Friday, 22 February 2013

A Fine Line Between Stupid and Clever

Waiting for Gonzo hits the shelves on March 7, but Edge author Dave Cousins wonders if his edgy credentials will be called into question …

I’m worried I could be in danger of being kicked out of (or over) the Edge! My new book jacket is yellow; it has bright red writing and a picture of a girl with a giant comedy moustache and glasses drawn on her face. You could be forgiven for thinking I’ve lost my edge.

But do you have to be dark, to be edgy?

In many ways, I felt more on the edge writing Waiting for Gonzo than I ever did during 15 Days Without a Head – a story with a much more obviously edgy subject.

From the outset, I wanted Gonzo to be funny, but the story was filled with characters battling their way through some very serious problems. Could I write with honesty and truth about these things and still make readers laugh?

I’ve always been drawn to stories that make me laugh and cry at the turn of a page. For me, humour in the face of adversity feels that little bit funnier, and the pain that comes after laughter, always takes your breath away. But as David St. Hubbins says in the film, This is Spinal Tap“It’s a fine line between stupid and uh … clever.” A joke at the wrong time can kill the tension or just come across as irritating; equally, while attempting to reveal heart and drama in a comic moment, it’s easy to stumble and land face first in stupid!

Then there was Oz – my thirteen year old narrator – one of those characters who transformed himself and the story as I typed. He had a tendency to be loud and cocky, but was always fun to be with – misguided and thoughtless rather than malicious – I loved him, but would anybody else? From the reviews I’ve had so far, I’m glad to say that readers appear to feel the same way about Oz as I did. Laura (aka Sister Spooky) summed it up perfectly when she wrote: “Oz is very believable and if I’m honest, a bit of an arse at times, but that just made me warm to him more.”

I’m hoping that Waiting for Gonzo ended up on the right side of that fine line, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. As for my edge credentials? Writing often feels like a leap of faith, but I can honestly say I’ve never teetered for quite so long on the brink – surely that must count for something?

Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins is published in paperback by Oxford University Press on 7 March 2013.

For further information, including details of the original soundtrack to accompany the book, visit You can also find Dave on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Valentine's love story by Bryony Pearce

When I sold Angel’s Fury to Egmont, Twilight had just become huge and as a result every new YA novel, it seemed, had a love triangle.  From Hunger Games to Mortal Instruments to Harry Potter (where the Hermione, Harry and Ron trio finally caused problems) all YA authors were in on it.  Because it turned out that teenage girls wanted to read about romance (Fallen, Shiver, Hush, Hush the list goes on ad nauseum) and it turns out that readers like love triangles – two guys fighting over an ordinary seeming girl (e.g. Bella), the big build up, the heroine’s heart-rending decision, the inevitability of someone getting a broken heart.  In a love triangle readers can pick sides, root for one character over another, laugh, love and cry.  
The writer’s provision of a love triangle to their reader provides an emotional roller-coaster of fun.  

Frankly it got to the point where I literally couldn’t read another teenage love story without feeling as if I’d been to a sweet shop and over gorged on love hearts.  I needed something savoury to balance it out and went on a fast diet of gritty adult sci-fi to cleanse my palette.
The first version of Angel’s Fury that I wrote (then called Incarnation) had no real love story.  I had written the glimmerings of an attraction between Cassie and Seth, but in my mind the real interaction was between Cassie and her past life - the characters she had to deal with internally.  She had to learn to love herself, not someone else.  I agree with her mother when she says, ‘you need to focus on your health, not on boys.’

But my editor did not agree with poor old Mrs Farrier, she told me to enhance the romance angle, make Seth more three dimensional and give him a larger role.   In short, add a love story. I imagine editors all over the country were giving authors similar versions of the same riot act.
So I added a love story.

By that point I knew what I didn’t like about the love stories in many of the teenage novels I’d been reading.  I have a real problem with ‘love at first sight’ (I believe in lust at first sight, but love?  I think that has to grow)
I don't like a teenage girl who becomes a doormat or victim for her ‘big love’, who takes his bad behaviour as her due and loves him more for it.  
So when Cassie sees Seth for the first time she feels a connection, she thinks he is hot, but she isn’t in love.  Their relationship grows over the course of the story.  They do have one confusing kiss, which is neither romantic nor real.  The most special physical interaction they have is at the end, when they hold hands ('his fingers met mine in the lightest of touches').  I wanted the love story in Angel’s Fury to be like old fashioned black and white films, a slow build up to a single kiss or special moment (in this case hand holding).  
I did not put in a standard love triangle, but it is the element of choosing that I think is the key part of the love triangle and Cassie does, in the end, have to choose between the boyfriend she wants and the best friend she needs.  

Readers seem to like that the love story in Angel’s Fury isn’t the point of the book, that it’s a slow burn.  I like it too.  I also like that giving Cassie a love interest gives her someone to bounce off, another way to grow, another set of confusing feelings to explore.  

I don’t think that every YA novel should have a love story, but somehow I have found a love story in each of my new works in progress: one love triangle (where the boy the protagonist picks is not the one you expect) and two doomed love affairs (in The Weight of Souls, due out in August, the protagonist falls for a ghost and in my most recent work my main character falls for a girl fated to die in every dimension).  But in my books the love stories are not the whole point.  My protagonists, are not ‘looking for love’, the love is incidental to the adventure, but enhances it immeasurably.

Love enhances a real life, so why shouldn’t it enhance the lives of my characters.  What is a life without love?  And so my question is ... can you have a fully formed protagonist without a love story?

Friday, 8 February 2013

This is not a New Year’s Resolution...honestly, it’s not.

This was the first year in a long time that I made no New Year’s resolutions. I spent New Year’s Eve in the Lebanon in a restaurant called The Titanic, but with no fear that it might sink because it was firmly set in a mountainside. As midnight crept up, I thought about all the things I should make resolutions about, which were pretty much the same things that I make resolutions about most years, and decided, no, not this year.
Midnight arrived with an amazing explosion of fireworks and lights, a magnificent view over Beirut and the bay, but with not a resolution in sight. It was strangely liberating.
Instead, those things that were once called ‘resolutions’ are now on a list of things to be done this year. They have a “higher priority” than most other things on the list, but there is far less stress attached to them now that they are not governed by those stringent, guilt-inducing resolution laws.
So, I’ve got lots of things on my list of things to do this year: a book to finish and a book to develop, another to possibly rewrite, and a few ideas to explore, most of them dark, edgy, gritty, and contemporary. One of my "high priority plans” this year is to explore another genre. It might just be a case of dipping my toes in, or I might want to paddle, and if I dive in then the writing will still be dark and edgy and gritty, but it might just take you somewhere else, different land, different time...
“High priority” plans may sound very similar to New Year’s resolutions, but believe me, they are not. They have a different feel about them: stress- free and guilt-free, and they can’t be broken. Now let’s see if they work!

Friday, 1 February 2013

The Benefits of Multiple Personalities

Author Sara Grant reveals the light and dark of her new projects

I've got a confession to make. When it comes to my writing, I suffer from multiple personalities. I think most writers struggle with this affliction. We are chameleons and can slip under the skin of not only the hero but also the villain, the best friend, the sidekick and the love interest. So far I’ve only shown my dark and edgy side, but soon readers will discover that I’ve a silly, sparkly side too.

This spring The Orion Publishing Group will publish my next teen novel and my new series for young readers. The projects couldn’t be more different. My teen novel Half Lives is two separate yet tangled stories set just before and hundreds of years after an apocalyptic event. Magic Trix stars Trixibelle ‘Trix’ Morgan, a new witch who is training to become a fairy godmother. I love wrestling with the many plots and subplots of Half Lives and I am equally challenged by crafting the humour of Magic Trix.

Believe it or not, one project influenced the other. Writing short, punchy chapters with exciting chapter breaks for my younger readers reminded me to bolster pace and the page-turnability of my teen book. Developing complex multidimensional characters for Half Lives inspired the quirky lovable characters in Magic Trix

And if you look closely you’ll find similarities between my two main characters – both are feisty girls who often make matters worse while trying to do the right thing. Both endeavour to help others – albeit in very different scenarios. Trix helps her shy best friend find the courage to perform in a talent competition while Icie fights to save a small band of teenagers from a deadly terrorist attack.

I've always loved puzzles and I look at each story – whether for seven year olds or adults – as a puzzle that I need to solve. I feel a click in my gut when a story comes together. The rush I feel writing a dramatic death scene is the same one I feel when delivering a well-timed joke.

My only problem is that now I’m not sure if I’m an edgy writer of teen fiction experimenting with comedy for young readers or a comedy writer who dabbles in dark fiction for teens. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Fortunately writers aren’t labelled like tins of beans or branded like cattle.

And as for being edgy…what’s more edgy than trying something new?

Why not read and write outside of your comfort zone? If you love vampires, why not read or write about unicorns? If you love romance, why not experiment with murder – not committing it but writing or reading about it? There's always something to be admired by and learned from every story.

Sara Grant's first teen novel Dark Parties – a dystopian thriller for teens – was published last year on Orion’s Indigo imprint (Follow Indigo on Twitter @fiercefiction). Half Lives will be published in May in the UK and July in the US. The first two books in Sara’s Magic Trix series will be published in March. Learn more about Sara and her books at or follow her on twitter @authorsaragrant.