Sunday, 16 December 2018

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas – review

The award-winning author of The Hate U Give returns with a powerful story about hip hop, freedom of speech and fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you. Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But when her first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself at the centre of controversy and portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. And with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

Angie Thomas has become one of my favourite authors and the characters in her books are one of the main reasons. This community feels so real to me, and even the most minor characters are thoughtfully developed, with their own unique qualities.

Bri is a great character, who is well-developed and relatable. By the end of the book, it felt like I knew her and had watched her develop. The rap lyrics were also a great touch and a good insight into Bri's personality. This book reminded me why I loved rap music so much as a teen and got me digging out my CDs. 

On the Come Up really taps into how it feels to want something and what you'd be willing to do to achieve your dreams. Like The Hate U Give, it also made me think about how people perceive each other. Angie Thomas tackles difficult subjects with such honesty and empathy.

I can't wait to get the finished copy in my hands. It's thought-provoking, funny and real, with incredible characters.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

BBC National Short Story Award and Young Writers' Award 2019

I had an amazing time at the BBC National Short Story and Young Writers' Award 2018 ceremony in October and I'm thrilled to be an ambassador for the Young Writers' Award again. It's a fantastic award and the calibre of writing was incredible last year!

Submissions are now open for the BBC National Short Story Award and Young Writers' Award 2019. Follow the links to find out more information about the awards and how you can enter. 

The judges have been announced for both awards and I'm delighted to share that the brilliant authors Anthony Cartwright, Patrice Lawrence and Kiran Millwood Hargrave are judging this year, as well as writer, rapper and beatboxer Testament. Author and TV presenter Katie Thistleton will be the chair. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Girl King by Mimi Yu – review

Sisters Lu and Min have always known their places as princesses of the empire. Lu is destined to become the first female emperor, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. When their father declares their male cousin heir instead, his betrayal throws both their lives into chaos.
Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu must flee the court in search of an ally. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shapeshifter. After years in hiding, Nok is forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved. Now they need an army to take back the throne.
Left alone in the volatile court, Min's hidden power awakens. It's a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set's reign . . . or allow Min to claim the throne herself.
But there can only be one emperor, and the sisters' greatest enemy could turn out to be each other...

I haven't read much YA fantasy recently and The Girl King has got me back into it. I loved this story of sisters, mythology and the corrupting influence of power.

The characters were my favourite part of this book and I enjoyed delving into the two sisters' stories. It was refreshing that the story arc of their relationship felt like the most important one in the book. Some things were resolved in this book but there are lots of potential areas that can be explored in the sequel. 

There's also incredible mythology underpinning this book and fantasy elements that built a vivid world. It's a compelling setting that feels grounded in history, at the same time as having a clear magical system.

Another thing I really liked about this book was that there was plenty of action, culminating in a tense final battle on an epic scale. I was able to imagine the big fight scenes and become invested, rather than finding it too overwhelming. 

This is a fast-paced read with rich fantasy elements, and I'm excited to see what comes next for these characters!

Thank you so much Gollancz for the review copy!

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Rosie Loves Jack blog tour – Getting Lost

I'm delighted to join the blog tour for ROSIE LOVES JACK by Mel Darbon. I've heard wonderful things about this book and I'm excited to read the first YA from the perspective of a character with Down's Syndrome. As Rosie has to battle all kinds of situations to reach her boyfriend, Jack, I've got a stressful memory of my own to share.

I have a tendency of getting lost. I'm the person who leaves their table at a restaurant and can't the way back or loses my way in a shopping centre. The worst time was when I got lost on my first day of university. Even thinking about it thirteen years later conjures the same flood of panicked thoughts.

I left plenty of time to get to my first tutorial. There are only a few buildings on the campus, so how hard could it be to find mine? Fifteen minutes before the tutorial, I knew how wrong I was. I always get lost, so why did I think this would be any different? I couldn't see the building on the campus map and everyone I asked had no idea where the place was. Ten minutes before the tutorial, heat built up behind my eyes and the panicked thoughts started. Could I get kicked out for missing one tutorial? What kind of first impression was this? 

Five minutes before the tutorial and I was ready to hide in a corner of the library and give up on the whole thing. How much did I really need to learn about the English Legal System?

This went on for nearly an hour, the whole length of the tutorial. I wish I was exaggerating. When I finally found the building, a squat structure set back behind two lecture halls, I felt exhausted and defeated. 

I got to the room just in time to see the other students leaving. On the cusp of tears, I apologised to the lecturer and... she was fine about it. She understood what had happened and expected to see me on time for the next session. That was it.

Since then, my sense of direction hasn't improved much but I'm a lot better at keeping things in perspective. I finished my Law degree without too many catastrophes and I'm sure that lecturer has long since forgotten this story. I try to ask myself what's the worse thing that can happen and how likely it is. Usually, the situation isn't as bad as I make it.

I haven't read about Rosie's journey yet, but I hope she manages to resolve her challenges as I'm still learning to do. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Shadow of the Fox blog tour – Julie Kagawa Q & A

Today I have a Q and A with Julie Kagawa to celebrate the release of Shadow of the Fox. The cover of this book is gorgeous and I can't wait to read it!

Writing insights

by Julie Kagawa

What is your writing process like?

I go into my office every morning and I try to write 1,000 words. That is my quota; 1,000 words a day. Sometimes they come easy and I'm done in a couple hours, sometimes it takes all afternoon and into the evening. But I don't consider myself finished for the day until I've written at least 1,000 words.

How do you know an idea for a book is the right one to pursue?

You just have to go with what you want to write. What speaks to you? What gets you excited? Don't worry that your idea might not be popular; write what works for you.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

In the words of a famous fish: just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Writing is a skill, one that you have to practice at to get better. Never stop writing, and remember, all writers started out the same: unpublished and unknown. The ones that made it are the ones that never stopped writing.

Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, that you've found useful?

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is one of my favorite books on writing, as well as On Writing by Stephen King.

What is your favourite recent read?

Seafire by Natalie C. Parker. Think Pirates of the Caribbean with an all female cast. It was pretty aweseme. 

Thank you so much Julie! I love getting insights into the writing process and I'm excited to read Shadow of the Fox.

Check out this banner to follow the other stops on the blog tour.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan – review and giveaway

Charlie hopes that the school ski trip will be the escape from his unhappy home life he so desperately needs. But there is something wrong with the remote ski village of Kaldgellan. Something is out there, something ancient and evil, among the pines and the deep untracked drifts, watching and waiting. And when the storms blow in, Charlie and his schoolmates wake to find the resort deserted. Cut off from the rest of the world far below, as night falls the few left alive on the snowbound mountain will wish they were somewhere, anywhere else. Only ski guide Hanna seems to know of Kaldgellan’s long-buried secrets, but whether Charlie can trust her is another question…

Whiteout is part of the fantastic Red Eye series from Stripes and is one of my favourite titles so far. It ranges from unsettling to downright terrifying and somehow has an old-school feel at the same time as being like nothing I've read before.

I can tell Gabriel Dylan is a massive horror fan (partially because I featured a post from him about his favourite movies for Halloween.) This story has all of the ingredients of a classic horror story, from the remote setting with no way out to the frightening threat waiting to pick off the main characters. It also has a fresh feel that meant I had no idea what was going to happen next, or who was going to make it to the end...

I'm a huge fan of mythology and backstory underpinning a book, and Whiteout handled this really well. Details about the world and characters are seeded through the story without it becoming overpowering.

Whiteout strikes the right balance between shocking scares, building unease and quieter moments to get to know the characters. It also has one of the most intriguing endings that I've read for a very long time!

I also really liked the main character, Charlie. It feels like you get to know him as the book progresses and he isn't one of those horror character who sits back and lets the beasties get them.

This is the best horror book I've read for ages, YA and otherwise. I can't wait to see what Gabriel Dylan writes next and I'm going to catch up on the few Red Eye titles that I've missed while I wait.

Thanks so much to Stripes Publishing for the Netgalley approval and for the gorgeous finished copy!

The lovely people at Stripes have given me an extra copy of Whiteout to give away. Head over to my pinned tweet on Twitter (@yaundermyskin) to find out how you can enter.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman – review

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a war zone of desperation; neighbours and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

I love Neal Shusterman's writing, as his books always contain believable worlds and compelling characterisation. I think this is my favourite yet because it's terrifyingly believable and the characters are well-developed. 

The way society deteriorates so quickly in Dry struck me as frighteningly realistic. The book makes the reader feel very close to the main characters' actions and reactions, as well as capturing what's happening in the world at large. There are some unsettling parallels to the tragic fires affecting California and that brings home how topical this book really is.

There are a lot of characters to focus on in this book and each of them is developed really well. I liked trying to work out if we knew everything about a character and watching them grow and adapt as the story progressed.

A really effective device is the use of snippets of storyline about characters who aren't in the central group. It allows interesting insights into the wider world and it's fun trying to work out how these snapshots will impact on the main plot.

Dry is a gripping, almost unbearably tense book that made me think a lot about what we can do to be kinder to the planet. I hope there'll be more books in this series, but in the meantime I'll read Thunderhead, the sequel to Scythe.

Thank you so much Walker Books for the review copy!

Thursday, 8 November 2018

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

They called us the Mercies, or sometimes the Boneless Mercies. They said we were shadows, ghosts, and if you touched our skin we dissolved into smoke ...

Frey, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa are Boneless Mercies – death-traders, hired to kill quickly, quietly and mercifully. It is a job for women, and women only. Men will not do this sad, dark work.
Frey has no family, no home, no fortune, and yet her blood sings a song of glory. So when she hears of a monster slaughtering men, women, and children in a northern jarldom, she decides this the Mercies’ one chance to change their fate.

But glory comes at a price…

Everything about this book appealed to me, from the premise and blurb to the cover. The Boneless Mercies is the perfect read for this dark and spooky season and one that I'd reread at any time.

I love an ensemble cast done well and the girls won me over immediately. Each were distinct, with their own rich characteristics and back stories, and I enjoyed their interactions as well. Frey is an interesting, multi-faceted main character with strength and agency. I'm hoping for a sequel to see what she does next!

The mythology and world-building in this book are exceptional. There is a timeless quality to the writing that suited the fantastical subject matter and I'd happily read a whole book of myths from the world of the Boneless Mercies.

I was a huge fan of Slasher Girls and Monster Boys (edited and featuring a story by April Genevieve Tucholke). April's writing is creative, unique and delightfully dark. I adored The Boneless Mercies and I'm excited to see what April writes next. 

Thank you so much Simon & Schuster for the book.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Gabriel Dylan guest post – Films for Halloween

The Red Eye books from Stripes are some of my favourites, so it's my pleasure to feature a guest post from Gabriel Dylan, author of the upcoming Red Eye title Whiteout. Gabriel shares his favourite horror films just in time for Halloween.

Films for Halloween

As much as I love a scary book, there’s also a special place in my heart for a good horror film, especially one shared with friends. Like most teenagers, I used to love a Saturday night sleepover – particularly when one of my gang had snuck in a gnarly horror film that we shouldn’t have been watching.

In recent years, it seems as though the horror genre has prioritised gore over scares, which is a shame, although there’s evidence that lately things are turning back the other way, and films like The Babadook and It Follows are pushing things back towards the psychological. Whiteout was definitely heavily influenced by the horror films I’ve seen over the years, and all of those listed below played a part in shaping certain scenes in my head.

The Thing (1982)

I love John Carpenter’s The Thing, and whilst it was unbelievably hammered by critics on its release, today it is rightly seen as a cult classic. When the workers at a remote Alaskan research facility find a deserted Norwegian base, and uncover evidence that the scientists there discovered something otherworldly under the ice, it doesn’t take them long to realise that the ‘something’ has infiltrated their remote camp, and is determined to wipe them all out, one by one. As well as the storyline and the jumps (there’s a great scene involving a petri dish and a blood test that is guaranteed to make even the toughest viewers yell out in fright!), I loved the location of The Thing. The deserted, remote, Antarctic wilderness, and the sense that no help is coming definitely played a part when Whiteout was forming in my head.

The Exorcist (1973)

Although The Exorcist was released in the 1970s, years later, when I was a teenager, there was a local cinema that used to show it every Saturday night at midnight. There were all sorts of stories about the film, rumours of audience members walking out, people fleeing the cinema screaming, so once me and my friends could just about pass for eighteen we put ourselves through this rite of passage. For me, it certainly didn’t disappoint. Something about the sound (loud, frightening and otherwordly), and the sheer terror of the subject matter really got to me, and I could see what all the fuss was about. And underpinning the film was Linda Blair’s amazing performance as the young lady who becomes possessed. Without going into spoiler territory too much, there’s a certain scene in Whiteout that was more than a little influenced by the transformation Blair’s character goes through. If you work out which scene I’m referring to, get in touch!

Salem’s Lot (1979)

Whilst, like most film adaptations, the movie version of Stephen King’s vampire classic isn’t quite as good as the book, there are a few scenes in the 1980’s adaptation that really creeped me out. And the stand out for me is the character of Barlow, a terrifying, demonic Nosferatu-influenced lead vampire. Out of all the hundreds of horror films I’ve watched, the scene where we meet Barlow, and he goes after a prisoner locked in a cell, probably freaked me out more than any other. My friends are all very aware of my total aversion to this character, and over the years they’ve brought various masks and cut out figures on our surfing camping trips in the middle of nowhere to try to terrify me.

Dawn of the Dead (2004 version)

Whilst director Zac Snyder has gone on to direct some huge Hollywood adaptations (Justice League, 300, Batman vs Superman), for me his stand out film is his remake of the 70’ s Romero zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Without Snyder’s adaptation, and the way he made zombies scary again, I don’t think there would ever have been The Walking Dead, or any of the 28 days later films. Before Snyder’s film, zombies were slow, lumbering creatures, but in his hands they suddenly became quick, bloodthirsty, deadly killing machines. I loved the way the film had a combination of scares and action, where the protagonists fight back, and also the way it was impossible to second guess which characters were going to make the final cut. Add that to the black, grim humour of the film, and for me you’ve got the best zombie film ever, and the one that revitalised the genre.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

This was another film that I saw several years before I should have done (I’m blaming you Mum and Dad), and another one that really mixed the horror with black humour. The opening scenes, where two American backpackers trekking across the Yorkshire moors, are stalked by an unseen beast, are super creepy. Whilst one of the tourists is killed, the survivor, David, soon realises that his bite is going to cause serious problems once the full moon arrives. The transformation scene is epic, and David’s conversations with his deceased friend, Jack, who returns in zombie form, are darkly funny and memorable, and made me realise during the writing of Whiteout that I wanted at least a little humour in there to defuse some of the tension.

REC (Spanish version) 2007

Just when I thought I’d seen it all with hand held horror films, along came Spanish supernatural thriller REC. A block of flats becomes infiltrated by a supernatural force, and the group of reporters and soldiers sent to investigate find themselves trapped in a nightmare, but no matter how scary things get, they keep recording. The end scene, where a female reporter gets trapped in a pitch black loft with something demonic, is terrifying!

Thanks so much Gabriel. That is such a good selection of films! I think my favourites are The Descent for suspense and jumps and Scream for slasher escapism. If you'd like to share your frightening favourites, leave a comment below.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein – review

“We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us.” Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. At the time nobody believed Tash, and she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real. Now fifteen and mute, Mallory’s never spoken about the week she went missing. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash starts to see Sparrow again. And she realizes Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them. Does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous to others than she thinks? 

Small Spaces is a smart, fast-paced book, in which the line between reality and imagination is blurred.

The idea of imaginary friends in YA is so clever and it makes Tash an unreliable narrator, which I always enjoy. I loved trying to figure out whether or not Sparrow is real and how much Tash’s memories and actions can be trusted. Tash is fleshed out really well as a character, with her fears and interpretations of events feeling very genuine.

I also thought the plotting of this book is clever and well-paced, with a good balance of simmering unease and action.

This is an intriguing, suspenseful read and I can't wait to see what Sarah Epstein writes next.

Thank you so much Walker Books for the review copy!

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf – review

A thriller inspired by a tragic true event in the author's past. Allan Wolf examines the circumstances of one boy’s inexplicable murder and the fateful summer leading up to it.

Everybody likes Chris Goodman. Sure, he’s a little odd. He wears those funny bell-bottoms and he really likes the word ennui and he shakes your hand when he meets you, but he’s also the kind of guy who’s always up for a good time, always happy to lend a hand. Everybody likes him, which makes it especially shocking when he’s murdered. Here, in a stunning multi-voiced narrative – including the perspective of the fifteen-year-old killer – and based on a true and terrible crime that occurred when he was in high school, author Allan Wolf sets out to answer the first question that comes to mind in moments of unthinkable tragedy: how could a thing like this happen?

The premise of Who Killed Christopher Goodman? gripped me immediately, as I was intrigued by the idea of a novel inspired by a real murder.

My favourite thing about this book was the structure. It was fascinating to see the events leading up to the murder from the viewpoints of different characters. All of them were affected by the crime in different ways and added an ingredient to the reader's understanding of what happened.

The voices were also really strong. Each character was distinct and identifiable, and I enjoyed how their interactions with Christopher and thoughts about him showed new layers to his character.

I'd love to read more novels based in true crime. I thought this book was sensitive to the original subject matter, without shying away from darker details. 

I enjoyed this book a lot and I'll look out for others by Allan Wolf in future.

BBC Young Writers' Award Winner 2018

I had a fantastic time at the BBC Short Story and Young Writers' Awards on Tuesday and I'm thrilled to share the winner of the Young Writers' Award.

 17-year-old Davina Bacon wins
2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award
with ‘compassionate’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘surprising’ story about elephant poaching

Davina Bacon from Cambridgeshire has won the 2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (YWA) for ‘Under a Deep Blue Sky’, a raw and emotionally powerful short story about a young African poacher and the brutal murder of a mother and baby elephant. Inspired by her early life living in Africa and her passion for the environment, Davina’s story was praised by author and judge William Sutcliffe as a ‘superlative piece of writing by any measure, regardless of the age of the writer’ and by fellow judge and actress Carrie Hope Fletcher, for its ‘compassion and intelligence’.

Citing Michael Morpurgo as an influence on her writing style and having recently read a lot of post-colonial literature including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Anthills of the Savannah, Davina Bacon’s winning story is inspired by her earlier years spent living in Malawi. She says: “My story is based on Kasunga National Park where they have issues with poachers crossing the border from Zambia to kill elephants. The population has decreased rapidly and this is very worrying.”

The news was announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row (Tuesday 2 October) with ‘Under a Deep Blue Sky’ available to read and listen to on the Radio 1 website after the award ceremony, read by Don Gilet of the BBC Radio Drama Company. An interview with Davina will be available on the Life Hacks podcast from 5pm on Wednesday 3 October. Davina will also receive a personalised mentoring session with an author to enhance and further develop her writing skills.

Carrie Hope Fletcher, writer, actress and BBC YWA 2018 judge says:
‘Under A Deep Blue Sky’ is one of the most surprising pieces I read during this competition. It was the only story to tackle the issue of poaching and wildlife and showcased the compassion and intelligence of a younger generation.”

Mónica Parle, Executive Director, First Story, says:
“From the first word on the page, Davina Bacon’s story will grip you and envelope you. It’s astonishing to witness such a command of language, description and place in such a short space of time, and I am struck by how powerfully she expresses personal grief and loss through a connection with the natural world. This is a young voice to watch, and we at First Story are delighted to see Davina gain wide readership through this award, which is at the forefront of discovering new, fresh talent.”
William Sutcliffe, adult and YA author and BBC YWA 2018 Judge says:
“The winning story is a superlative piece of writing by any measure, regardless of the age of the writer. The characterisation, setting and narrative are richly and intelligently put together. Every sentence is polished. To fit a story of this power and depth into a mere thousand words is a serious achievement. Davina deserves to be very proud of her work. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.”
Davina beat off competition from Reyah Martin, 18, from Glasgow for her evocative and profoundly moving story of a mother’s grief, ‘Footprints in the Far Field’; Lottie Mills, 16, from Hertfordshire for ‘Unspoken’, a compelling and lingering story about the fragility of teenage mental health and a family in denial; Jane Mitchell, 16, from Dorset for ‘Firsts’, a beautifully structured story of displacement told through the voice of a refugee mother seeking a better life for her daughter and Tabitha Rubens, 16, from Islington, London whose deeply poetic ‘Oh Sister Invisible’ tells a story of courage, grief and helplessness as the narrator watches her sister disappear as anorexia takes hold.

All five shortlisted writers spent the day of the award ceremony at Cambridge University where they met Young Writers’ Award judge and fifth laureate na nÓg (Ireland's laureate for children's literature) Sarah Crossan for a writing workshop in Cambridge University Library. They were also given a private tour of ‘Virginia Woolf: An exhibition inspired by her writings’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum before attending the award ceremony where Trinidadian writer Ingrid Persaud, was announced as the winner of the thirteenth BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University for her story, ‘The Sweet Sop’.

Dr Sarah Dillon, Faculty of English, Cambridge University, says:
“Congratulations to Davina Bacon on winning the 2018 BBC Young Writers' Award with First Story and Cambridge University. To capture in just 1000 words a character's present, past, and perilous future is a feat for any writer, let alone one 17 years of age. Stories like this show just how powerful this form can be - hitting you hard and fast, haunting you for long after.”
This is the fourth year of the BBC Young Writers’ Award which invites 14 18 year olds to submit stories of up to 1000 words. The award was launched as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations of the BBC National Short Story Award and aims to inspire and encourage the next generation of writers.

The shortlisted stories can be read and listened to online at:

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Blog tour review – The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

Roa and her sister Essie were born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. It was a magic they cherished - until the terrible day Essie died and her soul was trapped in this world.

Dax, the heir to the throne of Firgaard, was responsible. Roa swore she would never forgive him - yet when he came begging for her help to dethrone his cruel father, Roa made him a deal. She'd give him the army he needed if he made her queen.

Now she is royalty, but an outlander; far from home and married to her enemy. And even after everything she has sacrificed, Dax's promises go unfulfilled. Roa's people still suffer.

Then a chance to right every wrong arises - an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king...

I adored The Last Namsara and it's rare to find a sequel that I enjoyed just as much as the start to a series.

My favourite thing about these books is the world building. An incredible layer of mythology is woven through the plot and I loved how this book added new dimensions to the world established in The Last Namsara.

I also thought the characters were brilliant. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the story moving away from Asha but I thought it worked really well. I enjoyed the way the characters overlapped but that the story focused on Roa this time. Her connection with her sister was believable and I rooted for them – I'm a huge fan of sister relationships in books! I also liked the moral ambiguity of some characters and trying to work out what side they were on.

That leads me to another aspect that I really liked. The plotting in this book is so tight, with intriguing snippets from the past, and I raced through it to find out who would triumph.

This is a fast-paced, well-written fantasy with interesting characters and I can't wait for the next book!

You can follow the other stops on the epic blog tour using the banner below!


Thursday, 27 September 2018

BBC Young Writers’ Award 2018 extract – Firsts by Jane Mitchell


Today, I'm sharing an evocative, heartbreaking extract from Firsts by Jane Mitchell, one of the writers shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers' Award 2018.

Firsts (extract) 

Jane Mitchell 

I believed we were going to die.

The storm was getting worse, as were the screams. The screams of the ocean. The screams of the people. Beating against my skull like the waves against the wood of the boat. Reaching out, I clutched my thin little girl close, the boat moaning threateningly as if it disapproved of the intimate gesture. Please God, help us, I thought. This wasn’t fair, not for her, my little one. Her three years of life on this earth had not yet provided her the joys of being alive, only grief and tears. There was so much I wanted for her, so many possibilities: her first day of school, her first kiss, her wedding. But she’d never get that now; we’d left one war only to be thrust into another. Was God truly this cruel? As if provoked, a profound screech grated against my ears as a large rusty pole collapsed onto the deck. A man screamed. I froze, a vile liquid swelling up my throat as I watched blood ooze down the man’s cheek in large clumps. I’m going to be sick, I thought, as I swept my daughter behind me and violently hurled over the edge of the boat. The dark waves mocked me below.

Shaking, I turned and stumbled over to the old man with the bloody face, the mass of people around me clutching their loved ones, others clutching anything on this broken ship that resembled stability. I still held onto my little one.

Jane Mitchell is 16 years old and is from Dorset. Firsts is beautifully structured story of displacement told through the voice of a mother battling to escape the country of her birth to find a life of hope for her daughter; Firsts shows the desperation of the refugee and the prejudice that comes as a price of freedom.
This is the fourth year of the BBC Young Writers’ Award which invites all 14 – 18 year olds living in the United Kingdom to submit short stories of up to 1,000 words. The Award was launched as part of the tenth anniversary celebrations for the BBC National Short Story Award and aims to inspire and encourage the next generation of writers.

The five shortlisted writers will attend the exclusive BBC Short Story Awards ceremony on 2 October 2018 at Cambridge University, when the winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and they will have the chance to meet high-profile authors, publishers, agents and broadcasters at the award ceremony.

The winning story will be available on the Radio 1 website after the award ceremony on Tuesday 2 October, and will be available to download on the Life Hacks podcast from Sunday 7 October at 6pm. The winner will also receive a personalised mentoring session with an author to enhance their writing skills.

Follow the BBC Young Writer’s Award 2018 on Twitter: #BBCYWA #shortstories @BBCR1

Sunday, 23 September 2018

2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award shortlist

I'm thrilled to be an ambassador for the 2018 Young Writers' Award and to reveal the talented shortlist of writers. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 2nd October and you can listen to the stories on the BBC website.


‘Sophisticated’, ‘mature’ and ‘awe-inspiring’: just some of the words used to describe the diverse and powerful stories that make up the shortlist for the 2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University announced on BBC Radio 1’s Life Hacks show today (Sunday 23 September).

The five stories, inspired by a desire for socio-political change or personal experience of mental illness, were written by young writers aged 15 to 18 years old, with each showing a maturity of language and ideas far beyond their years. Whether it be the brutal life of a unwilling young poacher; the desperation and prejudice faced by a mother fighting to give her daughter a better life; the experience of loss seen through a child’s eyes; the guilt of unspoken words as a family struggle to cope with mental illness or the pain of a young girl watching her sister in the grip of anorexia  the finalists have given powerful insight into the issues facing and motivating young people today and the importance of writing as expression.

Katie Thistleton, BBC Radio 1 and CBBC Book Club presenter and Chair of Judges, BBC YWA 2018 says:
Writing is a such a powerful medium for change and the BBC Young Writers’ Award shortlist really reflects that. I host a social action show on Radio 1 and strongly believe the next generation are who we should be listening to. They question the status quo and their passion, energy and desire to be heard comes across powerfully in the stories we’ve seen this year. I’m really looking forward to seeing future work from this talented bunch.” 

The stories, all under 1000 words, were praised by the judges for the poetic beauty of the writing and the imaginative power of the storytelling. Open to 14 to 18 year olds, the Award attracted 962 entries (a 67% increase from 2017).

The shortlisted stories and writers are:

·       ‘Under a Deep Blue Sky’ by Davina Bacon, 17, from Cambridgeshire. Inspired by Davina’s early childhood in Africa and her passion for environmental issues, this is the raw and emotionally powerful story of a young poacher and the brutal murder of a mother and baby elephant. Beautifully structured, parallels are drawn between the boy’s memory of his own mother’s death and the harsh realities of life where killing is his only survival option.
·       ‘Footprints in the Far Field’ by Reyah Martin, 18, from Glasgow. The pain of losing a baby is explored from the perspective of the child left behind in this evocative and moving portrayal of a mother’s all-consuming grief. An evocative and profoundly moving story.
·       ‘Unspoken’ by Lottie Mills, 16, from Hertfordshire. Unspoken explores the fragility of teenage mental health through the eyes of a girl watching her sister crying out for help while her family are in denial. A moving and powerful story that shows the isolation of those suffering and the vulnerability and helplessness of those watching from the outside.
·       ‘Firsts’ by Jane Mitchell, 16, from Dorset. A beautifully structured story of displacement told through the voice of a mother battling to escape the country of her birth to find a life of hope for her daughter; Firsts shows the desperation of the refugee and the prejudice that comes as a price of freedom.
·      ‘Oh Sister, Invisible’ by Tabitha Rubens, 16, from Islington, London. Oh Sister, Invisible is a poetic story of helplessness as a sister watches her sibling disappear with each passing season as anorexia takes hold. A story of grief, and of courage, it is intensely personal and conveys the unique power of writing to convey empathy and experience.

William Sutcliffe, adult and YA author and BBC YWA 2018 Judge says:
“I always relish the chance to discuss writing closely with other writers and with engaged readers. The debate among the panel was intense, and at moments a little fiery, but we ended up with a shortlist we are all proud of. The stories we have chosen reflect the talent and skill of the entrants and are a testament to the imagination and talent of teenagers who care about fiction. I was immensely impressed by the range of the writing and by the large numbers of stories seriously contending for a place on the shortlist. Those that made the cut are all remarkable.”

The five shortlisted stories are available to read and listen to on the BBC Radio 1 website

Mónica Parle, Executive Director, First Story, says:
“At First Story, we know from teachers and students alike that, for young people, writing about their lives and communities is a source of power and pleasure. This is borne out in our research: in 2016-17 every single teacher believed that participating in the First Story creative writing programme had improved students' wellbeing. It is therefore wonderful, but unsurprising, to see that the compelling stories shortlisted for this award explore personal and social issues about which their authors care deeply.”

The five shortlisted writers will attend the exclusive BBC Short Story Awards ceremony on
2 October 2018 at Cambridge University, when the winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row and they will have the chance to meet high-profile authors, publishers, agents and broadcasters at the award ceremony. All five shortlisted writers will be given a private tour of ‘Virginia Woolf: An exhibition inspired by her writings’ at the Fitzwilliam Museum in advance of it opening to the public, and then meet Young Writers’ Award judge and fifth laureate na nÓg (Ireland's laureate for children's literature) Sarah Crossan for a writing workshop in Cambridge University Library. They will also receive a copy of the 2018 BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University anthology.  

The winning story will be available on the Radio 1 website after the award ceremony on Tuesday 2 October, and will be available to download on the Life Hacks podcast from Sunday 7 October at 6pm. The winner will also receive a personalised mentoring session with an author to enhance their writing skills.

Dr Sarah Dillon, Faculty of English, Cambridge University, says:
“We are delighted to be welcoming the YWA shortlisted writers to Cambridge on 2nd October for the awards ceremony. They will get a real taste of what literary Cambridge has to offer, both at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the University Library. We hope they will be inspired to apply to study here, following in the footsteps of all the new students arriving in the School of Arts and Humanities that week for the new academic year and benefiting from Cambridge’s outstanding tradition of the study of literature and writing.”

The shortlisted stories can be read and listened to online at: