Book Review – Out Of The Blue by Sophie Cameron

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron

THE BLURB

Sometimes, I imagine alternate endings to the story: last-minute miracles, touches of magic. I picture how things might have gone, if I wasn’t there. If I’d left just a few minutes later. If I hadn’t been alone. It doesn’t make any difference. One way or another, the crash always comes.

Ten days after Jaya Mackenzie’s mum dies, angels start falling from the sky. Smashing down to earth at extraordinary speeds, wings bent, faces contorted, not a single one has survived.

Hysteria mounting with every Being that drops, Jaya’s father uproots the family to Edinburgh intent on catching one alive. But Jaya can’t stand this obsession and, struggling to make sense of her mother’s sudden death and her own role on that fateful day, she’s determined to stay out of it.

When her best friend disappears and her father’s mania spirals, things hit rock bottom and it’s at that moment something extraordinary happens: An angel lands right at Jaya’s feet, and it’s alive. Finally she is forced to acknowledge just how significant these celestial beings are.

Set against the backdrop of the frenzied Edinburgh festival, OUT OF THE BLUE tackles questions of grief and guilt and fear over who we really are. But it’s also about love and acceptance and finding your place in this world as angels drop out of another.

MY OWN THOUGHTS

This book has a hugely compelling hook and is beautifully written. Although at first sight it is a book about Beings falling from the sky and the world going mad in the search for angels, it is at its heart a tender book about love and grief. Jaya is a great main character and is brilliantly drawn, as are the other characters around her who are all battling their own issues at the same time. I found I could visualise each scene and I tore through it as I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end. A refreshingly different read for all fans of YA.

***** – FIVE STARS

Advertisements

2018 So Far…

So that’s us a quarter of the way through the year already and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I started the year holding my breath waiting to find out the results of The Bath Children’s Novel Award, having had my YA novel, Sixteen Again, longlisted in this at the tail end of last year. You can see the full longlist announcement here: – https://bathnovelaward.co.uk/2017/12/05/2017-longlist-announcement/

I was lucky enough to attract some interest from agents and publishers off the back of this and a subsequent #PitMad Twitter pitch, so I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed.

In January our South East Scotland #SCBWI network hosted a fabulous ‘Time To Write’ workshop with Undiscovered Voices winner, Peta Freestone (@DrPetaFreestone) where we focussed on how to prioritise our writing, plus we have lots of other fantastic SCBWI events lined up for the rest of the year (including a re-scheduled Scrivener event to be led by Caroline Deacon @writingdilemmas, which was a casualty of The Beast From The East).

Then it was on to our February Chasing Time Writing Retreat, this time focusing on editing and making your words sing on the page. The retreat was full and we had a great bunch of people attend, which made it hugely enjoyable.

Our current retreat programme is available on our website, including specialised full day retreats for the first time. We are now also offering an extensive list of writers’ services, if this is something that may be of interest… https://chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com/writing-services/

This week I’m just back from the annual Scottish Association of Writers conference held at The Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld. This was my fourth year and I’ve been lucky enough to maintain my record of being placed in the competitions they run each year, as well as being a previous winner of the T.C. Farries award in the children’s novel category. This year’s highlights included being awarded a highly commended in the YA category by novelist Claire McFall @mcfall_claire, attending workshops run by her and the wonderful Lari Don @LariDonWriter, and my writing group, Angus Writers’ Circle (@AWCAngus ) sweeping the board in the poetry competition, which has never been achieved by any club before. We’re particularly proud of our own Chasing Timer, Sandra Ireland, who brought back the poetry trophy for the second consecutive year. We also enjoyed a keynote speech by the very funny Simon Brett.

After all that, I think I need a bit of a lie down. Or, even better, a way to stop getting distracted by social media so that I can crack on with my current WIP, another YA novel that weaves themes of bullying and broken homes with elements of Norse Mythology.

Happy writing everybody!

Book Review – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

ELEANOR OLIPHANT

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

THE BLURB

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a loner.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of a quirky yet lonely woman whose social misunderstandings and deeply ingrained routines could be changed forever—if she can bear to confront the secrets she has avoided all her life. But if she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.

MY OWN THOUGHTS

I loved this book! Eleanor leaps off the page and is so perfectly drawn, with all her idiosyncrasies. At times I laughed out loud and at other times I cringed, embarrassed on her behalf even if she herself didn’t care or understand. It was so interesting reading about somebody with such control, but at the same time such little self-awareness, and I loved how Raymond managed to gradually draw her out of herself.
This book is unique, powerful, insightful and, ultimately, unputdownable. I would highly recommend it.

***** – FIVE STARS

2017 – A Year In Review

As we come close to the end of 2017, I thought I would share some of my writing-related highlights in what has been a busy and eventful year. I hope your year has been a good one too, and I love reading about what everyone is up to.

In February I was lucky enough to visit Ruth Bennett at Stripes Publishing and have a tour of the offices, finished off by a chat about my upper Middle Grade book, Sunk!, which I was editing at the time. She was lovely and encouraging, and I was in my element surrounded by all those books and the whole publishing process.

This was followed in March by the annual Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference at the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld, which I attend with a contingent of Angus Writers’ Circle friends, and which is always a high point of my writing year. Thankfully I kept up my record of being placed in their competitions this year too.

Each month I also attended my SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) YA critique group in Edinburgh, as well as a number of  fab SCBWI workshops and seminars throughout the year. A major highlight however, had to be getting asked to become the joint co-ordinator for the South East Scotland network with the wonderful Sarah Broadley ( @sarahpbroadley ) and we’re really excited about all the plans we have lined up for the coming year.

August of course brings the Edinburgh International Book Festival and all the amazingness that entails, and I was lucky enough to manage to get through for quite a few different events this year.

Then September was a notable month for two fantastic reasons. The first of these was the official launch of our Chasing Time Writing Retreats with our inaugural retreat taking place over the last weekend of the month, which saw all of our plans and hopes come to fruition. It’s fantastic working with two such lovely fellow writers and hopefully in 2018 we’ll go from strength to strength. Our next retreat in February is already down to only one remaining space, which is so encouraging. Watch this space for further writers’  services and offerings coming soon…

It’s also gratifying that we’re starting to have our work recognised, especially Sandra‘s shortlisting for the Saltire Society Literary Awards First Book of the Year with #BeneathTheSkin and Dawn’s many journalistic achievements, as well as her signing up with a literary agent for her YA novel, which is currently out on submission. For myself, I am beyond thrilled that my own YA manuscript has been longlisted in The Bath Children’s Novel Award, and I have less than a week now to find out if it’s made the shortlist – eek!!

The other brilliant thing that happened in September was a Bronte field trip with three of my fellow ‘Novellers’ (we meet most months and exchange chapters and feedback for our current works in progress) to Haworth, where we were each lucky enough to write a line of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as part of artist Clare Twomey’s ( @CTwomeyStudio ) project to re-create the long lost manuscript.

Rounding off the year was a visit to Aberdeen for the launch of Granite Noir with a poisoned cocktail party – never trust writers!

Who knows what 2018 will bring, but I’m off to make some writing goals/resolutions (including blogging more regularly and updating my Goodreads page more often, as well as tackling a whole new manuscript, which is only at the very faint general idea stage in my mind at present). I hope you all have a happy, healthy and successful year and wish you all the best with your own writing goals.

 

Hello and Goodbye August! (And all the bookish things in between)

Well, August came and went pretty quickly, huh? But what a month it was. Between managing to get lots of writing done on my own YA novel, Sixteen Again, whilst on holiday, to coming home and launching straight into the fabulous Edinburgh Book Festival, then formalising lots of arrangements for our first Chasing Time Writing Retreat in Angus at the end of the month, it’s been all go.

The Edinburgh Book Festival has quickly become a highlight of my literary year, and this year I was lucky enough to include an overnight stay in Edinburgh and to attend lots of author events, as well as two SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) crit groups in the Spiegeltent. Special mention has also to be made of the Unbound evening on the 18th, where singer/songwriter Genevieve Dawson ( @gdawsonmusic ) and novelist Sarah Perry ( @_sarah_perry ) in particular were amazing. (Watch out for Sarah’s book coming out – the writing is beautiful and I was seriously holding back tears by the end).

It was also the first time that I had heard Matt Haig speak, and he had us all spellbound, even as it was touch and go at one point as to whether the Bosco Theatre venue would be blown away by the fierce winds outside. And of course, there was the sold out SCBWI event, The Great Gender Debate, with authors Jonathan Stroud, David Leviathan and Kathryn Evans, ably chaired by the South East Scotland SCBWI Coordinators, Sarah Broadley and Anita Gallo.

I even managed to squeeze in a visit to Blackwell’s Writers at the Fringe to support my lovely author friend, Sandra Ireland, who was one of five authors reading from their books. (Check out ‘Beneath the Skin’ by Sandra if you love a slice of gothic noir and fantastically well-written novels).

So that brings me smoothly on to the writing retreats that Sandra, Dawn Geddes and I are launching, with the first one being at the end of this month. It’s come round fast and we’re really looking forward to welcoming all our guests soon. The venue is superbly atmospheric and bound to inspire, and I might even be able to squeeze some more of my own writing in over the weekend too!

The Chasing Time team

For more information go to http://www.chasingtimescotland.wordpress.com/retreats

Hope your own writing/reading is going well too – bye for now.

My Newest Favourite Writing Nook

IMG_4417

I have just returned from our summer holidays where I was lucky enough to go on a cruise around Italy, France, Spain and Portugal (it was soooo hot!) I was looking forward to the break for obvious reasons, as well as perhaps one huge not so obvious one. Having cruised before, I know how much my two love going to the onboard kids’ club on days at sea and making new friends. It’s great seeing them happy and excited, but there’s an added bonus for me too. Metime. My husband is also happy to relax and do his own thing on these days, so it leaves me lots of time to write.

The ship only had its own library – #bliss

 

 

I managed to get more of my work in progress (Sixteen Again) written in those five days than I’ve achieved over the past month and a half of the school holidays, and it felt good to go old school and write longhand as well. Now I just need to type it up and see if any of it makes sense!

Hope your own writing is going well.

 

 

 

 

Chasing Time Writing Retreats

rosely for banner twitter new

As per Sandra’s post on her own website, which I shared here earlier this month, I have more exciting news about the launch of our tutored residential writing retreats.  Two writing friends and I have set up Chasing Time Writing Retreats in a beautiful and quirky Scottish country house, and are excited to share our passion for writing with others. The programme is now up and running and we have taken our first bookings.

Having been lucky enough to go on various writing retreats myself, I know how valuable it can be to escape the everyday routines and commitments you may have at home, and be able to concentrate solely on developing your writing. In Rosely Country House Hotel, Arbroath, we have found the perfect place to host our retreats, with its uniquely atmospheric setting sure to provide writing motivation around every corner.

If this is the sort of thing that appeals, why not click on the link below and check out the rest of our website? We’d love to see you there. 🙂

Source: Retreats

Scottish Association of Writers Annual Conference 2017

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m just back from this year’s Scottish Association of Writers Conference at The Westerwood Hotel (@TheWesterwoodQ) in Cumbernauld. And what another fantastic weekend it has been! The SAW Council work hard to put on such a great event and this year we had the biggest turn out from our writing group, @AWCAngus since I started attending a few years ago. It’s so good to be able to spend more time with friends and get to know each other better, as well as just generally soak up the buzz of being in the company of like-minded people. The icing on the cake is that we again came away with some prizes and placings in the various competitions that are adjudicated over the weekend, including top prizes of The Dorothy Dunbar Rose Bowl for poetry for our Club Secretary, Sandra Ireland (author of ‘Beneath The Skin’), and The Constable Silver Stag for a General Novel to Pam Turner.

Last year I was lucky enough to win the beautiful T.C. Farries trophy for a Children’s Novel, and it was with a certain reluctance that I found myself packing it up in order to pass the baton. However the consolation was that this year it was awarded to fellow Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI) member, Sheila Adamson, so it was a bit like keeping it in the family.

IMG_2881.JPG

Apart from the competitions and the social side, there are a number of fantastic SAW workshops to attend, and my favourite two of the weekend were run by YA authors Keith Gray and Victoria Gemmell (another fellow SCBWI). Thank you both for being so lovely and helping to turn it into such a special weekend once again. I was also able to attend an outside workshop run by editor and literary consultant, Claire Wingfield (www.clairewingfield.co.uk) and between the three of them, have left feeling inspired and keen to get back to my own work in progress.

Our keynote speaker was the very funny Helen Lederer who rounded off a brilliant conference.

If you would like to know more about Angus Writers’ Circle you can follow us on Twitter @AWCAngus, and I hope your own writing is going well.

 

 

 

 

SCBWI Conference & Harry Potter

15300488_1344683645565736_1530231718_n

A couple of weekends ago I travelled to Winchester for my first ever Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference and I’m still buzzing!

15301348_1344683718899062_1827784622_n

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be reporting on the various workshops and keynote speakers (once I’ve calmed down enough to be able to decipher my notes) and hope to share some of the useful tips and words of wisdom from what was a jam-packed weekend.

One highlight for me though has to be the Mass Book Launch Party on the Saturday night, where we were invited to dress up as one of our favourite book characters.  My first thought was perhaps Mary Poppins, but then the logistics of transporting the outfit, her bag and of course the famous parrot umbrella on an over eight hour train journey ruled that out.

Being a (Scottish) Harry Potter fan, my next option was very obvious.  Who else could I choose but Professor Minerva McGonagall?  As it turned out, I was in very good company as Harry himself was there, along with a couple of Luna Lovegoods, Professor Snape, Bellatrix Lestrange, Dolores Umbridge and even Hedwig! To make things extra special, see if you can work out who Professor Dumbledore is…

15281886_1344683795565721_407705819_n

(Clue – he is someone very instrumental in bringing the world of Harry Potter to us all)

 

WHAT EDITORS WANT

what-editors-want-panel

 

WHAT EDITORS WANT

A SOCIETY OF CHILDREN’S BOOK WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS (SCBWI) PANEL AT THE EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL, 18 AUGUST 2016.

 Panel   –      Barry Cunningham, Chicken House Publishing

                        Lauren Fortune, Scholastic

                        Sally Polson, Floris Books  

 Chaired By Louise Kelly and Sheila M Averbuch

I was lucky enough to attend an interesting and lively panel event at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival in the esteemed company of an amazing panel of children’s/YA book industry heavyweights, so I thought I would share some of their comments and advice here.

Q. What does editing entail? 

Lauren          

How much work we do completely varies from author to author.  We are looking for something to identify with, or to be transported to a fantastic land, but the kernel is to find something you love and something similar to the feeling you had as a child when discovering your favourite books.

Barry             

Editors are far more engaged in the process now and think we look for a manuscript in all its possibilities and for how it works in its broader sense.  We could perhaps be seen as a ‘midwife for books’ but ultimately represent our readers and must look at how it will work around the world and in the context of how our other books work.

With debut authors we can tell if something has been worked on so much that the voice has been lost and so it is a case of having to go back to the beginning to re-establish that unique thing.

Have you got a good villain/problem/disadvantage?  Children’s books tend to be about struggle. Maybe change the POV?

Q. What personality traits do you like in your authors and book characters?

Sally               

I enjoy working with writers that like receiving feedback and are quite open minded in receiving criticism and are then able to go off and find their own way.  For example, Ross McKenzie of ‘The Nowhere Emporium’ and ‘Shadowsmith’ is good to work with as he takes feedback well and writes excellent villains.

Characters – are they memorable and will they stay with me?

A general comment would be that if we commission a book, the position in the schedule can determine how much/how quickly it is worked on.  We tend to do one structural edit – i.e. plot, beginning/end, characters, pacing…

Lauren          

Monsters and villains are so important.  An example would be ‘Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes’ by Paula Harrison.

Things that are not so good: are writers reluctant to make their characters suffer?  Would always encourage writers to put their characters in difficult situations.

Barry             

We have to see the main character change.  Linking back to the last question, ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was originally written in 3rd person, but when Kiran changed it into 1st person it brought it to life.

Also, it’s important for characters to have some loss as well as victory.

Q. Would you encourage reading as ‘writers’ as well as simply for enjoyment?

Lauren          

Reading is an enormous part of writing, you absorb a lot, sometimes without realising.  Dialogue, for example, is hugely important and difficult to do.

Sally               

Reading also helps writers to understand the market.

Q. What are the new trends in illustration?

Lauren

MG illustrated fiction (black and white line pictures) is having a moment.   It is good for more reluctant readers and we are very keen on this at Scholastic.  David Baddiel and Jim Field are a great example of when an author and illustrator work well together.

Sally   

Floris are keen on it too, but don’t have an author/illustrator in that field at present.

Barry             

Chicken House don’t do picture books any more as are not keen on them and find a lot don’t have much story and leave the art to do all the work.

However, we are now seeing more illustrated content even in older books, including YA, which sit somewhere between the more traditional books and graphic novels.

Q. What about age banding?  Are there any issues/shifts occurring?

Barry

Older MG is different in America where it is up to 14 years of age instead of 12 here, but a lot of books are being bought by a wide range of ages.  For overseas markets we sometimes get advice to bring content down or similar and YA is fracturing into older and younger YA.

Age banding is more for publishing categories though rather than reader categories.

Q. Is there anything that you would like to see?

Sally   

More diverse, ethnic, disabilities, plus a series for 6-8 year olds, e.g. ‘Thorfinn the Nicest Viking’.  Are also looking for author/illustrators as don’t have a lot of these.

Lauren          

This can be influenced by the demands of the list.  Scholastic is strong on series fiction, so are more looking for standalone stories, and would also like to see a YA fantasy.  Anything page turning, cinematic, high concept.

For non-fiction we publish the ‘Horrible Histories’ books and would look at others to tie around an historical event or similar.

Q. What do you look for in a book?

Barry 

Humour, superlative villain or dark force, great dialogue.

Would recommend that authors write complete character studies even though a lot doesn’t end up in the book as you will get to know the character better.

Q. What would be the main reason(s) to reject a ‘nearly there’ manuscript?

Sally

It could be to do with other factors, e.g. the existing list, or it doesn’t quite fit, or may need author to be in Scotland…

Lauren          

Can always work on plot, but is looking for an original voice and that bit of ‘magic’.  It has to stay with her.  Can pick up one page and recognise the author.

Barry 

Whether he thinks he can work with the author and share the same vision.  Mostly if don’t think they can work with the author to make it better.

Audience Questions

  • Should we use dialect or not?

Barry

Could use an element, but sustaining it for a whole book may be hard.

Lauren          

If it fits into a broader narrative would welcome it, but should always read dialogue aloud when writing it.

Sally               

Plus a child must be able to understand it.

 

  • What do you not want? 

Lauren          

Something you’ve seen before told in a fairly familiar voice.

Sally   

A misunderstanding of being unique, where people might think they need to be completely wacky and all over the place.

Barry

Would be scared of multi volume fantasy where the synopsis is longer than the first book.

Lauren          

“I’d quite like that!”

 

  • Should writers look at current themes?

Barry

There’s no point as publishers and agents tend to be inundated with these and they would be likely to be over too soon by the time any book was ready for publication.

Lauren          

Perhaps look at themes but then strip out the actual theme and see what’s left that works and has the broad appeal.

 

  • Would you advise authors to use freelance editorial services?

Sally               

Not sure you can tell which manuscripts have or haven’t used one.

Lauren          

If we see something that has come from Golden Egg then ears immediately prick up.

*****

So there you have it!  I found the event to be very useful and hope my notes are of some interest to you too.