Recently Read – The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Genre; YA

23058402Two boys. Two secrets.

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school, Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

My thoughts:

I can not praise this novel enough. Whether you usually read YA or not, I doubt you could fail to be moved or touched in some way by the story inside these pages and this is why I love YA because it is not afraid to talk about the difficult subjects.

This is the first chapter of the book…

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It’s simple and impactive. And in the UK it’s currently quite topical though I’d finished the novel before the story of the little boy who wants to be a girl broke.

Because of what David wrote in class that day he only has two friends in school and they are great friends to him, the type of friends anyone would be proud to call friends. It’s a story about inclusion. About finding out who you are about bravery and acceptance. And all this in the hands of children.

We have something to learn when children genuinely are going through things like this daily and we moan our jeans are too tight or the dog pissed on the floor again.

If you haven’t yet read a YA book from any of the ones I’ve reviewed, I’d really recommend this one. The Art Of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson – because who really wants to be normal anyway…

#WorldBookDay Who Are You Reading For?

It’s World Book Day today. If you’re on social media, you really might have noticed. There are tweets and Facebook posts with photos of kids in the guise of their favourite bookish characters and just lots of hashtags going on. My youngest is going to school as Paddington Bear. His favourite characters now all wear jeans and t-shirts as he’s older and reads books designed for his age group and he didn’t want to just go to school as himself so he’s having some fun.

And that’s what reading is all about. Having fun. It’s not a job or a chore. It’s a pleasure, a pastime. Fun. Yet, so often I see people pushing themselves through books they’re not enjoying and I wonder why. There are so  many books out there. We all talk about the length of our to-be-read lists and yet readers persist in pushing on with books that hold no pleasure for them. Is it because they feel they have to because it’s been given to them as a proof/review copy by a publisher? Don’t. I’ve emailed publishers and apologised that a book isn’t for me and I’ve had to stop reading it. They’ve been fine. Not all books are for all people. Read the books you’ll enjoy.

The same goes for YA. An argument that I hear raging over the internet for months and years and it won’t stop. There’s a snobbery that says adults can’t read YA books so it inhibits readers and does stop them. Don’t let it. Look at the big blockbuster films that are being made from books (Not 50 shades!) half of them are from YA books. So, some adults are reading YA and these are intelligent people.

Read what you want to read. Don’t read what you don’t enjoy. It’s simple. There is so much choice out there for everyone. Every single person is catered for. Enjoy yourself. Indulge your senses in whatever they want to be indulged in and don’t feel guilty. Reading is your pleasure. No-one else’s. You may choose to share it afterwards, but while you’re doing it, it’s yours and yours to enjoy.

So, on that note, I thought I’d leave you with this little video where Neil Gaiman talks of a generation of readers he meets and how books encouraged him to write. It’s beautiful.

Happy World Book Day.

Recently Read – Uglies, Pretties and Specials by Scott Westerfeld

This is a three book post because I held off reviewing the first two on the blog until I’d read the final book in the trilogy, Specials, which I did yesterday. I’m going to briefly review each book, then give an overarching review of the the theme that climaxes in the final novel. I will also try to do this without giving anything away that isn’t on the blurb of any of the jackets.

Uglies

UgliesEverybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that?

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. Not for her license – for turning pretty. In Tally’s world, your sixteenth birthday brings an operation that turns you from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to have a really great time. In just a few weeks Tally will be there.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to be pretty. She’d rather risk life on the outside. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all.

The choice Tally makes changes her world forever…

My Thoughts:

In a world where people are segregated into Uglies and at 16 surgically turned into Pretties and moved into a town across the water, Westerfeld does a brilliant job of exploring our obsessions with perfection. It’s a world in the future where our generation have already had their turn on the planet and failed. As you’d expect in a novel like this, there is a dark secret lurking beneath the pretty exterior though and one that leaves you cold, but could easily be imagined if you believe the world you are reading into.

I know it’s a YA book, but some of the language used was repetitive and childish. The use of Uglies and Pretties was fair enough, but then there were crumblies for old people, littlies for young, rusties for our generation and so on. Everything ending in IES.. BUT then there were beautiful sentences in there – “Don’t worry Tally” she whispered, putting one elegant finger to her lips. “Your ugly little secret is safe with me.” – A sentence that holds so much more than it lets on unless you read the book.

It is a great concept for a series.

Pretties

PrettiesTally has finally become ‘pretty’. Her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are cool, her boyfriend’s gorgeous, and she’s completely popular. It’s everything she’s ever wanted. But beneath all the fun is a nagging feeling that something’s wrong.

 

 

 

 

My Thoughts:

The second book and though there were the same issues as with the first in that I had some issue with some of the terminology, I had to move past that and recognise that I was an adult reading a book aimed at teenagers.

The concept behind the trilogy is just brilliant and Pretties carries on where Uglies left off, only now Tally is a Pretty.

What I like about it is the depth of the topics covered. This is especially evident in Pretties when Tally leaves Pretty town (I told you the terminology is weird) and ends up a reservation. In a couple of sentences Westerfeld has you wondering in some depth about what is human nature really all about and how should we go about saving the planet and at what cost?

It’s a great book if you can just leave your adult self at the door and read about a future that is, well…

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

specialsThe Specials used to be a sinister rumor – frightening beautiful, dangerously strong, breathtakingly fast.

Now Tally’s become one of them: a superamped fighting machine, engineered to keep Uglies down and Pretties stupid. The strength, the speed and the clarity of her new powers feel amazing… most of the time. One tiny corner of Tally’s heart still remembers something different.

When she’s offered the chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke, she is forced to make one last choice: carry out the mission, or listen to that faint yet persistent heartbeat telling her that something’s wrong…

My Thoughts:

This third book is the culmination of the trilogy and it doesn’t let you down. In fact I was glad I had held on and gritted my teeth with what had slightly irritated me with the previous books. At the start, Westerfeld thanks his fans for writing to him and telling him what was right and what was wrong with the book and what made them want to throw the book across the room and after reading it I wondered if some of the phrasing had been mentioned because it had been toned down. It couldn’t have been taken out because that was his world building, but it was definitely toned down somewhat.

This book definitely has a more YA feel, than older children’s feel about it, with its themes. Themes that any adult wouldn’t be hurt in thinking about a little more often. It’s all wrapped up in the shiny wrapping paper of what people look like, but underneath there are some real issues and difficult choices. Yes it’s about being shallow and labeling people based on their looks, but it’s also about decisions made in an attempt to protect the planet, or a perceived attempt and an attempt that involves the most drastic of measures at that. By the end of the book you will be asking yourself, if you love the planet, how far is too far, and can balance and order be kept? We’re not doing a very good job of protecting the planet at the moment are we….

 

A brilliantly done trilogy covering deep topics for a YA audience. I’d advise sitting down to read all three books in one go!

 

 

Should Books Be Age Certified?

Photograph: Rebecca Bradley
Photograph: Rebecca Bradley

You walk into a bookshop and it’s split into lovely sections for you to browse. To make it easier to find what you’re looking for. If you’re a writer and you are approaching agents they will want to know what genre it fits into. This, so it can be “shelved” easily in that very bookshop. And if your book can’t easily fit into the headers the bookshop has created? Well you’re in trouble when looking for an agent because it makes their job more difficult when trying to sell it.

So we drill down into the header of children’s and wander over to this section in our bookshop and it’s split down yet again. This time into age of reader levels. The highest age bracket header in the children’s section is 9-14 (UK, Waterstones). You then have to go and browse the YA section. As a parent with a boy who is fast approaching 11 years of age, we have recently slipped into browsing the YA shelves because he has read all that interests him in the children’s section. I now have to be a bit cautious about what I’m buying with him.

So you get my point with the above description of bookshops, agents and the need to pigeonhole books into categories and age groups?

Give my son another couple of years or so and I’m sure his feet might be finding the urge to wander further afield in the bookshop. This would take him into the adult sections. He reads fantasy and science fiction type books. What would be waiting for him in these books?

Earlier this month I did a post on the level of violence in crime fiction books and at what stage people thought it became gratuitous rather than necessary to the story. And that our acceptance of such levels has changed in recent decades. There was a lot of conversation around this post and it continues to be something that I think about. Especially when the most recent book I have read had really graphic depictions of the mutilations inflicted on murdered women found by police officers. I wasn’t sure I could read on and ended up skim reading it when I realised it was dragging on longer than was necessary.

Now I get to my point. As a young reader yourself, I’m sure you were reading adult fiction before you were – an adult! As was I. But as I’ve said before. My staple diet was Agatha Christie. A much gentler read on the stomach. Horror fans maybe didn’t have such a gentler ride and they will come at me with that if they read this post, so I will acknowledge this now. But should children be reading such things at an age when their minds aren’t ready for it?

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By ChristianBier and originally BBFC (BBFC Categories) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Films and even video games have age certificates. And as I’ve shown, books in shops are shelved according to age for children, so it’s a small start. Though I admit again, that this is probably more to do with reading level that appropriateness. So I’m asking, should books have a small age certificate on them quietly sitting in one corner or on the spine? It at least gives a reading older child an indication that it’s really not the best book to be picking up off mum or dad’s bookshelf.

I’ve heard authors arguing against this for the very reason that they themselves picked up books to read when they were young and books should be available to all. Etc etc. I’ve also heard crime authors say they are definitely not allowing their children or grandchildren to read their books until they are a lot older. I know I’ve told my youngest he’s not reading mine. So if we absolutely will protect our own children this way, why won’t we do the same for other children who may live with parents who don’t vet the books or don’t even read?

Would it be so bad for books to be a little sensible when they are now so graphic, and have an age appropriateness rating on? What are your thoughts on this? I know it’s a subject that has people screaming censorship, but I don’t believe that’s what it is. I think it’s a little common sense in an ever increasingly violent immune world.

Recently Read – Acid by Emma Pass

The Recently Read posts will tend to be books I have enjoyed. For a full roundup of books I have read and their reviews you can find me on Goodreads Here.

Acid by Emma Pass

Genre: YA

AcidThe year is 2113. In Jenna Strong’s world, ACID—the most brutal controlling police force in history—rule supreme. No throwaway comment or whispered dissent goes unnoticed—or unpunished. And it was ACID agents who locked Jenna away for life, for a horrendous crime she struggles to remember. But Jenna’s violent prison time has taught her how to survive by any means necessary.

When a mysterious rebel group breaks her out, she must use her strength, speed, and skill to stay one step ahead of ACID, and try to uncover the truth about what really happened on that terrible night two years ago. They have taken her life, her freedom, and her true memories away from her. How can she reclaim anything when she doesn’t know who to trust?

My Thoughts:

I’m generally not a big fan of futuristic or apocalyptic novels as they just seem a bit too dark for me – says the girl who mostly reads about murder and bloodshed! But I have been following Emma for a long time on Twitter, in fact since before she got her book deal and I have also fairly recently started a love affair with YA fiction, so I thought I would check Acid out. And I can say, I’m glad I did.

It’s set 100 years in the future and we find Jenna in prison and a very hard nut of a girl. It all seems very bleak, but she’s not in there long before she’s broken out and her life changes. She doesn’t understand why and neither do we as the reader because it’s told in first person present tense narrative so we only ever know what Jenna knows. There’s no flipping between viewpoints to fill us in at any point, we really are sitting with Jenna the whole way. And it’s a roller-coaster ride for her because life is difficult 100 years from now and for a girl trying to stay out of the authorities way after the prison break she has to make some rapid decisions that land her in some difficult predicaments.

I thought it was well drawn and I could easily see the image of the future that Pass wanted us in. Some of the political areas of how the country changes were scary in the way that you could maybe see small aspects of how changes like that could occur.

It’s a fairly long book for a YA and at times I thought the adventure was going on a little too long and became a little confusing from Jenna’s point of view, but I still wanted to see where it ended so kept reading.

It’s a book that keeps you on your toes and turning the pages. I liked the world building and the characters Pass had created. I enjoyed them and stayed with the novel because of that. The denouement was suitably dramatic and had me glued to my sofa when I should have been doing other things. I refused to move until I’d finished the book.

If you’re happy to contain your disbelief and enjoy a romp in a futuristic YA world then you’ll enjoy this book.

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Dan Thompson

Dan Thompson is in first draft seat today.

Dan Thompson Author Pic (2)Dan lives in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire (England) with his young daughter and his shabby dog, Skye.

He is the Author of the charity poetry book Life is all but a vast array of Colours and phobia Novella The Caseworker’s Memoirs. His first full length novel, A YA Fantasy entitled The Black Petal will be available soon. Also in 2014, a dark new-adult novel entitled Here Lies Love will be released.

A lover of YA and fantasy fiction, you can often find him writing on his blog, writing book reviews and connecting online with other writer-type people. Dan grew up reading Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series, secretly coming up with his own inventive adventures, and R.L Stine’s The Goosebump series, before turning to the works of Philip Pullman, Eoin Colfer and Marcus Sedgwick and slipping away into alternate realities. He also loves a good Historical Thriller too.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

The main character is always the first thing I think about. They have to have a name and I must know their general background. My mind won’t allow me to write until it knows the person’s story I am about to tell. Naming characters can be quite hard, can’t they? There are so many wonderful and crazy names out there. Generally though, one name will stand out to me. That’s when I know that I can go forward with the next stage of the process – or rather my process.

Oh, and I also start off in a brand new shiny notepad too. It’s a new beginning. When I’ve finished with writing a book, I like to close that one and store it. It’s sort of closing that chapter before I start on something else.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I always plan before I make a start on the actual writing. It can be a generalised plan, you know, bullet point kind of stuff. It is important to get the structure right. By getting it down on a piece of paper, my brain will then start to function. I actually try to build on the plan over the course of say, two or three weeks. The plan I start off with isn’t usually the plan I finish with. I’m constantly adding and scribbling and drawing mile long arrows all over the place – all in different colours. I have mock chapter titles, and I’m told this is quite normal too, to have actual dialogue written down, ready to slip right in when I get to that chapter.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Oooh, definitely pen and paper. An empty page can easily be filled with notes, sentences, actual structured paragraphs, checklists, To-Do’s etc. A blank screen intimidates me.

Dan Here Lies Love Promo Cover (2)How important is research to you?

Research can take shape in any which way. It is always different for each novel you write. I love learning about new things and how things work, or how so and so accomplished this and that. I’m a lover of mythology and for my young adult fantasy novel The Black Petal (plug alert: which has just been signed by Ghostly Publishing – yay!) I read all kinds of different myths. For my upcoming novel Here Lies Love, research went differently. No gods or magic in here. I had to research specific things. Despite being a dystopian novel, I still wanted bagfuls of realism. I’ve found that whether your book is a fantasy, crime drama, erotic love triangle – you name it, the reader will always know when something isn’t quite right. You have to hit the nail on the head.

How do you go about researching?

First things first, it has to be Wikipedia. I know a lot of people hate it, but it is actually a tremendous help in articulating where you want things to go and how to go about writing it. It is so accessible and easy to read too, which makes for great research notes.

For more informative research, I hit the books. It is a perfect excuse to visit your local library, and the ambiance inside helps get your head in the correct frame. I always find that if I take my notebook and a pen, and then copy the bits out that I want, I can easily come back to it, but also, I take it in more at the same time.

Of course, with the internet readily available pretty much everywhere now, you can’t ignore the plethora of websites that may interest you – even if it looks like you know pretty much everything about the certain subject you are researching. There could be one little titbit, one little fact that actually hits home and could be an excellent feature in your novel. When I was writing The Black Petal, as part of it is set in Victorian times, looking at name databases listing common names in particular years, helps again to add believability into your story.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

In my notepad, of course! Well, all the writing bits anyhow. As I have a few different colour pens, it is easy for me to distinguish between research notes and actual writing. Lugging pens and pads and books can be a little tiresome though, as well as heavy. It isn’t practical all the time, so sometimes, I use a large R with a circle around it to record segments as research. The great thing about notepads is that you can always flick through them. It feels ‘real’ if it is in a notebook.

Above my computer though, I do have a large board where I pin things on and use lots of sticky notes – you know, those yellow square bits of paper that go in and out of fashion. As my computer is in my living room, whenever people come over, they always have a nosy at what I’m doing.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

As you can probably tell, I’m an organised soul. Everything has to follow. And the same goes for when I’m writing the first draft of something. I simply start at chapter 1 and go on from there. I did try writing a scene that occurs later on in the book, but it wasn’t successful. My OCD wouldn’t allow it.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

I have to have my writing pen – usually a Parker pen. And a coffee somewhere along the line. Whenever I write in Costa I have to have my medium caramel latte without a doubt!

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

Working full time night shifts, as well as being a single parent means I don’t have the luxury to write whenever I want to. I have to set time apart just for writing. This means that weeks could go past without much work towards my project is done. Life does tend to get in the way at times, but that’s how my life works and I have to fit my projects around essential things. Bills needs paying – unfortunately.

What does your work space look like?

As I use a pen and a notepad, my work space can be anywhere, so it differs all the time.

Dan Thompson - Work Space (2)

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

One of the benefits of writing by hand and then later typing it up is that as I type, I can edit as I go along. Obviously thorough edits will take place after the first draft is finished. As I’ve been going through some bits recently, I’m embarrassed to admit that I came across ‘son’ instead of ‘sun’.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I’m one of those word counters I’m afraid. I don’t know why I do it, but there is something satisfying about knowing how many words I’ve written. I guess it all comes down to having evidence of doing some actual writing.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

My first draft for Here Lies Love took about five months – much longer than some authors I know. I think they would be horrified if it took them that long. As I have already admitted to my OCD nature and structured plan following, it is in pretty good shape if I don’t say so myself. Actually, I’m quite proud of myself for not having to move anything around with this one. I’m happy with how it has turned out.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

Green people of the world turn away now.

Done? Ok – so I print it all out, chapter by chapter and go through it with either a green or orange pen. Red pens are scary, orange is much friendlier, more like helpful suggestions rather than LOOK AT THIS MISTAKE!

Dan First Draft - Here Lies Love (2)

What happens now that first draft is done?

I’m lucky to have so many great writer friends. They help me out loads! And to them, I’ll be ever grateful. I have a wonderful author friend who is willing to edit it for me. She’s great! And friendly too, ready to offer her advice and also to comment when something is good too. After a bad editing experience left me feeling really dejected and useless, I’m appreciative for the friends I have.

When the book is edited, the book will go off to first readers before being made available for the general public. For Here Lies Love, I’m taking on a lot. The book will be available in various eBook formats across so many retailers, paperback and hardback too. The amount of proof work required for all is huge! If there is a demand, I may consider releasing a large print version – I really don’t want people left out.

Promotion and Marketing is also a huge task! Posters have to be made, and for the first time, I will be opening a shop site where fans can order signed posters, mugs, keyrings and print Tshirts. I may not sell many, but the profit is not what is important to me here, it is about building up a fanbase. I aim to please – cheesy, yes, but honest too.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.

You can chat with Dan on his Website, Twitter and Facebook.

 

To read any of the previous First Draft Q&A’s you can check the list Here.

To be a part of the First Draft series, just get in touch and let me know. Along with the answers to the questions, I’ll need a profile photograph, a first draft photograph and three links that you feel are your most important.

 

 

 

 

Recently Read – A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

The Recently Read posts are not typical book reviews. As a writer, I do not believe I should be reviewing the hard work of other writers. These posts are simply books I have recently read and enjoyed and will share with you. They will not always be crime books as I am trying to widen my reading selection. I hope you enjoy some of these with me.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

A monsterThe monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

My Thoughts;

This was my review on Goodreads – “I absolutely loved this book. It had me in floods of tears by the end. It was brilliantly simple in the telling. Poignant and beautiful. Loved.

Now I will try to give it more depth, but I’m not sure more words will do this book any more justice.

At a specific time every day, the monster visits Conor. A large tree that sits outside his house. The tree knows his secret and his dreams. The tree knows his life. Conor is still trying to live his life while all the time, having his dreams, keeping his secret and being visited by the monster who just won’t stop.

The dream, secret and honesty will just tear through you as the book climaxes for Conor. The truth is painful and you can’t not feel it with him.

Ness writes with a simple clarity. You are not drawn along with the story, so much as having experienced the story.

This is a YA book, but I’m finding the themes and truths in these books hit the mark so closely they are spellbinding and this is one of those books. I will definitely pick up another book by Ness and if you have a couple of hours to sit and read an honest, yet heartbreaking story, then do think of this one.

Just wonderful.

Recently Read – How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

The Recently Read posts are not typical book reviews. As a writer, I do not believe I should be reviewing the hard work of other writers. These posts are simply books I have recently read and enjoyed and will share with you. They will not always be crime books as I am trying to widen my reading selection. I hope you enjoy some of these with me.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

How I live now“Every war has turning points and every person too.”

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

My Thoughts;

I initially found this a little slow to get into. I’ve only just started reading YA books and I don’t think I had got into the right frame of mind for the how-to read it. But, once I did slip into the flow of the book, wow, it just whipped me up and took me along on a massive journey I wasn’t expecting. The blurb does nothing to prepare you for what this book delivers. It’s about war, and it’s about how the was has a real life effect  on Daisy and her cousins, so if you read it, know there are scenes that may be difficult. That being said, it is YA, so it is handled incredibly simply and well. It’s not, – I don’t really like to say this about adult novels that I read and am writing, but it’s the best way I can think of – dramatising the scenes, they’re not dragged out or very descriptive, but they are powerful in clear sharp sentences. I read this book in one day, I just couldn’t put it down. Rosoff captures the innocence of emotion and feelings, grabs hold of you and drags you right in. I loved this book and if you’re thinking of widening your reading experiences, I’d recommend Rosoff. In fact, I’m going to be searching out more of her books. A great read.

What’s Your First Draft Like?

Today in the First Draft hot seat is YA author Sharon Sant.

Sharon was born in Dorset and divides her time between working as a freelance editor, holding down a day job, and writing her stories.  An avid reader with eclectic tastes across many genres, when not busy trying in vain to be a domestic goddess, she can often be found lurking in local coffee shops with her head in a book. She loves nothing more than watching geeky TV and eating Pringles. She is the author of several books including The Sky Song Trilogy and most recently a Dystopian YA, Runners.

me with book

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

That depends on where I am. If I have a cracking idea, you can usually bet I’m in the supermarket queue or driving to work at the time – somewhere where it’s impossible to begin anything. If I’m home, I get straight on the laptop. When I’m out I always have a notebook with me so I’ll scribble in there. If I’m at the office in my day job, I’ll email a plan or first paragraph home to myself. Wherever it is, most of my ideas come with a first line or paragraph which I’ll write out and then start to plan the rest of the plot (which will always be fairly vague at that point).

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

Again, it depends on where I am at the time. I will always have the loosest outline or even just a premise or a scene to start with and everything follows from there. I always aim to have the strongest opening I can and that’s probably about the only concrete thing you’ll get from me at this point!

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

I can type much faster than I can write and my initial thoughts are always at the speed of light so I have to type if I can. I only write by hand if I can’t get to a computer but I find it frustrating because it just won’t be fast enough.

How important is research to you?

It depends on what the project is. Sometimes I need to describe a location accurately and I will research, but with my fantasy locations that’s not quite so necessary. Recently I began work on something historical and I did some research for that, but rather than it being bogged down with detail, I simply wanted a flavour of the era so I didn’t do lots and lots.

How do you go about researching?

If it’s a location I need to research and I am able to get there I will go and look around, make notes and take photos. If I can’t then I’ll go online and look at it but I’m never happy relying on this because things often look very different in real life. For Runners I had to work out a lot of travelling times and distances between towns so I printed out loads of maps and sat measuring them with rulers. Likewise, for The Young Moon I needed to know train times and connections for a real location but I found all these on travel websites. For other things I quite often go to the local second hand bookshop near my house and pick up cheap books; I’ve been known to use the university library too.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

I bookmark on the computer or write notes and print out pages to stick in my notebooks. My old notebooks are crammed with loose maps and timetables!

Sharon Sant first draftTell us how that first draft takes shape?

It always starts with a first paragraph that has popped into my head. I tend to hammer at it and try not to stop until it’s done, and much as I want to edit as I go along, I don’t. I know that if I have to leave a book mid-draft, it’s very hard for me to pick it up again so if I don’t get through it first go, it’s likely it will never be finished or it will wait for literally years before it is (I have a half-done first draft on my laptop that I began in 2008). Once the story is down, then the luxury of editing can come.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

I need a window to look out of and a lot of tea. I graze a lot too, but trips to the kettle for tea and food are more for movement than because I need them; when I’m stuck it helps to get the mojo working to get up and potter about the kitchen. I usually find that I’ll come unstuck then and get back to it.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

I very much inhabit the world I’m creating, to the point where I can’t actually communicate with my family and friends, and I’ll be like that for weeks – driving to wrong places, burning food and completely forgetting arrangements. If you’d asked me what my name was when I was writing Runners, I probably would have told you it was Rosa.

What does your work space look like?

I’d love to say that I have a fabulous summer house at the bottom of the garden, but in reality I have a corner of the dining table or a tub chair in the bedroom. Sometimes I get the luxury of the university library, coffee shop or post-grad office, but that’s not often as it means packing up and shipping out of the house which is just a pain.

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I have to keep writing, if I stop to edit, I usually lose the thread of the story and won’t finish the draft.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I have a word count facility as I work in MS Word. I try not to look at it too often though or I can become more obsessed with that than actually writing.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

Depending on the novel and my other life commitments, it can take anywhere between 4-12 weeks. It will usually need at least 3 re-drafts and then a couple of edits. Even then I’ll go and tweak bits as I think about them and that can go on for weeks too.

In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

I use the computer screen for the first few drafts, then when I’m happy with those I will line edit and proofread from my kindle – I just feel like everything looks much clearer on there.

What happens now that first draft is done?

I sit and hate it for a few days! Then I take another look and decide it’s not as bad as I thought. I try not to start editing straight away as I know you’re supposed to give it some distance, but sometimes I just want to dive right in! I’ve been known to start a new first draft in between first draft and edits on a previous project. I did that with the second and third books of the Sky Song trilogy as it seemed like a good idea to capture the story as it progressed in my head, in much the same way I’d tackle a standalone novel. Of course, editing is next and though some people hate it, I love it. This is the bit where your lump of coal can become a diamond and that process is very exciting, which is why I think I enjoy editing other people’s novels too.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft. It’s been a pleasure having you.


You can find Sharon on her Website, Twitter and

Author Interview – Sharon Sant

So, today I want to welcome to the blog, YA author Sharon Sant.

Sharon SantSharon was born in Dorset but now lives in Stoke-on-Trent with her husband and two children. She graduated from Staffordshire University in 2009 with a degree in English and creative writing, and currently divides her time between working as a freelance editor and writing her own stories. She’s an avid reader with eclectic tastes across many genres, when not busy trying in vain to be a domestic goddess, she can often be found lurking in local coffee shops with her head in a book. Sometimes she pretends to be clever but really loves nothing more than watching geeky TV and eating Pringles.

So Sharon, you have recently released your second book, The Young Moon, which is part of a YA fantasy trilogy. I have read both Sky Song and The Young Moon, and loved them both! Your website states you have eclectic reading tastes. What made you want to write YA?

I can’t honestly say why I write mostly YA. It just seems that whenever I put my fingers to keyboard for something new, I tend to imagine the main character as a teenager. Somebody asked me to name my favourite three books the other day, just off the top of my head I came up with three very different books – Oliver Twist, The Book of Lost Things and Harry Potter. On the face of it, they don’t have much in common, but then I realised that they do – they all have a teenage boy as the protagonist. I must just connect, somehow, with that age group. I probably haven’t left it myself in my head! I think there are new horizons opening up, things that are allowed, mistakes that can be forgiven for people of that age group that the rest of us aren’t afforded the luxury of, and that presents fantastic possibilities to write. I remember how overwhelming but exciting life seemed when I was in my teens and maybe writing it brings that back for me.

I think it’s because I have read your books, that I have started reading YA myself and you’re right, the possibilities in the books are great. When I’m writing crime fiction, there is always someone to answer to, to be responsible to and for. YA is completely different. Tell us a little bit about the protagonist in the Sky Song trilogy and about the inspiration for him/ how he evolved for you?

Despite the fact that Jacob came from my head, I find him a difficult character to sum up. He’s an academic high flyer, though he doesn’t want to be. He’s attractive in his own quirky way, though he doesn’t really know how to deal with the attention that it brings. Aware that he is one of life’s outsiders, all he really wants is to fit in. He has grown up not really knowing who he is. So when his destiny is sprung on him one fateful night, all these things suddenly start to make sense. I adored writing him, because he is so complex and lots of people tell me that his personality is one of their favourite things about the book. One review I read recently said he was using the ‘how to be an idiot handbook’ and that made me laugh because, quite often, he does mess things up.

He actually started out in my head as a young girl! There’s some interesting thought processes for you! I can’t exactly remember the point at which he became Jacob, but the story had been rattling around in my head for a good year, and every time I thought about it, something wasn’t quite right. One day I just wrote this teenage boy (I found an old memory stick the other day, and on it he was called Pablo, which is a bit random!) and I instinctively knew which story he belonged in. Usually I get one character in place and the others seem to follow quickly and Sky Song was no different. Because Jacob’s personality is quite intense, I knew that he needed a foil, and that’s where easy-going Luca came from. And there has to be a kick-ass girl, of course, so along came Ellen.

Wow, that sounds a complex and quite convoluted way of getting a character together. Can you tell us, are you a plotter or a pantser?

I think I’m a bit of both – a plontser! I have a starting point and a vague idea where I want to end up, with events that I want to happen along the way. I sort of join the dots from there. I’m very much a lightbulb writer, so I’ll have a flash of inspiration, start writing straight away, maybe a first chapter, a few scenes, then I might get stuck for ages because I don’t really know where it’s going. So at any one time I might have half a dozen or more of these works in progress. Sometimes they sit for years and one day I’ll just know what to do with them. That happened a couple of days ago, I had a 15k piece that had been sitting on the laptop for 2 years because I just didn’t know where to take it next, then I saw a photo of something online and BOOM, the solution came to me and I’m working on it again now. Brains are very weird things!

Do you have your own writing space at home and can we have a photo of where you write please? 🙂

Sadly, there’s no spare room for me to have an office but I have claimed a corner of the dining table for my own. Trouble is, the dining room and living room are connected so often there’s other stuff going on. If I need to really concentrate, I take myself off into the bedroom with the laptop.

Sharon office (2)

That looks extremely neat and organised. Not at all like your writing process! My desk looks more like you describe your writing process to be. Stuff all over.

Ahem… I might have tidied up a bit for the photo…

Ha!

What do you need with you, to make sure you sit down and write? And what is your biggest distraction? 

I need lots of tea! As long as I have a constant flow I’m happy. I quite like a window to look out of too. That sounds weird, but sometimes sitting and staring and letting my mind float away helps solutions to plot issues to pop up. There are lots of things that distract me. I do really need a very quiet place, especially when working on early drafts, so I can immerse myself in the world I’m trying to create. Social media is a problem, if my phone pings for Twitter I just can’t help running off to get it! 

Chocolate or Pringles?

What a cruel decision. I love Pringles; it says so on my bio! But I’m partial to a bit of chocolate every now and again. 

Tea or wine? 

The most boring answer I could give, but it has to be tea. 

When can we expect the final part of the Sky Song Trilogy? I just can’t wait!

Aww, thanks, neither can I! I’m aiming for early May, mostly because I’m going on holiday during the first week and I want to get it finished before then! That’s one of the big perks of self-publishing; you can set your own deadlines! 

Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions, it’s been great having you here, and I’m looking forward to May and the release of the third chapter of the trilogy. 

It’s been lovely to be here.

You can find Sharon on her – website Twitter Facebook  and Goodreads

Sky Song

Sky Song Amazon UK 

 The Young Moon

The Young Moon Amazon UK

‘It is a prophecy, Watcher. And it foretells your destruction.’

So comes the stark warning from Astrae. But what does the prophecy that tells of the young moon actually mean?

Two years have passed and Jacob’s search for the second Successor brings him back to Earth. But his Watcher powers seem to be useless as the other Successor remains shrouded in mystery… And he soon discovers that his bitter uncle, Makash, is also hot on the trail.

Jacob’s quest takes him and Luca halfway across the globe in a race to get to the other Successor first. As they get closer to their goal the body count starts to rise and Jacob and Luca are dragged deeper into Makash’s deadly game as the net closes around them.

All Jacob has to do is cheat death, yet again, find another like him amongst the seven billion people that swarm over the face of the planet before Makash does, and thwart the prophecy that spells his doom. No pressure then…