped it up to 80,000).

I have no ambition of trying to finish Katana #2 this month or anything like that. The moment I put that kind of pressure on myself things inevitably go wrong - see what happened during NaNo last year, when I first caught the bug that I not-so-affectionately called the NaNo-Virus, and then tripped and ended up with a prolapsed disc that had me flat on my back in agony for three weeks.

So, yeah. Not going there.

What I'd mainly like to do is get a bit of consistency back into my writing routine. At the moment I'm going a couple of days without getting any work done, and then squeezing out a couple of thousand words, and then going another couple of days... I can work like that if I have to, and eventually the book will get finished. But I know that if I write more regularly my productivity will go up, and the standard of the writing will improve, and I'll generally feel better about myself and the world.

When I was writing Shadows on the Moon I still had my office job, and that meant I really only had Wednesdays and the weekends as full days to write in. But during the office days I wrote pages and pages of notes in lunch and teabreaks, on the bus, even during slow periods when the phone wasn't ringing (although of course when the bosses noticed that, there was Hell to pay - we were supposed to spend that time re-reading departmental memos or tidying our desks. Pfft). Quite often I'd get to Wednesday or Sunday and find that I had fifty pages of notes to type up. And I really loved that feeling; even though I had to revise and redraft every handwritten page as it went onto the computer, I knew I'd already broken the spine of whatever I scene or chapter was working on, and the hard work was done.

Keeping the idea of 'achievable and realistic' in mind, then, my goal is going to be to write six notebook pages each day, six days out of the week in May. I know that most days I could probably write more than that - and maybe I will - but I want to know that even on my weariest, most tired out and depressed day, I can still approach that target and feel like it's doable. So, six pages it is.

As to the six days: I'm giving myself Saturday off because that's the day when I do all my shopping and chores and the rest, and also the day when I might get the chance to do a bit of baking or read a book, see friends , go to the cinema, etc. Much as I feel the urge to hole myself up in my Writing Cave in every spare moment that I have, I know it's not particularly healthy, and that making time for some Real Life (TM) is a good thing.

You'll note that I haven't given myself an actual word count here, just a number of handwritten notebook pages. That's because it's more important to me at this point to keep moving the story forward and to ease myself back into writing daily than it is to wrack up a concrete amount of digits.

But we'll see how I managed to do next Thursday when we do the Week Two check-in!

OK, now it's your turn guys. What are you working on? What is your target and why do you feel that it's useful and realistic for you? What is your ultimate goal - where do you want to be at the end of May? Do you have any worries or need any encouragement? Share it all in the comments!

P.S. Sharp eyed readers might have noticed that - at long last! - I got around to putting up the promised ALL ABOUT WRITING page, where I've put links to all the writing advice blog posts I've written, broken down by type. So if you're looking for help and inspiration you can also head there. Have I missed any posts you liked? Let me know - everything starts to blur together after a few hours in the archives :)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


Hello, hello, hello - and happy Tuesday to all!

Whoa, so I guess my blog title kinda gave it away there (if you hadn't already worked out what the 'InCreWriMa' I hinted about last week was). It's International Creative Writing May - partly inspired by NaNoWriMo and partly inspired by Kaz Mahoney's genius SpringKazNo which I somehow managed to TOTALLY miss until about a week ago, when it was too late to join up, dammit.

No, that's not really accurate. It's not 'somehow' managed to miss. It's 'missed because the end of March and all of April this year have been kind of a no-go zone as far as writing is concerned'. This is why I put a progress metre for Katana up there, because I hoped it would motivate me a bit.

Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

I don't really talk about it much on this blog, but I'm a carer for my dad, who is disabled. You might remember that earlier this year I switched from a thrice (thrice, what a nice word, I should use it more often) weekly posting schedule to twice weekly. This was because my dad was moving onto a new form of treatment which would would take place at home and I knew that this was going to take a lot more of my (ha ha) 'spare' time.

What none of us - me, my dad, or my mum, who is obviously also involved - realised was just how much there was going to be to this new system of home treatment, how many hours we would need to dedicate to training for and learning how to do it, and how much time the treatment itself would take up. It took us all completely by surprise, and for the past six weeks or so I've been desperately scrambling to keep up, trying to convince myself that I *can* do this, that it'll all work out, and we're doing the right thing. Basically, my whole family has been in crisis mode, and although I've been trying my best to keep Katana #2 ticking over, I haven't made nearly the progress that I hoped I would have by this stage.

Now I feel like I've reached a bit of a crossroads.

My dad is doing brilliantly on his new treatment, and has more energy and positivity than I've seen for absolutely ages - years. That makes me very happy. I think we're getting on top of all the stuff we need to learn and I'm no longer feeling constantly overwhelmed, tearful and depressed.

At the same time, though, I'm coming to an understanding of how the new routine is going to work, and there's no getting around it: my writing time has been drastically cut down. I'd estimate I've lost about half the hours I would previously have spent writing, and that's not going to change much from now on.

I've still got way more hours to play with than I did back when I was doing an office job, and I managed to write three books back then. But if I don't adjust and learn to work around this, it's going to have a big impact on my productivity. So what I need now? Is something to kickstart me into getting words down on paper again.

Dear Readers, I really want us to write together.

It doesn't matter if you feel like writing poetry or short stories. Novels or synopses. Blog posts or entries on Tumblr. Just so long as you write something - anything creative - you're welcome to take part! If you want to use this as a way to help you finish the novel you have on deadline, that's brilliant. If you want to use it to start creative writing for the first time ever? Also fantastic!

Pick a target for yourself. Something realistic and achieveable for you, something that you can hit with a bit of effort. Nothing feels as depressing as failing right away because you pushed yourself too hard. But once you've picked that target, stick to it. Because nothing feels as good as pushing through, working hard, and reaching your goal. And when I said realistic? I meant it! If you don't think you can realistically manage to write more than five lines every day? THAT IS 100% A-OK for InCreWriMa too! On the other hand? Don't be too easy on yourself either. There's more satisfaction in going the extra mile than in never putting on your running shoes because you're afraid of blisters.

The really important thing about this is that we're going to do it together. It's supposed to be exciting, and fun, and motivating, and part of that is being around to help and support each other. Every Thursday in May I'm going to do a check in post. I will be completely honest with you about how many words I wrote in the preceding week, if I struggled or had a great time, and how I'm feeling about the book. I might even do breakdowns as to how many words/pages I managed each day, if you're interested in that much detail.

I hope you guys will be equally honest in the comments. If you caught a cold, felt awful, and wrote two words the whole week, we'll offer encouragement and reassurance. If you blew past your target and wrote pages and pages more than you expected, you'll get high-fives and cheers.

At the end of the month, we'll all do a review and round-up of what we've accomplished. And any commentors who checked in on every single IntCreWriMa Thursday (that's five, from May 3rd, to May 31st) will be eligible to go into another giveaway prize draw and maybe receive special surprise presents. My surprise presents? Rock. You want to be eligible, trust me! Especially since the giveaway will be open to everyone, from the brilliantly coloured beatles dwelling on the hot, eastenmost rocks of Timbuktu to the tiny dwarf Artic rabbits hopping around on the snow of the polar icecap.

I'm really excited about this idea, Dear Readers, and I hope you are too! But don't get too excited; take some time to think about whether this seems like fun to you, and what a REALISTIC target would be. Don't rush in and commit yourself too fast. I don't want anyone to put undue pressure on themselves or to take part if it's not right for them just now. I don't want to see any comments pledging certain amounts of words per day, or anything like that, in the comments today. The first check-in post will be Thursday this week. That's when I'll tell you my target and ask for yours.

I would like to know what you all think, though! Let me have it in the comments :)

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