Friday, 31 December 2010

APOLOGIES

The title says it all. I think my delightful little nieces have given me a vile, nasty, horrid, no-good cold (I mean, I have a cold and I'm pretty sure they're the culprits). The moment I start looking at a back-lit screen my eyes start watering. I'm slightly worried that if I push my luck they might actually fall out. Hmmm. This is me on cold medication. Not pretty, is it?

Anyway, I'm really sorry to everyone who sent me questions and emails which I was going to answer today. I promise that I WILL get to them on Monday and give you all a fantastic bumper writing post.

In the meantime, have a wonderful New Year everyone - and the best of luck in 2011. I think it's going to be a break-through year for me, and I hope it will be for all of you :)

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

FINAL WINNER

Hi everyone - I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas break and that those of you who are back at work, school or college aren't having too hard a time adjusting. As for myself, well - since I was relentlessly baking, wrapping, cooking and entertaining relatives throughout the Christmas period I'm actually giving myself a little break NOW to recover from all the exertion, although I intend to start work on revising FrostFire once more at the end of this week.

I have a couple of intriguing reader questions to answer on Friday, but today I'm just putting out a call to the final winner of the Shadows on the Moon giveaway: Alessandra @ Out of the Blue. She's the only one who hasn't gotten in touch with me to give me her address yet.

I understand that many people are, like me, a little tired out and not entirely on top of their normal internet routine at this time of the year, but I hope you'll get in touch with me as soon as you can, Alessandra. The sooner I have your address, the sooner I can send the package out.

In the meantime, I'm ploughing through The Women of the Underworld Series by Kelley Armstrong and enjoying them a great deal, although I prefer her Darkest Powers series just a little, probably because Darkest Powers is YA and the characters don't have to keep stopping to have sex in order to justify a 'romance' label (sorry, kids, but one day you too will be skim-reading or skipping sex scenes because they're boring - it's how you know you're getting old).

If anyone has anymore questions on writing and publishing that they'd like me to answer in Friday's post, toss them in the comments or send me an email through my profile. It's going to be a bumper post, so the more the merrier. Take care, everyone.

Monday, 27 December 2010

SHADOWS ON THE MOON ARC WINNERS

Hellooo, blog readers! Here at long last (and yes, perhaps a little later than I said, Megha) is the announcement of the great Shadows on the Moon ARC giveaway winners (whoot, applause, cheers, screams - okay, calm down, I'm not Britney Spears. Geez)!

The three winners will each receive a copy of an uncorrected advanced proof of Shadows on the Moon, which is a Cinderella retelling set in faerytale Japan, and won't be officially released in the UK until 4th July 2011. Goodreads synopsis below:
Suzume is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself.

Suzume died officially the day the Prince's men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity. Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands?

Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama.

And nothing will stop her. Not even love.
The winners will also get signed bookplates, scented Japanese paper fans and any other goodies that I can find.


Today I listed all my followers and the names of everyone who had left a comment on the SHADOWS ON THE MOON GIVEAWAY: REVISED post. I was about to use the random number generator, but then I realised I'd already written all the names down anyway, so I just picked three from a hat. Yes, the famous sparkly red hat.

*Drumroll please*

WINNER NUMBER ONE: Emma Gill!
WINNER NUMBER TWO: Michelle at Clover Hill Book Review!
WINNER NUMBER THREE: Alessandra @ Out of the Blue!

I'm so happy for you! Please contact me as soon as you can through the email in my profile, so that I can get your addresses and get these prizes posted out for you.

Commiserations to everyone who entered and worked so hard to drum up blog traffic, but did not win. I know some of you were so excited about this and you're bound to be disappointed. Rest assured that if I can cadge any more ARCs or review copies, I'll put together another giveaway, because if it was up to me I seriously would give you ALL a copy. But remember that it's only six months until this book comes out now, and even if you don't live in the UK you can still order it through Amazon here or The Book Depository here. Free shipping!

Those of you who have book reviewing blogs can contact my publisher to ask to be put on the list to recieve a review copy in February - and in addition, Shadows will hopefully be taking part in the UK Blog Tour a little later as well, so people will have a chance to get their hands on an early copy then too.

Finally, a massive thank you to all of you, amazing, faithful readers that you are. Your comments, interest and support for the blog makes every bit of work associated with it worthwhile, and I wouldn't trade you guys for any other group of followers in the world. Finn also appreciates your love:


I'm sure Hero and Echo do as well, but they were both out playing in the snow today, so we'll just have to take that on faith.

Friday, 24 December 2010

SHADOWS ON THE MOON GIVEAWAY: CLOSED

Credit to Lauren of I was a Teenage Book Geek
Well ho ho ho, faithful readers. It's Christmas Eve, and I now announce the Shadows on the Moon ARC giveaway....CLOSED.

As you can see by looking at the Followers in the sidebar, we've not quite managed to reach the 200 mark, and since Christmas is tomorrow, it doesn't look like we're going to either. But I'm still impressed and awed by everyone's hard work in pushing up the total so far so fast. And this means that although I will *not* be putting up a YouTube video of me singing the blues (phew) I think it's only fair that I should give away the copies of Shadows on the Moon that I put aside for the purpose earlier on.

So using a random number generator, I shall pick three winners from among all my blog followers and all the people that commented in the SHADOWS ON THE MOON GIVEAWAY: REVISED post. I'll announce them on Monday, when the Christmas festivities have calmed down a bit, and post them out in the New Year.

I hope this makes everyone happy. Please now return to your regularly scheduled Christmas fun.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

GIVE A CHARACTER A CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Today I'm thrilled to participate in the YA Highways's Road Trip Wednesday, where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing - or reading - related question and answer it on their own blogs. Readers can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic, and people are welcome to add their own contribution - which I will be doing today for the first time! Hurrah!

Today's topic is: Give a book character a Christmas Present.

I'm going assume that it's good form not to give your own characters presents (which is a shame, really, as I'm sure Frost, Luca and Arian would just luuurve some new daggers, a new sword and possibly a small war-axe to play with) and this means I need to search for a fictional character that I feel really deserves something for Christmas.

And not in the 'Valentine Morgenstern deserves a nice hard spanking' sort of way, either.

So if I could reach into one imaginary world and give one fictional character a present, what would it be?

It depends on whether or not I'm giving a present as The Author, omnipresent creator. Because if I could give any fictional character ANY fictional present, I'd have to give a gift to Eugenides from Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief, The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, one of my all-time favourite characters. And that gift would be his hand, which he lost in The Queen of Attolia.

It would simply reappear on the stump of his arm overnight, and after the scene in which he cries with joy in the arms of his beloved wife - and she cries too, at being redeemed from the consequences of her own cruel and hasty actions - I would sit back with tears on my own face, and happily wait to see what chaos and mischief he stirred up with two sets of opposible thumbs.

On the other hand (ha ha) if I'm giving a present just as a normal person who can't grow hands back overnight, then it's a tougher decision to make. But I think in the end I would have to plump for a special, sensitive skin spa-treatment for Derek from Kelley Armstrong's amazing Darkest Powers series.

For those who haven't read the books, Derek is a grumpy, prickly young man who has - among his many issues - some serious skin and hygiene problems. But underneath all that, the guy is sweet, funny and intelligent, and possesses a heart of gold. I reckon if he got a makeover, including a haircut and a skin polish, he'd feel much better about himself, and then maybe Chloe, the heroine of the books, would have an easier time.

So what about you, guys? If you could give one present to a character from a book, who and what would it be?

Monday, 20 December 2010

WRITER'S PET APPRECIATION DAY

Today, inspired by Astres' post on her adorable new(ish) cat Dexter, I decided to hold Writer's Pet Appreciation Day. Because as any writer will know, there are times in our lives when no one understands us except our faithful dog, cat, ferret or tarantula.

In the past I've posted a few pictures of my adorable dog Finn (otherwise known as Finbar Finley Finneas Finbarrsson the third). I got Finn during a period when I felt very depressed and unhappy. I was convinced that getting a dog would improve my life. I was probably right: a dog WOULD have improved my life. But a yipping, bouncing, insane puppy with more energy than a squirrel on steroids? No.

I spent the first two months that Finn lived with me thinking I had made the biggest mistake of my life and feeling more depressed than ever. The fact that he never let me get more than an hour's sleep didn't help. But then suddenly, sometime during month three, I started to have fun. I realised I had found an amazingly clever and devoted friend who was always happy to see me. At about the time I taught him to 'high five' I fell in love, and now I wouldn't be parted from him for all the Brazil nut toffee in Thornton's.

Me: "Finbar! What should I do? I finished my Big Secret Project chapter and synopses and I don't have to start baking for Christmas until tomorrow and I feel all weird and loose-endy!"

Finn: "Use the Force, Zolah..."


This one is after his second walk of the day. In such cold weather I fold the towels over the radiator in the kitchen so that I can easily melt any frozen snow out of Finn's long, curly ears, or the fluffy fur between his toes. But Finn likes to think of it as a bespoke spa treatment. He's been known to lie down in the towels and roll around, resisting all attempts to get him out.

Finn: "I shall not be moved."

Me: "Right, that's it. You're going on a diet!"

Finn: "I shall be in the living room."


Five minutes later in the living room...

Finn: "What? YOU were sitting here? But this is my seat. And look how cute I am. Can you really say no to this face? Hmmm?"


Okay, moving on from Finn, let's give some attention to my two feline pals, who I've never featured on the blog because they are notoriously camera shy. They do not like the camera-thing that goes flashy flashy in their eyes. I had to bribe both of them with pieces of cheese (yes, cheese) and catnip treats to get them to stay still long enough for the photographs.

First of all is Echo. She is a rescue cat who came to me when she was two and half years old, and spent the first week hiding under my sofa and behind the bookcase, emerging only when food was on offer, rinse, repeat. Frankly, after a while having a silent black cat silently slipping around the house started to creep me out. However, when she finally did decide that my adopting her wasn't part of a nefarious plot to turn her into catfur mittens, she turned out to be the dopiest, sweetest little cat in the world. She's called Echo because any noise that a human can make, she will happily echo back at you. If you open a door for her, she says 'Meeeankoo' which sounds uncannily like 'Thank you'.


Echo says: "Oh Gawd, not AGAIN with the flashy flashy thing. Hasn't this human worked out yet that I don't like having photos taken? I always look fat!"

Me: "Come on, you're not fat! You're precious. Look at your cut little white paws! Do you know how many cats would kill for paws like those? And your whiskers! They're the finest whiskers in England!"

Echo: "What, really? Well, if you saw so...How do I look now?"

Me: "OMG, you're so FLUFFY! It's adorable!"


Echo: "And you're really SURE I don't look fat? Make sure to get my profile in this one! It's slimming."


Next up, Hero. Hero was also a rescue cat and came to me when she was eight months old (my mother named her for the Shakespearean heroine). She was possibly the friendliest little cat I've ever met. If someone sat still for more than thirty seconds, she'd be snuggled up to them, purring like an out of control electric toothbrush.

However as she kept growing, and growing and GROWING (she's one of the largest female cats I've ever met, and built along the lines of a Swedish supermodel) she began to display the fact that she was a serious One Woman Cat. She followed me from room to room, supervised me in the bath, ran to say hello when I came home from work and only consented to sit on *my* lap. Anyone could stroke or snuggle her, but if anyone else attempted to pick her up she'd go stiff as a board and dig her claws in with every appearance of terror.

This is probably explained by the fact that her previous owners were a pair of teenagers who abandoned her in a box by the side of the road, may suffering be upon them with swift wings.

Hero says: "U bringz cheese?"



Me: "Who's a beautiful girl, then? Who's the most beautiful girl in the whole world?"

Hero: "I am, of course! I don't have self-image issues, like that other cat. Hand the cheese over. And stop trying to sneak the camera out, I can SEE what you're doing."

Me: "Please let me take some pictures. The world deserves to enjoy your beauty. All you have to do is stay still for thirty seconds. Have some more cheese."


Hero: "Okay, cheese gone. You can go too. I'm having a nap now. Unless you'd like to stroke under my chin? No - wash your hands first! I don't want cheese all over my fur."


So these are my cuties, without whom, I am sure, I could never write a word at all. Do you have pets, and how do they help you in your day-to-day life?

Friday, 17 December 2010

READER QUESTIONS

Happy Friday everyone! Today I'm answering more questions from readers, one of which came to me via email, and the other arrived in the comments here.

Aimen says:
Recently, I've come across a really big problem. Which is that I can't visualize my fantasy world. I've been obsessing a lot over the political system, and the education system and the characters and now, that my characters are being given the opportunity to explore the world, I'm tripping over my feet trying to visualize it. I think that it's primarily because I've only ever lived in a place that has only one distinctive geographical feature. And that...is sand. I don't have any idea as to how a desert would lead into a forest? Is that even possible? What does an autumn breeze smell like? How cold is -10 degrees C? I actually thought I was doing pretty good but now, my world just seems awfully bland. I really don't want the whole of my world to be a desert. Do you think that I should just leave my world the way it initially popped into my head and let the desert be another thing that stands in my protagonist's way? Or should I add more variety to the landscape?
This is such a good question. The feelings you're describing here are the same ones that beset me every time I set out to write something, so you're not alone.

The first part of your problem is that you're forgetting that your story is set in a FANTASY world. You're making it up. It can be anything that YOU want. If you're not happy at this point writing about forests and mountains, don't write them. That might be the 'familiar' fantasy setting, but it doesn't mean you can't use your own, unique, sandy landscape to write your own, unique, sandy world. Don't feel pressured to write a story just like everyone else's story. Don't you know things about the desert that no one who doesn't live there can know? The colour of the sand as the sun comes up, the shapes sand paints in the air when the wind sweeps over the dunes? Those details might not fit in a cliched Lord of the Rings world, but that doesn't mean they're not beautiful and wonderful.

The second part of your problem is that at this point you don't know enough. If you honestly and truly feel that your fantasy country needs to contain a variety of landscapes (and it's fine if you do!) then you need to do your research. And by that I don't mean that you need to go and walk through an autumn forest, although it's obviously nice if you can.

The real meaning of research, for me, is to give your imagination the tools it needs to work. You need to get hold of books and pictures and DVDs that show the sort of landscape that you want to write about and watch them, paying attention to details but also soaking up the atmosphere.

When you've seen a TV character shiver and go blue, your imagination can tell you how that must feel. You've been cold, right? Imagine yourself into your character's skin, wracked by shivers and tight with goosepimples, and you're there. Look at a picture of a mossy forest and you can imagine the damp smells of the green, growing things there. Read books set in a cold, forested world and those details will seep into your mind and make it feel much more natural to write about such places yourself.

I know it's a challenge. When I was writing Shadows on the Moon I went without *food* to be able to afford all the books I wanted because I was desperate for more knowledge to make me feel more secure. At a certain point, though, you have to let go and just MAKE STUFF UP. If a desert isn't exotic enough for you, set your book in a kingdom of clouds that hovers above the world! Go for it, and have fun.

Okay, next, Emma:
Do you find it difficult to make sure that the first and second books round feel complete and round up their own plots and still leave things open? Because that's a major block that I've hit with the first of my series - the ending just seems so inconclusive!
Lord, do I! Surely everyone must struggle with this one. The temptation, when you realise you're telling a story over three books or four or even two, is literally to come up with one big story and just chop it into three or four or two pieces. No need to bother tying things up at the end of each book. No need to show significant character change until the end. No need to plan individual arcs. Easy peasy. I even know some pretty successful authors who've gotten away with it.

But as a reader, I find it infuriating. It is one of my biggest pet peeves. It makes me do this:


The thing is, your book will cost the same and require the same investment of time and energy as any other book. Why should readers accept half of or a third of a real book for the same price? They're investing in your story. All good stories should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You HAVE to make an effort to give them that.

Successful trilogies and series (and by 'successful' I mean, 'didn't make me want to chuck them across the room') get around this problem by telling several stories within one story. I won't lie. It is complex stuff. I know it's complex because doing it for Big Secret Project took a few years off my life! And you can see the kind of jiggery pokery I had to go through to get it to work back here. But the end product should work something like this:

  • First Book. Characters get pulled out of their normal routine by some extraordinary event. They begin to realise that big, scary things are happening around them and they try desperately to escape these, without any long term success. They are confronted with an immediate problem which represents a small part of the larger, scarier events taking place. In trying to solve this problem, they are changed, for better or worse. The book ends either when they've solved the problem or when they've given up on solving it and the reader has seen the consequences. In either case, the readers now have an understanding that the world and the characters can't go back to what and who they were before.
  • Middle Book/s. The world throws a larger problem or problems at the characters, who again have to scramble to solve them. In doing so they - and we! - begin to get a grasp on the enormity of the big, scary events which are overtaking the world. The characters start to plan to either escape their situation or tackle it. It might work but trigger more problems. It might go completely wrong. However, in carrying out these actions, the characters are again changed, and this allows them to gain a better understanding of themselves, the problems they have to face in the future, and each other. This is where romantic subplots, secondary characters and backstory has room to blossom. By the end of the story there should have been some significant event, an unexpected victory or a terrible loss, a new resolve made or a character's resolve broken, that sets up the reader's expectations for the end of the series.
  • Final Book.You finish your plot and character arcs and type THE END. Pretty simple to describe, this one, even if it's not easy to do. 

If you can't go through all these stages, then have a good think about whether your series or trilogy is really a series or trilogy at all. It might just be one long story, and when some extraneous events and characters are trimmed out of it, it will make a great standalone book.

Phew. I hope all this was helpful, guys. If anyone has anymore writing or publishing questions, email me or toss them in the comments.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

RANDOM WEDNESDAY

Lots of stuff to share with you today, and no real way to connect it all together. So let's celebrate a Random Wednesday!

First, there's some more buzz about Shadows on the Moon from Lynsey at Narratively Speaking here, from Liz of My Favourite Books on The Book Smugglers here and even from a Canadian blog called Tapestry of Words here. 

I'm really excited by all this advance interest because the lead-up to the release days of TSK and DotF was quite a lonely time for me. Even if your publisher is fantastic (and mine truly is), unless you're a Big Fat Deal like Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling no one will give you much of an idea what they're doing to promote your book, or even much of an idea what YOU can do to promote it. I went out and did as much as I could myself by putting together a website, and arranging book signings and school visits, but I had no way of knowing how much difference that made or even if it had been a complete waste of time.

Now that I'm aware of the amazing British blogging community (and have even hopefully made a few friends within it) I feel much less scared and isolated. I know where to look to see how people feel about my work. The fact that I have blog readers who respond to my covers and my blurbs and let me know how they feel also really helps. Thanks everyone.

Another thank you is due to the blog readers who responded to my question on Monday about whether my best friend character in the Big Secret Project should be a gay guy or a gay girl. The overwhelming majority voted for a girl, mostly due to the lack of gay female characters in strong roles in YA fiction right now. I mean, they ARE there, and they're awesome, but you really have to search for them. Commentors said that they'd seen quite a few 'sassy gay friends' of the male persuasion and would find a female one more interesting for a change. So - there you go. Your wish is granted.

As you know, I'm still working on Big Secret Project and all details are subject to change. But I have just finished writing the synopses for it (YES, YES, YES!!!!) and I can tell you that the character you have helped to create is a sixteen year old Goth called Jack Lucy (Lucy is her surname and Jack is short for Jacqueline). She's naturally mousey but likes to die her hair a variety of bright colours, and she's extremely handy with an iron skillet (and I DON'T mean that she makes a good omelette). Hurrah!

My final random topic today is the release of the cover art for the new Mortal Instruments book by Cassandra Clare. As you may or may not know, there's been a lot of secrecy and hype over this cover, since the first Mortal Instruments Trilogy was a MegaBigBestseller and the new trilogy will carry on with the story of the same characters. I've personally been anticipating it because I adored the first trilogy and City of Fallen Angels is coming out in April of 2011 - making it the perfect birthday present for moi!

So, the cover has finally been revealed, and this is it:



You can see what Ms Clare has to say about it here.

What do you guys think of it?

Monday, 13 December 2010

PLOTTING A TRILOGY

You guys may have noticed that out of all the parts of a writer's process I could talk about, plotting is the one that comes up most often on this blog. Please don't run away with the idea that this is because I'm a plotting expert. I'm...seriously not. Plotting and pacing are the things I struggle with most and enjoy the least.

Characterisation? Comes pretty naturally, once I let my characters into my head. Style? I LOVE the English language, and I love playing with words and trying to create beautiful and startling images. But plot? God, just tie me into a hessian bag, wrap it in chains and throw it in a river. It'll be less painful and a heck of a lot less helpless feeling.

I've heard many other authors say that they love the planning stage of writing, when literally anything can happen, and they can play around with events, change anything they want, and not have to worry about it. I'm not sure what weird mojo goes on in those writer's heads, but it is entirely foreign to me, because frankly, when I first start trying to figure out what happens to who in a book and why and in what order, it feels as if I'm struggling around waist deep in a soup full of unexpected sharp/hard objects that keep hitting me and knocking me over. Blind folded.

That's why I'm always coming up with different ways to try and make plotting easier for myself (and you!). I've showed you my bullet-pointed lists and my diamond-diagrams before. Those serve me pretty well in a general way. But when I came to try and write the synopses for The Big Secret Project, which is a trilogy, I found that they just weren't helping me. I had so many more events to keep track of. I needed to be able to see not just the plot and character arcs for one book, but for three, and the over-arcing plot that would join all three stories together.

And so... I went out to my local stationary shop and grabbed some supplies. I decided I need a massive pad of paper so that I could see all my plots working against each other at the same time. Post-it notes also seemed like a good idea because that way I could try to imitate those 'I Love Planning' authors and move my events around easily. I needed a ruler to draw columns.


The coloured pens and star stickers were just for fun.

The first thing I did was to try and figure out what all the hard/sharp objects bumping into me in the soup were. I mean, maybe not all of them would be useful, but I wanted them out of the soup and on the page. So, I decided to brainstorm. I don't normally find brainstorming particularly helpful because it just makes me more confused (shut up, I can't HELP the way my brain IS, okay?) but in this case I assigned each book a colour and then randomly wrote down all the ideas I had for each one.


In some places I instantly realised that certain ideas fitted together better than others, and if they were marked the wrong colour, I put an asterisk in the right colour next to them. In other places I had cool ideas that didn't really seem anchored to the plot I had in mind and those got a star sticker. Looking at everyone all at once like that might seem like it would be overwhelming, but actually once it was on the paper it felt much more organised than it had in my head (not hard, really).

The second thing I did was to divide one page into three parts and start putting Post-its in lines so that I could see the stories for each book working parallel to one another. You will notice, by the way, in these pictures, that I have deliberately blurred out a lot of the words and the titles. This is because I know that certain readers, naming no names (*cough*Saya*cough*) would have no hesitation in zooming in and trying to make out details of The Big Secret Project. And since it's Secret, and all subject to change anyway, I just can't have that. Sorry! But I hope you can still see what I was aiming for.


Then I decided to break down the most important part of the story, which is the heroine's emotional arc, and how she changes throughout both books, what issues she has to start with, and when and how these are resolved.


With all this firmly pinned down I broke out the Microsoft OneNote programme, which I find particularly useful because it lets you scribble randomly all over the place, but keeps everything neat for you. I came up with this:



Which (one of the nice features of OneNote) includes links to useful webpages where I can go back and check my facts.

Having done all this, I now have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen to who, when and how. So I'm going to ask a question of my lovely blog readers, and your answer might influence the way this story is written.

My heroine needs to have a best friend. I know who this person is inside, but what I haven't decided yet is their outter trappings - ie, their gender and sexuality. It's always been really important for me to try and include characters of different cultures, races and faiths in my work, but recently I've also been attempting to include characters who do not fit into the Western World's narrow definition of heteronormative behavior. So help me out. What would make you happy? Do you think my heroine's best friend should be a gay GUY, or a gay GIRL? Either way they are extremely fierce, smart and protective, are a little bit Goth, and end up having an extremely complex love life throughout these books.

Tell me what you think in the comments!

Friday, 10 December 2010

FIVE THINGS ON A FRIDAY

Hi, everyone! How has your week been?

Mine's been up and down, to be honest. So I thought I would make that the topic of my Friday Five.
  1. On Tuesday I woke up at 5:30 to find myself smushed into the wall by the unprecedented presence of a dog and two cats huddled on my bed. This was soon explained when I realised that my teeth were chattering and there was ice on the INSIDE of my windows. No joke. The boiler had stopped working in the night and therefore I had lost both central heating and hot water. I'm lucky not to have died in my bed. It's more or less fixed now, though (apart from me having to go into the false roof and empty out a bucket every now and again) so don't worry. I promise to finish revising FrostFire before I choke for any reason.
  2. How to Train Your Dragon! Picked up the DVD on impulse while grocery shopping on Saturday. I'm so glad I did! It's the best film I've seen in ages. It's beautifully written and designed, has a wonderful score, and treats you to a thrill-packed action adventure with fully rounded characters and pitch-perfect emotional stakes. I want a Toothless of my own so much, Father Christmas. I promise, I'll be a good girl forever...
  3. Working on three linked synopses for The Big Secret Project has been something of a challenge. I mean, I realised it would be different than working on a standalone book, but no one warned me HOW different. Normally when I start seriously trying to put together a story my head is full of millions of sprouting ideas and I just start trimming them off until I have something that looks both manageable and interesting. But in this case I need ALL the ideas. I need three booksworth of ideas. I can't afford to go cutting off the inconvenient dangly bits. Somehow I have to make sense of all of them and get them into the required order and shape. Hard. It is very. More on this next week, possibly with diagrams.
  4. Today, I had one of those unexpected days where you have a long To Do List and you square your shoulders...and somehow it all works out and you get everything done and you end up with a wonderful glow of satisfaction. Chrismassy satisfaction. I dug all the snow and ice off my front and back paths. I decorated my Christmas tree. I drank mulled wine. I took my dog for two long snowy walks AND I had a blinding inspiration about Big Secret Project, which fills me with relief and happiness. It's a Christmas Miracle! Hurrah!
  5. Today's crowning glory - I got an email from Veronica Roth telling me that I was one of the winners of her giveaway for ARCs of Divergent, her upcoming debut Dystopian novel. I'm ecstatic, because I was already really excited to read this, and now I don't have to wait until next year!

That's my name on there! Yay!

So on Tuesday I was convinced that this was going to be the worse week ever, and instead it's turned out pretty well. There's a lesson to be learned from this. Hang on long enough, and almost everything will get better eventually.

Now, before I go, I had a reader email recently from Faith, asking:

"I like to write as well,but I have a problem I will think of something, usaully it turns into the main part but then I cant figure out how to start it or finish it.So I just give up can you help me."

I don't think this is necessarily a big problem. Not all writers work from start to finish in order, and it sounds to me like you're a non-linear writer, Faith. Stephenie Meyer famously began writing Twilight right in the middle of the story following a vivid dream, and it didn't do her any harm.

My advice to you is to go with it and have fun. If you have an idea for what seems like the middle of the story, then write it. Enjoy yourself. If you let yourself get drawn into the story and characters, you'll hopefully find that your brain starts to fill up with other ideas for where to take them. Either, like Stephenie Meyer, you'll carry on writing until you eventually get to the end, or else other random scenes from later or earlier in the story will begin to appear in your head one by one, and you can keep writing them until you figure out how to link them all together.

I hope that's helpful, Faith! Have a lovely weekend everyone, and check out How to Train Your Dragon, if you haven't already.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

SHADOWS ON THE MOON BUZZ

As I believe I mentioned briefly on this blog before, on Saturday the 27th of November I got up at an unGodly hour (5:55 am), put on my make-up, straightened my hair and then made my way to my local railway station. There I began a somewhat arduous three-hour journey to London. Luckily the snow was not yet as bad as it's been for the past week, but it was still bad enough that I was stuck in Doncaster for an extra hour, and turned up late at my final destination (sorry, everyone!) which was Walker Books Ltd, my UK publisher's office.

But I didn't care! Let me tell you why.

The reason I'd been asked to visit the Walker offices that day is that my publisher has a really exciting line up of new YA books planned for next year. These books will be released as part of their new Undercover Reading range. And Shadows on the Moon is one of those books. The fabulous PR and marketing departments at Walker had decided to hold an event to promote the Undercover range and invite some influential bloggers to hear all about it.

And I, dear readers, was the Mystery Author.

Although I've done quite a few Inspiring Speeches about my books at this point, for instance at the Walker Sales Conference in September, I have to admit that I was reeeally nervous about this event. Shadows on the Moon is so special to me, and I desperately wanted to convey that specialness to these fabulous bloggers (all of whose blogs I already followed). These are people who've been to a LOT of publishing events. These are people who've met and chatted with really famous authors like Maggie Stiefvater. Cue: Zolah Freakout.

I turned up, late, hot and bothered, with hat-hair, and plunged into this roomful of important people to babble at them and give them presents. I told them all about the book, and then answered many astute questions with more babbling (are you sensing a theme there?) To my surprise, I found I really enjoyed it. Of course the bloggers were all passionate about books and reading anyway, so that helped, as did the support of the lovely Annalie (my long-suffering and supremely patient editor) and other Walker peeps Ruth, Rebecca and Sean. And then I went home. And the next day I woke up and thought: "Oh God, WHY did I have to talk so much? Why did I have to talk so fast? I bet no one understood a word I SAID! Arhgkkllghh!"

But it's okay! I need not have despaired, because apparently said bloggers are used to listening to hysterical authors babble. Either that or Annalie was discreetly translating for me. Anyway, the event reports are starting to show up on the interwebz now, and they are overwhelmingly positive about My Preeessshcious. So I thought I'd share.

Lauren at I was a Teenage Book Geek talks about it here.
Liz from My Favourite Books talks about it here.
Sarah from Sarah's Book Reviews talks about it here.

Becky from The Bookette and Lynsey from Narratively Speaking haven't posted their event reports yet, but I'm crossing my fingers that they will soon.

Thanks for making my slightly nerve-wracking day out fun, Kindly Bloggers. Hopefully I'll get to meet you all again one day!

Monday, 6 December 2010

FROSTFIRE IS FIIIIIINIIIIISHED!!!!

Wheeee! Best. Monday. EVAH.


Just over 85,000 words of wolfy, romantic, action-adventurey goodness is now complete. I'm going to put this to one side until the first week of January, when I'll just comb through it one more time for typos and embarrassing boo-boos, before I send it to my editor on the 10th of January. That is, the very DAY she returns from her extremely well deserved holiday. No rest for the virtuous!

Besides, if I try to hang onto it any longer I'm bound to start fiddling, and given that I've done nothing but work on this book since April, I'll be in serious danger of making that weird mud-colour that you get when you put red and blue and green and yellow and pink and white together and just keep stirring.

I will, of course, give you guys lots more details about this book when I'm sure that my lovely editor isn't going to make me completely re-write the whole thing. For now, suffice it to say that it's a companion book to DotF, but doesn't feature any of the same characters, and that it also has my very first love triangle - but, for anyone heaving a bored sigh, this is NOT like any love triangle you've ever come across in YA before. BELIEVE ME. *Snorks with private laughter*

All being well, FrostFire is scheduled to be released (along with a re-jacketed DotF) in July 2012. Exciting stuff.

So, what is Zolah going to be working on next? Well, I've been noodling around with the idea for what I've been calling a Gothic Clockpunk Romance for a while now, and I think this is what my publisher would like me to do. For those of you who've been paying attention, you may remember this as the Giant Killer Clockwork Praying Mantis Death Robot book. Catchy, eh? I'll probably start on that in earnest in the new year.

Before then, to stop myself getting all tense and ansty and cross, I'll be writing a synopsis (or rather, three synopses) for The Big Secret Project. Which is, you know, Big. And Secret. But since it's you, I'll slip you some hints. *Looks around furtively*

Hopefully Big Secret Project will be a story that takes place over not one, not two, but three whole books. As a devoted lover of fantasy trilogies and series, it's really exciting to realise that I've got a story which has enough guts to work that way. At the same time, it's pretty terrifying for someone who's always written standalones to try and plot something that doesn't come to a neat end in a single book. Big Secret Project will also allow me to utilize all that research I did on Japan for Shadows. And that's all I'm saying. My lips, they are sealed.

And now, I am going to go and collapse from SHEER RELIEF! See you on Wednesday!

Friday, 3 December 2010

VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE WRITING CAVE

Hello readers, old and new. At least, I hope there are some new ones, since the follower numbers have leapt up (woohoo! Well done everyone!). I also hope you old faithfuls are all here too. And that none of you are suffering from frostbite in the current inclement weather. I swear, if I hear anyone whistling 'White Christmas' in the next month I'll smack them one.

Today I thought I'd give you a virtual tour of The Writing Cave. Anyone who's watched my YouTube videos will have caught the odd glimpse of the place where I work, but I've never shown it in much detail, because I was hoping that one day I might get to be one of those posh writers who get interviewed in their study by a newspaper and have pictures taken under a title like WRITER'S HIDEAWAY REVEALED. This happened to Kevin Crossley-Holland. This is his study:


Droolworthy, right?

But the other day it occurred to me that there's actually not room in my Writing Cave for a journalist and a photographer. There's barely room for me. If I turn my chair around too quickly the arms whack into the desk, or sweep books and papers onto the floor. And anyway, if I ever become important enough that a newspaper wants to interview me, I'll probably have already moved into my sustainably sourced timber-framed eco house, so I'll have a completely different writer's cave. And thus I present to you:

This is where the magic happens. And now the writer's-eye-view:

To the left of my secretaire there's a rocking chair where Beulah now lives, only it's not really a rocking chair because it doesn't have any room to rock in that corner. It's very comfy though. I got it for £60 from a house clearance.

Here's one of my incredibly untidy bookcases. The untidiness is not really my fault. I always kept my study well organised up until recently, when I had workmen in fiddling with my radiator. While I wasn't around they tipped all the books off this case and then shoved them back on two-deep, creating the chaos you see here. I swear I'm going to take a day off soon and put everything back in it's proper order.


And finally, here's the view out of my window, snow, icicles and all.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

SHADOWS ON THE MOON GIVEAWAY: REVISED


Yes, we're back to this again. First of all, for those who didn't read the note attached to Monday's post there are now THREE ARCs of Shadows on the Moon on offer. This is probably the only ARC giveaway I'll be doing, because the few copies I've got left will be tied up in blog tours. So you need to enter now or forever hold your piece (until July 4th anyway).

Here's the book blurb from Goodreads:

"On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before."

Suzume is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself. Suzume died officially the day the Prince's men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity.
Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands?
Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama.

And nothing will stop her. Not even love.

Excited? I know I am!

However, it's been brought to my attention that there are plenty of faithful blog readers who cannot get or do not want a Google account, and can't 'follow' using the friend connect device on the right. Which means, according to the rules I posted before, that they can't enter. How unfair! I'm sorry I didn't realise this until it was pointed out to me. I don't want any regular reader to be left out in my quest to get new followers.

The object of the competition was for me to send my lovely readers out to be my emissaries and get me *more* readers. I'd still like you all to do that, and the best way for me to keep track of this is through the friend connect system. But so long as we DO get 200 followers through Google Connect by Christmas, I'm happy to expand the draw to include people who can't actually follow through Google.

So for anyone who can't enter the giveaway through becoming a follower, you can do so by leaving a comment, including your email address (just to make life easier for me) in the comment trail below THIS post. If you also want to link the competition to Facebook or Tweet about it or put a link to the giveaway in your blog sidebar or even do a blog post of your own celebrating our little-known-yet-much-loved-blog, that's fantastic, but you don't have to provide links to prove it.  All that matters is the 200 in the sidebar.

I hope this makes everyone happy, or at least happier than they were. And now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to attempt to take my dog for a walk through the two foot high snow drifts surrounding my house, which I believe must be my punishment for daring to say, in the last post, that I'd decided I liked snow.

Le Sigh.

Monday, 29 November 2010

GIVEAWAY UPDATE/MONDAY MISCELLANIOUS


Look at all this snow! And before Christmas too. Is anyone else slightly worried that The Dark Is Rising? Watch out for ravens! (I tell you, I crack myself up - that's the second time I've told that joke today, and it's still just as funny. To me, anyway).

For years and years I have loathed snow. Often, people would wonder why I greeted their cheerful announcements that it was snowing with groans of despair. They assumed I was some kind of Scrooge, wanting to rain on their snow parade.

But the moment the white stuff started falling my head would be filled with memories of slush filling my boots and snow melting through my coat on the way to work, so that I had to spend all day at a chilly, air-conditioned office in damp clothes - and the inevitable sneezing, sore throat and general unwellness that would follow. Of slipping on ice and bashing my knee or elbow as I tried to get on the bus and nearly passing out with the pain. Of buses that never arrived and taxis that were cancelled so that I would be left stranded by the stop for hours, getting colder and colder. Memories of finally managing to make it to the office, only to get sneered at and told off by bosses who, of course, owned nice warm four wheel drives and couldn't understand why a little snow needed to make anyone late.

If anyone had asked me a week ago how I felt about snow, I would have told them flatly and without a thought that I hated it. I now realise that isn't true. It never was. What I hated was having my simple, childlike glee in the beauty of snow, and the way it transforms a familiar landscape into something different and new, stolen from me by my adult responsibilities (and the bunch of complete *******s that I used to work for).

For the next little while I have the enormous privilege of being a full-time writer, and that means apart from taking my dog for a walk three times a day I don't have to go anywhere. Everything I need is right here. I can even, in this day and age, get my shopping online and talk to all the people I like via email (please, God, do not take my broadband from me). I'm able to look at the streets, houses, marshlands and coppices that I see every day with completely new eyes and just enjoy it all. It is, quite frankly, blissful.

But I know that there are soooo many people out there who ARE still suffering, in various ways, through this unexpected cold snap. They have my sympathies, and for their sake I hope the snow goes quickly. I'm just glad to know that, for the moment, I have been freed from hating something that I never wanted to hate in the first place.

Moving on! Over the weekend I made a trip to London (and got trapped in Doncaster for an hour because of the snow, but even that wasn't enough to upset me) in order to take part in an event at my publishers. Some loverly, loverly bloggers came out to hear about Walker Books new Undercover promotion, which includes Shadows on the Moon, and I spoke to them about that for a while, and then about writing, and books, and jewellry and all kinds of other stuff. I had a very nice time indeed. Many thanks to Liz, Sarah, Lauren, Lynsey (did I get the number of y's right?) and Becky!

However, something else very important happened during that visit:

I GOT MY HANDS ON MOAR ARCS OF SHADOWS ON THE MOON!

Which means, instead of the single ARC that I was previously offering, I can now promise *three*. Three! Your chance of winning one just tripled... If, of course, we get 200 followers by Christmas. 

Go to work, little grasshoppers!

Friday, 26 November 2010

SHADOWS ON THE MOON ARC GIVEAWAY!

That's right - my post title deceives you not. The time has come - as long promised and awaited - for me to give away ONE PRECIOUS COPY OF SHADOWS ON THE MOON!


Do I seem a little excited to you, readers? You bet your sweet bippy I am! I only have THREE of these little babies in my clutches, and this is the first one to be sent out alone into the cruel, cold world *Sob*.

The winner will recieve a signed and (if they wish) dedicated copy of the uncorrected proof this book, along with any other goodies I have hanging around at the time, including (but not limited to) signed postcards and fridge magnets, bookplates, scented Japanese fans, chocolates, sparkles and kittens (well, maybe not kittens). I will send the prize anywhere, up to (and including) Utter Pradesh, Outer Mongolia, Deepest Peru and the Polar Icecap.

This book will not be released in the UK until July 2011, and at present I do not plan to give away any other copies, since my mum has dibs on one and I'd like to keep one for myself. So if you want it, this is pretty much your only chance.

What do you have to do to get your eager little hands on this fantabulous prize? Well, here's where it gets interesting, my lovelies. I need you guys to help me out.

You see, when I started this blog, I was a wee, naive little creature, unschooled in the ways of blogging. I thought that if I posted interesting original content on a regular basis and made a sincere effort to interact with readers, I would soon have a thriving audience. And at first, it was so. Within the first month, before I could even catch my breath, I had over a hundred followers! What's more, they were the most faithful, intelligent and enthusiastic followers I could hope for.

But I've noticed that my follower count has pretty much remained completely static for the last three months, and since I am now slightly more savvy as to the way authors usually draw readers to their blogs, I realise that in order to increase this number and reach more readers, I'm supposed to 'friend' influential people on Goodreads and Facebook, stalk and follow certain key blogs, and make comments all over the place, even when I have nothing to say. Apparently this is the reliable way to increase blog traffic.

Um. No. Not gonna. It all seems a bit fake to me, to be honest, and I have enough trouble keeping up with the people I really do want to follow. Plus, stalking is creepy. However, I would still like more people to learn about my blog. Because I believe in my blog. I think more people *should* get the chance to hear about it, and read it, and ask me questions about writing and publishing and get honest answers. And you guys do too, right? So what I want is for you to be my emissaries. I'm not going to tell you how. I'm not going to ask you to post links. I just want you to go out and there talk about The Zoë-Trope. Tweet it, Facebook it, stick a link in your blog, chat to friends about it, whatever. Go forth and find me followers.

If, by Christmas, the number of blog followers has reached 200, I will pick a winner from among all those followers to recieve the ARC. And I will also post a video of me singing the blues (live and unaccompanied) on YouTube. Anyone that knows me knows that singing in public is one of the very few things that gives me stage-fright, so I'm really sticking my neck out here.

That's it. That's all. 200 blog followers by Christmas. Since the number of my followers is already 114, that means you only have to find...(counts on fingers, scratches head, gets out abacus) 86 new followers. I really, really hope you can do it. Even if it does mean squawking like a chicken on YouTube.

Come on...you know you want it...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

TO CRY, OR NOT TO CRY?


Today, I have been crying. Not wailing, sobbing, or beating my breast, mind you. A few dignified tears slipping down the cheeks, and the odd sniff. That sort of thing. But fear not. Nothing bad has happened to your favourite author (second favourite? Third? Fine, an author you might have heard of once, maybe). I've just been re-writing some emotional scenes in FF.

I quite often get a little het up when I'm writing. I don't set out to do it. I'll just be reading some dialogue out loud to myself and suddenly there's a catch in my throat. Or maybe there's no dialogue, and I'm working hard to capture a certain, intense moment in a character's life, and suddenly PLOP, there's a tear there on the page. There have definitely been times when I've finished my day's work with swollen nose and eyes, and headed straight for the chocolate stash. Shadows on the Moon was probably my weepiest work - but TSK and DotF had their moments too. FF is coming out somewhere near Shadows, but I haven't finished revising yet. It may get worse (O Joy).

Since I've always been this way it never occurred to me to question it, and I probably assumed that most other authors were the same way (whether they admitted it or not) up until recently. I remember reading a quote once that said 'No tears in the author, no tears in the reader' and thinking: Well, I've got that covered anyway.

But it turns out there are some authors who scorn this kind of rampant emotionalism, and who say that it's all just silliness and getting carried away. Do carpenters weep over their dovetail joints, these writers ask? Does an engineer get emotional when applying his wrench? No! Writing, they say, is a craft, like any other, and in order to use the tools of craft correctly one must maintain a proper emotional distance and realise that IT'S ALL JUST FICTION ANYWAY FOR CRISSAKES!!!

And hey, before we start badmouthing these guys - we're talking Maggie Stiefvater, Meg Cabot and Veronica Roth here. People whose success and opinions need to be respected. I do respect them.

I'm not just not sure I really agree.

Of course I can see, logically, where writers who say things like this are coming from. Anyone who feels the way they do is absolutely right - when it comes to their own work. But it seems a little prescriptive to be implying that people who do get very emotionally involved with their characters are just being silly. Writers, like all people, are famously individual. One writer's block is another writer's inspiration.

Yes, writing is a craft. A craft like carpentry or engineering. It has its own tools and it can be learned and improved with practise. But it's also an art (I'm not being pretentious here, because I think anything, really anything, can be an art if you love it and do your absolute best with it and believe in it). And contrary to common belief, the stuff of a writer's art is not words. Words are the medium. Just like a glassblower uses glass as a medium in which to capture light, so a writer uses words as a medium to capture emotion.

That's what being a writer is all about, right? Whether we want to make people laugh, or get angry, or feel sad, or happy, the important thing is that they feel. We create characters and stories and worlds with the specific intention of influencing a reader's feelings, of changing the way they feel right in this minute with our story. A writer of fiction wants to engage reader's emotions - and sometimes, some of us need to invest our own to get that. If I can't believe in a character enough to forget, now and then, that they're not real, then I don't think my readers will ever feel my characters are real at all.

On the other hand, fairly recently a very successful author Who Shall Not Be Named (*cough*LaurellKHamilton*cough*) annoyed and amused a lot of authors, including me, by putting out a blog post where she claimed that writing her novels was so emotionally painful for her that it resembled being dismembered, and that she was bleeding on her keyboard. Which. You know. Euw. And her major point seemed to be that anyone who doesn't feel this way is a BIG FAT SELLOUT FAKE and NOT A REAL WRITER.

Eeep. Pretty sure I don't agree there either. Any activity which causes me such intense pain that I feel like I'm bleeding all over the place isn't for me. Isn't writing supposed to be fun? Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it's emotionally draining at times. Yes, it can also be frustrating and (let's not forget) BADLY PAID. But if you hate it so much that it hurts you, for Sweet Baby Jesus's sake stop it. Whether you're doing yoga, competitive tap-dancing or ecologically-friendly beaver wresting, there is a difference between 'good pain' (muscles working, feel the burn) and bad pain (oh my god make it stop making it stop owwwwww!). We writers might like to pretend that we're all eccentric oddballs for laughs sometimes, but this level of angst is bordering on some kind of personality disorder.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is: there are a lot of people in the world who will be telling you This Is How To Be A Writer. Some of them will say things that seem dead on. Others will apparently be talking some strange crazy language that sounds like a penguin gacking up its breakfast. Take what you find useful and move on, and, ultimately, do what works for you and makes you want to write more.

Because no one likes Mr Judgy-Writer-Pants.

Monday, 22 November 2010

FROSTFIRE TEASER

Hello, readers. Today I wanted to post a teaser of Shadows on the Moon, but it's getting harder and harder to do that because, a) there are few bits left that are not spoilery and b) my Word doc. doesn't contain the most recent version of the book anymore - the copyedits were done on paper. Anyway, I'm going to be giving away an ARC of Shadows soonish, and I don't want to spoil you.

So instead of a Shadows teaser I bring you...a FrostFire teaser! This bit's been revised about four times now so it should be fairly typo and blip free (although I know writing that has just guaranteed at least a hundred mistakes will show up in it). Remember, too, that this novel has not been submitted yet, which means it has a lot of hoops yet to jump through, and any and all scenes are subject to change or even (gulp) deletion.

Enjoy, my pretties!

Friday, 19 November 2010

GIVING UP

Hello blog readers. Another Friday, another post. And today, I'm going to talk about giving up. Because that's what I've been wrestling with for the past couple of weeks.

You guys may remember that I've been revising FF (FrostFire, the companion book to Daughter of the Flames) lately. And I've been struggling. The Epic Fall and Evil Virus didn't really help, but they were not the cause of my consternation. In the last day or so I have come to an unavoidable conclusion: I need to give up on this draft. Wait, wait - before you start screaming, let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

(If you got that joke, give yourself a bonus point).

My normal writing process, as documented on my website and all over the internet, goes thusly: Zolah buys a notebook. Zolah scribbles in the notebook. Around once a week Zolah types these scribbled pages into her computer, changing and revising as she goes. When she has reached the end, she prints it all out and leaves it to mature for a couple of weeks, reads it over, revises again and sends it to her editor. She calls this her 'first draft'.

That's the way I've always worked, and because of that, I simply did not realise how VITAL each stage of the process was.

Then I went full-time. I started writing from nine to five or later each day, and I found that my terrible eyesight (which causes me to crane over the page in order to see what I'm writing), and the resulting bad posture while writing by hand were causing me serious neck and back problems. It's one thing to fold yourself into a pretzel for a fifteen minutes during a teabreak, or even an hour in the evening. It's another to sit that way for eight hours a day. I couldn't handle the pain. So I simply cut the notebook stage out. I began writing everything directly onto my laptop. My neck and back thanked me, and I was hitting 12,000 words a week. Awesome, yes?

No. No. No.

When I came to revise my 'finished' first draft, I found to my horror that it was all wrong so very very wrong OMG what HAPPENED HOW WHAT ARGHGGHG! Instead of the fairly polished first draft which I expected to read, I found an incoherant, badly paced, badly written mess. In skipping the initial scribbling and revising stage I had effectively created a manuscript that read like those scribbled notebook pages. Because of course, using the notebook method, what I had been calling my 'first draft' was in fact more like a second or even third draft.

Trying to fix this with my normal polishing and revising process was like rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. It might take your mind off things and give you an illusion that you're being productive, but in the long run you're still heading for a disaster. And so, after a week of hiding my head under the covers, groaning and baking (holy granola guys, you should SEE my kitchen right now. I've had to borrow cake and biscuit tins from all over the place) I've finally come to the realisation that it is time to give up.

Not on the book. On this draft. I cannot fix it. I can rearrange, revise and polish it until the cows come home, but it still won't be right. I need to scratch at least 70% of this manuscript, get out my trusty notebook and propelling pencil, and start again.

This, as you can probably imagine, is a hella scary position to be in. My deadline on this book is around the tenth of January (since that's when my editor gets back from her extremely well deserved holiday), which leaves me just under two months to write the new version. And those two months include Christmas and New Year, when I will have various committments to family and friends which I just can't toss aside. So you'd think I'd be freaking the heck out right now.

But I'm actually not. The sheer of relief of finally letting go, giving up on what can't be fixed and making a decision about what needs to be done, completely drowns out any sense of panic. I'm not only quietly confident that I can do this; I'm really excited to do this. I'm filled with glee at the thought of getting stuck in and making this book as good as it really deserves to be. I'm well aware that I'm going to be working flat out and that it will be really, really hard, especially at this time of year - but it's also going to be fun.

I hope.

Anyway, I leave you today with this video from the amazing Jackson Pearce, who not only has profound things to say about giving up, but also manages to BATHE HER CAT (yes, in actual WATER) and survive. If I tried to do this to either of my cats I'd end up needing prosthetic arms for the rest of my life, and probably a breathing tube as well. How does she do it? I suspect that she may be a witch. Or an elf. Or both.



Is there anything that you guys are struggling with lately, that you might need to let go and just give up on? Tell me about it in the comments.

(P.S. I have just ordered a box easel to put my notebook on when I'm writing. Hopefully this will allow me to write by hand without crippling myself. Win!)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

FIVE THINGS THAT DEFINE MY WRITING

This is topic comes to you courtesty of The YA Rebels, who've been doing a Ten Things Week on YouTube. Most of them seem to be focusing on physical things that encapsulate their lives or which help them to write. I'm going a bit more philosophical with mine, and - since I want to go into depth without this post becoming unbearably long - I'm only going for a list of five.

Thing Number Five: IDENTITY

Looking at the books I've written and the books I want plan to/want to write, I can see that all of them explore the theme of identity in some way, whether it's a heroine questioning her 'proper' place in the pecking order of her family, or one who discovers that her whole life so far has been a lie. I think this is a topic that comes up often in YA literature, because part of the struggle of being a young adult is learning who you are, who you want to be, and how to live with that. YA fiction needs to reflect that struggle in order to depict fully formed and realistic YA characters.

But I also think that the reason identity comes up over and over in my stories is that it's a theme which is personally significant to me. For a long time my image of myself was defined by other people's expectations of and reactions to me - it was only when I hit my twenties that I began to break free of that and allow myself to explore just who I really was without feeling fear or shame that I was doing something 'wrong' because it didn't fit with a stereotype.

Some people seem to have a very strong idea of who they are from the moment they're born (my niece Clemence is one) while others are gentler and more malleable (like my other niece Alix). But underneath the more obvious traits and characteristics which cause the people in our lives to try to label us - and people, no matter how well-meaning, will ALWAYS be trying to label you - we all have an inner self who is often a complete mystery, even to ourselves. Who are you, really? Do you decide this, or is it preordained? Are some people born bad or good? Does upbringing have the power to shape you, and is it ever possible to break free? My search to answer these questions is part of what defines me as a writer.


Thing Number Four: HIDDEN DEPTHS

Character's hidden depths are my sparkly sprinkles. They make me smile. You, the reader, may never know about them, but every time I put a character on the page I give them hidden depths, secret histories, a little flicker of life that makes them special to me. Here's one: Rashna, in Daughter of the Flames, is Surya's biological daughter. Surya didn't want children and had Rashna adopted when she was born. Shocking, eh? Of course, because these hidden depths are just that - hidden, not explicitly spelled out on the page - you don't have to agree with them. If you want to decide that Rashna is actually Zira's illegitimate sister, that's fine too. I want you to use your imaginations, and when I write I always try to give the reader room to make up their own mind about things like that wherever I can. Nevertheless, I think that the secrets my characters keep has a profound effect on the way that my plots unfold. Most important of all, these secrets make my job fun.

Thing Number Three: UNEXPLORED WORLDS

On the surface this seems simple, because all my books so far have been what is called High or Epic fantasy, meaning that I create worlds from scratch for my books, literally building new universes down to the colour of the leaves, where the seas go, and the patterns of the stars. In the future I plan to write urban fantasy books set in contemporary Britain, but even this will involve constructing a magical framework, a world beneath and around our everyday world, that will allow the events of my story to unfold.

However, when I say Unexplored Worlds, I'm not just talking about the fun and hard work of creating fictional universes. I'm talking about pushing myself to take chances each time I sit down to write my next book. I think it's very easy as a writer to get into a rut. To write almost-the-same-plot with almost-the-same-characters in almost-the-same-world each time. Writing can be heart-breaking and scary and when you come up with stories it can be sooo tempting to just do 'more of the same'. Sometimes there's even pressure from agents and publishers on this score as well. I've seen a lot of writers that I loved and respected fall into this trap, and while I understand it, I also think it's a waste.

So I try to explore new worlds with each story that I write. Set myself new challenges. Push myself, even if that means feeling less comfortable. Shall I set this story in an industrialised country? Can I make this story take place over the course of just one week? Try a love triangle? Write a lesbian main character? Write in third person instead of first? Possibly this means that my work will be less polished but hopefully it will also mean that I keep on developing myself and my skills as a writer.

Thing Number Two: ANGST

When I tell people that I write books for young people, they nearly always jump to the conclusion that my books must be funny, madcap adventures for younger children. That's because (as you might have noticed if you read this blog much) I am a funny, madcap and slightly whacky person. But when it comes to my writing, a whole other personality springs to life, and this personality does not laugh much, if at all. She is not whacky or madcap. She is serious. And angsty.

I don't know why. I have no explanation for the fact that when I come to write stories I'm nearly always drawn to the dark ones. I have no idea why, when the first thing people say about me in real life is 'funny', my characters hardly ever get to laugh. When I finished Shadows on the Moon I promised myself I was never going to cry that much over a book again - but FrostFire was even worse.

But even though my characters nearly all go through terrible ordeals, I think their suffering has meaning - not only in terms of moving my plot forward but also in helping them to change and grow, and learn the extent of their own strength, just like in real life. Angst defines me as a writer because I want my characters to be real.

Thing Number One: LOVE

I know what you're thinking. Smoochy smoochy. However, I'm not just talking about romance here.

Love motivates all my characters in some way. In Daughter of the Flames, Abheron's fear of and craving for love causes him to act like a monster, while Zira's love for her country and her people makes her a leader and a heroine. In The Swan Kingdom, Alex's love for her brothers and Gabriel gives her the courage to stop running and fight back for the first time in her life. Love of himself motivates the villain of Shadows on the Moon.

I believe that love is one of the most frightening and powerful forces in human experience. It can make people do terrible things, fill them with fear and hatred, destroy them - and it can also heal people, teach them who they really are, and allow them to perform acts of astonishing bravery and self-sacrifice. Finding out who and what my characters love, how they express that love, the way it changes them, is probably the most important thing to me. It's what helps me to develop all my plots, all my people - and it's what keeps me writing until the end. Without love, I honestly don't think I'd be able to write anything at all.

So those are the things that define my writing. What about you?

Monday, 15 November 2010

THE BEST BOOKS I BET YOU'VE NEVER READ

Hello and Happy Monday! Remember, it's only three days until Friday, and the worst day of the week is already over with (I'm trying to convince myself as much as you, here - edits are kicking my butt).

So today I thought I'd do a little post about books that I absolutely love and adore and which have had a huge influence on me - but which I bet many of you have never heard of before. Some of these books are more famous on one side of the Pacific than the other, some of them don't get the attention they deserve anywhere. Get your pencils ready, boys and girls! You're going to want to write these down.

  1. First of all I'm going for one which (in my view) is not well known enough in either the UK or the US, and a book which I blame both for my incurable romanticism and my enduring love for bad boys. I was actually about eight when I read this the first time, way too young to be in the target audience. It didn't matter. This book changed my life: The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. It's the story of Laura Chant, a girl who notices odd things about the world that others do not, who gets strange feelings about people that tell her they are not entirely what they seem, and who gets 'warnings' from the universe when things are about to go wrong. When her beloved younger brother falls terribly ill with a sickness she thinks is supernatural, the only thing she can do to help him is to approach Sorry Carlisle - a beautiful and enigmatic boy from her school that she is sure is a witch. This is probably the first paranormal romance written for young adults. In fact, it's one of the first books to recieve a YA label ever. I love, love, love it and I think you should all read it if you can.
  2. Next up, a book that has recieved a lot of praise and attention in the US but very little in the UK. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (and it's sequels The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia. There's a fourth linked book called A Conspiracy of Princes but I don't consider that to be part of the same series). If you like surprises, beautifully realised, intricate fantasy worlds, and multilayered REAL characters, these books are for you. I got through all three in about a day and a half and finished nothing less than awed by this author's skill. You may notice I'm not giving a synopsis here: that's because there's so many twists and turns in these books that there is literally nothing I can say which isn't a spoiler!
  3. Here's one that very few people have heard of: The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip. I cannot express how much of an influence this book has had on me. It is a book that truly deserves the word 'lyrical', like a prose poem that completely captures you in it's bittersweet, dreamy mood. It's the story of a young girl who has lost both father and mother to the sea in different ways, and how, through her passionate hatred of the ocean, she unravels a terrible curse, earns the love and gratitude of two princes, and heals both them and her own broken family.
  4. Bit of a change of pace here - we're going from fantasy to historical. If any of you have ever sighed over the exploits of Darcy and Elizabeth, then you will probably enjoy the works of Georgette Heyer, and my favourite of her books is The Unknown Ajax. The most telling thing I can say about it is that if I could marry any hero from any book I've ever read, it would be Hugo Darracot. I adore him, and I adore this novel.
  5. Back to fantasy. If you live in the UK you've probably heard of Diana Wynne Jones. A lot of people here read her younger fiction as part of the wizard craze following Harry Potter's release (although DWJ has been around a lot longer than JKR). But she also writes amazing YA fiction and Hexwood is one of her strangest, twistiest, scariest and most romantic books. The love story here takes a bit of effort to get your head around, but it's all the better for that. If you're anything like me you'll find you can re-read this about five times and get a different book each time. It manages to be funny and tragic, and to weave universal truths about human nature into its universe spanning tale of treachery, intrigue and love. It's that complex.
  6. Finally The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. This lady is huge in the US. Not so much in the UK. If I was stranded on a desert island and could only bring a few books, this would be one of them. Cazaril is a wonderful character, flawed and struggling yet noble and compassionate with every fibre of his being. I loooove him. I love the way the plot unfolds here. I love the strong, intelligent female characters and I love the fictional world. This is an adult book and first time I read it, quite frankly it shocked me - there's some dark and powerful stuff in here. But now I know the way everything turns out, it has become my number one comfort read.
I hope there's at least one or two books here you've not come across before! Order them from your local bookshop, find them in the library, heck, even get them on Amazon - they won't let you down.
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