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What I Read in 2014

20 Dec

I know the year isn’t over yet, but it’s around this time that I usually do my reading round-up post and I have to say, I’m pretty proud of myself. This year I managed 43 books! I know that’s nothing compared to some of you out there, but it’s five more than 2013 and 2012. A longer commute and part-time work are probably to thank! I also feel like I read some amazing things this year, with very few duds and quite a nice variety in genre. The number of YA books decreased somewhat, to make way for a few more Adult reads and even a few non-fictions. My absolute faves are bolded.

The List: What I Read in 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Deathless by Catherynne M Valente (stunning Soviet fantasy – does for 20th century Russia what Pan’s Labyrinth did for the Spanish Civil War)

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (thought-provoking and utterly absorbing sci-fi set on a distant planet without an external light source)

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Vicious by Victoria Schwab (super-powered antics with a pleasing lack of certainty over who is the true hero)

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In the middle of nowhere

18 Nov

One of the most frustrating things people ask me a lot is ‘how is your writing going?’. I don’t mean that to sound churlish – actually, like any writer I love getting the chance to talk about my work and I am pleased that people are interested enough to ask me. The problem is…it isn’t really going anywhere?

That’s not strictly true. I am sloooowly finishing THIO (my current ms) and hope to have made my final edits by the end of the month. Going back to full time work has made it more difficult to dedicate myself to it, but I have found time here and there and I plan to give it a couple of Saturdays to do the last polish.  I’d love to query before the end of the year (maybe before the start of December)!

The previous ms is, sadly, heading out to pasture for a while. I will always love this book, but it’s clear that the market isn’t quite right for it at the moment. Perhaps in the future I can return to it. I certainly hope so, mainly because my love for my babies A/J and F/N will never die!

I decided to try and get some new words down during November, not as a full NaNo but just to break the ice on this fantasy piece. Turns out writing a secondary world fantasy is HARD. I also started in the wrong place in the story *headdesk*. The flow is just not happening so I’ll have to rewrite the beginning and try and get properly into the MC’s voice.

So, overall, I’m pretty much ‘in the middle of nowhere’ with my writing right now. Please do continue to ask me how it’s going, but please be prepared for an extreme lack of excitement -_-

On Writing Love Interests

7 Oct

I know some people disagree with me, but I feel like a great romance is a really important ingredient of YA. In fact, I think the combination of genre and romance is what draws me to YA so often – sure, adult genre works like ASOIAF have relationships in them, but they’re hardly romantic. A great romance can make or break a YA. However, having read a couple of books recently in which the love story was luke-warm at best, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes for a successful one – and the love interest is definitely a massive factor.

My favourite love interest comes from my favourite YA: Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters. Felix Carnival is as swoon-worthy as they come, and, most importantly, complex. What I like about him is that he challenges the heroine, Harry, in all sorts of ways – acting as the physical embodiment of a sexual and creative awakening that ultimately ushers Harry into adulthood. Like many YA boys, he is lovable but with a hint of danger – in his case the presence of his unstable twin brother, Hadfield, whose night-time assault leaves Harry confused about her attraction to Felix and afraid of the lurid fantasies she writes in secret. Moreover, Felix also has his own motivations beyond just loving Harry. His struggle against his brothers is a powerful force in the story, giving him a complexity beyond simple stereotype.

In writing my own love interests – and I’ve now written four guys and one girl – I try to adopt similar principles. I want the LI to be their own person and have their own goals, but similarly to provide something for the MC to bounce off. If the LI is only about mooning and moping over the MC, I find that the romance can be stale and unbelievable.

Who is your favourite love interest and what do you think makes a successful one?

Planning – a slowly-reforming Pantser’s guide

6 Aug

Two lovely people (Soizic included) asked me about planning novels and how exactly I’m going about the transition from pantser to plotter.

For the uninitiated, ‘pantsing’ comes from the term ‘to fly by the seat of your pants’, i.e. to start writing with perhaps only a vague (or no) idea of where you’re going, and just make it up as you go along. My first MS, a Nanowrimo project, was one of these. I did get a full manuscript out in the end, but it was pretty rambling. Although I tried to salvage it with some post-planning, it was never enough to make it into a coherent whole. I know there are writers out there who can pants brilliantly and produce a perfectly plotted book, but…I’m not one of them, clearly.

However, as I mentioned before, I’m very impatient with my ideas, and for the last couple of books I’ve sort of half-planned and then got lazy and jumped in. This means I still have problems like plot holes and bits where I’m totally stuck. I know I need to knuckle down and plot properly before I start anything new. I’ve got two brilliant ideas I’m working up at the moment – one of them is my Esador project, and another is a sci-fi – so I’m practising my plotting skills.

Worth emphasising – there isn’t a right or wrong way of doing this. You need to play around and find out what suits you – and, as I say, it might also depend on the story.

Under the cut, find my top resources:

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Breakin’ Up is So Very Hard to Do!

21 Jul

Saving this post from my old blog because I really like it! Still not over most of these shows tbh 😦

Couch Pumpkin: Sofa Adventures

Sigh.

Another month, another unfortunate break-up. It’s always me doing the dumping – ‘it’s not me, it’s you’ – but of course I have to wonder if it is me.

Am I just growing out of all my shows?

But then I remember the telly addict’s conundrum. Faced with a fabulous new show, we are caught between the devil (i.e. an axe happy executive) and the deep blue sea (from which a toothsome shark which surely emerge during the bloated 3rd/4th season). It is the latter which I am struggling with at the moment. When shows limp on longer than they should, the show-runner tends to panic. How to keep things fresh? Those damn nerds have figured out all my plotlines! Quick! Throw a pigeon in there or something! Or a rape storyline! People want WHO to be a couple? Pfft, delete all their scenes together. That character is so…

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YALC Round-up!

18 Jul

Last weekend saw the inaugural Young Adult Literature Convention, held as part of the London Film and Comic-Con at Earl’s Court. I ended up attending both days – and I had the *best* time.

Saturday was a little overwhelming. I arrived at Earl’s Court at 11am clutching my pre-paid Standard Entry ticket, only to find a mass of people and a host of different queues. By a stroke of luck, I managed to join a fairly fast-moving one and got into the building in about ten minutes. Inside it was a bit of a crush, but eventually I managed to make it to the Book Zone, which was a an oasis in the insanity!

Immediately, I was struck by the range of visitors. There were lots of older YA fans, like myself, but also a lot of actual teenagers (some visiting as part of the Siobhan Dowd Trust scheme). I even ran into a couple of ex-pupils in the Rainbow Rowell queue, which was so lovely.

Everyone was incredibly friendly – because I was there on my own, I decided to be brave and strike up conversations with the people around me. I made some great friends on both days, including book bloggers, authors and even a couple of dedicated mums helping their daughters collect signatures.

It took me a while on Saturday just to get my bearings, so I was a bit slow on the uptake for talk tickets, meaning I only managed to get one – for the Doctor Who panel featuring Malorie Blackman, Patrick Ness and Marcus Sedgwick amongst others. It was interesting to hear about how they approached the task of writing for such a popular show, especially their individual takes on each Doctor. I also took some time to gather a lot of book swag for my classroom display and chat to the publishers on their stands. It was also great to get some autographs and signed books from authors like Will Hill (of the Department 19 series), Natasha Ngan (The Elites) and Patrick Ness. Patrick’s queue was enormous (I think I was in it for an hour and fifteen minutes) but totally worth it – he’s so nice. In a little non-book detour, I met one of my favourite actors, Jamie Bamber from Battlestar Galactica. He was incredibly sweet and also very tanned!

Sunday was much calmer and I felt a bit more like I knew what I was doing! I went straight to the ticket table and picked up a docket for the last talk of the day, a conversation between Sally Gardner and Holly Black. It was awesome – both are very interesting ladies with a lot to say about fairy tales, mythology and the power of the oral tradition. I also signed up for the ‘Meet the Agents’ workshop and was lucky enough to get a place, meaning I got the chance to pitch my work. It may have gone pretty well…

The best thing about Sunday, however, was getting to meet Meg Rosoff, Sally Green, Sally Gardner and James Dawson. They were all lovely and wanted to know about my writing and were then very supportive. In turn, I was able to tell them how much I have enjoyed their books! I also took a quick celeb-spotting recce round the actual con, only to notice that Edward James Olmos (also from BSG) had no queue, so I nipped in to meet him and pretty much died when he blew me a kiss. I turned round to go and realised I was crying – didn’t know I was that much of a crazed fangirl, but obviously I am!

Overall, it was a fabulous weekend. It was wonderful to be sharing my love of books with so many other fans, and encouraging to see as much enthusiasm for authors as for the many film and tv stars at the con. I only hope there will be another edition next year.

Mad Men 7a Part 2: The Women

28 Jun

In my last Mad Men post, I quoted Danielle Henderson in The Guardian, in which, via the topic of sexism in Game of Thrones, she made the following comment about MM:

 I’m exhausted by the triumph of men at the expense of women as a narrative device.

As I promised, I’d like to rebut this idea, with a particular focus on the half-season just gone, but also with reference to the show as a whole. Because, if you’re interested in feminism, gender or the experience of women and you’re not watching Mad Men, I’ve gotta say – you’re missing out.

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Tales from Esador #1 – a fantasy one-off worldbuilding type thing

6 Jun

My latest Hunt draft is with beta readers right now, so I’m starting to crank up plotting and planning my next project. It’s another new experience for me – a secondary world fantasy that has been clamouring for me to write it for the last three months. I’m trying very hard to be disciplined and actually plot it all out properly before writing. Hoping this will be the last phase in my transition from Pantser to Plotter!

Anyway, to satisfy my itch to write it but without breaking my plotting promise, I decided to write a few scenes from the backstory in order to consolidate worldbuilding and character. It’s been brilliant so far – has helped me realise a lot about some of the secondary characters. I would recommend it!

The scene below takes place 25 years before the main story, in a city called Esador, where two castes co-exist uneasily: the ruling Pale and the oppressed People. Irida meets Amaris at the riverside:

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‘Spreading privilege’: Why Gove is taking us back in time

25 May

mockingbird

The internet is abuzz this morning with news that Michael Gove is set to remove popular U.S. texts such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Crucible’ from Britain’s GCSE English Literature syllabus. To those of us who have been following developments in English closely, this comes as no surprise. Last year I submitted an essay for my M.A. on this very topic: to what extent does the Government’s current ideology of the literature curriculum seek to impose an ‘official culture’? I offer here a highly edited version, which I feel is pertinent to today’s debate. In a nutshell: it’s all about official culture, and that culture does not belong to the ordinary people.

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Mad Men 7a: Part 1 – The Don Delusion

17 May

Quick PSA before I get started on this. I used to blog TV and sometimes movies over on couchpumpkin. As you can probably tell from the last timestamp on there, I haven’t had time to keep that up on top of this blog and everything else – so I’m going to be doing any media writing on here from now on. I’ve been writing about Mad Men in fits and starts since 2009 – check out the tag to find my other pieces.

don1

There is so much I want to say to you, Mad Men. How can we have so little time left? A handful of episodes, and a 12-month stretch to divide us. I’m not sure how I’ll manage when you’re gone. Endless rewatches, I’m sure. The fruitless search for something to match you.

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