Sunday, 21 October 2018

Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein – review



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

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

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

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

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






Thank you so much Walker Books for the review copy!

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf – review



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

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


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

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

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

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

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





BBC Young Writers' Award Winner 2018

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Blog tour review – The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

   

Thursday, 27 September 2018

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


 


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


Firsts (extract) 

Jane Mitchell 

I believed we were going to die.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, 23 September 2018

2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award shortlist



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


SOCIAL ACTIVISM AND MENTAL HEALTH
INSPIRE THE WRITERS OF THE FUTURE AS
2018 BBC YOUNG WRITERS’ AWARD SHORTLIST
IS ANNOUNCED

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

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

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

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


The shortlisted stories and writers are:

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

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

The five shortlisted stories are available to read and listen to on the BBC Radio 1 website www.bbc.co.uk/ywa

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

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

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

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

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


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!