fiction

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!

 

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

Splinters of Souls

bookshelves

I was having a conversation about books (no surprise there) on Twitter over the weekend, and it veered into the amount of money it’s possible to spend on them when you really get going – and how that compares to, say, a designer handbag. I said, rather glibly, that I’d much rather go book shopping than handbag shopping… and then I started to wonder why.

Let’s start with the obvious. I’m not that fussed about expensive bags or shoes as trophies. They just don’t do much for me. I have one decent handbag, which was a gift (and which I do love. So much so that when it got damaged in the Apple Juice Incident of 2012 – details of which I’m not at liberty to divulge – I might have got a little bit sniffly and uttered the immortal cry of: “This is why I can’t have nice things…”. But moving swiftly on.) and which I use a lot. But I only really need the one good one, don’t I? After all, any others would just sit in a cupboard when they’re not being used. Alone. And, knowing my luck, slowly sinking into a puddle of juice. Christ.

But books don’t do that. I looked around my house, and I saw books. Not as many as I used to have, admittedly: I gave away boxes and boxes of them before we moved. But still, books. And because I straight-out alphabetise them (alas, I haven’t the patience for Dewey), there are books rubbing spines that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as natural companions. John Connolly and Jilly Cooper, for instance… whereas Joe and Will Hill seem like easy shelf-mates. (Me? Oh, I’m next to Erin Morgenstern… and within striking distance of the Michael Marshall/Smiths…)

The thing is, I can see them. And more than that, I remember them. Every time I look at those shelves, I’m not just seeing books. I’m seeing memories.

There, right at the start, is my mother’s collection of Judy Astley books, and her copy of Sam Shepard’s short stories which I know she only bought because she had a thing for him (and rightly so) but which are astonishingly good.

There’s the battered old copy of Joanne Harris’s Chocolat, which I’ve read and re-read every Easter since it was published. On the shelf in the bedroom, there’s the copy of How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe which I was reading when my mother died and which made me cry when I reached the last page. There’s the Lud In The Mist I nicked from my parents’ bookshelves when I was little because I liked the cover. The 3 volumes of The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship‘s by far the most battered, and actually falls open at the first appearance of Strider (what?).

There’s my beloved copy of Only Forward, signed at the very first convention I ever went to, in Brighton. There’s Chris Fowler’s Disturbia: a book I’ve had since I don’t even remember when, and which I used as a sort of unofficial guide book to London when I moved there for university.

Books by my friends, books by people I’ve never met and most likely never will. Well. Be difficult with Dickens, wouldn’t it?

Books that have made me laugh, books that have made me cry and books that break my heart.

And when I look at those books, I realise why I’d rather have them than a bunch of handbags.

They are memories; pieces not just of their authors’ souls, snapshots of them as they wrote, but pieces of mine.

I remember the first time I read some of them. I remember the times I’ve re-read some of them – and left between their pages like a pressed flower or a leaf or grains of sand from a holiday, there are slivers of my own soul. Versions of me, be they from one, ten or twenty years ago. Who I was when I picked up that book for the first time; who I’ve been since.

There’s a famous Jean Cocteau quote, beloved of cat owners – myself included – that cats are the visible soul of a house.

Perhaps books, whether tidily stacked or jostling for space and piled one on top of each other, are the visible soul of their owner.

BLOOD & FEATHERS giveaway and winners!

UPDATE:

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition and spread the word on Twitter. I’ve now drawn the victims… winners and notified them.

The lucky three are:

@DogEarDiscs and @RichardKellum, who each win a signed copy of BLOOD AND FEATHERS

@CatHawkins, who wins the signed copy and the handwritten version of “The Patron Saint of Wishful Thinking” (which you’ll be able to read on here in a couple of weeks)

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Congratulations to the winners, and thank you again to everyone who entered.

By the way, if you weren’t lucky this time, I’ll be doing another giveaway in the not-too-distant future, so keep your eyes open…

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I’ve decided. I’m doing a thing.

I have THREE signed (and dedicated if you’d like) copies of BLOOD AND FEATHERS to give away.

One of these copies will come with a special bonus. Allow me to explain.

In the run-up to Solaris publishing BLOOD AND FEATHERS: REBELLION later this year, I’ll be putting some short stories and flash fiction online. Some of it will tell you more about characters like Mallory; some of it might be deleted scenes. It could be anything: you’ll just have to wait and see.

I’ll be putting the first of these new stories, The Patron Saint of Wishful Thinking, up in the next couple of weeks… but whoever wins the “book-plus” giveaway will get the chance to read it first, because they’ll get a handwritten copy of it along with their book. And yes, I’ll try to keep my handwriting legible…

So that’s three copies, one with a bonus you won’t get anywhere else.

I’ll be doing this via Twitter: all you have to do is include a link to this post in a tweet along with the hashtag #bloodandfeathers. (If you want to @ me at the end of your tweet too, it’ll make you easier to find.)

I’ll be keeping an eye on everyone who tweets and will pick three names at random on SUNDAY 24th FEBRUARY, starting with the two signed books, and then drawing for the book-and-short-story.

This is an international giveaway, so it doesn’t matter where you are: I’ll post the books to you.

I’ll notify winners via Twitter and the blog.

Good luck!

Pledge & Turn

… and, of course, “Prestige.”

(Thank god for that. Leaving it out makes me feel like I want to sneeze.)

And the prestige is, of course, MAGIC: AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE ESOTERIC & ARCANE

Watch closely…

Pretty, isn’t she? And it’s not just the cover that’s pretty: the interior design is also gorgeous, making this one of the nicest-looking anthologies I’ve seen. And I’m not just saying that because I’m biased. Promise.

MAGIC is released this week, with a special launch event at Foyles in Charing Cross Road, London, featuring Audrey Niffenegger, Sophia McDougall and Dan Abnett in conversation with editor Jon Oliver. It’s a free event, but it’s not a bad idea to reserve a space via the Foyles Events site.

If you were at FantasyCon in Brighton this year and swung by the reading room on the Friday evening, you may well have heard either me or Will Hill reading our stories from the book. The theme was, unsurprisingly, “magic” but the brief was specifically for something new; something that looked away from traditional witches and wizards… and judging by the finished anthology, every single contributor took that to heart.

My story, “Bottom Line” is about a man who works in a magic shop; a man who would do well to avoid magic altogether… not that it stops him.

I can still remember the look on his face when I asked for a job. He was sitting at the counter, stringing cards onto wire for the window display. He put the wire down, and he looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Donnie. Of all the places in the world, with your history, why in God’s name would you want to work in a magic shop?”

He had a point. You don’t send an alcoholic to work in a distillery, do you? But that’s just it. There’s magic and there’s magic. There’s tricks and illusions and sleight of hand… and there’s what I do. What I did.

“Bottom Line” is a story about addiction and regret and – maybe – redemption. I’m very proud of it, and it was one of those stories I was sad to leave. I liked Donnie, and I hope you do too.

It’s a pleasure and an honour to be included in this anthology: the line-up is beyond intimidating (if you’re me, anyway) and includes Audrey Niffenegger, Will Hill, Rob Shearman, Alison Littlewood, Sophia McDougall and Sarah Lotz as well as many other people. And muggins here.

You can order online (Amazon UK & US) or pick up a copy at Foyles on Wednesday evening. As well as the official participants of the event, several other contributors will be there to sign copies if you’d like your book scribbled on! There will be ebooks, too, the links for which I’ll add once I’ve dragged them out of the lower recesses of the internet.

If you’re in London this week, come along and help us launch this fantastic book; come and say hi. And if you can’t make it, not to worry: with a line-up like that, there’s bound to be something in this anthology which will enchant you…

 

Privilege

With less than a month now to the release of BLOOD AND FEATHERS, I’m starting to get a little nervous.

Actually, that’s a lie.

I’m a lot nervous.

I’m almost as nervous about the idea of the book – my book – being out there, in the world, in front of actual people as I am excited. And I am excited: I’ve spent a long time living with Alice and Mallory and Vin and all the others. I know what they sound like, I know what they look like, I know how they think and how they move. I understand their world; quite possibly better than I understand my own. I know the rules, I know which ones can be broken and how to break them…

And now the two worlds – theirs and mine – are coming together, and it’s a strange, strange thing.

It’s also an unbelievable privilege.

To work so hard on something, and to be able to share it with others…

To know that someone believes in you, and in these unreal things which feel so real, enough to invest their own time and energy to make them the very best that they can be; to know that so many people have supported you along the way…

To know that this little story, these people made of nothing more than words and dreams, will go out into the world and have their own lives – and hopefully mean something to someone else; something quite different from what they all mean to me, and that’s the beauty of it…

To be in this extraordinary position of fear and hope and hope and fear…

What a wonderful, wonderful place to be.

Jingle-Aaarghnooo…squelch

In all this excitement about secret head-collecting societies and frozen lighthouses, I completely forgot: I have a story in the latest edition of Hub Fiction. it’s online & free to read, so you’ve got no excuse.

“And the Northmen Brought Their Gods” is what happens in my head when I look up and see my copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories sitting on top of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

King Alfred‘s reign is still in its infancy; Lindisfarne has been sacked – and the Danes are on their way to Wessex. And this time, they have company: a black ship that raises its own wind…

So if you fancy a break from mince pies, wrapping paper and yet-more-sodding-Slade, head over to Hub Fiction & read it here.