Sunday, 21 April 2019


(Originally posted 5/06/2011, now retrieved from the archive, gently dusted off, and re-posted for your reading pleasure)

When I woke up this morning to find my Twitter feed being eaten alive by references to an article in the Wall Street Journal about YA literature, my first reaction was confusion, because that article came out ages ago. Didn't it? Oh, no - this was a NEW article from the WSJ, ANOTHER article belittling my genre and chosen medium as an artist. Did a YA author kick the editor of the WSJ in the ankle on the train recently or something? These guys just don't seem to like us. But then, thinking about it, no one really seems to like us, do they?

Pretty much every other day YA writers have to put up with another condescending article in which the entire field of young adult and children's writing is compressed down to the sparkly vampire elements so that the journalist can smirk. Or a comment from some lauded adult literary writer who thinks anyone who bothers writing for people under the age of eighteen is mentally defective. Or an article like this one, that bemoans the debauched, depraved tone of YA literature and compares it unfavourably to the books of the writer's own childhood.

The first thing most of these articles do is to point out how new YA is. And they're right. Young Adult only got its own shelf in the library or bookshop sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. Before that, there was just children's and adult's. And not long before that, there was adult, all on its own, and children read the Bible and classics and that was it. A lot of people seem to wish for a return to this state of affairs - or, at least, that's how it seems to those of us who keep finding ourselves under attack for daring to see young adults as a worthy audience with high intelligence, enquiring minds, and their own particular experiences and concerns, who deserve books specifically written for them.

In the minds of these article-writers, new = bad. Just as, apparently, truthful, intense, dark books which explore the real world young adults share with the rest of us = bad. The YA haters, whatever their stated concerns, always seem to be looking back, longing for some past Golden Age of Innocence, when books for younger readers were bright and cheerful and happy and uncomplicated. A hazy, non-specific 1950's lite period, when kids were respectful to their elders, no one had to lock their doors, child abuse was unheard of. When children never cried alone, or hurt themselves or others. When, presumably, young people themselves were bright, cheerful, happy and uncomplicated.

Here's a little newsflash for you. That time never actually existed.

It is a product of the adult imagination. Nothing more than convenient fantasy. Weak and feeble nostalgia. And kids know it.

The world has never been 100% cheery and happy and uncomplicated. Tragically, kids have always been abused. They have always suffered in silence, hurt themselves and others. Children have always, always, always partaken of the pain and agony of humanity, as well as its joy and brightness. They have always had to live with the same darkness, the same wars, the same nightmares as adults do. In fact, they've normally caught the worst of it. Take a look at childhood and infant mortality rates in any third world country if you don't believe me. Actually, take a look at child poverty statistics for the U.S. right now. Still feeling nice and cozy there on your moral high ground?

One of the most heart-breaking parts of Meghan Cox Gurdon's article is the way that she dismisses Scars, a novel by Cheryl Rainfield. Ms Cox Gurdon thinks the subject of the book - a girl who cuts to help herself cope with years of systematic abuse by her father - 'normalises' self-harm. That the topics it covers are 'lurid'. She criticises the cover with it's photograph of a 'horribly scarred forearm'. Apparently all this stuff is just too 'depraved' for teens.

Does Ms Cox Gurdon realise that Cheryl Rainfield herself was ritually and sytematically tortured by her parents as a child? That the forearm she dismisses as horrible actually belongs to Cheryl? Here, the author uses her own experiences to write a book that reaches back to her childhood self, reaches out to the thousands of other children who are going through what she went through, and tells them 'You can survive this. Don't lose hope.' Scars is an artistic act of the highest courage possible and one I admire more than I can say.

But Ms Cox Gurdon, like others of her kind, does not care about the children whose lives might be saved by this book. Or the thousands of other children who, through reading such a book, will gain understanding, empathy and compassion for the survivors of abuse and become better, more rounded individuals. She wants to pretend that bad things don't happen to anyone real - especially kids - that 'normal' people don't find this stuff relevent, that no one she knows or cares about could be damaged and hurting like the character in Scars.

Let me now address the YA haters directly - for my own satisfaction, but also in hopes of getting through some seriously thick skulls:

The reason you feel free to attack YA this way is because you think it's a soft target. You think it's valueless. You think no one takes it seriously. You think the YA field is a fleeting flash in the pan, getting undeserved attention and success. You think if you sit in judgement in your safe little corner, it'll all go away and proper literature (that's the stuff you like) will eventually take its place.

Unfortunately for you, this attitude betrays you. It makes clear your true feelings about young adults, the very people for whom you profess to have such concern.

You think young adults are valueless. You don't take them seriously. You dismiss their feelings and experiences as fleeting and shallow. You think if you just din your own personal values and beliefs into young adult heads hard enough, you'll be able to drown out their questions, their inconvenient new ideas, their worrying complexity, and produce a Mini-You, an adult in teenage clothing.


YA is too dark for you? Too bleak? Too sad, and challenging and REAL? You think we should all collude in some kind of mass hallucination in which we pretend bad things never happen, and kids exist in a perpetual state of rosy-cheeked glee and laughter? Well, I'll tell you what. You build yourself a nice spaceship, find a new planet and create that ideal, shiny world. Invite your family and friends. I'm sure it'll be just swell. So long as everyone represses their real feelings forever, of course.

But the rest of us are live HERE. Including those of humanity who are too young and vulnerable to have voices of their own. They look to the writers of YA fiction to speak to them, to speak the truth. To write books that are brave enough to touch them in their isolation and loneliness.

In spite of you, and everything you do to tell young adults that they don't get a say, that their experiences are lesser, that if they just ignore the pain it will go away, that none of it matters and in years to come they will look back and laugh? They will grow into the people they should be. They will grow into new writers and artists, trail-blazers, kicking the status quo in the teeth and telling things like they are.

Young adult literature is new. It's raw and brash and brazen. It's trashy, silly, funny and beautiful. It's stomach-churing, harrowing and dark. It's subtle, complex, transformative and brave.

It's ART, for God's sake. What do you expect?

And when young adults dive into it, they will find all these horrors and wonders - and they will find themselves.

If you don't like it? Your spaceship awaits. Bon voyage!

Friday, 19 April 2019


(Originally posted on this blog 26/08/2011, now retrieved from the archives, carefully dusted off, and reposted for your reading pleasure)

Hey everyone! This is a follow-up to last week's post Wake Up and Smell the Real World, where I'm going to try and clarify a few things that were discussed in the comment thread.

First of all, I urge you to read these very interesting posts - the first one about about the movie business, and how film students, even film students who were not male, not able-bodied and not white found themselves caught up in responding to headshots of potential actors a certain way. Then there's this response, which isolates the fact that when you try to point out other people's unconscious prejudice, you're often accused of prejudice yourself.

As both these posts point out, the warped view of the world we're all presented with near-constantly by the media mixed with human instinct to 'type' other people according to difference means that none of us - NONE OF US - is free of unconscious prejudice. Imma say that again. NONE OF US. I'd put sparklers around that if I could. This is important.

I freely admit that I'm not free of prejudice. That's not a big admission to make because NONE OF US are. What matters is to be aware of this fact, and willing, when you have a response to something, to examine it and be honest about where that response comes from.

Let me elaborate. What is the usual reaction among your friends and family if you hint that something they have said or assumed may spring from prejudice? Any suggestion that they are not perfectly liberal, prejudice free, shiny-bright and unbiased? I bet it's defensiveness and anger. 'I'm not a racist/sexist/ableist/homophobe!' they cry, their brains filled with images of Neo-Nazis, evil, sweaty monsters, and vile, chuckling villains. 'How can you SAY that about me?' They don't listen to what you've actually said. They only react to in order to repudiate it.

Anger and defensiveness are a really good warning sign - because people only get angry and defensive when they have something to defend. That 'something' is their own image of themselves, the comfy assumptions that allow them to walk through the world feeling content with who they are. They know they're a good person, not a hateful, chuckling Neo-Nazi. Therefore they cannot be a racist/sexist/ableist/homophobic.

Except that they probably are.

I am. Every prejudice that those angry, defensive people have? I have too. They lurk there in the back of my mind, pretending that they're 'instinct' or 'common-sense' or 'realism' when actually, they are just bigotry.

That doesn't make me a horrible, hateful, chuckling Neo-Nazi. It just makes me not perfect. That's all. A work in progress. A person who is willing to be honest with themselves and the world.

And in admitting that, I become a far more able to recognise and reject prejudice than I ever was when I was striding through the world in my insulated bubble of I'm-A-Good-Person ignorance, refusing to admit that my actions could *possibly* be influenced by evolutionary imperatives to reject those who are different, and centuries of religious and secular bigotry, and a mass media who refuse to represent the world as it really is.

The moment you let go of that image of yourself as a perfect, shiny-bright Good Person who couldn't possibly harbour prejudice, is the moment you will begin truly working AGAINST prejudice. Honesty is the key. Honesty is the thing that allows you to confront your own ingrained assumptions about other people and then put them aside so that you can act, as much as possible, as if you were NOT prejudiced.

Try it. Go ahead. It doesn't hurt, I promise. Take a deep breath, and then say, out loud: "I am not perfect. I am flawed. I have ingrained prejudices. I will do my best to recognise and overcome them."

Doesn't it feel like a weight off your chest? To admit to yourself that you don't have to be perfect, that it's OKAY to have nasty, knee-jerk reactions to things, sometimes, so long as you're willing to make sure no one else suffers as a result?

Now that we've gone there, I link you to this post, which was prompted by the original Wake Up and Smell the Real World post, and which in turn prompted THIS post.

And the reason that response post is crucial? Is that as a creative person who tries to embrace diversity and who writes about a lot of characters who have experiences and come from backgrounds nothing like mine, I'm going to make mistakes. I'm going to write characters or create plots or situations that rub people up the wrong way. Some of those reactions will come from people who've put up with bigotry all their lives and who are just godammned sick of tripping over everyone else's privilege. And they're unlikely to give a flying pamplemoose about my ongoing project to kick bigotry in the behind. They're just going to say 'YOU SUCK' and walk away.

And that's OK. That's really the whole point of this post. It's not anyone else's job to educate me, or give me a pat on the head for trying really hard.

The correct response to having someone notice the fact that, despite my endeavors, I'm still flawed and unconsciously prejudiced, is NOT to flee back into the I'm-A-Good-Person bubble, claim that the ones telling me I suck are horrible, nasty, ungrateful and prejudiced themselves, and say sulkily: 'Fine! I'll just write about white people from now on and THEN YOU'LL BE SORRY!.

Nor is it to curl into a ball on the floor, weeping, and bash my head repeatedly on the tiles chanting: "I am a terrible, horrible, no-good bigot who should be flayed UNTIL SHE IS SORRY!"

It's to learn - and to keep going. Don't get me wrong. It is hard. But it's necessary. Because, I'm coming to realise, it's not enough for writers (or actors or artists or politicians or firemen or teachers or dog-walkers or CEOs) to write the change that they want to see in the world.

We have to BE the change we want to see in the world, and keep on being it, even knowing that we'll never be perfect - only better than we were before.

OK, I've been rambling on for a while here, so let's sum up. In order to fight prejudice in our day to day lives, we must:
  1. Step out of the I-Am-A-Good-Person bubble and admit that we are imperfect and flawed and prejudiced, like the rest of the world
  2. Be honest with ourselves when we say or do something as a result of prejudice
  3. Accept that fighting against prejudice is our own responsibility and our own choice and that no one owes us gratitude or any particular recognition for it
  4. Allow other people to tell us when we mess up without dismissing what they feel or fleeing back into the IAAGP bubble again, or trying to drink bleach because we STILL aren't perfect
  5. Rinse. Repeat.

Thursday, 18 April 2019


WAKE UP AND SMELL THE REAL WORLD: DIVERSITY IN FANTASY (Originally posted here 26/1/2011, now unearthed from the archive and carefully dusted off for your reading pleasure)

This post started out one way, and ended up becoming something else. I sat down with the intention of writing a How To article on the topic of world building, with the bullet points and all that. But as I sketched out my process for coming up with a textured and diverse fantasy world, I began thinking about a discussion I've been having with some writing friends lately, and some really interesting blog posts that I've recently seen from other writers, and instead, it turned into an essay.

So first, I need to make a confession. I'm white, though from a mixed race family. And I can pass as straight, although I'm actually not (which is kind of a complex issue, and not the topic of this post, so I'll move on). And I can usually pass as able bodied - the chronic health conditions from which I suffer are not visible and during 'good' periods I come very close to normal health. I'm not neuro-typical, but again, most of the time I can pass. I'm also cis, which means that my biological sex and gender expression match up to ideals of 'femininity' as accepted by the modern Western world. Therefore, I have what is called privilege (not as much as others, because even though I can pass as straight and able-bodied and neurotypical, I'm not, but again - another topic for another post).

The term 'privilege' encompasses a lot, but for the purposes of this essay it means that when I turn on the TV, go to see a film or pick up a book, the overwhelming number of characters depicted, the overwhelming number of stories told, will be about people who look 'like me'.

For much of my early life, I unconsciously felt that those people were the majority of the world, and that those stories were somehow universal, archetypal, the default.

They are not.

When I slowly began to become aware of this, at first I didn't know what to do about it. It was easy for me to argue that I simply didn't have the experience required to write about people who weren't like me. I'd never walked down the street and seen automatic caution or fear or disgust in someone's eyes just because of how I was born. I'd never experienced racial abuse - although members of my family had, it's just not the same. I'd never had to defend my right to to hold hands with someone I loved, or come up against the assumption that I was a brave little soul or a freak of nature from a complete stranger. My private life, of course, with friends, co-workers, acquaintances and family members, was a different matter. But in essence, when I walk down the street people look at me and see an inoffensive white girl and, unless they are vile misogynist street harassers (with whom I have had my fair share of run ins) let me be.

I've seen this argument a lot, from writers. That they don't have the experience, that they'll get it wrong, that they don't want to offend anyone - and so it's better if they just write about characters like themselves. And I've seen writers who have made that arduous effort to include the odd gay or non-white or not-able bodied character talk about how difficult it is to correctly portray someone who is not like them. And I've seen other writers say that they feel they're being pressured to make 'all their characters' non-white or non-straight or non-able bodied, or you know, not just like them, and it makes them feel restricted and uncomfortable, like their choices are being taken away.

But here's the thing. White people are not the majority of the world. 100% heterosexual people who fit perfectly within modern Western gender binaries are not the majority of the world. Able bodied people are not the majority of the world. We - and I include people like me, who don't actually fit into many of those categories - just think they are because the vast majority of the time, people who are NOT white, and straight, and cis, and able bodied, only show up in the media in token roles. Look, we included a sassy gay boy who can give the heroine advice on clothes (but will never get a meaningful relationship of his own)! Aren't we tolerant? Look! We included a sassy black/Chinese/Indian best friend to give the heroine advice on being true to herself (who may get a relationship but it will only be with someone of the same ethnic group)! Aren't we racially aware! Look, we included a sassy boy in a wheelchair to give the heroine advice on understanding what is important in life (who won't even get to express an interest in a life of his own because after all people in wheelchairs are just there to prove a point)! Aren't we broadminded!

No. I'm afraid you aren't.

Currently, the media is showing a horribly skewed picture of the real world. Fiction writers, with our limitless power to reinvent the world, to hold a mirror up to it or subvert it, are showing a horribly skewed picture of the world. If you are not white, if you are not straight, if you are not physically perfect (and to some extent, if you are one of the slightly more than 50% of the population who is female) you know how it feels to wonder why no one wants to write about people LIKE YOU for a freaking change. Write stories that are unique to your unique experiences and which treat the characters involved like fully developed, complex and evolving people, not just props for the white, straight, able-bodied lead actor/character to lean on.

Why isn't everyone - even the straight white (male) people - bored with straight white (male) characters yet?

The more I force my mind to open, the stranger it seems to me. Straight, cis, white, able bodied people are such a small minority in the real world that when you're attempting to create any kind of a realistic fantasy world it's quite *un*realistic to keep putting characters with those traits in the majority of the major roles. Why would you limit yourself that way?

I mean, that's not to say that writers with blonde hair can never write blonde heroines. It's not to say that straight, cis, white, able bodied people don't deserve to be in books and films, ever. But...come on. With such a startling variety of skin colours, races, ethnicities, cultures, physical traits, sexual and gender identities and preferences available for writers to extrapolate from, I think it's sad that so many writers do unconsciously chose to write books which only feature main characters 'just like them', or even 'just like' all those homogenous white, straight, cis, able bodied people on TV. If nothing else, it's boring.

When I wrote a guest post for another blog which briefly touched on this issue, the response in comments really shocked me (that was before the Mary-Sue thing. After that, I'm not sure I can be shocked anymore).

Some people were defensive, saying that their all-white, all-straight, all-able-bodied casts '...just come to me! I don't decide on their race/sexual orientation/physical status! My character are who they ARE!'

Bull. Sorry, but it's bull. You have nothing to do with how your characters turn out? They just magically appear to you, fully formed? Let me tell you what is magically and mysteriously presenting these all-white, all-straight, all-able-bodied casts to you: your own unexamined prejudice.

I'll let you in on a secret. Those TV-ready casts of white, straight, cis, able-bodied characters 'just present themselves' to me quite often as well. But when it happens, I stop, remember that I'm the author and I'm in charge of the stories I write, and make a decision that it's not good enough. And I go searching for characters who deflect a more realistic and diverse picture of the world.

Other commenters on the post took a 'Pshaw! What do YOU know about it, white girl?' stance. It's harder to argue with that one because I'm very aware that I'm making all these statements from a position of privilege. But at the same time, I'm one of the people who is writing works of fiction and putting stories out into the world, changing it - or shoring up its existing systems and structures of prejudice - even if I don't mean to. So don't I have a responsibility to speak out on this subject? Doesn't everyone, really?

Even though it might sound strange, when we're creating fantasy worlds I think it's vital to look at the real world first. The REAL real world. Overcoming our own unconscious assumptions and prejudices is an ongoing process for all of us - not just the white, straight, able-bodied ones - and no one is going to get it right first time or probably all the time, even if they're truly making an effort. But the first step to changing the world of fiction so that it reflects everyone instead of just a tiny, privileged portion, is to think about it and realise that things DO need to change.

Thursday, 11 April 2019


Hello and happy Thursday, Dear Readers! It's time to announce the winners of last week's The Hand, the Eye & the Heart Book Birthday Giveaway!

Since we ran this thing through Rafflecopter, I used their random winner function to pick out the lucky entries that will each receive a signed copy of the book, as well as a post card and a signed bookplate. The winners are on display on the competition widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Is that you? CONGRATULATIONS! Email me here and let me know how you'd like me to personalise your book and bookplate AND where to send your prize!

Out of these random winners I used random number generator to select the Grand Prize winner, who will also receive this gorgeous, custom-made, hand-carved jade phoenix pendant.

I'm very happy to announce that the Grand Prize Winner is: Barker and Jones Staff!

Get in touch as soon as you can, guys - I can see that some of you live in far-off climes and your prize is going to have a real journey to reach you, so the quicker I know your details the better.

Apologies for the short post here, everyone. Release week was pretty hectic - including that wonderful panel with so many amazing authors at Waterstone's Piccadilly - and I've been constantly unwell the whole time, so I'm quite frankly knackered at this point and just want to curl up quietly under a blanket and read and sip cautiously on ginger and lemon tea. Luckily it's Easter half term so I have a couple of weeks off to recover as well as a pile of new books to read. I intend to be a good adult and listen to my body for once.

Here's a picture of me signing books at the MARVELOUS Gay's the Word bookshop on Tuesday to make up for it:

And there's a bunch more exciting news which I should hopefully be able to share with you soon-ish, so keep your eyes peeled. Read you later, my lovelies!

Thursday, 4 April 2019


HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY DEAR READERS! *Sets off party poppers* *Blows a kazoo* *Flings confetti*

After nearly FOUR YEARS of planning, researching, writing, revising, after nearly two years of working with my publisher and with various wonderful sensitivity readers, and after 10 days of blogtour magic, THE HAND, THE EYE & THE HEART's release day is finally here! The book should now be available to buy from the real life or virtual shelves of your preferred bookshop or vendor and can also be requested from your library. PLEASE DO WHICHEVER ONE OF THESE THINGS YOU CAN AFFORD OR FIND TIME FOR, DEAR READERS. Above all, please do not illegally download this, even though it might be easy and tempting to do so. Support your local starving writers if you want them to keep on writing! And also support their pets, who need to eat too!


Long-time Dear Readers know that this book has had what is commonly referred to as 'a journey' to get published. More information in the personal costs of writing this book can be found here, but today - as I'm looking at the amazing, heartfelt and joyous responses to my weirdo, chunky, queer af little book baby, it all becomes completely worth it. Look at this from Tuesday night:

Number one! *Flings some more confetti* Of course, it's not there anymore, so if anyone felt like nipping across and buying a copy for themselves or as a wonderful gift for a family member or a friend...


Massive thank yous to Arts Council England, the Royal Literary Fund and my agent for believing and investing in this story, to Walker Books for bringing it to the world, and to Fox Benwell, Jay Hulme and Dr Susan Ang Wan-Ling for helping to make it as good as my measley artistic powers would allow. My THE HAND, THE EYE & THE HEART themed Q&A for World Book Day, which has many thoughtful questions about this book, identity, representation and diversity (and my rambling answers) is now up.

Other news! The Queens of Fantasy panel and signing at Piccadilly Waterstones on the 8th of April is SOLD OUT. Don't say I didn't warn you tickets were going fast! I really, *really* hope to see a lot of you guys there - it will be a combined birthday AND book launch treat! - but if you couldn't make it, don't worry, just remember that there's also Cymera in Edinburgh on the 8th of June. Hopefully I'll soon be able to talk about some other upcoming, exciting events...

Now, just in case you missed any, here's a round up of blog tour stops which have taken place since my last update:

Andrew at PewterWolf's fantastic book-themed playlist (you know I am all about that book-playlist life). I love, love, LOVE the fact that Imogen Heap is on here. I'm such a massive fan, and this track in particular is *perfect* for one of my favourite parts of the book which is incredibly dark and intense.

Cora at Tea Party Princess dates The Hand, the Eye & The Heart in exactly the loving yet respectful way that any book mum would hope for. 

Maddie Browse did a gorgeous calligraphy spread of one of my personal favourite quotes from the story (so glad other people found it meaningful too).

Jemima Osborne did a freaky fabulous make-up look inspired by the book and which must have taken a *lot* of work. Respect.

Rosie Freckles finished the tour of in fine style for a book filled with poetry by composing a stunning poem of her own in tribute to many of the important themes and moments in the story.

Here's the whole book tour line-up if you want to go back to the beginning or ensure you haven't missed any. RT and share these fine people's work, muffins - book bloggers, especially our very own #UKYA book blogers, don't get nearly enough love.

And to ensure that they get a bit MORE love, and also to spread that love to as many of you as possible, I'm going to hold a massive giveaway, because that's how we roll!

I have five signed copies of this gorgeous book to give away to a Dear Reader. Each one will be personalised for you, and will arrive complete with signed bookplates for you to put in any other books by me that you currently own or may own in the future, book-themed postcards, and other swag. ONE special prize will also include this:

This is a hand-carved jade pendant which I've commissioned from a Chinese artist, and it shows twin phoenixes - symbols of female strength and power, which are key themes in THE HAND, THE EYE & THE HEART.

The giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY and will run for one week (which is the max time &#5@ing Rafflecopter will allow, sorry!) from today. In order to enter you just need to RT this post on Twitter or share it on Facebook or any other social media site, or RT or share any of the entries on the blog tour (but please don't put a link in the comments on other people's blogs, it's kind of rude).

You can get more entries by sharing and RTing more posts! Just paste the links of your RTs or shares into the giveaway below. Simplez!

Much love, and thank you again for all of your support for this book, my precious muffins!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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