Monday 29 July 2013

Before and After

I thought it was time to do a post about what life's like now I'm a published author. Getting here has been a very surreal and exciting journey, with lots of waiting, bursts of panic and moments of total awesomeness.

So what's changed? Well, I have a book published, and another coming out next year. This has been a dream of mine since I was 13 years old, and to say it's been a life-altering experience is an understatement. Whatever happens in the future – and I hope that involves getting more books published, but you can never take anything for granted in this business – there is a book out there with my name on it. Yes, I'm still pinching myself.

Even more thrilling is when readers get in touch to tell you they've enjoyed your book. My favourite email so far has to be from a lady who told me that thanks to ACID, she's started reading again after a very long break. To think that the words I wrote on my sofa, on my dented laptop, can do that for someone… wow.

I've also been doing lots of school visits and events. Writing can be a lonely business, and it's so much fun to get out and meet readers and other authors – I love it!

What hasn't changed, however, is that I still don't feel like I know what I'm doing. At all. 

I used to think that if I got published, something would go ping inside my head and all the struggles I encountered when trying to write my novels would magically disappear. I'd feel confident about my plots. I'd be able to work out my characters' motivations first time round. I wouldn't get stuck halfway through and have to go back and work out where it had all gone wrong. And I most definitely wouldn't have many, many days where I felt like the Worst Writer Ever™ and doubted my ability to finish a single sentence.

Er… no. Ironically, since ACID sold, I've doubted myself more, not less. This has partly been the dreaded second novel syndrome (yes, it exists) - writing to a deadline for the first time EVER, worrying whether my publisher will like it, worrying whether readers will like it… you get the idea.

Part of it also comes from being more aware of the writing process. Now, when something in my stories isn't working, I know straight away. I can no longer kid myself that it'll be OK, and carry on in a haze of blissful ignorance. These days, writing is a stop-start-stop-start process for me; very rarely do I sit down and start typing, and the words just flow.

But I've found ways of coping, mostly by reminding myself that I've done this before, and I can do it again. There's always a way through, even if finding it involves a lot of rewriting, hair-pulling and wine coffee drinking.

And nothing beats the excitement of opening up a blank word document and typing the first line of a story that's been keeping you awake at night – it's worth all the stress that inevitably follows, just for that!

Having a support network has helped, too. Getting to know other writers via Twitter and Facebook has led to me being involved with two group blogs, The Lucky 13s and Author Allsorts. Once upon a time, I kept my writing a secret and didn't know any other writers at all. Now, I know many other people who understand the highs and lows of the writing process, which makes those difficult times less scary.

To finish, here are two of those moments of total awesomeness…

No. 1: ACID has been nominated for the 2014 Coventry Inspiration Book Award, 'Just the Book' (14+) category. I don't know who else is on the shortlist yet, and the winner isn't announced until February, but as soon as I have more details, I'll let you know. Here's the 2013 shortlist - I think you'll agree that whoever's on it this time round, I'm going to be in some very distinguished company!

No. 2: last week, ACID was Number 3 in the Waterstones Children's Sci-Fi Bestsellers list, two books below Rick Yancey's THE FIFTH WAVE. Waah! A huge thank you to everyone who's bought, read and helped spread the word about ACID - it wouldn't have got there without you!

Thank you!!

Before you go, check out today's post over at Author Allsorts, where I and some other members of the group are sharing our favourite pieces of advice for budding authors and illustrators.

See you next time!

Tuesday 16 July 2013

The Big Book Bash!

Normally, I wouldn't get up at 6am on a Sunday for anything or anybody, but Sunday 14th July saw me staggering leaping out of bed not long after the birds had started singing… Why? I hear you ask. What madness is this?!

You might remember that last year, I volunteered to help out at the Big Book Bash, a day of author events and workshops for foster children and families and children in care. This year's was extra special as it was the 10th Big Book Bash, so I was thrilled not only to be volunteering, but to be taking part as an author as well!

I started the day in volunteer mode, frantically framing certificates for a presentation later on. Then I had to dash to get ready for the opening ceremony. It was both fabulous and surreal, especially when Nick Sharratt (yes, THE Nick Sharratt) grabbed my hand and tried to get everyone to sway in time to the DaleDiva Women's Chorus. Due to my extreme lack of co-ordination, we only managed to get half the group dancing, but hey, we tried!

After that, I switched back to volunteer mode, helping a colleague run a Bag Books session. Bag Books produce tactile, multi-sensory books for children and adults with disabilities, and the stories in the session went down a storm, especially the one about CJ the library cat! It was great to see the kids having so much fun, and definitely something I'd like to get involved with in the future.

Then I hurried up the corridor to the Green Room (yes, we had a green room!) for lunch, where I chatter to Jon Mayhew and admired Sophia Bennet's fabulous shoes, and got ready for my panel discussion with fellow Author Allsorts Fletcher Moss (THE POISON BOY) and Sarah Naughton (THE HANGED MAN RISES). It was lovely to meet them both in real life at last. Sadly, I 'died' in the first round of Sarah's Victorian It's a Knockout, but that didn't spoil the enjoyment of hearing them talk about their books. I highly recommend you go out and buy both books now!

The day ended with a dash down to the marquee to get my copy of 'PANTS' signed by Nick Sharratt… who drew me a pair of smiley pants! Then, loaded down with a fabulous commemorative 10th Big Book Bash calendar and glass book, it was time to head home. HUGE thanks to Annie Everall and everyone else who makes the BBB so special – here's to many more years of this amazing event!

Smiley pants!

Thursday 4 July 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy...

Hello! I've been so busy recently, this blog has been getting a bit neglected. Sorry, blog. It's not you, it's me. Really.

Anyhow, this is what I've been up to...

You might remember my last post about the Totally Random Blog Tour with Amy McCulloch and Karen Mahoney. Well, it was fantastic! The Goodreads and Facebook chats were my favourite bits - I loved finding out more about Karen and Amy's writing processes, and we were asked some great questions on Facebook.

A few weeks ago, I took part in Literally Coventry Literature Festival. In the morning, I gave a talk at Tile Hill Wood School - my first talk ever, so I was very happy that no-one fell asleep or threw things, and that the students asked loads of brilliant questions at the end. Even better, my PowerPoint worked! Then I was whisked off to Coventry library for lunch and had time for a wander round and a look at the cathedral before being taken to King Henry VIII School to run a writing workshop. It was a lovely day, and I'd like to say a huge thank you to Joy Court and everyone involved with the festival, the staff at the library and both schools, and especially to Tracy and Sophie Lynch for looking after me so well. 

Next up was a workshop and talk for the Teen Book Group at Chesterfield library. They produced some great work, and I really enjoyed chatting to them about writing and books!

After that, I led a day of novel writing workshops at Alfreton Library for Derbyshire County Council and Writing East Midlands. I was a little nervous as it's the first time I've done anything like this, but the day absolutely flew by, and I was so impressed by the standard of work that everyone produced. 

I also did a panel at Ashbourne Library with INFINITE SKY author CJ Flood, which was chaired by former Derbyshire Poet Laureate River Wolton. It was a fun evening and we were asked some really interesting questions about our work and what it's like to be debut authors.

Then, this week, it was off to Brookfield Community School in Chesterfield, where I led 3 workshop sessions for Year 9 through to 6th form. I've done some work with the school before, and once again was struck by the enthusiasm of the staff and pupils, and the commitment the school have to nurturing creativity.

I've also recently found out that ACID is going to be an audiobook - squee! It will be released as an audio CD and download from The Listening Library on 11th March 2014, which is also now my official release date for the US edition of the book... which is going to be a hardcover! Double squee!

And FINALLY... Since before Christmas, I've been helping Cathy Grindrod, who's been writer in residence in a school in Nottingham for a charity called First Story. First Story place writers in secondary schools where they run after-school writing clubs, which results in the work the students produce during these sessions being published in an anthology. The whole experience has been brilliant, and last night, the school launched their anthology at Waterstones in Nottingham. It was a proud moment to see the students get up to read their work - they have worked so hard, and sharing your work with a room full of people takes a lot of courage, whatever age you are. I'm not ashamed to admit that afterwards, I got a bit emotional and had to go and hide in the loo for 5 minutes to compose myself!

Actually, that's not quite it, because before I go, I have to tell you about a fantastic book I read recently. It's called MY FRIEND THE ENEMY and it's by Dan Smith, who's already written three thrillers for adults, DRY SEASON, DARK HORIZONS and THE CHILD THIEF. Now he's turned his pen (or rather, his laptop) to writing for children, and if this book is anything to go by, I predict that by the end of the summer, Mr Smith is going to be well on the way to world domination… now that's a scary thought. 

Anyhow, the book is out from Chicken House today - hooray! - and here's the summary from Amazon:

Summer, 1941. For Peter, the war is a long way away, being fought by a faceless enemy, marching across places he's never seen. Until the night it comes to him. A German plane is shot down over the woods that his Dad looked after, before he went off to fight. Peter rushes to the crash site to find something exciting to keep. But what he finds instead is someone: a young and injured German airman. The enemy. Here. And in trouble. Suddenly, helping him seems like the right thing to do.

 This book opens with one of the most thrilling opening chapters I've ever read. I loved the main characters, Peter and Kit, and found the depiction of their developing friendship touching and realistic. The character of the German airman, Erik, was also skilfully drawn. The book has obviously been thoroughly researched, but the story is so well told that the historical details fit seamlessly, never getting in the way. The pace is fast and the writing vivid and exciting as the plot twists and turns all the way to the nailbiting finale. MY FRIEND THE ENEMY reminded me of a childhood favourite, Robert Swindells's THE MACHINE GUNNERS, and I'm sure young and adult readers alike will love it.

If you want to read more about Dan, and why and how he wrote the book, head over to Author Allsorts, where you can read my book birthday interview with him. 

Annnd... That's a wrap, folks!