Thursday, 28 June 2012


Hello, Lovely Readers! As you read this I am already winging (well, railing) my way to the Lancashire Book of the Year Awards in Preston. I know that I haven't won anything, so basically I am just turning up for the fun of hopefully meeting lots of readers and other authors. I'm nervous and excited!

But fear not: despite my abandonment there is still a post for you to read today: stop #2 on the FrostFire Blog Tour. It's over at the lovely Laura's blog, which is called SisterSpooky and it's about fantasy that I find inspirational. Clickety click, dearies!

Once you've devoured that one, there's another guest post I did the other week for Caroline at Portrait of A Woman, which I forgot to link you to. It's about my love for Japan, and has lots of recommendations for manga and anime.

See you on Tuesday :)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


Good morning, Dear Readers! Today is the first day of my programme of RetroTuesdays, in which I dredge through the rich, dark slime of the archives in order to drag free the gleaming gold of vintage posts. Posts you may have missed the first time around, or perhaps would enjoy reading for a second time.

Don't forget that on Friday I'll be posting you a link to the next stop on the FrostFire blog tour, so stop by for that as well! Now, onwards to...


Today, at the urging of some of my lovely Twitter friends and followers, I intend to tackle a controversial topic. You can probably guess what it is from the post title, but if not...well, here's where we wade into the Mary-Sue Morass. It's a deep one. You might want to bring a snack. And a spare pair of socks.

If you regularly read book (or film or TV or other media - but most especially book) reviews of any kind, whether in magazines or on Amazon and Goodreads or on book review blogs, you will more than likely (more than likely) have come across the term Mary-Sue. If you don't already know what the term means, you might have tried to work out the meaning using the context in which the term was used. But, because hardly any of the people throwing this term around themselves understand what it means, you'll have a tough time of it. Even if you've read a hundred reviews talking about Mary-Sue characters, you probably still don't know for sure, although you'll have gotten the idea that Mary-Sue = bad news. Bad character. Bad writing. BAD WRITER, NO COOKIE!

When I read reviews, I see the term Mary-Sue used to mean:

1) A female character who is too perfect
2) A female character who kicks too much butt
3) A female character who gets her way too easily
4) A female character who is too powerful
5) A female character who has too many flaws
6) A female character who has the wrong flaws
7) A female character who has no flaws
8) A female character who is annoying or obnoxious
9) A female character who is one dimensional or badly written
10) A female character who is too passive or boring

Do you see, Dear Readers, how many of these aspects of the commonly used term Mary-Sue are...umm...just a teeny bit contradictory? How can Mary-Sue mean 'a female character who is too perfect' when it is also used to mean a female character who is 'annoying or obnoxious'? How can it mean that a character has 'too many flaws' and also 'no flaws'? How can these people have anything in common? It's all so confusing!

Except that it isn't.

Take another look at the list of complaints against so-called Mary-Sues and you will see one thing all of them have in common.

'A female character.'

What many (though not all!) of the people merrily throwing this phrase around actually mean when they say 'Mary-Sue' is: 'Female character I don't like'.

That's it. That's all.

So why don't they just say 'I didn't like the female character' and explain why? I mean, there's no problem with a reviewer not liking a female character, is there? Everyone is entitled to like or dislike a character according to their own lights. A character that one person loves may seem utterly vile to another reader, and that is a wonderful thing we should all be very happy about as individuals. How did this strange, contradictory, badly defined term come into such common use in the first place? Clearly it doesn't mean what people think it means - so why not just honestly lay out the reasons you didn't like the female character, the same way you would any other character (by which we mean, a male one) instead of throwing the term Mary-Sue like a mud-pie?

Maybe it's because the reviewers in question, the reviewers who keep saying 'Mary-Sue' as if it was all that needed to be said, don't want to have to explain the reasons why a particular character didn't work for them. Maybe it's because their reasons for finding these female characters just too obnoxious, unrealistic, stupid, passive, badass or talented are as contradictory and badly defined as the term itself. Maybe it's because the reason they don't like the female characters isn't that they're just too...anything. Except just too...female.

For the record, at this point let's see if we can't dig out the actual meaning of the term Mary-Sue. Because it did have a useful definition once, before it was co-opted and turned into a two-word mud-pie to diminish female characters. And that definition was this:

"A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional."

The term was made up by people writing StarTrek fanfiction, to describe the author-insert characters (often given names like Mary Sue) who would show up in pieces of fanfiction as a new ensign or science officer and immediately prove to be the best looking, most intelligent, spunkiest, wittiest and most perfect StarFleet officer ever recruited. All the other characters would immediately realise this and hail Ensign Mary-Sue as a genius. If they did not, they were very obviously motivated by spite and jealousy, since Mary-Sue was so clearly perfect (and modest! And humble! And unaware of how beautiful she was!) that no one who wasn't wicked could do anything but embrace her.

She would not only miraculously solve every problem that the Enterprise faced and make instant friends of all the crew, but all the significant male (and maybe female) characters would fall in love with her. Usually Mary-Sue would bravely die at the end of the piece of fanfiction, because the established characters and setting would have become so warped around her utter perfection by then that if she had lived she would have gotten married to either James T Kirk or Spock (or both) and become Captain of the ship, and no one would ever have had to have any adventures again.

In short, Mary-Sue is a wish fulfilment fantasy. And I'm not saying characters like this don't exist. I'm not even saying they are *bad*. In fact, an example of a Mary-Sue in a well-known novel is the character Bella Swan in Twilight (I'm sorry Twilight lovers, but it's really true! I'm not dissing Bella, I'm just stating a fact about the kind of character she is).

Bella moves to a new town and immediately finds that everyone there wants to be her friend (except for two female characters who are mind-cripplingly obviously jealous) despite the fact that she is not interested in any of them. Bella has no flaws apart from being adorably klutzy. She is convinced that she is plain, and wears no make-up, but everyone reacts to her as if she was ravishingly beautiful. She captures the interest and then the undying love of the main male character despite the fact that he nearly has to turn his whole character inside out to make it happen. She also gets the love of the secondary male character. And all the other boys her age start fighting over her too, even though she's got no interest in any of them either. Bella undergoes no character growth or development within the story because she is already perfect when the story begins. And, as has often been pointed out, the detailed description of Bella is a perfect description of the author, Stephenie Meyer.

So this is what a Mary-Sue is:

1) A character who is based, at least partly, on the author
2) A character whom has no significant flaws (except possibly ones the other characters find cute)
3) A character to whom everyone within the story reacts as if they were beautiful and wonderful except characters who are clearly evil and/or motivated by jealousy
4) A character with whom, during the course of the story, every available character of the opposite (and occasionally the same) sex will fall in love given any contact whatsoever
5) A character who undergoes no significant growth, change or development throughout the story

Believe me, when you come across one, you will know.

And yet I see the term Mary-Sue applied to characters who bear no resemblance to this definition at all. I see it applied to such diverse people as Hermione Grainger from Harry Potter, Mae from The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Clary from the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Alanna from The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and Katsa from Graceling by Kristin Cashore. These guys, honestly, couldn't be much more different from each other. The only thing they all have in common? Is that they're all girls.

Not a Mary Sue!
I recently read a book that I loved. In the course of the book the heroine underwent immense physical and mental and emotional ordeals. She was by turns denigrated and treated with disgust, and excessively sheltered and lied to. She was kidnapped, dragged across rough terrain, attacked, threatened, lost people that she loved, was betrayed by people she had trusted, and had almost unbearable burdens thrust onto her shoulders. She evolved - inch by painful inch - from a very smart, yet extremely insecure and self-centred person, to one who was compassionate and empathetic and able to use her intelligence for the good of others. She changed from a passive and largely physically inactive person to one who was physically strong and active. She worked and scrabbled and fought and whined and cried for every bit of progress she made. She lost everything she loved and wanted and pulled herself up and made a new life for herself, bittersweet though it was.

And I thought: How wonderful!

And then I saw a review calling this character - this amazing, flawed, revolting, inspiring, broken, beautiful, ugly character - a Mary-Sue. Dear Readers, my head nearly exploded.

Definitely not a Mary Sue!
I'm sick of it, Dear Readers. I'm sick of seeing people condemn any female character with a significant role in a book as a Mary-Sue. I'm sick of people talking about how the female characters were too perfect or not perfect enough, too passive or too badass, too talented or too useless, when what they really mean - but don't even KNOW they mean - is that the characters were too much in possession of lady parts.

So now I turn away from my wonderful blog readers, who are lovely, kind, sweet people who would never make my head explode, and I turn to you, the reviewers. Not all the reviewers. Just the ones who are making my head throb dangerously and causing the silvery lights to float in front of my eyes.

I beg, I implore, I get down on bended knee and grovel: next time you're about to use the term Mary-Sue, stop and look at my little checklist above. And if the character you are about to describe does not hit all the points on the checklist? DON'T.

And if you're going to ask how on earth you're supposed to know, without photos of the author, if the character is partly based on them? You've just proved my point. YOU CAN'T. Therefore, you shouldn't be using the term Mary-Sue. Because in doing so, you are making a claim about the character/author relationship which you cannot substantiate. Simple as that.

Absolutely, positively not a Mary Sue!
Instead of slapping 'Mary-Sue' in your review and leaving it at that, make a list of four or five traits or decisions or actions that you think were bad, or unrealistic, or obnoxious, about the character. Perhaps you should discuss those points, and why they bothered you, in the review instead.

But before you do, take a moment to imagine that the character you are thinking about was a boy or a man. And don't say 'Well, that's different' or 'But I just can't see a girl behaving this way' or 'It's not about their gender!' or any other excuse. Look at your list again, really look at it. See if, suddenly, magically, all those traits, decisions or actions don't seem bad, unrealistic or obnoxious anymore but like perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable traits or decisions or actions...for a boy.

By attempting this exercise, you might come to realise that you (like every other human being ever born on this planet, except maybe Jesus and the Dalai Lama) have an unconscious prejudice, an unexamined blind spot. And it doesn't mean you are A Sexist Pig, or A Bad Person, or that I Don't Like You. It means you're human. And humans, oh glory, humans can change.

If you can change enough to realise how damaging and unfair the term Mary-Sue is when used indiscriminately and incorrectly to denigrate female characters, you might start to notice some of the damaging and unfair assumptions which are generally made about ACTUAL FEMALES in this messed up sexist world of ours. You might change enough to start dealing with that and make this world a better place in the process. I believe you can. I believe in you.

But only if you shove the term Mary-Sue into a deep dark closet somewhere and leave it there except for very, very special occasions.

Note: I'm well aware that there's a male variant of the Mary-Sue, called a Gary-Stu. When was the last time you saw that term used as a method of dismissing a male character who was clearly nothing of the kind? Yeah. That's what I thought.

Friday, 22 June 2012


Hello, my lovelies! Happy, happy Friday to you all.

Today is the very first day of the FrostFire Blog Tour! Direct your eyes to the glorious banner on the right and you can see that there is a full schedule of fantasy related posts to be had, the first of which is a guest post on Writing Fantasy, today, on the lovely Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews

Clickety click on the link, my duckies!
BUT WAIT! That's not all I have for you today! To celebrate the very first day of the Blog Tour, I can now share with you (wait for it)...


*Stops for some deep, calming breaths*

That's right, it's what you - and I - have been waiting for all these weeks. Script by me and Lovely Lass of Walker Books, actors procured at some expense and difficulty, shot on location in an enchanted wood. Brace yourselves. Here it is!

So...what do you think? You already know that I'm completely in love with this because I squeeeed about it before - the additional things that they added in terms of music and special effects after the last version I saw have just pushed my love into the stratosphere. Are you exited for the book now? Will you be Team Luca (that's the chainmail wearing blonde guy) or Team Arian (that's the curly-haired one with the leather jerkin) or just Team Kickass With An Axe?

Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Hello, Dear Readers. I hope you are having or will have a delightful Tuesday!

Today I've got various bits of news to offer up, about what I'm doing and also about the blog and...well, just read on and see.

Firstly, some Katana Trilogy: The Night Itself news. I can't remember if I posted about it before, but when my editor first read the intial draft of the book she really liked it and thought it didn't need too much work. So we went back and forth on line edits for a bit, but we both felt sort of stuck - we didn't seem to be getting anywhere. The more my editor read the book as it was, the more she felt something was missing. So last week (last Thursday actually - which is why you didn't get a post!) we met up and had a really fabulous, intense editorial meeting and agreed to overhaul the whole book, to make it the absolute best it can possibly be. Basically, it's about taking everything - story, characters, writing - from 'good' to 'craymazing'. Which I'm totally on board with. I'm very excited about the re-writes and changes we have planned. But this does mean a lot of extra work that wasn't part of my original, tightly packed (slightly OCD) work schedule.

The draft of Katana Trilogy: Book #2 (which is currently at about 80% of complete) has to go on hold for now. It's probably going to need extensive re-writes to get it to match up with the first book again, but I would have been doing re-writes anyway as part of my normal process when it was finished, so that's not a huuuge deal.

However, what can't go on hold is the blog tour for FrostFire, which is starting at the end of this week! There's going to be one guest post by me on a different blog every Friday running up to the book's publication date of the 5th of July, and this will continue until the 20th of that month. I've only written one of the posts so far (the one for this Friday) so I seriously need to get cracking. I'm told there should be a banner for me to post here shortly so you can see where the posts will be on what date - there are some really great bloggers taking part - but don't worry, I'll be linking them here anyway every Friday so you can click through.

Which brings me to...the blog. Guys, I'm really sorry but for the duration of the blog tour I'm not going to do any new posts here. Ah, don't throw things! Hear me out, wait, wait! Every Tuesday I'm going to do a Retro-Tuesday blog post - pulling up an older post from the archive that you might have missed the first time around, or I think you'd enjoy reading again. Then every Friday you get a brand new post, only on someone else's blog. So you're not really missing out all that much. It's just that I feel like I need to take some pressure off myself at the moment, and new posts here are the only thing I can feasibly decide not to worry about. After Friday's post about my inbox I feel like an awful slacker, but once again: I hope you will forgive me!

See you on Friday, cuties!

Friday, 15 June 2012


Hello, Dear Readers (I say sombrely, gazing at you with mournful eyes). On this rainy (entirely weather metaphor appropriate Friday) I must make to you a sad confession.

Unfortunately this isn't one of those pretend sad confessions where I actually end up springing something lovely instead, like the fake snake popping out of a can. It's... an actual confession.

So. I am behind with answering my emails. Very, very behind.

It has always been my policy to reply to EVERY email that I get. All of them. And on my website and here I encourage people to email me and ask me questions about my books, my characters, or maybe writing. I love to get emails! I really do. And as a result I get a LOT. Over the past year the number has probably trebled. Which would be great, except for this funny thing I've noticed.

The majority of the emails I get these days are not coming to me from readers. My readers, I mean. People who want to talk about or ask questions about my books, or have even *read* my books. The vast majority of emails I get now are coming from people who either don't mention my work at all, or tell me they're intending to read something by me one day but haven't quite gotten around to it yet. So why write to me?

Well, they've seen my website or my blog, and I seem like a nice, friendly sort of author and I do say that I welcome emails, soooo... they have this question they really, really, really need an answer to. In fact, they have several questions. Questions about how to write, how to solve this problem in a story or with a character, how to get published, how to find an agent.

And please can I get back to them as soon as possible?

It's not uncommon for me to get an email which contains ten or even twenty questions, packed tightly into four or five paragraphs. And all too often these questions are ones which I have already answered on my blog (which is what the All ABout Writing page is for) or on the various pages about writing on my website. But these guys either didn't read those pages, or else they want personalised advice that requires me to have a lot of information about their personal dilemma. Or, I suspect, they don't really want advice at all. They want The Super Special Awesome Secret which I (as a published author) simply must have, and would surely hand over to them if only they asked nicely enough.

See, here's the thing, Dear Readers. There is no Super Special Awesome Secret to finishing a book or writing brilliant characters or finding an agent or getting published. There really isn't. If I knew it, I promise I would share. But it doesn't exist. And if you can't finish your story, and you've read the article about Neverending Stories here, and you still can't manage it? There's nothing more I can do to help - it's up to you now. And if you didn't bother to read the Neverending Stories post because you're sure that it doesn't apply to you and your situation is different and unique? There's still nothing extra I can offer you. Everything I have to say about the issue is already there.

So far, when I get one of these emails I've made it a practise to write a kind and thoughtful reply offering up all the links to the information which is already freely available here and on my website. And that takes TIME. A lot of time.

Because that's the funny thing about emails from readers. If someone writes to you to tell you that they read one of your books and they loved it, it doesn't take very long to reply. All I have to do is open my heart and thank that person, so much, for reading my books, for taking the time to email me. I love to get emails like that. They brighten my whole world for a while, like an unexpected hug in or a smile from a stranger in the street.

But those emails, these days, are out-numbered three to one by the other type. And the other type take HOURS to answer because they demand so many different pieces of information that I have to go hunting for, so many hyperlinks, and so much tact to respond in a way that's nice but also firm. What's more, it feels kind of sad and pointless answering them, because I know I'm not giving those guys what they really want (that Super Special Awesome Secret) and that they're probably going to go off and email some other author with the exact same questions when they don't get what they want from me.

It's gotten to the point where when I get an email with the spammer codeword in the subject line, I *cringe* instead of smiling. If I open it and it's an email from an actual reader I can relax. But if it's not, then I get this awful sinking feeling which, honestly, shouldn't be part of my working day. What I've been doing since before Christmas is stuffing all these emails into a folder in my inbox without even looking at the contents because I just can't take any more stress or pressure. Which leads back to my original point.

I am behind on my emails. Very, very behind.

I feel awful about it. Awful. I try not to even think about it, because it drowns me in guilt and worry. But whatever I do, that folder is like a folder-shaped ghost that haunts my inbox, making reproachful wwwooo-wwwwooo! noises whenever I pass through. I'm sure there are emails in there which 100% deserve a reply from me. I'm sure there are emails in there that would be a joy to read. But I can't bring myself to look and find out, because I CANNOT face the inevitable hundred requests for the Super Special Awesome Secret which will also be in there, and which I cannot grant.

So here's what I'm going to do. It's taken me a lot of soul-searching to get to this point, and I'm not sure it's the best or wisest or nicest thing to do; but right now it feels like the best option I have.

The folder is going to get deleted. I'm not going to look at it anymore, or look at the emails inside it. If you've sent me an email and I haven't already replied to it? I'm so sorry, but, as of now, you won't get a reply. Consider that email lost in the post (so to speak). And I'm never going to make a folder like that again, because all too quickly it becomes a black hole, and results in people who deserve replies getting ignored because it's just easier for me to lump everyone together in there.

If you sent me an email with five or ten or twenty questions about writing or publishing in it? Please look around my website and on this blog and I'm sure you WILL find the answer already there. If not, leave me a comment on the blog and if your question is both different and interesting, I may answer it here. If you don't want to share your question in the comments or see it answered on the blog, then I'm afraid I am not the author you're looking for.

If you wrote me an email in which you asked questions about my books, my characters or my imaginary worlds? Please resend it. I WANT to see it. I want to know what you think, and I'll try to reply as soon as possible, I promise.

And that is my sad, Friday confession. I hope you'll all forgive me!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Hellooo, Dear Readers! Today I'm taking you on a journey behind the scenes of the making of the FrostFire trailer which, with any luck, will be released sometime before the book's 5th of July publication date. They're still working on cutting it all together and making the best of the amazing footage they got. I've had a sneak preview (yep, author's privilege!) and it looks *stunning*. I can't wait to share!

Now some of you might remember the post I did for the Shadows on the Moon trailer here. Watching that take shape was loads of fun, but I honestly didn't have all that much involvement in the process. I sent them a list of possible shooting locations early on, and then they consulted me on a few key points later, but mostly my involvement was skipping and flailing in the background and badgering people until they let me see photos/early footage.

The FrostFire trailer is different because I - gulp - co-wrote the script. The other writer was Lovely Lass (whom I introduced here). I haven't done anything like that since I left college, so it was pretty nerve-wracking, and the requirement to keep the whole thing down to as short a length as possible was a real challenge for me. As my Dear Readers know, I do have a slight problem with keeping anything I write to a reasonable length...*cough* fourthousandwordblogposts *cough*

Once we'd gone back and forth over the writing of the script for a while we sent it to Lovely Lass's boss, who sent it to the company who actually shoots the trailers. They OK'ed it provisionally. Basically, they were willing to give it a go, but reserved the right to tweak, cut, or downright change anything that they thought could work better (which they definitely did, based on the sneak peek I got, so bear that in mind when you see the finished article - it's not a product solely of my genius!).

A little while later I was sent a storyboard for the way they intended to produce the trailer. I can't share the whole thing with you, but I snipped a tiny part of it so you can see that it's pretty rough and ready and leaves a lot of room for artistic interpretation:

At this point they were hunting for possible shooting locations - not as easy as it sounds, since the book's setting, Ruan, is based on Northern India and Tibet and much of the story takes place in dense forest. But that paled in comparison to the hunt for the right actors.

There are three main characters in FrostFire and they are each very different. Without giving too much away (well, this is mostly on the cover copy) there's Luca, the charismatic and handsome captain of a crack team of mountain soldiers, defending a troubled border against ruthless bandits. There's Arian, his dark and tortured second-in-command and adopted brother, who would do anything to keep Luca safe. And there's Frost, the heroine of the story and it's POV character, whose entry into the boy's lives is a catalyst for huge change for both of them, and who is herself on an epic journey to find a cure for her berserker rages.

Relatively early into the casting process I was sent the images for the boys and did a genuine MUPPET FLAIL (with credit to Laura :) because they looked soooo good. First, the actor playing Luca: Ian James

I love him because he has a deceptively frail quality, as Luca does in the book - the heroine thinks he's like a bird of prey, fierce and silent. He's also got a very pretty face and long hair, which I was hoping for.

Next, meet of Ben Wiggins, taking on the role of Arian:

I was SO happy when I saw Ben. He's got the beautiful curly hair Arian's described as having in the book - and get a load of those eyes! Arian's pale eyes are vital in the book, and I was a little doubtful we'd get them for the trailer.

So far, so squeeful. But then, as I mentioned before, we hit a bit of a snag. In the book Frost is described as being tall  - as tall as Arian - and very strong and tough. She has dark skin and in my head I've always thought she looked like a younger version of Julia Jones, from the Twilight films, only with long hair. This is the sketch I did of Frost when I was writing the book:

Having had so little trouble finding the two guys, I was - well - let's stay stunned when Lovely Lass told me that she was being sent actresses who were completely wrong for Frost.

I mean WRONG.

Not just a little wrong.

Like, tiny petite white girls did-you-even-read-the-character-description wrong.

Why it would be so hard to find an althetic looking, dark-skinned young actress, I can't really understand. They're out there. They are ready for action. Just look at the cast of the British film FAST GIRLS! But for some reason we were not seeing them.

We did some anxious nail-nibbling. But then, at least, we were sent...Sophia Leonie (and what a gorgeous name that is, too):

Go ahead and take another look at my sketch. I don't want to say that the resemblance is uncanny's totally uncanny, right? Eeee!

The only thing the lovely Sophia doesn't have that Frost does is grey eyes. But since she's tall and athletic and perfect in every other other way, I was happy to let that one go. We had a Frost!

Within about a day, I was told that shooting was going ahead in order to take advantage of the fine weather. And lucky you! I have some stills from the filming.

Frost flees in the darkness
Luca and Frost meet
Frost and Arian confront each other
Frost stares into the shadows
Supremely cool, right? I'm so impressed with the setting, as well. I thought I might get some fake connifers against a painted background. All in all I am over the moon with how it seems to be turning out - and you guys will be the first to know as soon as I'm allowed to set it free on the internet, I promise :)

What do you think of the actors and the film stills? Are you looking forward to seeing this? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Today's second post will be on Friday rather than Thursday this week, peeps. See you then!

Thursday, 7 June 2012


Hello! Happy Thursday, lovely readers! Are you ready for awesome surprise gifts?

Oh, I think you are. Let's be honest - most of us are ready for awesome surprise gifts 100% of the time - we're just disappointed that the universe doesn't give us any.

So! If you remember, the terms of the InCreWriMa Prize Draw were that people had to come and take part every week, including Tuesday this week for the final check in. We've had lots of commentors over that month period, but surprisingly few actually commented on *every* post. Which means a much higher chance of a prize for those faithful few, so good for them.

Bright and early this morning I compiled a list of all the lovely readers who fulfilled the criteria, assigned them each a number and then used the random number generator to pick out two winners. And those winners are...



Congratulations, guys! I can tell you that your prizes will include a copy of the brilliant, unabridged audiobook version of Shadows on the Moon (read by Amy Rubinate) each, as well as lots of swag and other interesting things which I shall not reveal because they are SURPRISES!

Please can you each email me (using the email address that's on my website) with your full name and address? I'm going to be superbusy this weekend with various things, including my cousin's wedding, but I will try to get your prizes in the post for you sometime next week, and obviously that's much easier if I know where to send them :)

I feel like International Creative Writing Month was a success for all of us - not just because, selfishly, I got lots of work done, but also because so many Dear Readers have said how useful they found it. Most of us didn't exactly hit our targets, but I think we all spent more time writing and thinking about writing than we ever would have without it. So maybe I'll run it again next year, although it might be in a different month - it'll depend what I'm up to and what you guys say.

Have a great weekend everyone - see you next Tuesday!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

InCreWriMa: The Final Check In

Hello and Happy Tuesday to you all, Dear Readers. Today marks the very last day of our International Creative Writing month, and it's time to share, share, share!

How many words or pages did you write in May (and this little bit of June)? Did you achieve your target? Miss it by miles? Blow past it? Adjust it? Tell us how you did in the comments and get support and encouragement from your fellow writers.

Remember - people who checked in on every InCreWriMa day will be eligible for entry into my surprise prize draw, and since today is the last check in, you'll need to comment today too. You'll have until Thursday THIS WEEK to get your comment in. Thursday is when I will randomly pick the winners and announce them. You don't want to miss out!

As I'm typing this post out I'm looking at my current notebook. In a very few pages the notebook will be full and I'll need a new one. Frankly, I'm a bit staggered to realise that at the beginning of May I'd only filled (let me see)... twenty-seven pages. This particular notebook is one hundred and sixty-four pages long. Subtracting the title page and the ones left blank at the end, that means this month I've filled...

*Drumroll please*

One hundred and sixteen pages! 

And that comes to just under 21,000 words. Not the highest word total I've ever managed in a month (I managed 40,000 words in a fortnight once - I must have been very highly caffeinated!) but nothing to be ashamed of, especially considering all the travelling and excitement and nervous tension in the last two weeks of the month, which never helps me to get words down.

My word total on Katana #2 is now 58,500 words, which is around 80% of the estimated word total. 80% peeps! Of course, that's assuming that the book does end up the same length in first draft as the first book (which is a dangerous assumption to make with any book I write) but still! I'm very happy with that. With any luck I'll be able to turn this book in a couple of months in advance of deadline - and that's always great, because it means extra time for editing, and extra time for me to work on the next book.

In celebration, here's a teeny tiny teaser snippet of The Katana Trilogy Book One: The Night Itself.


A scream rang out, cutting through Jack’s rising anger. The noise died off with a wet gurgle that made goose pimples spring up over my entire body. Without a word, we both set off running toward the sound.

Look, you don’t have to say it. I know that we were two teenage girls out walking alone, and that we should not have been running towards the sound of screaming. But it was broad daylight, and Jack already had her mobile out to call the police. Nine times out of ten, if people come running, your potential mugger or rapist is going to drop what he’s doing and get out of there, right? And I suppose all those years of martial arts classes had made both me and Jack feel like we could take care of ourselves. Besides, I’ve already admitted that I’m not the brightest bulb on the chandelier. What more do you want from me?

Where the tarpaulin covered railings curved away there was a narrow alley between them and the railings of the red-brick building next door. I took one look down it and stopped dead. Jack, a step behind, nearly fell over me.

“Near the Justice building, on the corner of Carey Street and Grange Court,” she was saying into her phone. “I think someone’s been attacked – ”

Her voice cut off with a gasp as she looked over my shoulder. Faintly I could hear the 999 operator demanding more details. We both ignored her.

“Holy crap,” Jack whispered. “Holy crap.”

I recognised the person in the alley – the pretty face and the long red hair. I had seen her on the news in Jack’s flat before we headed out. It was the woman who’d been murdered at the museum. A dead woman. And she was ripping someone’s throat out.

She looked up from the man she was holding, her teeth bared in a snarl. Blood was smeared across those teeth – teeth that were way too long and sharp for any human’s mouth. Her gaze fixed on me, and the bright blue of her eyes flashed yellow, like a cat caught in the beam of a flashlight.

Her victim groaned weakly, and she flung him down at her feet like trash. Ragged clothes and a straggly beard marked him as homeless. There was a lot of blood on those threadbare clothes. My first impulse was to go to him and try to help, but another part of me – a part that had been humming with tension since we heard the scream – held back.

“Yamato,” the woman said, and ice shot down my spine. Her voice was like a special effect from a film, a sort of cat warble with human tones underneath – but worse than that was the fact that she knew my name.

Her bloody lips stretched into a smile that spread wider, wider, revealing rows of needle-like fangs all the way back to her ears. “I knew you were near. I knew you would come. Yamatos can never resist a cry for help.”

“Run Jack,” I whispered. I wanted to shout it, but my throat wouldn’t work properly. “Run.”

The woman’s body was spreading, losing its human shape as it drifted out into a mantle of darkness with nine long trailing tails. An overpowering smell of animal, dung and wet fur, and something sickly and rotting, rolled over me. I gagged on the stench as memories unfolded in my head. This was the creature I had seen fighting the boy in my dream – or vision – or whatever the Hell that had been – last night.

Desperately I scanned the windows of the red building, but they were all veiled by thick grey blinds. The tarpaulins on the fence concealed us from the Courts of Justice. It was the middle of the working day and the street was deserted. There was a monster, a nightmare monster, right here, alive and walking around in daylight on the streets of London, and no one had noticed.

“Give me the sword.” The creature was suddenly right before me. I hadn’t even seen it move. “I know you have claimed it. Give it to me.” Black, jelly-like tentacles reached out for my face.

Something shoved me hard. I fell, and the tentacles closed on air.

Jack hadn’t gone anywhere. She was stood directly in the monster’s path, in her fighting stance, fists raised.

“No!” This time my scream worked. It was too late.

The creature lashed out at Jack. Its tentacles thudded solidly into her midriff and swept her right off her feet. She went flying over my head and crashed into the rank of motorbikes parked behind me. They toppled like dominoes. 

Jack disappeared in the tangle of wheels and exhaust pipes.


Now, over to you, my lovelies! The comment trail is open!

P.S. My Top Ten UK YA Novels is posted over on the UKYA Blog right now - check it out :)

Friday, 1 June 2012


Hello and Happy Friday, Dear Readers! I have had The. Best. Week. Evah.

Well, you kind of already knew that after Tuesday's post. But things only got better after I boarded the train to Manchester to attend a Walker Books reception and meet Cassandra Clare.

Before I start to talk about Cassie, I want to give a shout out to all the wonderful booksellers who were there that night, especially the ones who kindly tweeted about my extremely fabulous and extremely uncomfortable shoes (bear in mind, Dear Readers, that I normally spend about 80% of my time walking about barefoot and the other 20% in flats, mostly walking boots. I was not prepared for my five inch heels. I had to apologise to everyone I saw for swaying and wobbling all over the place and promise them all that I was not drunk. But other than that, they were a hit!). Thanks also to the lovely, lovely Walker Books people who arranged everything so beautifully and looked after me so kindly.

Having braved the reception - slightly late due to inevitable train delays - at first I didn't actually dare to go anywhere near Cassandra Clare, who was standing at the back of the room surrounded by lots of enthusiastic people. But as the reception came to a close suddenly she breezed past me with a cheery smile and called out 'Come on Zoë! We're going to dinner!'

Holy Cr*p, she knows who I am!

And then I remembered that there was a picture of me on display at the reception (duh!) and also that we have talked online a few times before. So I got up and trotted after her to the hotel restaurant. And I'm not exaggerating when I say that dinner with Cassie (and her husband and some lovely Walker people) was a complete and total blast. This famous author is just *enchanting* in person. She is perhaps the only other human being I've ever met who talks as fast as I do - and it turns out that she likes to rant about all the same stuff I do as well! In addition, she's incredibly funny and real, and has that rare knack of putting people at their ease, which was extremely useful because a few minutes before I'd been so nervous I felt sick. After being coaxed into shaking my fist at imaginary people and scaring the other restaurant patrons with my emphatic (read: loud) opinionatedness, I was relaxed enough to happily snarfle down tremendous amounts of the lovely cuisine on offer (TREMENDOUS. AMOUNTS).

Also? Her husband is Simon from The Mortal Instruments. Only grown up. With, for some reason, a different name. And apparently he's not a vampire? I maaaay have squeeeeed over him a bit. Quite a bit. He took it with good grace, bless him. He's clearly used to his wife's embarrassing fangirls.

So the following day, having followed the City of Lost Souls cavalcade all the way to Cassie's next tour stop in Sheffield, and before the event began and the fans descended, I did my interview with her. I was really lucky because I was able to get in a LOT of questions, but I couldn't do every single one, (especially where some people asked three or four). So I beg your pardon if your question didn't make it in. Hopefully you'll like the interview anyway:

(Note: this interview was transcribed from the recording on my dictaphone)

Zolah: OK, I’m now recording you, so don’t say anything too…

Cassandra Clare: Racy?

Z: Right.

*Muffled sniggering, probably from me*

Z: So here’s the first question. Now that Jace is no longer possessed, what one moment from their European trip would Clary like to revisit with him?

CC: I think that if Clary could go back and do her whirlwind tour of Europe again with un-possessed Jace she would probably want to repeat their date night in Venice. Because it was actually quite romantic. You know - they went out to dinner, they walked along the canals…admittedly Jace stole a boat. But probably un-possessed Jace would have stolen the boat, that part really wasn’t that out of character for him. It was one of the first things they did and I wrote it to show her struggling with having kind of a good time and yet also feeling the disconnect: realizing that this is Jace, but at the same time not Jace, not the Jace she knows. Being able to do all that again with the real Jace is something she would definitely enjoy.

Z: Since Jace is now infused with heavenly fire, could Clary create a ‘fireproof’ rune to protect herself?

CC: Technically speaking Clary could create any rune! What she says in City of Glass is that she’s limited by the runes that come to her. She could sit there and think that she wants such-and-such a rune and maybe it would happen – or maybe it wouldn’t. That’s why she can’t just create a ‘Save the World’ rune or a ‘Blow Up All Evil’ rune. It would depend on whether a ‘fireproof’ rune came into her mind or not. She can’t really rely on runes to save her in any situation.

Z: When Jace is possessed, he seems to stop caring about his family. Why does he still feel so strongly about Clary? It is because Jonathan does, or is Clary special?

CC: I think that when Jace is possessed he doesn’t care about his family in the same way. He doesn’t care about them empathically in the sense that he isn’t concerned about their feelings of loss or grief or worry about him. It’s not the same as him not caring about them at all. If Alec or Isabelle were there, I’m sure possessed!Jace would be happy to see them and spend time with them, in the same way that he still seems to love Clary. But if you look at the reactions of possessed!Jace actually he’s not that interested or empathic about Clary’s feelings. He feels a desire for her and feels that she’s necessary to him, he feels that he loves her, but he doesn’t feel the way that you ideally feel about someone you love; that their happiness is more important than yours. Clearly he’s not capable of feeling that, whereas un-possessed Jace does feel that way.

Like when *spoiler spoiler* and Clary’s covered in bruises and *spoiler spoiler* and Jace just says ‘Oh, I hope you worked it out’. Normally you’d expect Jace to want to slice someone’s head off in that situation!

CC: Yes, exactly. Jace would be asking ‘What happened to you? Who did this to you?’, he’d be freaking out. He’d say ‘I hope you punched their face in’. But here Clary comes up to Jace, covered in bruises and upset and he knows *spoiler spoiler* but he’s just not reacting empathically. He’s only concerned about her in so far as she feels necessary to him.

Basically he’s reacting like Jonathan.

CC: It’s like Jonathan has taken the top level of Jace’s emotion’s away, the section of emotions that makes us our better selves. Isabelle says in City of Glass something along the lines of: There are some people who see others as just players on a stage. I believe that’s what Jonathan does. He just sees people as players on his stage. They don’t have their own reality, their own importance. They only matter in so far as they’re important to you. They matter only in so far as they fulfil your desires or thwart them. That’s what Jonathan/Sebastian does to Jace. He puts him in that state.

*At this point there’s some muffled excitement from me as I express how much I love this answer. Then I pull myself together and move on*

Z: Since Jace is now full of angel’s blood AND Heavenly Fire will he now change even more compared to other Shadowhunters? Is he more weapon than human?

CC: That makes me think of Darth Vader. You’re more machine than man!

*Muffled giggling noises, probably from both of us this time*

CC: No, Jace is still really human! And I think that actually the experiences that he’s been through in City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls have peeled him open a little bit and made him a bit more open to humanity. He kind of needed to go through that. He had a lot of concerns – he’s always had a lot of concerns – about who he really was. Was he really a good person? And I think this is pretty incontrovertible proof for him that yes, he is, because he now knows what it is like to live as a not-good person, and that’s not who he is. So I think that while the Heavenly Fire is going to change him physically it’s not going to change him emotionally and spiritually.

Z: But it is going to change him physically?

CC: Well, he has this thing that’s potentially a dangerous weapon that resides inside him. Think about it as a bomb that can only go off once.

*Impressed sounds from me*

Z: Have the series and characters turned out as you expected them to – or has anything developed along the way that surprised you?

CC: Definitely some things have surprised me, mostly in terms of characters that I never expected to come to the forefront as much as they have. Magnus for example - he wasn’t originally designed to be that important of a character. I always knew that he was going to date Alec, or at least be instrumental in Alec’s coming out, but their relationship kind of evolved organically and he’s taken on a bigger role. Simon certainly has a much bigger role than I originally envisioned!

Z: So not changes in your plot then?

CC: There really have been no changes to plot, nothing’s happened to the story that astonished me. Everything that was supposed to happen in the first three books did, and then for the second series I always knew that Sebastian would be the villain, that he would come back. He’s an interesting character to write about. So I would say that basically the place you start out stays the same and the place you finish stays the same, but the way you move between them can change.

Z: That’s exactly how I think about it! This is really fun!

CC: *Laughs*

Z: *Suddenly remembers she’s supposed to be interviewing* Ahem. Are you worried about depicting the deepening intimacy in Jace and Clary’s relationship? Not just because it’s so important to the fans, but also because some authors have experienced backlash on this issue?

CC: Are you asking me if I’m worried about Jace and Clary having sex?

Z: Um…Yes?

CC: *More laughter*

Z: Well, they got quite close, didn’t they?

CC: They did get close! I’m not worried about depicting this so long as I feel they’re in the right place for it. I would like to present it as a positive thing. I’m interested in representing sex positivity in YA novels and I believe in depicting safe sex as a responsible decision between two responsible people, which is why I there are many mentions in the books of things like birth control and condoms. People [within the books] have straightforward conversations about it. They talk about ‘When are we going to have sex, where are we going to have sex, what does it mean if we have sex?’ I think all of that is important if you’re going to write about characters who will be having sex. Given that all of that stuff is in there, I don’t think anyone will be too astonished if Jace and Clary do have sex.

Z: When did Jace and Clary officially become boyfriend and girlfriend? Did one of them ask, or was it just assumed? I think it was just assumed!

CC: I think ever since the party in City of Glass, they’ve both assumed they were boyfriend and girlfriend. I don’t think there was ever a discussion about it. It was just ‘on’.

Z: Was Jace and Clary’s relationship inspired by any characters in classic literature? Like Lucie and Sydney in A Tale of Two Cities?

CC: Sydney and Lucie applies more to the couples in the Infernal Devices. The whole story is like a very loose, not-faithful retelling of what happens in A Tale of Two Cities. There are definitely aspects of famous fictional couples that have influenced things about Jace and Clary, things that I loved that informed the development of their relationship. Like Pride and Prejudice, and the sort of prickly early dealings when the guy is really annoying until he comes around and proves himself to be a better man than you initially thought he could be. That’s one of those great tropes that I think we all love. Jace is initially really prickly but eventually turns out to be, at heart, basically a really good person. I think having Clary be the one who recognizes that and helps bring it out of him is one of those things that I find very satisfying. So I’d probably say yes, Pride and Prejudice.

And at that point, our time was up! A few hugs all round, and everyone was off on their own business - me headed for home, Cassandra for a room filled to bursting with adoring readers. I'm SO glad that I got to meet her! Thank you again to everyone at Walker for trusting me enough to include me in the book tour!
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