My Top Ten Reads of 2015!

I’m pretty sure when I did my top ten round up last year, I said something along the lines of “Wow, what an outstanding year it’s been for YA & Books in general” but THIS YEAR BEAT THE PANTS OF IT. Seriously, 2015 has seen the publication of some of the most challenging, powerful and evocative novels for Young Adults that have ever been available. The level of diversity, LBQT+ inclusivity and Mental Health awareness is beyond anything it’s ever been in previous years – and while we still have a long way to go, it makes my heart sing to see the dedication of authors, publishers, readers, bloggers and the whole community to actively shout about diversity and to demand better representation in the books they read. The UKYA community is going from strength to strength too, becoming a glowing warm beacon of passion and friendship across the internet that I always feel privileged to be a part of. OKAY, enough of me doing all this gushing – in no particular order, here’s a list of ten of my FAVOURITEST READS from this year! 

The Lost and The Found by Cat Clarke 

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Cat Clarke has a reputation for harsh, bleak thrillers that have a talent for breaking reader’s hearts in two. The Lost and The Found is no exception to her gritty formula, focusing on a family absolutely torn apart by the loss of their daughter thirteen years ago. It has an emotional level to it that’s uncompromising and refuses to look at the world in terms of black and white, letting Faith, its main character, be angry, bitter and selfishly flawed in ways that are deep and understandable. It’s a powerful book that asks a lot of questions, and isn’t afraid to leave those questions unanswered.

Birdy by Jess Vallance

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FRANCES BIRD IS MY BEST FRIEND. Birdy is a sinisterly dark, acid clever little thriller with so much of a skewed sense of unease. Hinging on an obsessive, out of control friendship and coming from a wonderfully unreliable narrator, it’s a slow burning novel that gradually unravels into a sprawling spider’s web of deception, paranoia and constantly escalating madness. It’s definitely not one for the faint of heart, but if you like a book that pulses with psychological trauma and emotional turmoil, then this is a fast paced gem for you. You awful person.

The Next Together by Lauren James 

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Lauren’s debut managed to do something that never normally happens for me – it managed to be a love story that I felt totally invested in! Her characters are witty and sweet, warm and utterly real, and she lets them be quirky and original, without falling into the usual gender stereotypes, and the use of time travel is clever, original and quite often fascinating – well researched and fully formed, and the way it skips between them creates a fresh, paced feel that keeps the plot hanging and pounding. Not to mention a fantastically mysterious open ended conclusion. I’m really looking forward to her next book in 2016!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell 

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Rundell is the only non-YA title on my list, but it’s one I would urge people of all age to read. She’s got such a phenomenal talent with crafting words, like a true artist, she weaves them flawlessly and with passion and love. She refuses to talk down to her audience, and The Wolf Wilder is a captivating tale of wolves, snow and freedom, spearheaded by a wilful heroine who has more than a dash of Philip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua about her. The wonderful words are beautifully accompanied by gorgeous inky illustrations that make this book the whole package – a children’s classic that we’ll have on bookshop shelves in fifty, maybe even a hundred years time.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

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My first ever Hardinge book, and a darkly twisting novel that swirled with mystery and deception, all pulled along by a brilliantly bright, determined heroine trapped in a male-dominated society that really cuts into the reader. She has such a lyrical, haunting way with words that felt hypnotic and made me so intensely jealous, if I’m honest. She pulls in elements of weird fantasy into a windswept period world, creating a sense of unease and paranoia so tangible it practically drips from every page.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness 

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Yup. A Patrick Ness book came out, so OBVIOUSLY it’s on my list. It has to be. He’s managed to yet again create a perfect YA novel – tongue firmly in cheek and fully mocking standard tropes and stereotypes from a lot of mainstream Young Adult lit. It’s all done with love though, and it also manages to tell a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story that beautifully looks at the loss of innocence, mental health and the power of friendships and family. Ness manages to blend contemporary drama with weird science fiction vibes seamlessly, shot through with wry humour and a bizarre, charming sense of warmth and sadness. It’s also so wonderfully Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

All Of The Above by James Dawson

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James Dawson has had two books out this year, and All of The Above was the author’s first foray into contemporary, and it’s totally astounding. Filled with chaotic, messy and brilliantly real characters with flaws and so much love, it managed to utterly break my heart and completely sucked me in, by allowing its teen characters to be rude and sexually diverse, shunning labels and focussing on emotions. The dialogue is hilarious and cuttingly witty, and the friendships are achingly beautiful, filled with fury and passion. It’s a triumph of a YA novel that doesn’t talk down to or patronise its audience in the slightest.

Remix by Non Pratt 

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Non’s second book is yet another testament to the fact that she might well have one of the best narrative voices in YA. She manages to make her characters speak exactly how me and my friends always used to (and still do, for that fact), and she tackles some important issues that affect teenagers on a regular basis with stark honesty and superbly hilarious heart. Not to mention, Remix is all about Festivals and Music, something that is very very close to my heart, and the book includes some brilliant nostalgia, band nods and musical feelings that made me squeal with delight.

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham 

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Jenny Downham novels don’t come along very often, but when they do, they’re really something special. Unbecoming is a huge mix of diversity, emotion and themes that should feel clunky and forced, but it simply flows and sings flawlessly. It’s a powerfully important book that touches on family and mental illness, as well as examining sexuality and race, all with respect and intelligence. It’s got so much heart and so much warmth to it.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle 

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Easily one of the most original, haunting, captivating and twistingly brilliant YA novels this year, The Accident Season is an absolute powerhouse of a debut novel, one that uses language like wind and magic, to create an unsettling dreamlike atmosphere that sucks you in totally and completely. It’s filled with diverse, whirring characters (Bea will always hold a special place in my heart), and a dark, creeping mystery that has one foot in Fantasy and one in Contemporary Drama. It’s simply outstanding writing.


RIGHT! That’s your lot! This was one of the hardest Top 10 lists I’ve ever pulled together, because honestly YA publishing has been so unbelievably on fire this year! From debuts like The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury and Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, to the latest instalments in some of my favourite series, like Lockwood & Co’s The Hollow Boy, or the final in Will Hill’s outstanding Department 19 horror series –  I can only hope that 2016 builds on this year and delivers even more. Although I have NO IDEA when I’ll get them all read!

Thanks for Reading, and be wonderful to each other.

D for Darran/Dinosaur/Decepticon

 

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Happy UKYA Day!

What is UKYA? I mean, what does that even mean – UKYA? Okay, I admit, the answer is kinda self evident. It’s Young Adult Books written by UK based authors. The end. BLOG OVER.

Well, I suppose the really important question is – why do I choose to read so much UKYA? I’m a 27 year old “man” who did a Crime Scene Sciences degree, and my other hobbies include video games and abrasive, angry and deliberately esoteric music.

With a stupid face.

With a stupid face.

There’s a few different answers to that question – a few different threads of happenstance that lead to the person I am today (not a great person, but I suppose I’m okay – if a bit wordy). I took on a Christmas Job as a bookseller for Waterstones, rediscovered my love of Children’s Fiction from my own childhood, & hit upon one of the only things I’ve ever felt like I’ve been good at – sharing a love of stories. It was from this little platform that I discovered Twitter, and fell headfirst into the UKYA community that was so brilliantly welcoming. But we’ll talk more about that in a moment. The real reason I grew such a infectious passion for UKYA novels comes down to a simple, straightforward & obvious answer – The books. Duh.

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I guess I couldn’t tell you what the very first UKYA novel was I read… I mean, technically it was probably something like Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, but when I finally started picking up the current wave of authors writing, I couldn’t help but devour as many books as my staff discount card could take. The first proof I requested was Will Hill‘s Department 19, and I think that’s a great example of where UKYA triumphs over the American equivalents. It was just after the real peak of Twilight fever, where vampire fiction was all Anne Rice love and soft, gentle sighs of longing into the lonely night, and here was a story of action, despair and teen angst, driven by a mix of high-octane, high-violence and classical horror overtones (it weaves the works of Stoker & Shelly into the narratives perfectly). It took the try-hard nature of the whole vampire phenomenon and went “Nah, vampires kill people. Let’s take this back to its horror roots.” and I loved it for that. After that, I tried anything I could get my hands on, contemporary, science fiction, horror, I’ll give anything a try. Still, though, the home-grown authors really stood head and shoulders above the rest. Is it because I find the settings, the characters and the voices much more familiar than their overseas counterparts? I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a great start when it comes to engaging with a story, but I think it comes down to more than that.

Such a GREAT series!

Such a GREAT series!

In the UK, we have a great sense of self-deprication. Something about the eternal, overcast, rainsoaked environment creates a sense of hopeful, but pessimistic reality. We knows things can get better, but they’ll get a lot worse and they’ll require a lot of work, pain and rain to make it happen. This is brilliantly reflected in the dark, gritty, but oddly wry and quirky stories by authors like Tanya Byrne (Follow Me Down is a superb crime-noir with twists of humour throughout) and Alice Oseman (her debut Solitaire is brilliantly despondent and hilarious all in the same page). UKYA can get seriously dark though, and I feel like it pulls less punches when it decides to get bleak and challenging than other YA out there – Carnegie Medal winning The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks is a stellar example of an unrelentingly bleak and powerful novel that never romanticises the horrific predicament of its characters.

One of the nest debuts of the last year.

One of the nest debuts of the last year.

I just feel like UKYA novels get realism and the down-to-Earth nature of teenagers down on paper much better than any other books. The honest, ugly and often uncomfortable When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan, or the heartfelt and emotionally articulate Being Billy by Phil Earle (an absolute shining star of the community, by the way) are testaments to how authors in the UK are willing to look at complex issues without a rose-tinted lens, and they’re so much more valuable for it. And it isn’t just mental health, either – with the global rise of the We Need Diverse Books mission, UKYA authors are moving forward leaps and bounds when it comes to minority representation in their novels. Malorie Blackman‘s Noughts & Crosses series was just the beginning (using Dystopia to examine racial segregation); Louise O’Neill‘s Only Ever Yours, winner of the UK’s first ever YA Book Award, examines the importance of gender equality by using a twisted dystopian universe, and the stunningly beautiful The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson makes the bold but vital move of tackling the difficult and underrepresented topic of Transgender in Teenagers. Even wonderful works by Patrick Ness drop gay characters into stories where their sexuality is simply a part of their character as opposed to the point of the story (More Than This), and Non Pratt who’s upcoming novel Remix has two racially diverse main characters without it being a big deal in the slightest. James Dawson‘s subtle use of characters, as well as his outspoken support of diversity in fiction is just one of the hundreds of UK based writers who are working hard to include minorities in their work. I don’t for a second think that there isn’t still work to do, but I feel a great sense of pride that our shores are producing such fantastic stories with such a concentrated effort towards letting all young people see characters like them int he books they’re reafing.

Such an IMPORTANT BOOK.

Such an IMPORTANT BOOK.

The final thing I want to talk about when it comes to UKYA books though, is their dialogue, their narrative voice and the way their characters interact. One of the biggest reasons I’ve struggled with falling totally in love with John Green novels is because to me, lines like – “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations…” – sounds nothing at all like me and my friends did as teenagers. That smooth, poetic writing works in points, but I think it alienates me from the characters in a story. I’m pretty much an idiot, and I prefer the characters I read about to stumble over their words and say the wrong things. Non Pratt‘s debut novel, Trouble, uses such realistic, honest back and forth between characters that I laughed and cried constantly, and connected with the main characters on a very fundamental level. Matthew Crow‘s In Bloom managed to be full of sudden bursts of humour and stupidity whilst also containing one of the most powerfully moving sentences I’ve ever read in a book. Dawn O’Porter with Paper Aeroplanes (and its sequel Goose), James Dawson‘s Under My Skin, Tape by Steve Camden, Geekhood by Andy Robb and Geek Girl by Holly Smale – all these books have characters who willfully make bad choices, or make stupid decisions. They make mistakes and they say the wrong things. Unlike any other country, I feel like the UK’s YA is full of less than perfect characters, and for teenagers growing up and discovering their own faults, flaws and quirks, making their own mistakes and becoming their own diverse people, that’s such an important thing to see. UKYA lets its readers know that it’s okay to be less than perfect. It’s okay to try something stupid. It’s okay to mess it up.

Hilarious & Heartbreaking.

Hilarious & Heartbreaking.

The UKYA online community (search #UKYA, #ukyachat and @ProjectUKYA on Twitter) is the passion and the brainchild of the hugely talented and driven Lucy Powrie, herself a teenage blogger, and she’s managed to create a fun, inviting atmosphere through which I’ve met some wonderful people and made some amazing friends with whom I can share my excitement and joy about these wonderfully accessible books. The wonder of social media also means that I can have conversations with the authors I’m enjoying right now – If 14 year old Darran could’ve chatted with Philip Pullman about His Dark Materials, I’d’ve exploded with excitement, and yet now I often chat back and forth with people I have huge amounts of awe and respect for. For someone so far in the North of the country, away from the world of publishing (which is all frustratingly London based), the UKYA community has become a way for me to be involved in the spreading the love of great books and keeping up to date with new authors and debuts that I might otherwise have missed, and the sense of welcome belonging is really important to me.

With initiatives like YALC returning for a second year at London Film & Comic-con, The YA Book Prize and so much more, I honestly feel like we’re just stepping into a golden age for UKYA literature, and I’m glad to be able to say I’ve been involved in a little way.

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God, sorry for rambling on for so so long. I did say I was wordy though, up there at the beginning. If you bothered reading all of this… Then erm… THANK YOU AND I AM SORRY.

Things to look out for in 2015!

Greetings! I was recently flicking through The Bookseller’s rather fantastic feature on upcoming Children’s & YA books over the Summer and into the back end of this year, and there’s some very exciting releases! So, I thought I’d compile a little snapshot of books that you should keep an eye out for in the next EIGHT MONTHS. Now, some of these I’ve been lucky enough to have read already, such is the life of a Bookseller. However, I’ve plonked them on this list ANYWAY, because they’re fabulous books that you should definitely pick up when they go on sale. Originally this post was going to be 15 Books in 2015! But, yeah. Too many books. Sorry. I got lost.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (12th of May, Andersen Press)

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When Phil Earle recommends me a book, it’s always a corker (see The Art of Being Normal), and he’s super passionate about this debut Middle Grade/Younger Teen title which can only mean it’s a mixture of heart and passion that will make waves. I’ve got a copy somewhere on my TBR pile, but other bookselling pals of mine are already raving about the sweet, heartfelt and touching plot, reminiscent of RJ Palacio’s Wonder.

Pre-Order Here!

In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll (2nd of July, Faber & Faber) 

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Already the author of two phenomenal MG titles (the creepsome Frost Hollow Hall & beautiful The Girl Who Walked on Air), Emma Carroll is returning this Summer with what sounds like another fantastic blend of magic and realism. It seems set to capture the quirky, folklorish environment that makes brilliant fairy stories like Michelle Harrison’s Thirteen Treasures so perfect. I’m expecting a brilliantly entertaining and gripping read for those long Summer evenings!

Pre-Order Here!

The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (18th of August, Corgi)

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Already being hailed as this year’s We Were Liars, The Accident Season is another book that I have a proof of in my TBR pile that I’ve yet to get to, but again I’m very intrigued by the idea behind it. It seems like it’s going to bring in a painfully beautiful, melancholy narrative that will cause some pretty hard emotional reactions (especially from me, I cry at everything!). The jacket is beautiful, and early feelings seem to be overwhelmingly positive. It should be a great read!

Pre-Order Here!

Way Down Dark by J.P. Smythe (2nd of July, Hodder & Stoughton) 

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Very intrigued by this one, the first YA title from a hugely well respected Sci-Fi author. Normally I’m hesitant of adult authors hopping on the Teen Fiction bandwagon, but this book, the first in a planned trilogy, promises a claustrophobic spaceship setting that definitely ticks a big box for me, combined with murder and obsessive cults, so I’ll certainly be giving it a go as soon as possible. Love the jacket too… Might it feed my love of Sci-Fi Horror? Here’s hoping!

Pre-Order Here!

The Marvels by Brian Selznick (15th of September, Scholastic Press) 

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Brian Selznick is a stunningly creative writer, and I’d add him to this list without even knowing a synopsis of his next book. The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Selznick is unrivaled when it comes to fusing haunting, gorgeous illustrations with emotionally articulate and powerful stories. All I know about The Marvels is that it’s set in 18th Century London, and it weaves two seemingly separate stories together using 400 pages of what I’m sure will be astounding illustration and 200 pages of text.

Pre-Order Here!

Demon Road by Derek Landy (7th of August, Harpercollins) 

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I’ve always been a massive fan of Landy’s twisted, witty and downright explosive Skulduggery Pleasant series, which came to an end last year. His new series, planned as a trilogy, sees him up his writing to a YA level (which makes sense, since a huge part of his fanbase will have grown up with Skulduggery and are now teenagers and young adults). It looks like it’s set to be full of supernatural horror, twists and vibrant lead characters, all wrapped up in the dark sense of humour we’ve all come to know and love from Mr. Landy.

Pre-Order Here!

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne (1st of August, Usbourne) 

After the brilliant success in the Paranormal Romance of Soulmates, followed by the brilliantly sharp contemporary The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting, it seems Holly Bourne is an author who can give any genre a good go. I’m already sold on the title, and the contemporary plot line is going to tackle anxiety and other mental health issues that I would love to see approached intelligently and with respect within the YA sphere. I’m expecting a strong, strident voice, with heart and humour.

Pre-Order Here!

The Tattooed Heart by Michael Grant (22nd of September, Electric Monkey) 

The second book in Grant’s brilliant, dark and shocking Messenger of Fear series, which managed to utterly captivate me in book one. If his GONE series proved one thing, it’s that he’s so superbly talented when it comes to developing creeping, unfurling mythologies and sudden, brutal and visceral shocks and twists. I’m sure we’re going to have some truly grotesque descriptive sequences and a bigger peak into the world and history of the Messengers.

The Unbecoming by Jenny Downham (3rd of September, David Fickling Books) 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been FIVE YEARS since Jenny Downham’s award winning You Against Me, so I’m very excited about a new novel from her. Very well known for her debut Before I Die (aka Now Is Good), Downham is a skilled writer at unfolding complex and beautiful emotions. The Unbecoming is going to be epic, covering 50 years and following three generations of the same family. I think we can look forward to seeing some heartbreak, some uplifting chapters and some painfully grounded tragedy, all with her trademark heart and hope.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill (3rd of September, Quercus)

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The sophomore novel from the author of the YA Book Prize winner Only Ever Yours, this looks set to be just a dark, powerful and important. It looks like it’s going to be discussing and working with the ideas of rape, consent and victim blaming, so I’m expecting this to be pretty controversial, but also probably very necessary in today’s culture and political atmosphere. Louise has already proved that she’s not afraid of going after emotional and visceral subjects, and that’s going to continue.

Remix by Non Pratt (4th of June, Walker)

I reviewed this the other week right here, but I’ll reiterate what I said then – Non is one of the brightest shining stars of UKYA, and Remix is the perfect showcase of her talents for messy, realistic teenagers and perfectly formed, believable dialogue that snaps and crackles with youthful energy. Much like her debut, Trouble, Non is so brilliant at creating characters that I love and feel invested in, and this time she weaves in the energy and hopefulness of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, all within the gloriously chaotic world of a Music Festival.

Pre-Order Here!

All of the Above by James Dawson (3rd of September, Hot Key Books)

This is set to be James Dawson’s first contemporary novel, but in his work in the YA horror sphere with Say Her Name and Under My Skinhe’s already proven he has a sharp talent for witty characters and brilliant, hilarious dialogue. All of the Above promises to be his rudest and most mature to date, but it looks like it’ll be examining anxiety and peer pressure, which I can only imagine will be portrayed beautifully and sensitively.

Pre-Order Here!

Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher (1st of October, Orion)

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Both My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds have been contemporary YA novels that have both completely absorbed me and emotionally wrecked me in different ways, showing that Award Winner Annabel Pitcher is a versatile and powerful writer. Silence is Goldfish is a brilliant title, and it looks like the book is going to be another great examination of growing up, and loss of innocence and the way our views towards family and adults change as we get older.

Pre-Order Here!

Darkest Night by Will Hill (4th of June, Harpercollins)

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Will Hill’s Department 19 series is one of my favourite YA series, and it’s finally coming to a close. Compulsive, gloriously gore-splattered Vampire fiction, I would recommend this to anyone who’s a fan of fast, intelligent horror and action. Will has already promised death and emotional turmoil in this final installment, where he carries on his combination of classical horror literature and pulse-pounding action.

Pre-Order Here!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (10th of September, Bloomsbury)

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The award winner of future Children’s classic Rooftoppers has turned to a snowy atmosphere for her next adventure, set in the harsh, cold Russian forests. Rundell is a masterful writer with a lyrical, beautiful writing style, and I can see her capturing this tale of harsh environments and loyalty, the story of a young girl and her mother against a murderous force in the woods, absolutely brilliantly. I’m sure it’s going to be uplifting and captivating and I cannot wait.

Pre-Order Here!

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (27th of August, Walker)

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If you missed my glowing review the other day, let me tell you that Patrick Ness’ next novel is a phenomenal character examination that’s full of pain, emotion, hope and melancholy. Another stellar example of why he’s such a brilliant YA writer, his characters in The Rest of Us are so perfectly messy and realistic, and he approaches mental health and the uncertainty of growing up with intelligence and respect. He also plays on standard YA tropes and themes to perfect effect, mocking with just the right amount of adoration.

Pre-Order Here!

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens (30th of July, Random House) 

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Golly! Time for another caper from the fantastic detective duo that is Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, this time taking on a Murder on the Orient Express twist. The first two novels, A Murder Most Unladylike and Arsenic for Tea, have been roaringly good fun to date, and I can’t wait to see where Robin’s vibrant, intelligent detectives end up next! More hilarious use of Blyton-esque language and genuinely gripping and well formed mysteries will make this another gem of a children’s novel.

Pre-Order Here!

Another Day by David Levithan (30th July, Electric Monkey)

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Every Day is getting a sequel! Of sorts, at least. Another Day revisits the events of Levithan’s phenomenal novel, but retelling the story from the perspective of Rhiannon. Where the first book looked at the nature of the self, and what it meant to be you when things like race, gender and sexuality are stripped away, Another Day will look at what it is like to love someone who is always different. I’m expecting an emotionally electric and intelligent plot, using Levithan’s characteristic beautiful writing style to uncover some difficult truths and create some diverse and heartfelt characters.

Pre-Order Here!

 

This is just a handful of the brilliant YA and MG titles due put this year, but there’s loads more! Feel free to grab me on Twitter for more recommendations or book chat – @ShinraAlpha

Thanks for reading!

D

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

Department 19 by Will Hill

I’m back! Christmas is coming to the lovely Waterstones Northallerton, and we’ve got some great temps in this year, the decorations are all hung, and even the most cynical of hearts is going to warm! I promise.

I actually got Department 19 as my very FIRST proof from a publisher, the superb Harper Collins, around this time last year. I read a brief blurb in their industry rag, the Harper Insider, and decided it couldn’t hurt to send them an email. Very soon, a lovely bound, uncorrected proof was in my hands, and I was very excited. It sounded just my sort of thing: Vampires, Violence and Government Cover-ups! I reviewed it at the time, which can be seen here, but then it was included in the WCBP2012 longlist, so I thought, for such a great book, I’d give it a revisit!

Jamie Carpenter’s father was killed in his front garden when he was just a boy. Gunned down by government operatives in sleek black uniforms. He was a terrorist, Jamie was told, working from the inside of the British government, to bring horrible attacks to the innocent British people. Jamie and his mother had to move, again and again, all over the country. Where ever they went, rumours followed them, bullying started, and they had to move on. Now in his teens, Jamie is bitter, angry and resentful towards life, school, people and his mother. It’s all everyone else’s fault, his father wasn’t a terrorist, he was a good man, and Jamie knows that. Jamie spends too much time arguing with his mother to see she needs him, and too much time away from school. One night, after a long excursion to avoid another day of classes, Jamie is approached by a mysterious girl in the park. Small, skinny and pale, she mocks him with her mischievous dark eyes, before letting him pass. When he gets home, his mother is gone, and the house is dark. Then Jamie meets Frankenstein. THE Frankenstein. And everything he ever knew gets turned upside down. His father was not a terrorist, he worked for the shadowy government agency called Department 19. Bram Stoker had been right all along. Vampires are real. The pace turns up then, One of Dracula’s (the first vampire) henchmen, is trying to resurrect the Dark Prince, and has Jamie’s mother to help in the process. The Department have captured one of the Vampire gang who kidnapped Jamie’s mother: The pale, skinny girl he met that night… Larissa. So, with the knowledge that he has to stop the return of the most heinous Vampire known to man, and with a vampire and the lumbering creation of Dr. Frankenstein in tow, Jamie sets out.

I loved Department 19, the action is fast paced, the violence is HIGH, and the Vampires are just what they should be: Evil. I’m sorry, but I’m starting to get sick of Vampires becoming mysterious lovely strangers, and Twilight never cut it for me. This is a great title for boys who may well be interested in supernatural titles, who are put off by the fairly feminine imagery of other series. The main pulling point of this one, besides a great amount of action, is it’s dedicated to classical horror literature. It references the amazing Bram Stoker’s Dracula heavily, as well as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, which is a great way of introducing kids to some of the best horror literature of all time (if you are inspired kids, I also recommend some H.P. Lovecraft! Ia Ia!), and really lends to plot to Department 19 some depth and historical weight, which again is further built upon by some great, tense, flashback sections with a real sense of nostalgia for the old days of Vampire Hunting. Modern day, good dialogue helps none action sequences travel well, and character development is quick and simple, with the exception of Jamie (I’ll get to him in a minute). Like I said, the gore is high in this title, with Vampires torturing and massacring like it’s AD700, and it sets the Vamps up as proper bad guys, ruthless, merciless and souless. Alexandru, Dracula’s main man, is a brilliantly cold, superior being with a love of death and carnage, and makes a fantastic nemesis.

Now, the main complaint I’ve read/heard is that Jamie isn’t a very likeable character. People have told me his anger and complaining put them off, but I really warmed to him after a short time, and here’s why: His Dad is murdered. His Mum, the only remaining member of his family is in the hands of murderous vampires, I’d say he’s highly entitled to some rage and moaning times. I love Harry Potter, but boy does the kids go off on some frustrating rants from time to time. It’s expected, and it makes the characters more rounded individuals, so stop hating on Jamie, he’s a strong, compassionate character, with an awful lot stacked against him.

That is All.

D