Tag Archives: writing

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 I reached the final of Undiscovered Voices 2016 (under my real name), the competition for unpublished authors and illustrators in the SCBWI-BI.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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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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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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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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20 Feb

I’m having the most wonderful week writing every day. I’ve been visiting my absolute favourite cafe here in sunny (I lie, rainy, very rainy) South London and consuming a heinous amount of chai latte. My WIP is going well – on track to hit 40k by the end of the week! Sweet!

Anyway, writing this novel has brought its fair share of new challenges. Not only am I writing a boy for the very first time, and in First Person Present (which I resisted for a long time), I’m also writing something contemporary, and absolutely grounded in the real world. For someone whose ideas usually contain at least an element of the speculative, this is something a bit scary. I can’t hide behind made-up maps and invent convenient forests anymore.

On the other hand, because my novel is set in London itself, even taking a short walk becomes inspirational. I’ve had certain ‘London set pieces’ I was dying to write for ages, because I knew they would be evocative for Londoners and outsiders alike – for example, ‘The Tube Sequence’. For a long time I didn’t know which tube station(s) I wanted to use, and it has been the subject of some quite heated debate amongst my friends: which tube station would be the most exciting setting for a thrilling chase scene? There were many suggestions, including the rather futuristic Westminster, which I might have to save for another book because it’s awesome.


As for which station made it into the book, well, hopefully one day you will be able to read it and find out…Let’s just say it’s one I know very well indeed.

I’ve tried to cover a large swathe of the city, from the suburbs all the way to Piccadilly Circus. This reflects my experience as a born and raised Londoner. Writing about my home city has given me the chance to include my own most memorable spaces, making the book a patchwork of my own experiences. Although I live in fear of someone pointing out a disastrous geographical error, I love that I can draw on the London that I know and adore.

What do you prefer, creating a new world or staying in this one?

A Valentine’s Day Treat

14 Feb

Hello, lovely readers! It’s the day of lurve, lust and, most importantly, lots of chocolate. Whether you are (to borrow a phrase from one of my students, now turned minor TV star) a ‘single pringle’ or in the throes of a passionate affair, I hope you have a lovely Friday.


To keep things sweet, over on Twitter I posted a few of my favourite kisses from all my manuscripts from the last five years! As a special treat, here’s a longer kissing scene from my current WIP, The Hunt. Our hero, Robbie, is pretending to be a posh boy so he can catch a killer. He catches the eye of Annouchka, most popular girl at school. At a party, after an awkward encounter with her ex (Max), they share their first kiss. But does Annouchka have an ulterior motive?

Annouchka smiles impishly. “Max is a winner.” She leans in so her breath tickles my ear as she talks. “I want you upstairs, now.”

Oh my God. I take a big gulp of beer and follow her up the gilded staircase and into her bedroom.

It’s pink and cream and covered in flowers. Very girly. She points to the bed. “Sit down!”

I perch on the edge, My heart’s thudding so hard I think it might leap out of my chest. She pushes the door closed and walks over. Jesus. I am gonna get so lucky right now.

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28 Jan

As you have probably realised by now, I did not make it through to the Undiscovered Voices final…BUT just had a brilliant email with even more feedback on the book. I’m always happy to get feedback, especially from such an experienced group of judges. As the email suggested, sometimes it is tempting to just focus on the negatives and get obsessed with the idea that your work is not good enough.


Despite a lot of things to work on (which is exciting) I’m bowled over by the positives. Comparisons to How I Live Now and Code Name Verity?


Plus I had a ridiculously awesome SNI (Shiny New Idea) this week and hit a milestone in ‘The Hunt’. Writing life is good!