Saturday, 29 March 2014

Autism Awareness and VEDA

Hi everyone - hope you're all doing well! I just wanted to give a quick update and share some general news with you. I've been super busy these last few weeks, doing a mountain of uni work, but I've got a bit of a break at the moment so I'm taking a couple of days to rest. And that means time for working on Sepia and Silver, hooray!

But anyway, I wanted to say that in a few days' time, my great friend Tammy Middleton (author of the Opposites Series under the name T.M. Smith) has been organising a special auction to benefit Autism Awareness next month. It will be going live in a few days for bids to start, but you can already have a look at a handful of the stuff that will be up for grabs by following this link:

Blindsighted Wanderer book thong, custom made by Crazy Creations.
Blindsighted Wanderer book thong
Basically, a lot of authors have come together and donated stuff for the prize, including signed paperbacks and prints. From my corner, there's a Blindsighted Wanderer book thong, custom-made by the brilliant Crazy Creations. But this is a cause that means a lot to me and is really close to my heart, so I'm also debuting a prize that I've been thinking of doing for a while, but wanted to save for something like this. The winning bidder will receive a one-of-a-kind personalised digital portrait of themselves or someone they nominate, as an Asrae nymph from Blindsighted Wanderer, created and signed by me.

It would be amazing if you would please consider joining us and helping to raise some money for this wonderful cause. I'll be posting more links as I get them, so stay tuned if you're interested - and thank you SO MUCH in advance!!!

On a final note, I wanted to say that this year I will be taking part in VEDA - Vlog Every Day in April - on Youtube. I've never done anything like it before, but I think it could turn out to be fun! So I will be putting up my first video on 1st April and more will follow throughout the month. This is going to be interesting...

See you all soon!

Monday, 3 March 2014

My top 5 literary characters

This was really tough for me to do - I find it hard enough to narrow down my favourite books, let alone my favourite characters! But I got around to thinking about characters which have really stuck with me through the years; that I think are absolutely brilliant and might have even influenced my own writing a bit. So after a lot of shuffling around, I've managed to get them down to my top 5, and here they are!

The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver

Anybody who knows me will know how much I adore this series. I never get tired of showering it with praise. They are great books for both kids and adults that I don’t think I will ever stop recommending. But the thing that, for me, turns it from a brilliant story into an incredible story is Wolf. He begins as an orphaned cub that becomes attached to Torak, the series’ protagonist, after both lose their families on the same night. Despite a rocky start, the two quickly come to see each other as pack-brothers, both always looking out for the other as they journey through the Forest. They grow and mature together, and as time goes on, their bond becomes even deeper, until each would gladly risk everything for their brother.

In my opinion, this is a perfect example of anthropomorphism done right. It’s guaranteed that if you have an animal character in any story, you will need to give some level of human characteristics to them so they can become relatable to the reader. So some animals act somewhat like humans; talk like humans – or even if they don’t actually talk, their POV language is still human-sounding. With Wolf, you get none of that. There is never any doubt that when you are looking through his eyes, he is a wolf. One of the series’ greatest achievements for me is simply his descriptions of the world as a simple adjective-ridden environment – pretty much how you would have to try to make sense of it if you didn’t have any kind of verbal words. His body language is used instead of speech, and it works. But there is also his character: a perfect balance of playfulness, protectiveness, and loyalty that anyone who has experience with dogs or wolves can instantly recognise as being true.

Michelle Paver has managed to achieve something amazing with him in the most simple – and arguably accurate – way that I’ve ever seen, and for that reason, Wolf will always be my top animal character.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I’ve always been a big lover of classic literature, especially the ones that had a more gothic twist to them. But the epitome of my love for this kind of Victorian fiction is Jane Eyre, and that is basically all down to Jane herself. The book is, in essence, a coming-of-age story: we follow Jane as she grows from her abusive and loveless childhood into a young woman, who takes the post of governess in the house of the domineering and mysterious Mr Rochester. Going against many conventions, the two fall in love and determine to marry, but when the secrets of Rochester’s dark past are revealed, it jeopardises everything that Jane holds dear.

Even though this does have a very strong romantic element to it, the book really is in a class of its own. Like most of the 19th century literature that I enjoy, it has a real darkness to it. But Jane is what sets it apart for me. Bearing in mind that this was written in the mid 1800s, in hindsight, she is quite a modern character. The fact that she’s a woman does play a role, because obviously back then, women were seen as inferior to men. But Jane is not just a modern woman, she is a modern character. Her morals are relevant to both men and women. She has a steadfastness and ruggedness that isn’t really seen all that often in books of this type. She’s not pretty, she has no finery, but she does have a mind of her own and isn’t afraid to speak it. Yet even with all that fire inside her, she knows how to keep a cool and calm exterior, and is always respectful of her own values above any kind of temptation – even if it’s clear she wants nothing more that to give in. The courage to be able to move on from so much hurt is something that really spoke to me. It’s this strength of will and heart which gives the entire book its power. Jane Eyre’s character has endured for over 150 years now, and I expect she’ll still be there in another 150.


The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick

When I thought about doing this list, Valerian was one of the first characters that sprang to mind. He has to be one of the most intriguing antiheroes in the world of children’s books, and I’m always a bit put out that the series isn’t more well known. Valerian is a stage magician who has also dabbled in the occult, culminating in him selling his soul with the promise that it will be taken from him in fifteen years. When that time rolls around, he and his servant Boy embark on a frantic search to find the Book of Dead Days: the only artefact which may be able to save him.

Valerian is what makes the book for me, and I was always hoping for some kind of prequel story that would let him have even more ‘screen time’. His mysteriousness is brilliantly offset by how quickly his mood can change: one moment he’s suave and subdued, the next he’s shouting and smacking Boy around the ears. All in all, he is not a nice character, but it’s so fascinating watching the way he moves – especially as the story progresses and he grows more desperate, going to ever-darker depths to achieve his salvation. He sort-of reminds me a little of the character of Dorian Gray in a more kid-friendly way. It’s clear that his descent into oblivion is inevitable, but the journey we get pulled into on the way towards it is too engrossing to ignore. And despite everything, I always found myself rooting for him in a strange way. Valerian is one character who definitely deserves more attention – and, personally, I’ll always be wishing for that prequel!


His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

This trilogy is one of the best known fantasy series of recent years, and in my opinion, it is very deserving of all its praise. I have read these books more times than I can count. And one of the main reasons why I like them so much is the main character, Lyra. She is a half-wild adolescent girl who hails from another world where souls exist outside of the body in the form of animals called dæmons. When her best friend is kidnapped and taken to the North, Lyra determines to find him, beginning a quest that takes her across worlds, and eventually embroils her in a heavenly war.

What I love most about Lyra is the fact that she behaves like how a child would in real life. While I’m a fan of books that have a more fairytale-style aspect to them, I admire how Philip Pullman has stayed away from giving Lyra a rose-tinted glasses appearance. She is, in a sense, gritty: she is mischievous, impatient, curious, and prides herself on her ability to lie convincingly. This last point makes it somewhat ironic that she is the only one who can read the alethiometer: a device that only tells the truth. And even though she enjoys spinning tall tales, on some occasions it is this ability which saves her life. But for all her shortcomings, she is also loyal, determined and loving, and learns many life lessons as she undertakes her quest. She isn’t a bad kid; she’s just a kid, and reacts to what goes on around her the way any kid would. She has a sense of being very natural and it’s a joy to behold. The first time I read Northern Lights, I was Lyra’s age, and I instantly connected with her because I never felt as though I was being presented with a child character who I couldn’t believe. Like any kid, Lyra is far from perfect – and that is exactly what makes her so perfect.


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is one of the easiest choices on this list for me. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I first picked up The Book Thief, but I was hooked from the start and devoured it in a couple of days. I was thrilled when I found out it was being made into a movie. I just hope that, in the film, they get this character right. His name is a pretty obvious giveaway to who he is. Death serves more as a narrator than a physical character, telling of his time watching a girl named Liesel Meminger throughout the Second World War. In the middle of Nazi Germany, her foster family take the huge risk of sheltering a young Jewish man, while Liesel nurtures her love of books, even going so far as to steal them from burning piles in the street.

To begin with, I thought the idea of Death as a narrator, and especially during so dark a period as the Second World War, was something pretty fresh. It would have been so easy to make him a depressing and overbearing presence, with no personality and basking in the fact that there is so much destruction around him. But it actually turns out that he is quite the opposite: he is horrified by how much pain mankind brings down upon itself. He is frank and somewhat cynical, as you might expect from a Death persona, often interrupting the narrative with bullet-pointed lists regarding something that has just happened, or mentioning about how much he wishes for a break from his job. For such a serious subject matter, I was chuckling to myself all the way through this book, and that was all mainly down to this character. Like Neil Gaiman’s similarly unique take on Death in the Sandman comics, he makes us think twice about exactly how we view the end of life, and the personification of it.