Friday, 28 December 2012

2012 Review: Books, Libraries and Writing – A Year on The Edge

In the final blog post of 2012, Edge author Dave Cousins takes a look back over a few highlights from the last twelve months at the Edge.

The year started with a flurry of Edge books hitting the shelves: Sara Grant's Dark Parties, my own 15 Days Without a Head, plus Someone Else's Life and the first two titles from the Fairy Tale Twist series from Katie Dale. January also saw the first of two guest posts by Caroline Green.

As the year draws to a close, I'm sorry to have to write that our national library service is still in a perilous state. The current government seems either unaware or ambivalent to the vital role libraries play in society and has done little to stop closures and reductions in services across the country. To mark National Libraries Day in February, each of the authors at the Edge wrote a short piece in support of libraries.

March saw the publication of Illegal – the second book in Miriam Halahmy's trio of books set on Hayling Island. Author Mary Hoffman wrote: "Miriam Halahmy has pulled off a difficult trick - a second novel as good as her first."

During events we are often asked for writing tips, so in April the Edge scribes each offered a nugget of wisdom we hoped might be useful to fellow writers young and old.

Late Spring saw a trio of fine authors guesting at the Edge. We were delighted to welcome Nik Perring, Jane McLoughlin and Conrad Mason. If you missed their posts the first time around, here's a chance to catch them again.

Edge authors and the My Voice Libronauts in Warrington

The Edge Summer Tour kicked off with a trip to meet the My Voice Libronauts in Warrington. This was followed by events in Blackheath, Hounslow and Westminster. The final date saw Dave and Sara performing a double-act of live storytelling at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August.

We are keen to have a wide variety of voices at the Edge, and were pleased to invite a quartet of book bloggers to give their perspective of teen and young adult fiction. Read what Paula from PaulaSHx, Beth from Page-TurnerCicely from Cicley Loves Books, and Jeremy from Book Engine had to say.

September saw the publication of Another Life – the eagerly anticipated third book in Keren David's trio of urban thrillers that started with the acclaimed When I was Joe. More good news followed, with the announcement that new Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry will be publishing Bryony Pearce's The Weight of Souls in the UK and US in August 2013.

We rounded off the year with A Night on the Edge at Foyles bookshop in London, in association with Foyles and the Youth Libraries Group, plus an impressive line-up of  award-winning guest authors: Ruth EasthamCelia Rees and Anne Cassidy.

Paula and Bryony at the Leeds Book Awards
We are delighted that a number of books by Edge authors have been recognised with award nominations in 2012. These include: SCBWI Crystal Kite (Dark Parties, winner); Cheshire Schools Book Award (Angel's Fury, shortlisted); Leeds Books Award (Angel's Fury, winner 14-16 category  and The Truth About Celia Frost, winner 11-14 category); Anobii First Book Award (15 Days Without a Head, Dark Parties, Someone Else's Life, all shortlisted); Sefton Super Reads Award 2012 (The Truth About Celia Frost, winner); Branford Boase (Angel's Fury, nominated); Carnegie Medal 2012 (Hidden and Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery, both nominated)

Finally, a huge thank you from everyone at the Edge for your support, for visiting the blog and leaving comments. We hope to see you again in 2013.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Examination Blues by Keren David

January is on the way, and that means exam time for thousands of British teens. These are closely followed by exams in May and June. School years 11,12 and 13 covering the ages 15 to 18, are dominated by external examinations.

As a writer of contemporary teen novels, this unrelenting load of exams is a complete pain. How can my teen protagonists have a social life, have adventures, do interesting things when they’re working so hard?  My latest book features two clever sixthformers, with their sights set on Oxbridge. How to give them time to get to know each other amid all their essays and revision?

What’s more, Michael Gove plans to change everything. Do I write about GCSEs and A levels, or try and pre-empt the eBacc, which is due to come in in a few years time…if it goes ahead? If I put a line in the musical I’m writing about Drama GCSE is that going to date instantly?

There are various approaches to the problem that I’ve noticed recently.  Some writers talk about GCSEs, but it's clear they think of them like old-style O levels….two years of study and then an exam at the end. Others transform the British system into something much more American (Night School by CJ Daugherty takes this approach to the point where there’s a reference to Headmaster Rowe – it doesn’t stop the book being very entertaining and compelling ). Others throw in a reference or two to coursework, or free their teens from the classroom somehow -  in my most recent book, Another Life, both narrators have dropped out of school by the end. In Rockaholic, C J Skuse writes about a teenager who has left school at 16.

Watching my own children going through the British school system I feel they are ridiculously overloaded with tests, they make life-changing changes too early and, after this year's GCSE debacle, I have no faith in the fairness of the system or the people meant to enforce it. I agree with those who say that our kids don’t need exams at 16. It’d be a bonus for me as a writer as well.

In the meantime, I'm considering writing about kids at international schools, alternative schools, home-schooled kids, kids with school phobia, kids with careers and home tutors. What's your solution?


Friday, 14 December 2012

Fear and the First Draft

I’m coming very close to the end of the first draft of Hell Wood, my current WIP. Hurrah! But wait a minute... It’s only a first draft. I will type those precious words, THE END, when I get there, but one thing is for absolute sure – it won’t feel like the end. In fact, it will feel as though I’ve only just begun the journey. Even as I’m writing it, I’m thinking ‘Is it good enough? Is it as good as it can get? Have I told the story well? Or is it a pile of drivel?’ It’s better not to question it too closely if that hinders your progress, although sometimes that’s quite a difficult thing not to do! What’s important to constantly remind yourself of is getting the first draft down on paper. Then you can worry!
I will leave the first draft in a drawer for a couple of weeks, resisting the temptation to take it out and read it only by keeping myself ridiculously busy doing other things. But I know from experience that taking that step back from a story that has consumed your every waking hour, is an absolute must. It’s better to leave it even longer than two weeks, but, at least for me, that’s never going to happen!
Then I get the manuscript out to read and I approach it with those familiar feelings of fear and dread, and those self-doubting questions: Is it going to be awful? Is the voice clear? Does the story have a good arc? Is it gripping, absorbing? Etc, etc, etc!
It’s very, very unusual for a first draft to be dead on target, ready to be read a final time before being sent off to your agent or publisher. It’s only ever happened to me once and I doubt it will again.
Of course my “first draft” has been read and edited as it’s being written, and once the book is finished that process will begin again, and go on and on until I’m happy with the book in its entirety. The process may begin again when I’ve had feedback from readers, my agent, and my publisher... Basically it’s never over until the ink is drying at the printing press.
Then it’s the end.
But I’m not quite there yet and I’m panicking. It’s too close to the Christmas holidays. I can’t afford to take a week off because I might lose the plot, in the literal sense, and I don’t want to be the party bore who lugs her laptop around like a chain and ball! Instead, I’ve decided to write the last few chapters into a notebook by hand – something I always used to do a few years ago, but not recently. I’ll let you know how I got on in the New Year!
Happy holidays!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Writing and Revealing -- the Striptease of Fiction

Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties, discusses the conscious and unconscious act of writing

I’m a compulsive list-maker. I never met at matrix I didn’t like. And, spontaneous is not my middle name nor really a welcome word in my vocabulary. (My best friend once suggested that I needed to plan to be more spontaneous – now that sounds like me!)
            When it comes to writing, I proudly declare that I’m a plotter. I whole-heartedly agree with Albert Zuckerman, author of Writing the Blockbuster Novel: “No sane person would think of setting out to construct a skyscraper or even a one-family home without a detailed set of plans. A big  novel must have the literary equivalent of beams and joists strong enough to sustain it excitingly from beginning to end, and it also must contain myriad interlocking parts fully as complex as those in any building type.”
            But I’ve learned to leave room for surprises. I do all my plotting homework but, when I sit down to type the words into my computer, I let my unconscious weave a tale among my well-placed mile markers. I love it when my characters suggest a new path that I seemed to have unconsciously cleared.
            At both the plotting and revision stages, I will create charts and graphs examining character arcs and plot points. There will be Post-it notes and highlighters, coloured pens and sometimes Crayons.
            Even after all this careful analysis, I’m still surprised by my own fiction. When I, at last, read my story in printed form without pencil in hand, I often find that I’ve given away more of myself than I intended.
            I heard Hilary Mantel speak about her memoir Giving Up the Ghost. Someone asked if it was odd to have complete strangers know so much about her life from her memoir. She said something like: in a memoir she controls what her readers know about her life, but in her fiction she unconsciously reveals so much about herself.
            My debut novel, Dark Parties is, in part, a tribute to my grandma. My main character Neva’s grandma is basically my dad’s mum. I wanted to, in some small way, capture my grandma on the page and immortalize this wonderful woman who meant so much to me.
            I also don’t hide my feminist leanings. I endeavour to write strong female characters who are more than a love interest. In Dark Parties, it’s the women who lead the rebellion. In my next book Half Lives, it’s a young teen girl who must re-build civilization.
            And I sometimes sneak in first or last names of friends and family. It’s sort of a wink to their significance in my life but it’s also a funny way to detect who has actually read the book.
            But then there are these other influences that come shining through only after I’ve signed off on the final proof. For example, in the first few lines of Dark Parties, Neva says that her father would finally be proud of her. It’s a small, but significant, thread that runs right to the end of the story. It wasn’t one that was planned but one that was cultivated when it appeared in the first draft. At the time I began to write Dark Parties, my father had been diagnosed with cancer. He is alive and well, but at that time I was struggling with being so far away from my family. (I’m an American living in London.)
            You learn a lot about yourself while you're crafting a story. You take the time to ponder things like the meaning of love, diversity, identity, religion and, well, life. It’s cheaper than a psychiatrist. But having your novel published for all the world to see sometimes feels like dancing a striptease at a literary festival. (I suppose it's the writerly equivalent of my teen stress dream where I walk through high school naked.) 
            I’ve just received few advance reader copies Half Lives and distributed them to select friends and family members – so the dance begins again. I wait with excitement and anxiety at what they might find between the pages. I hope they enjoy the dark and tangled thriller I’ve created. (One friend as already commented: “so strange that such a cheery person could write something so dark.”) The book’s political and religious commentary is completely intentional. But I’m nervous about what has slipped in, what I’ve revealed unintentionally.
           This type of unconscious exposure is not unique to writers. You can learn a lot about someone based on what he/she reads. No two people read a book and hear the exact same story. I realize I haven’t written one book I’ve written thousands – the one that I intended to write, the words that end up printed on the page and then the story each reader takes away. I’m often astounded by what readers discover in the pages of my book.
            What do the books you write and read reveal about you?

Sara Grant's second teen novel Half Lives will be published in May in the UK and July in the US. Learn more about Sara and her books at or follow her on twitter @authorsaragrant.