Authors on Writing and Reading Interview Series: Bethany Straker

Following on from last week’s writing interview, today we have our first set of reading questions with wonderfully talented UK-based illustrator Bethany Straker. Bethany recently released a super fun little book written by Isabel Atherton, Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty. It somehow manages to be both deliciously gruesome and charming – clever work ladies! I loved reading through Bethany’s answers about her reading habits. It still amazes me how reading is such a different and personal thing to each of us. Read on to find out who Bethany’s literary crush is and how she cures a book hangover …

TEN QUESTIONS ON READING WITH:

BETHANY STRAKER

Zombie Cat by Isabel Atherton and Bethany Straker cover

1. When and where is your favourite time and place to read?

On holiday! But more realistically, it’s always at night before I switch off the light. This can sometimes be hard – I go to bed when I’m tired, so keeping my eyes open can be difficult. When I commuted to London I’d get through so many more books than I do at the moment – but it just means that now I’m more picky with what I read.

2. What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just started reading ‘A Pleasure and A Calling’ by Phil Hogan, a creepy and unsettling book about an over-familiar estate agent who seems to know a little too much about everyone’s lives. It is described as a ‘darkly comic social satire’, and is shaping up to be quite a good read.

3. You have a book hangover! How do you cure it?

I just had this, actually! I was reading two great books, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. The former was a wonderful, gripping book by the author of one of my favourites, ‘The Secret History’, and the latter was a fairly heartbreaking, nostalgic American retelling of the lives of a close group. After reading those, I just didn’t feel like reading anything! I wanted to live inside those stories a little longer. My advice is not the usual course of action, but it worked for me: give reading a break for a while. If I don’t do this after a good book, I read the beginnings of a few books and give up on them, disappointed. This time I waited until I was ready!

4. If you could date any fictional character, who would it be?

Oh dear – my favourite books tend to feature American misfits, depressives and murderers! I am a huge fan of American classics, the darker the better. So here we come up against a problem…I will go back to England and go with George Knightley, my favourite Austen love interest, from ‘Emma’. He is an intelligent, funny character who lets Emma know when she is being cruel, and shows us how deep friendship can be the start of great love.

5. Favourite line from a book?

The last few pages of ‘Sister Carrie’ by Theodore Dreiser affected me a lot, and broke my heart a little. Dreiser captures how it feels to have lost everything through the depiction of poverty and death, but contrasts it with the heroine, having seemingly achieved everything she wanted, but now disillusioned and alone. The last line reads, “In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.”

6. Paper or ebooks?

I’m an illustrator, so paper every time! I love the feel and smell of books, too. Kindles don’t smell so good.

7. As a child, who was your fictional hero/heroine?

When I was little, I would sit and copy Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland with mum. My sister was even named after her. Alice was always so brave to me – she seemed so nonchalant and willing to accept the most ridiculous scenarios. I get nervous all too easily, so I admired this. I used to wish the world was a bit more like her ‘Wonderland’.

8. Which is the most-read book on your shelves?

I don’t think I have ever read a book more than once – apart from at school – it would lose it’s magic, knowing what was to come. Some stories affected me so much that I would like to read them again one day though: ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen, ‘Return of the Native’ by Thomas Hardy, pretty much everything Jane Austen wrote and another look at ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway. Ooh, and ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, although I am quite happy with the Hitchcock version!

9. Describe what reading means to you in one word.

Feeling.

10. If you could recommend one book to non-readers, which would it be?

The Great Gatsby. It’s a classic, it’s beautiful and it will make you want to read more.

Page Proofs!

The Memory Keepers by Natasha Ngan proofsLooky looky look! How beautiful do this bad boy look? Receiving page proofs from my publisher is one of my favourite parts of the process. It’s the first time you see your story looking like a proper book, and words you’ve read over and over again now look fresh and new. However, it’s also a sad time, because it means my work on this story has come to an end. I’ve enjoyed my time so much with Seven and Alba, and am going to miss them. At least, until we’re next reunited – when I receive the advance copies in a month or two!

Authors on Writing and Reading Interview Series: Kate Kelly

Hello lovely readers! Man has this year flown by so far. Big apologies for not writing on here more – it’s utterly shameful that we’re almost half the way through 2014 and I’ve posted less than ten times this year. *Claps wrists* I just don’t know where the months have gone. I guess that’s something I wasn’t prepared for about being published. There are periods of near-inactivity, or at least steady activity, when you’re getting on with writing a new book – and then suddenly WHAM, here’s a bunch of edits on that other book that need doing. And of course that’s when life decides to mess with you and you get a series of illnesses and injuries and personal problems, and basically just every non-writing related drama to add to the pressure.

But, fingers crossed, the clouds finally seem to be clearing on my horizon, so let’s hope I’m finally emerging from the crazy! And to celebrate the hopefully non-crazy months coming up (though I wouldn’t hold my breath) I have something exciting for you today. As hearing about other authors’ writing and reading habits and preferences is something I really enjoy, I thought I’d start a new interview series asking authors to share with us just that! There’ll be one interview a week, alternating between questions about writing and reading. Most of the authors will be fellow YA writers, since that’s what I write and enjoy reading the most – and what you guys are most probably interested in too if you’re here reading this blog :) Hopefully you find the questions insightful and inspiring.

Kicking off the interview series today is the wonderful Kate Kelly, a marine scientist and YA sci-fi writer right here in the UK! Her debut novel Red Rock is published by Curious Fox. Take a look at her blog for updates on Kate’s writing life. I haven’t gotten round to reading Red Rock yet, but it’s waiting patiently on my Kindle and I can’t wait to get stuck in! A fast-paced sci-fi thriller for teens with a touch of romance? Um, yes please. So let’s get strated with the interview and find out more!

TEN QUESTIONS ON WRITING WITH:

KATE KELLY

Red Rock by Kate Kelly cover

1. Describe your book in one sentence. 

The ice caps are melting and secrets are revealed – but what is so important about a small red rock…?

2. How did the initial idea come about?

Some years ago my work as a marine scientist took me to the Arctic. We steamed along the marginal ice zone just off the coast of Greenland and as I watched the ice slide past, the seals, the puffins and occasional polar bear, I began to wonder what the world would be like when the ice caps were all gone – and about how we don’t really know what lies underneath. At about the same time I read a paper speculating about a mysterious white rock observed by the Mariner 9 spacecraft of the Martian surface. The two threads came together and the idea for Red Rock was born.

3. Plotter or pantser?

I’m a mixture of the two. I like to have an outline to work from, and I definitely need to know how the story is going to end, but I also love it when my characters surprise me along the way. Often their ideas are better than my original plan, so my outline tends to evolve as the story grows.

4. What was the hardest scene to write?

I think the hardest scene to write was the scene where they meet with Lucy in Oxford (which won’t mean much to you if you haven’t yet read Red Rock). There is a lot of important information divulged and it was a tricky balance to stop it turning into information overload.

5. What’s been the most surprising part of your publishing journey so far?

When I was recognized in a shop in town by a boy who’s school I’d visited a few weeks earlier. He pointed me out to his mother and insisted she came over and talked to me.

6. Favourite line from your book?

Tricky one. I’ll go with the opening – “I’m not sure why I looked towards the window at that moment.”

7. If you could talk to one writer to get advice and insight, dead or alive, who would it be?

My late father was also a writer. In fact it was his example that inspired me to embark on this journey. Sadly he wasn’t around to finally see me published and I have so many questions I wish I could ask him.

8. Three words you couldn’t live without …

Only three? Chocolate, fantastic, axiomatic.

9. Give us a sneak peek at one of your ideas for a future book.

I’m a bit superstitious so I don’t like to say much about what may be coming next from me, just in case it doesn’t work out. Maybe I’ll write another Cli-Fi. Maybe I’ll do something completely different. There’s a good chance that there’ll be a bit of science in it somewhere – I do work as a marine scientist after all.

10. What’s the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?

Make sure each book your write is better than the last one.

Writing Description Checklist

(Originally posted over at Author Allsorts)

Every writer has a different style when it comes to description. Some use only a minimal amount, focusing instead on action and dialogue, with short, sharp bursts of description to ground it all. Others really build it up, winding their narrative around atmospheric writing that’s so alive it’s almost another character.

Personally, I’ve always loved description. Both reading and writing it. When it comes to writing, however, especially if you’re in the children’s/young adult arena, description is usually one of the things to cut back on. I often cut around 20k of words from my first draft during a first edit (!), and a lot of that come from description. But it doesn’t mean you can’t have any description – it’s just about being clever with how you use it.

Here’s a little checklist you can use when you’re writing or editing to keep your description concise but powerful. Of course, these are just a few things to look for, but hopefully they’re helpful!

  • Is the vocabulary you are using varied? We all have those crutch words and phrases. When you’re editing, look out for them and replace them where you can with new turns of phrases. Even just switching up the verbs can be effective. Eg. My heart dashed against my ribcage. You can replace dashed with crashed, slammed, smashed … the synonyms finder in Word is your friend!
  • Is your description active? Meaning, does it intertwine with the action and narrative? Eg. Leaves slapped my face as I ran, but I didn’t stop, feet slamming, beating on the muddy ground, the dappled golden light filtering through the trees just a blur around me. Think of how you can weave description in without slowing the pace of a scene.
  • Are you featuring all the senses? Don’t just focus on the visual – really immerse your reader in your world by using all the senses in your description. Smells and sounds are so evocative. And what’s the texture of the scene? If your character is scrabbling on the ground, describe the way the dirt feels under their fingertips, the rich, loamy scent of the earth around them. More on 360 writing here.
  • Have you relied on cliches? Again, something I spot when editing a first draft are instances where I’ve been lazy and fallen on cliched descriptions. Rewrite those parts with fresh, unexpected language. Play the scene over and over in your head to hunt for those interesting details you missed before.
  • Do you focus too much on description at the start of a scene? Sometimes I’m so excited about a setting I find myself wanting to lay it all out at the start of the scene. But hold back! Readers are clever. They can pick up and piece bits together as they go. If you find yourself writing a block of description at the beginning of each chapter, break it up and interweave it with the narrative.
  • Are you describing through your characters? Make your description more powerful by personalising it. Ask yourself what your characters are seeing, feeling, hearing, experiencing, and really sense the scene through them. Use those insights to add emotion to your description and keep it from feeling detached.

What are your mistakes when it comes to writing description, and do you have any tips to overcome them? Let me know in the comments below :)

Happy writing sweeties! x

Giveaway – Win Tickets to the DIVERGENT European Premiere!

Divergent movie poster

Holy wow do I have something exciting to post about today dear readers!

If the title didn’t kind of give it away (I know, subtlety is my speciality), I’ve got two tickets to the European premiere of DIVERGENT in Leicester Square this Sunday to giveaway! How awesome is that :D I also have two tickets, so I’ll see you there! It’s always been a dream of mine to attend a red carpet premiere, and the fact that the first one (she says, like there’ll be more) I’ll be attending is a film adaption of one of the biggest YA series ever is pretty darn exciting. Here’s all the info …

On Saturday March 29th and Sunday March 30th Leicester Square will be transformed into the dystopian world of DIVERGENT, where fans will be invited to undergo initiation tests and, like Tris Prior, choose where they belong. Would you survive in Dauntless? Fans will be put through their paces with Dauntless training to see if you are brave enough to join their faction! (Free for anyone to attend.)

The European premiere of DIVERGENT is at Odeon Leicester Square on the Sunday at 1.30pm, attended by stars of the film Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet! So not only can you discover the world for yourself, you can walk the red carpet, mingle with the stars and watch the film before it’s released in the UK!

Enter here for your chance to win this once in a lifetime experience. If you aren’t lucky this time, you are still in with a chance – get down to Leicester Square early as there will also be a limited number of premiere tickets given away to fans on both days.

The Divergent Fan Experience Timings:

  • Saturday March 29th 11.00am – 6.00pm
  • Sunday March 30th 11.00am – 12.00pm and 3.00pm – 6.00pm

Premiere timings for the ticket winner:

  • Sunday March 30th
  • Doors open – 1.30pm
  • Doors close – 2.30pm
  • Film starts 3.00pm

DIVERGENT is released April 4th, and you can follow the news on Facebook, and Twitter. Look out for hashtag #Divergent

Sound exciting? Um, YES IT DOES! Enter via the below form to win. I’m running the giveaway in conjunction with my other blog Girl in the Lens so our followers over there can enter too. Good luck everyone! Hopefully I’ll be seeing you very soon on the red carpet :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Teaser for The Memory Keepers

I love it when other authors do those picture review teaser thingies on Goodreads, so I did one for The Memory Keepers (and yes, that’s a cheeky 5-star rating for myself, but hey, it’s got to be done!). Here it is – a few things you can expect to find within it’s pages …

Futuristic London

A cute, if a bit awkward looking boy with scruffy hair

A winter-themed ball

Memory surfing (though it doesn’t quite look like this)

A few stolen kisses

A cool water-boat-house-bus-thing

Some crawling through sewers

Pretty hairstyles

Secrets in the night

And the London Underground, hundreds of years on from now

I can’t wait to share this story with you all in September! For now you can read the blurb here, and hopefully I’ll have a cover to reveal very very soon! x

My Writing Process #mywritingprocess

The lovely Emma Carroll tagged me into the #writingprocess meme, which has got writers discussing the ways in which they work.

I love hearing about other writers’ processes. It’s strange, because writing is such a personal, unique thing, something that so many of us can barely describe or understand even ourselves, so you wouldn’t think there’s much to learn from hearing about how each of us does it. But for whatever reasons, I’ve always found it super interesting to hear from different writers’ perspectives. For those of you who are also interested, here’s mine!

1. What Am I Working On?

I’m busy editing away on The Memory Keepers, my second novel, about a futuristic London where memories are traded as commodities, and a boy who steals memories for a living has his world shattered when he discovers a stolen memory about himself.

I’ve also just finished a new book, the start of a YA urban fantasy series set in Cambridge (my old uni town).

Cambridge

2. How Does My Work Differ From Others?

My stories are a mix of all the things I love about the world and find fascinating – different cultures, morality, worldbuilding, scientific advances, falling in love, identity, betrayal, honour, freedom, faith … All writers have their own interests and opinions, and that’s what really makes each book unique, so I just try and write as honestly and openly as I can to allow my own perspectives to shine.

3. Why Do I Write What I do?                                

I write mainly fantasy and sci-fi because I love escaping into new worlds. It’s really as simple as that. Writing (and reading) fantasy is just such fuel for the imagination, and you can have a big exciting adventure story alongside intricate worldbuilding and exploring new worlds.

I write YA because I love the intensity of feelings teenagers have. Everything is new and exciting and important, and just felt so keenly. It’s also great to explore issues of identity, self-awareness, coming to terms with the world and your place within it.

4. How Does My Writing Process Work?

#amwriting

Scruffy notes. That’s usually how my books start – scribbled ideas, stolen scenes, snatches of conversation. I like to let the idea marinate for a while, which is usually fine as I’m always busy working on something else, and I don’t like to work properly on more than one novel at a time.

When I’ve finished with the previous thing (finished a first draft, done an edit etc), I’ll start a first draft of the new idea. By this time it’s fleshed itself out a bit, but I’m still hazy on the details. I like the skeleton of a story, flashes of clarity but the rest a murky, uncertain fog, so that when I write my characters can lead the way, and I can tell the story as honestly and true to them as possible.

My daily goal during a first draft is one chapter, but as long as I’m average around four chapters a week I’m happy. I’m so involved in my book during this stage that even when I’m not writing I’m thinking about writing, and so it’s a kind of intense, constant style of working even if I’m only actually typing a few hours a day. It usually takes me 4-5 months to finish the first draft, and then a month to let it sit for a while and then do an edit before it goes to my agent and editor. The first, big-picture edit with them also typically takes a month, and then it’s smaller line and copy edits on and off for the next few months before the book goes to printing.

And then? It’s straight on to the next one!

Find out next about YA sci-fi author Kate Kelly’s writing process over at her blog :)

Exciting News!

Drumroll please lovely readers, because I have truly exciting news that I’m finally allowed to announce! You might have heard already if you’re up to date on all things YA, but Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman has organised YALC, the UK’s very first young adult literature convention, and me?

I’m in it.

YALC will take place at the London Film and Comic Con 2014 (LFCC). The two-day convention takes place on July 12th-13th, bringing together the UK’s YA publishers to provide a host of author events in a dedicated Book Zone, with talks, workshops, signings, a book sales area and publisher stands promoting new and upcoming titles. Here’s the initial list of authors that’ll be there -

•    Malorie Blackman
•    James Dawson
•    Matt Haig
•    Derek Landy
•    Sophie McKenzie
•    Patrick Ness
•    Natasha Ngan
•    Darren Shan
•    Ruth Warburton

Yes. That is my name. Nestled there amongst – much bigger and greater – names such as Derek Landy and Malorie Blackman and Patrick Ness and Darren Shan is MY NAME. You know what I think about that?

Absolutely Fantastic gif

I’m the only debut author on the list. It was such a shock to find out I’d be selected to appear – I mean, Malorie Blackman herself is curating the whole thing! – and it was definitely one of those times when I took a step back and realised, man, I’m actually a proper author now. Because the truth of the matter is, sometimes, sitting at home day after day, night after night, writing and writing and writing away, it’s easy to forget that. But this was just a lovely little moment that reminded me people out there are actually reading my words, and one of them might even be Mrs Malorie frikkin Blackman herself.

If you’re in London in July then you must must must come to the convention! I’d love to be able to meet some readers and, let’s face it, with the calibre of authors on the list I’m gonna need all the backup I can get! You can get tickets already right here. I’ll update you when I know exactly what I’ll be doing at the event, but until then – squeeeeeee! x

Book Review: Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

A stunning novel about the power of hatred, revenge – and love.

Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

Goodreads | Amazon

They say I’m evil.

The police. The newspapers. The girls from school who sigh on the six o’clock news and say they always knew there was something not quite right about me.

And everyone believes it. Including you.

But you don’t know. You don’t know who I used to be. Who I could have been.

Told from the diary-style writings of Emily Knoll, a girl awaiting trial for a crime we don’t yet know, Heart-Shaped Bruise explores the story of two girls whose lives have been wound together by the actions of their fathers. Emily Knoll didn’t know she was the daughter of a gangster until Juliet Shaw stabbed her father. Now, Emily wants revenge.

This is a taut, immersive thriller with a narrator who is often despicable but at the same time, utterly utterly human. Byrne has crafted Emily masterfully – she’s an engaging character, complex and difficult, and you’re drawn deeper into her story and mind with every turn of the page. The diary-style format and short chapters, and the way Emily tells her story jumping back and forth between before her arrest and after all build the suspense. I read the book in two sittings, I was so immersed in Emily’s story and desperate to find out all the details, and felt ragged by the end of it.

Raw, tense, and powerful, Heart-Shaped Bruise will keep you thinking long after the last page – just how far will someone go to break apart the person who took away everything they love? And in the end – who is it they’re really breaking?

New Blurb for The Memory Keepers

Happy Wednesday all! Hope you’re having a great week so far?

Sorry I’ve been slow at posting lately. I blog much more frequently over at my fashion and lifestyle blog, and the rest of the time I’m just busy writing away! I’ve been a busy little typer. Last year I wrote two new books, one of which is with my agent to sell and the other – The Memory Keepers – will be coming out from Hot Key this September. Eek! I’m currently doing my big initial edit for TMK so am at that stage of oh god why did I create such a complex story what is this rubbish how on earth will it be ready in a few months to go to printing I’m the worst writer in the world ever. It’s not the prettiest sight. But hopefully soon I’ll progress into the actually this isn’t too bad I can sort of see this working now phase, and I can get even more excited for you to read it.

I really love this book. Like really really really. The main characters Seven and Alba just totally stole my heart, and when you finally get to meet them, I hope you fall for them as much as I did.

Anyway, my lovely publishers have written an initial blurb for TMK, so I thought I’d share it with you. Let me know what you think. And I should have a cover to share too very soon! I’ve seen the first mock-up and it’s definitely a winner :)

THE MEMORY KEEPERS

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pub date: September 2014 (UK and Commonwealth)

ISBN: 9781471401541

Goodreads

No one can take your memories from you… can they?

Seven is a thief with a difference – he steals downloadable memories to sell onto London’s black market, trading secrets and hidden pasts for a chance at a future of his own. He makes sure he keeps some special stuff back to ‘surf’ himself though – it’s the only real form of entertainment he can afford. But one night, as Seven is breaking into a private memorium in a wealthy part of London, he is caught in the act by one of its residents; Alba, the teenage daughter of London’s most famous criminal prosecutor.

Instead of giving him away, Alba promises to keep Seven’s secret – as long as he allows her to go memory-surfing herself. In doing so, they discover a hidden memory about Seven’s past, revealing a shocking secret about Seven’s childhood, the government and a mysterious experiment known as The Memory Keepers…

Now Seven and Alba will have to race against time to unlock the maze of The Memory Keepers – but can they keep themselves out of harm’s way before the London Guard – and Alba’s father – catches up with them?