Friday, 20 September 2013

The One Line Pitch by Miriam Halahmy

Kathryn Schultz, writer of the Guardian First Book Award for Being Wrong, Adventures in the Margin of Error, said, “One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that I’d be ready to start writing( my novel) when I could outline it on a Post-It note.”
This was not the way I started to write my novel, HIDDEN.

I started with a thought. I was walking on the beach where my parents used to live on Hayling Island. I had been doing a lot of work with refugees and asylum seekers and had published both fiction and non-fiction on the subject. A thought came into my head. What if two teenagers rescued an asylum seeker from the sea and hid him in a hut to save him from being deported?

That was enough to get me started on my first Y.A. novel. I hadn’t even heard the term Y.A. at that time. But gradually I met other Y.A. writers, some well known – Malorie Blackman, Melvyn Burgess, Meg Rossoff, David Almond. – and many wannabees, like myself. My novel began to take shape and as I was writing a new idea began to form and then a third. But I certainly didn’t have my novel crystallised into the one-line pitch sentence so beloved of agents and editors.
For Example - Artemis Fowl, Diehard with fairies. Brilliant.

Then I met the writer, Julia Golding and attended a talk by her. I had already complete HIDDEN and was looking for an agent. I had begun the second book, ILLEGAL, and was planning the third, STUFFED. Julia told us that we absolutely must be able to describe out novels in one sentence. Impossible, I thought. You have ten minutes, she told us and then we’ll share.
Crikey! Where to start?

But it was one of the best writing exercises I ever did.
Here was my one line pitch for HIDDEN :-
Two teenagers find an illegal immigrant washed up on a beach and hide him to save him from being deported.
It was a winner from the start. I only had to say it to an agent or editor and they immediately asked to see the book.

Coming up with the one line pitch might not happen until you finish the first draft. But at some point, it is crucial that you find that one line which crystallises the entire book. It is essential for you as a writer because it clarifies the entire premise of your book. It may be the difference between completing an effective novel and coming up with a draft which weaves all over the place and never arrives anywhere.

But it is also essential for grabbing the attention of the gate-keepers. In a busy conference, where those tantalising editors and agents might be constantly surrounded by the super-confident, you might only have 30 seconds to be heard. Make sure you make the best use of that time and blow them away with your one line pitch.
Good luck and happy pitching!

Friday, 13 September 2013

Cover girls - Are YA girls too skinny?

Edge author Katie Dale asks whether there enough "real" size girls in teen fiction.

So this week the Equalities Minister, Jo Swinson, has stated that high street stores should use more plus-size and petite mannequins to promote healthier body image among women. She claims that the lean mannequins currently widely used do not reflect "real" women, and as the average dress size has grown from a size 12 to a size 16 - when most mannequins are size 10 - it seems she's right. 

Fashion, it seems, has always been this way, from the waif-like catwalk models to airbrushed cover-girls on magazines (if you haven't seen the brilliant Dove time-lapse video, here it is). 

But Debenhams are about to unveil size-16 mannequins in their Oxford Street store, and Jo Swinson told the Sunday Times: 'I would really like to see more retailers doing the same. Many customers want to see more realistic images in magazines, TV and on the high street, and having mannequins that reflect and celebrate our diverse society is a really positive way of helping to achieve this.
The images we see in the world of fashion are all pretty much the same - it's as if there's only one way of being beautiful'.

Other magazines are, after all, always full of celebrities without their make-up, to try to make us feel better about ourselves - proving that no "real" women actually look the way they do on fashion magazine covers.

So what about fiction? Has this epidemic of skinniness infected books as well? Several authors were also discussing this very issue on Facebook this week: Are there enough "real" size girls in teen fiction, or do slim pretty white girls dominate here as well? 

Browsing through book covers in the YA section, it certainly seems so, as they overwhelmingly feature stunning slim models (often in ball-gowns, for some reason) or stick-thin cartoon-style characters - but why?

One editor told a writer friend of mine that readers don't want to read about overweight or unattractive girls - is this true? Would you be put off reading a book if it had a size 12 or size 16 girl on the cover? Would you just rather read about pretty, slim girls? 

Or is it that the book covers don't accurately represent the characters within? Edge author Bryony Pearce commented on the white-washing of book covers, some of the early ideas for covers for my books didn't even have the right hair colour, and I've read other books where the cover scene/character never occurs within the story (often more ballgown-syndrome) so why is there a disconnect between the story and the book's marketing team? Is trying to make a book cover beautiful and attractive to readers more important than accurately reflecting the characters inside?  

Surely in books - the least-visual storytelling medium - it shouldn't matter as much what the characters look like? 
Personally, I try to only give physical descriptions of my characters when absolutely necessary, and even then it's usually only about hair or eye colour - I hardly ever comment on a character's size. Also, as I usually write in first-person narrative, everyone is seen through my protagonist's eyes, so it's a matter of subjective perception as well. 

This is especially effective in Sophia Bennett's YOU DON'T KNOW ME, in which the narrator describes her friend as totally fab and gorgeous - and it's only later that we learn that she is deemed overweight and therefore unattractive by others.

Indeed, more often than not, for the larger girls that do make it into books their weight, and the problems it causes them, is consequently one of the key issues in the book. Rarely do we find a heroine who is curvy and proud, and I think that's a real shame, especially as there are lots of really inspiring real-sized, women out there.

Surely as writers and sellers of childrens/YA fiction we don't want to endorse the damaging message (that already abounds in movies, TV and fashion magazines) that heroines can only be pretty and skinny?

You shouldn't judge a book - or a person - by their cover, after all.

Friday, 6 September 2013


This week, we’re delighted to introduce Megan from Book Addicted Girl blog.

Hi everyone!  It’s great to be here today!  My name is Megan, AKA The Book Addicted Girl, and I’ve been blogging since December 2010.  I’m addicted to YA fiction – especially anything related to the paranormal! – but I read anything and everything really!  I’m always up for talking about books, but in my spare time I love to watch crime drama, mess about making fanpics and spend time with my family and friends.

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

Well, I guess I read YA because I am a teenager.  When I started blogging, I was only fourteen, so obviously I was already reading YA books without even really realising it (saying that, though, my first post was a review of A Christmas Carol)!  But even if I wasn’t a teen, I’d still be reading YA books.  Why?  Because they all just have this magical feel to them – something about YA books is just so much more interesting and addictive than adult books.  I think it’s because they’re faster paced, often funnier, and with characters I can really relate to.

And, of course, I write about YA because I read, love and obsess over YA.  I just love sharing my views with all my poor, unsuspecting followers who just weren’t expecting the rambling, excited and insanely long review of a book I loved to pieces!

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

Ooh, good question…  Um, paranormal wise it just has to be Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead: her spin on the vampire genre is just absolutely awesome!  I want to go to St Vlads and train to be a Guardian.  Or maybe I just want to be a Moroi…   

As for fantasy I have to say the most original is Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.  Why?  ‘Cause it rocks!  Seriously, though, there is nothing normal or mundane about the Grisha series: there are guns, cannons, magic, old-timey Russia, The Darkling and a whole new genre: Tsarpunk! 

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is also very, very original.  I mean, c’mon.  Assassins.  That’s awesome.  But female assassins in a world where magic once ruled?  Awesomely original. 

Shadows by Paula Weston is brilliant too.  It is original for many reasons, but I’ll list the top three.  One: Its angel lore is absolutely awesome.  Two: It’s NA – my first paranormal NA too!  Three: The lead girl has lost almost everything but she doesn’t sit around and mope – gotta love that!  And I know it’s cheating because it’s NA not YA but I just had to mention it!

Um…  I can’t think of any more off the top of my head…  But we all know that I’ll click ‘send’ on the email to you guys I’ll think of a million others!

     What is a TURN OFF in YA fiction?

Whiny characters or stupid ones that always need saving – be they male or female.  And my old and most notorious foe: Instalove.  Drives me insane.  I get instalust or instaattraction, but insta-I-love-you-and-will-die-with-you-love just doesn’t exist.  And even if I’m reading about angels and demons, I still like my reality…  That makes no sense, does it?   Moving swiftly on…

    What makes for a great YA book?

Strong characters, witty writing, a unique plot and real emotions.  Throw in a kickbutt girl, a funny and hot guy and one heck of a world and you’ve got yourself a best seller!

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

Ooh… First on my guest list would be Daemon Black from the Lux series by Jennifer Armentrout.  Why?  Because he’s H-O-T hot and also really funny – though the night may end with him being punched: he can be a bit obnoxious sometimes too...!  Magnus Bane would be invited because he’s funny too and because I love him to pieces.  Rose Hathaway would have to come, because she’s one of my favourite YA leading gals – ditto for Celaena Sardothien.  Also, I just really want to get the two of them in the same room – they have a few similar traits and I think the initial meeting would result either in friendship or insant-nemesis, both of which would be really really interesting and funny!  Adrian Ivashkov and Jace Wayland would come because they’re hot and funny…  Valkyrie Cain and Skulduggery Pleasant because that would just liven the table up…  And Augustus Waters because he’s Augustus Waters.  Duh.

      Who is your ideal YA HERO/HEROINE and why?

My ideal heroines are probably Rose Hathaway and Celaena Sardothien – they are strong, feisty, kickbutt and snarky – the embodiment of Girl Power.  Billi SanGreal is brilliant too because she’s so… different from the normal heroine: she’s strong and brave but also alone and kind of weary too.  And, of course, totally kickbutt as well.  Saying that, I also love Tessa from Before I Die because while she doesn’t go around killing off demons or just killing people off, she’s strong – so, so strong.  I could never be as brave as her: facing cancer, finding love, accepting the inevitable…

      What is your dream YA ROMANTIC PAIRING and why?

Daemon Black and Katy Swartz.  Why?  I’m in love with Daemon.  Wait a sec – maybe I shouldn’t root for them because then he can be mine

Ok, I change my mind: Malec.  AKA Magnus and Alec from The Mortal Instrument series.  They are soo perfect for each other!  And so cute.  I heart Malec!!

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

Good question… I hate domestic violence – it makes me so angry and I want to kill the offending person.  I don’t really like wanting to kill people, even if they are evil sons of banshees.  But I don’t think it makes me uncomfortable because I question YA boundaries.  I just don’t like domestic violence full stop and I think it should be written about.  And sometimes… sometimes I think we need to feel uncomfortable because it shows us how horrible some people are and how badly others have it.  The real issues – the horrible facts of life – are meant to be uncomfortable, meant to be hard to read, and I think it’s important that young adults read about them. 

Ok, other things that do make me uncomfortable…  Swearing.  Hate it.  But I know lots of ‘normal’ teenagers swear a lot so I accept it – if rather reluctantly.  Same goes for sex and drugs and alcohol and whatnot.  Real teen issues. 

But non-teen things, like undying declarations of devotion and instalove?  No thanks.  Just not gonna happen ever in the real world and lots of teens might get a bit of a shock later in life!

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

I’d like less instalove, more ethnic minority action books where ‘being part of *enter ethnic group here* isn’t the main focus but instead all the kickbutt action is (like the amazing Ash Mistry series by Sarwat Chadda)’, total equality between girls and boys, boys reading ‘girl’ books like girls read ‘boy’ books, disappearance of gender expectations of what you can read, more original paranormals, less love triangles, more books about less mainstream paranormal beings…  Wow, that is a lot of want.  I should probably stop there.  You know what they say: if wishes were fishes, am I right?

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

I have no idea.  It’s pretty hard to judge these things. And I’ve never been that good at predicting the future.  (Or have I…?)  I think that ‘boy books’ and ‘girl books’ will prevail, we’ll get more love triangles, instalove, lots of books about the same paranormal beings and lots of cookiecutter paranormals. 

Ooh, maybe there will be more superhero books though!  I love superhero books.  Fingers crossed!

Give us your top FIVE TEEN/YA books please, Megan

Nooo, this is EVIL!  I hate picking faves…  I have to?  Okay…  Give me a moment…  Alright, got them!

1)      Before I Die by Jenny Downham

2)      Lux by Jennifer L. Armentrout

3)      Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

4)      Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys

5)      The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare


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

Oooh, good one… 

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey!  Why?  Because it’s fast-paced, exciting and perfect for boys, girls, teens and adults alike! 


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

It’s been fun!  Well, as far as interrogations go anyway!  :D

If you’d like to read more of Megan’s reviews, you can find her here: The Book Addicted Girl

And you can follow her on twitter @BookAddictedGirl