One of the most fun things about being a debut author is that I finally got a chance to swap writing tips with other authors and share some of my own. I feel a lot less alone now than I did when I was working away on The Girl Who… in my basement, wondering if it would ever amount to anything… or if I’d ever even finish it. There’s some really strong advice in these chats from smart, talented kid-lit and young adult writers. So if you’re looking for writing tips or general writing advice, it’s worth taking a look…
This is me on super-spooky Amy McCaw’s BookTube channel we talk about how to create characters with depth and tricky second books (how you take 10 years to write your first then have to crank the second one out in a year flat, while still learning how to be a better writer. There’s also some good book recommendations in there.
Here’s my Book Chain chat with Sarah Ann Juckes we talk about writing from unusual perspectives – her main character is bed-bound with a chronic debilitating illness. And how to create a satisfying ending without making it super-neat and sugar-sweet.
People can’t bring themselves to say what happened to her. They just describe her as ‘the girl who… you know…’. But nobody really knows, no one sees the real Leah.
Leah is the perfect survivor. She was seven years old when she saw her mother and sister killed by a troubled gang member. Her case hit the headlines and her bravery made her a national sweetheart: strong, courageous and forgiving.
But Leah is hiding a secret about their deaths. And now, ten years later, all she can think of is revenge.
When Leah’s dad meets a new partner, stepsister Ellie moves in. Sensing Leah isn’t quite the sweet girl she pretends to be, Ellie discovers that Leah has a plan, one she has been putting together ever since that fateful day. Now that the killer – and the only one who knows the truth – is being released from prison, time is running out for Ellie to discover how far Leah will go to silence her anger . . .
I wanted to be a writer from the age of seven, but got a little bit distracted by the world of magazines. Over the years I’ve written for titles including Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Good Housekeeping, Prima, that’s life! and Marie Claire. I specialise in real life interviews, talking to seemingly ordinary people about their extraordinary lives, and these chats inspired me to put myself in other people’s shoes and imagine how different life can be. I write young adult thrillers about people in impossible emotional situations, with a little bit of murder thrown in. My dream is to sit and write books all day then sit and read books all night, but I also love procrastinating on social media, being sarcastic and swimming in the sea.
Here it is – the cover for my next book, Dead Lucky and I love it so much! The idea first came to me almost two years ago, when there were lots of debates about dangerous copycat stunts on video streaming sites and I thought… what if a famous YouTuber was murdered on their channel? I mentioned it offhandedly to my agent and she got chills – so I immediately started working. And this is the result – my twisted lockdown-born baby. Dead Lucky has a few elements of horror, with a masked figure threatening my poor hapless content creators. It’s mainly a thriller with my “professional airhead” Maxine racing to uncover the truth while retaining her tenuous grip on reality. And it’s funny in places too – honest!
It’s always a bit nerve-wracking waiting for your cover design – visual arts isn’t my strong point as you can see by this picture on the right, which was my own terrible attempt at sketching out a concept! But like a lot of art-ignoramuses I do know what I like, and I absolutely love what the designer Mark Swan has done. Making the cover bright AND creepy must have been a challenge, but he’s pulled it off. I love the colours, the fractured image and the placement of the title. Now all we have to do is launch the thing!
And here’s the official Dead Lucky blurb, if you want to know more….
They are the influencers, the lucky ones. Gifted, gilded people who have everything – fame, respect, adulation, more freebies than they can ever unbox. Their lives, loves and feuds are shared with millions of fans on the streaming platform PlayMii, and they are living the dream.
But it’s broken Ed’s heart.
It’s crushing Maxine.
It’s destroying Leni’s friendships.
And it’s gone to Xav’s head.
Then, a masked figure walks into Xav’s apartment and murders him on camera.
As the world reels with shock, Maxine discovers Xav was sitting on a file of secrets about his fellow creators – career-destroying secrets that they’d do anything to keep hidden. And if she doesn’t find the file, she could be next . . .
One of the weirdest thing about being an author is taking that secret beloved project you nurtured for years and then… having to talk about it in front of the whole world. Thankfully I had The Book Chain Project to ease me into this. It’s a really simple idea: One week one author interviews another, who then interviews the next in turn. It’s a great way to find out about different authors’ work – and amazing to find out how much we all have in common.
First I was interviewed…
When it was my turn, my interviewer was Dave Cousins, author of YA books like 15 Days Without A Head, and middle grade books including My Robot’s Gone Wild. I was unbelievably nervous and cack-handed, Dave was incredibly confident and professional! We talked the media spotlight, ‘missing White Woman syndrome’ mental health issues… But we also talked about Calvin And Hobbes, how we both write by the seat of our pants and why I love piglet squid. (Answer: what’s not to love?) It really was a pleasure to chat and swap writing tips.
Then I was the interviewer…
I’ve spent years interviewing people so I was much more comfortable being the one asking the questions. I was really excited to get the opportunity to talk to Sarah Ann Juckes, author of Outside and The World Between Us. Like me, she writes stories about young people in impossible situations so we have a bit of common ground.
Sarah’s books are full of insight, wisdom, suspense and big feels and it was brilliant to get the inside story on how she writes. The book is told from two different perspectives, which switch from paragraph to paragraph. That sort of thing is hard to pull off, but it works so smoothly and sends a strong message about how two people can look at the same view and see something completely different.
Huge thanks to KL Kettle for organising the Book Chain, and making it so wide and varied. There are debuts, well-known names, picture book, middle grade and YA fiction writers. If it’s writing tips you’re after there’s so much wisdom in there. Check out the YouTube channel for more Book Chain Project videos, and it’s also available as a podcast. And the chain is still rumbling on – for latest interviews, follow @thebookchain on Twitter!
You can read more about my writing on my blog, about my book deal here or get some more info on my book, The Girl Who… here.
This is Leah. Ten years ago she witnessed a troubled gang member kill her mother and sister. The media focus on her as a survivor made her a public figure, a famous survivor and a poster child for forgiveness. People feel sorry for her. People admire her. But at seventeen she’s hiding a darker side, an angrier side. And she can’t stop thinking about revenge…
And then there’s Ellie. She likes to think she’s pretty easy going. All she wants to do is hang out with her mates, make YouTube videos and, eventually, get famous. But then her mum fell in love with Leah’s dad. And she has to move out of her nice comfy home in to Leah’s gloomy flat above a decrepit bookshop. And she’s the only one who can see that Leah’s really not OK. That she might be planning to do something terrible…
The Girl Who… is about surviving trauma, about coming to terms with the past, but it’s also about figuring out who you are, despite other people’s perceptions of you. It’s also about the cringes and quibbles of living with a stepfamily. I really hope that you like it.
History is full of stories of people who write against the odds, with the threat of jail, disgrace or death by consumption hanging over their heads and somehow this spurs them on to create works of great mastery, but to be honest most writers I know function best when they have warm feet, a steady flow of tea or coffee and the knowledge that their writing won’t land them in jail. Still, back when I started I always used to think that writing would be what got me through any big trauma, that it would be something to focus on, to escape into, when normal life imploded.
And then All This started. (All This is the universally accepted shorthand for saying “a bloody great pandemic which is killing people around the world and creating a global recession as well as making us all stay home going a little crazy.”) It’s changed life for very single one of us, affecting our work in so many different ways. So what kind of lockdown writer are you…?
1: The Barbara Cartland
I don’t mean by this that you’re a pink-wearing aristocrat with the habit of making sexist pronouncements and wearing too much mascara but that you’re incredibly productive (Babs, God love her, wrote over 700 books.) From day one you were rattling off chapter after chapter. The words flow, the plots knit together, and after you wore through your keyboard you took to lying on a chaise lounge dictating your work to your butler. Possibly. You are probably a lovely person, but I’m afraid the rest of us don’t like you very much right now.
2: The Zoom Juggler
Working from home means that you still don’t technically have any extra time to write your novel. But if you switch off your camera and mute your mic during that interdepartmental catchup then maybe… Don’t worry, we won’t tell.
3: The Hemingway
You are drunk. You have been drunk since last Tuesday, whenever that was. But it’s OK because you’re a bloody genius.
4: The harassed parent
Reading social media updates from Barbara Cartlands is likely to send you into a fizzing impotent rage. Because you used to be a writer but now, it seems, you are a full time educator, housekeeper and, according to your offspring, oppressive slave driver. You’re either writing in bursts while the kids are distracted by Disney Plus, working late at night and producing trippy, semi-conscious prose or getting up at sunrise and feeling like a zombie for the rest of the day.
5: The Switcher
Before All This started you were plugging away quite nicely on a neat sci-fi concept or a cosy mystery but then The Big Idea came. You’ve dropped everything and are now working on a dystopian novel set in a post-pandemic civilisation, or a thriller in which a Jack Ryan character is tracking down an evil virus-releasing organisation, or a lockdown-inspired romance (working title: Stuck With You.) A tiny part of your brain is shouting Noooooo. You should probably listen.
6: The Harper Lee
The lockdown has made virtually no difference to you because you never go out anyway, although you welcome the introduction of social distancing.
7: The cov-crastinator
You always said you’d write a novel when you have time – and now you have time, hooray! And you’ll start just as soon as you’ve baked that sourdough, finished that Zoom birthday party for your brother’s mate’s girlfriend and cleaned the inside of your grocery cupboard. And finished that blog post about different types of lockdown writer.
8: The too-anxious-to-write one
Provided you’re healthy and have enough money to survive lockdown seems like the ideal scenario – trapped at home with little else to do but write your novel. But the reality is that there’s a huge terrifying thing happening in the world at the moment, people are dying, people are losing their livelihoods, you’re legally banned from visiting your own granny, the government is making you angry and the conspiracy theorists on Twitter are making you even angrier. Some people write to escape from reality but others can’t work when the anxious noise from the world is too great. Now might be the right time to read lots of wonderful escapist fiction instead.
At the moment while we’re still in the thick of it, it’s hard to tell how the lockdown will truly change our lives or influence our writing. Elements of it will creep into the stories we tell, adding a sense of unease and panic, or a streak of reality to tales of courage and pulling together. My feeling is that we should just keep writing whenever we have the time, but without piling on the pressure to get things finished. I’ll let you know if I ever get around to following my own advice. In the meantime I look forward to going to lots of real-life, wonderful book launches when All This is over. See you on the flipside.
A dolphin rocks up in the bay of an impoverished Irish village in the hot summer of 1976, transforming the lives of the local community. For the adults, it’s a chance to cash in, selling ice creams and boat trips but for Emer it’s a chance to connect with a wild creature, a means of escape from her restricted life at home – and a link to local badboy loner Seth “Dog” Cullen. She lives for her midnight visits to the beach with her friends, when the tourists have gone home and they can swim with “their dolphin” in peace. But the village’s good fortune enrages kids from the upmarket town nearby and a bitter feud rips the two communities apart. Emer, Dog and their friends find themselves trapped in the crossfire.
An undercurrent of threat and violence runs throughout
Although the story is based on an Irish legend, On Midnight Beach feels gritty and real and although it’s soaked in the hot, stifling details of the summer of ’76 (tarmac melting, plagues of ladybirds, water rationing) it’s modern, fresh and compelling. I started the book slowly and hesitantly because I wasn’t sure where it would take me. The book starts with a shock – the scene of a local girl being mauled by a dog, and Seth Cullen taking drastic action to stop it. It’s an isolated incident but it sets the tone. An undercurrent of threat and violence runs throughout the story, filling you with unease as you read. There are other themes too – like masculinity, toxic or otherwise, loyalty to pointless causes and feeling trapped in the life your family and community expect of you – something all teenagers and many adults can relate to. The characters are what keep you reading on though, especially Emer and Dog, the noble outsider who becomes a natural leader.
I was desperate to find out what was going to happen, but knew deep down that this kind of feud escalates, and unless Emer can stop the fighting, there’s only one way it can end…
You can buy On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick here
I nearly called this post We need to talk about Foul is Fair, but I didn’t because the “we need to talk about” headline has been done to absolute death. However, cliches aside: we need to talk about Foul is Fair.
There have been myriad novels about rape culture in American society, about how complacent, entitled alpha males are feted and worshipped and get away with anything while the victim shoulders the blame. From Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive to the uplifting The Nowhere Girls. But this book is different. It’s savage and relentless, just as these men often are. It sets aside the feelings of shame, trauma, self-blame and fear that rape survivors often experience and focuses on one emotion alone: rage.
It focuses on one emotion alone: rage
Like many girls before her, Jade Khanjara is raped at a party by a group of popular boys. This is not the first time they’ve done something like this, they have every intention of doing it again, and nobody is about to stop them. This time, however they’ve picked on the wrong person.
Instead of running to the police or going through therapy, Jade decides to kill the boys and everyone who helped them. She paints her nails, cuts her hair and, with the aid of her three loyal and lethal girlfriends, plots to bring them down.
The title is drawn from Macbeth, and what follows is a feminist revision of Shakespeare’s tragedy, with Jade as Lady Macbeth and her three best friends as the coven of witches who mess with Macbeth’s mind and manipulate him into murdering his closest friends. Each killing is just as grisly as the Shakespeare original, but will Jade, like Lady Macbeth before her, lose her mind with the horror of what she’s done?
This time they’ve picked on the wrong person
Foul is Fair is hypnotically written, slick, elegant and stylised. It’s not for everyone – if you’re looking for nuance, comic relief and realistic murder scenarios this ain’t the place. (The bit where she tells her parents that she’s planning to kill her attackers and they pretty much say “cool, what do you need from us?” was especially unlikely.) But it also speaks to the rage inside us all – the anger we feel when it happens to us or a loved one, or even hearing about stories like the Chanel Miller case. What Jade does is morally dubious to say the least, but thrilling. The concept gets you thinking, and talking and asking difficult questions long after you’ve turned the last page.
Sometimes I get to the point in life when I need a little magic, I want to feel what it might be like to live somewhere different, where the rules have shifted. In late December, after a few weeks of reading back to back crime fiction and juggling a terrifying pre-Christmas to-do list I was desperate for something to take me away from all this. So I rummaged through my TBR pile and surfaced with the prettiest cover I could find.
I was lucky enough to get a beautifully designed early reading copy of The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow. Ornate, foil-trimmed cover? Ooh, yes please. Set in the late Victorian era but with magic? Don’t mind if I do. Doors into other worlds you say? Sign me up now.
It’s the early 20th Century and January Scaller is being raised in a privileged bubble by her wealthy guardian, an eccentric collector of antiquities called Mr Locke, when she discovers that there are doors to different worlds, that her father spends his life travelling and seeking them out for Locke, and that an unknown force is shadowing him and closing the doors down permanently.
And when her father vanishes, her comfortable but oppressive life implodes and January must rely on her wits and her friends to survive and track her father.
That in itself would make for a page-turning adventure but it’s the characters which give the story so much more strength – her mysterious gun-toting Lady’s companion Jane Imru, the enigmatic Locke himself and Bad, her lovable brute of a dog. As January is a person of colour, there’s an extra layer of tension and threat to the story. Inside Locke’s protective bubble she’s seen by his rich friends as “exotic” and objectified as a curiosity, which adds to her frustration and disorientation as she grows up. She doesn’t know who she’s meant to be, how she’s meant to behave. Then the moment she steps outside of it and into mainstream 1900s society she is met with a distrust and hostility which would send a lesser person scurrying back to the gilded cage. January’s anger as she throws off her old, obedient persona is immensely satisfying.
If I had one criticism, it’s this: there’s a plot twist that came as a huge surprise to January and absolutely nobody else around her. Which makes her shocked reaction a little unbelievable – but there is a narrative explanation for it, and it doesn’t ruin the story. By then you’re rooting for her and wondering what her next move is going to be.
Alix E Harrow’s love of words comes through in her loving description of stories, books and even the way letters look on the page, but the book is also a tribute to those other world-shifting stories – Narnia, Middle Earth and others. The worlds we all run to hide out in when this one gets a bit too much. When we’re looking for a place where creatures and colours look different or where the brutal prejudices and ingrained social crappiness we put up with every day are washed away, replaced with something just as flawed but deliciously different, full of infinite possibilities. Just what I needed to get me in the right frame of mind for the year ahead.
If it scratches that otherworldly itch for you too, then nab a copy: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow is out now
After a few agonisingly long weeks of waiting, the news is out – I have a book deal! In fact, I have a two book deal! My novel, the one I’ve been banging on about on here for the last few years, is called The Girl Who… and it’s an emotional thriller for young adults (YA), focusing on two seventeen-year-old girls.
I’ve written a real actual book!
There’s Ellie – lively, outgoing and desperate for fame. And then there’s her new stepsister Leah, who actually is famous but for the most horrific reason: as a child she witnessed a notorious crime, the stabbing of her mother and sister.
In the aftermath her father set up a charity to campaign against street violence and she has become a heroine, a poster child for bravery and forgiveness. It seems like the whole world knows what she’s been through but can’t bear to say it. They just call her “the girl who… you know…”
As Leah struggles to grow up, in the limelight but plagued with dark and terrible thoughts, Ellie is the only one who can see that something is very wrong.
The deal is with Atom which is great as they specialise exclusively in YA stories, so I know I’m in good, experienced hands. Just before the news came out I met met my editor (I have an editor!) Olivia Hutchings and publicist Stephanie Melrose as well as my brilliant agent Lina Langlee, who got me the deal. It’s the weirdest sensation, after writing away in my “spare” time over the years and barely showing anyone my story I now have a whole team of people who like it and who are committed to getting out into the world.
I know a lot of writers have a problem with letting go of their work and who knows, I might find it hard when Olivia’s first edit comes back to me. But after years of second-guessing and staring at the words thinking: Is this too much? Or too little? it’s wonderful to be able to talk to people about it and work on the story to make it the best it can be.
The weirdest thing of all is when I realised that other people around Atom and its parent company Hachette had also been reading the book and talking about it. There was talk of people being “up all night” and saying “just one more chapter.” When I met Olivia and Stephanie we were joking about the characters as if they were people we all knew and liked. It’s almost as if I’ve written a real, actual book. Hang on… I’VE WRITTEN A REAL ACTUAL BOOK!
Two days after I signed the deal I discovered there was already a placeholder for pre-orders on Amazon. And when the publishing trade journal, The Booksellerwrote about the deal calling me “Cordani,” I felt like a proper author. I also had so many lovely messages from people saying congratulations. So many that I ran out of excited gifs and emojis to respond with. It was like having a baby, but without the “I haven’t slept in days and my boobs are about to explode” part.
So this is it, a new step on the road for me. I’m still in the process of taking it all in at the moment, which is why there aren’t oodles of details in this post. I feel like I’ve got so much to learn before spouting any opinions.
There will still be lots of journalism and book reviewing in my life – I’ve no plans to give that up – but I’m also looking forward to sharing more of my novel-publishing experience as I go along. I can’t wait for next September when it finally hits the shelves!