Wednesday 31 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

Fellow YA author Elsie Chapman (DUALED, out from Random House Children's on 26th Feb 2013) has tagged me to take part in a blog hop this week, The Next Big Thing. It's supposed to be about our works-in-progress, but my WIP is too rough to share at the moment so I'm going to talk about ACID. I hope that isn't cheating! 
1) What is the working title of your book?

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
The very first spark came from a story a friend and I challenged each other to write when we were 14, about someone being imprisoned in a brutal future world. Many years later, I came back to it, and ACID was born.

3)What genre does your book fall under?
Dystopian YA.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Hmm… I'm not sure! I actually haven't thought about this… rubbish, aren't I? I guess I see my characters so vividly inside my head, I can't imagine them looking like anyone else.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
ACID, the most brutal police force in the world, locked Jenna Strong up for a terrible crime she struggles to remember, but now she's been broken out by a mysterious rebel group and must use all her strength and skill to stay under ACID's radar.

6)Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm represented by Carolyn Whitaker at London Independent Books, and ACID will be published by Random House Children's Publishing next year.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About 6 months.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Hmm… I've seen it compared to The Hunger Games and Matched. I think it will also appeal to fans of Divergent, and Jenna's been compared to Lisbeth Salander!

9) Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Lots of things! That idea from when I was 14 that never quite left me. George Orwell's 1984. Reading an article about how, in 2009, the Shetland Islands supposedly had more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department, which I found VERY sinister…

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
ACID is full of twists and turns which (I hope!) will keep the reader guessing to the end.  

Tagged for next week (Week 23) are some of my talented writer friends. Check out their blogs next Wednesday, November 7th, when it's their turn to post answers to these same questions about their own works-in-progress!

Amy McCulloch 
Happy Halloween!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

A Saturday of Spaceships And Magick

Last Saturday, I headed off my first ever con, BristolCon – not just as an attendee, but as a guest, with a slot on a panel and a chance to read from ACID. I was a touch nervous by the time I got to the Ramada Hotel, but as soon as I got inside, everyone was so lovely that those nerves quickly disappeared. Once I'd registered, there was a bit of time before the first panel I wanted to attend, so I headed straight for the booksellers' room and loaded up with books, then wandered off to look at the stunning artwork on display in the dealers' room. I particularly loved seeing the prints by Dan Chernett, who did the artwork for Chris Wooding's MALICE and HAVOC, two of my favourite books of recent years. Unfortunately they were wayyy out of my price range, but I can always dream…

Then it was time for the first event I wanted to go to – an interview by Juliet E McKenna with John Meaney. It was really entertaining, as was the panel that followed, a discussion about 'netiquette' and how not to make a twit of yourself online, with Mark Aplin from Fantasy Faction, Marc Gascoigne, publisher at Angry Robot, and authors Guy Haley, Dolly Garland and Robert Harkess. I particularly agreed with Dolly's point about not trying to be controversial unless it's about something you really believe in, and about how your blog is 'your' space and if you don't feel comfortable about responding to someone who's clearly just trying to cause trouble, you don't have to. And happily, the general consensus among the panel seemed to be that it's OK to blog about your dog every now and then, so worry not, Hound fans, he's going nowhere!

I was hoping to have time to hear Emma Newman, who I was on my panel with later, do a reading, but unfortunately the Netiquette panel overran so I missed it. However, I did get to see her, Dev Agarwal, Aliette de Bodard, Gareth L Powell and Leigh Kennedy talk about space travel and dysfunctional families, which was really interesting, particularly the discussion about the idea of what a 'family' is and how that might change in the future.

Then it was back to room 1 for the launch of Stephanie Burgis's A RECKLESS MAGICK. It was great to hear Stephanie read from the book and lovely to chat to her (albeit briefly) afterwards, as we've talked on Twitter and Facebook but never met in 'the real world' before. The book was the perfect read for my train journey home yesterday – I devoured it in a couple of hours – and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves the Regency era and a good old-fashioned adventure with a liberal helping of magic!

By now it was 3pm, and I was getting pretty desperate for something to eat so I didn't pass out halfway through my panel (which wasn't until 7), so I sneaked out to meet a friend who was passing through Bristol, and we grabbed some dinner at one of the little cafes by the river. We also visited a Chinese supermarket where I picked up the most gorgeous tin of jasmine tea (I'm a little bit obsessed with blue-and-white stuff).

I returned to the Ramada just in time to see the panel being held in honour of BristolCon's 'Ghost of Honour', the late Colin Harvey, and the launch of Colinthology, an excellent-sounding anthology which I will be purchasing as soon as I can (it's available from Wizard Tower Books and all proceeds go to the charity Above and Beyond).

And then it was time for my reading. Eek!

But it went well (I think!). At least, no-one fell asleep or threw things, which is always good. Straight afterwards, my panel began, which was called 'YA: Just for Girls?', with Moira Young, Emma Newman and Kim Lakin-Smith, and expertly moderated by Foz Meadows. My mind always goes blank with these sorts of things and I never feel as if I have the slightest clue what I'm on about, but the others were brilliant and the audience asked lots of interesting questions – we could have gone on talking all night. The conclusion we more or less unanimously came to was no, YA is NOT just for girls. The problem of boys stopping reading after a certain age is not caused by there being too many female authors or protagonists (because there aren't!), but by social conditioning – by boys and girls being seen as alien species to one another and any crossover between the two being viewed seen as a bad thing. Someone also asked about YA being heavily biased towards romance, and whether that put boys off reading it. This is another point I disagree with. I think because being a teenager is such a tempestuous time – a time of such great physical and mental changes – and often, at that age, you are discovering boys or girls for the first time, everyone assumes that YA fiction is mostly romantic. But there's plenty of stuff out there that has little or no romance in it at-all, if romance is what turns boys off reading YA (which again, might be due to social conditioning).

Anyway, as Moira said to me afterwards, "I think we sorted that one out!

After that, Foz gave a reading from her WIP, an intriguing-sounding YA novel, and then there was just time to go to the bar and hear organiser and all round BristolCon superstar Joanne Hall give thanks to everyone for coming. I would have loved to have stayed for the live music, but I needed to catch a train as my parents (who I was staying with for the weekend) were very kindly picking me up from the station, and I didn't want to be dragging them out at stupid o'clock to meet me. So off I went, lugging a bag of signed books and goodies, exhausted but happy.

A HUGE thank you to Joey for inviting me to take part, and to her and and every single one of the other volunteers who kept everything running so smoothly and made it such a wonderful day. I am in awe of your organizing skills – I hope you've all had a chance to recover and I hope I'll see you again next year!

Wednesday 17 October 2012


This has been a slightly exciting couple of weeks.

First up, Delacorte have bought US rights to ACID and will be publishing it sometime in 2014!

On Saturday 20th October, I'll be at BristolCon, where I'm going to be doing a short reading from ACID and taking part in a panel discussion called YA Fiction: Just For Girls? with Foz Meadows, Moira Young, Emma Newman and Kim Lakin-Smith. What a line-up, eh? Plus, Stephanie Burgess will be launching her latest book, A RECKLESS MAGICK. Can't wait!


And I've found out who my cover designer is… although that's going to remain a secret for now (sorry!). Suffice to say, I am very very excited about it!

 I'm off to lie down in a darkened room now… see you next week!

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Writing YA Is Not A Rehearsal

Recently, I was asked a question. The question. The one that most, if not all people who write for children and young adults gets asked at some point:

"When are you going to start writing for grownups?"

I wasn't in a situation where I could say what immediately came into my head, so all I could do was look at them like this:
Errr, WHAT did you just say?  (Image licensed for use under Creative Commons)

But later – much later, long after this person had gone, because that is what ALWAYS happens to me – I thought of a proper (and polite) answer.

This is it.

I came to writing YA after trying everything else, including writing for adults (which nearly made me give up on writing altogether – you can read more about that here). But I didn't start writing it because it was a last resort, or because it's easy. I didn't start writing it because I wanted to hop on a bandwagon or because it was 'something to do' while I was striving towards writing 'proper' books for adults. And I don't know any other children's or YA authors – and that includes authors who write for young people AND adults – who started writing it for that reason either.

Y'see, it's not only the author you insult with a question like that. It's their readers, too. To dismiss books for young people as somehow being inferior to those for adults is to dismiss the young people themselves – as if, somehow, they and the books they read have less worth.

You only have to read a handful of the many amazing children's and YA books that are out there right now to realise what a crazy attitude this is. As categories, they contain some of the most challenging, frightening, beautiful, downright exciting books I've ever read. Philip Pullman, anyone? Roald Dahl? Melvin Burgess? Malorie Blackman? Tabitha Suzuma? I could go on… and on…

Which isn't to say I don't enjoy books written for adults, because I do. In my mind, there's no distinction – and there wasn't when I was younger. If a book is well-written, has a gripping storyline, relatable characters, I'll devour it no matter what age group it's aimed at; I've been the same all my life. Which is why, when people start pitching one category against another, looking down their noses at literature for younger readers, it drives me crazy.

I may write for adults one day, or I may not. Why should it even matter? Kids are not just adults-in-training. Their books are not dumbed-down versions of the books their parents and the other adults around them read. And the writers who write for them aren't just doing it as a rehearsal. We write what we write because we can't not write it – because it's in our DNA.

And we're having a great time doing it, thank you very much.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

In Praise of Editors

…but first, a shout-out for another good cause. Twitter friend and talented artist and graphic designer Angie Shawcroft is helping to organise a Spooktacular Sponsored Stroll at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire on Sunday 28th October to raise money for Cancer Research UK. Follow the link for more info or click on the image to register.

And now down to the serious business of this post.


Before I went on my September blogging break, I read this blog post, which left me, well… mystified. One paragraph in particular stood out:  I am really sick of reading about how writers can’t possibly string together so much as a tweet, let alone an entire novel without someone else hanging over their shoulder steering the course. That’s what editors do, after all. Were you fully aware of that? Editors take other people’s material and structure it to suit either their own preconceived notions or the fiscal necessity of the platform they’re editing for.

Um… what?

I am a debut author who is going through the later stages of having her first novel prepared for publication next year. So far, ACID has been worked on by 3 different editors and has gone through 2 major rounds of revisions and a round of copyedits. The whole experience – though it has been a lot of work – has brought me to one conclusion:

Writers need editors.

Perhaps it's because I love revising anyway (much more so than writing first drafts!), but I've found the whole editing process – once the initial post-first edit letter OMG-why-didn't-I-see-all-the-things-that-are-wrong-with-this-book-it-needs-so-much-work-I'm-the-worst-writer-ever shock wore off – both exciting and thoroughly rewarding. The insight the team at RHCP have had into my book is incredible, strengthening it in ways I'd never have thought possible. If the version of ACID that's hitting the shelves next year was the version that originally sold, I'd be cringing at the thought of people reading it (not least because I have a mathematical blind spot, and always get mixed up with my chapter numbers and dates!).

At no point has my original vision for the book been lost. At no point has anyone tried to change the book just to fit in with a preconceived notion or platform. It's my book, made better with the advice and guidance of skilled (and lovely) people who are true experts. Made better in ways that, because as an author I am often too close to my own work to see its flaws, I could never have managed by myself.

No, I don't need an editor hanging over my shoulder steering the course as I write my novels. But I do need editors to help those novels realise their full potential once the first draft is written (and also my beta-reader, and my agent, and… you get the idea). I truly believe that whether you're starting out or an old hand, traditionally- or self-published, the input of others is what helps you shape your work and get better at what you do.

Editors, I salute you.