Magic Al’s Circus goes to school

When 9-year-old orphan Izzy hops on the last wagon of the circus passing through town and persuades the ringmaster to let her stay, she has no idea what she’s let herself in for. Featuring brawling clowns, misbehaving pixies and a dragon who can’t breathe fire, this is officially the worst circus EVER. As she battles stage fright and faces booing audiences alongside her new partner Smokey, Izzy stumbles upon a snooping inspector who threatens to shut the circus down. She’s not about to let him send her back to the orphanage, so she sets out to make the medicine that will cure Smokey’s fire-breathing issues and blow the inspector away.

On Thursday 4th July I had another visit into my old primary school to talk to Year 4 about one of the two stories I have been working on recently; a chapter book about an orphan who runs away with a magical circus. It’s been in the works for about a year and is now at the stage that it’s gone through quite a few beta readers and after some feedback from my target audience, I’ll be sending it out to agents.

I talked through the very basic journey of what it takes to get a book published:

  • Idea
  • Plan
  • Write
  • Edit
  • Beta readers
  • Send to agent

It’s something that no one really tells you when you’re a kid who wants to grow up to be an author. I also very much enjoyed receiving a question about whether Magic Al’s Circus was a “girls’ book” or a “boys’ book” and shot down the entire concept, emphasising how they could read whatever books they wanted to.

Once Magic Al’s Circus is sent off to agents and my current YA fantasy novel Curse of the Rohkai has been edited and is with beta readers, I shall be returning to Fanning Flames. Thanks to the discovery of beat sheets as a way of planning a story’s structure, I have finally worked out what to do with Giselle’s ending – the coming war with Ikjor is not going to be the only cause of battles!


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.