Tuesday, 18 December 2018


Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday and happy Christmas! I'm saying that now because I probably won't blog again before it's all over - the dark chocolate brownies, spiced apple cake, roast potatoes and pork shoulder with crackling aren't going to cook themselves, and I'm having my whole family over not once but twice this year so... yeah. Eeep.

Don't worry - of course I'm not going to sign off without announcing the winner of my giveaway of my very first early copy of THE HAND, THE EYE AND THE HEART (which I don't have yet, but which will hopefully land in my hot little hands in the New Year). I'll do that below, but first I wanted to share this:

And seven is my lucky number, too! I'm very proud to see my quirky, chunky book in such lovely company. Thank you everyone who has pre-ordered the book, talked about the book, RTed or shared my posts about the book. It honestly does make such a difference, and that's why I like to notice things like this, celebrate them, and show you what your support can do.

And now for the winner! Drumroll please!







Congratulations, Jackie, I'll email you today and get your postal details so I can send your copy of the book to you as soon as I get it. I hope you enjoy it!

Commiserations to everyone else who hoped to win this and didn't, this time. Please don't be too upset. There will be more giveaways and competitions in the run up to the book's release. And remember that it's not very long until April, now. Which gives me a bit of a flutter of butterflies, honestly! Have a marvellous holiday season and New Year, muffins!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Hello, and welcome to a very special post this Monday evening, Dear Readers. It's time to reveal the gorgeous cover art for a book that (as I've mentioned a few times) is really special to me: The Hand, the Eye & the Heart.

And I know you're all busily scrolling past this right now, but I'm going to ramble a bit first anyway because a) it seems less basic than just slapping the cover up here with barely any introduction and letting the art do all the talking and b) it's my blog and I'll ramble if I want to.

This cover illustration (including hand lettering!) was created by a legendary artist, Kate Forrester. You can visit her website and see her brilliant work for yourself (and I highly recommend it, because it's a feast for the eyes) but suffice it to say that she's created covers for some publishing greats. I personally think she's outdone herself this time.

This is the inspiration board I'd put together for any potential artist or designer for the book to look at. That's how I've worked with Delightful Designer over my past four books. I share it here because I think it's interesting - there are so many points of convergence that it is spooky, including the fact that I'd actually pinned a cover created by Kate Forrester long before I ever knew she would be involved - not because, on this occasion, it had anything to do with the cover art. It didn't.

Delightful Designer is currently on maternity leave and the designer Walker had working on The Hand, the Eye & the Heart (hi, Genius Designer! We haven't spoken, but you're awesome!) came up with the concept and decided on an artist without any input from me whatsoever. And all I can say is: good call. Honestly, I don't think it could have worked out any better.

So now, without any further ado... THE COVERRRRR!!






I mentioned in the teaser post that every detail in the cover is not only informed by the aesthetics of  the cultures on which the book itself draws, but also by specific details of the story and characters. All the animals (mythical and real) are significant in the story. The flowers you see - peonies and magnolias - are each mentioned in the story. Above all, the style and composition and colours all remind me very much of a glorious kesi tapestry, and since this kind of weaving is an artform which is very important to the main character of the book, that means a lot to me.

I think it's honestly stunning. And so right for this book. I'm also told there's a chance that the finished version maaaay have foil, so my fingers are crossed for that...

Other details about this book which I can now share! It's 448 pages long - the longest book I've ever written. It starts with an epigraph from The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It will also contain a trigger warning (which I'm very grateful to my publisher for letting me include) and a list of resources which I hope might be useful for trans and non-binary folk.

And just to make this as special as possible, now it's GIVEAWAY time. There won't be any ARCs for this book, but I've been promised that there will be early copies and that these should materialise sometime around the new year. So if you'd like to get your hands on one of these early copies, of which there will be limited numbers, as soon as I do? Then RT or share this post and enter the giveaway below for a chance to win The Hand, the Eye and the Heart in all it's (hopefully) foiled glory.

This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY and you can increase your odds of being the winner depending on how often you share and RT this post over the next two weeks. Have at it and have fun, muffins!

Tuesday, 27 November 2018


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday to all - I hope everyone's having a good week so far. My week is definitely looking up, since I've had some fantastic news today.

I'm basically just posting to tease you this week, but I hope you'll forgive my need to share my excitement - because I've had confirmation that the cover art for The Hand, the Eye & the Heart is FINALISED and that I will be able to share it NEXT WEEK!

I love this cover so much, you guys. I've loved it since I saw the very first, very rough design idea, even though it was in bizarrely in black and white. Walker has really outdone themselves this time. They commissioned the absolutely legendary artist Kate Forrester to illustrate and hand-letter the cover, and every detail in her artwork is so respectful to the cultures the book draws on, and so beautifully and directly specific to this story. My first impression was that it looked like some kind of wonderful ancient tapestry - and since the art of weaving is very important in The Hand, the Eye & the Heart, that makes my little heart sing.

And soon I will get to share it with all of you!

*High pitched incoherent squealing*


OK, so here are the details. If anyone reading this has been lucky enough to be invited to Walker's YA Wonderland:

And you can make it, then on Monday of next week you will not only be meeting a bunch of cool authors and eating a bunch of delicious nibbles - you'll also be getting the very first, exclusive look at this cover art.

But don't worry if you're not going to be there. No, seriously - calm down, folks - would your faithful Zolah toy with her Dear Readers like that? Not only will all the bloggers present be tweeting what they see under #WalkersYAWonderland or #WalkerYA2019, but I'll also set up a blog-post all ready to go on Monday too. As soon as the presentation is over I will press 'Publish' and share the full cover on the internet in all its hi-res full-wrap glory.

Stand by on Monday evening to be BLOWN AWAY. I can't wait!

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! I hope you're having a great week so far. I have to be honest and admit that I am not having a great week, but I still hope that it can get better before the end. Cross your fingers for me!

There's not much to report here at Casa Zolah the moment (not that nothing is happening, just that nothing is happening I can talk about) so I thought I would share a couple of playlists that are helping me get into the writing mood. Because you know I'm still writing, even if I'm not able to tell you much about that.

First up is a playlist for a long-time project that observant Dear Readers will know I've mentioned (and even posted snippets from) before: Winterthorne. Although it's actually not called that anymore, but the playlist still is:

And then a newer playlist which is very blandly called Thinking Music 2, but is actually for the very newest idea that I'm still sketching out whenever I have a spare minute or a random brainwave:

Apologies for the cr*p formatting here. Pasting in code always messes Blogger up and for the sake of my blood pressure I have learned to accept it. Anyway, I hope these help to get you into your writing grove, my lovelies! More poetry next week, maybe? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, 5 November 2018


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! I've been super busy with a couple of different projects over the past couple of weeks (one book related, one life related) and forgot to post last week. Sorry about that.

But today at last - the promised poems!

You know how sometimes your dog or cat will have a 'mad hour' and go from peacefully snoozing on the end of the bed to running around in dizzy circles, thudding mysteriously under the furniture, trying to climb the curtains, and scrabbling at imaginary ghosts in the corners? Well, early this year the exact same thing happened to me, except instead of my cat or dog it was my brain, and instead of trying to eat my own tail I wrote poetry.

Look, just go with me here, all right?

As a teenager who was bursting with ideas and thoughts but had not yet developed the ability to finish a longer piece of work (I couldn't even complete short stories) poetry was my number one means of creative expression and refuge. I sometimes wrote three new poems a day, for weeks at a time. I loved poetry and it was as natural to me as breathing.

But when I started channeling my writing juice into novels, slowly but surely that flood of poetry slowed down to a trickle. Those who've read my books know that there are often songs and poems and ballads in there, but those are about expressing things about my character's world or feelings, rather than about putting my own thoughts and feelings onto the page. Up until January, February and March of this year it had been probably a decade since I wrote any poetry that came directly from me, rather than filtered through the lens of what a character was going through.

Then, during the snowy and miserably cold early months of this year - well known and hated by all Britishers under the name The Beast from the East - when I was stuck on Selkie Book (having had to drop it really abruptly when edits for The Hand, the Eye & the Heart appeared) and quite often also stuck on a train for long periods, travelling back and forth to my Fellowship in York, that closed sluice gate on my poetry brain creaked opened juuuust a tiny bit. I found myself scribbling lines of poetry, then verses, and eventually full poems. By the end of that miserable weather system I had a good handful of new stuff, which I worked on fitfully while I slowly got back to work on Selkie Book again.

And then I saw a notice that the Bridport Poetry Prize was open for entries. And I thought 'What the Hell?' I picked out my favourite four poems, worked on them feverishly for a week or so, and sent them off. Lo and behold! They did not win. But I still really like them and feel especially fond of them because that poetry gate in my brain seems to have creaked shut again now. So I thought I'd share a few of them with you now.

I hope you like them! Let me know your thoughts in the comments, lovelies - or share poems you're working on now, if you like :)


the wild iris embraces you
though he would not.

And you are silent now
but the wind singing in the moon-grey bullrushes, 
and the rising heron
speak your name.

you are shrouded 
by reflections of the sun.

And dragonflies shall take flight
from the ivory cage
which imprisoned your frail human heart.

as your face fades
from his memory,
do not fear.

The green river remembers the green girl.
The waters know who you are.


People who tell you
That time heals
Are liars

Time doesn't accrete scars over anyone's grief
Only accustoms them to the pain

You might adapt to living without one of your limbs
And others will learn
To stop staring
At the empty space that follows you around

You'll figure out how to do the impossible
How to live now
Dress yourself again
Make coffee, make jokes, make a bed

But time cannot regrow what was lost
And sometimes, years and years later sometimes
When you had grown so adept at telling yourself
That you had forgotten

Or moved on
Or achieved closure
Or whatever vacuous thing the liars call it now
You will speak, unthinkingly

And in the silence that follows you will expect
For one breath
For just for one tiny infinity
That voice, that voice, that voice, to answer

And then you will feel the agony
Of the phantom limb, and know

Time heals nothing
Only teaches you how to pretend
That you were never whole

Tuesday, 23 October 2018


Hello and happy Monday (if there is such a thing) Dear Readers! Amidst today's glorious autumn sunshine I have some lovely news:


So far you can order here on Waterstones or here on Amazon. Hopefully it will soon show up on other sites. And with the pre-order, I can offer some new information. First, the book's official synopsis:
Zhilan was assigned female at birth; despite an unusual gift for illusions, they know they will live out their life in the perfumed confines of the women’s quarters. But when civil war sets the country aflame, Zhilan is the only one who can save their disabled Father from death on the battlefield.

By taking his place.

Surviving brutal army training as a male recruit – Zhi – is only the first challenge. Soon Zhi’s unique talents draw them into an even more perilous fight, in the glittering court of the Land of Dragons, where love and betrayal are two sides of the same smile. The fate of an Empire rests on Zhi’s shoulders. But to win, they must first decide where their loyalty, and their heart, truly belongs.


I can also tell you that the official release date is the 4th of April 2019 (these are inauspicious numbers in Chinese Feng Shui, but it's my birthday week so I'm hoping that will cancel it out). I've seen roughs of the cover and I can confirm that it is shaping up to be absolutely gorgeous, but I have no idea when it will be finalised or approved for me to share, so I won't tease you with it, except to say that, as always, as soon as I'm allowed, I'll slap it up here.

Now time for some real talk, Dear Readers.

I've written before about how important pre-orders are to the treatment that the book will get when it comes out, but just in case anyone missed that, let me reiterate - it can make a HUGE difference. It will decide where the book is stocked and how widely the book is stocked and how easy it is for casual readers to happen across it and what incentives (such as buy one, get one half price offers or ebook promotions) are in place to encourage them to buy it. And all that will have a vital effect on whether the book is considered a success or not - and if the author makes any money from it.

The part that concerns Dear Readers is that ultimately this will effect whether or not the author is ever offered a contract for a new book, so that you can continue to read and enjoy their work.

I really, really want this book to do well. I really, really want it to do well because I think it's a great and important story that deserves to be read and shared. I really, really want it to do well because I want there to be a popular book out there with an enby protagonist of colour. I really, really want it to do well so that too-often-over-looked readers can see themselves represented on the page by a character who is a goddamn badass. And I really, really want it to do well because if it doesn't then I don't know what that will mean for the other books that I desperately want the chance to write and share with you in years to come.

Pre-orders can help this book to do well.

So if you were intending to buy the book anyway, pre-ordering it sometime over the next few months would be a fantastic thing to do, to help increase the odds of further books from me appearing on shelves in the future. If you can't afford to do that - and I feel you! - then requesting it at your local library would also be great.

Closer to release I'm planning to run a massive competition and anyone who can show proof of a pre-order will have the chance to win all kinds of super cool THTE&TH themed goodies. If you do order the book before then, make sure you save your confirmation email or whatever so that you will be eligible!

In the meantime, much love to you all, Dear Readers. Next week I will probably hopefully finally get around to sharing some recent poetry efforts, so brace yourselves for that...

Wednesday, 17 October 2018


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Happy Wednesday. Without futher ado, let's announce the winner of last week's competition:

**Drumdoll please***






Congratulations! I'm delighted it's gone to a long-time Dear Reader. I know you'll really enjoy this, Jax. I'll be emailing you today to get your address.
I'm currently hard at work on my revisions for Selkie Book, which is defying my usual expectations/process by vearing wildly from pretty good to a deathly vacuum of suckage every couple of pages. I keep getting stuck, thinking 'Eugh, I made a terrible mistake with this, it's AWFUL, it needs a total rewrite!' and then a paragraph later I'm happily skimming along making minor prose tweaks. I don't know if this honestly is as radically different to everything else I've written as I think it is, or if it's just the way it seems to me because I'm immersed in it. Once the edits are done the full, final version will be off to my agent and then I suppose I will find out.

I *hope* to get the manuscript marked up and the edits actually inputted by the end of this month. I emphasize 'hope' there because actually, I probably have no chance in Hell of managing that - but I'm going to try! Mainly because I have two short pieces I need to start AND finish in November (one of which will hopefully be of some interest to Dear Readers) so I really want to be able to relax and concentrate on those without Selkie Book nibbling at the edges of my conscience and attention.

In other news, I've just finished NineFox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, which is one of the densest and chewiest things I've read in a while. On the surface it's hard (operatic) sci-fi, informed by the author's theoretical maths background. But on a technical level it's actually fantasy. I'm quite jealous that readers were happy to accept this as SF, and also that the author was able to get away with so little explanation of his physics defying magic stuff. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure I'll pick up the sequels for a while.

Read you later my lovelies - next week, to be precise, when I think I'm going to start posting my (failed) entries for this year's Bridport Poetry Prize, because why not? See you soon.

Monday, 8 October 2018


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Today I bring you a real treat - not only a review of one of the the most highly anticipated YA releases this year, but also... a giveaway. Ooooh! Aaaah! Buckle up, buttercups! Here's the synopsis for Natasha Ngan's Girls of Paper & Fire:
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It's the highest honor they could hope for...and the most cruel.

But this year, there's a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it's Lei they're after--the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king's interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king's consort. But Lei isn't content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable--she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.
Doesn't that sound FREAKING AMAZING???

OK, let me pretend to be a grown-up for minute and explain a bit more about this.

Although we've never met in real life, I've known Natasha Ngan online for a long time - as a delightful person to exchange jokes or writing related complaints with on Twitter and as a fellow contributor to Author Allsorts. And so I've also known about this book, one way or another, for a long time. Through the #UKYA author grape-vine I knew she was working on something new - an exciting departure for her. I'd even spoken to people who'd read the manuscript and said it was something really, really special. As a result, I was excited to hear more about it from the first.

Keeping my ears open, I gradually learned that it was a high fantasy with an Asian-inspired setting. That it was supposed to be a Feminist story, and one which centred a queer romance. Talk about a list of all my favourite things! Eventually I saw the gorgeous cover.

I actually thought I couldn't get much more interested at that point.

But then I saw the synopsis - THAT synopsis - online and I felt shivers go right down my spine.

In one of those utterly unearthly coincidences of creative zeitgeist, Natasha had written a story which echoed, almost perfectly, the tragic and bloody backstory of one of my favourite characters from my own upcoming novel The Hand, the Eye, and the Heart - which also happens to be a queer high fantasy with an Asian-inspired setting.

It felt as if someone had reached into my dreams, plucked something out, and made it real.

I knew I had to get my hands on this book. I can't even express to you how much I HAD TO READ IT. And with every amazing review that drifted through my Twitter timeline, my desperation grew. So I entered every online giveaway I could find (with thanks to longtime reader B&J, who alerted me to most of these) wished for both the UK and US versions on Netgalley (neither were available to request) and also emailed Hodder and Stoughton - calmly and professionally - asking for an ARC to review. And when that didn't work, I broke down and sent pleading tweets to their children's AND adult twitter accounts, offering up a virgin goat or a kidney, whichever worked for them.

Just when I was starting to lose hope a lovely DM from a member of the PR team arrived, offering me what sounded like their very last available ARC. My exultant hiss of "Yesssss!" startled many unfortunate occupants of the station Starbucks where I was waiting for my train when this message arrived. But did I care? I did not. Soon! Soon, the book would be in my grasp and I could at long last discover if this story really WAS really a fragment of my dreams which had gotten lose and become a book.

Readers, the ARC arrived on Saturday in the early afternoon.

Readers, before nine pm that evening, I had finished it.

Readers, despite its main storyline bearing an uncanny resemblance to the one in my head it was not really a fragment of my dreams which had gotten lose and become a book.

It was something much rarer and more wonderful.

There are books that authors enjoy - love - or admire. Lots of those. But for most authors there's another category, which is the most special of all: books we genuinely wish *we* had written. Girls of Paper & Fire is one of these.

Longtime Dear Readers know that my favourite book out of everything I've ever written is Shadows on the Moon. Right? Well, this book is the book I wanted Shadows on the Moon to be. The book it could have been if I'd been just a bit better at my craft, a bit braver in my choices, a crucial shade more open to possibilities, back in 2009 when that story was fighting its way out of me. Girls of Paper & Fire fulfils every craving for that perfect book I couldn't quite achieve. It is brutal and lyrical, beautiful and savage, heart-breaking and transformative. I loved it.

It's hard to talk about books you connect with this much. There's a strong impulse to ramble on about the details. Everything from craft level stuff - gorgeous, deftly woven prose - or big picture stuff - tactile, sensory world-building with the perfect level of detail and exposition - or the characters - flawed, evolving, both broken and beautiful. But ultimately, it's not really about that. What it comes down to is something intangible. Some connection between you and the text that opens a door in your imagination you never knew was there, but which afterwards can never be fully closed again.

Look guys, if you liked any of my books, go get this. If you're a fan of Naomi Novik, or Leigh Bardugo, or Laini Taylor - same. It's just great. You won't regret it. And then you can come and talk to me about it and we'll squee together and mourn just how long it's going to be until the sequel comes out.

And to increase the chances of your getting to read the book, I'm going to bite the bullet and give away this very special, stained-with-my-own-tears ARC (fully intending to save up to buy it when it comes out, of course). It's going to be a wrench, since I kind of want to sleep with it under my pillow forever more, but that's how much I love you guys.

The entry form is below and it's as simple as I can make it. You get one point for RTing this post and the competition to Twitter (and you can do that once each day if you like) and one point for commenting. The giveaway is open to anyone in UK and Europe - but not the US. Sorry USians, the postage is unreal and I'm trying to save up for Christmas presents.

The competition will run until next Wednesday - the 17th of October - and I'll announce the winner on Thursday and send the book out on Friday. Which means one of the best books you're ever likely to read can be in your eager little hands by next weekend. You might want to get on that :) Read you later, muffins!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 27 September 2018


Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Thursday - the weekend is almost here, and it's time for a writing post (Le Gasp! I know it's been a while).

Lately I've really been enjoying the videos of a writer and vlogger called Rachael Stephen. Her plotting methods are so methodical and meticulous, and so different to mine, that I find them fascinating. They offer all kinds of new insights into how to visualise all the moving parts of a story. My favourite recent video of hers is this:
In which she posits that it's very important for a writer to know - and be able to articulate! - their underlying theme in any work, because if you don't KNOW what you're trying to say then you can easily end up saying something else entirely.

Now a lot of Rachael's plotting stuff boggles my mind, but this felt super right and comfy to me straight away. Theme is vital to my writing process. I need spend a lot of time figuring this out before I can get anywhere with my plot. In fact, I always feel that the plot (a series of events logically following on from each other, involving my main character or characters) is basically there to give me an opportunity to illustrate my theme. That's the point of the thing.

The more I thought about that, the more I realised that this is incredibly similar to something I say to my students here at York St. John ALL. THE. DAMN. TIME.

Students come to me with all kinds of problems, and nearly always this leads to me asking them: "What are you trying to say here? What is your point? What is the message that you want your reader to take away from your work?"

As a result of this, last year I came up with this theory that the ideal structure of an essay - and an essay section, and even a paragraph within an essay - is an upside down triangle.

At the beginning, the widest part of the upside down triangle, you state your thesis, your theme - or in a small unit of writing, like a paragraph, offer a topic sentence that states what you are about to discuss. This is quite open and general. Then you move slowly through a process of providing evidence which gives more background, illustrating your thesis, getting more and more specific all the time until you reach the point of that triangle: the point of the work itself, or of the paragraph.

This is where you offer your unique interpretation or analysis of the evidence you have provided and show how it all leads back to your point, thesis or message.

That's key. Everything must always be relevant to your point. Everything must always be driving down towards the ultimate meaning of the piece of writing, proving your thesis, convincing your reader of that message. If it doesn't do this? It shouldn't be in the essay.

Et voila!

Click to embiggen

I show a variation of this diagram to my students and we highlight the different parts of the triangle - I, D, E and A - different colours, then seek out each of the different parts in each paragraph of their essay. Once we start highlighting the work itself, it immediately becomes clear if they've got a flowing argument that runs smoothly from identifying their thesis/point, to adding detail, definition and background, to illustrating with evidence, references and quites, to analysing the significance of everything they've said to their overall thesis. Often a great argument is weakened because they hid their A in the middle, or failed to offer any I, or didn't back up the I and A with enough D and E.

it works!

After watching Rachel's video I realised that when writing fiction, you need to turn this triangle upside down.

Instead of starting out with a general statement, you begin with the specific - moving through the personal outwards to the universal. The pointy bit of the triangle is where you hook the reader on the very personal, specific stakes of your story's theme, by showing main character in their beginning - unfulfilled - state.

Then you launch into action, using specific events that affect the main character as evidence of what can happen if they don't change, don't learn the thesis.

Then you broaden the scope of the story, extrapolating outward, propelling the plot onwards with ripple effects caused by the character's attempts to learn and change on their world, the people they know, their environment.

Finally - maybe in the final, resolving scene, or maybe in the very last line - you attempt to turn that mirror back on the reader to show how this individual journey that you have depicted actually applies to them and to their real world, too. This is that stunning final image or thought that leave the reader thoughtful and wondering as they close the book.

Like so!

Clicky clicky!
I'm not 100% happy with this at the moment, if I'm honest - the descriptions in each part of the triangle don't really get at what I mean the way I want them to. But I still think this could be very useful, especially for people writing short fiction, where your theme is more or less everything, so I decided to share it anyway. I might be back with a tweaked version in the next couple of weeks!

What do you think of the IDEA triangle, muffins? Useful? Sound off in the comments :)

Sunday, 9 September 2018


Hello, muffins! Long time no read. I hope you've all had a wonderful *cough* four months since I posted last. If you're inferring from the fact that I'm posting again that the first draft of Selkie Book is finally (finally FINALLY) finished you are a very clever muffin indeed - and you are correct!


95,000 words, 322 pages, bucketloads of snow, some ships, some icebergs, some bears, some rather more unusual creatures, a sprinkling of moon magic, and a warm, gooey centre of intersectional Feminism - oh my! My tenth novel since becoming a published writer. Let's hope it finds a home and I can share it with you... soon-ish. I may post a snippet and some other stuff next week, if the spirit moves me.

In the meantime, though, a book review!

The legend begins.

In the ancient halls of the Imperial University of Carthak, a young man has begun his journey to becoming one of most powerful mages the realm has ever known. Arram Draper is the youngest student in his class and has the Gift of unlimited potential for greatness . . . and of attracting danger.

At his side are his two best friends: clever Varice, a girl too often-overlooked, and Ozorne, the ‘leftover prince’ with secret ambitions. Together, these three forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. But as Ozorne inches closer to the throne and Varice grows closer to Arram's heart, Arram realizes that one day – soon – he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, fans of Tamora Pierce will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom's future rests on the shoulders of a boy with unimaginable gifts and a talent for making deadly enemies.

NOTE: This is as close to spoiler free as I can make it and still maintain coherency; anyone who's read the Immortals Quartet or the Protector of the Small books ought to be just fine. If you're a Pierce newbie, it'll depend on your personal tolerance for hints. You've been warned, my lovelies.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get a copy of TEMPESTS & SLAUGHTER on NetGalley - Tamora Pierce's latest young adult book, set in her famous Tortall fantasy universe.

Obviously I was ecstatic since, as longtime Dear Readers know, Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness Quartet is the reason I'm a young adult novelist. Ms Pierce is *that* influential. And for those of us who worship her as she deserves, it feels like about a decade since her last full-length novel release (in reality, MASTIFF, the final book of the Beka Cooper Trilogy, her last series set in Tortall, came out in 2011).

But TEMPESTS & SLAUGHTER was giving me a slightly conflicted feeling because it's the first book of the Numair Chronicles - a prequel trilogy about the early life of one of her beloved characters from her Immortals Quartet, Numair Salmalin, otherwise known as Arram Draper.

Why the conflict? Because Arram/Numair's early life is actually covered pretty thoroughly in books I've already read (and re-read and re-read again). He is the second most prominent character of the Immortals Quartet - which is probably my second favourite of all Ms Pierce's Tortall series - and his history is a pivotal part of the plot. The books tell us where he grew up, what he did and who his best friends were, as well as just how those relationships developed. It's a central part of the plot.

I don't have any objection to getting more depth and information about Numair! I love Numair! But I did have kind of squinky feeling about heading into a whole new series of books where I needed to invest myself in the characters and the plot when I knew, going in, exactly how it was all going to turn out. How it would end. I worried I just wouldn't be able to get into any of it, that it would feel hollow, or inevitable. More like a collection of Easter Eggs than a real story.

Well, I shouldn't have worried. Tamora Pierce's exceptional strength as a storyteller has always been her ability to create the most beautifully realised, well-rounded characters - and then build relationships between them on the page which allow them to evolve and develop in direct relation to each other in all these unexpected, simply unforgettable ways. It's miraculous. And as a result, this book sucked me in from the very first page.

Compared to many of her works it's not a high action epic, though there is plenty of incident within it, ranging from training mishaps caused by Arram, whose power is simply too great for someone so young to fully control, through unexpected encounters with animal gods, all the way up to an attempted slave revolt. Arram even gets an unusual animal companion in classic Pierce style.

But this isn't a book that's about plot. It's a book deeply rooted in relationships, in watching relationships change and grow - and the relationship between Varice, Ozorne and Arram was so unexpectedly sincere and joyful that I couldn't put the book down. It didn't seem hollow. It seemed multi-faceted and nuanced and fascinating and, honestly, my heart broke a little bit for all of them. My knowledge of all these people's eventual fates only added depth and poignancy.

Meeting younger and less hardened versions of other such significant characters as Tristan, Chioke, Princess Mahira, and Lindhall, and having the chance to see the beginning of Ozorne's rise as well as the beginning of his descent was merely the icing on that compelling cake.

Which is a good thing, because this book ends just when things are rising to a point of high tension. Arram has made a fateful decision about his future, feelings between two of the central trio of friends have finally been declared, and Ozorne is beginning to display not only signs of the violent instability which will later have such disastrous consequences for Carthak and the whole world, but also a kind of burgeoning ambition that makes me suddenly re-evaluate his motives throughout the book. Arram is still Arram - he hasn't picked out his rather more ostentatious mage name yet - and he's still a mere student at the university, along with Varice and Ozorne.

I was stunned when I realised the book ended there. It felt, to put it mildly, a bit abrupt. But on thinking about it, I know why the writer chose to finish at that point: in a strange way, the events which finish the book are the beginning of the end for Arram's life as he has known it. The next book, surely, will chart his final examinations at the university - the acknowledgment that the odd young Draper boy is, in fact, the most powerful magic user in Carthak - as well as Ozorne's rise to the throne of Carthak. And anyone who's read the Immortals knows how that goes.

This book was the idealistic dream of three friends who only wanted to be together, to learn magic, and to live in peace far from the violence and machinations of the court of Carthak. I suspect that the next book will be a crashing and non-stop battle with reality for Arram, including that world-altering event Pierce fans know is coming and both dread and anticipate.

I HOPE so, anyway, because the part of the story that has always interested me most is Numair's escape, his arrival and early years in Tortall, and his eventual meeting with the influential people there which leads to all the events of the Immortals Quartet. For those events to be done justice, they really want a whole book. And, even knowing how it all turns out? I definitely want to read it RIGHT NOW.

If you're a Pierce fan, let me know how you feel about this book in the comments! Otherwise, tell me what you'd like to see in a post about selkie book (aesthetics? Playlist? Snippets?) and I'm more likely to put something together for next week :)

Monday, 23 April 2018


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Happy Monday - I hope you all had a great weekend, or at least are glad that it's over and a fresh week has begun. Today's blogpost is brought to you by a question that floated into my Twitter feed last week, as follows:
"Would really appreciate advice. Told not to mention the 3D's (divorce, death and disease) in submission covering letter. My pitch YA fantasy fiction is partly about death & comes from experience. Am I safe to mention the personal experience or avoid at all cost?"
I had to read this a couple of times before I could actually decipher it, which is nothing to do with the asker's clarity of expression, and everything to do with the strangeness of the actual question. Surely I must be misreading? So I tweeted back asking them to shoot me a quick email (and for permission to include my answer in a blogpost, to benefit all). I received the following reply via my website contact form: 
"The 3D's that were referred to concern their inclusion within a "pitch admissions letter".

The YA Fantasy Fiction I have written does deal with death throughout the story (not as dark as it might sound). As a family (myself and three children) we have been unfortunate, as are many families, to be visited by a succession of close family deaths, the majority of which were very unexpected, sudden and violent.

This was one of the reasons why my book deals (all be it in a fantasy manner), as it is something I have watched my own children struggle with.

From what I understand, some agents ask for personal experience connected to your writing whilst others have given the 3D's as something to never mention.

I am just concerned that if I dare to mention one of the 3D's then no agent is going to get beyond my initial letter."
I'm not gonna lie - I'm still super confused by this. I even Googled 'the 3Ds' and 'Pitch letters' to try to find out if this is some kind of common maxim that I'm not aware of. After all, it's been a long time since I wrote a query letter to an agent, and I've never taken part in #pitmad or any of those more recent online pitch-competitions. Perhaps there was something I was missing? Well, perhaps there is, but I still can't find anything about this odd prohibition online, so I'm just going to go with my instinct and answer as common sense dictates.

There are two questions here, really. The first is: Should I dare to mention mention death, divorce or disease in my query letter?

The answer is straightforward. Yes, of course - if these are important themes in your work.

The point of any kind of pitch or query is to tell the targeted publishing professional what your book is about. That's what they're for. If your book deals heavily with bereavement and you don't mention that in the query letter then that query letter is no good. You can't just find and replace the word 'death' with 'cheese' and hope the reader won't notice. And if you write a query that cunningly manages to gloss over that whole death theme and somehow convince the agent or editor that the book really is about cheese and not bereavement, they're going to be extremely annoyed when they request it and find that there is no mention of Gorgonzola but much mention of grief and loss.

If there's actually an agent out there who is refusing to read any submissions which deal with these three topics - and if there really are, then they must be vanishingly rare - then that's their loss, since I'd say about 75-85% of books (not including picturebooks... probably) touch on at least one of these, and many two or more! Including most of the best and most important books. I mean, agents and editors are free to say that they're not interested in whatever topics they like - I guess - although I seems like a random and counter-productive demand.

But what's really crucial is that you're not going to want to pitch to any of these agents or editors. Your work isn't going to interest them because it's literally about the thing that they've said they don't like. So steer clear. As fas as I'm aware, the vast majority of agents and editors still don't dictate that major themes of human existence be erased from a writer's work. I've never met or heard of one, anyway. This sounds like junk advice to me. The kind of Chinese Whispers stuff that has moved so far from its real basis, if it ever had one, that it has become complete nonsense.

Now for the second part: Should I mention my own family experience with grief, and how this has influenced my writing, in my pitch?

The answer to this one is more complex, but basically boils down to: Yes... if you're comfortable with sharing that information AND CONVINCED IT'S RELEVANT.

You are not required to bare your family tragedy to an agent or editor in order to convince them that you have the right to write about death, loss and grief. If you're worried that people won't understand the authenticity of your work without that context and are forcing yourself, with teeth gritted, to justify yourself: please don't. #Ownvoices is a wonderful thing, but it is not about writers herding themselves into ghettos where only semi-autobiographical work is valued.

If you're worried that people won't understand the authencity of your work and are eager to share the context... I guess go ahead? But be sure, first, that your own experiences really are relevant to the themes in the work. I'll mention here that all of my books deal with death, loss and bereavement to some extent and in some form. My own experiences with those things have absolutely, undoubtedly, indisputably informed those stories... but the books stand on their own. No one needs to know about my family's history of suffering to read, understand, or be moved by those books.

Perhaps there are unique circumstances surrounding your own experiences and those of your children and these inspired the book in a really direct way. I can't specuIate on that. I don't know you and I haven't read your book. If you're absolutely convinced this information is vital then include it. But do so very briefly and in such a way that it's clear this is only background to the book, not any kind of emotional appeal to the publishing professional to give your book a break because of what your family has been through. I'm sure that's not what you're intending, but unfortunately people do make emotional appeals like this in query letters all the time. I even get requests like this sometimes, from people who want me to refer them to my agent, or editor, or even just publish them myself (somehow???).

These appeals are often coming from a good place in someone's heart - but it just makes the person reading their letter intensely uncomfortable and irritated because it feels like emotional blackmail and what's more, no matter how heartbreaking the story, they CAN'T do what the query writer wants and publish something purely because they feel bad for them. Once you've recieved a few letters like this, you become very sensitive and prickly about them, so be careful.

It probably won't send up any red flags if you briefly mention:

My children and I were caught up in the events of this natural disaster in this year, and lost two close family members. Following our struggle to come to terms with our own grief, the inspiration to write a story dealing with the aftermath of such devastating natural disasters was born.

Or maybe:

After a losing three members of my extended family within one year, I witnessed my children's bewilderment and their attempts to make sense of their loss, and felt compelled to explore these topics in my book...

On the other hand, if your story is really strong and has a compelling premise of it's own? It is probably unncessary to mention the background at all. That doesn't mean it's VERBOTEN, but just that it's not likely to influence the editor or agent's decision to request your work either way. What always counts the most is the work itself.

Ultimately the decision on how much and what to share is up to you.

I hope this helps! I wish you the best of good luck with your query and your journey to publication.

Friday, 16 March 2018


At last! At long, long last! At laaaaaaast!!! *Maniacal laughter*

Ahem. Yes, that's right Dear Readers! The very exciting news I have been teasing you with basically forever (don't hate me!) is now finally mine to reveal! And incidentally when I said 'very exciting' I actually meant THE MOST EXCITING THING EVER. Here's the official press release: 

Walker Books acquires a new YA fantasy novel The Hand, the Eye and the Heart from Zoë Marriott 

Marriott’s new YA explores themes of gender fluidity in a fantasy setting 

Walker Books are delighted to announce the acquisition of The Hand, the Eye and the Heart, a new YA novel from award-winning British author Zoë Marriott. Commissioning editor Annalie Grainger acquired world rights in all languages from Nancy Miles at Miles Stott Children’s Literary Agency. Zoë Marriott is the author of many critically acclaimed and beloved books, often inspired by myths and fairy tales, including The Swan Kingdom, which was longlisted for the Branford Boase award. Shadows on the Moon won the prestigious Sasakawa Prize and was an American Junior Library Guild Selection. The book will publish in Spring 2019.

In the tradition of bestselling and beloved writers like Tamora Pierce and Ursula Le Guin, The Hand, the Eye and theHeart is a rich and lavishly detailed YA fantasy that draws on explorations of gender fluidity and identity. Zhilan was designated female at birth. Marriage and children are the future, not war. But when a warrior rebel begins to ravage the empire and threatens Zhilan's family, they are determined to fight. The only choice is to dress as a boy and to take on a boy's name: Hua Zhi. In a world where love and betrayal are two sides of the same smile, danger lurks everywhere, and Zhi might be the only one who can save the Emperor ... but only if they can save themselves first.

Annalie Grainger said:

“Zoë is such a talented writer. Her books are always intricately plotted and beautifully written, and they draw on such complex pertinent themes, all within diverse and well-constructed worlds. Her latest builds upon this powerful legacy of diverse stories. Its world-building is glorious and the exploration of gender fluidity is important and sensitively handled.”

For more information, please contact Publicity Manager Rosi Crawley on

Tl:dr: My new book is coming out from Walker Books next year, and it is a high fantasy called The Hand, the Eye and the Heart.

For more details about the journey of writing this book and the challenges it brought, you can read my post HONESTY IS A DANGEROUS POLICY.

Bringing The Hand, the Eye and the Heart into the world was not easy. It was, in fact, dangerous. And uncomfortable and frightening. The fact that it exists anyway is testament to the support and vision of The Royal Literary Fund and Arts Council England, both of whom believed in me and helped buy me the time (over two years) required to research and write this book.

And of course, a massive thanks are also due to the steadfastness of Super Agent, whose regular doses of encouragment and good sense helped pull me out of periods of hopelessness more times than I imagine she ever realised.

Time for a little Q&A! (UPDATED 05/12/2019) - you can now Pre-Order the book here, here and here, or at any indie bookshop!

Q: Is it true this book is a retelling of 'Mulan'?

A: Not exactly. It isn't a direct retelling of any one story. It is heavily inspired by several different versions of the Ballad of Mulan - including the original poem and many subsequent, ever-evolving retellings within Chinese culture such as the Chinese Opera. But the main character of The Hand, the Eye and the Heart is not Mulan. The protagonist of this book is Zhi. It's really important to me that this is clear, because Mulan is such a revered and significant figure and I'm not seeking to mess with her. So I'm not claiming to retell 'the true story of Mulan' or anything sensational like that. Zhi's journey definitely echoes Mulan's in some ways - but that is about paying homage to a legendary heroic archetype, not subverting or revising Mulan's story.

Q: Is the book set in China?

A: It's set in an imaginary place called The Land of Dragons or the Red Empire. This (again) is heavily influenced by Chinese history, especially the Tang Dynasty - but only in the same way that, say, George R. R. Martin's Westeros is influenced by England in the Middle Ages. It is not intended to be a historically accurate portrayal of China. It's a fantasy. There's magic and all kinds of made up people and places and events, as well as many people and places and events which take history as a jumping off point for fantastical extrapolation. The Big Bad, for example, is a mixture of a bandit King referred to in one version of Mulan's story (a man called Leopard Skin) and a real general who rebelled against the Emperor during the Tang Dynasty.

Q: So is the main character really trans?

A: I think of their gender identity as falling under that umbrella, and wrote them with the intention of presenting them to my readers that way - personally, I believe Zhi to be what contemporary westerners would probably call gender fluid or maybe, more broadly, non-binary. But readers are free to interpret the character's gender in any way they like (so long as they don't try to say that they're cis! Definitely not cis).

Q: Did you have sensitivity readers who were Chinese or trans?

A: I've been lucky enough to have advice from several trans people at different stages, including two sensitivity readers who are both *brilliant* writers in their own right. We connected with one of these through the fantastic organisation Inclusive Minds. I've tried my absolute best to act on and incorporate every comment or suggestion they made. I also had really valuable help and advice from several readers (and friends and family members of readers) of Chinese and East Asian heritage, and one Chinese sensitivity reader who is also a professor of English (so intimidating).All these people have absolutely made the book better - more nuanced, truthful and respectful. There are probably still mistakes and things in it that could be improved, and I take full responsibility for those areas.

Q: Is it true that you're an LGBTQA+ writer? Are you trans?

A: I identify as queer, yes. But I don't really think that writers should have to offer up a list of their marginalised identities on demand as part of discussion of their work, so even though I'm happy to talk about my queerness at other times, I'd prefer not to go into it now. I will say that the book is not #ownvoices.

Q: When exactly is the book out? 

A: The fourth of April 2019 - and pre-orders are live (and much appreciated)! That's in the UK. The book doesn't have a US publisher as yet.

Q: When can we see the cover?

A: Right now! Here it is: 

Q: Can we read some of it?

A: I'm working on this. I'm excited to share it with you.

Q: Is this the never-ending manuscript that just keeps getting longer that you're always moaning about on Twitter?

A: Er...yes.

Q: How long is this thing anyway?

A: Currently? I mean, it's hard to really say, we're still editing so...

Q: Just spit it out!

A: It's a bit over 100k, all right? That might come down. Or it might go up. I don't know, I'm just the writer. Anyway, it's in the same general length bracket as
Shadows on the Moon

Other stuff that might be of interest! Some aesthetics I made on Twitter the other day and the Spotify playlist for the book. Also, some of you may remember that this book has been referred to (even in the tags of this post) as Codename: DTH. That's because the book's working title was 'Deceive the Heavens', which is a quotation from Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

That's all for today, muffins! Feel free to toss any more questions in the comments - I'm interested to hear what you think!
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