Friday, 27 April 2012

10 things an Edge author can't live without ....... by Miriam Halahmy

1.  Chocolate – don’t get me started.
2.   24 hour access to the local police station  The Hayling Island police suddenly started to follow me on Twitter when I posted a blog called  Vulnerable kids, crime and easy money. The comments on Facebook veered from ‘Sort out your greenhouse plants!’ to They must have read Illegal!’
3.  Other authors on the Edge.  So that we don’t actually fall over the Edge,  if you get my meaning.
4.   Readers who can cope.  Please apply by snail mail in triplicate. There is a rigorous physical as part of the selection process.
5.   The Inner Critic  Mine is a tiger ( apt, you might say.) It prowls around the garden watching for the moment when it can pounce on my shoulder, as I sit  in my study, staring hopelessly at my manu and growl, “What a load of rubbish!” Exactly what I DON’T need. However, at other times, my tiger will enter quietly ( probably after a large kill next door) and say, “Redraft that scene and I do LOVE the book.”
Yes we need our Inner Critics – no, we mustn’t let them rule the writing jungle supreme.
6.   Chocolate   Ah ha! I see you don’t know me very well. Of course we have to have 2 points out of 10 devoted to chocolate!
7.   Howlers  My best one ( back to the police again, folks, sorry ) God Cop! My editor delighted in pointing this one out to me, as you can imagine. In Hidden I have two policemen, Good Cop and Bad Cop who turn up and harass Alix and Samir as they try to hide their illegal immigrant.  If you live your writing life on The Edge you’re bound to spill out a great howler from time to time.

So what is it that some of my fellow Edge members can’t live without?? ( I’ll let you know when it’s safe to take off the stab vests.)

8.     The Internet  I know that as writers we're meant to turn the thing off, but honestly I do so much research that the Internet is a truly invaluable resource.  I use Wikipedia, baby naming sites, Google... and I use an online thesaurus and dictionary that stops me making ridiculous mistakes!  Bryony Pearce
9.    Real live teenagers - to talk to about storylines, slang, pacing and believability. Hearing from readers is the best motivation of all, and my own teens and their friends are my best advisers. Keren David
10.  A heart! You need to care about the characters and the stories you write. If you don't care, you'll have nothing to lose and the writing will have no edge! Dave Cousins
11. Inspiration  : What do you mean we can't have eleven? We're Edgy, get over it : Inspiration  Whenever/wherever I find it. I read, watch, write and experience as much as I can. I never know what might spark my next novel idea.  Sara Grant. 
12.  Yeah yeah - we're almost done..... Katie Dale can't live without her laptop.  Paula Rawsthorne can't live without TIME i.e. to let her ideas and plot ferment....can't get much edgier than fermentation, can you? And last ( but not least) Savita Kalhan can't live without books -in fact she can't live without spaces actually lined with books ( imagine trying to get a shower in her house then.)

       We are The Edge authors - this is what we can't live without.  How about you guys???

Friday, 20 April 2012

Death and the teen reader by Keren David

Death is a favourite subject for YA authors. Dead boyfriends, dead siblings, dead friends. Teens hovering between life and death. Murder. Suicide. Terminal illness. And that's not even going near the paranormals.

I think it's natural and good that teens would want to read and think about death. It's sad but true that most of us will suffer bereavement  in our teen years. My husband's dad died when my husband was 17. His teenage years were scarred by his beloved dad's illness and loss. Books which tackle big subjects like death, illness, suicide and bereavement help teens understand what they or their friends might be going through. It should never be a taboo subject.

But when I read a lot of teen books, I often worry about the way I see death and bereavement portrayed. In fact I find it bothers me far far more than anything to do with sex or drugs or violence. And those are the subjects that invite debate and controversy. The messages that YA books give about death are less likely to be challenged.

Here are some things that concern me.
 - Suicide as a device in which a troubled teen gets lots and lots of attention for their grievances. Isn't that potentially encouraging vulnerable young adults to think that suicide may be their only way to get a hearing?
 - Bereaved parents who fall apart. Of course, some do. Losing a child is one of the hardest things to live with. But in teen fiction it is now so common to find a bereaved parent slumped in hopeless depression, going into a mental hospital, abandoning her family (I'm sorry, but I struggle to believe in the mother in Annabel Pitcher's Carnegie-shortlisted My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece who responds to one daughter being killed by terrorists by leaving the other two), or becoming consumed with xenophobic hatred, that I long to read about those who have managed to become stronger, more loving and more compassionate as a result of losing their child. A notable exception is John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. The conversation between Hazel and her parents about their plans for when she dies is an important, cathartic and deeply moving scene, and it rings far truer than almost any other portrayal I've read of parents in this situation.
 - Sentimental afterlifes in which dead teens can spy on their friends, seek revenge on their killers, comfort their parents, snog good looking boys and generally carry on as though they are still alive. Of course there are exceptions (Tamsyn Murray's brilliant Afterlife series gets away with lots of post-death snogging because it blends laughs with real sensitivity). I mean a gluey Lovely Bones type of afterlife.

I once saw a press release for a new paranormal series which read 'All the cool kids in town are dead'. That's obviously just silly, and most teen readers recognise that. But sometimes the subliminal messages in teen books are surprisingly un-life-affirming, and sometimes the messages about bereavement are almost undermining.
 Am I right to worry about this? And am I alone?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Write What You Know?

Edge Author Katie Dale asks "Should you write what you know?"

The saying goes "write what you know", but where would fiction be if we all did that? No magic, no vampires, no dystopia  - no Harry Potter, no Twilight, no Hunger Games...

But authenticity - and consistency - is important, as there's no faster way to alienate a reader than to describe something inaccurately, whatever world/planet/magical location is being described. If the reader knows better than the author on any element of the story - be it the geography of Forks, or London, or the right technique for shooting a bow and arrow - it can jolt them out of the reading experience and unnecessarily interrupt the enjoyment of an otherwise good story.

But even if the book is a contemporary realistic novel, it is practically impossible for a writer to be an expert on every single aspect of the story they are writing, even if they are an expert on the main theme. I'm continually surprised by the amount of research I find myself having to do in order to write accurate depictions and scenarios, from which flowers are in bloom at a particular time of year, to the motor skill development of a three year old, to sentencing guidelines for different crimes - it's seemingly endless! But it's also fascinating, and sometimes the research itself can take your story into a whole new direction.

Someone Else's LifeWhen I started writing Someone Else’s Life, I had never heard of Huntington’s disease. I was writing a story about Rosie, a girl who was deliberately swapped at birth, but I needed a reason why she would discover the switch had occurred, and I decided that the reason could be genetic. So I started researching genetic diseases and stumbled upon Huntington’s disease, a hereditary condition with symptoms similar to the physical effects of Parkinson’s plus the mental decline of Alzheimer’s. I was surprised to discover that while there are around 6,000 reported cases in the UK it’s thought that there may actually be up to twice as many cases, because people often hide their condition, are mis-diagnosed, or even decide not to be tested.
Why? Because there is no cure.
This got me thinking. What would Rosie do? What would I do, if I were at risk?
What would you do, knowing that you could never change the results? 

Suddenly, instead of being a novel centred around one girl discovering her true identity, Huntington’s disease became the beating heart at the centre of my story, which consequently evolved into a  much deeper, more emotional tale about secrets and lies, devastating ethical decisions, the complexities of family, and the enduring strength of love through any adversity, and because it was a real disease affecting thousands of people, I felt a huge obligation to be completely accurate in my depiction of the disease, and consequently spent a long time researching the disease, and talking to people affected by it.

Likewise, Mark Robson, author of Devil's Triangle and ex-pilot, told to me how when he was writing a scene about a character falling off a cliff he needed to know exactly what that felt like. Of course, research has its limits, so he didn't go out and jump off a cliff(!) but instead went to an indoor skydiving centre and convinced them to let him go in the simulator with no protective gear on! He described how his hair felt like it was being ripped from his skull, and his eyelids turned inside out - details he would never have guessed without trying it himself.

Of course, there are some things you just can't research - the temperature of a vampire's skin, the smell of an undiscovered planet, the feeling of a spell leaving your magic wand - for those you have to let your imagination run wild! But by doing so you are creating your own frame of reference, which must, in turn, be adhered to for the rest of the book - or series!

But if you can, I'd say do write what you know, as much as you can - even if it's not what you already know - for who knows what exciting, unexpected, weird or wonderful places your research will take you?!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Edge Competition Winners Announced

Thanks to everyone who entered the prize draw to win eight signed novels from The Edge. In fact, the response was so great, we decided to give away a second set of books, so we could draw two names out of the hat.

So without further ado … drum roll, please …

The first name to be drawn is … Mrs Farrar, from Cockermouth School. Cue applause, fanfare and fireworks.

And for the second set of Edgy fiction … Yona 'Bo' Wiseman! Cue frenzied applause and a small invasion of the platform.

Congratulations to you both. We'll be in touch soon to arrange delivery of your prize.

Thanks again to everyone who entered. Sorry you didn't win on this occasion, but keep your eyes open for more edgy contests to come.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Eight Top Writing Tips from the authors at The Edge

During school visits we are often asked to give advice to aspiring young writers. With that in mind, each Edge author has agreed to supply one nugget of writing wisdom from their personal bag of tricks.

You may notice that some of the suggestions contradict each other! That's OK – all writers work in different ways. Try them out and see what works for you. We hope you find them useful.

We'd love to hear your writing tips too, so please leave us a comment below.

Sara Grant
author of Dark Parties
"Never give up! I always wanted to be a writer but never thought I could because my spelling was appalling. My creative writing assignments were returned covered in red ink. (This was in the time long ago before personal computers and spell check.) But I kept writing and reading and learning. If you want to get published, your way will be paved with rejection. JK Rowling was rejected something like 20 times before she found the right publisher. Some really amazing writers give up too soon. Getting published takes practice, patience, persistence – and a little luck. If you want to be a published writer, my best advice is never, ever give up!" 

Miriam Halahmy
author of Hidden and Illegal
"Read until your eyes ache. I wanted to become a writer as soon as I could read. I wanted to create my own stories and reading was one of the most important things in my life. But to find out how to become a writer you need to read as widely as possible. If you want to write paranormal romance, read political fiction; if you want to write thrillers, read chick lit. To find your voice as a writer you need to read across every genre and every style. While you are reading you have already embarked upon your career as a writer."

Keren David
author of When I Was Joe,
Almost True and Lia's
Guide to Winning the Lottery
"Take time to daydream. Switch off the television, the computer, the phone, the X Box. Spend time in your own head, thinking about the characters you've created. It's the best way to let a story grow." 

Bryony Pearce
author of Angel's Fury
"Read everything, read like mad, read stuff you know you like and stuff you think you might not like, look at history books, autobiographies, biographies as well as fiction - they're great sources of inspiration and show you another way of writing.
Then, when you want to start writing ... stop reading. Take a break from other people's work and give your own ideas a chance to properly percolate. 
Don't compare yourself to other writers. Just get plotting, get writing and see how far you get."

Paula Rawsthorne
author of The Truth
About Celia Frost
"My advice is to enter reputable writing competitions! Look for them on the internet, in teen magazines; ask your school librarian, look on the BBC website. It could be a competition to write a poem, a piece of flash fiction, a short story, the opener of a novel- whatever it is will provide a great motivator to get you writing! Competitions usually give you a theme, a word count and a deadline. All these elements help kick-start your work. It's great to know that just by entering, your work will be read by people who know what they are on about. When I'd just started writing, I entered a BBC short story competition and won – this gave my 'writing confidence' a tremendous boost and spurred me on to keep writing; entering competitions could do the same for you."

Savita Kalhan
author of The Long Weekend
"If you're stuck for ideas about what to write - write about what makes you angry, or happy, or sad, or fearful, or excited, or moves you in some other way, and then read it back to yourself, or even read it aloud and record it and listen to it. If you find it moving it means you are in sync with your character's feelings, and the chances are other readers will be engaged with the story too." 

Dave Cousins
author of
15 Days Without a Head
"Think with your hands! Work out your story by writing. You can sit for hours chewing the end of a pen trying to plan the perfect opening or work out what happens next. If you simply start writing, solutions will often present themselves on the page. 
Re-drafting Rules! Don’t worry too much on your first draft. Give you story space to emerge. Have some fun, try things out, allow your characters to misbehave! In the next draft, you can decide what works and then start to craft the structure and the words." 

Katie Dale
author of
Someone Else's Life
"I agree - read read read as much as you can, and enter writing competitions - the feedback and confidence boost can be invaluable, plus mentioning a competition win or commendation in a covering letter can really open doors. Five of the eight Edge authors were chosen as winners of the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition, which provided a huge boost to our careers. Plus, I recommend trying to write in a range of different genres and styles. When I was first starting out I was asked to write a short story for the How To Be A Boy anthology, and I freaked out "How can I write as a boy? I've never been a boy!" But actually it was incredibly liberating, great fun, and really expanded my imagination. So if you usually find yourself writing paranormal romance with a girl narrator, try writing a dystopian adventure with a boy narrator, or historical fiction from the POV of a dog! It might seem daunting at first, but give it a try - you never know where it'll take you!"

We'd love to hear your writing tips too, so please leave us a comment below.