Tuesday, 7 June 2011

An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons

This month's recommended read on The Faded Bookmark is An Act of Love by Alan Gibbons, an extremely powerful and topical read. 

Alan was also kind enough to answer some questions about the book from our reviewer Tamsin Jupp...

An Act Of Love by Alan Gibbons
Waiting to collect his medal at a high profile military ceremony, Chris receives a text message from his childhood best friend. A bomb is about to go off. The only problem is that the last time Chris saw Imran, Imran told him he was a kuffar, pressed his fingers to his head and pretended to shoot him. They chose very different paths in life, Chris joined the army and returned injured from Afghanistan; Imran, having lost his best friend and older brother, drifted angrily through life until he found what he thought was his cause, a radical Islamic group, wanting to bring war to infidels. The type of group who spawned the 7/7 bombers.  Chris has to decide if he can really trust his old blood brother, or have ten years and life choices driven them too far apart?  Using flashbacks and changing viewpoints between the two main protagonists, Gibbons creates a pressure cooker of tension.

Having grown up in the Middle East, I was interested to see how this delicate subject would be broached, and I can't fault the research that has obviously been put into this book. Gibbons captures the anger, frustration and sense of isolation that a teenager of any faith or colour feels. "You think you're in control of your life but you're not. Not really. It's like you stumble through the years with a hood over your head.  Nobody knows where they're going."  We all make mistakes growing up, sometimes we choose the wrong path but, with knowledge, sometimes you can get back on track.

An Act of Love is about friendship, growing up in a multi-racial country and looking at everyday people as well as the extremists. I remember the riots and unrest of the 1980's, and had to double check the dates in the book, with the depressing conclusion that history is repeating itself. All these events happened in the last ten years, not thirty years ago, which is a sobering thought about society. Maybe if more people read this book, understanding differences can help break cycles.

This is an enormous and heavy topic to cover, but An Act of Love is not just boy meets girl, Muslims vs the West, it's about a love that fights and conquers hate. A sometimes uncomfortable, but intuitively written and compelling read.  Gibbons gives the invisible a voice. 

Alan answers Tamsin's questions about An Act of Love.

Which came first, the story or the time line?

The story came first. Obviously, the research was integral but I only drew up the time line on request from my editor to give the readers an overview and reference point.

The story has strong similarities to what was going in 1981 especially the Toxteth riots in Liverpool. Did that influence you in any way?
I have lived in Liverpool since 1979 and lived in Liverpool 8 during the riots so it was one of my reference points.

Did you have a specific age group in mind when you wrote this (as adults can learn a lot from your book!)?
I think it was Philip Pullman who said he writes for people. Me too. There is a term crossover, but essentially I think when you write Young Adult fiction it always spills back to younger readers who are mature enough to handle the themes and forward to adults who will appreciate a well-researched, deeply felt story.

What inspired you to tackle this subject?
I had written on the implications of George Bush and Tony Blair’s decision to respond to 9/11 with military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan indirectly in Caught in the Crossfire. I felt I had unfinished business and it was time to grasp the nettle and deal with the material directly.

I would love to think that this book goes some way towards giving people a more informed perspective, but do you think that things are going to get worse before they get better this country?
I believe the word crisis in Chinese contains the concept danger and opportunity. That is where I think we are. There is an unfortunate and ignorant strand of deep hostility to Muslims in the UK, but there is also a disenchantment with the policies that produced it. We have the opportunity to create a respectful country of many faiths, cultures and energies or slip into distrust and division. On the whole I am optimistic but there are always sinister forces in the wings. It is up to good people to promote the idea of a united community which generates a positive identity out of the many strands of our people.

An Act of Love is available on Amazon and in all good bookstores. I thoroughly recommend you buy a copy...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Fiction Express

I'm sure we've all read books where we wished we could have changed the plot. Recently I read a novel where one of the main characters was killed off completely unexpectedly and just when everything was starting to go right for her and I actually got in a proper sulk with the writer and refused to continue reading for several days! 

One of the most frustrating things about being a reader is that you have no control over the route a story takes. Or at least it used to be. New website Fiction Express is now offering readers the chance to get fully involved in the writing process, providing weekly installments of interactive e-fiction where readers get to vote upon the next plot twist. I was absolutely bowled over by this idea - it's such a great way to get readers engaged and it must be hugely exciting for the writers.

I caught up with Luisa Plaja, one of the authors involved, to find out more...  

"I'm thrilled to be one of the authors involved in the launch of Fiction Express , and I can't wait to hear the outcome of the first reader vote on my book on Monday. I have to admit that I'm also slightly nervous about the project, though! I know I've signed up for eleven weeks of high-pressure writing. I'm also sure there are going to be obstacles but I can't guess yet what they're going to be. I think it's all part of the thrill! I loved coming up with the premise for Diary of a Mall Girl. I thought long and hard about the kind of story that would fit the requirements for a Fiction Express novel in my genre. I decided that a shopping mall would be a perfect setting, as it can often be a hive of teen activity, with so much going on that there are endless plot possibilities. I've seen malls with residential areas and always secretly thought I'd love to live there - imagine the people-watching! But I knew that Molly, my character, wouldn't see it that way. There are advantages and disadvantages to living anywhere, I suppose, and for Molly, the gossip she has access to is nothing but trouble. I love the thought that I'll be engaging with readers and getting their input as I write. I can't wait to see where Molly's story will go...

Thank you for inviting me to your site."

If you would like to help Luisa with the plot for Diary of a Mall Girl, or any of the other writers involved in Fiction Express, please go to: www.fictionexpress.co.uk 

Friday, 6 May 2011

Talk Like an Egyptian

Sometimes I wonder if "being a writer" is actually just an official way of being a big, crazy kid.

Let's examine the evidence. We sit around all day, creating imaginary characters and giving them imaginary storylines to play with. These characters then live in our heads like imaginary friends for months on end, as bit by bit, we plot out their world on paper.

As a kid, I was an only child until I was five years old so I invented a whole gang of imaginary friends to hang out with. Their names were (don't laugh) - Datchu, Gantry (I said, don't laugh!), Mr Jeweler and Cup of Tea. Despite the fact that no-one else could see them, in my mind they were as real as any other flesh and blood people. And I guess you need this same sense of magical belief when you are creating characters for a book. After all if you don't believe they are real as the writer then how can you expect your readers to?

It can get a tad confusing though. 

As well as writing my own YA fiction, three days a week I work for a company called Hothouse Fiction. At Hothouse we come up with ideas for children's fiction series, develop the characters and concepts, commission writers and then sell the books to publishers.

It is a really fun job but sometimes my head can feel close to bursting with all of the 'imaginary friends' I have stored there.

Let me give you an example. Right now I am working on seven different books and the characters I am creating include a talking shark, a love-struck teen, a robotic hotdog, a timid and tearful mouse and an Egyptian farm-boy.

No wonder I look confused when people ask me for directions - half the time I don't know who or where I am! Or whether I should reply with a squeak, a sulk or in ancient Egyptian.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Hen & Ink Literary Studio

I will shortly be featuring an interview with Erzsi Deak, my agent and the President of Hen & Ink Literary Studio, but in the mean-time, for those of you interested in what a literary agent does and what a literary studio is, please click here for an article recently published on the CYNSATIONS website.

Erzsi first contacted me after my self-published novel Dear Dylan won a national book award. She explained that after a career in publishing as a journalist, editor and literary scout, she wanted to take the plunge into agenting. I loved the idea of going with somebody brand new to agenting - it felt as if we would be sharing an adventure together. And that's exactly how it has turned out. Erzsi has negotiated a two-book deal for me with Egmont in the UK, with deals in France and Germany to follow. And Hen & Ink is now a thriving coop of some twenty or so writers. It's a great example of what can happen when you have the courage to take the plunge and pursue your dream...

Monday, 25 April 2011

Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon

The Faded Bookmark's recommended read for May is Dead Beautiful by Yvonne Woon.

Tamsin Jupp reviews it here...

Never judge a book by it's cover, or in this case the blurb on the back. 

Moving from a sunny American state to a mist-shrouded school?  Finding your soul mate who is also hiding a secret?  Sound familiar?  Our bookshops have been swamped with supernatural / vampire romances, so what's so different about this one?  With trepidation I started to read...and didn't stop until I'd finished the whole book, cover to cover.

The book starts off with Renée a sixteen-year-old girl, enjoying her birthday at the beach with her best friend.  On the way home something draws her into the woods where she finds the dead bodies of her parents, coins strewn around their bodies and gauze stuffed into their mouths.  They died of heart attacks at exactly the same time.

We follow her as she meets her mysterious, rich grandfather, is moved to an elite boarding school (Gottifried) and has to make new friends.  Then we find out a boy died last spring in the school woods, also of a heart attack, his tie stuffed in his mouth.  Something is lurking in the shadows and there are rumours of the Gottifried Curse.  Renée also has a strange ability to find dead things; dead birds, dead deer and bodies.  She meets Dante, so "intelligent, elusive and devastatingly gorgeous, most people can't decide whether they love, hate or fear him."

Yvonne Woon litters her story with clues so that just as you think you are finally putting the pieces of the puzzle together, another piece pops up.

This book has depth and layers, artfully woven together. She's taken a simple concept by Aristotle and expanded on it, ".. a single soul dwelling in two bodies." Throw in some transcendentalist concepts (your soul rising beyond your body), along with some Latin, and suddenly the book is more then just a Twilight wannabe. 

"How do you describe the briefest sensation?...The immeasurable grief we feel when faced with death?   We can't even begin to communicate these complex emotions to each other.  But Latin can illuminate sensations you never realised you had."  Actually Woon, does all this and more in plain, accessible English.

There was only one minor point that slightly detracted for me, would a sixteen-year-old really wear the clothes her mother wore at sixteen?  

Dead Beautiful has pace, romance and is skilfully written.  A worthy début novel by Yvonne Woon.  She's a writer to watch.

Dead Beautiful is published by Usborne on 1st May 2011. You can read the first chapter online at: http://www.deadbeautiful.co.uk/

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Paris Diary

I just got back from a flying vist to Paris. I was there for business and pleasure, although I have to say that the business part of the trip was also a total pleasure.

First up I ran a writing workshop called Plotting Your Way to Writing Success. It's one I run quite regularly and it focuses on the business of writing rather than the actual writing itself.

The aim of the workshop is to help writers overcome any obstacles they may have when it comes to writing - and these can be internal, such as lack of confidence, and external, such as lack of time. Then, once we've tackled these, we move on to set writing goals and action plans.

It may sound odd talking about an art form in such business terms but for those writers who want to earn a living from their writing I think it is essential to treat it as a business.

The writers I met in Paris were a lovely group who meet regularly to critique each other's work. Writing can be such a solitary pastime there's a lot of benefit to be had from joining or forming some kind of writing group.

After the workshop I hotfooted it over to Erzsi Deak's apartment near the Louvre. Erzsi is my literary agent and founder of the Hen & Ink Literary Studio in Paris.

With Erzsi Deak, my literary agent and Hen & Ink Founder
Erzsi was throwing a party to celebrate the birth of Hen & Ink and so hen-themed gifts - and puns - were in abundance.

It was a great opportunity to meet some of the other writers in her 'coop'. Here we are at the end of the night after one too many 'cock'tails, and about five hundred too many hen puns!

The Hen & Ink Coop

The following day I went to one of my favourite places in Paris, Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Here is an example of some of the stunning sculptures on display...

Sculpture at Pere Lachaise

The cemetery goes on for miles and is like a beautiful walled city. It had such an effect upon me the first time I went I actually set a scene there in my next YA novel, Finding Cherokee Brown. The thing I love most about it is the way you never know what you might find around the next corner or down the next lane. Here's someone I found this time round...

Lady in Yellow
 Isn't she beautiful?

Back next week with more book news, interviews and reviews. Until then I'd like to wish you all a very Happy Easter!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Paris Workshop

This morning at the Faded Bookmark I am practically frothing into my cappuccino with excitement.

Tomorrow I will be running my first ever writing workshop IN PARIS!!!

I have been running writing groups and workshops in London for the past six years but this is my first 'international' workshop.

I'm particularly excited because I recently got my first French book deal - for Dear Dylan - so hopefully it will be the first of several Parisian writing events.

I don't know if I even have any French visitors to the Faded Bookmark but just in case, the workshop is called Plotting Your Way to Writing Success and is all about how to achieve your writing goals and market your work. It is taking place at The Big Round Table, Le Pain Quotidien, 2 rue des Petits Carreaux, 75002 Paris.

I shall be reporting back with photos later in the week, until then...

Au revoir!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Diary of a Novel-Writing Tortoise

When I was little I loved the story of The Hare and The Tortoise.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the basic plot line is that a hare and a tortoise have a race. The hare is so fast and so sure he will win that he arrogantly stops off for a nap half way through. When he wakes he discovers to his horror that the slowly plodding tortoise has won the race while he slept.

It struck me this week that being a writer is in many ways like being that tortoise.

The job of writing a novel is very much a plod, plod, plodding affair. You spend months researching and planning and building characters, then more months writing and writing and writing, only to spend even more months deleting and editing and rewriting.

It requires the patience and perseverance of a saint - or a tortoise!

I spent most of last year writing a novel for young adults called Finding Cherokee Brown. It was a particularly 'plodding' experience because I was working full time for a children's fiction development company at the time and only free to write late at night. Sometimes it felt as if I would never get it finished, but every night I would sit down at my computer and write something, even if it was only a page.

And slowly but surely the pages began to add up. The good thing about plodding is that you do eventually get to the finish line, with a fully formed manuscript to show for it.

And, after a while, you start to reap the rewards.

Earlier this year I got a UK book deal for Finding Cherokee Brown (it is being published by Egmont in 2012) and this week a US publisher asked if they could see it.

I don't need to tell you how relieved I am that I carried on writing no matter how tired I was or how inviting my bed looked, or how tempting the plotlines of EastEnders were. Just like the tortoise, I had no guarantee that I would 'win' at the end of it, but some kind of inner faith kept me going.

So to anyone reading this who wants to write a book but despairs that they will ever get it finished - you will. As long as you keep plod, plod, plodding along, keeping your eyes on the publishing prize.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto: Review

This week guest reviewer Lulu Meade reviews the novel Halo by Alexandra Adornetto.

Halo tells the story of three angels sent down to bring good to the world: Gabriel, the warrior; Ivy, the healer; and Bethany, a teenage girl who is the least experienced of the trio. But she is the most human, and when she is romantically drawn to a mortal boy, the angels fear she will not be strong enough to save anyone, especially herself...Is love a great enough power against evil?

Bethany has never been down to earth and has no experience what so ever with humans. She was chosen for this mission because she was known to spend hours and hours studying humans. In heaven her job was to help the little children who had died and guide them up to heaven. So it was just as well that Bethany had Gabriel and Ivy to help her with this new alien world and body. Their mission was far from easy, so they needed a role in the community from which to easily influence the people of Venus Cove. So Ivy throws herself in to volunteer work with the church and charities, knitting items for the elderly or the poor and making badges to raise money for charity. Gabriel becomes Venus Coves new music teacher, he runs the choir and teaches the students many new hymns. Bethany has perhaps the hardest role. She has to become a student at Venus Cove High, in an attempt to influence the students there to keep the good of others in their thoughts. As you can imagine she faces many difficulties and distractions like boys, friends and parties.

As Bethany finds herself getting deeper and deeper into the teenage world she meets a boy called Xavier and feels that the only word to describe her feelings for him is love. Now to say that Gabriel and Ivy do not approve would be an understatement but Bethany simply cannot keep away.Not long after Bethany and Xavier start going out a mysterious new boy from England called Jake Thorn arrives on the scene. Bethany feels herself drawn to him, but not in the way she was drawn to Xavier but in a dark, dangerous way. It is clear he has a dangerous secret but will they ever find out what it is…

Overall I think that this book is truly enchanting, it’s hard to put it down and you can read it time and again without getting bored.

More about our reviewer, Lulu...
Who is your favourite literary character?
My favourite literary character is Scarlet March from Sister’s Red because Scarlet is constantly determined to put her family before herself and she also does everything within her power to save the world from Fenris.
Who is your favourite author?
My favourite author is Alexandra Adornetto because she shows us that you can write a book at any age (she was only 14 when she wrote Halo) and I really enjoyed it.
Which book do you wish you had written?
I wish I could have written the Harry Potter books because they really connect with the reader. The author creates a whole new universe where you  get to know the characters really well and you become totally engrossed so that you just can’t put the book down.

If you would like to be a guest reviewer (of YA fiction) on The Faded Bookmark please email me:

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Author Stephanie Lennox Guest Blog

This week I'm delighted to welcome author Stephanie Lennox to The Faded Bookmark.

Stephanie has written over 160 stories, plays and poems so far throughout her time as a writer. As well as winning the National GetConnected competition in 2009, she also won the Vfifty Award this year for her debut novel I Don't Remember You. Stephanie is also an editor for the teenage girl’s E-zine, Mookychick, and a corporate sponsor of NCLR.

Her guest blog is crammed full of useful tips and advice - I hope you find it as informative as I did!

After writing my first novel, I'd do anything to turn back the hands of time and tell that hopeful, optimistic young lady from my past these five small tips. I'd like to share them for the enjoyment of all of you here at The Faded Bookmark, and personally thank Siobhan for inviting me to guest blog!

Tip 1 - Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Nothing's worse than writing a story and getting halfway through before you realise that you have no idea where the story is going. That is the number one cause of writer's block. Do anything in your power to avoid this! Make sure every line, every word and every chapter has been thought through from beginning to end. When you wake up each morning and have a clear view of what you're going to work on, every day is easier.

TRY THIS: Creating three boxes on a piece of paper (Beginning, Middle, End) and summarising your story in a paragraph or less.

Tip 2 - Communicate

This may sound a funny thing to do, considering that writing consists of sitting alone in front of a computer...but I really believe that it is one of the most important points. You need society to remind you who you are writing for. Read other books, they will help you to evolve as a writer and find your voice, as well as finding out what you like and dislike. Try and find a writing group where other people can help you stage by stage with helpful critiques. Communicate with your target audience, find out what they are really like. Absorb all media you can, really, because everything will help in the end.

TRY THIS: Make sure you're world-savvy. By this I mean, focus on the world around you, your current affairs, don't be an idiot and write a horror on Valentine's Day.

Tip 3 - Write What YOU Want

So, you're half way through writing your science fiction comedy with a pair of transvestite robots. Your best friend has just finished reading it, she looks at you worriedly for a fraction of a second, and then that's it. Total confidence lost. My advice to you is, forget about that. Opinions aren't facts, and if one person can't see your genius for what it is, don't worry about them. You can't please everyone all the time, but if you aim to please yourself, you won't be disappointed at the end.

TRY THIS: There's always an exception to the rule. Ignore one blind critiquer...but if 100 people have said the same thing, you might want to think about a rewrite.

Tip 4 - Write From Experience

Sometimes you might think about the things that have happened in your life, and written them off as boring and uninteresting. (unintentional pun, yay!) But don't! Everything in your life is writing material. If you're writing a horror, remember a time when you were afraid. It might not be of the same thing as your character, but you can focus on the emotions of the particular moment. Remember the five senses at all times. Writing a romance? We all know how falling in love feels, don't we? Or first heartbreak? Oh, don't get me started...

TRY THIS: Having pictures of items from people that inspire you is a great way to motivate yourself, cure writer's block, and conjure up memories.

Tip 5 - Never, Ever, Ever, Ever Give Up

There will be times when you just want to give up. A year ago I remember, having just finished publishing my book, sitting there waiting for the millions of pounds to start rolling in. Someone once told me that a book is like your baby; You have huge dreams for it, of university and riches, yet as it grows you realise that it's a lazy bum who wants to doss around the house eating donuts. You have to be pro-active. No matter what stage your book is at, you can't ever give up on it and expect it to go places on it's own. The only thing you can really do is hope that it never becomes a chore, you always have the passion for it and would start the process all over again if you had to. Good luck to all of you writers out there, I wish you all the best!


Stephanie Lennox

TRY THIS: A book is never truly completed, only abandoned.

For more information about Stephanie please visit her website - http://www.stephanielennox.com/

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick: Review

Today, I welcome my first guest reviewer to The Faded Bookmark.

Tamsin Jupp is mother to three young girls, nicknamed The Three Graces and she has been a prolific reader and writer since she was small.  This is the year that Tamsin is going to make her writing more of a priority, whether it be to finish the children's book she has been mulling over for a year or to actually take a chance with a picture book she wrote for her middle child.  So you'll find her either nose in a book, scribbling notes, or out in the woods stomping in the mud letting her imagination run riot.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
The first chapter introduces us to Sig, a fifteen year old boy who is sitting in an isolated cabin, somewhere in the frozen Arctic Circle, with a corpse on the table.  It's his father, who had fallen through the ice that morning on his way home.  He'd been crossing a melting lake, at a point he had told his son never to cross at.  As Sig struggles to come to terms with this and puzzle his fathers rash actions, it looks like he has been abandoned by his step-mother and sister.  When you think things can't get worse, a psychotic, gun-toting man turns up demanding the gold owed to him by his dead father.

The story revolves around Sig, a boy who has felt a misfit most of his life, who has been treading water, waiting for something he just can't put his finger on.  Now he is stuck alone with an adult who has no moral compass and has spent the last ten years with the sole purpose of tracking down the family, getting his share of gold and making someone pay.  Sig, has no idea where the gold is, so faces certain death, unless he can get to the store cupboard where his father's ancient revolver is hidden, to even the odds.  Can he remember the lessons his father taught him about the gun?  If he does manage to arm himself, will he be true to his mother and choose the bible's peaceful path (she herself was raped and murdered in another part of this lawless, frozen land), or to his father and his scientific, logical mind?  Kill or be killed?  Or is there a third option?

Yet this is not a bleak book, there is always a sense of hope, the hint of possibility just round the corner.  The reader is swept along, carried by Sedgwick's beautiful use of imagery and language.  He builds on the suspense and fear, fuelling your desire to get to the conclusion.   "The words hung in the air, drifted around the room.  They seemed to paint themselves on the walls in letters two feet high.  They seemed to be painted in blood."

I loved this book and can't wait to read more by this author!

To read more from Tamsin please visit her blog My Dandelion Girl.

If you would like to be a guest reviewer (of YA fiction) on The Faded Bookmark then please email me at:

siobhancurham [AT]yahoo[DOT]co[DOT]uk

Friday, 18 March 2011

Writing Tips and Dental Blips

Last week I was invited to give a talk at Brunel University.

As someone who dropped out of university due to a crisis of confidence it was thrilling to be invited to speak to students about my subsequent achievements. And proof that you should never let where you come from stand in the way of where you want to be.

I very nearly didn't make it though. I stupidly arranged a dental appointment immediately prior to the talk.


I ended up having to have a filling, which wouldn't have been so bad if it hadn't been for the fact that the dentist decided to use some kind of clamp contraption (which looked more like a medieval torture device) on my tooth while he filled it.


As I lay on the chair while he heaved and tugged away (all the time saying in a very high-pitched voice, 'Ooh, this doesn't normally happen. Don't worry, we'll soon have it off') I couldn't help picturing myself having to give the talk with a medieval torture device protruding from my mouth. Not the greatest of looks.

Anyway, the dentist continued to heave and tug, and finally the clamp came free - sending him flying backwards across the surgery and his tray of other torture devices all over the floor. (I really hope you aren't laughing!)

I somehow managed to regain my composure - and the feeling in my lower jaw - and hotfooted it over to Brunel. And thankfully, it went really well.

I ended the talk with 10 key lessons I have learnt from my ten years as a writer and thought I  would share them here for any aspiring authors out there...

  • Always follow your heart rather than the market. If you write about something you feel passionately about your work will be infused with that passion and leap off the page. It will also help you to weather the inevitable rejection that is part and parcel of a writer's life. If you really believe in your work you will keep on sending it out there.
  • Write about something new - or find a brand new angle on something that has been written about before.
  • Write as regularly as possible.
  • Study other authors for inspiration. Read author interviews and websites to find out how they got published and see if you can adopt a similar approach. When I was starting out I always found it encouraging to learn how successful authors had dealt with rejection. It taught me not to give up.
  • Follow the example of musicians like the Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen and use the internet and downloads to build a readership prior to publication.
  • Have a web presence. I know of several writers who ended up getting book deals on the basis of their blogs (including Anna May Mangan - see previous blog post).
  • Self publish as a way of getting noticed and proving you have a readership, but I would always recommend trying the traditional route first.
  • Be prepared to do a lot of marketing and promotion - even if you land a deal with a major publisher.
  • Write because you love to write - not for success and acclaim.
  • NEVER, EVER arrange a dental appointment prior to giving an author talk!

You can find more writing tips and advice in the study of my Writing Home... 

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Guest Blogger - Anna May Mangan

This week I'm delighted to welcome my very first guest blogger to The Faded Bookmark.
Anna May Mangan is a freelance journalist, playwright and published author and has won several awards for her work. She is a regular guest on radio and TV talk shows and writes an extremely entertaining blog about her life.

Hello Siobhan and thank you so much for inviting me along as a guest to your exciting new blog.  I want to tell your readers about how I won the  X Factor. Even though I can’t sing a note!

What really happened to me – getting a book deal after four decades of wanting and waiting -actually feels as joyous as it must to win the X Factor, only ten times better.

I am a reader who became a writer. When I was young my mum and aunts used to tut-tut at the way I always had my face stuck in a book. I looted my local library for everything Enid Blyton had ever written and then re-read it again, and again. “The house could burn down around that one when she’s reading!” they all complained about me. They’d never been taught to read properly, a good education was only for rich people in rural Ireland where they’d been born.  Learning to read was considered a luxury for boys and girls who would be in full time work aged just thirteen, and the pleasure of reading a book was never theirs to know. A fact that still makes me so sad.

I was a nearly-writer for almost forty years. I yearned to do it, daydreamed all the time about how I would next week, next month, next year.....  but other things kept getting in my way. Work, children, doing up houses, being a carer, illness. The truth is probably that it was ME and my lack of confidence that got in my own way. Don’t you make that mistake, because it’s very hard to get out of your own way!

 I believe it’s possible to become terrified, and paralysed, by just the thought of making your own dreams come true. For a long time I was. Inside my head was a spaghetti junction of ideas and stories but I was scared no-one would find them interesting. Until I finally got bored of being afraid and ran out of reasons why I shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t try to write a book and go on to get it published.  I had become more afraid of trying even than of failing.

So now I would say to any young person who wants to be a writer that you shouldn’t be scared. Fear will choke the words inside you. Trust yourself and give it a go - only good things will happen if you do.

My book is called ‘Me and Mine’ and will be published by Virago on July 7 2011. It’s about the lives of the many women in my big, jumbly family. It’s funny, and sad, and with the help of the nicest literary agent in the country it was sold  to my favourite publisher. That is the single most thrilling thing I have ever achieved.

And I wish the same excitement for all you aspiring writers out there.  And get started today!

'Me and Mine' by Anna May Mangan is published by Virago in July. In the meantime you can hear more from her at her hugely entertaining blog.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Guest Bloggers Wanted

For the past couple of weeks I have been quietly putting this site together bit by bit, but now the time has come to fling the doors wide open (can you have doors on a website?) - fling the pages wide open - and welcome people in.

What I'm trying to say is that I want The Faded Bookmark to be as interactive as possible.

Think of it as your favourite coffee shop, full of squishy chairs and sofas, and shelves crammed with books.

And cake - lots of cake.

And a juke box playing all of your favourite tunes.

And Bruce Springsteen or [INSERT FAVOURITE HEART-THROB] serving behind the counter. Looking exceptionally hot. (That's hot in a good way, not in a hyperventilating-because-the coffee-machine-has-blown-up-kind-of-way.)  

I want it to be a place where book-lovers feel free to drop on by and tell everybody about the books they love. Or hate. Or love to hate.

If you would like to write a guest review of a young adult book I'd love to hear from you.

I'm also looking for guest blogs about your favourite book of all time, or a book that has somehow changed your life for the better.

If you are interested in featuring on The Faded Bookmark, then please drop me an email:


I'll tell Bruce to get a slice of your favourite cake ready...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Sky is Everywhere - Review

I was initially drawn to this book by its amazing packaging - the eye-catching cover, the blue font, the beautiful illustrations of the poems inside. As I stood there drooling over it in Waterstones I remember thinking two things: firstly that the author Jandy Nelson must feel so happy and proud to see her work so lovingly reproduced, and secondly I hoped that the writing itself was just as beautiful. I wasn't disappointed. From the very first page I saw exactly why publishers Walker had decided to invest so much in this novel. It is incredible.

The Sky is Everywhere tells the story of Lennie Walker, a Heathcliff obsessed teenage girl who is mourning the sudden and unexpected death of her beloved big sister. And yet it is not the misery-fest that so many YA titles concerned with death tend to be. Somehow, in the midst of all the heart-breaking pain of loss, Nelson has created a book that is actually a celebration of life and love and hope, and all that it means to be human.

The writing is exquisite. The kind that you want to savour. After I got half way through I actually started to read more slowly and ration the chapters - that's how badly I didn't want it to end!

And the characters are so interesting and quirky they make you wish you were a part of their world. From the gardener extraordinaire Gram, to the pot smoking uncle who is addicted to getting married, and the wise-cracking best friend, they are a masterclass in characterisation. And as for Lennie herself, from the blurb on the back of the book you initially wonder whether you'll be able to sympathise with her:

"What kind of girl wants to kiss every boy at a funeral, wants to maul a guy in a tree after making out with her (dead) sister's boyfriend the previous night? Speaking of which, what kind of girl makes out with her sister's boyfriend, at all?"

Indeed! But Nelson captures the raw intensity of Lennie's grief so brilliantly that I completely understood why she acted as she did. And I loved the way that as she worked through her grief she was able to step out from the shadow of her older sister and finally discover who she was in her own right.

And of course, no self-respecting YA title would be complete without some kind of love interest. In The Sky is Everywhere Jandy Nelson perfectly captures that heady, magical descent into 'zombie-ville' as Lennie falls for romantic muso, Joe Fontaine. I defy you not to fall for him too! Once again Nelson's characterisation is spot on, creating a complex and interesting (as well as drop dead gorgeous) love interest. And Lennie's developing love for Joe is a great reminder that even in the depths of despair we can find a ray of hope.

I read this book after a period of loss in my own life and I have to say that although it made me cry, it also left me with a new-born thirst and appreciation for life.

Poetic and life affirming, I thoroughly recommend it.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Fortune Favours the Brave

The other day a friend of mine reminded me of a blog I wrote back in October 2009.

Inspired by the Eleanor Roosevelt quote: "Do one thing every day that scares you", I had decided to embark upon a Month of Brave.

Every day for that month I did something that forced me outside of my comfort zone. I took part in a film. I wrote some poetry (if you knew how bad my teenage poetry was you would understand quite how brave that was!). I went on a writing retreat and I explored new areas of London on my lunchbreaks.

And there, at the end of my list of daring deeds, came the immortal words:

"I have also made the momentous decision to self publish my novel Dear Dylan. I did have a traditional publisher for it but they had been messing me about a bit so what the hell – why not go it alone? In my role as self publishing editor for Writers’ Forum magazine I have witnessed so many self publishing success stories it’s been very inspiring. And what better time than a ‘Month of Brave’ to make that decision?"

I had no idea back then that this decision would go on to spark a chain of events that would completely transform my life. 

After choosing to self-publish I was invited to speak at the London Book Fair to an audience of about 500 people. This in turn led to many other speaking engagements, as a result of which I have met some amazing people and made several new friends.

One of the people in the audience at the London Book Fair asked me if I would like to be featured in a book she was working on called Writers in Black and White. So I ended up in a beautiful coffee table book alongside some of my writing heroes. And Anne Mortenson, the photographer who took my picture for the book, has ended up becoming a close personal friend.

In the mean time Dear Dylan started creating a bit of a buzz online.

In another act of brave, I entered it for a national book award, assuming that as it was self-published it would automatically be disqualified.

It ended up winning!

It went to auction and I got a two book deal with Egmont.

Two weeks ago my agent Erzsi Deak sold the French rights, and I'm currently working on the treatment for a screen adaptation.

And all from the decision to do something brave one October day back in 2009.

Why not make this coming March your Month of Brave? Who knows what may come of it?!

To read my Month of Brave blogs in full, please click here.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

In the beginning there was no TV

When I was a child my parents refused to have a TV in the house. They were on some kind of hippy-trip which deemed television to be extremely detrimental to the development of the imagination.

As far as I was concerned back then, NOT having a television was extremely detrimental to the development of my social standing in the playground. But I have to say that now I am eternally grateful to my parents for being television fascists. Not having an electronic box to gawp at night after night meant that I was forced into a world of imagination, and more specifically, a world of books.

And over the years books have provided a never-ending source of enjoyment, inspiration and escape.

During the toughest times of my life - my parents' divorce, my own divorce, loved ones' and my own ill health - books have provided me with answers, hope and support. To me there is something truly magical about opening the covers of a book and being able to immerse myself in another world.

And the best books are like the most memorable lovers or friends - once read never forgotten.

It would be lovely to hear from readers of this blog (once I have some readers of this blog!)what their unforgettable reads have been.

In the mean time, here are some of mine:

  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I remember so wanting to be Laura with her twinkly-eyed, fiddle-playing Pa and the handsome Almanzo - the writing was so vivid it really felt as if I were there with her, out on the wild prairie rather than holed up in my bedroom on a north London estate.
  • The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - I don't think any book has effected me quite so powerfully as the Aslan 'death' scene.
  • The Famous Five by Enid Blyton. I got particularly hooked on these books when my mum had to go into hospital for a few weeks when I was ten. Getting immersed in the mysteries proved a welcome distraction from my anxieties about my mum.
  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Sallinger. The voice of the central character blew me away.
  • Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. A beautiful book that made me rediscover my joy for living following my traumatic divorce.
  • The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. I read this book last year and it is my favourite young adult book ever. Ever. The writing is exquisite and the characters are the kind that make you wish you lived in their world.
As a writer I can only hope that my books provide readers with the kind of enjoyment and inspiration that I have been lucky enough to receive over the years...

Saturday, 19 February 2011