Thursday, 27 June 2013

Holding an unexploded bomb, by Bryony Pearce

It didn’t occur to me, when I wrote The Weight of Souls, that I was launching myself right into the middle of a hot debate.
The Weight of Souls is not an ‘issue book’ per se, but it does deal with one thing in particular: bullying.  I was quite badly bullied for years and I really reached back into those feelings to bring Taylor and her school situation to life. 
However, the issue I thought I was writing about (bullying) has been taken over by something else.
My protagonist is a bullied teenage girl with a backbone of steel.  She has a deep loyalty for her friends and love for her father.  She misses her mother every day.  She deeply resents the family curse that is her tragedy – it has taken her mother from her and will result in her own insanity and early death.  She sees dead people. 
And she is NOT WHITE.
Suddenly I am being asked about racial diversity in YA fiction, an issue I actually know little about.  My gorgeous book cover is being applauded for the fact that it has an Asian girl on the cover and people are excited about reading the book purely because it has an Asian protagonist.
Frankly this terrifies me.   
I wrote Taylor as a person, the way I saw her.  I didn’t intend to address issues of racial diversity in YA fiction.  Now I’m worried that my portrayal of her will offend.  Is she too ‘British’?  Should I have spent more time in the book on her cultural heritage? 
I feel as if I’m holding an unexploded bomb.  I am anxiously awaiting reviews by people who are going to buy the book because they see themselves on the front cover.  I am worried that they will hate Taylor for failing to come through for them in the way they want her to.
It is a sad indictment of the industry that my cover has generated so much excitement, that people are sitting up and taking notice because my own protagonist is Asian. 
There should be more books that star non-white, middle class characters. 
All teens should be able to pick up books that appeal to them on a visceral level, in which they can see themselves and which allow them to open up about the issues that face them because they see their favourite heroes and heroines facing the same issues.
I hope that my cover is in an early wave of ‘honest’ covers, that we will no longer see confusingly ‘Anglicised’ protagonists in art. 
There is an excellent post here that shows examples of the whitewashing of YA covers:
YA author Justine Larbalestier has gone public to say this:
“Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don't sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won't take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can't give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA-they're exiled to the Urban Fiction section-and many bookshops simply don't stock them at all.”
I hope that my book does sell, I hope that it is one among many who will prove the booksellers wrong. 
And I hope that very soon books about non-white protagonists are common enough that the creation of one is cause for neither celebration nor debate.
In the meantime I hope that Taylor helps touch those who have been or are being bullied, no matter what their skin colour.

Friday, 21 June 2013


This week, we’re delighted to introduce Michelle from Fluttering Butterflies book blog.

Thank you so much for having me here on The Edge! For those of you who don't know me, my name is Michelle, and I blog at Fluttering
Butterflies.  I juggle writing my blog with raising my two beautiful children and studying for a degree in Psychology. I've always been a big reader and I love sharing my thoughts with my blog readers...

Michelle, why do you READ and WRITE about teen/YA books?

I read and write about teen books because they're brilliant. They're intelligent and interesting and emotionally charged and they constantly make me think in different ways. Reading young adult books only began to happen within the last few years but the books that I've read during that time has excited and inspired me in ways that other books hadn't been doing for me in awhile.

As for why I write about them, that began in response to the isolation that I felt after my eldest child was born. I used to work as a manager in a bookstore but gave it up in order to care for my son. I missed the atmosphere of the bookstore in which I was conversing about books all day every day with colleagues, customers, publishing reps and everyone else. I missed being surrounded by books, selling books and talking about books. Though my blog wasn't always centred around what I'd been reading, the transformation into a book blog feels like a natural progression.  I'm very passionate about books and reading and I hope that comes across on my blog. 

What are the most ORIGINAL YA books that you have read?

That is a tough question. I think the books to me that feel the most original are when I read a story that should be simple - about teen pregnancy, say or a love story between two people - and everything ends up very different to what I've expected because of the twists that the author places on the story. I love it when I can think differently about a subject after reading a book.  This has happened over the years with Malorie Blackman's Boys Don't Cry which looked at some of the prejudices facing a teenage father. With Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma, which made me think differently about love as she has written about a consensual incest relationship. And most recently, Laura Lam's Pantomime had me falling in love with a beautiful story that included something I've never come across before...

What is a TURN OFF in YA fiction?

I've been reading about a lot of unhealthy relationships in YA books which makes me incredibly sad. I don't want teenage girls to think that these relationships are something that is okay or worth striving for. I particularly don't like when serious topics are included into a storyline for (what feels like to me) entertainment value.  Obviously cheesy dialogue is a turn-off, as are sexist and shaming language towards female characters.

What makes for a great YA book?

I would say that for a book to be great, I would have to connect to it on a really strong emotional level.  It's really personal for me.  That if a book makes me laugh or cry or cringe in embarassment or makes me loathe a character or fall in love then I think it's pretty great. And to do that the characters have to be rounded out and flawed, there have to be some good relationships - not just romantic but also platonic and familial relationships. Good dialogue and an interesting plot. Extra special points for making me fall into a story or characters or setting so fully that it feels as though I'm there too.  It's not much to ask, is it?

Which YA characters would you most like to take OUT TO DINNER and why?

I'd love to have Magnus Bane from Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series. I think he'd have the most interesting things to discuss over dinner.  As would Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.  I think the two of them could bring something wonderfully unexpected to the table.

I'd invite Mia Thermopolis from the Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot and Ruby Oliver from the Boyfriend list by E Lockhart as I think they're both awesome and I think we'd all really hit it off.

And finally, I think Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan would be the life of any dinner party. 

Who is your ideal YA HERO/HEROINE and why?

I really struggled to answer this question.  I think there are lots of YA heroes and heroines that I admire but I'm going to pick Carly from Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar.  I think that for most people the obvious choices for an 'ideal' character going on a heroes journey is somebody who is already strong and brave and good. But when I stopped to think about this, the journeys that I respond to the most happen when characters like Carly (or Echo from Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry or Daisy from Saving Daisy by Phil Earle) are at their lowest points physically, mentally or emotionally and they are at the stage where they can choose to give up or choose to struggle on.  And these amazing characters manage to find hope and strength within themselves to continue fighting and striving for something better. And that sort of courage appeals to me so much more. 

What is your dream YA ROMANTIC PAIRING and why?

The relationships between Will, Tessa and Jem in The Infernal Devices trilogy by Cassandra Clare was done wonderfully. Especially in the ways in which she challenges most people's beliefs about love triangles. The three of them are beautiful together. That's been my favourite romance to follow lately.

What makes you uncomfortable or question the BOUNDARIES OF YA fiction?

Speaking of romance, I think the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable within YA are insta-love relationships in which the characters feel like this love consumed them, almost outside of their control, and that it will remain forever. That makes me uneasy. Both in that the love between two people is not a choice to be made but something that takes over and also the idea of there never being another choice available. I don't like either of these concepts. I don't think either patricularly questions the boundaries of YA but it sure makes my skin crawl. 

What would you LIKE to see happening in YA over the next five years?

I would love for there to be more standalone stories. Series books make me weary. I'd like to see a bigger variety of characters populating teen stories - LGBT characters, people going through mental illness issues, characters that are non-white or are of mixed race or that have physical disabilities. I think a lot of these minority views need to be more prominent.

From a personal perspective, I really like stories involving sports. And stories that include supportive parents or family members are pretty refreshing. And as I'm a big supporter of books by British authors, I'd like to see UKYA reaching a wider audience.

What do you think will ACTUALLY be the next big thing in YA ficton?

I think the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer spurred many paranormal romances to be published and the success of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins meant a wealth of dystopian fiction. Both were made into film adaptations.  I'm not great at predicting trends or anything but I wonder how the release of big film adaptations this year and next might influence what we see being published in YA over the next few years? Perhaps more urban fantasy along the lines of City of Bones by Cassandra Clare? I'm not really sure!

For me personally, I really hope psychological thrillers are the next big thing. I've really enjoyed the books I've read of late that were a bit heart-pounding and twisty-turny.

Give us your top FIVE TEEN/YA books please, Michelle.

If I Stay/Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Going Bovine by Libba Bray
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

And finally, Michelle, if you read ONE book this year, read THIS...

My favourite book that I've read in 2013 has been Undone by Cat Clarke. Cat Clarke consistently brings us edgy books with wonderfully flawed characters and emotionally charged stories and this book made me questions everyone's motives and wonder what's right and wrong.  It made my heart hurt and my eyes were sore from crying. 

Michelle, thanks so much for submitting to the EDGE INTERROGATION!

If you’d like to read more of Michelle’s reviews, you can find her here:

And you can follow her on twitter @cloverness

If you think the Edge Interrogation is easy - try naming YOUR top 5 Teen/YA books in the comments section...

Friday, 14 June 2013


This week we’re delighted to welcome Laura from Sister Spooky blog as our guest. 

Thanks for asking me to take part.  I usually just stick to ASKING questions on my blog in between reviews not answering them and these questions were surprisingly hard but easy at the same time!

Why do you READ and WRITE about teen/YA books?

I always found reading a big challenge as a teen and because I have dyslexia it meant that as much as I enjoyed reading and writing it was an uphill battle at times.  I rekindled my passion for reading through YA in my 20s and once I began reading other book blogs I decided to start my own as a small place for me to talk about books and hopefully where I could inspire some people to read something outside of their comfort zone.

What are the most ORIGINAL YA books that you have read?

At the time when I first encountered it in my early teens, The Secret Life of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4 was a major revelation for me because it was a book from a boy's point of view that wasn't all about action packed adventures.  Compared to current books it's not an original really but when it first came out it was amazing.  More recent original YA I've read are Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne, Undone by Cat Clarke, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David LevithaN.  I better stop now before this list goes on and on.

What is a TURN OFF in YA fiction?

I'm not sure what the actual term is but I just refer to it as the "easy out".  When things are written off with magic or just something happening at the right moment but for no real reason other than it would be helpful to the plot.  I don't want the love interest to suddenly get they are in love with the MC just at that vital moment or that the one tool the MC needs to get out of a pickle is in their pocket.  If it's believable then YES but otherwise it just gets my back up.

What makes for a great YA book?

Characters with a voice.  If I'm reading about a MC or group of characters that have clear and honest voices and personalities then you can throw whatever you like at them and I'll love it just to see how they deal with it.

Which YA characters would you most like to take OUT TO DINNER and why?

Skarper from Goblins by Philip Reeve. He'd be a real rascal and funny to talk with. Magnus Bane from Cassandra Clare's TMI and TID series because no dinner parties are complete without Magnus. Oscar from Emma Hearts LA by Keris Stainton because geek boys own my heart and Jody from Rockoholic by C.J.Skuse because we'd gab about music for hours.

Who is your ideal YA HERO/HEROINE and why?

Hester from The Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve because she's such a broken person which such strength and weakness that I can't fault her even with all her flaws.

What is your dream YA ROMANTIC PAIRING and why?

Anna and Abel in The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis. I can't even begin to tell you how fantastic this book is. Totally blew my socks off and a surprise treat.

What makes you uncomfortable or question the BOUNDARIES OF YA fiction?

If I'm honest it's New Adult. I don't mind there being sex in YA and in fact I think there should be more when it's believable and honest to reality rather than overly sickly and romantic because it's not always like that. It's important for YA to embrace sex because teenagers have so it's not a shock to them. New Adult is fine but I think the uncomfortable level for me is when it's a blurry line in terms of how it's being pitched to YA markets. I think NA and YA is hard to separate at the moment to the point that even authors don't know if they are technically going into NA grounds. I once heard about a 50 Shades of Grey type book aimed at YA audience. I mean….seriously?

NA is great for a NA audience because there is a big difference to sex in YA and sex in NA.

What would you LIKE to see happening in YA over the next five years?

MORE FUNNY!  I love to laugh and the funny books I've found over the last year or two are stunning reads but often are few and fair between.  I would LOVE to see more UKYA authors getting audiences in the USA where there is a big market for it.  Plus I think that it seems like USYA authors when being "sold" to bloggers etc they get a lot of energy and cash thrown at them and UK ones get much less.  Might be just my own personal opinion but the playing field is no where near equal in that respect.

What do you think will ACTUALLY be the next big thing in YA fiction?

There seems to be the taste for fairytales of late but I'm not sure how long that will really last.  I think there will be a lot more contemporary books about big issues like alcoholism, drugs and mental illness because when they are done well they are hugely moving as well as amazing to read.

Give us your top FIVE TEEN/YA books please.
You guys are so strict!!

OK, in no special order
Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Bryne
Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

If you read ONE book this year, read THIS...
Geekhood: Close Encounters of the Girl Kind by Andy Robb.  I go on and on about this one but I found it so funny and clever and had wonderful messages about dealing with divorce, teen existence, girls, geeks, friends and family.  Even made me shed a tear or two when a few moments hit home with me.  Plus it's UKYA!

Thanks so much for submitting to the interrogation, Laura.

Check out Laura’s book blog here:
Or follow her on Twitter: @sisterspooky

Next Friday Michelle from Fluttering Butterflies undergoes the Edge Interrogation!

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Inspiration for my new crime mystery Chasing the Dark – by guest author, Sam Hepburn

This week, we are delighted to welcome Sam Hepburn as our guest author at the Edge. Her new novel Chasing the Dark is out now! Over to you, Sam …

Inspiration is such a strange and slippery thing. For me, the seeds of a story seem to take root when a memory from the distant past is triggered by something that catches my attention in the present. That is exactly how this scrap of paper came to spark the plot for my new book Chasing the Dark.

I found it lying in the street when I was trying to come up with the plot for a crime mystery. I can’t even remember where I was at the time but it made such an impression on me that I took it home, pinned it to the notice board beside my desk and looked at it all the time I was thinking about the plot.

The little boy is smiling at the camera, happily leaning back in his mother’s arms and obviously feeling safe and secure. His mum however, is looking off into the distance. Is she thinking about the future or the past? Has someone or something caught her attention? You get the feeling that these two are alone in the world, so perhaps she is a single mum. If you look more closely you can see that the image has been created from two separate pictures put together with a ragged white rip passing between the two figures. While the little boy is surrounded by warm red bricks and the homely clutter of garden chairs, the mother is cut off by a bleak cold wall, as if he has a future and she does not.

The boy also appears to be mixed race, which resonated with me because I am the child of a white English mother and an absent African father, a combination that is commonplace nowadays but pretty rare when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. This is a picture of me and my mother taken when I must have been about two.

So I was interested in exploring the strengths and tensions within a modern single parent family with a missing African father and the more I looked at the image on my notice board the more it began to shape the back story of Joe Slattery, the fourteen year old hero of Chasing the Dark.

All he knows about his father is that he was a Kenyan student who went back to Nairobi before Joe was born. His mum Sadie has struggled to bring him up, earning a precarious living by singing in pubs and clubs and performing at weddings. They live on a rundown housing estate in North London and although they have their problems their bond is extremely close. Joe’s whole world is therefore ripped apart when his mum is killed in a hit and run car crash alongside a well-known investigative journalist. Since Sadie never accepted lifts from strangers, the only conclusion Joe can draw is that for some reason the journalist had met her by arrangement before driving her home. Joe is overwhelmed by a burning desire to know what that reason was and as he struggles with his grief he begins a desperate chase through a dangerous world of secrets, lies and conspiracy.

Part of that conspiracy was inspired by a documentary I made for the BBC nearly twenty years ago, called “The Picasso Files”, all about the files that the Soviet Secret Service had kept on the artist Pablo Picasso during the cold war. It gave me a fascinating insight into the way the KGB ran their spying operations. The KGB archive in Moscow sent me a huge box of photocopied files in Russian which I sent off to a translator. When the translations came back I realised that some of the pages had nothing to do with Picasso and had quite obviously been misfiled. To be honest, what was on them was really unexciting but I have always wondered what would happen if a few pages that were still top secret accidentally found their way into the hands of a reporter. Then, a couple of years ago, I read that the government in Ukraine were opening up some of their KGB archive to the public. When I discovered that former Soviet spies were panicking because top secret files really were falling into the hands of journalists I knew I’d found the key to the mystery at the heart of Chasing the Dark.

Chasing the Dark is out now, published by Chicken House.

Find out more about Sam Hepburn at

Thanks to Sam for being this week's guest at the Edge.