Friday, 31 August 2012

AN OLYMPIAN'S 'JOURNEY'


 
Paula Rawsthorne looks at what we can learn from the Olympics about storytelling.

I’m writing this when the Olympics is still in full swing and my household is in the grip of Olympic fever. This involves my family watching hours of coverage on t.v, interspersed with heading outdoors to engage in bursts of sports before returning to scream at the screen.  We started bidding for tickets as soon as they were released and were lucky enough to spend a day in the Olympic Park were we watched the women’s hockey.  We also stood on tip toes in Hyde Park with 250,000 other spectators, marvelling at the men’s triathlon.  We cheered and clapped until our hands were sore as we watched the fabulous Brownlee brothers take gold and bronze.  The whole Olympic experience was joyous and inspiring.  The organisation was a triumph.  The atmosphere in the stadiums and crowds was uplifting.  People were good natured, smiley and friendly.  Everyone seemed to be loving this, once-in-a-lifetime, shared experience.

The London 2012 Olympics will live in my memory for its many spectacular sporting feats by Usain Bolt, the Team GB rowers and cyclists, Mo Farah, Nicola Adams, Jade Jones, David Rudisha (too many to name). We’ve witnessed heart stopping drama and the wonderful spirit of the athletes, spectators and volunteers and, of course, the incredible, funny and moving opening ceremony masterminded by the dream team of Danny Boyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

However, it doesn’t seem enough to just watch these world class athletes at the top of their game.  We want that extra dimension, we want to know their STORY and, in true X Factor tradition the  journalists and presenters covering the games have created, for the viewer,  their versions of each athlete’s ‘Journey’.  They assume that we want to know about the personal trauma and adversity that the athletes have had to overcome in their ‘journey’ to the Olympics. They assume we want to hear stories of heart ache, bereavement, star crossed lovers, the come- back kids, the troubled teen saved by sport, the Sudanese former child slave (Guor Marial) who has overcome unimaginable suffering and has made it to onto the Olympic stage.

Whether we love or loathe the culture of the ‘journey’, these stories help us to empathise with the Olympians and empathy is a most admirable human characteristic. Feeling a connection with these athletes makes us want to root for them (even if they aren’t from Team GB).  It brings out the best in us.   So, when we see a down to earth young woman, from an ordinary background, win Gold in the Heptathlon, it makes our hearts swell with pride.  It may even make some girls feel that great achievements are not beyond them, given hard work, determination and discipline. I would love to believe that even one teenage girl may now aspire to be like Jessica Ennis instead of a Big Brother contestant.

We’re not so interested in hearing about athletes with trouble free ‘journeys’.  It’s much harder to work up a passion for an Olympian born with a silver spoon in their mouth, who has won every important competition without trauma, who lives in a world of privilege that means that losing won’t have a big impact on their charmed lives.  No, we naturally enjoy stories that involve people rising above adversity, fighting every step, overcoming whatever obstacle is put in their way:  We love tales where the stakes are so high that the athletes compete like their lives depend on it and to have a nemesis in the mix makes it even more appealing (Victoria Pendleton has Anna Meares).

So what has all this got to do with writing?  Well, I think what we’ve seen over the Olympics has a lot to teach us about storytelling and the universal importance of story.   When we write, the journey of our hero/ine needs the elements displayed by the most engaging stories of the Olympians.  Firstly, we need the reader to empathise and connect with our hero (even if our hero happens to be an alien). We need to see our hero battling and, eventually, overcoming obstacles as they strive to reach their goal.  Our stories need drama, pace, conflict, high stakes.   We need to take the reader on a rollercoaster ride of emotions as they cheer on our hero towards some kind of triumph, against all the odds.  Oh, I’m welling-up just thinking of it- I’d better get back to the t.v. and cheer on more  Olympians!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Shattered Dreams: Lessons Learned

Ellie James, author of the mystical Midnight Dragonfly series featuring teenage psychic Trinity Monsour, joins us today to preview her YA thriller, Shattered Dreams.

 Life as a psychic can be rather bizarre, especially when you’re sixteen and living in the most haunted city in America, when everyone in your life was a stranger six months before, when secrets lurk around every corner and every now and then you have these….dreams. Dreams you don’t understand. Without time- or place-stamps. Dreams that terrify.

Dreams that come true.

Oh, yeah, and the wrong guy has a way of showing up at exact the right moment.

Here’s a peek at a few lessons Trinity learns along the way….
1.      Not all dreams end when you wake up.
2.      The truth can be far more dangerous than a dare.
3.      Being on the outside looking in is sometimes far better than being trapped on the inside.
4.      Seeing things that aren’t there doesn’t always mean you’re crazy.
5.      A smile can be the most dangerous disguise.
6.      Nothing is random.
7.      Sometimes when you close your eyes, you can see significantly better than when they’re open.
8.      Silver is far more than a color.
9.      Just because you don’t remember something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
10.  Opening your eyes in the wrong guy’s arms isn’t always…wrong.
11.  Morgues aren’t fun places.
12.  The soul remembers.
13.  Once open, some doors can never be closed.
14.  Only a coward lets fear stand in their way.
15.  A single kiss can change everything.

About the Midnight Dragonfly Series
The firstborn daughter, of the firstborn daughter, of the firstborn daughter, sixteen year old psychic Trinity Monsour has a connection to the Other Side. She knows secrets and truths she shouldn’t, feels emotions that do not belong to her, and see events that have yet to happen. They come to her as glimpses, shadowy, disjointed snapshots that flicker through her dreams. Some terrify: a girl screaming, a knife lifting, a body in the grass. But others--the dark, tortured eyes and the shattering kiss, the promise of forever--whisper to her soul.

They come without warning. They come without detail.

But they always mean the same thing: The clock is ticking, and only Trinity can stop it.

Find out how in Shattered Dreams, available from QuercusKids!

About Ellie James
Most people who know Ellie think she’s your nice, ordinary wife and mom of two young kids. They see someone who does all that normal stuff, like grocery shopping, walking the dogs, going to baseball games, and somehow always forgetting to get the house cleaned and laundry done.

 What they don't know is that more often than not, this LSU J-School alum is somewhere far, far away, in an extraordinary world, deeply embroiled in solving a riddle or puzzle or crime, testing the limits of possibility, exploring the unexplained, and holding her breath while two people fall in love.
Regardless of which world Ellie’s in, she loves rain and wind and thunder and lightning; the first warm kiss of spring and the first cool whisper of fall; family, friends, and animals; dreams and happy endings; Lost and Fringe; Arcade Fire and Dave Matthews, and last but not least…warm gooey chocolate chip cookies.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Summer Lovin'


Edge Author Katie Dale reflects on the books that defined her teenage summers

“When I look back now those summers seemed to last forever…”

Summer holidays feature heavily in teen fiction – they’re an escape from the regimented timetables of school and homework, a chance to travel, see new places, meet new people, have summer flings, and quite often they’re life-changing. And usually they’re hot and sunny!

Books like these make perfect summer holiday reading, whilst the holidays themselves allow the freedom to indulge - endless hours of free time meant a big trip to the library at the beginning of the holidays when I was younger, returning with a stack of books to be devoured at leisure wherever the summer took me. 




Whether lying in the sun, waiting at an airport, travelling, or curled up inside with the rain pouring down, books transported me to all sorts of weird and wonderful places every summer - having wonderful adventures and lashings of ginger beer in Dorset with The Secret Seven and Famous Five; falling in love in California with the Sweet Valley Twins and Judy Blume; summers of self-discovery with Caroline B. Cooney, Sarah Dessen, and Paula Danziger, tension-filled summers with Anne Cassidy - I could go anywhere at all, safe in the hands of a good book. 

What are/were your favourite summer reads growing up, and why?



Thursday, 2 August 2012

Setting up Strange Chemistry, by Edge guest Amanda Rutter

So much has been said recently about how the publishing industry, faced with a double-dip recession, closing bookshops and competition from ebooks, is struggling.  Edge member Savita Kalhan was recently impacted when her publisher closed down not long after she had signed a contract with them.

Yet, despite what at first glance appears to be an inhospitable environment, in the latter half of this year not one, but two imprints are launching.  Hot Key Books is Bonnier's children's publisher and their first books are in shops today.  Strange Chemistry is a global imprint dedicated to the best in modern young adult science fiction, fantasy and everything in between, they are related to Angry Robot and will be launching their first titles on the 4th September.

Knowing that two publishing houses are launching imprints into the choppy seas we all face right now, is, frankly, inspiring, especially as the confidence they are showing is in the genre and age group focused on by the Edge.  We were really excited then, to have Amanda Rutter, the Strange Chemistry editor, do a guest post for the Edge on the subject of setting up a new imprint. 

Over to you, Amanda ... 



The process of setting up Strange Chemistry was a mix of old and new, of experienced and na├»ve. I say this because I (that would be Amanda Rutter, editor of Strange Chemistry) was completely brand new to publishing, having been a qualified accountant for the last ten years, while Marc Gascoigne (my publishing director and head honcho of Angry Robot Books, the SF/F adult imprint) has years and years of publishing experience. I think it’s a mix that has worked pretty much perfectly, despite some circumstances where I found myself whinging ‘Why can’t I do it like that?’ and ALWAYS complaining about the length of time that anything took in publishing!

One of those things that took a LOOOONG time was the naming of Strange Chemistry. I found out that I had the job in early October, but we didn’t hit on the best possible name for the imprint until just before I was announced in November 2011. I wrote a whole blog post about how we came about the name and some of the ones discarded: http://strangechemistrybooks.com/2011/11/21/whats-in-a-name/ I never dreamt how important it could be to find the right name – and how deathly difficult it would be!

According to Marc, the principal parts of setting up an imprint are the importance of the name and deciding on the way in which you want to brand your novels. For Strange Chemistry, the branding is to create timeless stories, to twist old and new into something very special. This is captured by the tagline of the imprint: “Experimenting with your Imagination.” YA is known for being fairly trend-driven, with both paranormal and dystopian enjoying great success. With Strange Chemistry I’ve been deliberately pursuing novels that don’t follow trends particularly, and I’m hoping that the buying public support these fresh and unique choices!

In terms of the practical part of setting up Strange Chemistry, the first few weeks involved a LOT of emails and phone calls. I had to field queries from agents about what kind of manuscripts I was looking for; I made contact with prominent bloggers to see whether they wanted to be part of the new Strange Chemistry mailing list; I talked an immense amount about books. And I loved EVERY minute!

We also had to sort out a logo that would fit both onto websites and onto the book covers, and we had to establish a website/online presence. When it came to this I decided early on that I would like to embrace as many facets of YA as possible, rather than just focusing on selling the Strange Chemistry books. I wanted to create a dialogue and a community who enjoyed being involved and seeing this imprint being built from the ground up. As such, the website has featured blog posts that highlight YA people should be picking up as a matter of interest (http://strangechemistrybooks.com/category/you-should-be-reading/) and also posts from YA bloggers about why we should be reading particular series (http://strangechemistrybooks.com/2012/07/19/introducing-the-iron-fey-series/)  We’ve also tried to generate an active Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Pinterest presence – we know just how important it is to be in touch with the readers. With so many books available to buy every month, if readers don’t even know about our books, then we’re not doing the job right! 

I think what has been the very strangest part of launching Strange Chemistry (and probably any imprint!) is that we are still a month away from our first books being released. It’s been eight months of hard work – finding new authors and contracting with their agents; editing the novels that are coming out this year; art briefing the covers and making sure they are introduced to the wider world in an effective manner; talking to reviewers and securing possible reviews – and yet we haven’t seen any of the books out in the wild yet! Not long now, though, and I know everyone involved in Strange Chemistry is keeping their fingers crossed that we’ll make a splash.



With thanks to Amanda - I am confident that Strange Chemistry will make a splash - all the titles are already on my reading list (in fact I've already read two of them, sneaky I know) and on a personal note, the website is excellent, I think Strange Chemistry have really hit on the atmosphere of the YA industry - mutually supportive, educational and interesting.  


If you would like to follow Strange Chemistry their Twitter is @strangechem
And their Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/strangechemistry



Strange Chemistry is currently only accepting manuscripts from agented authors.