Thursday 6 April 2017

The State of the Rosie

What am I writing?
Still working away on the gay Victorian gothic YA. This month, I have mainly been making things painfully awkward for my main character, and also editing back in a previously-written scene involving vampires. 

BECAUSE VAMPIRES (c) Francis Ford Coppola

Survivors: The Exile's Journey is out on June the 26th! Storm, the beleaguered but heroic Fierce Dog has left her Pack in search of a better life, far from the judging eyes of her friends and the evil deeds of the Bad Dog - but as she travels further from the Pack, she finds herself coming closer to the truth...

What have I written?

I'm one of seven (!) writers who write under the pen name Erin Hunter. My first Erin book is Survivors: Dead Of Night.

My first novel Skulk, another YA urban fantasy, won a place in Undiscovered Voices 2012 and came out in October 2013 from Strange Chemistry. 

I've also written packaged books for Usborne (Secret Ninja Spies), Hot Key Books (The Last Apprentice), Little, Brown (Demon Hunters) and HarperCollins (but it's a secret).

Gif of the month?

What am I singing?
On Sunday the 30th of June in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and the piece that musically inspired it, Stravinsky's Les Noces.

There's another secret project in my future that I predict being able to talk about in... about 2020... 

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Don't say the Z word: pacing and exposition

It can be tricky to keep track of what your characters know, what the reader knows, and what information needs to be given to who by who at what point in the story.

I love a bit of dramatic irony. Any time I can show the reader that the character is going into a situation without all of the information they need, that makes me happy deep in my slightly evil writer's soul. One character witnesses a thing that means the other character's plans are doomed to fail unless the last minute message can get through? Sign. Me. Up.

She knows! But she doesn't know that he knows she knows! (c) NBC/Bryan Fuller
But it's hard to pull those moments off in prose. (It's a lot easier in visual media, where there's inevitably a certain amount going on in any given frame that the viewer knows and the characters don't.)

There's plenty of writerly advice about exposition and how not to do it - google 'infodump' and 'as you know bob' for some perennial favourites. But here are three examples that have been bugging me recently.

I can't tell you that. Why not? Er...
Jake knows that Terry loves yoghurt. Jake finds out that yoghurt is going to be banned in the state of New York, but doesn't tell Terry. Even when Terry mentions how happy he is that he'll always be able to buy yoghurt, Jake doesn't say anything.

How does that make the reader feel about Jake?

Pretty much like this (c) Brooklyn Nine Nine
If you want a character to withhold information, they had better have a really good reason for doing that, and most importantly, you had better communicate that to the reader somehow. They don't need to know all the details, but they have to be able to pick up on the subtext that's stopping Jake giving his friend the information that he needs.

Perhaps Terry says something like 'man, if anyone told me I couldn't have yoghurt any more, I'd break his neck' and Jake replies 'no doubt no doubt' and then runs out of the room - Jake is still a bad friend, but it's because he's a coward, which is understandable even if it's not likeable.

Whereas if you don't put in some kind of acknowledgement, it just seems like you either forgot that Jake had that information, or - which is worse - decided that he couldn't say anything because you want Terry not to know it until later, and hoped nobody would notice.

Yoghurt aside, this tends to apply especially to secondary characters who are supposed to be wise or in positions of power, your kings and wizards. If they have vital information about how to defeat the dark lord, you might want to consider having them tell somebody about it - perhaps this hero who has come riding by, asking for dark lord defeating tips? If they keep schtum and then rock up at the hero's darkest hour saying 'by the way, the dark lord's weakness is his little finger - I knew that all along, just needed to double check you were worthy before I told you', you might have a small plot problem.

I've just seen a unicorn, but never mind that - what's for lunch?

Whether it's urban, space, epic or nostalgic, pretty much all fantasy writers have to deal with how their character reacts when they come across something that doesn't fit into their understanding of the world.

Sometimes, there's no time to dwell - they're in the adventure now, and there's no turning back. Protagonists like Alice can take Wonderland in their stride, because they've crossed the threshold into another world, and no amount of logic will change the fact that you've eaten a cake and now you're huge and being poked with a stick by a toad in a waistcoat.

'Seriously, which part of this would you like me to question first?' (C) Carroll/Tenniel
But sometimes you want to present your hero with a little teaser of the weirdness to come, or you need your protagonist to go on living their normal life around the developing strangeness. When it's handled poorly, you can get situations where the character gets a mystical vision, or is briefly transported to another world, or sees a unicorn cantering down the high street... and goes on as if nothing strange has happened at all.

There are ways around it, and I've used some of them, and not always the particularly clever ones either. People are very good at disbelieving the evidence of their own eyes, you just have to make sure they're doing it for a reason that makes sense. Perhaps Will already has incredibly vivid dreams, or terrible insomnia (or is taking some kind of substance if it's not a children's book). Maybe Ruth knows that as a teenage girl in Salem, admitting to anyone that she did magic in the woods last night is not a good survival plan. Maybe Meg just doesn't have anyone in her life she would want to tell that she turned into a fox...

One book that I think handles this brilliantly is Paul Cornell's London Falling - four different characters have weirdness thrust upon them, and they each handle it differently, each one relating it to their specific character traits and experiences. Having a group of protagonists whose experiences illuminate their similarities and differences, who can confide and check in with each other about what's happening is a genius move.

Walkers, Walkers everywhere and not a brain to eat
This is where the Z word comes into it. There's a whole TV Tropes page about this one.

The problem with 'genre' fiction is that about 5 times out of 10, the reader knows roughly what to expect from the plot before the characters do.

Even if a zombie story manages to convince you that it's set in a world that's exactly like ours except that none of the characters know what a zombie is, you still know exactly what's going on. The heroes can't help it, but they will seem slow on the uptake if it takes them a long time to figure out that the strangely dead-looking people shuffling towards them with grasping hands and drooling lips are undead, hungry and not just looking for a hug.

A classic exception to the rule - Shaun of the Dead plays this trope for laughs and pulls it off magnificently. (C) Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright
Look at your book. It doesn't matter whether it's finished and sold to a publisher or not, think of it as a publishable object for a minute. Imagine your ideal cover. Now imagine your worst nightmare cover, because let's be honest, it's best to be prepared.

Is there a 98% chance your book is going to have a bloody great dragon on the cover? Is your blurb inevitably going to include a phrase like 'But when Sophia's uncle is kidnapped by fairies, she must...'? When readers pick up your book, do they already know that there's going to be magic going on inside, and do they have a pretty good idea of how that magic operates?

If they do, that's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, if you say there is a dragon, the reader might not know exactly how your dragons function in your world but they'll have an instant thumbnail idea of what you're talking about, which means you can either save on the expositional legwork or get your subversion on.

The first Triwizard task is a secret and a mystery! I wonder what it could possibly be! (c) JK Rowling, awesome cover art by Kazu Kibuishi, Jonny Duddle and Giles Greenfield respectively

But, it does mean there's not much point trying to go for the 'surprise' magic reveal late on in the book (which, to be fair, JK Rowling doesn't - it's not really a surprise that there are dragons, because there have been dragons in the series before, it's finding out when Harry's going to encounter one that is the fun part). There's pacing out your story so the character isn't given more than she can handle, and then there's dragging things out so much that the reader loses patience with the story.

Suspension of disbelief is for things, not people.

That's probably a debatable statement, but for me, a book can succeed or completely fail on whether I believe that the characters would act the way they do. You can throw as many plot twists and fantasy elements at them as you like, but if Jake doesn't mention the yoghurt ban, you're in real trouble!

Thursday 4 August 2016

Demon Hunting with Little Brown

It's cryptic reveal time once again as I am massively proud to announce that I am Spartacus Erin Hunter OLIVIA CHASE, author of Demon Hunters: Trinity. And the book comes out IN ONE MONTH'S TIME!

Blurb time:

For fans of Cassandra Clare, this kick-ass new series will keep you on the edge of your seat . . .
With an occult detective for a dad, Diana's normal life has never been too normal. Uprooted by investigations, she finds herself on a long train journey to Edinburgh, sitting next to a boy who makes her heart melt. Or something melt. Anyway, she's melting. Maybe a new life in Scotland won't be so bad, after all?
But when Di's recurring nightmares start to come true, her destiny changes for ever. After her dad goes missing, she becomes part of a Trinity of Demon Hunters. Along with her two new friends, she needs to face down death, rescue her dad and save their city. Because that's what Demon Hunters do, right?
There's only one question left to answer: how do you kill a dead man?

This book has everything, if by 'everything' you mean action, sarcasm, moths, great female characters and the odd severed head.

Olivia is an amalgam of myself and the fantastically twisted editors at Little, Brown Young Readers. We've been working on Trinity and its sequel together and it's been a huge blast. I can't wait to unleash Diana and her demon hunting friends on the world!

RuPaul is excited too. RuPaul would want you to buy this book. (Statement not endorsed by RuPaul) (Yet)
Trinity comes out on September the 8th. You can pre-order it at all the usual places (Amazon! Hive! Your local bookshop!) and it's on Netgalley for you bloggers and reviewers. And there's some cool stuff coming in the next month so look out on Twitter for that (@rosiejbest and @LBkidsUK).


Friday 17 June 2016

Things and Stuff #24

Things and Stuff is a grab-bag of things that've been on my mind this week. In this edition: tragedy, singings, shadow, Tony, deadline

Thing 1: I just can't.

There's a lot gone on this week. The shooting at Pulse in Orlando, and the huge outpouring of grief and solidarity from LGBTQIA people and straights alike. The death of MP Jo Cox. The enduring arsehattery of Donald Trump. The ridiculous Brexit flotilla and the almost as ridiculous Geldof rebuttal boat. Farage's 'Breaking Point' poster, the one that echoes actual, literal Nazi propaganda.

It is... vexing. I am vexed. That is a dramatic understatement.

I could probably have made a Things and Stuff just about this, but I'm not going to. Because life, when it goes on, continues to go on. 

I will say that I've already posted my vote for the EU Referendum, because I'll be away with choir on Thursday (of which, more below). I've voted Remain, for a variety of reasons, partly having to do with ideological opposition to meaningless nationalism and the demonisation of immigrants, partly because I just don't see what possible practical benefit leaving would have. So there's my political statement for this week.

Thing 2: Many Singings
Communal singing boosts your oxytocin levels, according to some research I heard about once and can't be bothered to google because it sounds legit. I'm glad I'm doing a lot of it at the moment. Tired, but glad.

This is really exciting! Morricone himself will be there conducting, the music is to die for and the setting should be fabulous... even more so if it doesn't pour with rain. 

Fun, bizarre, challenging stuff from composer Lera Auerbach. It is definitely peculiar and hopefully should be as much fun to listen to as to sing. Including the bit with the Donald Trump reference. Yes, really... sort of. 

pretty (c) CEFC/John Bradfield

Singing 3 - Reflections
A mixed concert of lovely stuff in St James' Picadilly. Including Eric Whitacre's Water Night, Stanford's The Blue Bird, and Man In The Mirror. Yes, that one.

Thing 3: shadow cat
This is Midnight. He is a black hole masquerading as a cat. This is the first time he's been seen using the kitty seat for sitting in. It's very exciting. He may actually be learning how to cat.

Media preview
Also pictured, his sister's white back paw and not any of the rest of her because again, black hole cat. (c) me
Thing 4: Tony, Tony
Hamilton won 11 Tony Awards, and the opening number was amazing, and... well, it gave me some not entirely pleasant feelings about the actual achievability of the dream of performing and then some feelings that I probably ought to put those feelings aside and enjoy the **magic of broadway** because it really was very awesome, and then I went away and wrote half a scene from the drag queen book I'm not supposed to be writing because I am the worst. (One of them loves musicals. A LOT. I'm definitely going to need to brush up on my song quote copyright law before I actually write this book.)

Also, this pair of speeches. Good god, Lin-Manuel, you precious angel cupcake, what is your face.

You call Tommy Kail and you say what's next? (c) Tony Awards

Now fill the world with music, love and oh god nope I can't even type this without tearing up (c) Tony Awards

Thing 5: Weekend Warrior
One more dawn. One more day. One deadline more. (For the moment.)

Gif possibly may not be accurate come Sunday night but hopefully (c) Friends

Tuesday 7 June 2016

New Erin, Who This?

It's here! Publication day for Dead of Night, book two of Survivors: The Gathering Darkness by Erin Hunter - written by yours truly!

This was the cryptic clue for Survivors! It's a golden deer, because there's a golden deer in it... (c)
I finished the book this time last year so this reveal has been a looooooong time coming!

For any readers who might be here from Twitter or Google or the Meet Erin Hunter page (where I am! Look it's me!) here are some FAQs:

Who are you?

I'm a writer and editor professionally, and a singer, gamer and all round general nerd in my spare time. I have three cats, Misty, Midnight and Imp. I live with my girlfriend in a little house on the edge of Cambridge. 

It me! And Imp! (c) me
How did you start writing Survivors?

I've actually worked on the Erin series in some capacity or other for nearly ten years, starting out by helping Vicky out with the Warriors fanmail! I've been an editor on Survivors since the beginning. 

I got involved with writing when we realised that Inbali Iserles wouldn't be able to write for the second series of Survivors (she was super busy with a baby on the way as well as launching her own wonderful fox fantasy series, Foxcraft!). Having helped create the first series with Gillian, Inbali and my fellow editors, I knew the characters and the mythology really well, so HarperCollins decided to give me a chance. 

I am so happy that they did. I absolutely love this series, and it's a thrill being trusted to come on board at a moment of such high drama - I won't spoil it for readers who may not have read A Pack Divided yet, but the darkness is well and truly gathering. 

What's it like working with the other Survivors Erins?

It's awesome. I love Gillian and Inbali's writing - I was Gillian's editor on Mysteries of Ravenstorm Island too, we had a lot of fun on that one - and the whole editorial team are seriously clever people with seriously cool ideas.

Favourite Survivors character?

It has to be Sunshine. I love Storm very much (and Bella, Sweet, Martha, Mickey, Twitch, Arrow and Daisy, to name a small selection of my faves) but Sunshine is the dog who stole my heart. I just love her enthusiasm and the way she's gone from a slightly annoying character and a bit of a burden on the Pack to a dog who not only has a role to play but brings dignity and joy to being the lowest ranked dog in the Pack.

Is that really Whisper on the cover of Dead of Night?
Yep. He plays a pretty major role in the book so we thought, why not? The others are Rake, Twitch and obviously Storm. Whisper is a mongrel but he looks like there's a lot of blue heeler in his background. I think he's gorgeous! Poor Whisper... 

Who's the traitor?!
That's a cheeky question and I like having secrets. (c) ITV
Which Survivors books are you writing?
I'm writing The Gathering Darkness books 2 and 5 and Gillian is doing 1, 3, 4 and 6. 

What other books have you written?
My first novel published under my own name was Skulk - a dark YA urban fantasy about a girl who gets the power to shapeshift into a fox. 

For younger readers, I've also written two middle grade trilogies for fiction packagers, writing under pseudonyms. Secret Ninja Spies (as 'Alex Ko'), is a funny action series about a pair of twins who discover their Japanese grandmother is secretly a ninja, and The Last Apprentice (as 'Imogen Rossi') is a fantasy adventure about a girl who uses magic painting techniques to travel between pictures and solve the mystery of her master's poisoning.

Friday 6 May 2016

Things and Stuff #23

Things and Stuff is a grab-bag of things that've been on my mind this week. In this edition: KITTEN, countdowns, tombs, drag, uncivil

Thing 1: Imp
We got a new kitten! She was sort of a last minute decision, so her full name is Impulse Kitten. It suits her. I am covered in tiny scars and have taken an imperial crapton of photos. Here are some of the highlights...

She is beautiful, fearless, quite bitey, and clearly going to rule the household as soon as she's introduced to the Traumakitties, which should be this weekend. She likes to climb my legs and eat my hair. Her favourite place to sit is on top of my keyboard. In general... yes, it is definitely a kitten.

Thing 2: Are you ready for this? (You couldn't possibly know if you are, because I'm not gonna tell you what it is.)

I get to do a BIG news reveal at the end of May. This is news I've been sitting on for more than a year now. It's very exciting. I'm allowed to say the following:

  • It's about a book
  • I've already written the book
  • I've already seen the cover of the book and it's amazing

Me (c) I Love Lucy

I had to get a new photo done and everything. This is happening, people.

Thing 3: The Tombs of Atuan

Jessie and I are reading Ursula leGuin's Earthsea books out loud to each other. It's a fun way to read a book with two people, and I hadn't read them before so it's new and exciting territory for me.

So far, we've had A Wizard of Earthsea and about half of The Tombs of Atuan (so no spoilers for this 46-year-old classic please...). I have to say, I can see why Earthsea is considered a classic and a must-read, but it didn't grip my imagination the way Tombs has.

Bloody hell, I love this book. I love Arha, I love the worldbuilding around the Place and the Labyrinth. There's something about actually delving into what it's like to be the high priestess of the dark gods that is strangely unusual and exactly the thing I want to read. It's a young adult woman coming of age story that's quite resonant and weirdly realistic, without any of that tedious real world nonsense. This book is so far up my street it's practically inside my living room.

Thing 4: Deadlines and drag queens

I'm really busy, and a bit late, and have several more deadlines lined up after this one, and generally do not have time for a brand new novel idea involving drag queens, but sure enough that is what has elbowed its way into my brain and taken up residence in the last few weeks. Sashay away for now, honey. Your time will come.

Also me (c) Eddie Izzard

Thing 5: The Ballad of Captain America's Disapproving Face

Civil War is brilliant and I loved it. I accidentally went to see it in a triple-bill screening of all three Cap movies, which is highly recommended and made it even better although I think I haven't actually recouped those hours of sleep yet.

It turns out somebody already wrote the perfect theme tune to the movie, though, and this is it:

Friday 15 April 2016

Things and Stuff #22

Things and Stuff is a grab-bag of things that've been on my mind this week. In this edition: comics, Wembley, Eden, pods, eyeballs

This is going to be a fairly quick one.

Thing 1: Rat Planet

I finally read two awesome comics I've been meaning to get to for ages - Rat Queens and Bitch Planet. They are both great. Rat Queens is funny, filthy, bloody fantasy about a gang of rowdy adventurers battling trolls and trying to find out who framed them. Bitch Planet is a sci-fi dystopia about the prison planet where women are sent when they commit 'crimes' that are non-compliant with the ruling patriarchy. Both of them are NSFW and feminist and diverse. Bitch Planet particularly made me fall off my chair with horrified glee. It's not subtle, but that's kind of its charm. It takes real world sexism that we're all deeply familiar with, dials it up to 100 and throws a giant lampshade on it.

One of the more SFW bits (c) Image Comics and Kelly Sue DeConnick
It is the horrifying patriarchal dystopia of my heart. If you only read one horrifying patriarchal dystopia this year, make it this one.

Thing 2: Hello Wembley, goodbye Birmingham
I've done my Hans Zimmer gigs. They were freaking amazing.

Until they take the videos down (and they seem to be far more tolerant this time than last time actually), you can see quite a bit of it by plugging 'Hans Zimmer Live' into Youtube or Instagram. I particularly recommend Interstellar and the Lion King! I didn't know the Interstellar music at all before we started rehearsing for this and now wow, that ending, I, wow.

Anyway, here is our sort of signature moment, a Crimson Tide medley that turns into the fiendishly hard and a+ perfectly named 160 BPM from Angels and Demons.

Sadly, my last Zimmer Live gig was the one in Birmingham on Tuesday. Happily, I'm going to have plenty more fun weird choir stuff for these posts in the next few months.

Speaking of which...

Thing 3: Rowing in Eden
The next actual CEFC concert with the full 100-strong choir which we've been working up to for months and months is finally here! It's on Monday the 18th in the Barbican Centre at 7:30pm.

Also, bloody hell, look at this stunning thing, I kind of want this image framed to hang on my wall (c) CEFC

If you are in London, you should come. We're doing Poulenc's Gloria, which is fun and weirdly cheeky for a piece of classical music (one movement was inspired by monks playing football...), Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music which is gorgeous, and John Adams' Harmonium which is utterly amazing and strange and knocks 160 BPM into next week in terms of heart-pounding difficulty.

Thing 4: Bangity Bang, Hello to Jason Isaacs, Shut Up Phone, It's Just Us Here, What's Next?
I love the Cornell Collective.

Actually, I love podcasts in general. I have a real podcast problem: when I subscribe to a new podcast I like to listen to all of it. When it's something like the Nerdist, which seems to put out an episode every day and stretches back into the depths of history (like, 2010) this is a real problem. I've been working my way through the back-catalogue of the Pharos Project (Doctor Who and dirty jokes), What's The T with Ru Paul (drag, life and dirty jokes) and The Indoor Kids (video games and... wow lots of these podcasts are really filthy). Plus I'm obviously keeping up to date with the vital ones, your Wittertainments and Empire Movie Podcasts and Adam Buxtons and Answer Me Thises and West Wing Weeklys (Josh Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway rewatch and review the West Wing one episode at a time. No massively dirty jokes yet, but they're only on episode four, there's still time.)

The only drawback to my massive podcast habit is a) that there are so many more I will probably never get to (Song Exploder, The Black Tapes, even Serial, they're on the list, I just haven't had the chance), and b) that if I hear another advert for Squarespace I think I might rip my own ears off and feed them to the nearest podcaster. (Not that I am not very grateful to all the advertisers for providing me with more free quality entertainment than I could ever possibly cram into my brain, but... seriously.)

ANYWAY - this was meant to be a fairly simple rec entry, so let's just say one of the good things about the Cornell Collective, Paul Cornell's wonderful geeky creator podcast is that it's monthly and has been going for less than a year so it's possible to catch up. Also, it's wonderful! And geeky! And stars creators from the worlds of TV, film and comics, talking about geeky things and usually some Doctor Who! If you like these things, you should listen to it.

Here you go:

Thing 5: [Eyeball squick warning]

Jessie tore her cornea last weekend. It was awful. She's much better now, and I know where my local A+E is and how to get there, so that's a tiny silver lining. Just a word of advice, for anyone who is thinking of getting hit in the face with a tree branch and tearing their cornea: don't.

The State of the Rosie

What am I writing? Still working away on the gay Victorian gothic YA. This month, I have mainly been making things painfully awkward for my...