Wednesday, 29 September 2010

COVERED IN GLORY!

I think I may have mentioned that in July of 2011, Shadows on the Moon (my Cinderella re-telling set in Japan) will be released by Walker Books. Actually, it's safe to say that I may have mentioned it A LOT.

However, what I might not have mentioned quite so often is that at the same time, Walker Books will also be re-packaging and reissuing The Swan Kingdom, my very first book. I'm really ecstatic about this, because not only does it mean that Alexandra and her story will get a completely new chance to reach out to readers, but because it also means the book gets brand spanking new cover art.

Now, I LOVED my original UK paperback artwork, and a lot of people told me they loved it too. I mean, what's not to love?


I adore the striking colours - especially the midnight blue - and in real life it is sparkly. But when I compare it to the covers of YA books which are on the shelves now, following the Twilight Boom and the surge in photocovers, it looks a slightly 'young' for a book aimed at 12+. I've even seen, in my local library, a little sticker placed on the book to warn off readers under the age of 12, because it might be too scary for them, which argues that it was appealing to readers of 11 years old and younger.

On the other hand, I have to admit that when when I knew I was getting new artwork, I also felt a bit nervous, because...that first cover really does express the type of story TSK is so well. What if it all went wrong? What if they came up with something I really hated? I've been so lucky with covers so far.  Could this be where my luck ran out?

Thusly, when I recieved an email from my editor which had the words 'Swan Kingdom' and 'Cover' in the title, I had to take a few deep breaths before I opened it up. But I needn't have worried. Because what I found was this:


Will you think less of me if I admit that I did a little happy dance when I saw this? It takes all the things I loved about the original cover - the sense of magic, the organic forms, the nature imagery and most of all that luscious blue, and it turns them into something grown up and sophisticated. And what's more: SWANS!

Just as with the first cover, I know for 100% certain that if I saw that on a book in the shop, I would pick it up and read the back (which is half the battle). I'm so pleased! What do you guys think?

In other news, I've also now seen the cover for Shadows on the Moon - and I will be posting that on Friday for you. Stand by!

Monday, 27 September 2010

READER EMAILS

Today I'm going to answer some questions from lovely readers. I originally intended to make a vlog about these, but I find that tends to take up a whole day, from the filming, re-filming, filming it AGAIN, cutting, adding sound effects and all the rest. Which normally I don't mind, but I'm getting close to the climactic bits of FrostFire now, and I'd rather spend a day working on that.

So, without further ado, I shall address the question sent to me by Natalie (who said some very nice things about me and my books too - cheers, Natalie!). She asked:

"How do you manage to create such life-like, relatable characters?" 

Well, I actually did a whole post about that here, but the short answer is really that you have to get to know them. You ask yourself questions about them, what they want, what they look like, who they are, and prepare yourself to get unexpected answers. And then you write about them and you let them go their own way as much as you can without it turning your fantasy novel into a comic 1930's caperchase film about bunnies on the run.

I think most writers have an eerie feeling that they don't so much invent characters as discover them, that these people all already exist fully formed somewhere and its our job to find out who they are, rather than telling them that. And I think it helps to love them all - including the complete stinkers - because that way you want to do them justice, and give them their chance to show that, in their own heads, they're all heros. Even the villains.

The next email is from Delaney (I have no idea if you're a boy or a girl, Delaney, but it's a very cool name nonetheless) who says:

I've been wanting to begin a book for a while now. I actually wrote part of a book and then gave up on it because I lost all interest and my writing style changed drastically. Now that I'm no longer writing anything, I miss writing. I miss the haunting thoughts of what I wrote and my characters not letting me sleep. Now, I have an idea, but I don't know how to start it. I keep thinking it isn't good enough. And then, I start having all of these thoughts like "oh I'm such a terrible writer, mind as well give up now" and "no, that's just stupid, don't write something like that!". Help me! Please! I don't know what to do.

Well, this is an unexpectedly easy question to answer, because what you're describing here is the EXACT SAME THING I GO THROUGH EVERY SINGLE TIME I START A NEW BOOK. You are not alone. I read about some authors who love starting new books and are full of enthusiasm and vim and vigour and just can't wait to get those first chapters down on paper. I do not understand these people. Beginnings are hard. You don't know your characters yet, or exactly what's going to happen. You haven't made important choices about the tone of your story, or the way the setting might effect things. You probably don't even know enough about the story yet to do any research. Usually by the time I've figured out all the stuff that *don't know* the idea just sort of seems to shrivel up into a tiny, withered dead thing and I can't imagine ever getting enough life out of it to make a book.

But do not despair! The answer is this: Give yourself permission to suck, and suck *epically*. Because you will. Or rather, your first few chapters will. It doesn't matter, because somewhere between chapters two and four, a switch will flip in your head and you'll suddenly realise (or remember) why you wanted to write this story in the first place. The characters will come to life, the world will seem cool and full of interesting details again, all sorts of compelling twists will start pouring into your head and you'll be desperate to get on and figure out what happens next.

Mind you, this won't be the last time you hear the voices that say 'This is a terrible story!' and 'You're a terrible writer!' and 'GIVE UP NOW!' because they'll be back everytime you hit a tough scene, or you write something that doesn't seem quite right but you don't know why. They'll definitely be back when you re-read your first completed draft and realise you need to throw out the first five chapters. But that, too, is part of being a writer. Every single writer, from the ones that love beginnings to the ones, like me, that love middles, to the ones that get gleeful over the endings, hear those voices all the time. In fact, EVERYONE does.

Yep. Your dentist. Your best friend. Your mum. That guy walking by the window right now. The annoying gym teacher. The pilot in that aeroplane passing by overhead? He or she is hearing them too. The secret to being a success at whatever you do is to accept that and do what you want anyway.

Delaney, you also asked if books these days need to have romance in them to be successful. This one's tough because I, personally, love romance in my books (the ones I read and the ones I write). But if you're not comfy writing it, don't, and then see if it works. I have many favourite books and stories that don't have any romance in them, and if those authors can manage it I'm sure you can. Finally, you wanted some advice on plotting. Well, I'm a plotting freak, and you can find my articles on that here, here and here, but if you don't like outlines and prefer to write by the seat of your pants, then that's what you should do. You're the only one that can figure out what works for you.

Okay folks - that's all for today, but if anyone else has any writing/reading/author related questions, email me or toss them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer!

Friday, 24 September 2010

FUN ON FRIDAY

Hello, hello! I've had a fairly exciting couple of weeks, which I've kept quiet about so far because everything has been in flux. But it looks like things have settled down again now (into a new and better pattern) so I'll spill.

Firstly, last Thursday I went down to London (a fairly long and gruelling trip for me, as I live in the distant misty North) and talked up Shadows on the Moon and the reissue of The Swan Kingdom at the Walker Books sales conference. An author only gets the chance to do this once very few years (last time for me was 2006) and it's important because it's your chance to try and generate 'buzz', to get the sales reps and marketing people and the company in general excited about your book so that they can go out to booksellers and places like the Bologna Book Fair and really sell you with conviction. I took special presents for everyone, talked about where I hope my work fits into the current YA market, and compared myself to Cassandra Clare and Suzanne Collins. No one ever accused me of thinking small.

However, while I was preparing for this trip to London something rather less fun happened, which was that I came to a parting of the ways with my former agent. It was sad, because we'd be working together since 2005, but I think it was inevitable. So the following Monday I was in London again, visiting one of my wish-list agents, who (unbelievably) was interested in representing my work. I had a couple of phone conversations with another wish-list agent who, again (unbelievably) turned out to be interested in me. I then faced a heart-rending decision over which one to chose.

In the past I have read the blogs or journals of authors who have taken care to arrange things so that they have three or four agent offers on the table before they make up their mind. I can only conclude that these writers have some sort of special Anti-Guilt Gene that I lack. I was in this amazing position of having two wonderful, top-notch agents waiting to hear from me, but instead of being excited or thrilled I felt terrible, because picking one meant rejecting the other. Eventually I made the decision, but...wow, I hope I never have to do this again.

Well, actually I'm SURE I won't, because my new agent is fabulous. She is Nancy Miles of the Miles Stott Childrens Literary Agency, who represents the UK interests of such authors as Cassandra Clare (see what I did there?), Holly Black and Libbra Bray, and UK authors Frances Hardinge, Dominic Barker and Cat Clarke. I'm so happy and relieved to feel that I'm in a really safe pair of hands, I could nearly melt.

Finally, I was intending to answer some reader emails on YouTube, but I've run out of time today and frankly I want a nap. So instead I'm posting a little teaser trailer I made for FrostFire, just to concentrate my own mind about it, which I thought you might all like.


How has everyone else's week been?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

SHADOWS ON THE MOON TEASER

After my big fat emotional post on Monday and your fantastic response, I decided you blog readers deserve a reward. Since I'm running low on chocolate brownies and sparkly puppies, I thought I'd provide an All New, exclusive, never-been-seen-before snippet of Shadows on the Moon. Follow the cut to read it.

I hope you enjoy this teaser! Let me know your thoughts, everyone.

Monday, 13 September 2010

INSECURITY: I HAZ IT

And just in case the blog title didn't clue you in to what I'm talking about today, here's a lolarious poster.


Okay, so on Friday I was reading the Road Trip posts on YA Highway when I came across this section:

Hannah Moskowitz wrote a thought-provoking post: "Has the internet community changed YA?" Amy Lukavits responded directly with some arguments for both sides. Natalie Whipple and Ally Carter posted on similar topics, both saying you can worry about the online YA community all you want, but in the end, it's the book that matters.
And I realised that this is exactly the stuff that turns me into the B*tSh*t Crazy Lady. Exactly. This. Stuff.

When I submitted The Swan Kingdom to Walker Books they didn't really know what to do with it. But they liked it, and I had all these convincing arguments about how the popularity of Harry Potter, Meg Cabot and Dr Who was paving the way for fantasy aimed at girls and where my book fitted into the market. I talked to them passionately and at length and I think my knowledge of and love for writing really came through because, after some re-writes, they decided to publish it. And somehow...somehow...it did not sink without trace.

I remember promising myself that if I just managed to sell 5,000 copies, I would never ask for anything again, and I can safely say that it surpassed that number long ago. I mean, don't run away with the idea that The Swan Kingdom was a bestseller. Or even a big seller. It wasn't. It sold unexpectedly well, got some good reviews, and my publisher was happy about it. So was I.

Then Daughter of the Flames came out. We sold that to Walker before The Swan Kingdom was even in copy-edits, so it was the same story. And it did okay. Not as well as The Swan Kingdom, but all right. It was a modest success. Again, the publisher was happy with it. So was I.

And then came The Dark Ages. We shall not speak of them in depth. Suffice it to say that during this period of about eighteen months, many not-nice things happened in my life. My house was flooded. My editor turned down my third book. Family members became ill. *I* became ill. And while I kept writing through this, it was to very little effect. I didn't finish anything, and every time that I nearly did, my agent or my publisher didn't like it.

During this period I discovered Teh Interwebz. I don't mean this was the first time I ever surfed the net - I mean it's the first time I was ever captivated by it. And what captivated me was not internet shopping or YouTube, but the corner of the net devoted to YA writing. It was like a whole other world for me, a world where YA writers weren't working all alone in their tiny boxroom in their damp, building-site houses, with a permanent cough (I was later diagnosed as asthmatic) and going days without speaking to anyone but their dog or people who had phoned their work to shout and verbally abuse them. A world where YA writers were slap in the middle of a community that seemed full of kindred spirits and dear friends. I watched their vlogs, I read their reviews on Goodreads, I laughed at their funny blog stories about the time they all rented a castle and got chased by a cow. I told myself that I found their success inspiring and that they helped me to keep positive and keep working.

But that wasn't the whole story.

I didn't want to feel envious of this group of people, but the simple fact was that they all had things I wanted desperately for myself. Not just their success, but their LIVES. So different from mine. So full and rich and FUN. Book tours and writing retreats, twitters, mutual book blurbs, blogs where a dozen people answered each tiny post as if it really mattered. I looked at my life and found it sadly wanting in comparison. I was working a full-time office job where I was miserable and squeezing writing into every other gap there was. I didn't know a single other YA writer well enough to call them a friend and what was more I had no way to change that.

I couldn't go to the conventions where these guys all met and hung out, or share tour dates with them. I live in the UK. They live in the US. Besides, their circle was already formed - they knew each other through writing fanfic or being critique partners or because they shared agents. They didn't know me from Adam. The occasional 'LOL' reply to my comment on one of their blogs didn't mean that they knew me or cared about me.

I began to feel like my entire writing career was, basically, pointless. I began looking at The Swan Kingdom and Daughter of the Flames and thinking 'Why did I even bother? No one likes them. No one's ever heard of me. I wrote high fantasy when I should have written urban fantasy/paranormal romance and I didn't promote enough or connect with the right people and I flushed my chance down the toilet. My life is exactly the same now as it would have been if both those books had never been written. I'm the scum at the bottom of the writing barrel. I ought to just. Give. Up'.

See? B*tsh*t Crazy Lady.

Because...what the HELL? Since when does who I know, or whether or not famous-name-writer follows my blog, or if I got to go to BigDealBookExpo have anything to do with the value of my work? Thankfully, at the point where I really felt the lowest, the lightbulb went on. I realised I had gotten totally caught up in this imaginary fantasy world I wanted to be part of and forgotten the important thing - the most important thing in the world - which is:

I'm a writer.

That's what I am, what I've always been, and what I will be until I die. I love stories. I love books. I love crafting imaginary worlds and living within them, I love bringing characters to life and laughing and crying with them. I love words. I love the spaces between words. I love commas and semicolons and fullstops and even the occasional exclamation mark. Exposition, description, dialogue, action; I adore them. And NOTHING and NO ONE can ever take that love, that passion, away from me...except me.

I think the reason this snuck up on me so easily was that I never WANTED to 'fit in' before. I was determinedly, stubbornly, proudly the odd one out at school. Even when I was picked on and bullied at every turn, I continued to be me, refusing to wear the fashionable clothes, talk the 'in' talk or act like one of the popular kids in any way. I carried on reading books in public, putting my hand up in class and getting A's no matter what anyone did to me. That aloneness, that knowledge of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to act got me through a lot of hard times, but it was based on the fact that those people who tried to make me miserable at school weren't worth imitating or fitting in with, and I knew it. But the authors I admire are admirable and worthy of my respect, and it turns out that I'm vulnerable to that in just the same way that some kids at my school were vulnerable to wanting to be popular.

It's so silly. No doubt that group of writers all have their sorrows and troubles and periods of insecurity and depression too. Being part of them wouldn't fix that about me. And yearning to be something I wasn't and can't ever be - a bestselling American urban fantasy author who goes on fabulous adventures with other trendy American urban fantasy authors - was making me hurt myself and, more significantly, my writing. And my writing is the Number One Thing in my life that I should always protect and nuture and make time for, because so long that as I do that, I will be happy.

Guys...if any of you are freaking out right now about how you don't fit into Whatever Group, about how your whole life/your writing/your hobby is pointless or how you should do/be something else than what you are...stop it. Okay? You are so much more special and strong and wonderful than you realise, and even if no one else in the world knows that I DO.

I might never have met you. I might never meet you. But I know that you are wonderful and you don't need to change in any way that doesn't make you happy. So the next time YOU feel the B*tSh*t Crazy Lady taking you over? Remember that. Preserve and protect the special thing that makes you who you are, no matter what. And be happy.

Friday, 10 September 2010

THE BIGTIME FIVE

I saw a vlog by a writing hero of mine called Jackson Pearce a little while ago. In it, she pondered the question:

If my books hit the bigtime and I became one of those NYT Bestselling authors....what would I do?

This, I'm sure you'll agree, is an intriguing subject. I mean, yeah, in my case it's about as likely to happen as getting struck my lightning. Five times. On a Tuesday. While wearing yellow. But still, it's fun to imagine, right? So here is my illustrated list of the Five Things I Would Do If I Hit The Bigtime.

Get a tattoo. The phoenix has always been a special symbol to me - so much so that when the US hardcover of Daughter of the Flames came out, and it had a phoenix on that back, I actually cried. I would love to get a beautiful tattoo like the one above. The problem is, I live in a small town, and I've seen some famously dodgy and messed up tattoos. I'd want to make sure I had it done by a real artist. And if I hit the bigtime, I could definitely afford the time (and the cash) to do that. Yay!


Build one of these houses. They are bespoke designed for you so you can chose exactly how many rooms you want, the size of them and their layout. They cost around 40% less than a similar brickbuilt property, and are made from hand-carved, sustainably resourced oak. But more important than all that LOOK HOW PRETTY! *Snuggles catalogue*

Send a massive bunch of flowers to my ex-boss for making me redundant. Even though I was completely devastated at the time, and was filled with anxiety about my future, clearly it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I would also send a card, and the card would say 'Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!' Not mature perhaps, but very satisfying.


Give a massive cheque to some of these guys. They do amazing work with no funding from the government in most cases, and are usually staffed only by volunteers. I salute you, Sirs.


Buy my entire Amazon wishlist and THEN READ IT. Oh, if only... The ironic thing about being a writer is that the reason you decide you want to write in the first place is because you love, love, love reading and books. Yet the more committed and disciplined you are about your work, the less time you seem to have for reading. Not just because of writing itself, but because of the business of being a writer - talking to agents and editors, answering business and fan emails, visiting schools and libraries, going to bookshops to talk up your new release and try to arrange signings. Writing blogs sucks up reading time too. A couple of weeks living in a luxury hotel with room service and the internet firmly turned off would work wonders on most writer's frazzled nerves, and reduce their TBR pile to zero.

And that is my Top Five. Although there's a few other things I'd do first, like throw a massive party for all my friends to thank them for being awesome, buy my mum and dad a house and put my dad into a private health scheme so that he could have treatment at home. But there were no cool pictures for those.

So, fellow writers...what is your Bigtime Five list?

Monday, 6 September 2010

THE BEST LAID PLANS...

How it feels in my heart right now...


Ah, how foolish we are, both mice and men...

Loyal blog readers may remember my Superspecialawesome Plan about how I was going to turn the sequel to Daughter of the Flames (tentatively titled FrostFire) into two books and make it all the Sacred Flame Trilogy or something like that?

Superspecialawesome Plan = fail. My lovely, lovely editor emailed me today to tell me (in the kindest possible way, with lots of praise to cushion the blow) that the first book of this proposed two book series just doesn't work on its own. She said it felt like everything was underdeveloped, that I was holding all the good stuff back for the second book. Which is fair enough: I was.

There are some authors who just naturally seem to think in trilogies and series, who can take one story and split it into multiple volumes effortlessly, creating in each book a satisfying plot-arc and developing their characters just enough, yet leaving further questions to be answered in the next installment.

I am not one of them.

In fact, I am in awe of those guys. How do they do it? Everytime I try, the whole thing goes wrong. It seems I am Standalone Only.

*Sigh*

So, the final, absolutely-MUST-deliver-by-this-date deadline on this book is the end of December, leaving me fifteen weeks (I can't count the first week of October, I'm doing day-long school workshops the whole week and the following monday too) to revise the first half of the manuscript according to my editor's suggestions, write the second half, put them together, put the ms away to mature for at least a week, and then revise them as a whole.

My schedule until Christmas looks a tad cramped.

I'm sure I'll live. Absolutely. Ha ha. Ha.

Ahem.

I just have to keep reminding myself: no matter what, it's better than my old job.

Anyway, this is all just a symptom of something I often tell readers who email me asking me How To Write A Book. Which is: No one knows. Seriously, you never figure it out. Most of the time you don't even know how to write the book you're writing, let alone the one coming next. You make it up as you go along, God help you.

For those of you who were looking for more constructive advice, I refer you to Patricia C Wrede. She always says it all better anyway.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

THE WINNER OF CLOCKWORK ANGEL IS...

And the competition is CLOSED.

Thank you to everyone who entered! You all spread the word so well - you guys rock.

Now for the news you're all waiting for - the name of the winner. I used a random number generator based on the number of entries recieved and it picked (drumroll please)...

Cass (Words on Paper)

Congratulations, Cass! Email me with your address as soon as you can. The quicker I get your address, the quicker you get your prize, which includes the aforementioned copy of Clockwork Angel and random other surprises from my writing cave.

And then I felt guilty because I only gave away one prize. So I used the random generator again and this time it picked...

Alex Mullarkey

I don't have a copy of Clockwork Angel for you, but I will send you your choice of either a signed copy of Daughter of the Flames, or a signed copy of The Swan Kingdom, and some bookplates. Again, email me ASAP to give me your address so I can send this stuff out to you.

OK folks - back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

AIMLESS BURBLING

I'm just going to admit it straight up - I have no idea what to blog about today. I am drifting about my house like the lost wraith of an abandoned milkmaid (I don't know why a milkmaid, okay? shut up), making weebling noises under my breath and sighing long, melancholy sighs.

Why?

Turns out that despite my good intentions, it's not so easy to get to work on Book Two of your two book series if you have no idea whether it will ACTUALLY BE Book Two of a two book series, or if it might turn out to only be the second part of the book you thought you just finished. Confused yet? I am. Mrrghh.

So anyway, I decided to put the second book/part of FrostFire aside for a bit. I don't want to spend weeks working on a brilliant opening to a new book if it's all going to get deleted because there is no new book. But that means I have nothing to do. And I...don't do so well with the forced inactivity, kids. It turns me into the b*tsh*t crazy lady. If you thought I was the b*tsh*t crazy lady before? Yeah, no. That was me being normal.

I read seven books over the weekend, and now there's nothing left on my TBR pile that I really want to dive into. Celebrity MasterChef being finished, there's nothing on TV that I want to see (MasterChef rules, all right? Shut up). I did make an effort to be productive. I printed out an unfinished manuscript I was working on a few years ago, before Shadows on the Moon. Anyone who used to check the writing journal on my website (a short-lived and ill-fated idea on my part) may recall that I was working on a book I fondly referred to as the giant killer clockwork praying mantis death robot book. It's cool, and I think I'm definitely going to finish it, but there's nearly 70,000 words of it and I can already see that it needs a LOT of work. Is it wise to plunge into this when FrostFire isn't finished yet? Probably not.

I've been for two long walks in the countryside, but I do that every day anyway. I baked, and now I'm going to have to palm several pounds of baked goods off on family and friends. I did some sketching, but I'm really out of practise and it's not fun if everything turns out kind of looking like a donkey, especially if you were trying to draw one of your own characters (it can happen to any artist, all right? Shut up). Much more of the sighing and the weebling and my dog is going to run away, folks. The cats are already hiding under the bed.

I may be waiting another week or two or three before I get any feedback on FrostFire. I CANNOT WAIT THAT LONG doing nothing without losing it and going completely nuts. And like I said, if you thought I was nuts before? You ain't seen nothing yet.

Give me suggestions. What should I do to take my mind off the writing that I want to do but can't? What books should I read that I haven't already (most of my recent reads are on my GoodReads page)? What hobby should I try out? What film or TV show, anime, manga, funny singing yak clip on YouTube should I check out? Or, failing that, what blog post topic would you like me to write on?

I NEED HELP, YOU GUYS! DO NOT FAIL ME!
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