Friday, 10 January 2014

Friday Book Bargains #16

Happy New Year folks. Sorry my salutations are a bit late, but the New Year doesn’t officially start until the 10th January in my house. This is the day after my eldest daughter’s birthday. Yes, I have two kids birthdays and Christmas in the space of three weeks. As you can imagine, I’m a bit tired so forgive me if I’ve recommended these books on previous occasions. I think the offers are fairly new, but what the heck, you can enjoy them now if you haven’t before.

January is traditionally the month of penny-pinching, so if I were you, I would do most of my book shopping at The Book People because they’re pretty darned easy on the purse. You might have received a few hardbacks under the tree at Christmas. I, for one, got two of the three I’m about to mention. But on the off chance that you didn’t get them, The Book People have these weighty and impressive tomes at some rather attractive prices right now. More Than This is down from £12.99 to £8, Picture Me Gone is down from £12.99 to £6.49 (and I got a signed copy of this for Christmas! YES) and She Is Not Invisible is down from £9.99 to £4.99. Am very tempted by this one. VERY TEMPTED INDEED…

More Than This - Hardback - 9781406331158 - Patrick NessPicture Me Gone - Hardback - 9780141344034 - Meg RosoffShe is Not Invisible - Hardback - 9781780621098 - Marcus Sedgwick

Need to brush up on the works of the new Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman? If so, The Hive Store are being very helpful and offering selected Malorie Blackman books for under £5. Just click on the Hive Store discount code and enjoy your dose of powerful stuff from the lady herself.

Noughts And CrossesKnife EdgeDouble CrossCheckmate

Another great site for book budgeting is The Works. They may have a small selection, but it’s always worth a look. And there’s also the matter of this The Works voucher code that saves you an extra 15% off in January. Bargain of the week spot alert! They’ve got the very funny Swim the Fly down to a mere 99p right now, but if you want to spend a bit more, it’s the perfect place to stock up on your different editions of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter Paperback Boxed SetHarry Potter Special Edition Boxed Set

And lastly, the New Year is all about resolutions and I’m betting a few of you might have made some writing-related ones – I know I did. To help keep to them, this Waterstones offer gives 25% off selected Moleskine notebooks, that have been proven to boost your creativity spectacularly (NB: this may not be 100% true). Just click on the Waterstones discount voucher that gets you up to 40% off selected lines.

So see you in a couple of weeks and hopefully I’ll be a bit more awake and we’ll all still be sticking to those resolutions…

Friday, 3 January 2014

Guest Post: Jeff Norton, Author of the MetaWars Series

Displaying MetaWars4_BlogTourBanner1.jpgA little while ago, I reviewed the first book in the MetaWars series, a interesting and fast-moving take on the dystopian genre. Well, now that series is coming to an end with the release of the fourth and last book, so today, I welcome the author Jeff Norton, to talk about the mixed feelings that come with saying goodbye to characters after a long journey together...

Jeff NortonI’ve spent the past four years with my characters.  And now it’s time to say goodbye.

Characters occupy a strange part of a writer’s brain, an uncharted netherworld somewhere between dream and reality.  To me, these people are real. I see them. I hear them. But to everyone else, they are fictional constructs that exist only on the page.

My greatest hope is that Jonah and Sam become as real to the reader as they are to me. They’ve already made the great leap from my brain to the page.  And now they exist on their own, for readers to meet and inspect and analyze.  I’ve done what I can. It’s up to them to make the final jump from page to heart, to take up residence in some small corner of the reader’s life. 

Metawars: The Freedom Frontier (Metawars, #4)If you’ve read the MetaWars novels, you’ll know that immortality is a central theme of the books.  In the world I’ve created, people yearn to live forever in a digital way – “Uploading” their consciousness to the internet in order to outlive their mortal bodies – digital immortality.  And I suppose that’s what I hope to achieve for my characters. 

Long after I’m gone, like authors of long gone generations, I hope that future readers will discover Jonah’s quest, his troublesome coming of age in a confusing world, and his friendship with Sam, and the two main characters will live anew in the mind of those unknowable, future readers.  Likely, they’ll read the books in some digital form that we haven’t yet dreamed up, and not on paper, and in that way, reality will mirror fiction: Jonah and Sam will achieve their digital immortality.  They will outlive me, outlive their current physical (paperback) form, and jump from generation to generation along a digital spectrum.  And if they do that, they can truly live forever and my “goodbye” will not final.

Thank you so much Jeff for sharing this rather moving take on well-loved characters. And I'll be reviewing some more of the MetaWars book in the very near future...

Jeff Norton is the author of the MetaWars saga from Orchard Books.  The final installment, MetaWars 4.0: The Freedom Frontier publishes 2nd January, 2014.  Find Jeff on the web at, twitter at and facebook at

Friday, 13 December 2013

Past on Paper - 1940s Review - 'That Burning Summer', Lydia Syson (Hot Key Books, 2013)

Romney Marsh, July 1940. When invasion threatens, you have to grow up quickly. Sixteen-year-old Peggy has been putting on a brave face since the fall of France, but now the enemy is overhead, and the rules are changing all the time. Staying on the right side of the law proves harder than she expects when a plane crash-lands in the Marsh: it's Peggy who finds its pathetic, broken pilot; a young Polish man, Henryk, who stays hidden in a remote church, secretly cared for by Peggy. As something more blossoms between the two, Peggy's brother Ernest's curiosity peaks and other secrets come to light, forcing Peggy and Henryk to question all the loyalties and beliefs they thought they held dear. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Quick warning: the odd spoiler on the horizon folks...

That Burning SummerWith that amazing title and a synopsis that strongly hints of a secret wartime love affair, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this book is an out-and-out romance. Ok, it is a bit of an out-and-out romance, but as much as I adored this particular relationship and the mammoth objects put in its path, the thing I took away was a different sort of fire - having the strength to cope with the day-to-day realities during some of the most difficult and tense events in history.

As with her previous book, Syson's writing takes a particular point and place in the past and opens it up in a way I don't think I've come across in YA before. All the research and attention to detail is evident, yet it never feels like you're sitting through a history lesson. Or maybe just like you're experiencing the best history lesson ever. This book not only sheds light on the contribution of Polish pilots to the war effort, but also the story of those who chose to stand by their pacifist principles in the face of overwhelming pressure and the ripple effects this had on their families. I was initially a bit apprehensive about the large part Peggy's younger brother Ernest appeared to be playing in the story ( just wanted to get to the kissing bits to be honest), but his journey and how this tallied with Henryk's experiences, ended up being my favourite part of the book. This is a tale about a different sort of war time bravery - of coping with overwhelming mental as well as physical hurdles as well as standing up for beliefs in the face of public opinion and convention. But with all the complex issues floating about, there is still a strong and powerful chemistry between Peggy and Henryk that was a  joy to read. Some of the scenes actually made my page CRACKLE, I swear. 

As with all the best historical fiction, this provides a new perspective on a period that has been depicted on paper many, many times before. It's a very welcome addition to the growing number of YA books set during this period that I've had the pleasure to read in the last couple of years. Not only does it make you think AND swoon, but there's also does a rather good sideline in suspense too. Oh, and the cover's ace as well. Seriously, what more could you want? 

If it turns out you DO want more, then have a read of my interview with Lydia Syson in which she discusses writing historical young adult fiction and the presence of politics in YA. You're welcome.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Friday Book Bargains #15

I’ve decided to take a break from writing about Christmas because that’s all I’ve been doing workwise for the last couple of weeks. So instead of thinking about what I’m going to buy other people, I’ve revisited my TBR list and picked out a few titles that I’m hankering after, but really should have read by now.

First up, this book is very close to my heart. I’ve been fascinated by Cambodia ever since visiting there 10 years ago (can’t quite believe it was ten years ago, but whatever). After recently sifting through a load of old holidays photos, I came up with the beginnings of an idea for a YA novel set here. So the first thing I did after this happened was to google ‘YA novels set in Cambodia’. I have to admit, I wasn’t holding out much hope, so I was over the moon when this one cropped up – Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick. It’s not too often that I find EXACTLY what I’m looking for so I was well chuffed. Looking at the prices at the moment, The Book People have it on at £5.59. Another I’ll be ordering from here is Another Life by Keren David. I’m not quite sure why it’s taken me so long to get this one, as I adored the first two books in the series, but it’s also £5.59 here. And if you’re ordering anymore you can use this The Book People voucher code and save 10% when you spend £25 or more.

Never Fall DownAnother Life (When I Was Joe, #3)

More historical fiction now – In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters caught my eye a while back and The Hive Store has it in hardback for only £7.97. They’ve also got the, by all accounts excellent, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein for £6.69. You can get an extra 5% off using this The Hive Store discount code and they give you the option of picking the book up from your local independent bookshop. Which is nice.

Rose Under FireIn the Shadow of BlackbirdsThis is Not a Test

A while ago, I read my first Courtney Summers book, Cracked Up To Be. And it was the first book in a long time that demanded I drop everything to finish. So next on my list is This is Not a Test and Waterstones have it on with a slight reduction at £7.19, so that’s that one sorted.

And now I can get on with my Christmas shopping…

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Interview: Bridget Tyler, Author of 'Drummer Girl'

You may remember my review of Drummer Girl from a weeks back - this addictive tale of a group of London school girls winging their way to LA to take part in a reality show is a great page turner with the snappiest of snappy dialogue. Today I welcome author and screenwriter Bridget Tyler to my blog to chat about pop culture, friendship and happy endings in YA...

What first drew you to writing for young adults and what were your favourite reads at this age? 

-         I love writing for Young Adults because I think great stories about growing up have more impact on us over the course of our lives as readers than any other kind of book. I still remember the books I loved when I was a teenager vividly – The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, the Nancy Drew series, The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, anything by Anne McCaffrey, Harry Potter… the list goes on. Those characters, and their journeys, helped me understand and survive my teenage years and I will never forget them. If I can tell just one story that makes someone else feel that way, then I will consider myself a success.

        Pop culture and current trends are a major part of Drummer Girl – what do you think are the pros and cons of writing about music in YA? 

-         Obviously, anything related to pop culture is dangerous in a book because it is bound to be out of date in a heartbeat. That’s why, as much as Drummer Girl takes place during a reality competition, I worked hard to avoid too many references to contemporary pop culture. You’ll notice as you read that most of the specific references made to bands are either to icons like Madonna and the Beatles, or to fake bands that only exist in the world of Drummer Girl. I even tried to stick to fairly classic styles when mentioning clothes, hair and make up while still being on trend. I used the framework of reality television and the music business, but I really wanted to be sure Drummer Girl was also about these five girls and their friendship not about the world they find themselves in.

Drummer Girl        You’ve clearly got a knack for both authentic US and UK dialogue – how does writing dialogue for novels differ from screenwriting?

 -       Not much, actually. Whether I’m writing a book or a screenplay, I read the piece out loud to myself many, many times before it’s finished. It’s really the only way to tell if dialogue is going to ring true or not, at least for me. The biggest difference with the dialogue in a novel is that you don’t have to make the characters say as many things out loud. In a script, I might need a character to say, “Wait. Mum can’t possibly know we cut school last week. She spoke to Mrs. James this morning and neither of us is grounded. What are you up to?” because otherwise the audience has no way of knowing what’s happening in the character’s head.  In a novel, I might do this instead:

Molly stopped short, starring at her sister as she dug through her dresser drawers. No matter what Jane said, Mum couldn’t possibly know that they’d cut school. She’d spoken to Mrs. James this morning and everything. They’d be beyond grounded if either had a clue. So what was Jane up to?

See the difference? Finding organic and natural ways for characters to say what they’re thinking out loud is actually one of the most challenging aspects of screenwriting.

Friendship is a strong theme in Drummer Girl – do you think this is something we should be seeing more of in YA and what other themes do you think deserve more attention? 

-         Yes, I think friendship, particularly female friendship, is highly under utilized in YA and in storytelling in general. Friends are such an important part of the growing up experience – good friends make everything so much better and bad ones can be downright dangerous, in the wrong situation. Romance is fun, and there’s a lot of that in Drummer Girl too, but it isn’t the only kind of relationship out there to explore. As for other topics that could use more attention, this isn’t exactly a theme but I have to say I think it’s important for YA writers to create more characters who are into science, female characters in particular. Too often math and science gets ignored, or even vilified, in teen literature. Those fields are both truly fascinating and very important for the future – we should be telling stories that encourage people to be interested in them.

        Drummer Girl has an incredibly fast-paced plot – how do you ensure that this is balanced out with strong characters? 

-         Well this is another trick that comes from screenwriting – plotting that doesn’t develop the characters is going to end up being boring and character development that doesn’t advance the plot has a good chance of ending up on the cutting room floor. The goal is to make every new twist and turn of the plot service the characters so that you don’t need to slow down and take a detour in order to develop them. 

      And finally, how important do you think ‘happy endings’ are in YA?

-        I think every story deserves the ending that best fits it. Some stories end well, some don’t. There are happy endings in Drummer Girl and very, very sad ones. And a few that are in between. That’s the way life is. The one thing I do think all stories should have is hope. I think there is a place in the world for bleak stories that lack hope for the future, but they aren’t the kind of stories I chose to tell, nor are they the kind of stories I like to read. 


I'd like to thank Bridget for taking the time out to answer my questions and in particular, those very handing tips on writing dialogue. So thank you Bridget - I'm certainly looking forward to your future YA titles! And it's always nice to find a fellow Nancy Drew fan...

Friday, 15 November 2013

I Need to Get Out More #5 - Wood Green Literary Festival

I don't normally manage to get out to literary or author events too often, so I was especially pleased to make it to a couple of events taking place as part of the Wood Green Literary Festival a few weeks back. I'm usually pretty clueless when it comes to doing write-ups (I suppose it's a good thing that I don't get the chance to do too many then), so I thought I'd take a different approach with this one as look at a few of the points raised and see how I can relate them to my own writing...

16120429The first talk was about Uncovering Ancient London and featured Lydia Syson and Catherine Johnson. Now, if you follow my blog, you'll know that I'm a big fan of Lydia's writing and you can find out her thoughts on political YA in this interview from a little while back. As you can imagine, it was very interesting to get a writer's perspective on how London history has made them tick. Catherine Johnson talked animatedly about how a trip to the Huntarian Museum inspired her to write Sawbones, a book that sounds delightfully gruesome and rich in the historical detail of the backstreets of this city. Lydia Syson talked about how she is a fifth generation Londoner, something that is quite rare this days, and how she has grown up to appreciate the rich history London has to offer, in particular, surprising facts about her family history.

That Burning SummerThis got me thinking about stories that my own family have told me. I've lived in west London on and off for the last ten years, but I was brought up in a commuter town after my parents moved away from their original west London haunt. My dad used to tell me stories about when he used to place Underground Hide and Seek on the tube with his friends as a teenager. You might be able to guess what it involved...basically, jump on a train, jump off at different stations and try to remain illusive to the person tasked to find you. I had completely forgotten about this story up until that moment, and now it's taking pride of place in my notes for something I'm planning about London set in the 1960s. It's nice to be reminded that I couldn't live anywhere better in the world when it comes to writing about the past, so thank you lovely authors!

When I Was JoeThe second talk I attended featured Keren David and Hilary Freeman discussing Edgy YA Fiction. This is of particular interest to me right as I'm currently working on a contemporary YA, although I don't know if I'd describe it as particularly 'edgy', but I suppose that was the whole point of the discussion - what does constitute edgy YA and how do you get the balance right? One of the issues that has been at the forefront of my mind recently (especially now I am at the editing stage) is swearing in YA. A while back, I read this interesting article by James Dawson which got me thinking about whether established authors are in a better position to have swearing feature in their books rather than debut novelists. However, both authors didn't think this was really the case and that all authors need to compromise to a certain extent on this depending on the market.

Lifted. Hilary FreemanWhen I first started working my MS, I was given some advice that I've always found useful - when it comes to swearing, don't censor yourself in the early stages - it's more important to get the first draft done and you can always compromise on this at the editing stage. Needless to say, my first draft was as potty-mouthed as it gets and I remember reading it back and blushing. As I'm going through my chapters now, I can appreciate that a little goes a long way in this respect. I think it's important to get my dialogue as authentic as possible (and this includes using swear words), but perhaps using too many can have the same effect as using none - it might only succeed in distracting from the story.

All in all, this was a great, informative afternoon, and I've very much looking to venturing north again next year. My only criticism would be that the talks were too short! I could have listened to them all for hours...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Friday Book Bargains #14

Sorry, it’s a day late this week – my brain is still in school holiday mode and I reckon it’s going to take me at least a fortnight to catch up again. So time for me to bring you all the usual book offers I’ve unearthed whilst ploughing my way through work this week (or not, until my brain gets in gear). Anyway, one of the things I did do this week was spend a bit of money on Christmas presents, Yes, I know it’s a bit early, but I didn’t want to spend most of December tearing my hair out, so I’m being uncharacteristically organised at the moment. So when I was looking through book discount codes, I noticed there are a few decent deals to be had, especially on box sets…

Have you seen the shiny new edition of The Hunger Games books yet? They’re very enticing. You might want to drop a few hints to your nearest and dearest in the next few weeks if you hanker them on your Christmas list, which is exactly what I’ll be doing. If you want to support your independent bookshop, order through The Hive Store – they’ve got a 5% off voucher code at the moment.

The Hunger GamesCatching FireMockingjay

Talking of The Hunger Games (and let’s face it, it’s probably at the forefront of your mind because, y’know, CATCHING FIRE!!!!!!), if you’ve haven’t got the previous gorgeous box set, you can pick it up for £7.99 at The Works. And if you’re a fan of the new Harry Potter paperbacks (II haven’t made up my mind about them yet), they’ve got the set for £39.99. Anyway, you can also save 15% if you use this The Works discount voucher.

I heart The Book People. They have brilliant box sets, and I remember ordering heaps for my kids from them last Christmas. And I will be doing exactly the same this year. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take off my YA hat for as brief moment and put on my crime fiction one, because I’ve found a couple of sets that speak to my inner crime fiction nerd. When I was a teenager, I didn’t read a huge amount of YA, but I did read a hell of a lot of Agatha Christie books. And if you’re in mourning for the imminent final episode of Poirot next week, like me, then console yourself with this Agatha Christie Collection – that’s 12 books for a miniscule £15. And while you’re at it, get The Complete Inspector Morse Collection (another favourite of mine) – 14 books for £9.99. AND you can save even more by getting 5% off if you spend £25 or more by using this The Book People voucher code.

Agatha Christie Collection - 12 Books - collection - 9780007937165 - Agatha ChristieThe Complete Inspector Morse Collection - 14 Books - collection - 9781447202035 - Colin Dexter

Ok, going to go and spend some more money now…