YALC, school visit & writing progress

I’ve been a bit slow on updating this website but hopefully my main reason for it is a good excuse – it’s Camp Nanowrimo and that means I’m writing Fanning Flames: Firesouls Book II! I’m nearing the middle of it now, hoping to get half done by the end of the month.

So, updates. I went into my old primary school back in June to talk to Year 4s about my book and writing. It was great fun, it’s much easier standing and talking in front of a room of kids than a room of adults (now I sound like Giselle). They had interesting questions and I got to give them the advice I wish someone had told me when I was younger about the realities of being an author (for example, ignore anyone who says you can’t and keep writing).

The awesome book wall

Last weekend (well, almost a week and a half ago now) I got to go to London Film and Comic Con, which also featured YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention)! Apart from getting photos and autographs and gawking at cosplayers (first con, it’s allowed), I went to several talks and workshops in the YALC corner. ‘Bring me my dragons: writing fantasy today’ was a given and it was just a bonus that there were a couple of people I’m a fan of on the panel – Amy McCulloch (author of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow) and Marc Aplin (runs Fantasy Faction website). There were other authors too and they had lots of wisdom to impart on what to expect when first getting into publishing, which I’ll summarise briefly:

  • Just because you get a book deal, doesn’t mean the rejection is over. One author recounted how one particular country consistently refuses to buy her books.
  • Rejection does not mean you are a bad writer.
  • Patience is key in the publishing industry, and more specifically when querying agents two months is a normal amount of time to expect to wait before hearing back.
  • Love your own idea – don’t change for the market.

They also had some good comments on writing YA fantasy specifically. Sex/violence came up as it so often seems to when discussing YA and I loved the remark that adult fiction just uses it as “condiments” rather than actually thinking about it. I’ve often wondered at what classifies as YA because although the age range of characters is a part of it, it’s not everything. I didn’t consider Kindling Ashes YA but on Goodreads it’s been put in that category quite a lot. I don’t object to it, but I was a little surprised. Some points made about what distinguishes YA fantasy from adult fantasy is that it’s more than just the content and the age of characters. The hero is often an outsider, as so many (possibly every?) teenager feels they are. They have to be relatable, making mistakes and navigating around obstacles in a way that makes the reader imagine themselves in the character’s shoes. It’s quick, light, personal – YA fantasy celebrates the individual at a fast pace.

Breaking into SFF panel

I attended a workshop run by CJ Skuse called ‘Planning and writing a kick-ass YA novel: useful tips and tricks’. This was mostly aimed at improving my WIP Nahim but it was useful in general too. I got a big folder of sheets to work through which I haven’t processed yet, but CJ sped-talk through the whole workshop giving so many suggestions. If you’re stuck on a scene, just describe what happens. “Girl walks in. Girl pulls out gun.” It’s getting something down and you can expand on it later. Talk to your characters. What’s in their pockets? Consider method writing – dressing and living as your character (might be a bit difficult for me but interesting nevertheless). She pointed out how so many books have a “charged image”, such as Harry Potter’s scar or the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and to consider what your own is (I have yet to work it out for Firesouls but I’m open to suggestions).

I also did some speed-pitching (yikes), went to another talk about breaking into SFF (Stephen King’s book on writing got recommended again) and got free books at the end of Sunday! Amy McCulloch and Ed Cox signed my copies of their books and were both really nice and talkative. And I can’t talk about LFCC without failing to mention that I met Anthony Head, aka Giles from Buffy!

My new books!

From all that I’ve seen on twitter and elsewhere, YALC was a fantastic success and whether it’s as part of LFCC or its own event, I hope to attend next year!

And on a completely unrelated note, here’s an interview I did with the Literary Debut website about Kindling Ashes, the fantasy genre and what to expect from Fanning Flames.


My BEA experience

At the end of May I had a whirlwind trip to New York. As the final part of winning Lulu’s Wrimo Accelerator competition, Kindling Ashes was featured in Lulu’s booth at Book Expo America.

I arrived on Wednesday 28th and since I didn’t have a ticket for the Thursday, spent most of the day wandering – Union Square, Chinatown, Little Italy. I’ve been to New York before so I tried to avoided too much rushing around to save energy for BEA. I did however make a point to visit the Strand – it’s a giant 2nd hand bookstore just south of Union Square. I spent a good hour in there getting lost in books, there’s some great bargains to be found as well as old books to ogle at.

Jason Segel at the Children's Author Breakfast

Jason Segel at the Children’s Author Breakfast

I’d bought a ticket to the Children’s Author Breakfast so I turned up at the Javits Center at 8am for that on Friday. Jason Segel was predictably funny relating how he grew up with nightmares that a witch would eat his toes that inspired his debut kids’ book. It was also interesting to hear that Jeff Kinney is a computer programmer as well as author, and is opening his own indie bookstore (hello new item on bucket list).

BEA entrance

BEA entrance

Stepping into the exhibit hall for the first time is completely overwhelming. I just picked a direction and walked because I had no idea what else to do. There are so many stalls to look at, a whole autographing section at the back and lots of smaller stages around the edges of the room where they had panels. I wandered a little to get my bearings, planned out a few events to go to and then set off exploring for real.

I’ve recently been reading Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series so I was very excited to find her there. It took about two hours of queuing but I got a signed ARC of Heir of Fire! I’ve never had access to ARCs before (advance reader copies) – I’d never even heard of them until I started trying to get reviews for Kindling Ashes – but I like the concept a lot. I also went to a panel about worldbuilding and found Scott Westerfeld and his new book there! I’d seen it advertised online (it’s about a girl who gets a publishing contract after writing a novel for NaNoWriMo) but had no idea I’d be able to get it at BEA. The panel itself was interesting too, seeing how different authors approach worldbuilding and the varying amounts of planning they do.

worldbuilding panel

Worldbuilding panel

I went to Lulu.com’s booth near the end of the day to record a couple of promotional videos (which I apologise for, I write instead of vlog for a reason) and then I headed back to hostel… but not for long! I went to Books of Wonder in the evening because Garth Nix and some other YA authors were signing there, and got my ARC of Clariel signed! I loved the Old Kingdom series when I was younger and this was the book I was most eager to get from BEA.


Autographing area

Saturday was even crazier than Friday, which I didn’t think was possible. But BEA opens to the public for one day of “BookCon” and as great as it is to see so many people excited about books and authors, you could hardly walk through the exhibition hall at the start because it was so crowded. I spent quite a lot of the day at UPublishU because of that. It’s a self-publishing conference going on at the same time as BEA. I signed some books at Lulu’s booth, got a professional headshot taken thanks to Kobo, went to a couple of talks. One panel about marketing a series was really informative. They had some massive indie authors there who discussed just how much it was picking one blade of grass at a time to get a following. You’re never going to get success overnight and even when you do have readers you have to keep working at the grassroots level. Also good tip: the importance of the page after the story ends!

I finally got to meet some of the other Wrimo Accelerator winners on Saturday! I’d missed them the day before because of being stuck in the Heir of Fire queue when we were meant to have lunch. We’d been in contact beforehand after winning the competition but it was great to put names to faces (and faces to books) finally.

In the evening a few of us met again, as well as some local NaNoers and Grant Faulkner (director of NaNoWriMo). Unfortunately I couldn’t stay long because I flew out of JFK at 10pm to get back to London on Sunday for work on Monday. It was a short trip, but the best experience. If you ever get the chance to attend BEA/Bookcon, or any other similar event like London Book Fair, please do – you won’t regret it. Personally, I’m looking forward to attending the YA Lit Con in London in July as part of LFCC. I’ve caught the bug now 🙂