Bookish Event: Strange the Dreamer Signing

9 April will henceforth be known as the day that I MET LAINI TAYLOR!!! *hyperventilates* So ahem yes I’d started Strange the Dreamer before the event – it came with the April Fairy Loot subscription box (yay!) but I knew there was no way I’d finish in time to meet Laini. And anyway, I wanted to savour the book because the way she writes is beyond beautiful that you just can’t rush it! 

Laini landed in the UK on Sunday and went straight to her Waterstones Piccadilly Strange the Dreamer launch event. Katie Webber, who is a self-confessed Laini Taylor fangirl, was chairing the event so it was guaranteed to be a good event – and it was.The event was totally sold out so as per usual, doing a recap for those who couldn’t make it and won’t be able to catch Laini on her tour of the UK. Right, now onto the actual event and questions!

1. Katie started by asking how Laini got into writing, her inspiration and how she came to write Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Laini said that she’d always enjoyed world-building and found it came naturally to her, more so than storytelling. She ended up attending a writing workshop and was advised by the teacher to keep writing because “she was the real deal” – Laini said naturally that meant she did the exact opposite for ten years… art school! She explained that it was YA fantasy that bought her back to writing – specifically The Golden Compass and Sabriel. Reading these books she said she found her voice, and even though it was difficult, rediscovering fantasy made her the writer she is today. 

2. The second questions was one that a few of us were probably intrigued about – where did Laini get the idea of Strange the Dreamer?

Laini said where with Daughter of Smoke & Bone the characters and concept came fully alive and formed to her, the idea for Strange the Dreamer was in her mind for ages, and it was actually the first book she sold on proposal (where publishers buy the book based on an idea rather than a query/manuscript). Laini explained she had the idea of the muse of nightmares, and orphans of gods for a while and actually wrote the first 30 chapters of the first draft from Sarai’s perspective and with Lazlo as the love interest. It was only when she wrote from Lazlo’s POV that she realised it worked and he became the hero of the story! Fun fact: ‘Strange the Dreamer’ was actually the name of his chapter initially.

3. Katie then asked about romance and how Laini writes love stories in her books – something I’m sure we all appreciate 😉 

Laini started off saying that romance was one of her favourite things about stories – and something not to be ashamed of. She explained that love is something that speaks to everyone, it’s elemental and resonates in some way or another with readers and that genres, especially romance and fantasy, create an instant connection with readers. Laini then said she has a rather lewd way of explaining this connection – called the ‘myth hole’ 🙂 She explained that its a part of us that yearns for stories of myths and legend and fantasy. Strange the Dreamer and specifically the character of Laszlo who adores fairytales, was a love letter to fantasy readers. 

4. Katie next mentioned that Laini’s books deal with good and evil and asked whether that was a theme she consciously explores in her books. 

Laini explained that we are all a product of our circumstances and that the question of whether harm done to us can be undone really fascinates her. Whilst the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is set during a war, in Strange the Dreamer Laini wanted to explore the aftermath of war, and the concepts of forgiveness, healing and whether it’s possible to not react to the violence of our circumstances. Laini also said that the ‘evil ante’ in YA and books generally was too high that she didn’t want to compete and create a villain so evil that it continued to up the ante – instead she decided that the villain in Strange the Dreamer would be dead already. She summed up the book as a less Disney-esque plot which culminates in killing the villain, and a more Miyazaki-esque plot driven by ‘saving’ the villain instead.

This was easily my favourite question and answer from Laini – made even better by the fact that she mentioned that it was telling that the #1 and #2 books on the NYT Bestsellers list atm are The Hate U Give and Strange the Dreamer respectively – books that discuss violence, stereotyping and society, important topics of discussion in today’s world.

5. Katie then asked how Laini manages to write so beautifully (something we all agree with I’m sure!) Katie asked whether it was in the editing or if it actually flowed that way when writing. 

Laini confessed that her writing almost never flows, beyond the few shining parts in each book. Laini explained that she has to love the writing process every step of the way and so she often writes scene by scene, which often means lots of drafts until the heart of that scene clicks. She said that whilst she loves crafting sentences and, like world-building finds its easier, books are not so easy! Laini also mentioned that she weaves the world building with the plot and tries not to do to much up front anymore.

6. One of the Q&A questions was the usual writing tips – I’m always curious about the different answers authors have for this question 🙂

Laini’s first piece of advice was to get into the habit of completing works in progress even if it’s short, and to do this by coming up with a narrative arc and concluding it. If you have writer’s block, she suggested instead of coming up with two or three plot development options, come up with 10 or 20 including wild and wacky ones just to get the creative juices flowing and make you feel less restricted. Katie piped up that Laini has a blog Not For Robots where she’s shared lots of writing tips – so definitely check that out if you’re interested!

6. Final question was would Laini explicitly go back to the world of Daughter of Smoke & Bone (eep!)

We were all on the edge of our seats when Katie asked the question we were all dying to know the answer to. Laini basically made all of our lives by answering, yes with the way the trilogy ended, she thought it was ready for a return to the world of Daughter of Smoke & Bone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have you read Strange the Dreamer? Are you a long-time fan of Laini and her Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy?? Let me know in the comments below!

Advertisements

Bookish Event: Caraval & Wing Jones Signing

Yesterday was the Dark Societies event at Waterstones Piccadilly with the wonderful Stephanie Garber and Katherine Webber. It was a sold-out event so I wanted to do a recap for those that couldn’t make it.

Steph was on the UK leg of her Caraval tour whilst Kate was promoting Wing Jones. I’d been lucky enough to have met Kate at her Female Heroines event a few weeks back but this was my first time meeting Steph, plus I’d actually finished Caraval a few days beforehand and adored it, so I was super-duper excited. 

We started the event with Steph announcing that she’d made a few handmade bookmarks for fans. She asked if it was anyone’s birthday recently or upcoming and I timidly put my hand up (on the 28th ya’ll!) and STEPHANIE GARBER ACTUALLY GAVE ME ONE OF HER HANDMADE BOOKMARKS! I still can’t believe I have it – look how gorgeous it is! Easily the best early birthday present ever.

Right, now onto the actual event and questions. I’ll stick to summarising a few of the questions, but we seriously got through a huge amount courtesy of the lovely Leila of the Post-Apocalyptic Book Club chairing.

1. Leila started by asking what the inspiration behind Caraval and Wing Jones was. 

Steph started out saying she’d read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and there was a particular scene where the characters and motivations are ambiguous – it was difficult to tell who was telling the truth or lying, and what was real and what wasn’t. This actually was the birth of Caraval, as a game! She also explained that she loves Baz Luhrman movies and she remembers watching the party and fireworks scene in The Great Gatsby which inspired the setting and atmosphere that Stephanie wanted Caraval to have.

Kate spoke about running track and country in high school and this inspired her to write specifically about a female runner. Wing’s character came fully formed and the dual heritage aspect was something that Kate knew she wanted to explore. The sibling relationship was important in Wing Jones and Kate mentioned this was inspired by her own experiences with her siblings, whilst the multi-generational family that Wing has was also based on the close relationships she had with her grandparents – she’s glad Granny Dee and LaoLao have gone down so well with readers!

2. One of the questions was about magic in both books and how they dealt with it. 

Kate said that the first drafts of the book had magic in them, but that she decided in later drafts to remove this aspect. Instead, the final draft was rooted in reality but had hints of fantasy through the magical realism that Kate decided on. She liked that it was more subtle and left the book open to readers’ interpretations.

Stephanie said that for Caraval she wanted to go with something that was easy to slip into – a “non-indexed fantasy” if you like. In the book, she treats magic like religion, some people believe in it, others are raised believing it, whilst others still see its existence in things that happen. She didn’t want there to be any hard or fast rules and wanted to show magic as something elusive and unconfirmed. 

3. With both Stephanie and Kate being debut authors, one of the questions was on their journey to being published. 

Stephanie answered this in a really raw, honest and quite emotional way – I think the whole audience was hanging onto her words. She relayed her story from the 100-200 queries she’d sent out for other manuscripts and attended conferences with no luck to the point that people close to her were suggesting she call off her attempts at becoming a writer. However, she knew she could do better and decided Caraval would be her last shot – she got eight agent offers and it kind of blew up from there!

Kate spoke about also having written multiple other works before Wing Jones (including the tree people one we’ve all heard about and are dying to read!) She said she had a great experience working with sensitivity readers for her dual heritage protagonist and she did it because she wanted to write responsibly – she was more worried about writing something harmful than being criticised for writing a dual-heritage character. Kate also praised the YA book community for being so supportive and said she was glad Wing debuted in the UK first (yay us!)

4. Leila mentioned that Wing Jones deals with tragedy and asked what motivated them to write their books. 

Kate said she wanted to write about what happens when someone you love unconditionally does something very wrong. She spoke about losing friends to drink driving and having friends who drove under the influence whilst growing up and she wanted to explore how a community responds to a tragedy where blame is apportioned. Ultimately, though Wing Jones is about a teen girl finding her own strength.

Stephanie said she wanted to tackle the same strength issues through Scarlett in Caraval. Growing up, she struggled with fear – she explained there were parallels between herself and Scarlett in that it was her dream to be an author like Scarlett’s dream was to go to Caraval, but once the opportunity presented itself, fear kicked in. So she wanted to write about an unconventional female protagonist – although she loves badass heroines she wanted to validate the fear and timidness she and others feel at a young age. 

5. One of the last questions was about deleted scenes and if there were any they were really fond of. 

Kate mentioned she’d written a 6000 word kissing scene that although she loved writing had to be edited down a lot… especially as this was for NaNoWriMo and the scene made up more than 10% of her book! She also said she really likes metaphors and keeps them on standby as fallback options.

Stephanie said Caraval was quite short for a completed manuscript and she actually ended up adding more detail rather than cutting down. But she did say the clock scene in Caraval came about after her editor insisted the original setting of a cabin and Scarlett and Julian looking for clothes whilst half-naked was boring!

6. Final question was: Dante or Julian?

Kate was quick to say she was Julian all the way, whilst Stephanie controversially chose Legend – he is her favourite character even though she doesn’t trust him one bit!  

Have you read Wing Jones or Caraval? Any recs to fill the WJ and Caraval shaped void in my life?? Let me know in the comments below!

Bookish Event: Sarah Crossan & Tanya Landman Signing


Bloomsbury hosted a book event with two Carnegie Medal winning authors: Sarah Crossan of One fame and Tanya Landman, author of Buffalo Soldier. Landman was named winner in 2015 and Crossan in 2016. The CILIP Carnegie Medals are the older and most prestigious children’s book awards in the UK.

An interesting thing both books have in common is that they are written by women and fall into the diverse fiction genre dealing with issues such as disability and race. One follows conjoined twins, Grace and Tippi, as they deal with growing up and the difficulties of their unique situation in beautiful and lyrical verse form. Meanwhile, Buffalo Soldier follows Charlie as she disguises herself as a man in order to join the American Civil War. 

I have to confess that I’ve not consciously read diverse fiction but this year with the shitshow that is 2016, and thanks to Twitter, I’ve become more aware of the importance of publishing and reading such books. This was one of the reasons why I really wanted to go to this event. Both Sarah Crossan and Tanya Landman published their books before 2016 and have been on the scene and writing for some time. I was curious about what made them write about the topics they explore in their books at a time when diversity in fiction wasn’t as championed as it is now.

img_1279

Chaired by journalist Harriet Minter, the event was fascinating and I’ll do the usual Q&A summary for you guys.

1. Harriet started off asking Sarah why she chose to write One in verse? Sarah said that she initially started writing the book in prose but that it wasn’t working. However, once she started to write in verse she realised it came more naturally. Sarah said what she particularly liked about this method was that it gives a snapshot of the characters’ lives and story and likened verse to photographs whereas prose was more like a movie. 

2. Harriet said that one of the things she’d noticed was that the two books explored the theme of a special bond between characters and asked the authors to shed more light on it. Sarah said she’d met conjoined sisters whilst researching for the book and initially the plan was to explore how romance for one sister might affect their lives. But during her research she found that many conjoined twins were perfectly happy as they were and it was this bond of sisterhood that she wanted to do justice. In Buffalo Soldiers Tanya explores the bond between Charlie and her horse Abe. Her motivation was her own love of horses whilst growing up (and which saw her competing right up until she was an adult!) and that she wanted to portray the solace that people can find in their pets and animals and show the unwritten language of communication these bonds rely on

3. Harriet then asked Tanya to elaborate more on the fascinating topic of Buffalo Soldier and why she’d felt compelled to write a YA book on it. Tanya said that once she found out about the Buffalo Soldiers she realised it was a piece of history that was missing from conventional accounts of the war. She said she wanted to put back the people and events that had been erased e.g. women and minorities and explore why these women had to go to such lengths to contribute to the war effort in the way they wanted to.

img_1398

4. Harriet then asked about Tanya and Sarah’s experience of writing diverse fiction. Tanya said she had received flak for another of her books I Am Apache but not Buffalo Soldier but that there was reluctance from US publishers to release the book because of potential accusations of cultural appropriation. Tanya said that she wholeheartedly agrees that writers can write what they want so long as they do it empathetically but that they cannot switch that empathy off as soon as an author of color says they’re having trouble getting published because this is a real and genuine problem in the publishing industry. Sarah echoed that her US publishers weren’t keen on having conjoined twins depicted on the cover because it was too graphic. Both authors agreed that brutal issues and history cannot and should not be hidden – often children do not register these difficult issues and are not affected by them in the way an adult may be. 

5. Last question was the usual tips for budding writers! Sarah recommended only writing if you feel compelled to and not for external nourishment or approval because that will never be enough to see you through the hideously long night and editing process. Tanya agreed and added that published authors shouldn’t frequent reviews of their books on Goodreads (a common refrain from many an author!) 

Have you read One or Buffalo Soldiers? Are you also new to diverse fiction or a veteran of the genre? Any recs for awesome diverse YA books?? Let me know in the comments below!

Bookish Event: Jennifer Niven & Holly Bourne Signing

img_1266

Jennifer Niven, the New York Times bestselling author of All the Bright Places is in town at the moment promoting her newest release, Holding up the Universe. I got to hear her chat to Holly Bourne on everything from oddest fan experiences to the upcoming movie when she dropped by Waterstones last week. Holly was also promoting her new book, the finale to The Spinster Club series And a Happy New Year…?, but she was chairing the event and so we got to see her calling the shots and Jennifer in the hot seat. 

The questions were brilliant and as with all my event blog posts, I’ll summarise some of my favourite Q&As.

1. Holly started off with some quick fire questions, the first of which, and absolutely the most important question ever: which Hogwarts house is Jennifer in? Jennifer said she’d taken the official Pottermore quiz recently and had been sorted into Ravenclaw at which there was a squeal of delight from Holly, a fellow and enthusiastic Ravenclaw!

2. Second quick fire question: what was the book that was life changing or most memorable for Jennifer growing up? Jennifer immediately answered with Judy Blume’s Forever – she said it was the book that you would hide under your bed so your mum wouldn’t find it. Blume’s books resonated with her because they were about girls similar to her and her friends and they inspired Jennifer to want to write similarly relatable books when she was older. 

3. Final quick fire questions: who is your book boyfriend? Jennifer couldn’t resist answering with Finch (and who could blame her or disagree?!), but she did say if she had to choose a character that wasn’t hers she would choose Simon from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

4. Now down to the serious questions, in Holding up the Universe, the male protagonist, Jack, suffers from Prosopagnosia, or “face blindness” – what made Jennifer choose to focus on that? Jennifer said she has two family members diagnosed with it and had been aware of it and fascinated by it for some time. Once she asked one of her cousins how he overcame it and he said he recognises people by “the things that count” – the things they like about a person rather than physical attributes and Jennifer thought “wouldn’t that be great? If we could see beyond the way people look when we meet them?” And that was something she wanted to explore. 

5. In both All the Bright Places and Holding up the Universe, Jennifer writes from a male and female perspective – what was the reason for that? Jennifer said she likes knowing what the boy thinks – in romance stories, you often have the girl painting a swoony portrait of their crush and you always wonder what is going through the boy’s head. She’d never written in dual narration before All the Bright Places, but found she really liked it and so did the same with Holding up the Universe. Jennifer shared that her editor casually mentioned that she didn’t always have to write in dual narrative which was her way of saying “don’t do it for her current book” so her current manuscript is single PoV!

6. One thing Holly said she’d noticed was the theme of grief present in Jennifer’s books – was that consciously or unconsciously done? Jennifer answered that she’s unfortunately lost a lot of people close to her, including her mother who was always the first to read her completed manuscripts, so grief is a big part of her life. She said rather than carry around the baggage, she finds channeling it into her writing helps – after all if she’s going to be sad and cry about things, her readers sure as her are too. 🙂

Holly said she’d been lucky in that she hadn’t experienced much grief in her life but one event that did stick with her was the death of her hamster. She arranged a back yard funeral complete with Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On blasting on the boombox (aww!) What she mistook as her parents’ profound grief and shuddering tears was actually them trying to keep from laughing out loud!

7. A question we’ve probably all been curious about: does Jennifer often get asked about the ending to AtBP? Jennifer said she gets so many questions about the ending to AtBP, often is accused of breaking hearts (“It’s OK I didn’t need my heart anyway”) and regularly asked for a happier ending. SO… she has now actually written an alternate ending! Holly said she liked the ending and thought it was fitting because it shared the very honest message that love cannot fix mental health (agreed!)

8. What have been some of Jennifer’s strangest fan experiences? The strangest presents she’s been given related to her books were All the Bright Places themed flip-flops! She was also wearing a gorgeous ring, given to her by a fan who I actually met at the event (OhPandaEyes btw in case you were wondering – check her out on Etsy)! Jennifer also said that as her love for Supernatural and Jared Padalecki is well-known she gets lots of themed goodies made by fans and tagged in posts to the guys. She went to Supernatural con recently and finally met JP who thought she looked familiar – Jennifer said she was thinking “yup, probably because my fans tag you in millions of tweets to me”. 🙂

Holly chipped in and shared that her love for Keanu Reeves is also well-known amongst her fans. When KR was recently in London her Twitter blew up with notifications telling her about it. Now she knows that if her Twitter notifications go through the roof it’s not because she’s won some award but because KR is doing something interesting! 

9. Time for a controversial question: UK YA vs US YA? Holly asked this question because she basically wanted Jennifer to repeat her comments on this topic made in the green room before they emerged for the event (haha!) Jennifer admitted she prefers UK YA, notwithstanding some of her favourite American YA authors like David Levithan and Jandy Nelson, over US YA. She said she finds the latter to be increasingly self-conscious and a bit restrictive whereas UK YA is much braver and has more freedom.

10. Holly finished up by asking a question we were all dying for answers to: can Jennifer share any gossip about the upcoming movie adaptation of All the Bright Places? Jennifer apologised and said she couldn’t say much but that she had submitted the latest draft of the screenplay a week ago and that there’s probably one more draft remaining before it’s the version that will be used for actually shooting the movie! Elle Fanning has been attached to the project for two years and Jennifer said they are starting to look into casting Finch – apparently a shortlist of mostly British guys (eek!) and ran them past Elle whose first opinion was always very professional (commenting on their great acting abilities) and only then would the teenage girl kick in (commenting on how cute the actors were) which is just adorable!

Have you read either All the Bright Places or Holding up the Universe? Any casting choices in mind for Finch? What did you think of her answers? Let me know in the comments below!

Bookish Event: YA Fantasy Panel with Garth Nix and Co.

image-1

Lovely readers, I have a packed event schedule for the next week so there’ll be more bookish events posts over the next few days – you guys are in for a treat! Also doing my first giveaway (which may involve signed books by YA Queens Rainbow Rowell and Leigh Bardugo!!!) so keep your eyes peeled for that…

Now onto business… Earlier this week, I went to the YA fantasy event hosted by Waterstones Piccadilly with a stellar panel of authors – seriously. We had the legend Garth Nix (Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series), Melinda Salisbury (The Sin Eater’s Daughter series), Alwyn Hamilton (Rebel in the Sands series), Paul Magrs (The Lora Trilogy series) and Laure Eve (The Graces series) with Buzzfeed’s Chelsy Pippin chairing.

It was fascinating to hear the authors talk about the fantasy genre – from how they go about world-building, writing characters, and thoughts on the YA genre. To do all of the authors justice, I thought it would be fun to do this post in an interview style but please note this is very much a summary and not verbatim!! 

First question was how the authors find their inspiration – how/where do the ideas for their books and characters come from?

Garth Nix talked about the 21st anniversary of Sabriel (published 1995 in Australia!) and how he never really left the Old Kingdom – there was no “coming back to it” when Clariel was published in 2014 and Goldenhand this year. One of the oddest places that Garth has ever had an idea come to him was during a root canal! Melinda Salisbury said ideas never came to her fully formed but rather solidified over time whilst Alwyn Hamilton wondered what us normal people did during commutes or before bed because that’s when she gets her inspiration. Laure Eve echoed this, saying coming up with ideas for books was her version of worrying whilst Paul Magrs said he gets inspiration from his favourite childhood things and smashes them together – Lost on Mars is actually a mash up of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Laura Ingell’s Little House on the Prairie!

Next Chelsy asked how the authors went about writing strong female characters.

Garth found this question amusing saying he was always asked about how he wrote “strong female characters” as if they were a rare, fantastical thing. He found it odd that he was never asked how he imagined up his actually strange fantasy creatures which actually involves some strong imagination [I loved Garth so much more for this brilliant answer]. He said the answer was simple – he wrote, and could write, strong female characters because that’s exactly what he was surrounded by growing up e.g. family members. He also gave credit to classic YA writers such as Tamora Pierce for her portrayals of female protagonists. Laure, Alwyn and Melinda chimed in agreeing that Pierce was a massive inspiration when they were growing up and for their female characters. Paul went back further and pointed to characters like Alice and Dorothy who were independent and curious young women and influenced his work.

World-building was bound to come up during an event with fantasy authors and come up it did!

Alwyn explained how she took her favourite parts of different worlds – Rebel of the Sands was a mash up of the Wild West and 1,001 Arabian Nights but she forced elements of both to work together for example, iron was very important in the Wild West for horseshoes and symbolised luck whilst iron is thought to ward off jinn in the East. Laure spoke about how music was her biggest inspiration for world-building and how she tries to translate music and how it makes her feel onto a page when she writes. Melinda said she was very visual and atmospheric – she comes up with scenes in her head and knows exactly how things like light and shadow look to build the world around these scenes. Paul said he likes to do it as he goes along, to keep it interesting and Garth agreed saying writing fantasy is like an iceberg where the book is only about 10% of the world that the reader sees (except authors like Tolkein who is a world-building genius).

There was a Q&A with the audience and one of the most interesting questions was how the authors feel about having their works pigeonholed into the YA genre?

Alwyn explained that whilst YA tends to be about teens it does not mean it is only for teens by any stretch of the imagination. Both she and Laure talked about how although the genre is about growing up, this is something everyone can relate to – we can all remember the awkwardness, confusion and loneliness we felt at this point of our life and so the genre transcends age. Garth agreed and said that genres were less for readers and more for publishers in order to maximise commercial success of novels. He hoped readers didn’t pigeonhole themselves into genres they would and would never read. Melinda finished off by saying she thought it was a great shame if people rejected novels because of the YA tag because actually the genre is the vanguard of the publishing the world – it is pushing the boundaries on issues like sexuality, mental health and gender.

The event was followed by signings and I went a little overboard with the books I must admit. Also, we were able to spend ages talking to the authors who are just the nicest, it was the most laid-back event ever *fangirls* What do you think about their answers? Are any of these authors your ultimate fantasy YA writer?

img_0961