Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Don't hold me to that . . .

I have been tagged again – this time by Marlena Hand, in the ‘Meet My Main Character' blog chain. When I first saw her post I thought, ooo what fun! But a week later I am wracked with indecision. Not because I don’t know enough about my main character; it’s just that she is still, after all, a work in progress, and everything may change by the time I am ready to let her loose on the world.

You see, this story started life as a women’s novel. I wrote a few full drafts and while there were things I liked about the story, it has never felt completely right. I never really fell in love with my main character – a rude and aggressive 35 year-old alcoholic female. (What’s not to love?) For some inexplicable reason, we just didn’t get on.

And then one morning I woke up to a brainwave. I could reinvent her as a 17 year-old!

Months of rewriting later, I am about half way there! It’s a pretty drastic change in some ways, and in other ways, it’s perfect. It's easier to love a YA/NA anti-heroine, but there's still a lot of work to be done to get her just right…so although I will join in and answer the questions, please don't hold me to anything.

The Q&As

  1. What is the name of your main character? And is he/she fictional
    Mae, and yes – entirely fictional. (Any resemblance to persons living or dead etc…)

  2. When and where is the story set?
    Mainly in a recycling centre in South Cumbria

  3. What should we know about her?
    After punching a pizza delivery boy, Mae has been given a community payback sentence by the court. Her brother has died. She is 17 years-old, drinks too much, swears too much, has alienated all her friends, and is not handling her grief very well at all. Her step-dad has moved out  -- as a result of Mae’s anti-social behaviour -- so she lives alone.

  4. What is the main conflict?
    Hard to pick one without giving the game away, but I will tell you that Mae is in conflict with many people and things: her step-father, her friends, one particular woman at the recycling centre, authority, herself…

  5. What is her personal goal?
    At the beginning of the story, Mae does not have a goal; she’s lost and directionless. By the end, this has changed. A long time personal goal is rekindled – to be a chef – but something far bigger than this comes into play. I’m not going to tell you what that is…

  6. Is there a working title for this novel?
    Mrs Outhwaite

  7. When can we expect the book to be published?
    2015 – hopefully.

So now it’s my turn to tag some other writers to tell us about their main character. But only if they want to. Kate Hanney, Katie Hayoz, Emma Haughton.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Chocolate Book Challenge!

I gather from previous posts that I’m supposed to pick one book to represent each category of Dark, Milk and White chocolate, and give my reasons for doing so. But since I am both naturally rebellious and greedy, I’m going to pick three titles for each. 

Seriously, it is hard enough whittling it down to three books, never mind one.

For me Dark Chocolate represents the ‘grown up’ stuff – serious issues which pack a punch. Books for older teens/adults.

The three books I’ve chosen have all left me crying into my pillow, traumatised and quite probably scarred for life. If you want angst, if you want your heart torn out and dragged across barbed wire, if you want an excuse to hide in a darkened room for the next few days . . . any one of these will do it for you.

Forbidden by TabithaSuzuma
The story of an incestuous but loving relationship between a brother and a sister. And Oh. My. God. It’s brilliant – it’s awful. It’s not a justification of incest, but neither does it condemn it – just makes our hearts bleed for the poor siblings who fall victim to it. It’s had over 18,000 ratings and 4,000 reviews on Goodreads and it still scores a healthy average of 4.7 out of 5; it’s that good. 

Safe by Kate Hanney
Grim real life, gritty and desperately tragic. A story about the hardest elements of society. My heart ached for Danny and his little sister Lacey, and never stopped aching even when I’d reached the end. You won't go away from this book feeling ooh, ahhh, and all warm and fuzzy inside . . . you will be left in a state of complete limbo. Dangling. In shock. Wondering WTF?  

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell 
The story of two sisters left to fend for themselves when their parents die. This book is seriously dark. Think abusive parents. Think about killing them and burying them in the back yard. Think fifteen year olds having sex with ice cream men who sell drugs . . . Brutal, but not without humour, and most importantly, it’s not without humanity.  Just don’t read it before you sleep at night – especially if you have daughters.

My Milk Chocolate selections are still pretty dark to be honest, with more than their fair share of emotion and surprise but they don’t actually hit you over the head with a sledgehammer, and they are all rather clever; in the same way as a bar of dairy milk lures you in and keeps you going back for more.

We Were Liars by E.Lockhart
This story is beyond clever – but you probably won’t realise how far until you get to the end. And then, WOW!!! All you can do is stand there and wonder how you didn’t see it coming. I can’t sum it up – here’s the Goodreads blurb . . .
A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies.True love. The truth.
Make of that what you will.

Now You See Me by Emma Haughton 
A boy goes missing, and years later he turns up again without any explanation about where he has been. A pacy psychological thriller with complex characters and bags of plot. I didn’t expect the end to be quite as satisfying as it was. Hard to say more about this book without spoilers so I’ll shut up.

But while I’m here, it’s worth noting that Now You See Me has been nominated for the Edinburgh First Book Award – if you want to vote for Emma, you can cast your vote here. 

Untethered by KatieHayoz
My only paranormal choice; paranormal because it involves astral projection. I don't normally 'do' weird and freaky stuff like this, but there's so much more to Untethered than paranormal. It’s also about jealousy and obsession and the real life problems teens have to deal with. I laughed out loud and cried more than once, but mostly I was just gripped. There’s depth and subtlety to this novel, with an underlying message about self-acceptance, and paranormal or not - it's worth a read.

And finally, my White Chocolate books. These are all books I have adored for years, but which are more suitable for younger readers.
The Illustrated Mum by JacquelineWilson
Dolphin and Star live with their heavily tattooed mum, but mum is a manic depressive and as fun as that can be on manic days, the rest of life is not so sweet. I love this book and Jacqueline Wilson changed my life the day she wrote this. 

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
Another book from years ago which I still remember fondly.  It’s the story of Rowan and what happens to her family after her brother dies. Apart from the heart ache and the tears, it’s also funny and well observed.  It’s not going to keep you awake at night, but it’s perfect comfort food.

The Dog Star by Jenny Nimmo
Marty longs for a dog and when she sees the dog star, she makes her wish. A real live dog appears beneath her bed and it seems that her wish has come true . . . This is a book I read to my children. I could barely get through some pages without sobbing. It’s a beautiful beautiful story for younger children and it will stay with you forever. Seriously you should get this one.

So there we have it. An impressive selection box if ever there was one.

It's my turn to tag another author in this challenge now, and I'm going to tag Katie Hayoz - because I reckon she should know a thing or two about chocolate, what with her living in Switzerland and everything...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


So, if you haven't read the precursor of this blog post you can catch up here.       

Who is he/she?
If you have, you will know that I have become obsessed with the true identity of the KINDLE NINJA.

And so, posing as a brilliant author of YA contemporary fiction, I approached him/her with a FAKE Reviewers Questionnaire, brimming with in-depth questions designed to expose the TRUTH at last. 

The unsuspecting Ninja has today returned the FAKE questionnaire, fully completed, and readers - I now present this to YOU! MWAH HA HA HA HA...

The Q&As…

Me: You obviously read lots of books, but do you have a favourite genre? 
KN: Crime / Mystery, and recently *clears throat* YA.
(Likes a 'Mystery' eh? Very interesting...)

Me: What makes a book a good read?  
KN: Complex characters, engaging  story, unpredictable outcomes.  If it stirs up all sorts of emotions. (If you can make me cry, you’re brilliant).  

Me: Have you ever rated anything 1*? 
KN: No. But there are books I couldn’t finish (although I plan on finishing when I’m back in that ‘reading zone.’)
Family Life
Me: When did you become a NINJA?  
KN: I was born a ninja in the late ‘70s  ;)
(Ahh, now we're gettting somewhere...that makes the KN thirty something...)

Me: Why? 
KN: Parents were ninjas. 

Me: Is it in fact true that you are a famous A-lister, trying to hide your identity by masquerading as a book reading Ninja?  
KN: That’s just a rumour ;) (It’s also a rumour that I’m a covert book agent hah!)
(The classic double bluff, methinks...)

Me: Can you tell us how you spend your day?  
KN: I do Ninja stuff in the morning.  Then work with creative types the rest of the day…and Tweeting when no one’s looking.
(A secret tweeter? So, an expert in the art of deception...) 

Me: What is your favourite food?  
KN: Pizza.  (Italian food)

Me: Are you a wanted criminal? 
KN: My parole officer said not to answer questions like this.

Me: What is your favourite colour? 
KN: Blue.
(I see what you did there.)

Ninja Puppy
Me: Do you have any NINJA pets? 
KN: Yes. I rescued a puppy from a vicious dog that punctured the puppy’s stomach. Puppy survived like a true ninja. She’s now 3 years old.
(Awww...this melts my heart.)

Me: Are you on a witness protection scheme so that no one knows who or where you are?
KN: Hey, not so loud.
(Oops! Sorry...)
Me: What can you see if you look out of your window? 
KN: What window?

Me: Do you even have a window?  
KN: Exactly.

Me: Do you have a middle name? Kindle ___ Ninja? 
KN: J.
(Jack? Jill? Jinja?)  

Me: How do you kill a Ninja? 
KJN: You can’t.  

Me: Do you write stories as well as read them? 
KJN: No. I tried, but failed miserably, lol. So I leave the writing to people like you.

Me: If so, what’s your genre? 
KJN: If I were to write a novel or a short story, it would be a crime / psychological thriller.

Me: What do you see when you take off your NINJA MASK?
KJN: If I take off my ninja mask, be very afraid. Face is covered for a reason. LOL
(What hideousness can it be?)

Me: Are you an alien?  
KJN: No. That would be the inmate two cells down  my neighbour.

Me: Should I be scared of you? 
KJN: No. I’m one of the nicest ninjas around.
(I'm begining to think you're right.)

Me: Is there anything else we should know about you? (Star sign, telephone number, credit card details etc…)
KJN: I like cookies.

Thank you for taking part in this interview. J

Thank you, Wendy. It was fun. J (So this is how it feels to be interviewed  by a brilliant author).


I think we've learned a lot today. I am now 100% certain that the KINDLE NINJA is a thrill-seeking, thirty something masquerading as a NINJA to hide his/her true identity as a BOOK AGENT, practised in the art of deception, and currently practising from inside the walls of a top security prison. But it's not all bad; he/she is kind to animals and loves cookies.

Or have I been out-ninja-ed by the Ninja???

If you would like to find out more about the KINDLE NINJA >>>

Tuesday, 10 June 2014


The story so far…

The Kindle Ninja
in action
Some weeks/months ago, I joined the Rave Reviews Book Club – an online book club dedicated to propelling its members into super literary stardom. (And yes – I’m nearly there, so it’s definitely working.)

Several members bought my book – Bring Me Sunshine – and wrote complimentary reviews. But one member – WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS – decided to do their review as a VIDEO.

As you can imagine, I was overcome with gratitude and felt quite emotional that anyone would do this for me, especially someone I had never met or am ever likely to meet. And so, I sent him/her a gushing email and a few direct Twitter messages, read his/her blog and had various tweet exchanges. But it seems like the more we communicate, the less I know about KINDLE NINJA, and it’s beginning to frustrate me.

The Ninja Inner Circle
Who is he? Who is she? Surely someone out there must know?

The truth is, the Ninja’s identity is a closely guarded secret known only to a very few people in the NINJA INNER CIRCLE. Us mere mortals know very little about the Ninja.

Here’s what we do know –

·        The Kindle Ninja reads and reviews books – often reading more than one at a time.
·        Sometimes his/her Kindle falls on his/her face while he/she reads in bed.
·        He/she keeps a very entertaining blog in which he/she lures unsuspecting authors in with the promise of milk and cookies.
·        He/she is left handed, has given up soda and plays with LEGO. (Or LEGOs if you’re in the US).
·        He/she is quite probably nocturnal, choosing to do reviews at night.
·        He/she is a member of RRBC.
·        And of course, he/she is obviously extremely discerning about books and makes incredibly brilliant video reviews…

But this is not enough. I need to know more.
Do you know
this Ninja?

And so this week, I hatched a cunning plan and persuaded KINDLE NINJA to be interviewed by me, for my blog. Mwah ha ha…poor unsuspecting Ninja…playing right into my hands. I have this morning sent the questions away and any day now, I shall have my answers.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Writer for hire

So there I was, the hired writer, in the middle of a group of six young men (aged 15 – 21) who had all been (or still were) in the care system.

Our meeting was part of a longer term project which helps young people manage the transition from care to independent living, and broadly, the plan was to create some content for a newspaper they were putting together. Unlike a lot of young people out there, care leavers don’t necessarily have anyone to hold their hand through the maze of practical and emotional challenges facing them, and the newspaper was going to be a vehicle both to give them a voice, and to pass on their experiences to others.

It’s a great project, and having worked with children in care before now, I was delighted (if nervous) to take part. I’d never met these particular young men before and I really had no idea how they would respond to a middle-aged writer of fiction for teenage girls strolling into their residential weekend, expecting them to be creative.

As it happens, it was a day of two halves. Three of the boys were motivated and keen to express themselves in story and spoken word. The other three were not. 

What I had to offer was more like ‘work’ than play and most of their time with me consisted of discussions about smoking, weed and fighting, with misogynistic rap songs playing too loudly to allow for discussion. They flexed their muscles, swore a lot, dislocated their shoulders for fun, talked about dealers, and preferred ‘chilling’ to writing. I wasn’t in any position to lay down the law.

But you know what? After a while, they got bored and started to ask questions. “What’s it like being a writer? … How long does it take to write a book? … What’s it like when you get rejected?” And somehow we drifted into interview mode and they agreed to work with me on a one-to-one basis. One of them ended up writing a poem so raw and so real it bought tears to my eyes. Another one came up with designs for the cover of my new book. The third one told me about his favourite recipe that he’d learned to cook – a twist on pasta bake – and I’m having it for tea tonight.

At some point in the middle of the day, I was asked to read the young men an excerpt from my book – Where Bluebirds Fly. It’s the story of a teenage girl with mental health problems who is taken into care at a residential school. So okay, there are some obvious similarities, but Where Bluebirds Fly has always been (in my mind at least) a story for girls, aged 10 – 14. I really didn’t expect six young men, aged 15 – 21 to like it. But every single one of them sat there and listened, without even a whisper. And when I’d finished, they told me it was, “class”, “really good” and “brilliant.”

By the end of the day, not only had all six of these young men given me a day to remember and treasure, they had contributed something meaningful and important about their lives which they could share with other care leavers. I am immensely proud to have been a part of that. 

If you would like to support this project, you can do so here.