Wednesday, 29 May 2013

RETROTHURSDAY: TEENAGE SUPERHERO

Hello and happy Thursday, my ducky-darlings! Before we get to today's post - imported at great cost and terrible peril from the dark swampy depths of the blog archive - I have links to share to two new advanced reviews of The Night Itself, both of which are just lovely. 

The first is on Readaraptor's blog, by the adorable Raimy, and the second is by the charming Jesse on Books4Teens. You should check out their blogs even if you are not remotely interested in my book, because they rock and their blogs rock. Thank you both so much, guys!

Now, just a bit of background on today's RetroPost. It begins with a lengthy preamble about YA Highway's Roadtrip Wednesday, which obviously is now very, very (two years) out of date. But I decided to leave it in because it's part of explaining how my brain got onto this topic in the first place. Just don't expect to see any of the topics mentioned here on the YA Highway blog now, OK? They are long gone. So, without further ado...

RetroThursday: TEENAGE SUPERHERO
 
Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival," where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic. We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link in the comments - or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.

ETA: Turns out that YA Highway changed the topic for this week to 'Your favourite First Lines' after I had already written this post, meaning that once again I am unable to participate. This is what happens when I try to join in, people. It never ends well. But I thought I'd post what I wrote anyway, because it's heartfelt and it took a lot of effort to get it all down.

I've been wanting to take part in Road Trip Wednesday for ages now, but I always forgot or had something else important to post. So I was thrilled when the stars aligned this week and I not only remembered to check the YA Highway blog in time, but had nothing planned for Wednesday's post.

And then I saw the topic. 

Who did you want to be like in High School?

Brain freeze. Because here's the thing. When I was in school I wanted to be like:

 
Buffy Summers. Beautiful, brave, resourceful and strong. Surrounded by great friends. Willing to sacrifice her life for the good of others.


Elizabeth Bennett. Highly intelligent, quick-witted and funny, but also doing her best to live to strict principles of integrity, even when her own family were pushing her to make bad choices.


Daine from Tamora Pierce's The Immortals Quartet. Tough and competent, with hidden and still developing talents and a completely no-nonsense attitude.

But since I have a feeling this topic is related to the upcoming book Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard, that means the topic is actually asking, what REAL person did you want to be like in school?

Tricky. You see, I was not and never have been a 'follower'. Most of the girls I went to school with bent themselves into strange and awkward shapes, trying to make sure that they fitted in with everyone else. They all had to wear their hair a certain way - permed and scrunched, with at least one large, teased quiff at the front - dress a certain way - tight trousers, top with a certain label, a particular kind of shoes and bag - speak a certain way - lots of swearing, lots of scornful phrases, all topped off with a certain regional accent.

Of course, the less popular ones came off as a sort of cheap imitation of the really popular crowd, but that was okay, because by showing that they were willing to follow, they gained a kind of protection. Even the girls that I was friends with - the ones I knew were clever and funny and interesting people with their own unique traits - were desperately trying to suppress anything different about themselves so they could follow along in the popular kids footsteps. 

Don't stand out. Don't do anything different. Don't put your hand up in lessons. Don't smile at teachers. If you get a good mark, don't look pleased about it. For crying out loud, don't let on that you actually READ for fun.

These were the rules, and I broke all of them. I refused to pretend to be anything I wasn't, I refused to pretend to be stupid, and I emphatically refused to perm and scrunch my hair. No way. In fact, the more the other kids my age lectured me, made fun of me and picked on me, the more stubbornly I clung to being different.

That had consequences. Consequences which in some cases skated dangerously close to being life-threatening (like being pushed down stairs, having stones thrown at me, having my head repeatedly hit against a concrete wall) but which were always unpleasant (having ink flicked at my back, being spat at, having dozens of tiny balls of chewing gum thrown at my head so that I had to pull handfuls of my own hair out).

One by one I watched all my friends give in to the pressure. None of them defended me against the attacks - verbal or physical - because doing so would have put them in the line of fire. What's more, as time went on, they got angry with me for being the way I was. It was my own fault people bullied me, they said. Why did I have to be so different? Why couldn't I just fit in? In squashing themselves into the box that the other kids had told them they needed to fit, my friends had lost their bravery and compassion. All they gained was a craven desire not to stand out.

So school was a pretty damn lonely place for me. And the hardest part was knowing that with a few tweaks, a few changes, a few things that seemed so small, I could have turned it around. I was smart, and I could have done a really good impression of one of those cool girls - talked the way they did, acted the way they did. I was quite capable of fixing my hair to look as hideous as theirs did. I could stop putting my hand up in class, hide my books. And, just like had happened to my friends, within a short time the worst of the bullying would have stopped. I'd never have been in the popular crowd, but I wouldn't have been defying them anymore. They'd have lost interest.

Looking back, to be honest I'm stunned at the absolute core of steel I must have had as a teen. I remember so many days when I got home and went straight to my room to cry for hours over things that had been done to me at school. I remember broken glasses and bruises, I remember taunting words that used to echo in my head for hours. But I never let the other kids see me cry. I remember hearing someone say: 'She's too stuck up to feel pain'. Well, I wasn't. But I was too proud to ever let them see me feeling it. I was too proud to give in. And I was too proud to change.

For a long time after leaving school, I didn't like to think about it. I tried to block all the memories out. When random images of school days swam into my head, I'd take deep breaths, or hum under my breath, or flick the inside of my wrist, to try and drive them away. But as I've gotten a little older, I've started to realise something about the whole experience. Yes, it was dark, and scary and lonely. Yes, no one should ever have to go through what I did. But I didn't do anything wrong. The fault lay with the other children, and the teachers and parents who let them get away with acting like they did.

Teenage Zolah? She was AWESOME.

I truly don't know if I could find that kind of inner strength now. I don't know, if I was subjected to that kind of daily, constant harassment, the threat of violence, the verbal abuse, if I could stand up to my tormenters. I don't know if I'd last a week, let alone five years. But somehow that girl - that teenage girl between the ages of eleven and sixteen - managed it. She did something that most adults couldn't do without breaking down. She endured. She went back to that school day after day. And in the end she WON.

So. The reason this topic is tricky for me to answer, is that the person I wanted to be like in school?

Was me.

And if anyone out there right now, reading this blog, is going through something like Teenage Zolah did, back in the day? Just take a moment to realise how amazing you - like Teenage Zolah - really are.

You are a superhero. And you don't have to be like anyone but you.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS BY CRISTIN TERRILL: A REVIEW

Hi everyone! I hope you enjoyed what was, for me, a gloriously sunny bank holiday weekend. If it wasn't a bank holiday, or sunny, where you were, I hope you managed to enjoy yourself anyway.

Today I bring you a review of a fantastic debut (I can't believe this is a first novel, guys) by Cristin Terrill, called ALL OUR YESTERDAYS.

UK Cover from Bloomsbury
 The Blurb

"You have to kill him." 

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend James since the day he moved next door when they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles apart, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Now someone is trying to kill him. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it. At least not as the girl she once was.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.
 The Review

As soon as I saw the synopsis for this book up on NetGalley I just *had* to have it. It immediately reminded me of an Australian drama series that I was hooked on as a young teen, The Girl From Tomorrow (although the stories are actually very different). I'll always remember how that show thoughtfully illustrated chaos theory and the nature of paradoxes. Paradoxes, and the various ways they can play out, fascinate me; I love time travel stories, because when they're done well they have a dense complexity to them which is hard to achieve in any other kind of fiction. ALL OUR YESTERDAYS is a very, very well done time travel story. 

Sixteen year old Marina is a poor little rich girl who has everything materially and yet longs for the basics most kids take for granted - like parents who care about her instead of using her as prop for their shallow, social-climbing lives. Constant emotional neglect has instilled a deep sense of self-loathing in her. She has a couple of girl-friends whom she strongly suspects only want to be around her because of her family's wealth, and whom she puts up with even though they don't seem to have her best interests at heart. She expects nothing better. The only person who makes her feel good about herself is her best friend James. James is rich, handsome and brilliant. He's the same age as Marina, but doesn't spend as much time with her as he used to, because he graduated high school at thirteen and went straight onto advanced studies at university. 

James lost both his parents to an accident at a young age and was left deeply traumatised. His beloved older brother, Nate, a rising young congressmen, is his guardian. Despite being socially awkward and absorbed to the point of obsession with his cutting edge work in physics, James is a good friend to Marina, and in return Marina loves him with the kind of single-minded, ruthless devotion which can only come from a place of complete loneliness. 

Marina responds to the advent of a new friend - Finn - into James' life just as you might expect; with jealousy and resentment. She sees Finn as an obstacle in the way of her ultimate goal, which is to get James to love her back so that he'll never leave her. Finn seems boundlessly self-confident, and his humour and laidback relationship with James set Marina completely on edge. She's sure that he's mocking her and messing with her on purpose. But Finn's life, family, and motivations are a mystery to Marina, and even to James.

Just as Marina is scrunching up her courage to confess her feelings to James, terrible events overtake the mismatched trio. They and the people most important to them come under attack, and all sense of safety shatters. Desperate to understand who is after them and why, they embark on a journey which will force them to question not only their relationships with each other and their assumptions about their world, but the nature of their own souls.

Meanwhile, years in the future, a pair of captured freedom fighters suffer brutal torture at the hands of a pair of men they call the Doctor and the Director. They are completely at the mercy of the totallitarian regime which has taken control of America, and plunged the entire world into war. Starved, sleep-deprived, beaten and interogated on a regular basis, the only comfort they have in their bare cells is each other's voices through the wall, and the knowledge that they haven't given up the location of the vital piece of paper which is the only reason they are still alive.

In the midst of this nightmare ordeal, they discover a list - a list left for them by a past version of themselves. The writing makes it clear that if they can break out, they will have the chance to go back and change the past in order to save themselves and the world from this terrible outcome. In fact, the list shows them that many different past versions of them have already attempted to do so, trying multiple stategies to attempt to prevent the construction of Cassandra, a giantic neutron collider which makes time travel possible and which has resulted in the horror they are now experiencing. Each strategy, from the simple to the extreme, has failed. The list tells them that there is only one possible thing left to do.

They have to kill someone.

Someone they knew and loved in their former lives, before everything went so terribly wrong and their world imploded. Someone whom they know their past selves will die to protect.

The premise of this book is spine-tingling - but that isn't all it has to offer. It's very well written, with vivid, believable dialogue and a fantastic sense of pace. The characters of Marina, Finn, James and future Em and Finn are wonderfully complex and real, characterised with a light touch that reveals them gradually through their actions as the story progresses. And in particular, I found Em's love and tenderness towards the past version of herself incredibly moving. It's so common to see modest - ie. self hating - heroines who 'don't know they're beautiful/special/smart/worthy of love' portrayed as positive in YA. It's joyous to read about a character whose journey, even in the midst of near-apocalypic events, is ultimately one to self-acceptance and self-respect.

The narrative is complicated but cleverly structured, flashing backward and forward between the actions of bleak, determined future Em and Finn and the struggling, immature present Finn, James and Marina, and then back further still, to other significant events that tie the two realities together. It felt like a series of Russian dolls, secrets nestling within each one so that every time you thought all had been revealed, the story would turn again. Marina and Em had subtly distinct voices, but they were similar enough that whether I was reading about the story's 'present' or 'past' or 'future', eveything felt seamless.

I have to admit that at the end of the story I was left with a few queries about how certain paradoxes resolved themselves. The idea that space-time has a kind of sentience, and attempts to mend rifts in its own fabric, was mentioned a couple of times, but I'm still not sure why some events 'rewound' themselves and others stuck. I think that future re-readings of this book would definitely repay me with a deeper understanding of how time travel in this universe worked. But all this aside, the ending was both bittersweet and deeply satisfying.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS is an action packed and profoundly emotional first novel, written with skill and self-assurance which have made Cristin Terrill an auto-buy author for me from now on. I can't wait for it to be available in hard copy here in the UK (August the first!). Highly recommended.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

THE FINAL MEGA-EXCLUSIVE THE NIGHT ITSELF GIVEAWAY

Hello, my lovelies! Here we are again on Thursday, and it's time to launch the third and FINAL Mega-Exclusive The Night Itself Giveaway! Your very, very last chance to get your hands on a prize made up of utterly unique goodies, as below:


In addition to all these things (which are exciting enough, I hope you agree!) which will be sent out by Lovely Lass herself, direct from the London offices of Walker Books, the winner of this final giveaway will also recieve an *extra* surprise present sent out by yours truly direct from the offices of... er... my house. This will include all kinds of cool stuff, like new copies of some fantastic YA novels, signed copies of a couple of my other books, and signed bookplates. There is a veritable FEAST of awesome coming your way if you enter this giveaway.

So what can you do to get in on that hot book action?

The task this time is to share the beautimous cover for The Night Itself wherever you can. Change your Twitter avatar to the cover. Change your Facebook profile pic. Change your Goodreads picture. Change your YouTube avatar. Change your Twitter or Tumblr wallpaper. Just get the cover out there in whatever way you can.

For each site that you display the cover art of the book, you get one entry. Just as before, post a link to each individual place where you have put the cover on display in a separate comment on this post - so, one comment for a Facebook profile picture, one comment for a Twitter avatar, etc. This is to ensure that each of your entries is fairly counted when the time comes to bust out the random number generator mojo.

Because this is the very last giveaway, I'm going to leave it open a little longer than the others, and pick out the winner in the first week of June, when it's exactly one month until the book's UK release date (eeeeeeiiii!). This means you have extra time to come up with all kinds of inventive ways to increase your number of entries and increase the exposure that the cover will get. Be creative. Go nuts.

As ever, though, no spamming other people's blogs in order to create entries, because that is bad juju.

Hope this all makes sense, my little chickadees! Take care of yourselves, and I'll read you next week.

Monday, 20 May 2013

THREE THINGS ON TUESDAY

Happy Tuesday, Dear Readers! Welcome to a mid-week feast of randomness from yours truly.

Thing the First: The very first blog review of The Night Itself! From the delightful Laura at Sister Spooky. This review contains a line I absolutely adore, because it perfectly sums up the book: 
Mio is transitioning from child to adult and finding it hard to fit in, even in her own skin and having a demon after your flesh and the fate of the city in your hands is a tad much for anyone.
How right Laura is! My poor Mio. Not only do her boobs stubbornly refuse to grow, but now she has to deal with the apocalypse too? Not cool, man. Not cool.

Laura is one of a small group of bloggers who got an early ARC of the book to review, because they're taking part in a special, The Night Itself-related project which is the brainchild of Lovely Lass. This is going to be very, very cool, and I'm hoping that we'll be able to share it with you all soon (but no promises, because it's Lovely Lass' baby, not mine).

Thing the Second: My second lot of music recommendations in as many weeks. I've listened to a lot of new artists over the last month - new to me, that is - and I've been finding a lot of inspiration in being surrounded by new voices, new sounds, new songs. So here are a couple of songs I've recently discovered and love, and have been singing in the shower.



In searching for these on YouTube, I discovered that half of them have apparently featured on The Vampire Diaries. I find this really odd. I am not a Vampire Diaries viewer, and yet about 50% of the time when I find a new song that I love, it turns out to have been on this show. Perhaps their musical director is my song-soulmate? Well, the songs are great anyway.

Thing the Third: This is me right now. Pretty much literally. My eyes are doing that exact crossing-thingie and I too am finding it all too easy to sort of wibble myself into a heap on the floor. Send me love and smoochies, you guise. I need all the help I can get.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

FROSTBITE

Hello, duckies! Today I bring an update with a European flavour. You may remember last year I told you that FrostFire had sold in Germany to Carlsen Verlag (the German publisher of Stephenie Meyer and Kristin Cashore)? Well, I've been keeping an eagle eye on their website for a bit hoping that I would manage to see the cover art before it turned up in a Google alert (there's just something so weird about finding out about your foreign editions and cover art through Google alerts) and yesterday my obsessiveness was rewarded with my very first glimpse of the German version of the book.

As the post title hints, the title has been changed to Frostbite - Frostblüte in German. Which is quite funny because that's probably what I would have called the book, if two other books with that title (one by Kelley Armstrong and one by Richelle Mead) hadn't come out about six months before here in the UK. C'est la Vie.

Here's the synopsis from the Carlsen website, which I translated using my wonderful GCSE German. Ha ha ha ha. No, actually I didn't actually learn any useful German while studying for the GCSE, unless you count knowing how to order icecream and count to ten. I did this with Google translate:
Frost can not get close to anyone - and for good reason: She bears a wolf demon, which breaks out and kills indiscriminately if she is injured or overwhelmed by emotions.
 

When she joins a band of warriors who protect the kingdom from insurgents, she quickly arouses the interest of Luca, the leader, and the distrust of Arian, his best friend. Both men feel that she is hiding something. Frost soon suspects that one of them will rekindle the fire of her feelings. But at what price?

A heroine to die for - fragile and strong at the same time. A story that will leave you on tenterhooks with the fight against ruthless villains and inner demons. A book to revel in and devour - full of unexpected friendship, serious decisions and delicate, bittersweet love.
I'm sure that Frost herself would be very flattered by that description (actually she'd be horribly embarrassed and probably go hide in a tree or something, but again, C'est la Vie).

And now at last, here is the cover art:

Copyright 2013, Carlsen Verlag
This is very pretty indeed, with the snow and the restained swirly letters, and I'm so happy to see an actual wolf on there that I'll try not to worry that the model doesn't really look like Frost at all. Once more, C'est la Vie!

It looks like this will be coming out at the beginning of October this year, and will have ebook and paperback versions. I think I have a couple of Dear Readers in Germany already, so I hope they like it, and recommend it to their friends :)

That's all for today, so have a great weekend and I'll read you on Tuesday chickadees.

Monday, 13 May 2013

A SHORT MUSICAL INTERLUDE

Hello, Dear Readers! Today I bring you exactly what the post title promises - three tracks which have been inspiring me over the past week or so. I hope you find something here that you like.


This last one is a sampler of an album I've been waiting for for AGES, English Rain by Gabrielle Aplin. You can actually stream the whole album free on iTunes right now, so check that out. Happy Tuesday, peeps. Read you Thursday :)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

WRITERS, READERS, & PIRATES

Hello Dear Readers - welcome to Tuesday. Today I have some thinky thoughts to share about readers and book piracy. I strongly suspect that I am about to be controversial, or at least that some people will think I am, but you know me - when the train to crazytown pulls into the station, I can just never resist hopping aboard. Anyway, I'm not handing down pronouncements from on high or anything. I'm just working out what I think about stuff through writing about it. So here goes.

In the last week I've read a few of pieces that talked about this stuff from different viewpoints. First there was MaryJanice Davidson's defence of fellow author Charlaine Harris, who was apparently receiving an online battering from some fans for not giving them the ending that they wanted/expected/demanded in the final Sookie Stackhouse book. Then there was this post about how authors are increasingly being expected to happily offer their work for free (usually by people who are getting paid for *their* work - and apparently have no sense of irony). And this in turn made me think about Neil Gaiman's notorious post on entitlement in which he uses that now famous phrase: G.R.R. Martin is not your bitch (which is also referenced in the first post I've linked, by Mary Janice Davidson). Finally there was this post by Cassandra Clare in which she responded to a reader who was indignant at being asked to pay to read The Bane Chronicles.

There's a theme to these posts, and the theme seems to be... a lot of readers don't seem to like writers all that much these days. So what's up with that?

On every kind of social media now there's a level of interaction between readers and writers that would have been unthinkable ten or even five years ago. When I was a kid, if you screwed up the courage to write a letter to your favourite author (on paper, of course) you never expected in your wildest dreams that you would get a reply. And unless you were a mega-bestselling author you frankly didn't expect to ever get much in the way of response from readers about what you wrote, either. Today, readers have countless outlets which allow them to respond to and discuss books, and they contact writers all the time - on Twitter, Tumblr, on blogs and websites - in expectation of a response.

But the internet has wrought more changes than increased contact. I think it's fundamentally changed the way that readers - all people who consume entertainment, really - expect to access content that they enjoy. Entertainment downloads have gotten us used to instant gratification. If I want to own a book or a song or a TV show I expect to be able to have it NOW. And most of the time, I can. Which is why the times I *can't* surprise and frustrate me.

Then there's the rise of fanfic. I love fanfiction. Adore it. Some of the best stuff I've read over the last two or three years has been fanfiction, offered up freely online by its creators for no more reward than being able to share their love of writing with others who care about the same characters they do. And this, along with the two other factors above, has encouraged many traditionally and self-published writers to offer up free content that allows them to connect with and reward their readers - blogs like this one, Tumblrs, Pinterest boards for their books, deleted scenes and short stories, book trailers.

So now we have a literary scene - and this applies particularly to YA - where readers can generally expect discussion and interaction with writers (whether traditionally published, self-published or fanfic), where they expect to get stuff they want quickly - instantly in a lot of cases - and where a lot of that stuff is free. And all this is great.

Until it's not.

Like sometimes when I'm reading fanfic the writer will add an author's note responding to reviews. All too often they are begging forgiveness for the delay in an update and asking people not to get angry at them. Or they'll mention reviews which accuse them of 'hoarding' chapters or being a 'review whore'. Or they'll request people not to flame them for the twist that just happened, or apologise to those who are disappointed with the lack of a certain character in this scene, or respond to people who've told them their last chapter was sucky.

This makes me blink every time. These guys are writing amazing stuff for us in their spare time for free, and they also respond to reviews and make themselves available to us to discuss their work - and the response to that is to bitch them out if they didn't give out the free stuff exactly when people wanted it? Call them a review whore because they don't give *enough* free stuff? Abuse them because they wrote about character A when you wanted character B instead? How can anyone think THAT will encourage these writers to continue to update after a long hard day at school or work, when they just don't feel like writing? Many fanfiction writers do want constructive criticism, but apparently some readers are so blinded by their entitlement issues that they can't tell the difference between concrit and just being a jerk.

I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that if there are people who are willing to be this mean and unappreciative of writers who are giving them stuff for free, there will also be those who are just as unpleasant - if not more so! - to writers who are actually asking to be paid for their work. For instance, not long ago a certain writer's new book was shipped early from some retailers, but the ebook version wasn't available until the official release date. The response to this from some readers was to send this author messages in which they not only swore at, insulted and abused this author for the fact that they couldn't get her ebook RIGHT NOW... they threatened her with physical harm.

All of this leads into my thoughts about the piracy problem the publishing industry is facing right now. Clearly, people who will send an email to an author threatening to do unspeakable things to her just because they have to wait for a week to read her book will not care about fairly compensating her for her work. In fact, if I remember correctly, the author mentioned that several of the threatening messages made it clear that they would be illegally downloading the book as another way of punishing her for (in their eyes) daring to thwart them.

But it's not just those extreme types who think that it is OK to take an author's work without their consent and without paying. It's just so goshdarned easy to get books (or music or TV shows) for free now that among quite a lot of people it's considered gauche and naive to actually pay for stuff. Like, why would you do such a quaint, backward thing?

I've heard the argument that piracy doesn't harm professional writers. In a polite debate on Twitter, Neil Gaiman himself told me that he was certain that his publisher giving away copies of his books for free online had only helped his sales. I'm sure he's right. But a publisher giving away books for free is entirely different from people pirating those books, because a) the publisher could track the downloads and get an idea of how popular the book was was and b) Mr Gaiman and publisher had agreed to give the books away for free. The income from sales had not been stolen from him without his consent and in such a way that it would damage his standing with his publisher.

My first book, The Swan Kingdom, sold around 20,000 copies. It hasn't, as far as I can tell, been pirated at all. Perhaps because it tends towards the younger end of the YA market. Perhaps because it came out in 2007 and didn't have an ebook version until 2011. But in any case, because my advance was small, this level of sales was considered quite a success by my publisher. However, almost immediately after my second book Daughter of the Flames, was released, I started getting Google alerts from websites where the book was available for illegal download.

When I investigated those sites, I was able to work out that my second novel had been downloaded approximately 30,000 times (this was in 2008-2009 - it's probably been downloaded a lot more by now). 30,000 sales would have earned me back my advance AND considerably impressed my publisher. In fact, if even half those people had paid for the book, I would have gotten my very first royalty check. But they didn't. And because they didn't, that book was and is considered a sales failure by my publisher even though apparently more people read it than my first book.

I've got to tell you, guys - that doesn't feel good.

Very successful mainstream authors can look upon 30,000 illegal downloads as a drop in the bucket. But for newbies and midlisters like me, that many lost sales makes the difference between being seen as a good risk for a new contract and getting dropped by the publisher (it can also make the difference between a royalty check that would pay the electricity bill, and never earning the advance back at all). There are a lot of newbies and midlisters out there who will probably never sell more than a few thousand copies of their books - but their books deserve to be published nonetheless. They deserve a chance. If those books - books with fresh new voices, unconventional stories, different and diverse characters - stop being viable for publishers because illegal downloads are so rife that only mega-bestselling books now make a profit for them, then our bookshelves will be a barren - and boring - place indeed, in a few years time.

A blogger that I otherwise respect once made the argument that illegally downloading things (music or books or whatever) wasn't stealing because you weren't actually taking anything away from anyone. He compared it to taking a Mars Bar from a shop in which there was an infinite supply of Mars Bars which could never run out. This couldn't possibly harm the shopkeeper, right? But the very impossibility of that scenario - neverending Mars Bars that constantly replicate no matter how many you take - ought to have made it clear that his analogy was flawed. Let's follow this flawed analogy to the end, shall we?

Because now that you have a your Mars Bar, no one ever needs to go to the shop again. Your stolen Mars Bar keeps replicating infinitely, allowing everyone that you know to eat Mars Bars forever more without ever compensating the shopkeeper or the Mars Bar factory. The shop closes and the shopkeeper is out of a job, the Mars Bar factory closes, all the Mars Bars workers are out of a job, and no new Mars Bars are ever manufactored, meaning that the copies of your stolen Mars Bar are all that's available to anyone now. Does that sound like a good outcome?

Illegally downloading a piece of entertainment is not like taking a Mars Bar from a shop. It's like going to the cash register and taking the price of that Mars Bar out of the til. And every copy that is made from your copy takes more and more money from the til, until the til is empty.

Does this sound drastic? Well, it is - but that's what happens when an industry collapses from the bottom down. Imagine how the furniture business or the stationary business or the fashion business would work if people simply stopped paying for their sofas, pens and trousers. Publishing is no different than those industries.

When you pirate books or other media, you *are* taking something away from someone. At the very base level, you are depriving a creative person of the income that they are legally and morally entitled to from their work, and you are depriving them of the ability to show their publisher/record company/production company that there is a demand for their work.

But you're not stealing from the creative person! You're stealing from faceless corporations that are only taking advantage of the creative people AND the customers anyway! It's all their fault for making it hard or expensive to get hold of the stuff that you want! If it weren't for those darn corporations we could come up with new - cost free! better! - ways of sharing entertainment and everyone would be happy and singing and dancing through fields of daisies!

Um, no. There may indeed be issues with those faceless corporations, but nevertheless they are still acting on behalf of the creative person. Regardless of what kind of artistic product is being produced - paintings, TV shows, sculpture, music, art - it is always the perogative of the person who does the work to decide how they want to distribute it and what they want to charge for it. In the case of traditionally published writers, they appoint a body (the publisher) who does so on their behalf, but this is still THEIR choice. Not the customer's. The customer doesn't get to decide the price for someone else's work. They don't get to decide how the work should be distributed or when. It's not their work.

The customer has the right to refuse to pay for books, TV shows and music if they don't want to, or if they disapprove of the distribution method. But they don't have the right to refuse to pay for these things and still get them anyway.

This isn't groundbreaking stuff, right? I mean, if you really want the latest iPod but can't afford it and think it's overpriced, as well as disapproving of Apple's business practises, you don't expect to register your protest at this state of affairs by walking out of the shop with it without paying.

But the fact that huge numbers of people are willing to steal income from writers whose work they actually enjoy isn't as shocking to me as the fact that the people who do the stealing act as if they're on some moral high ground. As if the writers are backwards barbarians who haven't caught onto 'the new paradigm' and who ought to be ashamed - yes, ashamed! - of themselves for expecting to actually get paid for their work. They should want to give their stories to the world for FREE like the fanfic authors do! Authors who try to make a living from writing deserve to be stolen from and get dropped by their publisher. So there.

That is not only a self-serving argument, it's a cruel one.

As readers we invest a huge amount of ourselves - our feelings, thoughts and time - in the books we love. Those characters can sometimes feel more real to us than people we actually know. But though we cringe and cry and laugh and fall in love with them throughout the pages of a book, those people aren't actually real. The only person in that book who is real? Is the writer. The one who put their own feelings and thoughts and time into making it something that touches you. If you would despise a character who brought harm to the fictional people in the story, then you should think twice about harming the REAL person who brought those characters to life.

Writers are not faceless word machines cranking out pages to meet demand. Try to remember that. Try to remember that writers are people. People who can be damaged, by your actions. I know it's hard to wait for the books you want, to have to save up or ask for them at the library and hope they come into stock. I know because I have to do all that stuff myself. But the feeling of having to wait for that book isn't nearly as bad as the feeling that a writer gets when they realise half the people who have read their book stole it from them without remorse, and that this has probably damaged their career. Trust me on that, too.

I hope that readers and writers will continue to find new ways to connect and develop relationships online as my career goes on. But my most fervent hope is that by the time I pass on to the great Writing Cave in the sky, we've passed into a place where readers and writers like each other a bit more.

(With thanks, smooches and snuggles to my own beloved Dear Readers, of course, whom I adore and respect more than words can say).

P.S. For my thoughts on the relationship between writers and bloggers/reviewers, you can click here. In fact, you might want to before you start flaming me for hating readers, or you'll just end up looking silly.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

WHEN DID THURSDAY GET HERE?

Hello, Dear Readers, and happy Thursday (Friday's almost here!). Today's first order of business is to direct you to my book birthday interview with picturebook author and illustrator Cara Vulliamy on Author Allsorts. Her new book, Bubble & Squeak, is out today. If you're interested in illustration and picturebooks I think you'll find it very interesting.

Next, I need to talk about InCreWriMa. Last year the whole month of May was International Creative Writing May on this blog, and I loved it. I think we all got a lot of work done - well, I know I did, about 30k in that month alone, which is amazing for me - and supported each other really well. I was fully intending to run that again this year, but then last week Wonder Editor emailed me to say that she hoped to get the second round of The Name of the Blade Bk #2 edits to me either this or next week. Which means instead of InCreWriMa it's going to be ZoRiHeHaOuMa (Zolah Ripping Her Hair Out May) and I'm unlikely to get any new work done at all. Sorry! If I manage to get the edits done before the end of the month it's possible we could have an International Creative Writing June. If not, it'll be InCreWriJul. That's if anyone is interested, of course? Let me know in comments.

In other news, can I just say how astonished I am at the level of interest in The Night Itself on Goodreads? It has more adds now and is on more To-Read lists than some of my *published* books. This is astonishing and very pleasing indeed, and is of course muchly down to you, my dears, and your buzzing. I love you all. Thank you.

Now, I was going to write a really long thinky post today about online piracy and the idea that writers owe their readers free stuff - in fact, I have several thousand words of it right here - but yesterday was a day of great personal drama and this morning my brain is mashmallow. I can't seem to tease out the ideas that I really wanted to explore, at least not in a way that's going to make sense for anyone else. So instead of subjecting you to a subpar post (or myself to anymore grinding of teeth) I'm going to take the pooch for a very long walk and hope that sun and clouds and water will make everything feel a bit clearer.

See you next week, duckies. Have a great weekend :)

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