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.

On my love of Stories…

Ever since I was very small, I’ve loved stories. My older brother used to make them up to help me sleep at night, my parents used to read to me, so stories have always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In recent years, with the rise of the ebook, there’s been a big debate about “the right way” to enjoy a story, and quite often ebooks aren’t it. I hate that. Stories are a special kind of magic: they help people to escape, they give them access to empathy, they help us to understand one another and let us forget the world all at once.

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Don’t you dare tell a person that their ereader is an abomination. That’s snobbery, and it’s just as bad as telling people that they shouldn’t enjoy certain genres of book/film/etc (something I blogged about for the Booktrust, which you can read if you fancy).

I’m a great big fan of letting other people do what makes them happy. If a person finds a book hard to engage with and they prefer to digest a story through a film? Great! I love films, and the visual medium can do so much that a printed one can’t (I might write a blog about this in the future), and if a person finds reading on a digital device easier or more convenient then good for them, they’re still enjoying narratives and that’s the best thing ever.

I prefer physical books because that’s just how I’ve always encountered stories, so that’s ingrained in me I guess, as part of my upbringing, but even then I prefer paperbacks to hardbacks, battered and worn. I know that others prefer pristine hardbacks, resplendent and beautiful, but for me it’s the words inside that I crave. That’s not to say I don’t just aesthetically enjoy books for the way they look – I am definitely not above buying a gorgeous edition of a book I already own because it looks pretty on the shelf. I am that shallow sometimes, okay?

Just look at the charm of this, though!

Just look at the charm of this, though!

But it isn’t even always a preference issue either – ebooks are cheaper, and space a premium, so why should we live in a world where the ability to enjoy stories is reliant on class? Or health? There are many who find holding a physical book difficult, and we shouldn’t be looking down on them for their choices, because that’s an especially awful kind of elitism.

I’ve heard the argument that physical paper is where stories are meant to live, but what about before we had a written language? The beauty of stories is how versatile they can be, and the oral tradition of storytelling is filled with just as much beauty and passion as the written word is. Have you listened to Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books? It’s divine. And implying that stories belong in physical books really denies the power of plays too – Shakespeare does not work on paper. It just doesn’t. I love the bard, but reading him is no fun – having those stories performed though, is amazing, because that’s how those stories where intended to be told, and that’s what I’m trying to get across – however you choose to engage in a story is absolutely great.

You like to binge on Netflix and absorb episodes of on-going narrative? Excellent! Me too! You like the ballet? Awesome! I’ve never tried it, but I bet I’d be absorbed. You like playing hours of Bioshock? I adore video games – they’re a chance to interact with a story in a way you don’t get from other mediums. You like an action blockbuster with pretty people and an uncomplicated plot? So do millions of other people because that’s storytelling in an accessible way, and that is a real joy!

I will argue the sheer awesome power of this story forever.

I will argue the sheer awesome power of this story forever.

So don’t frown on someone because they buy ebooks. And don’t think someone’s a snob for only buying leather bound classics (unless they’re ostensibly being snobby). Don’t judge someone who wants to see the film because the book isn’t going to hold their attention. The essence of the story is still there. Remember, to our knowledge, human beings are the only thing in the entire known universe, amongst the vastness of existence, who spend their time making up stories to amuse and thrill each other. That to me, feels like a very unique sort of magic. We should treasure it.

Thanks for Reading,

D

P.S. A big thanks to my great friend Ming for proofreading, editing and offering suggestions.

My Top 10 Book Adaptations I wish they’d make!

Let’s be honest – media adaptations of our favourite books very rarely actually stand up to the original source material. From the pure abomination of The Golden Compass, to the passable fun of The Maze Runner, film and TV adaptations never quite manage to capture the same magic and escapism as the books. But, despite all that, we still *want* to see our favourite stories on the big (or little) screen, to see our heroes and villains played out by talent (and beautiful) actors and actresses, and I am not above all that. Even though I know full well that adaptations are hard to pull of satisfactorily, I still thought I’d make a list of TEN ace YA/MG books or book series that I think would make a fantastic Film or TV Show, if done RIGHT. So heeeeeeeeeeeere GOES –

The GONE Series by Michael Grant 

Format: TV Series

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I’ve been a massive fan of the Gone books for years now. Their perfect blend of science fiction, horror and twisting mythology creates a series of books that feels fast, driven and gore-soaked, in a universe that has real depth and history behind it. Author Michael Grant has alluded to the idea of a TV Adaptation on many occasions, and it seems that a deal has been agreed upon, but these things can takes years, even decades to get greenlit, so I don’t think we should be holding our breath. I do think that with a talented young cast and a great set of special effects, the FAYZ could be brought to life superbly, though, creating a dark and unpredictable TV series.

The Three by Sarah Lotz 

Format: TV Series 

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Okay, so this one isn’t YA, but it sure has crossover appeal. I feel like Sarah’s subtle, supernatural (but not quite) tale of mania and paranoia in the wake of a tragic set of plane crashes would make the twisting thriller that Lost always promised to be. It’s full of sudden pitfalls and cliffhangers, and teased out in week by week episodes it could create a superb sense of tension. The rise of social media could push people to talk about each sudden shock ending across the globe and turn the story into a phenomenon, and it has just the right investigative angle to drive the narrative along at a good pace, with the right feeling of discovery.

The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton 

Format: Film 

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The visuals in Ava Lavender are absolutely stunning, creating a haunting sense of magical realism that absolutely sings to the heart of readers. I think done right, with a good sense of cinematography and colour palette, then this book could make one of the most stunning visual feasts for decades. The plot is achingly beautiful, spanning generations and filled with youthful energy and hope, with just the right pinch of fantasy about it to make it feel special. It’s got enough breathless romance and tragedy to make a hugely popular stand alone film, and I’d love to see it on the big screen.

The Wells & Wong Detective Mysteries by Robin Stevens 

Format: TV Series 

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Robin’s two books (to date), A Murder Most Unladylike and Arsenic for Tea, have proven absolute smash hits in the MG world and beyond, capturing a Blyton-meets-Agatha Christie atmosphere that’s been just as popular with adults as they have with children. I feel like a brilliant Sunday afternoon series could be made from these shows, or maybe a CBBC afternoon programme? The brilliant mix of strong morals and genuinely gripping mysteries would be brilliant TV for younger viewers, and the retro feeling would really appeal to adults as well. Getting the right young actresses in to play the precocious Daisy and fabulously level headed Hazel would make the whole thing a charming, wholesome murder mystery show for all the family!

Say Her Name by James Dawson 

Format: Film 

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When I first reviewed Say Her Name, I geeked out an awful lot about the clear love of J-Horror themes and styles that James brought into the story. So, naturally, I feel like Say Her Name has the potential to make a brilliant supernatural horror film! In a genre saturated by dumb teen slasher movies, intelligent supernatural chillers are very hard to come by. Horror is probably my favourite film genre, but honestly finding great examples is tough, and getting tougher, especially if cheap shocks and gore bore you as much as it does me. Say Her Name has just the right feel of urban myth and creeping dread to understand that what you *don’t* see is the most important when it comes to scaring the bejesus out of people.

Othergirl by Nicole Burstein  

Format: Film 

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The world is crying out for more lady superheroes in films, and as Black Widow is constantly being overlooked despite being a legitimate member of the Avengers, it’s high time some original, funny and lovely story came out and took centre stage. Othergirl is Nicole’s debut novel, and I feel like her story of friendship and self -discovery would translate brilliantly to the screen, especially in a down-to-earth way similar to C4’s Misfits. She plays the comic book tropes perfectly, and her passion for the superhero and YA genres really give the story a lovable feeling of fandom and friendship. It’d be a heartwarming and ass-kickin’ flick.

Lockwood & Co. By Jonathan Stroud 

Format: TV Series

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I absolutely love Jonathan Stroud’s MG series about paranormal investigators fighting spooks and phantoms on the streets of a Victorian-esque London, and I think the Gothic feeling of frights and fun would lend itself perfectly to a brilliant TV adaptation. Lockwood himself is a teenaged Sherlock if ever there was one, and he’d make a brilliant lead in a TV show, all genius and trouble darkness, and I feel like the mixture of humour and horror would be hugely popular with kids and adults alike. The books have some brilliant historic mysteries to them that would work so well in a week by week episode format, leaving each week with more questions than the last.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle 

Format: Film 

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The Accident Season is probably the best debut YA novel of 2015, in all honesty. The brilliant chaotic mix of magic, love, tragedy and pure angst is a heady cocktail that breaks readers hearts and fills your soul up with hope and melancholy. In the same way that Ava Lavender‘s beautiful visuals would translate so well to the screen, The Accident Season‘s bleak sense of twisted unease would also create a beautifully haunting treat of cinematography. All the characters are wonderfully messy and diverse, and I think bringing them to the screen would be an important step in breaking the cycle of attractive, well adjusted YA protagonists, as well as representing the LGBTQ spectrum much better.

The Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness 

Format: Film Trilogy 

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It’s no secret to anyone how much I love Patrick Ness’ work. Pretty sure the binmen on my street know all about it by now. While we are getting a film adaptation of A Monster Calls soon (and I am SO excited), I feel like The Chaos Walking series (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask & The Answer and Monsters of Men) would make a truly epic and philosophically important science fiction trilogy. From the wonderful concepts and visuals of a hostile, alien environment, to the themes of genocide, gender and humanity, the three books really look at human nature in all of its brutality and love, and the sense of hope and the message that worlds and societies can be changed is one that is so powerful that it deserves as wide an audience as possible. Plus, the core concept is so unique to YA, it’d really make a big change to a lot of the other big YA trilogies out there.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman 

Format: TV Series 

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“But Darran,” you cry “Didn’t they already make a film based on The Northern Lights?”

SHUT UP NO THEY DIDN’T WHAT EVEN WAS THAT. An Alethiometer is NOT A GOLDEN COMPASS WHY IS THAT EVEN A THING?! That film was SO BAD AND ALL WRONG AND I WILL HATE IT FOR ALL OF MY DAYS.

Ahem. Sorry. His Dark Materials (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) is my favourite set of books ever of all time, and they’re one of the best and earliest examples of YA as a subgenre emerging, with fantastically complex, sprawling fantasy set across multiple universes, powerfully well drawn main characters and deeply complex, intelligent themes that refuse to talk down to their audience. The film-that-shall-not-be-named completely missed the mark, so what I’m suggesting is a TV Series in a Game of Thrones style (no, not like that, you gutter-dwellers). What I mean is a high budget, 10 episodes per season, each episode lasting an entire hour sort of epic show crafted with love for the source material and a dedicated desire to tell the story. So many cable shows have been able to circumnavigate any censorship by being independent channels, and I feel like a lot of the themes of His Dark Materials could be represented in much more bold confidence in a TV series than through a film that relies on funding.

 

Anyway, so that’s my two cents on the whole thing. There’s a few more I could think of I’m sure, and I’m not saying any of those would work… But I’d give them a watch, for sure. What would you want? Feel free to talk in the comments, or write your own blog about it! Let me know if you do – @ShinraAlpha

Thanks for reading!

D

REMIX by Non Pratt

Last year, Non Pratt’s debut novel Trouble completely took me by surprise. I honestly never expected a contemporary YA novel about teen pregnancy to so complete absorb me and make me care so powerfully about the characters in it, but it completely blew me away with its heartfelt plot, witty dialogue and perfect pacing, and went on to be my Favourite Book of 2014. Through the magic of Twitter, and so far too few and brief meetings at London based events, I discovered that Non and I shared a massive love in our lives: Music. For me music is the most profound and exciting thing in my life – more than even books, and my whole life I’ve been swept up obsessively with notes and lyrics. I feel my heartbeat quicken when my favourite part of song comes up, and I smile when my favourite drum beat kicks in, or bass fill blasts out in the background. Basically, I’m a tune-freak and a proper little music nerd, and I discovered Non was super into Pop-Punk bands from the 90s, which is one of my favourite areas of music – from Green Day to New Found Glory, Rancid to Alkaline Trio. When Remix was announced, a contemporary YA book about two best friends attending their first music festival together, I was so excited. Trouble had managed to make me care about characters that I never expected to, and this second book featured characters I have so much in common with, so I was bound to be swept up by the plot and lost in the nostalgia. I wasn’t wrong… I finished Remix in a single sitting.

Bold and Beautiful, just like the story.

Bold and Beautiful, just like the story.

It’s a fairly simple story. Kaz is struggling with the sudden break up of her last relationship. She’d always thought Tom was the love of her life, that they’d always be together, but he’d abruptly dumped her at the beginning of the summer holidays and she hasn’t seen or spoken to him since. Ruby, Kaz’s best friend is quite frankly sick of hearing about him. When her boyfriend Stu did the dirty with some tart at a party, she didn’t spend the holidays moping about it – she got on with life and made the most of her last few months before her older brother leaves home. In fact, as part of her plans to put her ex (and some pretty ropey GCSE results) behind her, and help Kaz move on and maybe score a brand new boy, Ruby has managed to convince her brother and his friends to let the two girls tag along to Remix Festival, their very first music festival. To top it all off, Goldentone – their favourite band – are headlining. It’s going to be the perfect weekend of music, dancing, drinks and boys, to see off their last year at secondary school. Except life is never quite that simple, and there’s no such thing as a perfect weekend. You can’t hide from your past… You’ve got to accept the mistakes everybody makes.

If there’s a YA author in the UK who creates better teenaged characters in their books than Non, I’ve not come across them yet. Everyone in Remix is messy and beautiful and so balanced between intelligent and caring, and emotional and short-sighted. They make mistakes – some of them massive, some of them consciously spiteful, or they do things that they know are stupid or wrong, which is great because real people do those things! Especially teenagers. None of Kaz or Ruby’s decisions or interactions feel forced to drive the plot. They might be stupid ideas, sure, but they feel organic and natural. Ruby is funny, sarcastic and crackles with a constant state of energy and aggression that makes her chapters race and bounce along furiously, but she’s also filled with a repressed sadness too, a melancholy that just lurks under the surface and lends her reckless nature a desperation to it. Kaz is sweet and naïve, and her chapters flow with an almost ethereal quality, perfectly balancing out against Ruby. There’s a passage where her attitudes and love towards music is described that struck such a wonderful chord with me, because it’s exactly how I feel when I get lost in notes and melodies.

This. So much this.

This. So much this.

As with Trouble, there’s a fantastic crew of supporting characters throughout Remix that lend the book such fantastic dialogue. Ruby’s relationship with her older brother Lee is fantastic, I love their little jabs and insults – it’s all very down-to-Earth and lets their love shine through. Stu is a classic example of Non’s ability to create complex characters who can be brilliantly caring but infuriatingly harsh all at once, and I’m totally in love with Sebastian, a boy who’s not beautiful enough to make girls melt, but whose talents shine through making him charming and attractive. We need more characters in books who aren’t textbook beautiful.

There are so many reasons I love Remix. It taps into the hope, the passion and the bittersweet anxiety of growing up. The promises that music can offer to us, weighed up against the harsh nature of reality make for a heartfelt and ambiguous story that feels nostalgic, but sad all at once. Friendship is at its core, and the friendship here is beautiful (it often reminded me strongly of Renée & Flo from Dawn O’Porter’s Paper Aeroplanes/Goose), but they’re far from perfect. There’s a sense of change, of unease about the two main characters that I felt keenly. No boyfriend or girlfriend will ever be able to break your heart like a best friend. The dark twists and mistakes made by the two girls creates a mounting tension between all the characters in the book and by the last chapters, the events feel derailed by their recklessness. Ruby, particularly whirls in a drunken, self-hating fury in the climax of the book. It’s powerful, but difficult to read. The whole tone of the book balances hope and uncertainty in a way that I think any reader can relate to, and by using music – such a fundamental aspect of life – it makes characters and settings we can immediately feel for. Non has also filled the book with nods and references to music, songs and bands that made my nerdy little heart well up and explode (“Ruby, as in Soho?”), as well as giving each chapter the name of a song, most of which made me squee with joy (Dark Blue, Dirty Little Secret, Toxic, Dammit – to name a few).

Basically, I found Remix to be the perfect coming of age story. Blisteringly intelligent, emotionally articulate and musically inspired, it uses short chapters told from two contrasting viewpoints to create a dynamic, heartfelt book that once again encapsulates the drama, the feelings and the terrifying promises that life as a young adult can promise. Non’s characters are diverse and she never shys away from the harder truths and consequences actions can have. It was an absolute joy to read.

Thnks fr th mmrs,

D

P.S. Remix is out in June 2015, but you can pre-order a copy here.

P.P.S. You can follow the effortlessly lovely Non Pratt on Twitter here, or check her website at nonpratt.com

I can never not post this, Non. You know I can't forget.

I can never not post this, Non. You know I can’t forget.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Melinda’s twisting gothic fantasy debut has been one of the most anticipated UKYA releases of the year for quite a while now. Promising passion, darkness and political intrigue, its set to be the first in a hotly received trilogy that should set hearts racing and minds turning.

The jacket is totally gorgeous.

The jacket is totally gorgeous.

Twylla is the embodiment of a goddess, Daunen, the daughter of the son and the moon. It’s her destiny to marry a prince, to become a queen of Lormere and to rule as one of the most powerful people in the world. What more could any young woman hope for? A life of wealth and tranquillity as a member of the last great royal family? But Twylla’s life isn’t that simple – or tranquil, because being Daunen embodied means she carries within her the poisonous ability to kill with a single touch. A single moment of skin to skin contact with anyone not of royal blood will end in an agonising death. It’s these horrific powers that give Twylla her other purpose in the court – as executioner. Anyone who commits high treason, or even displeases the current queen, is sentenced to death at the instantly lethal touch of the goddess embodied. Twylla is less a princess-in-waiting and more a toxic weapon of a powerful, authoritarian monarchy, and it’s a lonely, miserable existence – No-one wants to be within arm’s reach of the palace’s most potent weapon. Even the guards who are with her every moment of her life keep her at a distance, staying cold and unemotional towards the teenager prisoner. Until her new guard arrives. Lief comes from a neighbouring country, one without any dogmatic religion or all-powerful monarchy – and one where questioning the norms is embraced instead of a death sentence. He’s outspoken and brash, caring little for the tired old traditions of Lomere’s court, and he has the audacity to be drawn towards this mysterious and highly dangerous young woman he’s charged with protecting. Twylla is fascinated by her new companion, finally sharing her singular existence with someone who isn’t terrified of her, who’ll tell her stories of the world outside the palace. As the two of them grow closer, the snaking politics of the palace’s court start to pulse with unease, and the Queen begins to grow ever more forceful and brutal in her rule. Twylla can’t be with anyone but the prince, Dorian. But her heart yearns for freedom.

Well, one thing I will say about The Sin Eater’s Daughter is that Melinda has a real passion for her characters, and Twylla in particular is dark, moody and yet innocent and naïve all at once. She takes on her responsibility as court appointed executioner resolutely, but with a heavy heart, and her hatred of what she does stops her from losing her humanity. The whole story is told from her perspective, and that lends the reader her lonely melancholy and frustration as she describes a wider world that she’s only ever heard of. We want to see more of this fantastical, slightly old and antiquated country that seems to lurk just outside of the stories pages, teasing us with years of bloody, brutal history. Lief’s scepticism was an aspect of his character that I really enjoyed too, and hearing him champion reason and logic over the thoughts of Gods and magical poisons was especially refreshing in a Fantasy novel setting. His devil-may-care charm and recklessness make him a fun character too, although his unpredictability later in the book make him seem dangerous as opposed to simply mischievous, and he develops in unexpected ways.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter is beautifully written, and Melinda has a serious talent for descriptive, rich and textured language use. The whole book is full of gorgeous analogies and short passages that describe the world around her characters absolutely brilliantly. I think the only thing I didn’t get on with in the story was the romance aspect – which anyone who knows me will not be surprised. I don’t get on well with strong romantic themes, and in this book, it’s probably the central driving point of the story. Whilst I couldn’t get on board with it, it isn’t badly written in the slightest, and the character’s passions are written with real energy and heat that I could absolutely appreciate. Melinda taps into the lust that comes with first loves really well, and as the relationship develops and begins to find new layers, it becomes darker, and that was something that I started to enjoy more. The end of The Sin Eater’s Daughter starts to bring in bigger supernatural themes, tapping into folklore and original aspects of fairy tales with an enchantingly dark twist, and it’s something that I really wanted to see more of. I suppose this is the first book in a trilogy, so she’s keeping her big reveal for the next book, but she tantalisingly teases out the implications and promises a horrible, dark and unrelenting change in pace for her second instalment. Much like Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, I’m fully expecting the next book to be a full on riot of powerful drama and breath taking fantasy that uses The Sin Eater’s Daughter as the building blocks to an epic series.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

D

You can buy The Sin Eater’s Daughter here.

You can follow Melinda Salisbury on Twitter here.