Sharing is really quite a nice thing to do.

I am not a person with artistic skills. At all. Luckily, a thing called Canva exists which lets me kind of pretend a little bit. So I’ve made some cute social media sharables from the three stories in Almost Midnight. If you like the book, or even just like the quotes, please feel free to save them and share them to Facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, reddit or any other platform you cool kids are into.

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youre-the-heart-inspiresthe-imagination-brings-eternaljoy-to-the-soul

cindersoot

not-all-that

From Writers Block to Fairytales

I began writing Almost Midnight as a writing exercise to jog myself out of a major writing funk. 2014 was not an easy year for me personally, and I wrote very little prose after launching The Edge of the Woods. After busying myself with some script work, I was determined to get back into it, but every time I tried to think of something new or work on one of the concepts I’d started plotting before my dad died, I’d come up blank. My fingers would hover over the keyboard, tap out half a sentence, delete, and hover again. I’d groan, sigh, swear, make another cup of tea, do my nails, swear some more, close the computer and give up and watch a TV show. The part of my brain that tells stories was asleep behind a wall of thorns and vines and I couldn’t find the right sword to cut my way through.

I decided that if I couldn’t work on my novels, I could at least try to update my blog more often (which, if you follow this blog, you’ll know how well that went!), but I struggle to think of topics to write about. I’m not a journalist or a columnist, I’m terrible at essays and my opinions evolve so often I don’t really want to commit to that many of them on the eternity of internet. So I thought I’d use a shortcut and try to retell a story I already knew (that was safely in the public domain). I began with one of my favourite fairytales, Hans My Hedgehog.

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I barely remembered the actual structure of Hans. I’d never read it, only watched the episode of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, and not in years. I knew that Hans had been cursed to be a hedgehog by some fault of his parents, I knew that he was reviled, that he rode a rooster and lived in the forest, that he tricked a king into letting him marry a princess, that he became human for one hour every night, that the princess ruined his chances of breaking the spell, and that she walked the world to find him in a pair of iron shoes and broke the spell with love. Most of these are unique to the Jim Henson version. The original was, like so many fairytales, incredibly cruel.

So I used what I remembered as the framework, and almost at once something new began to grow from the gaps in my memory. I wanted to know who Hans’ parents were and what they’d done to doom him to life as a (actually pretty cute) monster. As if hearing his name called, out stepped a poor but ambitious young woodcutter from behind the wall of thorns.

That first day, I made my personal best for words written in one session. Hans was the sword I needed to free the storyteller trapped in my head and I wrote all day for two weeks until his story was done. Too long for a blog post at 13,000 words, but a story finished and one I felt proud of. Rewatching the episode of The Storyteller afterwards, I found I’d also written something quite new. My Hans didn’t look a thing like Jim Henson’s. Nor did our princesses, or our kings. I had added a fairy godmother in the form of a little hedgehog, and Jim had faceless magic and John Hurt. Our endings are different – though both happy – and every character’s motivation is different. But they’re both Hans My Hedgehog in that special way a fairytale can be told a thousand ways with a thousand endings and still be the same story.

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Writing fairytales didn’t completely cure my writers block. It was another six months before I really got stuck into my Cinderella retelling, which was less the labour of love I felt for Hans and more an attempt to understand a heroine I’d only ever been able to connect with in one retelling – 1997’s Ever After. Cinderella, in all the other adaptations and all the stories, didn’t make sense to me, which always bothered me given how popular a story and character she’s always been. It took much longer to write than Hans, and it’s by far the longest story in the collection at 25,000 words, but to my very great surprise I found myself more at home in Ella’s head than I had in any other character before (which, naturally, means she will be everyone’s least favourite heroine!). Ella is at first held back by the terrible things that happen to her, and then by her own fear of further disappointment or rejection. Cindersoot became a story about finding the strength to speak up and not waiting for someone else to change your life for you. At last, I feel like I understand Cinderella. And more than that, I like her.

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The story I knew I always wanted to have a go at rewriting was The Little Mermaid. It’s been my all-time favourite story for as long as I can remember. When I was young I watched the Disney movie at least once a day (but more like three) for years, but at the same time also watched the 1975 Japanese animated film (featuring the sea foam ending) and a low budget direct adaptation we found at the local video shop. So while I worshipped at the new feet of Ariel, I was always aware of the original ending, the little mermaid’s quest for a soul and the prince’s love for someone else. I thought it would be the easiest of the three stories to write, given that I knew it and loved it so well.

So, of course, it was nearly impossible. I knew it too well. I was basically trying to rewrite the original but with a prince who wasn’t a condescending prat (read Andersen’s original, he is the least dreamy prince of an already impressive cast of unappealing romantic heroes) and without the mermaid’s quest for an immortal soul (which is actually an aspect of the original I love, but as someone who isn’t religious I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing it). Everything I tried to write was terrible. It was bland and unoriginal and it, somewhat appropriately, had no voice. I was back in 2014, writing and deleting and swearing and coming dangerously close to ditching my laptop at a wall.

But I couldn’t give up. I’d always wanted to write this story. And besides, I’d already told people I was writing it. So I started again, and figured out who my mermaid was. Was she a princess? Did she have a family? Why would she give up her voice? Why does she fall in love with the first human she sees?

The answer to all these questions, as it turned out, was pretty much ‘no.’ No, she wasn’t a princess. She didn’t have a family. She was alone, and had always been alone. She was searching the ocean for someone who looked like her, and found the closest thing in the humans who travelled upon it. She didn’t give up her voice, because she had never had to speak anything but the language of the sea, which I discovered was a song. She didn’t fall in love with the first human she saw, but the one who looked as lonely as she felt.

And then it went from there. The story I wanted to tell was one of love, that loving someone doesn’t entitle you to be loved back. That true love expects nothing but gives everything, and that the love of a friend is not worth less than the love of a lover, even if it’s not the love you crave.

In the end, The Mermaid was exactly the story I’d always hoped to tell. I’ve gotten reports now from several people that it made them cry, which is a very high compliment.

Fairytales mean a lot to me. I think they’re always relevant, parables reshaped by the time and the teller, a game of Chinese whispers through the ages.

Will I write more? Absolutely, one day. But for now, I’m outlining a story set in rural Australia in 1994. Which, weirdly enough, might not have been possible without a magic hedgehog.

Almost Midnight

You can read Hans My Hedgehog for free here.

Almost Midnight: Three Classic Fairytales can be found on eBook for US$2.99 from AmazoniBooksNook and Kobo.

The paperback is available for US$11.99 from Amazon.

 

 

2015: My Year In Reading

Happy 2016, friends!

I’m not one for making resolutions or reflecting on the year that was, but here are the books I read last year in the order I read them! Yay!

1794575 1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 5 stars 

2. Sabriel by Garth Nix (The Old Kingdom #1)
My rating: 4 Stars

3. Girl Of Nightmares by Kendare Blake
My rating: 4 Stars

4. Mad About The Boy by Helen Fielding
My rating: 2 Stars (Note: I don’t know why I gave this book 2 stars. It was awful. 1 star for Bridget.)

5. The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss
My rating: 4 Stars

6. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 4 Stars

7. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (No Scrubs Book Club)
My rating: 3 Stars

97818639569258. The Muppets Omnibus
My rating: 4 Stars

9. Laurinda by Alice Pung
My rating: 4 Stars

10. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen #1)
My rating: 5 stars (I actually don’t remember anything about this book other than the fact that I really enjoyed it while I was reading it. Might need to revisit this rating, or try to remember the plot. One of the two)

11. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
My rating: 4 Stars

12. Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming (Audiobook) (No Scrubs Book Club)
My rating: 4 Stars

2378363813. Song Of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope (Earthsinger Chronicles #1)
My rating: 5 Stars

14. Voyage by Ellisa Barr (Powerless Nation #2)
My rating: 4 Stars

15. Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
My Rating: 3 Stars

16. Me, Earl And The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
My rating: 4 Stars

17. Matilda by Roald Dahl (Audiobook)
My rating: 5 Stars (seriously, listen to the audiobook. Kate Winslet is hilarious) 

18. Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger (Finishing School #2)
My rating: 4 Stars

19. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (No Scrubs Book Club)
My rating: 5 Stars (I actually expected not to like this at all and I loved it)

20. Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson 
My rating: 5 Stars

21. Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle23603939
My rating: 5 Stars

22. In The Skin Of A Monster by Kathryn Barker
My rating: 4 Stars

23. When We Wake by Karen Healey
My rating: 5 Stars (retrospectively I think I’d actually give this 4 stars. Still good, though)

24. Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger (Finishing School #3)
My rating: 5 Stars

25. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (No Scrubs Book Club)
My rating: 5 Stars

26. Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 Stars

27. The Sending by Isobelle Carmody (Obernewtyn Chronicles #6)
My rating: 3 Stars 

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28. The Red Queen by Isobelle Carmody (Obernewtyn Chronicles #7)

My rating: 5 Stars (THE END OF AN ACTUAL ERA. I’VE BEEN READING THIS SERIES SINCE I WAS TEN.)

29. Clancy Of The Undertow by Christopher Currie
My rating: 4 Stars

30. Eleanor by Jason Gurley
My rating: 5 Stars

31. Their Fractured Light (The Starbound Trilogy #3)
My rating: 4 Stars 

So overall it was a great year for books! I only hated one of them, and I really enjoyed the overwhelming majority. The main disappointment was only reading 31 books when I’d set myself a goal of 52, and only finishing 4 book club books out of 12. Tragic effort.

Books not included, as I started them in 2015 but still have not finished, for varying reasons, but still intend to: Absolute Pandemonium by Brian Blessed, Ayoade on Ayoade by Richard Ayoade, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield and Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood.

Book currently reading: The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim.

Almost Midnight Update: It’s being formatted! Which means you are much closer to being allowed to read it.

And now I’m going back to reading! I suggest you all do likewise.

x

 

Almost Midnight: Cover and Blurb reveal!

Well, I’m officially a hermit. I’ve been chained to my desk for weeks hammering away at rewrites and rewrites and rewrites, and I still have plenty more rewrites to go. But while I do that, why don’t I finally introduce Almost Midnight to you properly?

Almost Midnight is a collection of three classic fairytales: Cinderella, Hans My Hedgehog, and The Little Mermaid. While we all know the basic stories of all the great fairy tales, I think the details, themes and lessons change depending on the person telling them. So these are my versions of the fairy tales, and while they still have happily ever afters, the getting there involves a lot more talking hedgehogs and dancing scarecrows than you’re probably used to.

So without further ado, here’s the cover, the blurb, and a sneak peek of one of Ben Sigas‘s stunning illustrations, featured in both the eBook and the paperback.

Almost Midnight

 

‘Keep a careful eye to the hour,’ said the white bird. ‘Our magic will last only until midnight, and everything we’ve changed will be as it was.’

Meet Ella, a young woman who has lost everything; Hans, a boy doomed by his father’s greed to live as a monster; and Nameless, a lonely mermaid who yearns to be loved. Each seeks their happily ever after, but wishes and magic will only get them so far…

Almost Midnight takes three beloved fairy tales and retells them with new twists and turns, uniting them with the powers of love, courage, hope, and the magic of midnight.

 

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Release date to be announced!

The YA Spring Fling Giveaway

If you’re broke but in search of exciting new YA fiction, then I have some cool news for you. I’m participating in a HUGE YA ebook giveaway, running from the 20th of March to the 3rd of April. There are over 100 books from over 70 indie authors, plus a whole bunch of loot up for grabs. I’m offering signed postcards for ten winners, but other authors (with cheaper postal systems!) are going above and beyond and dishing out signed paperbacks and other great swag.

YA Spring Fling med

So how does it work? For now, you can sign up for the mailing list (no spam, promise) which will guarantee you at least one free ebook of your choice, and will notify you as soon as the giveaway goes live. Then you just nominate which books catch your eye, and wait to to find out what you’ve won! Super easy.

Other perks? This giveaway is 100% populated by indie books – really good ones. If you’ve been hesitant about trying out indie books, then this is the perfect opportunity to dip your toes in without paying out.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up and give some wonderful indie authors a shot.

Better go sign those postcards.

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Cover, cover, on the shelf.

I’m a bookshop lurker. And a library dweller. Basically, wherever there are books, I’ll wander over and stare at them. It’s always been a thing, from when Mum was in charge of the creepy, crappy demountable library in the desert town (if five streets, one shop and one pub counts as a town) I was born in to visiting a book shop in almost every city I visit just see what they feel like. I like cosy bookshops better than shiny ones, overstuffed shelves better than orderly shelves and I like bookshops with dedicated Spec Fic and Young Adult sections.

inside crow bookshop

But this blog post isn’t a love letter to bookshops, though I could pretty easily write one.

An activity I’ve particularly grown fond of since I found myself in a publishing way is looking at covers. I always have, obviously, but it was more of a subconscious thing. I was looking at books to find a book to read. Now I look at covers to see what they’re doing, what they’re saying about the book or tone they’re trying to set. How professional do trade published covers look compared to some self published covers I’ve seen (often there’s no difference, sometimes the indies even come out on top)? How does a new-edition’s cover reflect what I know of a book I’ve already read?

It’s kind of fascinating, when you really get into it. Sometimes it’s disappointing. Other times it’s bizarre. But what it does tell you, more than anything, is how important a cover is to a book. And doing this really helped me identify what I wanted in my cover.

There’s an old saying, which everybody knows – and not just because about 70% of indie cover designers cite it on their welcome pages – that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. But that’s kind of the whole point of a cover: to give you vital information you need about genre and tone so that you know within a second whether or not it’s the sort of book you might be into. If you can’t judge a book by its cover, then the cover isn’t really doing its job.

The problem then is to convey genre and tone in a way that appeals to the target market. That’s a hard one, because different people respond to different things.

Let’s take me, for example. An avid book buyer of about seventeen years (choosing my own books), with a focus on fantasy and young adult and whose debut novel sits in both of those categories. I tend not to respond to characters on my covers, as they often seem to be portrayed as the same-looking conventionally attractive stock models with no personality indicators. I also like to come up with my own image of the protagonist, and if they’re already some bland beefcake/beauty it throws me off and colours the way I read them – if I get that far. I will make exceptions for illustrated covers or models who have some personality to them. I don’t really like silhouette covers unless they’re illustrated, and I don’t like covers that are so vague they tell me nothing.

Let’s look at some examples.

Zac & Mia is a really wonderful contemporary young adult book. I picked it up to read before doing a workshop with author A.J Betts at the Perth Writers Festival earlier this year. It’s a good thing I was going to buy it either way, because the Australian cover does absolutely nothing for me, nice as it is.

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It’s very graphic and cool, but at best it tells me it might be aimed at young adults. What’s the tone? What’s the genre? The Canadian edition, however, gives me much more of what I need:

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The whole thing kind of screams ‘young adult,’ and further than that the handwritten design implies quirkiness (the new international symbol of humour, I guess) and the love heart implies romance, sweetness and has elements of innocence. We have a genre and we have a tone. Job well done, Canadians.

Let’s take another cover that does absolutely nothing for me, the original cover of Throne of Glass:

Throne-of-Glass-BIG

Here we have my pet hate: pretty stock-art/model girl with a neutral facial expression. She implies young adult by default by her age, but I’m not sure whether the photoshopped dagger and glowing cityscape denotes fantasy or historical fiction, and personally I don’t really get a sense of tone. This cover doesn’t inspire me to look at the blurb, but it does kind of make me want to watch Xena reruns.

But then, thank heavens, Bloomsbury re-issued Throne of Glass with this:

frontcover throne glass

 

Who is this awesome looking girl? Straight away we know this is a fantasy from her weapons and armour, and we get the idea it’s a younger, ‘cooler’ version of fantasy from the punk-ish twist on the traditional fantasy get up. But look at her face! That’s some grim determination. Immediately we can see that this is a woman who knows how to use those swords and won’t hesitate to do so. She’s beautifully illustrated and looks unique, which is impressive for a pale, white haired girl in the time of Daenerys Targaryen, and she makes me want to know more about her. All up, we can take away that this is a female-led adventure fantasy with a bit of a dark twist to it. I haven’t read this book, but now I really, really want to. And remember how I said I don’t like to have my character images dictated to me? Here I really don’t mind.

And what does this have to do with designing my young adult cover? I’ll tell you next time!

 

Now this is not a hard and fast guide to covers, or even young adult covers. These are just my thoughts and my process. Other genres have completely different rules and target audiences – erotica and romances probably should feature characters, literary fiction can be a little more artistic, and so on. You need to figure out your genre, your audience, your tone, and what you want your cover to say about your story.

But what about you, readers? What do you love to see in a cover? What are you sick of/wish you’d see more of in your favourite genres? 

 

The Edge of the Woods: Release Date!

20th of May, 2014!

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It’s finally happening, folks! After one year, five drafts and probably a couple of hundred emails with editors, proofreaders, test readers, an artist and a formatter, my debut novel is going public.

The Edge of the Woods, a 64.5k word young adult fantasy adventure about friendship, strength and courage will be available as both an eBook and paperback from Amazon on the 20th, with other ebook retailers to follow.

I can’t tell you how exciting, terrifying and weird it is to have reached this point. I’ve wanted to be a novelist for a very long time, and now to be able to call myself one for real is just… awesome. I’m very proud of my first story, and I look forward to sharing the next (and the one after that, and the one after that…) with all of you.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 4.36.23 PMSO COOL!

I don’t know whether to drink a glass of wine, or get cracking on book #2.

Yeah, let’s go with both.

x

Note: If you’d like a chance at a free signed paperback, my Goodreads giveaway is running until May 31st.