Z is for zzzzzzzzzzz

4709333171_f71bb5ea72Ok, I admit it, this blog challenge has finally beaten me.  I went through a whole raft of z words from zephyr to zits but I just didn’t have the energy to be inventive.  So, goodbye A-Z challenge, it’s been a blast.  I struggled some days to get to as many blogs as I wanted to visit and to leave comments in as many places as I wanted to, and I apologise to those I missed.  By the same token, I’d like to thank everyone who forgave me and visited me despite this.  See you all next year!

Right, I’m off to bed for the next month…

Y is for Young Adult

There are lots of reasons why I write and read YA. I don’t write or read it exclusively, but it seems to dominate my choices at a subconscious level.  Whenever I put fingers to keyboard for a new story, invariably, a teenager appears. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to young people in life (or people who have a young outlook).  Maybe it’s because I have a misguided attachment to my battered old Converse which means you’ll have to prise them from my cold, dead feet, regardless of how embarrassing my kids find it. Maybe it’s because I’m clinging stubbornly to my own lost youth. I’m not sure I can really say why I lean towards YA – you might as well ask why I like the colour green.2392464731_548fbbb10d

Whatever Freud would have to say, I love to write characters of this age.  They escape the constraints that dictate the actions of the rest of us. There’s a whole new world opening up for them, endless possibilities still to be written.  I write younger protagonists from time to time under a pen name and, while they have just as much fun, mostly I have the watchful eye of a parent or guardian to take into consideration.  Young adult protagonists have more freedom to go out into the world on their own but without the burdens that adults have. It’s a time of massive transition – of finding yourself, who you really are, what sort of person you’re becoming – and for me, that’s so exciting.  With a young adult protagonist you can pursue emotional arcs that you can’t with any other age group.

Another genre is fast emerging in the book world too, that of New Adult.  This genre is one I’m currently trying to write in, and I have to say that I’m finding the challenge exciting.  It’s taking me out of my writing comfort zone and allowing me to explore some of the themes that Young Adult only begins to touch on in more depth.  I’ve heard it said that this genre is just an excuse to let teenagers in books have sex, but I don’t agree.  I think that YA stories can and do already do that.  By the same token, I think that NA stories don’t have to be limited by sex either.   Just as adults don’t spend all their waking hours thinking about it, there’s no reason why New Adults have to, and nobody complains when being presented with a book about adults where sex does not happen.  Mine is still very much a work in progress, and it’s hard to say how it will turn out, but I’m having fun experimenting!

X is for Xavier

I’ll be honest, I had sat for some time last night writing a completely different post for X. One of those from-the-heart, frank posts that looked decidedly ill-advised when I read it over again in the cold light of day.  So, as a much more lighthearted treat, I thought I’d introduce you to Xavier Bettencourt from Runners.  Xavier is a somewhat enigmatic character at the start of the book; there is lots we dont know about him and his motivations aren’t always clear.  One thing is certain, he doesn’t like Elijah very much and the distrust is mutual.  Perhaps something to do with the conversation that Elijah overhears concerning himself at their first meeting.  Luckily for Elijah, things with Xavier aren’t always what they seem.

Excerpt:

The stable was damp and inhabited by a skeletal, disgruntled looking horse which snorted indignantly at their arrival but, after a fuss from Rosa, decided they were welcome after all.  Two of the three stalls were unoccupied and obviously unused; Xavier noted that, although they were cleanly swept, there was no straw down.  On a bracket hung a wire basket with a supply of clean dry straw, which Xavier spread around in one of the vacant stalls for them to lie on.  It pricked them through their clothes but smelt inviting and safe.  Rowan fell asleep almost immediately, as did Sky, after finally agreeing to entrust Elijah’s care to Jimmy.  Jimmy did his best to make Elijah comfortable, but his limp form failed to respond to any of Jimmy’s anxious manoeuvrings. 

Xavier, who seemed to have taken on superhuman qualities, was adamant that he was going out to search for food. ‘Did you pick up those tokens?’

Rosa nodded and reached into her backpack, extracting the booklet that had been the cause of so much misery.  She tossed it to him.

‘Thanks.’

‘Where are you going to use them?’

‘If there’s a stable here with a live horse, then there has to be a house nearby,’ Xavier reasoned.  ‘I’m going to find it and see if I can get them to exchange these for something.  It’s a risk, but we don’t have any choice.’

‘You’re surely not going now?’

Xavier nodded, his square jaw set with grim determination.  Rosa was too tired to argue. 

***

A couple of hours later, Xavier stumbled in with a small cloth bag.  Shaking Rosa gently, he showed her the bag as she rubbed her eyes, struggling to wake. 

‘Where did you get that?’ 

‘Quite a walk actually – there’s a cottage.  It’s in a bit of a hollow, which is why we never saw it before.  They were nice people.  Only had eggs to spare, though.’

‘But,’ Rosa began groggily, ‘we can’t start a fire in here…’

‘I know.  We’ll have to eat them raw.’  Xavier steeled himself, at the same time pulling a brown, slightly feathery, hen’s egg out of the sack.  Tipping his head right back he cracked it into his open mouth and swallowed it in one, shuddering.  Rosa looked horrified. ‘This is not the time to be squeamish,’ Xavier scolded. 

‘Didn’t they ask you any questions?’ Rosa asked as she accepted an egg from Xavier and held it as though he had given her a hand grenade.

‘Yeah.  I felt a bad about lying to them really. They are a bit too trusting. Anyone else would have robbed them blind.  They asked where we were staying. I was sort of straight with them.  I told them I was with a group of soldiers on exercises and we got separated from the others, so we were sheltering in the stable, just for tonight, and we’d move on in the morning. Just in case they came noseying, really.’

‘I thought you said they were nice.’

‘That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t report a gang of kids hiding out in their stable, though, does it?’

‘We don’t really look like soldiers.’  Rosa forced an ironic laugh.

‘No,’ Xavier agreed, ‘but hopefully I was convincing enough that they won’t come to check.  It’s quite interesting that they believed me so readily – don’t you think?  Puts a new slant on what Jimmy told us about the CMO.’ 

‘Or perhaps they thought you were seventeen.’

‘Perhaps.’ Xavier shrugged. ‘Anyway, I told them the horse was ok with us. That seemed to settle it really.’  He glanced over at Elijah, who was shivering in his sleeping bag, his eyes moving rapidly under their lids. ‘Give me a hand to get one of these inside him.  He’s not going to last otherwise.’ 

Rosa gently pulled Elijah’s head onto her knees and tipped it back without resistance. She pinched his nose while Xavier cracked an egg and poured it into his gaping mouth, stroking his throat like he was giving a dog pills.  Elijah gagged and it dribbled back out, the yolk running down his chin.

‘We’ll just have to try and keep him hydrated, it’s the best we can do for now.’ Xavier grimaced.  ‘His breath stinks. We’ll wake the others.  They need to eat sooner rather than later.  Plenty of time for sleep afterwards.’

You can check out the Runners page on Goodreads if you want to know more.  Or, ya know, you could add it to your shelf… or something…

W is for Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey

Yup, you guessed it. I love time travel! Not actual time travel, of course, though that just imagine that!  I love the idea of it. And, as I’ve said so many times before, the endless possibilities for story telling, the way the concepts it presents can tie your brain up in delicious knots. Things can get pretty complicated when you time travel, as I have found when trying to write it. It’s been done so often now, that it can seem a tired idea,  but over the last few years I’ve seen it used in some very unlikley ways to make it all shiny again. Take The Time Traveler’s Wife. Who saw that coming? But what a brilliant reinvention of a well-loved trope. I’ve seen it pop up in chick lit, and in some of my favourite non-sci-fi shows such as Life on Mars. Heroes and Misfits showed time travel as a super-power.  I wonder how many more versions we will see?

And now for the real reason that we are discussing time. Over to you, Doctor…

V is for Villains

This is a short post and really to pose a question:  Why do villains in stories always laugh?  Or smirk?  Or cackle evilly?  Why do they display any hint of merriment when they are contemplating or have committed some dastardly deed?  Being evil might be funny, but it can’t be that funny, surely.  Even in a room full of people, Merlin’s Morgana in series 3 had a face that was permanently stuck in an evil grin the moment anyone wasn’t looking.  Sometimes when they were looking.  If you are doing something underhand, save your laughter and concentrate on hoodwinking your victims good and proper.  All Uther had to do was turn around at the wrong moment and she’d have been toast.  It’s not that I have a problem with villains finding their villainy amusing in moderation, but I just don’t get where this whole idea that they have to laugh all the time started.  Was it with moustache twirling baddies of the silent movie era who, presumably, had to grin and twirl their moustaches to show their badness because they had no dialogue and rubbish, crackly film?  Does anyone else know?  I’m even guilty of doing it myself when I write baddies, perhaps because the idea is so ingrained in me that I just can’t shake it.  It seems to be a particular malady in fantasy writing as a whole.  I need help to kick the chipper-baddie habit.  Anyone want to form a support group?

Watch out for the smirk count in the corner. Enjoy!

U is for Unlikely Hero

Not only the title of a Hoosiers song (just sharing a guilty pleasure moment there) but also my favourite sort of hero.  From lovestruck Cyrano to sociopath Sherlock to ‘scrawny, specky git’ Harry Potter (I wish I could claim that but blame it on the Weasley twins) everyone loves an underdog (which also begins with U).harry

Why do we look to the least likely heroes to save the day?  What is it about them?  Maybe they remind us of ourselves.  It takes a hobbit to save Middle Earth when there are warriors and elves all around.   Maybe hobbits are like us – real people. And maybe it’s healthy to root for the hobbit.  Maybe it reminds us that we don’t have to sit idly back when injustice is around us, that everyone can make a stand, no matter how insignificant they may seem.  The difference is, in real life there are often things beyond our control to change, even with the most determined will.  In fiction, we can achieve our aims through our protagonist.  And the more like us they are, the more we take the journey with them.

In any story, you can bet that I’ll be rooting for the overlooked geek, the quiet, unsung hero toiling away in the background, the socially awkward non-entity… the unlikely hero of the tale.  Maybe because they’re just like me.

T is for Tethering Titles

Regular visitors to the blog may know that I have a soft spot as big as New Mexico for Jack Croxall’s Victorian adventure, Tethers. I ‘met’ Jack on Twitter last year when he was still writing it and right from the first mention I was intrigued. The book promised to be everything I grew up loving: heart stopping, swashbuckling adventure with kids at its heart, set in an era steeped in romance. I looked forward to its release with a mixture of excitement and trepidation; it would have been the disappointment of the year if it hadn’t been good!tethpurp-211x300

My fears were unfounded and I loved it. But that’s not the point of this post, so I apologise for digressing. The point is that Jack’s title, Tethers, was intriguing just by itself. In fact, without gushing, it was a work of genius. As I began to lose myself in the tale, I just knew that somewhere along the line, it was going to be significant. So when the moment came to reveal that significance, it was such a gratifying one that I almost punched the air. It was so important to everything that the book was about and that made it perfect.

Titles are funny things. Some people struggle with the title more than anything else, often using a working title for as long as possible. For me, a work in progress doesn’t feel like a real book until I have a title for it. I often find, in actual fact, that the title is one of the first things that occur to me. For one book I recently began, a title that popped into my head actually dictated the whole premise and kick-started the draft! However the title comes, for me, it’s usually one of the first things put in place. There have been occasions where books I’ve written have had a title that was changed at the last minute, though. Sky Song was initially called The Cosmic Canvas (taken from a line in the book) until a friend wrinkled her nose and mentioned that it made her think of hippie Neil from The Young Ones. After that, I couldn’t get the association out of my head and the old title had to go.  Another novel, Runners, went through about four titles before it was settled.

Titles are not only significant in terms of telling you what to expect from a book or linking into the plot, but they can dictate whether the book sells or not. This sounds extreme, but I believe it to be true. Unless highly recommended, if I see a book whilst browsing and I think that the title is boring, I pass it by. I realise that everyone’s concept of boring is quite different, so, obviously, this will be subjective according to each reader. But the point I’m making is that it needs to be clever/intriguing/witty/romantic – whatever will pull at the heart strings of your target audience. This may sound obvious, but it doesn’t seem to be to everyone. I would point here to Snakes on a Plane. Either someone had their tongue firmly in their cheek, or their imagination had gone for a city break. Whatever you think about it, I have never seen, and do not intend to ever see this film, simply because the title puts me off.

I realise that I might be setting myself up for a massive fail here as lots of people point to my book titles and scoff.  In which case, all I can do is point you to Tethers to prove my point.

If you want to find out more about Jack or his book, you can click the following links…

website

Goodreads

Amazon