Saturday, 7 August 2021

YALC workshop – From Blogger to Author

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

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

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

Blogging journey

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

Blogging tips

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

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

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

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

How blogging has helped me as an author

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author journey

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 2 August 2021

Beth Garrod guest post


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

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

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

The Ultimate Body Swap Playlist

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

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

Shout Out To My Ex – Little Mix

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

Back For Good – Take That

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

Good 4 U – Olivia Rodrigo

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

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

Willow Smith – Whip My Hair

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

That’s Not Me – Skepta

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

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

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


Sunday, 16 May 2021

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder blog tour

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

London, 1958:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

The Nightsilver Promise review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you to Scholastic for the gifted copy!

Sunday, 18 April 2021

The Last Girl blog tour review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 26 March 2021

The Embalmer blog tour


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

Content warning: rape and graphic violence/murder

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 30 January 2021

We Played with Fire blog tour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 11 January 2021

The Girl Who review

Content warning: grief, trauma, witnessing violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, 1 January 2021

First Day of My Life blog tour

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

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

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

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

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

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