Event: 42 Worcester, 25th June

A quick reminder: tomorrow (Wednesday 25th June), I’ll be in Worcester as part of the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe: I’m delighted to be a part of the 42Worcester festival special, talking about YA, horror, urban fantasy, writing and… pretty much anything you like. There’s also a chance I’ll be doing a secret surprise reading (I guess the surprise being that I’ve told you I’m going to do it…?)

You can find me at Drummonds, The Swan With Two Nicks, from 7.30pm.

As an added bonus, if you fancy a free signed copy of both BLOOD AND FEATHERS and REBELLION, both of which have been nominated for British Fantasy Awards, all you have to do is be the first person to come up to me that evening and say “They’re only noodles, Michael.”

(And then poke me and remind me that I told you to say that, because I have the memory of a goldfish…)

 

(This man is unimpressed by my memory…)

Rebellion and the weaver

BFS_Logo_red_SMALLI had a pretty awesome piece of news last week: BLOOD AND FEATHERS: REBELLION has been shortlisted for this year’s British Fantasy Awards, in the “Best Fantasy Novel” category.

It’s a fantastic shortlist (you can see the other nominees here, plus the shortlists for all the other BFA categories) and I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of it… and making it even lovelier is the fact that the first B&F book, BLOOD AND FEATHERS, was nominated in the same category last year. Thank you so, so much to everyone who voted it onto the shortlist – it means an enormous amount.

Other good news comes in the form of a short story: I’m delighted to announce that my story, “Death and the Weaver” will appear in Alchemy Press‘s URBAN MYTHIC 2 anthology, launching later this year. My contribution is set in an area I know very well and have a huge amount of affection for: Brittany in northern France, and is the story of what happens to a woman who moves back to the small town where she spent her summers growing up.

The idea behind the anthology (which like its predecessor, the original URBAN MYTHIC, has a great line-up) is to reinterpret myths and legends in a modern way – and there’s no shortage of myths in Brittany. I’ll talk a bit more about the story and this particular myth in “Death and the Weaver” closer to release – which should be at FantasyCon in September.

Another thank you too, to everyone who commented on the SLEEPLESS cover: I’m so pleased you like it as much as I do!

 

 

 

 

SLEEPLESS cover art

One of the most incredible things about doing this – and by “this’, I mean “writing” – is when a book stops being a Word document full of sentences and (in my case) typos and starts becoming… a book. With pages and a cover and everything.

A lot of this happens in edits, where someone else comes in and you start to work together to make your story the best it can possibly be (and take out remove all the words you massively abuse. I use “out” too much. Who knew?). And anyone who tells you they don’t need an editor is fibbing.

But for me (and, I suspect, for a lot of writers), a book really starts being real with a cover.

And I’ve just got the cover for SLEEPLESS...

 

Untitled-1

 

What do you think?

It’s been designed by the incredible Ali Ardington at Stripes, and I absolutely love it.

There’s a little more to it than what you see here – but you’ll have to wait until the books are finished to find out exactly what that is….

 

SLEEPLESS

Don’t go to sleep…

With their wealthy parents and expensive homes in the exclusive Barbican complex at the heart of the City of London, Izzy Whedon and her friends at The Clerkenwell School seem like they have it all… but success comes at a price.

As the pressure of the upcoming exams gets too much, Izzy and the others resort to taking a “study drug” they find on the internet – and by the time they realise there are side effects, it’s already too late. When one of the group disappears, the others discover the horrifying truth behind their miracle pills.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, they learn there’s only one way out: to stay awake until the drugs are out of their systems.

If, that is, they can last that long…..

In ebook from July 2014 and paperback September 2014 from Stripes Publishing, as part of the RED EYE series of YA horror books…

 

ETA: if you like the look of SLEEPLESS, go check out the cover to Alex Bell’s FROZEN CHARLOTTE – another of the Red Eyes…

The Out-Crowd

It was a post on – predictably – an internet forum that pushed me over the edge: a thread about choosing an area based on the schools available (yes, I know. I’m a mother, we whine about this stuff, get over it).

Don’t forget to look at your local community – you adults have to fit in too!

I’ll just be over there: in the corner, calming down again.

***

I get grouchy when it comes to the topic of “fitting in”, partly because I’ve spent a very long time being obstinate and trying rather hard not to be That Person. You know the one: the kid who falls over themselves pretending to be something vaguely similar to who they really are – but not who they actually are – and ends up with a little grey cloud of self-inflicted misery trundling around after them.

It’s worse at school than at any other point in life (see Mean Girls, She’s All That, The Craft10 Things I Hate About You… and preeeetty much every teen movie made, ever) but it starts younger than you think (take a close look at any nursery or reception class playground) and carries on a lot later (I refer you to Gill Hornby’s school-gate novel The Hive, and just about every *single* women’s magazine in the world).

What it boils down to is this: we spend our formative years as an adult trying to balance figuring out who we are with who we think everyone around us would like us to be, and what we need to be to not end up getting something dumped all over us on the school bus. And then, when we emerge from our cocoon as fully-functioning adults… we have to do it all over again.

To which I say: bite me. (more…)

High Standards

I went to see some Romans at the weekend. Look! Actual Romans!

roman flag photo

 

Well, alright. Sort-of Romans. (They are, in fact, the Ermine Street Guard, who were lovely and friendly and actually quite intimidating when they marched right at you in formation… If you get the chance to go and see them at an event, do.)

While I took far too many photos, had a brilliant day and got slightly sunburned into the bargain (pale post-winter skin, meet early May sunshine… sigh), this photo is the one I wanted to talk about.

Every now and again, I get asked about the Fallen in BLOOD AND FEATHERS – why they fell, how they function, what they do… and about hell.

One of my favourite things about the battle on the plains of hell was the fact I got to bring two armies together: one, the angels, was a mix of Earthbounds, Descendeds and Archangels – each with their own distinct fighting style, depending on the status and their Choir.

The other, the army of Fallen, was an entirely different proposition.

This was the home army, defending their turf. We’d not seen them en masse before this, and there they were, lined up and ready to take on their enemies. The angels used to be their brothers – they know them, they’ve fought beside them and against them for endless, endless years (because these guys are old). Most of them have grudges. Most of them have scores to be settled. All of them are scary. All of them are scared of Lucifer and his generals. All the sensible ones are at least as scared of Michael – and every last one of them is scared of Mallory.

How do you bring that many disparate parts together into an army?

You give them a flag.

(more…)

The Catastrophist (Revisited)

I’ve not blogged for a while, mostly because life has kept getting in the way.

But I was going through my computer the other day and came across an old story I wrote, way back at the start of 2009 (2009! It’s almost unimaginably far back, isn’t it?) and because I like it – despite its faults – I thought I’d put it up here for fun.

It’s not the first time it’s been online, although I’ve given it a very quick once over with a lump-hammer since (don’t expect polish. More a sort of… rustic dented effect). It was published in a small online magazine, although I can’t quite remember the name of it – I’ll look it up.

I’m a very different writer now – better, I hope – but it’s nice to look back at the baby version of myself and make tutting noises and say “Wow. You actually did that. Huh.”

So here you go. In all its apocalyptic glory:

 

THE CATASTROPHIST

 

Did you ever play that game, you know, the one where you could create a little city inside your computer? You laid the roads, assigned the housing, built the schools… and then, when you tired of it, you could let loose monsters – or start an earthquake or wildfire? Well, that’s sort of my job. You have to understand: it’s just what I do for a living – it doesn’t make me a bad person. You can look at it as destruction testing on a grand scale if you like. If it makes it easier.

There’s a few of us in the department. We all work on the same floor, in Cluster 3. Harry does Europe, Sarah takes care of Asia, Dan is Australasia and Antarctica. I’m the Americas (North and South). There’s a new guy working Africa; apparently the last one we had just didn’t pass muster. Some of us are busier than others. It’s not as easy as you might expect – there’s nothing as simple as pressing a button and sitting back to watch the marauding spaceships blow up a city. It takes weeks of planning to get it right: you don’t want two events clashing, so there’s a lot of team meetings, a lot of co-ordination. You have to share a lot in this job.

(more…)

Bath Literature Festival

The last thing I need is more books. I already have a strict regular culling policy and have developed the ability to cross the road any time I happen to be passing a bookshop – just in case. You see, I have a problem. My name is Lou, and I love books.

Last week was Bath’s annual Literature Festival, sponsored by the Independent. I live in Bath. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

I have basically spent the last couple of days rolling around in books. It’s been marvellous.

I didn’t even go to that many events: the list of things I wanted to go to was as long as my arm, but many of them sold out long before I got a look in. Being new to Bath (and not terribly organised) I hadn’t realised just how much of a Thing the festival was.

Hint: it’s a Thing.

After a fair amount of dithering, I got myself sorted with some tickets to a couple of talks (sadly, one I had to miss at the last minute because of a deadline. Boo) and off I toddled.

(more…)

Announcing… SLEEPLESS

I’ve been sitting on this news for ages, and – as you can imagine – for someone as gobby as I am, it’s been a real challenge keeping quiet. But I’m told I don’t have to keep my mouth shut any longer (and if it turns out I’m wrong on that then we’ll just carry on and pretend that nothing ever happened, m’kay?).

It’s pretty common knowledge that I love horror – and having grown up on Point Horror and Christopher Pike books, I’m a big fan of horror in YA and teen literature in particular.

So… I’m delighted to announce that my first YA horror book, SLEEPLESS, will be published by Stripes Publishing later this year as one of the launch titles for their new Red Eye series.

I’m incredibly excited by the idea of writing YA horror, as it’s an area where there are fantastic books which I love – books like ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, HOLLOW PIKE, DEPARTMENT 19… all of them properly frightening.  You can imagine how I felt about getting the chance to come up with my own.

And when Katie – my wonderful editor at Stripes – told me I didn’t have to worry about it being too scary… well. SLEEPLESS was the result.

SLEEPLESS

Don’t go to sleep…

With their wealthy parents and expensive homes in the exclusive Barbican complex at the heart of the City of London, Izzy Whedon and her friends at The Clerkenwell School seem like they have it all… but success comes at a price.

As the pressure of the upcoming exams gets too much, Izzy and the others resort to taking a “study drug” they find on the internet – and by the time they realise there are side effects, it’s already too late. When one of the group disappears, the others discover the horrifying truth behind their miracle pills.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, they learn there’s only one way out: to stay awake until the drugs are out of their systems.

If, that is, they can last that long…..

Writing SLEEPLESS has been a huge amount of fun, and although I’m embarrassed to admit it I even managed to creep myself out a couple of times (how does that even work?).

The team at Stripes are awesome, and I knew that I was in safe hands with Katie when we spent a whole morning going over ideas and talking about terrible B-movies from the 1980s (for which I have an unashamed passion).

It’s also given me the chance to do something I’ve liked the idea of for a very long time – using the Barbican Estate as the setting for a novel. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a hulking great Brutalist complex of flats, walkways, gardens, tower blocks and restaurants. It’s best known for the hub of theatres, galleries and cinemas in the Barbican Centre, but it also contains a church, a lake, a library, a girls’ school, the Museum of London, two residents’ gardens, several playgrounds and the Guildhall School of Music – as well as miles and miles of labyrinthine walkways. It’s an easy place to get lost in, put it that way.What better setting could there be for a book like this one?

I’ll be posting more details and more about the world of SLEEPLESS further on down the line.

Huge thanks go to Stripes and my fabulous agent Juliet Mushens for making this possible.

And in the meantime? Whatever you do… don’t go to sleep.

Archer’s Goon

A little while back, SFX Magazine approached me and asked me whether I’d be interested in contributing to their regular “Book Club” feature. It runs at the back of every issue, focusing on a different book each time. And you know me. I like to talk about books. I particularly like to talk about books I like, and why they’re… y’know, awesome.

So of course I said yes, and the first book I’ll be discussing is ARCHER’S GOON by Diana Wynne Jones.

Funnily enough, it turns out this will be the 100th SFX Book Club, and given the current concern about level of representation female authors receive in the SFF world, it’s a wonderful coincidence. 100 feels like a significant number, somehow: and given the context of those two (brilliant) blogposts, it’s nice that the slot goes to a book by an outstanding fantasy writer who happens to be a woman, and whose loss is still felt so keenly by the genre.

The great thing about the Book Club is that it isn’t just me blathering on (after all, I do plenty of that here). So, if you’ve read ARCHER’S GOON, get in touch! You can comment on the book – did you love it / hate it / never read it because… – on the SFX forum, their Facebook page or via their Twitter, or you can always leave me a comment or tweet!

Those who can… teach

If you saw Dame Helen Mirren’s speech at the BAFTA awards, you’ll know what this is about.

 

— There will be a short interval to recover from the overwhelming awesome… and we’re back in the room —

 

The most important teacher I had was a lady called Sonja. I’ve long been forbidden from calling her “Miss Charles”, because she says it makes her feel old – but, like everyone who has been asked by one of their schoolteachers to call them by their first name, I still flinch internally every time I say it. It feels disrespectful, somehow, not to call your teacher by their “teacher name” – as though you’re now claiming to be their equal, their peer. Which you can’t ever be, because how could you? If you were lucky enough to have a teacher like that, you know that to some degree, they shaped you. They helped make you, and it doesn’t matter if you’re twenty or thirty or seventy – that teacher is always going to be your teacher.

Sonja was responsible for introducing me to Milton and Marlowe, and she steered and supported my flailing attempts to tackle Hamlet and Macbeth. She even put up with my turning in essays claiming Romeo & Juliet is actually a comedy (when I made it to university and sat through a lecture suggesting the same thing, I had to sit on my hand to stop myself from punching the air…) and patiently marked no fewer than three essays subtly* expressing my dislike of DH Lawrence’s books.

When I left school, we started to exchange letters every Christmas – and still do. In the intervening years, I’ve continued to learn from her – just as as I’ve learned about her. Now, I know her interests in medieval literature align very closely with my own (although she never let that slip when I was in school) and I know how kindhearted and generous she is. Sixteen years after I last saw her, I know more about her now than I did when I saw her every day… and I suppose that’s how it should be, because then she was a Teacher-with-a-capital-T.

She’s retired now, but I remember her as being unflinching in her support of her students. She was inspiring, she was strong and she was ridiculously well-read: every once in a while, even now, I’ll come across a book and think “Oh, that’s what she meant!” Like all old-school teachers, too, she had a stare that could drop unruly third-years across the yard, and a raised eyebrow which could (and frequently did) reduce strapping great big rugby guys to whimpering wrecks.

To this day, she remains incredibly supportive of me – and I only wish there was more I could do to repay her. If you care to look, you’ll find her in the acknowledgements of BLOOD AND FEATHERS, but it hardly seems like a fair trade-off. Without her, I don’t think I’d be where I am.

Sonja – Miss Charles – was my teacher, and I’m immeasurably grateful to her.

Who was yours?

 

(*not subtly)