Looking Back, Holiday Nostalgia

I received a few books for Christmas and it made me think about how much I love reading. Which is funny, though, because when I look back there didn’t seem to be much YA in my library until about a year and a half ago. I basically skipped from Nancy Drew to Len Deighton and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. (By the way, last week it was the 50th anniversary of the publication of One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch. If you haven’t read it, it’s about an innocent man surviving in a Soviet gulag and it’s powerful, dystopian and uplifting. It was the first work of fiction to criticise Stalin and is credited with helping to lead to the fall of the Soviet Union – which isn’t bad for a short novel. It floored me when I was about 15.)

I read that, and The Ipcress File, and Jane Eyre, which I have recently tried to re-read and found tedious beyond belief, but at the time I found gripping and darkly sexy, and Jackie Collins (brilliantly plotted, great characters, very educational, in a 70s Fifty Shades kind of way), and George Eliot (I was passionate about Middlemarch – I still have my highly annotated copy), and Henry James. (more…)

School Days Theme Week: Boarding School Stories

Who would have thought teens would still read British girls’ boarding-school stories in the 21stcentury? I suppose this topic came to be because my niece is home from boarding school and I was going through her books. Outside of my small group, though, who’d would want to read about a plucky new girl scoring the winning goal in lacrosse when there are powerful wizards, alluring vampires and enterprising undercover spies out there on the bookshelves, fictitious teenagers saving much more interesting and dangerous worlds?

Well, plenty of readers, it seems, because the British girls’ boarding-school novel made a surprising comeback from 2007, beginning with Sara Lawrence’s High Jinx. Carmen Reid’s St Jude’s series about Gina Peterson and her friends began in 2008 and numbers six books to date. The Saffina Desforges writing team (which included two teenagers) released the entertaining St Mallory’s Forever! earlier this year.
So what are the main differences between the classic British girls’ boarding-school stories of the past and the ones that are being written now?

Boys are in them
Today’s fictional boarding-school girls have relationships. They meet hot boys in town on Saturdays and smuggle them into parties at school. Chastity Maxwell in High Jinx even ‘shags the handyman’ in the sixth-form boarding-house.
They’re not all into boys, of course. Some of them date girls. Today’s fictional lesbian schoolgirls are out and proud – you don’t have to read between the lines as you did with the Chalet School back in the day.

Heroines have issues
They might look and read like chick lit for teenage girls, but contemporary British girls’ boarding-school stories cover some serious issues. What’s it like to have your dad come out as gay or have his business empire suddenly collapse, as happens to Amy in the St Jude’s books. How do you deal with parental pressure to do well at school? How do you handle going to a boarding-school where your mum is one of the teachers? What happens when a jealous rival sends a photo of you partying to your strict Muslim father?

Swearing, smoking, drinking…and careers
OMG! The use of slang was a problem for the teachers at the Chalet School. They’d go nuts if they heard the language of fictional schoolgirls today. Not only that, but the girls sneak out to smoke (and not always cigarettes…) and smuggle booze into the dorm. But for all the partying, the girls have high expectations of themselves. Even the seemingly dizziest ones are serious about becoming a lawyer.

And what’s the same?
Well, it is the boarding-school genre and some things never change. Getting the lead role in the school play remains of vital importance. As does scoring the winning goal for your school on the sports field. Practical jokes still abound too – especially at St Jude’s, where irrepressible Niffy follows in the footsteps of pranksters like Alicia and Bobby from Malory Towers and St Clare’s. The midnight feasts may have gone, but there are plenty of other illicit goings on when the clock strikes twelve…
The most important similarity though is the friendships. Girls like Jinx, Gina and Helen are as loyal to their besties as Darrell, Joey and Dimsie ever were. Living together 24/7 brings them close together; they become family to each other, and support each other through work woes, parental break-up, body image struggles…and, of course, those broken hearts.
There may not be opportunities to learn about potions or surveillance, but there are worse places for teenage characters to spend the best years of their lives.

More Self Conscious Drivel

I’m not sure I’m the best person to be giving out tips – my only qualification for writing YA is being a mother of teenagers (and of course having been a Young Adult myself, back in pre-history). I’ve not studied the genre, written a learned thesis, or spent a lifetime selling books into the market.

My success has been based on the fact that I wrote for one reader – one very well defined, curious and intelligent twelve year old – my daughter Ellie, and unconsciously these were the rules I set for myself.

Tip 1. Know your reader. As I planned my first book, and then later, as I wrote it, at every point I was asking myself “What would Ellie think about this? Would she believe it? Would she behave this way? Is this boy someone she would fancy?” When I wasn’t sure I would ask her (sometimes in a rather roundabout fashion because she didn’t know what I was doing) and listen to her answers. The result (according to my publisher) was a really strong voice, and that makes the book more believable. (more…)

Painting w/ Words

I became excited to write, but then I sat down to write my post and was like “what am I even doing?” I CAN’T WRITE A blog because a) I am boring, b) who cares what I think?! and c) what exactly would I write about anyway? Most people have already written about what needs to be written about, do I really have anything to add? I wanted to do something original, but there’s was nothing I could think of. So I thought, hey, let’s start at the beginning.

I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. And it was always contemporary. Always contemporary that stole me from my family, my friends, and took me places I ached to see. A lot of people think there’s “no point of contemporary” (and that is a direct quote from a Stupid Person I know) but personally, I think they are stupid. Sorry, but it’s true.

“Why would we want to read about Real Life when we are in Real Life?” I hear you ask. It’s simple. Contemporary deals with things people face, have faced, and will face every day: going to school; fitting in; dealing with issues such as body image, sex and drugs; growing up. You would not believe how much I’ve learnt about some of these things just from YA novels. We don’t all experience the same things in life, but we should know about them.

In my opinion, YA contemporary fiction is essential. It’s kind of like, the basics. Before vampires and werewolves and magical powers, there was Real Life. I personally feel that people sometimes forget that. I’m not telling you what to read or that the fact that you don’t read contemporary is bad and I’m not saying you shouldn’t be drooling over the next fantasy/dystopian/paranormal romance. I’m just saying that you should appreciate contemporary MORE. I always feel like contemp is the one sub-genre which people don’t think is exciting enough. Everywhere, there’s kids reading The Hunger Games, or Twilight or Harry Potter, and THAT IS NOT BAD. I just wish sometimes I saw people, ordinary people reading John Green, or Sarah Dessen.

So to get you started on what I shall call ‘the road less taken’, here are some of my favourite contemporary books, the ones I think that everyone *has* to read…


How I started This Blog & Some Funny YA

I started my old book blog with a focus on paranormal and supernatural reads.  mainly because that was all I was reading at the time and it was kinda the fashion so you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a book that had a vampire/werewolf/zombie/angel/etc as part of the story and most likely the love interest.  I still love these stories but it’s like eating the same meal for your whole life; no matter how much you love it, it WILL get boring.
Over the last year or so I’ve been on a real contemporary YA kick and am desperate for more realistic stories with MCs I can believe in and most of all (and the theme of my post today) make me laugh.  There just aren’t enough funny stories out there in the big wide world.  Yes; I admit that i haven’t read all the books on the market and there’s probably a lot of funny books out there but I want more.  Nothing is better than a good story that makes me laugh and has a bit of heart to it.  Most of my top reads have been just like this and I’ve been on a bit of mission to champion a few…..some of you may have noticed a few shout outs on my twitter and blog.
So here are a few YA’s that have really hit my funny bone in the right fashion and why they’re a fab read in their own right.  Have a giggle if you please! I thought this would be a nice way to start the blog off 🙂



So, it’s Thanksgiving evening. I’m enjoying a very nicely-earned turkey coma. My brother-in-law has some show about a duck dynasty on the television and I can’t believe how redneck my family is becoming. Or, is it just that we live in an area where talking about deer ruts is so common place that I’ve desensitized myself.

downloadIt’s kind of that way with writing, too. Sometimes, it’s easy to get desensitized by your dreams and forget that you have to, you know, produce something.

Let me tell you, I have Dreams. I’m working on my third YA novel right now, about a military school and secret societies. I’m revising my second. My fourth is in the planning stages. All YA. All contemporary. All super-angsty, like that little 15-year old girl inside me whose never really grown up or gotten over anything that happened to me back in high school.

But to make this dream become a reality, I’ve got to let go of the dreams while striving for them all the same. In order to get with those other greats, I’ve got to suck it up and move past the dream. I’ve got to work.