Book Reviews

A Perfect Night for a Writer – Jeannie Waudby launches One Of Us

Tiny book necklace of One Of Us
A Tiny version of A Brilliant Book made by Strangeness & Charms

My absolutely lovely critique pal, Jeannie Waudby, launched her debut novel – One of Us – last night. I had  day release from the farm and was so excited I travelled up early. My journey to London was enlivened by the presence of three young men travelling to Soho for a Drag Queen Competition. Continue reading “A Perfect Night for a Writer – Jeannie Waudby launches One Of Us”

Book Reviews

Dougal Trump ( err…Daley!) V God Of Small Things…

god of small dougie

I wanted to love A God of Small Things. It sounds clever, it looks clever, it had great reviews – everyone I spoke to had loved it. I was going to love it. I was going to be swept into another world, my heart was going to rip in two with the terrible events in the story – I was going to come to a deeper understanding of the caste system, of the rise of communism in India – the legacy of colonialism.  The OrangeDrink LemonDrink Man was going to haunt my dreams.

For I am a Serious Reader.  I belong to book clubs. I keep Goodreads updated ( well I did before the buy out – see, I even know there was a buy out – I am an informed woman).

I stroked the lovely matt cover, turned over the first page and read….



Gosh it took a long time.

I even quite liked Velutha but…

I still wasn’t all that bothered when what happened happened.

Hmmm. Lot’s of nice scenes interspersed with a lot of other words. Boy, was it hard work. I don’t like my books being hard work. I want to fall into a world and be swept along by it, good or bad. Why didn’t that happen? What’s wrong with me? Which part of my brain is failing to connect with what is clearly a Work Of Art?

When I finished it, I ditched it with some relief and picked up Dougal Trump’s new book by Jackie Marchant.  Yeah yeah, I know, it’s a kids book. It’s got a shiny red cover and a cartoon boy on the front. I’m a middle aged woman , reading this is work OK? I wangled a review copy, I’ve got to read it and review. Got to.

Ah ha ha ha!!!

It’s hilarious.

Well constructed, fun, tightly plotted, a world I happily fell in to. The little snippets  dropped in from each character somehow,  amazingly in so few words, deftly draw Dougie’s world.  My bath water went cold as I turned page after page.

Damn it all.   I see myself as a sophisticated book club lady!  Turns out I’m harbouring an inner small boy.

Come to think of it, last time I went to actual  book club I cycled back over a field using a wind up pig torch in lieu of light and fell in a ditch when I tried to stop.

Maybe I should just give in to it?


Dougal Trump has been reborn as Dougal Daley with a new cover and a wonderful new illustrator  – highly recommended by me!!!

Book Reviews, The Publishing Process, Writing Advice

Stephen King, Back to Haunt Me.

I love the satisfying structure of circular stories.

Wuthering Heights was my favourite book for years.  Catherine and Hareton coming together at the end turns the book into one of hope. Out of all that ugliness, all that sorrow, come  two people capable of kindness, strength, love.

J K Rowling does a similar thing in Harry Potter.  I know some people don’t like the end – the happy ever after – but I do.  Not the marriages, but how the orphaned Ted Lupin isn’t shoved in a cupboard like Harry was. Ted is surrounded by loving families and treasured.  Hope out of sorrow. Continue reading “Stephen King, Back to Haunt Me.”

Book Reviews

A Little Treasure – East of the Sun, West of the Moon

I don’t often put reviews on this blog and I’m not sure this is a review – more of a burst of enthusiasm about a new discovery. Continue reading “A Little Treasure – East of the Sun, West of the Moon”

Book Reviews, Writing Advice

Scrivener – A review.

I am terrible at organising plots. It’s fine for 7+ stories- I can hold it together for 15,0000 words, but top 50,000 and forget it.

I’ve tried:

Post it notes – they unstick, float away and get covered in dog hair.

Spreadsheets – Kind of works but really, no, spreadsheets are for numbers, working on them puts my brain  in the wrong place.

Scrawly diagrams– how does this help? It’s like putting the scrawly contents of my head on a page. It’s still a mess.

Note cards – Hmmm – kind of – but it’s not linear enough and besides,  I hate writing long hand, my writing is illegible.

Note books – good for gathering, not good for organising.

Word – is great but too linear – how do you shuffle things around, slide in new text at just the right place? You still need to hold your story line, and all its complexities,  in your head.

What you need, thought I, is a Word/Notecard/Post it/Spreadsheet combination.  I thought I had invented it. I had not.  Scrivener got there first.

I was having problems with my latest MS – I mean serious structural problems. I needed to completely rewrite, tightening up the frame and weaving new dimensions into the fabric.  I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task.

So I avoided it. I procrastinated all over the internet and accidentally came across this:

So I downloaded the free trial of Scrivener and played with  it for a few days.  I got excited, transferred my MS into it. Then I got a bit cross.

The 30 day trial period is about right. It took me a while  to love this piece of software. I resented it in the way I used to resent tidying my room. Slowly, however, I learned to appreciate it.

It’s like having post-its on a pinboard without the dog hair. And with a click,  you can drill down through to the chapter behind the post-it. You can summarise each chapter, making reference easy. You can slide chapters around, and even scenes in chapters. You can have easy  access to character profiles, mood boards, crazy idea files. You can set targets, check your progress and export to Word when you’re done.

I love it.

I’ve nearly finished re-writing my MS in it and I think I’ve made a cleaner job because of it.

I’m a Scrivener Convert.

What about you? How do you organise your plots? Or am I alone in having such an untidy brain?

Book Reviews, Writing Advice

SCBWI -BI Conference 2011

I am dreaming story ideas. My head is buzzing. My fingers are twitching to type. The  SCBWI Winchester Conference has struck again.

Candy with the much deserved Crystal kite Award. Am sure my vote helped ;o)

This year was a little tricky for me. I had some issues to deal with at home that were made it a struggle to focus so I must apologise if  you were disturbed by the  curiously subdued,  irritating woman who kept disappearing out of the lecture theatre – I wasn’t having bladder problems my children were on the phone. In the end I went home for a bit so I missed the party on Saturday night and Candy Gourlay winning, not only the Crystal Kite Award  but also the Award for Outstanding Contribution to SCBWI so massive belated HOORAH for Candy x

Home dramas aside, the weekend was, as ever, immensely informative and inspiring. For those that couldn’t make it, here’s a flavour of that:

From Frank Cottrell Boyce:

Keep your eye on the detail, that’s where humour lies. Comedy comes from the dissonance between who kids see themselves as and who they actually are – think Just William – he sees himself as a good guy!

It's the little things that make people laugh.











From Anthony Mcgowan: Writing guidelines can sometimes help you  unstick a plot – take a look at this:

Or if you can’t use a power point, this:

Freytag's Pyramid. Sort of.

Ask yourself four questions:

Who is your main character?

What are they trying to achieve?

Who’s trying to stop them?

What happen’s if they don’t achieve their goal?

If you can’t answer these questions maybe you haven’t yet got a fully formed story.

Try messing with the structure – different points of view, tense, chronology – shake things up and see if your story shakes up to.

Anthony’s workshop was CRAMMED with good stuff. I think he need’s to write a ‘How to’ Book – seek him out and tell him:

Sara Grant - author of Dark Parties | autor von NEVAFrom Sara Grant who talked series fiction – again, two hours packed with stimulating ideas impossible to sum up here. Briefly helpful might be her word count guide for Working Partners:

Age Range Word Count Number Chapters Things to consider Examples
5-8 4-5000 words 6-8 even chapters Simple characters, simple setting (they’ll be illustrated) Naughtiest puppy, Rainbow Magic
7-9 10-15,000 words 10-12 even chapters Again, simple characters, formulaic plots Beast Quest, Dinosaur Cover
Tween 15-30,000 words 15-20 chapters Characters more 3 d , more complex story lines
YA 40,000+ 20+ chapters As above

Sara suggested writing your pitch, or even your strap line, before you write your series story – it will give a good indication whether your idea is a strong one. Find your formula – what are you going to give a reader everytime?

I left Sara’s workshop with an idea how to improve my Dylan and Mouse books  and ideas for 2 more series- not including the amazing CSI Mars Alien Brain mystery we brainstormed while we were there.

From the Friday night critique group to the parting hugs on Sunday, I felt supported and educated and part of our SCBWI family. A pretty big one these days. If you write or ilustrate for children, you’ll belong too.

SCBWI British Isles - Supporting Published and Unpublished Writers and Illustrators of Children's Books

Book Reviews, Writing Advice

Debut Author, Bryony Pearce, talks to me about juggling.

Bryony 'Wonder Woman' Pearce

Thank you so much for sneaking me a copy of Angel’s Fury. I absolutely loved it . Having seen an earlier incarnation ( see what I did there? Readers you’ll get this by the end of the interview and be amazed by my wit – honestly) it was fascinating to read the finished book. Actually, I was amazed you managed to improve it so much –  did you enjoy  the editing process – how was it working with an editor?

Working with an editor is amazing and definitely my favourite part of the process.  Philippa (Donovan) and I were very much on the same wavelength and I have enormous respect for her ability to see right through something I’d tried to do, to find the exact point where it had gone wrong, or could be improved.  I had so many ‘eureka’ moments working with her and she gave me fantastic advice. 

Of course there were things we didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on, but the advantage of working electronically was that I could make her suggested changes, look at them critically and decide whether or not I agreed.  Nine times out of ten, she turned out to be right!

It’s fantastic to feel so inspired by your own work and to see it improve beyond your wildest dreams – and that is definitely something I got with Philippa.

The book is simmering with passion and violence – did you give yourself nightmares when you were writing it?

Funny you should ask that question, because it was, in fact, the other way around.  I’ve always suffered from nightmares – my earliest memories are of nightmares – and I don’t think I’ve ever had a night of undisturbed sleep (I hope you’re getting out the violins!), so Angel’s Fury (and particularly Cassie), comes from a place very personal to me.  Writing the book was actually very cathartic. 

The only nightmares I’ve had specific to the book are ones where everyone hates it, I have to do signings naked, or my publisher hounds me through the streets for bankrupting them. 

So when are you doing the naked signings?

I’m sure they’ll be featuring nightly as publication date draws nearer!  Not something anyone wants to see in real life though …

Could cause a stir though? Oh alright, maybe not! Back to the questions: The legend in the book has a very authentic feel – how much of it is genuine?

Actually quite a lot.  The basis for the legend comes from the (Jewish) Torah.  There are several versions of the tale of Shemhazai and Azael (with different numbers of angels, sons and so on) but the basic story is the same.  Azael and Shemhazai come down from heaven, fall in love with mortal women and descend into sin.  Their half-angel sons are the Nephilim.  I reworded to make it more accessible, but I took the greatest liberties at the end – in my version God binds the spirits of the Nephilim into human hosts in order to teach them a lesson. 

Was there a lot of research involved?

Absolutely loads.  It seemed that every couple of pages I had to look something up, so I had a huge amount of fun with the research and often found wonderful facts that turned the book in another direction (for example with my discovery of David Curtiss Stevenson).  I wanted the novel to have a really authentic feel, so aside from the paranormal aspects and fictional locations (Hopfingen and the Manor), everything else can be fact-checked.  There really was a rare extended performance of Lohengrin in Bayreuth in 1936, the K98 was the rifle Kurt would have used (I downloaded the user manual for that one), Stevenson did exist and so on.

Bryony – you are an insanely busy woman, with 2 young children – one of whom would keep a lion tamer on his toes – when and where do you write?

Little Angels

Maisie was a pretty good sleeper.  From eleven months of age she would reliably sleep from 7pm to 8am so I used to set my alarm and get a couple of hours of writing done every morning before she woke up.  Riley, as you know, is a whole different ball game.  He just started sleeping through (at 28 months).  Before that he was often up for hours every night, so getting up at 530am wasn’t something I could consider. 

Now I tend to get an hour of writing in when he takes his nap, or do a couple of hours in the evening when he’s gone to bed.  Having such a short space of time in which to write means I really have to get down to it, no dithering.  Twitter and Facebook will be my downfall!

And don’t ask me about housework!

I  won’t – consider it banned.  Do you have writing habits though,  to get yourself in the zone?

Writing habits really would be a luxury.  If I know I only have 30 minutes to get a couple of paragraphs down before the school run, I just have to get on with it.  I do write in silence if that can be called a habit (because I like to really get into the world I’m writing – as if I’m one of the characters, smelling and seeing what’s going on) and if I have to time to make one I often have a full cup of tea cooling next to the laptop (I rarely end up drinking it).

Can you tell us about your writing journey –  were you ever Queen of Rejections?

Queen and Prime-minister of rejections.  I think even my agent started screening my calls at one point. 

I won Undiscovered Voices 2008 with Windrunner’s Daughter (which was AMAZING) and I felt as if that had cracked open a door for me, but I just couldn’t seem to kick it all the way open.  However, I’m determined and while I was getting rejection after rejection for Windrunner, I was busy writing Angel’s Fury (working title Incarnation) and although it felt as times as if that crack was all I was going to see of publishing, I was really lucky because Angel’s Fury sold relatively quickly.   

Tell us about the moment you heard the book was going to be published. Did your agent ring you?

I’d heard from Sam (my agent) that Egmont were taking Angel’s Fury to acquisitions and that I would have an answer in this particular week.  By Friday afternoon I’d heard nothing. 

We were travelling down to London for the launch party of Sarwat Chadda’s The Devil’s Kiss that day and every minute that passed I was feeling more despondent.  Imagine having to go to someone else’s launch party on the day of your most horrible rejection! 

The Pearce Clan

We were driving from Macclesfield to London (about four hours in the car) and Riley was nearly five months old.  He hated car journeys and had been screaming for almost two solid hours when Sam finally rang me – at 4pm.

We were stuck in traffic with Riley screaming at the top of his lungs and Andy red in the face and shouting so loudly at the children and some other driver that I could barely hear the offer.  It seemed redundant to add my own screaming to the mix but that’s what I did.  Riley and Maisie were very alarmed and thought I’d been injured, so I had to tone it down.   

Later I discovered that acquisition meetings are always on a Thursday – you’d think someone would have told me that and saved me several days of misery, but no! 

Do you have a secret dream for this book – a prize you’d love to be nominated for?

That would be a secret dream! 

Oh alright then. 

Having a good review was my first dream and the sense of accomplishment when my first couple of reviews came out was wonderful.  I read them over and over again and might have shed a tear or two, I was so relieved.  Over two years (which is how long it’s taken to get from contract to publication) It’s easy to lose faith and start to imagine that your editor is humouring you. When I read through my ARC I even started thinking ‘it’s rubbish, what have I done!’ so when the reviewers said such great things it gave me back my belief in the book and in myself. 

Oh I know that feeling! And prizes?

A prize nomination would be beyond my expectations – amazing.  I have a little daydream about sitting at a ceremony and being very noble and brave when they call out the winner (I don’t even dare dream about actually winning). 

I have a feeling you aren’t going to need to be noble and brave at all! Can you tell us about your next project?

I’ve finished a book called The Society which is about a girl (Taylor Oh) who has to avenge the death of any murdered soul that touches her.  She ends up having to solve the murder of a classmate she cannot stand and gets tangled up in a plot by Anubis to escape his prison and regain his place in the pantheon of Gods.

I’ve almost finished a total rewrite of Windrunner’s Daughter. Working with Philippa has improved my writing a hundred-fold and given me a real insight into what was wrong with it first time round, so hopefully this time will be the charm.

And I’ve plotted out a book about the end of the world as we know it, called Aviators.

Hopefully you haven’t seen the last of me!

I hope so too – and somehow, I really don’t think we have.

Angel’s Fury is published by Egmont on 4th July. You can pre-order a copy <a href=” ” target=”_blank”>here.


Having a bit of bother with links but hopefully here’s Bryony’s fab website

Angel's Fury
Book Reviews, Writing Advice

Take Heart, Writers in the Wings – Remember the Branford Boase Shortlist 2011

Meg Rosoff just posted a blog about Battery Books . It’s nothing to do with the ipad and everything to do with Factory Book Production.

It briefly got me down – for a moment my vision was clouded with pulp fiction and celebrity books – but then I remembered this:


I Am the Blade by J P Buxton, edited by Beverley Birch – Hachette 

When I Was Joe by Keren David, edited by Maurice Lyon- Frances Lincoln 

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay, edited by Bella Pearson – David Fickling 

Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes, edited by Roisin Heycock – Quercus 

Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace, edited by Charlie Sheppard – Andersen Press 

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh, edited by Imogen Cooper – Chicken House

I know some of these writers, some of them  quite well, and they’re terrific. Talented, hard working, innovative and persistent.

And I know some of the editors too – not well, but enough to know they are also talented, hard working, innovative and persistent.

So take heart, writers in the wings – it’s not all pulp – there will always be a market for good writing. Just keep at it, learn your craft, don’t give up – our time will come.

PS – I can’t make the links work directly! If you want to buy any of these titles, click the book, then click the book image that comes  up on a new page :o)