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 I was unagented, unpublished and pretty clueless so why would they want to admit someone like me?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!