Friday, 30 December 2011


Heeellooo, Dear Readers! It looks like we've survived Christmas (hopefully - you're still alive, right?) and as we head into the New Year it seems only right to take a look back at everything that's happened over the last twelve months, reflect on events, see what went wrong and why, and be thankful for what went right.

Following the tradition I started last year, I used the Year In Status app on Facebook to take a look at what I've been talking about most in 2011, and it's not a surprise to see that what I've mostly been talking about is writing, writing and more writing. This year was my first full twelve months as a full-time writer. It's been unbelievably wonderful, and there have been a lot of challenges, many of them not the ones I'd have expected if you asked me this time last year.

2011 saw the release of my third book after a gap of over two years, and it was a relief and a joy to get my place in the nation's bookshops back again. That's the main landmark, and that's how I'll probably always think of 2011, the year of Shadows on the Moon. Highlights included getting a five star review from Books For Keeps, getting shortlisted for the St Helen's Book Award, and seeing the amazing book trailer for the first time.

But a lot of other stuff happened as well! Too much stuff to go back and list, really. So instead, I decided to go back and have a look at the list of not-quite-resolutions-but-something-like-them for 2011 and see what worked and what fell by the wayside.
  1. Write six days a week, using my notebook. Did I succeed here? For the most part, yes, I did. A lot of this year was taken up with reworking and revising and rewriting, but there were many weeks when I worked seven days, and many days when I worked twelve hours, scribbling away either on my laptop or in my notebook. In fact, this year it was a challenge to hold myself back from turning into a writing hermit, and force myself to take the time to get out and do other things now and then.
  2. Write two books in 2011. This was an ambitious one! And in a strange way, I did manage to achieve it - but not in the way I'd hoped. I spent several months completely revising FrostFire and turning it into an entirely new book than the one I'd written in 2010. Then I wrote The Night Itself, the first book of the Katana Trilogy. I'm proud that I managed to get both those things done, and I\m proud of the way both books turned out... I just wish that I'd managed to get FF right the first time.
  3. Carry on blogging three times a week, and try to vlog once a month. Well, I managed to do the blogging thing - apart from my one week holiday hiatus and the hiatus over Christmas, which I think were an OK compromise. It wasn't always easy! It's always been rewarding, though, and this year I've seen reader numbers surge, as well as getting fairly widespread attention for my posts on the Mary-Sue issue. But as for the vlogging...ha! That fell by the wayside early on, as I realised that each five minute video I made usually took at least one day to put together. I actually did apply to join the vlogging group The YA Rebels this year, which would have meant vlogging once a week. I didn't get in, and when I realised that instead of disappointed I felt relieved, I realised that I generally MUCH prefer writing my blog posts than talking them out loud!
  4. Do all I can to promote Shadows so that it gets into the right hands, gets the right reviews or award nominations, catches the imagination of the people who will enjoy it, and finds its place in the market. Well, I tried my best! At one point this year I felt as if I was almost drowning in reviews and interviews and guest blogs (and thanks so much to all my blogging pals who made it more pleasure than pain) and because the book came out in July I still haven't seen my first royalty statement encompassing this period, so I don't have a concrete idea of how it went. But I do know that the book went into reprint within a week or two of release, and every now and again people still send me pictures of it in their local bookshops, which is unbelievably thrilling. So it didn't vanish without a trace, as I'd half feared :)
All in all, it's been a tiring, exciting, happy, slightly scary sort of year. The kind of year that I wouldn't mind having again in 2012. So in my next post I'm going to make some new goals, bearing in mind all I've learned (and I've learned a lot!) in my first twelve months as a full-time writer.

What did you guys achieve in 2011?

    Tuesday, 27 December 2011


    Hello, Dear Readers. I hope you all had a marvellous Christmas and Boxing Day. Mine were surprisingly relaxing and happy. Today I'd vaguely planned one of a couple of posts, depending on my mood - one about dialogue tags, the other a run down of my Christmas loot. But today I've woken up to a blinding pain in one eye which signals that looking at my computer (or the TV, or any bright, blinky thing, including Christmas lights) for more than a few minutes is going to trigger a migraine. And I'd really...rather not. So I'll be back on Friday instead. Sorry guys. Use the time to read something awesome, 'kay?

    Tuesday, 20 December 2011


    Hello all! Did anyone notice the date today? It's the 21st! Only four more sleeps 'til Christmas! How did this happen? *Hugs self with mingled panic and excitement*

    In honour of the holiday season, I'm going to be taking a tiny hiatus here, and won't be posting on Friday this week or Monday next week. This is to ensure that the levels of nonsense on the blog remain low, because what with sorting out last minute presents, cooking Christmas dinner and various other baked treats, dealing with relatives (including my brother who only comes home once a year) AND the fact that I just got my edits back for The Night Itself, anything I post is highly unlikely to be thoughtful and good quality. What can I say? I'm good, but I'm not THAT good.

    So, as a special treat this Wednesday, I'm going to share a teaser from a book that you won't be seeing on shelves until 2015 (although I will be telling you more about it before then!). It's not one of the Katana Trilogy books. It's a standalone high fantasy, but it's set in Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni (or The Moonlit Lands), the setting I invented for Shadows on the Moon, and like Shadows on the Moon, it is inspired by a fairytale. This book is literally only a few pages and a synopsis at the moment - the literary equivalent of a twinkle in my eye, and that means the sample you're getting is even more subject to change or deletion than normal.

    Bearing that in mind... Follow the cut for teasing!

    Monday, 19 December 2011


    Hi everyone! Once again Monday has dragged its reluctant behind through the door and is slumped, grey and slightly hungover, on the couch of life. So what better way to cheer it up than by looking at some lovely things related to Shadows on the Moon?

    First up - Shadows on the Moon has been shortlisted for the St Helen's Book Award. My publisher let me know that a while ago, but at the time I was so caught up in talking about Katana with them that I forgot to pass the news onto you (bad blogger! No cookie!). There's no info online about the award, but apparently it's linked to the St Helen's school and library district which means it was most likely voted on by teachers, librarians and young people, making it very valuable in my eyes. Whoot!

    In addition to this, the lovely Cass of Words on Paper has given Shadows on the Moon her Faves of Twentyeleven Award for Most Original and Imaginative Book, as well as making it a runner-up in the Most Atmospheric and Vivid Setting category. I'm delighted - thank you, Cass!

    In early reviews of Shadows from US bloggers, we have:

    Sassyreads 4.5/5 Star Review

    Colorimetry 4 Star Review

    And in just-down-right-cool-stuff:

    This review of my books by author R.J. Anderson (who, if you remember, blurbed Shadows on the Moon and whose books I really LOVE).

    A lovely review of Shadows on the Moon by the very lovely Y. S. Lee (a fellow Walker Books and Candlewick Press author).

    I also found myself on this list of favourite books read in 2011 on the New York Public Library.

    Finally, for any readers who are over sixteen or eighteen (or the age of consent in your country! Seriously there's a lot of sex and swearing in this one, don't go there if you're not old enough!) and who have a liking for both historical novels and gay romances (as I do) a book recommendation: Out of the Blue by Josh Lanyon, a bittersweet, absolutely beautifully written novella about the love between First World War fighter pilots. This made me cry over the weekend, and I shall be seeking out the author's other work post-haste.

    ETA: My terrible spelling. Shame. Shame on me to the tenth generation.

    Friday, 9 December 2011


    Hi everyone! Happy Friday. I hope you've all managed to get through the week without too much of a struggle. And if you did, please tell me how?

    Today I bring you a heaping postful of randomosity with a side of cool sauce. Enjoy!

    1) I got a cover flat of the FrostFire cover in the post yesterday, so now you can see how gorgeous the entire book really will be. The lettering is in shiny red foil just like on the cover of Shadows on the Moon. Icy fires and swirly bits? Wolf eyes? YES PLEASE.

    2) A big thank you to everyone who responded to Monday's somewhat controversial post about the Dead Girl cover trend. Many people disagreed with me, either that there was a problem or that the problem was what I thought it was - but the discussion stayed both civil and informative, and no one can ask for more than that.

    3) It looks like the U.S. hardcover version of Daughter of the Flames has gone or is going out of print (no one's informed me of this officially, but the publisher's website no longer lists it and it's not available to buy new anywhere anymore). Frankly, this is one of the most beautiful hardcovers I've ever seen, with copper foiling on the bindings to match the flaming phoenixes on the dustcover, so if anyone else is a book junkie and likes to collect them for their beauty - now is the time to snap up a copy.

    4) This picture, which is from my inspiration file for an upcoming project I've mentioned a few times. Love it!

    5) This album from the band Sleeping At Last. I'm ashamed to say that I'd never even heard of these guys until their song 'Turning Page' started turning up everywhere as a result of being on the latest Twilight soundtrack. But their music is just GORGEOUS. Lush and sweeping and romantic and playful. I adore it, and have been listening non-stop since I downloaded yesterday.

    6) Unexpected-extra-list-item-no-jutsu! Guys, do you have any suggestions for topics you'd like me to blog on in the future? Are there things you'd like to ask about? A particular kind of post that you really enjoy? Let me know! I can't promise that I'll be able to create a scintillating response to everything you ask for, but I'd love your input, and I'll do my best.

    Have a great weekend, my duckies!

    Wednesday, 7 December 2011


    Hi everyone! As Wednesday rolls around again (and after the seriousness of Monday's post) I'd like to share something fun and rather beautiful - this video made by long-time blog commentor Alex, which she calls The Enaid.

    The Enaid, for anyone who hasn't read the book, is the name of the magical earth energy or spirit of the land which features in my first novel The Swan Kingdom. In the video Alex uses quotes from The Swan Kingdom to highlight the loveliness of shots of one of her favourite places, which happens to remind me very much of the marsh/meadowlands where I live. Since the countryside surrounding my home was a partial inspiration for the book, I find what Alex has done here very effective.


    Monday, 5 December 2011


    Hi everyone! I hope you all had a good weekend. I, personally, celebrated the release of The Deathly Hallows Part Two by barricading myself in the house with several bags of Doritos and having a non-stop Harry Potter marathon. So I face Monday feeling emotionally drained and borderline dehydrated (salty snacks + constant weeping) but content.

    In the midst of this important business I did spare quite a lot of time to think about the discussion that's recently been going on in the YA community with regard to 'dead girl' covers.

    For anyone reading this who may have sexual assault triggers (or if you're under sixteen), it might be a good idea to either skip today's post or get someone else that you trust to read it first to make sure you'll be all right with it. I really want to talk about this, but I don't want to hurt or upset anyone. OK? *Virtual Hugs To All*

    Dead girl covers are the glamorous images of young women in sexy dresses (girls in trousers, or jeans, or a nice warm jumper, don't really have the same impact) sprawled out (on grass or flowers, in a river or the sea, sometimes floating on a cloud or in darkness) either with their eyes closed or staring vacantly in such a way that you can't work out whether they've just finished having sex, or just died, or both.

    There's been a low-level buzz about this for a while, but the real conversation about whether these images were OK started here, on Rachel Stark's rather wonderful blog (where she provides a whole raft of examples). It was taken up by reknowned literary agent Kristin Nelson, here.

    I was happy to see this debate taking place, because it's been something that my writing group (several of whom are YA writers) have been feeling queasy about for...years, actually. Supposedly these books are aimed at young women, but the way that the models are dressed and posed smacks strongly of something called The Male Gaze, which is where the cameraman or woman makes the assumption that all (important) viewers are heterosexual males and focuses on portraying what they shoot in a way that appeals strongly to a heterosexual male perspective.

    As a result, I feel as if these covers speak less about what young women are interested in, and more about what the world itself is interested in - ie, images of young women in which the women are passive and sexualised.

    You just don't see images of young men like this in the mainstream media, with barely any clothes on, airbrushed limbs carelessly sprawled across the ground, hair trailing gently around their faces, and a dreamy/dead look in their eyes. Images of men on covers (and in the general media) are much, much more likely to be active and even heroic. Boys or men will be found standing, leaping, climbing, holding weapons, reaching out. Their faces will be filled with emotion. If they aren't looking directly into camera their eyes will be focused on some distant goal that only they can see, with a look of stern concentration. For some strange reason, we don't really find a man attractive if he looks vacant or possibly dead.

    But having read and written a few mini-rants on the topic, my writing group and I moved onto other things. I don't have any dead girl covers as yet myself, and without really thinking about it I can state that there are few to none on my own shelves. Whether that's due to the content of books with these sorts of covers generally not appealing to me, or because I'm unconsciously avoiding books with covers that I find disturbing (and heck, why not?), I don't know. In either case, as worrying as I found this trend, I didn't feel that I had much to add to the conversation that was taking place about it.

    Then last week Rachel posted again, talking about how some commentors had defended the fascination with the glamorised, sexy corpses of young women by reminding us that this is a trope that stretches back a long, long way. Back to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It's a fairytale archetype, they said - the heroine undergoes a spiritual or even a physical death and arises changed and transformed.

    Rachel's response to this is great - she points out that just because the trend for beautiful corpses has been going on for a long time, even back to fairytale time, that doesn't mean it's healthy. It just means it's deep-seated.

    But seeing the current deluge of dead girl images related to sleeping princess fairytales made a lightbulb pop up above my head. I think what the people talking about this don't realise is that the sleeping heroines they brought into the discussion are rape victims.

    I can practically feel readers sucking in a horrified breath as I type this. I know that's not the common conception of these beloved, Disneyfied princesses. And I know that when parents read Snow White or Sleeping Beauty to their daughters before bedtime, they're imparting what they feel are beautiful stories of true love conquering all. After all, waking a princess from a terrible spell with 'true love's kiss' has become a trope in itself by now.

    Unfortunately, that is not what those stories were originally about. If you read the earliest versions of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White - the versions you find in Italo Calvino's Italian Fairytales, the versions which had not yet undergone the benign censoring hand of Grimm and Anderson and the Victorian Era, you find stories in which true love's kiss has nothing to do with the awakening of the poor, unconscious girl lying in the castle or in the crystal case.

    What really happens is that a travelling prince, in the course of his adventures, comes across an apparently sleeping young woman who is unable to defend herself, and rapes her. Then he goes on his merry way. About nine months later, the girl gives birth to a child, and this experience (not surprisingly) finally wakes her from her slumber. And then (the part which always makes me feel the most squinky) the girl is so grateful for having finally escaped the curse that she goes after the travelling prince, thanks him very much for his random sexual assault, and ends up getting married to him.

    This represents a fairly strong and very dark male fantasy - that of the unresisting victim. A girl who can't fight or struggle because she is incapacitated. A girl who, although unable to offer any kind of consent to sexual activity, of course actually wants it. A girl who will even thank you for it later on. So why not go ahead and, as the original fairytale text puts it 'enjoy [your]self thoroughly'?

    Time may have prettified the fairytales, removed the sex and replaced it with a sweet kiss, but it says a lot about all of us that hundreds of years later we're still telling those stories to our daughters. As a folklore enthusiast I can list dozens of fairytales and folk stories which have completely disappeared off the radar and which no child today would recognise. But somehow the image of the sleeping princess - the dead girl - still endures.

    Recently there was a rape case in the U.S. where a young women who was out having fun got extremely drunk and called a taxi to take her home. She was unable to get out of the taxi on her own and the driver was worried about her, so he called the police and two officers came and took the girl out of the taxi and got her into her apartment. They then sexually assaulted her. When she woke up and realised what had happened, she reported it. But even though it was shown that the two police officers had lied about their whereabouts during the time they were in her apartment, and that they HAD both had sex with a girl who was so drunk that she was incapable of even getting out of a taxi on her own, they weren't convicted of anything. The jurors apparently believed that any girl who allowed herself to be incapacitated to that extent was 'asking for it'.

    When you've thought about that for a little bit, go look at those beautiful images of dead/unconscious girls in thin dresses, with their trailing hair, sprawled limbs and closed or empty eyes, again. Somehow they've stopped being a little disturbing now haven't they?

    Instead, they're downright nauseating.
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