Sunday 24 November 2013

'Race The Wind' by Lauren St John (***)

Normally I'm the one who completely refutes the claim that the sequel to a book is never better than the first one, but this time, I'm afraid to say that this is not the case with the second book in Lauren St John's The One Dollar Horse trilogy. Don't get me wrong- I didn't hate the book, I just felt that it didn't possess the same excitement as the first one did. I'm not sure whether that was to do with the fact that the book in itself was shorter- maybe this extinguished some of the tension and excitement I felt in the first book? Or was it to do with the fact that the seemingly gripping plot twist was entirely predictable?

I'm sure I'll probably be the only teenage reader of Race The Wind saying this, but I found the relationship between Peter and Casey extremely annoying- not to mention a completely unnecessary addition to the already complex plot line. In my head I was constantly confused about whether they were a couple or not, whether they were arguing or not, and whether or not Peter was completely in his right mind when he left Casey at the end to get on a plane, after revealing to the reader that he was in love with her. Now, I know that teenage love is confusing, but surely there is a line drawn somewhere between the complex and the infuriatingly annoying.

Although I find that the main message of the book (dream, work hard and all will become possible) is a really important message and one that should be repeated, especially to the children and teenagers of today, repeating it a second time round sort of made the book unsurprising and the constantly nagging feeling in my head that I knew Casey was going to win, I knew that Storm was going to come around, I knew that everything was going to be okay. Most of the time I enjoy that in books, but this time, there was something about it that just didn't work.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a horrific book to read- I gave it three stars for a reason! As with the first book, I liked the characters, the plot (although patchy in places) was still good to read and it's the kind of book that takes you away to a different place. Also, the fact that it's including grimy London and the beautiful horse-ridden countryside is still something I enjoy reading, and although I didn't think this book was as good as the first in the trilogy, I think some will probably disagree with me! I am looking forward to the third book, as I am excited for what it will bring!

Monday 18 November 2013

Holly Black and Sarah Rees-Brennan Interview

So on the 4th of November in this sparkling year of 2013 I got the fabulous opportunity to meet the amazing YA authors Holly Black (author of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and the Spiderwick Chronicles) and Sarah Rees-Brennan (author of the Demon's Lexicon trilogy and Unspoken) at an event in Foyles, Charing Cross, where they revealed all about their books, writing habits, and even their friendship love triangle with Cassandra Clare. I was even lucky enough to join some other YA bloggers in an interview beforehand, which is I have lovingly typed up for your interest here:

1. When you have the initial idea for a book, how do you go about it? What is your process?

Holly: A lot of times when I have an idea for a book it's a very little bit of an idea; an image, a person, an event that happens to a particular person. When I started Coldtown I had a lot because I had just written a short story also called The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and I had characters in it and a setting I thought it was going to be great- what could go wrong?! I went on a writing retreat with Sarah and I sat down to start writing it and I realised that none of it was right. I had to throw out 30,000 words   that I had written and start over. I realised those characters and that story, the interesting thing that was going to happen in their lives had already happened to them, so I had to start over with new characters. When I started over it started to feel like the right book. The hardest thing is that sometimes it feels wrong until it feels right, and you know. Sometimes you don't know what's the thing that's going to make it feel right so I try to plot things through but sometimes I just have to feel my way through.

Sarah: My process is very simple, I simply wrote a book when I was seventeen and then I left it for ten years and one day I thought that I should go back to my parents' house because that was a great idea. Most of the book was already written so I thought I just needed to make it a bit more good! So I went home and I read the first page and threw the book like it was a snake because it was very bad! I thought I should just write a whole different book. So that's most of the time, but other times the story just comes to me when I'm lying in bed or when other people are talking to me and then I work it out and tell it to my friends. I like to work things out by telling stories to people and I find that really helps.

Holly: Talking out loud about stuff is interesting, some people find it helpful and others think it's not good for their process. I think that it activates another part of your brain and it really helps you to think differently about a story once you're telling it to someone. You realise the things that don't make sense!

Sarah: So if you can at all bear to I think that it's really good to just talk about it to someone else, and if they don't want to listen, that's okay!

2. Holly, when you started off writing Coldtown, with lost of vampire books and series becoming more successful, were you a bit wary about stepping into that genre?

Holly: I was very wary! There are so many hugely successful series and well-known series and beloved vampire books, and it is intimidating to throw your hat into that ring. The thing that made me do it anyway was that for as long as I have been a reader, there have been big vampire books and vampires have either been so big that you probably shouldn't write about them because there's no room in that market, or so over that no one will ever write one ever again. I realised that there was no way that vampires were never going to be in that cycle and that if I wanted to do it I might as well just write one and see what happens.

3. You both write gothic, supernatural books, what do you use for research for those kind of books?

Holly: There is a lot of great folklore out there. One of the greatest pleasures of writing Coldtown was going back and looking at a bunch of vampire folklores from around the world. If you go and read folklore about different creatures one of the great things that you will be able to do is cobble from them stuff that is pretty strange and feels oddly resonant to you. The thing about folklore is that it feels true, even if it is the first time that you are experiencing it, there's something about it that has the ring of truth to it, so I love using folklore. I love using fairytales also, I think that they make great spines for books.

Sarah: I think it's interesting to look at the bits of folklore that people thought were real, and I love mashing up mythologies too. Seeing how people translate stories into something like reality is really interesting. I love the idea of all the stories being true and thinking of how the stories can relate to each other.

4. Holly, what do you find so interesting about vampires and why did you decide to write about them?

Holly: I think that the really interesting thing about vampires is that they are our best and worst selves. They are ourselves with the brakes off, our hungriest selves, our most basic selves, our most violent selves and they are also our most powerful, elegant, eternal selves. So I think that the juxtaposition is really interesting, and also I like to think about how we would interact with them and that we could become them. Unlike fairies, being a vampire is attainable, and would you want it? What would that be like, and what would it mean? So I was really interested to know the answers to those questions.

Sunday 10 November 2013

Marcus Sedgwick Interview

This is my first author interview- the first of many I should hope! It was a really great experience and Marcus was incredibly interesting to talk to- and also a lovely guy! I have had to edit a lot of the interview because there are a few sneaky questions I asked for advice about my own writing, so let me know if you would like some writing advice from Marcus as he gave me some very good pieces of advice. I hope you like the interview, and please comment below with your thoughts! 

How did you start writing and what is the thing you enjoy most about it?

The significant thing that happened was that I went to university still not knowing what I wanted to do and when I left university I still didn’t know, so I went to work in a bookshop, because I liked books and it was a nice environment and that was the trigger for me thinking ‘real people write these books’. So that made me realise that real living people write books and they get sold in bookshops so I started to try writing myself. It took me a few years and I wrote a few books which weren’t published but they got me an agent and then the big, whole novel that I wrote was the first one that my agent sent off to Orion who I’ve been with ever since.

One thing that I enjoy the most about it? Well that’s hard, because it is just so fantastic! One thing is that you’re your own boss- that’s worth so much money to me. Because you are free to do whatever you want to do with your life on a daily basis and not having someone to crack the whip, and you’re also not doing a job that you hate, which I have done before. That’s the lifestyle part, but for the writing part it’s because you are getting paid for the strange thoughts in your head. You think of something and put it down on paper, and then people are buying it- that’s something I still haven’t actually got over.

Where did the idea of ‘She Is Not Invisible’ come from?

Originally it was because I had been trying to write a book about coincidence for many years, and I was failing, and I gave up a lot of times. Five years went by, and I was writing other things that did succeed, but I finally realised that coincidence was a really hard thing to write about and usually it doesn’t work when it is done, because coincidence is generally what a bad writer uses to get out of a weakness in their plot, and we as readers don’t like coincidence because if something overly convenient happens we don’t believe it, and so therefore to write a book where those things are happening seemed to me to be self-defeating. So then I had the idea to write a book about a writer trying to write a book about coincidence instead, because then I could still talk about all the same things that interested me but they were at arms-length. Then, coincidently, at the same time I saw a film about a blind girl and somehow I thought it would be very interesting to have a protagonist who was blind. I then spent a couple of years researching that side of it.

So what is it that interests you about coincidence and why did you decide to write about it?

Everyone likes a coincidence, and the thing about it is that it only takes something relatively small to happen for you to get that tingle, and if a really big coincidence happens (I’ve had some strange things happen to me), it really does freak you out. It struck me that coincidence would be a good subject to write about because everybody shares their coincidences if one happens to them.

What was it like working with the students at New College, and how do you think they reacted to your project?

They were amazing, and the very first time I went to New College I was in a very bad place writing-wise, but I still had this idea about coincidence and a blind protagonist. I wasn’t sure what I was doing there at first because didn’t know a book was going to come out of it, but I went up there and I went to the librarian first and said what I wanted to do and she was great, really welcoming. I was very honest with the students and I said that I was trying to write a book but I’m not sure I could do it, but they were so welcoming and I came away that first day feeling that it was the best visit I had ever made to a school. The students were amazing to talk to, they were a great group to speak to and afterwards I came away feeling guilty because I felt that they had given me so much, and had really cheered me up and made me feel better about what I was trying to do. They were so honest about what it’s like and the tough times that they have and the way people treat them.

What made you choose to write from the perspective of a 16 year old visually impaired teenage girl?

Why not? This is my thirteenth novel and I have written with different genders, ages and characters so you don’t want to do the same thing every time so I’m always looking for something a bit new and different to do. Originally, I knew it was going to be a massive challenge, but because I had written lots of books it’s very important you don’t get stuck doing the same things. Writing from the perspective of a blind protagonist seemed like the way to do something different! The other thing was that unconsciously I had made a connection between the concept of fortune and destiny and blindness, and it was only when I had finished writing the book that I found the quote from Francis Bacon that forms the title that I realised what that link is, so I was stumbling around in the dark for a while, and then that happened by chance that I found a link that made sense.

Why did you decide to write about something completely outside the realms of your own experience?

The hardest thing to do when writing is to keep on going, and keep being sufficiently excited by an idea that you go and sit by yourself in a room for eight hours a day for several months until you have written 80,000 words- you really need to love what you’re doing to want to do that! If you want to keep on writing to maintain sufficient excitement you need to challenge yourself and try to push yourself and develop yourself.

What would you say is the most important aspect of a novel: plot, character or setting?

I think that they are all equally important but I think different writers have different strengths and starting points and what you need to end up with is a book that’s pretty powerful. I used to always start with plot- plot as in concepts and ideas or something in history, and that would then develop into the plot and once I have that I create the setting. Then out of those two things I create the characters to do the things I want them to do. I realised that I needed to start working on character a lot more, which I have been trying to do recently. My editor never picks holes in my plot but finds faults in my characterisation.

Why did you decide to write teen fiction?

The bookshop that I worked in was a children’s bookshop in Cambridge and so I was re-discovering books that I read as a child, and at that time there were a lot of exciting children’s writers like Philip Pullman. I started to realise that these books were really exciting because you could do anything, there was enormous freedom, and as long as you do it convincingly that it’s plausible within its own world you can write way more adventurous stuff than you can write in adult fiction. I wanted that freedom and that excitement to write whatever I wanted.

How do you think books can change the world?

I think they can, because the way that change happens is that if you believe it and you tell someone else then they believe it too, and that’s how things can change. Books can change people’s minds, open doors to them. Even if you are in impoverished circumstances you can still go to the public library and pick up a book and it can take you anywhere in the world. That isn’t necessarily about travelling but about showing you different points of view, and I think that one of the main things that is helping people is that reading makes you realise that not everyone has the same point of view and the dangerous things that happen in the world is when you think, ‘everyone should think how I do’. I think books can be part of that change.