READS: November Round-Up

Sunday, 1 December 2013

November was an eclectic reading month. There was a mix of fiction and non fiction, young adult, new adult and middle grade, published and self-published. Unusually, for me, none of the books fitted into the category of UKYA this time.

I started out with All I Want for Christmas by Esme Taylor, a romantic novella from Hot Key Unlocked, which I uploaded to Kindle. I don't usually go for contemporary romance so this made a nice change. It was easy to read and well-written. Not necessarily a genre I'd return to frequently, but worth a try. I'm definitely going to keep out for new releases from Hot Key Unlocked.

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth was a review copy. Again, not something I'd normally choose, but I was happily surprised (and the cover is beautiful). The author really brought the historical period to life and made me view the world of the Brothers Grimm from a completely new angle. I'm keen to read her other novels now.

I've been meaning to devote some time to Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott for years so was chuffed when I discovered a copy in my local library. Even better, the book was much funnier than expected, as well as being full of sage writing advice. Great if you need to boost your creative confidence.

Miss Hyde by Gwen Ellery was also a review copy, which I read on my Kindle. I really enjoyed this self-published steampunk novel loosely based on the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It's aimed at the new adult market and contains lots of intrigue and romance.

I managed to find time to devour Shine by Candy Gourlay at the end of the month. Wow! I loved Tall Story so had been really looking forward to Candy's next novel. Full of mystery, strange illnesses and ghosts, I ploughed through the copy at record speed. Great, great, great! 
I have plenty of books lined up for December. My TBR pile currently stands at a respectable fourteen titles and I'm planning to read at least a third of these in time for another delivery from Santa. Need more shelves!!

5 Things I Brought Home from the 2013 SCBWI British Isles Conference

Monday, 25 November 2013

This was my third SCBWI conference and the best yet. There was a great mix of speakers, amazing co-delegates and to top it all, excellent weather! As always, I had lots of good intentions to take stacks of photos, say hi to everyone I knew and get a decent amount of sleep. Sadly I didn't achieve any of these, but I did manage to bring some fantastic mementoes and memories home with me to Buxton. Here's this year's stash (in no particular order):

A SCBWI conference wouldn't be complete without badges. I liked all the designs, but these were my faves. I especially love my volunteer's badge. If you're considering signing up to volunteer with SCBWI then I highly recommend it. It's fun, friendly and relaxed. You can find the vacancy list here.

I made sure that I had enough room in my bag for books this year. After all, that's what SCBWI is about. Four of them are signed by the authors - result!

Cryptic Notes
Every year I take copious notes and every year I struggle to decipher them. Must remember to bring my laptop next time.

Luckily some of my notes do make sense though. I learnt powerful new techniques and approaches from both Malorie Blackman's Creating Plot and Character workshop and the Dialogue intensive run by Sophia Bennett and Samantha Doland-De Vaux. I can't wait to include these in the revision plan for my WIP.

This time, I also decided to use the writing exercises to explore the seeds of a new novel. I'll be storing this flash fiction until next year, but it's great to know that it's there.

Friendships (no photos I'm afraid - too busy chatting!)
Last, but not least, I met some wonderful people this weekend - new faces and old (not literally of course!). It was particularly lovely to meet friends who I'd only talked to online before, especially all the amazing Words & Pictures editors and contributors. Thanks so much for your help this year!

SPOTLIGHT: Authors for the Philippines

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Want to donate money to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and win great bookish prizes at the same time? Well here's your chance. YA writer, Keris Stainton has set up Authors for the Philippines, an online auction site offering an amazing selection of lots - from manuscript critiques to tea parties to acknowledgements from bestselling authors.

Here are some of my top picks:

34: Manuscript critique by Editorial Director for Random House Children’s Publishing, Becky Stradwick
50: Candy Gourlay will visit a school of your choice in the Philippines
56: Picture Book Critique by Sarah McIntyre
85: Your name as a character in Patrick Ness’s next book
100: Afternoon tea with authors Joe Craig and Holly Smale
117: Inspiration, on my Little Island with Malachy Doyle
132: A place on The Golden Egg Academy’s Action and Dramatic Workshop
139: Two invitations to the official launch party of Three Hares Publishing, 2014 + manuscript critique
140: Early manuscript of How I Live Now (from 2003) by Meg Rosoff.
220: ‘Find out the sales & marketing potential of your children’s manuscript’ with Kate Manning (Sales & Marketing Director at Hot Key Books) and Sarah Benton (Head of Marketing, Print & Digital at HKB)
260: Be a ‘halfman’ in Melvin Burgess’s next book.

The full list can be found here. Bidding is open worldwide and will finish 8pm GMT on Wednesday 20th November (all bids to be made in £).

TRAVELS: Doxey Pool: The Only Inland Mermaid Legend in Britain?

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Doxey Pool can be found on the path that runs across the top of the Roaches, a gritstone escarpment not far from the Staffordshire/Derbyshire border. The area is rich in myths and legends, but I particularly love the stories surrounding this strange body of water (which allegedly never dries up even in a drought). 

Some accounts maintain that it's bottomless, others say that it connects to Blake Mere, another nearby tarn, via a deep subterranean passage. Both pools are reputed to house a malignant mermaid. In 1949, a Miss Florence Pettit claimed to have witnessed a weird creature emerge from the water just before she was about to take a morning swim. Here's her description of the event:
…a great ‘thing’ rose up from the middle of the lake. It rose very quickly until it was 25 to 30 feet tall. Seeming to be part of the slimy weeds and the water, yet it had eyes, and those eyes were extremely malevolent. It pointed its long boney fingers menacingly at me so there was no mistaking its hostility. I stood staring at the undine, water spirit, naiad or whatever it was while my heart raced. Its feet just touched the surface of the water, the weeds and the air. when I dared to look again, the creature was dissolving back into the elements from which it had formed.
Sadly I didn't see anything odd when I visited, but there's definitely a haunting stillness surrounding the mere. It's easy to understand why locals are wary of the spot and continue to avoid the pool, especially at night.

READS: October Round-Up

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The quality run continued throughout October with some absolutely cracking reads. 3 out of the 4 books were UKYA. I bought The Bone Dragon, More Than This and Stolen were review copies. I discovered City of Bones on the Kindle that my mum gave to me last year.

If it was hard to pick a favourite last month, it was impossible this time around. All of the novels were fantastic - well-written with great characters - and so different from one another. I've walked by moonlit Cambridgeshire Fens, baked in the Australian Outback, wandered through deserted streets in suburban England and hunted demons in New York - not bad for a month's work.

I'm doing most of my reading at night in bed, 30-45 minutes before lights out, but I've also managed to find an extra window while I'm feeding Tiny M (thanks to the Kindle). Hard copy is still my preference, but I'm planning to try out a few e-novellas in November to see if I can increase my reading time further.

WRITES: My Top Five Resources for Aspiring YA Writers

Saturday, 26 October 2013

I've been thinking about my writing journey a lot this week - where I've come from and where I want to go, what's helped and what's hindered. I've used many different resources to reach the place I'm at right now - websites, forums, paid membership of writing clubs, books, critique groups, consultancies - and it's been interesting to evaluate these. Most have been worthwhile, but which ones would I recommend to YA writers setting out on their own path? Here are my top five:

Absolute Write Water Cooler
I learned so much from this international forum as a novice author and I continue to do so. There's so much advice on the site that it's impossible to absorb it quickly so it's best to focus on the sections that suit you. The Young Adult area is a great place to learn about trends and what's hot right now. And if you're at the stage where you need some feedback on your work or query, you can post on the Share Your Work (SYW) zone (note that you have to log in and participate on the forum at least 50 times before being able to do this). If you're at submission stage, then the Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check and Ask the Agent forums are invaluable. There are also pages and pages of writing tips, links to blogs and general bookish chatter. Definitely one to bookmark.

SCBWI (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators)
You've probably come across SCBWI if you've been writing YA fiction for a while, but what is it? In the society's own words it's 'the only professional organization specifically for those individuals writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia.'

It took me a while to summon up the courage to join. I was unagented, unpublished and pretty clueless so why would they want to admit someone like me? Turns out it's one of the best things I did to advance my writing. SCBWI is a really inclusive organisation, it wants its members to succeed - the Undiscovered Voices competition is just one example of how it supports aspiring authors. There's also the yearly conference, the agents party and online critique groups, not to mention the local networks and regular events attended by industry professionals. It's a great way to improve your work while making friends at the same time.

YA Highway
This blog celebrates all things YA. Hosted by a group of travel-loving YA writers (mainly US-based), it offers writing prompts, inspirational articles and tips. My favourite post is the weekly Field Trip Friday, a round-up of YA-related news and oddities. I also love the Publishing Road Map, which links to themed resources across the blogosphere.

Words & Pictures
OK, so maybe I'm slightly biased here, but I wish that this blog had existed when I'd first started out. Aimed at UK writers and illustrators, there's a new post every day of the week, but YA authors will find Monday and Wednesday's entries the most useful. The monthly Ask an Agent and Ask a Publisher Q&As offer a great insight into the British publishing industry. In addition to these, there is a regular Agent Confidential spot which profiles individual literary agents, their personal tastes and wishlists.

The Library
An obvious choice, but not one that I considered when I started out. Instead, I bought a ton of books on writing, many of which are still gathering dust on my shelves. Not because they're bad or poorly written, but because they didn't resonate with me. Now I borrow them from the library instead (most libraries will order in titles for you for a small fee), and only buy them if I know that I'll use them regularly.

So that's my top five. What are yours?


Saturday, 19 October 2013

It's an exciting time to be part of the UKYA community. For years, the YA market has been dominated by US titles, but now we're really starting to see a great body of work emerge from UK authors.  These novels are are often set on British soil or have British protagonists. They reflect the diversity that exists within our island society and every single genre is represented - from SF through to contemporary.  Finally, we don't have to rely on imports for our YA fix, we can find homegrown literature right here - if we know where to look for it.

And that's where Project UKYA comes in. Established by Lucy Powrie, blogger at Queen of Contemporary, the blog is dedicated to promoting UKYA authors via reviews, features and vlogs.  You can find out more about it by clickling on the logo below:

Project UKYA

There's also a monthly Twitter chat that can be found at #ukyachat where you can get a chance to hook up with your favourite writers and also find out about the regular events that Lucy's planning on holding. I can't wait to find out what she has in store!

TRAVELS: Doorways to Other Worlds: Quinta da Regaleira

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Regaleira Estate in Sintra, Portugal is one of the strangest places I have ever visited. Commissioned by the fabulously wealthy Carvalho Monteiro in the early twentieth century, it's full of secret rooms, grottoes and hidden symbols. The most famous feature is the Initiatic Well (pictured), an inverted tower that plunges 27ft into the earth and then connects with several underground passages, which lead out into terraces and pools further down the garden. It's not that easy to find though because Monteiro, ever the fantasist, decided to conceal the well behind an artificial rock formation complete with stone doors - very Indiana Jones! (see below).

Although the well is spectacular, there are lots of other fascinating structures in the garden including a chapel, several terraces and many fairytale towers, most of which can be climbed to appreciate views across Sintra.

The true purpose of the design is not fully known. Some believe that the well was used for masonic initiation ceremonies, others think that this is merely one aspect of a complicated art installation that combined Monteiro's secular and religious interests in a hugely decadent way.  Whichever one is true, there's no denying that the garden is a magical place built to spark the imagination. Who knows what secrets still lie buried in those subterranean labyrinths?

Getting There
Trains run from Lisbon (Rossio Station) to Sintra every 15 minutes on weekdays (30 minutes on weekends). Quinta da Regaleira is 10 minutes walk from Sintra Tourist Information.

READS: September Round-Up

Sunday, 6 October 2013

I had a great run on the reading front last month. Every single book lived up to expectation, but if I had to choose, I'd single out Heap House by Edward Carey as the best read. It was hugely original and full of dark humour, an unexpected winner. Every Day by David Levithan was a worthy runner-up. Massively hyped, but thankfully deserving of its accolades. You can read my longer review over at Chicklish. Third, The Diviners by Libba Bray, a paranormal thriller set in 1920's New York. This had a great cast of characters and a satisfyingly complicated plot.

It was difficult to rate The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I loved The Raven Boys and although the sequel had a lot going for it, it wasn't quite as magical - hence the four star review.

The final two, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, were both fulfilling reads, but also bore the hallmarks of their age. Sure classics, but not books I'd return to again.

The Dream Thieves
A Wrinkle in Time
Heap House
The Stepford Wives
Every Day

Melissa's favorite books »

WRITES: The Great Inspiration Hunt Begins...

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

I'm one of those writers who always likes to have a good cache of ideas in the background. Even now, while I'm really immersed in my third novel, a SF thriller, I need to know that there's another couple of stories waiting in the wings - or at least seeds of stories.

To remember everything, I keep a running list on my laptop. I don't write everything in detail, just a couple of words as prompts.  I find that this keeps my imagination fluid until the moment when an idea becomes too compelling to ignore. Sometimes, the entries can linger on the list for years - other times I have to explore the thought immediately.  Quite often, I have a character/setting/theme in my head that hangs around on its own for ages until it falls into place.

At the moment, I have three strong contenders in the queue, all YA - a ghost story, a historical (probably with paranormal elements) and a fantasy. These are all sketchy, and promising, but the one that stands out the most is the fantasy. One image keeps on haunting me, and its connected with something I absolutely love so I'm thinking that this needs to form the basis of the next book.

So what next?

My early creative process goes something like this:
  • Collect images on Pinterest. I tend to use the secret boards for this.
  • Read books, watch films and documentaries around the subject - preferably non-fiction. This usually kickstarts lots of other, connected musings.
  • Write a few shorts to explore character/setting - ideally 3-6 months in advance of starting the novel properly. I've done this with all my books so far and although the final version has always been very different, it's been enough to spark the wider plot.
  • Visit new places and take lots of photos. My recent trip to the Beyond Limits scultpture exhibition at Chatsworth House was a brilliant source of inspiration. My favourite piece was Lens by Unus Safardiar - beautiful and otherworldly. I'd love to use this in a future manuscript.
Lens - Unus Safardiar

 How do you store your ideas? Do you keep a notebook or carry them around in your head?What happens when they start to call? I'd love to know!

Welcome to the Weird and Wonderful

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hello and welcome to my new blog. I'm going to be posting on all the things that make me tick, the elements that make this world a little bit mysterious. Strange and beautiful places, unusual relics - the arcane, the quirky, the downright weird. Books and art that inspire. All the wonderful things that prickle my imagination and make me want to write.