Monday, 17 September 2018

Guest post – Better Reading Kids by Sarah Epstein

I'm halfway through the thrilling Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein so it's exciting to share a guest post from Sarah about what inspired her to write the book and how it came together. 

Sarah Epstein – Better Reading Kids 

I started writing Small Spaces before I had any idea exactly what the format or genre was going to be. I only knew it would be for young adult readers and it might have a few suspenseful scenes. I’ve long been a fan of thrillers, particularly psychological thrillers, but was that where my mystery idea was headed? And, more importantly, did I have the writing chops to pull it off?

The seed of this story was my fascination with children’s imaginary friends. When my kids were little and attending playgroup and kindergarten, I’d hear stories from mothers about how they’d overheard their child’s one-sided conversations in the bath, or how their child’s invisible friend had to have a place set at the dinner table. I’d always think, where do these imaginary friends come from? Are they tied to emotional issues, loneliness or just boredom? Are they coping mechanisms, a cry for attention, or even, as some suggest, a spiritual presence that a child’s mind is open enough to see?

This got me thinking about how it might affect relationships with family and friends if a childhood imaginary friend reappeared many years later. I wanted to explore a story about a character who was desperate to win the trust of others when she isn’t even sure she trusts herself. I had a hook that interested me enough to want to explore it, and it wasn’t long before the title popped into my head as well. The idea of small spaces conjured up so many different meanings for me, and the challenge was getting it all down on the page with a taut plot and a protagonist that readers could get behind even if they weren’t sure whether to completely trust her.

For me, great thrillers present intriguing questions and convincing red herrings, and the pacing needs to be very tight. Slow patches will encourage readers to put the book down, and that’s something no author wants! My aim was to give readers a lot of information so they could start forming their own theories, then throw in a twist or two in the hopes of turning those theories on their head.

The non-linear narrative structure of Small Spaces developed when I realised a large number of flashbacks would be required to properly explain what happened in my protagonist’s past. But I didn’t want to tell all of those in the passive past-tense voice of Tash recollecting them. I felt this would dilute the tension and affect the pacing. Instead, I wrote these chapters in present tense using Tash’s childhood voice so readers can see how things played out in real-time through her eyes. I also introduced therapy session transcripts and newspaper articles written in a clinical tone to present other evidence that isn’t skewed by Tash’s point of view.

I found the climax of the story the most challenging part to write. I wanted it to do so many things while at the same time be fast-paced and absolutely gripping. Endings are always tricky – they need to feel completely satisfying for the reader while tying up all the loose threads and illuminating the story’s themes. I never start writing a story until I know how the ending is going to play out; then my challenge is figuring out how I’m going to get my characters there.

Would I write another psychological thriller? Absolutely! Crafting Small Spaces pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the opportunity to play with a different format of storytelling than what I’d done with previous manuscripts. There is simply nothing more satisfying than entertaining someone with words and worlds you have created. I can’t wait to do it all over again.

Thank you so much Sarah! I love the structure of this book, so it's fascinating to get an insight into how it came about. I can't wait to see how Small Spaces ends and I'll be posting my review soon!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Cover reveal – Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich

I'm thrilled to reveal the cover of Dawn Kurtagich's latest book, which is due to be published in June 2019. Her previous books, The Creeper Man and The Dead House, are my favourite YA horror books because they have the perfect blend of excruciating suspense and the most deliciously disturbing horror. 

Now for the cover reveal...

I couldn't be more excited about this book, and the gorgeous cover is so intriguing!

Teeth in the Mist is based on the legend of Faust and is described as being 'pe
rfect for fans of Kendare Blake and Ransom Riggs'.

Seventeen-year-old Zoey has been fascinated by the haunted, burnt-out ruins of Medwyn Mill House for as long as she can remember—so she and her best friend Poulton decide to explore the ruins. But are they really alone in the house?

In 1851, sixteen-year-old Roan arrives at the Mill House as a ward—one of three, all with their own secrets. When Roan learns that she is connected to an ancient secret, she must escape the house before she is trapped forever.

This haunting horror and captivating mystery redefines the horror and fantasy space.

If you like the sound of this book as much as I do, you can add it to your Goodreads here.

In the meantime, you should definitely check out Dawn's other books if you haven't done so already. They're perfect reads for autumn, Halloween, or any time you need a good scare.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Jinxed by Amy McCulloch – review

Lacey Chu has big dreams of working for the company behind the 'baku' - a customizable smart pet that functions as a phone but makes the perfect companion for its user. The only problem is, she's just been rejected from Profectus Academy - the elite academy for 
cutting-edge tech.

Then Lacey meets Jinx... Jinx is an incredibly advanced cat baku who opens up a world that Lacey never knew existed, including entry into the hallowed halls of Profectus. But what is Jinx, really? His abilities far surpass anything written into his coded. He seems to be more than just a robotic pet.

He seems ... real.

This is my favourite Amy McCulloch book yet! Jinxed is a fast-paced, inventive read with fantastic world building.

I'm a huge fan of books about girls in STEM and Jinxed took it a step further by having the main character, Lacey, look up to Monica Chan, a female CEO. Lacey is a brilliant main character who is smart, resourceful and relatable.

The world of this book was also vividly realised. I loved the idea of bakus and what it said about this society that a person's worth was measured by the baku they could afford. The elite academy setting is also a favourite of mine and Profectus was a fantastic backdrop for the story.

Another thing that really sets this book apart is the creativity of the technology. It's such a clever idea to combine the idea of a companion, similar to a daemon in His Dark Materials, with modern developments. The idea of artificial intelligence and what makes something 'alive' was definitely thought-provoking (and I hope some tech company reads it and finds a way to invent bakus).

Jinxed is an exciting start to the series and I'd love to see more YA books about tech. While I wait for the sequel, I think I'll finally read the Potion Diaries books, as I've heard amazing things about them too. 

Thank you so much to Simon & Schuster Children's UK for the gorgeous limited edition proof!

If you would like to read an extract from Jinxed, you can check out my blog tour post here. Please note that the giveaway has now ended.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Jinxed blog tour – extract and giveaway

Jinxed is one of my favourite books of the year so I'm excited to share an extract from Chapter 1 as part of the blog tour. Simon and Schuster have also offered a fantastic giveaway – a signed copy of The Potion Diaries and a copy of Jinxed! Head to the bottom of the post for details of how to enter.

Lacey Chu has big dreams of working for the company behind the  'baku' - a customizable smart pet that functions as a phone but makes the perfect companion for its user. The only problem is, she's just been rejected from Profectus Academy - the elite academy for cutting-edge tech. 

Then Lacey meets Jinx... Jinx is an incredibly advanced cat baku who opens up a world that Lacey never new existed, including entry into the hallowed halls of Profectus. But what is Jinx, really? His abilities far surpass anything written into his coded. He seems to be more than just a robotic pet.

He seems ... real.

Smoke rises from the tip of the soldering iron, my eyes watering as I stare at the motherboard through the microscope. I don’t dare to blink, not until I finish melting the silver solder with its rosin core flux into miniature peaks, connecting the loose components together.
I count the seconds in my head as the solder dries.
One, two . . .
The butterfly lifts its delicate mechanical wings, scalene triangles of filigree metal opening and closing as it runs through system checks. Whirr-click. A small vibration signals the ‘okay’.
‘Yes!’ I jump to my feet and dance, swaying my hips in time to the victory music in my head.
Mom rushes in from the kitchen. ‘You did it?’
‘Why don’t you check?’
She nods and says, ‘To me, Petal.’ It takes a second for the command to register, but the butterfly flaps its wings, lifting up to land on her hand. Mom’s face glows, reflecting back the stream of texts and emails that Petal projects on to the flat of her palm. ‘Looks to me like she works!’
I grin. ‘Okay, just one final thing.’ I take Petal from Mom, gently placing her back under my microscope as I sit back down in my chair. My work is flawless: so neat the repairs are barely visible. Taking it to the Moncha vet would have taken days (and cost a fortune), but I’ve finished in less than an hour.
Satisfied, I snap the casing back over the exposed electronics. ‘There. Good as new.’
‘Thank you, honey!’ Mom wraps her arms around me, planting multiple kisses on my forehead. I groan in mock-mortification, but my face heats up with the warmth of her praise.
It’s not that big a deal. I’ve had a lot of practice with Petal. The butterfly baku is one of the bestsellers for Mom’s demographic and insects in general are the least complex models on the market, offering the bare minimum of functions like text and talk, a browser, GPS. The butterfly is extra popular because of the ability to customize its wings. On the flip side, the wings are flimsy, prone to snapping with the tiniest snag, which in turn damages the internal electronics. Petal is a perfect example. She got caught when Mom unwound her scarf and her projector malfunctioned.
‘You’re welcome. Remember to unleash her as soon as you get inside next time.’
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you, Lacey. Your repair is better than what any of the vets could do.’ Mom smiles as Petal flies back up to settle on her shoulder, her hand still lingering on my back. ‘You find out today, don’t you?’
I cringe. I thought she had forgotten. To my surprise, even I’d managed to forget about it for an hour. Fixing things does that for me. My mind focuses in on the problem – in this case
a loose wire and a dodgy PCB connection – and the rest of the world falls away.
Even the fact that any minute now I’m going to receive the biggest news of my fifteen-year-old life.
‘Yup.’ All moisture evaporates from inside my mouth, and I try in vain to return the smile. I sense hesitation from Mom, her fingers drumming a pattern up and down my spine, so I stand up abruptly from my chair. ‘Better put this stuff away,’ I say, gesturing to the tangle of silver wire and machinery.
Mom gives me one final kiss on the top of my head. ‘Whatever happens, you’re still the best companioneer in this household.’ She heads over to the sink, Petal fluttering up to the leash behind her ear, where she plugs in to charge. Mom bobs her head in time to some invisible music, and I assume Petal has started streaming her favourite podcast.
I wipe the end of the soldering iron with a sponge and pack it away, closing the case with a decisive click. Some people ask for bikes or giftcards or books for their birthday. I asked for a soldering iron. I had researched a store on the outskirts of town that sold refurbished electrical tools and casually added it to Petal’s GPS database – and Mom had taken me there on my fourteenth birthday. Hey, Monica Chan – who invented the bakus and lent her name to Moncha Corp, now the largest tech firm in North America – had one when she was a teenager. I’d read that somewhere. If it’s good enough for her, it is for me too.
As Zora, my bff, would say, that doesn’t make you special – it just makes you weird.
She’s right.
I carry my kit and microscope back to my room. Mom normally hates it when I solder in the condo – the metallic smell seems to sink into everything, from the pillows on the sofa to the rice in the cooker – but when it’s her own baku that needs repairing she makes an exception.
That’s too often for my liking. The level 1 insect bakus are renowned for being a bit . . . buggy. If I had my choice, I know exactly what baku I would get. I’d go straight for one of the originals. One of the level 3 spaniel models, with cute floppy ears and a tail that works as a selfie stick. If I close my eyes, I picture hanging out with my baku in my room, teaching it to play games, helping me with my homework and cuddling up with it at night. But you only get a spaniel baku *if* you get into Profectus, my brain reminds me.
My dream school – Profectus Academy of Science and Technology – founded by Monica herself, and fully owned and operated as a division of Moncha Corp. I need the grant they offer incoming students who can’t afford the minimum level 3 baku. Otherwise, the only one I can afford is a puny level 1. Even though I’ve been eligible to get my first baku for a week (since I finished junior year for the summer), I’ve put off going to the Moncha Store until I found out about my admissions status.
I take a deep breath.
I’ve done everything I can to make it happen. I have near-perfect grades, checked off all the extra-curriculars, participated in science fairs and early bird band and volunteered for an environmental charity to pad out my resume.
Zora once told me I was a lock for a place because no one worked as hard for it as I did. If only it was that easy. It’s not like I’m Carter Smith, the son of Eric Smith – Monica’s business partner and co-founder of Moncha. Carter is also in our grade at St Agnes, and even though I beat him in all our classes, and in two science fairs, I know he’ll get in without a fight.
Whereas my dad . . .
I twist the ring on my finger, the only object I have left of him.
. . . is just a liability. I don’t let myself think about it any more. Besides, Mom and I, we owe Moncha everything. They gave us a place to live when Dad disappeared, gave Mom a job and provided childcare for me while she worked. Without Moncha, I wouldn’t have met Zora.
No matter what, I want to work for the company – I’d sweep Moncha floors if I had to, a practical dung beetle baku at my side. But if I truly let myself dream . . . I know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I don’t want to work for Moncha. I want to be Monica Chan. I want to be a companioneer, one of the people working on the bakus. I want to design new animals, innovate for existing ones, implement even more amazing features. Every day would be a challenge.

That extract makes me want to read the book all over again! For a chance to win your very own copy of Jinxed and a signed copy of The Potion Diaries, either comment on this blog post or head over to Twitter @yaundermyskin and follow the instructions in my pinned tweet. The giveaway ends on 23rd August at 8am GMT and the winner will be announced on Twitter. Good luck!

Show Stealer blog tour – Hayley Barker's tips for writers

I'm so pleased to share a guest blog from Hayley Barker as part of the Show Stealer blog tour. I've heard amazing things about this series so I think this might be the perfect time to start reading. Today, Hayley has some tips to share with aspiring writers. Since I'm about to embark on the terrifying world of querying agents, this post has come at the perfect time.

My top tips for aspiring writers

I still feel a bit ridiculous when anyone asks me what I do for a living and I self-consciously mumble that I’m an author. It’s not because I’m embarrassed about it –it’s the opposite. It’s the dream job, for me at least, and it seems as incredible that I should be describing it as my profession as it would if somebody was to tell casually me they were a rock star, or a Hollywood film producer or a bank robber.

Still, it happens to people and it’s happened to me--something I will forever feel blessed for. I’m not, as so many hilarious people often quip, about to become “the next JK Rowling,” but I do write for a living and my books are in shops and it’s more than I ever really thought possible.

So how the heck did it happen? Well, it was through hard work and a lot of luck. I’m a firm believer, though, in the old adage that you make your own luck. I took some steps and did some things that made all the difference for me – turning me from a girl who loved books into a woman who wrote them and here, for what it’s worth, are my five top tips for anyone who may be hoping to do the same.

1. Get the bloody thing written: sit down and keep pounding away on your keyboard until it’s done. Don’t worry about the bits that feel clunky and awkward or about the bits that don’t flow; write them anyway. Write those first words down and continue all the way through that difficult middle bit which feels like it lasts forever, until you reach the end. How many people start a book and never finish? I don’t know, but I reckon it’s a lot. If you can get the first draft down, you’re already further on the journey than most and you can worry about all the tricky bits after, which brings me nicely onto point 2…

2. Revise, revise, revise. Once you’ve finished the first draft, leave it alone for at least a month. When you do go back to it, be ruthless with yourself. You can’t afford to be too sentimental or precious: chop out whole scenes--whole characters even-- if you know in your heart that they aren’t strong enough. Tweak and polish and refine until you’re happy, and then do it again…and again…and again. Until you find yourself an agent and a publisher, you need to be your own editor. Look at the big picture first and, once you’ve got that right, you can start to massage the finer details. Don’t even think about sending that manuscript off to anyone until you know that it’s the very, very best thing you’ve ever written and it can’t get any better. That’s not true, of course–you’ll end up transforming it all over again when you get your book deal--but that’s another story.

3. Go to a writer’s festival. I went to the Winchester one and, I can honestly say, it changed my life. There are lots of wonderful things about the experience, but the best of all is that you get to make 1-1 appointments with publishers and agents. They’ll look at your work in advance and they’ll talk to you about it and offer you their invaluable advice. Even if they don’t want to represent you, they’ll tell you if you’re going along the right lines and make suggestions as to what you need to do to move things along to the next step. Listen to what they say: It’s bloody scary, but it’s necessary and if most, or all, of them say the same thing about your work, it’s probably true. Plus, you’ll get to meet lots of other people there who have the same passion as you, and that leads me on to point four….

4. Find your people. Maybe, amongst your friends and family, you sometimes feel a bit of an anomaly. Maybe you’re the only one of who you who has this strange compulsion to write; the only one who dreams with a pen in their hand. You aren’t an anomaly though, and you aren’t alone, not if you don’t want to be. Going to writers’ festivals, joining local groups or connecting with the army of writers on Twitter and Instagram will help you find your tribe. People who know what rejection feels like because they’re going through it themselves maybe, or, more positively, have come out of the other side: who’ve been on a journey a bit like yours and who will help to guide you along the path if they can, or maybe just hold your hand through the tricky part if they can’t.

5. Be resilient. Just like Robert the Bruce’s spider, try, try and try again. Nobody said this would be easy and nobody said it would be without heartbreak. It’s worth it though, I promise you, and it’s yours if you don’t give up. Listen to feedback, even if it’s not always positive, and look at your work gain. Take every rejection, and there are bound to be some, maybe even many, and let it make you stronger. You’ll get there, I know you will.

Thanks so much for sharing your tips Hayley, and thank you to Scholastic for inviting me to join this blog tour! If you'd like to follow the other stops on the tour, you can check them out below.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

One Would Think the Deep – review and giveaway

It's 1997 and Sam is supposed to be going into Year Twelve, Year Twelve, listening to Jeff Buckley far too loud and staying out skating with his friends until late. But instead, after the death of his mother, he finds himself moving from Sydney to the coast to live with estranged cousins Minty and Shane. Confused, alone and grieving, Sam starts surfing with Minty to ease the static in his head. But out of the water, he finds hostility and suspicion practically vibrating from every corner. What exactly happened seven years ago that tore such a rift in the family? In the face of hostility and loss, Sam is able to escape in the water – and even in love. Will he find a way through? Will he sink or swim?

This book represented a lot of firsts for me. Although I love surfing, I've never read a book about it. It's also my first Australian YA book and is about grief, a subject matter I sometimes avoid.

I think the treatment of grief is one reason why I enjoyed this book so much. Sometimes, I find books about the grieving process too difficult to read, but this handled the subject with an incredible degree of sensitivity and realism. It also felt uplifting and I took the message from it that grief is only one part of you, and that it's possible to grieve and have hope.

The setting was also beautifully described, as evidenced by how much I want to visit Australia now. It also captured the sensations of surfing using sensory, visceral descriptions.

I really liked these characters and felt that the writing revealed their qualities and backstories in a gradual way that kept my interest. The question about Sam's family history also added another level of intrigue.

This book has made me more open to reading books about difficult subject matters, if they're given as much empathetic treatment as they are in this case. One Would Think the Deep is an incredibly written, evocative book that engaged a whole range of my emotions. 

Thank you so much to Raven Books for asking me to review One Would Think the Deep. I'll definitely seek out more books from your imprint and from Australian authors.  

The amazing people at Raven Books have given me an extra copy to give away. Head over to my Twitter account (@yaundermyskin) or comment below to enter. The giveaway is open internationally and ends on 22nd August at 8am GMT. Good luck!

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Guest post - A Sky Painted Gold nail art

I'm thrilled to feature a guest post from Demet at 'Books polished' about her amazing nail art designs inspired by book covers. Today, Demet will take us through how she created stunning nail art based on the cover for A Sky Painted Gold, one of my favourite books. Thank you so much Demet for sharing your nail art secrets!

This is my workplace. It's a mess, but it's mine.
I usually have either an audiobook running or, as in this case, a Netflix show.
If you are wondering what I'm watching here, it's the second season of "Anne with an E" and spoiler: it is gooood!

1. I always start with blank nails and a coat of base coat.
If you want your nail polish to last, this stop is vital.
And before you ask: Yes, these are my natural nails. Yes, they are a bit yellow because I paint them so often. No, they do not hinder me in any daily activity.

2. Next step is putting down the base colour.
People always tell me that they "can't even paint [their nails] in one colour" and
this picture is to show you: I can't either.

3. But since I know how to clean them up, I don't even care.
Tip: a flat brush (like an angled eyeliner brush) and nail polish remover can go a
long way! If you don't have a brush, a Q-tip also works well.

4. In a lot of cases, I paint the base colour, top coat it and come back another day
to finish the design. This is because I generally work very slow and I'm trying to
not stay up too late, 'just' to paint my nails. But also because some of the base colours require several coats of polish and this way get a better chance to dry.
In this case, I also broke the nail on my pointer finger and had to file it down and re-paint... Screw you big Elvis book which I was trying to get off the shelf!

5. Most of the design for this mani consists of dots.

6. Dots over dots over dots.

7. Things like this can get quite messy, so I like to go in with the base
colour again and clear the design up a bit.

8. Next to a base coat, the other vital thing to make a manicure last? Top Coat!
And I always say, especially with a more complicated mani: top coat as you go!
So when you are done with the design of one nail: top coat it. It seals the design in and makes it dry faster, which reduces the chance of you smudging it. And trust me, the last thing you want to do, after spending a lot of time on a mani, is smudge it...

9. Next up is the figure of a girl standing in the water.
As this is the most complex part of this mani, I wanted to get her out of the way.
First: I did a rough sketch of the figure in gold.

10. Then I painted in the top of her dress again in dark blue, to give her a sharper outline.
11. Next, I went back to the hair, switching between blue and gold, trying to get the shading right and to give the hair more volume.

12. The last step was to set her outline, by putting in the dots symbolising the
water around her body.
13. Top Coat. And another nail done.

14. Now that she is out of the way, we are going back to painting dots.

15. And even more dots.

16. Basically, aaaall the dots. Even in different sizes!

17. In between and at the end, I switch between the gold and the dark blue to clean the design up a bit. To make some dots more round and to let others who ended up in the wrong spot, vanish completely.

18. At some point during this, the changes are so small, that probably
no one will appreciate them except for me.
But Hey! I'm the one who sees them all the time, so that is just fair.
Even though I have to say, there is a point where you have to stop yourself from
doing more and more changes and just call it a night.
But that's the case for so many things in life.

19. In case you are wondering what I do with slightly dried nail polish on my brush:
I clear most of it off pretty quick with my fingers and if I change colours, I will
then also clean the brush with Acetone. This is how my fingers look, after something like this. Even though I have to say, I cleaned them in between, so this is not all.
Note: If you do use Acetone to clean your skin, please remember to put lotion on them after or even nail oil.It dries your skin really badly!

20. All the utensils I used for this design!
That is: 100% Acetone, a stamper that I use as a pallet (because it's cheap and easy to clean), gold and dark blue nail polish, quick dry top coat, base coat and nail polish remover pads to clean the stamper. And in the front, you can see my clean-up brush with my detail brush behind it.

I'm fascinated by the amount of effort and skill that goes into this process! Thanks again for sharing, Demet. Check out Demet's Instagram here for the stunning finished product. You can also find Demet on Twitter @books_polished.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera – review

In the months after his father's suicide, it's been tough for sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again--but he's still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he's slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron's crew notices, and they're not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can't deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can't stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

This is my first Adam Silvera book, and I'm thrilled that I get to go back now and read his others. This is contemporary YA at its absolute best, with a brilliant voice and plenty of heartache.

It's rare for a book to evoke the setting and characters so vividly. I could picture the estate where Aaron lived and even the most minor characters were captured perfectly. Details about Aaron were revealed gradually, so it felt like I knew him really well but the narrative wasn't overpowered by backstory.

The relationships in this book were also realistically complicated and 'gut-wrenching' (as it's so accurately described on the cover). There was a definite sense of realism, with no characters that fit into labelled boxes or storylines that were all neatly tied up by the end.

One of the most inventive aspects was the sci-fi element surrounding the intriguing Leteo Institute. It's fascinating to experience a world so much like ours with one major scientific advancement that influences the plot and characters so fundamentally.

Reading this book was an emotional experience and I can't recommend it strongly enough.  

Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster for the review copy! 

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Splinter blog tour – Joshua Winning's favourite YA trilogies

With Joshua's Winning's critically acclaimed Sentinel Trilogy coming to an end with Splinter, it's a pleasure to host a guest post from Joshua as he shares his favourite YA trilogies of all time. 

Favourite YA trilogies
by Joshua Winning

It seems like the YA trilogy is a dying breed at the moment, but it shouldn’t be! I grew up on them, devouring everything from The Whitby Series to RL Stine’s The Babysitter books (which then unexpectedly turned into a quadrilogy!).

I love the way trilogies work: the best ones deliver three distinct stories while telling an overarching story that ties everything together. They’re also, as I discovered with The Sentinel Trilogy, massively complicated to write. There were times I despaired and wondered what monstrous thing I had created. But when I finished up edits on the final book, Splinter, I felt a quiet sense of pride at having done it. I made it to the end, and I think the final book is a corker.

In celebration of the books I love, and that showed me the way, here are my favourite YA trilogies...

Tales from the Wyrd Museum by Robin Jarvis

Robin Jarvis is my hero. He’s the reason I write fantasy, and he’s pretty much entirely responsible for developing my vocabulary as a teenager (the man loves a long word). This series interweaves Norse mythology with grubby British history, plus a talking raven you can’t help falling in love with, and some of the most beautiful language I’ve ever read. The Raven’s Knot, the second in the series, is my favourite, mostly because I love the idea of the terrifying crow women.

Half Bad by Sally Green

I devoured the first book in two days. It was the first time that had happened since I was a teenager, and it revitalised my love for reading and fantasy. Sally Green has talked about knowing how to write gritty tales, and she’s completely right – Half Bad is dark and upsetting in places, but there’s hope as well. I also shipped the Nathan/Gabriel relationship HARD (in fact, this series directly helped me feel brave enough to spell out the fact that the hero in Sentinel is queer), and there are so many images from this series that have stuck with me.

The Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan

My old housemate recommended this to me a few years ago when we lived together and I remember being totally hooked on them. Sonea is a fantastic heroine and I loved watching her come into her own over the course of the books. These books are LONG but they’re so wonderfully textured, and I love the way Canavan describes magic.

Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

When I stumbled across the Grisha Trilogy, it had been a while since I’d read any ‘high fantasy’. I was lured in by the concept of a world inspired by Russian culture, and I loved Alina from the start. Book two, Siege And Storm, lost me a little in the middle, but book three came back with a bang and sent the trilogy on its way brilliantly. I’ve just started Six Of Crows, too, and I’m loving being back in that world.

Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness can do no wrong. He’s got this insane ability to marry plot with character and devastating emotion, which is probably why he’s so successful. The Chaos Walking trilogy is him doing ‘epic’, and doing it ridiculously well. I don’t think I’ve wanted to howl with laughter and then with outrage more with any other series – there’s a death at the end of book one that still haunts me. Damn you, Ness!

Thank you so much Joshua! That post has given me a mixture of nostalgic feelings (where are my old Point Horror books?) and some new additions for the teetering TBR pile.

I'm in need of a fantasy series and I love discovering one that's completed so I don't have to wait! The ebook for Sentinel, the first book in the series, is currently 99p, so this is the perfect time to give them a try! 

Check out the banner below for the other stops on the blog tour.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Empire of Silence blog tour – Q and A with Christopher Ruocchio

I'm thrilled to be on the blog tour for Empire of Silence. There's been so much buzz about this book online and I can't wait to get my own copy. Thank you Christopher for joining me on the blog today!

Tell us about your book and your main character.

Empire of Silence is a classic space opera adventure crossed with epic fantasy. Set in the very remote future, it’s the story of a war between humanity’s vast, interstellar empire and an invading horde of aliens called the Cielcin. It is also the story of Hadrian Marlowe, the son of a wealthy but minor aristocrat who rejects his place in the hierarchy and his father’s plans for him and who—despite his best intentions—gets swept up into this war and ends up becoming the man who ends it all. That’s not a spoiler. The book’s written as a memoir, like Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. For Hadrian, the past is already written, but these books are his attempt to set the record straight, to tell his side of the story. Hadrian’s a bit Lord Byron, a bit T.E. Lawrence: a sometimes-brooding, sometimes-laughingly charismatic, always dramatic sort who—like the Luke Skywalker of old—attempts to do the right thing  because, at the heart of things, he’s a deeply decent person. The world is not often kind to such people, of course, and road is long and terrible. This is a book and a series for people that like deep worldbuilding and narratives heavy on character. If you’re looking for a book and universe to sink your teeth into: this is it.

It’s really interesting that Empire of Silence draws elements from different genres. Was this a conscious decision? How did you go about it?

No, it happened quite unconsciously. There’s a Japanese RPG for the Nintendo Gamecube called Tales of Symphonia that came out when I was around 11 or 12 years old, and it’s set in this very medieval-seeming world with swords and crossbows; the main character is raised by a dwarf. As the game progresses more and more science fictional elements appear: spaceships, parallel dimensions, genetic experimentation, and so on. I saw no reason why these elements should be kept apart, so Empire is a science fictional story written like a fantasy epic. The truth is, I think that genre distinctions are only useful for booksellers. They want to know which books have spaceships and which ones have wizards and whether those wizards live in Minas Tirith or Chicago. But I think there’s a danger there. Fandoms seem increasingly atomic and walled-off from one another to me. I know SF fans who won’t read fantasy, and epic fantasy fans who won’t read urban fantasy. It reminds me of the way metal music fans might listen to, say, only power metal, but not black metal, for example. And one consequence of that is that while the genres get smaller and tailor themselves to more and more dedicated, loyal audiences, fewer and fewer works get read by everyone. Genre is a menu system, but the problem with menus is that most of us just buy our favorite thing at the restaurant every time we go. I hope that either Empire is a strange enough combination to be someone’s new favorite thing, or that it’s familiar enough in one or two different ways that some fans will open the first page and feel like they’ve come home for the first time.

What is your writing process? Do you have any tips or rituals that work for you?

I’m afraid I’m terribly boring, truth be told. I’ve never understood these writers who can only write in a specific way in a specific place by the light of a specific moon. I try to think of writing as a job. I do have to wake up and start at the beginning of the day, or else nothing will get done, but beyond that I try and sit down and do 2000 words a day. I also work full time as an editor at Baen Books in the US, so most days I get about half my writing done between 6 and 8 AM, before work, and the rest when I get home in the evening. The only thing I think that might be unusual about me is that I insist on reading everything aloud as I compose it. I’m a very auditory person, so I find it’s easier to think that way, but hearing your work said aloud will not only help you catch errors, but it is also the case that good writing must sound good. If you’ve written a bad sentence, your ears will absolutely let you know.

Where did your idea come from?

Not from any one particular place. I’ve been heavily inspired by the space opera of the ‘60s and ‘80s, but as I’ve mentioned I’ve been influenced by certain video games (like the aforementioned Tales of Symphonia), and anime/manga series like Cowboy Bebop and Berserk. I’m also a huge fan of classic literature: from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Luo Guanzhong. History itself provides a lot of inspiration, from the history of the Roman and Byzantine empires, to classical Persia and China, to the history of the great empires of the last millennium. I was also raised Roman Catholic, and though the question of what I believe or don’t believe—or what belief even means—is something that it would take far more than a blog post to unpack, it is fair to say that my religious upbringing has played a role in shaping the person and the writer I am today (but fear not, Empire is not a religious book in any way). So what I hope I’ve done is borrow a piece or two from all these works and traditions which have impacted me and hammered all these different metals together into something both familiar and new. And I hope everyone likes it!

Who was your favourite character to write and why?

Well, not counting Hadrian, it’s hard to say. Hadrian’s tutor, Gibson, was particularly fun. Older mentor characters are a tired trope, perhaps, but a classic, and he gave me an excuse to get in some good Socratic banter. There’s also Valka, who I wouldn’t necessarily characterize as my favorite to write more than she was a complete nightmare. She’s a sort of alien archaeologist and Hadrian’s intellectual foil—they disagree on nearly everything, which causes every scene they’re in together to multiply in complexity. Nonetheless, I think the end result was worth the headache. She may not be my favorite to write, but she is among my favorite characters to have written—if that makes any sense. I will also add that there’s a character who doesn’t appear until book two that was an absolute joy to write: so that will give you all a little something else to look forward to down the road.

Why do you think sci-fi and fantasy are such popular genres?

This is one of those questions that could get me into trouble! I think that human beings need some sort of mythology to embed their lives in and to help give them meaning. For most of history and for most people today, that purpose was filled by religion. A lot of people today have a hard time with classical religions, for one reason or another, and genre fiction these days seems a more palatable way for people to inhabit a mythological way of thinking. People relate their day-to-day struggles to the lives of characters in Harry Potter, for example, treating Harry, Ron, and Hermione almost like patron saints. People talk quite casually about their struggles “with the Dark Side” or attend festivals/conventions in costume. Fandoms look very much like pagan ritual cults in the Greek sense, with initiation rituals and gatekeepers and even orthodox beliefs (just look at the huge schism breaking up Star Wars fandom right now over The Last Jedi). Mind you, none of this is to disparage either religion or fandom: I think they’re all descriptions of whatever the deep truth about human nature is (and we do have a nature, it’s not all a matter of opinion or acculturation). It’s only that some of these mythologies are more complete and accurate descriptions of the human condition than others. Obviously a single book written by a single 22-year-old is going to be less nuanced and impactful than a 2000-year-old tradition touched and edited by millions of hands, but that doesn’t mean they don’t speak to the same needs.

Can you give us any hints what's next in the series?

Well, I’ve already finished book two, which is a good deal darker than the first book. It sees us leave the relative stability and decency of the Sollan Empire for the frontier and the horror that lies beyond. If this first book is my love letter to ‘60s and ‘80s space opera, this second one is a strange mix of Gothic horror and space. The second volume is much heavier on the action, much heavier on the space travel, there’s more aliens, more mysteries, and more deaths. It was an absolute joy to write and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone here in a year or so.

Finally, if you could visit anywhere on Earth or in the Universe, where would you go?

Most of all, I’d like to go to Italy. My family came to America from Benevento at the very start of the 20th century, and I’ve never been myself. I’d love to go to Rome and to Florence in particular. I’d love to do a circuit of the eastern Mediterranean one day: Athens, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Alexandria—given how much I adore classical history—but I don’t know if I’m that ambitious a traveler. As for other places in the universe...I’m not too sure I would leave Earth, given the chance. Everything I know about space travel makes it sound extremely onerous and unpleasant, and the truth is that I’m happy to watch our progress in space from the green hills of Earth, but I do hope that in my lifetime we put men and women on Mars and the moons of Jupiter. The photographs alone would be something to see.

I want to read this book even more now after that interview! Some great writing tips and tantalising teasers about what's coming next in the series as well. Thank you Christopher for your answers and to Gollancz for inviting me to join the blog tour.

To see where the blog tour is going next, check out this banner: