Tuesday, 23 December 2014


Hello, and Happy Holiday Season, my honeybunches! I hope everyone's fully prepared to either celebtrate or else hunker down and comfortably ignore all the winter festivities, whichever is your preference. Today's the last blog post you'll be getting from me for the next couple of weeks, as I'm taking a little bit of time off for Christmas and the New Year, so I thought I would share some new cover art.

This is for the anthology I've mentioned a few times before; produced by Candlewick Press and due out in hardcover in the US in March 2015, it's entitled THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY and is full of short stories on the theme of secrets and secret selves. I was told that my UK publisher Walker Books would be releasing this anthology here in Britain at some point, too, but I don't know any details about that yet, sadly. I'll update you when I do! In the meantime, I'll probably look at getting hold of some copies of this so I can do a giveaway for British and European Dear Readers in March.

My story - my first ever published short story, in fact - is called 'Storm Clouds Fleeing From the Wind' and is set in the universe of Shadows on the Moon, casting light on the young Akira's famous (and scandalous) dance at the Shadow Ball that changed her life forever. I'm really proud of this piece of work. I hope that others will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Now, without any further delay, here's the cover:

I don't technically have permission to post this here, but it's already up on Goodreads and Amazon, so... whatevs. What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments :) Read you later, lovelies!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014


Hello, hello, hello, my muffins! Happy Wednesday to all. Today I've got a link to my post on the Authors Allsorts in which I dish the juicy details about my stationery habit. But before I get there, I need to tell a story, talk about something I found out last week, and do a little Public Service Announcement.

So, I've mentioned in previous posts that I've had a lot of health problems this year. In April I began to get terrible headaches that made my eyes feel as if they were liquifying in my head. I could barely look at a computer screen without the light from the screen causing me agony, I felt tired all the time no matter how much sleep I got, my asthma started to act up, I often found it very difficult to concentrate, and I also suffered a lot with feeling randomly nauseous.

Now, the thing is that I've had headaches and migraines all my life, and I also have IBS, which can make you feel sick fairly often. And people's asthma can get worse or better over the years. So these things seemed, to me, like a simple (if unwelcome) worsening of problems I already had. My main concern was that feeling this way was having a huge impact on my work and I focussed on that because if I lost my ability to write, I knew I really would be up a creek without a paddle.

Concerned friends and family offered theories. The tiredness might be a new manifestation of my depression, after everything I'd been through in 2013. The change in frequency and intensity of my headaches might be a natural effect of getting older. I should probably go and get an asthma check to see if I needed a different kind of spray. If I felt sick all the time, perhaps I should try keeping a food diary again, like I had for several months when I first learned I had IBS. I didn't know if any or all of this was true, or would help, but after feeling awful for months I did know that I needed to seek assistance because it wasn't getting better on its own.

I went to the doctor and was given medication to help with the headaches, as well as a new asthma regimen. I went to the optician and got new glasses. I developed new coping strategies, such as overloading on caffeine in the mornings, wearing dark-tinted sunglasses whenever I worked on my computer, and resigning myself to getting to bed quite early and getting up much later than before (even though previously I'd never needed much sleep, and had always been the kind of person who had to get up early to feel well) so that I got nine hours or more sleep a night. I faithfully took my asthma sprays twice a day.

Honestly, even after all this I still didn't feel that much better, but I was able to get back to writing as I adjusted to feeling, basically, below par all the time, and to working around the constant pain in my head and eyes and the weird nauseated dizziness. I resigned myself.

I had no way of knowing what was really going on.

Last week I woke up to discover that a) the house was freezing cold because my boiler had broken down and b) that I didn't have a headache for the first time in... weeks. The boiler wasn't a surprise, really; it's broken down pretty much annually every year since it was installed. But I was a bit shocked to wake up feeling rested and not in pain. Anyway, I called up the repair people and they came out.

Happily for me, the person who came was a very experienced head engineer. Rather than doing a reset or a quick fix the way that the last several repairmen had, he took the boiler apart and noticed not one, not two, not three, but SIX problems (two small cracks/leaks and two blockages caused by these leaks, plus a load of water in the bottom of the boiler and a load of corrosion). Basically, my boiler had been teetering on the edge of breaking down for a long, long time and needed to be almost completely rebuilt.

It took the engineer FIVE DAYS - Tuesday to Friday, with another full day on Monday and the help of another engineer - to get the boiler rebuilt and my central heating and water working the way they should. Despite only having heat and hot water intermittently, and despite the large man making scary banging noises in the loft, I was surprised to find that I felt better last week than I had in months and months. I wondered if maybe it was the cold, and if perhaps I should try keeping the thermostat turned off from now on. Wearing leggings under my trousers, fingerless gloves, a hat and a fluffy shawl over my cardigan would be a small price to pay.

It wasn't until Friday that the engineer said something that really caught my attention. He told me that my boiler had likely been pumping out dangerous - in fact, fatal - levels of carbon monoxide, and that it was a very good thing the machine wasn't located in the kitchen, as boilers often are. Because the machine is located in the loft, the dangerous gases would mostly have been vented through the roof. However, my loft is incredibly drafty, and even quite a mild wind would probably blow some of those gases back into the house. With a bit of concern, he asked me: 'You don't go up there often, do you?'

The answer to that is no. But. But. In my bedroom there is an airing cupboard. The cupboard used to be hooked up to the old water heater tank and as a result, it has no ceiling - it opens directly up into the loft space. The engineer had a look, and then he spotted the fact that my bedroom window was open, even though my heating was off. He asked why. I explained to him that I always sleep with it open these days because I'd found that if I closed it, I ended up with an even worse headache than normal; I'd assumed because the room got too stuffy at night.

The engineer told me, very gently, that he didn't think it was because the room was getting too stuffy at night.

He reeled off a list of symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, fatigue, and inability to concentrate. Everything I had been suffering with since spring this year. He told me that I need to make a doctor's appointment, like... now.

Most likely version of events: small amounts of carbon monoxide were venting into my room through the airing cupboard, particularly at night because I generally have my bath or shower in the evening, meaning that's when the boiler is most heavily used. The amounts of the gas would vary depending on how much I was using the boiler generally - more if the weather was cold and the radiators automatically came on - and in which direction and how strongly the wind was blowing on the roof.

The fact that I kept my window open at night... well, it might not have actually saved my life, but it probably prevented me from getting a lot sicker than I already had been. And the fact that all the faults with the boiler that caused the carbon monoxide to reach such dangerous levels had also caused it to break down before we hit really cold weather, and I turned the heat up and began leaving it on during the night? That probably DID save my life.

So this is my Zolah-Land public service announcement. If you are having these symptoms and they persist, as mine did, for weeks or months at a time, and you find that you feel strangely better when you are away from home but that you get worse again when you return? For heaven's sake, get your heater or boiler or whatever checked. Please.

And get a carbon monoxide alarm and put it NEAR WHERE THE BOILER IS (I had one, but it was shoved on a shelf on my landing, in completely the wrong place to be useful). Although I obviously wasn't lucky to have a dangerously malfunctioning boiler that was pumping out high levels of poisonous gas, I was lucky that it was in the loft, that I mostly already slept with my window open, and that the boiler went wrong during summer months when I barely used my heating. You may not be that lucky. So just be careful.

And with that, we move onto happier things: STATIONERY. Check out my collection and weep, losers!

Thursday, 11 December 2014


Hello my lovelies! No new post on this blog today, but here's a link to my guest post on the CBC Diversity Blog - Step Out of the Privilege Bubble. It's a shortened, updated version of this post, which in turn was a follow-up to this post, so you can refresh your memory about those, too, if you wanted. 

I'm delighted with the recent explosion in awareness on this topic - at The Zoë-Trope we (and by 'we' I mean me and my Dear Readers) have been talking about diversity and it's importance pretty much since the beginning (back in 2010, eek). Now we're part of a much bigger discussion that is finally taking place throughout the children's and YA book community and I feel very proud to be a part of that. I hope you do, too!

Have a lovely weekend, my duckies (it's almost here!) and read you next week.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


Hello, my lovelies! Happy Wednesday! Today's post is in answer to a reader question, but before I get started, I bring tidings of great joy! THE NAME OF THE BLADE has been nominated for the Teenreads.com Teen Choice Book of the Year 2014! Voting for the winner will run between now and the beginning of February next year, so if you've enjoyed the book and would like to see it get a little more attention head over here to the poll and voice your opinion (you can vote for up to five books, not just mine).

Also, any reviews for the US version of the book there on Amazon.com would be greatly, greatly appreciated. I know that's a pain for US Dear Readers who've already reviewed the UK version of the book, since those reviews *should* have been transferred across. But I emailed Amazon.com about it and their response was basically 'Meh'. So... it's down to us to do something about the lonely, four-review status of the book. I appreciate the readers who've already done so more than I can say. But I love you all anyway. Mwah!

Now onto today's question, which was left in the comments by Anon:
I had a quick question in which I'd like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I have had a tough time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Many thanks!
Anon, this is a problem I'm sure most writers and creative people have. I know that the fantastic YA writer Melinda Lo, for instance, needs to meditate for a short while each day before beginning work in order to centre herself. It's a little strange, because if you're anything like me you spend a lot of time doing regular day to day tasks - shopping, cleaning, walking the dog - with your brain just buzzing with your character's voices and bits of descriptions and actions you can't wait to write. But as soon as you actually sit down to do so? Suddenly your head is filled with the regular day to day tasks instead! Frustrating.

I've got an advantage because I have my Writing Cave, a teeny-tiny box room which is filled with books and a computer and pretty much nothing else. When I go in there my brain *knows* that we're about to get down to business and so I find it easier to clear my head and start work (sometimes I swear, as soon as I walk in I can feel my synapses give out a little sigh of relief). But on days when I'm stressed or tired or just not feeling all that creative, it can still be really tough to stop other thoughts from getting in the way of the words. So I do have a few strategies that I use to shove all that annoying real stuff out of the front of my head to make room for my story.

MUSIC: I'm a little more music obsessed than the average bear (although not as obsessed as the famous Maggie Stiefvater, whose eye-wateringly extensive playlists can be found all over her blog and Tumblr) and make multiple playlists for each book, and sometimes specific ones for each character or for important relationships or events. But you don't have to be a tunes-nerd to utilise the benefits of music to help you focus and get your head into a creative space! You don't even need to be one of those writers who listens to music as they work - I know plenty of people who can't stand it, but don't worry about that. That's not what we're doing here.

Set aside an afternoon to browse on Spotify or YouTube and find a song that really speaks to you - you know the kind I'm talking about, one that makes you stop whatever you're doing for a moment as soon as you hear the opening notes, that gives you a little shiver down your spine when it opens up. If it's a tune that relates in some way to your current book, that's great, but it doesn't have to be. It just needs to be a piece of music that speaks to you.

Download said piece of music and the next time you come to write, after your document or your notebook is open and you're ready to begin, stop - and play the song. Listen to it with your whole heart, feel it, let it move you. When it's finished, hopefully the buzzing thoughts will have calmed down a bit and you'll feel the stillness and inner quiet you need to start putting words down. 

PLANNING: Sometimes your head is full of anxiety and stress because you know the upcoming scene is really important and you're not sure you have the skills to pull it off. This worry can block the brain like nothing else, and before you know it your thoughts have gone off on a merry, procrastinating joy-ride, fixating on the cracks in the ceiling, the not-very-interesting thing you saw on TV last night, or your plans for great-aunt Miriam's birthday present next May: in short, ANYTHING but the thing you actually need to concentrate on.

At this point, whether you're an outliner or a pantser, a little bit of planning can really help. Not too much! Don't panic! Get a Post-It or the back of an envelope and a pencil and make yourself a little bullet-pointed list of three or five or ten things you need to accomplish in this scene. John and Beth argue/Beth storms out/John watches Beth from window and has revelation about feelings/John sees fireball fly over castle wall and immolate Beth/John screams in primal rage, turns into purple gorilla and smashes way out of window to destroy everyone. There!

You don't have to stick to this list of things - but by having defined what you're here to accomplish, you've sneakily slid your brain sideways into focus on the story in a no pressure sort of way. When  the list is finished, generally you feel calmer and better able to begin. 

TAKING THE PRESSURE OFF: Sometimes all the stars align right, the writing gods smile on you, you roll out of bed bright and early and find that you have a whole day or half day (or whatever) with nothing to do but write. No distractions, no worries, nothing else to accomplish. It's going to be amazing! You sit down. And you stare at the blank computer screen/page. And stare. And stare some more. AND NOTHING COMES OUT.

Why? Too much pressure! The idea of dedicating a whole day or several long hours in a row to nothing but writing feels exciting, but in practice it can often make your brain freeze up. So come at it a different way. Set your phone or your alarm to beep in half an hour or forty minutes and tell yourself that you need to write as many words as possible in that time. When you're done, you're done. The rest of the day is free. GO!

This might sound like the opposite of 'taking the pressure off' but it works really well. Now you have a short-term goal which is much less scary than 'spend the entire day creating deathless prose' and you don't have any time to hang around. It jumpstarts you creatively and you may find that you write a surprising amount for such a short period of time. You may also find that at the end of your thirty of forty minutes you're desperate to continue - which is fine - or that you're exhausted and happy to stop - also fine! Either way, you'll have accomplished much more than you would have if you'd spent two hours staring at your blank page before finally bursting into tears, fleeing to your favourite blankie, and curling into the fetal position. 

JUST RESIGN YOURSELF: Even with all these Jedi mindtricks, there are still times when your brain simply will not shut up and you cannot seem to get into the proper writing mood. You know that anything you write for at least the first twenty minutes is going to be rubbish.

So? Resign yourself to that and write anyway.

Just because the first few paragraphs or pages will need a lot of rewriting, that doesn't mean the rest of your work for the day won't be excellent and well-worth committing to the page. It doesn't mean you should waste hours fruitlessly trying to inspire yourself in increasingly bizarre ways, or give up completely, either. This is one of the first lessons that full-time writers learn: sometimes you just have to push through and write, even when you don't feel like it.

In almost every case, after half an hour or so, the effort to put words down loosens up my cramped creative brain and I start to feel happy and inspired after all. So what if it takes a page of dross to get me there? It's worth it!

I hope this helps, Anon! Read you next week, everyone :)
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