Review: Lost on Mars by Paul Magrs

Lora lives with her family out in the desert dust of the Martian prairie. It’s a tough life that builds tough people, and Lora is preparing to one day run her own Homestead, growing crops between the destructive dust storms, and training their lizard beasts of burden. And then the Disappearances start. Lora’s grandmother and Ruby are the only two surviving original settlers, and as people start to vanish from the town, they warn that a greater threat is coming. When Lora’s own family is hit, she knows she has to do something before their way of life is consumed. But who is the true threat? Is it the native Martians, unseen for generations? Or could it be other humans? What if Mars is so much bigger than Lora could have ever imagined? Continue reading

YA Shot 2016 

This last weekend was the fabulous YA Shot, which was packed full of amazing authors and interesting panels. With the sparkly wristbands, venues named after literary locations (Ministry of Magic, Narnia, Middle Earth and Wonderland), cheery and helpful guides, and event totes, it was a day full of fun and thoughtful touches, and really encapsulated everything I love about YA and the community.

There were four different venues running concurrently, so obviously I didn’t manage to go to everything, but below I’ve written up my notes from each of the panels and workshops I did attend. If you have a write-up post as well, please let me know! I’d love to read about the things I missed. There were several times when I had to choose between two things I would have really loved to see because the timings just didn’t match up.

The Social Network: relationships in a digital age

Fox Benwell, Alice Oseman, chaired by Nicci Cloke 

Fox and Alice explored a lot of internet issues in this panel. Alice said that the internet lets people express things that they wouldn’t in real life, without judgement. Fox agreed that internet anonymity is explorative, but also pointed out that it means that people are less accountable. He said that the internet is a great tool if that’s all you’ve got in terms of identity-exploration, but warned against using it instead of going out into the world if that’s possible in your situation. Alice said that the internet is so much about personal validation and getting likes and responses, and that can really affect your self-esteem when you don’t get the response you expect. And if you step over the line, the negative response will be so much more extreme than in real life – being held accountable is important, but often the mob descends and it goes too far.

Fox pointed out that the internet allows a space for people who engage differently – spending even just 30 seconds checking your phone can help you to recharge in a social situation, and lessen anxiety. He also drew a connection between the development of the internet and identity language and communities – as people found others like them, they realised that they were not alone in their situation, and they developed the language to be able to discuss their experiences. And as more people find those communities, they grow and become more established, and the language becomes better understood in mainstream spaces. Twitter is a great resource and equalizer in that and other ways – experts are easily accessible.

Nicci emphasized the importance of the online blogging community for promoting YA, since there is no real mainstream coverage.

Alice loves writing extra content because it gives her a space to explore characters in a way that isn’t always possible in the book. While she develops her characters as she goes – and often has to smooth out personality changes in re-writes! – Fox finds that it’s often the plot that has to change because the characters won’t go through with it.

Recs for soundtracks to write to: Nicci says Harry Potter, Alice says Lost in Translation, and Fox says The Lord of the Rings.

Book recs: Alice says Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho

The Rescuers: children saving adults

Peter Bunzl and Kiran Millwood Hargrave

(I got to this one a little late so missed the beginning)

When I arrived, Kiran was talking about the inspirations for her characters: Her father’s curiosity and her mother’s fierce intelligence combined to make Da, and Isabella was based on her cousin who lives in India – Kiran wanted to write something that she would enjoy. Lupe is her favourite character – she’s impulsive, selfish, not that kind. In the first draft, Lupe was only in the first three chapters originally, but Kiran loved writing her! And she really grows and develops through the book. Kiran also talked about female friendship in her book – it was important to her that it was strong but not flawless. Her dad is a geologist, and she loves the magic of what’s just off the edge of the map, and the fact that people would put monsters on the empty parts of a map because that was less scary than the unknown.

Peter wished that he’d made his narrative less complicated! It can be difficult trying to keep track of more than one POV. He talked about the fact that children can see the magic in things that adults wouldn’t necessarily see.

Peter’s next book is a sequel to Cogheart, and involves a missing locket and a woman from the protagonists’ past. Kiran’s next book is called The Island at the End of Everything and includes leprosy, forced migration and butterflies.

Book recs: Both Kiran and Peter say Atlas of Remote Islands

It’s A Wonderful Life: exploring bullying and loss through magical realism

Nikki Sheehan and Mike Revell

(Had to leave this one about fifteen minutes early to get to the next panel)

There was some discussion as to what exactly constituted magical realism – Nikki said that she knows about magical realism from Spanish A Level, as a lot of South American writers utilise it. Anything can happen when you’re a teenager, and magical realism enhances reality. Mike said that the magical gives you the escapism that you need to deal with difficult issues – it gives you the distance you need to confront it.

Nikki agreed – she said that you can feel rather than be told about the issues – YA is great for dealing with difficult things, but people don’t tend to want to read about it straight. About her writing process, Nikki said she kept the protagonist perspective gender neutral for the first few chapters until she was sure that he was a boy. She gave him the characteristics of a swan – strength, grace, beauty, pride – because they were the things that this weak, hurting, friendless boy needed. She said it’s difficult as a writer to ‘decide’ what’s real and what’s psychological. Mike wanted to leave the magic open to interpretation in his first book.

Mike said that Stone Bird almost wrote itself – which set him up for a fall when he started writing the next one! He hated reading until he read Harry Potter aged 11. He said it was important for non-readers to find ‘the right book at the right time’.

The Blogging System: the things they don’t tell you

Vivienne Dacosta (Serendipity Reviews) and Laura Heath (SisterSpooky)

I was so glad I’d gone to this workshop, even though initially sitting down at a small table with famous bloggers was a little intimidating! But it was great to listen to advice that was based on their experiences with blogging, and it was the first time I’d ever really taken myself seriously as a blogger, so I found it helpful in that regard. Here’s what they said!

Tag publicists, publishers and authors in positive reviews on Twitter – definitely do not tag them in negative reviews! You can also use Instagram to thank publishers for ARCs when you receive them, and Tweet Deck to schedule tweets in advance. And don’t feel pressure to say yes to everything. Keeping the right balance between blogging and the rest of your life is important. A good thing to do is to dedicate a block of time to writing blog posts and then schedule them for the next month (for example), so that you feel less pressure to continue to create content without a break.

A really interesting idea was that author guest posts can be about things other than books – doing something different might be more fun for both you and them. Don’t be afraid to create your own quirks – it’s better to do things slightly differently to everyone else than to follow all the trends.

Managing your reading and choosing what to review

Cora (TeaPartyPrincess) and Luna (Luna’s Little Library)

This was a lovely workshop – once it transpired that I was the least experienced blogger at the table, the others directed a lot of advice towards me, which was really kind of them. It turned out that we had assembled the impromptu first meeting of the Zoe Marriott Fan Club! And then we ran over time and had to run to get to Zoe, Alwyn and Samantha’s panel afterwards!

Luna began by inspiring jealousy in us all with her description of her new personal library system. She pointed out that piles can be intimidating and put you off dealing with them, but shelves feel organised, and it’s easier to face them.

Scheduling tips! Dedicate a day, or half a day, to blogging and get reviews etc done in advance. And a notebook – or postcards – to make notes as you read to make writing reviews easier.

Have a review policy, and check out what other bloggers include on theirs for an idea. And check out Goodreads review groups.

I was enthusiastically recced Manuela Salvi’s Girl Detached.
Luna and Cora also had handouts for everyone, with accompanying book swag and sweets!

Little Women: fantasy, gender, power and constraint

Alwyn Hamilton and Zoe Marriott, chaired by Samantha Shannon

This was my Star Panel of the day. I was so looking forward to it and it absolutely met my expectations! I wrote a LOT of notes for this panel, so this is probably my longest write-up! Also, I’m aware that I wrote more about Zoe than Alwyn – this was just because I’ve heard Alwyn talk about Rebel of the Sands a couple of times before, so there was less that was new to me. If anyone else has a write-up that’s more about Alwyn, please let me know, I’d love to link it here!

Samantha’s first question asked why Alwyn and Zoe write about girls. Alwyn said she gravitates towards reading about girls, and she is one! Amani was a reaction to ‘men are stronger so woman can’t be in action fantasy’ – guns are great equalisers in terms of strength. Zoe wanted to tell the story from a feminist perspective, so a woman made sense as a protagonist. She then stated definitively that the view that writers should write more for boys because there are enough books for girls now is clearly nonsense, and she ended with the sentence ‘I will keep writing books for girls until they pry the pen out of my cold dead hands.’

Zoe also talked about the historical changes in women’s equality and said that there was a pattern: women gain some equality, men get concerned that they might lose power, there’s a pushback, and equality is lost again – for example, after a female Japanese Emperor, the reaction against women was significant, despite the fact that it had been one of the most successful reigns in Japanese history.

On the share of masculine/feminine traits between her main characters in Barefoot on the Wind, Zoe said that because the traditional Beauty is so ‘feminine’, it was necessary to give Hana some masculine traits, but to prevent communicating the message that femininity = weakness, she gave her male protagonist, who is very strong because he is literally a Beast, some traditionally feminine traits – he sews, he cooks, he sings to baby animals and cries openly. In the companion novel, Shadows on the Moon, the protagonist (based on Cinderella) plays into everyone’s idea that she’s weak and obedient in order to plot her revenge on her family’s murderers.

In talking about things that they don’t like seeing in media, Alwyn said that she’d forgive mostly anything if there’s a strong female friendship. Zoe said there are a lot of bromance or dad/son films, but not a lot about complex female relationships – Brave was an example of doing it right.

In talking about their male protagonists/love interests, Alwyn addressed Jin’s significance in the book – he had to be an outsider because Amani’s initial interest in him is that he represents what she wants – he’s from where she wants to go. He also introduces a new perspective of equality and trust into Amani’s very patriarchal environment. Without him, she would have left eventually, but there would have been less explosions! Zoe said that it was very important that Itsuki had had his redemptive journey before he met Hana so that it wasn’t her job to fix him, and that Hana and the (female) antagonist connected so that they didn’t compete for Itsuki.

Samantha asked whether Zoe and Alwyn felt like they were part of a movement, but Alwyn pointed out that it’s difficult to define a movement until it’s done. Zoe said that men feel like women’s equality is a loss for them, and sparked a discussion about crowd scenes in all films (EVEN animated films!) having crowd scenes with a 70:30 men:women ratio, so that we actually see that as being a balance. Our perceptions of women in history, and women in reality, are wrong because of the way we are taught and the media because we consume.

On racial diversity in their writing: Alwyn said that while Amani was the Blue-Eyed Bandit long before she had a name, because the world was based on 1001 Nights, there was no way she could have a white, blonde protagonist without it being whitewashing. Zoe said that she realised after the fact that all the characters in her first published novel The Swan Kingdom had been white, and since then all of her heroines have been women of colour. Alwyn emphasised that you have to be aware of what your default is so that you can challenge unconscious bias.

Book recs: Alwyn says The Blue Sword, the Alanna books, the Winner’s Curse trilogy, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, and Ella Enchanted. Zoe says Sherwood Smith’s Crown Dual Duology, Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and anything by Diana Wynne Jones.

Space Odyssey: the resurgence of YA sci-fi

Kat Ellis and SF Said, chaired by Lauren James

The panel discussed their inspirations and agreed that their sci-fi love all came from film/TV when they were growing up – SF was particularly awed by the scale of Star Wars. They also talked about the difficulty of defining sci-fi – broadly speaking, if it could happen, its sci-fi, and if it couldn’t, its fantasy. But the boundaries of possibility are changing all the time. Kat talked about organs being built from a 3-D printer – that’s sci-fi, but it’s happening now! And she pointed out that our ideas of the future aren’t always correct. SF bemoaned the difficulty of staying ahead of science given the slow speed of writing and publishing – he had invented a futuristic device called the Reader, but by the time he’d finished the book, the iPad had been released!

In terms of research, Kat aims for plausible rather than accurate – she does do research, but it’s fiction, not a science manual – it needs to be fun! SF is less interested in the science, and more interested in the metaphors behind the inventions – it has to be resonant. Especially when writing for kids – they can tell when you’re being patronising, and they can understand more complex ideas than people give them credit for. The most important thing is that the story is exciting enough to keep them reading.

SF pointed out that aliens (as in his book, Phoenix) are a great way to think about the ways we deal with otherness and difference in our world.

There was a really interesting question on religion, as both SF and Kat’s sci-fi employ it. When SF was growing up, there was a belief that religion was over, and science had taken presence elsewhere instead. But that is clearly, categorically wrong. In Phoenix, dogma and ideology still exist – and it’s those which are the problem, not religion itself. Kat had to work out how future technology and future religion would connect, and how the religious would employ the technology available to them.

Neither SF or Kat have published sci-fi before – for Kat, the thriller element connects all of her books, and sci-fi isn’t the only place she likes to tell stories in. SF had published Varjak Paw, a story told six inches off the ground, and wanted to scale it up to epic proportions and tell the story of an epic journey – and what better place to to that than space? Though he admitted that the characters are similar! He loves the mythic – the stories people tell about their ancestors – and that’s probably the element that connects his books.

In talking about the future of sci-fi, SF said that children’s publishing has historically considered sci-fi to be a Bad Idea, but the ripples are coming round. Sci-fi and space happare having a massive resurgence. Kat pointed out that people’s interests cross over into what they want to read – an increase in scientific development leads to an increase in science fiction.

On their next books: SF’s is not a sci-fi- it’s ‘totally mythic’! There’s a magical animal! Kat is currently writing horror, and then wants to write something funny. Lauren’s next book IS a sci-fi!

Book recs: SF says Ursula le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (remade by Neil deGrasse Tyson), Philip Reeve’s Railhead and Paul Magrs’ Lost on Mars.

And that’s everything I managed to catch! Once again, please do let me know if you also have a write-up of the event, I’d love to read it.

Thank you to everyone involved in YA Shot! It was an incredible day, and I met so many wonderful bloggers, authors and readers. Roll on next year!

YA Lit Weekender 2016

This past weekend (15th-16th Oct 2016), the Southbank Centre hosted the YA Lit Weekender (#YALW) as part of their Literature Festival. The weekend was great fun, hosting talks, workshops, spoken word performances and a variety of stands. So who attended, and what did they say? I didn’t go to every talk and performance – I’m especially sad that I didn’t attend either of the spoken word performance sessions – because I am only one person and can sadly not clone myself on demand. However, I did take a bunch of notes over the weekend, and I thought you guys would find them interesting. So here we go! Continue reading

Unboxing: Zoe Marriott’s Grand Reviewer Prize!

Last month, one of my favourite authors of all time, and all-round lovely human being, Zoe Marriott, held a Massive Reviewer Reward Giveaway. All you had to do was review her most recent book, Barefoot on the Wind, on Amazon and you would be entered to win the Grand Prize – including swag, chocolate, a signed copy of Barefoot on the Wind and bookplates, and most exciting of all, the beginning of her current literally-being-written-right-now book, a retelling of the story of Mulan. Continue reading

Review: THE SHIP by Antonia Honeywell

the ship 2.jpg

Lalla has grown up in safety. Her parents have shielded her from the world’s collapse in their Bloomsbury flat, and though she knows that the Tube was closed because of the gangs, and that hundreds, thousands of people died when they bombed Regents Park, she has never had to face up to the full horror of a London run by a military government, where a card and a screen address define our personhood, where food is scarce enough that no-one bats an eyelid any more at the government sanctioned executions to reduce the population. Continue reading

Review: GOLDENHAND by Garth Nix

I am a BIG fan of this series. So much so, I wrote my undergrad dissertation on the significance of the adolescent journey in the series (and will never shut up about it!). If you’re interested, I posted an extract from the essay here. It was up to date until the publication of Goldenhand, which I’m trying not to be mad about. (JOKING)

It helps, of course, that this new book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series Continue reading

My Testimony: Growing Up Queer and Christian

Today on Twitter I saw an ad. BBC3 were looking to find people for a new show about LGBTQIA+ youth, and among their issues they mentioned, one leaped out at me.


And, being me, I stayed up way past my bedtime because I wanted, finally, to get my testimony, if you like, down. This isn’t a story I tell very often. There are very few people in my life who are comfortable with both the Christian side of me and the queer side of me. And that’s how I see them: two sides of me. Sitting in church, when ‘ungodly lifestyles’ are slyly raised, or sitting in on a diversity panel, where the subtext is always that the conservative Christians are the establishment against which we battle, I feel like an enemy of myself. I’m torn between a faith which, by necessity, has grown into something very personal, and a sexual and romantic identity which, by necessity, remains something very private. I’m only talking about it here because, under my blogging identity, I am functionally anonymous. And I need to talk about it, because I’m choking down the words and feelings that will alienate me from the community I grew up in, and at the same time sick at the suggestion that I might be an interloper in the community which I have only very recently grown to identify with. Continue reading