Writing

New book announcement!

You might have spotted this on my Twitter yesterday, but just in case:

I have a new book coming out!

THE OPPOSITE OF YOU, a YA thriller will be published by Stripes in April 2017.

It’s a standalone (as opposed to, say, a sequel to SLEEPLESS, and it isn’t part of the Red Eye universe. However, there might be places where the two worlds touch, so if you pay attention when you read it you may well spot a familiar face or two…) and I’m really excited to be working with Stripes again.

 

There’s not much more information than that for now, as it’s still a little way off – although here’s an idea of what it’s about to whet your appetite:

 

Bex and her identical twin sister Naomi used to be close. They used to be able to finish each other’s sentences, used to know exactly what the other was thinking. They were a matching pair.

And then something changed.

But Bex didn’t even realise until it was too late. When Naomi walks out of the house the night before their last GCSE exam and doesn’t come back, Bex has to think hard about how to find her.

What happens next will force Bex to unpick their shared history and the memories, following Naomi’s trail through their family, their past and all the way to the blinding lights of the Hemisphere music festival. Everything she thought she knew is called into question.

With her worries dismissed by their parents and ignored by her friends (and with Naomi’s friends nowhere to be found) the only person Bex can trust is a stranger – Josh – as she tries to piece together a picture of the person she thought she shared everything with. Naomi’s been leading another life, one Bex doesn’t recognize… and it’s led her straight into the path of Max: someone else who is not what they appear.

As Bex chases Naomi, she realizes it isn’t just whether she can find her twin: it’s whether she knows her at all.

And whether she still wants to.

 

I’ll be updating details on The Opposite of You page in the ‘BOOKS‘ tab on the main page, so keep your eyes peeled!

 

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I’ve Got a Theory: musical theatre and writing

 

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You could argue that one of the reasons I’ve neglected the blog so long is because I fell down the “Hamilton Heavy Rotation” hole. Yes, that’s a thing. “Guns and Ships” on my headphones, over and over and over. However, I’m also pretty certain that repeat listening to two of the cleverest musicals out there – in the shape of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s HAMILTON, and Tim Minchin & Dennis Kelly’s MATILDA – has given me some new ideas about writing fiction. (And this, kids, is why musical theatre is dangerous. It Makes People Think.)

I’m not going to be exhaustive, partly because I’m not clever enough and partly because I don’t want to get bogged down in the specifics of each musical – I’ll either spoil them for you or you already know what I’m talking about. And if you don’t know anything about either musical (or have no interest in either) then I’m sorry but you’re probably going to come out of this hating me because I am very musical theatre people. Regardless, I’m going to stick with the two big points I think I’ve found and which I know stand up for me, at least.

The basics: HAMILTON is the unlikely smash inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of American founding father, Alexander Hamilton. Written, scored & led by Lin-Manuel Miranda, its musical numbers are mostly pop, rap and R&B and its Broadway cast of BAME actors is tremendous. It’s a juggernaut. It’s wonderful – I promise.

MATILDA is, of course, the musical developed by the RSC based on Roald Dahl’s novel – especially notable for the fact its songs & lyrics are by Tim Minchin (which means any actors brave enough to audition for the formidable role of Miss Trunchbull are required to demonstrate absolute precision in their vocal performances).

The most obvious link between these two and writing fiction is that both involve storytellers or writers. Hamilton is concerned with writing his own narrative and that of his new nation; creating a legacy that will outlive him. Words are his weapons and they are both his making and his undoing. It’s also, as my friend Louie Stowell pointed out in a conversation we had, very clearly a musical by a writer – that is, somebody embedded in the specific process of writing, rather than composing. (There’s more to unpack here, but again… not clever enough and I’ll just tie myself up in knots in the process.)

Meanwhile, stories and books are so deeply threaded through MATILDA that you can’t unpick them – however, an important addition to the musical  from the book is a subplot in which Matilda tells a story about an escapologist and an acrobat to her friendly local librarian [shout-out to librarians here] and in the process uncovers the life stories of Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull.

With me so far, maggots?

74388Jolly good.

There’s definitely enough material for a couple of serious and learned academic essays looking at the way stories are used in the narratives of these musicals (just as Hamilton is obsessed with framing his own story, so Matilda says the stories she tells just come to her: “… these stories delivered to me ready-written” [Quiet] and yet somehow they turn out to be true) that’s another blog post or twelve.

What’s struck me about both Matilda and Hamilton is that both contain lessons for fiction writers.

The first one is theme – or rather, layers of themes. Listen carefully to the cast recording of HAMILTON. Then listen to it again, specifically for repetition. Once you start hearing it, it’s everywhere: a musical phrase dropped in, a line from a song repeated with a different inflection or by a different character. (Because the ensemble pieces can be incredibly dense – in a good way – it’s easiest to pick up in Angelica & Eliza’s parts, their voices and personalities threading through the whole narrative.) It’s used to particularly poignant effect in Hamilton’s last song, too.

Miranda has specifically referred to another musicalLES MISERABLES as having been influential in this, but it’s a technique that easily transfers to fiction. Repeated phrases, images, foreshadowing, callbacks – not just in plot but in character. Think about the way a film score often assigns a musical phrase or theme to a major character, and finds ways to bring the individual themes together in harmony. So does HAMILTON, layering musical phrases and lyrics together to create new patterns with every new interaction.

Yes, it sounds like I’ve lost my mind. I know. Bear with me.

If you take this idea and apply it to fiction, you’re already losing one of the major components: music. However, the same principle still applies. It’s about the words, the phrases, the repetition (both foreshadowing and calling back); even the movements and facial expressions of a character. The pauses. The gaps in what they say. The words associated with them, the mood they create. If each character has their own colour thread in the tapestry – just as HAMILTON’s Angelica Schuyler has “Satisfied”, for example – then it weaves through the whole cloth, sometimes visible, sometimes not… but always identifiable.

Lin-Manuel Miranda might be is a bit of a genius.

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Then there’s the other thing.

Vocabulary.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen and heard author friends complain about their “crutch phrases” during the editing process. We all have them: usually, they’re verbs like “looked” or “turned” or “reached for”. I’m particularly guilty of people grinning and frowning. There’s a lot of grinning and frowning, often done by the same person at opposite ends of a sentence.

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Being in one of my books is AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY. Often in several directions, all at once.

Everyone falls back on crutch phrases – whether we’re writing or not. They’re the deeper grooves worn in our brain; the easy grab when we need to explain something. We’re all human; we all do it. And we know it.

Do me a quick favour: have a quick listen to “The Smell of Rebellion” from MATILDA.

Go on.

I’ll wait.

Done?

Not only is that quite possibly the most Tim Minchin-y Tim Minchin song (see where the “precision” thing comes in?) but the range of vocabulary is astonishing. Alright, so some of it would be a bit… iffy in the middle of a sentence: “Charlie caught a whiff of the odour of toast” might be a stretch – the rule about singing in musicals is, after all, that characters reach a level of emotion which cannot be contained by mere speech (or a glass case) leaving them no choice but to break into song – but you listen to that and tell me you honestly can’t think of another word for “looked”.

There’s a lot more to be said, I think, in terms of lessons fiction writers can learn from musicals – but I also think there’s very little worse than someone standing there with their hands on their hips and their glasses halfway down their nose, declaiming their writing tips to live by. All I’m saying is that it’s very easy to give into the temptation to put “fiction” in one box and “musical theatre” (as an example) in another, and never think to look elsewhere for tools we can use. Writing is stealing borrowing, so borrow from everywhere, if there’s something that sets your mind and soul alight. Cross-pollination is what art is about, and it makes us all richer.

Maybe you’ve read this and thought “Well, duh…” because all this was desperately obvious to you already. In that case, awesome, wow; you’re ahead of me, so good on you. But to me, this clicking into place was a revelation (not a revolution) and I’m hoping I can hang onto it.

Maybe it’s all just bunnies after all – but who knows: maybe musical theatre might even make me a better writer?

I could certainly drink to that.

Toast

Bath Children’s Literature Festival 2015

Time’s a-wasting, so a quick shout about this year’s Bath Children’s Literature Festival. As usual, you’ll most likely be able to spot me zipping about the place (I’m going to a LOT of the talks this year, because there’s some absolute corkers on the programme) but this time I’m also taking part – and I’m very, very excited about the event I’m involved in.

On the second Saturday of the festival, I’ll be chatting to monster rockstars Charlie Higson and Darren Shan about their respective zombie series, The Enemy and Zom-B. We’ll be talking about zombies in particular, horror in general, reading, writing, books, apocalypses (apocalypsii?) – and I’ll be quizzing them on the body count they’ve amassed over the course of their stories.

It’s going to be a lot of fun, and both Charlie and Darren are brilliant authors. If you’re in the area, come along! There will also be a signing with all three of us after the panel, and we’ll be having a Q&A at the end of the session, so if you have any burning questions you NEED them to answer, now’s your chance.

If you’re not able to make it, but there’s something you’ve always wanted to know about either series – or author (or even me!) – then tweet your question to me (@LouMorgan) by Friday 2nd October and I’ll do my best to get it in…

 

 

The Coming Storm

I’ve got a few festival appearances coming up over the next couple of months, as well as a couple of other bits and pieces, so it’s probably time for a quick update. (I’ll put relevant dates on the “Events” page too.)

YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) 2015

Friday 17th July, 2.30 – 3.15.

I’ll be appearing on the “Thrills & Chills: Writing Horror” panel with Will Hill, Darren Shan, Dawn Kurtagich and Matt Whyman, discussing why we love horror, why we write it and why it’ll always be popular. This will be followed up by a signing.

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Tuesday 25th August, 7.00 – 8.00

I’m hugely excited about this, as it’s the first year I’ll be at Edinburgh. Join myself and Kevin Brooks to talk about the darker side of the subjects that can crop up in contemporary YA: boredom, destruction, stress and fear.

The Telegraph Bath Children’s Literature Festival

Saturday 3rd October, 6.30 – 7.30

This feels very like my “home” festival: I’ve been going to the Bath Children’s Litfest for a couple of years now, and it always feels special. This time, however, I’ll be on the stage as well as in the audience, in conversation with YA horror superstars Charlie Higson and Darren Shan as we look at the enduring appeal of zombies and how they’ve brought a fresh spin to everybody’s favourite shambling flesh-eaters in their new books.

YA Shot

Wednesday 28th October

YA Shot is a one-day festival of YA & MG literature organised by author Alexia Casale, Hillingdon Borough Libraries and Waterstones Uxbridge. Details TBC.

 

On the writing front, I’m delighted to have a story in the forthcoming “Legends 2: Stories in Honour of David Gemmell” anthology, alongside fantastic authors like John Gwynne, Rowena Cory Daniels and Mark Lawrence. (A paperback and a limited-edition signed copy are available from Spacewitch Books).

I don’t venture into the epic and heroic very often, so this is a new sphere for me. However, I’m a big fan of the Gemmell Awards and the work they do, and I was delighted to be asked to contribute and to be able to support them. My story, “Oak”, is set just after the Norman invasion and coronation of William I, and both something completely new and very old: it was inspired by some of the legends of a very well-known (perhaps the most well-known) sorcerer from the area where I grew up. No pointy hats, I promise.

 

Lou’s Big Weekend: part 1

That was a weekend. It’s Tuesday, and I’m still not quite sure I’ve got over it yet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be over it, if I’m honest.

It began on Friday evening, with the launch of this year’s Bath Literature Festival – its 20th anniversary, which is quite something.

BathLitFest launch

I love the LitFest – partly because of the variety of events (and I usually go to a load: it’s 8 this year, including the now sold-out “How to Win a Novel Award” panel, featuring my agent Juliet Mushens and friend – and founder of the Bath Novel Award – Caroline Ambrose) and partly because for a week, an already bookish city like Bath fills with books, talk about books, posters for books and people who love books.

Saturday was a trip to Birmingham to join in with the UKYA Extravaganza. Held on the top floor of the High Street Waterstones, it was a lively, warm, welcoming event full of chatter and (obviously) more books. Writers and bloggers and readers all wandered around talking and eating cake. Lots of cake.

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It also meant I got to meet people I’ve only spoken to online so far – which I think was probably true for most of us there. The wonderful thing about #UKYA as I’ve found it (being a relative newcomer to YA) is the sense of community online… but when you get to meet people in person, it’s even better.

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Robin Stevens, whose books you must buy IMMEDIATELY.

I left with a book list the length of my arm, as well as a couple of books I’d managed to buy before the shop sold out of stock – as it did in many cases. I particularly enjoyed being able to exchange book recommendations, too: the best thing about reading a book is being to share your love for it.

Anna McKerrow in conversation. Just out of shot: her incredible bag.

Anna McKerrow in conversation. Just out of shot: her incredible bag.

As well as general mingling, there was also a chance to ask the authors questions in very quick panel sessions. These took a bit of juggling round to fit into the space and time, but what we got in the end was relaxed and fun – completely in line with the spirit of the afternoon.

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I had a tremendous time, and I hope we’ll see many more events like this.

And then it was Sunday. And that, I’ll talk about in Part 2

UKYA Extravaganza

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I’m delighted to be part of the UKYA Extravaganza event taking place from 2pm on Saturday 28th February at Birmingham High Street Waterstones.

It’s going to be a hugely fun afternoon full of readings and general hanging out, talking about everything good in YA. I think one of the reasons I’m so excited about it is that I’m a relative newbie to the UKYA community (as a writer, at least) but the welcome I’ve found there has been absolutely wonderful. And it does have a real community feel to it – writers and readers and reviewers all together, talking about the books they love. There’s a huge amount of passion there, and every time I get involved in a conversation about this stuff, I come out of it with a huge stack of recommendations to read.

The event is ticketed – and, as far as I know, has already sold out. If you’ve got your ticket, then I’ll see you there: come and say hi!

(Probably) The Greatest Halloween Signing Ever…

Yes, it’s not quite Halloween, but what’s a couple of days between friends?

Come along to the Great Halloween Signing in the Forbidden Planet Megastore in London tomorrow (Saturday 25th October) and hang out with Actual Proper British Horror Writers (and me. Who will be basking in the reflected glory and trying really hard not to grin like a loon.)

We’ll be signing between 1pm and 2pm, and afterwards there’s a BFS Open Evening taking place in the nearby Bloomsbury Tavern.

I’m there as a contributor to ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE! ENDGAME, the third of the ZA! series of mosaic novels.

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If you’ve not come across the series – or any other mosaic novels before – think of it as a cross between an anthology of short stories and a novel in dossier form, with each contributor taking one aspect of it. (One of my favourites is the zombie-related app store, complete with developer comments.) My “story” is the diary of a teenager caught up in the zombie outbreak – the catch being that she wasn’t one of the lucky ones. So if you’ve ever wanted to know what goes through a teenage zombie’s mind…

 

Diouz a reoh, e kavoh

I said I’d be back, didn’t I? And threatened to tell you all about this staircase:

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I’m a (wo)man of my word.

It’s in an old house in a place called Locronan in Brittany, and it’s where I set my contribution to the new URBAN MYTHIC 2 anthology from Alchemy Press. The idea was for each story in there – while obviously being different – to update an existing myth or legend and bring it into the 21st Century.

Being a macabre sort (well, I do write horror too, y’know) I’ve always been fascinated by the Breton legend of the Ankou. While there’s plenty of psychopomp figures in myth – and more than a few skeletal grim reapers – the cult of the Ankou is peculiar to Brittany.

I’ve already talked a little about the legend and the idea behind the story here – where you’ll also see an ancient picture of me, taken in the basement vaults of our old house in Brighton. It’s “moody” because it’s about three degrees and I have water dripping down the back of my neck… – but what appeals to me about the Ankou is his impermanence. He changes with the year, and there’s something very human about that as well as something transformative. It’s the kind of idea that gets under my skin and sticks.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the region, but I still did a fair amount of reading around by way of research (any excuse), both of collected legends and collected folktales and responses to them.

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(Just out of shot, my well-chewed Breton-French and French-English dictionaries. And a really big pile of headache pills…)

As soon as I knew I wanted to write about the Ankou, I wanted the story to happen in Locronan. It’s a very small town perched high up on a hill, and it’s very deliberately kept as traditional as possible – particularly the town square. As a result, it feels like – tourists aside – you’ve fallen through some kind of wormhole into a recent past that won’t ever quite rest, but hangs around the corners of the square smoking and being disreputable. It’s the perfect setting for a story which is all about the past and how it creeps through into the present.

In particular, I’ve always loved the house in this photo – now a bookshop dedicated to Breton and Celtic mythology, but like most of the houses in Locronan, it may well have once belonged to a weaver (the production of textiles, and sailcloth in particular, made Locronan an important place back in the day).

Somewhat fittingly for a story about the unreliability of memory, I seem to remember that once there was a loom on the ground floor… but I can’t be sure. When I went back this summer, if there ever had been a loom, it’s long gone.

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Either way, that’s where the story came from: a story about memory and family and death and life… and the Ankou, who warns us all that we weave our own reckoning: “according to your work, your reward”.

And, as it’s me, and there’s always a song the story sounds a little like this…

 

 

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!