Sunday, 25 November 2012

The boxing of books

Red carpet shot!
So Tuesday was the Women of the Future awards ceremony. What a crazy night! The ceremony took place at the London Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square, where three cups of tea cost £17. (Did they use the milk of Isis?) Attendees included Vince Cable, Kelly Holmes and James Caan, with presenter Tania Bryer acting as compère. I've never been at such a big event – it was a bit overwhelming! There were so many talented ladies there, including professional adventurer Sarah Outen, who sailed by herself across the Indian Ocean, and Leanne Pero, founder of The Movement Factory. It was a real honour to be recognised among people who had achieved so much; I still can't believe it's all happening. You can see the names of the winners here.

After a busy few weeks of editing, Alexandra and David have advised me to take the next two weeks off – not only to get some sleep, but so I can come back to do a final check on The Bone Season over with fresh eyes. (You know you're working too hard when your publisher literally tells you to stop writing.) The final MS looks fantastic – I'm so pleased with it! It's come such a long way since David first offered me representation. Alexa and I have worked very well as a team to bring out the best in the story, and in my writing. I'm officially ready for it to go to press in January. The proofs were originally going to be ready before Christmas, but to make sure I don't have to rush my final read-through, Bloomsbury have decided to go with early 2013 instead. 


I'm reminded every day why I chose Bloomsbury to be my publishers. They really care about their authors, not just about getting novels out to meet deadlines. It's a huge relief to have a few extra weeks to read through The Bone Season carefully and make sure there are no little inconsistencies left over from old drafts. It's been a slow process, and I know it's frustrating for you guys not to have a lot of information about the book after all this time, but I promise, next year will reveal much more. I'm getting my own website set up with a soundtrack for the novel, as well as clues and other little bits and bobs. I've worked my socks off this year to make The Bone Season the absolute best it can be when you start reading it. 


HOT TOPIC


Genre

I keep seeing articles with titles like 'the rise of New Adult fiction'. This is just one example of what I'm going to call a vogue genre. First it was chick-lit, then paranormal romance, then urban fantasy, vampire fiction, dystopian fiction, YA – the list goes on and on. Vogue genres are the ones that have a little marketing zing around them. 'Twilight was successful? Let's pick up loads more vampire novels.' That kind of thing. Now the new buzzword is New Adult.

From what I understand, NA deals with similar themes and situations to YA – sometimes called 'mature YA' – but the protagonist tends to be older, from 18 to about 25. The books deal with the 'coming-of-age' that comes between being a teenager and an adult. The violence is heavier, the sex scenes steamier. Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled by the surge in interest in older protagonists. The Bone Season's narrator, Paige, is 19. Many of the characters are even older, ranging from 15 to about 60. I'm delighted that readers are hungry for grown-up characters and settings – but I'm starting to get a little jaded when it comes to genre. I don't think novels should be shunted into these rigid categories. Look at Harry Potter. It was marketed as children's fiction, but people of all ages loved it: adults, young adults, kids, grandparents. Twilight was YA, but again, people of all ages enjoyed it – you see 'Twilight mums' with tattoos of Edward Cullen on their backs. They found something they loved in YA.


It's important to remember that the novel itself is a hybrid of several forms. It wasn't until the eighteenth century that the idea of the 'novel' really set in, pulled together from the strings of 'romances', 'histories' and 'adventures' (the text widely accepted first English novel, Robinson Crusoe, was originally entitled The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe). The form is still young, but it's entrenched in our minds – just like genre. 

I've been asked several times what genre The Bone Season falls into. Truth is, I didn't write it with a genre in mind. I didn't stick to a pattern. I knew I wanted to play around with dystopia after reading The Handmaid's Tale, but I didn't force myself to stick to a rigid structure. That was what made Aurora bad. With The Bone Season, I just wrote it. The result is a mix of several genres. It's urban fantasy because it's set in cities. It's dystopian (not post-apocalyptic, which involves humankind recovering from an end-of-days scenario) because it involves a government that hunts a particular group of people. It's paranormal because many of the characters are supernatural creatures, the Rephaim. There are elements of steampunk and cyberpunk because of its Victorian-influenced, futuristic setting; there's also a bit of thriller, mystery and suspense. As for age range, all I'd say is that it's not for kids! Luckily, Bloomsbury have taken a 'genreless' approach to the book. The cover doesn't give anything away in terms of genre. It could be pretty much anything. It's a risky venture, but I hope it's one that will pay off. 


When DGA was selling The Bone Season in France, they had a bit of a dilemma. Several French editors had read and enjoyed it, but they were struggling to work out where to put it in the French market. French readers, they said, like to be sure about their categories. They like to read books from clean-cut genres. The fact that I'd "mixed too many genres together" led to several publishers turning the book down, despite saying how much they loved the writing. Fortunately I received a very enthusiastic offer from Éditions J'ai Lu, which publishes A Game of Thrones in French. But if they'd been put off by the cross-section of genres, I might not have been able to publish in France at all. This was what really made me aware of genre as a barrier, even a restriction, in the literary world.   


Some publishers get nervous when they can't put a book in one box. I can understand why, as most bookshops are divided by genre and audience ('adult fantasy', 'YA romance' and so on). There does, obviously, need to be some kind of organisation, or you wouldn't know where to start looking for a book you might enjoy. Many of the foreign publishers I've sold The Bone Season to have put it under a YA imprint, even though it isn't YA. I hope YA readers will enjoy it, but it was written with a slightly older audience in mind. Those publishers have assigned a genre to the book that is technically incorrect, given that a 'young adult' is someone of between 12 and 18 – maybe because they saw it as YA, maybe because they had to put it somewhere. Whatever the reason, it risks putting off the slightly older readers for whom the book was written. I don't expect to influence the way in which others perceive my work (Death of the Author theory) but it interests me that the expectation of genre holds so much sway over it. I'm especially interested to see where bookshops will shelve it.  


I can see the necessity of genre for writers, readers and publishers, but that doesn't stop me being wary of it. Not only does it mean that novels that don't conform to genre are ignored (or at least treated with caution), but it also encourages writers to produce cookie-cutter novels based on successful genres, instead of taking risks and writing 'hybrid' or 'genreless' fiction. If not for that all-important mindset of experimentation, the novel itself might never have been born. In a genre-based book market, I don't know what the solution might be. There's a singer called Santigold who claims to produce genreless music. This is abnormal in the music industry, just as it is in the publishing industry. But surely if we get too entrenched in genre, no new genres will come into existence? Genre is born from tradition, but also from experimentation. I only hope that, as we move into an era in which publishers take fewer risks, genre is always treated as a classification system – not as a blueprint for the kind of literature that gets published. 

What do you guys think about genre? Do you like to choose your books based on it, or do you look for gripping synopses, no matter what the category?


S

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Bits and bobs

So the edits are finished! At last. When I say "finished", I mean 99% finished. I was up for 20 straight hours between Thursday and Friday, but it was worth it. I will be looking through the MS a few more times to check that everything looks okay, and I'm going to talk to Alexa tomorrow so we can make sure it's ready to go to production. 

I'm really excited about the next stage. This is where the book actually becomes a book. Bloomsbury has some amazing plans for the hardback copy of The Bone Season, which I think is going to be really beautiful. Speaking of which, the cover will definitely be released soon! I'll see if I can get an idea of the date when I visit the team tomorrow.    

I'm afraid it's another short entry this week – I'm still really busy with coursework and Christmas things at college, so I'm going to save my big blog on editing the week after next (Sunday 2 December), when term is finished and everything is wrapped up.



QUESTIONS 

Do you think you'll be relieved to finally put it behind you? (Melissa)

I have mixed feelings about finishing the edits. I think I could edit the book forever, like I did with Aurora, but there comes a point where you have to let a novel go and make its own way in the world. The Bone Season is a book that will never truly be finished, but I think there's a point at which you have to force yourself to stop editing, because you could play with dialogue and scenes until the end of time. I've edited it about six times overall. I want it to be the absolute best it can be by the time it gets to you. It's very nerve-racking to send your work out to be read and reviewed. Wonderful, but nerve-racking. I know I'll read the finished copy and think there are things I could have done better, things I could have phrased differently, but overall I'm very pleased with the final MS. It's improved a lot since I first gave it to my agent. I'm really excited about the proofs being made up.   

When will you begin to write the next book in the series? (Melissa)

Already started! I've written about 50K words of the sequel. I'm not going to write any more until after I graduate in August 2013, as I need to concentrate on my exams  – and then on The Bone Season coming out – but I have a good foundation to work on. 

Have any of the publishing companies mentioned whether or not the title will change when published in other languages? (DWD Johnson

Not yet. My foreign publishers haven't been able to start the translations, as the edits have taken a little longer than expected. Once it's all ready to go, my agent will be able to send the MS off to them. It'll be interesting to see how they translate the title, as The Bone Season has two meanings in English. I'm really looking forward to working with translators, and so pleased that so many people will be able to read it in their own language.  


What does your general desk/writing setup look like? (DWD Johnson


At uni I have a desk with a lamp for reading, a kettle and coffee-making ingredients on my right, and papers all over the place. I've lost the fine art of filing my uni work over the last three years. At home, I have a small office, with my books on shelves (and in every single cupboard) and my desktop computer. When I eventually move out, I'd really love to have an old-fashioned writing space with a gramophone and a candlestick phone. Further evidence that I was born in the wrong century. I also keep notebooks by my bed, as I tend to have my best ideas in the middle of the night.   

BOOK RECOMMENDATION


It's rare that I recommend a new book – I spend most of my time examining books from hundreds of years ago – but I really feel compelled to recommend this one. I just re-read it and fell in love with it all over again. 


Mimi by Lucy Ellman

Bloomsbury (14 February 2013)

Mimi and I have a history. When I was working for David, he handed me a manuscript from an existing client, Lucy Ellman, and asked me to write a book report on it to see if I thought it was worth publishing. I read it over two days, not knowing what to expect. It is now one of the only books about which I am outright evangelical. I fell in love with everything about it: the narrator, the love story, the courageous message, the humour. On the surface it doesn't sound like a book I'd ever read – I'm always on my guard when "love story" is introduced into the blurb, just because there are so few romances I enjoy – but I'm so glad I did. I was over the moon when I found out it had been picked up by Bloomsbury. 


I'm very proud to have had a hand in helping this book to publication, and it's one of the only novels about which I am fairly evangelical. I recognise the unavoidable smell of bias – Lucy Ellmann has the same publisher and the same agent as I do – but I honestly can't get over this book, and I'd never be this enthusiastic if I didn't love it. Ellmann has a quirky style that turns this short novel into an energetic, almost hallucinogenic experience. I couldn't stop reading, and I had to read again when I got hold of an ARC. It's very funny, touching, gritty, and has a powerful ending. Mimi is released in the UK on Valentine's Day.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Quick update

The Bone Season has sold in Thai

The Post Publishing Public Company Limited, Bangkok


Just a quick update this week. It's code red on editing at the moment: I've got two weeks to wrap up the last of them and get the finished manuscript to Bloomsbury. I also have to finish my Emily Dickinson coursework by early December. I know it's been a long time coming, but it's scary to think I won't be able to touch The Bone Season once this last round is done! The good thing is that the MS is looking really good. I've added some new scenes I love. We're on track for proofs to go out around December, so the cover should definitely be released in time for Christmas!

Thanks to everyone that wished me a happy 21st birthday on Thursday. I had a wonderful day – my friends and family spoiled me rotten, and the team at Bloomsbury sent me some lovely gifts, as well as a gorgeous card based on the cover of The Bone Season. I have the best publishers! And, er, it's not every day you get birthday flowers from Andy Serkis and Jonathan Cavendish.

I'll be back to questions after the edits are finished.  

Sunday, 4 November 2012

November tidings

It's November – National Novel Writing Month. I love having a birthday in a month so strongly associated with writing. This Thursday I'll be turning 21. The last two years have gone by like thatScary that I'll be nearly 22 by the time The Bone Season is published. So altogether the process of Book 1 will have taken about four years, as I started writing it when I was 19. 

This week I'll be answering some neglected questions and doing a little challenge by the lovely Booklover. I'm doing this because it gives me the chance to talk about my personal life as well as books. Which may or may not be interesting...  


Just in case anyone has any more questions about editing, I will be doing a summary of the edits as soon as Alexa confirms that we've officially finished them, so if you have any specific questions you'd like me to answer for that then go ahead and leave one in the comments. 




THE BONE SEASON UPDATES

The edits are finished! Again. AGAIN. I sat down on Sunday night and got them done. I know a lot of you have been surprised by how many edits I've done on The Bone Season, but editing is all part of the process. I imagine the amount of editing differs between each author and each book. I keep toying with characterisation and dialogue, trying to get it exactly right. There's been so much early interest in The Bone Season and I want to make sure this book is the absolute best it can be by the time you guys finally get to read it. I want to start off this series with a confident debut. I've got so much planned for the other books, so I hope The Bone Season will provide a strong beginning. 

In film news, I'm making up a portfolio of my ideal cast members and some visual references. I've got my friend Leiana to do some drawings of the characters – she's incredibly talented.   


QUESTIONS 


Could you talk a bit more about your world building plans and plot outlines? Perhaps the timing of the two and how they interact? (DWD Johnson

Sorry for the delay in answering this one. When I started writing The Bone Season I had a fairly good idea of how I wanted the world of Scion to look. I certainly knew where I wanted to set it. I made plans about the sort of things Scion London denizens would do, what they'd act like, and the sort of things they'd be exposed to on a daily basis. I started writing with maybe 60% of the world constructed. Actually putting your character into the world is what completes it. You start seeing through their eyes, and as the character moves around you start thinking more about what they might be seeing, hearing and doing. Things just fall into place. I wouldn't worry too much if you don't have a Tolkien-sized world developed before you start  you'll end up never writing the novel. 


Remember, Tolkien himself was inspired by a single sentence that came to him when he looked at a blank page: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit". Note the two main factors in this sentence: the setting and the character. He'd been playing around with mythology since 1917, but it was that simple image of the hobbit in his hobbit-hole that actually got him writing. I had a similar experience with The Bone Season: my version was "in Seven Dials there lived a clairvoyant". I didn't write it down, but that was the basic idea that formed in my head. I'd been flirting with ideas about dreamscapes and mediums, but that setting and that word, clairvoyant, brought it all together.
A rough idea of a setting and character should be enough to get you going; other ideas can be pulled in as you go along. Try writing your own version of Tolkien's sentence and see where it takes you.   


How your world-building interacts with your plot line is tricky. Both are very important in, say, fantasy, but perhaps not so important in other genres. The plot is what's going to keep your readers reading, so you need it to be strong, but it also needs to be supported by a believable world (even if you're not writing fantasy). Overall, I'd say it's good to start off with at least a vague idea of what the world looks like, but the plot is the élan vital of the novel. Get straight into it. Start writing and pull in the various parts of the world as you go. Think of the plot as a spinning wheel  the driving force  and the world as the material. Together they'll make one strong thread.  



BLOG CHALLENGE 


Like I said, this challenge is from Booklover and involves answering a series of questions, which may or may not be related to writing. I've cut out some of the questions so this post doesn't get too long, but I hope this is enough!


1. What kind of blog you like to read?


I'm fairly new to blogs – I only started blogging regularly this year – but I do like to peek at book blogs. I find them refreshingly in-depth. Professional critics are often restrained by word limits, so it's great to see readers being able to offer extensive analyses of books they've enjoyed (or not enjoyed, as the case may be). I also like urban exploration blogs. 


2. Who are your favourite writers and why?



Margaret Atwood
My favourite living writer is Margaret Atwood (right), whose book The Handmaid's Tale, along with 1984 and Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, first got me interested in speculative and dystopian fiction. I've been meaning to read her novels Day of the Flood and Oryx and Crake for so long. The majority of writers I love, however, are long-dead. Emily Dickinson is my absolute favourite poet – I chose her as my Special Author for my degree, and many of the themes in her poetry have inspired me in planning The Bone Season and its sequels. If there was one poet I could bring back to life, it would absolutely be her. More on Dickinson later. 


Other poets I admire include the legendary Dr John Donne (who provides a very obscure Bone Season clue), who I first studied during A-Levels. Donne was a 16/17th-century metaphysical poet, contemporaneous with Shakespeare, who wrote the hilarious poem 'The Flea'. If you haven't read it, do. It involves a man desperately trying to persuade a woman to sleep with him on the grounds that they've both been fed on by the same flea, so they've pretty much had sex anyway ('This flea is you and I, and this / Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is'). He's a bit mournful when she squashes said flea.  


I adore Edgar Allan Poe. The man needed a hug. His short story The Pit and the Pendulum is one of the best expositions of terror I've ever read – Poe was a master of suspense. His poetry is classic macabre, if you're into being Really Really Dark. Another favourite verse-spinner is the Pearl-poet, an anonymous Middle English writer who is thought to have written Pearl and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, among others. In terms of prose, the authors nearest my heart are all three Brontë sisters (including Anne, who is too often overlooked), Charles Dickens, Isaac Asimov, J. K. Rowling, Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, and many others.       

3. What is the best thing that has happened in your life?

Getting The Bone Season published, seeing the Great Pyramid at Giza, and my siblings being born. 

4. Who would you like to meet right now and why?

Emily Dickinson. She sounds like a fascinating person – and like Poe, I think she needed a hug. There's a misconception that Dickinson was extremely antisocial due to her isolated lifestyle, but her letters and poems call out for companionship. One poem states "This is my Letter to the World / That never wrote to Me". She often invited her friends to visit her and received no reply, though she had a very close relationship with her sister-in-law, Susan. 

5. What is your favorite time of year and why?

Winter. It's my birthday season. I love seeing everything covered in frost. There's something quite romantic about writing in on a dark morning with the heater on, some good old-fashioned music and a cup of coffee, looking out at the snow and rain. In the summer I'm too busy trying to keep cool to focus properly until the sun goes down.  

6. Why do you write?

Cliché alert: I can hardly remember a time when I didn't write. Creating stories is part of me. I write because I love to create, because I love to build worlds, because I love to develop characters, and because I want to share my words with other people. When I discovered writing it changed the course of my life. Since I was 13 and first penned a story, I've never stopped.    


7. Tell five things you like and five things you don't like.


Like: Books, gramophones, coffee houses, twentieth-century music, cinema. 

Dislike: Liquid eyeliner, anchovies, blood tests, sunburn, driving.  

8. Where would you like to travel?


Everywhere! I love travelling. Top of my list at the moment are New Zealand and Australia. I've had so much support from down under and it sounds like such a gorgeous place. I'd also like to visit Asia and South America, as I haven't been to those continents yet, and to return to Sweden and perhaps explore a bit more of Scandinavia. I'd love to visit all the countries where The Bone Season is being translated, too. 

9. What makes you happy?


Lots of things, but so long as I can write I'm always pretty happy. 



More questions answered next week. Do continue asking questions, guys    they give me great ideas for posts!