Friday, 29 April 2011

HAPPY HAIRCUT

Hello and Happy Friday, dear readers. Today I bring you something which is not even slightly related to books or writing in *any* way. I spent most of Thursday freaking out about a completely different topic. That topic being: my hair.

Don't all start jumping and screaming at once.

Look, I know you're as fascinated by my hair as I am, damn it! Just admit that when I tell you I chopped five inches off the length yesterday you're utterly aghast and desperate to see how it turned out!

So here are a couple of pictures of my hair as it was yesterday morning. These were really tough to take because, frankly, my hair was so long that I could hardly fit it all in:




And here are some pictures of it after I visited the hairdressers. I now have a fringe (bangs for the USians) and layers and volume and movement and nearly half a foot less hair!




There you go. A bit less princessy, but hopefully a lot less heavy and hot and likely to get trapped in car doors and ripped out. Don't cry. It'll grow back, honest.

And I know that you're desperate to get back to the Royal Wedding - off you go. Have a lovely weekend.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

FAIRYTALE FORTNIGHT INTERVIEW

Happy Wednesday, my lovelies! Today I bring you the interview I did for Fairytale Fortnight over on The Book Rat and Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing - I've literally moved the whole thing over here, which means you get the links to the Shadows on the Moon/The Swan Kingdom giveaway at the bottom, just in case you haven't already entered.  

 

Interview with Zoë Marriott!

Today's interview is with Zoë Marriott, author of The Swan Kingdom (read Ashley's review), Daughter of the Flames (which Ashley also loved) and the upcoming Shadows on the Moon (which both Misty and Ashley are eagerly awaiting). Zoë has known that she wanted to be a writer since she was finished reading her first book; The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. She thinks she was about eight, but she decided on being a writer and hasn't changed her mind since then. And boy, are we glad that she didn't! Help us welcome Zoë to the blog today!!


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The Swan Kingdom is my favorite retelling of The Six Swans/The Wild Swans that I have come across. You talk about what inspired you to write this one down in your guest post. I loved what you did with the story to make it your own, but your interpretation of the ending to this story is largely responsible for how much I love this book. Without spoiling anything, can you talk about that? Can you share where or how that idea came to you?

So hard not to spoil!! Argh! Okay... well... basically, in the original version of the story, I didn't think the heroine really got a very happy ending. Or enough credit! She's clearly an extraordinarily brave and strong young woman, loyal the her brothers to the end despite all the suffering she's gone through - but she gets stuck with this prince who pretty much *kidnapped* her, and then was going to burn her because he thought she was a witch? That's true love for you, right? And she never gets justice for the wrong done to her family by her stepmother, or any closure, or even to see the land of her birth again! I suppose a few hundred years ago women weren't supposed to care about things like that, but I was sure that for someone like her, the fate of the people she had left behind must have weighed on her mind very heavily. And then, it also made sense to me that in order to reverse such a powerful curse on her brothers through almost nothing but willpower and knitting, she must have had some fairly strong magical power of her own! So I wanted to try and bring those elements into the resolution of the story and bring everything full circle.

Did you have the changes you brought to the story in mind before you started writing, or were these things that came to you after?

Wow, that's a good question! I think some of them were always there, because they grew from the questions I had about the story - the questions that made me want to retell it. I mean, for example: just who was the mother of these royal children? In fairytales the real mother nearly always gets erased in the first line and replaced by a wicked plot-point. But it seemed to me that, particularly in The Wild Swans, where the father is pretty much a non-entity and yet the children are remarkable, that the mysterious, dead mother must have been remarkable too. So I always knew that in my version the mother and particularly her death would be significant and happen 'on-screen' as it were. 

In other cases, the changes to the story were due to things that happened to be marinading in my brain at the time. When I was working on the first draft of the story I was watching a BBC documentary series about British pre-history in which there was a lot of information about the hunter-gatherers who built all our long barrows and stone circles. The experts talked about ancestor worship, and about the way that cave art seemed to show animal and human spirts all together, as part of nature. But then as people started to farm and develop agriculture and a more sedentary life, the idea of ownership and kingdoms appeared, and there was a massive shift in the way people lived. Did the hunter-gatherers disappear? Or were they absorbed into the farmer population? So those ideas worked their way into the book, and gave me an interesting and, I think, unique magical system and backstory for the Kingdom. 

Is there a fairy tale that you just need to retell, but are waiting to retell, or holding off for now? What are some of the other fairy tales you've considered retelling? Are there any fairy tales that you absolutely do not want to retell?

Sooo many! I've always wanted to retell Beauty and the Beast, but I'm horribly intimidated by Robin McKinley's legacy. I mean, how is anyone supposed to live up to THAT? And there are a lot of less famous stories, for example, from Japanese mythology, that I have ideas about. The one I've never really been interested in is Sleeping Beauty - there's so little for the princess to do, and the idea of falling conveniently in love with your saviour bugs me. But I'd never say never. I always hated Cinderella too, until she started whacking me on the back of the head with a pick-axe demanding I tell her story properly! 

You've also written a non-fairy tale story, Daughter of the Flames. How does the writing and the research differ between the two genres? Which do you prefer writing? Do you prefer creating a completely new story and creating the world to fit the story, or taking an existing story at making it your own?

This isn't a very interesting answer, but I can't really put my finger on any significant differences in the process between writing an original fantasy and a fairytale relling. Possibly because I don't stick very closely to the specific events of my fairytale frameworks (as you may have noticed!) which means I still need to come up with my own plot, my own characters, my own emotional conflicts and arcs. Probably more importantly, I don't really think that writing a fairytale retelling is a get-out-of-jail card when it comes to setting. It's easy to slip into that non-specific, Eurocentric, Tolkien-esque world we all know so well. But that is a thin, bland sort place where I don't have much fun as a writer. Creating the world of Shadows on the Moon, for instance, required as much (actually, far more!) thought and research than the world of Daughter of the Flames

Your most recent book, Shadows on the Moon comes out this July, and I'm crazy excited for it. It's a Cinderella story, but she is most assuredly not your typical Cinderella. You mention why you wrote her this way in your guest post, and I am dying to read about it. There are many fairy tales with rather weak heroines. Are there any other stories that you would like to retell to give the heroines a chance to be strong? 

Actually, I think the female characters in fairytales tend to get a bit of a bad rep, overall. In a lot of original folk stories, young woman are cunning, resourceful, brave and loyal. Often men are the weak ones who need to be rescued. Look at Janet in Tam Lin, Kai and Gerda in the Snow Queen , the heroine of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, all those clever young witches and woodcutter's daughters! And the powerful, fearsome baddies are often women too. The problem, I think, is that the Victorians didn't approve of all these bold, adventuring women, and they cut their parts down and sometimes out entirely, in order to make fairytales 'fit' for their children. Not many years later, Disney carried on this process by producing a great many films in which being sweet, obedient and passive (and supernaturally attractive to forest animals) were the heroine's only traits. Later films, like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, did allow the heroines to have SOME personality - but their number one desire was nearly always to escape from their fathers so they could find true love, and their princes were the ones with the claws/swords. 

It's really only very lately that we're seeing books and films that give women back their original, strong roles (Tangled, for example!) and I'm very happy to be a part of that process. 

Silly/Random Questions: 

~Rapunzel is named after lettuce; what odd thing would you be named after if you were in a fairy tale? 
Pencils, probably. I always have one on me somewhere! Princess Pen...now, why does that sound familiar? :) 

~ Using that name, give us a line from your life as a fairy tale: 
"Princess Pen cracked open her stepmother's ribcage and cut out the woman's horribly blackened, twisted, yet still-beating heart; she then replaced it with an artificial one which she had grown within a local farmer's pig, and closed up the incision." 
[Misty likes Princess Pen already...]

~Best fairy tale villain and why? 
The wicked fairy from Sleeping Beauty's christening. She's really the only interesting character in the thing! 

~Favorite tale from childhood? Favorite tale as an adult? Least favorites? 
Childhood favourite was definitely The Wild Swans, and I have to be boring and say it STILL is. Least favourite used to be Cinderella - now Sleeping Beauty

~If you could be any fairy tale character, or live through any fairy tale "happening," who/what would it be?
I wouldn't. Are you crazy? Those stories are full of utter loonies, and even Princess Pen isn't mightier than the sword. 

~Would you rather: 
-- eat magic beans or golden eggs? Golden eggs. With a little smoked salmon, on toast points. Maybe they would finally allow me to get a tan. 
-- style 50ft long hair or polish 100 pairs of glass slippers? My hair is actually waist-length right now, and I'm about to have it cut off from sheer annoyance, so I'd have to go with the slippers! 
-- have a fairy godmother or a Prince Charming? Fairy godmother - and once you've read Shadows on the Moon, you will know why!
[Ashley says- SO mean to tease us this way when you already know how badly I want to read it! :) ]

Fill-in-the-Gaps, story 1: Three Wishes

The strange little man had offered Princess Pen three wishes. But what to wish for? The obvious answer was world peace, but that would never do, for obvious reasons. Princess Pen wasn't naive enough to think that people would ever stop fighting for long. And unlimited money for stem cell research was out of the question, since Princess Pen's wicked stepmother had outlawed it.

The Princess squandered the first two wishes on aiding earthquakes sufferers and cooling down some nuclear reactors, and really needed to make the 3rd one count. There was only one thing to do: he/she would ask her genetically enhanced pig, Francis.

So early in the morning, the Princess set off for her lab where the porcine Francis lived. It was no easy task getting there; Princess Pen went through three security searches and a full body CT scan, and nearly lost hope of ever reaching Francis and making her final wish before she had to go off and do her rounds at Mount Eraser Hospital. Her stepmother's security measures were really getting out of hand.

But in all good time, Princess Pen reached the door of the one person who could help. With great trepidation, (for Francis could be somewhat cranky in the mornings if he hadn't had his coffee) Pen knocked and waited. Finallly, Francis opened the door with one handsomely trimmed trotter and peered out. “Yes?” he said.

Pen launched into the story of the little old man and his three wishes, but Francis merely held up a trotter and said “It’s simple, really. I’m surprised you wasted your time coming all the way out here -- you must wish for your wicked stepmother to agree to heart surgery so you can change her blackened, wizened heart for one which is generous and free of bigotry and unreasoning fear.”

Pen was baffled. Wish for something so simple?  Not magic League-Boots to travel the world, or a wheel to spin flax into gold so that she could set up an inoculation project in the slums? However,  it wasn't long before Pen realized that if her government was run by someone who actually had a working heart all the other things might one day be possible.  So the Princess did the only thing she could, and wished for her stepmother to finally heed her pleas to accept a new heart.

Whether it was the right choice, the world will never know, but for Princess Pen it meant freedom from a great deal of unnecessary red tape in the long run, and the increased well being of everyone within the kingdom. And with all of the wishes gone, Pen lived busily ever after.


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Thanks for stopping by Zoë!!  We're so glad to have you!
Hope you guys liked the guest post.  If you want to fill in one of the stories for yourself, see this post.
And make sure to head over to our awesome guest post from Zoë, and enter to win our prize pack of Zoë's books!

Monday, 25 April 2011

FROSTFIRE TEASER

Hi everyone! Happy Monday. Here, for your edification and delight, is the promised FrostFire teaser! Tell me what you think.

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“Open it,” he said.
I bent my head and fumbled with the hairy twine that held the wrappings in place. From the corner of my eye kept track of his movements as he stood, putting the pack on.
He said, “I don’t know what you expected to happen next, but it’s obvious it was nothing good. Listen to me now. I’m going to make you an offer, which you are free to accept or refuse as you will.”
My hands stopped working on the package as I looked up. The wind swept over the hillside and stirred the leaves behind him into a silvery-green cloud, and sent fine strands of pale hair drifting around his face.
“What offer?”
“Join us. Join me. Become a Hill Guard.”
I felt my mouth drop open. “You – you can’t mean that. I’ve already attacked you once. I’m not safe to be around normal people. I’m cursed.”
“I don’t believe in curses,” he told me, eyes fixed on my face. “I don’t believe in magic, or demons. I believe in choice. Whatever you’ve been told, whoever has hurt you, whatever past haunts you, you can chose to leave it behind. I know it, Frost. I saw who you are today. Your bravery saved those women.”
I began to shake my head, but he held up his hand, silencing me. “With some training I believe you’d be a great warrior. I can teach you to channel this battle rage that affects you. I can teach you to fight your fear and overcome it. But it can’t happen until you take control of your own life. You have to chose to stop running. You have to chose to believe in me.” He smiled, and my breath caught in my throat. “I already believe in you.”
“You don’t know me,” I whispered. The words were nearly swept away in the rising wind. “You don’t know what I’ve done.”
“I don’t know you very well, yet,” he corrected, still smiling. “I saw enough today to know that you’re a remarkable woman. Decent, kind and brave. I don’t believe that you’ve done anything truly wrong. I don’t believe you could.”
I had to look away, clenching my jaw. He was wrong, so wrong. Yet... it meant so much to hear someone say that, believe that about me. My own mother would not have made such a claim on my behalf.
I heard the rustle of cloth and the squeak of leather and suddenly he was kneeling there before me, showing me the golden brown and golden and silver-blonde streaks on the top of his head as his long fingers brushed mine aside on the forgotten parcel. He swiftly unknotted the twine, peeling back a layer of sackcloth.
I sucked in a shocked breath as I saw what lay neatly packed beneath it.
My pack. My hunting knives. My snares. My water-skin and dried meat.
My father’s axe.
Everything I owned in the world. Everything I had thought lost, forever.
Trembling, I closed my fingers around the cold steel and smooth wood of the axe haft. “You found it.”
“I’ve been wanting to return it to you. Other things kept coming up,” he said. I felt heat rising in my cheeks as I remembered my repeated escape attempts. “Now you know I mean what I say. You can go if you want and never see me or my men again. I won’t stop you. It’s up to you, Frost.”
His hand closed around mine on the shaft of the axe and for the second time, our fingers entwined. It was so natural that I did not question it. He knelt up so that our faces were level. Our eyes met.
He touched his lips to mine.
It was a brotherly kiss. A mere brush of mouth against mouth. And yet everything went still. The wind seemed to die as golden sunlight wrapped me up, trapping me in a veil of warmth. A songbird trilled, and the noise stretched out endlessly, rippling in silence. I tasted mint, and something deeper, wilder, something I had never tasted before.
Then it was over. His hand released mine, and he stood, towering over me again. I gazed down at my tingling fingers, still clasping the axe handle.
“You know where to find us,” he said. He hesitated for a moment, then murmured. “I’ll be waiting for you.” I listened to his footsteps move away, straining to hear them until they faded, lost in the voice of the wind.
I sat there for a long time, alone among the gently stirring trees. Something stirred and shifted in my chest too, unfolding beneath my breastbone. It ached, but the pain was sweet. Pain meant life. Something I had no name for was coming alive inside me. Something like hope, or happiness, or belief – none of those things, or all of them. I had thought such a feeling lost forever, just like my father’s axe. And just like the axe, it was now returned to me. By Luca.
  
****

Thursday, 21 April 2011

FRIDAY ROUND-UP

Hello, everyone! Happy Friday to you all, especially to my British/European readers who are having a lovely sunny long weekend. Feel pity for me, since I'm still chained to my keyboard. However, the end is in sight! More on Monday, with any luck!

A round up for you, today, of the stuff going on in the Zolah area of the blogosphere. First, I wrote this guest post about Why Fairytales Are Magic for Ashley and Misty's Fairytale Fortnight.

Second, Misty and Ashley are running this fabtastic giveaway of signed and personalised copies of The Swan Kingdom and (drumroll please!) one of the very last ARCs of Shadows on the Moon. Enter now!

On Wednesday my letter for the wonderful Dear Teen Me website went up, and you can read that here.

Yesterday Ashley posted a very insightful, lovely review of The Swan Kingdom here.

And Shadows on the Moon reached 350 adds on Goodreads, which is a tiny number by many writer's standards, but thrills me no end.

There will be more interesting stuff from Fairytale Fortnight next week, and I'll keep you posted on that.

On Monday, the Muses willing, I may be able to post a teaser from FF for you.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

DEAR TEEN ME

***WARNING! ADULT LANGUAGE BELOW!***

Hey you! Yes, you – the fourteen year old with the nail scissors! Put those down and pay attention. I’ve got something to say to you, something you need to hear. Listen up.

You’re in a pretty awful place right now. You’re in a place not many people get low enough to experience in their lives, and even fewer climb out of. This is probably the worst you’ve ever felt about yourself, and you’re thinking: can I go on like this? Do I even want to? Maybe there’s a way out…

No, don’t try and brush me off. I’m not going to be fooled by that big goofy grin or your hyperactive chatter. I know the truth. Those half-healed cuts and scratches on your arms and legs? The ‘accidental’ ones that you lie about so well, no one ever questions you? Yeah. I still have those scars, kiddo. So let’s not play games.

Today, on the way home from school, a group of about ten boys, ranging in age from twelve to sixteen, cornered you. They pushed you up against the wall of a building and spat on you. Spat in your face, in your hair, on your clothes. They laughed and taunted you while they did it. When you managed to get away and get home, you scrubbed yourself until your skin bled, washed your hair until handfuls started coming out. But no matter what you did, you couldn’t get clean. You feel like you’ll never be clean again.

And you and I both know that this isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.

Every day since you were eleven, you’ve gotten up, eaten breakfast, left your house, and walked into a nightmare. You’ve been kicked, pinched, punched, tripped, pushed down stairs, been stabbed, had ink poured down your back, and on one memorable occasion, had eight separate pieces of chewing gum stuck in your hair. You’ve been shunned. Screamed at. Tortured in every way that a person can be, short of hot pokers and bamboo shoots under the nails. You’ve watched every person you ever called a friend scatter because just being close to you was too dangerous. You’ve seen teachers who pounce on improperly fastened school uniforms or kids holding hands brush off your suffering by telling you to ‘just ignore it’. You’ve lived through punishments on the occasions when you dared to fight back. You’ve even heard your own parents ask each other, when they thought you couldn’t hear: ‘Why does this keep happening to her? What is she doing wrong?’

That’s the question I’m here to answer for you, fourteen-year-old Zolah. Just what the Hell is wrong with you?

Nothing.

Not a single, solitary fucking thing.

Shut up. Don’t start arguing with me. Don’t start crying. You’ve never let them see you cry, and now is not the time to start.

This isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. There’s nothing missing inside you, no essential flaw, no reason at all why 50% of the kids at your school take pleasure in tormenting you, or why none of the adults in your life seem to be able to help you. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.

There’s some stuff right with you, though. Some stuff you’ve never realised because you’re too lonely and depressed and emo to realise it. Let me spell it out.

You’re brave. You’re incredibly, stunningly, wonderfully brave. You don’t know this. In fact, you think you’re a coward, that if you were just brave enough you could get people to leave you alone. But the truth is that the courage it takes to keep walking into that school, day after day, to keep putting your hand up in class, to keep studying and doing your homework, to keep reading your books and talking exactly how you want to talk? Is possibly the greatest courage in the world. I’m awed by that courage. One day you’re going to be awed by it too.

You’re also compassionate. Don’t ask me why that matters. I know it’s not a virtue anyone gives a crap about in your life right now, but one day your kindness is going to make you real friends. Friends who will do anything for you, friends who’ll stick with you no matter what, who would never abandon you and take cover. Friends who’ll make your life worth living.

And you’re clever – and it’s not anything to be ashamed of. You sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be better if you were like everyone else, if you thought books were stupid, if you didn’t want to learn. But you’re dead wrong. Your intelligence is a gift, an amazing gift. Stop cursing it.

So here’s the deal. I’m not going to lie. Things aren’t going to look up straight away. In fact, you’ve got some bad stuff to come. Really bad. But you are going to survive it. And in the not-too-distant future, good things are going to start happening, things which will make up for everything you’ve gone through so far. I promise. YOU will make those things happen. The very traits the other kids hate about you, the bravery, compassion and intelligence that they try to beat out of you, will allow you to follow and find your dreams.

So put those scissors down, okay? You don’t have to punish yourself. You don’t have to keep hurting yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong. There is nothing wrong with you. You’re going to put the scissors down, Zolah. And someday soon, you’re going to be all right.

**This is a guest post that was written for the wonderful site Dear Teen Me. Check it out to read hilarious and inspiring letters from authors all over the world to their teen selves**

Monday, 18 April 2011

WHY FAIRYTALES ARE MAGIC



Hello everyone - I hope you're having a happy Monday!

I'm on what I believe (fingers crossed) is the homeward leg of my FF revision journey, which means that regular blog service may be restored soon. However, today I actually have what I think is a pretty good post lined up for you - it's just not on this blog.

A few weeks ago the lovely ladies at Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing and The Book Rat approached me and told me about this amazing idea they had for something called Fairy Tale Fortnight. They asked me if I'd like to be involved and my response was something along the lines of: HELL yes!

Today my guest post on why fairytales are magic is up on both blogs. Later on there will also be an interview with me, a communal fairytale reading and and a book giveaway which will include signed copies of both my fairytale books - yes, that's right - a signed copy of The Swan Kingdom and of an ARC of Shadows on the Moon. Ashley and Misty also have loads more cool, fairytale related stuff going on over the next two weeks, including visits by Donna Jo Napoli and Jaclyn Dolomore.

Seriously, you guys. There's so much awesome my head might actually explode.

Get thee over there to Ashley and Misty's blogs right now - and keep your eye on them during Fairy Tale Fortnight so that you don't miss out on anything ridiculously cool!

More from me on Wednesday. Take care!

Friday, 15 April 2011

RETROFRIDAY - WHERE THE SWAN KINGDOM CAME FROM

Hello, dear readers! It's RetroFriday, and never have I been more grateful to be able to mine my archives for posts from the past, because I have noooo idea what I would have blogged about today otherwise.

My brain is no longer dried up, trodden down Play Doh. Now it's sawdust. In fact, I rather look like something which would shamble down the street mumbling 'Brainz...Brainz...' and send small children screaming to hide behind their mother's skirts.

In short, we've reached the stage where FF wants to kill me. If I don't post again on Monday, it has succeeded. I leave my bears to my mother and my books to posterity. Do not mourn me.

On with the Retro!

WHERE THE SWAN KINGDOM CAME FROM

As anyone who's read my first book The Swan Kingdom knows, it's based on a fairytale called The Wild Swans, which is a Hans Christian Andersen story.

When I actually came to write the book lots of other influences crept in there, like Celtic mythology and some Japanese folklore, but the original spark of inspiration was the fairytale.

This was my favourite fairy story growing up for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I liked that the heroine got to be the one to save her brothers. I also admired how bravely the heroine suffered in silence, and the fact that she lived by herself in a forest and managed to find things to eat on her own and arranged her own shelter. Badass.

But the biggest reason that I loved the story was that when I was fairly young my sister bought me a picture book of it. It was a cancelled library book. It just turned up in the rickety plywood 'For Sale' box one day. If I remember correctly, I had loved the book for some time and borrowed it continuously, and the thought of the book being sold away to some stranger reduced me to tears. With much sighing and tutting, my sister forked over the 25p to the librarian, and the book was mine.

Frankly, I was obsessed with it. It followed me everywhere. I used to use it to lean on when I was drawing (and before I discovered the joys of writing, I drew CONSTANTLY). I stored my completed pictures - maps of fantasy countries and princesses and castles - between the pages. That book, with its curled over plastic cover, its shiny pages and purple end papers, and it's magnificent illustrations, became so much a part of me that I suppose it seeped indelibly into my imagination's landscape.

So I thought I would post some of my favourite pictures from the book here, to show how they offered me inspiration in writing The Swan Kingdom.


This shows the scene where the wicked stepmother turns her stepsons into swans and banishes them. On the face of it nothing from this image - or this event in the original version of the story - survived in my version. But I always remember thinking how very much like clouds the swans wings looked here, and that idea does turn up in the book. Plus, just look at that stepmother's face! Ooh, she looks triumphant and evil.


A picture of the picture book heroine, after she runs away from the palace and her stepmother. This doesn't really happen in The Swan Kingdom. What you can see here though, is that the heroine has red hair, like Alexandra (I just couldn't think of the heroine of this story any other way) although Alexandra has green eyes (like me) and the heroine of the picture book has grey eyes. I also think this picture sums up the way my heroine, Alexandra perceives her brothers throughout the book: as a part of nature which she cannot quite reach. The picture book reads: All night long Elise dreamed of her brothers. Once more they were children playing together, carefree and loved... This may have been why dreams played such an important part in The Swan Kingdom.


Next, an image of the storybook princess on the shore, looking for her brothers. In the original story, the princess meets her brothers here and they rescue her and carry her off across the sea. But in my version the heroine does not see her brothers - only great white birds in the shapes of the clouds - and she walks the beach alone. Until she meets Gabriel...


Here's an image of the hunting party that finds the princess in the woods and carries her off to be married to the King (without asking her, I might add!). Look at those exotic hunting creatures! In The Swan Kingdom, there are no leopards, but there are some very friendly hunting dogs, which belong to Gabriel. He's been looking for Alexandra, and has trained his hounds to know the scent of her magic.


This is one of the final illustrations in the picture book. In the original fairytale, the heroine is about to be burned at the stake by her husband the King! She just has time to throw the nettle shirts over her brothers before the fire is lit, and when they transform back into princes, the heroine is cleared of all charges of witchcraft, and the pyre where she was to be burned blooms with roses. That certainly does NOT happen in The Swan Kingdom, but this image of the roses blooming at the moment of the heroine's triumph stuck with me, and turned into the legend of the King's Rose, which blooms when...well, you'll just have to read the book to find out!

I think what's interesting about looking at the pictures and comparing them to the way The Swan Kingdom turned out, is that you can see how tiny, random details in the original story, or impressions of the illustrations, became so significant to the novel. And how major parts of the original fairytale just fell by the wayside! That's they they call it 'inspiration' I suppose.

Monday, 11 April 2011

THE BEAR FACED CHEEK OF IT...

On this happy, sunny Monday, my brain (sucked dry by working on FF re-writes all weekend) is as flat and crumbly as old Play Doh that someone's trodden into the carpet. I've no wit or wisdom to share. And therefore I offer:


Bromley! He's the newest addition to my bear collection - did I mention before that I collect teddy bears? Well, I do - and was my birthday present to myself. He has the sweetest little face in the whole world:


And beautiful fur - two tone in both caramel/chocolate and vanilla/chocolate. I've never seen a bear quite like him before, and I just couldn't resist. That'll teach me to walk past the bear shop on my birthday!

Since I'm taking pics, let me introduce you to a few more members of my bear family. I have many, many bears, but most of them live upstairs and I'm too tired to go up there now (who invented stairs? What an idiot. Let me at him...) so I'll confine myself to the ones who live downstairs for the moment. First of all here's Ellie:

You can't really see her colouring that well here, but she's a gorgeous auburn. I particularly like Ellie because she's a little bit like a red panda, and we all know how cute they are. Next up Rosco:


He's an artisan bear, which means he's one of a kind and completely unique. He's also the most expensive bear I've ever bought. The sad, thoughtful look on his face enchanted me. He's a growler - which means that when you tip him the right way he makes a melancholy little groaning noise - and he's weighted, so that when you hold him he feels rather like a puppy or a baby, or some other living thing.

Finally, I introduce:


The Wolf. That's his name - The Wolf. I bought him just after I started work on FrostFire, but he's obviously far cuter and more cuddly than his counterpart in the story! I love his collar of bells.

That's all I have for you today. Not very useful or writerly, I'm afraid, but better than typing 'wibble' twelve times, which, believe me, I considered!

If anyone has any ideas for better blog posts, please put them in the comments...it'll be worth it.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

RETROFRIDAY - A VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE WRITING CAVE

Hello, dear readers - welcome to RetroFriday! Before I usher you into the past of this blog, I draw your attention to the right side of the screen, where, you will notice, my follower pledge has changed. I've sung for 200 followers. For 300, I'm going to dye my hair! A nice big pink/purple streak or streaks. Don't you want to see that? My hair is naturally blonde and over two feet long - so it ought to be pretty striking!

And now - A VIRTUAL TOUR OF THE WRITING CAVE! Originally posted in December, this, so not all that old, but it was requested a couple of times in the comments. So here you are!

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, 6 April 2011

READER QUESTION

Hello everyone!

I'm now midway through week two of my self-imposed holiday to get distance from FF, and I've officially lost the plot. I know this because whenever I read a writing related comment on Twitter, I am filled with sorrow and longing that someone else gets to be writing while I'm not. Seriously guys - I'm no good when I'm not writing. I was supposed to be getting some work in on Big Secret Project this week, but all I can think about right now is FF and working on that, so I've given up and I'm lolling about eating Quavers, drinking coffee and re-reading my Austen collection. O the glamour.

Okay, onto today's reader question! This is from Emma, via email:

...I have a really random problem with my writing, and I as wondering whether you had any advice or whether i'm just plain crazy! I've written a novel, but it is the first in a planned series of four. It still needs work, and of course the other books need to be planned more thoroughly though I know the overriding plot arch. But I'm familiar with the world and I really, really know and love my characters. But I don't think that this is the book that will get me published, mainly because I know (now) that publishers will not sign deals for a series from unknown authors. I absolutely want to come back to it but for now I have turned my attention to another idea. I love the idea and I have had some pretty big flashes of inspiration regarding plot etc. but I'm having trouble getting the characters from my series out of my head. I keep hearing what they are saying in the scene or their personalities creep into other characters and it's kind of stopping me getting to know my new characters. I think part of it is that I feel guilty for casting them aside for a bit, as crazy as it sounds!

ETA: Before you read the rant below - it turns out I've misread Emma's question and she has no intention of giving up work on her beloved series. She's really just wanting advice on how to work on a standalone book at the same time, because she'd like to know she CAN, and because she loves her other idea too. So - foolish Zolah! No cookie! Read more carefully next time! I only leave my rant in place because I think the points I make are good in general - just not in Emma's case. Sorry Emma!

This is a very interesting conundrum, and my reaction to it is...mixed.

My first reaction is 'Yeah, I can kind of see where Emma's coming from, you don't want to be spending your time and attention working on something that you can't see getting published'.

Now, according to that reaction, I'd be giving Emma the advice to take her time. Not to rush into work on her new idea but to let it mature - because it's only natural that the characters and story she's worked on before will linger in her mind a bit. Maybe Emma could go through the Build your Own Character questions listed here for her new story. Set up a notebook for the new idea and collect pictures that evoke it, write snippets of dialogue and random ideas. Get comfy with it. Then, when she feels like she's securely in the headspace of the new story and the pull of the old one has faded, start work.

The other reaction is more like this: 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING GIVING UP ON A STORY THAT YOU LOVE FOR MARKET REASONS?! YOU'RE NOT AN ACCOUNTANT, YOU'RE A WRITER! DON'T LET YOUR VISION BE DESTROYED BY WORRYING ABOUT PUBLISHING AT THIS POINT! GET BACK TO WORK ON THE BOOK YOU LOVE!'

*Pant, pant*

Look, I understand that you want to get published, really I do. I spent pretty much every spare moment I had between the ages of fourteen and twenty-two working, researching, submitting, with the single aim of getting published. Wanting to be a published writer is a craving, a consuming ambition - and a very worthy one! There's nothing wrong with it. Unless you allow it to get in the way of the actual writing.

The harsh reality of the world is that there's no guarantee anyone will ever get published. I have a friend who is a fabulously talented writer. She's had many poems and short stories published, but she really wants to be a novelist. She's written all kinds of books - standalones, trilogies - and they're all fantastic. But for some reason her agent just can't find a home for any of them. It's never the right time, the right subject matter. The editor loves it but the editorial board don't. The editor accepts it and then leaves the company and no one else wants it. It's beyond the comprehension of any of her friends, but this lady simply can't seem to get a book into print.

I'm not saying this to be depressing. I'm saying this because the fact that she hasn't had a novel published does not make my friend any less of a writer. She has dedicated her life to books and stories. She has written books that she is passionate about and believes in. How could a life like be wasted? No matter what, she knows that she's done the right thing. And she hasn't stopped writing either. I admire her more than I can say.

Now imagine that she had spent the last thirty years of her life writing stories that she...liked. Sort of. But didn't love. Writing books that she felt had strong commercial appeal, which her research led her to believe would be received well by publishers. And then imagine that THE SAME THING HAPPENED.

What kind of a life would that have been?

Books that no one thinks have the slightest chance of being successful take off like a rocket and re-write sales history. Books that publishers snap up and spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on sink without trace. Books that ought to get published languish for years, and books that make everyone roll their eyes sell translation rights in a hundred countries. No one knows why. Especially not the authors. The only consolation any of us have is that we've written what we love, what makes us excited, what we believe in.

Your new idea might be brilliant, Emma, but that doesn't mean it has any more chance of getting picked up than the series you were working on before. Maybe it SHOULD, according to all the research you've done, according to sense and reason and logic - but publishing is not a logical business, and expecting it to be as reasonable and sensible as you are will very likely lead to bleeding from the ears and uncontrollable screaming on your part.

Debut novelists get given multibook contracts all the time. Courtney Allison Moulton. Leah Clifford. Veronica Roth. Josephine Angelini. Cassandra Clare. Stephenie Meyer. All these guys were given contracts for several books after the publisher had seen their first one. No, it's not as common as selling a single book, but it does happen. So how can you make it happen?

It seems like the best way of going about it is to write a first book which a) stands on its own as much as possible and could be read as a standalone and b) is REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

So you might need to think about the ending of that first book, about making sure that it ends in a satisfying way and ties up at least some of the story arcs you've set in play, even if it leaves others open ended for the next book.

Then you need to make sure that the book is the absolute best it can be before you try to submit it. You need to believe in your story and characters absolutely and make sure that they LIVE on the page to have the best possible chance of capturing an agent or editor's heart. You need to make that book so awesome that the editor will be ripping their own nails off with the desire to find out what happens next to these characters.

Do you see where I'm going here? You have a lot more chance of writing that mega-awesome-amazing book if you yourself are consumed with the characters and their lives, if you're writing the story that is beating right next to your heart instead of the one that your head is telling you is better. And what's more, even if you don't get published writing this series, you'll have spend your time doing something you adore instead of something that makes you feel 'Meh'.

So my advice is this: focus on the writing. There is time enough to worry about getting a publisher when you've written the best novel you possibly can - and writing the best novel you possibly can is hard enough without second guessing yourself as to what you should be writing in the first place.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

STARCROSSED BY JOSEPHINE ANGELINI

THE BLURB:

How do you defy destiny?

Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is — no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it's getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she's haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood . . . and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they're destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.

As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together—and trying to tear them apart.

THE REVIEW:

DAMN YOU JOSEPHINE ANGELINI HOW COULD YOU LEAVE IT LIKE THAT ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL PEOPLE HOW AM I EVEN SUPPOSED TO SLEEP TONIGHT YOU ARE EEEEEVIIIILLL...!

*Pant, Pant*

Okay, it's fine. I'm calm now.

Suffice it to say, then, that STARCROSSED ends on a fairly huge cliffhanger. And anyone who knows me knows that I *do not* like cliffhangers. At all. I usually deduct a star from my rating of books that end this way, because it ruins my enjoyment to be left hanging like that. I also usually preface reviews of such books by saying: 'Don't pick this book up until the series/trilogy is complete'.

But I can't do that in this case, because STARCROSSED is just. That. Good.

STARCROSSED, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
  1. A beautifully thought out and cohesive mythic structure for the story to play out within? Check.
  2. A whole host of complex and wonderfully changeable characters who evolve and surprise the reader constantly throughout the story? Check.
  3. A well-paced plot which never quite twisted in the way I was expecting and which forced me to read the book literally in one sitting because I had to know What Happened Next? Check.
  4. Pared down, competent writing with some really lovely descriptive touches and a minimum of repetitiveness? Check.
  5. A strong, real, wonderful heroine who seemed like an actual person instead of a reader/author insert? Check.
  6. A hero who I could actually fall in love with instead of wanting to whack around the head with a two-by-four? CHECK!
I think I've pretty much summed it up there, but let me delve a little bit deeper on some of my favourite points.

First of all Helen, our protagonist in this story, is ridiculously beautiful. Yes, yes - yawn. And when I say that Helen doesn't really notice or care about her own beauty, you'll roll your eyes. But it's not like that. You see, Helen values other things about people than the way they look. She's been brought up by a rumpled, seemingly average, loving father who has taught her to look a little deeper than the average teenager. Helen doesn't walk around (as certain heroines do) bemoaning how ugly/normal/average she is despite the fact that everyone treats her like a hottie. She just DOESN'T CARE. And this fact does not win her any fans amongst her schoolmates, none of whom can quite believe that she doesn't know how gorgeous she is.

But Helen has a great best friend and a wonderful support system within her family (her father and his co-worker Kate) and, frankly, too much attention gives her stomach cramps anyway, so she just shrugs it off. She's aware that she's a little stronger and faster than the people around her, but she wants to get on with her normal, human life, so she pushes that away too.

When she first meets the gorgeous new boy in town (Lucas) and his gorgeous family, is she instantly smitten by how beautiful they are, and fancying herself in love? No way. Helen couldn't really care less about how people look. And she's got way more important stuff to worry about, like the nightmares and the fact that she's getting violent impulses towards Lucas and keeps wanting to strangle him. It's only after Lucas proves to Helen that he's worthy of her interest that she begins to develop feelings for him. Any guy who can sweetly reassure a girl and make her laugh after she has accidentally crushed his ribcage is A-O-flipping-Kay with Helen (and with me too).

Helen gradually gains confidence throughout the book, tranforming from a shy, painfully diffident girl to one who can walk tall no matter what. Some of the book's most moving passages show her finally coming to accept and glory in how fast she can run, how hard she can push, and her various other talents (which, by the way? ARE AWESOME). At no point does she look in a mirror and realise 'Oh, I'm pretty!' She becomes more confident because she realises that she owns her own strength and power. How feminist is THAT? I love it!

And because Helen is a strong character with her own opinions and viewpoint, her relationship with the too-hot-to-be-real Lucas is convincing and truly romantic. She's woman enough to stand up to him and not be overwhelmed by everything he can do. Even though he spends a lot of time teaching Helen and educating her about her powers, he never patronises her - or at least, when he shows signs of it, she slaps him down. Their affinity and deepening love for each other is wonderful.

A quick shout-out must go to the secondary cast here. I love it when I feel as if each and every person in a story is nuanced and interesting enough to probably carry a book of her own, and STARCROSSED pulls that off and more. I adored how the author tricked me into believing I could tell which people were friends and which enemies, and then flipped it all on me. Hector is a great example of this. At the beginning of the story I was seriously hoping Helen would wrench his head off. By the end I was weeping quietly over his tragedy. Ah, Hector. *Sigh*

A word of warning. For some reason I found the first chapter, maybe the first chapter and a half of STARCROSSED really hard to get into. I felt as if a little too much backstory was being pushed at me all at once. You may or may not experience this - but if so, push through it and I guarantee you will not be sorry.

In closing - STARCROSSED is the book that has renewed my faith in the overcrowded paranormal genre. It's a heart-wrenchingly romantic action adventure story with strong characters and a breathless plot. The next book, DREAMLESS, cannot come too soon. 
Pre-Order Links One and Two

Friday, 1 April 2011

OH MY GOD MAKE IT STOP

In which Zolah sings on YouTube because she loves her blog followers, even though doing so causes her to have a mental melt-down which results in only being able to write about herself in the third person.



And when she says 'never again'? SHE MEANS IT.
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