Monday, 28 January 2013

*YOU* DECIDE!

Hello, hello, hello - and Happy Monday, my duckies! I'm posting a day early because I have a question that I need your help to answer.

Over the weekend I had a really intriguing discussion on Twitter, which involved several respected blogger-friends and Lovely Lass of Walker Books. That debate prompted me to write this post, because I would like YOU to make a key decision about the way Books #2 and #3 of THE NAME OF THE BLADE should play out.

Here's the issue. When writing a trilogy or series in which the books do not stand alone - effectively a single story broken down into multiple volumes - obviously the second and third (and fourth and fifth and however many) volumes are going to come with a lot of backstory attached. Events that happened in previous books will be directly relevant to what is happening in the book NOW, to who characters are NOW, and how you, the reader, should feel about all that NOW.

The more books in a series, the more backstory the reader needs to remember - or a new reader needs to figure out for themselves - every time a new book comes out. Sometimes it's honestly impossible to understand or appreciate anything that's going on in the book you're reading unless you know/remember/can work out at least the basics of what came before.

Traditionally, writers have two ways to deal with this.

Method One involves the writer cunningly weaving lots of threads of information about previous events throughout the first chapters of each new book in the series, and hoping that the reader can pick up on these and stitch them together well enough to grasp the significance of current events.  

The Upside of this method is that this weaving usually comes in the form of a short period of reintroduction to a story world and its characters, which can feel very comforting to a returning reader who is keen to immerse themselves in this series again. If done skillfully the writer gives you just enough time to take a deep, happy breath as your attachment to the characters reasserts itself, before punching you in the gut.  

The Downside to this method is that it necessarily slows down the first few chapters because there's no way to move on until you're confident you've flashbacked or reminisced enough to give the reader context for what is going to happen next. Many readers hate this method for that very reason. If you have an excellent memory for what happened in the last book/s, re-read them recently, or are simply the kind of reader who can whizz along happily without much context, these Getting To Know You chapters feel very much like a waste of your time. And for readers who've read many, many other books since they picked up the last volume in your series, these hints and reminders *still* might not be enough to get them up to speed on all the intricacies of your plot and characters.

Method Two is to assume that everyone who picks up your book has read the previous volumes and can remember them just fine, and to launch into the action of the new story with little or no explanation or context, assuming that the force of your narrative will drag any confused readers along until they figure out what is happening and why they should care.

The Upside of this method is that it requires no extra effort from the writer, and no delay in getting back to the action. You literally act as if your series is a single volume and continue writing as if there was no break. There is no slow, Getting To Know You period, no flashbacking or reminiscing, and your story gets a rip-roaring start.  

The Downside is that for a very large chunk of readers - those who've not read the last book/s of your series for a year or more, and may have read dozens of other books in the months since, readers who do not have the time or desire to re-read all the other books in the series, or who read lots of series and might easily get details mixed up - it is now almost impossible to follow anything that's going on. Your sucker-punch plot twist and the emotions and reactions of your characters mean nothing to them. They can't *remember* why this should shock them or make them laugh or cry. Maybe after several chapters it will start to come back to them, but by that time they'll often either have given up or have had half the book ruined for them.

So far I've been attempting to follow Method One, but I've been very aware that no matter how carefully I wove my flashbacks and reminders into the story, there are always going to be readers who will either find my opening horribly boring or simply bewildering. As I started work on Book #3 of the trilogy my eyes started to cross with the amount of information that I felt I needed to impart in a natural way to the reader, without completely bringing the action to a standstill.

What is the alternative? Well, as the lovely Vivienne of Serendipity Reviews suggested:
Lovely YA publishers, please can we have a summary of previous books in a series at the beginning of a book?
Lovely Lass asked if this would be like a 'Previously in [Series Name]' page - a sort of bare bones plot summary to refresh everyone's memory on the vital points - rather than an infodump plonked into the actual narrative of the book. Lynsey from Narratively Speaking chimed in: 
YES! A page summary would be great!... Often I don't read sequels quick enough as I feel I have to re-read first book to remember. This is the bane of my life as a blogger and reader of series. It slows me down :(
Later on Laini Taylor, author of the beloved, bestselling Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, was asking the exact same question in her twitter feed: 
Curious, readers: who would prefer a blatant "previously" summary page at beginning of a sequel to author weaving reminders into the text?
Lovely Lass and a couple of other bloggers suggested that maybe these plot summaries could go into a press release, which is a good idea, but... I don't see/read that many press releases. Nor do most average readers, I think. And even if you're a blogger who DOES see and read them, do you really want to keep one to hand the whole time you're reading a book so you can keep referring back to it?

Most readers probably don't tear through as many books and series as my blogging friends do, but even I, an amateur voracious reader and very, very occasional reviewer, will often find myself wishing for a quick precis of books #1 and #2 when I come to pick up book #3. It's probably been a couple of years since I read the first one, at least a year if not more since I read the last one, and I might have read a hundred books since then. I have a pretty good memory for written text, but it still normally takes me a couple of chapters to gel with the series universe and characters again, and that's if the writer is sticking to Method One. With Method Two, I'm just as likely to get exasperated and put the book aside, telling myself I'll re-read the others when I have time, and then NEVER pick any of them up again.

Frankly, Vivienne and Lynsey's comments made me blink a little because... why couldn't *we* do that? If it was what a substantial number of readers wanted? Just put a single page at the front of the book with title 'In Books One and Two of THE NAME OF THE BLADE...', offer up the most relevant details so the reader could say 'Oh yes! Now I remember!' and then move on? There's normally only a week's gap between episodes of a TV programme, but many still ofter a catch-up opening practically every episode. What was stopping us from following that example? If readers didn't want to catch-up that way they could always skip it - and it would most likely free me up to write a much stronger and more fast paced opening to each book.

That's what I think. But you guys are the readers - the ones I'm aiming to please. And this is why I'm going to ask you to tell me what you think, both in the poll I'm posting here and in the comments. Based on what you say, I can go to my editor with this idea and possibly re-write the openings of the last two books of THE NAME OF THE BLADE to make it easier for you to re-immerse yourself in the universe I've created.

The poll will be open until the 10th of February. Later that week I'm having an editorial discussion with Wonder Editor, so make sure you give me something to talk to her about before then! Thanks in advance for your time and your opinions. Each and every one of them counts :)

WHEN READING SERIES/TRILOGIES I PREFER:

Friday, 18 January 2013

THE MAKING OF A COVER

Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers!

YA book covers are endlessly fascinating to me - I never miss Cuddlebuggery's Hot New Titles Roundup, and when I see the words 'Cover Reveal' in a tweet I leap upon that link like a cat pounces on a catnip treat.

Part of the fascination is knowing just how much work goes into the creation of a piece of cover artwork and how it can easily go horribly wrong instead of wonderfully right. I think a lot of people share this interest with me, so today I'm going to try to take you through the process of creating a cover - specifically the wonderful cover of the first book in The Name of the Blade Trilogy: The Night Itself.

Before I start - many thanks must go to Lovely Lass and Delightful Designer of Walker Books (aka Hannah and Maria) for predicting that I would want to write this post and getting hold of loads of interesting material for it without my even having to ask. Extra special thanks to Maria for putting up with - and even replying to - such adorable craziness as me emailing at eleven at night, efferverscent with excitement over an idea that had come to me while watching someone construct a gingerbread Big Ben on The Great British Bakeoff (don't ask). Thank you also to Andrew Archer, the artist who created the cover, for giving permission for me to publish these images here.

The Name of the Blade (or The Katana Trilogy, as it was called then) sold to Walker Books in 2011. Not very long after that I started giving my editor hints about the sort of cover art that I hoped the books would have. Though I think, to be fair, that she did *ask* me if I had any images or ideas that I would like passed onto the designer. And I did. Yes. I definitely, definitely DID.

I hasten to add that I'm fully aware that I'm not a designer or an artist, I don't have the necessary skills, and am the last person in the world who can be objective. In the past my editor has asked, on behalf of the designer, for reference photographs or descriptions of the characters, and I'm very happy to provide those, and feedback if I'm asked for it. Other than that, I stay quiet. I am sensible. I am A Good Author.

But a) this trilogy is my beloved doll-baby-unicorn-princess-snuggle-bunny in a way I don't think any other project has ever been in my whole life and b) getting a contract from my publisher for a trilogy in a new genre was a HUGE deal for me and masses of work for Wonder Editor and Super Agent, and I felt as if my whole career as a writer was now riding on the way everything turned out with this one. So I was a tad over-invested.

The conversation that I had with my editor about these covers was intense. I felt very strongly that the new trilogy, being urban fantasy, should have a really distinct look that would distinguish it from my other books, which are high fantasy. I probably repeated the words 'modern', 'edgy', and 'different' about twelve times each. I sent my my editor the link to the Pinterest Board which I had set up for the trilogy, a Pinboard which at last count contained three-hundred-odd pins. Here is a selection of images:








 
Months later I went to London to do a signing event and my editor came along, bringing Delightful Designer with her. They showed me an initial cover concept for what The Night Itself and Book #2 of the trilogy might look like. It was very rough and ready and had been made using stock images.

Delightful Designer explained the concept to me. It seemed to her that throughout the story the heroine of the book was engulfted by strange forces beyond her control - such as the power of the katana - and was constantly struggling to understand and fight free of these. DD wanted to depict this struggle on the cover. One of the mock-up covers DD showed me centred on an illustration and the other a photographic image, but both of them utilised telling details from the story, bold colours, and innovative graphic design. It was modern, it was edgy and it was different. I loved it.

Wonder Editor and Delightful Designer both warned me not to get too attached, as this was early days and the design might still go in another direction. I was incredibly excited anyway.

Not long after this Delightful Designer contacted me to say that she was briefing an illustrator and asked if I could give her a detailed description of Mio, the central character of the trilogy. This is the description I gave her:
...a small heart-shaped face, a straight little nose, and pale-ish skin. Her eyes are large and chocolate brown, with quite fine brows. She has a precision cut, slightly inverted chin-lenth bob. Her hair is straight and shiny and black.
I also sent a bunch of reference photos:




This is just a small selection! I'm sure poor DD wished she had never asked by the time I was finished. The point I was trying to get across with these was that Mio was very young, was cute and harmless looking, and had short hair. These issues were important to me because they were important in the story. Later DD emailed me again to tell me that she had been visiting museums to look at Japanese reference materials. She wondered if I had any images of the traditional Japanese creatures depicted in the story. Again, I sent a bunch, but I won't include them here because there are spoilers.

(It was some time after this that I sent my notorious late night gingerbread Big Ben email. We shall not speak of it).

Then DD went to the illustrator - Andrew Archer, who says on his website that he is inspired by Edo Era artwork - and briefed him. These are some of the sketches that he came up with initially in response to DD's ideas and the reference materials and descriptions:



I really love Mio's expression in the first one! You can see how the central design is already there, and several details from these pieces (including that awed, vulnerable expression on Mio's face) have remained the same right to the end of the process. You can also see that the artist was developing two slightly different takes on DD's idea.

The next thing that I was asked to give feedback on was a pair of fully coloured pieces of art, each of which explored one of the different takes on the cover concept further.



In both versions Mio is represented with a place holder image, which is just there to show the different options of her face in profile or looking out at the viewer.

These images feature something new which wasn't on the sketches - an authentic Japanese-style rendering of a Nekomata (a cat-demon). I was a bit torn about this. One part of me thought that having the central villain of the piece right there was overwhelmingly cool, especially as the illustration could have sprung straight from the pages of a book of Japan's myths and legends. Another part of me thought, hang on - this is one of the most evil, terrible monsters I've ever written about. Its freakiness should be confined to the insides of the book, not creeping people out on the cover!

The other thing that these versions have in common (I think) is a sense of a bit too much going on. We've got a monster, a heroine, lots and lots of swirly bits, and a brush-painted font which (although really lovely) is also curvy and swirly, plus the London skyline in one version (which I take full responsibility for - I was really keen to show off the book's setting).

Despite these issues I still adored the direction that the art was going in, and especially liked the black and pink colour version, as well as Mio's face in profile. I gave that feedback, along with...er... several more reference images for Mio's face. Over the next several days. Ahem. Poor Delightful Designer and Wonder Editor...

Anyway! A little while later I was sent another sketch:


Mio's face popped out at me immediately. It was HER. And it was reminiscent of Alphonse Mucha's famous paintings:

I have a framed poster of the middle painting - Cowslip - on my bedroom wall.
Mucha was a prominent artist within the Art Nouveau movement, which is known to have been largely inspired by the naturalistic art of Japan. Mucha often painted ladies in profile, giving them powerful, mysterious expressions - and in these paintings the women normally represented something larger, such as the power of an element of nature. I have many Mucha prints in my house, so I was thrilled.

In addition to the Mucha-influenced profile of my heroine, the font in the new sketch was clean and minimal, with an Art Deco look. While I was sad to say goodbye to the brush-painted font, I loved the sharp, almost blade-like edges to the letters. Somehow these styles from the beginning of the Twentieth Century had magically combined to create a really *modern* effect.

Another detail that really pleased me: the graphic elements strangling Mio. They are clearly inspired by both historical and contemporary Japanese depictions of demons, serpants and monsters. LOVE.

And then finally, this arrived:



Frankly, the more I've looked at this, the more I've fallen in love with it. It's everything that I hoped for when I was trying to laser the words 'edgy', 'modern' and 'different' onto poor Wonder Editor's brain with the power of my mind, and it establishes The Night Itself as a book that is completely different from anything I've written before.

I think what makes this design so special for me is a combination of detailing - things like the way the black bands of energy snake across the vivid pink block of the spine, the tiny katana above the title, and the accurate depiction of the tsukamaki (silk wrappings on the katana's hilt) on the back cover - and that enigmatic, vulnerable look on Mio's face. She's so like I imagined, and yet I can't quite work out myself if she's awed, scared, happy, detemined or sad. Ambiguity = one of my favourite things.

This cover = my favourite thing in the world ever at the moment. And this is how it was made :)

For more insight into how cover art is designed, check out Ruth Warburton's wonderful post, which showcases the process that lead to the lovely trilogy look for her Witch In Winter series.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

THE NIGHT ITSELF COVER REVEAL

Happy - nay, joyful, nay, DELIGHTFUL - Thursday to you all!

Yes, I know that right now precisely none of you are reading this, as you are all scrolling heedlessly down the page to get a load of the long-promised, much-teased, oh-so-pretty cover art of The Night Itself (due from Walker Books in the UK on the 4th of July THIS YEAR).

But hopefully some of you will eventually come back. So allow me to burble on, OK? I've been looking forward to this cover reveal for *so long* that it's started to feel like some mythical event which I would never actually get to experience. I need to bask.

Lovely Lass (whom those of you with fabulous taste and a Twitter account can follow at @AitchLove), when arranging for me to have the final, final, final version of the cover with the correct cover copy and the right kind of file type to post here, also sent me a bunch of other, fascinating stuff, like sketches that the very talented artist Andrew Archer made along the way, and early cover mockups from the brilliant cover designer Maria. Lovely Lass knew that the process of developing a cover is of great interest to many - including me - and that I would very much like to do a huge and detailed post about it (because she is Lovely Lass and therefore by definition awesome + infinity).

But as I sat down to write that post, with its many pictures and detailed accounting of how the cover designer and artist came up with this gorgeous concept for my book, I realised that no one is going to care about that today. You were all just going to do what you've already done and zip right past everything I wrote and all those images. So I decided to wait and do a separate post with all that stuff next week, when hopefully you will actually read and appreciate it.

And with that out of the way, I now present to you...

THE NAME OF THE BLADE: THE NIGHT ITSELF


I am told that this will be printed using a pantone, which my Google-fu has informed me is a special kind of printing ink which has more pigment shades than usual, meaning that the colours will be ultra-vivid, and practically glow on the page.

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!


The full jacket artwork reveals that the strange forces coiling around the heroine are, in fact, the mysterious energies of the katana itself! Look, look, there's the grip with the silk wrappings and everything! Plus PINK SPINE and there is my TRILOGY TITLE and that is the coolest font EVER zoh my God!

Ahem.

The cover copy reads as follows:
When fifteen year old Mio steals the katana - her grandfather's priceless sword - she just wants to liven up a fancy dress costume. But the katana is more than some dusty heirloom, and her actions unleash an ancient evil onto the streets of modern-day London. Mio is soon stalked by the terrors of mythical Japan, and it is only the appearance of a mysterious warrior that saves her life. If Mio cannot learn to control the sword's legendary powers she will lose not only her own life... but the love of a lifetime.
Well? What do you all think? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

HEROINE ART

Hello, everyone! Today's post comes to you via Diana Peterfreund's latest blog. I defy anyone who has EVER written a story with a heroine to resist the procrastinatory delights of the Heroine Generator game. YOU CAN'T DO IT. Copyedits? Deadlines? Pffft. LOOK AT THE ADORABLE SELECTION OF ACCESSORIES!!!11eleventy.

Ahem.

So I used the website to generate art for each of my heroines. Guys, this is possibly the most fun I've ever *had* picking out clothes. It's insane. Anyway, I present to you... My heroines!

Alexandra of The Swan Kingdom! Note her fancy dress with lacy bits, which has been patched up due to living in the forest with all those cute little animals, plus the rolled up sleeves to allow her to forage for food. I think her hair was probably a bit wilder than this, but I didn't want to end up with her looking like Merida from BRAVE.


Zira from Daughter of the Flames! Again, hair is a bit tidy - plus they wouldn't let me scar up her face. BUT BUT! Doesn't she look like she could kick your butt so comfortably in this outfit? I *want* this outfit. Yeeees.
Suzume of Shadows on the Moon - or rather Yue, in her fancy incarnation. She's all dressed up for an important do and looking forward to it about as much as I look forward to extensive dental treatment, as you can tell from her expression. Poor Yue! This outfit isn't the slightest bit historically accurate, or even accurate to the book, but it sure was fun to play with.
Frost! The heroine of FrostFire. She's in her mountain travelling get-up, here. She's a bit clean and tidy (this is a recurring theme for me, isn't it? I do torture my poor creations rather a lot) but I think her wary expression is spot on.
My final piece of artwork - Mio, heroine of The Night Itself and the best of The Name of the Blade trilogy. Isn't she CUTE? You'd never realise that she's hiding a deadly weapon somewhere on her person, would you? I totally have a crush on my girl after working on this. I can also tell that her best friend Jack helped her pick out everything she's wearing here, because black and purple are Jack's favourite colours. I wish Jack was my best friend, too...
And now, I bid you farewell, although I'm pretty sure that you're all already rushing off to generate your own artwork anyway. In the meantime I'll go back to my copyedits. In about five minutes, once I've finished this last piece of heroine art...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

SISTER ASSASSIN BY KIERSTEN WHITE - A Review

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers!

Today I bring you a review of a very interesting little book that I read recently - SISTER ASSASSIN (titled MIND GAMES in the U.S.) by bestselling author Kiersten White.

The Blurb:

She never chose her deadly gift but now she’s forced to use it. How far would you go to protect the only family you have left?

Annie is beset by fleeting strange visions and a guilty conscience. Blind and orphaned, she struggles to care for her feisty younger sister Fia, but things look up when both sisters are offered a place at Kessler School for Exceptional Girls.

Born with flawless intuition, Fia immediately knows that something’s wrong, but bites her tongue… until it’s too late. For Fia is the perfect weapon to carry out criminal plans and there are those at Kessler who will do anything to ensure her co-operation.

With Annie trapped in Kessler’s sinister clutches, instincts keep Fia from killing an innocent guy and everything unravels. Is manipulative James the key to the sisters’ freedom or an even darker prison? And how can Fia atone for the blood on her hands


The Review:

This book took me completely by surprise. I'd started the first book of the author's bestselling trilogy (PARANORMALCY) with a lot of excitement, but some quality in the writing simply didn't gel for me, and I ended up skimming through most of it and then skipping to the end. I've never picked up any of the others.

However, having read Ms. White's stories on her blog about how this book ripped itself out of her in just nine days, I was intrigued. The blurb mentioned that this was a 'stunning departure' for the writer - her PARANORMALCY trilogy is, judging by the first book, extremely light and cutesy in tone, like a sort of junior-Buffy, with some of the humour but not much darkness - and you guys know I love it when an author tries something really different. Plus, both editions of the book have great covers:

UK Cover: is that Christina Ricci, or is it just me?

U.S. Cover: pretty colours!
So when the UK edition popped up on NetGalley I requested it and started it straight away. I read the whole thing through in a matter of about three hours. It's not a long book, but the main reason for the speed is the absolutely gripping narrative voice of Fia, a psychically gifted young woman who has been held captive, abused, and used as an operative of assassination and espionage since she was literally a child. Fia is messed up. Not in a cute, teenage, emo-angsty sort of way, but in a she-might-just-snap-and-kill-herself-or-you-at-any-moment sort of way. And as the author unwinds the story of how Fia came to be in this position, you are hit right in the heart by everything she's been through, and come to deeply empathise with her.

Fia's sections in this book (she shares POV duties with her older sister Annie, who I'll get to later) are written in a broken present-tense which reads almost like stream of consciousness at times, and which very cleverly introduces you to the frantic, agonised place that is Fia's head. The book starts in the present - the moment when Fia does snap, but in the sense of being unable to follow her murderous orders any longer - and then utlises a non-linear structure of extended flashbacks which jump from Fia's childhood to various horrific episodes from her growing up years.

Fia is a strong personality, a smart and resourceful child who has a perfect intuition. In any situation she will not only know exactly what action she and every other person present should take in order to serve her best interest, she will also have a sense of the consequences of every other action they could take, both short and long term. This is completely natural to her, a sort of 'knowing' that flashes sensory warnings in her brain a little like synesthesia. Unfortunately, convincing others - like her older sister, Annie - to take her 'feelings' seriously is pretty hard for a kid. This means Fia is constantly forced into situations where everything inside her is screaming NO, and yet she has no choice but to go along with other people's (flawed) choices.

This would be tough enough for any kid. But, left to herself, Fia would clearly have grown up into a responsible and highly successful adult - one of those golden girls who somehow land on their feet in every situation and end up owning half the free world. Sadly for Fia, after her parents are killed in a car crash, one of Annie's decisions places both of them in the Kessler School for Gifted Girls. And it all goes downhill from there, as Kessler are less a school and more a boot camp for psychics, where they are trained to suppress their consciences, follow orders, and accept the 'perks' of using their powers to ruin other people's lives for Kessler's gain.

Kessler are initially after Annie's ability. Annie is blind - although there's no medical reason for this - but she is a seer, tormented by splintered visions of possible futures. Her prediction of her parent's deaths lead to an article in a newspaper which drew Kessler's attention. Annie - struggling in her local school, which doesn't have the budget to provide her with the advanced learning aids she wants - and under the indifferent guardianship of the girls aunt, falls under the spell of the Kessler representative who promises her that if she becomes a boarding student at the school she will have every high-tech gadget and every possible assistance to overcome her disability.

Fia knows instinctively that trusting Kessler is the absolute worst thing Annie can do. She begs her sister not to go - and when the representative realises just how and why she is reacting this way, Kessler's attention snaps onto her, and they offer her a place alongside her sister. Annie, determined to leave the custody of her aunt, and the school that she doesn't feel is helping her, not only ignores Fia's warnings but also persuades Fia to accept the place and come with her.

And this is the start of Fia's nightmare. Within a very short time the little girl is being beaten bloody, slashed up with knives, electrocuted - all to test and strengthen her unique ability. With the constant training in every possible martial art and method of killing the fragile child becomes an almost unstoppable killer - in any fight she knows exactly where to move, how to duck, block, slash, run or turn in order to preserve her own life. The fight scenes were heart-wrenching and eerie to read; watching a little girl shatter emotionally even as she's forced to hurt others. It's not that Fia can't get hurt herself. She does, repeatedly. But if she wants you dead - needs you dead - it's basically impossible for her not to kill you. That is her terrible gift.

Kessler soon decide that Annie's talents are mediocre - but at first they carefully shield her from this knowledge because they realise that as long as they hold her in their facility, Fia will be forced not only to stay and to follow their orders, but also to resist her talent's call to destroy them all.

So far, so fantastic. This set-up is vaguely reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones' HEXWOOD, and I loved it. But something kept me from fully embracing this book and dubbing it a new favourite. And that something was Annie herself.

I can see why Annie was given POV duties here. The narrative isn't quite shared 50/50, but Annie's sections are weighty because they're written in a much clearer and more straightforward style, provide subtle yet much needed exposition which stitches the flashbacks into a cohesive whole, and offer insight into Fia from the outside. They offer a break from the distinctive, frenetic pace of Fia's mind.

What they also do, unfortunately, is to distance us from Fia's world and her story just a little too much. While Fia is fracturing, killing, dying, Annie is sitting in her very comfortable home, drinking herbal tea, and worrying. Throwing tantrums at other people who she believes (rightly!) don't care about her sister. Worrying some more. She's the classic princess, trapped in the tower, waiting for rescue to come. Even at the very end of the story when everything is swirling through Fia's brain like an insane kaleidoscope and everything was changing, Annie's sections remained static and dull. What's more, for me Annie was also extremely unlikeable.

Nine out of ten people may disagree with me here, as Annie was clearly written to be sympathetic. She's sweeter and kinder and saner than Fia, wracked with guilt over everything that Fia has gone through and desperate to help her sister in some way. But... she doesn't. Ever. In fact, everything Annie does seems to make Fia's life worse. Annie's refusal to listen to Fia in the beginning when Fia warns her about Kessler, and the emotional blackmail that forced Fia to go to the school too, came from a strange sense of privilege within the narrative. Poor Annie can't help it. Annie's soft and weak. Annie's blind. She needs to be looked after - even if that means her younger sister has to beat someone to death with a chair and then have a nervous breakdown.

For a very long time Annie remained wilfully ignorant of the extreme abuse being heaped on her sister. Fia was limping around covered in stab wounds and bruises and electrical burns, barely talking, never attending lessons other than ones in killing, hardly eating, but Annie's POV asks us to believe that Annie just didn't know. Because she couldn't *see* Fia - and Fia didn't come out and tell her.

I don't care if Annie couldn't physically see that Fia was being tortured; not noticing that your sister has gone from a strong, clever, funny little girl to suicidal zombie-creature who spends her days fighting for her life while longing for death is a bit of a stretch. Annie says she knew her sister wasn't happy but was so caught up in her own academic advancements that she didn't understand how deep that unhappiness went. But - as I'm sure the husbands, children, girlfriends and co-workers of the thousands of blind people who live full, active lives all over the world today could attest - being blind doesn't magically make it impossible to tell the difference between a sulky kid who isn't fitting in at boarding school and a child who has been abused to the point where her sanity has fractured.

This disconnect between what the narrative clearly wants us to feel about poor, sad, blind Annie who just can't help herself or anyone else, and what I actually felt - that if Annie had a single fibre of backbone she would have thrown herself out of the nearest window and set Fia free - made it tough to like the book as much as I would have otherwise, because Annie was always there, meebling and moaning and failing to do anything. I could understand why Fia didn't march into the nearest Police Station and tell all. But Annie was allowed to go shopping with 'friends' from inside Kessler. Why didn't she stop in the middle of a department store and scream until someone called the authorities and they took her away? Even if they hadn't believed her, that brief window might have been enough for Fia to escape. It seemed as if Annie's blindness was the excuse - a sort of unacknowledged, nebulous sense that someone with a disability can't be expected to actually be active or useful. That was very problematic for me.

Despite this issue, however, I did like SISTER ASSASSIN a lot. It was a surprising, daring and unexpected book that offered me one of the most compelling characters I've met in years - Fia - and which didn't shy away from the darkest implications of the story events it had set up. The book ends with a quite satisfying resolution, but there are a lot of loose ends still whipping about and plenty of exciting places that Ms. White could take Fia and her new partner in crime (not telling! Spoilers!) in the next volume, which the author's website says will be out next year (2014). Unlike with the author's earlier books I will be pouncing on it eagerly the moment it hits shelves.

If you see SISTER ASSASSIN in your local bookshop, give it a try.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers - and a very happy 2013 to you all!

2012 was a fun, frightening, challenging and really exciting year. I had lots of firsts. My first author event in London - at Foyles - where so many of you lovely Dear Readers turned up and made my day despite all my travel trevails. My first - and second! - award ceremonies, the Leeds Book Award and the Lancashire Book of the Year Award. I didn't win anything at either, but both events were so amazing to be part of that it hardly mattered. My first time meeting a Huge Big Time Author - the delightful Cassandra Clare - and actually *interviewing* them for this blog. I recieved my first foreign edition of one of my books, the Polish translation of Shadows on the Moon, and the first audio-book version, again of Shadows.

This year was also very busy writing-wise. We did an awesomeness overhall of the first The Name of the Blade book, The Night Itself, which involved extensive re-writes and revisions. At the beginning of the year I started work on the second book of the trilogy (title to be announced) and I managed to finish it (phew!) just before the end.

I've had a truly wonderful 2012, and I hope that you all did too.

2013 is going to be a special year because this is when my baby, my precious, The Night Itself, will finally be unleashed on the world after nearly three years of planning and scheming and keeping everything about my Big Secret Project, well, *secret*. We've got the cover reveal to come, and hopefully other fun things associated with the release on the 4th of July. I can't wait to hear what everyone thinks about the story, which is such a huge change of direction for me as a writer. I, along with many other people, have fingers crossed that the first book of The Name of the Blade will be a hit. I'm feeling equal parts terror and elation over this!

Between October 31st and December the 3rd of this year I'll be travelling to Brighton to attend the World Fantasy Convention. This will be my very first con, and I'm not on any panels - I'm just going as a reader and a fan. There are going to be some really amazing people there, including members of my writers group The Furtive Scribblers, some of whom are travelling from as far afield as Canada. I'm feeling about equal parts terror and elation over this, too.

I don't know what other things might be to come in 2013. I'm hoping that I get to hit London again, and maybe meet a few more of my Dear Readers in the process. I've got the final book of my trilogy to write, and a couple of other projects lined up that I want to give some attention to. Whatever happens, I hope that I'll continue to be blessed by the support of all the talented, dedicated and brilliant people who made my 2012 so wonderful. Hannah The PR Person, aka Lovely Lass. Annalie, otherwise known as Wonder Editor. Nancy, my Super Agent. The rest of the great team at Walker Books, and at The Miles Stott Children's Literary Agency. All the geniuses of The Furtive Scribblers. And you, my Dear Readers, who make every bit of struggle, stress and strife worthwhile.

I love you guys! Have a great year :)
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