Reckless & resourceful: powerful women in young adult fiction

Writing

I loved celebrating International Women’s Day yesterday, but let’s face it – one day just isn’t enough to celebrate all of the strong and influential women that help mould our lives. In honour of International Women’s Day and – hey, why not? – just women in general, I’ve picked out three female-oriented and wonderfully written young adult novels to celebrate with you guys.

These three young adult novels hold such a close place in my heart, and I wanted to share them with you all. Each of the following novels was written by a talented female author, with intricate and beautifully written plots and equally intricate female protagonists.

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The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles

This novel is Ruffles’ debut, and it’s written in such an incredibly visceral way that she’s bound to have set herself up for a successful authoring career. The story follows Lux – a student at a prestigious art school in London, who has recently developed synaesthesia, a condition that makes her taste, feel and smell colours rather than see them. The narrative of this piece is so disjointed and often disturbing, but never so much that the reader can’t follow Lux’s journey. Through Lux’s panic attacks and repressed traumas, Ruffles really captures the reality of mental health conditions for young people.

“If Sylvia Plath wrote a novel for young adults, The Taste of Blue Light would be it… Beautiful. Visceral. Gripping. I loved it.” – Louise O’Neill

Lux is strong, resourceful, and often too independent to accept help and support from others. As readers, we’re very much in Lux’s head as she tries to come to terms with her condition, uncover the mysteries of her past, and navigate school and home life. One of the more refreshing elements of The Taste of Blue Light is the supporting characters: Lux’s wonderful female friends that never waver in their support, even when they aren’t sure how to help, Lux’s teachers, her mother – the women around her that hold her up, even when she doesn’t think she needs holding.

I can’t recommend this novel enough – there are so many lines throughout the novel that are so poignantly phrased that they may as well be poetry. You can purchase the novel online here. (Content warning: Lux is a complicated girl, and the book does include depictions of drug use.)

 

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Clean by Juno Dawson

I’ve always been a fan of Juno – a female writer who is a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ community – but I think she’s really outdone herself with Clean. Protagonist Lexi has grown up living the life of a celebrity, hanging out with Victoria’s Secret models and her father’s limitless credit cards; then her heroin addiction lands her in an exclusive rehab facility in the middle of God-awful nowhere.

It’s only in rehab that Lexi learns about her addiction and can grow into the person she truly wants to be. Everyone she meets in the facility is struggling from their own addictions, whether it be food, sex, or drugs. The supporting characters – particularly the females – in this novel are just as inspirational as Lexi herself becomes. The female owner of the centre is strong, successful, and has turned her grief into something beautiful with all that she has achieved. Kendall, a transgender girl suffering with anorexia, teaches Lexi the values of being non-judgemental and open to support.

“Compulsively readable and touching – I loved it.” – Marian Keyes

This is a novel that is as deep and gripping as it is light-hearted. There are tear-jerking moments, but Lexi’s sarcastic nature will always leave readers feeling warm. I was given an ARC of Clean, but it will be out in stores April 2018, and it’s worth pre-ordering! (Content warning: those currently suffering with addiction might want to avoid due to triggering situations. Mild drug use, anorexia, binge eating disorders, abuse and death are all mentioned in this novel.)

 

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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Firstly, I think we can all agree that the cover art for We Are Okay is overwhelmingly stunning. Can I pretend I didn’t buy this one just for the cover at first? Anyway, LaCour has published many novels for young adults now; another favourite of mine is the novel she co-wrote with David Levithan, You Know Me Well. This novel, however, is one of the best young adult novels I can think of for female YA readers.

Protagonist Marin is at college in New York, far away from her old life on the Californian coast. It’s winter, and every other student has gone home for the holidays – except Marin, who doesn’t have a home to go to. When she is visited by her best friend from her old life, Marin has to face up to some truths and confront her past.

Short, poetic and gorgeously written. . . . The world LaCour creates is fragile but profoundly humane.” — The New York Times Book Review

The entire novel is set over the space of a few days; Marin and her friend are snowed in, alone, and forced to explore their past relationship and why they’ve both been so distant with each other. This is a novel about sadness, grief, loss and love. And it’s the right time of year to read this one – We Are Okay is a novel to read while you’re curled up with a hot beverage and snow is falling outside. Perfect for readers looking for realistic and sensitively written LGBT fiction. Buy it here. (Content warning: grief, loss, death.)

Buy, read, enjoy. Although I’ve attached Amazon links to the above novels, please support these wonderful authors by buying through your local bookshops if you can!

 

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An interview with ‘The Doll House’ author, Phoebe Morgan

Writing

Phoebe Morgan, debut novelist and author of psychological thriller The Doll House talks writing, editing, and her advice to young authors with Niall Cunniffe.

Could you give readers a brief introduction to what you’ve published, and what you’re currently working on?

My first book, The Doll House, was published last year. It’s a psychological thriller about two sisters who find themselves the target of a stranger seeking revenge. I’ve just sent my second book to my publisher after doing a structural edit with my agent, so it’s all quite nerve-wracking! It’s another psychological thriller, but the title hasn’t yet been confirmed as yet. Watch this space!

You’re a commissioning editor for a trade publisher by day. Do you think this has helped you improve your writing or editing process and, if so, how?

Yes, definitely. I’m an Editor first and foremost. I work with a long list of authors, so I see both sides of the process. Working as an Editor in publishing has given me a wider understanding of the commercial market, I think, and seeing it from both sides helps me empathise more with authors, and gives me a different perspective. I’ve found comfort in the fact that I know how the publishing process works, all the ins and outs that go into making a book and getting it into readers hands. There’s a lot of work involved!

Do you think aspiring authors should get some experience in the publishing industry to help with their writing and career?

No, I don’t think that’s necessary. I would suggest they read widely and read around their chosen genre. They should keep an eye on what’s doing well and becoming successful – and figure out why certain books are more appealing or gripping than others. But writers should always be true to themselves, too – the market is an ever-changing beast so you’ve always got to keep your own voice and write what you love.

Do you think it’s becoming increasingly common for writers and authors to also have a full time job nowadays?

I think this depends on what stage of the journey they’re at, really. I know a lot of writers who balance writing around full time jobs, some of whom have children as well which is awe-inspiring! As a general point, writing isn’t always the most financially rewarding career in the world, so it’s very common for people to juggle multiple jobs, especially when starting out. I love my job – I always wanted to be an Editor, and I wouldn’t want to simply write on my own, I think I’d go mad! Of course, some authors do write full time; I think it’s a very personal choice.

Do you have a place you always go to write, or somewhere you feel most inspired?

I can write anywhere, though I’ve got a new desk recently which I’m really excited about. The shelves above the desk have some little reminders – a plant my agent gave me, a poster with an inspirational quote, my books about publishing. It’s really nice to have your own space to write, so I guess I’m lucky. However, I wrote most of The Doll House while babysitting in the evenings, or sitting in cafés at night.

How much planning and outlining do you undertake before beginning to write your novel?

I don’t plan at all, to begin with. I find it really difficult. I did write a synopsis for my agent and publisher for my second book, but that’s the extent of it. Everyone works in different ways. I prefer to get the first draft done and then edit it. I’m not one of those writers who can plan out a whole novel with sticky notes and spread sheets. I probably end up writing more drafts. I’m an editor by nature, so I’m most comfortable editing a lot than extensively planning.

Do have any other hobbies and passions, outside writing and publishing?

I’ve very passionate about the Society of Young Publishers; I’m co-chairing the London branch this year. Writing and publishing are where my main interests lie – I’m fairly terrible at everything else! Although I am trying to learn how to cook… with mixed results.

If you have one piece of advice to offer to young aspiring authors, what would it be?

Be persistent. You have to keep going. It’s a good idea to perhaps have your writing read by other people and be prepared to take editorial feedback. Focus on your own journey, and make sure you’re doing the best you can. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others – just keep your head down, do the work and make the most of every opportunity.

Keep up with Phoebe’s journey on her website, where she frequently posts about writing, editing and the world of publishing. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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A big thank you to Niall for organizing such an insightful interview with Phoebe! Keep yourself in the loop with Niall’s work by following him on twitter and checking out his blog.

 

 

 

It’s okay to be a total flake: reassurance from a total flake

Mental Health

Recently, it feels like there’s always someone who needs a bit of my time. There are emails to be answered, appointments to be made, catch-ups and study-sessions and coffee dates to be scheduled… I’m starting to understand why my lecturer’s always seem to have their ‘Out of Office’ automated emails switched on.

It isn’t a bad thing when this happens. I feel very loved and grateful that there are so many people that want thirty minutes of my time, but there aren’t really enough hours in the day for me to do everything I want to do as well as everything I need to. So, if you’re one of the people who feels like I’ve been ghosting you or being one of those friends that forever says, “We need to catch up, it’s been too long!” but is never actually available: I’m sorry. I’ll get round to you, I promise. In the meantime, I need a little time.

Anyone that regularly reads this blog will know that I’m currently trying to juggle a Master’s degree, a part-time job in my local bookstore, and getting manuscript edits sent to my agent so that we can try to sort the novel for publication soon. There are always things on top of this happening as well: meetings with lecturers and authors and doctors that I really can’t postpone. So, yeah, I’ve been terrible at replying to messages, and equally bad about re-arranging our catch-ups to later in the month when I’m convinced I’ll have a little more free time. It even took my mother a few days to get a call back from me. It’s not just you.

But the point of this post wasn’t for me to rant and bitch about how much work I have to do and how annoying it is that I have so many friends – trust me. The point of this post is to call out all of the flakes and ghosters and say hey, it’s cool. We need time for ourselves, time to recuperate, time to think and reflect and pretty much just get our acts together.

It’s really easy for me to catch myself in a web of guilt when it comes to my friends, family, and other commitments – and I’m sure I can’t be alone. Sometimes I’ll spend an evening writing, Netflix on in the background, wondering how I’ve managed to turn down so many plans with people when this is all I’ve ended up doing. I feel like I’m prioritising the wrong things, neglecting friends to stay at home, trading in human contact for the company of my laptop screen… But I have to remind myself: some people work nine to five in their careers, and this is mine. I don’t have your average working hours, but as a writer I have to find time to commit to my writing. It’s so important.

I have to remind myself that when friends message at six or seven in the evening and want to go out for drinks or just come round for a coffee, that’s kind of the middle of my workday. And alongside my career of writing, I’m also having to support myself by working part-time and also do, that, uh, university thing we’ve talked about. I can’t let myself continue to feel guilty because I’m working doing the thing I love most.

“But, Beth,” I hear you cry. “You need time to socialise – to have a life!”

I do, I promise you. I tend to schedule my phone calls and quick catch-ups in my lunch breaks at work or on the occasional evening, but if I haven’t found time for you, please don’t be offended! Please understand my lack of time and total disorganisation! I know I always end up neglecting my friends that live far away, but that’s only because I’d have to commit more than an hour to come see you (and, in some cases, a fair bit of cash that I don’t have either). I’m so grateful for the friends that understand I’m useless at keeping in touch; the friends that are fully aware of my busy life and accept the fact that I care about them, I’m just a big ol’ Cadbury’s flake most of the time.

And I’m grateful to my mum, for coming to terms with the fact that I’m probably alive and well regardless of whether I answer her phone calls or not. Probably.

So here’s a message to all of my fellow flakes: you’re not alone. We all do it, even those of us who seem like they’ve nothing better to do with their time than spend it with you. Every so often, everyone needs time to just go MIA. Ignore your phones, turn on your ‘Out of Office’ emails, and try not to feel too guilty about it. Your time is valuable and it’s always, always, up to you how you spend it.

Stay flaky,

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laughing on the outside: rainy day writing, manuscript soundtracks & more

Lifestyle, Writing

When I was doing my A Levels, my best friend Amy would send our group of friends an email every single Friday wishing us a good week and linking us to The Cure’s Friday, I’m in love. That was my soundtrack this morning, when I was cleaning my house; I danced around with my mop and vacuum and thought of how simple life was back then… As it stands at the moment, I have edits to do on one of my novels, plotting and writing to do on the other, a part-time job, and a Masters degree to contend with. Oh, younger Beth, you really did have it easy, kid.

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After blitzing my house (a regular past-time whenever I get a day off work), I escaped to my nearest coffee shop – which is now, amazingly, about three minutes walk from home. God bless Costa for opening a store on every street corner. My laptop is fully charged, which is a miracle in itself, and I’m armed with notebooks and iced tea – all the necessities for a good writing day. My background music for today is the soundtrack of The End of the F**king World, which, by the way, was a pleasure to watch. I’ve already stolen several songs from the soundtrack to add to my own manuscript playlist…

Speaking of, manuscript playlists are something that I find hugely helpful when writing. My current work of progress has very dark vibes and a confusing and fragmented narrative, and I find it so much easier to get into the head of my protagonist when I’m listening to music with the same kind of twisted undertones. I’m forever trawling through Spotify and YouTube for more songs to add to my playlists: I always feel better when they’re 2+ hours long, so that I’m not distracted by hearing the same songs over and over and can focus on my writing.

Yesterday was deadline day (hooray), which means the first five chapters of my latest novel have now been submitted to my manuscript editor for review. I don’t have to think about edits for that one until the end of February now, so in the meantime… I’m writing. Beginning a novel is always my favourite part of the process: probably because I’m not really a planner so when I’m writing, I tend to have little to no idea of where my characters will be taking me. A little uncertainty is always fun.

Anyway, I’m 14,000 words in at the minute and really enjoying the motifs that keep cropping up and the characters that kind of seem trustworthy to start with and are slowly becoming less so as the plot thickens. I’m hoping to reach around 70,000 for this particular manuscript, as it’s for a YA audience. My first draft of my first novel ended at around 55,000, but now I’m discovering that I have far more words to play around with and probably should have written way more to begin with – while I was in the flow of that particular story.

I’m thankful I headed to Costa when I did, because it’s just started pouring down outside and I didn’t bring a coat. It was sunny earlier! Unpredictable British weather. You’d think I’d have adapted by now to living in the South of England by carrying an umbrella or bringing a spare jacket or something, but that rarely happens… I think when you’ve come from the North, there’s a certain element of pride when it comes to cold weather. Duh, I’m from the North. I can hack it. Brolly?? ‘Course I don’t need a brolly.

I should probably get back to working on the manuscript. I hope everyone has a great day! It definitely feels like a day to be creative, if you’re that way inclined. Enjoy.

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Avoiding the void: staying social as a writer

Writing

I think it’s safe to say that most writers would consider themselves quite solitary people. Let’s face it – writing is a solitary activity, there’s no getting around it. But nobody ever made a bestselling novel by holing themselves up in their room for three years. As writers, we need the support and inspiration from people around us to feed our writing – and there are so many different ways we can keep in touch with the outside world while still focusing on our works in progress.

One wonderful way to stay in the loop without even leaving the comfort of your home is social media. That’s right: get tweeting people. I find that Twitter is one of the more useful platforms for writers. Set yourself up with a profile if you haven’t already, and really delve into the different writing hashtags that crop up every so often. For children’s authors in particular, Twitter is invaluable for showing new and upcoming writers what agents and publishers are looking for. There are different conversations happening all the time, and sometimes there are scheduled chats that you can get involved in. There’s always room for new ideas – and sending your opinion via a tweet is so much less nerve-wracking than if you piped up in person. Get involved!

Beth’s Tips: Children’s and YA authors should try looking out for #ukyachat #MSWL and #manuscriptwishlist!

Another great way for us writers to stay in touch with the dreaded ‘outside world’ are writing groups. This can be a terrifying concept for some people, but the only way to find out if you like a writing group and the dynamic the writers share is to go and find out. Try out a few different writing groups and see how you feel, see if there’s anyone you click with, anyone who’s writing similar stuff to you, anyone who couldn’t be more different but seems like a laugh… Writing groups are really wonderful places where you can seek manuscript feedback before sending your work out to agents. If an agent is given a manuscript with spelling or syntax errors in the first few pages, they won’t be looking much further into the piece. This is why it’s so important to be involved with the writing community to get support editing and beta-reading your work before it’s sent off!

Beth’s Tips: Rather than relying on Google, UK writers should check out Writing Magazine for tips on what writing groups are available in their local area.

Writer’s festivals are also a wonderful way to meet like-minded people and off-load all of your writing problems. When I visited my first Writer’s Festival, I was blown away by the amount of people who swarmed together to complain about all things writer-ly: the amount of celebrities taking over the children’s book market, the uselessness of Scrivener, having to waste their lives at boring jobs to support their writing… Writer’s know how to complain, and it warms your heart to be able to share in it together. Festivals are also great places to attend inspiring and motivational lectures and seminars, and to share your time and experiences with writer’s who are in a similar position to you. So much knowledge and advice is exchanged at festivals – there really is nothing like it!

Beth’s Tips: My favourite UK writing festival is the Winchester Writer’s Festival – I had a wonderful, inspirational time when I attended last year. Scholarships are available worth £400 if you’re between 18-25 and passionate about writing. Find out more on their website here.

Finally, the support network that is already in place – your friends and family – can be a great way for you to avoid slipping into the dreaded void of loneliness. Schedule breaks in your writing to give your mum a ring, or meet up with a friend. Something I regularly do is make plans to have a coffee with a friend at about 2 in the afternoon. This means I have the whole morning to write, I can then walk twenty minutes to town, have an hour or so chilling with my friend, walk twenty minutes back and get right back at it. Be sure to always give yourself breaks when writing – the moment it starts to feel like a chore, the harder it’ll be to get those words down.

Beth’s Tips: When you have a designated ‘writing day’, draw yourself a cheeky timetable the night before so you know which chapters you’re supposed to be focusing on every hour – this way you can also schedule in some time with friends or family to break up the day.

I hope you found this article helpful! If you’d like to add any other ways to stay social as a writer, please do leave a comment below. Happy writing!

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“New year, new me!” and other lies we tell ourselves

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Before you sign up for your gym membership and book yourself onto the next skydiving course because you’ve always wanted to do it, let me offer you some advice on why changing yourself probably ain’t going to change your year.

Look, we hear the same thing every time it gets to this time of year. It’s routine by now. New year, new me! we all chant, arms laden with all the useless crap we’ve picked up in the Boxing Day sales; crap that will surely aid us in our self-development come January. We convince ourselves that it’s absolutely necessary to kit out our wardrobes – start the new year in style, right? The healthy eating kick starts then, too, so lets stock up on salad and those plastic water bottles with fruit filters.

We go through this whole charade every. Single. Year. And I swear – by February the gym membership is gathering dust and we’ve already lost the filter-thing for our water bottles. With this in mind, here’s how I plan to set realistic ‘resolutions’ that I might actually be able to keep… and ones that don’t require changing much about myself. If I did the New year, new me! every year, Christ knows who I’d be by now.

  1. Focus on realistic things that I want to do.

Not things that I think will make me a ‘better’, ‘prettier’, or ‘more accomplished’ person – just things that I want to do. Simple. If the things I choose to do help me grow as a person as a result, then wonderful. But I want to pick things that I feel genuinely excited about, rather than stuff like ‘Run a 10k.’ For some people, this is a huge source of happiness: for me, running a 10k is the equivalent of torture, so it’s staying far away from my list.

Beth’s List examples: Learn to drive, visit another country, find one dish that I like that involves avocado (I hate avocado).

2. Set several short term goals, rather than one end goal.

Okay, so, if your aim for 2018 is something like loosing weight, then you don’t want to stick ‘Lose 2 stone!’ on your resolution list. Because, let’s face it, your weight is going to fluctuate throughout the year and make you feel like a failure come NYE 2018. Set little goals that will change your behaviour and help you to lose weight – like ‘Drink at least three bottles of water a day!’.

Beth’s List examples: read a book every fortnight, write something small everyday, stop drinking coffee late at night.

3. Realise that NYE is just…. another day.

It’s great that many of us can channel our energy into this fresh start – a great change for us to start anew and really focus on our goals. But not everyone succeeds in seeing the new year as a blank slate. Let’s all sit back and realise that, despite the fact we now change one number when writing the date down, it’s just another day. Focus on the positives and don’t crumble under the pressure of what 2018 might become, or how you’re supposed to change yourself this year in order to make your life better. You’re great as you are; and regardless of how much you change, the year is likely to be wild and unpredictable either way.

My advice to you, then? Reflect on the year, party the night away, and carry on with your life the next day. Write your New Year’s Resolutions with your own happiness in mind, focusing on who you already are, rather than this elusive person you think you should be.

Party hard. See you in twenty-eighteen!

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In a lemon-honey-ginger haze: thoughts on being home

Lifestyle

You know what’s fun? Travelling home for the holidays to find your family have come down with a seriously nasty chest infection. You know what’s even more fun? … When you feel like you’re starting to catch it.

So, I made the 200 mile journey back up North a couple of days ago – a hellish series of train journeys that landed me in Worcester, then Birmingham (neither of which is where I live) until finally my mother picked me up from Moor St and we drove home. I’d been working all day, dragged my heavy suitcase to the train station and then spent the rest of the evening navigating delayed and cancelled trains until I ended my journey (and promptly fell asleep) at 2am. Needless to say, I was tearful, exhausted, and mentally drafting a letter to Great Western Rail by the time my day came to a close. Not the best start to a trip back home.

It was, however, beyond perfect to have all of my little sisters in the same room for once. Particularly Lauren, my oldest little sibling, because we rarely get to see each other – what with me living in Bath, and her in Newcastle. I only got to soak up her attention for a few hours as she was catching her bus back, but it made our time together more precious and we managed not to bite each other’s heads off (!!). There were some emotional farewells at the end of the night when Lauren’s boyfriend drove her back up to Manchester to catch her bus: we will all miss her dearly, but I’m going to plan a trip up to Newcastle ASAP. Distance won’t keep us apart for long, kiddo.

Catching up with everyone and seeing my mum, her partner, and my very many sisters again has been lovely. I still have a few more days here (and lots of other catch-ups scheduled with various pals – and my Nana!) so I’m excited to have a little more time to chill. It’s been nice to wake up in the mornings without knowing that I’ve got work to do in some form or another; I’m so used to early mornings by now that my body still naturally wakes me up around seven. Heartbreaking when you want a lie in.

My mum and her partner are both dying with this horrendous chest infection; my mum has now properly lost her voice and coughs about every three seconds. After feeling the beginning tickles of a cough last night, I texted Callen for the recipe to his emergency fix-it lemon drink:

B: how do I make your magic lemon ginger water stuff? dying x

C: *responds in less than a minute with huge essay on how to make magic lemon ginger water*

I have never been more thankful for our friendship. I got lemons, ginger, honey and boiling water and washed / peeled / chopped everything in keeping with Callen’s meticulous instructions. I distributed mugs of magic lemon water to every contaminated person in the household, myself included, and I can honestly say that I think this might be a breakthrough. I love this magic water! I think I’m going overboard on the honey, Callen, if I’m honest, but it tastes great and I’m probably going to drink this every day for the rest of my life.

I’m all cosy-ed up for the night, ready to do a little bit of writing before bed. Tomorrow is my little cousins birthday, so it’ll be lovely to head out and celebrate with the family (all wrapped up warm, of course!). I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas if you celebrate it and are looking forward to a fresh new year!

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