Tuesday, 23 December 2014

THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY

Hello, and Happy Holiday Season, my honeybunches! I hope everyone's fully prepared to either celebtrate or else hunker down and comfortably ignore all the winter festivities, whichever is your preference. Today's the last blog post you'll be getting from me for the next couple of weeks, as I'm taking a little bit of time off for Christmas and the New Year, so I thought I would share some new cover art.

This is for the anthology I've mentioned a few times before; produced by Candlewick Press and due out in hardcover in the US in March 2015, it's entitled THINGS I'LL NEVER SAY and is full of short stories on the theme of secrets and secret selves. I was told that my UK publisher Walker Books would be releasing this anthology here in Britain at some point, too, but I don't know any details about that yet, sadly. I'll update you when I do! In the meantime, I'll probably look at getting hold of some copies of this so I can do a giveaway for British and European Dear Readers in March.

My story - my first ever published short story, in fact - is called 'Storm Clouds Fleeing From the Wind' and is set in the universe of Shadows on the Moon, casting light on the young Akira's famous (and scandalous) dance at the Shadow Ball that changed her life forever. I'm really proud of this piece of work. I hope that others will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Now, without any further delay, here's the cover:


I don't technically have permission to post this here, but it's already up on Goodreads and Amazon, so... whatevs. What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments :) Read you later, lovelies!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Hello, hello, hello, my muffins! Happy Wednesday to all. Today I've got a link to my post on the Authors Allsorts in which I dish the juicy details about my stationery habit. But before I get there, I need to tell a story, talk about something I found out last week, and do a little Public Service Announcement.

So, I've mentioned in previous posts that I've had a lot of health problems this year. In April I began to get terrible headaches that made my eyes feel as if they were liquifying in my head. I could barely look at a computer screen without the light from the screen causing me agony, I felt tired all the time no matter how much sleep I got, my asthma started to act up, I often found it very difficult to concentrate, and I also suffered a lot with feeling randomly nauseous.

Now, the thing is that I've had headaches and migraines all my life, and I also have IBS, which can make you feel sick fairly often. And people's asthma can get worse or better over the years. So these things seemed, to me, like a simple (if unwelcome) worsening of problems I already had. My main concern was that feeling this way was having a huge impact on my work and I focussed on that because if I lost my ability to write, I knew I really would be up a creek without a paddle.

Concerned friends and family offered theories. The tiredness might be a new manifestation of my depression, after everything I'd been through in 2013. The change in frequency and intensity of my headaches might be a natural effect of getting older. I should probably go and get an asthma check to see if I needed a different kind of spray. If I felt sick all the time, perhaps I should try keeping a food diary again, like I had for several months when I first learned I had IBS. I didn't know if any or all of this was true, or would help, but after feeling awful for months I did know that I needed to seek assistance because it wasn't getting better on its own.

I went to the doctor and was given medication to help with the headaches, as well as a new asthma regimen. I went to the optician and got new glasses. I developed new coping strategies, such as overloading on caffeine in the mornings, wearing dark-tinted sunglasses whenever I worked on my computer, and resigning myself to getting to bed quite early and getting up much later than before (even though previously I'd never needed much sleep, and had always been the kind of person who had to get up early to feel well) so that I got nine hours or more sleep a night. I faithfully took my asthma sprays twice a day.

Honestly, even after all this I still didn't feel that much better, but I was able to get back to writing as I adjusted to feeling, basically, below par all the time, and to working around the constant pain in my head and eyes and the weird nauseated dizziness. I resigned myself.

I had no way of knowing what was really going on.

Last week I woke up to discover that a) the house was freezing cold because my boiler had broken down and b) that I didn't have a headache for the first time in... weeks. The boiler wasn't a surprise, really; it's broken down pretty much annually every year since it was installed. But I was a bit shocked to wake up feeling rested and not in pain. Anyway, I called up the repair people and they came out.

Happily for me, the person who came was a very experienced head engineer. Rather than doing a reset or a quick fix the way that the last several repairmen had, he took the boiler apart and noticed not one, not two, not three, but SIX problems (two small cracks/leaks and two blockages caused by these leaks, plus a load of water in the bottom of the boiler and a load of corrosion). Basically, my boiler had been teetering on the edge of breaking down for a long, long time and needed to be almost completely rebuilt.

It took the engineer FIVE DAYS - Tuesday to Friday, with another full day on Monday and the help of another engineer - to get the boiler rebuilt and my central heating and water working the way they should. Despite only having heat and hot water intermittently, and despite the large man making scary banging noises in the loft, I was surprised to find that I felt better last week than I had in months and months. I wondered if maybe it was the cold, and if perhaps I should try keeping the thermostat turned off from now on. Wearing leggings under my trousers, fingerless gloves, a hat and a fluffy shawl over my cardigan would be a small price to pay.

It wasn't until Friday that the engineer said something that really caught my attention. He told me that my boiler had likely been pumping out dangerous - in fact, fatal - levels of carbon monoxide, and that it was a very good thing the machine wasn't located in the kitchen, as boilers often are. Because the machine is located in the loft, the dangerous gases would mostly have been vented through the roof. However, my loft is incredibly drafty, and even quite a mild wind would probably blow some of those gases back into the house. With a bit of concern, he asked me: 'You don't go up there often, do you?'

The answer to that is no. But. But. In my bedroom there is an airing cupboard. The cupboard used to be hooked up to the old water heater tank and as a result, it has no ceiling - it opens directly up into the loft space. The engineer had a look, and then he spotted the fact that my bedroom window was open, even though my heating was off. He asked why. I explained to him that I always sleep with it open these days because I'd found that if I closed it, I ended up with an even worse headache than normal; I'd assumed because the room got too stuffy at night.

The engineer told me, very gently, that he didn't think it was because the room was getting too stuffy at night.

He reeled off a list of symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headaches, dizziness, breathlessness, nausea, fatigue, and inability to concentrate. Everything I had been suffering with since spring this year. He told me that I need to make a doctor's appointment, like... now.

Most likely version of events: small amounts of carbon monoxide were venting into my room through the airing cupboard, particularly at night because I generally have my bath or shower in the evening, meaning that's when the boiler is most heavily used. The amounts of the gas would vary depending on how much I was using the boiler generally - more if the weather was cold and the radiators automatically came on - and in which direction and how strongly the wind was blowing on the roof.

The fact that I kept my window open at night... well, it might not have actually saved my life, but it probably prevented me from getting a lot sicker than I already had been. And the fact that all the faults with the boiler that caused the carbon monoxide to reach such dangerous levels had also caused it to break down before we hit really cold weather, and I turned the heat up and began leaving it on during the night? That probably DID save my life.

So this is my Zolah-Land public service announcement. If you are having these symptoms and they persist, as mine did, for weeks or months at a time, and you find that you feel strangely better when you are away from home but that you get worse again when you return? For heaven's sake, get your heater or boiler or whatever checked. Please.

And get a carbon monoxide alarm and put it NEAR WHERE THE BOILER IS (I had one, but it was shoved on a shelf on my landing, in completely the wrong place to be useful). Although I obviously wasn't lucky to have a dangerously malfunctioning boiler that was pumping out high levels of poisonous gas, I was lucky that it was in the loft, that I mostly already slept with my window open, and that the boiler went wrong during summer months when I barely used my heating. You may not be that lucky. So just be careful.

And with that, we move onto happier things: STATIONERY. Check out my collection and weep, losers!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

JIGSAW PUZZLES

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Today is one of those days when I kind of wish I blogged on Tumblr, because they don't have to come up with blog titles; they can just post. There are no literal jigsaw puzzles involved in today's blog - sorry for the disappointment - but it seemed better than calling this post 'Random bits and pieces of stuff that's currently interesting or inspiring me maybe it will do the same for you kthnxbai'. So! A jigsaw puzzle of stuff for your delectation!

SOME FILMS I HAVE WATCHED:

I bought an armful of DVDs the other week. These included THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (sorry cynics, but I really loved it and cried buckets - recommended); CHEF (funny and entertaining although it didn't quite reach outstanding for me - something failed to gel); MALEFICENT (adored it - brilliant performances and a Feminist take on the fairytale, though the CGI was a bit distracting in places); EARTH TO ECHO (Charming, funny and affecting - will be sharing it with my nieces next time they visit); and BEGIN AGAIN (Probably not for younger Dear Readers, what with all the swearing, but fantastic nonetheless - a story about broken-hearted people healing themselves through friendship and art, and probably the film that CHEF was trying to be but didn't quite manage).

I also went to see MOCKINGJAY Part One and was, not surprisingly for anyone who knows how I feel about these books and films, blown away. It's certainly the darkest film so far - not a surprise, since the book takes grimness factor up to over 9000 - in terms of the characters and their arcs, and also visually, since we only see the neon-coloured Capitol in glimpses and most of the action takes place in an underground concrete bunker.

I've seen reviewers complaining about this, and longing for more fabulous Capitol scenes, but to me that misses the point somewhat. Or a lot, actually.

The whole point of the Capitol is that it's glittering beauty and excess distract the people from the horrors happening right under their noses. The people of the Capitol - mothers and father themselves - wholeheartedly embrace a form of entertainment where innocent children are made to fight each other to the death, and worship and adore the public face of the 'victors' while turning a blind eye to how these same children, having survived the games, are exploited, tortured and sold into sexual slavery for the amusement of President Snow. The future America depicted in this story is called Panem. This literally means 'bread' and comes from the saying 'Panem et Circences' - a phrase coined by a Roman Emperor which basically states that so long as the Roman people are given bread to eat and circuses to distract them, they will never rebel against the Empire. AND IT'S TRUE.

The Capitol have turned war - a calculatedly horrific kind of war, in which children murder each other while their families are forced to watch, helpless - into a GAME. They have turned it into a theatrical show so beautiful and spectacular and eye-catching that no one even realises it is a war at all. Not even US - you and me! - watching from our comfy theatre seats in the real world. How well I remember the cheer that went up from the other film-goers when, in THE HUNGER GAMES, first Clove and then Cato were killed. YAY! Underage kids who've been indoctrinated into believing their only choice in life is to fight to the death with other kids have been horribly killed! There's a real crowd-pleaser! 

Seriously?

To me, the point of this film was to strip away the carefully constructed veneer, the gorgeous costumes and sparkling lights and moving music, and show us the truth, that the 'Games' President Snow presides over *are* warfare, and always have been. But the grim darkness of this film was also marked by moments of piercing beauty which were all the more meaningful and lovely for their rarity - and their realness. Katniss and Gale stalking the deer through District 13's undisturbed woods and letting it live, the film crew sitting by the river in District 12 in the sunlight while the mockingjays called around them, Katniss's low, heartfelt voice singing 'The Hanging Tree' blending seamlessly into the voices of District 5 workers marching to war - to certain death - in order to destroy the dam that supplies the Capitol with power. Each one felt like a punch to the gut.

Go see it, but take tissues, and expect to leave feeling emotionally destroyed as only the best pieces of art can destroy you.

A PIECE OF WRITING SOFTWARE I HAVE RECENTLY DISCOVERED:

It's called Pacemaker, and I love it. We know about my disastrous history with NaNo, but this programme offers the chance to create a similar sort of schedule on a really individual basis, even down to marking certain specific dates off or deciding that you want to work with gradually increasing intensity. Check it out.

SOME SONGS I HAVE RECENTLY ENJOYED:

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

NaNoWriMo. SORT OF.

Hello, oh lovely readers, and welcome back! As our blog title for the day suggests, this year I'm attempting to participate in NaNo. Sort of.

Due to all the personal and health issues I had this year I never got around to running or even attempting to do my own International Creative Writing Month (sorry, anyone who was looking forward to it!). In May and July, when I'd normally have set that up, I was just about managing twenty minutes or maybe half an hour of computer activity per day before a headache set in, and that was while wearing sunglasses. It just wasn't going to work. But I still feel bummed about it. So when I sent my edits for Frail Mortal Heart back a few days shy of the end of October, I thought - why not try NaNo this year?

I should... probably have known better than to do that, really?

Well anyway, I knew that I couldn't actually sign up to take part as an official NaNo-er because the book that I'm working on in November is the Beauty and the Beast retelling I talked about here, usually referred to on twitter as #BaBBook. I've already written a chunk of the book and that means it's not eligible to be a NaNo novel. But I did intend to stick to the rules otherwise and commit to writing a certain amount each day in order to get to a certain word total by the end of the month. My goal was to produce ten handwritten pages of notes six days a week, for a grand total of 240 pages by the end of the month (I didn't count the first Sunday of the month because I was spending that day with my nieces). That would significantly progress BaBBook and give me a shot at getting a first draft finished early next year. All good.

As usual, Fate, the Muses, and the Writing Gods laughed at this plan of mine. As soon as I opened my draft document to look at the chapters I'd already written (I'd planned to skim-read them to get myself back into the correct voice and mood) I began to get a sinking feeling. I hadn't looked at this piece of writing for a month, since I'd been focusing on the aforementioned edits for TNotB #3, and it seemed that the distance had thrown some serious problems with the opening of the novel into sharp relief. I'd been feeling pretty good about those chapters and now I definitely was not. They just weren't up to scratch at all.

Fine. OK. Don't panic. The first day was just going to have to be re-writing so that I could fix this and move on feeling confident. And I know that goes completely against the NaNoWriMo principle of pushing on regardless, but I just *couldn't* OK? I had to get my ducks in a row first because otherwise the very important section I needed to write next was going to be weakened by the feebleness of what came before.

So I put in what felt like a fruitful day's work revising those chapters and getting them up to a standard that felt solid enough for me to move on, and was feeling OK about things until I got to the end of the document and realised there were pages missing there. Pages I knew I had written. Nearly a full chapter. What was going on? Had I failed to save at the end of my last writing session a month ago or something or... or... Oh. My. GOD.

I had been working on the wrong version of the manuscript.

I have two computers now - a slim laptop that travels with me, and a heavy old PC replacement that lives in my Writing Cave. I also have a flashdrive which I ferry back and forth between them, updating whatever computer I'm using with the most recent version of #BaBBook. And obviously at the end of last month, I hadn't updated the file on the Writing Cave computer with the newer version from the flashdrive. No wonder those chapters hadn't seemed good enough. They were from the middle, not the end, of September.

ARGH.

The urge to trash the room, rock 'n' roll style, was definitely rising, but after a few moments of deep breathing and staring at the calming picture on my wall, I was able to get it together. There was nothing to be done but print out the pages that I had revised, update my computer using the flashdrive and then hastily leave the room in order to watch classic anime until the urge to sacrifice myself on the alter of an elder god and then rise again as a eldritch tentacled monster of vengeance had passed.

Today, then, has been spent looking closely at the correct version of #BaBBook and inputting quite a lot of the changes that I'd made to the older version of the book's opening onto that, since many of them are still good. Two days of NaNo (during which I should have written twenty new pages, remember) down and not much to show for them, except a slightly more polished version of the first few chapters. And also a strong feeling that the last chapter, which I wrote at the end of September, needs to go in the bin and be completely rethought because it just feels rushed and wrong. Dammit.

So. Hopefully I'll get on that tomorrow and manage to construct a lead-in to the next part of the book that feels right and works. And then Thursday, I will actually start NaNo. Right?

Right?

*Sigh*

Monday, 27 October 2014

FRAIL MORTAL HEART COVER REVEAL

Hello, hello, hello, my lovelies! This post was originally supposed to be for yesterday, but I've been miserably ill since Saturday and today's the first day that I could be bothered to do more than tap out 140 characters on Twitter. However, I think the under-lying fabulosity of the post kinda makes up for the delay, so I'm just going to go ahead and call it even (especially since even now I know that 99% of you are busily scrolling past my words to get to the shiny shiny cover reveal below, you impatient heathens, you).

So, anyway: The Name of the Blade Book Three - FRAIL MORTAL HEART. It haz a cover and it is beautimous, and since it was shared with the lovely guests - hey guys, it was amazing to meet you! - at the blogger tea at Walker Books on Saturday (wherein I made my second flying visit to our country's fine capital in as many weeks and picked up this weird bug which may have been down to the salmon sandwich I ate on the train, and that's a lesson for you, my children - if they don't have ham then just say no to train sandwiches) and there are slightly blurry, not-really-forbidden glimpses of it circulating all over Twitter, I've now got permission to rip away the veil of secrecy officially.

And yes, that was the longest sentence that's ever been written on this blog. Yes, I am doing it on purpose to mess with you, oh patient and rare 1% who are actually wading through all this before getting to the image. I love you, my babies! Never change!

Fine, fine, I'll shut up. Here it is!


It's coming right up, right next!


Well, just a bit further down.


And a little more.


Leeetle more.


Just a bit


Tiny bit.


Now!


Um. Yeah. Do I even need to describe the amount of flailing, squeeing and unbearable smugness that is emanating from Marriott Towers right now? No? I thought not. As I said at the blogger tea - my cover has a dragon on it. LIVE ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

Also, this:

Click to embiggen. Do it. DOOOO IIIIITTT.
That is my trilogy guys. It's *this close* to finished. And actually being serious for half a second here - I am so, so proud of Walker Books for once again kicking #racefail and whitewashing in the soft dangly bits and giving my books cover art that not only accurately reflects the ethnicity of the characters within, but celebrates it with an airpunch and a HELL YEAH WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS BABY. At my publisher they not only acknowledge that they need diverse books, they really and truly want them, and treat them with the respect they deserve. How awesome is that?

Thank you to Annalie (Wonder Editor) and Maria (Delightful Designer) and also Larry Rostant, the photographer (who doesn't have a nickname because I haven't met him so it seems like it would be taking a liberty) for making my dream covers a reality. Wow, guys. Just. Wow.

OK, before I go, a final reminder that I, along with amazing fellow YA authors Emma Pass and Kerry Drewery, will be at the Lincoln High Street Waterstone's this Wednesday doing a panel event - Heroines of Teen Lit - with readings, a Q&A, signing, and super special swag (although I'm not bringing sweeties this time because... well, I've been too ill to go and buy any. Sorry *Sad face*). No need to book tickets or ring ahead - just turn up at 6:30 and we will be delighted to see you! 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

COME AND SEE ME!

Greetings, Dear Readers! Don't check your calendars - I know it's not my normal posting day, but I'm joining you early this week because I have EXCITING NEWS.

So, you remember I posted about the Heroines of Teen Lit panel and signing in Lincoln on the 29th of October? Well, if you can't get to that (and I know that sadly it was a bit far to travel for many of you) then weep not - I'm doing another event, this one in London, and it's on the 19th. That's right - this coming Sunday. I know it's not much notice, but that's because I literally only learned about it myself on Friday afternoon. It's been a bit of a whirlwind.

Details! you cry. Give us details! Patience, young Padawan - details follow.

Remember the YALC - Young Adult Literature Convention - which was organised by the amazeballs Malorie Blackman and which took place in July this year? Well, YALC is returning with a smaller 'pop-up' event at the winter London Film and Comic Con this very Sunday, and I will be there doing an event on Female Characters in Fantasy Fiction, along with YA superstars Laure Eve (author of FEARSOME DREAMER and THE ILLUSIONISTS) and Samantha Shannon (of THE BONE SEASON fame). I am polishing my tasteful yet kickass Feminist boots as I type. Figuratively. I don't want to get boot polish on my keyboard. But you get the idea: mouthy awesome ladies being mouthy and awesome. Live!
Here is the official press release, which also gives details of the other YALC panel event. Both the YALC events are free to attend, but you will need to have an LFCC ticket to get in. If you're only interested in the two YALC events, you can get a cheaper late day pass, rather than an early bird or all weekend LFCC ticket.

Here is the website for the LFCC where you can learn more about the venue, purchasing tickets, and other stuff going on at the larger con (Princess Leia FTW!).

After the panel, as the press release notes, we'll be doing an hour long signing. I will be there with my special signing pen and I will sign anything you ask me to, not including private parts (because I love you, but I feel we need to get to know each other better before we take that step). I will also be giving away my usual swathes of swag and HUGS. Always, always hugs.

Ettiquette from my previous event still applies: Internet Friends and Dear Readers MUST APPROACH. There is no need to lurk and feel sad about it later! I want to see you, that's the whole point of why I am there. And remember that if know you online by KittyGirl567 and you come along and introduce yourself to me as Sally, I will still be delighted to see you, but might look a bit blank-faced if you bring up our Twitter discussion about fanfic. If we know each other,  please, please DO NOT BE TOO SHY to tell me who you are online before you introduce yourself with your real life name, so that I can greet you with all the genuine warmth, pleasure, in-jokes and snuggles you deserve. Above all: don't worry that it will be awkward! Of course it will, because I am awkward at all times, which means am totally used to it! You cannot possibly embarrass yourself as much as I can embarrass both of us, and that is a guarantee.

Extra information: last night I had an incredibly vivid dream that during the panel event I spontaneously burst into song and ended up leading the other panelists and audience in an a capella rendition of Taylor Swift's Shake it Off, culminating in a fierce dance-off. So, I'm not saying that will definitely happen but, you know. You don't want to miss it if it does, right? Just putting that out there.

Finally, two new reviews showed up on the Amazon page for Darkness Hidden this week after my appeal in last week's blog post. I am overjoyed to see them - thank you my darlings! See you hopefully on Sunday, and if not, then on the blog next week :)

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

THE NAME OF THE BLADE: US EDITION!

Hello and happy Wednesday, my lovelies! Today is a fine day for...book p*rn!

Yes, that's right, a precious finished copy of the Candlewick Press edition of The Night Itself - retitled THE NAME OF THE BLADE for US release, and due out in November of this year - has arrived and it is a hardcover of surpassing prettiness if I do say so myself. Get out your smelling salts, lock yourself away somewhere private, and prepare yourself for sexeh sexeh book shots (I HAVE SO MANY OF THEM I MAY HAVE A PROBLEM SEND HELP):
 

So, here is the front. Which, you may note here, is incredibly shiny and has more coloured foils on it than you can shake a stick at - dusky purple for the Nekomata, gold for its eyes and the lettering, a bit more gold and some black on the grip of the katana, and silver for the blade itself. Its rather shockingly lovely in the flesh. BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE:


Let's hear it for brightly coloured endpapers I love them so. This is one of the best things about hardcovers, I swear. So bright, so yellow, my preccccious...

And what colour goes the best with dusky purple dust jackets and bright yellow endpapers? Why it's pale dove grey and silver, which is the exact shade chosen for the binding, as you can see.


But what's that? A strange symbol on the spine? Let's check the dust jacket again!

It's there too! And all shiny and silver and purple again, hubba hubba.

Also, it feels worth mentioning that this is a super dinky little hardcover - it's smaller than a trade paperback here in the UK and not much bigger than a mass market paperback. I've never seen such a petite hardcover edition - it's practically dwarfed by the Candlewick Press hardcover of, say, Daughter of the Flames or Shadows on the Moon. I'm not sure why that is, but it's kind of precious, honestly. I want to slip it in my pocket, just because I can.

Anyway, this is a case where the little thumbnails you see of a cover online do not do the book justice in any way. It's simply scrummy in the flesh, and I hope that lots of people notice this and pick it off the bookshelves of their local shop come November. Lucky for me, the book's already had two lovely reviews, one of which was featured in the Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf Newsletter (and I had no idea until it popped into my inbox and I was reading it as normal and suddenly there was my book staring out at me, leading to much flailing and squeaking at Casa Marriott).

In the meantime, I'd like to ask a favour of any Dear Readers who have a few spare moments: if you've written a review of Book Two of the Trilogy: Darkness Hidden for your blog or your Goodreads, or you were thinking of doing so? The Amazon page for this book is looking a bit sparse in terms of reviews. It's got four absolute stonking ones, which I'm very grateful for - don't get me wrong! - but since the first book has over twenty it kind of looks like no one is reading the next in the series which isn't the impression I was hoping the book would make, you know?

However, there's no pressure to do this, and I'm not guilt-tripping anyone who doesn't want to or doesn't have the time, so feel free to ignore my neediness, oh delightful chickadees. I love you all regardless! *Mwah*


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

HEROINES OF TEEN LIT

Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers!

I'm back today to bring you a bit more detail about the event that I'm doing in Lincoln on the 29th of October. Here, courtesy of the mad skillz of the lovely Kerry Drewery herself, is all the information you should need in order to know how cool it's going to be that and YOU WANT TO BE THERE:

Each of us will be reading from our books, taking questions from the audience, and signing. I plan to read a bit from book three of the Name of the Blade Trilogy - Frail Mortal Heart - which isn't out until July of 2015, so that will hopefully be a valuable sneak peek for those who've enjoyed the first two books. I'll also be bringing my special signing pen to autograph and personalise any books that you bring or buy, signed bookplates for you to take home, various pieces of exclusive and delightful swag and, most important of all, *sweeties*.

Plus, of course, my usual suffocating and inescapable hugs. Those are non-negotiable.

Lincoln is a delightful place - which I know well because it's only an hour away from my hometown by train and I've spent a lot of time there. The best scone and cup of tea in the North of England is available right there on Lincoln High Street by Stokes Cafe. They also sometimes do a sticky toffee pudding which is... *Drools* Nomz. Anyway, Lincoln is small and easy to navigate, full of fascinating little independent shops and well worth a few hours of anyone's time even if there wasn't going to be this pretty mad awesome book event there, too. If anyone's ever wanted to see one of these fabulous multi-author panel events that always seem to be going on in London, but find the capital a bit expensive or difficult to get to, now is the time to take advantage of the more Northernly location of THIS book event and book your train tickets/get your dad to give you a lift/look up the bus timetables.

So, in summary, reasons everyone should come and hang out with us in Lincoln on the 29th of October:
  1. Frail Mortal Heart spoilers/sneek peeks
  2. Signed and personalised books
  3. Signed bookplates
  4. Exclusive swag
  5. Sweeties
  6. Hugs
  7. Gorgeous location (with optional scones)
I think I've made a compelling case here, but let me know if you want anymore details, my ducky darlings, and I shall, as the Black Widow would say persuade you.

*Smooches to all*

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

GET THAT GIRL OUT OF THE FRIDGE

Hello, lovely readers! Today, I bring you, not so much a post, but more a bunch of thinky thoughts inspired by my recent watching of the two Spiderman reboot films - THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN and it's imaginatively named sequel THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2.

WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS

Seriously, don't read this if you haven't seen the films and you don't want to be spoiled. Because I am spoiling All The Things here. Okay?

Okay.

So, I liked the first film - I enjoyed it. I thought that the story was a little incoherent and that the filmmakers failed to explain certain elements sufficiently in their quest to avoid imitating the Tobey Maguire version. But I loved Andrew Garfield's young, vulnerable rendition of the character. And I adored the female hero of the piece - smart, funny, brave Gwen Stacy, brought to life by Emma Stone.

Note that I call Gwen's character here a female hero rather than a 'love interest'. That's what she is. Her first speaking scene in the film is where she puts herself between Peter and Flash, who is kicking the cr*p out of Peter outside their school while the other students look on with various levels of amusement and concern. Gwen is the one who helps Peter sneak into the Oscorp facility to find out about his parents (albeit she just thinks he's there for the love of science). Gwen is the first and only person Peter tells about his abilities. Gwen goes up against the frankly terrifying villain, the Lizard, without any superpowers at all, twice. Once to defend Peter and save his life by distracting the villain at a crucial moment. Once to try and hide a piece of equipment vital to the Lizard's plan and to synthesize an antidote to stop him, and also to evacuate the building where she knows he's about to go on the rampage.

Gwen has agency in this story. She is the one who first talks to Peter, she is the one who asks him out. When she's in the lab that the Lizard is about to break into, and Peter orders her over the phone to 'get out of there', Gwen ignores him, triggers the blast shutters to buy herself some time, and keeps on doing what needs to be done. Her actions, in fact, save the entire city - without the antidote that she risks her life to create, the entire of New York would have ended up as giant green lizards. Gwen may not get to do cool stunts in a fancy yet implausible superhero costume - but she is so much more than a 'plucky', 'fiesty' (eugh) love interest. She's the female protagonist of the film. She's a hero.

In the second film, her heroic nature is less well utilised because she and Peter break up right at the beginning of the story. Peter is haunted by his memories of Gwen's father, the police chief who died fighting by his side at the end of the first film. His last words to Peter were to beg him to break up with Gwen to keep her safe. Peter actually wasn't able to stay away from Gwen like he promised, but by the beginning of ASM 2 Gwen is so sick of Peter's guilty attempts to make her decisions, 'for her own good', that she breaks up with him for good.

Peter then spends a worrying amount of time stalking her around the city, and pinning multiple pictures of her to his wall. It's not great behaviour for a hero, but sadly we're all long innured to the fact that Hollywood thinks stalking is hot. In the meantime, Gwen moves on with her life in a very heroic way, applying for a scholarship which will allow a remarkable student to study at Oxford in England.

While Peter meets - and forgets - Max, the man who will become electrically-fuelled villain Electro, and tries to support his friend Harry Osborn over the death of Harry's father from a genetic illness which, sooner or later, will probably kill Harry too (Harry will later become the film's second string villain the Green Goblin) Gwen is discovering shady goings on at the Oscorb lab where she does her work-study, and offering Peter friendly support whenever he barges back into her life. Just as she is about to leave for England, Peter comes after her and tells her that wants to be with her, but he won't hold her back. If she's going to England, he will follow her. Still a tiny bit stalker, but a sweet sentiment anyway.

In the final third of the film, Gwen is the one who gives Peter the answer that allows him to Electro-proof his web-slingers. He responds to this by once AGAIN trying to take away her right to make her own choices, webbing her hand to a car so that she can't go with him to try and stop Electro. Gwen manages to cut herself free, and it's a really good thing she does, because when Electro shuts down the entire city's power grid, putting thousands of people's lives in danger, she's the one who figures out how to restart the system and put Electro down for good, which she proceeds to do, with Peter's help.

She also gives Peter a great speech about how no one, including him, has the right to make her choices for her, that she has made the decision to be there, and how she will not stand for him acting the way he has been anymore. It's fantastic. I nearly stood up and cheered, especially since the film supported her words by having her immediately save the day.

AND THEN.

Then the filmmakers shoved Gwen Stacy right in the fridge.

What does this mean? It's slang for when writers or producers basically throw away a female character - by killing her or having her 'ruined' (blech) in some fashion, which is often a sexual assault, or a catastrophic loss of agency - in order to motivate a male character to greater depths of manpain. It disempowers the female character, turning them from a person into a symbol whose real worth, traits, and possible suffering are meaningless in the face of the overwhelming, sacred pain of the male character who has lost them.

Why does Gwen's death count as a fridging, you ask? Haven't I just spent this entire post talking about how awesome and heroic Gwen was? Maybe the writers really loved her and felt she deserved a grand and heroic death?

Yeah, except she didn't get one.

Gwen didn't die heroically putting herself between Peter or some other innocent person and danger, or saving thousands of people. She died at the last minute, after being snatched up by the Green Goblin, the film's second string villain. He didn't even know Gwen. But he knew that she was Peter's girlfriend - and he wanted to hurt Peter. That was all Gwen was to him, a female piece of meat whose destruction would upset the object of his ire. So he dropped her from a great height, and Gwen died because Peter failed to save her.

This completely undercuts Gwen's fantastic strong stance on her right to make her own choices about where she wants to go, what she wants to do, and the risks that she intends to take. By killing her right then and in the way they did, the filmmakers are retroactively validating Gwen's father's passive aggressive interference in her life, and Peter's constant attempts to keep her out of danger by taking her choice away. The filmmakers are basically saying that Peter's behaviour was warranted. Gwen didn't have the right to make her own choices after all, because look what happened - exactly what Peter told her would happen. She died.

She died because of him.

I think that's actually the worst part of all. The blaring message that Gwen died because of Peter. Not because she was a hero, putting herself in danger to save thousands of people - people in planes and hospitals, people who without a doubt WOULD have perished if she hadn't been there to take action.

No, Gwen died because Peter didn't protect her well enough. Didn't manage to take her choices away from her, wrap her up in cotton-wool, and keep her out of the conflict well enough.

Literally nothing in the scene where Gwen died reflected Gwen's bravery, heroism and intelligence. They stripped her of everything and left her dangling from one of Spidey's webs like a classical damsel in distress. Her father got to die fighting. He got to offer up some last words. Gwen got to fall, photogenically, and then lie there photogenically in Spiderman's arms while he expressed his beautiful grief over her lovely corpse.

After Peter has finished crying (but not making any attempt at CPR - that wouldn't have been photogenic, after all) we get a brief flash of Gwen's mother and brothers at her funeral, and then lots of shots of time passing as Peter, having given up his web-slinging ways, broods, alone, over her grave. What we don't see is any acknowledgement of a hero's passing. There's no speech from Peter at her funeral about how brave and amazing she was. There's a news bulletin about how the people of New York miss Spiderman, but nothing from anyone about how Gwen Stacy, Chief Stacy's little girl, turned out to be just as great a hero as him in saving the city of New York from Electro. No one seems to know or care that if Gwen hadn't been there that night, the power grid would not have been restored and Electro might well have killed Spiderman and still be terrorizing the city.

Even when Peter watches Gwen's valedictorian speech, which he missed at the beginning of the film, the part of the speech that the filmmakers chose to use is a section which falls squarely under the heading of 'supportive girlfriend', in which Gwen tells the listener not to give up hope, and that they are enough. We saw the beginning of this speech earlier on and it was kickass and heroic, with Gwen stating that life is precious because it is finite and that we have to chose to be brave even knowing we will all fail along the way - but they didn't use that. Why? Because by this point in the movie Gwen is no longer a hero.

Gwen doesn't get to talk about bravery anymore. Peter is the Lonely Hero standing at her grave filled with a manly pain that no one - not his aunt May, who lost her husband, not Gwen's family, who lost a husband and father and a sister and daughter in the space of a year - can possibly understand. Gwen herself couldn't understand it. She's been reduced to a symbolic saintly girlfriend, a sacrifice. She's safe. She's blonde and pretty and smiling softly in the pictures on Peter's walls. 

Because that's why Gwen had to die here. She was too strong, Too heroic. Gwen was going to go to England and take Peter with her, and we couldn't have that, now could we? She would have been taking Spidey away from NYC! When the filmmakers decided to kill her off in such a meaningless way, I'm sure they felt it was 'for the best' and that they were doing her justice by making sure she looked tragically gorgeous the whole time she was falling to her death and being a dead body.

In fact, they stripped us of a heroine and gave us a dead damsel in distress. They stripped Gwen Stacy of her soul before they did her body in. They took away the tragedy of the fall of a hero and made it into the tragedy of the loss of Spiderman's girlfriend. As Peter is kneeling over Gwen's body, with a tiny trickle of dark blood coming out of her nose, the filmmakers don't want you thinking: Poor Gwen. You're supposed to be thinking: Poor Peter.

Probably the reason why Gwen was allowed to develop into such a strong, funny, brave, kickass female protagonist in the first place is that the writers and producers always intended to transpose Gwen's death from the comics into the films. They had the confidence to allow her to be ballsy and unapologetically clever and ambitious because they had her meaningless, pointless fridging to look forward to. Ultimately, Gwen was never going to be allowed to truly influence and change Peter's life. She was never going to be acknowledged as a hero or get to die as one. Everything was always going to be about Peter, in the end.

She was always intended for the fridge.

Look, as a writer, I know full well that sometimes characters have to die. Sometimes female characters have to die. But what doesn't have to happen to female characters (and ONLY female characters) is for them to die solely to motivate a male character into a long, dark night of the soul. If you create a female character with the endgame of killing them off, let their death be more than a prompt for manpain.

Let them die the way they lived, whether that is heroically or stupidly or utterly mundanely.

Do not make a female character's death all about the man in their life.

For the love of God, at least allow her DEATH to be about HER.

If you can't do that, if there's no other reason to kill her off than to stimulate manpain, or if there's not enough of her as a character to make any kind of death meaningful other than one motivated only by and meaningful only to the men in her life? Please, please... think again.


Monday, 15 September 2014

GETTING BACK INTO THE SWING OF THINGS

Hello, and happy Monday, Dear Readers!

I know, I know - I've been neglecting the blog (and you) pretty shamefully for a few months now. What's been going on? Well, honestly, I've been in kind of a black hole for a while. I couldn't find the energy to work, I didn't want to hang out with friends, and I didn't want to interact much online. Even managing to drag myself out of bed in the mornings was a struggle. I tried to push past it and keep doing all the same things as normal, and at first that worked, but after a while pretending things were just the same as before began to make me feel even worse. Trying to Keep Calm And Carry On will only take you so far before you get to an edge that you don't want to fall over. I found myself on that edge due to a combination of factors right about the time of my birthday in April this year, which was six months to the day after my father died. I chose to back away - and that meant backing away from all of you, as well.

This sounds quite scary and serious, but in fact it what it came down to was taking care of myself. My brain and my body were demanding that I cease running at full speed and just stop for a while. In order to cope, I pretty much had to allow myself the space to be alone, be quiet, and mentally and emotionally try to work through everything that's changed in my life over the past twelve months and where that leaves me now.

So I've been gone. And I just had to trust that you guys would be waiting for me when I felt strong enough to come back.

I'm starting to get better now - better enough that daring to say that doesn't feel like jinxing myself - but I'm still working through a few problems. Mostly this is my complex thoughts and feelings over my dad's passing last year, which is only just starting to seem real to me, but a lot of it is also problems with my health which prevented me from being on my computer for more than a few minutes, some days, without triggering ferocious migraines.

I don't want to make promises that will be like stones on my back as I try to climb out of that hole, but I do hope to be around online and more available to my friends and Dear Readers in the coming months. At the very least, I owe you updates on where I am with all my ongoing projects and what's coming up next. I'll make an effort, anyway.

Now before we all get really emo and start crying into our teddy bears (which I freely admit I've been doing plenty of recently) let's have AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!

In October I'm going to be doing a panel event and signing at the High Street Waterstones in Lincoln - my first public event since my dad passed on. Fellow YA writers Kerry Drewery (author of A Brighter Fear and A Dream of Lights) and Emma Pass (author of ACID and The Fearless) will be joining me for an evening event - 6:30 onwards - which celebrates the fabulous heroines of teen literature. I'll not only be answering questions and autographing books, but also giving out prizes and possibly spoilers about future work.

I'm a tiny bit nervous about this event, since I've been living like a hermit for a while. But I'm also really keen to get out and about as well. I'd love it if any Dear Readers who can make it would show up so I can shower them with hugs and swag. Lincoln is a gorgeous city that's well worth a visit any day, and between us Kerry, Emma and me have most of YA Lit covered, so we ought to be able to entertain you really well.

I'll be blogging more about the event and my fellow authors as the event gets closer, but for now, I just wanted to let you all know what's *been* going on and what *is* going on. Much love to all of my babies - and I hope you read you later.

Zolah xx

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

THE FEARLESS GIVEAWAY WINNER!

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Wednesday to you all. I'm back today to pick the winner of the signed copy of the frankly thrilling UKYA Dystopian novel THE FEARLESS by my friend Emma Pass.

So I popped all the entries into the random number generator and (drumroll please) the winner is...



*


*


*


*


ELEANOR!

Congratulations! Now, I'm pretty sure that you've won prizes on the blog before, but just in case you are a different Eleanor or you've changed your address, I'd still like you to email me at z d marriott (at) gmail (dot) com to let me know your full name and where you'd like your signed copy of the book posted to. I really hope you enjoy the book, Eleanor.

For all those who didn't win, fear not! More giveaways - The Name of the Blade themed giveaways - are hopefully imminent, so you will have chances to win other lovely prizes later on.

Read you later, peeps!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

DYSTOPIA IS DEAD! Guest Post from Emma Pass


Hello, oh lovely readers! First, apologies for the radio silence over the past couple of weeks. I've been struggling with some health issues and doing maaassive amounts of research for my new Beauty and the Beast story, and I've just felt too tired out to come up with anything interesting to ramble on about. But I'm popping my head over the parapet to bring you this simply marvellous guest post from my friend Emma Pass who, oh yes, also just happens to be the author of one of the best UKYA Dystopian novels ever written, ACID

Her ever-so-very-exciting new release THE FEARLESS hit the shelves on the 24th of April. She's currently in the middle of her blog tour, and we're today's hit. Check out the variety of other cool posts as listed below:


But before I let you dive into Emma's post - wait! She's also been lovely enough to offer a signed copy of THE FEARLESS as a prize to anyone who leaves a comment on this post. You get an extra entry if you RT, but you'll need to pop the hashtag #thefearless in there so I can find your tweet and count it. This is really worth having, guys - I'd love a signed copy of this book (much as I love my Kobo, it's not quite the same). You have a week to enter - I'll pick the winner via random number generator next Wednesday. And here's a fun fact: the cover photograph was taken by Larry Rostant, the same genius who created the new covers for The Name of the Blade!

Now, without further ado... 

Dystopia is Dead – Long Live Dystopia! - by Emma Pass

Sometimes, when I tell people I wrote a dystopian novel, and that my second novel is post-apocalyptic, they say, 'Oh, dystopia! It's so fashionable right now, isn't it!' or, even worse, 'But isn't everyone sick of dystopia these days? There's so much of it about!'

Well, there is. And it has become a trend – a huge trend, with many different stories looking at many different scenarios. But I never set out to write dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels because it was fashionable. I first had the idea that would become ACID in 1994, when I was fourteen years old. YA wasn't even a genre back then; as a teenager, I remember going from to Sweet Valley High and Point Horror straight to adult novels. But I'd always had a fascination with what if? I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War and the four minute warning, and I remember as a young child feeling incredibly anxious about the threat of nuclear attack. Reading books like Robert Swindells's Brother in the Land, a post-apocalyptic children's novel looking at life after the UK is hit by nuclear bombs, helped me feel like there might be some hope should such a disaster ever occur – that people might be able to survive.

So, when I was fourteen, and a friend and I challenged each other to write a story about someone in a sinister future world escaping from prison and trying to stay one step ahead of the police, I never stopped thinking about the idea, even though I initially gave up after a few chapters. I came back to it a few times, trying it as an adult novel, but it didn't work until I discovered YA. Several novels later – one of which got me an agent, but not a book deal – I started thinking about my prison story again. Why not try that idea as a YA novel?

At that time, I'd been seeing a lot of things on the news about the UK that made me uneasy. In 2009, the Shetland Islands, a group of islands more than 100 miles off the north-east coast of mainland Scotland, and one of the smallest local authorities in Great Britain, had more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department. Shops are able to tag products, allowing them to keep track of where these products go so the stores can monitor their customers' lifestyle habits. And did you know Tesco are installing face scanners at petrol stations so that screens can play targeted ads at people? Scary, huh?

As I read more stories like this, I started to wonder what life in the UK would be like if the authorities really did watch everybody all the time. What if they controlled everything about our lives – where we lived, where we worked, who we were in a relationship with, even what we ate? What if they controlled the internet, replacing it with a state-run intranet a bit like the Kwangmyong network in North Korea, where everything uploaded onto it is controlled by the authorities? And what if the government had been replaced by a police force who were in charge of everything, and who locked people up for the slightest transgressions? When I started writing ACID, the world was in the grips of the financial crisis, so it didn't take much to imagine a situation where the UK government had been ousted after failing to deal with the country's debt, allowing ACID to take over and isolate the UK, now known as the Independent Republic of Britain, from the rest of the world.

Dystopia might be a trend, but it's become a trend for a reason. I think books that look at dark future scenarios speak to us because we want to try and make sense of all the terrible things that are happening around us in the real world, while feeling like there is some hope for the future. Stories that show a heroine or hero fighting the system that oppresses them helps us do this. So while  trends in fiction might wax and wane, I think there will always be room for dystopian stories – just like there will always be room for stories in any genre. Long live dystopia!

About Emma:

Emma Pass has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. Her debut novel, ACID, is out now from Corgi/Random House in the UK, and from Delacorte in the US. It won the 2014 North East Teenage Book Award, was shortlisted for the Doncaster Book Award, nominated for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal and has been longlisted for the 2014 Branford Boase Award and a Silver Inky Award in Australia. Her second novel, THE FEARLESS, is also out now in the UK from Corgi/Random House and will be published in the US in early 2015 by Delacorte. By day, she works as a library assistant and lives with her husband and crazy greyhound G-Dog in the North East Midlands. Find her online here: http://emmapass.blogspot.co.uk/

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

THE NAME OF THE BLADE: AMERICAN EDITION

Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Tuesday to all.

People have been asking me for a while about the cover for the U.S. edition of The Night Itself - which is coming out in November under the title THE NAME OF THE BLADE from Candlewick Press. Originally they were going to go with the illustrated UK cover, but obviously then the UK cover changed to a photographic one. So they went off again and designed an entirely new piece of artwork, which I was asked to keep firmly under my hat for the time being.

However, yesterday I recieved a lovely package from Candlewick, containing advanced reader's copies (or ARCs) of THE NAME OF THE BLADE with the US cover in place. So I decided it was probably OK to share the cover artwork now. This is based on the fact that the last time I had a book coming out in the US, I held off from sharing the cover for a very long time, waiting to get official permission, even after the image had turned up on the publisher website, NetGalley, and Amazon, and people started sending it me asking me what it was. I ended up feeling like a bit of a twit. This time I'd like to get in first.

So without further ado, I present to you:


On the physical version, I'm told that the yellow and metallic bits you see - the lettering, and the sword - will be in silver and gold foil, with the rest of the cover in a matt finish. As far as I'm aware this will be a hardcover release.

It's very different from any other urban fantasy covers, isn't it? What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments!

I have a couple of ARCs of THE NAME OF THE BLADE going spare, so I'm thinking about maybe combining these with other bits and pieces I have to hand and doing a giveaway next week - more on that when I've worked it out.

Oh, and heads-up that I'm posting on the Author Allsorts about how I write this Friday, so tune in for that. I'll probably post a link here just as a reminder :) 

Monday, 24 March 2014

MORE LOVELY UPDATES

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! It's a crisp yet bright spring morning here on the east coast of England. Some of the apple and cherry trees in my neighbourhood have started to bloom, there are magpies hopping around on the field in front of my house, and there's still frost on the ground under a cloudless blue sky. I'm very much looking forward to taking Finn for a nice long walk once I've finished typing this up.

Thanks so much to everyone for your kindness and good wishes over last week's news. It's *still* hasn't quite sunk in. It'll probably be another couple of weeks before the first installment of the money comes through, so maybe it will seem real then. I'm going to start work on my Beauty and the Beast retelling in April, and since I'm - wonder of wonder! - up to date with everything else and basically waiting for Super Agent and Wonder Editor to get back to me on various things, I've decided to take this week off. Properly off. Not like that last time I took a week off and spent the entire time thinking about, planning and working on New Secret Project before getting back to work on Book #3 of the trilogy (fun though that was). I mean off-off. As in, I've got a whole heap of DVDs that I bought over the past year and which I got got for Christmas that I haven't even opened yet, and a small mountain of books to read, some of which have been waiting for more like two years, and dagnabbit, I'm going to get to them all. Or at least, as many of them as I can without my head exploding.

How long I'll be able to stick to this decision without my workaholic self going into a tailspin is unknown, but right now it's giving me a delicious sense of freedom. I'll be heading out to the shops later to buy lovely ingredients for various recipes I intend to try out this week, but other than that my schedule is completely clear - and it's blissful.

Now for updates! First, I've heard the lovely news from Candlewick Press, my U.S. publisher, that there will be an audiobook of the first volume of The Name of the Blade when it it released over there. It'll be made by Brilliance Audio, the same people who did such an first class job of producing Shadows on the Moon in audio format. I'm really happy and excited about this. Remember, the official release date for the book (and now audiobook) is November of this year, and it's coming out as The Name of the Blade rather than The Night Itself. When there's a cover or any other news rest assured I will share it.

Secondly, here is the full-wrap cover art for the UK paperback reissue of The Night Itself:


And Darkness Hidden:


When I showed my mum these, she read the cover copy on DH and said: 'Oh no!' Which is pretty much the reaction I was going for, so I'm happy. But mostly I'm spellbound by the utter gorgeousness of these covers. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Larry Rostant for the amazing photography and to Maria Soler Canton for being a genius of a designer and artistic director. These will be out in early June of this year. As soon as I can get my hands on a finished copy, I will take pics and share, promise.

That's it for this morning, Tweeps. If anyone would like to ask any writing, reading or publishing related questions in the comments for me to answer in a future post, I am open for business :)

Monday, 17 March 2014

A GRANT FOR THE ARTS: LIFE CHANGING NEWS

Happy Monday, Dear Readers - today I'm going to share the amazing news which made me so giddy on Friday. Here goes!

At the beginning of February I saw a blogpost by a fellow author in which she was celebrating having recieved an Arts Council for England Grant for the Arts. My mind was boggled. I'd heard of Grants for the Arts, and had even called the Arts Council up once, years ago, asking advice on whether I might be eligible. I was told 'No' - that writers like me, who were published, were ineligible. But now it looked like either I'd been mislead or things had changed, and I might be eligible to apply for a grant after all.

This was a huge deal. I'm in a weird position with my contracts this year, coming to the end of my three-book contract for the Name of the Blade Trilogy (which was negotiated by my current agent) with one single book contract left outstanding that was negotiated by my former agent.

Now, my publisher divides each advance that they offer for a book into three portions. They pay one third of the money on signature of the contract, one third on delivery and official 'acceptance' of the manuscript, and the final third on publication. I'd already had the signature advance on this contract in 2010, which meant I wasn't due another payment until I'd written the book and it was accepted - and it usually takes me between a year and eighteen months to write a book, and a few more months after that before the book is officially accepted. That's a long time to wait, and the level of my carefully hoarded savings was looking dangerously low. My only option was to try to find a job. And in the middle of a recession, and with a huge gap in my CV.

I'd be lucky - and I mean that sincerely, lucky - to get a place at McDonald's, or stacking shelves in a supermarket.

Guys, I've done the part-time writing while working at a day job to pay the bills thing. It's not, generally, so bad (although it depends on the day job, of course). But the prospect of being forced to do this, especially after the physically and emotionally exhausting last few years that I've had, caring for my father and slowly watching his health go downhill, was... profoundly depressing. My health is currently awful. My asthma is acting up in a way that it hasn't for years, and I'm only just starting to be able to move about normally again after a recurrence of a prolapsed disc in my spine AND a cracked rib. And if I even managed to get a job interview - which wasn't a certainty - I was going to have to go in there and explain all about what happened to dad in order to account for what I'd been doing since 2010. The mere thought of that, of all the stress, made me want to cry.

Trying to get a job, and then working at whatever job I could get, while at the same time attempting to write this book and make it as good as or better than the books that came before was going to mean hassle and anxiety at the exact time when I needed to be quiet and peaceful more than anything. When I *needed* to concentrate on the one thing that makes me feel better: writing.

So: Grants for the Arts. Possible life-saver. Possible life-changer. Could it be possible?

I looked into it and realised, yes, regardless of what I'd been told before, I was eligible to apply. But even if getting a grant was possible, that didn't mean it was *probable*. I needed to write a grant application which would give the ACE a huge amount of information about me, my book, the people who would engage with that book and how, and convince the assessors that I and my novel were worth investing in. The information on the website makes it clear that Grants for the Arts is a competitive programme and that each application is compared against others within the same field to see which are the strongest - that some people with good applications don't get funded simply because there isn't enough money to go around.

To say that I approached the extensive online application form for a Grant for the Arts with trepidation would be an understatement. Anyone who's ever been in despair and has suddenly been offered a tiny, shining glimmer of hope will tell you that it almost *hurts* to reach out and try to grasp that light. It takes a lot of courage. I emailed that other author for some advice (thank you, Nicole!) and did as much research as I could, and then, unable to stand it any longer, launched into it. I spent nearly twenty hours working on the form, most of it in a single day. I stopped to take the dog for walks, make cups of coffee, and use the bathroom, but that was it. I HAD TO GET THIS RIGHT. And yet I knew that even if I did, I still might not get the grant.

I submitted my application with a feeling of cautious optimism, which was bolstered when I got a confirmation email few days later to say that my information had passed the initial checks and that I was definitely eligible. But the normal turnaround on a decision for these grants is six weeks, and while that sounded like no time at all before I submitted the form, it suddenly stretched out to an eternity when I had to live through it. Even though I knew I wasn't going to hear anything much before the six weeks were up, I couldn't stop myself waiting for the postman each day with painful fear that he would bring a thin white envelope telling me that my application had been refused.

By week four, I had spiralled into pessimism and was feeling more anxious and low than I ever before. I was convinced - completely convinced - I'd mucked up the application and had absolutely no chance of success. I actually started to wish that I'd never applied at all, because waiting for the inevitable rejection was torture.

After all that, it seems almost anti-climactic to say that last Friday, a few days before the six weeks were up, a letter did arrive. It wasn't a slim white envelope, but a fat, brown, A4 one, and it contained an offer to give me a grant for the full amount that I'd requested. The maximum 'small' grant available from Grants for the Arts. Enough to support me financially for eighteen months and allow me to write my next book without having to (try to) find a job, or constantly do scribbled sums on the back of bank statement envelopes in a desperate attempt to pay all the bills.

It hasn't really sunk in yet. I keep thinking that if I jump up and down too enthusiastically or whoop too loudly I might break the spell somehow - wake up, or maybe catch someone's attention who'll tell me that it's all a mistake. But in the little moments when I can make myself believe it's true, the sheer relief of it is dizzying, overwhelming. I really wish my dad was here to celebrate this with me, or that I'd known about it before he passed away so that I could have reassured him by telling him that I would apply for it. He worried that I was going to have a tough time after he was gone - and he was right. I just hope that he's somewhere watching me now and smiling his big, golden grin and telling everyone who'll listen to him up there about how his little girl pulled it off. Now I just have to make sure I write something that will make him even prouder.



Supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Inspired by David Marriott, the best dad in the whole world. And motivated by Dear Readers, the best readers any writer could ask for. I really have no excuse not to make my next book my best ever, do I?

Friday, 14 March 2014

HAPPY FRIDAY

Hello, Dear Readers - and happy, happy Friday to you all!

You might remember that in my last post I asked for everyone's good thoughts, prayers and positive vibrations because I was waiting for news that could make a huge difference to me financially over the next year. Well, today that news has come - and it is GOOD, Dear Readers. Very, very good.

I'm so excited and relieved right now that my head is pounding, my skin feels like it's on fire, and my bones have turned into noodles. I'm not capable of making any kind of a coherent post explaining what's happened in detail. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for those good thoughts, wish you all a wonderful weekend, and promise you a long and juicy post explaining everything for early next week.

*Hugs everyone*

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

WHAT NOW?

Hello, Dear Readers! Have some Rihanna to start your day off right:


As you might have guessed, today I'm talking about what comes next. Last Monday I finished the first, very rough draft of the final Name of the Blade book, and although there's still a lot of work to be done on it, it does mean that my mind is starting to turn to all the other imaginative landscapes that I'm soon going to be exploring and writing about.

Before I move on though, something of interest to U.S. Dear Readers - especially the ones who've been asking me, with various degrees of confusion and annoyance, just WHEN the Candlewick Press version of The Night Itself will be coming out over there. Well, the lovely Bonnie tweeted me a link the other day to this. It's a new Goodreads edition which I assume has been set up by the publisher, showing that The Night Itself will actually be coming out, in a hardcover version re-titled simply THE NAME OF THE BLADE, on the 11th of November this year. It's been a really long wait, and it's not over - but at least we have a date now!

Onwards!

I honestly can't remember how much detail I've given everyone about the book that I'm contracted to work on next. I am so excited about it. I've had the characters and story living in my head for years and years - right the way back to 2011 - and I almost can't believe that I'm going to get to start work on it, like, THIS YEAR. I'm fairly sure that I've let the odd tidbit slip, but I have no idea what the tidbits were or who saw them so I'll just start afresh.

The working title for this story has the initials BotW. I'm not sure if it'll keep that title, so I won't share it right now; when I've convinced my editor, I'll spill the beans. But what is absolutely safe to say is that it's a book following in the footsteps of Shadows on the Moon. It shares the same setting, the Japanese-inspired fairytale land of Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni, or the Moonlit Lands. It's another fairytale retelling, this time of Beauty and the Beast. Once again, this is me tackling what I think the fairytale is trying to say, while addressing all the problematic bits that I personally think mess that message up.

Just as Cinderella is supposed to be a story about virtue triumphing over wickedness, but in most common versions is really is a tale about passive beauty winning out over 'ugly' activity and ambition, Beauty and the Beast is nominally about learning to love people despite their outer appearances - but really, most versions show it as a story of a prince signally failing to learn his lesson and coercing/bullying/emotionally blackmailing a female prisoner into agreeing to marry him not because he loves her, but because he wants to break the curse without really having fulfilled it's terms.

B&tB is one of my favourite fairytales, by the way, and Robin McKinley's Beauty is one of my favourite fairytale retellings ever. But I've never seen anyone really tackle my issues with the story. Mostly the bits where the Beast acts like an irrational monster are just glossed over and then the authors will put a lot of effort in showing that no, really, he's a great guy, and never deserved to be cursed in the first place - so it's OK if he acts like a monster now in order to break free, right? Right?

My major issues? 
  1. The beast lures an old man into his cursed palace, and tricks him into committing a minor indiscretion so that he can then threaten his life and demand the right to hold the man's daughter prisoner. 
  2. Following this successful acquisition of a Generic Girl (he doesn't know her - clearly any girl will do) and in his position of immense power over her (he's huge and strong, she's small and weak, he controls her environment down to where she goes, what she eats, what she wears) he asks her to marry him *every night* without even giving her a chance to get to know him, although he can tell that she's terrified. 
  3. At the end of the story, he magnanimously agrees to let her return to her family for seven days - but tells her that if she doesn't return to him, he'll die. He then ensures that this is the truth by *immediately* setting out to starve himself. Beauty overstays, but that doesn't actually matter because even if she'd come back on time, she would have found a famished Beast passed out on the floor anyway. And the moment that the Beast revives and finds poor Beauty crying and distraught, he piles on the emotional blackmail and asks her again to marry him, AGAIN, even knowing that she's never wanted to before, because he realises she'll feel too guilty to say no.
D*ck move, Beast. D*ck. Move.

And the fact that he turns into a handsome prince at the end of the story doesn't fix any of this. He wasn't acting this way because he was a monster. In fact, it was this kind of callous behaviour that got him cursed in the first place! 

These sorts of dark, knotty issues always get my creative juices going. I try to figure out situations or character motivations which could make these morally questionable actions read as understandable. Or how to allow those events to take place while ensuring that the narrative doesn't validate them. Or how to flip them on their heads so that something equal yet opposite occurs in their place. One of the key things is usually to put power back into the female character's hands. In traditional versions of B&tB, Beauty supposedly has power because she is permitted to refuse the Beast's advances. But what does this really mean? In practise, very little. She may say 'No' to the Beast's proposals - but no matter what she says, he keeps her locked up and afraid, keeps control of her, and keeps forcing her to endure his presence at dinner and answer his question 'Will you marry me?' day after day after day.

So for me to feel happy with Beauty and the Beast, and feel that it's truly a story of learning to love despite appearances, I needed to find a way to show that the Beast has learned his lesson - that he has become a person worthy of love inside, regardless of how he looks - and that he wants to be with Beauty not because it will break his curse, but because he loves her. And Beauty must not only have agency within the story, but her decision to say 'yes' to the beast needs to be motivated by love rather than guilt and emotional blackmail.

A tall order, yes. But I'm looking forward to the challenge.

My version of the story takes place in the dark, haunted forests of Mount Moonview, which we glimpse but do not visit in Shadows on the Moon. The story is of a young girl - a strong and resourceful village girl, rather than a fragile aristocrat - taking up her hunter's weapons and stalking the deep woods in order to find and kill the beast that attacked her father. The very first line (at the moment) is: 
There is a monster in the forest.
A few images that sum up the sort of mood and imagery that I'm aiming for:










Now, as for other things that I'm working on... well, after I've written and submitted BotW, I'll officially be out of contract for the first time since 2006. Which is a bit scary. But I'm hoping that my publisher will be interested in New Secret Project, which I've been working on over the past few days. It's another series, but very different to The Name of the Blade. There's no over-arching storyline. Each book will stand alone, with its own self-contained plots and characters, and you'll be able to read them in any order. They're linked by a unique setting and a theme: timeless love.

More on that later, with any luck!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

TRILOGY: ACHIEVED


Last night, I finished the very first, very rough draft of The Name of the Blade Book #3. I got my characters where they needed to go. I thought of a final line. I typed THE END.

That means, in essence, that my trilogy is finished.

Yes, it needs to go undergo the usual revisions. It'll get printed out and go in a drawer for two weeks, and then I'll re-read and revise it, and then I'll send it to my editor and agent. And then I'll work on it with my editor for probably between four and eight months.

But.

But.

I typed THE END.


I committed the final scenes - the scenes that I've been planning since 2010 - to paper. It's all there now. It'll get chopped and changed and polished and proofread, but it is there.

253,978 words in total. 704 pages combined. Seven notebooks. Four years of my life.



You guys. I did it. It's DONE.

*Lies on floor, staring at ceiling*

What now?
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