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Undiscovered Voices 2016 – Finalist!

24 Jan

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll have seen that I had some good news recently. I reached the final of Undiscovered Voices 2016 (under my real name), the competition for unpublished authors and illustrators in the SCBWI-BI. It was a total shock to find out that I was shortlisted – the call came when I was at school, so all my colleagues got to see me leaping around the staffroom like an idiot!

So, what does this mean?

Firstly, the brilliant team behind the competition arranged a brilliant workshop for us finalists, kindly hosted by competition sponsors Working Partners. It was great to meet lots of other writers working at a similar stage, but nonetheless diverse in background and experience. Also included were the winning illustrators, which gave me a fascinating insight into an area of publishing I’m unfamiliar with.

The main part of the ‘prize’ is inclusion in the UV anthology, available for download as an e-book. It is sent out to industry professionals who are also invited along to a networking event taking place in a few weeks. Needless to say, I’m nervous but excited about getting the chance to meet agents and editors.

Whether that leads to something concrete for ‘The Hunt is On’, or whether it is just a stepping stone in its continuing journey, I’m immensely grateful for the opportunities presented so far and still to come. Watch this space!


Goals, Resolutions and Pie Crusts

28 Dec

As the year wends its tired, bloated way to a close, it’s time to think about the dreaded ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. Of course, sometimes we need to have goals and aims rather than just ‘I resolve never to…’. For many years, I had only three: read more, write more and be less of a loser. All three probably still apply for 2016.

Last year I set some more specific aims in response to a post on one of my favourite blogs, Fluent in 3 Months. Benny had some good advice, which was to make sure your goals are concrete (a bit like the SMART targets we’re always setting with the kids at school).

As you can see in his comments, I set out the following aims for myself (with a languages slant, as per the blog):

Learn enough Japanese to get by in Japan: Achieved! I learned how to read hiragana and katakana plus a few basic kanji, which meant I was able to locate a Monjayaki restaurant in Tokyo with no romaji sign. It was really delicious so the pain of doing my Memrise/WaniKani reps was worth it! I was also able to ask a few basic questions of tour guides and bus drivers. Okay, I wasn’t conversing freely, but I learned enough to make the trip fun. I should probably revise this at some point because I haven’t done any Japanese since August.


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What I Read in 2015

27 Dec

I can’t believe it’s nearly the end of the year – and time for my reading round-up. It’s a bumper edition of 64! I’ve read a really good mix of things, including some literary classics, some acclaimed adult fic and, of course, some cutting edge YA.

As per usual, absolute favourites are bolded.

The List: What I Read in 2015

Between the Shadow and the Soul by Susanne Winnacker

The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox (fascinating non-fic about Alice Kober and her contribution to the decipherment of Linear B)

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

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Summer of Lesbian YA

14 Nov

A YA or MG novel featuring LGBTQIA+ characters but not focused solely on sexuality, suitable for teaching to 12/13-year-olds.

That’s what I was asked to find by my boss this summer, in an attempt to diversify our teaching and promote a more tolerant school community. Turns out it’s a really difficult brief to fit. Not only are there few novels featuring any LGBTQIA+ characters (although the number is growing – see Gay YA for a list), most are for an older audience. Whilst there is some debate to be had over whether it is right to seek out novels that don’t foreground sexuality, I also had to bear in mind that my boss wanted something that centred around something else.

With that in mind, I tried out four different books in the hope of selecting something that could be trialled with one of my classes (Year 8). As I work in a girls’ school, I decided to narrow my search to focus on female characters, and ended up choosing four novels with lesbian protagonists as they looked most promising in relation to the brief. The process turned out to be a lot of fun – I had not read many LGBTQIA+ YA books before, so it definitely broadened my reading horizons, as well as introducing me to new authors.

I read:

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The Exchange – Part One

10 Oct

Over fourteen years ago, I took part in a quintessentially British rite of passage, the French Exchange. It was an experience both memorable and highly awkward, as I, an ungainly teenager, tried to simultaneously navigate the unfamiliar environs of France and associating with the male sex. Whilst this account endeavours to capture some of the true events of the trip, needless to say some artistic licence has been taken where memory has become hazy. With that, I apologise in advance to those who were there, and indeed the French nation, for any misrepresentation on my part. And now, let us begin. 

Le Voyage

It’s February 2001, and I’m sitting on a coach wearing a bright blue fleece and a pair of jeans that doesn’t quite fit. The world is innocent right now and so am I, fourteen years old and blessed with a pair of overgrown eyebrows and limp hair that’s rapidly heading for dishwater blonde. Around me, other girls in head-to-toe Tammy and clutching drawstring Nike sacks and Jane Norman carrier bags are checking their make-up. We’re off to France, but we can’t leave without the boys. We’re picking them up from the school down the road, and this is probably the most exciting thing since the Junior Choir got a male drummer for the Christmas Concert.

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The Bookish Community

29 Jul

Hello everyone! It’s been a little while. I would I’ve been busy, but now I’m on summer hols (mwahahaha) I can’t claim that as an excuse.

One thing I have been doing lately is engaging a bit more with the bookish community in real life, rather than online. Yesterday I went to my fourth ‘Super Relaxed Fantasy Club’, a meet-up/book-reading for fans of fantasy and sci-fi. There are lots of lovely authors, readers, bloggers and publishers who attend, and it’s a nice space in which to meet people and talk about great books! I’ve discovered a few new authors through the event, and it’s always interesting to hear from them in person about why you should pick up their work. Not all the authors are YA/children’s, although some are, and not everything is to my taste, but it truly is a relaxed environment so it doesn’t really matter. The event is held on the last Tuesday of every month at the Grange Hotel in Holborn. I can’t attend all the time because it’s quite a trek from school, so I definitely appreciate having the chance to do so during the holidays.

Of course, last week was also the second Young Adult Literature Convention (or YALC), which I blogged about last year. I attended on Saturday and Sunday and had a similarly brilliant time. This year, the set-up at Olympia meant we had our own area, which was far less frenetic and terrifying than the crush at EC. There were some great deals on new releases from a wide range of publishers, so I’ve stocked up on some promising paperbacks. I also picked up a huge amount of swag for decorating my classroom! Once again, a range of interesting panel discussions were held, and the big space allocated for this meant the awkward ticketing system was dispensed with. I saw talks on feminism, sex, fantasy, LGBT+ and troubled teens in YA, as well as taking part in the Hunger Games quiz, chaired by Caesar Flickerman himself.

Another interesting strand was the Agents’ Arena. Molly Ker Hawn’s discussion with Kat Ellis about the agent-author relationship was fascinating, especially as it revealed the amount of work on both sides that goes into submission. I also had another chance to take part in the Agent 1-1 sessions. As my (awesome) convention buddy Soizic noted, such sessions are really sought after and expensive at other events. What a privilege for us to get it included!

Speaking of Soizic, it was very nice to meet her for real for the first time. We have corresponded for a while ever since I happened to meet her boyfriend through a friend of my boyfriend (yeah, it’s confusing). It’s definitely helpful to chat things over with a fellow writer who understands the struggle…!

This year I decided to dress up, just for the hell of it. It was actually a really fun experience! My Saturday costume, Gansey from The Raven Boys, was super comfy and I found myself getting more into relaxed ‘boy mode’ as the day went on. I even had one photo request! On Sunday I dressed as Julie from Code Name Verity, which really changed the way I moved and felt. Wearing red lipstick and heels made me feel and act in a more feminine way, but it was definitely harder to sit down in!

Only 50 or so weeks to decide on next year’s costumes…

From Both Sides – The Mad Men Finale

29 May

It’s been two weeks (nearly) since the Mad Men finale. It’s been a long process of digestion for me, but I’m finally ready to breathe deep, crack my knuckles and sit down at the keyboard to write about it.


image from

Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ was the final song of Season 6, playing over the poignant scene of Don showing his kids the dilapidated house where he grew up, but it comes to mind now that the show is over and done with. It was the perfect track for a show that was all about duality – a show all about Janus, looking back both into the traumatic first half of the 20th century and on into our own time. And it wasn’t just about Don’s double life – as I’ve said many times before, Mad Men’s key conflict was between our own longing for and rejection of the past. So, it seems fitting that I’m still in two minds about this finale.

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Mad Men’s ‘New Business’ – some thoughts

13 Apr

One of the downsides of catching up with Mad Men after the US is seeing spoilers. It’s unavoidable – I follow several TV journalists and their tweets, whilst not specific, usually hint as to the mood of an episode at least. So, when the reaction of the twitterverse seemed to be ‘boring episode’, I was a little apprehensive going into ‘New Business’.

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Top Ten…Mihalis Hatzigiannis Songs

28 Mar

Ah, Mihali! My favourite Greek singer and perfect for writing to – listening to music with English lyrics can interfere with my thought patterns, so something in a foreign language is great. Today I’d like to celebrate and share my top ten Mihalis songs, which is an extremely difficult list to whittle down (was aiming for five but I can’t do it).

Although I lived in Greece for almost a year in 2009-10, I actually didn’t know much about Mihalis back then. One of my private students told me he was her favourite popstar, but for a long time I was confused between him and Kostas Martakis (who is ridiculously good looking but musically nothing special).

It was back in England about six months later that I discovered the Hatzigiannis magic via Spotify. I’d been browsing lists of Greek artists and songs when I came across the theme tune to I Polikatoikia, ‘The Apartment Block’, a comedy I’d watched almost every day. Its catchy title song was sung by Mihalis and included on his album ‘7’, which I went on to fall in love with after many repeat listens! I bought the album, took it to Greece on holiday, listened to it several times a day and subsequently became a bit of a Mihalis addict. Watching his videos on Youtube just cemented my love. He’s ridiculously adorable, especially when he tries to dance, but the main attraction is his amazing voice. He has a whole range of song types and most of them have gorgeous melodies and lyrics that just get better the more you listen to them. The fact that he started as a Eurovision singer shouldn’t count against him…

A slight annoyance in searching for his songs is that his name can be transliterated several ways – Mihalis Hatzigiannis, Michalis Hatzigiannis or even Mixalis Xatzigiannis. Perseverance is worth it, though.

So, without further ado, here are my top ten must-listen Mihalis songs:

Kati Dinato (Something Strong) – 2013

I love the video for this. It’s very Athenian.

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What are 13-year-olds reading?

17 Jan

The YA community is always abuzz with news of trends and ‘big books’, so much so that it can be hard to follow what’s in and what’s out. As we know, a large part of this trade is driven by adult consumers, but we must remember that YA also includes the Y part of the equation!

At the moment I teach five ‘literacy’ lessons a week to different classes, which includes time for silent, individual reading. Now that I work in a girls’ school, the majority of the pupils really enjoy having the chance to choose and read their own books (in a mixed environment, this was more challenging – there were many boys who liked to read, but some others found it hard to settle and focus for extended periods, or to find something that suited their interests – I highly recommend the Guinness Book of Records for such occasions). There are still one or two in my current classes who are reluctant, but as I always say, you can’t possible ‘hate all books’ – you just haven’t found the right one yet!

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to post a snapshot of what one class of 13-year-old girls were reading this week, to give some insight into how the younger teens are engaging with YA (or not, as the case may be – many of their books would be considered MG). The results are interesting, and may surprise some people – overall, they suggest that what kids really want is something familiar and comforting, and that new releases are not necessarily foremost in their minds.

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