URTS blog tour: Where I Write by Louise Gornall, author of Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Rose3I am so excited to have the fabulous Louise Gornall, author of the equally fabulous Under Rose-Tainted Skies here today (and it’s the first day of my summer holiday today – how symbolically freedom-celebrating is that?). If you haven’t heard of this book, (where have you been?) there is some info at the end of the post but it is high on my recommended list for this summer and has been out about a week now so – you know what to do. Anyway, here is the lovely Louise herself, to tell you a bit about her writing – specifically, where she writes:


Louise GornallGood morning, guys! Thanks for having me over. Of all the questions I’m asked about writing, ‘where do you write?’ has to be my favourite, simply because the answer is always changing.

Right now, as I write this, I’m sat on a deck, surrounded by hills, bordered by trees and endless green fields. I’m in the Lake District, a short walk away from the Beatrix Potter museum, with five of my best friends — they’re squeeing and splashing around in a hot tub. I’m going to join them in a second, but I just wanted to jot down some ideas about my new book that I had last night, and I really wanted to cross a couple of things off my to-do list before we leave tomorrow and my bank holiday is snatched away by family fun times. That’s not sarcasm. In my village there is a parade and a fair and, beside Christmas, it’s probably the best day of the year here.

Where will I write tomorrow? I think maybe out in the garden. We’re having some uncharacteristically warm weather in the North West, and you guys know how it is over here, you gotta catch it before it disappears and you start seeing Christmas in September. But if it is too cold, I’ll sit on scatter cushions, on the floor, in a small space between my bed and bookshelf. I do have a desk, but I can never seem to get comfy at it, and if I’m not comfy, I will forever be distracted and write nothing.

I guess I can pretty much write anywhere, too. I don’t really need a computer as I draft on my phone with Google Docs. Ooh! And in bed. I like writing in bed. You know when it goes super quiet and dark, and your mind starts thinking of all the story things? I love it when that happens — and I have my phone right beside me, so I can tap out a few lines of thought before I go to sleep.


Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Thanks, Louise, it’s always so interesting to hear people’s actual writing practices. So you don’t need just the right chair in just the right place? I love the idea of you writing outside, surrounded by friends – sounds great (if a little noisy/distracting for me… I’m not tied to place either, but Must Have Quiet – via headphones and white noise/instrumental music if necessary).

Here’s how Goodreads summarises the novel:

Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

I’ll be reviewing this one properly soon, but here are my initial thoughts on finishing:

Fabulous account of agoraphobic teen with OCD – don’t think I’ve ever seen anxious thoughts so perfectly delineated. Everyone with an anxiety disorder will want their friends to read this to help them understand. But of course, this is no ‘handbook on OCD’ – it’s a story first and foremost, and above all, I enjoyed following Norah’s tale as she deals with the boy next door and his intrusion into her (extremely limited) world. I’ll be recommending this one a lot.


URTS blog tourThank you so much to Louise for visiting. Tomorrow, she’ll be at Escapism From Reality. She can be found online on Twitter and at her website.

Thanks also to Chicken House for providing a review copy and the fabulous Nina Douglas for tour organisation.

 

Rewriting the World: Fantasy and Social Issues (YA Shot Blog Tour with Ellen Renner)

cropped-yashotcolourlesssmallAre you aware of the YA Shot event? It’s a fantastic Arts Council-sponsored event taking place next week in celebration of libraries and young people’s literature. 71 YA and MG writers are appearing in 3 venues across Uxbridge on Wednesday 28th October. There is also a programme of blogging and vlogging workshops for those who want to learn more about this area.

This thought-provoking post on the world of fantasy writing from Ellen Renner appears courtesy of YA Shot and demonstrates the high quality of material that you can expect on the day.

*****

Rewriting the World: Fantasy and Social Issues

I write in order to understand. Writers stand outside the world and watch it spin. We study this amazing, contrary world we live in and ask: Why?

Why do some people do bad things, and others good? Why is society organised the way it is? Does power always corrupt? Is history doomed to repeat itself? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where do I fit in? Can I make a difference?

These are the very questions children ask of themselves and the world as they grow up. Writers simply never stop asking. Perhaps we never truly grow up. The first job of a story-teller is to entertain (otherwise no one will listen!); the second, to ask the hard questions.

Castle of shadowsAll of this is why I predominately write fantasy, although my debut novel, Castle of Shadows, could more accurately be described as alternative history. I wanted to write about power and politics set in a time of great technological and social change. In fact, I wanted to put a mirror up to our own world while keeping a necessary distance. So I created a world based on 1830s England but free from its history. Castle of Shadows was written just after the Iraq War and, not surprisingly, features political shenanigans and a weapon of mass destruction.

My most recent boTributeoks, Tribute and Outcaste, are straightforwardly within the fantasy genre, with all its related world-building. It was both liberating and terrifying to realise that the only limits were those of my imagination. But too much freedom can be a trap and I chose my ‘magic’ carefully and made sure it had logical limits within the story. Instead of potions and spells, my magic-users have a genetic ability to transform matter (telekinesis).

I wrote Tribute because I wanted to explore issues that have haunted me since I was a child: racism, sexism . . .all the ‘-isms’ which are an excuse for the all-too-human tendency to scapegoat segments of a society as ‘other’. In other words: the failure of empathy. It is no coincidence that my main character, Zara, is gifted – or cursed – with extreme empathy. She has no choice but to rebel against the evil she not only sees, but feels.

In this book – and especially in Outcaste – I explore the group-think mentality which allows genocide to happen, which enables members of a self-defining group to de-humanise those who do not belong. I’m extremely proud that Tribute is endorsed by Amnesty International.

Fantasy, for me, is a Petri dish in which I can place elements of our own society and culture them in isolation and watch them develop. Sometimes unexpected things grow in the dish. It isn’t surprising that the world of Tribute is unfair and violent, or that the non-magic are enslaved by those with telekinetic power. But I was shocked to discover that this terribly dark society had a single positive aspect: one silver lining to the cloud of oppressive evil. As I explored the logic of my world, it became clear to me that since women mages are as powerful as men – and cannot therefore be dominated physically – that there would be little reason for sexism to exist inside their society. Which means that when the main character – magic-user and rebel Zara – flees to the non-magic world of the Makers, she is in for a rude shock. That story is told in the sequel, Outcaste.

Sadly, fantasy still seems to suffer from a twentieth-century bias amongst the critical establishment. This, despite the fact that, when used well, fantasy is one of the best literary tools for asking those difficult questions. It is a device which allows writers and readers sufficient distance from our messy, complicated lives in which to think more clearly. Fantasy, used well, is a direct descendant of the great world mythologies. The best examples of its practice deserve to be read with thought and care, in the realisation that – in the hands of a good writer – nothing is more ‘real’ than fantasy.

*****

How brilliant was that? Thank you so much, Ellen – and YA Shot, for that great post. If you want to find out more about Ellen’s writing, she is published by Hot Key Books and there is a fabulous review of Tribute by SF Said on the Guardian Books site, in which he says:

Two things make or break a fantasy novel: the magic and the world. In both these respects, Ellen Renner’s Tribute shares something with Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, stories that gave us an original conception of magic and a richly imagined world, using the genre to say something deeply resonant about our own world.

The True Face Curriculum by Siobhan Curham

true faceSiobhan Curham is on a mission to help teens find their true selves, with her fabulous book True Face, which came out last week. I’m so happy to have her guest posting here at the Hearthfire today.

I asked her what her dream curriculum would look like (and I so wish we could implement this in schools right now – it looks brilliant!).

One thing that baffles me about the education system is that it’s so geared towards preparing us for our adult lives: cramming our heads full of knowledge, training us to pass exams, providing us with qualifications, and yet no time, or very little, is spent looking at who we actually are. Instead of tailoring education to fit the unique needs and talents of the individual, we’re forced to squeeze ourselves into a ‘one size fits all’ system. Only it doesn’t fit all at all.

And when you combine this with the pressure from the media and society to look and act and think in a certain way, it’s all too easy to lose sight of our true selves before we’ve even left school. Then, when we do leave, we can end up in jobs and relationships and lives that make us feel unhappy and uncomfortable because they just don’t fit.

Losing sight of my true self when I was a teenager caused me to drop out of uni and end up in a job that I hated. It took me years before I regained the confidence and clarity to remember who I truly was and follow my true calling as a writer.

So, if I could give school curriculums a TRUE FACE make-over, here’s what I would do…

Finding Out Who You Truly Are

There would be regular sessions designed to help students identify who they truly are. They would frequently be asked questions such as: What are your passions? What are your talents? What are your strengths? so that their academic education could be adapted accordingly to ensure that they shine.

Feeling Good About Your True Self

Building on the findings from the previous section, I would help students feel good about their own unique talents and characteristics and strengths – even if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. Especially if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. The world desperately needs more free-thinking, free-spirited people. It does not need any more reality TV stars.

Having a Healthy Body Image

To counteract the air-brushed images we’re constantly being bombarded with by magazines and the media, students would be taught that true beauty exists within all of us. And that to live our best, most fulfilling lives, we need to eat for vitality, exercise for fun and revel in our so-called ‘imperfections’.

Turning Wounds into Wisdom

Students would also be given the tools to turn any painful experiences into lessons to live their life by. Turning wounds into wisdom is one of the most freeing things you can do in life and absolutely vital for happiness during the teenage years.

Overcoming Your Inner Voice of Doom

During the school years you can often become plagued by your ‘inner voice of doom’ – the voice in your head that tells you that you’re just not good enough, popular enough, attractive enough, clever enough. I would provide students with simple techniques to counteract this inner voice and encourage them to create an inner voice that is way more supportive.

Making and Being True Friends

There are few things more depressing than reading the statistics about bullying in schools, so a substantial part of the True Face Curriculum would be focused on creating a culture of encouragement and support. There would be regular Random Acts of Kindness days and mentorship schemes.

Mindfulness Techniques

With anxiety, self-harming and depression amongst young people all massively on the rise, there would be regular lessons in basic mindfulness techniques so that students would have the tools to help themselves when life gets tough.

Studies are showing that meditation has a transformative effect in the classroom and on students’ lives, so I would make this a daily practice.

Finding Your True Calling

Lots of time would be spent studying inspirational women and girls from all walks of life and all different professions. So that when teenage girls are surveyed about what they want to do when they leave school 70% don’t reply ‘be famous’ (as they did in a recent poll). My goal would be to have 100% answer that they want to in some way create, adventure, pioneer and explore.

Although I might not be in charge of the curriculum (and writing this post has made me really wish that I was!) all of these subjects are covered in TRUE FACE and my talks and workshops for schools.

You can find out more over at the TRUE FACE website.

See what I mean? How much more meaningful could school be with Siobhan in charge? Thank you so much, Siobhan, for visiting the Hearthfire today. If you have or are a teen and like the sound of these ideas, I would strongly recommend grabbing a copy of True Face.

UKYA Extravaganza Blog Tour: Q&A with Alan Gibbons

UKYA extravaganzaAs you may know, there is a very special event taking place on the last day of this month: the UKYA extravaganza, with 35 UK authors of YA books at Waterstones Birmingham. Tickets sold out within 24 hours, and it looks like this will be the first of many, rather than a one-off event. Today the blog tour stops here, with Alan Gibbons answering a few questions about writing, the UKYA phenomenon and reading.

Gibbons booksAlan’s books cover a range of important and interesting topics. They are often contemporary novels, focusing on difficulties that teens and children face. He has written about gun crime (Raining Fire), hate crimes (Hate), domestic violence (The Edge), bullying and suicide (Hold On) and racial tension (Caught in the Crossfire, An Act of Love) as well as football (Total Football series), mythology and folklore (Shadow of the Minotaur, Night Hunger). With all of Alan’s books that I have read, there is a very real and very human story at the heart that brings the issue into focus. His writing is issues-led, but never preachy or didactic.

What do you think is special about UKYA? Why does it deserve celebrating/ promoting?

I think any initiative that keeps young people reading through the teenage years is to be supported. This crossroads between childhood and adulthood can often be turbulent, thrilling, troubling and monstrously exhausting. It was for me! The genre barely existed until landmark books such as S E Hinton’s The Outsiders, Robert Cormier’s Chocolate War and Heroes and Robert Swindells’ Brother in the Land and Stone Cold blazed a trail. Now it attracts some of the most talented writers around. An event that brings lots of these authors together with their readers is a terrific idea.

You obviously believe in the importance of diverse books. What advice do you have for writers who are hesitant about writing characters who are from different cultures from themselves?

I suppose I just feel that the variety of human experience should find its way into literature. Writers who have a range of black and Asian, male and female, gay and straight characters aren’t following an agenda or pushing ‘political correctness.’ They are reflecting their society. They are being human. Anyone who chooses not to do this is surely pushing an alternative agenda.

I would never be so arrogant as to give other writers advice. Personally, I think I have nothing to lose by walking around in somebody else’s skin. Whatever details of skin colour, gender or sexual orientation, we are all brothers and sisters and have far more in common than we have difference. I just write out of human solidarity and that means having that little bit of courage to stray into the odd avenue I have not trodden myself, to imagine another person’s circumstances and responses. Hey, if I get it wrong I can apologise in the best way possible, do it better in the next book I write. Defensiveness is the enemy of literature and artistic creation.

I’m also aware of your tireless library campaigning. Do you see this as part of your role as an author, like school visits?

Absolutely. I am a teacher-writer-activist. Each of those elements is as essential as the others. What this government is doing is wrong, the greatest act of cultural vandalism carried out in this country since World War Two. How could we writers step aside and let the philistines get away with book burning by proxy without raising howls of protest?

Can you tell us something about what you’re working on at the moment?

My next novel is about political and personal betrayal, focussing on the son of a Member of Parliament and something his father did in public life that impacts disastrously on the family. It was planned to be called You Took My Son, but may morph into End Game because my publishers prefer the second title. I am just happy for it to see the light of day in the spring. I am now working on a book about abduction and abuse for 2016.

How do you work? Do you plan in depth? How do you decide what your topic will be? Does the story come first, the characters or is that not at all how it works?

I was an angry young man. Now I am an angry man in late middle age. Pretty soon I will be an angry old man. I usually start with something in the news that either upsets me, confuses me, perturbs me or inspires me. From that, the characters start to emerge, essentially how they respond to crisis. I would love to be good at planning, but I am terrible. I usually get an ending, a few ‘scenes’ in the middle and a vague sense of where it is going then start tapping away at my laptop. I feel my way through the text instinctively and rather chaotically, I’m afraid.

Thank you, Alan, for that insight into your work. I look forward to seeing you in Birmingham!

In the meantime, if you fancy a well-written thriller set very firmly in the real world, grab one of Alan’s books.

Mothers in Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess – guest post from Katy Moran

Today, Katy Moran, author of Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess, is here to talk about mothers in YA novels and specifically in her Hidden duo. If you haven’t read these novels, I would definitely recommend them.

Mothers are often necessarily absent from YA fiction. Usually, you can’t get your heroine or hero into the truly epic amount of trouble that makes a good story with their mum in the

Hidden Princessbackground cooking tea and asking if they have done their homework. Connie has grown from being a vulnerable little sister in Hidden Among Us to a spiky heroine in her own right in The Hidden Princess, and whilst Miriam might be a bit emotionally distant with her, there is no way Connie could have planned an illegal rave with her mum on the doorstep. It’s the second party in my Hidden books to which the fae Hiddhidden among usen arrive as uninvited guests, with awful and far- reaching consequences each time around. Sometimes you just have to get rid of the mothers for these horrendous screw-ups to occur, and to give your teenage leads the chance to emerge (or not) from disaster without any adult help.

On the other hand, it’s definitely not common in YA to actually hear a mother’s side of the story. After all, these novels are about the young, the cool and the desperate, not about their mums. But in Hidden Among Us, the first of my Hidden books, when Connie is still just a little girl, I decided to narrate a few chapters from the perspective of Miriam. To really understand why she is such a different mother to each of her three children, we need to hear her side of the story and how she was led into the terrible position of getting too close to these dangerous fae creatures, and subsequently having to make a choice between Lissy, Connie and Rafe. Writing from Miriam’s perspective in flashbacks to her own teenage years and early twenties made her a more well-rounded character. I think she’d be just a textbook over-protective mum, otherwise.

The Hidden books aren’t just about the loss of children, though. The death of Larkspur’s mother sparks a revenge plot that forces all my characters into intolerable situations and leads them into situations where they are forced to make impossible choices. My fear is that I should have explored Larkspur’s mother more deeply as a character. I worry that I fridged her – that she falls into the category of the cardboard cut-out dead female who exists only to generate a revenge plot for male characters. I wish I’d been able to round her out a little more without compromising on pace.

Writing novels is a good way for authors to explore their own worst fears. The mothers in The Hidden Princess and Hidden Among Us were born from my own worst fears as a mum, not from my actual mother, who couldn’t be more different to Miriam. That desperation to protect all her children comes from a very deep and instinctive source inside me, and the fact that she can’t protect all of them is what drives the drama – a theme which re-emerges in The Hidden Princess when we learn how Lissy’s Hidden friend Iris lost her own baby son.

I do owe a little of these books to my own mum, though – well, perhaps more to my grandma. I’m not sure if Mum will thank me for sharing this, but lots of babies present a slightly odd and squashy appearance at birth, and Mum was born with both ears squashed flat to the sides of her head.

What did the midwife say to my grandma when she saw the pointed ears?

“It’s a changeling!”

Now there’s an idea…

Wow – I certainly didn’t experience Larkspur’s mother as a flat stereotype, largely because there is so much action in the novel, which would have suffered if her character were more developed. 

Thank you so much to Katy for visiting the Hearthfire today, and for giving us a peek into her thinking process. Mums in YA (and many children’s books) do tend to be absent or deficient, perhaps even more now as parents are less and less able to give their children enough freedom to have adventures. Gone are the halcyon days of the Famous Five, when kids could just roam around the countryside without anyone batting an eyelid!

#murderonthebeach Blog Tour: Deleted Scene from James Dawson’s Cruel Summer

I hope you’re ready for the awesomeness that is here today. James Dawson’s Cruel Summer, out now from Indigo, is a fabulously tense tale of murder and friendship. I am so excited to be a part of this blog tour, celebrating both Cruel Summer and Kate Harrison’s Soul Storm, wrapping up her fantastic Soul Beach trilogy.

CRUEL SUMMER – DELETED SCENE

In early drafts of Cruel Summer, Katie also had a narrative. It was felt, however, that it was more interesting if all of the novel was told from the point of view of the ‘sidekicks’. In most YA novels, Katie would be the main character, but Cruel Summer plays with that format. This scene still exists from Alisha’s point of view, but in this deleted scene we actually get to hear what Katie and Ben are saying.

Katie stared at the fire for what felt like hours. The roaring flames lost their will to fight, tiring to feeble tongues before dying to embers. They still glowed scarlet though, and they still gave heat. When she poked them with her stick, they flared up angrily, trying to spark. If she weren’t so tired she’d have thought up some poetic analogy about them being like the dying fire, but she couldn’t be bothered.

Most of the others had drifted back to the villa, blaming coldness or tiredness. Maybe it was all too much: the flight, the wine, the sun. Janey. Alisha remained on the other side of the ashes, playing with her camera. The pair sat in companionable silence.

The mood had lightened a little after the talk about Janey, but the elephant, although acknowledged, didn’t go anywhere. Katie didn’t feel any better for getting things out in the open. OK, they’d talked about it, but there was still so much left to say.

‘Hey,’ Alisha finally said. ‘I’m gonna get ready for bed.’

Katie nodded. ‘I’ll be in in a minute.’

‘You OK out here by yourself?’

‘Yeah. I like the quiet.’

Alisha walked over and gave her a kiss on the head. It was a reminder of how close they’d been once upon a time, but Katie wasn’t sure anymore. The gesture felt awkward. It was like Janey had been the stitching holding them together, after she jumped, everyone fell apart, tumbling miles apart in different directions.

Alisha’s flip flops clattered up the stairs towards the villa and she was alone with the tide and the embers. Katie closed her eyes. Still noisy in her head, but quiet on the beach. Things would seem better in the morning. They always did.

Without needing to open her eyes, she became aware of someone approaching. She opened them to see Ben’s silhouette amble onto the sand. She’d recognise his walk anywhere. ‘Hey.’

‘Hey.’ She tried to think of something cute or funny to say. There was nothing. This was painful – she hated not being able to banter with him.

‘I just wanted to come and make sure you were OK. You went pretty quiet.’

She looked up at him. With nothing to say, she just shook her head. If she opened her mouth, she was pretty sure a sob would find its way out. Ben sat alongside her, their shoulders touching this time. Unsure of himself, his arm hovered for a moment, like he was scared something might bite it. But as soon as his hand made contact with her arm, it all made sense and he pulled her into an embrace.

She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He was so warm and so soft. He still used the same washing powder. Katie buried her head in his t-shirt. It was all the same – a familiar feeling blossomed inside her chest. It was the same as it had been, and it was unique to him. She loved other things and other people but no-one else made her feel exactly like this. It was Ben-love.

A flock of what ifs flew into her mind. What if they’d never split up? What if he’d never gone out with Janey?

His stubble grazed the top of her forehead. His skin on her skin was too much to stand. She opened her eyes to find Janey sat on the other side of the fire, watching them. Not as she had been, but as she was. A drowned girl. White, dead eyes. Bloated cheeks. Grey-blue skin. Katie recoiled, but the vision had gone.

‘What?’

‘We can’t do this, Ben.’

‘Can’t do what? We weren’t doing anything wrong.’

Katie stood and started back towards the villa. She held her arms close to her body like a shield. Turning to face him, she said, ‘Ben, we can fancy this shit up as much as we like. What happened to Jane was our fault. You and me.’

‘Katie, it wasn’t. We have to stop blaming ourselves. We have to let it go.’

Katie shook her head. ‘We don’t have that right. We don’t deserve it.’ She ran up the stairs to the villa and didn’t look back to see the hurt on his face.

**********
Wow! Thank you so much, James, for this peek into the earlier life of the novel. If you haven’t already read Cruel Summer and this has whetted your appetite, do not delay – the blogosphere is raving over this one with good reason. Check out all the other fun with the hashtag #murderonthebeach, including many more fascinating blog posts and a fab Twitter Q&A with both authors.

A Reading School: Guest Post from Alan Gibbons

I’m thrilled to have Alan Gibbons on the blog today. He’s touring blogs to celebrate his latest teen publication with Indigo, Raining Fire, out last week. See the bottom of this post for more info about the book. As a former teacher, and a campaigner for libraries and reading, Alan decided to share with us his views on what a reading school looks like. It sounds like a great place; I’d certainly like to be able to teach there!

A reading school is a successful school

A reading child is a successful child. You wouldn’t argue with that, would you? A 2005 Unesco report identifies reading for pleasure as the single most powerful agent of academic and social success. It should follow therefore that a reading school is a successful school. Well, it’s full of children, isn’t it?

Go into some schools and, whatever the personal feelings of the teachers, it just doesn’t feel like that. You can go into schools without libraries, schools where the children seem only to read excerpts, schools where reading is about technique, synthetic phonics, targets or where the culture of controlled assessments is the be all and end all.

Let me take you on a tour of a reading school. Walk through the door and the foyer has bright, new books on show, usually covers facing you. There are anthologies of reviews written by the staff and students laid out on the tables. There are posters of the students’ favourite authors. There are book cover designs and bookmarks made in class. The TV screen features rolling book recommendations: best film tie-in, best vampire book, best book if you like James Bond, best factual or fiction books about football. There are short films and podcasts in which members of the school community discuss the hot reads of the week. There are book trailers downloaded from You Tube.

Carry on into the heart of the school and there is the library, properly staffed, bright and airy. This is a place with a good book stock. It is a place where digital and physical reading material co-exists in a managed symbiosis. A class is browsing the stock and making their choice. Later in the week, they will have a performance poet in. They still remember the novelist who ran writing workshops last term. Some of them are taking place in the Carnegie Shadowing Group. At lunchtime the library buzzes with reading groups, Warhammer groups, casual browsing and work on computers. Every class has a time when they come in for sustained, silent reading.

Throughout the school there are mystery reader photo competitions, pictures of the students, teachers and members of the local community photographed against the backdrop of their favourite reading landscape. There are regular assemblies around the subject of reading. Students, teachers and members of the local community talk about their favourite books. The books are laid out on tables at the back of the hall for the students to borrow.

In other words, reading is not a worthy exhortation or an optional extra, a matter of didactic instruction or something we would do if we had the time. It is organic to the life of the school, something everyone is expected to do and it is something done for pleasure. Well, you wouldn’t invent a school that doesn’t read, would you? I mean, that would be stupid.

Alan Gibbons is a full time writer and organiser of the Campaign for the Book.
Raining Fire by Alan Gibbons is published by Indigo on 7 March 2013
trade paperback £8.99, eBook £4.99

The gun is power.
The gun can make a weak man strong. The gun is the coward’s fist
 

Opening lines from Raining Fire

“The two great cities of the North West, Manchester and Liverpool, provide the background for most of my writing. This is where I have lived and worked most of my adult life. This is where my wife and I raised our family. The North West is, as Gerry Marsden sang in Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey ‘the place I love’…

As a teacher and author I have spoken to a number of youngsters for whom school and academic success held little attraction. Growing up on bleak, jobless estates, they saw sport or crime as the only pathways out of poverty and boredom. Some spoke of the buzz they got from hanging round gangs. I wanted to explore this world, neither to make judgements, nor to glamorise, but to understand.” 

Author’s Note from Raining Fire

In this tense, gripping and absorbing thriller, Alan Gibbons explores the complex issue of gun crime, and the far-reaching consequences it can have. Head over to the Indigo website for more information.

Interview with James Dawson, Author of Hollow Pike

The fabulous Hollow Pike (my review here) has a new and gorgeous paperback edition out last week – with PURPLE-EDGED PAGES! – so James has been touring the web in celebration. His blog tour, Hollow Pike Uncut, featured ‘deleted scenes’ from the novel and I would strongly recommend checking it out. Details here, on his website.


Before concluding his travels, James is here today at the Hearthfire to answer some questions about his work:

You were a teacher before becoming a full-time writer, which is not that unusual a past career for an author (and not specifically for children’s authors). Why do you think that is? For you, how does writing YA compare to teaching? 

    I suppose the answer is twofold. On one hand, they’re both incredibly creative professions (or they CAN be if you’re teaching well). The best part of being a teacher for me was coming up with madcap ideas for what we were going to teach and how – it’s a shame that the current government wants to squeeze the fun out of teaching and learning.


    Secondly, teachers are surrounded by children’s literature and you can’t help but be inspired by that. I suppose if you’re in a position of being an authority on how to write, it figures that you’d imagine you’re quite good at it (like a writing megalomaniac!)


    Hollow Pike is shot through with the idea of witches and there’s clearly an interesting history there. What kind of research did you do into witchcraft to write Hollow Pike? Are there any cool facts you picked up that didn’t make it into the book?

      An earlier version of Hollow Pike would have centred around Ley Lines rather than witchcraft. Ley Lines are supposed channels of energy that flow under the earth. Areas with a high abundance of Ley Lines are said to be hotbeds of mystical energy and that is how the kids of Hollow Pike would have developed their abilities. In the end though, witches are just more fun and the Pendle case proved irresistible.


      Earlier this year, you were the first man to be nominated Queen of Teen, which brought some interesting press coverage. What were the highlights of that experience for you? Are there any ‘lowlights’?

        The Queen of Teen was such a great experience – man do they know how to throw a party! I was proud to be nominated because the Queen of Teen organisers were keen to show it wasn’t a ‘girls only’ affair and that pink is for everyone. There was some fuss when the nominations were announced but, if I’m honest, I thought it was pretty hilarious. Some critics didn’t like that a bloke was stealing attention from female authors, but these were the same critics who hated it being a ‘girly’ award. The poor organisers couldn’t win whatever they did.


        With the Queen of Teen, you just have to enter into the spirit of it. Male or female, the day IS pink and light-hearted and stereotypical, even if that’s not altogether PC. It was designed as a remedy to stuffy awards ceremonies and there’s something quite punk about the whole day. It’s two fingers up to the establishment. More importantly, it gives readers a chance to vote for THEIR favourite books – not the books critics tell them they should like. On a final note, the winning author, Maureen Johnson, is a million miles away from being pink and fluffy, so that speaks for itself really!


        I’ve seen several interviews already asking about your writing practice, now that you’re a full-time writer. I note that you are very professional and organised about the whole thing (no lying-in until noon, for example). So, there really aren’t any strange writing habits you could share with us? No rituals or routines to help you get down to writing?

          This is such a boring answer, but no! I wake up, eat breakfast, shower and write. Actually I do eat constantly on the orders of my personal trainer. Actually, that’s still quite boring isn’t it? Writing is my job. I keep office hours. I’m sorry I’m not more flouncy and artistic!


          Well, I suppose we can forgive you 🙂 Thank you so much for answering my questions – and for producing such a fabulous read!

          Words on Wednesday: Keris Stainton and her "Female Fiction Fiddling" List


          I am very excited to be hosting this guest post as part of Keris’s blogtour.  Her new novel, Emma Hearts LA is just out and I strongly recommend it.  Without further ado, here’s what Keris has to say:

          A few years ago, I read a book called Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, which features an essay by Lara M Zeises called The M Word. The essay begins with Zeises, age 7, discovering that touching herself feels good, “sometimes good enough to help me fall asleep”, and how she didn’t know what she was doing until she read a Judy Blume novel, Deenie
          Zeises went on to say that “relatively precious few novels even allude to girls getting their groove on by themselves” adding that one notable exception is Meg Cabot’s All-American Girl: Ready or Not

          Deenie was published in 1973. Ready or Not was published in 2006. I was astonished that female masturbation was still considered such a taboo subject, more than 30 years later. And so I decided I had to mention it in my first novel, Della Says: OMG! 
          It did actually fit the plot: Della’s diary is stolen and someone starts circulating the most embarrassing bits and, as a teenager, I couldn’t have imagined anything more embarrassing than people knowing I masturbated. Which is precisely why it needs to be addressed in more YA fiction. (A friend told me about a recent YA novel in which the main character complains that her aunt comes into her bedroom without knocking and says, “What if she caught me smoking? Or undressing? Or, like, masturbating or something? Not that I really do that, ever – but it’s the principle of the thing.” Fine, that particular character may not masturbate – though I’d be very surprised – but if I’d read that as a teen, I would have been mortified.)
          And so I am collecting a “female fiction fiddling” list. If you know of any other books that should be on here, I’d be delighted to hear about them. 
          NB: May contain spoilers, so proceed with caution!  

          Deenie by Judy Blume (pub. 1973)

          Deenie touches her “special place” when she has trouble falling asleep and asks a teacher, in an anonymous note, “Do normal people touch their bodies before they go to sleep and is it all right to do that?” The teacher explains that, yes, masturbation is “normal and harmless”.

          All-American Girl: Ready or Not by Meg Cabot (pub. 2006) 

          Sam’s sister tells her she practices making love by herself. In the bath. 
          “Look, it’s easy. Get in the bathtub. Turn the water on. Scoot down to the end of the tub, until your you-know-what is under the running water. Then pretend the water is the guy, and let it–” 
          “OH MY GOD.” 
          This leads to an extended discussion of why girls should do it (“Come on, Sam. You can’t expect a guy to know what to do to make you have an orgasm. You have to do it yourself. At least until you can teach him how.”) which is both feminist and very funny. 

          Pop! by Aury Wallington (pub. 2006)

          I think I must have loaned my copy of Pop! to someone, but I’m pretty sure that, like Sam above, Marit treats herself to a romantic moment with her bath tap. (Is it just me or does that sound incredibly uncomfortable?) 

          Leader of the Pack by Kate Cann (pub. 2008)

          Leader of the Pack is a perfect example of how we’re much more open about/comfortable with/used to the idea of male masturbation (it’s never even usually referred to as “male masturbation”, is it? There’s “masturbation” and “female masturbation”). Gem is alone in bed…
          “She started moving her hands on her thighs, rocking herself. She thought… If you feel this turned on right now at the start, how’s it gonna be when… Her hands moved higher. She was thinking of the amazing kiss they’d had…” 
          The next paragraph begins “Over in his bedroom, Jack had been masturbating too, highly pleasurably.” If it hadn’t been for that, I might have actually missed that that’s what Gem was doing. 

          Della Says: OMG! by Keris Stainton (i.e. me) (pub. 2010) 

          A page of Della’s diary is scanned in and sent to her on Facebook. It reads: “But since he’s not interested in me and nothing’s ever going to happen between us, I’ll have to make do with the next best thing: touching myself and pretending it’s him.” 
          Della’s embarrassed, but her more experienced friend Maddy tells her she needn’t be, that it’s perfectly natural and everyone does it. 

          Forget You by Jennifer Echols (pub. 2010) 

          Zoey is in the bath, trying to work out whether or not she had sex the previous night. ‘Testing for tenderness gave way to making myself feel better. It helped with my headache.’ This is another one where I could quite easily have missed what she was doing. 

          Adorkable by Sarra Manning (pub. 2012) 

          After Jeane and Michael have had sex for the first time, Jeane tells him not to worry about the fact that she didn’t orgasm. 
          ‘”I was close and then I wasn’t. It happens. It’s not, like, an exact science. Like, sometimes when I’m doing it to myself, my timing goes all wrong.”
          “It does?” I managed to spit out, because my mind had just gone into a tailspin at Jeane’s casual reference to the fact that she masturbated. I mean, I know that some girls do, but generally they don’t talk about it.’


          Thank you so much Keris. It’s amazing to think that there are so few references that it’s even possible to compile a list. Any more recommendations, anyone?