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 😊

Friday, 25 September 2020

A Snowfall of Silver review

 

Thank you to Scholastic for the gifted copy!

A snow-dusted love story. In the Autumn of 1931, eighteen-year-old Freya Trevelyan runs away from her home in Cornwall to follow her dream of becoming an actress. When she is invited to join a theatrical company about to head out on tour, Freya thinks the path to success is clear, and, amidst all the glamour and bustle of stage life, she finds - for the first time - a place to belong. But can reality ever live up to her expectations? What if her life - and falling in love - turn out to be nothing like she planned? An enchanting coming of age romance about following your dreams - even when they aren't quite what you expected.

Laura Wood is one of my favourite authors and A Snowfall of Silver is an absolutely gorgeous romance set against a backdrop of wintry weather and the theatre.

I thought I couldn't love characters as much as the ones in A Sky Painted Gold. Not only do a few of my faves turn up (hello, Robert), but I also really enjoyed meeting the characters in A Snowfall of Silver. Freya is so much fun! Her dramatic nature and craving to follow her dreams are irresistible and entertaining. There's also a likeable cast of secondary characters and I definitely took a shine to Kit. Laura Wood creates the best book boys!

The setting of this book is so evocative of winter, with cosy snowed-in scenes and invigorating wintry walks. The descriptions are deliciously sensory and the food scenes made me very, very hungry. 

This is one of those books that is full of so much happiness, as well as dealing with thought-provoking subjects. The combination of the theatrical setting and a girl chasing her dreams make this an uplifting read.

A Snowfall of Silver is a beautifully written historical romance that is a perfect read for snuggling up on a wintry evening (or any time). I can already see myself rereading this every year.




If you liked the sound of this, try Laura Wood's other books or Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt.




Sunday, 20 September 2020

BBC Young Writers' Award 2020 shortlist

I've been an ambassador for the Young Writers' Award for three years and once again there is an incredible shortlist, with varied themes including care homes, disability and immigration. I'm delighted to announce the shortlist. Congratulations everyone!


The 2020 BBC Young Writers’ Award shortlist is:

  • ‘Winds that Travel Across’ by Maleeha Faruki, 18, from Leicester
  • ‘Three Pomegranate Seeds’ by Mei Kawagoe, 15, from Leicestershire
  • ‘Bingo Tuesdays’ by Ben Marshall, 18, from Otford, Kent
  • ‘The Changeling’ by Lottie Mills, 18, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire
  • ‘The Battle of Trafalgar Square’ by Naomi Thomas, 17, from Sheffield


About the 2020 short stories:

‘Winds that Travel Across’ by Maleeha Faruki:

Over the course of a car journey, a father shares his memories of childhood, joys and hardships in India and the reasons he came to Britain. From frozen mountain peaks, to bustling bazaars and kitchens thick with the scent of lamb broth, this ‘effortless’ story was inspired by ‘people’s views on immigrants during Brexit’, a desire to reflect the stories that define us and the importance and humanity in individual experience.

‘Three Pomegranate Seeds’ by Mei Kawagoe:

In a highly imaginative and ‘fiercely evocative’ feminist retelling of a classic myth, Mei, whose writing has been performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Other Place, gives voice and agency to the kidnapped Persephone in this ‘visceral’ and rebellious story. Poetic and dream-like, it exposes societal constraints and the lessons girls are taught during childhood: to play small, be nice and not ask for more.

‘Bingo Tuesdays’ by Ben Marshall:

A ‘beautifully observed’ and ‘bittersweet’ story about family, loss and memory, Bingo Tuesdays was inspired by Ben’s personal experience of visiting care homes and the view that ‘sometimes care homes are where we discard the elderly’. Tender, emotionally mature and with a vividly realised sense of place, this story of a young man visiting his grandmother for their weekly bingo sessions was also inspired by memories of bingo sessions at Butlins, family experiences of Alzheimer’s and his grandparents love for each other.

‘The Changeling’ by Lottie Mills:

Previously shortlisted in 2018, Lottie Mills #OwnVoices story was inspired by frustration with ‘how difference, especially disability, is represented in fiction’. Reclaiming the myth of the ‘changeling’ and transforming it from something used to persecute and exclude into something magical, she explores disability via the fantastic in this ‘heartbreakingly well-written’ and ‘genuine triumph’ of a fable about a young girl’s extraordinary coming of age.

‘The Battle of Trafalgar Square’ by Naomi Thomas:

Described by judges as a ‘a punch in the face of a story, in the best possible way,’ an ordinary commute on a crowded tube train is transformed into a surreal and darkly, comic experience when a woman has an unexpected and shocking accident. Written as practice for Naomi’s English Language GCSE, the story exposes both the good and bad in human nature via a short story that highlights the power of the form to ‘give us a complete literary experience in and of itself’. An avid short story writer, Naomi was Highly Commended in the Young Northern Writers’ Awards 2020.

The shortlisted stories can be read and listened to online at: www.bbc.co.uk/ywa


Key Dates:

  • From 6pm Sunday 20th September: The five shortlisted stories and interviews with the writers are available to listen to via the Short Works podcast on the BBC Sounds app and the BBC Radio 1 website
  • Tuesday 6 October: The winners of the BBC Young Writers’ Award and the 15th BBC National Short Story Award will be announced in a special short story edition of BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm.
  • 46pm Sunday 11th October: The winner of the BBC Young Writers’ Award will be interviewed on Radio 1’s Life Hacks.

Friday, 18 September 2020

Lindsay Cummings title announcement and extract

I got a very exciting email from Harper Collins about an exciting new book by Lindsay Cummings, and now I get to share the gorgeous cover, title and an extract!

 


Just look at those colours! The blurb and extract are below. I'm really excited about this one! Thank you to Harper Collins for asking me to help spread the word.

Her destiny was death. The shadows brought her back.

Wrongly accused of her brother’s murder, Sonara’s destiny was to die, sentenced to execution by her own mother. Punished and left for dead, the shadows have cursed her with a second life as a Shadowblood, cast out and hunted by society for her demon-like powers.

Now known as the Devil of the Deadlands, Sonara survives as a thief on the edge of society, fighting for survival on a quest to uncover what really happened to her brother and whether he is even dead at all…

Blood Metal Bone is the astounding new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lindsay Cummings. This is the perfect adrenaline-packed read for fans of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, The Mandalorian and Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series.


To celebrate the announcement of Blood Metal Bone, the astounding new novel from New York Times bestselling author Lindsay Cummings, HQ Stories have decided to share an exclusive extract with us! Read on for more…

 

Sonara found him at the ocean’s edge.

            The suns were just setting, a double green flash as they sank out of view beyond the farthest stretch of sea.

            Seated on the sand, toes not far from the lapping waves, was Soahm.

            A mere speck in the distance, she hadn’t seen him in weeks, not since the battle. Not since he’d returned home, wounded from a skirmish in the neighboring Deadlands, his leg torn open and bloodied as he lay in the back of a soldier’s cart.

            “Slow, beast,” Sonara murmured to Duran now, leaning back a bit.

            The steed dropped to a calm walk, responding to the motion of her body. She’d trained him to respond only to the pressure of her legs, to the click of her tongue, to the shifting of her weight or a gentle murmur of a practiced command.

            The trainers had called her a fool, at the beginning. But now the bastard girl of Soreia had become the beast’s master. And perhaps one of the finest riders the Kingdom had to offer.

            “Go on,” Sonara murmured as she stopped Duran and slid down from his back. “Eat your fill.”

            His nostrils flared as he trotted off towards the dunes, fresh pale seagrass waving atop it. Soahm’s mare was already there, happy as could be. The wind blew, carrying her scent down the hillside, and Sonara swore she could feel a bit of peace wash over her.

Her footsteps were drowned out by the crashing sea as she approached her brother. The prince was busy sketching, the back of his left hand turned dark from smudges of charcoal. She rarely saw him without those telltale smudges. The moon was out in full tonight, a beautiful blue that cast a cool glow across the beach.

“What are you doing all the way out here, Soahm?” Sonara asked.

They were nearly an hour’s ride from the castle, on the fringes of the freelands where herds of wild steeds still roamed. He often came out here, to think. To enjoy the silence, without their mother barking commands, or filling his list with countless princely duties.

Sonara wouldn’t know a life like that. And in that, at least, she was grateful for her separation from the ones she could have called family.

“Sonara.” Soahm sighed her name in greeting.

She could sense the sadness in him, as deep as the ocean floor. He tossed a lilac shell into the sea. “I can’t lead this kingdom the way she wants me to.” He glared at his injured leg, splayed before him in a splint. Beside him, a discarded crutch that had become his constant companion. “I’m broken, Sonara.”

“Broken?” Her dark eyes widened. “You’re injured, Soahm. That’s a far cry from broken. You’ll heal.”

“There’s a chance I won’t.” Soahm looked at her fully, and his blue eyes, so unlike hers, were rimmed with red. “The healers say it’s possible that I’ll never fully recover. The people want a warrior, Sonara. Like our mother. They want to know that their future king will rule with sword and shield, will not balk or falter in the face of his enemies. I cannot give them that.”

“Perhaps you never could,” Sonara said with a shrug.

Those blue eyes widened ever more.

She held up a hand and offered him a gentle smile. “You’re not like that, Soahm. Before the injury, after it . . . it’s never been you. If they want a king like that, they can move north to the Deadlands, and bow at Jira’s feet. Or worse, to the White Wastes, and praise the ice queen.”

Soahm frowned, his brow furrowing. “You think me weak?”

“The opposite,” Sonara said. “I think you’re strong. But in a different way. Perhaps a better way . . .” She considered for a moment, as a distant pod of sea wyverns splashed their tails above the waves. “Yima rides with heavy heels. The steeds respond, but they don’t respect her.” Sonara reached out, and scooped up a handful of sand, letting it fall through her fingertips. The grains danced away on the wind. “The people want someone they can respect, and it isn’t always earned with a warrior’s sword. Give them a reason to follow you. Give them a leader they can be proud of. Bend a knee to their level, and show them you understand their struggles, their worries and fears, that you care about filling their bellies and giving their children a safe place to learn and play and sleep.”

“But how can I do that?” Soahm asked. “How can I do that like this? The Great War ended when Jira rose to power, but skirmishes still rise. There is still unrest on the borderlands.”

Sonara grabbed her brother’s hand and squeezed it, forcing him to pay attention. To look at her clearly, with her muddied blue hair, her dark eyes, her differences that marked her as a bastard. The lowest of the low. “See them, Soahm. All of them, not just the wealthy and the nobles. See them all, the way you have always seen me.”

He squeezed her hand back, then let it go. They sat together for a time, watching the stars wink down from the sky. Behind them, Duran had crossed to the hills, his face buried in the seagrass as he filled his ever-hungering belly.

“Let’s walk,” Soahm said. His voice was a bit lighter, the heaviness replaced by what Sonara felt was, perhaps, hope.

She reached out a hand to help him stand. He took it gratefully, a prince that was never too proud, and together, they walked, their cloaks dancing behind them in the wind. In the distant sky, a star was falling, a trail of glitter in its wake.

“I’ve spent more time sketching,” Soahm said. “Mother doesn’t know, of course. She’d slay me herself if she thought I was wasting my time sketching when I could be studying.” He reached into his cloak pocket and pulled out his leather-bound journal. On the front, a stamped insignia of a rearing steed. He flipped through the pages until he landed on a sketch of a warrioress, seated atop Duran.

“It’s me,” Sonara said.

She smiled.

“The She-Devil,” Soahm said with a wink. “Keep it. He passed her the journal. “I have plenty. Try your hand at a sketch, Little Sister. It’s kept me busy during my recovery.”

Sonara laughed, for she’d never been able to sit still enough to sketch, but she tucked the journal into her cloak anyways, to humor him. She was about to suggest they turn back, her body growing tired, when the star in the distance caught her eye again.

Stars didn’t fall quite like that, cutting through the night like a beacon.

“Do you . . .” Sonara pointed. “Do you see it?”

Soahm followed her gaze through the sky, the light reflecting upon the black sea. It drew ever closer, the brightness intensifying until she saw that it was not a star.

Rather, it was a shape, a blazing trail of fire beyond it. A shape that looked like the head of an arrow, slicing through the sky; metallic. Not of this world.

The wind kicked up, gusting towards her as a rumble sounded from the object, shooting across the sky like a war drum.

Sonara’s blood felt cold, her heartbeat rising to her throat. Danger. She felt it, a sickness spreading through her gut. Behind her, Duran and the mare cried out, then galloped over the hills, out of sight.

“Run,” Sonara whispered. She gripped Soahm’s hand, her nails digging into his skin as fear overcame her. “Soahm, run!”

She turned, tugging him along with her. The beach was a wide expanse of sand spreading into the dunes beyond. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to bury themselves in the shadows, except . . .

The cave on the edge of the Devil’s Dunes.

A burial ground for the dead, a sacred space that was not to be disturbed, and yet Sonara found herself tugging Soahm towards the yawning black mouth of it, the safety of darkness calling them home.

“Slow down!” Soahm yelled. He stumbled, but Sonara tugged his hand harder, her fear a living thing inside of her now.

Run, it beckoned. Run, and do not slow down.

She had always been smaller than most, lithe and used to working long hours in the stables. She pushed herself, legs burning as she trudged through the deep sand.

Behind her, the object closed in, screaming from the sky as the winds kicked up. She looked overhead as light flared. She saw only metal, like a great beast in the sky, a crimson bird painted upon its belly.

At some point her sweaty hand slipped from Soahm’s. She reached the mouth of the cave, darkness swallowing her up, safety wrapping its arms around her as she disturbed the domain of the dead.

She turned in time to see Soahm hit the sand. For a moment, her panic cleared at the sight of him, his crutch discarded, his hand reaching for her.

But fear snapped its angry jaws, freezing Sonara in place as her entire body shook. Soahm sruggled to his feet, then cried out in pain again.

He was crawling now, his leg splayed at an awkward angle behind her.

“Sonara!”

She saw his lips move, forming her name. But she could not hear him over the screeching of the metal beast in the sky.

She took a step forward, her whole body so seized in fear that her legs felt leaden.

Another step. She could do this. She could save Soahm. She reached out her hand, leaving the shadows just as a beam of blue light erupted from the belly of the beast. It surrounded Soahm, lifting him from the sand. He screamed and thrashed, trying to escape, but he was powerless to the beam’s hold, as if it were some dark, powerful magic. His arms stretched, his amulet dangling from his tunic, shining in the beam as the beast’s great metal belly yawned wide, pulling him inside before slamming back shut.

Soahm was gone.

 

The floor beneath the Queen’s dais was bathed in blood.

It was a cool night, steam still rising from the rivers of crimson that had pooled between the pearlescent green tiles. They came to a stop at the edge of the throne room, where rows of soldiers stood guard, swords and spears in hand. Behind them, a thick crowd stood watching the public trial.

All had been called to file in, to boo and jeer and stomp their feet as Queen Iridis charged the Bastard Girl of Soreia with the murder of the Crown Prince.

“You will never shed your filth on this Kingdom again,” Iridis said. She lifted a hand in command. Another lash of the whip followed. The sharpened prongs tore Sonara’s skin away in bleeding chunks, dragging through muscle down to bone. “You will spend the rest of your days wandering the planet alone like the bastard you were born as.”

I didn’t kill the prince!” Sonara screamed. She hardly recognized her own voice, as if her vocal cords had been ripped to shreds with each scream following the lash of the whip.

The crowd began to boo, spitting as they stared at Sonara with disgust in their eyes. The skin on her back was torn to ribbons; the blood that was half-Soahm’s pooling around her body. Gone. Soahm was gone.

Some, watching from the sides, held hands to their faces, horrified as the Queen’s guard slung the whip again. Blood and bits of flesh rained upon the floor.

But they hadn’t uttered a word in her defense. Nothing to lay claim to the fact that they might have seen the great metal beast falling from the sky, lighting up the night like a beacon before it took Soahm.

Sonara hadn’t known true pain, hadn’t known agony, until this moment. She became only the rush of hot blood running down her back, knew only the wicked kiss of the whip as it feasted on her skin.

How many times would her mother order her flayed? How many strokes of that whip would she endure, before death stole her away?

It was a mercy she would have begged for, had she the strength to utter the words.

She’d come to the castle last night to save him. She’d ridden from that hellish beach as fast as Duran could carry them both. She’d burst through the gates, his hooves pounding across the cobbles like a war drum, not caring about the citizens diving out of the way, or the soldiers standing guard, the weapons they’d pointed as they’d commanded her to halt.

Nothing else mattered, for the Crown Prince was gone.

Up, and away, into the silent skies, as if he’d never existed at all.

Beneath the moon, Sonara had pleaded with the guards to wake her mother, and by the grace of the goddesses, the Queen had come, wrapped in robes, her face gaunt as she listened to Sonara sob the truth of Soahm’s taking.

Iridis hadn’t believed her.

She’d placed the blame of Soahm’s disappearance upon Sonara, refusing to believe her tall tale of a great metal beast soaring down from the night skies.

Now, Sonara lay dying,

“He was my firstborn. The heir to the Soreian throne,” the Queen said. She stood atop the dais, her voice ringing out across the throne room, sickeningly calm. “You killed him. For that, you will die.”

The whip came down again.

“Bastard!” the crowd shouted. “The Bastard girl of Soreia!”

Another lash.

“You have no name,” the Queen said.

Skin, torn away from Sonara’s muscles.

“You have no kingdom.”

Muscles, torn away from her bones.

And then the sentence came.

“Tonight,” the Queen said, as silence swept across the throne room, “you will die.”

In her mind, Sonara escaped to thoughts of the girl Soahm had once spoken of: the She-Devil, the dream she should have grabbed a hold of when they’d thought it up together in the stables. She should have run far, far away.

Her other half-siblings, the princes and princesses of Soreia, stood with their arms crossed on the dais, the fringes of their robes flecked with her blood. They watched, unwavering as their mother beat Sonara to the end of breathing.

They left just enough life in her to perform the Leaping.

At dusk, Sonara was placed on an open wagon and carted to the edge of the Kingdom in full view, so that the watching crowd could gaze upon the fate of a kingdom’s traitor.

They gathered and grew and followed to the edge of Cradle’s Cliff. It towered so high the clouds kissed it, moistened the earth like it had been covered in a blanket of winter’s breath. The ocean raged against the rocks below, sea-spray erupting in the air where it was picked up by the wind.

The salt air stung as it landed on Sonara’s open back. Her vision flitted from dark to light as the cart wheels groaned to a stop, and strong hands lifted her ruined body.

She could scarcely hold open her eyes as the crowd chanted.

But one sound broke above it all.

A cry. A mighty, beastly screech that forced her eyes open.

Duran.

Her heart sank. There he was, the beast that had become hers, fighting for freedom at the edge of the cliff. Two trainers held a rope, their feet scrambling for purchase against the moist earth as Duran reared and threw his mighty head about, trying in vain to escape.

They made her watch as they bound him, man by man, ropes on his legs, ropes slung around his strong neck. His red eyes were ablaze, sides heaving as he stood there, a captive.

He was hers.

And that made him as good as dead.

Fight, Sonara wanted to tell him, as she was lifted from the cart by strong soldier hands. She hung between two men as they dragged her towards Duran, feet scraping the earth. Oh, goddesses, just keep fighting.

But in her presence, at her touch, the mighty steed calmed. He allowed Sonara to be placed upon him, those very ropes used to bind them both together as the guards slung her on his back.

She knew this death: the Leaping.

A death reserved for a traitor. A coward. A deserter, tied to the back of their own steed, forced to ride over the edge of the abyss.

The crowd cheered, as Sonara slumped forwards on Duran. They made a path, two sides that closed in, the nearer they got to the edge.

“Over the edge,” the Queen said. “To a death that has no peace. No silence. No end.

The trainers released the ropes, cracking the whip over Duran’s back as they commanded him forwards.

His nostrils flared. But he steeled himself and did not move.

“Again,” the Queen commanded. The tips of her blue braids danced in the wind, mirroring her cold blue eyes. Soahm’s eyes.

The whip cracked again, doubly as hard. Duran screamed as his skin split open. But still, he held his ground.

Tears streamed down Sonara’s cheeks. She had only enough strength to utter a plea. Just me.”

But the Queen only lifted her hand again, and the guards brought down the whip once more.

Duran finally took a step forward.

“Fight against them,” Sonara thought to him. With everything in her, she wished he could hear her words, could take comfort in her presence. “Don’t let it end like this.”

Another step. This one a lurch as Duran sidestepped, another lash open on his side. The motion sent pain rocketing into Sonara’s body, the wind howling, the cold salt spray like a knife reopening her wounds.

“Direct him,” the Queen ordered.

She marched up to Sonara’s side, reached out and gripped her by the chin.

“For you there will be no grave.”

Sonara spat in her face.

Then she turned, her fingers digging into Duran’s wet mane. The crowd closed in behind them, pushing until onwards, the mighty steed stepped. He kept stepping as the crowd pressed in, until it became a jog. Until the jog became a thundering canter, consciousness slipping from Sonara’s grasp with every beat of his hooves.

The last thing she saw, the last thing she heard, was Duran’s defiant cry as they made the Leaping.

Over the cliff they soared, tumbling headlong into the raging waters below.

Sonara could have sworn, just before death stole her away, that soft hands caressed her skin. That the sea split open around both of their bodies. That tendrils of shadowy darkness slithered up from the depths of the sea and wove their way around her skin, coiling against her fingertips, her legs, her throat. Sliding their way into her mouth, choking her last breath.

And then a whisper. Delicate, but as steady as the nearby tides as she drifted, slowly, towards dark.

Not yet, my heart.

Not yet.

Afterwards came stillness.

Silence.

Death.

 

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