Saturday, 5 April 2014

Announcement: I've moved!

I'm delighted to announce that from the beginning of this month, I have a brand new home: my author website

From now on, all of my updates will appear there, on my shiny new blog page. If you want to keep following my progress, head on over there - but never fear. Although my old entries have been migrated over there, this site will stay up, and you'll still be able to read past reviews and blogs here too.

I hope you like the new site! And if you ever want to get in contact, my email address hasn't changed. It's still Happy reading!

Monday, 3 March 2014

March madness - a cover update and a competition

I am rich in proof copies!
First, some updates. As some of you may have already seen, proofs for Murder Most Unladylike are finally in, and they look stunning. The book is finally out in the world and being read - and that's an awesome and terrifying feeling. I can't wait to hear what you all think of it, and I can't wait to find out whether you manage to crack my whodunit. (Though, a caveat: if you do read it, you should consider yourself immediately sworn to silence as to the identity of the murderer. This blog is a spoiler-free zone!)

It's been a fairly quiet month on this blog, but that's because I've been busy writing the sequel to Murder Most Unladylike. Due for UK release in spring 2015, its title (at the moment) is Arsenic for Tea - and as of Sunday night, Draft One has been officially FINISHED. Now comes my favourite part: the edits!

I have written a bit on other blogs, though: a piece for the Author Allsorts about diversity in children's and YA fiction - and why I think that a diverse supporting cast will never make up for a lack of diverse narrators.

And an interview that I gave my lovely agent, Gemma Cooper, about the UK cover for Murder Most Unladylike. And talking of the cover . . .

I began last month with a cover reveal. It was a great cover - your enthusiastic reaction proved that. But since then, a decision has been taken by the wise people at Random House that a few small tweaks would make my book, and the series as a whole, look even better. And by golly, have they delivered.

The new-look Murder Most Unladylike still has the same beautiful illustrations and the same gorgeous title font as the original. In essence, it's absolutely the cover that I loved and approved last month - but it now has a different background colour, and a slightly simplified design. I hope you'll agree with me that these small changes have made it look even more wonderful than it did before.  I'm so proud to now be able to share the final look with you, and I hope that you'll fall for it all over again, just like I did!

And now, to celebrate the new cover direction, I'm delighted to be able to finally make good on my promise of a proof giveaway. That's right, it's competition time! I've got ONE very special proof copy of Murder Most Unladylike to give away to one of you lovely people.

All you have to do to win it is:

Tell me what your all-time favourite murder mystery is, and why.

This competition is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered - and congratulations to the winner!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Murder Most Unladylike Cover Reveal: Meet My UK Cover!

As some of you may have heard, I have a book coming out in May. Murder Most Unladylike is the first book in The Wells &Wong Mystery series, about Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, my 1930s crime-solving schoolgirl duo.

From the official synopsis on the Random House website:
When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?
The book will be published on May 8th in the UK as part of Random House Children's Publishers' Corgi imprint, who are really going out of their way to make it look fabulous. There's a map, there are character lists - and I can now reveal that there is the most fantastic cover.

It has been designed by the wonderful Nina Tara, who has worked on covers for Diana Wynne Jones and Agatha Christie (!), and what she's done to my cover is fabulous.

Are you ready? Here goes . . .

It's fun, stylish and brilliantly quirky, and it really captures the spirit of my book. I love the slightly Alice in Wonderland feel Nina's managed to achieve, I love the tagline, and I LOVE the lettering. Every time I look at it, I find a new detail to be excited about.

I can already imagine this on shelves - and I don't know about you, but if I saw it in a bookshop I'd pick it up. It's simply gorgeous.

If you're interested, Murder Most Unladylike is already available for pre-order: from Blackwell's, Waterstones, Foyles and, among others.

And I'm also delighted to say that advance review copies will be released into the wild extremely soon - and when they are, I'm going to be running a competition on this blog to give away a copy. So if you want the chance to read about Daisy and Hazel three months early, watch this space!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Writing: What's In My Head

Aged 3. Already quite weird.
When you’re a kid, there’s always a moment when you look around at the world and realise how incredibly peculiar you and your family actually are. For me, it happened aged six, when my friend told me that when she grew up she wanted to become a doctor.

 I couldn’t even process this. I knew perfectly well that everyone in the world wanted to be a writer, because writing was the point of existence. My father was a writer. My grandfather was a writer. My aunt was a writer. My grandma was a writer. My mother had not written a book yet, but I figured that was just because she was a late bloomer. With all those stories that I knew must be in everyone else's head, the way they were in mine, why would anyone not want to be a writer?

Of course, since then, I’ve realised that not everyone's brain is like mine - not even all other writers'. I know writers who began writing as fairly mature adults, who’d never even thought of doing it before that moment. I know writers who disliked reading as children, writers who dislike reading even now, and even writers who don’t really enjoy the act of writing - to them it's a 9-5, Monday-Friday thing. There are writers who can drop themselves into their story, write it (brilliantly and beautifully) and then disengage from it entirely.

Basically, there are as many ways of being a writers as there are writers themselves, and what I've learnt is that these are all equally valid. There is no correct way to write, and there is no Platonic ideal of a writer - all of the methods I've described are equally likely to lead to the creation of wonderful books.

For me, though, writing isn't a job, or a chore, or even a conscious decision. It’s just something that my brain does automatically. I wake up, I eat breakfast, I make up stories. They're always there, swimming around in my head - and trying to ignore them just makes me stressed. When I don't write for a while, I begin to feel incomplete, like I'm moving through the world with one hand tied behind my back. I have to write. It's the way I process life.

What I look like when I'm writing (note: not really)
So when I was recently asked to write a few lines for the Author Allsorts blog about what I do for leisure, between writing projects, I was a bit confused. Not because I don't know what leisure is (though some days I feel like I'm only dimly aware of the concept), but because, for me, writing is what I do for leisure.

It's how I switch off, how I relax, the place I go when the rest of the world is just too much to handle. When I start typing, I can feel myself breathing out. I write myself calm, every morning on the way to work, and then I've got something to go back to throughout the day. I keep picking away at the puzzle of what happens next - and by the time I open my laptop the next morning my head's stuffed full of my next scene.

I do wonder whether there's a connection between why I write and the stuff that comes out onto the page when I do. You see, although murder in the real world is a nasty business, murder in fiction is absolutely the opposite. It's actually one of the safest and most measured plots to deal with. As the author, you have a set number of suspects, in a set environment, with only a certain amount of clues that must lead to only one single correct solution.

Detective fiction (as opposed to thrillers, which can be extremely wide-ranging - probably why I don't write thrillers) is all about leaving the rest of the world behind. It's not important. What matters are the little details that exist within the perimeters you have set yourself in your story. The texture of this scrap of cloth left hanging on this particular nail. The way this particular window has shattered. The exact depth that this parsley has sunk into this pat of butter on one very special hot day in summer. It's really quite beautiful.

Detective fiction is all about simplicity and calm - the trick that the author is really playing on their readers is in making them believe that the story they've put together is even slightly complex. My genre is basically authorial therapy.

But all the same, if I didn't write crime fiction, I know I'd just start writing something else. There are writers who can stop - but I'm not one of them. The idea of taking time off from writing is never really going to work for me. For better or worse, I am who I am because I write.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

New Year's Excitements and Writing Resolutions: 2014

Hello and welcome to 2014! A lot has changed since I wrote out my year's goals in January 2013.

Did I achieve any of them? Well . . . 

2013: the year that I ended up here
- I got an agent for my crime novel. In fact, Murder Most Unladylike, the first in my middle-grade murder mystery series featuring Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, will be coming out in the UK in May this year (it'll be out in the US in spring 2015). So, you know, I'd say I pretty much ticked that one off.

- I also finished that other book I was writing. It's not Hazel and Daisy at all, but I like it, and one day (in the far, far future) I'm hoping that you might get to like it too.

- I certainly did not get 25% of the 1001 Books project read last year. I feel a bit bad about that. But I did have a few other things going on.

- I don't think I wrote something every day. I certainly didn't write fiction every day. Raymond Chandler would be ashamed of me (sorry, Raymond Chandler). But I wrote quite a lot, and I'm proud of a fair to middling amount of it, and I think that's probably all most writers can ever truthfully say.

- I did begin to plan my books before I wrote them! Sort of, anyway. In 2013 I discovered spreadsheets, and now I love them. I also got much better at cutting the boring bits and getting to the action. When I was revising Murder Most Unladylike, I took to muttering INCREASE THE PERIL! as I typed, and that was very helpful. Everyone loves a bit of peril.

- I did not manage to cut out the dogs from my writing. Nor did I get rid of the murder element in my plots. I'm realising that both might just be inevitable. I did not write any short stories, or enter any competitions. And I did not get a pet lion. But I do still have a pet bearded dragon . . .


And now, some new writing resolutions for 2014.

- I am going to finish Murder Most Unladylike 2, which at the moment is called Arsenic For Tea. I admit, this is less a resolution than a contractual obligation, but hey, whatever works. I am also going to make it a lot better than it is right now.

I shall mainly be channeling the work (though not the life) of this person
- When Arsenic for Tea has been finished, I am going to rework the Secret Project mentioned above, and see what happens to it.

- I am going to do school visits. And I am going to make them be awesome.

- I'm going to try again with that short story thing - I definitely want to write some, probably set in Hazel and Daisy's world.

- I'm going to try to keep reading as many different genres and types of book as possible. Now that I work with children's books as my day job, as well as being a children's writer, it can get difficult to step back and try new things, but I know that it's important. Plus, I love it.

- I also want to do more rereading. I need to remember that trying to read every book ever published is unachievable, and sometimes it is better to just pick up I Capture the Castle for the eleventh time.

- I want to help other writers achieve their goals. I'm part of the awesome Author Allsorts group, as well as SCBWI, and they're both fantastic support networks for UK children's and YA authors. But of course, they only work if writers do support each other, and work together - and that's what I want to do more of this year.

- And I want to champion children's and YA writing however I can. I want to celebrate the brilliant writers working today, and help spread the word about what fantastic children's books are out there.


And finally, on to (some of the very, very many) upcoming 2014 titles I'm currently getting extremely excited about. 

- On January 14th, Hollow City, the sequel to Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children, will finally be published. I have been raving about Miss Peregrine - a crazy, creepy fantasy illustrated with terrifying found photos - since I read it last year, and I am beyond excited for this.

- In February there's a new Helen Oyeyemi book called Boy, Snow, Bird. I absolutely love Helen Oyeyemi (she wrote Mr Fox, a gorgeous take on the gruesome Mr Fox fairytale), and I would quite like to be her friend. But since I can't, I'll make do with reading her books.

- In March, Non Pratt's debut YA novel Trouble will be out. I am lucky enough to know a huge number of incredibly talented people who are all releasing books this year, and I am excited about every single one of them (Liz de Jager's Banished! Emma Pass's The Fearless! Katy Cannon's Love, Lies and Lemon Pies! So many others that if I listed them all this list would stretch to forever and potentially break the Internet!), but I got to read Trouble at proof stage and was absolutely delighted by it. It's so funny and sweet, and it manages to make the beaten-to-death teenage pregnancy plot point seem fresh and interesting. It's going to be a hit.

- March is also the publication month for my most anticipated non-fiction title: Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun. I love Victorian murders, the Maybrick mystery is fascinating, and Kate's Mr Briggs' Hat (about the first railway murder) was great. I can't wait for this.

- Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls amazed me and freaked me out in equal measure last year, so I'm very excited about her new book, Broken Monsters, which publishes in May. It sounds a bit like sci-fi crime-novel Frankenstein meets The Island of Doctor Moreau, so obviously I will be reading it as soon as it comes out.

- In June, Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy concludes with Ruin and Rising. Once again, I am restraining myself from simply listing every single one of the fantastic books that Orion will be publishing this year (Tess Sharpe's heartbreaking thriller Far From You, the cosmically brilliant new 5-8 series Pets from Space, and many equally worthy others), but this is just SO EXCITING that I have to talk about it. Concluding a series is obscenely difficult to get right, but Leigh's absolutely done it. I can't wait for you all to go absolutely nuts about this.

- In July, Rainbow Rowell's next novel Landline is out. I love Rainbow Rowell. Have I said that enough? Every one of her books is nuanced, thoughtful and absolutely beautiful - and also an amazing love story. I'm bouncing off the walls about this one.

- In August, Ali Smith's got a new one out: How To Both. Ali Smith never bothers with things like nouns or verbs, and a lot of her books don't entirely make sense, but I like her writing a lot, and so I'm very excited for this.

- September can only be the month of a NEW SARAH WATERS NOVEL. Oh my GOD. It's called The Paying Guests, but for all I care it could be called The Very Boring Book of Nothing Happening. It's written by Sarah Waters, and that means that I'll be buying it anyway.

And one final date for your calendars - in May 2014, my very own book, Murder Most Unladylike, will be available to buy from all good UK bookstores. Isn't that exciting? And weird? And amazing? I'm hoping to be able to share the UK cover with you very soon (I've seen roughs, and it's going to be wonderful), and I'm also hoping to run a giveaway on this blog when the proof copies are in - which, again, should be very soon! So stick around.

All in all, I've got a really good feeling about this year.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

2013: My year in 13 books

Greetings, festive friends! I've had a busy month. In fact, I have had the sort of month that made me want to crawl under a rock and put up a sign saying I NEED TO JUST LIE HERE FOR A WHILE AND BREATHE.

But now I am on holiday (yes! A holiday! For two whole weeks!) and I am rediscovering the concept of leisure, which is apparently a thing that some people get. I just got into the spirit of it by reading the whole of Holly Black's Curse Workers trilogy in 72 hours, and it turns out that leisure is great.

In case you want to keep up to date with my internet activities, I have:

- written a Dear Santa letter for Space on the Bookshelf about why I think there should be a Diana Wynne Jones book in every child's stocking this Christmas.

been hanging out at Author Allsorts again, most recently talking about my top tip for a big edit.

And now, to the main blog. It's the end of the year, which is traditionally the Time of Listmaking. And of course, because my entire life is about books (really, it is, if someone stopped me and asked me to sum up my life in one single word I would just shout "BOOKS!"), here is my year as expressed in 13 of them. I've linked to my reviews of them, where that applies - and I've also given myself a bit of leeway on exactly when I read them. If it was sort of kind of around that month, it counts.


This was a Christmas present that I read at the very beginning of January, and it got my year's reading off to a start just as magical as my year itself. Dark, gorgeous and headily wonderful, this book was the perfect beginning to an amazing year.


I was lucky enough to review this for The Bookbag when it first came out in paperback, and I've been yelling about it ever since. I like that this is February's book - February is the month of love, after all, and this book makes you fundamentally question everything about the reality of adult relationships. (Don't worry, this has nothing to do with my own life.)


Again, I was lucky enough to get an advance review copy of The Shining Girls from The Bookbag. I admit, I was upset by it - it's so brutal - but it's also utterly brilliant. Seriously not for the faint of heart, but if you can cope with its horrors you'll find it incredibly thought-provoking and well written.


I read this in my first months at Orion, and it just blew my mind. It isn't just a wonderful story, it's a wonderful concept - a narrative linked to found photos, which inform the text and are printed alongside it. It makes you constantly wonder if what you're reading is real, and the pictures themselves give you chills. It's such a well-published book, and though I love this book as a reader, I love it even more with my editorial hat on.


Another book that takes expectations and jumps up and down all over them. It's a middle-grade novel. It's about someone dying of cancer. It's heavily illustrated. Its pictures are the scariest thing about it. And it's fantastic. A Monster Calls completely transcends genres and reading levels. It isn't for children, it's for humans. It's a sad fact that a lot of people stil insist on being very foolish about the quality and importance of children's fiction, and this year my three-word response has become A Monster Calls. I win.


The Leviathan trilogy - Scott Westerfeld

When I read Leviathan in June, it had been a long time since I'd been really excited about a trilogy. Then I finished Leviathan, and ran to the nearest bookshop after work to buy Behemoth. Literally. I ran. It's a steampunk adventure set during an alternate universe World War One, and it made my summer.


I've read a lot of fairy tale adaptations, but this one has to be head and shoulders the best I've ever come across. It felt totally fresh and completely real, and it proved to me that there really are endless places to go with any one concept, no matter how overdone it might seem to be. The kind of book that just makes me excited about fiction.


I went on holiday in August, so I've picked two of the best books from my holiday reading. If Tender Morsels made me excited about reading, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Jack Glass made me excited about being a writer. They're both focused around a past murder - essentially, they're both crime novels - but they both do stunningly unique things with the genre. They're beautifully written, they're creepy and weird and smart and wonderful (and very, very different - Castle is a sort of domestic Gothic, while Jack Glass is Agatha Christie in Space), and if my books end up being even a tiny bit as interesting as these two, I will be very very pleased.


This might just be my book of the year. It reminded me so strongly of my own teenage self, it's so engagingly written and it deals so lightly with such deep issues. And it's a bloody amazing love story. I can't sing Rainbow Rowell's praises highly enough.


I was just gleeful about discovering this book, an Austen tribute that's not just a rehash. It's incredibly well written, it's extremely clever and it's a big, bold romance that's full of plot. I'd been reading a lot of children's and YA fiction when I picked Longbourn up, and this got me back into adult books again.


 This book just about broke my heart. I've read so very many books about World War Two, but this managed to jolt me right out of my general World War Two overexposure apathy. It's wonderful - and coincidentally, I got to meet Elizabeth Wein herself in November, which was pretty amazing.


Another book that's as beautifully published as it is written and illustrated. We got a copy into the office, and we all crowded around it greedily, murmuring "silver foil! Purple edges! A TINY WEE BOOK IN THE BACK!" It's just touchable. It's also very very funny - and you all know how great Chris Riddell's illustrations are. What this book reminds me is that a) children's books are brilliant and b) children's publishing is brilliant. And I'm so very lucky to be a part of that.

So, those are my 13 picks. What are yours? What have you been raving about this year? What were your unmissable reads of 2013?

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Thanksgiving post: thank you, 2013

The beautiful SCBWI launch party cake
Last weekend I went to the SCBWI conference in Winchester. I met (and re-met) a lot of amazing authors and illustrators, and fell in love all over again with children’s literature and the people involved in creating it. The great thing about SCBWI (and here’s my unashamed plug for it – it’s a wonderful support network and anyone interested in children’s books should join it) is that its membership is open to both published and aspiring authors, and so there’s an amazing mix of people at every stage of the writing journey. And talking to all of those different people reminded me of two things that seem particularly relevant today.

The first is how much can change in a very short space of time. Last year I wasn’t at the SCBWI conference. I wasn’t even a member. I was sitting on my couch, jealously reading the tweets from Winchester and feeling light-years away from that world. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that this year I’d not only go, but go as a soon-to-be-published author.

I am so lucky – I am so so lucky that I spend quite a lot of time these days walking around in a state of intense, surreal wonder at what has happened to me – but what being at the conference really brought home to me is that the dream I’m living isn’t just mine. It belongs to every single one of the conference attendees, and for some of them that dream feels just as far away as it did for me a year ago.

I’ve had a lot of good news to post on the blog this year, and I have an astronomical amount to be thankful for today. But part of why this feels so wonderful is that it’s such a contrast to where I was a year ago.

Last autumn – and this is hard to write about, but I feel that it’s important that I do – I was lost. I was applying for a lot of jobs, and being rejected from every one. To distract myself from the relentless soul-sucking process, I began to query the manuscript of Murder Most Unladylike with agents – and again, I was rejected, a lot. In retrospect, this was not the smartest plan, because it made me really start to question my writing ability. I saw those rejections as proof that I just wasn’t good enough. I distinctly remember one particular phone call I made to my mother, in which I stood in the middle of that wobbly bridge outside the Tate Modern and shouted, “MY ENTIRE LIFE IS A LIE! MY WRITING IS AWFUL! I WILL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING! I MIGHT AS WELL JUST GIVE UP AND BECOME A VAGRANT!”

I was not in a good place. By the time December rolled around, I felt profoundly that I had failed. My boyfriend drove us to my parents’ house for Christmas (he had a really hard time getting me in the car, actually, because I kept trying to persuade him to let me get on a train and spend Christmas in a Travelodge in York. No, I don’t understand it either), and when he parked I sat in the car for an hour, refusing to get out, because I was so deeply ashamed of myself.

In fact, I had not failed in the slightest. I just hadn’t succeeded yet. Because what I didn’t know (obviously), was this: at that moment, at literally the lowest point of my adult life, my future was right there in front of me. Nineteen days after my weird sit-in protest in the car, Gemma Cooper (the woman who is now my wonderful agent) sent me an email to say that she loved my book and she wanted to meet me. And that book, the one that I was pretty close to giving up on is, er, about to be published in May.

What I want to say to other writers is this: publishing is a game with crazily bad odds. Writing is a tough dream to have. But that’s true for everyone. Everyone goes through the same rejections, and low times, and self-doubt. I’m realising now that published authors have everything in common with that person scribbling alone in their room and dreaming of getting their books read by someone who isn’t their mother or their dog. They’re just a few steps further along the same road.

Here, have some cranberry sauce!
If you don’t have an agent yet, or if you’ve been on submission for approximately 23,345,210 years without a bite from publishers, please don’t give up. You never know what might be just around the corner. If I had decided to chuck it all in that day in December 2012, this year would never have happened. You just never know when your work is going to pay off. For me, it was this year. For a lot of the SCWBI conference attendees I met, it’s still in the future. But it will happen.

I have had the most wonderful year. I can’t say it enough. But part of why it's so special is because of what came before it. What I've learnt is that you never know when you're about to be happy.

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving.