Thursday, 17 October 2019

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky – review

Leaving your house in the middle of the night.
Knowing your mother is doing her best, but she's just as scared as you.

Starting a new school, making friends.
Seeing how happy it makes your mother.
Hearing a voice, calling out to you.

Following the signs, into the woods.
Going missing for six days.
Remembering nothing about what happened.

Something that will change everything...
And having to save everyone you love.

This is one of the darkest books I've read in a long time, and I mean that in a good way. In most respects, it's completely different from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It's definitely an adult novel and tackles some challenging subjects, including abuse, self-harm and religion.

My favourite thing about Stephen Chbosky's writing is the characterisation. Imaginary Friend has an important quality that all of my favourite horror novels share: it makes you care so much about the characters before everything falls apart! There's a huge cast of characters and yet I found it easy to keep track of them because they were all so well-developed. I especially liked the group of children – horror about kids always seems to affect me the most!

The plotting in this book is also completely creative and unpredictable. There were so many elements that I never saw coming and I enjoyed working out how the threads of the plot would fit together. It's definitely a slow-burning story in places but it kept my attention. 

The imagery in this book is some of the creepiest and most memorable that I've come across for ages. Settings are also used really effectively to amp up the creepiness and develop the plot.

Some of the subject matters meant that this wasn't an easy read but it was a very scary, gripping one. Stephen Chbosky is an insta-buy author for me and I love having no idea what he will write next!

Thank you to Orion for the review copy!

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Q&A with Kathryn Berla, author of Richochet

RICOCHET comes out tomorrow (on 8th October) and I have a Q&A with the author, Kathryn Berla. This book sounds so intriguing and I'm excited to share Kathryn's thoughts.  

Tell us all about RICOCHET.

Thank you for asking. RICOCHET is a sci-fi thriller about a girl who exists in the multiverse (as we all do—if you believe in it, which I do) but suddenly finds herself colliding with other versions of herself in four specific lives out of the infinite number that exist concurrently. Why these four in particular, and why is this happening? Because different choices have led to vastly different outcomes in each life, she is both Tati and Ana in America, and Tanya and Tatyana in Europe. All four versions of her become allies in the quest to discover what has led them to ricocheting between these four different (and yet similar) worlds.

What drew you to ground your novel in science?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of the multiverse. We’ve all pondered that possibility even if we haven’t realized it. How would my life be different if I’d chosen this college over that one? This job over another? What if I hadn’t overcome my initial reluctance to go out the night that I met the man who would eventually became my husband? The possibilities are endless. And yes, I’ve read laymen’s versions of Stephen Hawking’s and Brian Greene’s explanations for the multiverse. I’m not a scientist but I do my research and I’m still curious enough to wonder about the if’s and how’s.

Do you have any advice for authors looking to include science in fictional worlds?

I say let your imagination be your guide. Nobody knows what the future will look like so nobody can tell you if you’ve got it right or wrong. If someone had told you only 50 years ago that we’d hold a device in the palms of our hands that could answer any question that’s ever been asked or lead us to any location on the planet or instantly contact anyone in the world, would you have believed it? Probably not. In the early 1900’s, people believed the human body couldn’t withstand speeds of 60 mph. So, let your imagination run wild. Think of infinite possibilities that may lie ahead. And do your homework so you have at least some science to back you up. I consulted a lot of professionals and, like I said, I did my reading as well. But what we know now isn’t the final answer for what might happen in the future. Just have fun with it and don’t listen to people who tell you your science is not possible. Anything’s possible.

What characters would you take into a parallel universe with you?

I think I’d take all four of my characters with me: Tati, Ana, Tanya, and Tatyana. In the beginning of my story, they all feel quite vulnerable, but as the story progresses, they discover just how strong they really are when it matters. They summon courage and accomplish feats they probably would never have imagined they were capable of.

What are your recent favourite YA books or authors?

This one is so hard to answer because I read so much but I’d have to mention ME MYSELF & HIM (Chris Tebbetts) because it involves parallel lives and I’m a little partial to that genre right now. I love Vicky Skinner who writes angsty romance. In terms of ground-breaking YA that was written many decades ago, I recently read I’LL GET THERE. IT BETTER BE WORTH THE TRIP and was very moved by it. But this is such a difficult question because I could probably devote 20 pages to discussing all the books I’ve read and loved in the past year.

What does your writing process look like?

Once I start, I’m very disciplined. I shut myself in a room and don’t come out until I’ve written at least 1000 words every day. Sometimes it comes very quickly. Sometimes it comes very slowly. I edit as I go so by the time my book is finished, it’s pretty well edited although I allow time to pass and then edit a few more times. I don’t use critique partners. I’m a solo writer. I have a writing friend who takes a look when I think my manuscript is in pretty good shape and then I’m done. Too many voices in my head in the beginning of my project would hinder rather than help me.

What is your next project?

Most, if not all, of my books are somewhat personal in nature, but I think my next project will be the most personal (for me) so far. It takes place in the summer of 1967, often referred to as the Summer of Love—a time of great social upheaval and great optimism. No one could foresee the dark events that would occur in the next few years. It was a time when young people felt empowered to change the world—and indeed they did. But there would be much self-reflection and often painful changes that occurred before that could happen. And a terrible war that dragged on throughout the decade, a snowballing casualty list that was never far from anyone’s mind.

Thanks for telling us about your book and writing process, Kathryn! I can't wait to read RICOCHET and I love the sound of your new project. 

Thursday, 3 October 2019

BBC Short Story and Young Writers' Award winners 2019

I had a wonderful time at the awards on Tuesday 1st October! It's so exciting to see the live recording of the announcement and to hear extracts from the incredible stories. It was also my first time in BBC Broadcasting House and I had so much fun chatting with other attendees and seeing the buzzing BBC research floor.

Without further ado, here's the information about the two winners!

The winner of the 2019 BBC National Short Story Award is...

Jo Lloyd, the author of The Invisible, who has written 'a timeless and deeply tender story influenced by Brexit, social division and folklore'. This is a brilliantly crafted, unique story and I'd highly recommend checking it out on BBC Sounds 

The five shortlisted stories are available to listen to on BBC Sounds and are published in an anthology by Comma Press. 

It's also the fifth year of the BBC Young Writer's Award, which is open to 14 to 18 year olds and was created to inspire young story writers.

This year, it was won by 16-year-old Georgie Woodhead from Sheffield for her story Jelly-headed, an amazing tragi-comic tale about one dramatic evening in a nightclub. It can be read at and heard on BBC Sounds.

It's been a pleasure to be involved in these awards and I hope you enjoy reading the stories!