Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The song is on the rise

The edits are done

The song is on the rise. 

After at least a year of working on the manuscript, I am relieved and overjoyed to tell you that I have finally, finally finished The Song Rising. All that's left to do now is copy-editing, but I already know it will be a breeze in comparison to the structural and line edits that have occupied my every waking moment for the last few weeks. 

I've slowly fallen in love with this book. I've spent months agonising, writing, rewriting, being thrilled with new scenes, veering between laughter and tears, waking up in cold sweats, doubting my ability, emailing my editor, being certain of my ability, loving my new villain, and living in fear of Third Book Syndrome, if such a thing exists – but out of this emotional and creative welter, and at least five drafts, comes a book that I am really, truly proud of, and can't wait for you to read in March 2017. (Fingers crossed some of you wil be get your hands on ARCs before that.) The extra time I spent on it has been absolutely worth it, as it was with The Mime Order, and I'd like to thank you all again, a thousand times, for your patience in waiting for me to get Paige's third adventure exactly right. I've learned a lot of lessons about my creative process during this time, and I hope to use those lessons to make the first draft of Book 4 much stronger and tighter before it goes to my editor.

In case you missed it on social media, here's your first official quote from The Song Rising

"You do not believe me."  
A long breath escaped me. "I don't know what I believe any more."

. . . Make of it what you will.

I've said before that each book in the Bone Season series, while broadly coming under the umbrella of dystopia and urban fantasy, will have a different 'genre'. The Bone Season was a jailbreak; The Mime Order, at its heart, was a murder mystery. Originally, I had planned The Song Rising to be a more typical let's-fight-the-government dystopian, but on reflection, I think . . . I think it might be a heist novel. Maybe.

So, at long last, knowing that I've put my all into The Song Rising, I'm moving on to new projects – after I take a week off to catch up on my reading and do things like properly unpack my belongings now I've moved out of my parents' house. On the subject of new projects, I've just finished editing my short story for a brand-new anthology that's coming soon to a bookshop near you. 

The anthology 

If you haven't read about it yet, Because You Love to Hate Me is a villain-themed YA anthology, edited by Grammy-nominated singer Ameriie, that will bring together thirteen authors and thirteen Booktubers to create stories. In short, each Booktuber is assigned to an author and gives them a prompt, and with that prompt, the author creates a story centred around a particular villain (or villains). The Booktubers will also be contributing essays to the anthology, detailing their thoughts on good and evil. I absolutely love this subject matter, especially delving into the murky grey waters that lie between those two extremes. I was honoured to be asked by Ameriie to join in with this project, and I've loved working on my contribution over the last couple of months. Although I can't tell you a great deal about it yet, I have no doubt that Bloomsbury, who will be publishing in July 2017, will be dropping a tonne of hints as the year goes on.   

Some of the other authors involved in the anthology are Renée Ahdieh, Victoria Schwab, and Susan Dennard. You can all about it here.

The rest of the year

The rest of 2016 is going to be interesting, because for the first time in my career as an author, I'm going to be splitting my time equally between two major projects. One of those is, of course, the fourth Bone Season book. All I'm telling you at the moment is (a) that it's set in France, (b) it's the final book in the first "arc" of the septology, and (c) that the ending will change everything.  

The second task is to finish The Priory of the Orange Tree, my high fantasy novel. I don't yet have a release date for you, and I doubt Bloomsbury will choose one until the draft is finished, but I'll drop hints when I can. I'm aiming to have both manuscripts handed in by the time The Song Rising is published, if not earlier. 

But first . . . I need to catch up on my sleep, give my body a break from my near-permanent writing posture, and read as many books as I can stuff into a week. Thank you to all of you, as always, for your constant support and enthusiasm. It's kept me going for the past year, and it will fuel me for the next. 

*disappears under duvet*

Monday, 4 April 2016

Here be dragons

I have some big, big news: I SOLD A NEW BOOK!

I'll just do a cheeky copy-and-paste from Bloomsbury's official press release . . .

Alexandra Pringle, Editor-in-Chief at Bloomsbury, has bought World English rights in The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon from David Godwin at David Godwin Associates.

The Priory of the Orange Tree is a standalone fantasy that draws influence from Eastern and Western mythology. In the novel, a war between dragons has divided the world, reducing humankind to a shadow of its former strength. It is told through the eyes of four characters from very different backgrounds.

‘Samantha Shannon is a writer whose imagination and flair is evident in all her work, but in this gripping new fantasy novel she combines chivalric legends, dragons, Elizabethan court life, magic and Japanese folklore to stunning effect. It further confirms that Samantha Shannon is one of the leading fantasy writers of her generation,’ says Alexandra Pringle.

'Samantha really is an astonishing talent. This is a fabulous book,’ says David Godwin.

The Priory of the Orange Tree will be published by Bloomsbury in hardback and eBook.

It's always so surreal when you're finally able to talk about a book after months of working on it in private. Still pinching myself.  

The Priory of the Orange Tree – I'm finally sharing the title! – is a novel I've been writing for a few months now, which my agent sold to Bloomsbury about two weeks ago. I worked on it most intensely during National Novel Writing Month last year, when I wrote 50K words of it. You may remember me discussing it, albeit mysteriously, in this blog post. It's a standalone high fantasy inspired by Eastern and Western history and mythology, including the tale of George and the Dragon, which is one of the strongest influences on the central storyline. I sold the book based on a partial draft, so I now have to, you know, actually finish it . . . but I'm confident that I can divide my time between this manuscript and the fourth Bone Season book. I might have to get a coffee drip permanently attached to my hand, but I'm raring to go. 

My aim is to get a full draft of both Book 4 and Priory handed in by December. I work well under pressure. 

Note: I'd just like to reassure you, before I continue my outpouring of excitement, that this book is very unlikely to affect the publication time of Book 4, which will be published in 2018 at the earliest no matter how quickly I work on it. Because The Song Rising's publication was delayed, I have plenty of time to work on two projects. 

Before I dig into where this book stemmed from, here's a few tidbits about The Priory of the Orange Tree.

  • I started working on it while I was waiting for my editor's notes on The Song Rising
  • I finally went to the British Library and got a membership so I could research it. 
  • It's told in third-person by four different characters – two men and two women – who are all from different backgrounds, cultures, and parts of the world. One of the men is called Loth. I love them all. 
  • There are a lot of dragons in it. Talking dragons, non-talking dragons, dragon-like beasts of legend. 
  • Unlike the Bone Season books, it's set in a world that's separate from ours. However, each of the countries in it is inspired by a real country. 
  • It contains many references to real sixteenth-century world history and people. This was the period I chose as my touchstone for the setting after my little brother asked me for help with his history homework on the Spanish Armada one night. Before he did that, I'd been drafting the story, but the setting had never quite worked. Once that clicked, I couldn't stop writing.
  • The Priory of the Orange Tree is my original working title. One of the other titles I considered was A Little Season, but . . . well, I don't want to, er, over-season my ouevre. 

I'm honoured to be with the amazing team at Bloomsbury again for this book, which is the realisation of a childhood dream. 

I've wanted to create something to do with dragons since I was a little kid, when I first watched Dragonheart. My friends and I went to see it at the cinema for my birthday in 1996 – I asked my parents if I could have the celebration in the summer, rather than November, just so it would coincide with its release. When I got it on video, I recorded the whole film on a cassette tape and played it back to myself like an audiobook, so often that I pretty much memorised the dialogue. I even loved the direct-to-video sequel, even though it paled in comparison to the original. (I will eventually watch the third installment, which I only just learned about, when I decide that my soul can take it.) The theme music still gives me chills. 

After my Dragonheart initiation, I went full dragon-crazy. They came just above dinosaurs in the hierarchy of obsession. I played Drakan: The Ancients' Gates on my PlayStation 2. As soon as I heard about Reign of Fire, it joined my DVD collection. I was enthralled by Cornelia Funke's Dragon Rider, which I read over and over again as a child. Same for The Hobbit. I devoured all the information I could about the different species of dragon in Harry Potter – I made sure to buy a little pot of Hungarian Horntail dragon heartstring at LeakyCon a few years ago. I was gutted when Maleficent didn't actually turn into a dragon in live-action movie. One of my crystal-clear memories from school is of the day I discovered The Fire Within by Chris d'Lacey in the library, where I would sit for hours and imagine tiny dragon figurines stirring to life. I was the very proud owner of The Dragon Hunter's Handbook. And of course, I love Game of Thrones as much as anyone – there's a reason Dany's storyline has always been my favourite. When I was about ten, I even wrote a few chapters of a book called Inferno, about a girl named Cleo who discovers that dragons live in Area 51 and do battle with demons. (Samantha Shannon, the ten-year-old Area 51 conspiracy theorist.) And my writing ‘mascot’ is a little statue of a purple dragon hatching from an egg. 

So, in a nutshell: I have loved dragons for nearly twenty years. Inferno was abandoned to the bottom drawer, but I never let go of the idea that I would one day return to writing about them. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree is about what happens to humans when dragons exist; about the collision between cultures and religions; about love, war, survival, and adventure. As I said above, it's told in third-person, making it quite a different animal from The Bone Season, which is all told by Paige. Third-person is the style I naturally gravitated towards before Paige's voice exploded into my head, and it was quite a strange experience to go back to it after all these years, but it seemed right for this story. I've had so much fun building the relationships between them, working out where their lives intersect, bringing them together and pulling them apart. I'm thrilled that you're all going to be able to meet them.

Other news

In Bone Season news, we're very close to finally sending The Song Rising off to the copy-editor, which will conclude several months of incredibly hard work on it. I'm probably going to take a week off to catch up on my sleep, but I'll be straight to work on Book 4 after that. (And once I've finished a secret Bone Season-related project I'm working on this month.) I have a working title and a Word document all ready to go. This book, which will be set in Paris, will round off the first ‘arc’ of the Bone Season septology and sees events in Scion take an even darker turn. Paige is going to go through a great deal of change, not always for the better, so I'm approaching it with a mix of trepidation and excitement. There are some pretty gut-wrenching scenes in this one that I've envisioned writing from the very beginning. As I've said before, I think Book 4 will be the shortest of the Bone Season books, with either the same number of words or slightly less than there are in The Song Rising, which is currently at just over 126KIt's amazing to think that by the end of next year, I'll be working on Book 5, which I've always believed will be my favourite of the whole saga to write. 

To break up the wait: don't forget that you can finally buy the eBook of On the Merits of Unnaturalness this week! Pre-order links can be found here

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

10 Things About Me

I was tagged to do 10 Things About Me by Laure Eve, whose book The Graces, which comes out in September, is really bloody good. 

It all started when I went out for a Moroccan dinner with some wonderful fellow authors – Laure, Alwyn Hamilton, Katherine Webber and Melinda Salisbury – and we started talking about our lives, specifically about how we weren't really that interesting. (This was mostly me talking, after hearing about Mel's escapades.) Although we're all storytellers by profession, we insisted that we didn't have any real-life stories to tell . . . but as we dug a little deeper, we realised that all of us had something to say. So in the spirit of that, I thought I'd rise to the tag and tell you ten things about me that aren't related to my books.

1. I'm a migraineur – someone who suffers from migraines. I had my first one when I was eighteen. Both of my parents are migraineurs: my dad gets the visual disturbances, my mum gets the pain, and I get both. Lucky me. I did a big interview about how migraines have impacted my life and writing here

2. I consider myself a bit of a flâneuse. Walking through cities, especially cities I've never visited before, is probably the thing I love most in the whole world, apart from writing and reading. (I don't have the same feelings towards walking in the countryside.) It's one of the only forms of exercise I really enjoy, and I'll always choose to navigate a city on foot, rather than in a car or on public transport, so I can take everything in. I love striding into the unknown, armed with nothing more than a map and a decent pair of boots, and I will happily walk for miles every day to reach a landmark, or just to soak up the atmosphere and colour of the city. Places I've especially loved walking in are Edinburgh, Porto, Rome, Paris, New York City, Dublin, Manchester – and of course, my home city, London.

3. I royally messed up my graduation. On arrival, you were supposed to sign your name to indicate that you were, you know, actually there, but . . . I forgot to do that. The full, embarrassing story is here.

4. I'm allergic to Silver Birch tree pollen. Some foods cross-react with this kind of pollen, so by extension, I also have a mild allergy to raw potatoes and pears. I can't touch raw potatoes without my palms itching, and I can't eat a pear without getting a swollen lip. I still eat pears, but I have shamelessly used the allergy to get out of peeling the potatoes.

5. I'm severely thalassophobic and selachophobic. The phobias are naturally intertwined, and they've worsened over the years, to the point that I can no longer go in the sea and often have nightmares about it. I can trace the selachophobia's beginnings to when I was staying with friends in Massachusetts about six years ago. We went swimming and later found out that a young Great White had been spotted near the area we'd been swimming in, which really unnerved me. Although I have an intense fear of sharks and feel sick to my stomach even looking at a photo of one, I'm against hunting or culling them in any capacity. They're incredible creatures, and the sea is their territory – humans need to respect that. So I do. By not going in the sea.

6. I was the Arts & Literature representative at my Oxford college, St Anne's, during my second year of university. I was pretty shy and awkward at the time, but I wanted the role so much that I decided to go for it. During the hustings, after we made our speeches about why we would suit the position, the candidates had to do something creative. I wrote and performed a weird limerick about the college – something I never thought I'd be brave enough to do. I took the role very seriously when I won it, and set out on a year-long quest to put St Anne's on the creative map. I re-opened the college darkroom, which had been gathering dust for years; I secured a dedicated art room, which allowed an Art Club to flourish; I organised a big college trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Twelfth Night, and I ran a week-long arts festival.

7. I had braces twice: once at the usual time, to straighten my teeth, and once when I was 18, to correct my overbite. I only got them taken off when I was 20, shortly after I got my deal for The Bone Season. I still have a slight overbite, but I'm never, ever having braces again. 

8. An ancestor on my grandmother's side, whose name was George Massey, was a seed merchant. He made his fortune in Spalding, Lincolnshire by selling a new and exciting kind of potato called the Eldorado. Apparently this potato was kind of a big deal back in 1904, because the news was in the paper.  

9. I love to swim. Apart from walking, it's the only exercise I enjoy. I got the NPLQ (National Pool Lifeguarding Qualification) when I was about sixteen. It was an incredibly tough course, much tougher than I expected – several people dropped out – but I made it through it all: the timed swims, the First Aid, the constant hunger and hours of training, the retrieving of a water-filled mannequin from the bottom of the pool, and the final examination. Although I never actually worked as a lifeguard, I remain very proud of the achievement. I doubt I'll ever be that fit again.

10. I have a navel piercing, four ear piercings, and a tattoo of two shooting stars on the back of my right shoulder. I've decided to let the navel piercing close after I had my appendix removed, as it was always swollen. I don't think my body ever took to it. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Song Rising, slowly

I'm sure many of you saw this on social media, but I wanted you to hear it directly from me, too. Time to gird my loins and have my George R. R. Martin moment. 

*deep breath* 

Okay, so there's brilliant news, and there's also some not-so-good news. Let's do the not-so-good news first. 

The new release date

The Song Rising is now coming out in March 2017.

Hear me out, Harry.

First off, I am really sorry for this delay. I know the original date of November 2016 came as a shock to some of you, after you spent a year waiting for news, and March 2017 sounds so much farther away. Two years and two months is a long time to wait between books – The Mime Order was out in January 2015 – and you've already been enormously patient. I completely understand that many of you will be disappointed. 

I've always wanted this blog to be a place for me to talk frankly about publishing a book. The highs and lows. The complications. In the spirit of that honesty, I wanted to use this opportunity to show you that sometimes, things don't go exactly as you envisioned them – but also that it's sometimes for the best. 

Various things that are out of an author's control can delay the publication of a book. Originally, I thought Bloomsbury had chosen to delay the release for some of those reasons. However, I have concluded that this delay is, in part, because The Song Rising's first draft was not as strong as it should have been. I didn't realise that at the time, but when I looked back on recently, I could see that it was lacking a strong core. There was a lot of great material, but something was just . . . not there. I felt the same reading it as I did when I read a very early version of The Mime Order, which I scrapped and never sent to Bloomsbury. It was like all the flesh and muscle and bone was there, but something was missing to bind them together. In hindsight, I think the root cause of this was simply that I rushed to send it to my publisher as soon as I'd finished a first draft – and it was literally a first draft, with minimal self-editing. It was hot off the keyboard when it landed in my editor's inbox. I raced to send it off because I didn't want my readers to have to wait a year and a half for the next book in the series. I assumed my editor would get back to me at top speed, as she did with The Mime Order. I desperately wanted Book 3 to come out in early or mid-2016. As a result, I sent Bloomsbury a draft that could have been better, which meant that my editor took longer to get through it and get back to me, which negated any time I'd saved by rushing to send it to her. Cue the long wait for notes and multiple rounds of edits that I've had to do over the past few months. I now recognise that if I'd taken a month or two to do a few self-edits beforehand, things may have moved faster. 

In short, by trying to get the book to my readers quickly, I slowed things down. Lesson learned.  

So here's what's happening now. The finished manuscript is due for April, and I'm on target, so I am nearly there. I am working around the clock, feeding myself mostly on Lucozade, to ensure I don't miss these final deadlines.

Now, you may be asking, ‘Why can't they just publish it in April or May?’ Well, they technically could, but publishers also need a while to promote an upcoming book. First, the finished manuscript has to be presented to, and read by staff at the publishing house; then it has to go out to early readers, bloggers, media, and so on – all sorts of things to make people aware that the book exists, and that it's coming out, and that they can read it soon. It also needs to come out at a time of the year when the publisher feels it will sell well; it can't just be shoehorned into the calendar at the earliest possible time. 

You can think of these in-between months, the bridge between finished manuscript and publication, as the book warming up before a race. It's preparing to go into readers' hands, and it needs the best possible start.   

On a personal level, I've come to understand that I need to accept my boundaries as an author. I pour my whole heart and soul and life into my books. When my publisher first told me that it would have to come out in March 2017, I was distraught. I had been working so hard to get the book finished, and I have always wanted to be the sort of author who could get them out on a yearly basis – but sometimes, certain stories take a while to tell. And The Song Rising has been one of those stories. Blood, sweat and tears have gone into getting this book right. It's more ambitious than The Bone Season and The Mime Order in terms of its scope, set in three different cities and dealing with many different characters and factions, so it was always going to take slightly longer to tease out and refine. It's the book that lifts the series onto the global stage, where the stakes are much higher. It's taken me a long time to accept that a larger story might take longer to get right; I equated being a bit slower with failure, and I shouldn't have. 
Something I've finally learned from this experience, which I'd like to pass on to any aspiring writers reading this blog post, is that it's okay, and usually the best approach, to take your time when you're creating.

I genuinely believe that Book 4 will take less time to write. It will almost certainly be the shortest Bone Season book before the monster-sized Book 5. But I'm not going to make any promises this time about getting the books out once a year, because I don't want to break those promises. I have to accept that these books will take as long as they take if they're going to be of the best possible quality, and I hope you guys will understand. I never want you to have anything less than my best work, and I never want to hold a book in my hands and know it could have been better, if only I'd taken a few weeks or months longer to get it exactly right. 

So, March 2017. I imagine some of you will be able to get hold of ARCs before that, but it's still pretty far away. I'll be twenty-five by the time it comes out. Fortunately, Bloomsbury and I have some plans to help tide you over to Paige's next adventure.

The pamphlet 

Oh, yes. It's happening.

On the Merits of Unnaturalness is officially coming out as an eBook! 

On the Merits is the controversial first pamphlet by Jaxon Hall, written under the pseudonym An Obscure Writer, which explains all of the clairvoyant gifts in The Bone Season from his perspective. You may remember that we did a limited pre-order campaign for The Mime Order, where the first 500 people to pre-order got a physical edition of On the Merits, which was only available to a small number of territories. 

BUT NOW, On the Merits will be available for a from all reputable eBook retailers this April. Yes, Jaxon Hall is coming to a Kindle, Kobo or iPad near you. Even better news: my publishers in other territories around the world have also been given the go-ahead to publish it, so it may even be getting translated. When and how they choose to do this is up to them, but I'll make sure I put any information up here when I receive it. I'm so, so pumped about this, and so happy I can share it with more of my readers. I had a hell of a lot of fun writing On the Merits, and I think it's a great resource for those of you who want to learn more about the world of the books. 

And one last thing

There's also another very exciting piece of Bone Season news coming later in the year. I can't give you exact details just yet, but let's just say . . . it's something else for you to read. Keep your eyes peeled for an announcement at some point. And for Song Rising teasers as we creep closer to publication.

Thank you, as always, for your endless patience, kindness, and understanding as I work through this last stretch of editing. I am very lucky to have such brilliant readers, and I hope you'll always feel as if the wait for my books has been worth it. 

Samantha x

Friday, 22 January 2016

Looking back, looking forward

Good evening!

I have a cold. A real stinker of a cold. Tissues are piling up beside my bed, my eyes are swollen – although that may be because I just read a whole book in one sitting – and I'm sneezing about forty times an hour. So this seems like a good time to write my first proper blog post of 2016: a blog post that will look back on last year, and forward to the new one.

As I'm sure you were all able to tell from the dearth of news, 2015, for reasons beyond my control, was a slower year for me than the two that came before it. Apart from the January whirlwind that was The Mime Order's publication and my US tour the following month, I did a lot of waiting in 2015. Waiting for my editor's notes on The Song Rising. Waiting for news to be released about the book. Waiting to buy an apartment. (I'm still not in one.) Waiting for the finale of Life is Strange. (Seriously, that game.) I did so much waiting, in fact, that I ended up starting a standalone high fantasy novel when I didn't have anything else to work on. 

The new project 

I can't begin work on Book 4 until The Song Rising is completely finished, as all sorts of things can change during editing, so for the months my editor had what was the then-untitled Book 3, I had nothing to work on. Nada. If you ever stood with me in the Underground, you'd know that I'm terrible at waiting. If I can't work on something; if I can't pour my imagination into a story, my brain feels like it's going to explode – but some things are meant to be. Although the wait was painful, I'm glad, in hindsight, that I had the time to start this new story. The Bone Season books are my priority, but I've always wanted to write a high fantasy, and I finally had an idea.

And I've fallen in love with it. I had a eureka moment when my little brother asked me to help him with his homework one evening, and the vague ideas I'd been toying with suddenly fell into place. I was starting to get worried that I wouldn't be able to think of an idea I loved as much as The Bone Season, but finally, I had a side project, and I was itching to start it. Within a few weeks, I had joined the British Library so I could access the books I needed to research it, and spent a few afternoons poring over books, familiarising myself with periods of history I haven't dived into before. The Song Rising is my priority now – my editor has given me some structural edits that need my full attention – but it's been wonderful to work on a new world between the stages of publishing. My agent has the partial MS and loves what I've written so far, so fingers crossed he can find it a home with a publisher in 2016. The book is inspired by Eastern and Western mythology and written in third-person from four characters' perspectives – two men and two women – so it's a very different creature from the Bone Season series. I got 70K words of this high fantasy done during my weeks of waiting, then decided to write 50K more as my first NaNoWriMo project.


NaNoWriMo. The Marmite of the literary world. Some swear by it; others can't bear hearing about it. I was always curious, but I was never brave enough to take the plunge. If you haven't heard of it, National Novel Writing Month is a project that encourages writers, however (in)experienced, to write the first 50K words of a manuscript . . . in thirty days. I'm a fast writer, but even I wasn't fool enough to think that this would be easy. I had one month before I needed to get on with Book 4, so this was my last chance in 2015 to get a big chunk of the new project done. So I set up my account, opened the manuscript, and got ready to write. 

Over weeks of late-night writing sessions, typing until my fingers ached and staring at a chart that tracked my progress, I discovered something about myself: I have a competitive streak. I was doing NaNoWriMo with a team of writer buddies, and seeing their word counts go up every day would drive me to my keyboard like a woman possessed. At one point, my friend Claire managed 15K words in one day. Some days I couldn't write for various reasons, so I had to work extra hard the day after to bring my word count up to the daily target. Eventually, I got to 50K a few days early. 

I'm not sure if I'll do NaNo again. Maybe. This year, it came at the right time and worked perfectly for me. I needed to produce a large amount of writing in a short amount of time, and NaNo was the solution. However, I spent most of the month in a state of semi-exhaustion, and I'm not convinced it would be helpful if I didn't desperately need to pump out that much work in a month. It was a lot of fun to be writing at the same time as so many other people, though, and there was a real sense of all moving towards the same goal of creating. It was a good feeling. 


Me with Luiza

I haven't done many events recently, as I'm in that strange limbo between books, but I did have the pleasure of going to ComicCon Portugal a few weeks ago. Usually I'm quite nervous about events in different countries, as I'm never sure how many people will turn up, and I nearly burst into tears when my Q&A was full
– there were even people sitting on the floor. I know I said it a million times on the day, but thank you again to everyone who came. 

I was treated insanely well in Portugal. Luiza Gonçalves, who organised everything, did a terrific job of keeping the event running. I got to talk to two Star Wars actors, among other very talented people. And the food. I tried this one cake in Porto, called orange olive-oil cake, and I think I fell in love. With a cake. Yes.  

Speaking of comics 

. . . I wrote one. A mini one. A short story.

I'll be doing a longer blog about my first experience of comic-writing, but in short, it was a lot of fun, and it allowed me to try out a storytelling method I never had before. I was approached by Vertigo, which is part of DC, almost a year ago, and they asked if I'd be interested in writing a short story for one of their quarterly anthologies. The theme was 'Bang!' – one of the sound effects used in comics. With that word as my prompt, I wrote a story called Message from Yonder, illustrated by Marco Rudy. It'll be out in the anthology on 27th January.

The Song Rising 

I just sent off my most recent round of edits for The Song Rising, and I'll be meeting my editor on the first day of February to talk through the changes I've made and when you guys are going to get more information about the book (e.g. the cover). I am really pleased with how the manuscript looks now; I think it's much stronger than the first draft. I can't wait for you all to follow Paige in the next stage of her journey, and I want to thank you again for your immense patience in waiting for the next instalment of the series. Just know that when you do finally get it in November, it will be the absolute best it can be. 

More news soon.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Resolutions for 2016

  • Finish editing The Song Rising.
  • Start writing Book 4.
  • Find high fantasy a home with a publisher.
  • Drink less coffee. Especially at Starbucks. Stop wasting money on fancy coffee. 
  • Make things happen.
  • Move out of my parents' house. 
  • Pester Bloomsbury until they release On the Merits of Unnaturalness as an eBook.
  • Read a tonne more YA, and continue to ignore to the inevitable articles telling me that at 24 I'm really far too old for it.
  • Drink more water.
  • Attempt to get fit enough to not pant after climbing the stairs.
  • Stop comparing myself to other people. 
  • Take better care of myself.
  • Be more confident. 
  • Less Internet, more reading and writing. There are too many good books I'm missing. 
  • Update blog at least once a month. 
  • Make 2016 much better than 2015. 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Top 10 YA Books of 2015

2015 has been a rollercoaster year for me, but one thing has remained steady: I’ve enjoyed every single book I read. When I left university in 2013, I was woefully behind on my reading for pleasure, so I’ve spent this year trying to catch up via the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I originally challenged myself to read twenty books, then twenty-five, and now I’m only one book away from hitting thirty. Considering I’ve been working on four separate writing projects this year, I’m proud that I found time to read, whether it was on trains or planes or just a few hours in the evening of a weekend.

I have read a lot of fascinating, terrifying, and morally complicated YA books this year. Before 2015, I hadn’t actually read that much YA, as school and university mostly fixed my attention on classics and adult texts, but I’ve met so many authors and attended so many YA events in the last few years, and been so intrigued by so many books, that I had to plunge back in.

YA is amazing. It breaks boundaries, smashes taboos and pushes the limits of imagination. Trying to narrow my list down to ten has been bloody tough, but I think I finally it. So here it is: My Top 10 YA Books Read in 2015.

1. The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renée Ahdieh

Genre(s): Fantasy; romance

I was lovingly pestered into reading this book by Lauren DeStefano, whose opinion of books I trust implicitly, and I’m very glad I listened. (There was this whole saga where I tried to get a physical copy, but it wasn’t available in the UK, and after multiple failed attempts at ordering it, I finally had to settle on the eBook out of sheer impatience. I am envious of anyone who has a physical copy. Look at that cover.) Renée Ahdieh introduces us Shahrzad, or Shazi, who sets out to avenge her best friend by marrying the dreaded Caliph of Khorasan, Khalid Ibn al-Rashid – a man who takes a new bride every night before having her executed at dawn. She soon discovers that there’s more to Khalid than meets the eye. Laced with magic and stories from A Thousand and One Nights, with a witty lead and great side characters, it’s a beautiful, diverse, and vividly drawn love story.

2. Am I Normal Yet? (The Normal Series #1) by Holly Bourne

Genre(s): UKYA; contemporary

YA covers a lot of topics that desperately need covering. One of these is mental health, and this book, the first in a trilogy, delivers a sensitive and well-researched story about Evie, who is recovering from anxiety and OCD – at least, she thinks she’s recovering. As Evie tries to prove she’s “normal”, she befriends Lottie and Amber, two kindred spirits, and they found the Spinster Club, a grassroots feminist movement. Holly Bourne writes with a lot of humour, but is serious at the right moments. The book embraces and explores the word “feminism” and celebrates positive and supportive friendships between girls, which should put it straight on your to-read list. I also really enjoyed its first sequel, How Hard Can Love Be?, which features a tall female character (!) and is out on Valentine’s Day in 2016.

3. Burning Kingdoms (The Internment Chronicles #2) by Lauren DeStefano

Genre(s): Fantasy

I love Lauren DeStefano’s writing. I would read Lauren DeStefano’s laundry list if she sent it to me. Her prose is beautiful in a way that seems effortless; every sentence is a little work of art. Burning Kingdoms, the sequel to Perfect Ruin, is set in a very different world to its predecessor, which centred on a murder on the floating, “utopian” island of Internment. Morgan Stockhour and her fellow fugitives have escaped the island, but they’re about to discover that the ground has many problems of its own – including a war between over phosane, a substance that uses heat and light to produce energy, which the fugitives happen to have already encountered. Burning Kingdoms explores culture shock, tradition, war and freedom in a world that feels inspired by the 1920s. The supporting characters, especially Pen and Birdie, are fantastic, and I like that these books dance somewhere on the line between utopia and dystopia.

4. The Key (Engelsfors #3) by Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg

Genre(s): Urban fantasy

I rave about this series to anyone who will listen. After a long wait for the finale to be translated, it absolutely delivered. For those of you who haven’t yet set foot in Engelsfors (meaning “Angels Falls”), it’s a Swedish urban fantasy trilogy about six girls, all attending the same high school, who discover that they’re witches. There’s so much I love about the books – the story, the setting, the magic system – but it’s the main characters, and their relationships, that make it such a pleasure to read, especially the complex and slow-burning romance between two of the girls. While supernatural threats abound, the six protagonists, who have very different personalities and come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, also have to deal with plenty of non-magical issues, including family problems, drugs, sex, love, self-esteem, acne, and bullying. Get down to your local bookshop and grab The Circle, the first installment in the trilogy – you will not regret it.

5. Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4) by Sarah J. Maas

Genre(s): High fantasy

As anyone who follows me knows, I’m a big fan of Sarah J. Maas’s books, and I’ve grown more and more dazzled by the Throne of Glass series as it’s gone on. With Queen of Shadows, Sarah has blown open her beautiful and dangerous world to include new places, new characters and new threats. Celaena Sardothien, now embracing her identity as Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, has returned to Ardalan to confront her old master, but she’s not the only character on a mission. I love Aelin, and I’ve loved watching her grow from assassin to champion to fire-wielding Fae warrior queen, but I also don’t think I’ve ever cared so much about so many supporting characters in one book, from the wyvern-riding witch Manon Blackbeak to the courtesan Lysandra. If you haven’t started Throne of Glass yet, what are you waiting for?

6. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Genre(s): Dystopia

A must-read for anyone who cares about women’s rights and feminism – or just wants to read a truly chilling dystopia. A worthy descendant of The Handmaid’s Tale (you know it’s high praise when I compare it to Atwood), Only Ever Yours is set in a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, and are bred purely for the pleasure of men. Eating disorders, social media and our obsession with appearance are masterfully woven through the story, and the ending will punch you in the gut. I also strongly recommend O’Neill’s newest book, Asking for It, a harrowing examination of rape culture in a small Irish town.

7. The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

Genre(s): UKYA; contemporary

I first heard of this book when I was at an event in London where Chibundu Onuzo was speaking, and I bought it right away. Onuzo’s debut novel, which she wrote when she was seventeen, is about two characters from very different sides of Lagos: the wealthy Abikẹ Johnson, the titular “Spider King’s Daughter”, and Runner G, an ice-cream hawker from the slums. What starts off as a love story soon turns into something far more dangerous and vengeful. I’ve been searching for more books set outside Europe and America, and I loved sinking into this contemporary tale about Nigerian society, learning its intricacies and divisions, and watching the complex relationships between the characters unfold.

8. Solitaire by Alice Oseman

Genre(s): UKYA; contemporary

I have generally leaned away from books set in British high schools. I didn’t enjoy high school myself, and reading about Sixth Form and A-Levels tends to give me unpleasant flashbacks to the world of exams and cliques. However, as soon as I read the opening paragraph of Solitaire, I had the sense that Alice Oseman, who is still at university, completely understood my natural aversion to school. (The opening line: “I am aware as I step into the common room that the majority of people here are almost dead, including me.”) Solitaire is told through the eyes of Tori Spring, a pessimistic teenager whose school comes under fire by pranksters. There are some wonderful characters in this book – I especially loved Charlie – and Tori’s world-weary voice really makes the story. if you read Solitaire, do grab the two e-novellas, Nick and Charlie and This Winter. I’m looking forward to Alice’s next book, Radio Silence, which is out in 2016.

9. Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre(s): Sci-fi

This one wins the prize for my favourite YA book of 2015. Told in “found document” style – including blood-splattered emails, interview transcripts and the ravings of a damaged AI – it follows Kady Grant and Ezra Mason, whose planet is attacked by the mega-corporation BeiTech. (Also, they just broke up that morning. Damn.) As their escape vessels flee across space, pursued a battleship that means to silence the survivors, all hell breaks loose. Whilst the book is dark, it’s shot through with a tonne of humour and often had me laughing out loud, especially the scenes between Kady and AIDAN, one of the best unhinged computers I’ve come across. Illuminae has been on the New York Times bestseller list for seven weeks now, and I hope it will stay there for many weeks to come. Now give me the next one, plzthx.

10. Way Down Dark (The Australia Trilogy #1) by James Smythe

Genre(s): UKYA; sci-fi; dystopia

This book deserves a hell of a lot more hype. Way Down Dark is brutal, action-packed from the get-go, and incredibly well-plotted; I was hooked from start to finish. I first discovered James Smythe’s writing when I read his adult sci-fi, The Machine, and I was excited to find out that he was taking the leap into YA. Way Down Dark is about seventeen year-old Chan, who lives on the Australia, a spaceship that has been hurtling away from a dying Earth for several generations. Chan’s whole life is about survival, and on board the Australia, where vicious gangsters fight and slaughter for control of every part of the ship, survival isn’t easy – and neither is holding on to your humanity. This installment ends on a killer cliffhanger, which promises a much bigger world in the next two books.