Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Great UKYA Egg Hunt 2015!

The UKYA Egg Hunt 2015 is now officially CLOSED. 
No more entries will be taken.
(But read on for news of my new book!)

It has officially been a Very Long Time since I've blogged, so I'm thrilled to jump back into the fray with the UKYA Egg Hunt! 

If you've happened on my blog from another link in the hunt, you may be scratching your head and thinking, "Who is this person?" So here's me: 

My name is Lee Weatherly and I write YA fiction (that sounds like I'm at a 12-step meeting for authors, doesn't it?). 

Specifically, I write big, epic YA fiction. Sometimes with a paranormal twist, such as the Angel series, and sometimes not, such as the Mysterious New Project. More on that later!

OK, so. Official Stuff. Here's what's going on, my little Easter bunnies:

"Welcome to the UKYA Easter Egg Hunt! One very lucky winner will win a huge grand prize of signed books by over thirty YA authors who write and live in the UK.

All you have to do is read this blog, count up how many UKYA branded Easter eggs you see in the blog, and follow the link at the end to the next blog. Keep going until you get back to the blog where you started, and add up how many eggs you’ve seen along the way. 

Email your answer to: A winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries, and contacted by email. This closes at noon (UK time) on Sunday, 5th April, and is open internationally.

So get finding those eggs! And some awesome UKYA authors and books along the way. Good luck!"

Let's just take a moment to digest that. Over THIRTY authors are taking part. If you win, you'll receive over THIRTY exciting packages in the post, each containing at least one signed book from a UKYA author. Pardon me while I fan myself and hyperventilate a little. This is such an awesome prize that I'm tempted to sneak into the contest and enter it myself.

My contribution? I'm offering a signed set of the Angel trilogy.

Willow knows she's different from other girls. And not just because she loves tinkering around with cars. Willow has a gift. She can look into people's futures, know their dreams, their hopes and their regrets, just by touching them. She has no idea where she gets this power from...but Alex does. Gorgeous, mysterious Alex knows Willow's secret and is on a mission to stop her. The dark forces within Willow make her dangerous - and irresistible. In spite of himself, Alex finds he is falling in love with his sworn enemy. 

So if you win, your package from me will be INCREDIBLY HEAVY and your postman will probably rupture something and hate you, because these are BIG books. If you like romance and action and even more romance and even more action, you'll hopefully enjoy the Angel series. 

Not to mention the 30 or so other packages you'll receive, which will have an amazing mix of books representing the whole span of UKYA fiction. There are some incredible UKYA authors out there, and I'm so proud to be one of them. If you win, you'll be curled up reading in your little bunny-hole for MONTHS after this. I'm jealous of the winner already.

Finally, if you're familiar with my books (or even if you're not!), I'm excited to say that the silence surrounding my new project will soon be at an end. My wonderful publishers Usborne will be announcing the new series at the end of the month. I can't say much about it until then (which has been EXCRUCIATING, believe me!), but I'll say that it's older and darker than the Angel series. It has a romance, but it's not Romance. And I love the world and its characters and hope that readers will, too.

Ready to hop along to the next link? Here you go, my little bunnies! The hugely talented Sheena Wilkinson is up next. She's a friend of mine and I love her writing. You will, too. 

The UKYA Egg Hunt 2015 is now officially CLOSED. 
No more entries will be taken. But thanks for reading! 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

It's All About the Passion, Baby

If you've seen my Facebook author page or if you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that a few days ago, I finished the first draft of my MWIP (Mysterious Work in Progress).

Let me just repeat that: I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT! WOOHOO! It's currently 112k words and will need LOTS of editing...but at least that first draft is done. Joy!

The next step will be the frankly terrifying one of reading it through and seeing what kind of shape it's in. But not yet. Now, in that lovely state of post-first-draft and pre-editing, I'm thinking about why I write in the first place.
I love movies about people who have a passion for something. It doesn't really matter what. School of Rock: music. The Big Year: bird-watching (or 'birding' as it's apparently called). A League of Their Own: baseball. Stories about that incredible, single-minded drive when you're doing what you feel like you're meant to do. 

I just so totally get it.

In a way, it's strange that I ever had the will to become published. I'm not really the kind of person who keeps working and working at something until she succeeds -- which in my case with writing took years, if not decades. I'm actually kind of lazy, if you want the truth. And impatient. If I can't do/have/experience it NOW, I'm not interested.

Writing was always the exception.

One of my first memories is of writing a story when I was five. I was very serious about it. I included a few lines of made-up publisher and copyright information, because I knew published books had to have that and I was SO going to get this published. (If you're curious, the story was about a fox and a horse who were friends. My dim memory is that the horse was threatened with the glue factory. I'm hoping that the fox saved the day, but who knows; I was a dark child.)

Well, obviously that story wasn't published despite my five-year-old determination. But the intent was there -- and that has never left me.

More than that, writing has always felt like who I am. If I wasn't a writer, published or not, I don't know who I'd be anymore. And it wasn't until I reached a ridiculously late age -- probably my early twenties -- that I realised not everyone feels this way about something. Not everyone is obsessed.

So, yeah: movies about passion.

Have you seen The Big Year? Probably not; I don't think it did very well. I really loved it. It's a gentle, quirky film about 'birding' -- and about the price you sometimes pay for passion.

The Big Year is an annual US contest: who can spot the most species of birds in a single year? As a hobby, birding leaves me cold, yet I totally got the compulsion that would make the protagonists drop everything and grab a plane, just because a certain type of owl had been spotten halfway across the country. I know exactly what that kind of driving force feels like.

There's a cautionary tale here, too. Owen Wilson's character is determined to win the Big Year despite his faltering marriage. He lets his wife down in some very major ways, until at a key moment she asks him to put their marriage first for once, and not fly off to Arizona to chase the next bird.

He can't do it.

Birding is what and who he is. Winning is who he is. The final scene in the film shows him alone: still birding, but painfully aware of the price he's paid.

Sadly, I can identify with this aspect of passion as well. If it had been me, caught up in the midst of some writing obsession -- say, the final stages of editing, when the rest of the world ceases to exist -- my choice might well have been the same. I know my every instinct would have been shouting GO TO ARIZONA, even while gazing at someone I loved.

That's not admirable. It's not even healthy. And, in real life, I hope that if I'd been neglecting my marriage that I'd be able to put writing aside and heal things. But that all-or-nothing, cannot-stop element that was driving Wilson's character?

Yeah. I really get that.

Is this kind of passion worth it? I can't say; for me, it's too deeply ingrained to separate myself from it. I do know that writing brings me intense satisfaction, as does teaching it. I can't imagine not having the craft of stories in my life in some way.

And my suspicion is that worth it on a personal level or not, it's how things valued by society often
get done: the books, the art, the films, the bridge-building -- on and on. Learning to do difficult things well is so time-consuming that without passion to carry us through, we'd never get there.

Which is good, because for some of us there doesn't seem to be a choice: being geekily obsessed with whatever drives us is just who we are. For better or for worse. (Seriously, don't ever give me a glass of wine and start talking about writing. I will keep going for DAYS. Until your ears fall off, probably.)

I wish I could go back in time and tell that little girl writing the story that, you know what? It happened. You're a published author. Your copyright info is printed up by real publishers now, instead of being drawn on with a crayon.

I don't think she'd be surprised. She was so certain. But the me who actually got published -- the one who lived through all the intervening years -- still has to pinch herself every day. And, for me, it wouldn't have happened without that driving force that refused to let me stop. That same driving force will carry me through once I'm editing the new novel, having moments of both ecstasy and despair.

What about you? Have you got a passion? Tell me about it -- I'd love to hear!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Top 10 Signs That The Writing's Not Going Well

So here I am deep in the writing-cave.

Thanks for joining me -- pull up a rock. Do you like the decor? I suppose you'd call it 'Early Gothic', with those iron candle sconces everywhere. Maybe with a splash of 'I Dream of Jeannie' -- you've gotta have at least one comfy cushion, right? Even if the candle wax keeps dripping on it. (And I would totally let you use my cushion for that rock of yours, except that I've got a sore bum from sitting down for so long. Sorry 'bout that.)

You'll be glad to know that my time here has been productive: the new novel is marching ever onward, and the light at the end of the tunnel is nigh. In fact, if the writing-gods are kind, I should have a (very) rough first draft in place in a matter of days. Yes, I said DAYS! WOOHOO!

And that's not all. Over the past month or so in the cave, I've also been compiling a rather comprehensive list of what happens when the writing is NOT going well. Because, you know...swings 'n' roundabouts 'n' stuff.

But hey, there's no reason why my head-bang-wall moments shouldn't be shared for your blog-reading amusement, is there? Of course not!

So here you are:

The Top Ten Signs that the Writing is Not Going Well

1. You have a sudden and irresistible need to go tweeze your eyebrows. You cannot keep writing with those unruly things lurking on your brow for another instant.

2. You become fascinated by the concept of dust motes. Could they be tiny universes? Worlds within worlds drifting past?

3. That reminds you: your work space is dusty. How can you possibly write with all that dust everywhere?

4. Oh look -- here's a funny video of a cat barking on YouTube.

5. You spend an hour perfecting the fine art of making mouth-popping noises like Donkey.

6. You go to Cafe Nero to write, where you drink too many cappuccinos and look for vintage dresses on eBay.

7. You check on your pet spider, the one whose web you allowed to stay on your windowsill. You watch him for a very long time.

8. You rearrange all the icons on your Smartphone, then put them back again.

9. You stare at all the books by other authors on your shelves and occasionally flip through one at random and cry a little. 

10. You become distracted by writing 'Top 10' lists.

Thanks so much for joining me here in the cave -- it was great to have some company! But you know what? I think I'll have to ask you to leave now. Because I've finally worked out that tricky scene right near the end and I can hardly wait to dive back into it. *rubs hands together with glee*

(Do you have any signs of your own for when the writing's not going well? Leave a comment and let me know!)

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Road Trip!

I am maybe -- just maybe -- planning another US road trip.

I've become quite a connoisseur of them...all in the name of research, you understand.

That's true about the research. But the fact is also that I'm American, which means I'm hard-wired to find road trips pretty much the most fun it's possible to have while still in your car. There's just something mesmerising about them -- watching the US slowly slide past as you travel the old state highways (road trip rule number one: NO FREEWAYS). And, in my case, they're sometimes essential.

Pardon me while I do a happy-dance and thank whatever gods that be that this is my actual job.

Remember the road trip in Angel (Angel Burn in the US)? Alex and Willow drive from upstate New York to New Mexico, and from there to the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. As I was writing the first draft, I kept thinking, "It would be SO cool to make this trip myself." And then I thought... why not? I'd done a fair bit of travelling in the US, but there were still places on that drive that I'd never seen. And although Angel was fiction (well, I hope it's fiction, or we're all in trouble!), I still wanted it to feel as real as possible.

"I think I might take a road trip," I said to my husband.

He looked at me.

"See?" I said, showing him the map. "I'm going to rent a car and drive from here in New York state to New Mexico, and then on to California."

In case you don't know, this is a very long way.

My husband looked at the map -- all 3,000 miles of the trip. Then he looked at me again.

"I'm coming with you," he said.

Well, I had kind of envisioned hitting the road on my own -- just me and my characters, hanging out and bonding together. But the idea scared me a little, too. The US is a big place. Having my husband along turned out to be perfect. For one thing, he's lovely and funny and excellent company. For another, he likes to drive, so he did most of it, while I got to gaze out the window and occasionally take notes about what I was seeing. (Um, why exactly did I want to go on my own again?)

I'd gotten a lot of things right in that first draft, but some significant things wrong, too. Wow, who knew that eastern Tennessee was so hilly? Or that the panhandle of Texas was so INCREDIBLY flat, with its horizon a long, hypnotic line in the distance?

The most important thing, though, was going to New Mexico.That's where my main character Alex was from, and I'd never been there. I was determined to find the exact spot where Alex's father's training camp was, where Alex had been raised.

We travelled all over the state. We saw so many places that could have been the camp's location... yet they just didn't feel right. Then we drove past a particular patch of desert. I didn't say anything, but thought, "I wonder if that was it?"

Suddenly my husband pulled over to the side of the road and turned around. "I think that might have been it," he said.

The psychic link had spoken. That was indeed it.

I walked through the sand to a fence and gazed out at the view. A hot breeze was blowing as I looked out at the location of Alex's camp. This setting is such an important part of the story...and now, for the first time, I could actually see it. I could touch the juniper bushes. Smell the dust in the air.

This is what a research trip is all  about. The internet is a great friend to writers: I use it constantly. But you can't actually feel the wind on your face or know exactly what that gritty soil feels like under your feet.

Then came Angel Fire. I was writing about Mexico City. I HAD NEVER EVEN BEEN TO MEXICO. Panic! Research time! I read book after book about my setting, and thankfully, we were also able to go there. Driving to our hotel, it was amazing to see the Zocalo -- one of the world's largest city squares -- with the Catedral Metropolitana rising up at one end. A major scene in Fire takes place there; it was like meeting an old friend.

And once we got inside, I realised it was an old friend that had been totally misrepresented on YouTube.

This is why you can't always trust the Internet. I'd watched every video I could find of the cathedral's interior, and not one showed that when you first step inside, all you can see is a small altar at the front. I'd envisioned a big, open space. Nope. You have to walk past the mini-altar to get to that. The solution was simple -- mention a cathedral redesign once the angels had taken over -- but without going there, I'd never have known there was a problem.

Same goes for the famous "Lions' Gate" outside the Bosque de Chapultepec, the city's largest park. See, there's this awesome gate leading into the park with huge lion statues to either side. In a scene where Seb and Willow have just met, I had Seb leaning against one of these lions. Great, huh?

Well, it would have been, if they hadn't TAKEN THE GATE AND THE STATUES DOWN.

"But why?" I bleated to the park attendant when I finally figured out what he was saying to me. "It's a really famous gate!"

(Yes, he thought I was mad.)

(Yes, I probably am.)

Warily, using non-startling motions and a soothing tone, the attendant directed me to some other lion statues inside the park. ("Wow, she must really like lion statues," he must have been thinking.) I rewrote the scene using these statues instead, and was able to keep the imagery of Seb leaning against the lion.

Does any of this matter? How many readers will even know if there are really lion statues outside a particular park or not?

I think it does. I'm writing fiction, yet I want it to feel as true as possible, as if you were there yourself. And if you know a place I'm writing about, I want it to feel like coming home. I'm sure all three Angel books have mistakes, but not for lack of trying.

We did an Angel Fever road trip, too. Remember when Willow drives from Nevada to New York State, by way of Canada? That's what we did. And I'd had no idea that Canadians have different road sign designs for each province. I should have guessed -- US states have different road sign designs -- but it hadn't even occurred to me to check.

It's one of those little things that count.

Now I'm working on a new trilogy. I'm doing lots of reading for research...but there are also some locales that need checking out. I was mulling aloud about where a particular setting should be, when my husband said, "How about Alaska?"

Bingo! Not only have I always wanted to go there, it's perfect for my story purposes. So these days I'm busy gazing at maps of Alaska and thinking about the trip we'll probably take -- from somewhere in that big, vacant interior down through Canada, and then the Western US coast to Los Angeles -- which just might, possibly, be another story locale.

I love my job.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Meet Me at the Prancing Pony

Which books have shaped you -- helped make you who you are and, if you're a writer, influenced your imaginary landscape?

For me, these come instantly to mind:

First, Lord of The Rings. I was 10 when I discovered it, and I devoured it in great gulps. I probably didn't understand half of it -- I know I skipped a lot; I wasn't a fan of long battle sequences -- but what got me was the world. It was real. That was all there was to it. I was positive that Middle Earth had once really existed, and that if I could just go back in time somehow, I could live those adventures along with Frodo and Strider. I even had the exact rendezvous point decided: I'd meet up with them at The Prancing Pony in Bree. (I think I even worked out the date, though of course it was in the Middle Earth calendar. Minor technicality.)

Yes, it's true: I was the sort of child who, even at 10, half-believed in going back in time. I was also the sort of child who would skulk through the woods near her house with a 'knife' made of stone, pretending to be one of the Lord of the Rings characters. I'd have died of embarrassment if anyone had seen me; I was laughed at enough at school already. But it still felt very real. Tolkien's work had touched something deep inside of me that had needed nourishing, and gave me a love of fantasy that has never ended.

From there I found the work of Tove Jansson (moomins!). And Carol Kendall's The Gammage Cup. And C.S. Lewis and Narnia, of course.

As a quick aside, I don't know how the Narnia series is published in the US now, but the editions I had back in the 70's didn't Americanise the text. There were still words like 'bluebottle' for 'fly', and 'row' for 'argument'. My father scribbled notes in the margins to translate all of this for me, and I LOVED it. The exotic-to-me words were part of the appeal: the sense that these stories happened someplace that was not the US, and gasp, shock -- they said things differently there! Pure magic. I'm painting with a broad brush when I say this, but in general I think it's deeply misguided to homogenise stories. Hey, let kids know that their immediate world isn't the only one that exists. This can only be a good thing.

Lloyd Alexander's The Prydain Chronicles was another series I wanted to step into and live in forever. If you haven't heard of Lloyd Alexander, you're probably reading this in the UK where he's not well-known, even though he totally should be (and his Prydain stories were inspired by Welsh myth). While it was the world itself that I really loved in LOTR (oh, and Pippin and Merry: the only two who seemed to have a sense of humour), in Alexander's work it was more the characters. Taran the assistant pigkeeper. Eilonwy the princess (who was totally kick-ass and not frilly in the slightest; oh, how I wanted to be Eilonwy!). Fflewddur Fflam the bard. I had a huge crush on Fflewddur. Taran the hero was too bland. Fflewddur was funny and brave AND HAD A GIANT CAT FOR A STEED. Seriously, who needed Taran? 

That was always my tendency, actually: to have a crush on the main character's sidekick, rather than the MC himself. Sidekicks were usually quirkier, with a better sense of humour; they seemed to have more intriguing pasts. I had a feeling that they'd be far more interesting to hang out with, even if they weren't as pretty.

Fantasy wasn't my only love; real-life stories had their place, too. One of my favourites was one you probably haven't heard of (but I'll be so excited if you have): The Secret Summer of L.E.B by Barbara Brooks Wallace. A blurb about it online says, "Lizabeth risks her popularity with the other sixth graders by becoming friends with the class outcast." And yes, it is about that, but there's so much more to it. The story is actually a very gentle romance; possibly one of the first I ever read. The class outcast is the truly lovely Loren, who got off on the wrong foot with the other kids and never recovered from it. I could identify with that; I was bullied myself in school until I was able to change year groups. AND Loren shared my love of Tolkien! He and Lizabeth bonded over hobbits! They met in an abandoned house which they began to fix up together -- and that idea of an abandoned place that you can call your own reappears again and again in my own writing now. In terms of the romance, all that happened was that Lizabeth and Loren eventually held hands, but I copied that passage out in my diary and swooned over it. I wanted a Loren for myself.

K.M. Peyton was the first author who broke my heart. I was addicted to her Flambards series, and SO in love with Will. (Spoiler alert!) When he died at the start of the third book, I literally couldn't believe it. I remember feeling cold, and immediately shutting the book and putting it back on my shelf. I couldn't bear to read it, not without Will. It was literally years before I picked it up again....and then, of course, I fell in love with Dick. And then discovered later on that there was a FOURTH book, where Christina's marriage to Dick doesn't work out and she falls in love with MARK. It was enough to make you dizzy, but Peyton pulled it off with her absolutely honest writing. I always imagined that she got Christina and Dick together at the end of book 3, and then started thinking about it: would that really work out? What would actually happen? (I met Peyton at a publishing party a few years ago, and was utterly tongue-tied.)

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton spoke to me with its grittiness and sense of truth. I sobbed over Johnny's death, and remember writing in my diary that I longed to be a writer of similar power someday: someone who could make people cry. I didn't know, then, that tears are sometimes easier to achieve than laughter. I hope I manage to do both now.

Finally, my beloved Barbara Wersba. She's another one you might not have heard of if you're in the UK, but her Tunes for a Small Harmonica saved my sanity as a teenager. Like authors Judy Blume and Norma Klein, Wersba said to me, You are not alone. The things you feel are perfectly normal.

And she was FUNNY. And bittersweet. And quirky. I love all her books, but Tunes was the first I discovered. If you've never read her work before, check it out. Believe me, you've got a treat in store.

Looking back at all of these, it's probably no coincidence that I now write fantasy which is heavily rooted in real life: the world as we know it, but with a twist. (And with romance, of course!) The books I loved growing up created that landscape, and I owe them so much.

What books have shaped you? Tell me -- I'd love to hear about them.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

The Birth of Alex

Alex is the hero of my Angel series -- and as I've said in interviews, he's been in my head for a long time.

You see, I've always wanted to be a writer, though I didn't get serious about it until my early twenties. My first completed novel was a comedic fantasy romp loosely based on The Pied Piper of Hamelin, which (rightly) remained unpublished. It was that novel that almost all writers go through: the first, awful one that sits in a drawer forever.

After that, I wasn't sure what to write next -- until one day I saw the film Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye. In it, the fictionalised Andersen is a shoemaker who lives with Peter, his young apprentice. The orphaned Peter is much more streetwise and realistic than the dreamy Andersen, and I just really liked the whole vibe between them: the friendship between the adult boy and the child-like man.

Suddenly an amazing idea came. This was my next novel -- a story showing this sort of friendship. It would be set in a medieval fantasy world. My apprentice would be named Alex, and he would formerly have been a thief, beaten and left for dead by his partners. He'd then be found by Griffin Candlemaker, who saves his life.

(Wow -- such a sense of nostalgia, typing that name. Griffin is a character who I loved dearly.)

New-story excitement bubbling through me, I made pages and pages of notes on a legal pad -- which for you Brits is an oversized pad of yellow paper. The ideas, the characters, the world, just poured out from my pen. Alex would be 14 at the story's start; it would span two years of his life.

Finally I was ready to start writing. Here's how the story opened:

"Are you dead? Answer me, boy, answer me, please -- are you dead or alive?"

The blackness that filled Alex's mind turned slowly to greyness. The voice kept talking, and talking, pressing with its question: are you alive or dead? Answer, answer me, please.

Bewildered by the insistence in the voice, Alex struggled to surface through the murky waters of his consciousness. He felt rough fingers brush his face, slap their way down the front of his jerkin -- Cully? he thought. And then memory flooded back, and he groaned. You win, Cully, you win -- I won't tell anyone, just don't hit me anymore. 

"You win," he mumbled, but there seemed to be something wrong with his lips. With his whole face, in fact. He licked his lips, tasted something salty on them, and struggled to speak again.

"Alive, then," said the voice. "Don't talk. You can talk later."

Alex groaned again, louder, as he felt himself being picked up and carried. Pain burst from every inch of his body. He tried to open his eyes and couldn't; he half-sobbed, and wondered where unconsciousness was now that he wanted it.

"I know," said the voice. "You're worried about being too heavy for me. Well, worry not, my friend; Griffin Candlemaker has carried a heavier load than you in his time." A pause in stride, and Alex felt himself being shifted in the man's arms. 

"Should have just slung you over my shoulder, I suppose," confided the voice, "but I suspect your ribs are a bit worse for wear. Hardly worth saving you just to puncture your lung for you. I'm sure you'll agree once you can talk again."

The pain overcame Alex, and he submitted to the swarming black. Afterwards, though, the thing he remembered was not the pain, but the honest relief in the man's voice when he realised that Alex was alive. 

Did you recognise the name 'Cully'? In Angel, he was a father figure to Alex. I named him Cully as a personal nod to this early incarnation of Alex...though as you may have gleaned, the Cully in this story was very different.

Anyway, Alex, now partially lame, is taken in by Griffin and must make a new life for himself; we see his eventual transformation from an angry young thief to a master carver who takes the name Alex Deftblade (the novel's title). He meets Jhia, a mysterious girl with long blonde hair, and falls in love with her -- but the real love story, if I can use the term loosely, was between Alex and Griffin: their growing friendship. 

To make a long story short (ho ho), Alex Deftblade got taken on by a publisher and my excitement knew no bounds. It even got to front-cover stage; a gorgeous one was painted by the amazing artist Les Edwards.

Right about now, you may be thinking, "Wait, this book got published? Where can I get it?"

Alas, you can't.

Although Alex Deftblade had good things going for it -- some not-terrible writing and characters that came to life -- it was also very flawed; the story didn't come together at all. Looking back now with more experience, I'm surprised that it got taken on, but I suppose my publishers were swayed by its potential. Sadly, potential isn't always enough. I undertook rewrite after rewrite -- sixteen drafts in all -- but the story never gelled to anyone's satisfaction. So the decision was made to put that novel aside and publish my next one instead: the very-different Child X.

OK, that was tough, I admit it. I loved my characters a lot -- especially my angry young thief. I felt as if I'd failed them.

Years passed. I wrote four middle-grade novels: all of them, like Child X, were firmly rooted in real life. Eventually I moved into series fiction for young readers. I wrote stories about a school for fairies; tiny magical cats; an underwater club for seahorses.

Through it all, Alex stayed in my mind. He refused to go away, in fact. And an idea started to grow: what if I ditched everything about Alex Deftblade except the characters, and put Alex in a contemporary setting?

Jhia -- by then renamed Willow -- became a teenage psychic who'd 'seen' something that put her in danger; Alex became the teenage hitman hired to kill her. Griffin, to my sorrow, had to be discarded: one of the issues with AD had always been that there wasn't room to develop the love story with Jhia. I had to decide whether I wanted to write a romance, or a story about friendship.

Well, you know the answer. (I'm a hopeless romantic. Sue me.) 

But if Alex was a real-life hitman, a happy ending wasn't too likely. I mean, hello...a murderer for a boyfriend? He'd have to die at the end, or at least go off to prison forever. Not the stuff romance is made of.

Enter the paranormal element. Bingo! If Alex was a killer of non-humans in order to save the world, I could keep the sexy 'assassin' vibe without so many moral quandaries. When I then got the idea about turning our conceptions of angels upside down, the story came together very quickly.

As I rethought Alex's backstory to fit all of this, an older, more thoughtful Alex emerged -- one who'd been raised to be a killer from a young age; who cared deeply about what he did but had also never felt as if he had a choice. Blunt, yet kind. Capable but not arrogant.

And afraid to ever love again until he met Willow -- and fell for the girl who was supposed to be his enemy.

So there you go. The genesis of Alex Kylar -- from those first tiny seeds of watching Hans Christian Andersen to the character who's in the Angel series today. My husband claims that he can't really see the two Alexs as the same character. Perhaps it's something only the author can tell. Their backstories and actions may be totally different...but their souls are the same.

In a cool postscript to Alex's story, my husband Googled 'Alex Deftblade' once and found the front cover art by Les Edwards for sale on his website. Guess where it is now? Framed and hanging over our bed.

I think things happen for a reason. I'm glad that Alex's story didn't get published as Alex Deftblade -- because then I never would have written Angel. And, to me, that's the Alex who was meant to be.
I still love these images, though: the world of the angry young thief who refused to leave my mind.

Thanks, Alex.


Sunday, 12 January 2014

To the Writing Cave, Batman!

First, I am VERY excited, because my novella Soul Mates comes out this Wednesday the 15th. And wow -- that cover has not become any less gorgeous, no matter how often I look at it. (A lot.) I've blogged about the story here, including an extract. I hope you enjoy it if you feel inspired to pick it up. (Don't expect it to be as long as the Angel books, though; it's very short! Think of it as a tasty snack.) 

On to other things...!

I recently held Q&A sessions on both Twitter and my Facebook author page. These were so much fun! There were some really great questions, both about writing and the Angel series. People are often surprised, I think, at some of the elements of the series that were originally unplanned -- such as Seb, and Mexico. Yeah, minor little things like that! If you'd like the full scoop, just check out that link to my FB page above; the whole Q&A session is on there.

Anyway, here's the thing: I held the Q&As in the first place partly because I love connecting with my readers -- if you follow me on Twitter or have liked my FB page, you'll know how often I'm around ("TOO OFTEN!" shout my editors) -- but also because I'm about to set off on an intensive journey and won't be as accessible for a while.

You see, I'm about to go into my writing cave.

Every writer's different. For me, though, a time always comes with a novel when the groundwork's complete and all that's left is to get your head down and WRITE.

I've reached that point with my WIP. It's the first of a new trilogy: another big, epic world (why do I keep doing this to myself? Why?). Much of the early work consisted of going for long walks, muttering aloud to myself; writing pages and pages about the characters; getting their names right; writing reams of material that was rubbish and I knew it -- but I was feeling my way into the story and there aren't any shortcuts for that.

Now, at last, I'm over 70K in. In terms of pure wordage, I'm about halfway through. (The finished book will probably only be a little longer than Angel -- I write long and then trim!) Despite the outstanding word count, though, much more than half the work has been done, because it's pretty much all straight in my head now. 

All that's left is to write it.

I'll confess something that may surprise you: the actual writing is my least favourite part. I love it, of course, but I find it SO HARD sometimes. Talking with other authors recently, I was surprised to find that I'm not alone in this. It seems to be pretty freakin' common, actually. You wouldn't believe the excuses we all find to stay away from our WIPs every day. (Being a writer basically means hanging out on Facebook and talking to other writers about how you're just about to start writing. Honest. Any second now.)

The truly fun parts, to me? Getting that amazing story idea. Thinking it through. The magic of characters first coming to life. And that breathtaking moment when you've finished the first draft and can start editing.

Oh, I'm an editing geek, I'll admit it. I find it endlessly involving and rewarding. Hours pass in minutes as I rewrite, trim, shape, hone. And yes, of course there are times in the initial writing where the words take wings and soar -- but for me, those aren't as common. Writing's the hard part; the payoff is finally having a draft in place you can play with.

Anyway, some writers can flit effortlessly between Twitter, Facebook and their imaginary worlds. I wish I were one, but I'm not. Social media is just too instantly rewarding, as opposed to the slow, brick-by-brick task of novel-building. All I want to do is keep hitting the 'refresh' button. (We need a 'refresh' button in real life, don't you think?)

Hence the retreat into my writing cave.

What does this mean, you ask? Well, I'll still be blogging every Sunday, and if you Tweet me or drop me a line on FB, I'll definitely answer when I can. But I won't be as visible as I was. I won't be randomly tweeting about my coffee addiction and my cat and how I'm still in my pyjamas at 2pm. (As I write this, it's 2.30 in the afternoon and yes, I'm still in my pyjamas.)

Instead, I'll be immersing myself totally in my story, from the moment I wake up every morning. I'll hide my smart phone from myself so I'm not tempted. (If I need to get really hard-core, I'll have my husband take it into work with him.) And I'll write word by word until I get it done. The real world will start to go dim around the edges; I'll have one foot in my story at all times. My long-suffering husband knows this phase well: it's the one where I gaze at him while he talks without taking in a single word.

And at the end of it...I'll have a draft in place. I can hardly wait.

I know I've been somewhat mysterious about my WIP. I wish I could Reveal All here -- believe me, I'm dying to talk about it! But the time will come, I promise.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with this image of my main character. She's actually a French model; I saw her photo in a newspaper my husband was reading and practically ripped it out of his hands. Because it was HER, my main character, and I recognised her instantly, despite that awful jacket. In fact, I didn't even notice the jacket until later; I was too mesmerised by her expression. Her firm jaw. Her steady gaze. This picture's on my desk now.

Meet Amity:

So, if you miss my tweets or Facebook presence over these next few months, you'll know who to blame! But I think -- hope -- that her story's going to be worth any amount of time I have to spend in the writing cave. She's been excellent company so far.

See you next week!