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 


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. 

Porto 

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.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Forward Women

I did a keynote speech for the Guardian's brilliant Forward Women event today, discussing my career and the climate for women in publishing, and I thought I'd post a section of it up on my blog for those who couldn't attend. I've cut the opening section of my speech, as it covers familiar ground about the beginnings of my career, but here's the rest.



... Even now, in 2015, there are certain paths we are expected to follow; certain behaviours that are considered “womanly or unwomanly; certain sacrifices we are expected to make to fit in with the norm. I was horrified recently to read of a gender equality survey carried out by YouGov in 24 countries, where one of the statements put to participants was “It is unattractive for women to express strong opinions in public”. The global average of female participants who agreed with that statement was 15%. Let me just repeat that: a global average of 15% of female participants taking that survey believe it is unattractive for women to express strong opinions in public. In 2015, that should be 0% for both male and female respondents, but to see women think it was particularly upsetting, and shows that we still have a lot more work to do.

It has also traditionally been women, rather than men, who were expected to choose between their career and being a parent. Just this month there was an article in the Telegraph with a female headteacher who said that we shouldn’t be telling young women that the glass ceiling no longer exists, because the onus is still on women to make tough choices between their biological calendar, to quote the article, and their work life. 

I did a radio interview with Caitlin Moran in 2014, and she used a fantastic quote, “I cannot be what I cannot see”. Young women need to see themselves in all sectors to be reassured that they belong there. We can see from recent campaigns for more women to be on bank notes and in passports that we still struggle to celebrate female achievement, in no small part because women were historically not allowed to enter certain jobs, but also because we are only just beginning to realise that the way we teach history has very much been about “his story”, not hers. As I said earlier, one of my special subjects at university was Principles of Film Criticism, and in all of my time studying it, I didn’t learn about any female directors. Yet I discovered later that some of the earliest filmmakers, like French pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché, were women. Guy-Blaché was making films before women were even allowed to vote. I had to find out about her from Twitter.

One of the ideas I wanted to address in this speech was whether or not being female has affected my career. I don’t believe my gender has significantly held me back in terms of my success as an author, but I do think it has given me a different experience of the book world than I would have had as a man. The publishing industry itself is certainly not male-dominated; many literary agents, editors and other members of the industry are female, as are many successful authors. However, if you dig a little deeper, there are still many hurdles we need to overcome as we strive for complete gender equality. The annual VIDA count, which analyses literary journals and periodicals through the lens of gender, highlights what the VIDA organisation calls the “sloped playing field”, where men are more likely than women to review books, and have their books reviewed, in major publications. Numbers have improved since 2010, when the VIDA count first revealed the scope of the problem, but it does still exist.

There is the issue of explicit gender markers on books. While many people will be familiar terms like “women’s fiction” and “chick lit”, there is no public awareness of “men’s fiction” – because it doesn’t exist, presumably because men’s fiction is considered universal, while women’s is not. Shannon Hale, author of the Princess Academy series and Austenland among others, has recently started a campaign called Stories for All, where both male and female authors have shared their experiences of gender-based marketing, and how boys are often assumed to not be interested in books about girls. The campaign contests the idea that there should be “boys’ books” and “girls’ books”. I am very lucky to have a publisher that doesn’t box my books as being for women only – my covers are gender-neutral – but some women, like the bestselling author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris, have reported having their work bound in flowery or pink jackets, even if such stereotypically feminine motifs and colours are not relevant to their writing.

In the midst of this, I am very grateful to my publisher for urging to me to use my own name on my books. Originally I was planning to use an androgynous pseudonym or my first initials, as I was afraid that men might be put off picking up my books if they saw that a woman had written them, and in a way I was right to be afraid. When Joanne Harris highlighted her experience of sexism in the industry in a string of tweets this July, she reported being told by a man at an academic party that he “never read books by women”. This a sad and limiting attitude, and it’s one that won’t go away while terms like “women’s fiction” exist in the public mindset. Fortunately, Bloomsbury didn’t think it was necessary for me to hide my gender. This marks an encouraging difference in the publishing house’s perspective since JK Rowling was asked to use her initials for fear that boys would be put off reading Harry Potter. I’m relieved that I followed Bloomsbury’s advice and wrote under my full birth name, because, as I quoted earlier, “I cannot be what I cannot see”. It’s vital that women feel confident using their own names and identifying as female within their chosen career, in order to normalise the presence of women in all sectors.

Within books themselves, we have seen an explosion of female-driven stories, particularly in Young Adult fiction. Although my books are published as Adult, I also have the great privilege of participating in, and knowing many people from the Young Adult book community, where there are more complex, interesting, and independent female characters than you can shake a stick at. Protagonists like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen are often praised as role models for modern women. In 2008, Katniss was a new kind of heroine, the polar opposite to damsel in distress Bella Swan from Twilight, who gives up her mortal life for a husband and a baby. Like Bella, Katniss gave birth to a new kind of book, this time with a lead character not defined by her love interest. “Strong female character” is the ultimate buzzword in today’s crop of books for teenagers, especially teenaged girls. A clear message is being sent: that female readers are rejecting the Bella life, taking up their bows and firing an arrow into traditional gender roles for women. On the surface, this seems like a positive step towards empowerment, but the more I’ve considered it, the more it seems to continue imposing a harsh dichotomy on girls, and raise another glass ceiling in the world of fiction. Female characters of all kinds are being written about, but they are persistently viewed as being “strong” like Katniss or “weak” like Bella, rather than multifaceted, unique people. 

When I was in Spain on tour last year, a journalist told me bluntly that my narrator, Paige, was not as strong as Katniss Everdeen, and he asked me why this was. I was at a loss for words, because I couldn’t work out why the question was relevant. Paige and Katniss are completely different women. They go through different experiences and cope with them in different ways – yet here, they were pitted against one another. It felt like a competition I hadn’t entered, a little Hunger Games of its own, with female characters constantly compared and vying against one another to be “strongest”. I still kick myself for not asking the journalist how he came to the conclusion that Paige was weak. I have my own theories, and I’m uncomfortable with all of them. Nowadays, I would definitely have tried to engage the journalist in conversation about it. If there’s one thing I could tell my past self, it’s to be more confident in questioning and sharing ideas with other people.

In my four years in the publishing industry, I have very rarely, if ever, seen male characters likened in this way; neither have I heard the term “strong male character”. Male characters are treated as individuals, as people, and are by default assumed to be strong, while in my opinion, many female protagonists are positioned as knock-offs of their predecessors; copycat cut-outs of Katniss Everdeen or Hermione Granger or other girls who came before them, as if only a limited number of women can be acknowledged as individuals in fiction. There should be room for every female character to exist without comparison to others. It might seem trivial to assess how fictional characters are treated by the media, but all good fiction holds up a mirror to reality. After a few years of observing this culture of comparison, I have resolved never to think of myself as being in competition with other women in my industry, or in my life in general. I want to try my best to raise up other female authors and celebrate their accomplishments as I would celebrate my own. I don’t want to compare myself to them, but to stand alongside them.

In conclusion, I want to encourage all of you today not only to use this conference to learn valuable skills for your own careers, but to talk to the women around you, the other young women who are attending this conference, and be inspired by them. Take heart in their ambition and their achievements. Share wisdom among yourselves. Celebrate what women have done, can do, and are doing. Encourage each other to reach for your goals. Every step women take in their professional lives is a step towards addressing a history of invisibility and ensuring that new generations of women can envision themselves in all careers, and if we take those steps together, it won’t be long before women will stop surprising everyone with their strength.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Semi-Finals


Hello!

Just a quick note to say thank you all so, so much for your wonderful response to the title of the third Bone Season book, and your patience regarding the release date. I'm glad the book finally has a name I can share – it makes publication feel that little bit closer.

I was also totally thrilled to discover today that The Mime Order has become a semi-finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2015 for Best Fantasy after it received enough write-in votes from readers to qualify. Thank you!! If you fancy voting for it, or any of the other candidates, you can do so here – there are some wonderful books nominated, like Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas, All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher, and The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh, all favourites of mine for this year. Thank you in advance if you do vote for The Mime Order!

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Song Rising


After an incredibly long wait, I am proud to present the title of the third installment in the Bone Season septology: THE SONG RISING, out in November 2016! It might be my favourite title so far – I hope you all love it as much as I do!

I just want to thank you all for your incredible patience in waiting for this reveal over the last year. I feel so grateful to have such loyal and enthusiastic readers – thank you, thank you. I know another year is a long time to wait to have the book in your hands, but I’m confident that Bloomsbury has chosen this date for a good reason, and I will do my utmost to make the wait easier to bear with teasers and hints.

THE SONG RISING will be available to pre-order from all reputable retailers very soon. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s up.

Also, Bloomsbury are currently running three competitions to win On the Merits of Unnaturalness, ending on Sunday. You can find them below: 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Getting Vertigo

Hi, everyone:

You’ve all been incredibly patient in waiting for news about the third Bone Season book for the past few months – thank you. Although we’re inching closer to the reveal of the title and release date, I also have a little bit of news from elsewhere while you wait: I’m making my comic-writing debut! I’ve written a short story for the final installment in Vertigo’s quarterly SFX anthology series, based around the sound effect BANG! I never thought I’d get the opportunity to try out this method of storytelling, much less have it illustrated by a professional artist, and I had a lot of fun with it. 

The anthology will go on sale on 27 January, 2016, exactly a year after The Mime Order came out. You can find out more here.