Saturday, 6 February 2016
Forget Hogwarts. Never mind Narnia. When I was a kid, there was only one place where magic really happened. In this place, I could go anywhere. I could be anyone. I could fly; I could make myself invisible; I had superpowers.
That place was my local library.
As soon as I stepped inside, I entered another world, intoxicated by the scents of paper and ink. I never knew what I might find – what worlds I’d find between the covers of the books that waited for me there. And even better, I got to take that magic home, and it didn’t cost me a penny. For a child with a reading habit like mine, the library was a lifeline, feeding my book addiction and filling up my brain with stories and experiences and life.
Later, as an adult, I got a job in a library, and now had the chance to see life from ‘the other side of the desk.’ I was also an aspiring author, writing stories of my own. I spent every day surrounded by books, by authors, by words. That familiar magic filled the air; I took it in with every breath. When I was supposed to be shelving books, I’d find a quiet corner in which to read. Between customers, I’d scribble ideas down on old receipts and tickets and request cards. I’d look at the books on the shelves and daydream about seeing my name on a book spine one day.
But there was more to it than that.
The stereotype of the library as an archaic, dusty institution, inhabited by stern, bespectacled librarians saying SHHH! every time you so much as breathe persists to this day. But that’s never been my experience, even as a child. The library I worked in was a cheerful, welcoming place. We had author events, storytimes, readings and more. And best of all was seeing children come in – some already keen readers like I had been, others just starting their first uncertain forays into the world of words.
I’ll never forget the fourteen year old boy who “didn’t read”, only, after we recommended a list of authors to his frustrated mother, he did. Or the kids devouring their favourite series who came running in every week to see if the next book had arrived.
I was able to volunteer to help out at events like the Big Book Bash, an annual celebration of books and authors for young people in care. I was asked to join a team of writers for a website that recommended books to young people. Later on, I was lucky enough to set up two writing groups – one for adults, and one for children (which I still run after we were adopted by Writing East Midlands), passing on my love of words to other people and – I hope – encouraging them to find their own magic in writing. After I got a book deal – much to the surprise of my colleagues, who I’d more or less kept my writing a secret from, never daring to dream I might actually get anywhere with it – I had two book launches at two different libraries on the same day.
But libraries aren't just about books. Mine certainly wasn't. There were the people working their way through their family trees. People who came in to use the computers to do their work, type up CVs, look for jobs or simply keep in touch with far-flung friends. People who needed information, who needed help, and it was us they came to – I hope that most of the time, we were able to give them what they needed.
This is why libraries matter. They are important to me on a personal level, but it goes wider than that, too. I know the difference libraries make to people because I’ve seen it – and I know what a difference they made to me.
We must look after our libraries. They are truly democratic – a space for everyone – and they need to stay that way.
Thursday, 31 December 2015
But lots of positive things have happened too, so as it's New Year's Eve, I thought I'd do a bit of a roundup. Here's what's been happening…
I've had several emails lately asking me if there's going to be sequels to ACID and The Fearless. I do have ideas for stories which follow on from them, so never say never, but at the moment, the answer is no. However, that doesn't mean I'm not writing! After parting company with my old agent last November, I spent this year working on a project I'm really excited about, and in October I signed with Ella Kahn at DKW Literary who loves the book as much as I do.
In other news, ACID made this list of the best ever YA sci fi books on the Huffington Post book blog, and The Fearless has been nominated for the 2016 Concorde Book Award - the winner will be announced in March, so watch this space!
10 Books read in 2015
I have read SO MANY amazing books this year and still have a TBR so huge it's on the brink of collapse. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites:
1. The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory
Two haunting parallel storylines, one set in the past, one in the present, about Noah and Blaize, who can both predict the future with their drawings. What happens when the boys' stories intertwine and tragedy threatens? Evocative and beautifully written, this is a book which stays with you for a long time.
2. Frail Human Heart by Zoe Marriott
The conclusion to the stunning The Name of the Blade trilogy. Mio has banished the monsters sent by the Goddess of Death, but to do so she had to make a terrible sacrifice. Can she save the human world or is the apocalypse inevitable? Packed with emotion, adventure, mythical creatures and gorgeous descriptions, this is one series I was very sad to be leaving behind.
3. The Wanderers by Kate Ormand
Flo has spent her life travelling with the circus. She – and all the other performers – are shape shifters, and use the circus as a way of hiding in plain sight in a world that mistrusts and misunderstands her kind. But can she keep hiding, or is her secret about to be revealed? A more-than-worthy successor to Kate's debut, Dark Days, this is a thrilling and romantic read.
4. When I Was Me by Hilary Freeman
Ella wakes up one morning to find she's not Ella any more. Well, she is – but a different Ella. She looks different, her friends are different, even her past is different. What's happened to her? Her quest for answers leads to a very surprising – and totally unpredictable – discovery. The ending really surprised me too – it's extremely clever. You won't be able to put it down!
5. Urban Legends by Helen Grant
Another final book in a trilogy I never wanted to end. Veerle is trying to live a normal life after the terrible events that have taken place recently. But a group of storytelling friends are disappearing one by one, and a killer is on the loose… Utterly gripping, I was reading this through my fingers! Easily the most terrifying instalment of the series, and it contains a plot twist that will have you screaming out loud at the page.
6. Name Upon Name by Sheena Wilkinson
On the Western Front, war is raging. But there is conflict going on closer to home as well. In Ireland, political tensions are reaching a head, tensions which threaten to tear fourteen-year-old Helen's family apart. Name Upon Name will make you cry, smile, and above all, think - I cannot recommend it highly enough.
7. Stonebird by Mike Revell
Liam's grandmother has dementia, and although Liam wants to make things better and keep his family from falling apart, he can't. Then he finds a gargoyle in an old church, and things begin to change… Stonebird is not only a sensitive look at the effects dementia can have on a family, but expertly weaves together many different plot threads and two different times to create a powerful and magical story which will appeal to readers of all ages.
8. The Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day
This book features the Sams from the Pea books, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the twins better. They both love being a twin, but who is Twin A, the best twin? And why does everyone seem to be keeping secrets – including the Sams themselves? A delightful look at family life and the complications of being a twin and trying to find your own identity.
9. An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls
Holly, Davy and Jonathan have been struggling since the death of their mother, and it's only Jonathan's hard work that's prevented them being taken into care. Then their wealthy, eccentric great aunt falls ill, and gives them some clues that send them on a real-life treasure hunt that might just solve all their problems… Another heartwarming look at family life, with an old-school style adventure at its heart. I loved it!
10. In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll
Bundled off to stay with her grandmother while her brother gets a longed-for heart transplant, Alice feels left out and alone. The only thing she likes about staying with Nell is the wood at the bottom of the garden. But Nell, flying in the face of strong local opposition, is determined to cut the trees down. Can Alice change her mind? And who is Flo, the mysterious girl in the red coat who appears one day but doesn't go to her school, and who no one's ever heard of? I'm a big fan of Emma Carroll and really enjoyed this book, her first venture into contemporary fiction
10 Books I can't wait for in 2016 (Blurbs are from Amazon unless otherwise stated):
1. Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery (September, Hot Key)
From the Bookseller: Hot Key Books has acquired YA novel Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery, set in world where sinister reality TV has replaced the justice system. In the book, a teenager called Martha is accused of murdering Jackson Paige, a self-made millionaire. Like all the other criminals in the story, her fate will be decided on by the public, who will choose whether she lives or dies. Hot Key’s editor-at-large Emma Matthewson acquired the world rights in all languages in a three-book deal from Jane Willis at United Agents, and will publish in autumn 2016. “Cell 7 is a gripping story that imagines a fully realised world of today but with thought-provoking questions about the death penalty and the effect of modern media in our daily lives,” said Matthewson. “There is tension, action, romance and amongst all this Kerry retains the wonderful ability she has to prompt teens to ask questions about the world around them.”
2. Crush by Eve Ainsworth (March, Scholastic)
Anna's new boyfriend Will seems perfect in every way. But soon, a darker, controlling side to Will emerges. Can Anna escape before a dark secret, beyond even Will's control, threatens to crush them both? I've been lucky enough to get hold of a proof of this book, and it blew me away. Like Eve's debut, 7 Days, Crush is told from both the point of view of the abused and the abuser, giving a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking insight into why people behave the way they do. This is a brilliant second novel – Eve Ainsworth is going from strength to strength with her writing, and I can't wait to see what she does next.
3. Boy X by Dan Smith (February, Chicken House)
Kidnapped and drugged, Ash wakes up on a remote tropical island. His mum - a genetic scientist - has been imprisoned and infected with a deadly virus. Where is he, and what's he doing there? He sets out to cross the jungle to find out and rescue his mother. Soon he realises he's quicker and sharper than before. But there's something else ...why are the animals watching him, and how can he use the jungle to his advantage?
4. Lifers by Martin Griffin (April, Chicken House)
Fear haunts the streets of Manchester: a schoolgirl has disappeared. Preston is drawn to investigate, exploring the city in the hunt for his missing friend. Deep in the bowels of a secret scientific institute, he discovers a sinister machine. Captured and condemned to a cavernous space filled with problematic teens, Preston is determined to escape - but this is no ordinary jail. Friendships are forged and lives lost in a reckless battle for freedom, revenge - and revolution.
5. Ride by Lisa Glass (June, Quercus)
Seventeen-year-old Iris has returned to her hometown of Newquay. Leaving behind her promising surfing career. Leaving behind Zeke, the boy who changed her world. She's happy to get back to her old life, her friends and family. She wants to rediscover her passion for surfing. But Iris soon realises it won't be that simple. Because while summer romances might only last the season, first loves never truly leave you.
6. Cuckoo by Keren David (August, Atom)
Jake is an actor - a teenager who had a regular role in one of the UK's best-loved soaps until his character, Little Riley, went upstairs to his bedroom and never came down again . . . Jake clings to the hope that the writers will bring his character back (they didn't kill him off after all); but as time passes, and finances dwindle, reality starts to dawn. His family situation is hard. His dad has anger issues that have led to his recent redundancy, his mum cares full-time for his severely autistic older brother, and now they're struggling to pay the rent. Suddenly, Jake feels his acting career is crucial for their financial security and well-being. The pressure mounts for him to succeed - and home doesn't feel like home any more: it feels like a powder-keg waiting to explode. Cuckoo is a novel about the roles we play when we don't fit in anywhere, and finding unlikely solace when home is the least welcoming place of all.
7. Barefoot in the Wind by Zoe Marriott (July, Walker Books)
A retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in fairytale Japan. I don't have many details for this yet, but I know it's going to be awesome!
8. The Deviants by C.J. Skuse (September, Mira Ink)
Described as the Famous Five meets We Were Liars… I can't wait!
9. The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge (January, Nosy Crow)
When Albie's mum dies, it's natural he should wonder where she's gone. His parents are both scientists and they usually have all the answers. Dad mutters something about Albie's mum being alive and with them in a parallel universe. So Albie finds a box, his mum's computer and a rotting banana, and sends himself through time and space to find her...Quality commercial fiction, well written with real heart and adventure.
10. Electrigirl by Jo Cotterill (February, Oxford University Press)
Holly Sparkes is just your average 12-year-old, that is, until she's hit by a bolt of lightning. Now Holly is EXTRAordinary. Like a human battery Holly can generate a massive amount of electricity in seconds, which could come in handy if she's ever going to solve the mystery of her best friend's disappearance. Because when you're dealing with the likes of Professor McAvity and her mysterious CyberSky corporation, you need all the help you can get! This exciting story includes black and white graphic novel style illustrations by Cathy Brett.
There's also going to be a new book by Rhian Ivory called Matchgirl, a contemporary retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl which I'm very excited about, and I can't WAIT for Justin Cronin's City of Mirrors either… but I'd better stop here or I'll be going on about books all day!
UKYA and UKMG Extravaganzas
In February 2015, Kerry Drewery and I organised the first ever UKYA Extravaganza at Birmingham High Street Waterstones. It was such a success that we decided to do it again in Nottingham this October – and have a MG (Middle Grade) Extravaganza as well! With the help of the fab Paula Rawsthorne (our MC) and Jo Cotterill (who helped gather all the MG authors), the events featured over 60 authors between them over two weekends. You can see photos and read all about them over on the UKYA Extravaganza Facebook Page. And we're doing it again! In 2016, the UKYAX and UKMGX will be held in Newcastle. Details to follow soon!
School Visits and Workshops
I've done lots of school visits this year, including my first ever visit to a primary school, working with Year 5 at Hatfield Primary in Sheffield to produce writing about jungles. It was a lot of fun! I did another module with Ellis Guilford School in Nottingham about writing thrillers, which included a visit to Bletchley Park, an incredible place. More recently, I attended the East Midlands heat of the Kid Lit Quiz at Lady Manners School in Bakewell, and I'm looking forward to several upcoming workshops and visits in the new year.
I also branched out with my workshops this year and started working with my husband, Duncan, who is an artist. We did some Making an Artist's Book workshops for the Derbyshire Literature Festival at Alfreton and Chesterfield library, helping people create a piece of writing, then illustrate it with simple printmaking techniques. You can find out more about these workshops here.
In May, I accompanied 25 students from my Patron of Reading school, Titus Salt School in Yorkshire, on a residential weekend to Malham, where we made films based on stories created on a visit earlier in the year. You can read all about it and see photos here, and catch up with all my Patron of Reading activities on my Patron of Reading page on this blog.
I've also been asked to return to Titus Salt as their Patron of Reading for a second year – hooray! My first visit for the 2015-16 school year was in November, where I worked with students on journal-writing, retelling the Alice in Wonderland story and even making up a story about a gorilla farm on Mars! You can see my latest Patron of Reading Newsletter here, which includes the story and a recommended reading list for students in Year 7.
So, that's been my 2015. I have no idea what 2016 will bring, writing-wise, but I hope I'll have some good news to share at some point. In the meantime, a very happy New Year to all my blog readers, and I'll catch up with you again soon!
Thursday, 1 October 2015
Hi! Welcome to this stop on the YA Scavenger Hunt. You’re currently hunting on TEAM GREEN!
* * * * *
And before you go, here are 3 writing-related facts about me:
My writing assistant is a crazy greyhound called G-Dog.
I wrote my first novel when I was 13, in maths lessons with my notebook hidden under my work.
My favourite writing outfit is pyjamas and thermal socks. It's all about the comfort…
Tuesday, 29 September 2015
Since then, I've been doing the only thing I could to try and silence the little voice in my head telling me I should have stayed, that I'd never find another agent who believed in my writing again, that I might as well go and get a proper job because my career as an author was over – writing a new book. I don't want to give too many details about it as I don't have a publisher for it yet (no, that's not the Exciting Thing – sorry!), but I can say it's a little different to ACID and THE FEARLESS… in a good way, I hope!
A couple of months ago, I started sending that book out to agents. It got quite a lot of interest, and some very nice rejections with helpful feedback… but no yeses. Then, eleven days ago, I got a reply from an agent I'd send the book to just forty-eight hours before. That was quick, the little voice in my head said, not sounding quite as doubtful this time. What if…
No, I told it. I'm sure it's not. I opened the email with a sinking heart, convinced it was going to be yet another 'We liked this but we didn't love it, sorry.'
As you might have guessed by now, it wasn't. It was an offer of representation! So I can now share the very exciting news (to me, anyway!) that I have signed with Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency!
Of course, this isn't the end of the uncertainty. Getting published is hard, and there's every chance that my new book won't find a home (although I've got everything crossed that it does, because I've had SO much fun writing it and I'd love to be able to share it with the world!). And that's fine - I'm thrilled to have had two books published; it's more than I even dared imagine I would achieve, and I'm proud I managed it.
But dammit, I love telling stories. I want to carry on. And having a good agent on your side as you navigate the choppy waters of writing and publishing can make all the difference. Ella is a great agent – she represents stellar authors such as David Owen (who you can see at the UKYA Extravaganza on 10th October!), Vanessa Curtis and Sharon Gosling, and her passion for what she does was obvious right from that first email that landed in my inbox eleven days ago. I'm thrilled to be working with her, and to be part of the DKW family. Hooray!
Friday, 18 September 2015
It was a busy year. I undertook several visits, including this one where I helped some students film podcasts about current GCSE questions. In February I helped launch a literacy project where a group of students wrote stories based on the school's core values (more on that in a moment!) and on World Book Day I spent two days at the school and became Empress Pass of Poetopia (which meant I got to order lots of Year 7s around - sometimes I really love my job!). You can read more about those two visits here.
Then, in May, I accompanied the Literacy project group – 21 Year 7, 8, 9 and 10 students along with teachers Mr Breen, Mrs Wilson, Miss Milnes – to Malham for a weekend, where the students would be making films out of the stories created during my visit in February.
On the Saturday, everyone was up early. My group went to Janet’s Foss first, to film some scenes for a story about two sisters who become separated and must find each other again, battling against insurmountable odds. The path to the waterfall can get quite busy with walkers, but we got there early and had the place almost to ourselves. Once the group had all the scenes they needed in the bag, we returned to the Bunk Barn to get ready for the next filming session up at Malham Cove, which required some preparation - face paints, a wizard's cape and a blue wig! It was a brilliant weekend and the students created some outstanding work. Again, a real I-love-my-job moment!
My final visit for the school year gave me another chance to dress up, this time as the Storyteller from Grimmtasia, helping Year 7 create fairy tales worlds and characters.
I also put together a half-termly newsletter called PassWords where I talked about books and writing, shared news on literacy and reading-related projects the school was running, and featured other authors and students' own writing.
And now, I get to do it all again, as Titus Salt have asked me to be their Patron of Reading for a second year. Hooray! I'm really looking forward to it, and can't wait to find out what projects I'll be taking part in this time. Here's to the brilliant staff and students at Titus Salt, and another great year of reading!
Monday, 14 September 2015
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Thursday, 23 April 2015
Your party, which state in their Culture, Media and Sports policy that "Culture is essential to human fulfilment. As a human need, it enhances the economy both directly and indirectly: where people are more fulfilled they are likely to contribute more to their work and to society. In a ‘Green’ society people of all ages and backgrounds would have access to participate in and enjoy all types of arts and cultural activities" and have condemned government cuts to arts funding, have released this policy:
Tuesday, 14 April 2015
All this is worth celebrating, methinks. So I'm giving away 5 signed copies of the book right here on the blog - all you have to do is enter via the Rafflecopter giveaway below!
Please note - the giveaway is US-only and ends on Tuesday 12th May at 12am Eastern Time.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Tuesday, 7 April 2015
OK, there aren't any chickens up for grabs. But for one lucky person there are over 30 amazing prizes about to land on your front doormat. CONGRATULATIONS to Sophie, who's won the UKYA Easter Egg hunt! I will be getting your copy of The Fearless and an unabridged audiobook of ACID in the post to you this week.
And if you entered the egg hunt but didn't win, all is not lost. In exactly one week's time, The Fearless will be published in the US (in hardcover!), so I will be running more giveaways to celebrate. Watch this space!