Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bristol Biennial Review: We Used To Wait

Last night, after fifty minutes of awkwardness, hand-holding and some dancing, I walked home feeling fairly elated. I had been to see We Used to Wait, a play about how developing technologies effect human interaction by Massive Owl.




The performance took place at The Island, as part of the Bristol Biennial Festival, which ends today. We arrived before the show was to begin, and got our hands scrawled on in a well-lit waiting room where dozens of people tapped and swiped at their phones. I had a terrible feeling that this was where the performance was going to be.

I'd met Danny the week before (he knows my housemate) and we'd talked about the show. He'd said that the audience didn't always know when it had begun, as it had a subtle start, and so my theory that this was in fact the show was not so wild. Luckily, somebody came to usher us out of the waiting room. The phone-swipers, blinking, roused themselves from feeling bad about their social lives or having not caught up with Gran in such a long time or whatever, and we filed into another room.

The next room was more the kind of thing an (unenlightened theatre) person would expect to see a show in. Big-ish, rectangle, seats set around the edges. It was a bit bright for a person who blushes easily and is scared of interaction, who finds themself at a participatory theatre event, but I guess that if we are going to have a moment of unadulterated human connection we needed to see each other. And we were, or so Massive Owl hoped.

We faced each other shiftily, knowing that soon we would be snogging or holding hands or tying blindfolds onto one another. What we didn't know was when, or with whom. There were lots of mostly white people of different ages. Lots of pops of colour and dangly earrings. Quite a few stylish grey haircuts. Much embarrassed giggling, whispering.

You see, we could all see each other (see lighting) and we didn't all know each other, and the human eye of a stranger can be a very tricky customer. When you see it, it sees you, and it knows it's seeing you. It knows that you are seeing it seeing you. Etc. Awkward for people who used to making eye contact only with those they know or have been forced into getting to know by some social contract or other.

And, of course, this was the point.

Here's Massive Owl on Massive Owl: "[We Used] To Wait explores what it means to be ‘live’ and present together in an increasingly digital world. We Used To Wait invites its audience to question why falling asleep on a stranger’s shoulder, playing a spontaneous game and feeling the wind of someone run past you might be important. A rectangle of chairs. Audience and performers sat side by side. No set. Just us together. And a gentle invitation to interact…"

Not a fresh subject, but a relevant one.

Each of the performers - Danny Prosser, Sam Powell, Jenny Duffy, Jack Jago - was charismatic, likeable and watchable as they sprinted around the room, wrestled with each other and introduced themselves as Arnold. They told mundane stories about moments of connection with strangers, entirely without epiphany. The epiphany being that there had been connection.

Over the course of fifty minutes, the ensemble (pictured below) broke down the barriers between us, The Strangers, and gifted us a shared experience. The third time I was asked to hold hands with the people next to me, I didn't mind too much if I let go asap or not. I went for their hands before they went for mine. It felt natural. There was something special about us being there together - sentient and with language! - all at the same time. Massive Owl helped us to appreciate the wonder of that.





My favourite part of the show was a segment when Danny sprinted round the room. Reaching a certain corner, he saw someone that interested him and raced around the room again to get another look. Each time, he looked as long as he could without stopping, and there was something so comical and so sad about it. He managed to communicate so much about time and attraction and the failings of language. This thread was picked up again later and turned into an audience participation game, which, for me, diminished the simple power of the earlier moment.

Again there was a powerful part where the players began to introduce members of the audience to each other. It was exciting and reminded us of the value of each other, of how much possibility an individual contains, and how silly it is that we don't always talk more freely when seated so close (and inhabiting the world) together. But this too was stepped up and turned into something less meaningful that detracted from the integrity of what it had started out as.

I suppose it isn't theatre if you just run around a rectangle for ten minutes, then introduce everyone in the room to each other before playing a music and encouraging them to dance.

Still, with the theme of human connection at its centre, I wonder if Massive Owl could have striven to lay the dynamism of the production a little lower and allowed genuine human connection to rise above without the interference of games, without pulling everything back into the control of the performers.

And perhaps all this review is really saying is how apt and timely and important Massive Owl's entirely hackneyed subject is, because going to a performance designed to create, celebrate and promote human connection, I still left feeling starved of it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Branford Boase Award and New Cover...

In case you didn't hear about this, a few weeks ago Infinite Sky won the Branford Boase Award. It was up against Rob Lloyd Jones' Wild Boy, Ross Montgomery's Alex the Dog and the Unopenable Door, Natasha Carthew's Winter Damage, Julia Mayhew's Red Ink, Fletcher Moss's The Poison Boy and Holly Smale's Geek Girl, and I was thrilled to get to take home the prize.



It was a lovely evening, with lots of wine and canapes and talk about books. The event takes place at Walker Books, and the room we were in had been decorated with butterflies and looked grand. There were some speeches from the prize's organisers, judges, Venetia and me, and then lots of photographs. After that my publisher took me out for a delicious dinner.

The Branford Boase Award is special because it celebrates the relationship between author and editor. It was set up to remember Henrietta Branford, author of Dimanche Diller and Fire, Bed and Bone and her editor, Wendy Boase. Both died of cancer in 1999, and the award was created in their memory to promote the importance of nurturing new writing talent, and to celebrate their relationship.

I collected the award with Venetia Gosling, who aquired Infinite Sky, and now publishes books at MacMillan, and it was lovely to catch up with her at the party.


As well as the Branford Boase Award, the Henrietta Branford Writing Competition was being celebrated, and so I was delighted to meet lots of young writers too. They ranged from around 11 to 18, I think, and it was nice to hear about their stories too.

The story was picked up by the BBC and Martin Chilton from the Telegraph (who wrote the first ever broadsheet review of Infinite Sky) interviewed me about Infinite Sky and what I'm working on at the moment. Also, Michael Thorn wrote a detailed blog post about the event.


To celebrate the win, Simon and Schuster released a new paperback edition of Infinite Sky, which I think is rather beautiful. What do you think?


Monday, September 1, 2014

Part two: Infinite Sky goes to North America

Hello!

Not so long ago I posted part one of Infinite Sky's visit to North America, so here is part two about the Summer Lovin' 2.0 Tour of California, which I did with fellow Simon and Schuster writers (and ubermensch) Sarah Ockler, Suzanne Young and Jody Casella.



We hadn't met before, and I was a little apprehensive about spending six days on the road with New People. I worried that I would get exhausted from constant bra-wearing and around the clock professionalism - I've never been good at multi-tasking - but I needn't have been anxious.

Jody, Sarah and Suzanne turned out to be wonderful people, as well as talented writers, and I recognised them immediately at LA airport, where they were waiting to collect me with our lovely media escort, Ann. We hugged, feeling like we already knew each other a bit from our electronic interactions, and we were all travel-tired and tour-excited as we drove to the Beverly Hilton where we would be staying.

Arriving we saw lots of journalists and people in headsets rushing around, and discovered that the Daytime Emmy Awards in full swing. Our first book signing wasn't for a couple of hours, and so we spent some time in the foyer getting to know each other better, googling who might be at the Emmys, and plotting to get our books photographed on the red carpet/snog a famous person/eat all the canap├ęs at the party.


Our first event at Mission Viejo Library was great, and I loved hearing Jody, Sarah and Suzanne talk about the writing process behind their books and their journeys to publication. They are all so funny and warm and intelligent, and I felt very happy to be sitting beside them, with six more California days ahead of us.

Suzanne signing copies of The Program


After telling our stories, we answered questions and chatted with readers, signed lots of books and ate pizza that Simon and Schuster provided for each event. We were also given lots of lovely cakes by the librarians at Mission Viejo.

We tried to use these as Emmy invitations but the doormen were not fooled.

By the time we returned to Beverly Hills, our hotel lobby was full of thin, shiny people in high shoes. It was hard to tell who was famous and who was interloper, and I went upstairs to put on high shoes and see if I could expand this mystery.

We decided to have dinner together in the hotel restaurant, and were delighted to find the Emmys after-party playing out around the blue, glowing pool beyond our window. We watched Sharon Osborne and lots of other famous people that mainly Suzanne recognised as though they were zoo creatures, while we chatted about books and life, and drank wine.

It was a glorious first night, and Sarah, Jody, Suzanne and I were well on our way to becoming The Ultimate Dream Team. We even managed to get our photos taken on the red carpet with our books (Jody is missing alas as she had to go to bed due to tiredness and pain medication).

Dreams can come true.
 
In the next days and nights of the tour, between meeting readers and booksellers across California, we would have our photos taken (and fall in love with) Some Guy from The Vampire Diaries, spot Mark Zuckerburg in his natural environment, and visit Nova Ren Suma and her workshop at the insanely beautiful Djerrassi Writers Retreat.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Infinite Sky in Toronto...

So, I'm back from North America. Who can believe it? Not me.


 

 For fear of missing my plane and the whole tour, I got to the airport for the first of my five flights stupidly early. En route, I checked I was still okay-looking.

Check.

In preparation for my big adventure I had a bag of extremely healthy and nutritious snacks, plus Emma Jane Unsworth's rude and remarkable novel, Animals.



After a feast of weird but delicious airplane food and many sitcoms, I arrived in Canada.



More specifically, Toronto. I fell in love with this place with its colourful buildings and blue skies.


I just missed a huge storm, but there was no sign of it where I was staying, in Queen West.
Rita Silva from Simon and Schuster picked me up, and took me to my hotel WHICH HAD AN INFINITY POOL ON THE ROOF, but after wandering around a bit, I had to give into jetlag (which is a real thing - who knew?) draw my curtains and pretend to be in England.



Cue waking up about five o'clock every day for the rest of my trip, and not even minding. The next day was a school visit to Bowmore Public School where I talked to a couple of hundred students about how I became a writer (always preferred books to people), and where the idea for Infinite Sky came from (made it up).

Afterwards, there was a signing, and then - one of the highlights of the trip - some students showed us a dance they were learning. I wasn't such a pro in those first heady days of the tour, and so I didn't take photos of any of this. Idiot.


Suffice to say it was the best thing I've ever seen, and you have missed out in a way you can't understand. Imagine thirty teens springing around semi-enthusiastically to a mega mix of Motown into The Beatles into The Spice Girls into Nirvana into Miley Cyrus and then just enjoy it really.

After this was lots of signings at various branches of Indigos, which is Canada's biggest independent book store, and then a very delicious lunch with some of the S&S team and some of the people from Indigo at Brassai.

I then made a quick film with Hayley from The O'Deary Library, and then began my time off, during which I planned to eat everything. I did quite well at achieving this goal. Lots of people I asked for tips suggested I go to Kensington Market, which was vivid and busy.


And also had this car garden. (Carden?)


Here is the place that Felicia from S&S recommended, and which served the best fish tacos I have ever tasted.


After my day off in Toronto, it was time to fly to Los Angeles for the next bit of my trip, the Summer Lovin 2.0 tour, with Sarah Ockler, Jody Casella and Suzanne Young, which was even more fun that I had anticipated.

Come back soon to read about how me and the Summer Lovin ladies got our photo taken on the red carpet, met Steven R. McQueen from The Vampire Diaries and tried to give Ellen DeGeneres free cakes.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Summer Lovin' 2.0 Tour, California, Sarah Ockler and Good Reads giveaway!



It's just over two weeks until I go on the Summer Lovin' 2.0 tour of California with fellow Simon and Schuster writers Sarah Ockler, Suzanne Young and Jody Casella. To celebrate Suzanne's friend at Novel Novice has made this poster for us:

Last week, I interviewed Jody Casella about her writing. Next up is Sarah Ockler. Here she is, look!


And here is her bio:

Sarah Ockler is the bestselling author of several books for teens: The Book of Broken Hearts, Bittersweet, Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, and the upcoming #scandal. Her books have received numerous accolades, including ALA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, Girls’ Life Top 100 Must Reads, Indie Next List, Amazon Top Movers and Shakers, and nominations for YALSA Teens’ Top Ten and NPR’s Top 100 Teen Books.

She’s a champion cupcake eater, coffee drinker, tarot enthusiast, night person, and bookworm. When she’s not writing or reading at home in Colorado, Sarah enjoys hugging trees and road-tripping through the country with her husband, Alex. In addition to her website at sarahockler.com, fans can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Or check out her blog.


  
Hi Sarah! Tell us about a typical day in the life of you...

Well... there are pajamas involved. Lots of staring at a blinking cursor. Eating chocolate. Wondering where all the chocolate went. Baking cupcakes to make up for lack of chocolate. Back to the blinking cursor. Falling down an internet rabbit hole. Some kind of social media-inspired outrage. Time to eat those cupcakes. And suddenly it's dark outside! Somehow, books get written here, but I'm not sure exactly how. Surely there is magic afoot. ;-)
 

And how many books have you written?

I've written six novels for teens: Twenty Boy Summer, Fixing Delilah, Bittersweet, The Book of Broken Hearts, #scandal, and my latest, still untitled, due out next summer.


I just received #scandal from Simon and Schuster, and can't wait to read it. So, which authors inspire you?

All of them! Seriously, anyone who can sit at a computer or notebook all day and give words and stories to the voices in her head has my utmost respect (crazy authors unite!). But I'm especially inspired by authors who were writing YA before YA was even "a thing" -- like Judy Blume, Laurie Halse Anderson, Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and hundreds of others who continue to put out great works, even as the market continues to change and grow.

Do you plan your novels or make them up as you go along?

It depends on the book, but I've been known to create monster plot spreadsheets before typing a single word of story on the page. I'm trying to get away from that, though, to let the creativity flow a bit more organically. Now, as long as I have an idea of the general theme I'm exploring, and the kinds of characters who can best express that theme through their interactions and challenges, I'll write. We'll see how that works out! Basically, I try to just keep an open mind with each new project, because every book has different emotional and time demands, and what works with one won't work for another.


Do you have a vision of what the world will be like in 200 years? Could you share it?

200 years? I don't even have a vision of what I'm making for dinner! But I've read recently that we're running out of coffee and chocolate, so whatever it is, it can't be good. Speaking of coffee and chocolate... I think I've just solved the what's-for-dinner conundrum. Bonus!


Ha! I am in editing mode, which means noodles and coffee for dinner for me. Which book do you wish you had written?

The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater. 


And finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I just turned in my latest contemp YA, so I'm expecting revision notes on that soon. I'm also working on a supertopsecret project with my husband, details to be revealed in the future. But hopefully not 200 years in the future, when we're all out of the good stuff.


Thanks Sarah! The supertopsecret project sounds intriguing. Hopefully I'll get to find out more about that when we meet in California...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Summer Lovin' 2.0, California, June 2014 and Good Reads giveaway

It's not long until I go on the Summer Lovin' 2.0 tour of California with fellow Simon and Schuster writers Sarah Ockler, Suzanne Young and Jody Casella. To celebrate I have set up a Good Reads giveaway of Infinite Sky. Just click the side bar to the right of this post.

And seeing as I'm going to be spending almost a week with Ockler, Young and Casella, I thought it might be good to get to know them a bit better. So, Jody Casella is first. Here she is, look!:


And here is her official bio: 

Jody Casella is a former high school English teacher with a degree in Creative Writing from Rhodes College and a Masters in English from the University of Memphis. Her first novel Thin Space, a paranormal YA mystery published by Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster, received a starred review from Kirkus. She lives with her husband and two teenagers in Columbus, Ohio.

Hiya Jody! Can you tell us about a typical day in the life of you?
 
Mostly my day is a long, painful battle with procrastination and self doubt, intermixed with frequent dog walkings. Every day I wake up planning to start my writing early, and every day after doing every possible other thing, I finally break down and begin my work. Usually around 2:00. 
 
What have you written so far?

Thin Space, a YA paranormal mystery about a teen boy grappling with his identical twin brother's death. (It's the sixth novel I've written and the first to be published.)

Congratulations on completing so many novels, and not giving up. Which authors inspire you?

Meg Rosoff, Courtney Summers, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Maggie Stiefvater. On the adult side: Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Russo.

And do you plan your novels or make them up as you go along?

I make them up as I go, writing to figure out what the heck I am writing. This method of working, I've learned, requires multiple rewrites and outlining after the fact. I'm not sure I would recommend it.

I wouldn't recommend it either, but it's what I do too. Which book do you wish you had written? 

Funny that you ask. I just wrote a post about this for a group blog I contribute to called YA Outside the Lines.

And finally, what are you working on at the moment?

A rewrite of a rewrite of a rewrite. I THINK I have almost cracked the code on this one and don't want to jinx it by talking about it too much. I call it Greek Mythology Meets Environmental Disaster.

It sounds intriguing, and I hope that Jody is right about having cracked the code on it. First drafts are the worst... For those of you who might be able to make it, here are the tour dates again. Please come and see us:


 
SUMMER LOVIN’ 2.0 TOUR STOPS

Sunday, June 22 at 3:00PM

Mission Viejo Library
100 Civic Center
Mission Viejo, CA 92691

Monday, June 23 at 7:00PM

Mysterious Galaxy
7051 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard
Suite 302
San Diego, CA 92111

Tuesday, June 24 at 7:00PM

Barnes & Noble
210 Americana Way
Glendale, CA 91210

Wednesday, June 25 at 6:30PM

Vroman’s Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91101

Thursday, June 26 at 6:00PM

Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Boulevard
Corte Madera, CA 94925

Friday, June 27 at 7:00PM

Kepler’s Books
1010 El Camino Real
Menlo Park, CA 94025