Saturday, 7 August 2021

YALC workshop – From Blogger to Author


YALC has always been a huge part of my blogger life and is one of the highlights of my summer, so it was amazing to be asked to participate as an author this year.

This post accompanies my 'From Blogger to Author' workshop video, which you can access on YALC's YouTube account here. There are lots of other panels and workshops on there to access too.

The post and video give an insight into how I became a blogger and got a book deal. I also discuss how being an author and blogger has helped me in both roles. Everything is based on my experiences and what has worked for me.


Blogging journey

In July 2015, I went to a blogger workshop at YALC about starting your own blog. I’d wanted to create one for ages but I was worried about the technical side of it and whether anyone would care what I thought about books. The workshop was run by a few bloggers, two of whom I’ve become friends with since. If you’re looking for amazing bloggers and lovely people to follow, I’ve got a lot to thank Chelley Toy and Andrew (Pewter Wolf) for. Doing the workshop made me realise there are pros and cons of different blogging platforms, but it’s actually not too difficult even for a technological novice like me. I also got lots of practical tips about blogging and realised there’s a whole community of reviewers out there, and why wouldn’t what I had to say be as valid as anyone else?


Blogging tips

I’ve got a few quick tips if you’re thinking of starting a blog, YouTube channel or Instagram account. The first thing I did was to follow lots of people. I wanted to be part of the community, and I’ve since made lots of really good friends that way. It was also really useful to see how people manage their social media and the kind of content they put out.

These are lots of creators whose content I really enjoy, but these are some of my favourites: Jodie at Vanilla Moon, Kasha in Wonderland, Beth at Books Nest, Chloe at Books with Chloe, Gavin at How to Train Your Gavin, Desi at Darling Desi, Mia at Cosy Reads, Erin at Erin Megan and Violet Prynne.

There are a lot of resources online about how to engage with publishers and request review copies, so if you’re curious about that or other aspects of blogging there are plenty of posts that deal with different subjects. Beth at Books Nest has a fantastic section on her blog about Content Creation Advice that will get you started.

Another thing I’ve always done is engage with other people’s posts. The blogging community is really supportive, so if you can retweet people’s posts, comment and get talking, it’s a good way to get involved and build your own following.


How blogging has helped me as an author

Blogging has definitely helped me as an author, both in terms of writing and marketing my book.

It's helped me to become a better writer because I was a reader first. I think if you want to write a great book, you have to read a lot of great books. Figuring out what I like about them and reading really well crafted sentences and plots has made me a better author. For example, I read House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland recently. It’s such a creepy, engrossing read that I mostly managed to switch off my writer brain and just enjoy it. There were also points when I stopped to think about why it worked so well. Why did that description particularly get under my skin? How was that plot point seeded earlier in the book? I think years of reviewing books has really helped me to hone that skill and learn from other writers.

It’s also helped me in terms of marketing my book. When it came to promoting my book on social media or trying to get quotes from authors, I already had a lot of contacts. If you’re an author reading this and thinking that you haven’t been blogging for years, social media can still be a great resource for connecting with booksellers, librarians, bloggers and other authors. 

I’ve been involved in promoting a lot of books over the years, so I’ve been able to see what has worked well and created real buzz for a book. My publicity team were great because they listened to my ideas and helped me to shape a campaign for my book that I was really proud of. I think it’s useful as an author to keep an eye on what other people are doing and think about what could work for your book. I kept a document of ideas over quite a few months, so when it came to promoting my book it was ready to go.

I also think being a blogger has helped me to navigate reviews and interactions with readers. I know the blogging etiquette, such as only tagging the author in a good review, so it’s helped me mostly to steer clear of bad ones. I’ve really enjoyed seeing pictures of my book on social media and chatting to people about my book, and I feel like blogging has made me more confident about putting myself out there. My husband got me a Cameo video from James Marsters, who plays Spike on Buffy, and he gave some really great advice about what it feels like to be an artist and how vulnerable you make yourself when you put your work out there.

Finally, blogging has also helped me to understand a lot about how publishing works. It can be quite a complex and baffling process, but I already knew about the different departments in publishing houses, the timelines publishers work to and a bit about book promotion, so that’s been really useful as a debut author.

Author journey

My biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to improve their craft is to find a network of trusted people to critique your book. I know some people prefer to go it alone, but for me getting that feedback and having people rooting for me has been so helpful. Publishing can be a slow, stressful process and having people who understand is amazing. The first step on my journey was getting a place on a mentoring program called Write Mentor. That gave me a summer to whip my book into shape with my brilliant mentor, Marisa Noelle. I found having the support and the deadline really useful, and that was the first time my manuscript started to feel like a book.

The next big step for me was pitching to my agent at YALC at the pitching workshop they run each year. I found it a valuable experience to see an agent’s immediate reactions to my book and get some feedback. I also got to see my agent do an amazing workshop and I thought Sandra would be someone I’d really like to represent me. She liked my pitch, and when I started querying she offered me representation soon after that. I think having the personal connection really helped, and pitching in person is definitely something I’d recommend if you get the opportunity. Even if it doesn’t happen the first time around, keep trying. I’d pitched a couple of years before with a different project and had a completely different experience.

After that, I went through a few rounds of edits with my agent. I found that really hard work but so useful, because it meant my manuscript was in really good shape when we went on submission. It felt great to work with someone really skilled at editing but also who was passionate about my book, so it didn’t hurt too much when I had to start making changes. It wasn’t very long before I got the offer from UCLan and signed the contract. I’d already met my publisher at YALC, so I got to hear about their ethos in person and see the other great books they were bringing out.

It was then another 18 months before my book came out. That seemed like it was going to take forever, but I actually found the time really useful to get the finished book ready and work on promotion.

Being an author has also helped how I’ve approached Bookstagram, my blog, Twitter and BookTube. The main thing I’ve learned is that I’ve been really mindful of how I review books. I try to only read books I think I’m going to enjoy and give every review a positive slant. Just because something didn’t resonate with me doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an audience, so I try to keep that in mind when I review books. I’ve never given spoilers in my reviews, but I’m also really mindful of that since becoming an author.

I’ve thought a lot about my brand as an author since writing my book, and I try to convey that in my social media. A lot of it comes naturally, because I write about the creepy, Gothic things I’m interested in. That’s helped me find new readers and like-minded people and shows what kind of author and person I am.

Resources

These are some of the tools I've used on my journey to becoming an author.

I’ve always used huge Moleskine notebooks to plot out my books, and then make notes about edits I want to make. I write a chapter outline on one side of the page with space for editing notes on the other. It’s really helpful for tracking plot threads and character development, and I’ve done it since writing my first story.

I never underestimate the power of a nice pen and notebook. I like jotting down ideas in a notebook, and if I get stuck with a part of my book I try writing things out longhand too.

Another useful thing when I’m on deadline is writing out a timeline. I figure out a daily wordcount that I need to hit and keep a record of how many words I’ve written. I find that really motivating.

When I was trying to get an agent, I found these Writers and Artists Handbooks incredibly useful. There are articles to read, and contact details for agents and publishers with their interests, so it’s a fantastic resource.

To improve my writing, I read a mixture of books about writing craft and books by authors that I really admire.


I hope this post has been interesting and useful. If you want to chat to me on social media or ask me any questions, I'm @yaundermyskin on Twitter and Instagram and Amy McCaw on YouTube.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your YALC at home experience!

Monday, 2 August 2021

Beth Garrod guest post

 



I'm delighted to host one of my favourite contemporary YA authors, Beth Garrod, on my blog today. Beth's YA books are hilarious, warm and uplifting, so they're perfect if you're looking for a fun read. 

Sister Switch is Beth's middle-grade debut, and I'm so excited to read it! It's a modern take on Freaky Friday about two sisters who accidentally swap bodies and have to learn to live as each other if they're going to get out of this mess!

Beth has written a fantastic playlist to get you in the mood for reading Sister Switch or if you happen to find yourself trapped in a sibling's body...


The Ultimate Body Swap Playlist

If you ever find yourself looking in the mirror and seeing the wrong face staring back, I suggest you immediately seek medical help. However, if you decide not to do that and opt for some music based therapy instead, then here are some body-swap bangers to help you get through this challenging time.

*Warning* this playlist makes no musical sense, but maybe that’s *exactly* what would be needed to land you back in the right body….

Shout Out To My Ex – Little Mix

Shout out to my ex… body that is. Because someone would be walking around it in right now and JUST IMAGINE all the damage they could be doing. In fact, maybe don’t. You’ll have enough on your plate trying to figure out how to switch back, without wondering if your body is going around telling your boss what they really think, or bamboozling your best mate by suggesting you switch movie night for the gym.

Back For Good – Take That

And now we’re taking it right back – waaaay back to when the X Factor was not even a twinkle in the Barlow’s eye. But you can bawl along to this ballad whilst staring at photos of you in happier times. In the supermarket! On the sofa! Even an under the chin selfie. What you’d give to be back in the right body (even from those angles). And then you can queue up Could It Be Magic too - maybe something about stallions in the sun could sort it out?

Good 4 U – Olivia Rodrigo

Well, good for you, you look happy and healthy, not me. I’m stuck in your body wondering if I’ll ever be able to wear my own pants again.

Sure, that’s not quite the lyrics, but singing along to this at full volume makes most things feel better tbh.

Willow Smith – Whip My Hair

Now, this is a bit of a Willow Smith throwback, but frankly if I was trying to invoke a mysterious magical hairdresser – just like Lily and Erin in Sister Switch – then who knows. Maybe a hair-based helicopter is exactly what’s needed to summon The Hairy Godmother? And even if not, it would be nice to at least see if a new body could unleash some previously untapped dancing potential.

That’s Not Me – Skepta

Sure, Skepta was maybe not talking about swapping into his sibling’s bods (although he doesn’t have an all-round over-achieving family), but I would definitely be prone to shouting this every time I saw myself doing something I would never normally do. Drink coffee? That’s not me! Wear not-flat shoes? That’s not me! Looking like a mess? No, that’s… no that is me.

So there you have it – some body swap bops to get you through any body-switch nightmare. Although, maybe head for a medical practitioner before reaching for a playlist…

Thanks so much for joining us, Beth! I love discovering new songs to add to my playlists. I just hope I don't need them for a body-swapping incident...


 

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder blog tour


They were a band of mysterious private detectives who lived beneath the streets of London in a labyrinth of twisted tunnels and ancient hallways, the entrance to which no one had ever found...

London, 1958:

Elaborately disguised and hidden deep beneath the city's streets lies the world of Miss Brickett's, a secret detective agency. From traversing deceptive escape rooms full of baited traps and hidden dangers, to engineering almost magical mechanical gadgets, apprentice detectives at Miss Brickett's undergo rigorous training to equip them with the skills and knowledge they will need to solve the mysteries that confound London's police force.

But nothing can prepare 23-year-old apprentice Marion Lane for what happens after the arrest of her friend and mentor, Frank, on suspicion of murder: he tasks Marion with clearing his name and saving his life. Her investigation will place Marion and her friends in great peril as they venture into the forbidden maze of uncharted tunnels that surround Miss Brickett's. Being discovered out of bounds means immediate dismissal, but that is the least of Marion's problems when she discovered that the tunnels contain more than just secrets...


I knew I'd love this book from the first moment I read about it. The cover, title and blurb all hint at a compelling mystery, and Marion Lane delivers.

T.A. Willberg has created a richly imagined world that immediately grounded me in the time period and fantasy setting, as well as gradually revealing details and building intrigue. There were so many clever touches and inventions!

I also loved how the characters were developed, each with interesting backstories and secrets to uncover. Marion is a brilliantly believable lead, and I'll look forward to following her through the series.

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is the perfect read for fans of brilliantly plotted, beautifully written historical fantasy and has a gripping mystery at its heart.

Thank you to Orion for including me on the blog tour and for the gifted copy!






Wednesday, 28 April 2021

The Nightsilver Promise review

In a re-imagined world, the Empire of Albion is ruled by science. Everyone’s destiny is pre-determined by a track of stars on their wrist, and 13-year-old Paisley Fitzwilliam discovers that her fate is to die before her fourteenth year. But when her mother goes missing and is presumed dead; there is nobody left to protect her Dragon Touched brother Dax. So begins a breathtaking adventure through London's Floating Boroughs, a vault guarded by Dragon Walkers, and the dark sewers of lower London.

To save her brother, Paisley must unlock an ancient secret that will not only defy her stars, but will change the course of history forever . . .

I definitely judged this proof by its exceptionally beautiful cover, and I loved the contents just as much. The Nightsilver Promise is gorgeously written and original, with evocative worldbuilding and well-drawn characters.

I don't always find it easy to keep the details of fantasy worlds straight in my mind, but Annaliese Avery has created a stunning backdrop to the story that immediately places you in the world but doesn't overwhelm the plot. 

The premise of this book is unnerving and leaves you empathising for Paisley right from the start. The question of whether she'll survive hangs over the book and gives the events a real sense of urgency. I found the whole plot gripping, from the adventurous journey through a reimagined London to the quiet moments of family and character development. The story kept me invested and I didn't manage to predict where it was going!

I also found the characters didn't always develop how I expected, and I loved the relationship between Paisley and her brother, Dax.

I haven't read any middle-grade fantasy for a long time, but I predict this one will become a classic. I highly recommend it for anyone in need of a good adventure. Aren't we all at the moment?





Thank you to Scholastic for the gifted copy!

Sunday, 18 April 2021

The Last Girl blog tour review


Scream meets Gossip Girl with a dash of One of Us is Lying!

When it comes to horror movies, the rules are clear:
– Avoid abandoned buildings, warehouses, and cabins at all times.
– Stay together: don’t split up, not even just to “check something out…
– If there’s a murderer on the loose, do NOT make out with anyone…

New girl Rachel Chavez turns to horror movies for comfort, preferring them to the bored rich kids of her fancy New York High School. But then Rachel is recruited by the Mary Shelley Club, a mysterious student club that sets up terrifying Fear Tests; elaborate pranks inspired by urban legends and horror movies.

But when a sinister masked figure appears, Rachel realises that her past has caught up with her. It’s time for the ultimate prank to play out…

The Last Girl (called The Mary Shelley Club in the US) is one of those books that I went into with really high expectations, and yet it managed to exceed all of them. It's a tightly plotted, cinematic read that just feels so fun, dark and fresh at the same time.

I loved how this book explores horror tropes! My finished copy came with a tropes bingo sheet, but I'd already taken great pleasure in spotting them on my first read. Goldy Moldavsky leans into them at times and subverts them in other places, so it's really fun trying to work out how things will end.

I also liked the characters and the relationships between them. It can be really hard to get this right in horror and thrillers, but this book strikes the balance really well. The characters are complex and well developed, and the relationships between them feel genuine. There's also plenty of suspense and scares.

The Last Girl is one of my favourite reads of 2021, and is the perfect book for horror movie fans.

I'm delighted to be doing an event with Goldy on Thursday 22nd April 6pm to talk about The Last Girl and Mina and the Undead. It's free to register and you can do so here if you're interested.





Thank you to Electric Monkey and Farshore for the gifted proofs and finished copy of the book. I really appreciate being including on the blog tour! Check out the banner to follow the other stops on the tour.



Friday, 26 March 2021

The Embalmer blog tour

 

When a freshly-mummified body is discovered at the Brighton Museum of Natural History, Detective Francis Sullivan is at a loss to identify the desiccated woman. But as Egyptian burial jars of body parts with cryptic messages attached start appearing, he realises he has a serial killer on his hands. Revenge, obsession and an ancient religion form a potent mix, unleashing a wave of terror throughout the city. Caught in a race against time while battling his own demons, Francis must fight to uncover the true identity of the Embalmer before it's too late...

Content warning: rape and graphic violence/murder

I haven't read any adult crime novels in such a long time, and The Embalmer has rekindled my interest. It's a tense, dark and inventive read with believable characters. I didn't realise it's the third in a series, and it's written so well that I easily picked up the story. I'm going to go back and read the others, but given the choice I'd read them in the right order.

I really liked how this book delves into the killer's viewpoint as well as following several main characters. It really enriches the narrative and is done in a way that's easy to follow instead of being confusing.

The premise of this is so fresh. I love ancient Egyptian history, so I found it really interesting how this is worked into the mystery.

The pace of this book is great! There are quieter moments between characters interspersed with mounting tension, and the narrative style of shifting narrators enhanced this. 

The Embalmer is a thrilling read, and I'm excited about picking up the other books in the series! 



Saturday, 30 January 2021

We Played with Fire blog tour


Maggie has witnessed impossible things. But no one believes her, and now her family has taken her away to spend the winter upstate in a remote, freezing farmhouse.

Bored and angry, Maggie and her younger sister Kate start to play tricks: rapping on the floorboards above their parents’ bedroom, cracking their toes under the table, and telling tales about noises in the night. Then the house starts to make sounds of its own. Neither Maggie nor Kate can explain it, but it seems as though someone – or something – is trying to speak to them . . .

Inspired by the incredible true tale of the Fox Sisters, the girls who made their fortune in nineteenth-century America by speaking to ghosts.

I loved the premise of We Played with Fire, and it delivered on everything I wanted! 

This book has such a fantastically creepy atmosphere. I've wanted to learn more about the mysterious Fox sisters for a while and this book really captured their story. I also enjoyed reading the author note at the end that explained how the real events fitted in with the narrative.

The characters in We Played with Fire are so interesting! They've all got different layers and qualities, both likeable and not so favourable ones. I really liked how the book used them to explore gender inequality and the importance of standing up for your beliefs. I wasn't expecting that dimension to the book, and it was really satisfying!

Thank you to Andersen Press for the Netgalley approval and for including me on the blog tour. You can follow the other stops on the blog tour using this banner. Happy reading!




 

Monday, 11 January 2021

The Girl Who review


Content warning: grief, trauma, witnessing violence

The girl who... survived
The girl who... inspires
The girl who... has something to hide


People can't bring themselves to say what happened to her. They just describe her as 'the girl who... you know...'. But nobody really knows, no one sees the real Leah.

Leah is the perfect survivor. She was seven years old when she saw her mother and sister killed by a troubled gang member. Her case hit the headlines and her bravery made her a national sweetheart: strong, courageous and forgiving.

But Leah is hiding a secret about their deaths. And now, ten years later, all she can think of is revenge.

When Leah's dad meets a new partner, stepsister Ellie moves in. Sensing Leah isn't quite the sweet girl she pretends to be, Ellie discovers that Leah has a plan, one she has been putting together ever since that fateful day. Now that the killer - and the only one who knows the truth - is being released from prison, time is running out for Ellie to discover how far Leah will go to silence her anger . . .

The Girl Who is one of those books that I spent all day thinking about until I got chance to read it again. It's a dark, engrossing story about a new family, a girl who has survived a terrible ordeal and how that event will shape her actions.

I read this book fast because I was desperate to find out what Leah was planning and whether she would go through with it. The slow reveal of information definitely kept my interest.

I also thought the multiple narratives were very effective. Each felt distinct and added valuable insights to the overall plot. The main characters in this book all have layers that I enjoyed uncovering!

This is a pacy, thrilling debut that comes out on 14th January, and I'd highly recommend it to thriller fans!


 

Friday, 1 January 2021

First Day of My Life blog tour


There are three sides to every story... It's GCSE results day. Frankie's best friend, Jojo, is missing. A baby has been stolen. And more than one person has been lying. Frankie's determined to find out the truth and her ex-boyfriend Ram is the only person who can help her. But they're both in for a shock... EVERYTHING is about to change.

Lisa Williamson is one of my go-to authors for contemporary YA. Her books are full of fierce friendships, believable characters and humour. 

I have a terrible memory for books I've read, but Lisa William's characters always stand out in my memory. They feel fully fleshed out, the dialogue is sharp and it quickly feels like you know them and their stories. I really enjoyed the friendship between Frankie and Jojo in this book. It's so authentic, with all of the good and bad that comes with it.

The structure of First Day of My Life is great! Using the perspectives of the three main characters worked really well, and I loved how the story unravelled slowly as they each got to say their piece.

I like books that have something in it that I can relate to. This book brought up so many emotions for me, and I thought the experiences in it were explored in an empathetic and balanced way. Even though I didn't agree with all of the characters' actions, I could understand them. 

This is a brilliantly written, uplifting book with memorable characters. I'd recommend it to all fans of YA contemporaries, and you should check out Lisa William's other books too.



Sunday, 20 December 2020

The Boy I Am review

They say we’re dangerous. But we’re not that different.

Jude is running out of time. Once a year, lucky young men in the House of Boys are auctioned to the female elite. But if Jude fails to be selected before he turns seventeen, a future deep underground in the mines awaits.

Yet ever since the death of his best friend at the hands of the all-powerful Chancellor, Jude has been desperate to escape the path set out for him. Finding himself entangled in a plot to assassinate the Chancellor, he finally has a chance to avenge his friend and win his freedom. But at what price?

A speculative YA thriller, tackling themes of traditional gender roles and power dynamics, for fans of Malorie Blackman, Louise O’Neill and THE POWER.

Content warning: eating disorders, sexual aggression, trafficking, murder and surgical procedures

The Boy I Am is a smart, beautifully written twist on the dystopian novel that will grab your attention and make you think.

The pace of this novel is perfectly balanced between heart-pounding action and moments of human connection. There is also enough worldbuilding to create a rich background to the plot, without overwhelming it.  

Jude is the heart of this book. He's such a relatable, multi-faceted protagonist and I just loved him! His reactions to the events are very believable, and I was rooting for him all the way.

The idea at the centre of The Boy I Am is really inventive. It flips and explores gender stereotypes to make you examine the boxes people are forced into. I found myself doing a lot of reflection when I was reading, which is such a good thing!

The Boy I Am is not always an easy read because of the characters' experiences, but it is a necessary one. It's an engrossing book, with sweet and joyful moments amidst the gritty action. A must read for 2021!  



Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The Creature Keeper review


The perfect magical read for kids who love animals and care about saving the environment!

Creepy Direspire Hall sits glowering on the moors - and if you stray too close then beware the growls and scary sounds from within... When animal lover Cora learns that Direspire's mysterious owner is looking for a new Creature Keeper, she realises this might just be the chance she's looking for to save her parents' farm.

But Direspire Hall is a spooky place and the strange creatures who live there are nothing like Cora is expecting. As Cora settles into her new life, it soon becomes clear that Direspire has its secrets, and that somebody will do whatever it takes to keep them...

I've read some brilliant children's books in 2020 and this one definitely stood out! It's gorgeously written, the characters are amazing and it has a wonderful message.

The Creature Keeper is the perfect blend of creepy suspense and adventure. I wanted to read it slowly because the writing was so gorgeous, but I ended up racing through to unearth Direspire's secrets.

I loved how inventive this book is. The fantastical touches fit beautifully within the crumbling mansion of Direspire and the animals are described so evocatively that they felt real.

The book has the feel of a timeless modern classic, but at the same time taps into very current issues. It really made me think about how animals are treated and our role in the future of endangered species.

Just writing this review is making me want to read The Creature Keeper again. It's one of those books that I can't stop thinking about and I'll definitely be buying it for all the children I know!


  

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Independent bookshop spotlight


I'm so excited that bookshops are open again! I'm planning to visit two of my favourites next week. Today, I have Susan Brownrigg, author of Gracie Fairshaw and the Mysterious Guest, talking about Broadhursts of Southport. Another one to add to my list! Thank you for the lovely post, Susan.

We are so fortunate in the north west to have a number of brilliant independent bookshops and choosing just one as my favourite was very hard! In the end I've chosen one of the region's oldest bookshops - Broadhursts of Southport.

Broadhursts is a real seaside treat, based in a mid-nineteenth century listed building on Market Street, the shop has a fabulous glass canopy to keep you dry while you admire the double-fronted window displays that will surely lure you inside.

Established in 1920, Broadhursts has a magical atmosphere! There are four floors to explore - the ground floor is the new bookshop with adult fiction and non-fiction, then upstairs you will find an extensive children's department (my favourite), eight second-hand book rooms and two rare book rooms. I especially love the narrow staircases and fireplaces that make you feel like you're exploring a private library - only all the books are for sale!

You can spend hours browsing - or if you're in a hurry they also offer 'click and collect' service, particularly useful in 2020!

The staff are lovely and extremely knowledgable, and will always try to help. I especially like that they will wrap any purchases in brown paper for you - and if you visit you are sure to have a few!

http://www.ckbroadhurst.co.uk/
@BroadhurstBooks

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Last One to Die review

Young, brunette women are being attacked in London.

16-year-old, Irish-born Niamh has just arrived for a summer of freedom, and quickly discovers that the girls being attacked look frighteningly similar to her.

But Niamh is determined not to let her fear destroy her Summer. But can her new friends be trusted?

Will she be able to stay ahead of the attacker?

Or will she be next?

Packed with voice-driven whodunit storytelling, and a retro slasher-movie feel reminiscent of cult classics Scream and Urban Legend, this dark, pacy, and irresistibly-creepy debut really has something for everybody!


Do you ever read a book that ticks off absolutely everything you want? I knew when I read the blurb of Last One to Die that I would love it, and it more than lived up to the hype!

It's been my quest since the 90s to find books that read like Point Horror. Last One to Die does exactly that but with a fresh and modern voice. I'm quite hard to scare and it got me on more than one occasion! The horror is balanced out with world building, characterisation and lighter moments.

The plot of the book is gripping and well-paced. I loved how it wove in local mythology and history. I was constantly guessing and changing my mind about how it was all going to end!

Last One to Die is a fast-paced, fun read with genuinely scary scenes and a cinematic feel. I'd highly recommend it to fans of horror movies and the Cassidy Blake books by Victoria Schwab.



Monday, 30 November 2020

Malice in Underland review

 


Meet Malice Morbid Malign. She’s from Underland, land of sorcery, spooks and skulduggery. But, she and her family live in Topside and mischief is their business . . . And the business of mischief is a very serious matter!

From Malignant House, Ma and Pa run the Malign Haunting Agency, tormenting Topside families and their homes. After all, it is their responsibility to maintain respectable levels of ghastly amongst the Topsiders. And as Underland representatives, the Malign’s hate books, they hate bathing, and they especially HATE helping.

The problem is, Malice is the exact opposite of her unpleasant, smelly, mischievous family. And when grandad ghosts mysteriously start disappearing, including her own beloved grandad, Malice has no choice but to help rescue him.

Malice partners up with her Uncle Vexatious, Private Investigator of Underland and outcast of the Malign family. Can they solve the case of the missing grandad-ghosts? And will Malice still be a Malign at the end of it?!

I've found it hard to keep on top of my blog for so many reasons this year, but Malice in Underland was too good not to review! It's right up there with my favourite spooky middle-grade reads and is a perfect next read for fangs of Isadora Moon and Amelia Fang. 

The creepy Underland setting is gorgeously described and the illustrations by Hannah Peck really complement the tone of the book. I also loved how the characters were brought to life. Malice is a wonderfully relatable protagonist and even the most minor characters are well drawn.

The mystery of the missing grandad-ghosts is gripping and I didn't predict how it would all be resolved! The relationship between Malice and her family also adds another level to the conflict.

Malice in Underland is one of my favourite MG reads of the year, and I'll definitely look out for more spooky reads from Jenny Bayliss.

Thank you to Scholastic for the gifted copy!


Sunday, 15 November 2020

Independent Bookshop Spotlight

It's been so lovely to share people's favourite independent bookshops! I've found so many new shops to visit when lockdown is over. Next up, author Bex Hogan shares one of her favourites: Topping and Company.


If there’s one thing I like talking about, it’s bookshops. I’ll be honest, I’ve never met a bookshop I didn’t love. Each one has an atmosphere that is all at once similar and unique, as if books themselves create the aura but the colour is altered by the specific selection. I think this is why independent bookshops seem especially magical – they embody the people who run them and reflect a small part of their soul.

The bookshop I specifically want to shout about today is the glorious Topping and Company in Ely. I only discovered this wonderous new place last year, but fell instantly in love. The shop front isn’t very big and you’d be forgiven for thinking only a small selection lay beyond. But you’d be mistaken. It’s huge. The building is deep and tall, so not only can you keep walking further into the shop, but you can also climb the two staircases to the higher levels 
 the top one has a beautiful view of the cathedral. They carry an incredible selection right across genres, but obviously my favourite sections are the YA and the fantasy ones, both of which stock an impressive combination of mainstream and more unusual titles. And the best thing about this bookshop? The tall shelves have actual proper ladders, which is the stuff of bookish dreams!

They’re closed to browsing at the moment, but you can order from them via their website, email or phone.

This place sounds so gorgeous: a cathedral view, an amazing YA section and ladders on shelves? I'm sold! Thanks so much for sharing, Bex!

Monday, 9 November 2020

Independent bookshop spotlight

Next up on the independent bookshop feature, music and film journalist Nick Dunn (@laidbackinsong on Twitter) explains why Troutmark Books in Cardiff is worth a visit. I love Cardiff so I'll definitely be stopping by Troutmark!

As far back as I can remember, reading has provided a safe haven. I can remember sitting down by the book-box at nursery, a little island in the stormy sea of childhood chaos around me, and picking out books at random. So it is with bookshops.

            It’s certainly true of Troutmark, a second-hand bookshop here in Cardiff. Located in the Castle Arcade, it’s a quit oasis in what is normally a bustling city centre. Situated across three floors, its shelves tower over customers. As you progress from the front door, it feels as if it has been grown organically from nooks and crannies. Books fill every shelf: some are even stacked on top of smaller shelving units on the floor. Above all else, it’s quiet. Even with other customers, the shelves seem to absorb all sound, and with no easy view of the daylight outside the arcade, it’s quite easy to pass several blissful hours in an interesting tome. It’s an ideal bookshop, in other words.

The ground floor is for general and children’s literature, as well as some poetry, but most excitingly, there are historical (and if you’re lucky, first!) editions of books like Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack or those by writers like Charles Dickens or Dylan Thomas. These are situated behind the counter, giving them a faintly exciting air of elusiveness. Downstairs, in the windowless basement are most of the non-fiction books on various subjects, while up the suitably creaky stairs are sections reserved for music, sport, comics, and my personal favourites: the sci-fi/fantasy shelves. My own collection of Terry Pratchett books has been largely filled from those donated to Troutmark – buying clean and brand-new copies of Discworld books seems somehow wrong. But it was also here that I discovered the Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemisin and the Kill Shakespeare comics by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery hidden away in the stacks.

The staff are also incredibly friendly, happy to discuss your purchases or, as once happened to me, lock you in momentarily if you happen to be quietly engrossed in your reading when they want to make a cup of tea.

Sadly, the Covid-19 lockdown has reduced the opening hours and number of customers allowed in at a given time. You can help support them when the Arcade reopens by visiting responsibly, wearing a mask on the premises, and using hand sanitiser. If you’ve powered through your reading list during lockdown, consider selling those books you can bear to part with to Troutmark. Their contact details are listed below.


Address

39-43 Castle Arcade

Cardiff

CF10 1BW

Email

troutmarkbooks@gmail.com

Phone

029 2038 2814


Friday, 6 November 2020

Independent bookshop spotlight

During lockdown, I'm running a series of posts from guest writers to highlight their favourite independent bookshops. First up is poet and author Dom Conlon (@dom_conlon on Twitter) with a post about Ebb & Flo Bookshop in Chorley. It sounds absolutely lovely! I'm adding it to my list of places to visit after lockdown.

Ebb & Flo

A bookshop is a safe, sacred place, as embedded in childhood as a garden hidden-hole or grandma’s kitchen. For me, it was Hatchard’s in Manchester. Now long gone but once a collection of book stacks and iron staircases in a slender building on King Street, it’s the sense-memory I reach for whenever I visit a new town. Lucky for me, then, that my home town Chorley contains such a place in Ebb & Flo—a wonky terrace hug of a shop which displays its love in a cavalcade of colour riding out to greet you.

Ebb & Flo packs a lot into a small space. There are nooks in its crannies and no resting place for the eyes until you settle upon the one (or more) books which you didn’t even know you were looking for. Diane, the owner, is both everywhere and nowhere—popping into view when you were just about to ask a question and then fading away when the first few pages of a book take you by the hand.

In these times when mental health can feel secondary to physical health, Ebb & Flo is a balm to both. In the wedge of time between lockdowns it was a breath of fresh air, safe to even the most cautious among us—a lamppost marking the way between worlds.

https://www.ebbandflobookshop.co.uk/

Thanks so much for sharing, Dom! Ebb and Flo have an online shop or you can email orders to info@ebbandflobookshop.co.uk.

If you would like to write a post about your favourite bookshop, let me know on Twitter @yaundermyskin

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Forest of Ghost and Bones blog tour

 


This gorgeously evocative standalone fantasy from Lisa Lueddecke is inspired by the Hungarian myths of her childhood. Enter a world with a haunted castle, a dark and dangerous forest and poisoned rain, with two fiery protagonists to root for - a book perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Laini Taylor.

You are the girl who can walk in the rain, and I am the boy who knows the way.

The Eve of Saints approaches and the poison rain which shrouds Castle Marcosza strains at its boundaries. When Beata's brother is taken by the rain, Beata and her friend Benedek must make a perilous journey of discovery to uncover the root of her secret - why she is the only person who can walk through the rain unscathed. But Beata is soon caught up in a game of cat-and-mouse with mysterious Liljana, a girl with hidden powers of her own. And with magic outlawed in Marcosza, can the pair find a way to work together to harness their forbidden ability and unleash its full potential? Or will they find themselves seduced by power and all that it offers...


This ticks off everything I want from a book, with the foundation in myths, dark and dangerous world and magic. Scholastic kindly gifted a copy and I can't wait to read it!

For today's tour stop, Lisa Lueddecke talks about how a location can provide inspiration. 



Haunted New England

I don’t think I realized until relatively recently how much a certain location can inspire your writing. I spent about a year, right up until a few weeks ago, living on the edge of Salem, Massachusetts, and something about living there really gave me the writing bug. It wasn’t always easy, having a baby and all, but I have pages full of notes and little snippets of ideas and names for a hundred stories, all dreamed up on long walks around haunted places in New England.

At least for me, New England has a definite feel to it that I find hard to describe, even as a writer. The Forest of Ghosts and Bones has a number of spooky scenes that sometimes involve graves or the dead, and I’ve found no shortage of inspiration living where I live. Old graveyards and cemeteries, some of the stones so old they can hardly be read anymore… Forests so dense and old it feels like stepping through a doorway to a primeval time… Houses with crooked floors and secrets you wish they could tell…

If I’ve learned anything about being a writer, it’s that inspiration can strike at any time, in any place. So for me and the sorts of stories I like to tell, stories with snippets of history and folklore and poems and legends, it’s important to surround myself with the things I find inspiring. It turns out that almost anywhere in historic, creaky, haunted New England is just my brand of inspiration. I can’t wait to see what other stories are waiting to meet me amongst the trees and gravestones.

Thanks so much Lisa for sharing how New England has inspired your writing! It's one of my favourite places that I've visited and definitely provides lots of material for stories.

 
Photos taken on my 2011 holiday in New England




Thursday, 22 October 2020

Morgan Charmley Blog Tour


I'm a huge fan of the Morgan Charmley books, and I loved the new instalment! They're such fun teen reads that are perfect for fans of the original Sabrina the Teenage Witch. For the Morgan Charmley: Spells and Secrets blog tour, Katy Birchall is sharing her favourite witches from popular culture. 


WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST

The Wizard of Oz (1939 film)

via GIPHY

As far as costumes go, your traditional witch-look would entail a long black dress, black pointed hat, broomstick in hand and, should you go all out (which you should), the classic green skin. And just who, may you ask, made this exquisitely daring ensemble a staple of the Halloween wardrobe? The Wicked Witch of the West, that’s who.

A culturally archetypal witch, the moment the Wicked Witch of the West appeared in The Wizard of Oz, she became an instant icon of movie history. With a name that says it all, she is an unashamedly cruel, oppressive and tyrannical leader, having conquered the Winkies and enslaved them. She spends the film hunting down the innocent, wide-eyed Dorothy so that she can nab those magical ruby slippers and conquer all of Oz once and for all.

Look, you have to give it to her, she’s not afraid to be who she is.

She doesn’t go around pretending to be anything but evil, fully embracing all the best bits of being a villain, what with her appearing and disappearing in a plume of mysterious, red smoke; that fiendish, surprisingly-hard-to-nail cackle she revels in as she calls Dorothy, “my pretty”; and, of course, her casual army of winged monkeys ready to do her bidding.

And any chance of redemption or earning our sympathy is completely scuppered when she threatens Dorothy’s adorable little dog, Toto.

The fact of the matter is, she’s a witch we love to hate, and were it not for her all-consuming greed and unabashed ambition, I’m not sure, quite frankly, this classic film would be quite so classic. That magnificent cackle is a scene-stealer, what can I say?

Her influence on both cinema and fictional witches today is undeniable, and no list of all-time great movie villains would be complete without her. The Wicked Witch of the West is truly as wicked as they come.

And we wouldn’t have her any other way.

Thanks so much for sharing one of your favourite witches Sophie! If I had to choose a favourite witch, I'd have to go with Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's smart, hilarious and goes through such an interesting character arc.

via GIPHY

 Check out the banner for the other Morgan Charmley tour stops!



Wednesday, 7 October 2020

BBC Short Story Award and Young Writers' Award winners


Due to the current covid situation, this will be the first time in three years that I've not attended the BBC National Short Story Award as an ambassador. Still, I'm delighted to announce the winner of the adult and Young Writers' Awards! There are details below of where you can find the stories online. As usual, they're incredible reads. Congratulations to the shortlistees and winners!

 SARAH HALL

BECOMES FIRST WRITER TO WIN

BBC NATIONAL SHORT STORY AWARD TWICE

www.bbc.co.uk/nssa #BBCNSSA #ShortStories 

Four-time nominated Sarah Hall has won the fifteenth BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University (NSSA) for the second time with ‘The Grotesques’, a ‘timeless and unsettling story’ set against a backdrop of privilege and inequality in a university town. Exploring themes of powerlessness and privilege, dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships, covert control, identity and scapegoating, the judges praised Hall for her ‘extraordinary’, ‘layered’ and ‘masterful’ writing and cited her second time win as ‘recognition of her standing as the country’s foremost writer of short stories’.

The first double win in the Award’s history, the news was announced live on BBC Front Row on Tuesday 6 October by 2020 Chair of Judges Jonathan Freedland in a special programme celebrating 15 years of the Award. ‘The Grotesques’ is available to listen to on BBC Sounds and appears in Hall’s latest collection Sudden Traveller, published by Faber in 2019. Its titular story was also shortlisted for the Award in 2018.

Sarah Hall, winner of the 2020 BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University, said:

“I’m stunned to have won. No one expects to repeat a shortlisting, let alone be honoured with an award like this twice. It’s an incredible privilege and reward. And with this prize comes a tremendous amount of support for the form itself - from tenacious, passionate advocates at the BBC and Cambridge University, to expert judges, and the writers who continue to innovate, experiment and create astonishing, vital, questioning worlds within stories. We can see from this year’s shortlist the diversity and range showcased. In the hands of these writers, over only a few pages, so much is possible and words become utterly potent. It’s hard to turn a good story, it requires the compression and alchemy of so many aspects, ideas, details, experiences and observations. I truly love the form, its disproportionate power, disquiet and refractive metrics, its ability to stir the reader or listener, even, at best, to overturn our secure notions of who we are and what we believe. There are days when we are lost, when not much makes sense and answers to the vexing human question seem impossible. On those days nothing is as companionable as a short story. That goes for writing them too.”.

Hall beat stiff competition from an extremely strong shortlist that included established and new voices, comprised of: 26 year old British-Ghanaian writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson whose eagerly anticipated debut novel Open Water is released in 2021; James Tait Black Prize winner Eley Williams; poet and newcomer Jack Houston and EU Prize for Literature for Ireland 2019 winner Jan Carson.  

 Alongside the BBC NSSA, BBC Front Row also announced the sixth annual BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University, an award created to inspire and encourage the next generation of short story writers. Open to 13–18 year olds at the time of entry, it is a cross-network collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 1. The award was won by Lottie Mills, 19, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire for ‘The Changeling’. Lottie was previously shortlisted for the BBC YWA in 2018. Her story is also available on BBC Sounds.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Books Polished guest post

On this special publication date of A Snowfall of Silver, I'm thrilled to host a guest post from Demet. She shares some insights about the process of creating her amazing nail art, but you'll have to head over to her Instagram Books_polished to see the finished result! Thanks so much, Demet. 


Hello everyone!

My name is Demet and I am the human behind the Instagram account Books_Polished, where I post nail art inspired by book cover. 

If you have been here for a while, you might have heard of me before.

Two years ago for the publication of Laura Woods A Sky Painted Gold, Amy graciously allowed me to write a guest posts for her blog showing the behind the scenes of my nail design. 

With the publication of the sequel A Snowfall of Silver happening this week we have been talking about repeating the experience.

So here I am! Showing you even more nails 😊




Before I start anything, I usually spent a good amount of time prepping my nails. This includes taking off any old polish from my last design, pushing back cuticles, cutting hang nails and filing down my nails. Due to the fact that I am currently living a much calmer life than usual (thanks Corona??), my nails have been getting quite long. And I have learned over years that there is a point where my nails will just break if they are getting too long, so I rather file them regularly to try and avoid that 😉


A big part of starting a new design is finding a good base colour. Blue is one of my favourite colours which is why I own a few too many blue polishes that are all slightly different. Finding a colour for this manicure was also a bit more complicated, because I sadly wasn’t able to receive a review copy, which means I did not have a chance to see the actual book in person, but had to rely on pictures I could find online… For this step I like to take out all polishes I think could work and paint a small square on a silicone baking mat. That way I can see how the colour changes when it dries and it also allows me to judge it’s opacity.


As a nail artist I don’t actually own that many nail polishes, compared to other people.
And I especially don’t buy many new ones these days. Many of the polishes in the second picture are up to 7 years old. One is already 11. 

Having a good nail polish thinner at hand is a must to keep your polishes working. Whenever I come across a polish that does not have a good consistency anymore, I drop a few drops in them to revive them again. A bottle like this costs about 6 GBP and lasts me about a year and has saved me much more money over the years. 

(Side note: this is not an ad, but simply the bottle I currently own, because it was cheap and had good reviews online. You can easily use other brands, but do not use nail polish remover! As it will slowly destroy your polish rather than revive it.)


These are the polishes I ended up choosing:

p2 Color Victim: 191 gigantic
Barry M: Liquid Chrome – Rain on me
Seche Vite: Fast drying top coat
Not pictures: essence: extreme last base coat
(Again, not an ad, just what I own.)

First up:
2 layers of the blue to get to full opacity
+
1 layer fast drying top coat
The top coat helps smooth everything out, makes sure the base is completely dry before I paint over it and gives it an extra layer of protection, in case I don’t like what I paint on top it and have to remove it.

As much as a plan and try to be logic up to this step. When it comes to actually painting a design, I more or less wing it? I try to pick an element that seems the least amount intimidating and start there. In this case it was the head of the girl.


And then I go from there an roughly sketch in the other elements. I knew already I would be going back and forth with the details, so this step was more about getting the different lements where there were supposed to be.

Spoiler: I did not quite manage that. I realized that the head of the girl was too big in comparison to her body and especially to the boy's head, which on the cover of the book is much bigger than the girl's head.




So I do what I always do. I dig out the 100% acetone and my brush and remove what I think doesn’t match.

In this case that means I took away her head, but I also went in and slimmed down some of the lines, for example on his head. With different polishes I might have just gone in with the blue again to cover the silver where I didn’t like it, but the blue was a bit too sheer and I didn’t want the layers to get too thin. So going in with acetone and different size brushes was the better plan of action.


But you have to be very careful in those cases, as you only want to take off the top silver layer and not destroy the blue layers below. As you can see in this picture if you look at the top left corner, I did not quite manage that all the time. But I just went back in with a bit of the blue to cover it up. And the top coat I use is very good in evening out layers like this, so the end result still looks smooth. 

You can also tell in this picture that I went back in at the dress as well and took away some of the excess silver, as well as adding a bit more of the blue to make the lines more refined. 



Added a new head! Looking back I am still not quite happy with it, but there is a finite number of times I can go in with acetone to take parts off. So if I didn’t want to start completely new, I had to make it work. So I just hope it’s one of those things that’s only annoying to me, because I have been staring at the cover design for too long.


On to other nails! There are after all 5 of them and we have so far only covered one. To be fair the design on this nail and the ring finger took me probably about 5-10min, after I had spent about an hour just on the middle finger. This is in part because I decided to not stick to the design too strictly and just imitate the idea of it.

I even took a few creatively liberties by simplifying the small round baubles that are all over the over and just transforming them into dots. But I just thought that trying to imitate the more intricate design on the scale I am working would be a lost cause. (At least while painting with nail polish! I know a few nail artists that paint with acrylic paint and therefore adhere to entirely different rules.)

Went back to the middle finger and added a part of the umbrella, because I felt like the top was too empty and then I ran into a creative block trying to decide what to do with the empty two fingers.


Whenever I don’t know how to proceed, I kill some time by cleaning up. I remove any nail polish that got on my skin and add top coat to any nails that are completely finished. I also add some cuticle oil around any finished nails, as acetone is very drying to your skin. 

(Note: ONLY add it to nails when you are done with them. The oil layer between nail polish layers would make then peel very fast and unsatisfactory)


Another thing I like to do these days, when I don’t know how to proceed is ask the internet.
Sometimes I listen to what the internet tells me and sometimes I make up my mind and do whatever I want.
😉

As I was holding back all behind the scenes pictures for this blog post, I had to be rather vague, but the answer was still very helpful!

To see the end result, check out my Instagram: Books_polished

And if you have any questions about books or nail art, I am always more than happy to chat 😊