Posts Tagged ‘ JK Rowling ’

Harry Potter and the New Renaissance

No, it’s not an exclusive on the latest book from Ms Rowling. Sadly it looks like Harry Potter has finally outgrown his own series

And anyway no-one in their right mind would write a story about a boarding school. That went out with Anthony Buckeridge, Enid Blyton, Angela Brazil and Elinor Brent-Dyer, right?

Jolly Hockey Sticks, and all that. Just so last century!

Or so the gatekeepers would have us believe. And fourteen years after Ms Rowling proved that a boarding school setting for a book can scrape up the odd sale or two after all, the gatekeepers are still firmly dictating what will and will not sell.

Usually by the simple expedient of making sure it’s not available to buy.

But the digital revolution in publishing means the gatekeepers no longer have the monopoly on what readers will be allowed to read. And that means writers are at last free to write what they want to write, to target their own audiences, to find their own markets, and to prove their own worth.

A month or so back we were contacted by one of the biggest New York agents, keen to represent Sugar & Spice. Not that she’d read it, you understand, but the numbers excited her. Which pretty much summed up the reason why we had to send out the rejection letter. Call us old-fashioned, but we kinda think an agent could at least have read the book they are pretending to be excited about.

But even if they had, what really hit home was her statement (not a suggestion) that we could not write in any other genre “for at least three years.” We had written a crime thriller, therefore we were crime thriller writers. In fact, when we showed Ms New York Hot Shot Agent our WIP list, with everything from YA to dark fantasy to historic lit fic’ to chick-lit she pretty much told us to sit on the naughty step and not even think of writing another word of anything without her permission.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Had it been written at the time I would have referred said agent to Anne R Allen’s great post on the way the publishing industry has changed since 2009. As Anne shows, in the time it takes for a typical book to get from agency acceptance to the bookstore the publishing world has been turned on its head.

Quite simply it is a New Renaissance, where writers can write what they think readers will read and then let the readers decide.

Over the next few weeks here at MWi we’ll be exploring just some of the many ways writers are not just writing differently, but also marketing, helping one another, and engaging with their readers in ways the gatekeepers are still struggling to come to terms with.

The old tick-box genres the gatekeepers so loved have been among the first to fall. But in the new paradigm nothing is off limits. And many of you are pushing back the boundaries day by day, taking full advantage of the new freedoms digital publishing brings to prove the old gatekeeper rules have no place in the new world.

Leading the way is J.K. Rowling herself, who has turned the tables on the very gatekeepers who made her the biggest writing name on the planet. Ironically she does so just as her Harry Potter novel series comes to an end.

That’s the Harry Potter series about a bunch of boarding school kids and magic potions and wizard’s hats. You know, the sort of thing the gatekeepers said was unsellable.

Here’s teen author and MWi regular Charley R., lamenting the end of an era.

It All Ends Here… Or Does It?

Last night marked the end of my childhood. Sitting in a squishy chair, with a pair of funny black glasses balanced on the end of my nose, an over-priced Pick ‘n’ Mix in my lap and with my stomach doing backflips in my belly, I watched as the story that has captivated thousands like me finally came to an end.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two.

The story has spanned seven books, eight films, fourteen years, and more money than I could hope to count in a lifetime. It’s made household names of Radcliffe, Watson and Grint, and allowed me to convince every small child I babysit that, because I go to boarding school, I can – and will – turn them into frogs if they don’t go to bed on time.

But it meant more than that to me. I grew up with these books, and one of my earliest memories is of sitting outside on a chilly evening in Germany, listening to my dad read to me about the odious Dursley family, and whispering the street name to myself. Number Four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.

To me, Harry, Ron and Hermione’s world was more than just an entertaining story. Hogwarts, like Narnia, Middle Earth and countless other fantastic worlds, became my second home through a childhood that was not always as pleasant as one would like. Whenever I was sad, I would retreat inside the story, and comfort myself that, at least, I wasn’t expected to keep my dignity when faced with Moaning Myrtle in a bubble bath.

But now, if the media hype is to be believed, it is all over. The last book is out, the last movie finished, and the actors and actresses who brought Rowling’s marvelous creations to life are all moving on to bigger things in the outside world.

Harry Potter is over.

Or is it?

Can a story, really, end? Is one telling enough to exhaust it? Is it just a fad, like suspenders and mullet haircuts, that, having lived out its glory days, will fade away until nobody remembers it? Will I one day walk into a bookstore and have someone say to me “Harry who?”

I don’t think so. Stories aren’t that easy to get rid of. Stories aren’t one-use goods, seen once and gone with a miserable puff of black smoke, vanishing faster than a house elf. Stories can come back time and time again and, whether it’s the first, or the hundred-thousandth time you’ve heard it, the ones you love will always kindle that little spark inside your soul. They’ll always be there, like an old friend or treasured toy from childhood, waiting to welcome you back into the world you have come to love so much, and take you on the travels with the characters who first enchanted you all that time ago, ready to vanish into adventures beyond your wildest dreams.

The last film be over, but, like every true classic – and yes, I think this is a true classic of children’s literature – it will never, really, be gone. I, at least, will certainly make a point of reading the story of the green-eyed bespectacled teenage wizard to whatever children, god-children or any other form of young friend or relative I may come to know in future, and I know I’m not alone. That’s what stories are for; for sharing and passing on the magic, for bringing people together in the shared love of a tale, whatever it may be.

The franchise has ended.
The story never will.

Thanks, Charley. Check out her latest post on her own blog, which is a rather stunning poem. Yes, this gal is multi-talented!

And yes, you did read right. “Because I go to boarding school,” not “when I went…” Charley is just sixteen, and one of  two exciting teen writers I’ve recently recruited to the MWi hall of infamy.

Charley says, “That’s what stories are for; for sharing and passing on the magic, for bringing people together in the shared love of a tale, whatever it may be.”

Which is why I love collaborative writing. Because what Charley says applies to writers just as much as readers.

Regulars will know I’ve been co-writing with the one and only Saffina Desforges for a whole year now, with tolerable results. You’ll also know I predicted a time soon when books would join TV as multi-authored, bringing together a number of writers to work on a series, book by book. A sixty-thousand word novel between four writers suddenly becomes just 15,000 words each. With four minds contributing ideas, and four sets of eyes editing one another’s work.

That time has come. Saffi and I have teamed up with the above mentioned Charley and fellow teen writer Miriam, on the first of a new series of YA fiction set in – don’t tell Ms New York Agent! – a boarding school.

NOT St. Mallory's!

St. Mallory’s Forever! is the first of the series, currently underway. No release date in mind just yet – Saffi and I have other projects also under way not least Rose Red Book 2: Rapunzel and the first of our chicklit mystery series China Town, and the girls themselves have a small matter of exams to fit in – but it’s progressing well.

The new paradigm is a new renaissance precisely because we as writers can do something like this, which the gatekeepers would never in a million years approve.

So far the feedback has been really positive. Everyone seems to love the idea of a new boarding school series, and the involvement of two teen writers, one living that very life, will bring authenticity and insight we could never manage on our own. And as you can see from Charley’s post above, both these gals know how to write!

So how about you? Are you taking full advantage of the new opportunities available?

Are you discovering other writers who are experimenting, or experimenting yourself?  

Tell us about is in the comments section. Or even better, come and do a guest post and give us the full version.


I Love You, I Hate You – Miriam On e-Books And The Real thing.

Day Eleven

Late yet again? Yeah, but you’re getting used to that by now. My excuse this time? The weather. It rained.

For those thinking, big deal, remember I’m in West Africa and it hasn’t rained for nearly eight months, so when it does, it has a lot of catching up to do. The rainy season has arrived.

Night storms, at least, are predictable. You can see the sky lighting up long before it arrives. By day, it’s more a case of brilliant blue sky suddenly descends onto darkness and chaos. A picture-postcard scene is in minutes transformed to a Wagnerian apocalyptic end-of-world storm scenario. Using anything electrical is unthinkable, even if the power supply is still on.

And these are just the light showers that precede the real rainy season…

If even maintaining a blog is becoming hit and miss then actually writing the next book is going to be a serious problem once the real rains start and electrical storms go on for days at a time.

And so thoughts turn to revisiting civilization. A luxury holiday surrounded by twenty-four hour television, hot and cold running water, flushing toilets, Costa coffee and real books.

Now you would think, being an intrepid explorer and writer, that the “real books” would be the most exciting prospect. Obviously I wouldn’t be living here if I was addicted to television, or couldn’t manage without a hot shower and toilet paper (don’t ask!).

But my first duty on landing at Gatwick will be to visit the Costa bar for a latte, and my second task will be another latte.

My third port of call, admittedly, will be the WH Smiths airport book-shop. To look. To touch. To smell.

But I shan’t be buying anything.

I’m one of the Kindle generation, and I’m honestly not sure I’ll ever buy a “real” book again.


Living here in West Africa books are few and far between so I’m pretty much reliant on my Kindle. No surprise then that I worship it.

But a week ago a package arrived from Europe for me and in it were… Yep, books. Pre-owned, true, but still genuine paper and ink books. Paperbacks, some by favourite authors, that had only been read by one other person, a fellow book-lover, and so were almost pristine.

These were the first “new” books I’d seen more than six months. I rushed home (no such thing as postmen here – mail delivery means guessing when something may have arrived then trekking into a major town to collect) carefully taking them out of the box and caressing them.

Yes, literally. I held them in my hands and savoured the texture; the smell; the sight of a real book. Ten real books. It was wonderful.

A genuine front cover, not to mention a back cover, and a spine! Different print and fonts, different shades of white paper pages. The sound of paper pages turning. Flicking through and stopping at random to read a paragraph. The smell of a book as it is opened. All different thicknesses and weights, and different heights and widths. Some even had raised lettering on the cover.

This was heaven.

I sat them next to my Kindle, and how feeble it looked by comparison. That thin slab of plastic simply could not compare to these ten gorgeous books that I could hold and sniff and caress. I couldn’t wait to go to bed that night with a real book in my hands again.

But a week on, those books are still sat there. True, I pick them up almost daily and savour those tactile sensations, but when I go out I take my Kindle. When I have a few moments of quiet reflection, I reach for my Kindle. When I go to bed I take my Kindle.

I will read those real books, I’m sure.

Well, sort of sure. I mean, they’re sitting there, screaming “Read me!” like some refugee from a Lewis Carroll story.

But I sure as hell wouldn’t have paid full price for them. Now I’ve got access to cheap indie books I’m never going to pay full price for a Big Six paper book ever again.

But these were free. A gift. And I absolutely love them. I want to read them. It’s just… I’d rather read them on my Kindle.


Given JK Rowling has pretty much hammered the nails in the coffin of paper publishing this week, I asked Miriam back to the green room to give us her verdict, as one of the next generation of writers, on the e-book vs p-book debate.

Miriam, you’ll recall, is fifteen, so it goes without saying she’s into all things modern and will be even more fanatical about the Kindle than I am.

Only, no one told her that.

Here’s Miriam:

Well, here I am again (and this time, I did my own pictures. That would explain why they’re not as good). Yep. Sorry, it’s Miriam again. You ain’t getting rid of me just yet. But rest assured, I’m not going to be talking about myself this time (that’s embarrassing for all involved). Today I’m going to give you my perspective on e-books. You probably think, “She’s a teenager! She likes technology! She’ll be all for this revolution!”

Or perhaps you think I’m old fashioned and don’t know how the world works and will advocate paperbacks no matter what. Well, I’ve got news for all of you, and it might get me in a little bit of trouble considering this is a guest post on the blog of an e-book writer, but hey, if I’m not controversial then who’ll listen to me?

I have a love-hate relationship with e-books. Just to clarify, that’s a relationship in which sometimes I hate them and sometimes I love them, as opposed to one where I love them and they hate me or vice versa. I’m pretty sure they don’t have emotions, although since technology in general seems to hate me, it’s very hard to be sure.

First, I’ll talk about why I love e-books. Well, why I love the idea of them, since I don’t have a reader, can’t afford one and probably won’t get one unless my parents, looking at the number of books in my bedroom, decide to take pity on me at Christmas.

As a fast reader, I often find myself marooned without a book. Take today, for example. I was in a concert. It’s an enormous concert that the music service which runs my orchestra sets up every year, and it goes on for over three hours. Seriously, I’m not kidding. My group performed last, as we’re the most advanced group, having finished our rehearsals at eleven o’clock. By one o’clock I’d finished my (600-page) book. By the time we went on stage at half four I’d been bored for quite a long time, despite having a notebook with me.

If I had an e-reader, for example a Kindle, I wouldn’t have had that trouble. I would have been able to skip to a new book, and it wouldn’t take up any more room in my bag. What’s more, I wouldn’t have had to carry around the heavy book that I was reading. In those circumstances, I would have loved an e-reader.

And what about on holidays? I’m forever driving my family mad because my suitcase is the heaviest, simply because I’ve packed so many books. Somehow, I still manage to run out. I need something that’ll allow me to have a new book ready as soon as I’ve finished the first one, something that doesn’t weigh the same amount as a case full of bricks. Why hasn’t someone invented this already? Oh, right. They have. But I don’t have one.

Have you thought of the night-time benefits? Late night reading: no loud page turns to alert parents to ‘reading under the covers’, no torch needed, way less uncomfortable under your pillow than, say, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (first fat book I thought of).

However, e-books scare me. They’re so new and unknown! I don’t mind them, but they’d never be the one way I read. I wouldn’t want books to be rare. During a conversation after (before?) my last post, Mark said that paperbacks will soon be as rare as vinyl records.

My house is full of vinyl records. My parents are classical music geeks.

It was going so well until it assiliated some William S. Burroughs

Why can’t people see e-books as just another type of book? Why do they have to take over and be the only thing around, the one one that matters? Look at hardbacks and paperbacks. They’re different. Maybe some people will go for paperbacks because they’re cheaper, but collectors want hardbacks. It’ll be the same later. Some people will go for the e-book because it’s cheaper, but the collectors and the bibliophiles and people like me who enjoy building up their own library (no matter how many times their friends complain about being asked to use a pile of books as a chair) will always want the paper copy. You can’t collect e-books.

I love having pages beneath my fingers. I love smelling the pages of books. I’ll sit there in the corner of the library and breathe in the smell of books, because I love it so much. And I love picking a book up just because of its cover, or because it was on the shelf next to the one I was looking for and it caught my eye.

Yes, that’s the other reason I’m a little afraid of e-books: libraries. Libraries are my saving grace. I don’t think I could get by without them. I spend way too much time each Friday just picking out whatever books I can get my hands on. Half the time I’ve no idea about a book before I borrow it, I’ll just think it looks interesting. What have I got to lose? It’s free and I can just take it back if I don’t like it. The only thin I’ve lost is my time, and think about it … I could end up with something I loved. (and yes, the library below IS my local)

What would happen to libraries if e-books took over? You can already download them from the library website. I’ve done that, and read it on my computer. But I didn’t like it. Going to the library is a tradition, albeit one that’s not been in place more than about six months. I love placing holds for books and wandering around to find other ones by the same author. I love picking up the dog-eared books because I know they’ve been read, and possibly loved, by many other people. I love looking at the books for sale and perhaps buying them for 10p…

None of that would be around with e-books. It wouldn’t be necessary, either. But I’d miss it. I love libraries, I really do. I love them so much that I lend out my own books, complete with protective plastic covers. You know, they end up in the weirdest places! A friend came up to me the other day, Grace, and said, “I’ve got one of your books at home.”

“Oh, really? What was it?”

“Well, I’m not sure. It was yellow, I think?”

“Oh, yeah, The Shock Of Your Life? I’ve been looking for that!” Pause. “How on Earth did that end up in your house? The last person I lent it to was Annie…”

“No idea. Do you want it back?”

A little weakly, “Yes, please…”

Books migrate. Who knows where they’ll end up next? Imagine that: writing your name in a book and passing it on. They write their name on it, and pass it on. They write their name on it … by the time it works its way back to you it could have a hundred names inside the cover and have travelled around the world!

Could an e-book do that?

But as I said to Miriam, progress is progress.

Would I be as keen on e-books if we’d paper-published Sugar & Spice? No question we’d love to see it in paper format.

That said, when our New York agent suggested we abandon e-publishing for our new book Snow White, book one of the Rose Red crime thiller series, and try seek a paper deal first, we said no.

There was numerous factors involved in making that decision, but first and foremost were the many fans of Sugar & Spice eagerly waiting the next e-release from the Saffina Desforges partnership. Our agent was suggesting we forget them and concentrate on paper instead. The e-book could wait.

We argued that reader loyalty worked both ways.

Just before the JK Rowling announcement David Gaughran ran a post on the downward death spiral of paper publishing. Click on the link for the numbers. This was David’s summary.

The overall picture is quite clear. E-books continue their surge, but adult mass market paperback is in freefall, and the rest of the print categories don’t look too healthy either.

This was another key factor in our decision not to go with our agent’s advice.

Hopefully we will still see some our books in “real” print before the bookstores finally close. But if not, well, that’s progress.

How about you. Are you comfortable with the inevitable?

Harry Potter and the Dam-Busters – you heard it here first!

We interrupt the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest for a news update.

So now it’s official.

JK Rowling IS going digital, and there’s much chatter among the writing classes about what this means for us all.

The consensus is more e-reader sales, more kudos to e-publishing, and a Christmas bonanza in 2011.

Actually, here at MWi we were saying exactly this way back in April. It seems appropriate therefore to reproduce that post today.

The figures for Sugar & Spice sales are a little dated, of course, but the main thrust of the post seems as pertinent today as three months ago and is reproduced here as was.

Remember, you heard it here first! 🙂

Harry Potter and the Dam-Busters.

Chart-busters and babies – they both take two: Louise Voss explains why.

Day Ten

“Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”

So wrote Margaret Mitchell in Gone With The Wind, Which reminded me of literary agent Jenny Bent’s observation on the gatekeepers recently.

Jenny wrote,

“A year or two ago I was having lunch with an old friend, someone I think both intelligent and savvy, the publisher of a largish imprint at a major house. We had a disagreement about what was going to happen as e-books became more popular. His position was that readers would always need the big publishing houses because they needed to have their content filtered, so to speak–because as agents, editors, and publishers, we had a certain kind of literary taste or standard and we needed to pass that along to the reader.”

The reason Margaret Mitchell came to mind was that I’m late, again, with the blog post. And one of the reasons is childbirth.

No, I’m not a father again. In these temperatures?  It’s too hot here even to think about it!

But one of my little projects here is supporting the new born, in a country where desperate poverty is a way of life. Infant mortality is nowhere near as bad as it was ten years ago, but still far, far too high.

It was Daniel Defoe who first observed the certainty of death and taxes (variously attributed since to Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain and others) but Margaret Mitchell’s words about the inconvenience of death and childbirth sprang to mind as I was looking to explain the latest blog delay.

Not here to burden you with tragedy. Just to remind you that most people in the world do not live a phone call away from emergency services and a well-equipped hospital. And sometimes real life gets in the way of blogging schedules.


 I chose Margaret Mitchell because she famously had her manuscript for Gone With The Wind rejected thirty-eight times.

The role of the agents / publishers has traditionally been to decide what the public could or could not read, because they believed they knew best.

And of course they got it wrong time and time again.

Fortunately somewhere along the line one or other of the gatekeepers took a chance on these numerous famously rejected authors and they went on to huge success. John Grisham, Stephen King, JK Rowling… The list is endless.

But still the gatekeepers turn down good books people want to read.

I mention here briefly our own Sugar & Spice, which met with the disapproval of almost every UK agent before we put it on Kindle and let the readers vote with their feet.  Just this week we got our one hundredth five-star review.  Evidently the public do not share the agents’ views…

Thanks to e-publishing authors can now by-pass the gatekeepers and go direct to readers. And many are doing so.

And time and again books the gatekeepers turned their noses up at are selling in serious numbers. Sure, none are yet matching Grisham or King, let alone Rowling. But e-books have only just begun.

Of course we all know of Amanda Hocking’s story, and John Locke just this week became a million seller with his own range of e-books.

Here in the UK the e-market is several years behind the US. Kindle UK only came into existence a year ago, so no surprise there are no comparable sellers here yet. Our own success with Sugar & Spice will be well known to most readers, but today’s guest in the MWi green room, Louise Voss, proves the UK e-book market has now matured, and that our success was no fluke.

When I first approached the fellow writing team that is Louise Voss and Mark Edwards and asked them to do a post on their new thriller, Catch Your Death, the e-book had just been launched on Kindle and was still finding its feet. Their other e-book, Killing Cupid, was slowly rising in the charts.

Today both books are in the top five. Catch Your Death held #1 best-seller position for a couple of weeks, dropped to # 2 overnight and as I write this is back at #1. They have sold over 30,000 copies in a ridiculously short space of time.

Both books were rejected by the gatekeepers time and time again. Go away, Louise Voss and Mark Edwards. We don’t want your rubbish.

Needless to say now the books have proven to be commercially successful the gatekeepers are fighting themselves to get their grubby paws on them. Now where have we heard that before…

As this is Girls Just Wanna Have Fun month Louise drew the short straw and was invited to talk about how she and Mark wrote their two thrillers. Of course none of us ever suspected that by the time the post came up they would be the only indie writer ever to take the #1 slot, and to have featured on BBC television (this very morning) for doing so!

For the first time in the UK, indie writers are being taken seriously. Britain is finally catching up with America. Don’t let on to the agents and publishers though. They’re still partying like its 2010.


Another odd thing. Saffi and Mark… Louise and Mark…

Is it coincidence that the only indie writers to break the UK Kindle top five have been male and female co-authors? Probably, yes, but then again…

Is it coincidence that both partnerships have guys called Mark?

You’re right. Who cares? Here’s Louise.

I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘boysey’ thrillers .  James Bond leaves me cold.  (And I realise I’ve never seen the word ‘boysey’ written down before, either…’boysie’?  ‘boyzi’? )  I guess you know what I mean, though:  peripheral characters meeting gruesome fates, lots of ammunitions hardware and/or military references, jaw-dropping martial-arts moves from the hero and imaginative torture rituals from the baddies.  I don’t want to generalise, but they’re usually written by men. 

So when Mark and I set out to write a straightforward  thriller, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it.  Would I be able to cope with the jargon?  The corpses, the blood?!   I’d wanted for a while to set a novel around the old Common Cold Unit in Salisbury, but it was Mark’s idea to make it a thriller involving rogue scientists and hidden collections of exotic viruses capable of wiping out the entire planet… ( I’d been thinking more along the lines of a gentle romance, perhaps with a hidden family secret or two to uncover….I have to say, Mark’s plans for it were a lot more exciting!)  

Our first novel together, Killing Cupid, had been a thriller of sorts, but more of the psychological variety – the tale of a stalker who becomes the stalked.  It was enormously enjoyable to write because we took a voice each – that of the male and female protagonists, so their discrete world views are very clear.   With Catch Your Death, however, it was more complex because we just used a third person narrative, sometimes omniscient and sometimes close third person from the main character Kate’s POV.   As with Killing Cupid, we took it in turns to write a chapter – but this time, instead of cracking on with our own characters’ plotlines, we made sure we edited each other’s words and added little bits of our own to try and make the voice more uniform throughout the novel.   We had to rely more on dialogue to convey the protagonists’ personalities, rather than the interior monologue that a first person narrative affords.

All these issues were an initial concern, but as Catch Your Death progressed one thing became very clear to me – it was just as much fun to write as Killing Cupid had been.  I did tend to leave the more imaginative scenes of bloodshed and violence to my writing partner (who showed a slightly worrying relish for them!)  But what we both discovered was that writing really bad guys is really good fun.  There are several very dodgy blokes in CYD who are very much larger-than-life: Vernon, the mean-spirited philandering ex-husband of the main protagonist Kate;  and Sampson, handsome, devoid of emotion, a cold-blooded assassin.   All my own previous novels had dealt with basic themes of family, loss, friendship, that sort of thing; and so there was something  extremely liberating about creating characters who lived outside of social norms and values.   We couldn’t get enough of them! 

I think that thrillers co-written by male and female writers often do work really well for this reason – they have an inherent balance, containing as they do the perspectives of both sexes.   I love the books by the Nicci French partnership, for example – they have that blend of gritty realism and emotional inner life.  Of course, I’m not saying that women can’t write violent car chases and men can’t do tender love scenes, far from it;  but one of the joys in a male/female writing partnership is the stretching of writing horizons and the challenge to react differently to the way one might in one’s own world.

Right, well, the next one won’t write itself, must crack on *rings co-author and suggests a night at the pub* …

Thanks Louise. I love that last line about the interaction of different genders in writing. I think you hit the nail on the head with that. What does everyone else think?

Have you ever tried co-writing? Would you ever considerate it? It worked for us!

Louise and Mark originally wrote their books many, many years ago. They submitted them to the gatekeepers and the gatekeepers said no. Dejected by being rejected, they turned their backs on writing, and threw those tatty manuscripts in a cyber-drawer. Today…

I leave you with this thought on Margaret Mitchell and her thirty-eight rejections.

Gone With The Wind is one of the all-time classic of  both literature and cinema. Supposing she’d given up at thirty-seven?

Bearded Ladies And Overweight Donkeys: Benjamina White On Role Models

Day Five

Equal rights for women.

So who came up with that idea? And why, in western society almost a century after one woman threw herself under a horse to make the point, is it still even being discussed?

My partner is female. My daughter is female. My co-author is female. Equal rights? They run the bloody show!

But pause a moment and take a good look at that photo. A young woman throws herself in front of  the King’s horse at Epsom. Four days later Emily Davison is dead. She gave her life in the fight for equality. The year was 1913.

One hundred years on and what have we achieved? Okay, so women got the vote in 1918.

Well, actually they didn’t. Women in the UK got the vote in 1918 ONLY if they were over the age of 30, were householders or married to a householder, or if they held a university degree. It was another ten years before all women got the vote in the UK.

As for equality…  Margaret Cavendish, left,  was arguing the case for equality as far back as the 1640s. Yet it took until 1918 just to get a sniff of the vote.

A century on and we all know, however much we hate to admit it, that gender still matters. That being born male still, unjustly, gives us many advantages in society.

Yes, there are now “equal opportunities,” or so they have us believe, and things have changed for the better. No question.

But we all know that if you’re female you probably have to work twice as hard to get the “equality” you deserve. So how is that equal?


As writers, things are different. Gone are the days when the likes of Mary Anne Evans (left), to have any hope of getting her novel even looked at, had to pretend she was a man, George Eliott. And let’s be glad she did. The world of literature would be that much poorer if we did not have Silas Marner and The Mill On The Floss.

Today, JK Rowling is of course the most commercially successful writer on the planet, the richest woman and God know what else besides. My own favourite author, Enid Blyton, may not have made as much money, but her sales totals over the decades must compare well with the venerable JK’s, and with none of the hype and films and spin-offs to bump up those numbers. What a gal!

Does a writer’s gender determine their chances of getting published? Or of being read?

Hopefully not. But it does determine who might publish them, and more importantly who might read them.

Because our reading inclinations are very much determined in childhood.

Had I not had a younger sister, and access to all her books, comics, etc, I would almost certainly have been locked into a male-orientated reading world where action, adventure and mayhem were the only things I would look at. For those who missed the discussion on heroines of children’s literature, checkout the archives.

Bottom line is, my childhood reading had lots of great girl role models, and often I found them more appealing than the gun-toting war heroes, footballers and action-men that dominated the books I was “supposed to read.”  Characters like that of the superb child actor Chloe Moretz in the film Kick Ass were in short supply in my childhood. There were strong girl characters, but none kicked ass like Chloe!

Role models are just so important.

In the patriarchal society I live in, here in West Africa, that is especially true. Females outnumber males by four to one. But men rule the roost.

Things are changing, and I spend a lot of time visiting schools to try and help facilitate that change, but it’s slow and tortuous.

Some girls here receive an education. If they are lucky. Most girls never finish school, even if they start, because it’s simply unaffordable for the parents year after year. If you have to choose between your son or daughter going to school, the son is the one with most chance of getting a job later and supporting the family into old age. In a land where pension schemes do not exist your children are your pension scheme.

So are girls and women here in West Africa downtrodden and miserable? Not a bit of it. Of course there are cruel exceptions, just as back in “civilization,” but by and large happiness is a plentiful commodity. Especially among the children. In fact, I guarantee you will not find happier children anywhere.

But unless you’ve been here and lived their day to day reality you’ll never understand why they can be so happy with so little.

What would it take to change the lives of girls like those above? A new barbie doll? A pink mobile phone with fifty ring tones? A sleepover after a KFC feast? The latest computer game? Or how about this:

Thanks for briefly sharing my world. Now back to yours.

As girls grow up they have few role models to look up to. Now maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I certainly wouldn’t want my daughter doting on Paris Hilton, or thinking that success is getting yourself on a televised “talent” show, or…

Fact is, there are just so many bad role models for girls out there right now. And there is nothing more disturbing to me than impressionable pre-teen girls dressing like Jodie Foster in Taxi-Driver, trying to emulate role models that are nothing more than z-list celebs who got where they are by flashing silicone-implanted flesh and being unbelievably vacuous.

Isn’t that just the twenty-first century equivalent of sleeping with the boss?

So I’m always on the lookout for new role models for my daughter, her friends, and the other girls here. Chloe Moretz, right, in Kick Ass would be great if it wasn’t for the language used.

But what I love about Chloe’s character is that it shows boys and girls on an equal footing without compromising on the fact that they are girls.

I stress that last point. Equality does not mean females aspiring to be males. It does not mean giving up on “girlie” things and being “one of the lads.” Girls should be proud to be girls. Men and women are different for a reason. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Vive la difference!

But true equality means acknowledging flaws just as much as it means acknowledging strengths.

Pretty profound, huh? Wish I’d written that, but actually I stole it from today’s green room guest, the delectable, gorgeously adorable Benjamina White.

Now you’ve probably never heard of Benjamina White. To be honest, nor had I until a month or so back when past MWI guest Marion G Harmon (left) drew my attention to one of Benjamina’s books. Marion is the author of the wonderful superhero novel Wearing The Cape, which I featured here back whenever it was. I absolutely adored it. Not one but two fantastic female MCs. Well only one, Astra, according to Marion, but there’s another gal in there, Artemis, who absolutely stole the show.

Both great role models, although I’d much prefer my daughter look up to Astra than Artemis. Astra is cool, clean-living and respects her parents. Artemis is more your cool dark-avenger by night, with attitude. Oh, and she’s dead. Highly recommended.

But Astra isn’t the only kick-ass female superhero in town. Because the aforementioned Benjamina White (that’s her below with the Ascot hat) happened to have created one too. Charlotte Powers is her name, and she’s fifteen. Which also happens to be the age as one of my guests in the MWi green room next week.

Back to Charlotte Powers. When Marion told me about Charlotte I of course was on the next flight to Kindleland and smuggling a copy back through customs. Benjamina lives in New Zealand and if you’ve ever thought there can’t be much to do in New Zealand except write books, it seems you may be right. Benjamina knocks them out every few days. Of course, being in New Zealand, that’s where they stayed. Until the Kindle changed our world forever.

And the great thing is, they’re all about girls kicking ass. Which of course is what we’d expect from a sassy female writer like Benjamina, right?

Okay, so here I have to make a confession. Two, in fact.

First, I edited Benjamina’s post. Something I never do. But only for the spelling of “ass” which had been originally rendered in the traditional British English as “arse”.  That’s part of a separate debate we’ll have soon about how a universal English standard will emerge as all books become digital. But for now, I changed arse to ass not because I’m pandering to our growing number of American readers (not a chance – learn proper English, damn you!), but because arse is such an ugly word. You can’t smile and say arse at the same time. You can with ass.

Come to that, you can’t smile and say donkey either. Ass is just so versatile!

Secondly, those of you paying attention will have realised by now Benjamina is in fact Ben. Yeah, the beard sort of gave it away, I know.  I did ask him to shave it off and put on his favourite frock, but he spent so long trying to choose which one I just gave up waiting. As for the shoes…

So Benjamina is in fact male. But hey, this is about equal opportunities, right? So give the guy a break and listen up as he explains why he writes books about girls. And not just any girls. Girls that kick arse ass.

Here’s Ben:

All right, so someone’s finally pulled me up on the ‘girls kicking ass’ thing.  Someone’s finally read that line in my bio and stopped and said, “I’m intrigued, tell me more”, and now I have to actually think about things.  So thanks a lot, you made me THINK.

To be honest it first came about because I was searching for a way to unify my books, to find a common thread between them.  Many authors write a single series and see it through to the end before beginning another; I admit that I sometimes envy those authors.  Although I love writing sequels and I feel that I’m at my best as a writer when I’m elbow-deep in the middle of a series, with all of the juicy history and characters and internal mythology that brings, I just can’t seem to ignore a new story idea once it takes hold.

I had planned to be working on the sequel to Charlotte Powers in February of this year, instead I found myself writing about an entirely new girl who came out of nowhere along with a horde of horrible zombies.  (That’s Imogen Shroud, for those of you keeping score.)

So what I’m left with is a bunch of different series to try to tie together, and although there are several themes that do keep popping up in my books–the necessity of family, wherever you might find it, the high cost of freedom, the (clearly ridiculous) notion that Those In Charge may not have your best interests at heart–the fact is that none of those themes are as exciting or interesting or, let’s get right down to it, fun as Girls Kicking Ass.

And so I claim, half-joking, half-serious, that my books fall into the sub-sub-genre of ‘girls kicking ass’.  Genre has always been a tricky thing for me–like most writers I just try to tell the best story I can, then after it’s done I start thinking about which holes it might fit into.  Sometimes it’s easy (Imogen Shroud is Survival Horror) and sometimes it’s hard (I still don’t know what Resonance is, Dark Ensemble Superpowered Fantasy maybe?).

In general I label my books as YA, and I’m proud to do it, but these days it’s just such a wide genre that the term no longer holds all that much meaning.  So it’s a challenge to try to define myself and my books, but Girls Kicking Ass is comfortable for me, and so I’m happy to occupy this niche.

If you read any of my books you are guaranteed to find a girl, and you are guaranteed that she is going to kick a certain amount of ass.  Even The Boy & Little Witch, a children’s book I wrote without much in the way of ass-kicking opportunities, has the character of Little Witch, who kicks a modest amount of ass with words alone.

So why do I write about girls kicking ass?  For a start, because girls DO kick ass, and I think this is something that, quite frankly, isn’t being shouted loudly enough.

Oh, it’s talked about, but compared to boys girls are sorely lacking in the ass-kicking role models department.  We’re TOLD that ‘girls can do anything’ but my feeling is that this isn’t SHOWN nearly enough.

Hollywood especially is so, so guilty of this, giving us (and I’m paraphrasing here but I can’t find where I read it; apologies to the original writer) supermodel scientists who also happen to be expert marksmen and kung-fu masters.  We’re TOLD that they’re ‘strong female characters’, but really this is the worst kind of lowest common denominator pandering and does no good at all to anyone.

Of course, it’s not all bad.  Lately we’re getting a few more strong female characters in mainstream media, and that’s good, but it’s not enough.  I’m greedy!  I want more.  And the young female ass-kicker in particular is a rare bird indeed–although let me take this opportunity to share a little Game of Thrones Arya Stark love.  And if we’re talking female ass-kickers in mainstream media I’d be remiss not to mention Avatar (not the James Cameron thing, the proper one), in which we have such significantly ass-kicking young female characters as Katara, Azula, and of course Toph.

If you don’t know the show (and why not, it’s great), Toph is a tiny little blind twelve year-old girl who happens to be the greatest earthbender in the world.  Naturally, she’s my favourite character (well, if I’m honest Iroh is my favourite character, but Toph is a very close second–and this isn’t about Old People Kicking Ass (although who doesn’t enjoy that?), it’s about Girls Kicking Ass).

Just one more example of a strong female character in mainstream media: Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series of games.  This is particularly interesting because you have the choice to make Shepard a man or a woman–and yet to me, it’s no choice at all; Shepard is a woman, and this is a hugely important part of her character.  It’s hard to define exactly why it’s so important to me that Shepard be a woman (I doubt I’d have half the interest in the story if the choice to play as female didn’t exist), but I think it might have something to do with the fact that seeing a strong, complex, intelligent, charismatic female character in a military sci-fi setting delivering rousing speeches and kicking ass in a myriad of ways is so unfortunately rare.

How many times have you seen a big macho alpha male space marine type giving his troops the “Let’s go get ’em!” speech before a big operation?  And how many times have you seen that kind of speech performed by a woman?  How much more brilliantly insanely awesome is headbutting a Krogan when it’s a girl doing it?

Female characters just don’t get enough of these moments, and when they do I find it both refreshing and wonderful.  (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the female Shepard is voiced by the amazing Jennifer Hale.)

Another reason that I’m interested in this particular subject/theme/concept is that I’m afflicted with that peculiar ailment known as ‘daughters’.  I have two of the blessed things, just can’t seem to shake ’em. To be serious, they’re the joy of my life and amuse and bewilder and delight me on a daily basis, and I wouldn’t be without them for all the tea and biscuits in the world (and that’s a lot of tea, and that’s a lot of biscuits).

I wrote the first ‘Miya Black, Pirate Princess’ novel before my first daughter was born, and the character of Miya Black was in some ways based on the girl I felt that my as-yet unborn daughter might someday grow up to be. I know it’s odd, but there you have it.

So aside from simply enjoying the concept of girls kicking ass, I’d like to think that perhaps, someday, if I’m lucky, my daughters will grow up to BE girls who can kick at least a moderate amount of ass.  And to help with that they need–yep, you knew it was coming–strong female role models, not just in their life but in all forms of media.

It’s my belief that popular culture has a strong influence on people, especially young people, but it’s not violence or sex or bad language that’s damaging, it’s seeing people behaving wrongly and having that wrong behaviour be reinforced as ‘normal’.

So-called ‘reality’ shows are particularly poisonous, showing dishonesty, disloyalty, greed, vanity, success-at-any-cost and so forth as normal, even positive.  And so now we have a significant portion of people who think this kind of behaviour is okay.  How do we fight this?  I’m glad you asked, because the answer is (goodness, how did you guess?) positive role models, both male and female.

One small point I’d like to make clear is that, to me, a ‘positive role model’ doesn’t have to be a perfect Lawful Good type who never makes mistakes and who has no flaws.  To me, that’s a pretty weak role model.  Role models have to be relatable, we have to form a connection with them, we have to see a part of ourselves in them, and not only that, but see them in ourselves.

I’m not going to lie, this is hard, and I don’t know how often I succeed.  But I think good characters shine through, and we can learn even from ‘wrong’ characters–the important thing is not to show wrong behaviour as ‘normal’ without comment, and not to present it in a positive light.

One example that springs immediately to mind is Edward’s behaviour in the Twilight books, which is creepy and stalkerish and domineering and pretty disgusting, actually.  His relationship with Bella (who is by no means blameless) bears not even the slightest resemblance to a healthy, mature, adult relationship, and yet it’s presented as the most perfect romance in the world.  And so, poison.

If you’re a mature, reasonable person you’re somewhat immune, you read it and think “rubbish” and move on to a better book, but to someone lacking in life experience, such as the millions of teenagers the books are marketed to, they might read it and think “normal?” or even “desirable” or at the worst “justification for my own terrible, terrible behaviour”.  I wouldn’t stop my daughters from reading the Twilight books, but there would be some pretty long discussions afterwards.

Yes, I realise I just lost about a billion potential readers for describing the Twilight books as ‘poison’.  But in my idealistic heart of hearts I also like to think I might have gained a couple, who read that and thought “YES”.  You, theoretical and possibly imaginary reader, are MY target audience.

Now, most everything I’ve been saying here is from a Western perspective, focused on Western media.  But a lot of my influence comes from Japanese media; books, animation, comics, even games.  Although in general I think Japan lags behind most Western cultures as far as equality of the sexes is concerned, they’ve just about got it right with their media–well, mostly. 

 This is, after all, the country that invented ‘fan service’, and some Japanese media is exploitative-bordering-on-offensive (or just flat-out old-fashioned sexist), but if you look at the really good Japanese anime and manga and games and so forth you’ll find plenty of strong characters of both sexes, and female characters who are not only allowed to be intelligent, independent, brave, good at kicking ass and so on, but also clumsy, cruel, crazy, given to human frailty and (goodness me) who also get THEIR asses kicked from time to time, and not just by other girls (ie the ‘designated girl fight’ we all know and roll our eyes at, where the token ‘good’ female character is only allowed to fight the token ‘bad’ female character). 

I think this is really important, and something I work hard to show in my own books–that girls don’t JUST kick ass.  That a woman can be just as small, weak and flawed as a man–that a woman can be just as human as a man.  That girls can get dirty, that they can get beaten up, that they can suffer through indignity and pain and hardship, that they can make terrible choices and live with the consequences of their actions, that some people WILL, in fact, hit a girl … but that some of those girls will hit back just as hard–or harder.  That girls CAN do anything, including being flawed, imperfect human beings. 

 True equality means acknowledging flaws just as much as it means acknowledging strengths.

And yet this isn’t just about equality, although that’s an important–vital–ideal and something we should all be striving towards.  Even if the world were perfect and diversity was not just tolerated but actually celebrated (I can dream, can’t I?) I’d still be writing about girls kicking ass because that’s what I enjoy.  There’s something so appealing about it, I don’t know whether it’s rarity value, or the power and beauty of that mother bear ferocity, or the fact that I’ve been fortunate enough to have strong female role models around me all my life–and I think guys need strong female role models almost as much as girls do, just like girls need strong male role models.

We need others to show us how to act, to show us what we can become, and men have a feminine side just as women have a masculine side, and bringing those sides into balance is an important step towards emotional maturity.

Maybe it’s the whole David vs Goliath concept, that girls tend to be smaller and at least appear to be physically weaker than men, and we all love seeing the little guy win.  Maybe it’s that having a hells-damned determined girl tear through the world imposing her will upon it is greatly appealing to me.  Maybe it’s just that I find female characters more comfortable, easier to relate to, more fun to write.  Whatever the reason, the fact is this: I love seeing girls kick ass, and I love writing about them doing so.

I’ll close by stealing the words of another writer, just to prove that I am a proper author.  Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and other works featuring Girls Kicking Ass (I haven’t actually watched Buffy myself but I’m told it’s pretty good and that the girls in it do indeed kick a substantial amount of ass), apparently gets asked this question quite a bit:

“Why do you write these strong female characters?”

And the answer he sometimes gives, the answer that resonates the most with myself personally (and I am paraphrasing here):

“Why are you even asking me that?  Why aren’t you asking those hundred other guys out there why they’re NOT writing strong female characters?  Why do I write strong female characters?  Because you’re still asking that question.

And that, boys and girls, says it all.

Forgive Me Father, I Have Sinned – Twilight or New Dawn? Introducing Michelle Brooks.


Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I am guilty of a most heinous crime. A crime against literature.

I’ve read and liked Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.

Okay, if you’re a regular here you’ll know I have eclectic tastes in reading, and am happy to say on record, yet again, that Enid Blyton is my favourite writer of all time. But that’s a kids’ thing, right? A throwback to my childhood. We’re allowed to acknowledge our childhood heroes. Just not too loudly.

But Twilight? As in Steph Meyer’s Twilight?

Didn’t  Stephen King say, on record, that Stephenie Meyer was “not very good”?

God has spoken!  Who am I to disagree?

That was back in 2009. And I was appalled then that someone like King would make such a comment publicly.

King is a hugely influential figure in modern literature. And of course, he’s entitled to his viewpoint. If Stephen King thinks Steph Meyer is a bad writer then that’s fine. Good and bad writing are subjective concepts. It’s all about personal opinion. But to publicly slam Stephenie Meyer in that way…

Luckily for Steph’ she by then had her loyal readership and rode out the storm. Even so, it’s safe to say the comments King made were enormously damaging to her professionally, not to mention hurtful personally. This wasn’t just some anonymous reviewer on Amazon who paid their money and didn’t like the book. This was one of the biggest writers on the planet saying another successful author was crap. What was he thinking of?

With influence comes responsibility. Should any of us now struggling for a tentative foothold on the publishing ladder ever one day get to King’s exalted status, please bear that in mind.

The opinions of mega-sellers like Stephen King can make or break someone’s career. A less well-established writer than Meyer could have been sunk without trace.

Of course there will be some among you thinking, the world would be a better place if King had sunk Meyer’s career. No Twilight. No Edward and Bella. Bliss!

But that misses the point. Stephenie Meyer wasn’t writing for you.

Bizarrely Stephen King actually understood that point perfectly. Which just makes his comments about Stephenie Meyer all the more incomprehensible.

In King’s own words:

“In the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books.

It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”

Now that, surely, is a perfect analysis of Stephenie’s achievements with Twilight. That she wrote for her target audience.

No, Meyer is not Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Emerson. But then nor is Stephen King.

James Patterson

King went on to slam James Patterson as “a terrible writer” before adding “but he’s very, very successful. People are attracted by the stories, by the pace.”

Oh those stupid, mindless, idiotic readers, letting themselves be attracted by a fast-paced thriller. What were they thinking of? A nice dose of Dostoyevsky will soon cure them of that!

But leaving aside why a writer of King’s stature would want to go on record and attack fellow writers in that way, let’s return briefly to faeries and Twilight before moving on to my guest.

Faeries? Even the most Meyer-resistant among you will be aware that Twilight was about vampires, not faeries. In fact, not even proper vampires. Weren’t these sparkly, twinkling vampires or some such crazy nonsense that must have had Bram Stoker turning in his grave?

Enter, stage right, Aprilynne Pike.

Aprilynne, of course, is the NY Times Best Selling author who writes YA stories about, you guessed it, faeries. She dealt with the infamous Twilight-twinkling-vampires with this wonderful explanation for the uninitiated.

I’m using Twilight as an example here, because the sparkleyness is something I often hear mocked. But it didn’t used to be. Back before Edward Cullen became a household name, people would talk about Twilight in a reasonable tone of voice. I often heard people comment about how they thought it was fascinating how she (Meyer) could make her vampires sparkle and have a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. Their skin is a rock-like substance. It has facets and reflects the sun. Of course!

Aside from explaining the sparkle, Aprilynne makes the significant point that “people would talk about Twilight in a reasonable tone of voice.” Stephen King, you have a lot to answer for…

Okay, so now you all know why Steph’s vampires sparkle, let’s get back to the broader subject of YA fantasy.

Or let’s not.

Literally having just written the above part of this post I decide to solicit the opinion of my green room guest, Michelle Brooks, on Steph Meyer and Twilight.

Yes, I know you’re thinking, Who the hell is Michelle Brooks? Who cares what she thinks?

Well bear with me. I promise you that, while you may never have heard of Michelle Brooks before now, she is one of the big names in YA for the future. Hard to imagine now, but there was a time when no-one had heard of Steph Meyer, or JK Rowling. Or even Stephen King.

But for now, just bear in mind that Michelle is an indie author with a debut novel, still learning the ropes. A full-time mom with  a full-time job struggling to be an author in her spare time. So when I emailed Michelle late last night asking if she had read Twilight and could she give an off the cuff response, I expected a quick “yeah, it’s okay” or “no, wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole” reply.

Here’s Michelle on Twilight:

I love to read. I love to read all kinds of things … fiction, current events (highly source-dependent), cutting-edge science, the magazines sitting in the doctor’s office, the Sunday paper (parts of it, in any case), my kids’ homework, lyrics to songs … and, yes, I thoroughly and absolutely enjoyed Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. For that matter, I also enjoyed The Host.

Does it bother me that sometimes Ms. Meyers seems to get a bad rap? God, no.  Does everybody like any one given thing on the face of the planet? Sure wouldn’t hold my breath, there’s bound to be somebody who doesn’t like that kind of weather, that pair of shoes, that public figure … or that book. Does that mean I would have written Twilight exactly the same way Ms. Meyers did? Of course not … but neither would I have written The Raven, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Hobbit, Dracula, Peter Pan, The Odyssey…  the same way those masters among men wrote them. So, they can rest easy … no turning in their graves over little old me.

That’s the fantastic thing about storytellers though, they get to share their story, their words, their world, exactly the way they choose. And we, as readers, get to choose which stories may interest us, which ones to read. Sometimes we’re right, and happily so. But, sometimes we find ourselves fifty or a hundred pages into a book and realize that… boy, were we wrong. For whatever reason we would rather clean the commode than pick up that book that everyone else is raving about to read one more page.

What I’ve noticed though, is that I can pick that same book up a few months, or decades, later and relate to it in a completely different way. Kind of like eggplant … used to hate it, now I love it. Did it change? Of course not – it’s still aubergine (a high-brow take on purple), it’s still a little slippery going down, and it’s still low on the list of the world’s favorite veggies. It didn’t change, I did.

So, back to Stephenie Meyers. Some people love her. Some not so much. But, then some people love Stephen King, others not so much. Stephenie may not be the most character-focused YA author out there, but she is a consummate plot-driven storyteller. She also has an innate sense of delivering that story in a voice YA readers suck down like a double-scoop ice cream cone on a hot summer day.

I think the best compliment for any author, aside from reaching their target audience in a way no one could possibly dispute, would be knowing that future authors dreamed of following in their footsteps.

Well, Ms. Meyers, listen up … I steer pretty much to my own paths, not so much by choice, but just because I tend to start moving and then figure out where I’m heading. But, one day, many, many days from this day, when Bone Dressing is all grown up, if it is one tenth as well read and well received as Twilight … you could color me a thousand shades of happy!

Here’s to Bella, Edward, Twilight and Stephenie Meyers! Long live YA!

How do I  follow that?!
And Michelle hasn’t even started on her post yet!
But before we get back to the mysterious Ms Brooks, let me bring in M.E. Summer, who had a great blog post recently entitled Why I Write YA.

There are various excellent YA authors mentioned, but here to focus on something M.E. herself said, which perfectly sums up the appeal of YA to its target audience.

As a teenager, your options are by definition limited by your station. You are (generally speaking) loved, but you’re also caged. You’re considered sub-human by your own society.

Having to deal within the confines of that situation is rich story fodder, and (as long as you-the-author don’t blow it) you can earn your protagonist an almost instant feeling of kinship from the reader. Everyone knows what it’s like to struggle against a repressive regime at least to some extent, because no matter how permissive your parents were, you still couldn’t drive until you were 16.

So you-the-teenager are stuck on the cusp of adulthood with everyone still telling you what you can and can’t do, and you have to deal with it. You have to put up with the frustration of it and swallow your objections and learn how to bargain. You’re essentially powerless, disenfranchised in even the most literal sense. As a YA author, I get to work with that. I get to play with characters already at a disadvantage. This means the stakes are automatically higher, because teens have to work that much harder to achieve their goals.

I like writing about teens, because I like how cagey they have to be, how observant and opportunistic, just to get a ride to the mall. I like how vulnerable they have to stay in order to keep their lives in order and their loved ones happy. They’re the ultimate martyrs, really, and oh, how I love to sacrifice them on the altar of…er, *cough* I mean, bring to light the inner depths they’re capable of when the shit really hits the fan.

Not to steal her entire article here, but one final comment from M.E. before I send her back to her own blog.

YA is a powerful genre, one which invites all our richest, most daring ideas, one that is accepting of all our whimsies and what-ifs, one that challenges us to grow up before our time and yet be strong enough to hold onto our innocence and belief in magic. No other genre can say that. Not one.

Now if that doesn’t have you rushing out to buy some YA fantasy, nothing will.

BTW, did anyone else notice the uncanny likeness between twentieth century James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and twenty-first century Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen) in Twilight?


But what to read if you do decide to give modern YA a try?

I would no longer recommend Twilight, simply because you now know the secret of the sparkle, and you will never free yourself from the preconceptions unfairly built up around Steph’s work thanks to people like Stephen King, who really should know better.

And supposing you wanted to try out YA but preferred to give vampires a miss? There’s just so much YA out there now. Where to start?

Luckily for you I’ve been separating the wheat from the chaff on your behalf and have come across two, count ‘em, two exceptional new indie-published YA authors.

One of those is my guest here today, Michelle Brooks. The other will be helping me wrap up at the end of the month. But in order to introduce the first properly I need to introduce the second.

Megg Jensen

So say hello first to Megg Jensen. Megg will be revealing all later in the month, so be sure to stick around for that. But for now, just to say Megg is author of a YA fantasy called Anathema.

It’s nothing like Twilight, in that it isn’t about vampires.

It opens with a fourteen year old slave girl about to be branded on her fifteenth birthday. Hooked? Me too.

As soon as I read it I dug up all the dirt I could on Megg, discovered her real name, and blackmailed her into joining me on MWi. She was a must-have guest.  So make sure you’re not busy the day her guest post goes live!

Then I came across another new YA writer, the afore-mentioned Michelle. I forget now exactly how I stumbled upon her debut novel, Bone Dressing, but I remember being grabbed by the premise. A seventeen year old girl rebel who hangs around graveyards on stormy nights and doesn’t make it to eighteen.

So I checked it out, decided it looked interesting and downloaded it to my Kindle to sit with the other gazillion books I hope to live long enough to one day read.

As always, I read a few lines to help me judge if I would prioritise it or put it in the archives for some distant future retrieval. Next thing you know I had read the first chapter and was rearranging the rest of my day to make more reading time.

M.E. Summer said above:

As a teenager, your options are by definition limited by your station. You are (generally speaking) loved, but you’re also caged. You’re considered sub-human by your own society.

Michelle Brooks has read that same script.

I commented on M.E.s blog that

“…while ‘child protection’ plays so obsessive a role in modern western society, and sexual, physical and emotional abuse are being confronted and, hopefully stopped, children and teenagers still rarely are respected. But if you don’t respect children, tweens and teens you can never successfully write for them.”

And this is what lies at the heart of the appeal of Michelle’s Bone Dressing.


Michelle knows and respects her target audience. But she also goes much further, and simultaneously writes  for an adult audience, managing that almost impossible juggling act without once dropping the ball.

Don’tcha just hate people who can multi-task?!

Ostensibly Michelle’s novel Bone Dressing is a YA paranormal fantasy about a seventeen year old girl who never makes eighteen.

Actually it’s a fantastic coming-of-age study about teen rebellion and rite of passage that, despite the paranormal fantasy element, has overtones of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In the Rye. It’s that good.

And it’s the first of a series of seven!

No wonder then that I immediately contacted Michelle and begged her to come and be my guest on MWi.

And got no response.

I was gutted. Supposing someone else “discovered” her first?!!!

I emailed the afore-mentioned Megg Jensen saying,

“I’m really excited by the new generation of YA fantasy, and there is just so much new talent appearing now the indie writers are bypassing the gatekeepers and bringing their works direct to readers.

Have to mention Michelle Brooks’ Bone Dressing. Extraordinary quality. Have tried to grab her for a guest post but I think she’s convinced I’m a stalker or something. If by any chance she’s in your circle of contacts please beg her to come and guest for me!

Seriously, Bone Dressing and Anathema are two of the best YA fantasy novels I’ve read in a very long time.”

In fact Megg didn’t know Michelle (Girls, I highly recommend you two get together and exchange notes!) and it seemed I had blown it.

And yes, I am a stalker. But only part-time.

Then, out of the blue, a last second reprieve. Michelle finally answered my email, expressing surprise at my enthusiasm for her novel.

I wrote back, paraphrasing Simon Cowell:

“Michelle, what I really love about coming across ‘new’ writers like you is that you simply have no idea how good you are.”

At which point it’s time to hand over to the lady herself. Uncut and uncensored. Not that there’s anything to censor, of course.

I gather this is Michelle’s first guest post. You can almost feel the stage-fright and the self-doubt as she puts herself under the spotlight.

If this was The X-Factor, Michelle would be that terrified first-timer stepping nervously onto the stage in front of a crowd of indifferent on-lookers. Another deluded wannabe?

The deafening silence before the cue, and the music starts. The first few notes of the song emerge and the audience sits back, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

It’s like that reading Michelle’s guest post. It starts off good and just gets better and better. As for her book…

Michelle Brooks, unknown writer and future mega-star, the stage is all yours:

I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer… I still find myself practicing the words, reciting them to myself in the mirror, hoping they’ll fit a little more comfortably around my shoulders … maybe not feel quite so much like I’m wearing someone else’s coat. Perhaps I could even convince those words to slip inside and roost, for just a bit in any case. That would be nice …

So, when I opened an e-mail from this guy named Mark, who wrote, asking with all the charm of a thousand sunsets for me to do a guest post on his website, saying simply, “You’re a writer. Write! :-),” (smiley face and all) I was thrilled to hear someone else’s voice rattling around in my head, saying those very same words … that I am a writer … I am a writer …

And then I was scared shitless he’d find out it was all just one big joke … that I’m not really a writer, I’m just me … who happens to be writing today …

But, not only was Mark calling me a writer, he wanted to know how I had managed to get from “there” to “here”, from not a writer to being a writer. As a matter of fact, he had a whole list of very specific questions for me. Questions like, how, exactly, had I become, more specifically, an Indie writer? How had I made my little book trailer? Would this be my only genre to write in? What writers influenced me? And, how on earth did I know Syd had seven books in her, or that I had them in me, for that matter?

And … the funny thing was … I realized all the answers to his questions were running around in my head, ninety-to-nothing, trying to body-slam their way out of my skull!

So, let’s pretend for a moment that I am a writer. How and why did I choose the Indie route? Let’s do the why first. That one’s pretty simple. Painful perhaps, but simple. Absolutely, positively no one on the face of the earth that I could find was willing to represent me or Bone Dressing in the traditional publishing arena.

That’s not to say I regret trying, absolutely not. I learned a lot about how much writing means to me, how much Bone Dressing means to me, and how much it means for me to write in my own voice, not some watered-down, half-somebody-else voice. The words I keep, and the ones I toss for that matter, are mine, they are as much a part of me as my left cheek or my right toe.

As for the how, that one’s pretty simple, too. And ever so much less painful! After spending countless months in pursuit of an agent, an article was thrust in my direction by my aunt who had run across it in the local paper. She was one of the sweetest, most supportive guinea pigs to read Bone Dressing before it was all nice and shiny, and she knew what a difficult time I was having trying to get it published.

Well, the article was about a little lady named Amanda Hocking, perhaps you’ve heard about her, along with the rest of the free world? I was riveted. Better than that though, I was completely and positively motivated.

I’ve never been afraid of the path less travelled, and had wondered about self-publishing in the past, but simply hadn’t given it much thought, or credit for that matter. That one article changed my outlook and my strategy overnight … God bless Aunt Dianne!

Now, how did I make that trailer? Well, like I said, I’m not afraid of learning new things, going different places … even if that means I don’t know quite where I’ll end up. I basically figure that if something can be done, by anyone, then there’s no reason why, if I put forth the same amount of effort (even less, if I pay attention and learn from their mistakes), I can’t do the same or better…

So, I saw a book trailer, or thirty … I do my research, ALWAYS. I did manage to pull off a PhD in genetics, after all. Then I grabbed the Photoshop program that had been sitting patiently on the shelf collecting dust for two years, waiting for the day I’d make time to learn it … and I learned it. At least, I learned it well enough to do what I needed to do. Then I found out where to get pictures I wanted and could use, I discovered Fotolia for that. After I edited each and every picture to fit a general storyline for Bone Dressing, I had to find a program to make the movie. Instead of Adobe Illustrator, I went with Windows Live Movie Maker for basic simplicity and ease of use. I played around with that until I had the timing and words the way I wanted, then added the music, and presto-change-o, I had a book trailer!

Will this, young adult paranormal urban fantasy, be my only genre? God, I hope not! I’ve got a non-fiction book in the works that is utterly and completely NOT young adult by any stretch of the imagination. So, I’m working on a pen-name. Funny how the non-fiction is what will demand a pen name … might tell you a bit about my life right there!

What writers influenced me? Oh, my! I went to Poe Elementary, so Edgar has to top the list. But, while I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like, especially these days, I have read and do still read quite a bit. Masters Shakespeare and Tolkien have their place, as do J.M. Barrie, J.K. Rowling, and more recently, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton and Lora Leigh.

But, honestly, Jim Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ernest Thayer, Robert Frost, Eugene Field, Evanescence, Bram Stoker, and a whole slew of others share equal billing, as well. I think it’s great that we are such diverse creatures, and it’s wonderful that so many people have had the profound ability to be so prolific.

As for the seven books, a few years back I had one really bad nightmare of a day. But, even nightmares have their happy endings if you let them, and mine ended with a little dream called Bone Dressing. The story just fell into place in my head that night … all seven books worth, each with its own message, but each hinging on the others as well. A sort of, “there and back again” tale, to steal a phrase from Tolkien. After that, there was a lot, really a lot, of research. I researched names, places, symbols, animals, things I won’t mention yet … everything. Now, it’s all there, all in place just waiting for me to write it.

And so, we’ve come back full circle to where we began. I am a writer … I am … so now I guess I’d better get busy and write!

“With all the charm of a thousand sunsets…” Is it just me or was that the best sentence in the whole blog? 🙂

Michelle identified Robert Frost in her influences, and of course alluded to his most famous poem.

It’s the perfect note on which to end.

There’s no such thing as an original story anymore.

Whatever your genre, whatever your plot, it’s been done before. Sorry, but it’s true.

So if you want to compete in the Amazon jungle and stand out among the million other books available, you have to give your novel added value. You need to take the road less travelled by.

Your book has to have the x-factor. Something that will make it stand out from the crowd.

Today’s guest understood that and has produced something that doesn’t just stand out – it is outstanding.

Michelle has taken the best from the author and books she admires, including Stephenie Meyer, and produced her own unique brand. Bone Dressing is definitely not Twilight. But it is a promising new dawn for an exceptional debut novelist.

If Simon Cowell ever produced The X-Factor for new writers,  Michelle Brooks and Bone Dressing would be in the final.

My Girls – Genre, Gender and Genius.

My Girl - my most favourite film of all time

Women... You can’t live with ’em. You can’t live without ’em.

Believe me, I know. I’ve got the t-shirt!

I even tried co-writing with a woman once. Big mistake! Saffina someone or other. God knows what happend to her.

But I was wondering the other day, during a moment of quiet procrastination not writing the next book, what was the single biggest influence on me as a writer.

My earliest literary memories are of being in infants’ school and writing one page travelogues in chunky wax crayon. I honestly cannot remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer. Famous scientist and famous explorer were up there too, sure, and five decades later those ambitions haven’t faded. Not for nothing am I writing this from one of the poorest countries on the planet, in beautiful West Africa.

But being a writer was the ambition. Still is!

And I’ve heard this new e-publishing thingy can take an unknown and turn them into a best-seller pretty much over night.

Yeah, if only… I mean, that’s why we write fiction, right? Because things like that never happen in the real world.

So where do these crazy dreams of becoming an author come from? Are some of us lucky enough to have gone to a school where they actually suggested writing could be a career?

Sadly, no.

For my part, I could already read and write before I started school, and this was a huge problem for a well-meaning staff totally incapable of thinking outside the box. I was shoved in the corner and told to behave myself while the others kids learned their ABC. So I wrote my little stories with the aforementioned chunky wax crayon, and learned to bring my own books into school to read.

My teachers were appalled. “You shouldn’t be reading that. It’s far too old for you. Stop wasting your time writing those silly stories and play in the sandbox with the others.”

Yeah, thanks guys.

It got worse as I grew up. The school’s careers adviser didn’t have a category for “writers”. Being a writer wasn’t a job. There was no skill involved. It was up there with famous footballer and pop-star as daft day dreams for dumb kids.

What’s that? You’re not dumb. You got an A* in English? Well in that case, try journalism. It’s the same thing.”

Home Sweet Home

So I did. But of course it’s not the same thing. And it set my writing career back many years.

But obviously somewhere along the line I found my way back to that land of eternal masochism and self-flagellation that is being a writer. Not just any old writer, either, but Mark Williams, writer.

Of course, every writer is different, and every writer brings their own life experiences and influences with them. It’s what makes them and their writing unique. Which brings us back to the question of  the single biggest influence.

For me, it was having a sister a year younger than myself.

You see, I was lucky enough to have been brought up on a farm by the sea. As childhoods go, this was idyllic. It was like something out of an Enid Blyton adventure story. Yes, even that one there in that picture.

Where I lived there actually was a light-house, and caves! And this was the 1960s and ’70s. Kids went off on their own in those days. Just like the Famous Five.

So for me, every day was a holiday, including most of the school term once I realised how easy it was to miss the school bus and go exploring instead.

But no matter where I went, I carried a book, a pen and paper. Still do. Leaving the house without a book is like leaving without your keys,  or wearing only one shoe. Okay, it’s a Kindle now, but you can guarantee within minutes of stepping out I’ll be obsessively checking my bag just to double-check the Kindle is there. And  a notepad and pen.

I was incredibly lucky in that my parents, though not big readers themselves, indulged me in my love of books. Books, comics, magazines – anything with words in. And I had gazillions of them. But there was never enough.

So I read my sister’s too.

Yes, a lot of my childhood reading was, inevitably, “boys’ stuff” – war stories, westerns, adventure, action, etc. And of course the boys’ boarding school classic like Billy Bunter and Jennings.

But a lot was girls’ stuff. First the girls’ comics, like Bunty (hands up who remembers The Four Marys?), then the girls’ books like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers (Darrell Rivers, anyone?) and St Clare’s.

Mock all you like, Blyton-haters, but Enid was a writing genius.

The greatest children’s author of all time.

From there I moved on, if one can ever move on from Enid Blyton, to Angela Brazil and Elinor Brent-Dyer (who did not adore Jo Bettany at the Chalet School?).

I read Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna, of course. I read The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.  I read Little Women and Alice and…

Yeah, it would be much easier to list what I didn’t read.

And of course I read Swallows & Amazons and The Borrowers and the Famous Five, and The Lion, The Witch

And all of these had strong female leads too. Nancy Blackett, Arrietty, George, and little Lucy…  These were the characters that made those stories what they are.

Just as, if we’re honest, JK Rowling would still be sitting in that Edinburgh cafe if it wasn’t for Hermione Granger.

But once I was old enough to start appreciating girls as girls this fascination with books never written for my gender just grew and grew.

True I cried along with Jo when her novel went up in flames in Little Women (Now come on – no writer ever read that scene and did not sob with her), but Beth was always my favourite.

The best bit of Jane Eyre was and will always be those early chapters depicting her cruel childhood. The death of Helen Burns never fails to move me, and always brings to mind Elizabeth Taylor at her best.

My point being it is the female characters, and particularly the young female characters, that carry these legendary stories.

Imagine To Kill A Mockingbird without Scout?

Imagine The Book Thief without Liesel?


Thanks to my early years reading everything I could lay my hands on, indifferent to gender or genre, I’m still able to read that widely today. And no question that influences my writing.

Girls… I certainly wouldn’t want to live without them.

And I certainly couldn’t write without them.

Which is why I’m giving the entire month of June over to the theme of girls here on MWi. Not just young girls, of course. Older girls. Teens and tweens. Young women. Older women. In fact, all things female.

Swallows and Amazons - which were you?

Yes, it’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun month on MWi throughout June.

But don’t expect all pink and fluffy. I’ve got some great guests lined up, and yes there will be a chick lit author or two, but there’ll also be some serious debates, useful advice, inspirational stories and awesomely emotional posts, as well as some seriously fun stuff.

I warn you now you’ll need two boxes of tissues for Cheryl Shireman’s post! And that’s if you’re tough as old boots. If you’re a big softie like me then make that three boxes. And if you’re a macho male that doesn’t do emotion, read it somewhere alone.

But whatever you do, don’t miss it.

That’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun month, coming to an MWi blog near you in June.

And while we’re waiting, how about you sharing some of your favourite “girlie” characters with the rest of us?

For me, no question, it’s Vada in My Girl. Played in the film by the incredible young actress Anna Clumsky, sadly now all grown up and adult.

What a tragedy! Why do kids have to grow up?

But how is it for you?

Has Hermione Granger taken the crown as literature’s most favourite young lady? Or is it Sarah Crewe or Nancy Drew? Lyra or Dorothy?

Or have you discovered a fantastic new girl character few of us know about? Or created one?

Share the love, as Kristen might say.

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