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.

UKMG Interview with SF Said – Author of Varjak Paw & Pheonix

This year, after the massive success of last year’s UKYA Extravaganza, is the very first EVER UKMG Extravaganza! For those of you who maybe don’t know, MG refers to Middle Grade fiction, more commonly in the UK known as 9-12, but it can straddle the line into Teen Fiction too, so more the 11-14 bracket in many cases. The UK has a wonderful history of books for this age – maybe even the best of all time, Harry Potter, and much like the UKYA community has picked up momentum in the last few years, the UKMG movement is just starting up right now online and through small events. For this blog tour, I’ve been locked in a steel cage deep underwater with SF Said, author of two Varjak Paw novels, as well as the Superhero-esque Phoenix. (Watch the book trailer HERE)

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Bonjour, Hola, Konichiwa and welcome! Thanks ever so much for coming and letting me fire off questions at you with all the intensity of a million stars. Why don’t you tell us a bit about your books?

Thank you! I’m looking forward to questions with all the intensity of stars, because Phoenix is all about the stars!

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The main characters in Phoenix are a human boy who has the power of a star inside him, and an alien girl who is the most brilliant fighter in the galaxy. It begins with the boy dreaming that the stars are singing to him, and it ends with the two of them facing the end of all worlds. So it’s a great big space epic, on the scale of something like Star Wars.

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The Varjak Paw books are built on a smaller scale, but I think they also have a superheroic element. They’re about a cat wants to become a great warrior. In his dreams, he learns a secret martial art known only to cats. And this helps him to survive on his own in a dark and dangerous city.

What made you first start to write books for younger readers? Was that something you actively went for?

I always knew I wanted to be some kind of writer, but I never found literary fiction very satisfying. Then at university, I read and re-read lots of books for young readers, like Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, and the mythic stories written by Alan Garner and Susan Cooper.

These were exactly the kinds of books I wanted to write: hugely powerful page-turning stories with brilliant characters, richly-imagined worlds, and big questions about life and how it should be lived. Books with a lot of depth and levels, which could be read at different ages in different ways. Modern myths, really. So that was what I set out to write.

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Varjak Paw is such a phenomenal character! Where did you dream up this idea of a martial artist cat?

Thank you! I have to admit, Varjak Paw didn’t begin with the idea of a cat doing martial arts. It began with me watching my own cat as he went outside for the first time, as a kitten. I started to write a story about a kitten going out on his own into a dangerous city. What was he going to need, to survive? The idea of a martial arts for cats evolved from there.

This martial art is called the Way of Jalal. There are seven skills: skills for hunting, skills for fighting, skills for stealth, and so on. They have names like Shadow-Walking, Slow-Time, and Moving Circles. They developed as the story developed, in response to the story’s needs. Story generally drives everything in my books.

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How was working with the massively talented Dave McKean? Did you have ideas for his illustrations in the book, or was it all his own work based on your words?

Dave McKean is one of my heroes, and has been ever since I read the comics he made in the 1990s. So on Varjak Paw, I was a bit in awe of him, and couldn’t quite believe he was working on my story. I just gave him the text, and it came back looking like it does in the finished book. All the incredible things he does – not just with pictures, but with design, typography, even the use of white space – all came from him.

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While I was writing Phoenix, though, we were having all sorts of adventures in Hollywood, trying to make a Varjak Paw movie. (Which still hasn’t happened, but if anyone out there has $15 million to spare, we can find a good use for it!) Anyway, we became friends and collaborators while doing this, so the process of making Phoenix was different.

This time I gave him all sorts of stuff to work with. Everything from space photography made by the Hubble Telescope, because Phoenix is set in space, to images of gods and goddesses, because the story makes connections between astral science and ancient myth. He told me later that the most useful thing I gave him was a CD of Sigur Ros music. I thought it sounded like the stars singing, and I told him if he could make illustrations that looked like the music sounded, they’d be perfect. Incredibly, he did – and they are!

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Phoenix is a bit of a change, and a bit of an older piece of fiction, where did that stem from?

I don’t think about ages when I write. I like the idea of books for everyone: stories that anyone can enjoy, whoever they are, however old they are, whatever gender they are. I’m aiming to write modern myths, as I say, and I think myths are ageless and timeless. They transcend all categories.

But I was definitely setting out to do something bigger and more ambitious with Phoenix; I wanted to take a step up in my writing. Because the story is all about the stars, the scale had to be huge. So it ended up three times the length of Varjak Paw.

That might make people think it’s older. But I’ve met 9 year olds who read Phoenix in a day, and teenagers who’ve done the same. It’s a big story, but I hope it’s a page-turning, thrilling story too.

Was it a challenge to create this alien universe to try and work within, or was it all fully formed in your brain tank?

It was a huge challenge, and it took me a long time! It took seven years to get Phoenix as good as I possibly could, which is always my aim with each book.

The hardest part was the mythic background to the story. The aliens in Phoenix believe that all the mythological gods and goddesses are really stars who come down from the sky. They take different forms in different times, but they’re always the same immortal beings, returning again and again through history. They call them the Twelve Astraeus.

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Originally, I wrote lots of material about the Twelve Astraeus, to explain this background. But it was impossible to write prose powerful enough to describe them. After all, gods and stars should be mysterious and awe-inspiring beyond words! Then I decided to describe them through illustrations. I gave Dave a list of the Twelve Astraeus, with their names and attributes in different mythologies (Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, Mesopotamian etc.) The images he created have exactly the sense of mystery and awe that I wanted.

I also wrote song fragments to go with the pictures, which give you hints about them. So when readers encounter the Astraeus Of The Sea, for example, they can work out for themselves that this is the being who’s been called Poseidon, Neptune, and so on. Even if they don’t, they’ll feel who he is, without being told. I find that much more powerful and evocative than ordinary prose – but it took me a long time to work out the best way to do it!

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How do you decide what things you can tackle in MG, and what’s best left for the YA sphere?

I’m probably not the best person to ask, because as I say, I don’t think about ages. I just try to write books that everyone can read.

I personally don’t see a vast difference between different categories of fiction. A great story is a great story. I read across all categories myself, and did when I was a kid. As soon as I could read on my own, I wanted to read EVERYTHING. And so now as a writer, I put everything I care about and everything I love into my books. And anyone who wants to read them is welcome.

Why is MG such an important age bracket of young readers? Why do you think it’s such a vital part of a child’s reading evolution?

I think the books we read when we’re young shape us and stay with us forever. So while I’m not a big fan of categories, I do think those books are the most important books of all.

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Watership Down is a book that changed my life. I read it when I was 8, and thought it was the best book I’d ever read. I remember thinking that one day, I wanted to try and write something even half as good as it. I re-read it when I was 35, and I thought it was even better! At 8, I’d seen a thrilling adventure story about rabbits; now I saw politics, philosophy, mythology, all working together on different levels.

It was amazing to realise how deeply it had shaped my own imagination. I can see the roots of everything I want to do as a writer in that book. So it changed my life, and I think most of us have had similar experiences in childhood. What could be more important than that?!

For the love of all that is pure, WHAT ARE YOU WRITING NEXT?!

I’m writing a book called TYGER. I can’t say too much about it, as my books always change a lot as I work on them. But I can tell you that it’s partly inspired by William Blake’s amazing poem The Tyger!

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If they made a film of any of your books, would you try and cast yourself in them?

Good heavens, no! I don’t even have pictures of myself on my books. I’d rather people engaged with the story without the writer getting in the way.

Tell us about your ideal writing environment. Is writing a full time deal for you?

Writing is very much a full time deal for me. I write in my local library. There are no distractions there, and everyone else is working, so I just get down to work. If I try to write at home, the temptation to look at the internet is just too big. Especially Twitter. I can always justify it as ‘research’. But if you really want to write, you need to immerse yourself in writing, and not do anything else.

Have you always wanted to write?

Yes. I’ve always loved books and stories, and I’ve always wanted to make my own.

What does the UKMG community mean to you? Is it exciting to be there to watch it as it takes its tiny first baby steps?

I think it’s a wonderful thing. I’m so excited about UKMG Extravaganza, and I would be even if I wasn’t taking part! When I started out, being a children’s writer was quite a solitary thing. Sometimes I’d meet other writers at publishing events, but that was about it. In everyday life, I didn’t meet many other people who loved children’s books or even took them seriously.

Now, I’m in constant conversation with them. I love the fact that people who love children’s books are talking to each other in events like UKMG Extravaganza, and on places like Twitter, through hashtag chats like #ukmgchat. And this isn’t just writers, but readers, bloggers, vloggers, booksellers, librarians, teachers – there’s no end to it. It’s brilliant being connected to such a thing, because it makes you feel like you’re not alone. There are thousands of other people who love books just as much as you do!

What UKMG authors make you happy? Who’s books should we all be rushing out to grab from shelves right this second?

So many! In terms of classics, I love Rudyard Kipling, E Nesbit, CS Lewis, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper…

More recently, I’d have to mention Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, Peter Dickinson’s The Kin – an epic sequence about human origins that I think deserves to be as well known as widely read as Michelle Paver’s Outcast books – which I also love! I think Jonathan Stroud is a fantastic writer. Francesca Simon’s The Lost Gods and Kate Saunders’s Five Children On The Western Front are two books that I think of as classics already. I could go on. And on…

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What books did you read growing up that inspired you as a writer and as a reader and as a human being?

Ursula Le Guin’s books inspire me in every possible way. The Earthsea books showed me that children’s literature could be great literature. The Dispossessed became a key book for me; I still re-read it every few years. Its portrayal of a society built on anarchist principles inspires me, as does its depiction of relationships built on equality. So it doesn’t just inspire me as a writer; it’s a book I aspire to live by.

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Do you get much fan mail? What’s your best response you’ve had from one of your readers?

I love hearing from readers. I’m a lot better at replying to comments on my website than I am to actual letters, for some reason. But any time anyone tells me that one of my books meant something to them – that’s amazing.

When I hear from people who say they didn’t like books before, but then they read one of mine and now they can’t stop reading – that’s just mind-blowing.

And when I hear from people who read one of my books as a child, kept it through their whole childhood, and now still enjoy it as adults – well, I don’t have words for that.

One of the nice things about MG is how engaging and excitable children are at that age – do you get out to many events with kids? Is that something you enjoy getting involved in?

I visit a lot of schools; about one a week on average at the moment. I visit both primaries and secondaries. I do enjoy it – it’s always good to meet readers, and see what they’re interested in. I always ask for book recommendations, and have found some great reads that way.

What would your Patronus be?

A librarian?

If they made an SF Said action figure, what accessories would it come with?

Portable tea mug to take to the library. Vellum paper and fountain pen with Havana ink for first draft. Laptop and printer for subsequent drafts. Headphones and iPod for all-important writing music. (The Cure for Varjak Paw; Sigur Ros for Phoenix; Godspeed You Black Emperor for Tyger!)

If you could be ANY mythical creature, what would you want to be?

A writer who can write a great book in just one go. Because that is a TOTALLY mythical creature!

Would you rather fight one-hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?

I like the idea of tiny horses. I would want to be friends with them. Whereas I find the idea of a horse sized duck a bit threatening. That’s a very big duck.

What’s on your To-Be-Read pile?

There isn’t a To-Be-Read pile. There’s a To-Be-Read mountain. There are so many books I need to read, and I’m a slow reader, so realistically, I know I’m never going to read them all. I could never even list them all!

But some books currently in the mountain were written by other authors taking part in UKMG Extravaganza: Allan Buroughs’s Ironheart, Emma Carroll’s In Darkling Wood, Jo Cotterill’s Looking At The Stars, Abi Elphinstone’s The Dreamsnatcher, Candy Gourlay’s Shine, Julia Lee’s The Mysterious Misadventures Of Clemency Wrigglesworth, Helen Peters’s The Farm Beneath The Water, and many many more!


 

Thanks for being on the blog SF Said! Don’t forget to check out the #ukmgchat for more great recommendations and discussions about Children’s Literature.

And thanks for reading,

D

UKYA Extravaganza interview with Lucy Coats, author of Cleo

Okay! For this year’s UKYA Extravaganza, I’ve once again been unleashed on some poor unsuspecting author like hugely confusing guided missile of skin that I am. This year, the lovely LUCY COATS, author of CLEO, the first book of two about the young Cleopatra. I was lucky enough to meet Lucy at an event a few weeks ago, so she’s had a slight feel for how disorganised and sporadic my brain can be, so here goes…

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Hello Lucy, and THANK YOU for being a part of UKYAX! Let’s start by getting you to tell us a little bit about yourself and your book Cleo?

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Hi Darran – I’m really excited about UKYAX and also about being a guest on your fabled and seemingly not at all disorganised or sporadic blog (who knew?). About me? Well – I’ve been a publisher, a bookseller and a journalist, but my main job is telling lies – or as some people like to call them, stories. So far I’ve written 37 big fat lies for all ages from two to teen and about everything from pirates to green-toothed fairies. CLEO is my 36th lie. It’s about the young Cleopatra, in the time before she became Pharaoh, and it’s a historical with a hefty dose of paranormal. The story takes Cleo from a young girl, confused and scared by the murder of her mother, to a fledgling teenage priestess of Isis, marked out and chosen by her goddess to save Egypt from a wicked god. That’s just for starters. There are also giant scorpions, ghost hippos, man-eating crocodiles, evil priests and sisters, vengeful deities, jars full of guts – and a hunky hot librarian.

So you’ve written for younger readers a fair bit, what made you want to write YA? Was there much to learn in the way of changing style to fit an older audience?

Well, I read a lot of YA, so I’ve been wanting to write something older for a while now, just to challenge myself and find out if I could. Obviously a YA novel is a lot longer than the younger stuff I write, so thinking about that bigger story arc and pacing right it was the starting key to that challenge. Every story I write speaks to me in a different way – I guess this one just happened to have an older voice and need more space to tell it. In a younger book, there are different requirements – the story needs to really crack on, and you just don’t have enough room for the fine detail in relationship building. Obviously, the story in a YA needs to be gripping and page-turning too, but what I loved about writing this book was having that space to develop and get to know both Cleo and the secondary characters and give them room to breathe and grow.

Cleo is a historical piece, obviously – how much research goes into writing a piece of historical fiction like this? How much of it is 110% accurate and how much is artistic license to help the plot flow forward?

Oh. My. God. The RESEARCH! I did SO much research for this book (and the next one, Chosen). I’m a bit of an obsessive about getting it right, but, of course, writing about ancient history is not so easy on that front, especially when the place you’re writing about (Alexandria in 60-55BC) has been hit by earthquakes and floods and basically doesn’t exist any more. Also, there is pretty much no accurate information on Cleo herself, before she came into the history books as Pharaoh. No one really knows who her mother was, or where she was after her father went into exile in Rome – stuff like that. Essentially, her early life is a great big hole in history, which is a gift for an author, as it leaves a lot of wiggle room. So no, it’s not 110% accurate, because it can’t be. However, there was a lot of stuff I could get right by going back and reading original texts and letters from the time about feasts and palace decor and what boats would have been on the Nile, dress, weapons, weather, plants, animals, games and all that. I’ve tried to give a real flavour of Egypt in Cleo’s day without making it heavy or educational/info-dumpy (aarrgh! – such a no-no). What I always say about research is that if all my research would fill a five-storey mansion, what I actually use in the book would probably come about halfway up the basement wall. Less is definitely more as far as the reader is concerned – but I have to write from a position of actually knowing what the hell I’m talking about, even if that knowledge is only in my head.

I assume it was more than Googling pictures of Pyramids.

I assume it was more than Googling pictures of Pyramids.

How did it feel, bringing this iconic historical character to life? Was it difficult to keep her grounded and make her feel like a modern teenager despite her environment?

It felt a bit scary. We’ve all got our own ideas about Cleopatra, this iconic woman who we are still talking about after over 2000 years. What shocked me was to find out that actually, what we think we know is mostly wrong. After the Romans conquered Egypt and Octavian/Augustus became Emperor, they controlled the history, and they portrayed the adult Cleopatra as a witch/seductress (because, hey, that must have been the ONLY reason Caesar and Mark Anthony fell for her). In fact, she was an incredibly intelligent woman, speaking nine or so languages, an astronomer, a mathemetician and a musician. Women in Ancient Egypt were allowed to run their own lives – and the Romans (whose women couldn’t even vote or be proper citizens) didn’t like that, so they basically trashed her. What I wanted to do with my Cleo was to show a progression in her character from scared child to proper Pharaoh over the two books – to show that development into the seed of the powerful woman she finally became. Although she has help from her beloved Goddess, Isis, most of it she has to work out by herself – that was important. I also wanted her to connect with today’s teenagers. Quite early on, I decided to give her a fairly modern (though not anachronistic) voice which I know might have come as a bit of a shock to some readers. The thing is though – we have no idea how Ancient Egyptian teenagers talked. So her relationship with her best friend, Charm, is quite jokey and informal, and she’s properly stroppy with some of the adults in her life. She also has doubts and insecurities just like anyone else her age – and believing in herself and her destiny is the biggest challenge of all. I just hope readers will hitch along for the ride and see how the slightly whiny child of the beginning grows into a young woman whose battle between loyalty, love and duty will define who she eventually becomes.

There’s a book two due next year (Chosen), but what else is in the pipeline? A book three, more ya, gritty dystopian noir crime about a centaur with a missing daughter?

Yes, Chosen is coming in March 2016, and I can’t wait till this new part of Cleo’s story is revealed to the world. Naturally there are more crocodiles, but also a demon god and a terrifying army of the Burnt-Souled Dead (basically, Ancient Egyptian zombies). That’s it for Cleo though – I don’t really want to write about her as Pharaoh, too many other people have trodden that ground. As for what else is in the pipeline – well, I have two more in my middle-grade Beasts of Olympus series to write, as well as a couple of other things. For my next YA – I’m very much liking the idea of a dystopian noir with sad detective centaur dad and I may just steal that. On the other hand – I may go Famous Ancient Historical

Girl again (but in Greece), or mix myth, modern music and tragic love in the U.S of A, or go religious warfare, women’s rights and proper hanging bat vampires in a fantasy Eastern Europe. What would you guys like to see? Which of those sounds good to you, if any? (No really – I’m interested and would love to know!)

If they made a film of Cleo, do you have any ideal casting choices? Would you put yourself in there?

I’m always a fan of casting the unknown – so I’d like someone new to play Cleo, Charm and Khai, unassociated with any other character in film. You can see what I think they all look like on my Pinterest page for the books. As for me…I’d probably have a bit part as one of the Sisters of the Living Knot. I rock the priestess robe look. Or possibly a camel. I’m sure my acting skills are up to that.

Charming.

Charming.

Tell us about your ideal writing environment. Is writing a full time deal for you?

I mostly write my lies in the little room above my kitchen. It’s filled with books, writing mess, me and the three dogs, who lounge about on the sofa and sometimes manage to get me to go out for walks. I look out over green fields, trees, sheep and a little stream. Oh and clouds, which I stare at when the writing of lies is stalled and hope for inspiration. It’s a great sanctuary, mostly, and no one in the house is supposed to interrupt me when the door is closed and the big red rope is over the top of the stairs. Of course, they all ignore it, especially my 90 year-old mum. So sometimes I escape – to somewhere nice and free of phones and internet, preferably. In recent years I’ve escaped to Donegal (by the sea), Paris (above a patisserie – yum), Venice (on the Grand Canal), and Devon (wine brought to the room at 6pm sharp – major result). Writing is definitely a full time deal for me – but that doesn’t only mean the actual physical acts of writing, editing and proofreading, of course. There’s much more to it than that – promotion, school visits, festivals, social media wrangling, writing blogs, teaching creative writing etc etc.

Have you always wanted to write?

I’ve always written, but at the beginning (actually, till I was in my twenties) it was poetry. So, I wanted to be a poet for a bit, and to hang out on mountains waiting for a muse to come down out of the mist and infect me with the madness of genius. Sadly, that didn’t happen, and then I got a job in publishing. I’d never stopped reading kids’ books – but being an editor meant I began to read with a more critical eye, and to actually think about how a story was put together. It also made me want to write stories of my own. Once that happened, I couldn’t stop scribbling stuff down, and from that time on, I never have.

What does the UKYA community mean to you?

I think of the UKYA community as my tribe. It means a lot to me to be able to connect with people – authors, bloggers and readers, booksellers, librarians – who like the same books I do and have the same enthusiasm about them, regardless of my decrepit age. I love connecting and chatting on Twitter (and lately on Instagram too), and IRL at places like YALC, #UKYAdrinks and book launches and parties. So many people just don’t understand why anyone over 18 would read YA – but for me it’s not about labelling and genres, it’s about damn fine books – and I think some of the best and most interesting writing at the moment is in UKYA. I’m so proud to be able to say that I’m a tiny part of that community.

What books have you been reading lately?

I read pretty fast, and I’ve pulled a few late/all-nighters recently, because the books were so good I couldn’t stop. So, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve read Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here, James Dawson’s All of the Above, Sarah J Maas’s Queen of Shadows and, just now Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It, which ripped my guts out. I’m currently reading a new discovery, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder – basically a futuristic Cinderella with cyborgs, which is an interesting take.

YES.

YES.

Who is out there in UKYA that you want to rave about? Which authors are doing great things?

What? You want me to PICK? There’s just so much good stuff out there to choose from, and if I wrote all of them down, your blog would probably explode from an excess of amazingness. Apart from the people above (well, Sarah J Maas isn’t UKYA, but still…). I think Lisa Williamson is one to watch – I loved The Art of Being Normal. Other books I’ve loved this year have been David Hofmeyr’s Stone Rider, Anna McKerrow’s Crow Moon, Ellen Renner’s Outcaste and Julie Mayhew’s The Big Lie. I’m also looking forward to reading Emerald Fennell’s Monsters, and for next February, I’m really excited about Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands, which I read a sample of at YALC, and immediately wanted the whole thing.

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For many of us, YA is a recent phenomenon, and there were no Young Adult books when we were teens. When you were a teenager, what books were you reading?

Basically, I ate the whole library. Twice. I was a book hog – I read everything and anything, suitable or unsuitable. So, there was a lot of Lord of the Rings, but also the more romantic Anya Seton, Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Georgette Heyer and Mary Renault. There was also an encounter with John Fowles, not only The French Lieutenant’s Woman, but also The Magus, which was a bit of an eye-opener for a country girl at about 14, and led me to delve into Aleister Crowley and the whole Wiccan thing, In my thriller phase I went through Neville Shute, Hammond Innes, Dick Francis, Ian Fleming and Wilbur Smith, as well as reams of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. Then I discovered Austen, and had a period of channelling Lizzie Bennett. I also read a lot of Greek and Roman stuff – mostly poetry, but also the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid as well as Metamorphoses. I really really loved Catullus. Mostly though, it didn’t matter. As long as I could crawl into the pages of a book – any book – I was ok. The world couldn’t get me and I could pretend I was a normal teenager and not the geek on the outside looking in.

Do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out, who might doubt every single letter they put to a page and who curl up in a ball of anxiety and self-loathing each night (I have no-one in mind right now)?

AAAAAAAAAARGH

AAAAAAAAAARGH

Look – I’m going to lay it on the line here. However many books/lies I’ve written (a lot – see above), I STILL have massively long moments in the night where I curl up in a ball of anxiety and self-loathing. It’s part of being a writer. It’s not going to change. Angst and self-esteem issues are part and parcel of it, so learn to live with it. What being a writer is about is putting your ass on the chair and getting words down on the page. You think they’re crap? Never mind, don’t obsess. You can always go back and fix them later. Just get to the end of the first draft. At that point you have an actual book – something to work with. Now the real hard graft can begin. Trust me – it WILL be ok. You may have to have several goes at it, and put several failures in the bottom drawer, but you’ll get there in the end if you stick at it. Every book you write teaches you to do it better next time. And you already have a major advantage. You read – massively. You know what’s out there. Read it with a critical eye, always. Ask what works and why (or why not). Never mind writing courses and all that. Reading books is the best tutor you’ll ever have.

What would your Patronus be?

A bear, no question. My daughter calls me Mumma Bear, and my shamanic animal spirit is a bear too. Big, cuddly, warm, and sometimes growly and grouchy. Sleeps a lot. Likes snacks, salmon and honey.

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If they made a Lucy Coats action figure, what accessories would it come with?

A napping couch made of very soft (non damp) moss with an optional spidersilk duvet. A magic library where you could get any book from past, present or future. A storyteller’s rainbow cloak of inspiration. A zap-gun for interrupters and intruders. A portable Earl Grey tea and triple choc chip cookie machine. A time-turner.

If you could be ANY mythical creature, what would you want to be?

You want me to say a sweet pink unicorn, don’t you? Bah to unicorns, I say. I’d rather be Chiron, the wise Centaur and Zeus’s brother. I rather fancy being the mentor to heroes, and Chiron is seriously kickass (four hooves, you know?).

Chiron

I am all ABOUT the Centaurs!

Would you rather fight one-hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck?

Ah. The knotty duck/horse question. It’s taken some thought, but I’d fight the duck sized horses with my mad pony whispering skills and some tiny buckets full of molasses mash. Trust me, tiny duck sized horses would go mad for molasses mash. They’d also be mesmerised, and then I could get them harnessed up to my chariot and be pulled through the lanes of Northamptonshire in triumph. Victory WOULD be mine.

No-one ever says duck.

No-one ever says duck.

What’s on your To-Be-Read pile?

Too much – no really, it’s tottering! But next up is The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, When I Was Me by Hilary Freeman and Book by John Agard. Then I want to read Edmund de Waal’s new one, The White Road. Let’s not mention all the creative writing-related non-fiction stuff I have glaring at me from the corner (although Ursula le Guin’s Steering the Craft will be a pleasure to read properly. I’ve only dipped into it so far).

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PS: Thanks for having me, Darran. Ace questions – I loved answering them. And I hope I’ll see some of you at UKYAX in Nottingham on 10th Oct. Come up and say hi if you’re there!

UKYAX October Blog Tour Banner FINAL

Demon Road by Derek Landy

Derek’s Skulduggery Pleasant series is one of the best loved Middle Grade/YA crossover series in the world – brilliantly blending macabre horror with a unique, twisted sense of humour and plenty of twists and turns that have kept readers gripped for over seven years. His new series, purely YA, promises to deliver the same sense of magical horror, wanton violence and sharp, acidic wit, and let me tell you it did NOT disappoint.

SOME SPOILERS LURK BELOW – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED


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Amber is a 16 year old girl. Like many 16 year old girls, she doesn’t have a huge amount of friends, spending her time on message boards for her favourite TV show and working shifts at a local diner, as she waits to graduate high school and inevitably head out into the big wide world. She has a distant and strangely cold relationship with her parents, who have always been vaguely loving but disinterested, until the day they tried to kill her. You see, Amber’s parents are demons. Red skin, tall, resplendent and complete with long, black horns – proper demons. And they and their friends have been extending their demonic lives for hundreds of years by devouring their children when they turn sixteen – and Amber’s next on the menu. The only advantage she has is the she’s also a demon, able to shift from her average human form into a terrible and beautiful red skinned demon, gaining super strength and resilience in the process. Fleeing her home and her parents, Amber makes some unusual friends and begins an epic road trip across America in search of some way to stop her parents and their friends from becoming more powerful by consuming her – including making a bargain for her soul with the Shining Demon that originally granted them their powers, pitting daughter against mother and father in a struggle that goes way past life and death. It turns out though, that Demons are hardly the strangest and most dangerous things on the Black Roads of America…

Whoa, what an absolute RIOT of a book! Demon Road is Derek Landy on top form, and I was so immersed in this story – I’m just gutted that it’s going to be over a year before I can get my paws on book two. Amber is a brilliant lead character, and she works perfectly in the story, pushing her self-loathing to one side and coming out swinging as soon as she discovers her parent’s true nature – she’s a real hardcore girl with a strong survival instinct, and not because she needs to live for someone else, but just because she wants the chance to be her own person. Unlike the Katniss’ of the YA world, she makes a lot of pretty stupid mistakes though, which highlight her trusting, if naïve nature, and her gradual learning and understanding of her demon nature, and the supernatural world around her helps open the hidden world to the reader at the same time, instead of lumping huge amounts of information on them at once. Oh, also Amber has a great sarcastic streak to her that definitely works well with her character, and especially bounces well off Glen. Aaah Glen, the wonderfully doomed and infuriatingly motor-mouthed Irish teen is a brilliant side character for Amber (and hurrah for no damnable romantic subplot!), because the way he nervously rambles and babbles gives the story the humour and dialogue it needs. I’m impressed that Landy managed to make him so endearing, despite how mindlessly he acts and the way he talks first and thinks second – he really adds heart to the story. Finally, Milo is Amber’s stoic, secretive driver on her trip along the Demon Road, and he wordlessly balances out the two teenagers with his patience and effortless skills and knowledge of the darker underworld of the USA. His character arc is beautifully done too, as he starts to view Amber as more than just a job, but as someone he actually wants to protect.

DEREK IS COMING TO MY SHOP!!

DEREK IS COMING TO MY SHOP!!

I love Derek’s writing style in Demon Road… He really does create a strange, almost Summer-y quality to the road trip, but he works in the subtle but creeping horror perfectly, and so much of it is expertly done to be unsettling as opposed to cheap gore soaked frights. Plus, his world feels deep and well thought out – I get the distinct impression that there’s a much richer mythology going on under the surface that we’ll get to peek at in later books in the trilogy. The description is excellent here too, flowing and bouncing intelligently and using really jarring comparisons to help hammer home that sense of unease and dreamlike uncertainty in the reality of what the characters are seeing. Oh, and I love the way the road trip plot ties together some excellent set pieces – almost like mini episodes within an arcing plotline.

Fans of Derek Landy are going to adore Demon Road, and newcomers to his work will find it an excellent starting point to his writing style – dark, unsettling, hilarious and heartfelt, with wonderfully varied characters and more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing.

Thanks for Reading

D

P.S. – Demon Road is out on the 27th of August, but you can Pre-Order your copy here.

P.P.S. – Derek will be signing in my store (Waterstones Durham) from 1pm on the 29th of August! I’d love if you could come along.

UKYA Extravaganza interview with Clare Furniss, author of The Year of the Rat

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So, as part of the wonderful UKYA Extravaganza that’s going on with Waterstones Birmingham High Street, I was asked if I wanted to be on of the stops on their blog tour! Of course, I naturally said yes – being right up in the North of the country means I can’t often get to a lot of UKYA events. I was given Clare Furniss, the wonderful author of the emotionally charged The Year of the Rat, and here’s some of the things we talked about…

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Hi Clare! Such a pleasure to have you on the blog as part of the UKYA Extravaganza. Could you tell us a bit about your debut novel?

The Year of The Rat tells the story of Pearl, a teenager whose mum has died giving birth to the baby sister Pearl blames for her mum’s death, who she nicknames The Rat. Pearl’s lost. She’s got all the normal teenage stuff going on – exams, friendships, her stepdad who’s also struggling, relationships – while trying to deal with her grief. All she wants is for her mum to come back – and then she does, although only Pearl can see her… She’s no ethereal ghost, she’s the same as she always was: stubborn, funny, swears a lot and likes a cigarette. But does the fact that she’s still around make things easier or more difficult for Pearl? You’ll have to read it to find out! It covers some pretty serious issues, but I also wanted it to have some humour running through it, so hopefully it’s funny as well as sad.

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There isn’t a lot of books that deal with grief out there for teenager, and The Year of the Rat looks at the uglier sides of loss – the blame and the anger that come with it. Where did the idea for the story come from?

That was really important to me. I think it’s important to be honest about the fact that grief – or any situation that puts us under a lot of emotional pressure – can bring out a lot of difficult emotions. If someone grieves by crying and asking for help, we know how to respond. But not everyone can do that. Some people keep their emotions locked inside and cut themselves off from the world around them because it’s too hard to let those feelings out. Some people feel very angry or guilty. Grief and depression can be extremely lonely and self-destructive. I wanted to explore the idea that there isn’t a ‘right’ way to feel when you lose someone. Everyone reacts in a different way – and not always as they might expect. It’s not an autobiographical story – my own mum is alive and well and I’m an only child – but as a young adult I did experience grief when a very dear friend died. I think that the death of someone young makes you ask a lot of questions about what the meaning and point of life is. These were the questions I really wanted to explore in the book.

Pearl is so well rounded, emotionally – how long did it take to develop her character? And what inspired you when you were creating her?

I felt I knew Pearl pretty well from the start, but it took me a while to be brave enough to let her do things that I didn’t want her to. I think you feel naturally protective of your characters and your natural instinct is to want to show them in the best possible light so that everyone will like them. But I knew I couldn’t do that if I was going to write the book properly, because no one is lovely all the time, especially when they’re in Pearl’s situation. As I wrote I got to know Pearl better and to let her act in a way that felt true to her character. I guess some of her comes from me, remembering how it felt to be a teenager. But I also read and listened to accounts from young people who had lost a parent and this helped me to feel confident that what I was writing was believable.

If The Year of the Rat was made into a film, who would you cast? Would you like to play a role yourself?

Oh, that’s tricky! I really don’t know who should play Pearl – in a way I feel it should be someone unknown because the whole point about Pearl is that she’s very normal… Finn (who is the will they?/won’t they? love interest in The Year of The Rat) I imagine looking a bit like a young Ben Whishaw. And yes, I’d love to play Stella (Pearl’s mum) – she gets all the best lines AND has red curly hair which I’ve always wanted.

Excellent Choice.

Excellent Choice.

How long have you wanted to write for?

I’ve always wanted write really. I loved creative writing at school, it was definitely the thing I was best at. But I never really believed that I could do it as a job, so I ended up with a career in media relations – which involved a lot of writing, but not really the kind of writing I really wanted to do. I was always making up stories in my head, but it wasn’t until I took a career break and had my children that I plucked up the courage to try writing one of them down. That story was The Year of The Rat!

Do you write full time, or do you juggle a job too? How do you manage your writing load?

I’m lucky enough to write full-time at the moment, although I have three children who are still quite young so I only really only have the school day, and then it’s a question of fitting it into the evening or getting up early – which I find impossible in winter! I’m really not a morning person.

What books inspired you growing up?

Oh there are so many! I honestly could list a hundred books that inspired me. The great thing about reading as a kid is that you read so widely – you’re not bound by any idea of genre. But the books that I can trace back as an inspiration specifically for The Year of The Rat include The Secret Garden, which is essentially a book about grief; Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty, a beautiful story about teenage pregnancy; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, which is one of my all time favourite books and taught me how captivating a strong voice can be; and a book which is now out of print called Enough Is Too Much Already by Jan Mark, which is one of the first ‘UKYA’ books I can remember reading as a teenager. It tells everyday stories of a group of teenagers in England, which was very unusual back then. The stories are told entirely through dialogue and it showed me how much character, action and humour could come from well-written dialogue.

Lauren Child's beautiful illustrated edition of The Secret Garden.

Lauren Child’s beautiful illustrated edition of The Secret Garden.

When a lot of us were growing up, there wasn’t exactly such a thing as Teen or YA fiction. What did you read when you were a teenager? Did you dive straight into adult books?

There were a few ‘teen’ books around when I was growing up but not many. In my younger teens I loved Judy Blume’s books. I also loved Jane Gardam’s books Bilgewater, Crusoe’s Daughter and A Long Way from Verona, which I think were published as children’s books, and are basically what we would now call YA. I Capture the Castle I’ve already mentioned, which is a UKYA classic. Other than that yes, I read adult books – I loved Margaret Atwood, the Brontes, Virginia Woolf – all sorts of things.

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What YA books do you think have helped define the genre?

If I was to name one book it would probably be Junk by Melvin Burgess. I think Melvin basically invented UKYA! Before that, most books that were recognisably YA were American. Junk really encapsulates everything that’s brilliant about UKYA: it’s well written, it’s told in a very ‘British’ way in terms of the setting and dialogue, it deals with difficult and controversial issues unflinchingly, honestly and movingly, and it doesn’t patronise teenagers. It’s what UKYA continues to do so well across all genres.

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You’ve written about an incredibly difficult time in a young person’s life – what subjects would you like to see tackled in YA books more often?

Not all books have to be about serious subjects, but I do think books are a great place to address issues that teenagers may be facing. It’s really important that teenagers can find characters who are like themselves in stories. Books can be a great way of realising you are not the only person who’s ever felt the way you do, or faced the difficulties you’re facing. I’m particularly pleased that mental health issues are being addressed in YA books, and also issues around gender and sexuality. There’s talk of books for teenagers being too dark, but I totally disagree. As long as a subject is dealt with sensitively, reading a book about it can be a safe way of confronting or exploring an issue. And the fact is these issues are a very real part of many teenagers’ lives.

Which authors do you think are doing fantastic things right now? Who needs more recognition?

Keren David is an author who’s doing fantastic things – Keren and I did an event together last year and Keren read a bit of her latest book Salvage – it was so gripping and well told I went straight out and bought it! C.J. Skuse is another writer I think deserves heaps of recognition. She has a really unique voice – funny, clever, original and authentically teenage in a way that’s hard to pull off. Sarah Benwell, whose debut Last Leaves Falling came out in January, is going to do great things – a very talented writer. And I’m looking forward to reading UKYA debut Eve Ainsworth’s book about bullying, Seven Days.

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The UKYA community has become such a phenomenon in the last few years, how does it feel to be part of the community?

It feels incredible. It’s such a vibrant, generous, supportive community and everyone – from authors to bloggers to readers – is passionate about YA books. There’s so much energy and dynamism – it’s very inspiring!

The YALC and now The Birmingham Extravaganza, how valuable do you find these big YA events?

I think it’s fantastic to be able to get together and celebrate books together. For the authors I think it’s really important that we get to meet and chat with our readers, to hear their feedback and input. Writing is inevitably a bit of a solitary business so I love getting out there and meeting readers and other authors. And I think the fact that we’re all so passionate about books and reading makes these kind of events really special.

Do you find the online network (Twitter/Tumblr/Goodreads, etc) a great way to communicate with other authors, and readers?

I think social media is brilliant for linking authors and readers who are scattered all over the country (and indeed the world!) and making us all feel part of a bigger community. I love hearing from readers and it’s great to be able to connect with other authors. It can feel a bit like a virtual office sometimes – the equivalent of having a chat by the water cooler!

What one person should we all follow on Twitter RIGHT NOW?!

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I’m going to cheat and tell you about TWO friends of mine who both have brilliant UKYA debuts coming out in July this year – Lu Hersey (@LuWrites) whose book Deep Water is a dark, gritty story with elements of the selkie myths woven through it, and David Hofmeyr (@dhofmeyr) whose novel Stone Rider is just brilliant – fans of The Hunger Games and Blood Red Road will love it.

Would you rather fight a hundred duck-sized horses, or one horse sized duck?

DEFINITELY a hundred duck-sized horses. They sound cute! I’d want to tame them and keep them as pets. One horse sized duck sounds terrifying. Seriously. That’s going to give me nightmares.

There is no God.

There is no God.

If they made a Clare Furniss action figure, what accessories would it come with?

Chocolate. A VERY big cup of coffee. A laptop with headphones (I have to listen to music while I write). Lipstick. Several pairs of impractical shoes. Books, of course. And more chocolate.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve actually been doing a lot of reading for my next book which I’m currently writing, How Not To Disappear. It has a road trip in so I’ve been reading as many books with road trips in as possible for inspiration! My latest is Last Orders by Graham Swift. But my next two UKYA reads that I’ve got lined up are Salvage by Keren David as I’ve already mentioned, and Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill – I’ve heard it’s inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale which I love, so I’m really looking forward to that one.

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YALC: Books, Authors, Warmth and Joy. – DAY 1

So, this weekend, I happened across that most rare and elusive beasts when working in retail – A Weekend OFF! And because I’m a painfully disorganised human being, I decided last Monday that I would grab a train down to London for a chance to drop in at YALC, the UK’s very FIRST Young Adult Literature Convention, and a smaller subset of the London Film & Comic Con. I was super excited (as I often am when it comes to YA books), and in a hectic rush to get down there, so I grabbed the first train to London on Saturday morning (5:29am, a sickening time of day to be a functioning human being), burdened with a holdall filled with books, clothes and the bare minimum of essentials. In total, I took 16 books, with the intention of getting as many signed as physically possible.

Because I had decided to attend at such short notice, I was forced to buy tickets for the event on the door, which required standing in a queue of Wookies, Judge Dredds and Vulcans for two or so hours, under a punishingly cruel sun, with no water or food (I’d like to thank the random lady I shared the queue time with, she stopped me losing my sanity), before I managed to even step foot into the gargantuan Earl’s Court 2. Once I made my way in, I navigated the staggering crowds, past some stunningly elaborate (and just plain awful) cosplays, to the back where YALC was taking place. The very first thing I did was head over to the Waterstones stand to check in on the super shiny Teresa and Jenn, who had kindly offered to look after my bag of books (I couldn’t check in to my hotel, so I had ALL of my books with me for the weekend), a kindness that I don’t think I could ever repay – that bag was SERIOUSLY heavy, I think I dislocated both shoulders by Sunday night. With that dealt with, I wandered around for a little while, briefly bumping into Patrick Ness (literally bumping), and his lovely publicist Paul Black, who I’d previously met when I interviewed Mr. Ness in Waterstones York. Much to my shock, both remembered me, and even introduced me to Department 19 author Will Hill as “ShinraAlpha” from Twitter. That was pretty shiny.

We Were Liars Board.

We Were Liars Board.

After that brief brush with authordom, I took myself over to the first talk of the day, “It’s the end of the world as we know it: the ongoing appeal of dystopia”, with a panel of Malorie Blackman, Patrick Ness and Sarah Crossan, chaired by James Smythe. As a massive fan of the dystopian genre, I was really excited to hear the authors take on why it’s so successful, and on how dark is too dark for teen fiction. Some brilliant discussion was generated, about how dystopia reflects the world teenagers feel they live in sometimes, and how the tension and drama of dystopia lends itself to gripping storytelling and paced writing that immediately catches attentions. It was while I was stood at this talk (all the seats had been nabbed) that I was ushered to one side slightly, and as I glanced across to my left to see what was happening in the queue for one of the photo events, I was stood level with the legendary STAN LEE, who was on his way to sign photos with fans all day. It was pretty startling, I didn’t process it until he was already whisked away to do his days work, but I’m never going to forget that. The panel was superb, with the passion of Malorie Blackman being a superb highlight, and all the authors taking their time to answer questions from the audience with intelligent, direct and satisfying answers. I stuck around for the following panel talk (managing, thankfully, to grab a seat) – “Going Graphic: From novels to graphic novels” with Ian Edginton, Marcus Sedgewick & Emma Vineceli, chaired by the wonderfully eclectic Sarah McIntyre, which was a fascinating insight into the struggles and freedoms that the change in medium allows a writer, something I’d not really considered before. Ian also revealed he was working on a graphic novel adaptation of Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, which I’m looking forward to!

The Dystopia panel!

The Dystopia panel!

After the first two panels, I swanned off for a bit, with the intention of getting some books signed. I joined the queue to meet Jonathan Stroud, who signed my copy of Lockwood & Co, and we had a great chat about horror and how much we loved anything creepy as kids. He was absolutely lovely, passionate and engaging, and we discussed the idea of doing some events in the North – so watch this space! After that, the queue for Malorie Blackman was far too intimidating, and the crowd for the next talk, “Superfans Unite” featuring Rainbow Rowell prevented me from seeing or hearing anything – the queue for her signing afterwards was a mindboggling snake of human beings that went on for what felt like hours, so I never did get a signed Fangirl for a prize at work… I got chance during this lull to meet the lovely people on the Hot Key desk once again (I’ve been annoying Hot Key ever since they started up), and managed to get my copy of Fearsome Dreamer signed by the fantastic Laure Eve, AND bought the sequel, The Illusionists. She was a total delight, despite clearly being so busy.

Laure says I'm AWESOME! I'm not.

Laure says I’m AWESOME! I’m not.

I can't wait to start reading.

I can’t wait to start reading.

Once the Superfans panel dissolved, with no real interest in the next panel (“Regenerating the Doctor”), I made a beeline for the signing for Andy Robb, the author of Geekhood, and a long time lovely Twitter friend of mine, who I always seemed to miss at events in London. After he encouraged me to hop the signing desk, I was sat chatting away to him for about an hour, while he signed books. At one point, a lady took my picture, clearly assuming I was an author myself… So if I show up tagged as Andy at some point, I’ll take that. I also caught up with Laura of SisterSpooky blog, who gave me what was left of her Sprite, making her a complete legend. It was the best thing I’ve ever drank. After Andy, I popped to the next panel, “Bring Me My Dragons: Writing fantasy today” and enjoyed a great discussion chaired by Marc Aplin with authors Frances Hardinge, Amy McCulloch, Jonathan Stroud & Ruth Warburton, about the difficulties of creating a brand new universe from scratch, as well as the freedoms that come with it.

Andy and Darran: A Discussion of the Universe.

Andy and Darran: A Discussion of the Universe.

Me being a pretender to the Robb.

Me being a pretender to the Robb.

After the Fantasy panel, I shuffled forward for one of the panels of the weekend I was most excited for – “Heroes of Horror”, featuring Charlie Higson, Will Hill, Derek Landy & Darren Shan (chaired by Rosie Fletcher). I was treated to a very excitable, engaging and hilarious panel of authors, discussing with relish the gore and violence they weave, and how much fun they have doing it. All of them shared a love for the genre that stemmed from leaping from Children’s Books straight into Adult Horror books, which I can completely relate with myself. Derek Landy was a particular delight, giggling with glee about the characters he’d killed in increasingly violent ways, and at one point telling a fan “Everyone you know will die – Your parents, your friends. I’m just preparing you for the worst” in his singsong Irish accent, which was much funnier than it sounds written down…

WHAT a panel!

WHAT a panel!

Afterwards, I managed to catch Will Hill, who was more than happy to chat about Vampires as they should be, and sign my copy of Department 19 – The first proof I ever got in bookselling!

GREAT book.

GREAT book.

The day was exhausting, and after finally grabbing some food with some old Uni friends, I crashed into a hotel bed and was asleep before I even saw 10pm.

– D

LieToMeLieToMeLieToMe

LieToMeLieToMeLieToMe

YALC – Books, Authors, Warmth and Joy. – Day 2

Another Day, Another Lie.

Another Day, Another Lie.

Sunday was a much less queue filled affair, getting into Earl’s Court just after 9am, to wander. Once again, I was lucky enough to be able to drop my bag behind the W stand, thanks to the generosity of some very nice peoples. I wandered for a while, stopping to say hi to various people I know from Twitter but have never met in real life. As the first panel rolled round, I grabbed a seat right near the front, as I was pretty interested in hearing it – “How to get published” featuring authors Sally Green & Phil Earle, chaired by Penguin’s own Ben Horslen. It was a genuinely interesting, helpful, frank & honest discussion of the difficulties debuts face in publishing right now, and Phil’s drive and passion (coming from bookseller, through publishing, to being a published author himself) really did inspire me a great deal. Phil’s comment of how he finds adult books dull, compared to Children’s books was excellent – “I don’t wanna read someone else’s views on the world, I just want a really great story.”, and his admittance to reading some rather odd looking books on the tube as a 26 year old Children’s Bookseller rung OH so true with me.

I'm TOO Sexy for this book!

I’m TOO Sexy for this book!

The NEXT panel was one that blew me away. The innuendo laden laughriot that was “I’m too sexy for this book”, a talk about the presence of “sexy fun times” in books for teenagers, and why it’s considered so taboo, chaired by the wonderful BRAND NEW Queen of Teen James Dawson, and featuring the talents of Cat Clarke, Non Pratt & Beth Reekles. The talk was fun, even while touching on difficult or controversial subjects, the difficulties of dealing with religious Americans, prudish parents, and why violence is okay for kids, when sex isn’t. The amount of giggling by the audience and the panel, as well as out and out roaring laughter made it probably the most fun panel of the entire weekend, with highlights being Non’s discussion of “the Alternative Hole” and everyone cracking up at the idea of her “Hammering it Out” when it comes to writing love scenes. “Trickle Down Effect” was also pretty hilarious.

After that panel, I managed to get off to more signings, meeting the eternally wonderful, genuine and down to earth Mr Phil Earle, who I’ve met before, but never with a book to be signed. He also reminded me of the time I got drunk and left a proof of his latest book in a pub in London. I’m never ever living that down. He was very excited about a lot of upcoming titles that he’s been reading, and just so passionate. It was infectious!

Just... Such a great book.

Just… Such a great book.

I had chance to pledge allegiance to (and receive a hug from) Boy Queen James Dawson, and get my copy of Say Her Name signed, after a good chat about the brilliance of J-Horror and subtle, supernatural horror. The man also has a fantastic beard. I met Non Pratt as well, who I keep missing whenever she’s in the North, and got her to sign my book with the two most hilarious phrases of the entire weekend… (Sorry Non, I know you’re not proud).

Bloody Mary...

Bloody Mary…

HAMMER IT OUT. ALTERNATIVE HOLE. AMAZING.

HAMMER IT OUT. ALTERNATIVE HOLE. AMAZING.

After that, I wandered back over for the panel on Heroines in Teen Fiction, “Sisters doing it for themselves” with a brilliant panel of Tanya Byrne, Isobel Harrop, Julie Mayhew, Holly Smale & Sara Manning, discussing the trend for female lead characters being forced to be “strong” like men, or perfect and flawless. It was a very interesting talk that highlighted some of the best ladies in literature, and where we need to be looking next for allowing fictional girls to be rounded, realistic and flawed characters. As I dashed away from the panel, I was lucky enough to be last person to get a signing with the legendary Meg Rosoff, who when I apologised for being awkward, told me “it’s okay, because you’re cute” and I have no idea what to make of that. I’ll take it as an ego boosting win, I think. I also got to have a quick chat with Tanya Byrne about Buffy the Vampire Slayer love, and get my copy of the FANTASTIC thriller Follow Me Down signed, and caught the gracious Carnegie winner Sally Gardner, who was delighted to see my battered old Hot Key proof for Maggot Moon, and took my blog name too!

Yay!

Yay!

I am a STAR.

I am a STAR.

After all that, I chatted with more booksellers, publisher types, bloggers and even debut author of Solitaire Alice Oseman, until I finally had to admit defeat – 48 hours of standing, sitting in uncomfortable chairs, craning to see and hear talks, wandering round London with 16 books in a bag and a lack of sleep had taken its toll on my poor, fragile body, so I hopped an earlier train than I planned back up North, wrapped in happy memories and kind words from the hugely successful first celebration of all things YA. I’ve met some fantastic people, some lovely authors and made some great friends, as well as catching up with old ones. It was absolutely physically destroying, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

‘Mon the YALC 2015.

Plus free goodies, like my TAPE (Steve Camden) bracelet.

Plus free goodies, like my TAPE (Steve Camden) bracelet.