Swimming – An original short horror story.

I wrote this in the middle of the night, after reading this short comic by Fran Krause (The series is called Deep Dark Fears – I strongly recommend it). I couldn’t get this idea out of my head, so I sat and hammered it out. It’s got my usual love of YA and Lovecraftian themes, so pretty standard. I’d like to thank my brother for suggesting the inclusion of the extra bit after the ending… I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Let me know!

Why is it swimming in PE again? I swear it’s every other week. Just because the school got a stupid grant from the government and built a state-of-the-art pool with the money doesn’t mean I need to be inflicted with the stinging water every week. They put way too much chlorine in it.

They could’ve quite easily used the money to put into the drama department you know. We’re doing this production after half-term of Macbeth – all modernised and set in a boarding school (I know, I helped draft the script, I’m a genius), and I’ve spent the last fortnight spray painting plastic baguettes silver to use a swords. I’m not even sure why the Mrs Lugo has plastic baguettes.

I look at Mary Simons’ legs and feel jealousy flourish inside me – I swear she doesn’t even grow hair on them, they’re so smooth and perfect. I look down at my own, pale and covered in more scabs and scars than Freddy Krueger’s face, and inwardly curse the universe, or fate, or whatever it is that has led to me being forced to stand, cold, damp and ashamed of my entire traitorous body. I’m not huge, I know that – I remind myself most nights, staring into the full-length mirror in my room – but something about my swimming costume highlights every bump and bulge I spend so much energy trying to forget. It’s the fabric equivalent of those big, bright lights they use during police interrogations in the movies – white and stark and revealing – not to mention perfect for making me sweat.

“Okay, everyone in!” Miss Bell shouts. Her voice, tinny and shrill, echoes in the huge pool, making the tiny PE teacher seem even smaller. I close my eyes and step off the bumpy, slimy tile and into the water. For the smallest increment of time it’s like I’m hanging in nothing, suspended in the air against every known law of physics. It’s only a single moment though, and I hit the water, an unpleasant wave of shock rippling through my skin as my body tries to cope with the freezing cold.

I’m not the only one who disagrees with the temperature, and several girls shriek as they drop into the pool.

“Get doing lengths, then! Fastest way to get warm!” the teacher yells, drowned out by the splashing and screaming. Want a group of sixteen year old girls to behave like they’re six? Just add water, apparently.

Cold water is splashed on my face, and I blink rapidly. The pristine Mary Simons is looking at me, her hair slick and sexy even in the water.

“You heard her, Ab-ee-gail,” she sneers at me, elongating every syllable of my name, a distorted mockery of my own accent. “Maybe you can drop a few pounds? Wear a bikini to swim in like a grown up?”

She splashes off in a flash of perfectly bronzed skin and vivid red material, leaving a trail of lazily widening ripples in her wake. I struggle to think of a late comeback.

“Yeah well… Your face,” I mutter into the water.

“Come on Abby, quit daydreaming!” Miss Bell shouts at me, and I realise how insane I must look, wittering under my breath in the pool. I pull myself back against the smooth wall of the pool and take a deep breath, and push off, trying to be a graceful and natural as possible, and start to work towards the deep end in a half-hearted front crawl. I take deep gulps of air as I swim, watching the pale blue tiles on the floor getting darker and darker as the depth of the water builds underneath me. I’m forced to begrudgingly admit that Miss Bell is right – I can already feel the tension in my muscles easing off as they work, warming my limbs with each pull through the water.

“Still would rather be in Starbucks with a hot chocolate, but oh well,” I gasp inbetween strokes, my words blurry and bubbling.

I’m finally settling into the rhythm of the swim, my arms pumping smoothly, my focus on pulling me forward and I let my mind wander. A little too far, in fact, and I slam into the side of the pool painfully. I hear someone laughing – and the large, pulsating paranoia that lives in my brain whispers, telling me that they’re laughing at me and my clumsy stupid existence. I picture it as this big, fat grey slug that feeds off my self-esteem and turns all my happy memories into faded spedia home movies that blur and shimmer. I can’t stand it, the heat embarrassment warming me far more than the exercise did, and so I kick off the side again to escape their snide sniggering. This time, I put my arms out over my head, making an arrowhead with my hands that angles downwards and drives me underwater instead.

The world is abruptly cut off from my senses as I plunge deeper, the water filling in the space where laughter had been just a second ago. I blink my eyes a few times, trying to adjust to the stinging chemicals they pump into the pool, but all I can really see is a wall of blue and the occasional blurry leg in the distance. Being underwater is the only good thing about swimming, I think. Everything is so quiet and peaceful under the surface, and I can just about forget about everything. It’s like how I imagine being in space must feel – isolated, sure, but I’ve felt like that my whole life. I kick in unison, pretending I have a mermaid’s tail driving me along instead of my stupid, messy, pockmarked legs. It can’t last forever though, and I can feel my lungs burning for oxygen as I start to head towards the shrieking, headache-filled world above, as though someone is inflating two balloons in my ribcage. It’s odd, isn’t it – as my air is running out, how it feels as through my chest if filled to bursting?

I break the surface with an almighty gasp, blinking rapidly to clear any water from my eyes. I always like to see how far I’ve managed to get on one breath. One time I managed to get pretty much my own body length away from the side – although I thought my lungs were going to burst afterwards. As my vision clears, my heart stops beating, my blood freezing in my veins.

I’m no longer in Coalington High School’s swimming pool. The shining, brand new chrome and white tile is all gone. I can’t see anything but blue-black inky water for miles. Forever, it seems, from one horizon to horizon. Somehow I’m in the sea, only it doesn’t look like any sea I ever paddled in as a kid. It feels wrong on my skin, thicker and more cloying than proper water should feel. Panic swells in my like a wave, forcing my heart into my throat, until my breathing becomes more like hysterical coughing.

“Hello?!” I scream. The word drifts over the calm, placid sea like a gull, and sails away into the distance. There’s nothing except me and an endless expanse of ocean, black like crude oil. The panic is spreading to my fingers and toes now, making them tingle as adrenalin floods them, begging me to do something, anything, to ensure my survival.

Only there’s nothing I can do – not a damn thing. I can’t swim that far, and there’s nowhere to swim to anyway. I look down, and my stomach lurches. My pale legs are spinning in messy circles, keeping me afloat desperately, and below them is nothing. More nothing than stretches out towards the horizon – the nothing beneath me is just miles of black, getting darker as it goes down. I strain my eyes to see if there’s anything down there, but the idea of all that crushing nothingness makes my head spin. I start to whip myself around, looking frantically at the empty universe I’ve found myself in. The sky is slate grey. Not the kind that’s thick with clouds – but as though all the colour has been drained out of it. I notice suddenly that there’s no wind blowing on my face. My hair hangs in thick, wet ropes around me, but there’s no trace of even the slightest breeze kissing my skin. The air feels as though it’s been untouched for centuries, dry and brittle and smelling faintly musty and rotten. The smell of decay.

“This is impossible…” I whimper, “This is not not NOT happening…”

Something moves in the distance. My heart leaps, hammering into the prison of my ribcage at the thought of rescue, and I squint at the shape cresting the water. At first I think it’s a sail – the sail of some ship emerging from the dark, lightless deep. But then I realise it’s no sail – it’s a fin. A gigantic, pinkish white fin, cutting through the water like a hunting knife cutting through flesh and sinew. For the second time, my heart stops. A white shark peeks from the water, easily big enough that it couldn’t turn around in the school pool. Easily big enough to swallow me whole. I only see it for a fraction of second, but that’s enough time to sear that monster onto my bones until the day I die – which might well be today. Massive, cold black eyes sit on either side of its bullet-shaped head, complete dispassionate and unnervingly calculating. Its mouth is what truly horrifies me though. Instead of rows of jagged teeth, like the sharks I’ve seen on those David Attenbrough programmes, this impossible nightmare has a gaping maw filled to bursting with writhing black tentacles, each one flailing hungry and blind. I feel bile stinging the back of my throat as the creature plunged back beneath the calm, lilting waves, its sleek body so perfectly designed for the water that it barely made a ripple as it sank. It’s almost as if it’s just a figment of my imagination. Until the first coils of a tentacle pulls me under.

Water is filling my mouth, which was open in a silent scream. White bubbles froth around me, obscuring my vision, but somehow I can still sense the shark beneath me, a mix of raw animal power, and cold, otherworldly malice spreading around me like a plume of blood in the water. A sense of despair that wills my muscles to give up, that dulling my survival instincts to little more than a sputtering flame battling against a torrential downpour of utter hopelessness. A second tentacle wraps around my other leg, and the pain of the pressure they’re squeezing with sends black spots popping in and out of my vision. They’re going to tear me apart, and feed each dismembered body part into that hideous creature’s belly. I wonder if they’d noticed me missing from the pool yet. The pull on my legs becomes so strong that my arms stopped struggling without me telling them too. I’m distantly aware, even underwater, that I can hear the popping of my joints being displaced under their powerful grasp. The world starts to fade at the edges as the last of oxygen was used up, my brain becoming sluggish as the cells began to die.

Two hands grasp me under each armpit and hoisted me out of the water. The burning fluorescent lights bleach out all other details, but I feel a hard, bumpy surface underneath my back.

“She’s breathing!” a voice yells. Miss Bell. “Stand back, give her some space you lot! Jessie, got get a bloody lifeguard will you?”

I try to speak, but life is flowing back into my blood slowly, pulling an exhaustion along with it that was so deep that I feel like I could sleep for a decade or more. My eyes start to adjust to the light, and the vibrant colours of the world came back to me. I’m lying on the hard tile of the poolside, Miss Bell’s weather beaten face looking down at me with an odd mixture of concern and annoyance. The school pool seems too sharp and vivid, making my head pound like a drum in time with my frantic heartbeat – the only part of me that doesn’t feel bone-weary.

“What… happened?” I croak finally. My throat is sore and bruised. I don’t want to ask about the infinite void I’d found myself swimming in, nor the impossible shark the colour of old bones that had stalked me through it – they’d skip a trip to the nurse’s office and take me straight to a padded cell. But it had all felt so real.

“Not a clue,” the teacher huffs, “One minute you were swimming just fine, the next you vanished under the water. It was the strangest thing – If I didn’t know better, I’d think one of the other girls pulled you under as a joke. But when you didn’t come straight back up I started to worry. When Marcy said you were lying like a stone on the bottom of the pool, I knew something was wrong – so I went in after you.”

She puts the back of her hand on my forehead and frowns, “Well your temperature’s back up. When I pulled you up you were practically sub-zero, it was the strangest thing – your skin had gone all grey and weird, your eyes were all glassy and white. You gave me quite the shock!”

She gives a little uneasy chuckle, and I try a weak smile to show her I really am okay, but the muscles around my mouth just twitch and falter.



Brand-New State of the Art School Aquatic Centre destroyed

The Government funded swimming pool at Coalington High School collapsed yesterday, shortly before the school was set to open, causing an estimated half a million pounds in damages. Police have said there was no obvious structural damage to the pool floor, but underneath the pool was home to a large number of unusual remains which appear to belong to some kind of humanoid creatures, but which officers have confirmed are not human remains. Detective Stains commented that the bones found were “More fish-like than human, but it’s too early to tell at this stage. Forensics teams are reconstructing as we speak.”

This comes just a week after the pool’s changing rooms were witness to the attack of P.E. Teacher Rebecca Bell, who was the victim of a frenzied attack by a Year 11 student wielding a concealed craft knife. Bell is currently recovering in Friarage General Hospital, and the student – who remains unnamed for legal reasons – has been taken into psychiatric care. It’s believed a severe case of hydrophobia, or fear of water, drove the girl to a psychotic break, although she had exhibited no such fear in the past.

Thanks for reading, if you did! Do hop over to Twitter and let me know what you thought.

Until next time…


The YA Shot Blog Tour – Interview with JENNY DOWNHAM

When I was asked to take part in this year’s YA Shot Blog Tour, naturally I jumped at the chance – it’s always good fun to take part in community events like this. Then, when I was told the author I had been given I nearly exploded – JENNY DOWNHAM. JENNY FREAKING DOWNHAM. Author of the outstanding Unbecoming, You Against Me, and Before I Die, she’s one of the best YA novelists working in the UK today – if not the world. I was lucky enough to interview her, and you can read her answers below…


1. Hello Jenny! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this little interview – I’m a massive fan of your books so it’s a huge honour to be talking with you. Maybe we could start with you telling us a little about your latest book, Unbecoming?

Katie is seventeen and in love with someone whose identity she can’t reveal. Her mother Caroline, is uptight, worn out and about to find her past catching up with her. Katie’s grandmother, Mary, is back with the family after years of mysterious absence and ‘capable of anything,’ despite suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Every morning Mary runs away. She’s desperate to find something, says it’s imperative, but when questioned, can’t be more specific. Katie wants to know what Mary’s looking for. She also wants to know why her mother seems to detest Mary. What was the nature of their original estrangement? It makes Katie question everything she thought was true about her family.

So – three women at different stages of life bound together by a web of lies that only the youngest can untangle.

Oh, and it’s a love story too…

2. Unbecoming covers so many themes – from mental health to sexuality. Did you set out to cover so many topics, or did they evolve natural as the story progressed?

I don’t really think in terms of themes or topics when I begin a project, I’m more interested in characters and the stories they have to tell. I start with them and see where they lead me.

Pinter said a writer’s job is to ‘arrange and listen.’ He believed that characters arrive at their destination through their own impulses, rather than being manipulated to suit a pre-ordained plot. I love writing this way, although it can be time-consuming!

It’s usually about a year or so into a project that I begin to see what I might be writing about.

3. You’ve mentioned in interviews that a lot of Unbecoming drew from your own mother’s Alzheimer’s. Was it taxing to write about a subject so close to your heart, or did you find it cathartic to put it on the page?

Unbecoming is undoubtedly the most personal of my books. I have been a teenager, a mother and a carer and a lot of my own experiences are in there. But perhaps most importantly, yes – my own mother had Alzheimer’s and became very unwell and died while I was writing.

I found it very cathartic writing the book. I used to care for my mum during the day and then I’d go home and try to imagine what it might be like to ‘be’ her. I like to think that writing about the erosion of memory from a sufferer’s perspective made me a better daughter and carer in my mum’s last months.


4. You talk about some very intense subjects in all your books (Terminal illness in Before I Die, Sexual Assault in You Against Me) – Do you feel it’s important for YA literature to look at these ideas?

When I’m sitting inside the story writing it, I don’t think about themes or ideas, I just get drawn to interesting characters and dramatic situations. My job is to ensure the characters are emotionally truthful and then I find that they lift off the page and begin to tell their stories themselves.

As for what’s ‘important.’ I want to take readers on a journey, rather than give them a message to take away. Books can address difficult situations and confront social issues and help readers deal with real-life challenges. They can transport you, make you think, move you… the list is endless. I hope my readers shift allegiance over and over again with the characters in Unbecoming. I hope they empathise with teenage Mary in her claustrophobic 1950s town and teenage Katie with all her problems at school and home. I hope readers wonder, “What would I do if that were me?” And I hope, by the book’s end, the reader feels they’ve been somewhere and seen some things and that perhaps the world looks slightly different now.

5. YA has been accused of being “too dark” in recent years – do you think that’s true? Are there any subjects you don’t think teenagers and young adults should be reading about?

The LIVES of children and teens are full of tough things. It’s illusory to think we can keep them safe by only allowing them access to certain books. We need to find the joy among the difficult stuff, rather than ignoring the difficult stuff. I don’t think there’s a single subject that can’t be tackled in YA, so long as the author handles the material truthfully and with respect and takes account of all the complexities.

6. Do you have a favourite out of your characters?

I love them all after spending so much time with them – even the difficult ones! But perhaps Tessa in Before I Die has a particularly special place in my heart because her story doesn’t continue beyond the page. I’m very aware of her death date each year and I think how old she would be had she lived.

Dakota Fanning in the movie adaptation Now Is Good

Dakota Fanning as Tessa in the movie adaptation Now Is Good

7. How does a new story start to unfold for you? Do you plan meticulously or start writing and see where it leads?

I never plan. When I’m in the middle of a project and every day I’m throwing thousands of words in the bin, I wish with all my heart that I could be the kind of writer who could follow a path. However, when the book is complete, I’m rather proud that I didn’t need one. At that point, I think it’s exactly the best kind of writing habit and fully resolve to do exactly the same for my next book!

8. Do you treat writing like a full time job? Is your writing day structured or do you only write when the mood takes you?

When I know where a project is going (so about 18 months in), I can write every day and be quite disciplined. Before that, while I’m still exploring, I idle my way in. Most of my writing in the early stage gets chucked, but I find I return again and again to the things that preoccupy and eventually I begin to see what the book might be about. It’s a slow process. And involves lots of coffee and day-dreaming.

9. Why do you write YA?

Because young people are on the cusp of adulthood and that interests me. A teen protagonist can do almost everything an adult can, but because they are boundaried by adult rules and expectations, they have to be far more creative to get what they want. It’s much more exciting to tell a story when there are lots of obstacles in the way.

Also, YA is a happening gig! There are so many books being published in the UK and Ireland that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in past years and would still not be published in many other places in the world. More readers are seeing their own lives represented within stories and this enables them to think not only, ‘What would I do if that happened to me?’ But also to think, ‘That is happening to me.’ Books can sometimes give you the very thing you need – the clue to solve a problem, the strength to keep going, the laughter that makes things more manageable and, perhaps most importantly – the feeling you’re not alone.

10. Who are some of your favourite authors, YA or otherwise?

As a young reader I devoured poetry, folk and fairy tales (Grimm, Andersen), and stories from the Arabian Nights and Ancient Greece. Now I love Raymond Carver, Donna Tartt, Denis Johnson, Ali Smith, Toni Morrison, Maggie O’Farrell, Tove Jansson, John Irving and Kate Atkinson amongst many others. I try to read as a writer might – with one eye and half my brain looking for just how this author make this character so believable, or that sentence so beautiful, or this story such a pageturner…

11. If they made a Jenny Downham action figure, what three accessories would it come with?

Assorted disguises, working wings and a mini espresso maker.

12. Can you tell us what you’re working on next?

I’ve started something new, but it’s very early days. All I have are voices at the moment and I have no idea where they’ll take me. If I had to sum it up so far I’d say it’s about a girl who is furious! She wants her life to be very different and is determined to make it happen.

And that’s your lot! I’d like to thank the YA Shot Team, Carolyn at David Fickling Books, and of course – Jenny herself, for helping put all this together.

You can pick up a copy of Unbecoming just here.


UKYACX Blog Tour! Partners in Crime – A word from authors Kate & Liz Corr…

This one’s a guest post from sisters Kate & Liz Corr, who write together, on the positives and negatives of writing together. Their debut novel, The Witch’s Kiss, is out now – and a sequel (The Witch’s Tears) is on the way in Januray, published by Harpercollins!


“Writing with your sister? That’s strange. If I had to work with my sister [or brother, or other relative] I’d have killed her by now.” That’s what people often say when they hear that we write books together. And yet, we’re both still alive. So far…

We started working together about four years ago. What began as an exercise in mutual support for our solo writing efforts quickly turned into a collaboration: it was just more fun. And it’s easier. No need to try the patience of your friend / beta reader / editor. With a sibling co-author, there’s always someone else available who cares just as passionately about the fictional world you’re currently inhabiting as you do.

Of course, it helps that we get along really, really well. Our writing styles are similar, and our strengths and weakness complement each other. One of us is better at dialogue, the other at constructing scenes. One of us likes our characters to have happy endings, the other one… not so much. And then, there’s a big overlap of stuff that we both enjoy in terms of books and films. Science fiction and fantasy (obviously) are dear to both of our hearts. Growing up, we were particularly drawn to books that included a strong family dynamic: The Dark is Rising, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, Pride & Prejudice, Little Women. Books where the family, even if it was slightly dysfunctional, was important.

In a way, we’ve written what we know. Our mum was ill for a lot of our childhood and she died relatively young, so we’ve always relied a lot on each other. It’s this sort of closeness that we wanted to reflect in The Witch’s Kiss. There is romance in our story, between Merry (the unwilling teenage witch) and Jack (the Anglo-Saxon prince who is our sleeping beauty). But romantic relationships aren’t,

obviously, the only significant ties in people’s lives. At least as important in The Witch’s Kiss is the bond between Merry and her elder brother, Leo. They bicker, they dislike each other’s friends and they challenge each other’s actions. But at the same time they are utterly supportive of each other. They have each other’s backs, and they make each other laugh.

And that’s what we do, too. It’s a rare writing or editing session that doesn’t see us collapsing into laughter, even if we’re only communicating over the phone or via text message. Sometimes we argue. But that’s ok, because we both know we can say what we like; the other one isn’t going to take offence and storm off, or lapse into passive aggressive silence. We have to be organised – much easier now, with everything stored in the cloud – and we have to compromise. But it’s worth it. Like Merry and Leo, or salt and pepper, or chocolate and strawberries (at least in our opinion), we’re better together.


The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

When David Fickling Books are publishing a new title, it’s something to take note of. The publishers have released the last two year’s best books for me (The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, and Unbecoming by Jenny Downham), so I already know that their calibre of YA is pretty high. So when The Call came to me, I was very curious indeed – A YA horror/thriller with deep roots in traditional Irish folklore? I’m in…

The Call

Set in a desolate Dystopian Ireland in a world where all teenagers must survive The Call – 3 minutes and 4 seconds in which they will be transported to the hellish Grey Lands to fight for their lives against the twisted and beautiful Sidhe (pronounced “Shee”) people – the malevolent fairies of legend who where banished there thousands of years ago by the descendants of the modern day people of the Emerald Isle. Time moves differently in the Grey Lands, and 3 minutes becomes 24 hours there, whilst the Sidhe hunt their prey – and if you’re lucky you’ll be transported back at the end unharmed. If you’re lucky they might only kill you. But the Sidhe like to play with their victims if they catch them early enough… Twisting human flesh into grotesque art. If you’re unlucky, what they send back might not resemble anything human at all. Nessa, the story’s main character, is at a training college that educates and prepares the nation’s teenagers for The Call. No-one expects her to survive – there’s no way, not after polio ravaged her legs as a child. She can barely run without the aid of crutches, and the Sidhe won’t let her take anything like that with her. Her death is a certainty, and everyone knows it. Except Nessa – Nessa is going to prove them all wrong…


Despite such twisted writing, he seems so nice!

Talk about PACING. I’m a pretty slow reader (it bugs me a lot), but I flew through The Call in about a week, which is not bad going for me. Peadar expertly pulls the story along by using short, punchy chapters, each one ending on just the right hook to pull you into the next one. It’s these choppy chapters, filled with action and mystery which keep the book pounding along through its story, combined with the way he jumps from Nessa’s plot to the short, often violent lives of those Called to the Grey Lands. It’s these little snapshots of the brutality of the Sidhe realm that up the tension for the characters left behind, and as they are Called one by one, the pressure becomes monumental on those who remain. Peadar also uses a Clive Barker-esque feel of horror in his writing, by twisting the familiar to make it unsettling or outright upsetting (in the way all good horror should be), and the punishments and the games of the Sidhe are wonderfully creative and horrifically dark and cruel. The Grey Lands themselves are a suffocating alternate world which the author describes in scant, disturbing slices, but it’s the bleak and ruined Ireland that really feels the darker setting of the two. Only 1 in 10 teenagers survive The Call, making the country a crumbling ruin of what it once was. The adults are strained, hopeless and desperate, and the teenagers range for confident and arrogant to nihilistic, and the clashing this creates makes the characters really stand out – none more so than Nessa. A physically disabled protagonist in a YA novel is virtually unheard of, and one in a fast paced survival horror is even rarer. Nessa might even be the first, to my knowledge. Her resolve and quiet determination are at odds with the usual “strong female character” trope that we see so much in the genre. She has fears and hopes, loves and hates. She isn’t an unstoppable badass – she’s a girl who everyone else has written off already, and the bitterness of a life being told she’s as good as dead quietly weaves its way through her actions.

The Call uses mythology and modern horror ideas to create something really unique and absorbing. As someone with no knowledge of the Sidhe and Irish folklore, I’d love the backstory to be investigated a little more and fleshed out – perhaps in a sequel…? I’ll be the first in line…

Thanks For Reading,


The Worst Christmas Present

The other night I went to the YA Speakeasy Event at Drink Shop Do just off King’s Cross. It was a really fun night of drinks and chatting to authors and other bookish types, with readings and the like. Halfway through, they request some writing prompts from the audience for the guest authors to go off and spend twenty minutes writing a story about, and one of the themes suggested by my friend Grace, was “An Unwanted Christmas Present”. Now, I’m not a professional authorer, but I did have something begin to form in my head the second she said those four words. So I wrote it down. Warning, it’s pretty bleak.

The first thing I was aware of as I woke up was pain. Two different kinds of pain, quite unbearable in their own ways. One was a dull background ache that crept along my bones like ice, gnawing constantly. The second one though, the second one was something else entirely. When I tried to move, it hit me like a blinding white heat, agonising lightning shooting down every nerve ending. My jaw clenched. Slowly, I opened my eyes, sticky and tired. I was in a dull hospital room, off-white walls stained and plain, and a variety of unfamiliar boxy looking machines hooked up to me. The fluorescent light on the ceiling flickered, needling into my brain.

“Where I am…?” I croaked, my mouth dry and my throat painful.

“Sweetheart? Tim, Tim he’s awake!” My Mum was right there, by my bedside, her eyes red-rimmed and anxious. My Dad shuffled across the room, looking forlorn.

“Don’t try to move too much, son” he told me, an unusual softness in his voice, “You’ve had quite a nasty accident.”

Had I? I tried to remember but everything was a blur. As I strained, things started to come back to me. Leaving the flat at rush hour. Stepping out to cross the road. A blaring horn and a white van that loomed impossibly big, getting bigger with each passing microsecond. Blinding white pain. I flinched at the memory, the lightning pain rippling through me again.

“Don’t try to move, darling” Mum begged, “The doctors have you on some strong painkillers, but you’ve done a lot of damage. Moving will make it worse.”

A thick silence fell into the room. I tried to think of something, anything to say. The looks of concern on their faces ripped at my heartstrings, guilt flooding through my chest.

“I’m sorry…” I coughed, the coppery taste of blood peppering my tongue, “Sorry I ruined Christmas Day…” I attempted a wry smile, but even twisting my mouth seemed to hurt. I dreaded to think how I looked. It seemed both of my legs where encased in a plaster cast that covered my pelvis as well. One arm, my right, was free, pockmarked by a few short lacerations that had the look of flying glass about them. My left arm – the one I actually used – was also in a plaster cast, the fingers poking out from under them gnarled, the nails blackened with bruised and horribly cracked.

“Don’t be silly,” Mum was sobbing now, and the guilt was welling up inside, threatening to flood my lungs and end me completely, “You waking up is a Christmas Miracle.”

Dad nodded his agreement, tearless but his face twisted with emotion, “Absolutely, Charlie. You’re the best Christmas present we could’ve asked for.”

I felt a hot tear slide down my cheek. To them, it looked like relief I’m sure. But it was no such thing. It was a tear of defeat. When I’d made the decision to step out in front of that van, waking up again was the worst possible Christmas present I could imagine.

THE END. Told you it was cheery.

Thanks for Reading!


Unboxed by Non Pratt

Unboxed is a short novel by the brilliantly talented UKYA author Non Pratt (author of Trouble and Remix), published by the wonderful people at Barrington Stoke who specialise in shorter books with intelligent and articulate plots designed to encourage reluctant readers without talking down to their audience. They also use fonts and paper colourations designed to help dyslexic readers. They really are superb – check out their website.


Even the jacket makes me emotional

Unboxed is the story of four friends, who when they were younger created a time capsule of their perfect Summer. Time has passed since that Summer, and the friends have now drifted apart, in contact mostly through social media and memories. When they made the box, there was five of them, but stomach cancer claimed Millie a few weeks ago. So despite the wedge driven between them, they meet up once again to open the box and peer into the past, to a simpler, happier time. It isn’t easy – everyone’s changed in ways both huge and small. Alix has told none of them about her girlfriend, afraid they wouldn’t understand. The whole night promises to be a mess of dredged up emotions and awkward silences, but it was what Millie made them promise to do. You can’t break a promise to a dead friend.

I’ve said it before, and I am certain I’ll say it again – Non Pratt is hands down the most authentic voice in YA fiction. You can keep your poetically lyrical teenagers, Non’s characters swear and screw up, they’re awkward in ways that are frustrating as opposed to endearingly charming – she just writes real characters in a way I’ve never come across in YA elsewhere. Unboxed is no exception – from the very plot outline I knew it was going to break my heart (and I finished it on a train, naturally), but Non captures the teen atmosphere perfectly. It’s all there – the sense of hope, the frustration, the nihilism, the fear of alienation from your friends. The fear of not fitting in. Unboxed dredges all these ideas up and mixes them into a short, punchy story that aims directly for the heart and nestles in there for life. I’m never ever getting this story out of my head. Alix is the perfect narrator for the story, hesitant and filled with regrets, but each of the four friends are perfectly portrayed and effortlessly nuanced. In just 140 pages we get a brief snapshot of these people, of who they used to be, who they are now, and where they might going. It’s a masterpiece that absolutely encapsulates the fears and dreams that come with being on the cusp of adulthood. It’s achingly real, smart, and honest. It’ll take you an hour to read and it’ll change you. Give a short book a chance.

Thanks for Reading, as always.


P.S. You can pick up Unboxed, and all of Non’s books right here.

A small letter to YALC…

This year I was lucky enough to be working at YALC, the Young Adult Literature Conference held as part of London Film & Comic-Con. I know, I’m showing off more than I little bit. Victoria Schwab gave me a cookie (it was delicious) and I fan-girled meeting Malorie Blackman. It’s a far cry now from the first YALC I went to – the very first one in fact, crammed somewhere in the back of Earl’s Court, besieged on either side by the usual LFCC crowd. It earned its nickname that year as the literal hell on earth, so warm and overwhelmingly stuffy, with no boundaries to help keep things in one place. I had fun, but it was still a bit of a sensory explosion that left me a little fractured. The shift to Olympia has made all the difference. Us YA lot now have our very own floor, and the atmosphere change that comes with it is so very welcome.

Oh, the atmosphere of YALC… It’s so wonderful to be in a place surrounded by other book lovers. Everyone there loves books, and so the empathy in the room is palpable – a sense of joy and understanding that you can taste on your tongue. When I was a teenager, I’d have longed for the chance to chat to other bookish teens, to sit and watch talks by my favourite authors, and to get an insight into the publishing industry, so for I felt so honoured to be a tiny part of this year. To talk to others in the book world and to engage with the passionate young readers and talk to them about their favourite books, it’s why I fell in love with this whole wonderful YA community in the UK in the first place. The open-hearted love is real, and it’s wonderful to behold.

I do hope publishers, literary agents and authors where watching and listening to those fans this weekend. I hope they saw the joy the books they make can create. I hope they saw the amount of teenagers there in head scarves who aren’t seeing themselves in the books they read – yet. I hope the UKYA community continues to strive towards full representation of our wonderful multicultural world. I’ve always believed books create empathy, and it the light of all the stuff 2016 has flung at us so far, we need all the empathy towards one another we can get.