N is for Not of Our Sky

This is a bit of a cheat and I’ll apologise right up front.  I have a new book out 1st May, the third book of the Sky Song trilogy, Not of Our Sky, and today is the day of the cover reveal.  It just happens to coincide with the letter N in the countdown.  A happy accident… honest. So, if you don’t want to see, you can click away now and we’ll say no more about it 😉

not of our sky purple full length-page-0Jacob fights for his life and Ellen faces her toughest decision yet: whether to finally reveal his true identity to his parents. For Jacob is one of the Watchers of Astrae, a race of beings with extraordinary powers, and sworn to protect the natural order of the universe. But Jacob has broken one of Astrae’s oldest laws and chaos threatens to cover the Earth.

Alex faces the fall into darkness that has long been prophesised. Her only ally is Makash, their bitter and twisted uncle, and Jacob has already succumbed to the shadows.  Who will be there to catch her?

With the first part of the ancient prophecy already coming to pass, it seems their only hope lies in the second part – the riddle of the star that will bring them back to the light. But what does it mean? And why do Jacob, Alex and Ellen all dream of the same lighthouse, night after night?

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Location, location, inspiration.

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This weekend I’ve been splashing around in cold seas, scoffing ice-cream and scrambling over rocks. There might have been some shopping involved too but that’s a different story…

There has been a purpose to all this frivolity, however. I’ve been researching locations for the last book in the Sky Song trilogy, Not of Our Sky. More accurately, one very important location that’s integral to the climax. Every writer has a slightly different approach to using locations in their stories according to their needs. As a fantasy writer, my sense of place (a bit like my writing in general) lies somewhere in between real and made up. Quite often I’ll take an actual place and modify it. Sometimes I just won’t tell you where that place is. There is quite a lot of that in Sky Song, for example, I don’t tell you where the boating lake is, but it is a real location.

*As an aside, the only clue you’ll get from the entire three books of the park’s location in the physical world is this line from The Young Moon:

Jacob was hit by a rush of conflicting emotions as he entered the dolphin-embossed gates and the glittering waters of the lake stretched out before him, beyond which the hazy blue rim of the sea cut across the horizon.

Anyone recognise it now?*

The reason I don’t always tell you the name of the real place is that the story needs me to alter it in some way, and I don’t want everyone shouting at me that the details aren’t right. The boating lake is in a real park, but I take details of an annual event in another, nearby park and add them to my boating lake park, then I chuck in some buildings that don’t exist in the real park either because they have a vital part to play in the final confrontation of the book. In my upcoming standalone novel Runners, I do tell you the real name of every location, but the action is set in the future so that you can accept that the landscape or buildings may have changed. The climax of Not of Our Sky, however, needs a real place and it needs to be accurate because the whole book has been foreshadowing the events there in such a way that it has to be named. The action takes place in a contemporary time too so it has to look in the book how the real place looks now. And despite the fact that I have researched the location extensively from afar, actually visiting it this weekend has revealed just how little of the details I actually got right! Physically seeing the landscape has also suggested new ideas to weave into that final scene that would never have occurred to me had I not been there, ideas that I’m sure will improve it.

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Of course, it’s not always possible to visit your locations. In the second book of the trilogy, The Young Moon, there is an equally important, really existing location. Sadly, however, that place is one I travelled to many years ago and as I don’t have the money to go back there, I’ve had to rely on my ageing memory and let Google fill in the gaps!

But why not simply set the books in the place I live? Wouldn’t that be easier?

Having been born in Dorset but brought up in Stoke-on-Trent, I do actually use both places frequently as a source of inspiration. The story dictates the setting. And the stories I’m working on now need the Dorset and Hampshire landscapes to work. There is something epic about the terrain there, something quite mystical. Hardy saw it and wove it into the fabric of his novels like a character. But there are other stories I write that Stoke is a perfect backdrop for. Most of my short stories are set there, particularly the ones with more of a realist feel. For me, Stoke, as a city, is incredibly real; the people have a natural grounding and no-nonsense self-deprecation that seems to suit those stories better.

I know some writers who can set a story in a place they’ve never visited by simply researching it for a sense of location and some who only ever set things in the place they live. Some spend pages describing intimately their locations and some throw in titbits to give you only a flavour. And, obviously, there are some whose places don’t exist anywhere except in their books. Their methods work for them as writers and their stories. It’s a fascinating process and one that, for me, is almost as important as characters and plot. Location can do so much to shape a story.

Jacob’s back…

I’m happy to tell you that with The Young Moon almost ready for release, I may be allowed out from solitary confinement soon. Just for a short walk around the garden, mind, and ten minutes to wash the dishes before I’m shackled back at the laptop for Not of Our Sky.

Here’s a sneak preview…page-0 (2)

It is a prophecy, Watcher.  And it foretells your destruction.

So comes the stark warning from Astrae.  But what does the prophecy that tells of the young moon actually mean?

Two years have passed and Jacob’s search for the second Successor brings him back to Earth. But his Watcher powers seem to be useless as the other Successor remains shrouded in mystery… And he soon discovers that his bitter uncle, Makash, is also hot on the trail.

Jacob’s quest takes him and Luca halfway across the globe in a race to get to the other Successor first. As they get closer to their goal the body count starts to rise and Jacob and Luca are dragged deeper into Makash’s deadly game as the net closes around them.

All Jacob has to do is cheat death, yet again, find another like him amongst the seven billion people that swarm over the face of the planet before Makash does, and thwart the prophecy that spells his doom. No pressure then…

The Young Moon is the second book of the Sky Song Trilogy.

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing

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I’ve been tagged in the next big thing blog hop by the surreally hilarious Laurence Donaghy.  I have the same list of questions that I have to provide entertaining answers to and then I tag two writerly friends.  Oh well, here goes internet oblivion….

1. What is the working title of your next book?

It’s called ‘the one where Sharon’s writing fairy locks away her Merlin DVDs and uninstalls the youtube app from her phone and ties her to a chair until some words come out’.  Maybe that’s a bit longwinded, though.  We’ll go for The Young Moon instead.  It’s the second of the Sky Song trilogy.

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

As it’s a sequel, I suppose I have to say that the idea came from the first book! At the end of Sky Song, we left Jacob **Sound of a truck roaring past** so, The Young Moon picks up two years on from there. There was always going to be three books and each one continues the overall story arc. Sky Song was as much about Jacob’s dilemma over his life choices as it was about his battle with the bad guy.  In The Young Moon there’s a whole bunch of different dilemmas around loyalties and who gets to choose who lives and who dies. Jacob gets faced with some really tough decisions and quite often has to deal with the consequences of making the wrong ones.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

If you wanted to be pedantic you could call it Young Adult fantasy.  But there is a feel of realism about it, and I’m very influenced by magical realist works, so I suppose, in that sense, it’s not fantasy in the way most would think of that genre.  There are actually a couple of my favourite TV shows that you could probably point to and say ‘like that.’ If you look at something like Life on Mars or Misfits, outwardly, the setting is very ordinary and mundane, but something extraordinary is happening just beneath the surface.  I think that Jacob’s story is like that.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

This is where I come undone.  Colin Morgan’s face just pops up every time – not because he looks remotely like any of the characters, but just because I’d make sure I was on set every day!  This is a tricky question, though, because the main characters are all teenagers so the actors young enough to play them would probably be fairly unknown.  I think for Jacob’s best friend, Luca, Jonathan Bailey (from CBBC’s Leonardo) would be pretty cool.  For Jacob, I could really see Jeremy Sumpter looking right, although he may be a little old now as I’m still remembering him like he was in Peter Pan. Maybe someone similar.  But if Colin Morgan would dye his hair blonde then he’d be a definite Jacob!  Actually, for Ellen, someone who looks sort of like Katie McGrath would be good, only she’d have to look seventeen (sorry Katie!). Luckily I’m not a casting executive – my requirements would be pretty vague!

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

It’s bad enough writing an ordinary synopsis!  One sentence?  Ok. I’m totally rebelling with one and a half…

All Jacob has to do is cheat death, yet again, find another like him amongst the seven billion people that swarm over the face of the planet before Makash does, and thwart the prophecy that spells his doom. No pressure then… 

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agent?

Sky Song is self-published so The Young Moon will follow suit.  Unless some miracle occurs between now and March and an agent takes me on.  What’s that you say?  More chance of hitching a lift in the Tardis?  To be honest, though, I’m quite enjoying self-publishing at the moment – it can offer a lot of freedom to a jobbing writer like me in terms of deadlines and creative decisions.

7. How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

If I have a good run at it, a first draft can take maybe 5 or 6 weeks.  I don’t exactly remember how long The Young Moon took but I’d say it was around that. It’s the editing and fine tuning that takes a lot more time than that.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within the genre?

I genuinely can’t think of anything like it. That’s not me showing off my originality, it’s me showing off how woefully unread I am lately!  There are lots of books that tackle ‘chosen ones’ with great destinies, but I don’t know any of them that do it in such a domestic setting with so much emphasis on the emotional impact of that.  The only one I can think of that deals with it any similar way is Harry Potter, but Jacob’s story is nothing like Harry’s other than he does have a destiny that he can’t escape.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Oh dear.  I have to say, again, that the first book inspired this book!  Sky Song came to me as a vague idea about a little girl whose father watched the skies every night.  She wondered why and it took her a few years to figure out that he was watching for someone, rather than something.  The little girl turned into a teenage boy and the thing that came from the stars was his destiny. Then I started to think that if someone just pitched up at my door when I thought I had my life worked out and landed me with a destiny I hadn’t asked for, how would I react?  That’s pretty much the heart of Jacob’s dilemma.

10.  What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It features hot teenage boys.  Am I allowed to say that? Oh… erm, then it has a very important message about friendship and… oh hell, who am I kidding, hot teenage boys is my USP!

Next it’s the turn of Emma and Jack…

Emma Adams is 21-year-old author of THE PUPPET SPELL, a quirky YA fantasy published by Rowanvale Books. She is currently studying English Literature with Creative Writing at LancasterUniversity whilst writing the sequel and also working on the creepy paranormal Darkworld series. Check out her  blog about her writing journey, where she posts weekly updates and writing tips, and also regular book reviews and features.

Jack Croxall is a YA fiction author and science writer living in Nottinghamshire. He tweets via @JackCroxall, and you can find out more about his novel, Tethers, by visiting www.jackcroxall.co.uk

Look out for their Next Big Thing Q&As next week.

The gang’s all here…

You may remember me introducing Luca, my little Italian stud-muffin. Well, now it’s time to meet Jacob and Ellen.

It’s taken six long years to get here. And there were times when I seriously doubted that Jacob and his friends would make it off my hard drive. But, finally, this weekend, I gave them their freedom and they sailed out into the world.

Sky Song started off as a little tale about a young girl whose dad watched the skies every night for something. The little girl didn’t know what but it soon became clear to her that whatever it was he searched for, it was something that didn’t belong to the world she knew. As I worked the story out in my head, the little girl became an older boy named Jacob and the thing that came from the skies became an unexpected destiny. I’m always fascinated by the thought processes that make a plot and, looking back, the ones that got me to this point must have made some pretty amazing leaps!

Despite the fact that Jacob came from my head, I find him a difficult character to sum up. He’s an academic high flyer, though he doesn’t want to be. He’s attractive in his own quirky way, though he doesn’t really know how to deal with the attention that it brings. Aware that he is one of life’s outsiders, all he really wants is to fit in. He has grown up not really knowing who he is. So when his destiny is sprung on him one fateful night, all these things suddenly start to make sense.

Once I had Jacob and Luca I knew I needed a girl to stir up trouble. So along came Ellen. With a tougher upbringing than either Jacob or Luca, Ellen is the anchor of the trio. She’s grounded, nurturing, loyal, perceptive, intuitive and unfailingly optimistic. When there is chaos (and where Jacob and Luca are concerned there usually is) Ellen is the one who cuts through it to the truth. But sometimes she lets her heart rule her head and it gets her into trouble.

I hope you get to know them all and love them like I do. As I do the final edits on the final book of the trilogy any time now, I might shed a little tear. After all, they’ve been with me for six years and they’re like members of my family. But, as a good friend once said to me, every time another reader gets to know your characters, they breathe on their own a little more. I think I know what she means. I just hope I don’t end up having to give them mouth-to-mouth…