Monday, 28 December 2020


Hello, Dear Readers - happy Monday! I hope that those of you who celebrate it were able to have a relaxing or fun Christmas despite it being The Hell Year, and that everyone is doing OK out there.

Just a quick update today, but I hope a good one. As a fun way of celebrating our getting to the end of The Hell Year - and 2021 hopefully being marginally better, please Lord Cthulhu, please - I decided to offer up a treat: the ebook edition of The Book of Snow & Silence will be free to download from today for the next four days. That an international offer: it's good wherever you live. 


So if you're in the mood for snow bears, ice palaces, ballgowns, and princesses and mermaids who fall madly in love, and you've been wanting to grab the book but haven't yet? Now is the time.

Here's the book's official playlist:

And to the Pinterest board. 

 Happy upcoming New (Slightly Less Awful) Year!

Friday, 16 October 2020


Hello, lovely Readers! A quick October check-in for you today - or Preptober, actually. 

Yes, you read that right. Following the successful completion of CampNaNo this year, I've decided to defy the NaNoCurse - and perhaps common sense - by giving NaNoWriMo a shot again this year. This will be the third time that I've attempted NaNo proper and both previous times I ended up both hurting myself and getting ill in the first few days of November. But a) third time lucky, maybe? and b) what is life without the spice of risk? And since I've basically had to put the draft of the Most Special Secret Project Ever on hold for the last few months while I was teaching, working on my dissertation, and finishing up other projects, this seems like a really good cue to dive back into it.

I've signed up as a NaNo rebel this year, since I've already got a detailed outline and have drafted out a chunk of chapters/scenes of the MSSPE. For me, Preptober is more about diving back into research (of which there is... a lot. A lot. A. LOT), re-reading the scenes I've already got, and re-familiarising myself with the characters and tone of this story. Which I love so much, you guys. My gizzards are knotted with hope that this one finds a home when it's done.

Now, for Dear Readers who are into podcasts, there's a really fascinating interview here between me and the absolutely lovely Amanda Whittington as part of the RLF Writers Aloud series. We talk in depth about my books, about Feminism and diversity, and about publishing, in addition to a bunch of other random topics. I had so much fun recording this with Amanda, and really enjoyed listening to it again when it went live, so check it out.

Finally, you might have noticed that above I mentioned working on my dissertation - and some of you may already know that I was scheduled to complete my Master's Degree in creative writing this year. This is a huge deal for me because... well, because I'm not from a family where people were expected to go to uni, or get degrees, especially advanced degrees. There's a post about my opinions and experiences with education here for context. Very luckily, considering that this is the Year of Our Lord Cthulhu of Unending Horrors, I had opted to take the course by distance learning, which meant that it wasn't substantially affected by the pandemic as all the work was set and handed in online anyway. 

I handed in my dissertation - which is the final, and most substantial piece of work the course requires - in August, and the (provisional - they're still waiting for review) marks came yesterday. When the email arrived in my inbox I almost couldn't make myself open it because I was so sick with nerves about  the outcome, with all my fears about education not being for 'people like me' flooding back in. But when I did open it, I discovered that I had passed with Distinction. I earned straight As for all my work throughout the degree. I somehow got an 84 on my final essay, which is nearly unbelievable considering that it's only the second degree level essay I have ever written in my life (MA essays are a very far cry from the stuff I scribbled out at GCSE).

I'm equal parts dazed and delighted, and my big ambition now is to keep going and pursue a PhD, if I can win a studentship. Then the next step would be to teach Creative Writing at university level: a previously utterly unattainable dream which now has at least the potential to one day become reality. 

Generally I have a difficult time feeling proud of things I've done myself - this was always seen as arrogance and big-headedness in my family, and the response to good news was generally a request to not go on about it too much. But dammit, I am proud of this. In another month or so, I will officially have a degree and be at least partially qualified for something, even if I probably won't get a graduation ceremony (thanks, Corona). So have a nice dance anthem and let's raise our glasses (there's Ribena in mine) and do a little proudness hip-shimmy in honour of bravery and second chances.

Monday, 7 September 2020

READER QUESTIONS! My Writing Process

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Monday and happy September - I hope that the week and the month are shaping up to be pleasant for you all. Humanity damn well deserves some form of seasonal hot drink (maple rooibos tea in my case), a nice fluffy jumper, some crisp, golden leaves and a run of sunny, frosty days after the year we've had so far. 

In an attempt to start autumn off right, I bring tidings of great joy for US Dear Readers - a Kindle Countdown deal on The Book of Snow & Silence over on The book's currently 99 cents (sorry, my UK keyboard doesn't have a cent symbol) and will slowly increase in price over the next week, so it's in your interest to grab it as early as possible if you want it. Don't feel too left out, my UK lovelies - there's a similar deal on British Amazon coming up shortly.

Today's post is in response to reader AS, who left a delightful comment on another post, and asked:

"If it isn't too much trouble, then can you please do a blog post on your writing process? How you research, edit and take final decisions etc? And whether you pen the draft first or type it directly?"

I've talked about this a lot in various posts and interviews, but I'm not sure if I've ever collated all my answers in one place - and I always find glimpses into other authors' processes fascinating - so I decided to make this a new post.

A Disclaimer: This is not The One True Way to Write. There is no one true way. This my own method that I've developed over years of hit-and-miss, trial and error experimentation - it's what works for my particular creativity, with my particular routine, utilising my particular brain circuitry. Feel free to try any or all of the methods I talk about, but also to read with interest and then decide that every single thing I do is completely wrong for you. The only 'Right Way' to write is the way that makes you happy and productive. Ok? Ok.

First up, I am a long-hand drafter. 

It's a habit that I developed from 2001, back when I was working as an extremely underpaid and overworked civil servant, scribbling in my notebook during breaks and on the longish bus journey to and from the office. Frankly, there were days when being able to dip into my imaginary world whenever I had a spare moment was the only reason I managed to keep my grip on reality in this one, and this being before smartphones or tablets (because I am ancient, kids), writing in longhand was my only option. 

In 2010 I became a full-time carer for my father - who relied on me to administer his haemodialysis - and decided to try and speed up my writing process by hauling my laptop with me while I was looking after him, and drafting directly into a Word doc. This was a huge mistake: swiftly capturing all my darting thoughts in the form of scribbles and then transcribing those handwritten scribbles into the screen, editing and rethinking along the way, turned out to be a massive part of my drafting process. Without it, the 'first draft' that I produced was a complete mess, painful to read even for me, and torture to edit. I learned my lesson and have been a hardcore notebook collector ever since.

However, there's a downside to writing by hand for hours everyday, and that downside is Repetitive Strain Injury. In order to combat this, I usually write either with a fountain pen (nothing fancy - I lose them too often for that) or a brush pen, as they don't require a strong grip or much pressure to work. I also utilise the Pomodoro Technique, which basically requires that you work flat-out for short periods of time with no interruptions, then take a short break, then work again. 

I try to do four thirty-minute writing springs in the morning (with a five minute break between to bathe my hands in warm water and gently stretch them, as well as to visit the bathroom, refresh my drink, or chuck a toy for my dog) before breaking to take the dog for his mid-day walk and have some lunch. Then, in the afternoon, I re-read and edit everything I typed up the day before, and finally type up my newest scribbles. This technique can yield between 600-6000 words in a day (my record was 9000 words in a day, but my writing hand swelled up and became intensely painful for weeks afterward, and, as above, I learned my lesson and don't push it anymore) and it effectively means that the completed 'first draft' of my novel is actually more like the third or fourth draft.

I'm also a hardcore researcher. 

Most of my novels have been inspired in one way or another by elements of the real world - a setting/landscape, a culture, a piece of folklore or mythology or history. When I get an idea for a story that really grabs me (generally when several tiny idea fragments that have been floating around in my head for a while suddenly collide and become one Big Idea) I pick out one of my extensive collection of notebooks, something that feels like it would suit the main character to use, and label it with the date and my working title.

Then I start reading. First, I'll use the internet - yes, including Wiki - to figure out how much I don't know, which is usually A LOT. Then I'll start visiting all of the local libraries I can get to in order to borrow or order any and every book relating to my story that I can. These might be books, for instance, on the architecture and art of Edo era Japan, or on the landscape and wildlife of Northern India and Tibet, or every version of the Beauty & the Beast story throughout world history. Once I've munched my way through every book that I can get my hands on for free, I will start ordering the ones I a) feel I can't live without and b) can manage to afford on my budget. I'll also start ordering or streaming any documentaries, drama series, music, films, cooking shows, art history programmes... anything related to my research topic. 

If I can afford it (which is sadly not always the case) this is also the stage where I will arrange a research trip or too, to scout out possible locations and take photos, or visit museums or exhibits.

My aim is to immerse myself so completely that I feel like I'm walking around in a cloud of information 24hrs a day. If possible, I want to be *dreaming* about this stuff. And through it all, I'll be writing ideas and information and key details down in the back of my notebook (starting with the last page and working forwards).

At a certain point, I'll feel this sort of internal 'click' and know that my research has reached critical mass and it's time to start writing. This doesn't mean I stop researching or that I know every detail that I'll need to know; it's more that I know enough to start, and I also know that if I don't start at this point, the fragile framework of the story might begin to collapse under the weight of all the facts and figures. Basically, writing is now the full-time job, not research. Once I start drafting/scribbling, I switch to writing in the *front* of the notebook (like a normal person) but I still make research notes or put down ideas for future scenes in the back. When drafting and research meet in the middle, it's time for a new notebook. On average I go through two to three notebooks, as well as a couple of 'refill' pads of paper per book.

For insight into how I make the choices that will turn my ideas about a story and characters into a coherent plot, you can listen to this podcast over on the RLF website (my section starts at about the 15min mark), or read this three-part blog series from my archive. This is actually the step that I struggle with the most, so it's the thing I've talked about the most extensively. 

I'm generally a linear drafter.  

I start at the beginning of a story - what will be the prologue or first chapter for the reader - and work my way through until I get to The End. That's not to say that I'm never struck by blinding inspiration about a scene that's chapters away, or that I don't write those scenes down. It's just that, once I've written it, it'll stay in scribbled form in the back of my notebook until I've worked my way forward in the story to that point, at which point I'll type it up. So far, at least, I've never felt the need to write a whole book, or even most of it, out of sequence, and then put it all together afterwards. It can take me anywhere between six months and eighteen months (again, so far!) to complete a 'first draft'. 

When it comes to editing, I start by going back to pen and paper. Here's an archive post that basically covers the process - but I'll note here that 'optional extra' I mentioned back then, of completely changing the format of the document before I print it out? Is now one of the most vital steps. It actually makes a massive difference to me, because by the time I've completed that draft I've often been staring at certain parts of it for months on end and I've stopped being able to distinguish between 'head story' (which is what I meant to say) and 'page story' (which is what the words arranged on the page actually convey to a reader). I know where every word, comma and piece of dialogue are *supposed to be* on the page, which means I don't notice what is *really there*, even if there are missing words or I've copied and pasted something random in. By rearranging all those words, commas and formating choices, I make it much easier to come back to the manuscript with a genuinely fresh eye. 

I like to change the portrait format of the document to landscape and then set the text into two columns so that it resembles the page layout that I'll often get from a copy-editor/proofreader. 

Then I amend my line spacing (from double to single) and reset the font (from Times New Roman into something that's sans serif, like Calibri) and the text size (from 12 pt down to 11 pt, uusually). 

Coincidentally, these changes can also potentially save me a chunk of paper in the printing, bringing a 300 page ms down to around 150 (yes, it's that dramatic).

So that's my (current) writing process. And that's also where I'll leave today's post. I hope that it was useful or at least interesting, AS - and anyone else who is reading. Do you have a writing process, or are you still experimenting? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? If so, sound off in the comments, and in the meantime, have a great week, muffins!

Monday, 3 August 2020


Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday to all.

First up: THE BOOK OF SNOW & SILENCE is on a Kindle Countdown deal right now and you can snap it up for under £2, but only for today - then the price increases by £1 (although that's still £1 off the normal price). So if you're interested in owning it, now is the time to snap it up.

Today I bring you a veritable blizzard of reviews, all of books I've read pretty recently. I was on a major fiction-reading slump while working on my dissertation - mainly because I spent all my time devouring academic books to try and prove that the point I'm arguing in my essay isn't utterly bonkers - but now that it's finished and I'm nearly ready to hand in, I've gone... a bit book-mad. I just had a lot of novels queued up on my ereader, and once I started, I couldn't stop!

Some of these reviews are looong. Some are short and sweet. There's no way I can copy and paste all of them here in full, so I'm just going to list the books with a one sentence summming up, and a link to the full thing over on Goodreads. These are presented to you in reading order, not order of preference, and I'm only sharing reviews for standalone books.

A Warning: I do not hold back on expressing my feelings, here! If I inadvertantly trashed your favourite book, I apologise for any hurt feelings - but just know that however negative my review may seem, I myself have been the recipient of ones ten times worse, and survived. Also, although I may refer to the authors, I will always focus on the book or character's traits, not the writers' (presumed) ones.


The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. Finished: the 28th of June. My Summary: gorgeous but incoherent and ultimately unsuccessful. Full review.

Angel Mage by Garth Nix. Finished: the 4th of July. My Summary: Enjoyable mash-up of fun elements that left me feeling somewhat let down by the close. Full review.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. Finished: the 13th of July. My Summary: an intriguing take on the well-worn Groundhog Day trope which has a lukewarm start, a bubbling-hot middle, and then goes off the boil at the end. Full review.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson. Finished: July the 30th. My Summary: I went in looking for a whimsical, life-affirming, bibliophile-friendly tale, but I got uninteresting family drama and a heroine so miserable and dense that it was a struggle to finish. Full Review.

Sorcery of Thorns by Margeret Rogerson. Finished: July the 29th. My Summary: Fast-paced, thrilling fantasy which is vaguely reciminiscent of my favourite bits of LIRAEL by Garth Nix and has an ending which is Just Right. Full Review.

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller. Finished: July the 31st. My Summary: A brilliant premise sadly wasted because the characters are unbearably shallow and boring. Full review.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust. Finished: August the 1st. My Summary: A twisty fantasy which offers Persian inspired mythology and worldbuilding and characters that absolutely scintillate with inner life. Full Review.

Let me know if you've read any of these (or plan to) and what you thought in the comments, Muffins!

Monday, 27 July 2020

CAMP NaNoWriMo 2020 - I WON!

Kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it? Whooop!

Yes, I managed to get the most super special secret project ever (should I start just calling this TMSSSPE? Or maybe come up with a codename?) to 30,000 on Monday last week, which completed the challenge I set myself for Camp NaNo this year.

Honestly, it was a massive relief, and I nearly cried with the sheer release of anxiety over getting there. Trying to work on the WIP from 9:30 to 13:30 every day AND rewrite my thesis proposal AND edit my dissertation essay AND read and offer detailed feedback on the work of twenty-four students every week AND find time to, you know, adult (walk my dog adequately, exercise every day, eat something approaching healthy food and prevent my house from turning into a black hole inhabited only by person-sized sentient dust bunnies, warring clans of silverfish and a slowly decaying TBR pile the size of a Welsh mountain) was starting to make me go a bit frazzled. And sure, I could have given up, but having managed an unbroken streak of 20 days of writing made my competitive streak burn to life and I just couldn't make myself do it.

If you're thinking that it may have been a bit overly ambitious to decide to do Camp NaNo during what is apparently already an incredibly busy period - yes, you are right. But on the other hand, it accomplished what NaNo is intended to accomplish, which was getting me to that target. And I knew without some kind of motivation, even if only my own competitive streak, TMSSSPE (codename: Times Pee? That definitely doesn't work, does it?) would almost certainly have stalled completely in July, which I didn't want.

So I'm not mad. I might even try Camp NaNo again next year, provided I have slightly more breathing room in July 2021.

(Please do not cause me to be cursed in some inventive fashion, discover I am really a troll princess in the middle of a troll civil war, or send a flying house to crush me during July next year, universe - it would not be funny, just mean. Thank you very much)

I'll be popping the WIP on the back-burner for a couple of weeks to give myself space for everything else. I don't really want to: I'm still loving it. But it's the only thing that doesn't have any deadlines or contractual obligations attached to it just now. And I'm still researching and scribbling down notes as they occur to me.

Are you still pressing your noses to the NaNo grindstone - or other grindstone - muffins? And do you have any suggestions for a codename for TMSSSPE? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, 23 July 2020


Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Thursday to you all - I hope the week is going well for you so far.

This week I have a podcast for you from the Royal Literary Fund's Writers Aloud series! I absolutely loved writing and voicing this (and especially working with lovely Amanda, who recorded it) and I think it turned out really well. We actually recorded it a quite a while ago and I've been waiting for ages for it to be ready, so please do check it out.

The first part is by a writer called Marcy Kahan and talks about how she fell into playwriting manuals (which might be of interest to any Dear Readers who are into screen or plawriting). The second half is mine, and I talk about how characters are central to creating a fully realised fantasy world - like a Northern Star by which I navigate.

My section of the podcast starts at roughly 15.15, if you want to go there directly, but do try Marcy's part as well if the topic's appealing to you.

I hope you enjoy the podcast - and that you can find a Northern Star by which to navigate the journey to Friday, muffins 😊

Tuesday, 14 July 2020


I was honestly doing so well, Dear Readers. And then... the Nano Curse. For once it didn't attack me ( a refreshing change). No, it killed my computer for a whole day. A whole day. For just... no reason.

I still did longhand writing, but I couldn't input it, AND I couldn't get any other work done, so on Monday I was totally snowed under, and all I could do was type up my longhand notes and then (in fairness) divide the word total between Sunday and Monday.

This is how I was doing before:

And this is what it looks like now:

Eugh, that drop. Speaks for itself, really. *Sigh*

EDITED TO ADD: And, now, having spent the morning revising the first half of the sections that I typed up yesterday, I go to what should be the start of a new chapter and find... no new chapter. All the work I did after about 1pm yesterday is gone. Even though I KNOW I saved it. So. I don't even know. Nano Curse, you are a cunning and evil gremlin indeed.

I should have known. But I'm going to keep ploughing on anyway, because a) I've made hella progress overall and b) I love Camp NaNo's progress interface and you can only use it during July (or April) so why not? Let's hope the Curse doesn't take my fingers out next time.

How are you doing? Sound off in the comments, muffins!

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

CAMP NaNoWriMo 2020!

Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday to all. I hope your weeks are looking positive so far and you're all safe and well.

So here's a question. Are you doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month? 'Cos I'm going Camp NaNoWriMo this month.

I know, I know, the NaNo Curse. It's true, as long-time Dear Readers know, that I've never managed to complete the OG NaNoWriMo successfully because every. Single. Time - every time, going all the way back to 2011! - either before I can start or within days of starting... something really awful happens to me. Sometimes it's horrendous illness or hideous injury. Sometimes it's even worse. After the last time I just gave up, honestly.

BUT. This is Camp NaNoWriMo, which is technically something different, right? It's July, not November. You can set your own word count and even work on edits if you want, without 'cheating'. It's got a different logo and everything!

And, just between you and me, I need the help. I've got a really special WIP right now that is truly and utterly different to anything I've ever worked on before, and I LOVE it. I desperately want to get it finished by the end of this year. But between researching and writing the dissertation for my MA, designing modules for and preparing to teach two writing courses on Creative Writing Ink from this week, and launching The Book of Snow & Silence (in addition to the world, you know, being AN ACTUAL TRASH FIRE) I've been choked on it for months. I haven't made any real progress since January. I just kept opening the file up, fiddling with a few lines, and then getting vapour-locked.

So: Camp NaNo. I decided to give myself a really small and manageable goal, not only to ease myself past my writing roadblock on this one, but because I know that the teaching is going to take up a big chunk of time going forward. I can't see myself writing anything good if I'm panicking over finding time for that AND hitting 3000 words a day.

I started July the 1st, and I'm pleased to say that not only did I not get a horrendous injury/hideous illness, or suffer a personal tragedy, but I actually managed to write some new stuff for the first time in months:

And that I've managed to keep it up and make steadily increasing progress:

It's good enough for me. I know that when the teaching starts, my daily word count might sag down again, but that's OK - so long as I can manage to get to my overall target by the end, I'll count this a massive success. Hurray!

You can start Camp NaNo anytime during the month, and (as I said above) set your own overall word goal - so if you've been struggling to get something started or wade out of the middle muddle, now might be the time to give it a shot. Or maybe you're already up and writing. In either case, feel free to add me as a buddy if you want.

Oh, and here's a new writing playlist I made, although it's super project specific and very heavy on the Enya, so if you're not into that, maybe give it a miss.

Happy writing, muffins!

Tuesday, 30 June 2020


Hello, Dear Readers! Happy THE BOOK OF SNOW & SILENCE Release Day!


From today, if you order the ebook of The Book of Snow & Silence it will arrive instantly on your Kindle, laptop, tablet or other device, AND you can order the absolutely GORGEOUS paperback version of the book too. Look at this, guys, just look:

I've had some really amazing covers - as well as some duds, I'll be honest - over the years, but I think this one is my favourite since the original cover of my very first book, The Swan Kingdom, back in 2007. It's just so damn pretty. These sorts of deep, jewel-toned bluey-greens are actually my favourite colours in the world, and I could honestly sit and stare at them, and all the lovely details in this artwork, for hours at a time. So pretty, my precccciousssss... *Strokes cover gently*

If feeling this way about cover art is wrong, baby, I don't wanna be right.

Ahem. Where were we? Oh, right. To celebrate the release of my TENTH NOVEL FOR YOUNG ADULTS (omg omg, breathe, Zolah) I've got some lovely treats in store for readers.

First, to encourage everyone who possibly can to review the book - because reviews are life, Dear Readers - I'll be doing a special giveaway when The Book of Snow & Silence reaches ten reviews on Amazon. The reviews don't have to be long, or extensive, and they should be completely honest, don't worry! Once we get to ten, I'll pick one lucky winner from the entrants to recieve:

  • One proof paperback copy of The Book of Snow & Silence, signed and personalised
  • One paperback copy of my last book The Hand, the Eye & the Heart, signed and personalised
  • Two signed and personalised bookplates
  • The Book of Snow & Silence full-colour postcard
  • The Hand, the Eye & the Heart full-colour postcard
  • Other assorted swag

If you would like to be entered into this giveaway, you don't have to do anything fancy - literally just tell me in the comments below. THAT'S IT. Just leave me a comment. When we reach ten reviews, I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner. Of course, sharing this giveaway on Facebook, Twitter or other social media will speed things up - because hopefully that will encourage people to read and review the book - as would posting a review of your own on Amazon, but all you *have* to do is leave a comment below this post. 

Secondly... I made another book for you?

I made this one all myself! Do you like the cover? It's pretty good, right? I honestly impressed myself with this - I wasn't sure I could figure out how to get it all done, but I really wanted to offer readers something special for release day. This is ebook only - it's novella length - BUT it will be FREE for you to download for the next five days. Unfortunately Amazon won't let me make it permanently free. After that it will only be 99p, though.

SEA FOAM has an exclusive prequel story for The Book of Snow & Silence. It also has poetry, deleted scenes, and fragments from my writer's notebooks, some of it related to published works, some from things that never saw the light of day at all. There's an epilogue to Shadows on the Moon, scenes that I wished I had included in The Name of the Blade Trilogy, and the start of a Twilight spoof that I was never able to take further. Hopefully you'll enjoy it and find it interesting, so if you want it FREE, then get over there and download it ASAP.

To sum up: if you want to enter the giveaway, comment below (and cross your fingers that we get to ten reviews fast). If you want a free novella-length book which includes a Snow & Silence prequel short story, get over to Amazon now.

Have a lovely Book Birthday, muffins!

Monday, 22 June 2020


Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers! I hope you're all safe and well (and if you're not, feel free to let me know in the comments, I promise to offer you comfort and virtual hugs).

Remember that THE BOOK OF SNOW & SILENCE ebook is currently available for pre-order on a special Kindle deal for under £2 just now, so get in there if you want it. And if you do buy it, please consider reviewing once you've read it, since reviews are life. Speaking of which... today's blog is a review and I am *excited*. 

Naomi Novik is one of my favourite writers working today.

She's famous for the Temeraire series: alternate history Regency-era fantasies where intelligent dragons essentially act as airborn artillery in the British armed forces as they battle against Napolean. I really liked the Temeraire books and have read all of them - but not until after that series was complete and Ms Novik published UPROOTED, which can be taken as a very loose Beauty & the Beast retelling, did I become a superfan. And I do mean a superfan. UPROOTED pressed every button that my fairytale and folklore obsessed heart possessed, and I loved it so much that I recommended it to literally every bookish person I met for the next year.

I had her next book, SPINNING SILVER, on pre-order the moment it was available on the Waterstone's website, and when it turned up and my sad, RSI-weakened hands could not actually hold it long enough to read it (it's a hardback and it's chunky, OK, and I need to be able to bring books up close to my face because my eyes are rubbish) I turned around and got the ebook, but kept the hardback anyway because it was signed. Me. This perpetually skint, compulsively thrifty person. Who even am I? This what the prospect of a new Naomi Novik book does to me.

So the female-focused folklore inspired fantasy was a pretty big departure for the author of a very, very successful and long-running series with a male protagonist. And A DEADLY EDUCATION is yet another daring swerve for the author. It's what I would call contemporary urban fantasy, or maybe contemporary alternate history (the 'everything's the same except there's a secret magical world' variety) and hovering right on the edge of the crossover market. When I saw this pop up in Netgalley I nearly dislocated my finger, I hit the 'Request' button with such fervour. Only afterwards did I notice that this wasn't another fairytale inspired novel, but something entirely different. I prepared myself to maybe not love it quite so much.

Ha. Yeah. Nope. I would still sell my immortal soul for this woman.

First, I need to get this out there: this is an absolutely bonkers book. I can't emphasize enough how barmy it is. Story. Characters. Tone. It's like nothing you've read before. But! At the same time, it IS. Because it is straight-up parodying not only Harry Potter but the parade of other 'magic highschool' novels which followed in HP's stratospheric wake.

This is a book that has set out to answer the question so many of us have asked regarding Hogwarts as we looked back at the series as adults: who in the heck would ever send their kid there, and WHY would they allow them STAY there when the kids are writing letters home saying: "Thanks for the new socks. Got an A in Transfiguration but only a B in Herbology. Oh, and there's a giant savage three headed dog chained up in one of the corridors that would kill any of us instantly - and we learned lock-picking spells in charms today! Love to Dad."

As a kid, you just imagine how damn cool it would be to get to go to Hogwarts and have adventures, but as the aunt of several nieces who just barely managed to survive to adulthood despite excellent quality helicopter parenting and notable lack of magic wands, I do wonder... why would an adult who is responsible for the welfare of hundreds of vulnerable children hide the Philosopher's Stone in their school, practically guaranteeing that Voldemort's agents would turn up there? Who approved sending eleven year olds into the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night for *detention* without even ensuring they would have adequate adult supervision when a unicorn killing monster is known to be in there? Not to mention the giant spiders? What about the Whomping Willow? Allowing school to stay in session after all the adults are damn well aware that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened again and a deadly unidentified creature is on the lose within the walls? VOLUNTARILY ENTERING KIDS INTO THE GOBLET OF FIRE???

I mean, what is WITH this place? For heaven's sake, if you didn't know any better you might almost say it's like they're trying to, I don't know, kill the kids off on purpose somehow, cull out the weak, sift the wheat... from... the... ?

Yep. That's totally what the Wizarding world was doing, isn't it? Sorry, readers, but it's true. You're lucky your Hogwarts letter never came, because chances are that you wouldn't have made it out alive (me either, for the record).

Really, only Harry Potter's bulletproof rose-tinted glasses - conveniently provided by a total lack of the proper socialisation and vital attention required by a developing child, not to mention the routine starvation, neglect, and physical and emotional abuse of his family - allowed us, the readers, to believe anything different. The cupboard under the stairs made even a life in which he was continually thrown into near-death situations by his adult caretakers and expected to save everyone seem great by comparison as long as people fed him and noticed his existence. But for anyone else... well. I think Hogwarts would seem pretty much like Naomi Novik's invention in A DEADLY EDUCATION: the Scholomance.

Scholomance is what Hogwarts was really like. No one is happy to be on this school's admission list. It's effectively a meat grinder for magical kids. You're all alone there - there are no teachers, the school itself sets your assignments and punishes you gruesomely if you fail - and if the kids kill each other off? Well, what happens in Scholomance mostly stays in Scholomance. And you're not only potentially under attack by other kids, who want to move up the rankings, oh no. You're also under constant attack by 'mals', magical monsters who slurp up the fresh and shiny life force of children as if it were Mountain Dew and which, despite the best magical protections the school has to offer, have a nasty habit of popping out of the scrambled eggs on the breakfast buffet, from out of the plugholes in the shared bathroom, and even through the keyhole of your dorm room in the middle of the night.

Now, of course you can avoid going if your parents take you off the list - but even though your odds of getting out of Scholomance alive are roughly one in four (yep, it's brutal) it's still better odds than staying out in the world, where magical children going through puberty are monster magnets and your odds are more like one-in-twenty - and that's IF your family belongs to an 'enclave', a sort of wealthy, influential and privileged Feudal compound, with powerful adults who will probably be willing to risk their lives to defend you. Once you hit eighteen or so, the monsters don't consider you particularly interesting anymore, but in the meantime, you put everyone you love, including younger siblings who aren't yet going through puberty, and older relatives who may not have strong enough magic or the right affinity to defend themselves, in danger.

And if you're not in an enclave, like the heroine of this story - Galadriel, or 'El'? Well, not going to the Scholomance is basically just hoping that when the monsters eventually DO get at you, they eat your mum (or dad, or big sister, or the neighbour lady) first and give you time to get away. This is not cool with El, whose mum is a hippy ray of sunshine, an insanely kind, positive and powerful healer who only ever uses her power to make the world a better place and refuses compensation for any of her work. She's totally alone in the world and only escaped the Scholomance herself as a teen because Galadriel's father - knowing that El's mum was three months pregnant - sacrified himself to a hideous monster to save her life. El's mum lives in a commune in Wales and is beloved by everyone who meets her. She could have the pick of any powerful 'enclave' in the world. Except. Except that El is NOT an insanely kind, positive and powerful Healer.

Oh, she's insanely powerful, all right. In fact, she can pull the lifeforce out of any other wizard she likes, no matter how strong or well-defended, at the blink of an eye, and has an affinity for enchantments of darkness, destruction and death. When free-writing poetry, she accidentally creates spells to invoke supervolcanoes. She can literally kill you with a flick of her hand, and from a small child, people who look at her are inexplicably filled with (depending on their character) fear, revulsion or awe. Her own father's family, despite having adored her deceased father and practically worshipping her mother, tried to off her when she was a kid because they, vegetarian, Pacifist Good Wizards, were convinced she would bring about the endtimes, and was better off dead.

The only reason she is not already ruling the universe 'ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!' style is that, thanks to her mum, she actually doesn't WANT to hurt anyone. Which, predictably, drives her up the wall, because the way people, even quite nice people, treat her - as if she was automatically a horrible, wicked person - means that she WANTS to want to hurt them. She just can't bring herself to really DO it.

El is Bellatrix LeStrange, if she had been brought up to have an unshakeable moral compass. Killing people and being wicked, cruel and villainous would be a piece of cake for her, and in order to be good, she has to work about ten times as hard as a normal person, because every time she uses magic it wants to twist into something dark. And she knows that if she gave into that urge, even once, she would end up respected, feared, unstoppably powerful, and SAFE - but also, on the path to becoming the monster she's determined never to be. She's bitter, caustic, antagonistic, and perhaps the most purely decent and moral character I've ever read. I LOVES HER MY PRECIOUS.

So much for our setting and protagonist: this is where people reviewing fantasy books usually talk about 'the magic system'. Personally I hate that phrase. Look, you have a drainage 'system', don't you, and how it works is that it's made out of metal pipes, and when you turn a tap it runs, and if it breaks down then you call someone with a spanner who will replace a part and it will work again. Magic, being the "non-meat by-product of existence", something fundamentally non-classifiable, illogical, elemental, spiritual (thank you, N.K. Jemisin) may have rules or ideals or spells, but if it has a 'system' - for instance, the one in Harry Potter, where you wave your wand a certain way and say certain words and unless your wand is broken or you got the gesture or words wrong, you get the same result every single time, just like flushing the toilet - pretty much bore me to tears.

This is why I always see questions in reviews for *my* books asking why the 'magic system' wasn't better explained and why didn't we get all the consequences explored and classified and why didn't I put down exactly why and how it all works? BECAUSE IT'S BORING! It's not a supposed to be like a magic trick, where there's a logical explanation for everything and the rabbit was up his sleeve all along. It's suppposed to be actual magic. And with actual magic, just like art, sometimes you do all the right things and it turns out awful, and sometimes the power of love is enough to fix everything and sometimes the power of love is enough to ruin everything, and somethings the thing you hated and sweated through and got wrong in every way is the best thing you ever did.

A DEADLY EDUCATION has *that* kind of magic. The good kind. The kind where there are certainly rules and spells, but where, just like in Garth Nix's or Lois McMaster Bujold's work, effort and intention are what powers your magic, and your dread and fear or even joy can warp reality (just like Heisenberg said! Well, sort of). I love how this kind of magic can have all kinds of unexpected effects and the interaction of differing factors can invent something entirely new.

The writing is absolutely smooth as silk. Not fancy, or lyrical, but just utterly competent and powerful and brilliant. You barely notice you're reading, it's so smooth. It feels like when Neo gets a programme for martial arts downloaded into his brain and just KNOWS how it works. And as a result the story is totally unputdownable. Gripping is an understatement. I downloaded it and began reading it at about 4pm and finished at 11 at night, having taken the smallest and most rushed breaks possible to eat, shower etc., each one of which felt like waking up from a dream I couldn't wait to get back to. However! I can sense that some readers - ones not as enamoured of Ms Novik's writing as I am, or as into the MC's unique, spikey narratuon - might find some of the exposition a little heavy, especially to start with. Ms Novik plays that trick of dangling something incredibly juicy at you and then using the tempting tidbit to lead you through a few pages of necessary information. Personally I'm all for that; I love worldbuilding. But if you're not, I recommend that you just push through it. It is WORTH it, trust me.

Secondary characters are a real strength in this, sketched with humane deftness, humour, and compassion, from the tentative friends to the out-and-out villains. We understand them all, even if perhaps we might wish not to.

I do note, though, that Orion Lake, the unlikely best friend the heroine makes basically against her will - and the character who gets the most screen time next to El - is probably the one I felt I knew the least. I wonder if that's because he's so clearly there as the Harry Potter analogue: the heroic Chosen One who always charges in to save everyone without thinking twice about his own life, or the consequences, but really just wants to be treated as human. I felt as if we were already meant to know him. But the thing is, he WASN'T Harry. For one thing, he comes from a life of immense privilege, not one of poverty, abuse and neglect - and he completely takes that privilege for granted, ending up totally shocked and bamboozled everytime El is forced to bitterly point it out to him. And every now and again he would do something deeply NOT HARRY-ish and make me really keen to get to know him better. But I never really did? Hopefully future books take care of this. Actually, I can't wait!

Overall - as is absolutely no secret by now - I adored this, wish I could go back in time immediately and read it again for the first time, and would be willing to read another five to ten books of it - preferably right now? This is a solid gold 100% recommendation from The Zoë-Trope. A DEADLY EDUCATION is out at the end of September. Run out and pre-order or put it on hold/request at your library instantly, or a maw-mouth will get you!

(Language Geek Alert: maw-mouths are the worst monsters in this book. I laughed for five minutes straight when I saw the name, and I like to imagine Ms Novik cackled in a similarly unhinged fashion when the name occurred to her, too. You see, a maw-mouth is a creature that has a lot of mouths. Thousands. And the word 'maw' just means mouth. So their name basically means 'mouth-mouth'. But the word 'maw' is pronounced 'more'. So they're mouth-mouths and more-mouths at the same time - and that's literally what they are! GENIUS).

Tuesday, 16 June 2020


Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday, and I hope you're all having a pretty good week so far. Thank you so, so much for your RTs and shares for the announcement of THE BOOK OF SNOW & SILENCE last week. This book is really special to me. I love it. It's probably my favourite thing that I've written since Shadows on the Moon. Your support means more to me than you can possibly know, especially after I've been on such a long break from the blog and the book community. *Smooshes all*

Your general loveliness about The Book of Snow & Silence makes me all the more gleeful that I get to bring you this utter lusciousness today without having had to make you wait for aaaaaaages as in times past. The cover is coming right up below - BUT! Before we get there - yes, you, I know you were about to begin scrolling, just wait for a second, OK? - I also have MORE VERY GOOD EXCELLENT NICE NEWS.

As of today, pre-orders of the ebook of The Book of Snow & Silence are LIVE. Yep, you can order the ebook right here, right now!

This is great in more ways than one. The official release date for both the ebook and the paperback is the 30th of June, two weeks away - but if you pre-order the ebook before that release date, you'll get it for £1.99. I don't know about you, but I think that's a saving well worth getting your paws on.

If you don't want to pre-order for whatever reason - for instance if you don't like ebooks and are planning to wait for the paperback - don't worry! I promise there will be goodies for you as well. But I'll wait for release day to get to those 😘

I also wanted to give a head's up to blogger/reviewer friends: if you're interested in reviewing this, email me at z d marriott (at) g mail dot com and we can arrange to send you a PDF proof. A book like this lives or dies based on reviews - mainly Amazon reviews - so it would honestly mean so much to me if people would be willing to leave *honest* reviews, even just a few words, on the book's Amazon page.

And now, without further burbling on my part... the cover art reveal!







Look at the beauteousness!  


The icy blue-green northern lights colours! The ominous stormy clouds billowing up behind that tempting crown - which happens to appear to be constructed of snowflakes and ice!

The subtle glacier cracks on the title font!

WE LOVES IT MY PRECIOUS. I'm always so happy when details that are important in the story are so strong on the cover art, and this is not only perfect for this book, but a damn knock-out in it's own right. Thank you so much Lauren, Cover Designer Extraordinaire! Me and my characters salute you!

OK, to sum up - pre-orders are now live (eeeeeiii!) and reviewers and bloggers can email z d marriott (at) g mail dot com to ask for a (non-pretty, but final text) proof if they're interested. Reviews are life, muffins!

Let me know what you think of this cover art in the comments 🙂

Friday, 12 June 2020


Hello, hello, hello and happy Friday, Dear Readers! Forgive me friends, for I have sinned: I know it's been a year since my last post - but please don't hate me!

A lot has happened in that year, some of which I don't really want to go into, including serious illness in my family. I also finished my time as an RLF Fellow at York St. John University - a posting I loved so much and will always look back on as one of the happiest times in my life - and I'm now in the final term of my Master's Degree in Creative Writing, working on my dissertation. So, you know. It's been busy. I'm sure you've been busy and had amazing ups and down since I last posted too - sound off in the comments if you like. I promise to reply to each and every one, as always.

But in addition to all that, I also did something you might be a bit more interested in.

I wrote a new book.

And it's going to be out... er - well - at the end of the month? EEEEEEEIIII!

Ahem. Sorry to spring it on you like this - but I hope you don't mind too much? It basically just means you don't have to wait for ages while I accidentally tease you, right?

Today I'm going to share some of the details of my ACTUAL FACTS TENTH NOVEL (omg) and I hope that next week I'll be able to do the cover reveal, and tell you the official release date, as well as a few other juicy details.

So first up - what's the title?








Ta-dah! So what's it about? Here's the back cover blurb:

Girls of Paper & Fire meets A Game of Thrones in THE BOOK OF SNOW & SILENCE, a darkly romantic queer fantasy inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Fierce Princess Theoai is devastated when betrayal by her own sister destroys her chance to inherit their mother’s crown. Exiled across the sea to wed a prince she has never met, she soon finds that taking possession of her new crown will be more perilous than she could ever have imagined. The snowy realm of Silinga is rotten to the core, and Theoai’s handsome Prince is spoiled and reckless, with eyes only for the beautiful mute who washed up on the shore the day after Theoai’s arrival: Shell. 
But though she enchants the entire palace with her unearthly dancing, Shell is more than just a romantic rival, and against her will Theoai is drawn to her. As they both navigate the glittering, treacherous court, their relationship changes from hostility to friendship – and then to a love that will shake the very foundations of the cold kingdom that seeks to tear them apart.
THE BOOK OF SNOW & SILENCE is a sweeping, Feminist novel of enchantment, ambition and, above all, love.
Here is the link to add it on Goodreads if you want.

And the link to the book's Pinterest board and the playlist on Spotify, although I probably spent a good 50% of my time listening to the Blue Planet soundtrack as well; it's so perfect.

Some aesthetics!

And finally under, the cut below - a new and completely exclusive snippet from the first chapter of the book! 🠋🠋🠋🠋🠋

What do you think of this, my lovelies? Let me know your thoughts below - and I'll be back next week with even more bookalicious juiciness for you. Take care of yourselves until then.

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