Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Hull Book Awards

Congratulations to Chris D'Lacey who was voted the winner for his teen thriller A Dark Inheritance at The James Reckitt Hull Book Awards yesterday. A Dark Inheritance is a must-read for fans of The X Files, and those with more than a passing interest in dragons.

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Jeff Norton was there for his most recent book, Memoirs of a Neurotic Zombie, and on the way to the ceremony, he regaled me with the insane and amazing plots and premises to his many novels. If you know any youngsters that love ponies, go out and buy them a Princess Pony book immediately (Jeff writes these with a partner under the pseudonym Chloe Ryder).

Sam Angus moved everyone deeply with her speech about the role and treatment of donkeys in the First World War, of which I previously knew nothing about. Those with friends interested in the First World War should pick up her most recent book Captain for them, it has lots of crossover appeal, and would suit adults as well as sensitive, intelligent teens.

Martyn Bedford was shortlisted for Never Ending, a beautifully written, emotional read, which would appeal to Jenny Downham and Gayle Foreman fans. It has parallels with Infinite Sky too, featuring a sudden act of violence and the death of a beloved sibling.

Unfortunately, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald couldn't make it, though she sent us a message over Twitter.

It was great to see the warm and hard working team in Hull again and to catch up with some of the students that voted for Infinite Sky last year.

The teens were enthusiastic about all of the books, with lots being bought and signed, and I wasn't sure who was going to win right up until it was announced (more tense than the X Factor, with two rounds of drum rolls). Chris seemed truly delighted to hear his name called out, and gave a heartfelt speech, which was lovely to hear. Martyn had talked to me earlier about the importance of regional book prizes, and how much of a difference they can make to an author's career, and he's right. 

The event is a real celebration of reading and books and authors, and it was lovely to return as mistress of ceremonies. It's a great thing the team at Hull Libraries are doing, and it's been a pleasure being involved.

Finally, I checked in with Larkin, he sends his regards.

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Bookish News...

I haven't written a blog for so long I thought I'd become allergic or developed a phobia, but it turns out I was just a bit frightened.

So far this year I am mainly reading UK YA debuts as I am judging the 2014 Branford Boase Award. I am over halfway through the nominated books, and have found some new authors to love in the process. Have a look at the longlist.

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Dave Shelton who won the year before me with his wonderful book, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat (which was also shortlisted for the Carnegie and Costa that year) has been giving me tips about how to approach the judging process. (The one that I especially listened to is not to read all the books in a stupidly short period of time.)

So he can share more of his niblets of wisdom with you, he has agreed to be interviewed here, about writing and judging books and what it is like to be an illustrator - and a person as well. So, watch out for that. And if you have any questions for him, tweet me or post in the comments below. In the meantime, have a look at his blog, it's really lovely.

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A boy and a bear in a boat. 

The other thing I have do A LOT is work on Book Two, which I have announced so many titles for that I swear from here on to refer to only as Book Two until the thing is finished. It is taking me a long time, and I've written hundreds of thousands of words - many of which will not even be in the book - but then that's the joys of being a writer. Right?

Don't worry though, it's going to be extremely good, and you, especially, will really love it.

Infinite Sky has been shortlisted for two more prizes this year: the Angus Book Award and the We Read Prize, so keep your fingers crossed that it wins if you like me, and also please keep your fingers crossed that it wins if you don't like me. Just as a nice favour.

Also this year, I am returning to Hull of which I am now informally and forever the Queen since winning a book prize there last year (I think that is what they said the prize was). Thus, I will be hosting the James Reckitt Hull Children's Book Award there this year, and I am really excited to return, and pass on the glory - though not the crown, there is only one informal Queen of Hull - to the next winner.
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Dreamy Hawthornden Castle

Finally, I have been awarded a Hawthornden Castle Fellowship for September, and plan to work on a novel for adults in my time there, as well as camping in the surrounding wildlands. I am a lucky lucky thing.

So that's everything, I think. What have you been up to? How do you feel today? Leave me a comment, and make me happy...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book events in Falmouth...

Tomorrow, I'm heading down to the Falmouth Book Festival to do a few bookish things.

Falmouth is a place very dear to me. It's where I went to university, had my first short story published, and lived out my wilderness years (which is a phrase stolen from Gwendoline Riley's Cold Water). I read Cold Water when I lived there, and its young author and her writing about the every day truths of her life (Gwendoline was 22 when it came out; I 20) tempted me with the notion that I could be a writer now.

The Falmouth Book Festival is in association with Telltales, which is an organisation that I set up with my dear friend Clare Howdle in 2008, and which I am incredibly happy to see continuing to bring bookish good times to the south west, and beyond.

I'm doing a variety of different events with fellow Simon and Schusterite Rupert Wallis, who I know from the Telltales days, and whose debut Young Adult novel The Dark Inside is accruing great reviews, and has recently been nominated for the Edinburgh First Book Award (which closes at midnight tonight, so go and vote!)

Our first public event, is on Monday 20/10 at Dolly's Wine Bar at 2pm. Talented screen, stage and story writer, Jane Pugh will be asking Rupert and I about our books, journeys to publication, and that sort of thing, as well as opening it up for a Q and A and readings. Come along, and see what you think. It's free, and will be entertaining, I promise.

Tuesday night is again at Dolly's Wine Bar, this time for a Young Adult Speakeasy, starting at 7pm, with Telltales, the Writing Squad and the Story Republic. It is a free event, suitable for adults and young adults, and is another chance to hear Rupert and I read, and check out the local, young writing talent (not in a creepy way, you.)

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


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.


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.