Friday, 15 April 2016

Chasing an idea

EDGE Author Sara Grant shares the evolution of her new series Chasing Danger

When I visit schools, I’m often asked, “How long does it take to write a book?” My answer: A lifetime.

And that is literally true of my new action-adventure series for teens – Chasing Danger.

I wrote my first story when I was eight years old. It wasn’t an assignment. A story popped into my brain and begged to be written. The story was titled “A Dream I Wish Was True” and was about how eight-year-old me got to meet my favourite movie star. I dedicated it to that actress – the late, great Farrah Fawett Majors.

As you might have guessed I was a super fan of the TV show Charlie’s Angels. It had smart, strong, feisty – and yeah, gorgeous – women at the heart of the action. I’ve always wanted to write a story that would give middle grade readers the same experience I had when I watched Jill, Kris, Kelly and Sabrina in the 1970s – and I think I’ve accomplished it with Chasing Danger.

This new series combines smart, strong, feisty girl heroes with exotic locations and lots of action and adventure.

About Chasing Danger
“I couldn’t shake the feeling that this vacation might actually kill me.”
When fourteen-year-old Chase Armstrong is sent to visit her grandmother at a remote tropical resort, she’s looking forward to sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling. The last thing she expects is danger. But she’s in for some surprises. She discovers another girl hiding out on the island and uncovers a devastating secret about the mum she’s never known. When modern-day pirates attack the island, it’s up to Chase to outrun, out-think and outfight the pirates . . . before it’s too late!
For me, writing a book is like piecing together a puzzle. I know how I want the final project to ‘look’, but finding the right characters, plot and setting takes patience, persistence and imagination. Over the years, I’ve experimented with many mysteries, thrillers and action plots. It never really fell into place until now.
When I speak to wannabe writers – whether they ten or sixty years old – I always encourage them to make their writing personal. Why are you writing this story and why are you the only person who can write it? When searching for an idea, I ask writers:
O     What are two or three of your favourite books, movies or TV programmes?
O     What genre of story do you prefer?
O     What are your hobbies or talents (or what do you wish they were)?
O     Where is your favourite place or the place you’d most like to visit?
O     What issues or topics are you passionate about?
I ask them to mine their answers to these questions for a story idea. For example, if the response to the first question is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. How can you combine what you love about these stories to spark an idea? If you are writing for children/teens, you might want to respond to these questions as if you were the age of your reader.
If you are testing an idea or wondering what to write next, I always recall this quote from Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman from The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters:
“The trick is to be connected to the material of your imagination, thematically and concretely, write what interests you because if you’re not fascinated and excited by the writing of the script, the reader won’t be fascinated and excited by the reading of it. Try to find something in the idea that speaks to your own life, something you think is authentic, true, compelling in your story.”
I’m having a blast writing Chasing Danger. I hope that my passion and enjoyment is somehow infused into each page. And if you're a writer, I wish you the same experience

About Sara
Sara Grant has worked on both sides of the editorial desk. She has inspired and edited nearly 100 books for children. Last week Chasing Danger – her new action-adventure series for tweens – was published by Scholastic. Her two YA novels – Dark Parties (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, Europe) and Half Lives – are futuristic thrillers. She also writes a funny magical series for young readers – Magic Trix. She leads writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as part of Book Bound and lectures at Goldsmiths. Website: Twitter: @authorsaragrant

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Recapturing the Joy – Windrunner’s Daughter

by Bryony Pearce

Every book provides its author with unique moments of satisfaction, but the first time an aspiring writer sees their name in print is extraordinarily special.

For me that moment was eight years ago when I received my copy of the SCBWI book Undiscovered Voices 2008. In that book was the opening of the very first novel I ever completed, Windrunner’s Daughter.

That feeling of having a dream fulfilled is one that I’ve never quite recaptured and has left me feeling wistful every time I see a new debut author. I’m jealous, not of their success, but of the fact that they are living that moment, enjoying that unrepeatable high. 

Since Undiscovered Voices I have written five more books. Each novel has given me joy and taught me something new, but Windrunner’s Daughter was the special one. My first. My first idea, the first time I realised that I could sit and write a whole novel, the first time I received praise for my writing from professionals. This was the novel that taught me how to write.

I didn’t do courses, I never joined a critique group, or writing group, I didn’t go to conferences or events, I didn’t even buy a book on ‘how to write’. Instead I learned to write by writing. More specifically by writing Windrunner’s Daughter.

It wasn’t very good. I see that now. My basic idea was great, but my writing wasn’t. I hadn’t plotted properly, I overwrote terribly, I was trying to do too many things in one novel.

The message I really wanted to convey was a feminist one – that girls could do anything they set their mind to (I’m sick of hearing otherwise) – and that was getting lost in all the other stuff I was trying to say.

When my daughter started growing up, that the core message of Windrunner’s Daughter became more important to me than ever, and so I pulled it out and took another look.

Then I threw it away.

I literally rewrote the entire novel from scratch. I kept my basic idea, but pretty much everything else went. I used what I had learned in writing my other five novels, I plotted carefully, I kept focus on my main message and I wrote a book that felt right.

And now, exactly eight years to the day after I first saw my name over the title Windrunner’s Daughter, the novel is in print. It is a science fiction story, set on a semi-terraformed Mars, about a girl who has to save her family, and perhaps her whole society, by defying the patriarchy that wants to keep her in her place.

What am I saying with this final blog post of mine? Whatever you aspire to do, keep trying, never give up – you can do whatever you set your mind to. Remember your moments of joy and keep working to recapture them. And hell, read my newest / oldest book:


Friday, 29 January 2016

And the Costa Book of the Year is - a Children's Book! Savita Kalhan

Hooray! Frances Hardinge has not only won the Costa Children's Book award but also the Costa Book of the Year award for her novel The Lie Tree!

The last time a children's book won the Costa Book of the Year was fifteen years ago in 2001 when Philip Pullman won with his novel, The Amber Spyglass, which is part of His Dark Materials series.

Hardinge describes her novel as a "Victorian Gothic mystery with added palaeontology, blasting powder, post-mortem photography and feminism".  At its heart, The Lie Tree is a children's book, and as Frances Hardinge says - most of her books are written for herself as a 12 year old.

Her win is important for so many reasons, not least because when she was interviewed on Radio 4, she was asked by the interviewer what winning the 'proper' prize meant to her. I'm not sure whether the interviewer meant that the Children's Prize was improper in some way, or just not as important or meaningful...

So why is it an important win, apart from the fact that the book explores issues that a scientifically-minded, very intelligent 14 year old girl in a Victorian age faces at a time when girls had little or no say in the world, much less in the scientific community?

Over the years, teen and young adult fiction has been seen as unliterary and lightweight, and because it caters for children, it therefore cannot be deemed worthy of winning a 'proper' prize. Writers of teen fiction are often asked whether they think they might be the next JK Rowling, or whether they might eventually write a 'proper grown up' book, so for a book like The Lie Tree to become part of mainstream literary fiction will open hearts and minds to the fact that children's fiction is eminently readable, as enjoyable, and as good as other 'grown up' books is great.

Follow Savita on Twitter
Savita's website

Friday, 22 January 2016

Celebrating SCBWI British Isles 20th Anniversary

EDGE Author Sara Grant owes a debt of gratitude to SCBWI and its Members

I wouldn’t be published if it wasn’t for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This year the British chapter of SCBWI turns 20. I thought I’d take this opportunity to express my gratitude to this organization and its amazing members and volunteers.

The SCBWI is a network for the exchange of knowledge among writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people. SCBWI boasts more than 22,000 members worldwide in more than seventy regions, making it the largest children’s writing organization in the world.

In 1994 I attended my first workshop on writing children’s fiction, lead by the incredible Elaine Marie Alphin. I left inspired with a notebook full of ideas. She said that if I was serious about writing for children I should join SCBWI -- which I immediately did.

From then on, I have regularly attended events and volunteered for this organization on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here are 20 reasons I’m grateful for SCBWI.

Thanks to…

1.      Natascha Biebow. She’s served the British SCBWI as its regional advisor (RA) for more than
18 years. The British Chapter started with twenty members and under her leadership has grown to nearly 1,000 members. She is the longest-tenured international RA with the fourth largest chapter worldwide.

2.      Natascha again because she handed a copy of the British SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2008 anthology to literary agent Jenny Savill at the Bologna Book Fair in 2008. Jenny read the extract from Dark Parties, which was included in the anthology, and gave me a call. I signed with her a few months later.

3.      My US Writers Group. At an SCBWI event around about 1995, I met three Indiana writers who would become my critique and support group until I moved to London in 2003. They survived my early kids stories, which I hope they have long-since forgotten. A regular critique group was key to establishing a habit of writing and an ability to take feedback.

4.      My UK Writers Group. One of the first things I did when I moved to the UK was connect to the local SCBWI and join a writers group. The group members changed and the monthly meetings have dwindled to periodic one-to-ones, but those writers introduced me to the British SCBWI and were my first friends in the UK.

5.      Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser. They are the visionaries who started SCBWI in the US in 1971 and continue to guide its progress.

Thanks for…

6.      Lifelong friends. I have many cherished friendships with the writers and illustrators I met through SCBWI.  

7.      Encouragement. Whether its face-to-face at an event, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. SCBWI members understand the highs and lows of publishing and never fail to offer encouragement.

8.      Knowledge. I never leave an SCBWI event without a notebook full of ideas, facts and to-dos.

9.      Inspiration. I’ve met almost all of my literary heroes at SCBWI events. I have shelves full of signed books and a head full of inspirational quotes to keep me going.

10.  Community. What could be better than gathering with people who love what you love?

11.  Industry News. Through regular emails, newsletters and a yahoo group, I keep up on what’s happening in the publishing world.

The Mass Book Launch Celebration
12.  The Annual Conference. It’s one glorious weekend in November that’s action-packed with speakers, celebrations, networking and fellowship.

13.  Networking. Whether at the agent’s party or the mass book launch, you have an opportunity to meet folks from every aspect of the publishing world.

14.  Networks. No matter where you live in the UK, an SCBWI group is never far away.

15.  Worldwide Connections. And no matter where you go in the world, you can find SCBWI chapters.

16.  PULSE (SCBWI’s resources for its published members). SCBWI grows with its members, offering nuts and bolts sessions for those just starting out to PULSE events for writers and illustrators who have new challenges and opportunities once they are published.

The 2014 Undiscovered Voices writers, illustrators & planning team.
17.  Undiscovered Voices. It was my stepping stone to finding an agent, a publisher and ultimately readers.

18.  Undiscovered Voices. It’s a huge part of my life. It’s how I give back and help other writers and illustrators achieve their publishing dreams. Last week we announced the writers and illustrators who are featured in the fifth anthology. From the previous four anthologies, 32 writers and illustrators have received contracts for more than one 120 books in more than 70 countries. I couldn’t be more proud.

And finally…

19.  Volunteer! Volunteer for SCBWI because it’s what makes the organization so amazing. The British chapter hosts so many events a year. It has a web site, Facebook group, newsletter and much more. Everything is run by volunteers. Volunteer because it’s a way to give back to an organization that will give you so much.

20.  Volunteer!! If not for a philanthropic reason, volunteer because it’s a great away to network. You can host an event with an author you admire or set up critiques with your dream agent.

Thanks SCBWI -- for all of the above and so much more.

   About Sara…
Sara Grant has worked on both sides of the editorial desk. She has inspired and edited nearly 100 books for children. Her two YA novels – Dark Parties (SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner, Europe) and Half Lives – are futuristic thrillers. She also writes a funny magical series for young readers – Magic Trix. Sara is currently developing a new action-adventure series for tweens with Scholastic. Chasing Danger will be published in April. She leads writing workshops in the US, UK and Europe as part of BookBound and lectures at the University of Winchester and Goldsmiths. Website: Twitter: @authorsaragrant

    Book Bound is now accepting applications for its 2016 retreat for adults who are interested in writing novels for children and teens. It’s an intensive weekend of workshops, one-to-ones, and camaraderie. Visit the Book Bound web site for more details:

Friday, 25 December 2015

Season's Greetings from the Authors at The EDGE!

On behalf of everyone here at the EDGE, I'd like to say a huge thank you for your continued support this year. We've enjoyed your company and hope to see you again in 2016, when we will be announcing some exciting news! Watch this space . . .

In the meantime, have a fantastic festive break, and all the best for a happy and healthy 2016.

Friday, 18 December 2015

In defence of YA literature, by Bryony Pearce

It appears to have become fashionable recently to write blogs and articles, to make comments on Twitter and Facebook and to journalists which make fun of Young Adult literature.

These detractors, some of whom are writers themselves, tend to focus their derision by stereotyping the genre as nothing but Twilight clones, Hunger Games wannabes and sparkly pink books about love at first sight.

Demanding more protagonists who don’t solve their problems by kicking ass, learning karate or becoming more attractive suggests to your audience that most of them do. Demanding fewer books about sparkly vampires or handsome werewolves implies that this is the dominating feature of YA literature (Twilight was written ten years ago, get over it). Saying that your own book stands out because it is complex implies that other YA is not. Asking for the elimination of ‘instalove’ allows your reader to infer that no YA literature contains relationships with slow build or real depth.

How are writers of YA literature meant to bring in more readers (even to convert reluctant readers) when there are people, other writers no less, telling them not to bother reading within the genre aimed at them.

At the moment YA is the nerdy kid in the playground; the one it’s easy, even fashionable to pick on.

Perhaps this is something to do with its success. YA literature is one of the few genres that has shown market growth throughout this depressed economy, and, as we know, bullies don’t like a successful underdog.

Perhaps it is because the books that have been massively successful have not all had great literary merit (but have been cracking good stories nevertheless – and given a choice between reading literary fiction with no story and a book with an amazing story, but which won’t have passages read out in poetry appreciation I know which I’d pick). Perhaps it is because the books that Hollywood chooses to make into film are the best known, if not the best examples of the genre, enabling those who don’t read YA widely to pigeonhole all YA literature (although by this argument I could go on to judge all adult literature by Fifty Shades of Grey).

Perhaps it is because the YA community is well known to be ‘nice’. As writers, readers and bloggers were are generally accepted to be mutually supportive and friendly, does this make our genre an ‘easy target’?

Perhaps it is because our readers themselves are, or appear to be easy targets. It has always been the role of those past a certain age to criticise the choices of the young – their music, their clothes and, now that they have it, their literature.

Readers of YA literature are not easy targets, as some attackers of YA literature have recently discovered but … and here’s the big but, some of them are.

Many readers of YA are young. Not all of them of course, YA welcomes readers of all ages, but by definition, Young Adult literature is aimed at young people.
When someone attacks YA as a genre, minimalises its importance, says that it has no literary merit, no complexity, no depth, no understanding of the world, especially if they have their own platform, I wonder if they realise that they are also saying to its loyal, young readers: there’s something wrong with you. Your choices show that you aren’t clever enough to be reading books that deal with real issues, or that have true complexity, you aren’t serious enough to enjoy real literature. All you’re good enough for is fiddling around in the shallow end of the pool, if you had any real chops, you’d join us in the deep end – the adult section.

The YA literature that I have experienced most commonly deals with subjects that concern young people. It helps them to work through and understand issues such as poverty, bullying, relationships, sexuality, climate change, death of loved ones, war, politics, violence, hatred, bigotry, racism, working out who you are, where you fit into the world, who you are going to be in the future and yes, love. It teachers its readership that it can be brave, that it can bring about change in the world – and who more important to send this message out to than the young?

Yes, some YA could perhaps be described ‘fast food literature’ (and why not – who’d want to read Tolstoy, Shakespeare and Melville all the time) but not all of it not, in fact, the majority. I’m not going to provide a reading list here (although I could); instead I suggest that we start a hashtag of the things that YA does well:

  1. Engaging teenagers in debate
  2. Enabling conversations between teenagers and their guardians
  3. Letting teenagers know that they are not the only ones in the world with those concerns, those problems, those feelings
  4. Exploring the ideas of and the ethics behind scientific discoveries
  5. Engaging reluctant readers by providing books that are totally gripping
  6. Creating believable, memorable characters
  7. Creating whole worlds for readers to get lost in
  8. Using science fiction, fantasy and magical realism to deal with serious issues
  9. Widening teen vocabulary, emotional intelligence and articulation
  10. Preparing readers for adult literature …

Friday, 11 December 2015

Diverse December

#diversedecember was launched on Twitter on the 1st of December to celebrate BAME, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, authors, and to highlight the continuing lack of diversity in publishing.
I have blogged about the lack of diversity in children's literature here many times over the past few years. I've also blogged about Malorie Blackman and Bali Rai's call for more diversity in children's literature, and about how the lack of diversity in children's literature affected me when I was growing up.
Now, Nikesh Shukla has joined Jon McGregor in an attack slamming the elitism of an industry which “work[s] to perpetuate an environment in which their own sort feel at home."
The article was published in the Guardian: 'Where are the Brown People?: Authors slam lack of diversity in UK publishing'.

On Twitter people have been sharing what they want to read this month and recommending books. It's easier to do this with contemporary fiction because there seem to be far fewer published books by BAME teen writers.

I'll be reading these two great new books published this year by BAME teen/YA authors:
The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson
13 Hours by Narinder Dhami

I'll also be reading these adult fiction books:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur
A Restless Wind by Sharukh Husain

Nosy Crow has announced that they would like to support #diversedecember. So if there are any BAME authors out there, now is your chance to submit. Check out the submission guidelines first here - Nosy Crow
Tom from Nosy Crow said, "Today we’re announcing an open call for children’s fiction submissions from debut BAME writers. I think that it’s incredibly important that our industry represents a wide range of voices, not only so that children from every background can recognise their own lives and experiences in the books that they read, but also simply to enrich the body of children’s literature that we publish, by moving out of a monoculture and embracing a wider world of ideas."

Nikesh Shukla is also compiling an anthology of essays by BAME authors, The Good Immigrant, fifteen writers who will be exploring what it means to be Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic in the UK today. He is looking for funding - here's the link if you'd like to pledge - UNBOUND
J K Rowling has just pledged £5K.

You can follow #diversedecember on Twitter for more book recommendations and news.

Please leave your book recommendations in the comments.