Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Cover Reveal: Changeling - Philippa Gregory

As I mentioned last week, I was lucky enough to be invited up to London to meet Philippa Gregory at the S&S offices for the reveal of the cover, title and summary of her first ever YA novel, Changeling. Changeling is the first in a four book series called The Order of Darkness and, trust me, it's going to be awesome. We were given a sampler of the book to read before we met Philippa and I can't wait to read more! I've been thinking about it non-stop since Tuesday.

I'll be posting a proper event write up soon but for now I'll just say it was definitely one of the highlights of my blogging life - Philippa is a true inspiration and I'm so honoured to have met her. I want to say an absolutely huge thank you to the amazing folks at S&S for arranging such a brilliant event.

For now I'll leave you with the press release for the series, issued by Simon and Schuster.

'In Changeling, the year is 1453 and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old, Luca Vero, is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom, and travel to the very frontier of good and evil. Seventeen year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by strange visions, walking in their sleep and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate and driven to accuse Isolde. Outside in the yard he can see a pyre being made ready to burn the guilty…

The YA novels will receive a coordinated worldwide publication in the United Kingdom, the
United States, Canada, Australia and India, in tandem with Philippa’s adult fiction, and there
will be a comprehensive marketing and publicity campaign across both lists.

“I am delighted to move into a new area of writing,” said Philippa Gregory, “I know I have
many young adult readers already and it will be a pleasure to write a series especially for
them. Bringing history alive is a great joy and to bring it to a young generation doubly so.”

Ingrid Selberg said: “We are tremendously excited to welcome Philippa Gregory to the Simon
& Schuster Children’s list. Her magical storytelling, combined with romance and strong
characterisation, will have enormous appeal to the young adult audience. We look forward to
working with our colleagues across all of Simon & Schuster to bring her stories to young
readers worldwide.”'

Officially. Cannot. Wait.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Blog Tour: The Look - Sophia Bennett

Hello everybody! Happy Monday, how are you all doing? Good, I hope.

Just a quick one to let you all know I'm going to be taking part in Sophia Bennett's blog tour for The Look, starting shortly. My date is on March 8th so do stop by to have a read of Sophia's journey with The Look; it's a great post so I hope you all enjoy it.

As you all know, I'm a massive fan of Sophia's. She's a hugely talented writer who's an absolute inspiration for any contemporary writer in the UK and I think she's done wonderful things for a genre. I've only just started reading my copy of The Look but I'm already obsessed - this is definitely going to be one you don't want to miss!

The tour kicks off on March 1st over at Mostly Reading YA so make sure you head over there and follow Sophia as she hops from blog to blog to celebrate the launch of The Look!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Blog Tour: Hollow Pike - James Dawson

Just to let you know, I'm in love with this guest post. As we all know, blog tours are getting increasingly stale and bland so it's always a joy to stumble across a post that's entertaining and fun to read. I'm a massive, massive fan of Hollow Pike so I was excited to be part of the blog tour and even more excited when I received my post - it's brill!

As a writer seeking publication, posts like this are literally like crack to me. I love nothing more than reading about my favourite authors' writing process and I hope all of you enjoy the story of James Dawson's journey to publication.

Beginning, Middle and End

I belong to an online writing group, and much time is dedicated to one of the least fruitful obsessions writers have, which is ‘predicting trends’. Wizards, vampires, post-apocalyptic televised blood sports – new writers are always trying to guess what’s next. Could it be mermaids? Could it be aliens? The pursuit is utterly pointless, however, as the long journey to publication that Hollow Pike took will illustrate.

Hollow Pike started as a nugget of an idea back in early 2009. I had just concluded an on-going serial in a local magazine and needed something to sink my teeth into. At the time I was teaching Year 6 pupils and had already become a fan of the ever-growing YA genre. To me, some of the freshest writing seemed to be in this area – grown up books without the boring bits.

The key ingredient that I felt was missing in the books I was reading was friendship. Lots of doomed romances and issues galore, but the protagonists rarely had a group of mates beyond the cursory best friend figure. When I was at school, my friends were the only reason not to skive, and, to be honest, romance didn’t enter my head until I was a bit older. When I spoke to the girls I taught, they all agreed that friends were more important than boyfriends. With this is mind, I set out to write a story about the power of friendship.

I was so important to me that anything I write has a sense-of-humour. Laughter brings light to the darkest situations, and this is something I often find lacking in YA fiction. Lighten up kids…you’re young! I also knew that I wanted there to be a murder-mystery. I love dark romance, but I also like a plot. I have always felt a good old-fashioned whodunit is the best reason to keep turning the page.

These three things: friendship, laughter and murder, formed the foundation for what was initially called ‘Bracken Hill’ – until I discovered that was a jam company. Then the supernatural stuff kicked in. I don’t know if I was trend-predicting or not, but there was always going to be some sort of supernatural weirdness in the mix.

Initially, Lis, Kitty, Jack and Delilah would have used supernatural powers to solve the mystery at the heart of Hollow Pike. Ley Lines featured heavily in the first draft, making Hollow Pike itself almost magical. However, plot wise this meant there was a lot going on. A character had to die, Lis had to discover the magical powers and come to terms with them, before starting to solve the mystery with her new friends. The first draft of Hollow Pike was a good third longer than it was now – a real door stop.

It was at this stage, in 2010, that I signed to my agency. But by this time, publishing was moving on. Another twelve months of books had come out, including Michael Grant’s ‘Gone’ series which bore some resemblance to Hollow Pike. Already, vampires were dead in the water, with fairies and werewolves on the wane. See what I mean? Publishing doesn’t stay still for long and readers move on. Early feedback from publishers was positive, but word was out that supernatural YA was not hot any longer. Pretty depressing when you’ve just completed a supernatural YA.

I had a fantastic chat with my agent at the end of 2010. Hollow Pike, if it was to succeed, needed to be something new. Something distinctive. It needed to be what it was meant to be in the first place…a mystery with a strong emphasis on friendship. What was interesting was how easy it was to pull out the superpowers element – the book didn’t need those flights of fancy. In fact, the nearer Hollow Pike came to reality, the darker and more menacing it became. Isn’t it scarier not knowing? Whole sections were cut, and the emphasis changed – more noir, more…sinister.

The lovely people at Orion bought Hollow Pike almost immediately after I made the changes.
I would still class Hollow Pike a supernatural YA novel – but something a little different. Hollow Pike is a town with a dirty little secret, one that it has tried to keep buried, but Lis London and her friends are about to uncover it! I don’t think ‘supernatural’ is ever ‘out of fashion’, I mean fantastical, thrilling, scary stories never go out of style. Look at ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’, or ‘Sisters Red’…things move on, but retain a sense of the paranormal.

My advice to fellow writers is bury your head in the sand and write what you want. Ignore the glossy covers, ignore Twitter, ignore the rights deals section of The Bookseller. Publishers are already two years ahead of what’s on the shelves, so why bother? I always write for myself as a teenager, always thinking what I wish had been available in the mid-nineties. Of course, I dearly hope Hollow Pike strikes a chord with young people everywhere, but for now, I’ve written a book that I love now and would have loved then.

Monday, 20 February 2012


My day today can easily be summed up by the following image:

However, this week is going to be just swell as the next two days entail the following:

- A cupcake decorating class with work pals tomorrow
- I'm meeting Philippa Gregory on Wednesday, which is beyond exciting

Also, I'm reading Wonder at the moment and it's one of the most beautiful books I've read in a long time. A review for that and The Storyteller (also awesome so far) will both be coming soon.

These are the things I need to think about, not the fact that BT will one day make me fling my computer out of the window in a rage that shits all over anything the world has ever seen before.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Nineties Nostalgia: Roswell High

I had a lot of things on my to-do list last week. I was supposed to rewrite a few chapters of Reckless, do a lot of reading and sort out some review books to donate to the library. Oh, and eamils, but what's new?

Did I do anything at all on my to-do list? No. I didn't. My entire week was spent on this:

Seriously. Roswell High was THE TV show from my tween years. Jesus Christ, I can't even begin to explain how much I adored that show. Then after it finished it kind of dropped off my radar and I haven't thought about it in a few years. Then it waltzed back into my life and we are back on like we never, ever broke up.

Who remembers this? Just look at mini Katherine Heigl down there!

And this next moment, down there, well, this is the most iconic image from my childhood. Ever. In fact, I think it was the moment I developed my first ever crush:

I remember watching Roswell for the first time and proceeding to screech into school the next day, grab my friend by the collar of our dashing sailor dress style school uniform and bleat that she had to watch Roswell just to see the bit where 'he points'.

When Max Evans points, this is what happens to me:

I swoon. For reals. Even now, ten years later.

For the last seven days, this has been my life. And I'm totally cool with that.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Video: Sh*t Book Reviewers Say

TFIF, I'm sure you all agree!

I just wanted to share this brill video with you all - I'm sure all book bloggers are guilty of a few of these, I know I am. I'm pretty sure I've used every single one of those phrases at some point in reviews - oops!

What do you think? Do you ever use any of these in your reviews?

(Video found courtesy of a friend on Facebook - thanks, Tracy!)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Interview: Leah Bobet (Above)

Hi everybody - I'm here today with an interview with debut author Leah Bobet. Her first novel, Above, is due out April 1st 2012 in the US but if you're based in the UK (like me) you can order this one through Amazon or The Book depository so no reason for a long wait if you like the sound of this one.

I love Leah's answer to question three, about what she thinks is important when creating characters in YA. I'm sure we can all agree that characterisation is one of the most important things for writing a great book and I think Leah's answer was absolutely spot on.

Anyway, without further ado I'll hand over to Leah.

1. Hi, Leah! In case any readers haven’t heard about the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Above?

Above's a story about Matthew, whose father had lion's feet and whose mother had gills. Both of them fled from the city they lived in to Safe, an underground secret community of freaks, ghost-whisperers, and disabled outcasts hiding below the subways and sewers. Matthew grew up underground, and he's responsible for keeping and telling Safe's histories – and for his girlfriend Ariel, who can shapeshift into a honeybee, and who is so terribly traumatized by what happened to her in the world Above that she constantly runs away.

But when the one person Safe ever exiled invades with an army of mindless, whispering shadows, Matthew, Ariel, and a few friends are the only ones to escape to Above: to the place that locked up and shunned his friends and family. Frantically working to find a way to rescue Safe, Matthew discovers that his histories aren't all true: the invasion – and Ariel's terrors – are rooted in a history of Safe much darker and bloodier than he ever imagined.

And even if he manages to save both his home and Ariel, he may well lose himself.

2. Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

I tend to work in a very project-dependent, time-dependent (read: flaky!) way. I can't remember who said that you never learn to write a novel, you learn to write this novel, but it's very true for me. Each story or novel I work on has its own little personality and needs, and so depending on what I'm working on, where I am in it, and what else is going on in my life, I'll be trying from anywhere from 200 to 3,000 words in a day. Or none. Sometimes the best thing for a novel is to not write it for a little while!

3. In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

Their sense of completeness as a human being. No matter who they are, it's the characters who are entirely and wholly themselves – who act in ways that fit their emotional quirks, whose lives are bigger than the page, whose voices and thoughts and reactions are all in sync and, sometimes, contradict each other in the ways that real people's do! – that stick with me as a reader.

4. What sort of research did you have to do for Above? How did you go about doing this?

I ended up doing most of my research for Above on two or three things, actually. I read up on various symptoms of medical conditions and the medications prescribed for them, so I could accurately depict the people in Safe even when Matthew didn't know their diagnoses. I also did a fair bit of reading on the historical background of the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital and the general history of mental illness and institutionalization in Toronto. The last one was reference photos of all kinds: luckily for me, there's a great urban exploration community in Toronto who sneak into things like abandoned buildings, subway tunnels, and storm drains and take amazing pictures, so I don't have to! Because I'm probably worse at the photography than I am at the breaking and entering.

I'm sure librarians will kill me for saying this, but the internet was actually my major resource for all of this. Toronto also has a pretty good municipal archives system and a great local history community, so there are a lot of documents scanned and available online. I think my one paper resource was a back issue of Infiltration, an urban exploration zine that I picked up at one of the independent bookstores because it described routes in and out of the subway system. It was the main source for making up the route through the subways and sewers, to Safe.

5. The YA book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets Above apart from the pack?

It's an odd little book: it doesn't really fit into any particular subgenre or follow any particular trend. I was actually pretty sure it was unsaleable when I was writing it, because it was this little literary book that was stuck between about five genres, and I couldn't find much out there like it – and that's not helpful when you're trying to pitch a book to agents!

But that does set it apart in good ways, too: it's very much itself, and very much does its own thing. Matthew has a very strong narrative voice, too, and I think that's what truly carries the whole book: it's an encapsulation of a smart, conflicted, very naive sort of boy who suddenly has nowhere he belongs, but manages to find his place anyway. And I hope Above finds its place too.

6. Some writers relate take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?

Oh, do I ever: It's a really good thing my roommate has a high tolerance for hearing the same song on repeat over and over and over and over...

My projects – novels and short stories both – tend to grow themselves a soundtrack pretty quickly. Above was written mostly to Matthew Good, Gregory and the Hawk, PJ Harvey, a Chris Cornell acoustic track or two, Finger Eleven, The Grapes of Wrath, The Von Bondies, Madrugada, and Nine Inch Nails's Ghosts I-IV album. I still can't listen to that album without the book rushing back into my head.

It's pretty idiosyncratic, though: the novel I'm roughing out right now seems to be fond of Sandbox, a couple Foo Fighters tracks, Morcheeba's "Over and Over", and maybe two tracks from The New Pornographers' Twin Cinema album. It's really all about mood, and finding songs that have the right mood for the project, or twists of lyrics that spark an idea.

7. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?

Two days ago I would have said pantser, or organic writer: I rarely outline, and it tends to kill the story if I try. And then I wrote a whole synopsis for a book I haven't written yet, and it's not yet dead, and I think it actually did some good in terms of really developing the idea and bringing it to life. So, go figure!

It's stuff like that which makes me not really believe in an "always" – or a "never"! – when it comes to writing process. Everything's a tool, and you just use the tools you need to get the effects you want. Sometimes that means using things you've never thought to before, or using them in ways you'd never dreamed of. And that's what keeps this whole deal exciting, right?

8. Can you tell me a bit about your journey with Above? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

The idea first came together in early April 2007: I'd read an essay a month before from Eli Clare's Exile and Pride for a philosophy class, and a particular image from it combined with a particular gripe I had about how Secret Underground Societies of Outcasts (tm) get used in fiction, and then the right song came along and tied the whole thing together. I worked on it a bit, and then hit a point where I went Well, book, what do we do next? and it replied Oh, I'll do anything you want me to do. Needless to say, I promptly freaked out – that's not supposed to be up to me! I can't handle these decisions! -- and put the two chapters I had away. And didn't pick them back up until the next January.

By then, some more elements of the plot and structure had somehow fallen together (lots of backbrain thinking! See, sometimes the best thing to do is just ignore them 'til they give it up!) and, around coursework and looking for a job once I'd finished my degree, it took about seven months to finish the first draft. I ran it through about three revisions over the next year, until around Spring 2009 my friends started threatening to hit me over the head, take the manuscript away, and put it in the mail themselves if I didn't just start querying agents already. So I did, and in June 2009 I signed with my agent, Caitlin Blasdell.

She had revision notes as well, and through the summer and fall of 2009, I did two more drafts of Above. It went to editors in October of that year, and sold to Arthur A. Levine Books in April 2010.

The book's releasing this coming spring – April 2012 – so all told, it'll be a five-year process almost to the day. Which is a little staggering to think about.

9. How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

I think it very much depends what kind of auctorial persona you want to have. Some people are very excited by engaging with their readers, and love to do contests and giveaways and build those kinds of friendships; some are more shy, or private, or just don't get a charge out of that sort of thing.

Social media's a tool too, and no matter what the market's like today or tomorrow, I think the key is using all your tools in the ways that best fit your individual personality and comfort level – in writing or in the business of being an author. Ultimately the books we write will stand or fall on their own, and none of the social media promotion – or lack thereof! – in the world will matter when it comes down to the book and the reader.

10. What would you say is your worst bad habit when it comes to writing?

Mild perfectionism. This sounds like one of those "Ooh, my trouble is I'm just too dedicated to my job" kinds of weaknesses, but it's most definitely not. I'll fuss over a scene for a week, and a comma for twenty minutes, and occasionally if a book isn't working on enough levels at a certain point, I'll just shelve it and try something else. I break a lot of book ideas this way. And I'm not a fast writer to start with, so it does me no favours.

11. Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?

Names are important, yes: characters will routinely go on strike and refuse to be written if I don't name them properly. Which just means I don't have a handle on the personality yet, but the name seems to be the point of contact for that whole idea in my head.

If they don't show up with a name in tow, I'll usually go with etymology: start looking for names that tie into the thematics of the project, or reflect an aspect of their personality. Look up enough of those, and shake 'em around in your head a little bit, and usually something sticks!

12. What did you hope to accomplish by writing Above? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

While I wish I could have some sort of serious, mission-statement sort of answer to this, I didn't really have a specific goal in mind when I sat down to write Above. I had a story in my head, and it pulled at me at night and caught on the edges of song lyrics and made me tear up unexpectedly at sights or sounds or smells, and the only goal I had was to tell that story truly and well so that the people reading it would feel, for a moment, what it made me feel inside my head.

There are little things I tried to do in crafting it: for example, writing a story where the characters with disabilities were the heroes and not the helpers; or writing a story where nobody, not one character, was free from some kind of marginalization or discrimination; or just writing a story where all the ways genre tropes sometimes make things simple were taken, turned around, and made complicated – like real life is – again. Whether it's done well at that, I can't yet say: that's something readers will tell me, and each other, when the book hits the shelves. But none of those were driving goals, or the reason I sat down to write it. It was just a story, and it was there, and it was alive, so I put it down to paper as best I could.

13. Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?

Most definitely: my teenage years influenced me as a person, and what makes you as a person makes you as a writer. There's no separating the two.

14. There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?

I think everyone – teens, kids, adults, seniors – should be able to read what speaks to them without interference.

In English-speaking Western societies, we seem to treat ideas something like a communicable disease: everyone's deathly afraid their friends will catch one they don't like, and people are somehow convinced that when you're exposed to an idea just once, you'll catch it automatically and become a total slave to its every detail (and this doesn't just apply to teen readers; check out a political debate or election campaign flyers sometime to see it in action with adults).

And that's really just not true: We argue with things we see and hear and read all the time, no matter how old we are. We all pick and choose bits of things to believe. We have our own ideas about how the world works, and when something shows up that contradicts them, we stop, look at all the evidence, and decide to either go with what we thought before or the new idea, or some mix of the two. And that's how we learn and develop as people, because even if we're not changing our mind on something, we're walking away with some actual reasons to believe what we do; reasons why we thought it was better than that other way of doing things over there.

That's why I don't personally think restricting anyone's reading is a good idea. It gets between people and their chances to think about the world and how they fit in it, and no matter if they agree or disagree with me, I'd rather hang out with people who have reasons for what they believe.

15. What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2012?

Depends on what you like to read! I can tell you, at least, what I'm looking forward to: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows, Winterling by Sarah Prineas, Crown of Embers by Rae Carson, The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, and Michelle Sagara's Silence, which I read in draft, and loved -- it's a sweet and sober and beautiful ghost story, and well worth your time.

16. Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

Mostly I like to spend more free time than I actually have!

I'm one of those people who can't quite sit still. I have about three trillion hobbies, and all kinds of little interests, and at any given moment something shiny may cross my vision and I'll be chasing off after it. I work a full-time job (on top of the writing thing); I edit and publish an online quarterly magazine, Ideomancer Speculative Fiction; I'm interested in local municipal politics and food policy; I knit, cook really crazy elaborate meals, go to all kinds of concerts and arts events, take bellydance classes (and am thinking about learning to dance swing), read a few books a week, play guitar, design tee-shirts, dream up performance art, plan scavenger hunts, volunteer with groups that pick urban fruit trees and run urban farms, and still like time to hang out with my friends and keep my apartment clean.

Moral: if you are ever in single combat with me and need a distraction, it'll be really, really easy to find one.

17. Thank you so much for your time, Leah. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

Thanks for the questions!

I have a few short stories coming out in various places – The Year's Best Fantasy 10 and a reprint anthology called Witches. I'm also working on a new novel, tentatively titled Light (a bad title, and it will probably change before publication) about a girl who jumps off a bridge and finds out she can fly, and all the consequences that brings.


So there you have it! Click here to visit the Goodreads page for Above and for more information about Leah and her book you can visit her website here.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Blog Tour: Antonia Michaelis (The Storyteller)

Good morning, chaps!

Now, I know we're all (well, a lot of us) are starting to get a little bored of being bombarded with blog tours, which now seem to accompany every single YA release. I agree with you - I definitely think the same tried and tested format is beginning to get a little tired... Which is why I love this post so much and I really hope you'll love it too.

Antonia has written an absolutely brilliant account of how her book trailer was filmed - I had no idea of what went on behind the cameras as all we ever see is the shiny, finished product. This post is hilarious, it actually had me laughing out loud and now I'm even more excited to get cracking on my copy of The Storyteller. Please do take the time to read this one, I promise you'll enjoy it!

Without further ado, I'll hand you over to the lovely Antonia Michaelis:

Making of the Storyteller Trailer

… So we decided to produce a trailer for the Storyteller. The publisher prepared a budget – that roughly covers the costs of the lighting. So I sold some old fur coats and bars of gold and start writing something like a script.

Of course there´s a story in the Storyteller, a fairytale, and so we need a fairy tale scene.
And there´s a ship and the frozen Baltic sea and snow and a lot of blood … and all those things do exist somewhere, but not in the right place, that´s to say, in the studio.
Well, that´s what a green screen is for, says Harald, the director. That´s a green wall that used to be blue but is green now and will vanish. Huh – how does that work?

I collect my actors, two young people and a little girl, and try to reach the studio at Kotbusser Damm, Berlin. The taxi driver pulls up in front of a huge hotel and my inner eye sees polished, gold lined changing rooms … champagne in its cooler, waiting for the break … the director will probably appear in an evening gown … Then we realize it´s the wrong address. This is Kuhdamm, not Kotbusser Damm.

A little later, we´re at the real place: a grey back yard with a dirty stair case leading into a run down house, where we follow a crumpled cardboard sign to the small studio on the third floor. So much for glamour.

Half of the studio is painted a bright green indeed: the “infinity wall”, as we´re told. The floor seems to curve up to the wall, so no edge can be seen. But careful! The green curve between floor and wall is made of a thin membrane … and then they start measuring and re-measuring the distance between the actors, the wall, the camera ... multiplying numbers with the director´s shoe size to get … a number I don´t understand.

“Step back!” Harald, the director, calls out to Paul, our young actor. “Back, back – stoooooop!”
Too late, Paul already broke through the green membrane with his foot.
We start with the blood while the damage is being repaired.

The blood is supposed to drip on a bathroom floor and then be wiped away. I didn´t think that could be a problem. It is, though, because no shadows of anybody´s hands, arms, legs or noses are allowed in the picture. So the cameraman leans against the door, putting his left arm under his right leg to film while the guy wiping away the blood with his right hand is balancing on his left thumb, feet in the air … the camera´s weight is about 45 kg.

“Hold it steady!” Harald says. “Relax … and now the move over to the window … can you stop panting? That kind of gets on my nerves.”
The cameraman somehow manages to knot his neck and presses the buttons with his left ear.
I watch the drops of artificial blood fall to the floor. They have a diameter of about half a millimetre.
“Harald,” I say – and I always wanted to say this sentence - “we need MORE BLOOD.”
For a moment we think about amputating the cameraman´s leg, which is constantly getting in the way anyway, but strangely he won´t have it, and we decide to try 2-millimetre-drops.

Finally we get to the scene with the ship. The ship is about the size of a poodle, just a bit too small for our six year old actress Nelly. So we put little Nelly into the washing machine to make her shrink … No. The ship will be “cut in later”, as I learn.

Nelly climbs onto a table covered in green cloth. From there she has to climb over a plank which will be the ship’s guard rail later and jump down “onto the ice”. All the time she must wear an old and ugly pinkish down jacket, a wool cap, gloves, a gown (to make her the little queen) AND a crown. The flood lights have heated the studio up to boiling point. Nelly climbs for the first test, climbs again, has her steps measured, her distance from the camera calculated, climbs once more … oops, says Harald. Now we forgot to paint the plank green so it can´t be seen later. So they paint the plank, dry the paint with a hair dryer, and here comes Nelly again, climbing…

“Relax!” says Harald. “How come you look so sweaty?”
After her jump from “the ship”, Nelly has to run – and Paul has to catch her and whirl her around.
“Again! Whirl, whirl! Quicker!” shouts Harald.

After whirling around 15 times, all distances are measured anew to adjust the camera and the lights. Meanwhile, the actors are not allowed to get rid of any of their jackets, gloves or wool caps, because then the scenes couldn´t be cut together anymore. “And run! Run! And whirl! Quicker! Smile!” shouts Harald. And adds, in mild surprise: “You´re not dizzy, are you?”
Finally, Nelly sits on the floor and refuses to ever get up again. She looks determined. Harald carries her away.

In the last scene, Laura has to let the wind carry away some pages. Which wind? Well, we´ll take a fan .. but the pages stick to Laura`s hands and won´t cooperate. Harald brings the fan nearer. But the fan is not to be seen … neither is the hand holding it … we paint the fan green. We paint the cable green. We paint Harald green. And then we had the whole thing in the computer, just we couldn´t find the computer. We must have accidentally painted it green.

A little later I record the sound with some other people. Our little girl must sing standing in front of a strange piece of gnawed-looking wood. That is to make it not sound as if recorded in a big room, I´m told. But? Instead it will sound as if recorded in a hollow tree? I´m really tempted to paint the wood-thing green. Half of the musicians` repertoire we´re not allowed to use anyway, because we would have to ask the GEMA, which is the performing rights society here, first. The composers are all still alive.

“And if we´d see to it that they aren´t any more …?” I ask cautiously. No good, say the musicians, the composers have to be dead for at least 70 years to make their stuff GEMA-free. We take a long time choosing a GEMA-free piece of music, our sound-guy puts some silence in to create breaks and we send the whole thing to Harald.
“The music is crap”, he says. “But I do like the silence.”
Which presents us with another problem: is silence GEMA-free? Listening to the daily noise on the streets I´d say, yes, silence has definitely been dead for at least 70 years.

Dear reader! Should you happen to watch the trailer and buy the book, and should you not like it – just paint it green. That should make it go away.


Love. It.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day News! Plus, a Lauren Kate exclusive

Happy Valentine's Day my lovely chums!

All you loved up couples - hope you all have a gorgeous day with your other half and try not to be smug, it's very unbecoming. All my single pals - enjoy eating ice cream, complaining about smug couples and crying over the Notebook. Don't fight it, embrace it.

Now, to celebrate the release of the romantic short story collection, Fallen in Love (which is great, by the way), the wonderful Lauren Kate has shared with me her top ten romantic films, perfect for Valentine's Day!

1. City Lights

2. Two for the Road

3. To Catch a Thief

4. Gilda

5. Gone With the Wind

6. Hud

7. Manhattan

8. The Princess Bride

9. Clueless

10. Love Actually

And a bonus: Juno

How many of these have you seen? I have to wholeheartedly agree with Clueless, which was pretty much the film of my childhood. And Love Actually, which just makes me cry non-stop from beginning to end.

Oh, and one last thing - my guest post for love month is over at Fluttering Butterflies today, yay! I'm so happy I got given Valentine's Day for my post, which is about real love vs. Hollywood love. I want to say a huge, big thank you to the gorgeous Michelle for letting me join in with love month, her blog is a constant source of inspiration to me so go, go, go and visit!

And, really, one last thing - happy Valentine's Day, Tom, you are officially the best. I love you a ridiculous amount, even if you dream cheat on me with Taylor Momsen at her underwater MOT centre.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Review: Fracture - Megan Miranda

Published: January 5th 2012, Bloomsbury
Pages: 262 pages, ARC
Series/standalone?: Standalone
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell was pulled from the icy waters of a Maine lake by her best friend Decker Phillips. By then her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead. And yet she somehow defied medical precedent to come back seemingly fine-despite the scans that showed significant brain damage. Everyone wants Delaney to be all right, but she knows she's far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can't control or explain, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?

Then Delaney meets Troy Varga, who recently emerged from a coma with similar abilities. At first she's reassured to find someone who understands the strangeness of her new existence, but Delaney soon discovers that Troy's motives aren't quite what she thought. Is their gift a miracle, a freak of nature-or something much more frightening?

For fans of best-sellers like Before I Fall and If I Stay, this is a fascinating and heart-rending story about love and friendship and the fine line between life and death.

My review: Gee whizz, did I love the hell out of Fracture? I did indeed. Absolutely brilliant, it'll grab you from the wholly unsettling first chapter and will not let you out of its grasp until you've finished reading. Well, even after I had finished reading the story stayed with me. Fracture isn't a book that you'll forget in a hurry.

The best thing about reading Fracture was how much it shocked me. I mean, I was quite excited for it and I thought it looked interesting but, I have to admit, from the summary I thought it was going to be a bit of an If I Stay rip off, which put me off a little. Just to confirm, Fracture is absolutely its own novel and one of the most unique books I've read in a long time. Sure, it's a little reminiscent of If I Stay, with the protagonist narrowly escaping a brush with death but that's where the comparisons end, except for the fact they're both awesome books.

There's so much more to Fracture than Delaney's recovery from her near death experience; we learn about her family and their history, her friends (and frenemies, naturally) and Decker, her best friend and neighbour. Let me just get this out of my system - I bloody love Decker. I tend not to get too many literary crushes from supernatural novels, as I find most of the heroes to be completely one-dimensional but Decker is an awesome, awesome character. I love that he's flawed and a little unconfident, unsure of anything except for his solid friendship with Delaney. Love him.

Troy is such an interesting character and I think he'll definitely create a lot of discussion. He's genuinely unsettling in places and, even though he freaked me out, I thought he was a great addition to the story. Some of my favourite scenes were between him and Delaney, particularly as the novel drew to a close. Sorry, I know that's a little vague but I don't want to give away any spoilers.

If you're looking for something a little different that will play on your mind between reading sessions then I'd definitely point you in the direction of Fracture. It completely delivered on every count and surprised me, for all the right reasons. And it's a debut - even more impressive!

First line: 'The first time I died, I didn't see God.'

Read if you liked…: If I Stay - Gayle Forman

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 18/20 (A)

Friday, 10 February 2012

Review: Hollow Pike - James Dawson

Published: February 2nd 2012, Indigo
Pages: 406 pages, ARC
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Something wicked this way comes... She thought she'd be safe in the country, but you can't escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she's being paranoid - after all who would want to murder her? She doesn't believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn't believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you're alone in the woods, after dark - and a twig snaps... Hollow Pike - where witchcraft never sleeps.

My review: Well, well, well. What to say about Hollow Pike that hasn't been said already? If you've spent any length of time browsing YA blogs over the past couple of weeks you're bound to have seen a shed load of reviews about James Dawson's debut novel. Every single one I've come across has been positive and, this time, a novel really does deserve the hype it's been getting.

Hollow Pike is pretty much the 2012 equivalent of Long Lankin for me. You all know the saga of Long Lankin and myself, right? How I lusted after it every single day for six months, devoured it and absolutely fell in love? Well, it's the same story with Hollow Pike. I heard about it at the Indigo launch back in 2011 and waited with bated breath for a copy to arrive. When it finally clattered through my letterbox I promptly whizzed through the story in a couple of hours and was completely, utterly blown away. The fact this is a debut novel is even more impressive and proves that James Dawson is a huge name to look out for in YA fiction.

Hollow Pike is a tale about mystery, about growing up, first love, facing your fears and, above all else, friendship. Some of the elements of the story may be paranormal but that doesn't take away from the fact this is a novel every single teenage reader is going to be able to relate to.

One of the main issues Hollow Pike deals with is bullying and I think it's the way Dawson deals with this issue that makes this book such a huge hit. It's so easy to make stories about bullying come off a bit preachy and fake but I didn't question anything that was said or done by any of the characters. The bullying that takes place in Hollow Pike is absolutely a textbook example of how bullying can wear a person down, whether it's physical or emotional, it all has an effect on the victim. We see characters being bullied for how they look, their sexuality, or simply because they're attracted to the wrong guy. I can't praise Dawson enough for handling such a serious issue so well, by weaving it seamlessly into the main plot and never coming off as preachy.

Besides the bullying, the love story and the fact Lis can't fall asleep at night without being plagued by horrific nightmares, Hollow Pike also has a murder mystery to keep us entertained. As usual, I suspected every single character in the book, was convinced I'd rumbled the murderer and, naturally, got it all completely wrong. Dawson kept me guessing until the last moment and even then the outcome still wasn't anything I could have imagined. Just wonderful.

In short, the teenage voices are great, I adored Kitty and Delilah, Jack is totally hot and don't even get me started on Danny (in a good way, trust me, folks). There are some genuine laugh out loud moments in Hollow Pike (eye condoms, ahoy), enough pop culture references to keep even me happy and a brilliant little scene that just goes to show that wherever in the country you're from, inviting someone over to 'watch a DVD' is exactly the same dirty old code for, well, you know.

First line: 'Lis knew she was dreaming, although this brought little comfort as the blood ran over her face.'

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 17/20

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Mark Grist on Girls Who Read

I definitely have a major Mark Grist crush going on right now.

Ladies, observe:

Review: Alice in verse: The Lost Rhymes of Wonderland - J. T. Holder

Published: February 11th 2011, Candleshoe Books
Pages: 82 pages, hardback
Series/standalone?: Standalone
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from back cover): Have you ever wondered... Who really stole the Queen's tarts? Whatever did become of the Walrus & the Carpenter after their nefarious jot down the briny beach with the little Oysters? Is there truly any sense to be found in the nonsense at all?

Come follow Alice down the rabbit-hole once again as Lewis Carroll's timeless tale is reimagined through the lyrical language of Wonderland...where a Caterpillar dispenses an indelible lesson, a Cat offers safe haven and (fairly) sound advice, and a Hatter and Hare throw a mad tea party before matching wits at the trial of the century!

My review: I'm a huge poetry fan and I really wish more children's and YA poetry was published, it's definitely a big gap in the market. I'm always on the look out for new collections to try so when I got an email from the lovely folks at Kuro Books (who are great - and actually read review policies, hooray!) offering me the chance to review a couple of J. T. Holder's books I jumped at the chance.

I was surprised just how much I enjoyed Alice in Verse, as I am a little tired of Alice in Wonderland inspired, well, anything. Books, films, jewellery - everything Alice is so big at the moment but Alice in Verse is a truly unique take on one of the best loved books of all time. The language Holder uses is stunning and the rhyme is easy and flowing, it never feels forced, which is so important in rhyming poetry.

The language used is beautiful but simple enough that I think children will enjoy this collection as well as adults. This would be a wonderful book for a parent to read to their child - I know this is one my mum would have read to me when I was younger and I definitely would have forced her to 'do the voices'.

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous too, so I have to give major props to Andrew Johnson for really bringing the book to life through the pictures. Alice in Verse is such a unique, magical little book and I'm so, so grateful I get the chance to review it. Books like this are exactly why I love blogging so much, as I love having the opportunity to share books like this with you all. If you haven't read anything by J. T Holder yet then I really recommend starting with this one - you can order the hardback or buy a copy for your e-reader and I absolutely guarantee you won't be disappointed.

First line: 'How doth the morning sunlight breach
The shade beneath the thickets,
Along the bank, across the reach,
To still the song of crickets.'

Read if you liked…: Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs - Ron Koertge

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 17/20

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists - Gideon Defoe

Published: January 5th 2012, Bloomsbury
Pages: 192 pages, paperback
Series?: Yes, part of the 'Pirates!' series
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Not since "Moby-Dick,.".No, not since "Treasure Island,.".Actually, not since Jonah and the Whale has there been a sea saga to rival "The Pirates In an Adventure with Scientists," featuring the greatest sea-faring hero of all time, the immortal Pirate Captain, who, although he lives for months at a time at sea, somehow manages to keep his beard silky and in good condition.

Worried that his pirates are growing bored with a life of winking at pretty native ladies and trying to stick enough jellyfish together to make a bouncy castle, the Pirate Captain decides it's high time to spearhead an adventure.

While searching for some major pirate booty, he mistakenly attacks the young Charles Darwin's Beagle and then leads his ragtag crew from the exotic Galapagos Islands to the fog-filled streets of Victorian London. There they encounter grisly murder, vanishing ladies, radioactive elephants, and the Holy Ghost himself. And that's not even the half of it.

My review: When a copy of The Pirates!... dropped through my door a couple of weeks ago I had no idea what to expect. I'd never heard of the book before and wasn't convinced I'd enjoy it, though I instantly loved the cover. I decided to give this one a go after I heard the news it's been turned into a film by Aardman Animations, due out next month.

Who doesn't love a good adventure story? The pirates in this series are absolute classics, playing into all the pirate stereotypes we've come to know and love over the years. Think parrots, peg legs and surly dispositions and you're not too far off. The Pirates!... is pure slapstick humour and very, very British, brilliant entertaining and always hilarious. It's a quick little read that doesn't demand too much attention, just perfect to delve in and out of when you want a fun book that isn't too taxing.

I'm sure that film adaptation is going to be great. It's such a visual book and the descriptions of the pirates, the open sea and the action scenes mean there's so much potential for some really great moments on the big screen. I'm really excited to catch this one when it comes out, especially taking into the account the team who are behind it - have Aardman ever made anything less than stellar?

First line: '"The best bit about being a pirate," said the pirate with gout, "is the looting."'

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Characters: 3/5
Cover: 4/5
Total: 16/20

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Review: Opal Moonbaby - Maudie Smith

Published: January 5th 2012, Orion
Pages: 201 pages, paperback
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from back cover): Martha's decided friends are stupid. She never wants another one. Ever.

So when Opal Moonbaby comes along, with her mad hair and huge violet eyes, claiming to be an alien and wanting to be friends, Martha is definitely NOT interested. But Opal isn't the kind of alien who takes no for an answer...

My review: It's not too often that I read middle grade novels, as my heart belongs to YA, but when I was offered a review copy of Opal Moonbaby I jumped at the chance.

One, I absolutely couldn't resist a story where one of the characters has silver hair and violet eyes and, two, Maudie Smith is a Bath Spa graduate and I'm always keen to try out the word of those who also studied at my dear, dear university.

Martha doesn't want any more friends but how could she resist Opal Moonbaby, an alien who is, quite frankly, mad? She doesn't care for rules and authority, she just wants to have fun and take care of her pet - a mingle named Garnet. What's not to love? After a horrible situation with her so-called friends Chloe and Collette, maybe Opal Moonbaby and her strange ways are just what Martha needs to believe in friendship again.

I've read this comment in a few other reviews and I absolutely agree - Opal Moonbaby really does seem like a classic novel. It's exactly the sort of book I would have devoured as a young girl and it really did have a similar style and tone as some of my old favourites, like the Magic Faraway Tree and, well, anything by the wonderful Enid Blyton, just with updated vocabulary and, of course, aliens.

Opal Moonbaby is such a sweet novel, I was grinning from page one and I'll definitely be keeping this one on the shelf to pass down to my younger relatives when they begin reading. Maudie Smith is a great new talent in the world of middle grade fiction and I'll certainly be looking out for more of her work in the future.

First line: 'A city never sleeps but there is a time, somewhere in the early hours, long before dawn, when it grows drowsy.'

Read if you liked…: Penny Dreadful is a Magnet for Disaster - Joanna Nadin

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 15/20

Monday, 6 February 2012

Blog Tour: Oliver Twisted - JD Sharpe

Good afternoon chaps, how are you all doing on this grey, shoddy Monday afternoon? I've got a bit of a different guest post for you today, to kick off the blog tour for J D Sharpe's Oliver Twisted, where the author interviews Charles Dickens. Yup, you read that right.

JD Sharpe interviews Charles Dickens, or is that the other way round?

JD: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, Charles. May I call you Charles? I know you’re really busy with it being your 200th birthday tomorrow. Plus, you’re a ghost, which must make things a little bit more difficult.

CD: Mere details, my dear lady. I was intrigued to meet you. I prefer Mr Dickens. Oliver Twisted publishes today, no?

JD: That’s right.

CD: Do you want to tell me why you decided my story needed tampering with?

JD: Um.

CD: Tell me - did you feel that Oliver Twist needed improvement? Is that why you added vampires, werewolves and zombies? I cannot hide it, I am feeling somewhat aggrieved.

JD: Wait a second, Oliver Twisted is not a replacement of Oliver Twist, Mr Dickens– it is an addition to all of the retellings and reinterpretations of your work that have been created over the years. I loved the idea of taking a classic book, and a character that everyone feels like they know and love and doing something surprising with it. I wanted to twist it so that readers were in unfamiliar territory, maybe even a little scared at times, but not at the expense of the original. I wanted to see how far I could push the world you described and the characters you had created. I hope people will read both books. They should read both.

CD: Then we have no quarrel, call me Charles. I mean it is rather extraordinary that people are still reading my novels after all this time and I want that to continue. If reading Oliver Twisted means that more will read Oliver Twist then I am very pleased indeed. Now tell me do you believe in ghosts?

JD: Ghosts?

CD: Incorporeal presences, immaterial beings

JD: Well, you’re a ghost, so I guess I do.

CD: Forget about me – I could just be a projection of your tired, overwrought mind. For argument’s sake let’s say I had not materialized beside you a minute go. Would you still say you believe in ghosts? They do make an appearance in Oliver Twisted, after all.

JD: I enjoy writing about werewolves, vampires, zombies and demons but that doesn’t mean I believe in them. Although, it would be cool to meet one but maybe at a distance or behind glass, very thick glass.

CD: And ghosts?

JD: I don’t believe in ghosts either but then I do think places can have an energy that feels really heavy and filled with memories - almost as if the place has kept a record of what has gone before. That’s a bit ghostly, I guess.

CD Hmm, interesting. When I was alive, I had such a hankering to believe. To be convinced that the stooped figure you spot out of the corner of your eye was a ghost and not just a shadow. I would look for the supernatural in every corner, in every parlour, and I would also search for proof of the supernatural as well. The two never seemed to mix very well and some thought me a fool for looking. But here I am, a real ghost. I guess I was right for wanting to believe.

JD: But you said you were a projection of my tired, overwrought mind.

CD: I lied. I am in fact a ghost.

JD: I don’t want to be rude but I’m keen to start this interview.

CD: Yes, in one moment. I’m curious. Who is you favourite character in Oliver Twist and who is your favourite character in Oliver Twisted?

JD: Fine, I’ll answer this last question and then it’s your turn to be interviewed. In Oliver Twist I’d say Jack Dawkins [The Artful Dodger]. I think he is a fascinating character and really rather funny – I would have liked even more of him actually in the original. In Oliver Twisted, I think my favourite character is Oliver. I got to know him really well, what he’s thinking and feeling. I think readers will have a really good sense of who he is as well.

CD: And you don’t get to know Oliver in my book?

JD: You do, but Oliver is more symbolic in your book. He stands for pure goodness even if he is mired in a world of darkness and skullduggery. Oliver Twisted, on the other hand, is torn between the attractions of good and evil and that struggle was really interesting to write.

CD: I really must go and read this book of yours. It sounds fascinating.

JD: Hang on, why are you fading out, I’ve still got questions to ask.

CD: Next time my dear, next time.