Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Hound Takes Over!

Hello lovely blog readers. My minion human just got her copyedits for ACID, so she's asked me to step in and blog for her this week (after making me promise I won't do what I did at Christmas). So after much careful thought and chewing on my squeaky alien toy, I've decided to share the formula for building your very own Hound…

© Emma Pass 2012

© Emma Pass 2012
Or, if building your own Hound isn't practical, why not adopt one from the Retired Greyhounds Trust?

See you next week!


The Hound x

Human's note: This was originally posted on the Friday the Thirteeners blog in April - you can see it here. No hats were harmed in the making of this post.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The How I Got My Agent Post

It was a list. Just a list, written on an A4 sheet of lined paper torn from a notebook. Names and addresses, with neatly ruled lines in between them.

A list that could change everything, or nothing.

I’d just completed my third YA novel, and with two previous attempts consigned to a bottom drawer, I’d decided it was time to take the plunge and start querying agents. As I like to be organised about these things, I’d gone through the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbook and made my list, picking out agents who represented YA authors I loved.

I sent my chapters and synopsis off to the first agent – by snail mail, as I didn’t have the internet or email at home at this time – and got a rejection back a couple of weeks later. The same happened with the second. I crossed them off the list and moved on to the next agent: Carolyn Whitaker at London Independent Books. Off my words went, and I tried to prepare myself, mentally, for another rejection.

But I was also hoping against hope that maybe this time, it would be third time lucky. Because Carolyn represented two authors I hero-worshipped: Chris Wooding and, at that time, Keith Gray. Imagine having the same agent as Chris Wooding and Keith Gray.

Just the thought of it sent shivers down my spine.

Luckily, I had plenty of other stuff going on to keep me occupied: I was getting married soon, and was busy making the final preparations. By the time the day arrived, I’d more or less forgotten about my query. I got married, and hubby and I went off on our honeymoon. It wasn’t until we got back home that I thought about my query again, when I found an envelope from London Independent Books lying on the front doormat. A thin envelope, containing a single sheet of paper. Another rejection, I thought as I unfolded it, bracing myself for the inevitable rush of disappointment.

But it wasn’t a rejection. It was a letter from Carolyn, saying she’d like to see the next 10,000 words of my novel.

I sent them off (with another SAE). Waited. Prepared myself for rejection. Instead, Carolyn wrote back to say she’d like to see the rest. Oh my god. I spent the next day or so reading and re-reading the end of my manuscript frantically, checking one last time for typos and awkward sentences before packaging it up and sending it off, using recorded delivery just to be on the safe side (and enclosing yet another SAE, because you always include SAEs when you send stuff to agents, right? Even if they have two other SAEs from you already that, if you weren’t so excited you could hardly think straight, you’d remember sending them).

Cue more waiting. And obsessive checking of the Royal Mail website to track my manuscript and see if it had arrived.


I rang Royal Mail to see if there was any record of the manuscript being delivered, but no-one could tell me anything. In despair, I realised what must have happened: it had got lost in the post.

Probably the most important parcel I’d ever sent, and it had gone into a black hole.
This isn't me, but this IS what I looked like when I thought my manuscripts had been lost.
There was only one thing I could do – re-send the manuscript. Meanwhile, Carolyn had been waiting all this time. What if she thought I wasn’t bothered any more? I posted another copy of the manuscript and tried not to think about how I’d probably missed my chance.

But that one didn’t arrive either. This could only happen to me, I thought as, in despair, I scraped together the courage to phone London Independent Books and leave a message on the answerphone, explaining what had happened. Then I posted my manuscript for a third time, convinced I’d really blown it now.

A few days later, hubby and I were driving to the supermarket when my mobile rang. It was a withheld number. Work?


It was Carolyn.

Somehow, I managed to signal to hubby to pull over. Somehow I managed to keep my voice from going up about two octaves while Carolyn explained she had actually received my manuscripts (all three of them). Somehow I managed not to burst into tears when she said she really liked the story and had some suggestions for revision. Frantically, I scrabbled in the glove box and, by some miracle, found both a notebook and a pen in there. I think I may have interspersed my scribbled notes with OMG several times as hubby frowned at me, wondering, quite rightly, what on earth was going on. After we got home I started work on the revisions right away. When they were done, I sent the manuscript back to Carolyn, and after some more revisions it was ready to send out (although, ultimately, it didn’t sell; it would be another book and another four years before Random House Children's Books bought ACID).

So that’s how I got my agent. In the car, on the way to the supermarket.

And we were only going for milk!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Back To School

When I went to visit my publisher for the first time last summer, just after they bought ACID, they asked me if I’d be willing to do school visits. “Definitely!” I said, whilst thinking, my book’s not out for almost two years. Plenty of time to prepare myself for doing stuff like that. And in the general whirlwind of excitement that is meeting your publisher for the first time, I didn’t really think about it again.

Then, a few weeks ago, I got a phonecall from Anne Palmer, librarian at Murray Park Community School in Derby, asking if I’d like to do an author visit.

I won’t lie: the thought of it made me pretty nervous. Me and school… well, it wasn’t my favourite place, and I was more than glad to get out of there and escape to art college. On the other hand, this was an opportunity to talk to and work with the target audience for my book. And any school which wants to promote writing, books and reading, and inspire their students to be creative – well, how can you not jump at the opportunity to be involved with something like that?

So of course, I said yes.

By the time the day came around, I was prepared. I was going to be working with year 9 (13-14-year-olds) all day, doing an hour’s workshop on dystopian fiction for 30 students, then two 2-hour ‘writing masterclasses’ for 55 students at a time… Talk about hitting the ground running! But the students were fantastic. The stuff they came up with was incredibly creative and fun, and the sessions seemed to fly past.

Highlights? Well, they have to be one student’s answer to ‘things you’d do if you were brave enough’: ‘slap a gorilla’, which I’m still giggling over now; the table of girls who were all into writing in a big way and told me about the stories they work on in their spare time (yay!); the three students in the afternoon session who got me to come up with a story about zombies invading the school, then work out what they’d do if they were characters in that story (the zombie-fighting ninja-girl with knives in her boots, you know who you are!); and of course, all the students who were kind enough to say they wanted to read ACID and why couldn’t it be out now!

The staff were brilliant too – really supportive and keen – and Dan Seaman, assistant director of English, was a huge help with planning the day. So a MASSIVE thank you to Year 9, Dan, Anne Palmer, and all the staff at Murray Park Community School who helped out with the sessions, supplied me with chocolate biscuits and coffee and generally helped make my first time back at school in, oh, a good few years such a fantastic one!

After posting this this morning, I received a card from the staff at Murray Park saying how much they and the students enjoyed my visit – what a lovely surprise! Another big thank you to everyone. :)

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Publication Day Interview with Dan Smith, Author of THE CHILD THIEF

Today, I'm talking to Dan Smith, whose (quite literally) chilling THE CHILD THIEF is published today by Orion Books. Dan and I share an agent, and it was she who first introduced me to Dan's books. He's an incredibly talented writer with two other fantastic novels, DRY SEASON and DARK HORIZONS under his belt (you can read my review of DARK HORIZONS here), and I'm thrilled to be interviewing him today!

In the snow, death is not the coldest thing waiting for you...

December 1930, Western Ukraine. Luka is a veteran of the First World War and the Russian Civil War. All he wants now is a quiet life with his wife, twin sons and young daughter. Their small village has, so far, managed to remain hidden from the advancing Soviet brutality and labour camp deportations.But everything changes the day the stranger arrives, pulling a sled bearing the bodies of two children. In a fervour, the villagers lynch the stranger, despite Luka's protests. But when calm is restored, the mob leader, Dimitri, discovers his daughter has vanished. Luka is the only man with the skills to find who could have stolen a child in these frozen white wastelands - and besides, the missing girl is best friends with Luka's daughter Lara, and he promises her that he will find her friend and bring her home.Together with his sons and Dimitri, Luka sets out in pursuit across lands ravaged by war and gripped by treachery. Soon they realise that the man they are tracking is a no ordinary criminal, but a skilful hunter with the kidnapped child as the bait in his violent game. It will take all of Luka's strength to battle the harshest of conditions, and all of his wit to stay a step ahead of Soviet authorities. And though his toughest enemy is the man he tracks, his strongest bond is a whispered promise to his family back at home. 

(Summary from the Orion Books website)

Hi, Dan. Welcome to the blog! Tell us a bit about yourself.
Thank you for inviting me along – it’s great to be here. In the electronic sense, anyway . . .

I’m an author with two published novels so far - Dry Season was out a couple of years ago, with Dark Horizons following it up last year. This year will see the publication of my third novel The Child Thief.

I spent a lot of my childhood travelling the world with my parents which is probably why, when I write, I feel the need to take the reader somewhere they might not have been before. Now, though, I live in Newcastle with my wife and two children, and while ‘The Toon’ sometimes feels like another world, I don’t see myself setting my novels here just yet.

When did you start writing, and why?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in places where there wasn’t much to do other than read when the sun went down. In Indonesia, television was awful, and in Brazil the plantation generator went off at nine, so the whole family used to sit under gas lamps and read. Losing myself in fiction was also a great way to escape the regimented humdrum of boarding school, but it wasn’t until I was an angst riddled teenager that I first put pen to paper.

I haven’t always been a writer, but I think it’s what I was always supposed to be.

What made you decide to write thrillers?

I’m not sure I did, really. My first novel was a children’s book, but it’s not great, so is now tucked away in the bottom drawer feeling ashamed of itself. After that I wrote a couple of crime novels before Dry Season came along. The thing is, though, I’m not so sure my books are out-and-out thrillers. Graeme Greene used to describe his novels as ‘entertainments’ and I think that’s a great expression. I want people to read my books because they know they’ll be entertained and get something out of them, not because the books fall into one category or another. All my published novels so far have a thriller element to them, but I hope they have other sides to them too. Having said all that, The Child Thief falls rather neatly into the ‘thriller’ section . . .

How long did it take you to get published?

That’s a difficult question to answer because I’m not sure when the starting point was. I was a teenager when I decided I wanted to be a published writer but I didn’t do anything about it. I was in my late twenties before I sent anything to an agent and, even then, my attempts were half-hearted – probably due to a lack of confidence. When I started to make a real effort, I think it took me a couple of years to find an agent and within a year of that, I had a publishing deal.

Your third novel, THE CHILD THIEF, is out today from Orion. What’s it about, and what was the inspiration behind it?

I always find the ‘inspiration’ question a hard one to answer. I’m not a planner, you see. I sit down and start typing, often without anything other than a starting image in my mind. For The Child Thief I saw a bleak landscape, a family struggling to survive, and a stranger coming out of the wilderness and into their lives bringing something terrible with him. Then a child goes missing and there is only one man with the skill to find her and bring her home. And what’s more emotive than a stolen child? In terms of the setting, I loved The Road and thought this was going to be my post-apocalypse novel, but it turned out to be Ukraine in 1930. Who knew?

What is your favourite book?

Favourite book? Wow. There are so many to choose from. I love The Old Man and The Sea; it’s such a perfect book. But then, The Go-Between is great, too. And The Road. Oh, and I could read Lord of The Flies again and again (and have). Or maybe it’s The Outsider . . . can I have that many?

Your favourite film?

This is a tough one to answer too. I’m a sucker for eighties horror films (the cheesier the better) and I have a particular fondness for The Evil Dead, but then I love a good western too - The Outlaw Josey Wales is fantastic. And I re-watched the excellent Apocalypse Now the other day and . . . well, I can quote The Princess Bride almost word for word. I’m so indecisive.

Your favourite music?

For me, music is a mood thing, but I’m definitely more rock than rap. The Ramones and The Clash are still hanging on from my younger days, but now it’s more likely to be The Killers on the iPod – the whole family can get behind Mr Brightside. Mind you, coming back from London the other night, looking out of the train window as the rain began to drum against the glass, Riders On The Storm was playing on my iPod and it was just the perfect moment.

Your favourite joke?

I used to know a lot of jokes, but now I mostly hear jokes suitable for six year olds. Example – what’s brown and sticky? A stick. Or – and this always gets a laugh from my son – knock, knock, who’s there? Smellip, Smellip who? (you have to say it out loud)

Describe your perfect writing day…

I don’t have any writing quirks other than the need for peace and quiet. I don’t need the pencils laid out just so, or to have my lucky whatever beside me. I don’t need to turn around three times before I start writing, I just need . . . peace. I need to go to the place where the story is happening, and I find that hard to do if I’m surrounded by noise.

…and your actual writing day.

I’m lucky, I suppose, because mostly I get the peace I need. During school holidays it’s a little more difficult but it’s not impossible. My children are old enough to entertain themselves, get on with homework etc, and (shh, don’t tell) I love having them around. What could be a better break from writing than a smiling face and a warm hug?

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

Don’t be so angry. Stop rebelling. Everything’s going to work out just fine. Oh, and work a bit harder at school.

And finally, what’s next?
Well, that’s a good question. I’m writing, of course – always writing. When one book is finished, I move straight on to the next. At the moment I’m working on a follow up to The Child Thief. This one has similar themes of families being torn apart, people battling against man and nature to find what they’re looking for . . . oh, there might be a touch of insanity, too, and there will almost certainly be dark mystery at the heart of it.

Thank you for such a great interview, Dan, and happy Publication Day!

Want to get hold of a copy of THE CHILD THIEF for yourself? It's available on amazon here. You can check out Dan's website here, and read his blog here. He's also on Twitter and has a Facebook author page.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Scent of Memory

What does the smell of a freshly-opened packet of mint gum mean to you? For me, it’s being 14, opening a brand new notebook and starting to write the beginning (and usually only the beginning – I was notoriously bad at finishing stuff at that age) of my next story.

What about creosote? That’s summer holidays, pavements melting in the heat, the horizon shimmering hazily and the air filled with the drone of lawnmowers.

Imperial Leather soap? My grandmother’s downstairs bathroom, decorated in underwater shades of green, with plants on the windowsill and a shower that had a crinkly-textured plastic screen. 
Linseed oil? I’m a student again, mixing up glazes for oil paintings while the sun slants in the attic windows of my college studio, and beyond them, a view of the beach and the sea, beckoning to me.

And then there’s the certain sort of washing powder that reminds me of a friend I had at school; the smell of coffee, which transports me to mornings at my parents’ house; the scent of bruised summer grass, which reminds me of playing in the garden with my mum’s springer spaniel, Jennie, who was part of our family when I was very young.

I started thinking about the connection between smell and memory after reading this wonderful blog post by AbiBurlingham about the power of imagination, then having a conversation with her on Twitter with about how, for both of us, certain scents trigger strong memories.

Apparently, this occurs because of a link between the olfactory bulb and the amygdyla (the part of the brain which processes emotion) and hippocampus (the part of the brain which is, among other things, responsible for learning and memory). The memories certain smells like the ones listed above trigger for me are so strong, I’m literally transported back to the time and place I first smelled them – almost an olfactory hallucination (you can find a more scientific explanation of this phenomenon here).

I also have a memory for smells. When I was 12, my parents took me and my sister to Switzerland for 2 weeks where they were teaching a course. The village we stayed in was right up in the Alps, surrounded by mountains, and the air was so fresh you could taste it – clear and cold and crisp. When I look through the photos I took back then, I can smell that air again, and that smell takes me straight back to looking out of my hotel room window each morning at the little white church opposite, with cloud rising up from the valley behind it and the rising sun pink on the mountains that surrounded the village.

Are there certain smells which trigger strong memories for you? What are they, and where do they take you?