Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Hello, Dear Readers! Have some Rihanna to start your day off right:

As you might have guessed, today I'm talking about what comes next. Last Monday I finished the first, very rough draft of the final Name of the Blade book, and although there's still a lot of work to be done on it, it does mean that my mind is starting to turn to all the other imaginative landscapes that I'm soon going to be exploring and writing about.

Before I move on though, something of interest to U.S. Dear Readers - especially the ones who've been asking me, with various degrees of confusion and annoyance, just WHEN the Candlewick Press version of The Night Itself will be coming out over there. Well, the lovely Bonnie tweeted me a link the other day to this. It's a new Goodreads edition which I assume has been set up by the publisher, showing that The Night Itself will actually be coming out, in a hardcover version re-titled simply THE NAME OF THE BLADE, on the 11th of November this year. It's been a really long wait, and it's not over - but at least we have a date now!


I honestly can't remember how much detail I've given everyone about the book that I'm contracted to work on next. I am so excited about it. I've had the characters and story living in my head for years and years - right the way back to 2011 - and I almost can't believe that I'm going to get to start work on it, like, THIS YEAR. I'm fairly sure that I've let the odd tidbit slip, but I have no idea what the tidbits were or who saw them so I'll just start afresh.

The working title for this story has the initials BotW. I'm not sure if it'll keep that title, so I won't share it right now; when I've convinced my editor, I'll spill the beans. But what is absolutely safe to say is that it's a book following in the footsteps of Shadows on the Moon. It shares the same setting, the Japanese-inspired fairytale land of Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni, or the Moonlit Lands. It's another fairytale retelling, this time of Beauty and the Beast. Once again, this is me tackling what I think the fairytale is trying to say, while addressing all the problematic bits that I personally think mess that message up.

Just as Cinderella is supposed to be a story about virtue triumphing over wickedness, but in most common versions is really is a tale about passive beauty winning out over 'ugly' activity and ambition, Beauty and the Beast is nominally about learning to love people despite their outer appearances - but really, most versions show it as a story of a prince signally failing to learn his lesson and coercing/bullying/emotionally blackmailing a female prisoner into agreeing to marry him not because he loves her, but because he wants to break the curse without really having fulfilled it's terms.

B&tB is one of my favourite fairytales, by the way, and Robin McKinley's Beauty is one of my favourite fairytale retellings ever. But I've never seen anyone really tackle my issues with the story. Mostly the bits where the Beast acts like an irrational monster are just glossed over and then the authors will put a lot of effort in showing that no, really, he's a great guy, and never deserved to be cursed in the first place - so it's OK if he acts like a monster now in order to break free, right? Right?

My major issues? 
  1. The beast lures an old man into his cursed palace, and tricks him into committing a minor indiscretion so that he can then threaten his life and demand the right to hold the man's daughter prisoner. 
  2. Following this successful acquisition of a Generic Girl (he doesn't know her - clearly any girl will do) and in his position of immense power over her (he's huge and strong, she's small and weak, he controls her environment down to where she goes, what she eats, what she wears) he asks her to marry him *every night* without even giving her a chance to get to know him, although he can tell that she's terrified. 
  3. At the end of the story, he magnanimously agrees to let her return to her family for seven days - but tells her that if she doesn't return to him, he'll die. He then ensures that this is the truth by *immediately* setting out to starve himself. Beauty overstays, but that doesn't actually matter because even if she'd come back on time, she would have found a famished Beast passed out on the floor anyway. And the moment that the Beast revives and finds poor Beauty crying and distraught, he piles on the emotional blackmail and asks her again to marry him, AGAIN, even knowing that she's never wanted to before, because he realises she'll feel too guilty to say no.
D*ck move, Beast. D*ck. Move.

And the fact that he turns into a handsome prince at the end of the story doesn't fix any of this. He wasn't acting this way because he was a monster. In fact, it was this kind of callous behaviour that got him cursed in the first place! 

These sorts of dark, knotty issues always get my creative juices going. I try to figure out situations or character motivations which could make these morally questionable actions read as understandable. Or how to allow those events to take place while ensuring that the narrative doesn't validate them. Or how to flip them on their heads so that something equal yet opposite occurs in their place. One of the key things is usually to put power back into the female character's hands. In traditional versions of B&tB, Beauty supposedly has power because she is permitted to refuse the Beast's advances. But what does this really mean? In practise, very little. She may say 'No' to the Beast's proposals - but no matter what she says, he keeps her locked up and afraid, keeps control of her, and keeps forcing her to endure his presence at dinner and answer his question 'Will you marry me?' day after day after day.

So for me to feel happy with Beauty and the Beast, and feel that it's truly a story of learning to love despite appearances, I needed to find a way to show that the Beast has learned his lesson - that he has become a person worthy of love inside, regardless of how he looks - and that he wants to be with Beauty not because it will break his curse, but because he loves her. And Beauty must not only have agency within the story, but her decision to say 'yes' to the beast needs to be motivated by love rather than guilt and emotional blackmail.

A tall order, yes. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.

My version of the story takes place in the dark, haunted forests of Mount Moonview, which we glimpse but do not visit in Shadows on the Moon. The story is of a young girl - a strong and resourceful village girl, rather than a fragile aristocrat - taking up her hunter's weapons and stalking the deep woods in order to find and kill the beast that attacked her father. The very first line (at the moment) is: 
There is a monster in the forest.
A few images that sum up the sort of mood and imagery that I'm aiming for:

Now, as for other things that I'm working on... well, after I've written and submitted BotW, I'll officially be out of contract for the first time since 2006. Which is a bit scary. But I'm hoping that my publisher will be interested in New Secret Project, which I've been working on over the past few days. It's another series, but very different to The Name of the Blade. There's no over-arching storyline. Each book will stand alone, with its own self-contained plots and characters, and you'll be able to read them in any order. They're linked by a unique setting and a theme: timeless love.

More on that later, with any luck!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Last night, I finished the very first, very rough draft of The Name of the Blade Book #3. I got my characters where they needed to go. I thought of a final line. I typed THE END.

That means, in essence, that my trilogy is finished.

Yes, it needs to go undergo the usual revisions. It'll get printed out and go in a drawer for two weeks, and then I'll re-read and revise it, and then I'll send it to my editor and agent. And then I'll work on it with my editor for probably between four and eight months.



I typed THE END.

I committed the final scenes - the scenes that I've been planning since 2010 - to paper. It's all there now. It'll get chopped and changed and polished and proofread, but it is there.

253,978 words in total. 704 pages combined. Seven notebooks. Four years of my life.

You guys. I did it. It's DONE.

*Lies on floor, staring at ceiling*

What now?

Monday, 3 February 2014


Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Monday - and I say that completely un-ironically today, because for me it's a very good Monday. I finally get to share my incredibly exciting The Name of the Blade news! And it is this:

Walker Books have created a new cover for The Night Itself as well as one for Darkness Hidden, in order to relaunch the series with the release of the second book. And the new covers are GORGEOUS.

To celebrate the reveal of the brand new look for the Name of the Blade trilogy, five special bloggers are not only displaying the cover art but also giving you the chance to read the entire first chapter of Darkness Hidden for free. Simply visit the blogs below in the order listed and you'll get all the extracts of the chapter in order, along with the opportunity to gaze at Mio and Shinobu in all their ass-kicking magical glory. Then come back here and listen to me ramble for a bit, because I said so. Go on. I'll wait.
  1. Winged Reviews 
  2. Serendipity Reviews
  3. Readaraptor Reviews 
  4. Pewter Wolf 
  5. Book Angel's Booktopia 
Yay, you're back!

OK, so you guys know that I loved everything about the original illustrated cover for The Night Itself. The colours, the enigmatic face of Mio, the fonts. I felt it captured my story perfectly. So I have to admit that when Wonder Editor sent me an email telling me that they were going in a new direction with the cover for Darkness Hidden and wanted to re-cover The Night Itself to match, my heart did sink a little bit. I tried to be absolutely professional about it, and have faith - especially in the very talented Delightful Designer who did that amazing job with the cover for The Night Itself in the first place - but I felt pretty sure that I was just never going to love the new version as much as I had the original one. I was especially sure of this when I was told that the new covers would be photographic.

Let's not beat about the bush. Finding really good stock photographs of people of colour is hard. And it's especially hard if you want pictures of a South-East Asian heroine who isn't dressed up like a naughty schoolgirl or a sexy Geisha (there's nothing wrong with images of Japanese schoolgirls or Geisha. There's a lot wrong with the way the Western world appropriates and fetishizes their images). My editor told me very firmly that I wasn't to panic when I saw the rough mock-ups that showed the direction they were going in, because the photograph of a girl in a mini-skirt kimono with her hair in Chun Li buns and bright red lipstick would NOT be used in the final version.

Well, I didn't panic, but I wasn't exactly, you know, filled with joy, either.

However, not very long after, I was lucky enough to have a meeting with Wonder Editor and Delightful Designer. And it was there that my heart started to lift up, because Delightful Designer had been looking at my Pinterest board for The Name of the Blade and she had picked out half a dozen beautiful photos of young women that I'd put there as visual references for Mio, as well as a few for Shinobu. These were pictures of girls who really looked like teenagers, with no make-up on and natural looking bobbed hair in ordinary clothes that a teenager might wear. The pictures for Shinobu were of Takeshi Kaneshiro, who can be summed up in just one word: beautiful man.

We agreed straight away that any image of Mio on the cover of the book needed to be like these: natural, young-looking, not exoticized or fetishized. Preferably Mio should look active and strong on the cover - definitely not dead, or in any kind of a 'costume', not even a lovely ballgown. The same for Shinobu, although for him a martial arts kendogi or hakama would be all right. And then came the phrase that made my heart leap right up in my chest and start twittering like a skylark: photoshoot.

I've never had a photoshoot done for any of my book covers before. Wonder Editor told me that I should contain my excitement a little bit because they didn't know if a photoshoot would be authorised and they might need to use stock photographs after all. But, she asked, if they did manage to get approval for a cover shoot, were there any photographers in particular that I liked?

I said two names. The first one was Larry Rostant. Just in case you're not a giant book cover geek like me and have no idea who that is? Go Here. And here. As you can see, he's incredibly talented and shoots all kinds of diverse covers. He's provided art for the likes of bestsellers Rae Carson, G.R.R. Martin, Philippa Gregory, Clive Cussler, Kate Elliot, and my friend Emma Pass. It's always been one of those impossible dreams of mine to one day have a cover by him, even if it was a piece of stock art that he'd pre-shot. So I said his name, but I had no actual expectation that we'd get him. In fact, the more time went on, the more I resigned myself to the idea that there probably wouldn't be a photoshoot at all. Chances were, Wonder Editor and Delightful Designer had just been trying to cheer me up.

So then came a day just before Christmas when I was on the phone to Super Agent, and she happened to mention that she'd talked to Wonder Editor recently... and Wonder Editor had let an intriguing fact slip. They'd already done a cover shoot for the trilogy. Earlier that week! She was a little surprised I didn't know about it?


As soon as I finished talking to my agent, I called my editor - and I hardly EVER do that, but this was an emergency - and in the calmest and least crazy-stalker-lady tone that I could manage, I asked if this was true. My editor sighed and said, darn, they'd been hoping to surprise me. In fact, she'd intended to call me later that day. Yes, they had gone ahead with the cover shoot. AND THEY HAD GONE WITH LARRY ROSTANT.

After the most lovely conversation ever - well, lovely for me, anyway - in which I grilled my editor about every detail of what she had seen at the shoot, down to what the model's footwear was like, I hung up and passed out. I'm being factual rather than metaphorical there: I literally passed out. Turns out that I had food poisoning. But I'm sure at least part of my swoon was caused by sheer excitement and happiness, rather than harmful germs attacking my body.

Anyway, all this is to say that when Walker Books decided to re-cover this trilogy, they made my dream come true, even though I didn't think that was possible at first. And when I finally saw the images from that shoot and the sorts of covers that my books would be getting, I knew that much as I had loved the look of my original illustrated cover, I could truly love these new ones even more. My very first thought on seeing them was - these look like bestsellers.

There's no thought that makes a writer happier than that one.

And now to tackle the one little tiny snag that has occurred to me. It's possible that some of you, enchanted as I know you must be by these new covers, are thinking: DAMMIT NOW MY SET WON'T MATCH. Because you already own The Night Itself with its original cover. What are you to do?

Well, these books are in paperback, so I can't offer to send everyone a new dust jacket or anything like that. But what I CAN do is this. Anyone who goes out and buys the new version of The Night Itself to match Darkness Hidden and emails or tweets me a photo of them holding both books, will get a TRIO of signed and personalised bookplates - one for each book of the trilogy including the final one. I'll remind you all of this again closer to the time of release, but basically what it means is that if you're going to the trouble and expense of buying a second copy of the first Name of the Blade book, I can at least make sure that your whole set will eventually be a signed one. I hope that seems fair.

Have a lovely week, everyone!
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