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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


ukyaxblogtour

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

So for those of you who maybe don’t remember – Alice’s debut, Solitaire, was one of my absolute favourite books in 2014. It was a smart, witty, apathetic coming of age story, a Perks of Being a Wallflower for the Tumblr generation or whatever. It was a great book. So when I was lucky enough to be emailed a final manuscript of her highly anticipated second novel, Radio Silence, I pretty much screamed. Out loud. On the shop floor. Which in a bookshop is frowned upon.

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Frances Janvier is Head Girl. Frances Janvier is a straight A student. Frances Janvier is on the fast track to an Oxbridge English Literature degree. She studies as often as she can, sleeping little and not really forming any friends – everything sacrificed for the hope of a place at one of the best universities in the country. The only creative outlet Frances allows herself is fan art for a podcast series called Universe City, where the androgynous Radio Silence battles a collection of horrific monstrosities in an inescapable science fiction landscape. As Frances steadily becomes more and more stressed out by her approaching exams and her entry interview for university, she starts to become more engaged in the fictional Universe City world. When she discovers that the mysterious Aled Last, who she’s lived across the road from for most of her life is also a massive fan of the podcast, she finally discovers what it means to have a true friend and starts to understand that life is more than academic achievement. But Aled’s life is a lot tougher than Frances realises, and while he helps her to grow, she starts to see the cracks in him. He needs her help, but he could never say it out loud – but his time is running out.

It’s better. Radio Silence is better than Solitaire. I KNOW. Big words, but I mean them 100%. Frances and Aled’s friendship is absolutely everything I want in a fictional friendship ever, and Alice deliberately allows their friendship to never bubble into a romance, which was SO REFRESHING. Frances is fraught, confused and passionate – all angles and manic energy, where Aled is softer, creative and submissive. I have a lot of feelings for Aled, and a lot of empathy to how he seems to drift along with life doing things that are decided for him but never truly grasping what he really wants. Their co-dependent friendship is flanked by some excellent supporting characters too, Raine being a big favourite, especially as she represents the opposite of Frances’ academic obsession. Daniel too is stony-faced, but his unravelling as a character is really sweet.

Still love you though, bae.

Still love you though, bae.

One of the biggest themes in Radio Silence is the idea that going to university is not the only route available to young people – and it’s such an important subject that is never tackled enough. There’s so much pressure on teenagers to start attending higher education, when no-one is willing to admit that there are plenty of other roads in life to take. Alice lets her own scepticism towards the education system flow through the story, making it clear that happiness can be achieved through all sorts of less “traditional” routes. One of the other amazing things about the book is that it is SO DIVERSE. Not a single character is 100% straight, but no character is defined by their sexuality either, and she even touches on ideas of asexuality too. And it’s racially diverse too, proving that there really is no excuse to not write with inclusivity. AND it touches on mental illness with honesty and care. Seriously, it manages to wrap up so many themes with a fun plot driven by beautiful dialogue that made Solitaire feel for real and down to Earth. Alice has the perfect YA voice.

Plus, as a massive fan of Welcome to Night Vale, the podcast theme was absolutely amazing! Universe City feels dark, vibrant and perfectly crafted, the excerpts really breaking up the story beautifully with pieces of hugely lyrical writing. I want it to be a real podcast. Alice if you’re reading this let’s make Universe City. Please.

It isn’t out until later this month, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. She knows what she’s doing, and she makes it look effortless. This is Young Adult Fiction done flawlessly.

Hey, Thanks.

D

P.S. – You can pre-order the book RIGHT HERE so you should do that thing.

My Top Ten Reads of 2014!

Another year is gone, and so many books have been read and celebrated… And what a year for books it’s been! We saw the very first Literature Convention for Young Adult books, and I was lucky enough to get myself along to YALC, and for all the warmth, and the swamping crowds, it was an absolute success. And now the Bookseller has launched a YA Book Prize to celebrate fantastic Young Adult books, with a phenomenal shortlist announced a little while ago, so it looks like 2015 is going to be big too. Twitter has been a fantastic place to celebrate all things YA too, especially the UKYA chats and events organised by Lucy from Queen of Contemporary and Jim over at YAYeahYeah, and I strongly recommend you join us using the hashtag #UKYAChat if you get the chance!

SO, I suppose it’s about time that I do a run through of my top ten books of the year! This will be one of many; I’m sure, so if you’re reading it then THANK YOU. Obviously, not every great book I’ve read this year can make it to the list, but I review the ones I’ve enjoyed on the blog so you can check them out! Some of the books on the list have been published in 2013, or are set to come out next year, but if I’ve read them this year, they’re going on the list AND THERE AIN’T NOTHIN’ YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. In no particular order:

10. THE MESSENGER OF FEAR by Michael Grant

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Michael Grant’s GONE series holds a special place in my heart as one of the first teen fiction series that I got into as a (supposed) adult, and while I couldn’t get into BZRK in the same way, the concept of The Messenger of Fear grabbed me from the go – Filled with dark mystery and an oppressive sense of dread, this is Grant on top form with a narrative force that drives the story through twists and turns at breakneck speed. It also deals with mental health in a heartbreakingly bleak, but honest method that I was glad to see making its way into YA literature. It’s got the makings of a great, gripping and blood-chilling series.

9. IN BLOOM by Matthew Crow

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A fantastically witty, touching and heartbreaking novel, In Bloom is from an incredibly talented author from my neck of the woods (well, Newcastle – close enough) which faces tragedy and terminal illness head on with a sense of humour and genuine honesty that can make you cry with laughter and from emotion in the same page. Unlike some other YA Novels about, I found that Matthew’s use of dialogue was unpretentious, down to Earth and real, and all of his characters felt familiar and fully formed on the page. I loved each and every one of them, and that made it so much harder to read in a way. It also contains a set of sentences with broke my heart and will never leave me.

8. PAPER AEROPLANES by Dawn O’Porter

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A triumph of hilarity and a resounding celebration of friendship, the first book in the saga of Renée and Flo is an absolute joy to read. So painfully touching, Dawn manages to capture the ups & downs and ins & outs of a teenage friendship perfectly, leaving me laughing out loud on more than one 7:30am train to work. She perfectly moulds her characters throughout the book, creating two flawed, funny girls who I became friends with too, and she never pulls her punches with the difficulties of life as a teenage girl. I was lucky enough to get to meet Dawn in Newcastle as part of her tour for Goose, the sequel to Paper Aeroplanes, and she was a warm and delightfully happy and welcoming person who was brilliant to work with.

7. WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

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One of the biggest successes of YA in 2014, We Were Liars is a swirling mysterious story of decadence, love, betrayal and tragedy. Told in a beautiful mix of metaphors and hyperbole, We Were Liars constantly teases the reader with potential endings and red herrings and keeps you on edge throughout, as well as wrapping you up in a dream-like sense that mirrors the main character’s memory loss perfectly. It’s a fantastic read that completely absorbed me and had an ending that totally blew me away – Well worth the hype that surrounded it.

6. SAY HER NAME by James Dawson

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MORE HORROR PLEASE. Okay, I admit it; I’m a horror novel nut – But James’ suspense filled modern retelling of the legend of Bloody Mary absolutely stands head and shoulders above the rest. It was one of the bestsellers in my shop, and it went down a storm with the Durham YA Book Club, because of how perfectly it weaves together a subtle spooky atmosphere with a modern, contemporary setting that everyone is familiar with. He pulls together his loves for good old fashioned Point Horror books and the twisted darkness of J-Horror masterfully (two of my own obsessions as a teenager) and creates an atmosphere that glues you to the page with tension, superb characters and a haunting sadness.

5. ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET by Oliver Jeffers

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That’s right. It’s a picture book in my list. WHAT YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?! Once Upon an Alphabet is probably the finest picture book published this year, and may be one of the best Jeffers has ever done. The 26 short stories range from absolutely hilarious and silly, to almost tragic and dark, all combined with the iconic illustrations that made me fall in love with his picture books in the first place. It’s definitely one that works on adult’s levels as well as on children’s, which is exactly the kind of sophistication and versatility you want from a picture book.

4. GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith

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Oh. My. God. The most insane book you will ever read, but also in a strange way, really important. Andrew’s coming-of-age story with added giant murderous praying mantises (Mantii? Nah.) is wonderfully left field, with a phenomenally funny and confused narrator who’s rambling historical tangents build the book’s world superbly. As well as a classic, B-Movie feel to it, Grasshopper Jungle also approaches sexual confusion in its teen characters with a hilarious honesty that is so very lacking in other YA titles. It’s violent and gore-filled, rude and stupid in places, just like being a teenager, and his dialogue has a Tarantino quality to it – sometimes it’s not about the plot, sometimes it’s about nothing at all, but it always feels natural and flows perfectly.

3. SOLITAIRE by Alice Oseman

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Solitaire holds such a special place in my heart for so many reasons, but primarily it’s because of Tori Spring, the passive, miserable and morose teen protagonist of the book, who I gelled with immediately, having been quite a melodramatic teenager myself. Alice’s characters are perfectly realised, right down to names that roll of the tongue, and slick dialogue that snaps and crackles on the page. The story is a brilliantly dark thriller playing on familiar school elements and using a very current hacktavist theme, with Alice’s obvious disdain for the school system radiating across every page. It’s intelligent and funny, with nods to the worlds of blogging and fandoms in just the right places without trying too hard. Alice also came to the most successful YA Book Club I’ve had at Durham to date, so I have that to thank her for too!

2. THE ART OF BEING NORMAL by Lisa Williamson

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Official publication date for this one is in January, but you can find it in shops already, and I seriously urge you to! Beautiful, evocative and absolutely enchanting, The Art of Being Normal is already making waves in the Twitterverse, and rightly so – A YA novel that deals with transgender issues and discovery with dignity and a serious emotional heart behind it, which is something seriously important. Outside of that, it’s a great story too, with a melancholy kitchen-sink drama aspect to it that keeps the story grounded and makes the characters familiar and relatable. And what characters! Both of the lead characters are fantastic, and they oppose each other and support each other perfectly. It’s a real feel good story too, and it made me laugh, cry and gasp out loud and I already feel very passionate about getting into the hands of fans of modern, beautiful contemporary stories to warm your heart and echo around your brain forever.

1. TROUBLE by Non Pratt

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Oh Trouble. What a fantastic book. I’ve never come across fictional teenagers like the characters in Non’s book, so vulgar and genuine and emotionally complex, just perfect. The story is down to earth and charged with so many feelings and emotions that ripple through the wonderful characters that populate Trouble’s world. The heartfelt blooming friendship between Hannah and Aaron is fantastic, and Aaron has to be the character I’ve had the most empathy towards all year. I honestly never expected to be so completely swept away by this book, but Non’s writing style is sharp and intelligent, and she makes you care about characters straight off the bat, and by the end of the book I found myself absolutely unable to put it down. The way Aaron’s back story is slowly, darkly teased out is breathtaking, and Hannah’s development from the opening to the close is absolutely fantastic, and the whole book buzzes with the energy and uncertainty of youth, with a passion that radiates out from the book. Basically, Non is a superb author with such a special talent for drawing readers in. Also, she signed my book with a hilarious thing at YALC.

Sorry, Non.

Sorry, Non.

So that’s that! A special mention to continuing series in 2014 – Lockwood & Co (Jonathan Stroud) and Department 19 (Will Hill) for being outstanding and exciting and keeping me up until 2am.
I hope everyone has had a great year, and as always, thank you so much for toddling over and reading the words I squeeze out of my brain. It means a lot to me to know people care about what I try to say, even if I tend to get a bit overboard with it all. I wouldn’t be doing it if people didn’t keep showing up.

Until next time,

D

Solitaire by Alice Oseman

Tipping Point: The point at which a book goes from pretty good to intrinsically unstoppable, like falling off a chair, there’s a point at which gravity takes over, and not finishing the book is no longer an option. It could be three in the morning, with work/school tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. Normally, for me, this point arrives about two thirds to three quarters into a book, but with Solitaire, it crept up in the opening quarter, and from there it became part of my free time at any given chance. Published by Harpercollins, Durham Uni based Alice is quite frankly, terrifyingly talented for her Nineteen years. It makes me wish I could write with this much passion, humour and conviction, even in my mid twenties. I think Solitaire might be the best book I’ve read so far this year, and the most exciting debut I’ve read in a very long time.

Look out for this jacket...

Look out for this jacket…

Victoria “Tori” Spring is currently in Year 12 at the Harvey Green Grammar School, more commonly known as Higgs. While it’s an all girls school, in Sixth Form boys are allowed to transfer from the nearby all boys Grammar school, Truham, and whilst Tori’s friends are becoming hysterical at the male presence in their lives, she’s continuing her usual cycle of sleeping long, blogging and general cynicism towards the world, like nothing has ever changed. On her first day of term, she encounters an old friend from Primary School, Lucas, with whom she no longer has anything in common, highlighting her wilful disdain for social interaction. She also meets Michael Holden, an eclectic, borderline manic Year 13 boy, who has an infamous history at Truham for being disruptive, intelligent and downright insane. But Tori has no interest in boys, even if they have an interest in her. Which they shouldn’t, she’s a pessimistic, cynical, spiky and self-deprecating. Something else happens on the first day of term too – A blog crops up, the simple, empty Solitaire. Then, as school days pass, pranks start being pulled on the school, interrupting PA announcements using music from Star Wars and assemblies with photoshopped images of teachers. After each attack, a post appears on Solitaire, claiming responsibility and promising more subversive action. The pranks quickly turn sinister though, and students start to get hurt, but Solitaire shows no signs of stopping, promising a climactic finale that will dwarf everything they’ve done. Tori is dragged into the mystery by the eternally curious and unhinged Michael, but as she sees her friends turn away from her, she starts to realise that if they don’t stop Solitaire, then no-one else will. It’s time for Tori Spring to care about something again.

One very proud looking published author.

One very proud looking published author.

Holy Camoly. This book. I mean just… Guh. That’s what I have to describe it, guttural noises and excessive hand gestures. Tori Spring might be the closest I’ve come in recent years to finding someone whose bleak, cynical world view matches my own when I was a teenager (and without suitable caffeine levels, my own as an adult too). Her sense of humour is dry, and her narrative is melodramatic, but touched with brilliant, hateful jabs at the teen culture she sees around her. She’s unhappy with herself, but she’s unhappy with society as well, and all that builds to an angry, despondent and apathetic lead who I instantly clicked with. Her slow, developing character arc is realistic and believable, without her doing a full reversal of her personality, she manages to grow and to use her internal anger as a fuel for her later actions. Michael Holden is similarly a character I felt an awful lot of affinity with, outcast for his intense passion and labelled as insane for his dedication to his own world views, he’s intelligent, curious and bubbles with emotions at all times, never holding back, even when the spikiness of Tori’s attitude leaves him wounded and dejected. He bounces off the apathy of Tori beautifully, creating a really dynamic set of lead characters who connect so well, yet make the book so very different at times. Tori’s younger brother Charlie is a stand out as well, struggling with mental illness, which is touched upon so delicately and with such care and respect. It’s rare to see things like eating disorders and depression viewed with such gentleness, as well as not making it a central plot feature. Alice manages to weave a tragic backstory for the character without ever having to say too much – his illness is there to be seen, but there are layers of it that the reader can feel oozing out without having it explained to them in direct detail. All the supporting characters are brilliantly fleshed out, even in the simplest of terms (Becky, Ben, Nick and Lucas) are all real, tangible people, and despite us not really knowing too much about them, it feels like there are definitely lives behind them.

Some of the book's brilliant marketing. It makes sense, trust me.

Some of the book’s brilliant marketing. It makes sense, trust me.

Alice Oseman writes in a fresh, witty style that crackles with energy and youth, using a myriad of pop culture reference that help give the story a real edge and bringing the world to life – from social media, tumblr and twitter, to Mario Kart and The Matrix, by way of Harry Potter fanfiction. The nods are dropped into the story often, not in a way that seems contrived or obvious, but naturally, in the way teenagers actually talk about things. They swear and they have idle chat, it’s the sort of natural dialogue skills that Tarantino is well known for – real life conversations that don’t purely serve the plot, but help to develop the characters into people we care about. It also allows the author to satirise and discuss modern teen culture with a critical, albeit tongue in cheek eye. As for plot building, Solitaire is a slow, meandering technological thriller, with a smouldering storyline that is constantly shifting, and ever present. It uses the darker side of the Anonymous/Hacktivist culture in a close to home setting to really show the strength and power the internet can have with such little responsibility, and the speed with which it builds from wacky fun to seriously sinister and dangerous is a shocking testament to just how powerful faceless online groups can grow to be. The story is never solid, constantly shifting the reader’s perspectives and never staying in one place. With so much going on, the interweaving plotlines counter each other superbly, never becoming too dependent on the characters or too heavily focused on the action.

Solitaire is unflinchingly harsh, as well as touchingly beautiful, a rollercoaster of emotions, driven by wholly brilliant, esoteric and absorbing characters. It’s a witty modern YA novel for Rainbow Rowell and John Green fans, and a darkly anarchic and twisted thriller to boot. Alice Oseman is far more talented than is fair, and this is one of the strongest debuts I’ve ever read. I fully expect to see great things from her.

Patience Kills.

D

P.S. Out on the 31st of July, you can preorder Solitaire from here, and you can find the author on Twitter right here.

P.P.S. I’m not going to shut up about this book for a very long time.

Tape by Steven Camden

The other week, you may (or may not – I don’t think people read this on a regular basis, but I could be wrong) have seen my post about my trip to London for the Harpercollins Children’s Road Show, & how whilst I was there I had a healthy debate with Spoken Word Poet & Debut YA author Steven Camden about the fact the Gingernut Biscuits are obviously rubbish & custard creams are far superior. He did not agree, & signed my book accordingly:

THE BISCUIT WAR RAGES ON.

THE BISCUIT WAR RAGES ON.

His genuine passion, down to Earth sense of humour, & above all his passion for music & storytelling made me resolve to move his first book, Tape, to the immediate top of my reading list (interrupting my re-read of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy). What I subsequently read was a beautiful& creatively written book that I found making me smile, laugh, gasp & choke up with a full spectrum of emotions… Most of them while on the 7:30am commuter train to Durham. My review will contain some minor spoilers, because I can’t think of how to write it without them… YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

The bright, beautiful jacket for Tape.

The bright, beautiful jacket for Tape.

Ryan lives with his Dad, his Stepmother & Stepbrother, in the house he grew up in with his Mum, who passed away a few years prior to the start of the book. It’s a rocky relationship, especially between him & his brash, outgoing stepbrother Nathan, but Ryan manages to make his way through the days with the help of his best friend Liam, & their shared passion for music, mix-tapes & a general shared outlook on the world. Ameliah live with her Nan, her parents both having died in the last few years. She plans on spending the upcoming Summer Holidays sorting through the spare room full of her parents old stuff, which leads her to a discovery of an old boom box & a shoe box filled with cassette tapes, some of them mix tapes made by her Mum & Dad when they where first dating. Through a lonely discovery of old music, she manages to cope with the days spent with a group of teen girls who she has very little in common with anymore. However, her world is turned upside-down when an old friend of her Dad shows up on the doorstep, the shaggy haired, unkempt Joe. Ameliah recognises his face from her childhood, & the memories are far from happy: raised voices & angry, flushed faces; but she can’t place when she’s met him before. Determined to uncover the truth, she takes to stalking Joe to work try & jog her memory, & it’s through this that we start to unravel a twisted tale of love, loss & betrayal that stretches back over two decades. Meanwhile, Ryan develops an obsession with an Irish girl he meets in the park during the first days of the holidays, a friend of Liam’s sister. Determined to discover more about her, but too shy to make a direct move, he starts to piece together as much about her as he can, gradually falling in love as he does.

Right, from that blurb, it seems like Ryan & Ameliah will inevitably cross paths & through a mutual sense of parental loss & passion for music, form a bond… But this book is much smarter than that. See, this is the minor spoiler that gets revealed quite early on, Ryan is Ameliah’s deceased Dad, & his story is being told twenty years in the past to hers – The story of how he met Eve, Ameliah’s mother, at the tender age of thirteen, & his gradual & touchingly shy determination to get to know her. Ryan is character I immediately could get on board with, a quiet, sensitive teen with few friends & a strong passion for music (I used to make endless mix CD’s for my friends at age thirteen too, stealing from my older brother’s music collection to make me seem worldly & cool), he’s an instantly likable lead character because he lacks any sense of pretension. He’s hesitant, thoughtful & kind hearted, which makes him sweet, & a good standpoint to his boorish, aggressive Stepbrother, Nathan. He stands out in a harsh, cold & bleak landscape, & that made me connect with him pretty much in the first few pages. His relationship with best friend Liam also made me smile, reminding me so much of one of my own friendships at that age, the two of them frequently joking & insulting each other, but not above some deep, emotional talk thrown in. Both are passionate teenagers in a place that seems too small for them, & the way they riff off one another with jabs & improvised free-style rhymes makes the dialogue between them flow with humour & energy. Ameliah is a quietly stubborn young girl, & her distancing from her circle of friends is another heartbreaking angle on the coming of age style of Tape’s story. Losing her parents has forced her to grow up fast, & it’s given her an outlook on life that quickly jars with the make-up & shopping focus of the other girls her age. Her sections often feel bleak, but crackle with an underlying anger, & often question the fairness of her fate, & of the cosmic dice roll that took her parents away from her. The introduction of Joe gives her purpose though, & draws energy out of her that she lacks in the early chapters, as the darker past of her family’s history is hinted at through her memories.

The proof of the book, some of which came with personalised tapes to play.

The proof of the book, some of which came with personalised tapes to play.

Outside of writing relatable & wholly real feeling characters, I think Steven’s biggest triumph with Tape is his general writing style – His background as a Spoken Word Poet oozes into the narrative, which flows with such a poetic feel it’s practically singsong. He uses analogies, pop-culture references & humour to lend the words a real sharp energy & give them a dynamic feel while you read them. I frequently found myself sliding through paragraphs with a sense of rhythm behind them that made it a sheer delight to read. I frequently chuckled along with the light-hearted interplay between characters! Steven does obviously touch on a very sensitive subject throughout Tape; the loss of a parent. I don’t know if it’s something he’s experienced himself, but he writes it with such a soft & emotionally articulate style, highlighting the right balance of sadness, anger & fond memories that are so often missed by writers dealing with loss. He blends the stages of grief instead of picking out one & running into the ground. Some of Ameliah’s inner thoughts were genuinely heartbreaking, & made me put the book down to just to process the very ideas that she was going through. Also, the back story of the characters & how they’re interlinked is brilliant fun to piece together, drip fed to the reader like a trail of breadcrumbs throughout the book in a way that isn’t too obvious, but still lets the twists & falls be anticipated ahead of time, which personally I found thrilling when my suspicions were confirmed in the chapter after I’d tried puzzling something out.

In writing Tape, Steven doesn’t use quotation marks when writing dialogue, but that is not as complex to get into as it sounds. Character’s dialogue is instead indicated by a hyphen before the text, & your brain accepts this in the first few pages, so it’s second nature by the end of chapter one. The book itself is a thing of beauty too, using alternating font types for Ryan & Ameliah, & separating their passages using a very clever “Pause” symbol to indicate the change of timeframe, before ending with a great old fashioned STOP. Visually fun, lyrical writing style & emotionally investing, Tape is a book I begged for more out of right until the last page. I can’t wait to see where this combination of music & literature goes next.

Thanks for Reading! Feel free to share.

D

La Fin.

La Fin.

When the Country Mouse went to the city…

This week, I was invited down to London to meet a group of people from the Norwegian School of Bookselling & discuss how Bookselling differs in Norway to the UK. I love London, & I love it even more when Waterstones pay for my train journey, so I decided to make the most of it & go down the day before so I could smuggle myself into the Harpercollins Children’s Roadshow – A Bookseller only event in the biggest bookshop in the country – Waterstones Piccadilly.

Oh Look, a Clock. We don't have those in America.

Oh Look, a Clock. We don’t have those in America.

So, on a train I hopped. My travel book of choice? I’m currently re-reading Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, so it was book 2: The Ask & the Answer… But to be on the safe side, I had Irvine Welsh’s Filth in my bag too. You should never travel more than ten minutes from home with only one book on your person… To do so would be SHEER FOLLY. My first stop on arrival to London was booking in at my hotel, then zooming off to Waterloo Station to meet up with fellow Book Blogger & all round smashing human being, Sister Spooky! So, with a tasty warm Vanilla Latté to help battle off the driving rain outside, we engaged in a great discussion about the important things in life: BOOKS. There was also a great deal of chat on the pitfalls of working in Retail, as well as the obvious joys of regular customers. After a delightful drink, I headed back out into the pouring rain & explored some of London’s prettiest sights with the advantage of the weather making things nice & quiet.

That night, I navigated the tubes to Piccadilly for the Harpercollins event. First thing I did was get lost in the shop, hoofing myself all the way up to the top floor to be told the event was in the basement… Because that’s what I do. I managed to sneak my way in & plonk myself at the back of the room during Sarah Lean’s talk about her latest book for 9-12’s, A Dog Called Homeless. Next up, the amazingly lovely Holly Smale gave us a quick talk about her upcoming third book in the Geek Girl series, Picture Perfect & how she was lucky enough to be sent to New York as RESEARCH (because apparently being an author is just ridiculously amazing), which hints at where Harriet Manner’s modelling misadventures may take her next! After Holly revealed Anne of Green Gables as her “Desert Island Book”, it was the turn of debut author of Tape, & stand up poet Steven Camden, who regaled us with his attempts to write a book that he would’ve wanted to read – a book full of music, confusion & teenage frustrations. We were then treated to a live rendition of his spoken word poem that accompanies the book (which you can see here), & then it was time for SIGNING and WINEING. If you don’t know much about Bookseller events, we only tend to turn up if there’s free alcohol. After a glass, I managed to pluck up the courage to get my (admittedly slightly battered) copy of Geek Girl signed by Holly Smale, & was very made-up when she immediately recognised me from the Twitterverse. We discussed unusual names, & how she’d miraculously missed out on the nickname “Holly Smells” at school. Although, she might get that now. Sorry Holly!

I always suspected it was lovely to meet me.

I always suspected it was lovely to meet me.

With my courage bolstered by this encounter with a lovely author, I decided to engage the friendly & talkative Mr. Steven Camden to get a shiny brand new hardback of Tape signed. He eagerly agreed, & gathered with our small group of booksellers for a chat – But that’s where everything went a bit wrong, when he kindly offered us all a gingernut biscuit (NOW WITH ADDED GINGER), & I had to admit that I actually don’t like them. Our friendship seemed dashed against the rocks of biscuitdom before it had really had a chance to blossom… However, when he asked what biscuit I preferred, after a bit of a think, my answer of “I’m partial to a Custard Cream” seemed to appease the man, & he cheerfully signed my book:

THE BISCUIT WAR RAGES ON.

THE BISCUIT WAR RAGES ON.

With wine in our insides & a handful of free, signed books, we decided to take advantage of the late night opening of Waterstones Piccadilly, by heading to the CHILDREN’S DEPARTMENT, of course! There, we enjoyed a twilight story time session, each of us reading a picture book in turn, & doing our very best audience participations in kind. My choice? OLIVER JEFFERS, obviously – This Moose Belongs to Me, the tale of young Wilfred & is wayward moose, Marcel. After we’d successfully irritated the staff, we slunk off to a nearby pub for one last drink, which really did end up being ONE drink. We were all very confused & upset by the turn of events, but we had to admit defeat, & I trudged back through the rain soaked London streets to the budget comfort of Premier Inn.

Wilfred Owned a Moose...

Wilfred Owned a Moose…

The next day, I wasted some time in the morning by heading to the GIGANTIC branch of Forbidden Planet on Shaftsbury Avenue, & despite my overwhelming temptation to bankrupt myself; I only spent a meagre £25 on a new wallet & a Hogwarts Insignia badge. After this restrained shopping spree, I bumbled across the city, back to Piccadilly to meet with the Norwegian School of Bookselling. We were given some talks about the inner workings of buying & ecommerce for Waterstones (fascinating if you’re me!), before being encouraged to have a chat amongst ourselves. As well as cementing myself as “That bloke who tweets a lot” amongst the English Booksellers, I also had an amazingly engaged conversation about YA Fiction & H.P. Lovecraft novels with the delegates from Norway, which was ace, & just proves that books transcend language barriers! MY language barrier, mind – their English was impeccable, I was rather ashamed by my lack of knowledge on the Norwegian language. After some buffet food & chit chat, we had a guided tour of the Piccadilly branch, & a snoop around the oldest bookshop in the city, Hatchards, which is beautiful wood panelled store in Piccadilly, owned by Waterstones, but run independently. Their Children’s Department looks like an Edwardian Nursery, I was in love! If you get the chance, I highly encourage popping in to navigate the fascinating warren of passages lined with bookshelves.

And then, just like that, it was all over! A brief chat back at the HQ & a chance to shake some hands & meet some names I only really know from the Twitterverse, & before I knew it, I was on a cramped train whisking me through the velvet night back to Northallerton, straight back at work the next day. What a whirlwind two days it was, but it really reminded me of why I love my job so much, & how much fun it is meeting other Booksellers, who are always so likeminded, passionate & engaging.

Thanks for reading of my adventures! Next on my reading pile is TAPE, so keep an eye out for a review soon!

D

Geek Girl by Holly Smale

What can I say about Holly Smale? She’s one of the nicest, most genuine authors I know on Twitter. Her debut novel, Geek Girl, has actually been out for a little while now (in fact, the sequel Model Misfit came out in September), but because my reading pile is astronomical, I’ve only recently gotten through it!

Geek Girl in all its Glory!

Geek Girl in all its Glory!

Harriet Manners is a Geek. She’s always been fascinated by facts, horded knowledge & had a passion for spreading her love of school, & she’s always been clumsy, lacked grace & struggled to make friends. She’s come to terms with it, it isn’t the most fun existence, but it’s who she is. After all, things will be better when she leaves school for University, right? So for the time being, she takes the bullying of her arch-nemesis Alexa, supported by her father, step-mother Annabel & her best friend Nat. However, during a school trip to a fashion show, something unbelievable happens: Harriet Manners, uber-geek, is discovered by a fashion company. They want her to be a model. It’s nothing Harriet has ever dreamed of before, but she soon realises it could be the perfect chance to reinvent herself & change her life. People would stop seeing her as the shy, awkward walking encyclopaedia & see her as a graceful, fashionable model. The only problems are: Annabel, who is vehemently opposed to the idea of her teenage step-daughter juggling school & a modelling career, & Nat, who has dreamed of a life as a professional model ever since she could walk. Harriet is going to upset some of the people closest to her to try & change her world, but it’ll be worth it, right…?

I inhaled Geek Girl. It was a total joy, funny & light, whilst still managing to work in some important & strong ideas. Harriet Manners is a girl I could really relate to, as an awkward, clumsy teenager who ardently hoarded facts like a dragon hordes gold, I was immediately on her wavelength. I felt a lot of painful familiarity with her good-natured desire to make everyone happy, & her tendency towards self-blame at every given opportunity, & so that really endeared her character to me. I loved her faults, & I laughed my way through her misadventures. One of my other favourite characters in the book was Harriet’s father, with his laid back, yet enthusiastic attitude & his ridiculously childlike outlook on life. Whether bickering with his wife (he & Annabel have some absolutely hilarious exchanges), or chasing scantily clad Russian supermodels, he’s a great counterpoint to the anxiety & stress that Harriet expresses in her surroundings. Annabel, Harriet’s Stepmother, is also great fun to read, a spiky, yet caring character, full of determination & strength, tempered brilliantly by a soft inner core. That sounds like an ice cream… She’s not an ice cream. Harriet’s other friends also fit together with her perfectly, all cogs in her disastrous machine; Her Geek stalker, Toby is brilliantly creepy, Nat is acidic, witty & sharp, & Nick is cool, funny & perfectly at home in any situation. All these characters really highlight the hilarity of Harriet’s actions.

I erm... Got bored at work.

I erm… Got bored at work.

Holly has a brilliant talent for comedic timing, & a great grasp of funny, ridiculous, slapstick situations. Some, I feel, MUST be semi-autobiographical… But the way she writes them is cringe worthy, in a Faulty Towers manner. Harriet’s reactions to the situations around her, collapsing under embarrassment, just make them so much funnier, sweeter & great to read. As I said earlier, the dialogue crackles with hilarious lines as well, from Nat’s smart remarks to Annabel’s sharp comebacks; there are plenty of parts of the book that had me grinning from ear to ear. Geek Girl isn’t all comedy though, & hidden underneath the hilarious mishaps is a story of sweetness, & of the importance of learning to love yourself. Harriet is so desperate to change herself that she doesn’t see the positives that people love in her, & I think that’s an important lesson for teenage girls to read about. No matter how much you change on the outside, people will still love the person on the inside that they know, deep down. I think knowing that a lot of Holly’s life has gone into writing this book makes it even more fascinating & touching, & I did often find myself wondering what was fiction & what had been directly lifted from her own short lived Teen Modelling career.

Model Misfit is out in Paperback now!

Model Misfit is out in Paperback now!

Geek Girl is a funny, light, slapstick comedy, with witty dialogue, a powerful sense of realism, despite some absurd situations. Underneath the Louise-Rennison style teenage laughs though, is a heartfelt story of belonging which worms its way into your brain while it’s too busy laughing your socks off.  Great crossover appeal for pre-teens too!

As always, thanks for reading.

D