Monday, 23 July 2012

Breaking the Rules

by Teri Terry
Last weekend I was a Writer Who Rocks: up to my ankles in mud in the pouring rain at Hard Rock Calling at Hyde Park in London. 

The Saturday night was reaching an ecstatic finale, fireworks and all, when some person* literally pulled the plug on Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney.
                 *original word edited to avoid offense
Rock History: Springsteen and McCartney, together, on the same stage!
Moments later it all went very, very quiet
(Thanks to another Writer who Rocks, Laura Smith, for the photos)
There were looks of complete disbelief and a great deal of muttering – and that was just up on stage. But this was a polite crowd, and everyone soon stomped or staggered off in the mud.  
Debate followed in the coming days. They went 10 minutes past curfew. They broke the rules, so the promoter pulled the plug. Fans screamed in outrage. Then there was the backlash: why should some rocker be allowed to break the rules? There was Boris (mayor of London) saying, this won’t happen during the Olympics. 

And I couldn’t help but wonder: is this about an absolute slavish following of rules, or who is allowed to break them? 

One question raised was do you expect creatives like musicians to follow the rules? Time keeping is maybe not first on their mind. And this touched a chord with me and some things I’ve been struggling with as a writer:
When should you follow the rules? When should you break them? 
Julie Bertagna’s post last week Who do YOU write for also sparked this train of thought. 
Although Slated is my first book to be published, I’ve been writing for years. I haven’t jumped on trends, not consciously – not so much because I thought about it and decided not to, but more because I’ve never been able to write something that wasn’t from inside, something I had to write. Nothing against vampires, but it just isn’t my thing creatively. That I wound up writing a dystopian novel that hit that trend was pure lucky coincidence. 

But… I have been led astray. Quite a few times. By things like winning a writing competition and then diverting what I wanted to do to an old project, just because there was some interest in it. I have completely rewritten a book once based on feedback even though I felt it wasn’t right (it wasn’t). 

With Slated I wrote the way I love to write – from inside, characters taking over – but the doubts started when I wrote ‘The End’. Slated didn’t follow the pattern with dystopian novels I’d started reading then in a few respects, and not just because it was set in a near-future UK. It is more a slow and tortured build up of tension – not an action-fest. The ending isn’t neatly tied up. Should I rewrite it, or send it out? 

Out it went, and things have been amazing – first getting an agent, then a publishing deal with Orchard Books. Sure there have been a few voices along the way, and a few reviews, that would have liked Slated better if it followed a more usual pattern. But there have been more the other way – and despite the wobbles I’ve felt about it now and then, I’m so happy I stuck with my guts for how it had to be. 
The one critic’s voice I can’t live with if I go a way that feels wrong is my own. 
And now I’m editing book 2, Fractured, and thinking about book 3, and how they tie together. And I’m contemplating a big break of the rules in book 3, much more than any I’ve attempted before. I’m still thinking about it, and will be for a long time. But it feels right.
Another Writer who Rocks - Siobhan Curham - models
best Rock Chick Attire. I gotta get me some wellies for the next fest!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Claire Merle Giveaway: And the winners are...


I've just got back from a family holiday in the French Alps, so apologies for this late announcement!

For my giveaway, which closed last week, the winners are...


Kali Skittles: NEVER LET ME GO.

Please contact me with your postal addresses.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and for such a warm welcome to Demention.

See you all soon!

Monday, 16 July 2012

Who do YOU write for?


‘Know your readers, know your market.’ 
That’s the Smart Writer’s Rule #1, right? To be successful, you need to be sussed. Don't you?

My advice is to take no notice of anyone else who thinks they can tell you what people want to read,’ says multiple award-winner Philip Pullman. ‘They didn’t know they wanted Harry Potter until JK Rowling thought of him. So the truth is, they don’t know what they want, and you have to show it to them. And the only way to do that is to write exactly what you want.’
It’s hard to argue with that. Who guessed that after wands and wizards, YA fiction would be over-run by vampires? Or that the paranormal passionfest would be swept aside by a tsunami of every dystopian scenario imaginable? 

And after that... well, your guess is as good as mine. (Though I have a dream that YA writers will reboot sci-fi for a whole new generation; a kickback against the many shades of submissiveness publishers are about to serve up.)

When people say ‘write for your readers’ I always think: okay, which ones? 

Reader crazes are like flashmobs - you might strike lucky and find yourself, by sheer fluke, crash-bang in the midst of one. But try to seize the zeitgeist and it’s likely to have zipped off somewhere entirely new by the time you’ve sorted your synopsis. 

One thing I know for sure, after hundreds of author talks - despite the flashmob crazes, young readers are not a herd. For every one that loves The Hunger Games, there are others who loathe it and want something else. Often, they don't know what. After 15 years as a published writer, having seen trends blaze like wildfires, I’m with Pullman.

The zeitgeist is fickle. 
But teenagers are the most challenging and interesting readers. They won’t linger if they lose interest but their minds are still open, their imaginations flexible. You can take risks - their imaginations are not yet settled and they want to be taken right out of themselves by a great story, a thrilling idea, characters they can love and hate.
This last year, I’ve worked with Manchester Children’s Book Festival and the city’s Science Festival to launch the Future Manchester Young Writer Competition. Struggling through last winter’s superstorms, I’d arrive as wet and bedraggled as one of my own characters, to speak about the flooded dystopian world of my books. Last week, the weather was in full irony mode once again as I battled through epic summer floods to the announce the competition winner at a book festival event with fellow ‘spec-fic’ authors Saci Lloyd and Jane Rogers - the venue was packed out with teens of both sexes, and we had a cracking debate on how current events and science can spark and fire great stories. 
Author Saci Lloyd seizing the future 
There was a phenomenal response to the writing competition - hundreds of dark and daring stories about imagined futures illuminating the terrors of this generation, stark tales of young characters under threat, on the brink of disaster - but crucially, fighting back against a world gone wrong. I struggled to choose a winner from ideas and writing of a startlingly high standard: evidence of a generation of strong readers.

Science inspires smashing ideas about the future
There's still a huge YA appetite for futuristic stories - going by the teenaged tastes in Manchester. But hasn’t there always been? The publishing industry only recently found out what lots of readers and writers already knew. And I’m not the only author who wonders how well YA publishing understands or serves teenage boy readers. Is it because the industry largely consists of females of a certain background? That includes myself - but as a writer from ‘faraway’ Glasgow, I’m a quite an oddity. 
Just last year, I lost a battle over the boy-unfriendly straplines attached to the fab new covers on my dystopian trilogy, despite the books having cross-gender appeal and a strong boy fan base. Female readership was deemed to be the market and the boy readership was sadly sacrificed for that. Current wisdom says ‘boys don’t read’ - and it's true that lots don’t. Or perhaps many just haven’t found the books that could turn them onto reading. (Read Teri and Julienne’s  brilliant Demention posts on the gender debate.) The Manchester events proved to me that teenagers of both sexes are fascinated by ideas and stories about the future.
Teenage boys don't like books? Oh yes, they do!
The winning story by Josh Degenhardt, an amazing young talent, is a beautifully-written, terrifying vision of a parched nation - despite the current monsoons, this searing tale haunted me for days. Thoughtful and provocative, the dystopian visions of Josh and his peers have been an inspiration. Thanks to the Manchester kids and their fabulous imaginations, I’m confident that the fictional future is wide open for all sorts of adventures - and it’s not just female. 


Monday, 9 July 2012

Science-fiction: Dystopia for boys?

This week I wanted to do something different.  In response to Teri's great post Dystopian fiction: Science Fiction for Girls? I wanted to look at the question from a boy's perspective.
But not just any boy - a young me, Julienne lite, as yet untouched by the mindtwisting effects of
James Herbert, Shaun Hutson and Stephen King 
(I went through a brief but intense horror stage).

Me at school!
So, as Demention's resident interviewer, I give you an interview with myself:

One of the main topics discussed in the Worlds of Tomorrow presentation was how referring to future-based 'other-worldy' stories as dystopian instead of Science Fiction made them more likely to be read by girls.  What do you think of when someone says Sci-fi?

Sci-fi is one of those boy geek-words, it always has been.  Think Star Trek, Star Wars and all the spin-offs and copy-cats and you'll always think of a group of boys who aren't good at sports and aren't brave enough to talk to women.  The US sitcom Big Bang Theory has reached over 100 episodes.  It's a worldwide hit and four of its five main characters tick all of the Sci-fi nerd boxes.

But that's just what people think.  I know loads of girls who are fans of Star Wars, Star Trek and Red Dwarf.  Some of them just don't like to talk about it in public!

But what about books?  There always seem to be a lot more boys than girls in the Sci-fi/Fantasy sections of bookshops.

The Sci-fi sections are still crammed with images of planets and spaceships, heroic men in space suits with laser guns.  The same sort of things that have been used for decades.  But look at the covers of modern dystopias - girls' faces looking defiant or mournful, or striking, graphic logos with a sinister edge.

Compare old vampire books with today's - scary man in front of a castle vs pale skinned woman on a black background.  You'll know Sci-fi is written for girls when Judge Dredd takes off his helmet and there's a tear running down his cheek!

Are you saying that current dystopian novels are just for girls?

No way!  I love some of the modern dystopian stories - great characters facing hard trials in harsh futures.  But what I like about the older stuff is the 'nuts and bolts' of the worlds they are set in: the way that the embryos are sorted and graded in Brave New World; the six (or possibly seven) different bullets that Judge Dredd's Lawgiver pistol can fire; the television screens in Fahrenheit 451 that fill whole walls and sync the viewer's name into the programme so they feel like they are part of the drama.

And there isn't any of that in modern books?

It's there, all right, but only in the background.  Sometimes it feels a bit like the author doesn't want to put too much in just in case it puts people off.


Girls, I suppose

And do you think it would?

No.  Not the ones who like Star Wars!

Relationships stuff doesn't put me off.  I like it when a boy rescues a girl (or a girl rescues a boy) because they are in love and the evil forces of the scary future police are chasing them in their solar driven hover pods.  But as well as knowing how much in love they are, I'd like to know how the pods hover and what happens if they run out of solar power.  And I think a lot of girls would too ...

This is how I think I would have answered, but do you agree with teen-me?  Are you a girl who wants more 'hi-tech' in your stories, or a boy who likes the romantic relationships?  Or do you think that young-Julienne doesn't know what he's talking about?

Readers and Writers of YA fiction, tell me I'm right
... or tell me I'm wrong!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Slated Book Bloggers! Be afraid, be very afraid...

by Teri Terry

Slated: the Launch! In London,
(Waterstones Islington)
Slated launched on 3rd May of this year in the UK. Before and after, I've been SO very fortunate to have amazing book bloggers and reviewers take the time to read and say what they think about it.

I wanted to say thank-you, but how....?

The day before my book launched, writing friends Candy Gourlay and Jo Wyton launched a surprise Facebook mass Slating of friends - as reported in a Notes from the Slushpile blog, here. And it went a bit nuts: Slated friend's faces took over my page.

Then, a few weeks ago: a light bulb moment!
I emailed book bloggers all over the world who reviewed Slated, interviewed me, or both, looking for those who were brave enough, had just enough sense of adventure, enough of a crazy streak, to be Slated.

And here they are: thanks, guys! In date order of appearance on the web.

A word of caution: Slating is an interesting technique. Lorders would have us believe they know exactly what they are doing, that it is one size fits all. Yet results can be unpredictable. Especially when I am the surgeon. Mwahahahahahaha....

Kerrie and Kim, of Two Girls and a Novel:
Kim reviewed Slated on 28th April, here.

Tracy's review of Slated went up on her blog on 30th April, here. But it was actually the very first review of Slated I ever saw - she had an advance-advance last year - so it is very special to me
(author confession: I actually cried when I read it).

M, of We Sat Down
M reviewed Slated on 2nd May, here (this photo is from when she was just a little younger!)

Stephanie of Steph Likes Books:
Steph reviewed Slated on launch day! 3rd of May, here.  

Vicki, of ComaCalm's Corner
Vicki reviewed Slated on 4th of May, here

Kirsty, of Overflowing Library
Kirsty reviewed Slated on 4th of May, here. She also printed extracts of Slated in the lead up to publication.

Evie, of Bookish:
Evie reviewed Slated on 4th May and had a giveaway, here.

Misty, The Book Rat:
Misty interviewed me, here and reviewed Slated, here, on 9th of May

Stephanie, of Ramblings of a Readaholic:
Stephanie - also a bookseller at the by-all-accounts amazing Seven Stories in Newcastle that I'm dying to visit - reviewed Slated on May 21, here.

Kayla reviewed Slated on 1st June, here.

Nicole Burstein, from The Reluctant Hypersomniac
Nicole reviewed Slated on 15th of June, here.

Hannah, The Girl in the Cafe
Interview on June 21, here.

And..... just because he is SOOOOO scary -
my fellow Demention blogger, Julienne Durber.

Special thanks: to author Jo Wyton for coming up with this crazy idea in the first place:
Always be nervous of those with the sweetest smiles....
 ...and to author Candy Gourlay, for running with it, and also for the crash course in Photoshop so I could Slate bloggers myself!
Candy & Me, at the Slated book launch! Looking a bit more sane, than Slated by Candy, here:

A final warning: don't try this at home, like author Chris Priestley. DIY Slating could lead to this -

Sorry if I missed anyone! 
BUT it's not too late. This was so much fun, I may like to do it again. Contact me - either here on the Demention contact form, or by Twitter or Facebook. There may be a round 2...

So... who is your favourite Slated Blogger? Let us know!