Past News, Past Posts…
In Spring 2017…
What I Couldn’t Tell You came joint third place in the first Ealing Teen Read Award with Alex Scarrow’s Re-Made. What joy! Huge congratulations to Ruta Sepetys for second place and the awesome Holly Bourne for coming first!
What I Couldn’t Tell You also made it onto the shortlist for the Lancashire Book of the Year 2017. You can see the shortlist of books by clicking HERE AND the book also made the long list for the Southern Schools Book Awards 2017 too.
Both awards are voted for by students, and sit alongside a really impressive list of titles. It’s brilliant that What I Couldn’t Tell You was among them!
I was sent this brilliant poem by Keira-Joan Alexander from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in London, inspired by Emma’s character in My Second Life. I think it’s just brilliant so wanted to share it here. A huge thank you to Keira-Joan for agreeing that I can put it up on the website.
My life at first was full of fun
Nothing to ruin it could be done
Then my life turned around
When Catherine’s heart didn’t pound
Then we found Catherine dead
We all felt empty I cried and wept
Then she shouted I killed her
Was I really a murderer?
Only if she was still alive
I could avoid this awful fight
But still at the end of the night
It was the guilt that took my life.
By Keira-Joan Alexander
A big thank you to Faye Rogers for running such a stonking Blog Tour for What I Couldn’t Tell You in August 2016, and to all the lovely bloggers who supported me and the book by taking part.
Do go and look at the Tour Wrap Up on Faye’s website if you missed any posts.
What I Couldn’t Tell You was published in May 2016, and the story centres around a 15 year old girl called Tessie, who is selectively mute.
The chances are you will not have heard of Selective Mutism, so I wanted to put some words down about it here.
“Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder that prevents children speaking in certain situations such as at school or in public.” SMiRA (Selective Mutism Information and Research Association)
If someone has SM it doesn’t mean they don’t have language or that they are stubborn or wilful and are choosing not to speak. It’s that the anxiety that they feel around speaking in a public place is so acute that however much they want to speak, however desperate they might be to say something, they truly can’t.
“When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke round me I am in darkness—I am nothing.” (Virginia Woolf, The Waves)
I first heard about SM when I listened to Sheri Pitman talking on the radio with her mother about her past experiences of suffering with SM. Sheri didn’t speak outside of her home for 9 years, and yet at home she would talk freely, just like any other member of the family. Home was a safe space. Outside of her home was not.
Hearing Sheri made me want to find out more about SM and my research led me to understand the condition more, and write What I Couldn’t Tell You. Here is an exclusive sneak peek from the book around what Tessie says about her SM when she describes it in the book:
The front door has to be PROPER SHUT for me to speak in my house. That’s just the way it is for me. The way it’s almost always been, since I was 5 years old. And no, I don’t know what started it and no one else knows either. I was shy. I was always a bit shy. I didn’t really talk much. I don’t think anyone even noticed that at first. But then I just stopped talking when I wasn’t at home, and when I was at home I only talked to the people I know really well – like my family and really close family friends. And by the time everyone noticed there was nothing I could do. If anyone talked to me, asked me to speak, I couldn’t. In fact it made it worse if people did. Way worse. I mean if you’re scared of spiders and I give you a spider, it’s not going to make you better, is it? And it’s the same with me and talking. If you try and talk to me, or ask me a question, you’re going to make it worse because all you’re doing is pushing me to try and do something I really can’t do. I’m selectively mute. Selective Mutism. That’s what they call it. Or SM, for short. Some people think I don’t have SM. They just think I’m really rude or really stubborn. They think I am choosing not to speak. And I guess that is how it looks – to them. But they don’t know how I feel when I’m outside my house. And the nightmare is, I can’t really tell them.
What I Couldn’t Tell You was published on 1 May 2016.
You can read the first two of Tessie’s chapters here
When love turns to jealousy, when jealousy turns to rage, when rage turns to destruction…
Laura was head over heels in love with Joe. But now Laura lies in a coma and Joe has gone missing. Was he the one who attacked her?
Laura’s sister Tessie is selectively mute. She can’t talk but she can listen. And as people tell her their secrets, she thinks she’s getting close to understanding what happened on that fateful night.
You can find out more about Selective Mutism by clicking on the link to SMiRA’s website above.
WHAT I COULDN’T TELL YOU
Book Launch 5 May 2016
I had such a wonderful evening at Daunts Bookshop in Holland Park last night with so
many friends and family to celebrate publication of What I Couldn’t Tell You.
It feels lovely today to remember the evening and to know that the book is now well and truly launched! Thanks to everyone who came and celebrated with me.
Seeing your book for the first time…
Words to describe how it feels to see your book for the first time? Awe, wonder, joy, a little fear, more joy, more awe… and I’m smiling… I absolutely cannot stop smiling, inside and out.
The first sight of your book is when it arrives by the magic of post through your front door. This is a private moment. A moment of wonder as the words that were only inside your head, and then on your laptop, appear in this beautiful physical object that is a book.
It gets handed over to you by the postman or plops through your front door declaring that it is now officially something that is separate to you, and it exists in the world.
The cover, even though you’ve seen it on a jpeg before, shown it to your friends, your family, comes alive in your hands. When What I Couldn’t Tell You arrived I found myself stroking it, turning it over – just the feel of the cover, the weight of the thing – felt like something I needed to get to know. And yet I didn’t want to open it up. In fact I have to admit I didn’t open the book for well over a week after I received it. I was nervous. What if I saw a word or a sentence I didn’t like, a mistake, a word that perhaps I wished I’d changed, that I now couldn’t live with? The fact is that once your story sits in your hands in the shape of a book, it is a fixed thing – it cannot change – and given all you’ve done in the months leading up to this moment is change it, redraft it, edit it, redraft it some more both in your head and on the page, the lack of the possibility of change now is a very scary thing.
When a friend asked me if I was going to read the book, I explained that I wasn’t going to, not yet, that I couldn’t. She was surprised and told me I should just open up the book on a random page and read a sentence – any sentence. She was sure that would cure me of my fears. When I hesitated, she picked up the book, opened it, and read out loud:
We are such stuff
As Dreams are made on;
and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
“There,” she said, “that’s really good.”
“Because that’s Shakespeare! You picked the only line in the book that isn’t actually mine!” I said back.
And we collapsed laughing.
It was just the sort of grounding, the sort of levelling, I needed, because it reminded me that to see the book in the world is something that I should be celebrating not fearing.
I feel very fortunate that What I Couldn’t Tell You has made it to publication, and when I see the book in a bookshop next week I will most definitely be celebrating, and above all else I will be saying a massive thank you to all those brilliant people who made it possible for it to be there at all.
(29 April 2016)
Some Thoughts on US Publication Day
19 January 2016
There’s something very surreal about writing a book. These characters, their stories, come entirely out of your head. They are nudged into existence by the outside world of course, but essentially they develop and grow in your mind and come out onto the page with graft and time.
Often you write and you don’t even know if your words will ever be read. Will anyone meet these people? Hear their stories? And yet somehow it doesn’t stop you. You keep writing, thinking about writing, writing again. Your characters live and breathe with you. Sometimes it’s like that for years.
And then, if timing and luck and all those who nurture and support your work allow, your story comes out into the world. There is a book! And it sounds almost stupid to say it, because it is so obvious, but it is a physical thing. It is an object, separate to you, and you can hold it and touch it and feel it, and when you see your book for the first time it’s surreal. No – it’s more than that. It’s surreal, nerve-racking and utterly brilliant.
Every time I go into a bookshop or a library and see my My Second Life on the shelves it honestly feels like a little bit of a miracle that the story in my head has turned into this. In the print, the black and white of the pages, there are my characters, and they are there for whoever happens to pick up my book and read. They are now most definitely out of my head and in the world.
And today my book is published in the USA and Canada, and quite frankly the level of surrealism feels like it has stepped up a gear. My story has the potential to be read by teenagers who live in places like Virginia, Wisconsin and Colorado. Places I have never been. Places I can only imagine. And until I walk into a bookshop in Vancouver or Saskatoon and see my book there, I’m not sure I’ll actually comprehend the enormity of today. But until then I’m going to enjoy putting my copy of the US publication of My Second Life alongside the UK publication on my bookshelf at home, and be glad that I kept putting those words on the page at the start – when my book was just a fleeting idea, an unconfident opening paragraph, the beginnings of something that so easily might never have been.
MY SECOND LIFE is going to be published in the US on 19 January 2016. When I type that I still feel like I have to pinch myself… And here is the US cover side by side with the UK one…
I think both covers are incredibly powerful, in quite different ways. I feel very lucky to have two such stunning covers for my book.
I’m delighted that I’m going to be a part of YA Shot this October. If you don’t know about YA Shot, it is a one-day Young Adult and Middle Grade ‘festival’ taking place in Uxbridge on Wednesday 28 October 2015.
There will be over 71 authors involved in a programme of workshop, panel and ‘in conversation’ events plus book-signing sessions and blogging and vlogging workshops. An event not to be missed!
I’ll be doing a workshop on creating a character and talking about my experience of having been a Literary Agent for television scriptwriters and now being a Writer myself.
Go to the YA Shot LINK http://www.yashot.co.uk to find out more about the Programme, including my workshop event, and how you can buy tickets for the day in advance.
SO delighted that My Second Life has been nominated for the North East Teenage Book Award 2014, and in such completely amazing company.
You can see all the books on the shortlist and find out more about the authors here…
Edinburgh was a ball! Such a beautiful city, such a thriving festival and the sun shone the whole time. Really – it did! Highlights were talking Escaping Darkness with the lovely Alexia Casale, and my school visits. A huge thank you to the lovely librarians at Perth & Kinross in particular on my Festival Outreach day. Two brilliant schools at Crieff and Aberfeldy, and I felt very lucky to see the heather out on the Sma’ Glen when we drove between the two. Stunning. And a special mention for the pupils at Queensferry High School who were especially welcoming, and who interviewed me (my first interview – and theirs too it turned out) for the Teen Titles magazine. I’m looking forward to seeing the interview in the December issue. It was sad to leave and see the tents coming down…
It’s been brilliant coming back from Edinburgh and doing some events closer to home.
I had an inspiring morning at Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls in Ealing at the beginning of the month. I ran a Workshop on Creating a Character with some of the Year 9 students, and their ideas and enthusiasm bowled me over.
I was in Ickenham this week to be part of the celebration for all the young volunteers in Hillingdon who volunteered in their local library over the Summer as part of the Mythical Maze Summer Reading Challenge. It was a fantastic evening and I felt really privileged to be part of it all. There were two volunteers in particular who had put in 150 hours each this Summer in their library. Wow. I was humbled and impressed by their dedication and commitment to such an important scheme. A massive congratulations to them all.
Chaired by Alexia Casale, myself and Jon Robinson discussed Reading, Writing and all things YA as one part of the evening.
With huge thanks to Freddie Maud (11) who designed this fantastic poster for MY SECOND LIFE as part of his Home Learning over the Summer Holidays. I think it’s brilliant, and am really touched he chose my book for his project. Thank you, Freddie.
It’s August… It’s almost time for The Edinburgh International Book Festival…
I am delighted to be going to the Edinburgh International Book Festival at the end of the month. You can access all you need to know about the Festival here and about the event I’ll be doing with the lovely Alexia Casale, who wrote the brilliant The Bone Dragon . We will be talking with chair Susan Elsley about Escaping Darkness.
I’ve been nominated for the First Book Award as part of the Edinburgh Festival. If you’ve read the book, and liked it enough to consider giving it a vote, then please click on the event link First Book Award.
I have a busy schedule in Edinburgh… I’ll be reading on Sunday 24 August for Amnesty International alongside a number of other authors who will be there to support the work of imprisoned writers. And I will be visiting two schools in Edinburgh, as well as two in Perth and Kinross as part of the Festival’s Outreach Programme, doing workshops and talks. It’s going to be fab!
It July… It’s publication…
In the month that My Second Life was published I was lucky enough to write some guest posts for these brilliant book bloggers. A huge THANK YOU to the following bloggers for having me. If you don’t already follow these blogs then you should. Go see!
And if you’d like to read the posts I wrote for them you can do that here…
“Keep reading great things, memorise what you read, be hard on yourself. In other words, it requires the dedication of a Samurai. Set yourself high standards.” Edna O’Brien at Hay Festival 2013
I read this on Twitter last year and quickly noted it down. There was something in it that chimed with me. I think it was the way it encapsulated the sheer graft needed to be a writer. And yet, ironically, last May, when I innocently scribbled the words into my notebook, I hadn’t really even begun to graft; I had no clue what graft was in store.
Yes, I had written a fair number of drafts of my book. My work as an agent taught me that as a writer you really had to be robust, be prepared to take notes, take risks, to move things around, to make changes even right up until the final hours of a deadline. And with this work ethic in mind, 7 drafts took me to agent submission, 2 more to publisher submission, and then there were 2 further drafts in between two rounds of rejections, until very happily a publisher took my book on. And when did the real work begin? In all honesty I would say it began then, when an Editor came on board.
So to be “hard on yourself” is I think a prerequisite. You absolutely cannot write a book without being challenged, and in the process I think you must challenge yourself again just as hard if you are to do your best work. And this inevitably involves setting yourself high standards, just as Edna O’Brien said.
Of course setting yourself high standards can at times be a pain. I know I have often set myself standards that are just too high, only to be left feeling like my best work will never be good enough. But when it came to writing there was I think a usefulness in this slightly nightmarish personality trait. I had no problem re-working metaphors, sentences, whole paragraphs until they were right and if they weren’t then ditching them altogether and starting again. And I’m not blowing my own trumpet here. I mean maybe I threw out some perfectly good writing, made life harder for myself than I needed to. Maybe the way I worked was complete madness… Probably, possibly. It certainly pushed me much further than I ever expected to be pushed at times. But I came to learn through the process that if a word or sentence didn’t feel right, then there was one reason for that, and that was simply because it wasn’t right. I had to learn to trust my inner voice, because without doubt I felt I had a responsibility to myself and to my reader to make it right.
Of course writing with high standards is no different to doing another job with high standards. Like anything in life we can sometimes do a perfectly decent job without pushing ourselves to our limits and get broadly the same results. But there is I think a responsibility that comes with writing a book; a responsibility to yourself to write something that you can stand by, and a responsibility to your reader to write something that will connect, so that it can be believed and understood and hopefully felt. And it’s not just the permanence of print that sets the bar so high in this. It’s the importance of saying what you want to say and it being understood. And when you think of it like that, then why would it not take anything less than “the dedication of a Samurai” to make sure you get it right.
Searching for the images inside my head…
I’ve been inspired by other authors who have used Pinterest to create a mood board for their books, and have spent the last week trawling for images that might work for My Second Life. Once I started searching – thinking mainly about the various images in the book, particularly repetitive ones – I became slightly obsessed with the task. The cover of the book was a fantastic starting point – it guided me to all the deep, dark blue and black tones – and colour felt key as I searched. In fact so much so that as I scanned through images for oak tree roots and lines on horizons I knew pretty much instantly which images were a fit by colour alone; they so strongly conjured up mood and tone. And of course there were also the images I’d had in my head as I’d written. They were still there very clearly in my mind, just as they had been when I’d started to write the book and they too guided me through. So do go and look at the mood board. It’s been fun to gather the images together and see this board emerge as a visual representation of the story.
UKYA’s April Extravaganza – The first chapter goes live…
Wednesday 16 April was a big day for My Second Life. The book went to press and the opening chapter went on line as part of Lucy Powrie’s amazing UKYA April Extravaganza.
If you don’t know about Lucy and UKYA you must. Go and visit her website www.ukya.co.uk and follow her on Twitter so you can be part of it all, and join in on one the fantastic Twitter chats she organises where readers and writers of UKYA fiction share their enthusiasm for all things UK and YA. Just head for the hashtag #UKYA to see what it’s all about.
And in the meantime you can read the blog post I wrote for Project UKYA here with a link to Usborne’s website where you can read the opening chapter.
Sitting on both sides of the desk…
I wrote this blog post earlier in the year for The Faber Academy News and Features page talking about my experiences of having been a Literary Agent and now being a writer. It may be of interest to any aspiring writers among you.