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Good Crying, Story Updates, and Hot Chocolate

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It’s off! Today I sent off the line-edited version of The Girl with the Dragon Heart to my editors at Bloomsbury, along with the dedication and acknowledgments. This week, it should all move on to copyedits, where the whole manuscript will be checked for typos, formatting issues, inconsistencies, etc…and then advanced copies will be printed soon-ish. This book is becoming so real! Right now, the tentative English-language publication dates are 9th August (in the UK) and November 6th (in the US/CA), but I’m not posting pre-order links yet because I don’t know if those dates are set in stone quite yet.

This time round, the ending of the book made me cry all over again. (But only in a good, cathartic way, I promise – it’s not a sad ending, just an emotional one!) I really hope you guys will love it. I put so much of my heart into this book!

Now that this draft of TGwtDH is finished, I’m going to spend the next couple of days revising Spellswept, my Snowspelled-prequel novella. The publication details should be announced sometime in the next two weeks at The Book Smugglers, and I can’t wait for you guys to find it all out. As soon as my revision is done, it’ll be time to leap with both feet into my next MG novel, figure out the new MG series to come after that…and the other night, I also scribbled down the opening to a tentative new novel for adults that I’ve been daydreaming for years. (I won’t be writing it this week or month, but now that I have an opening written down, it’s anchored in my subconscious, so it can simmer there while I write my next MG book first.)

Sometimes I feel frustrated that I’ll never have all the time/energy I need to write every story that wants to bubble up inside me. Right now, though, I’m just feeling grateful for the richness of all these stories that are carrying me through the years. (I am SO grateful to the publishers and readers who actually buy my books so that I can make a living, pay rent and feed my children! But I have to admit, even if no one else in the world ever wanted to read anything of mine again, I would still have to keep writing somehow just to let all the stories out.)

This is the hot chocolate I drank today to celebrate sending off my line edits. (One cup of milk heated on the stove with a large heaping of cinnamon, a small pinch of nutmeg, and 25g of 70% dark chocolate = bliss!)

I’m wishing you all comfort and abundance, hot chocolate and good stories to sink into across the week. (And if there are any stories you’ve read lately that you particularly loved, please do stop by and tell me about them! I am ALWAYS looking to add to my teetering TBR pile. :)

New Year and New (Re-)Discoveries

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Happy New Year, everyone! This year, I have all sorts of practical professional goals that I need to meet, but in a larger sense, I have one main New Year’s resolution: to let myself do more things that I enjoy and am not good at.

I’ve always been an ambitious and driven perfectionist, which has genuinely helped me in many ways. It’s hugely motivational when it comes to the things I really care about – it means I’m always willing to really put the work in and keep on trying to make all of my stories as good as they possibly can be – but it has also seriously limited me sometimes, when I’ve given up things I enjoyed just because I didn’t have the time/energy to become really good at them and I couldn’t stand being a low-level amateur.

So: this year I want to go back to making music every week even though I no longer have the time/energy to play music at a professional level (which was why I’d originally given up making my own music after I graduated from music conservatory and changed career paths from French horn performance to music history), and I want to go back to regularly drawing the way I did before I was 13 years old (when I finally realized just HOW MUCH better some other kids my age were and gave up because I “wasn’t good enough”).

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve finally picked up the beautiful alto recorder that I was given as a gift before my older son was born. Right now I’m only playing it in 15-minute chunks – but it’s been astonishing just how much happier, calmer and more settled I’ve felt at the end of each 15-minute practice session. I love making music! How did I forget that over the years? It’s why I originally planned to be a professional musician – but somehow, in the stress of a very intense (and occasionally toxic) conservatory lifestyle, all of my focus shifted from loving what I did to fighting to be PERFECT at it (in a context where ONLY perfection was acceptable) – and since I couldn’t strive for “perfect” when I was playing for less then 3-5 hours a day, I couldn’t stand to make music at all afterwards.

Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to pick up the French horn again, but in the meantime, starting mostly from scratch with an instrument I never studied professionally is really helping me to allow myself that level of joyfully low-level amateurism – and it’s bringing me an awful lot of happiness. How did I ever cope without making my own music for so long?

(One line that’s really helped me, from my younger son’s cello teacher when I was discussing this stuff with her: “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly!” – Which is completely opposite to my general life approach, and it was sooooooo enormously liberating for me to hear. :) )

I’ve also been drawing a bit with my kids this year, just to keep them company, and it’s reminded me that – newsflash! – I actually do like doing it for fun, even though I don’t expect to ever get particularly good at it. (My sweet 6-year-old niece asked me the other day: “Do you illustrate your own books, Steph?” Hahaha NO and I never will, thank goodness for everyone concerned.) But it’s fun to do anyway! And “fun” really is worthwhile, too, now that I finally have a bit of time for it.

I went through a long period – from the time my first son was born 9-1/2 years ago until both of my sons entered full-time school 4 months ago – when I had to fight and claw just to steal the bare minimum of time/energy to get my writing work done. Pretty much every other hobby or passion dropped by the wayside for nine full years. And that wasn’t a mistake – I NEEDED that time for my writing, so I had to be ruthless with my prioritizing. But now that both boys are in full-time school, I’m starting to slowly rediscover things I used to like, that I can finally start to bring back into my life. It’s a process of…not reinventing myself, exactly, but – maybe rediscovering myself? Finding out what I still love after all these years, what I no longer feel much real interest in after all – and what things I’d never even thought of before.

What about you guys? Are there any old passions or hobbies that you’d like to pick up again one day (or that you’ve already gone back to)? I’d really love to hear about them.

Here’s to a 2018 full of moments of joy and rediscovery, everyone. I’m really glad to be here sharing it with all of you.

Smuggling Comfort Reads

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The Book Smugglers invited me to write a post as part of their Smugglivus seasonal celebration, so OF COURSE I made a massive list of comfort books I read and loved this year!* You can read the whole list here (including MG, YA, adult f/sf, and adult romance recs) – and I’d love to hear any recommendations of your own!

__

*Equally of course, the very moment that I sent off my list, I started thinking guiltily of all the other books that SHOULD have been included on the list as well, because I loved SO MANY books this year – but I took a deep breath and restrained myself from sending an endless stream of updates, because honestly, I think 18 book recs in one post is probably a reasonable limit. ;)

Finishing Up, with Spells and Chocolate and a Question

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The year as a whole may not end until December 31st, but my kids’ last day of school is tomorrow…so as every work-from-home parent can guess, this has been my very last week of real writing before the holidays begin. And huzzah – I just finished the first draft of Spellswept!

Spellswept is a prequel to Snowspelled, telling Amy and Jonathan’s story, and I originally intended it to be just a short novelette (maaaybe 12,000 words at most?) because I didn’t want to put too much time into writing a just-for-fun project like this one, but…well…the problem is, I really, really like these characters! So I got wrapped up in their story, absorbed and curious, aaand…in other words, it’s turned out to be a novella after all. Oops! Obviously, this means that I spent more time than planned in the writing, which wasn’t sensible for my schedule, but I hope that it will be good news for readers. :)

Sometime in January, we’ll be announcing the anthology where Spellswept will first be published (in spring 2018), and of course I’ll let you guys know the very moment that that announcement happens. (I’ll also be publishing it later as an ebook on its own, but the anthology is full of SO many amazing other writers, you’ll really want to grab the whole thing!)

Finishing that draft feels like a really happy way to wrap up the working year. The line edits for The Girl with the Dragon Heart just arrived from my publisher, and I’ll be working on them today and tomorrow – but in terms of fresh writing, I’m definitely now done. So I’m going to go ahead and post my yearly writing roundup (for my own accountability) here today instead of waiting until the 31st the way I usually do.

And here it is! In 2017 I wrote:

  • The last 16,000 words of Snowspelled (which was published in September);
  • The first 10,000 words of a possible next MG novel;
  • The first 5,000 words of another MG novel that’s just waiting its turn;
  • My 4400-word Kat tie-in story Forbidden Magic (telling the story of Kat’s parents, and available now as an ebook);
  • My 1382-word Dragon with a Chocolate Heart tie-in story The Dragon with an Unbearable Family (a prequel from Aventurine’s older sister’s PoV, free to read online);
  • My 3100-word Dragon with a Chocolate Heart tie-in story Girl in Boots (a story starring Silke and set between Books 1 and 2; I sent it out to my newsletter subscribers earlier this week and will probably put it out as an ebook in 2018);
  • My 3500-word Masks and Shadows tie-in story Shadow Duet (a sequel starring Carlo and Charlotte, published as an ebook);
  • Spellswept, my 17,500-word Snowspelled-prequel novella, to be published in 2018;
  • The first 3,000 words of Thornbound (the sequel to Snowspelled, to be published in 2018);
  • 40,000+ new words on The Girl with the Dragon Heart in the midst of a major, ground-up rewrite that stretched me far past what I’d thought I was capable of and resulted in SUCH a better book. (Thank goodness for wonderful editors who push us to do better than we think we can!) Only 20,000+ of those words ended up in the final draft, because I had to write 20,000 new words just to figure out that I’d gone in the wrong direction [argh!] and then I deleted them and started over again – but in my year-end roundup, I am ABSOLUTELY claiming those deleted words, because I worked far too hard on them to pretend they didn’t happen! ;)

    The Girl with the Dragon Heart is Silke’s book. In some ways it’s the most personal book I’ve written (as my editor pointed out, I put a LOT of myself into Silke!); it was definitely the hardest and most vulnerable book I’ve ever written – and I cannot wait to share it with you guys in 2018. I hope you’ll love it too!

So! This has been a year when I constantly agonized that I wasn’t getting enough work done, wasn’t accomplishing enough at any point…but I’m really happy with the writing that I did do. It might not be as much as I’d have liked, but every story I’ve written has had my whole heart in it. And it truly helps me to see the tally set out here! So thanks, guys, for bearing with me every year as I use this space for my own accountability.

I’d love to hear, too, about what you’re happiest to have gotten done this year, whether it was a professional or a personal accomplishment and whether it felt large or small. (On my own personal end: this year, I learned how to confidently poach eggs and I conducted a Great Chocolate Chip Cookie experiment, testing out a whole bunch of different recipes until I settled on my favorite – as well as finding my husband’s new favorite (vegan) chocolate chip cookie recipe – and it now feels easy to make both of those. As someone who’s never been a confident cook, those both truly do feel like major accomplishments to me! I’m also really glad that I got out with my kids for our once-a-year ballet trip despite total exhaustion and organized some really nice holidays for them this year.)

2017 has been a really hard year for an awful lot of people, and I know that a lot of us have really struggled with finding ways to be creative and productive while absorbing and reacting to all the frightening/enraging/horrifying news of the world. It can feel utterly overwhelming. But I hope you guys can each take a few minutes to think about what you did manage to accomplish this year, and be proud of it. It matters.

And so do you.

Snow Day, Guilt Mode, and One Final Chance

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It’s a snow day! (Quite literally, for all of the schools and many of the businesses in our small town.) For the first time in about 6 years, our part of Wales is blanketed in gorgeous white snow, and the kids and Patrick and I are loving it. (Pebbles, on the other hand, is DEEPLY disconcerted by it and wants the world to go back to normal, please, as soon as possible!)

Between the beautiful, rare snow (we have an actual snowman in our back garden for the first time in YEARS!) and the fact that we set up our Christmas tree on Thursday, it’s been easy to feel festive despite the fact that it’s been a fairly rough week in other ways.

Last week, both kids got a feverish cold which developed into different kinds of ear infections, one for each of them, and led to far too much missed school; I picked up the feverish cold and ran a fever for three days straight, which really knocked me out (I am SO GLAD it’s all gone now!); and as glad as I am that my kids got a snow day today (because I still remember how great those felt when I was a kid!), it is, ah…not SO great in terms of my own productivity. Oops!

I was planning to finish my Snowspelled-related novelette Spellswept by Friday, and I was only about 1200 words from the ending by the end of Thursday…but between one thing and another, I’m still about 1000 words from that ending. Sigh. I’m also ridiculously behind in multiple critiques that I’d promised to friends (including Patrick!), so in other words I am in Deep Guilt Mode. I sneak-wrote 63 words yesterday and 125 words today, and I might fit in just a bit more tonight before bed, but…ah well. Maybe I’ll get some work done on the train tomorrow, for the first time ever? ;)

Anyway: tomorrow I’m heading for London to attend a fun publishing party and have brunch with my agent, so life is pretty good regardless. Now I just have to figure out what to pack, because – to say the least – I was not factoring snow into my expectations for this trip when I first figured out a party outfit a few weeks ago! It is definitely time to drag my big pouffy winter coat out of the attic.

And! It is also time for One Final Chance to decide which of my characters (from any of my books!) should get a short story of their own. I’ll be picking a winner tonight before bed (probably around 10pm UK-time/5pm EST), so don’t miss your chance!

Happy snow day. :)

Guest Blog: Adrian Tchaikovsky, One Foot in Each World

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It’s impossible to spend time in the f/sf section of a British bookstore without noticing Adrian Tchaikovsky’s impressive number of published books – but the most impressive thing for me about his career so far has been just how varied it’s been, as he’s gone back and forth between fantasy, science fiction, and even Regency-style alternate history, winning awards along the way.

So I was really happy to host this guest blog from Adrian (on the occasion of his latest book release, Dogs of War) discussing his shifts between genres across his career.

***

One foot in each world: Writing SF and Fantasy

I started off with a title about having one foot on a dragon and the other on a rocket ship, but the mental image produced was too exquisitely painful. I suspect, to be honest, that to readers outside our little nested genres, the difference between SF and fantasy is rather small – that one has dragons and the other spaceships is probably about it. To those of us living in the microcosm, though, it can seem an insuperable divine. I started off as a fantasy writer back in 2008 and for rather a long time, seven years, that was what I did, and not a spaceship to be seen. Looking back over the sort of things I was writing prior to Shadows of the Apt finding first an agent and then a publisher, it was also mostly fantasy, or if it was SF, it was a sort of Dying Earth/New Sun-set SF that had thoroughly fantastical sensibilities even if the underlying message was that there was a scientific explanation for everything, except nobody left had enough understanding of the science to figure it out (digression: I absolutely love that kind of stuff to read – Vance, Wolfe, Harrison, Bishop, all that post-collapse sci-fantasy stuff. I will write one and get it out there one day, but it’s a hard sell).

However, I will go so far as to say there is an undercurrent of the SFnal in my fantasy, just a little. The technological ramp-up within Shadows is probably the most obvious. The artificers of the Insect-kinden are doing SF stuff, it’s just that their weird-ass technology is not ours, so they solve familiar problems in unfamiliar ways (see Banjacs Gripshod’s bonkers anti-air defence in The Air War for example). On a larger note, fantasy narratives are frequently very conservative in overall structure – the status quo is good, the bad buys break it, the bad guys are defeated, the status quo is restored/king returns etc. SF narratives feel to me as if they’re often more directional – things are discovered or devised, the world won’t ever be the same again. I tried to put a bit of that sensibility into Shadows in that neither the technological nor the political change is going back in the box any time soon.

I have always read fantasy SF and the rare gems that sit along the dividing line with a fairly omnivorous eye, and I have something of a science background (although my psych/zoo lecturers at Reading University would probably have suggested my essays were heavier on the fiction than the science). Trying my hand at SF was probably inevitable so long as I had enough sales to maintain my publisher’s goodwill. Received publishing wisdom was and is that fantasy is by far the bigger seller, though, which makes SF a harder thing to sell to your publisher most of the time. As it happened, the book I actually wrote about spiders from space turned out mystifyingly well, which left me with the aforementioned one foot on either side and held the door open to putting out more SF. Hence my novella, Ironclads, and my new novel, Dogs of War.

Writing SF is a qualitatively different experience to writing fantasy. There’s a definite shift in where the work goes. Fantasy involves more free creation for me – setting my own rules and then extrapolating from them. I am conscientious enough about the science in my SF that I at least try to do due diligence with research, although there’s always that “unknown unknowns” barrier because you don’t necessarily realise where the gaps in your knowledge are (until kind readers point them out!). There’s also the “one big lie” trope (introduced to me by engineer and superb science advisor Nick Bradbeer) where you can kind of get away with the great big non-science thing that the book is based around, but you shore it up by making the rest of your science as watertight as possible. In Children of Time, weirdly, the lie is not the spiders themselves, but the nanovirus that acts (initially) as a plot device to accelerate what I felt was a plausible natural evolution for them.

Going forward, I am definitely hoping to keep my feet right where they are. I have my current fantasy series Echoes of the Fall finishing up early 2018, and am currently writing a Children of Time sequel with a further SF book to come after, but I have a list of fantasy projects backed up and waiting for a publisher as well. Writing fantasy and writing SF seem to fulfil linked but separate needs in me, and I’m hoping to hold on to both. And maybe one day I’ll get out that sci-fantasy dying-earth novel I’ve always wanted to do.

***

Adrian Tchaikovsky is a keen live role-player and occasional actor, fantasy author and winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. You can find more information about him and his books on his website.

Story Giveaway

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Wow! Snowspelled has hit 75 reviews on Amazon – which means that it’s time for my promised short story giveaway! Just comment on this public Facebook post to let me know which character (from any of my published books) deserves a story of their own – and also if there’s a particular part of their backstory or future story that you want to know about. (For instance, previous commissioned stories have been written to fulfil requests like: “I want to see Kat grown up with children of her own!” or “I want a story about Kat’s mom when she was young.”)

The giveaway is open for one week (and of course it is international). At the end of the week, I’ll use Random.org to help me select a random winner. I’ll write the commissioned story within 2 months, send the first copy to the winner, and then share it with my newsletter subscribers before offering it for sale anywhere else.

I can’t wait to find out who I’ll be writing about next! And I am SO grateful to everyone who’s taken the time to review Snowspelled.

December Lights: The Dragon with an Unbearable Family

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Several years ago, Patrick and I organized a month-long event called The December Lights Project, where a different writer every day contributed a free online short story to light up a month that can feel awfully dark and cold. There was always one guarantee, regardless of genre: readers would always get a happy ending in each story, because this project was a holiday gift.

Every year since then, I’ve wished I had the spare time and energy to organize a second December Lights project that year – but since I haven’t had those luxuries lately, I’ve made a new habit of sharing a free short story of my own here on my blog as a holiday gift for my readers on the first day of December every year. (And any other writer who reads this is warmly invited to share the habit any time this month if you feel like it and have the time! :) )

This year’s story is a prequel that I wrote to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, and I wrote it for the winner of a charity auction, who asked for a story from the perspective of Citrine (Aventurine’s maddeningly perfect older sister)…because even the most disapproving older sisters have their own stories to tell! ;) Since it’s set several years before the full novel begins, it should work just fine for readers who haven’t read Aventurine’s own story yet.

I hope that you’ll enjoy it!

***

The Dragon with an Unbearable Family

By Stephanie Burgis

Dedicated to Nicky Anderson, with thanks

The worst thing about Mother’s awful new hatchlings wasn’t even their smell, horrifying though it was.

It wasn’t even the infernal racket they both made, roaring and brawling up and down the long tunnels of their home until the whole mountain seemed to rattle with their din, and Citrine’s long, sharp teeth rattled in her head, too.

No, the real problem with her younger siblings, when it came right down to it, was…

“They are barbarians!” Citrine threw down her elegant bone-pen directly in front of her sleeping mother’s snout, sending showers of gold flying up in its wake. “Just look at what they’ve done now!”

Mother’s great golden eyes slitted half-open as coins cascaded against her scales. A weary sigh escaped her mouth, but she left her chin propped on a comfortable pile of rubies and emeralds. “Are you complaining about your brother and sister again?”

“They are not my brother and sister,” Citrine said. “They can’t be! They are horrors. I’ll wager someone slipped replacement eggs into your nest when you weren’t looking, and that’s how they got there!”

“Citrine…”

Look.” Citrine hated leaking smoke without meaning to; it was improper, and unworthy of any mature dragon. But she couldn’t help the puffs of anguish that escaped her nostrils as she emptied the pile of ash from her left foreclaw.

Mother drew in a long breath, her head shifting. “What – ?”

My poem,” Citrine told her.

“Oh, no. Not – ”

“My epic poem!” Smoke poured out in waves from Citrine’s snout as if she were a useless, out-of-control little hatchling herself. She kneaded her claws restlessly through the piled gold beneath her. “I’ve been working on it for the last two years.”

“Oh, I know.” Mother heaved herself up, shaking coins and jewelry off her massive back. “Can you rewrite it now, quickly, while – ”

“Rewrite it?!” A smokeball exploded out through Citrine’s throat, rocketing toward the far wall of the cavern, and she clamped her claws over her mouth in humiliation. “Mother, if you had any idea – !”

“Never mind.” Mother sighed. “Perhaps it was only an accident, or – ”

“It was not.” Citrine clamped her teeth together, vibrating with fury.

Just because she’d called Aventurine an ignorant little menace who didn’t deserve to share her cavern or her family…

She’d heard them both laughing as they’d galloped away from the hidey-hole where she’d carefully stored her poem last night. Laughing!

“I’ll give them a stern talking-to,” Mother promised.

“Don’t bother,” Citrine snarled.

She’d witnessed those lectures before. They never worked. Jasper was too distractible to be quelled for long, and as for Aventurine, who never listened to anyone

“I will deal with them myself,” she said.

“Citrine,” Mother began.

But Citrine was already striding out through the cavern entrance, making her own plans.

They’ll see.

She might not choose to waste her fire and strength on indiscriminate nonsense, the way some barbaric hatchlings did, but when she was ready…

Her vision was turned so far inward, she almost crashed into the massive, bulky figure that filled the entire tunnel before her.

“Grandfather!” She pulled up just in time. “Forgive me, I – ”

“I heard.” Her grandfather towered over her, looking down with enigmatic golden eyes. “A word of advice for you, youngling.”

“I – !” Citrine swallowed down the instinctive words of protest just in time.

Compared to Grandfather, they were all younglings, even Mother – and Grandfather never tolerated disrespect. So she lowered her eyes, breathing in deeply.

Grandfather’s puff of laughter splashed heat across her scales. “Well done,” he murmured. “Now, then. You’re charging off to devour your young siblings, I take it?”

The idea was so delightful, she let out a wistful sigh. “I can’t,” she said regretfully. “Mother would never forgive me.”

“Good girl.” Grandfather nodded. “In that case…?”

“I’m going to burn every single thing they’ve ever collected,” she said fiercely. “I’m going to crush every jewel, burn every little human book—”

“And what exactly do you think that will accomplish?” He cocked his giant head, waiting patiently.

“It’ll show them!” she said passionately. “It’ll show them that they can’t disrespect me or else – or else…” She stumbled to a halt, panting. “Oh, stones and bones!”

“Exactly.” Grandfather gave a low growl of approval. “What do you think your younger sister wanted in the first place but to force you down to her own level?”

“Grrrrrr!” Smoke spat out from Citrine’s nostrils as she imagined Aventurine’s impudent smirk later that day. I guess you’re not so civilized after all, are you, Citrine? “I will never be like her!”

She would never grant Aventurine that victory.

But if not…

“Ohhhh,” she breathed. “Oh!”

“I knew you would think of something.” Grandfather turned, squeezing his way around in the tight tunnel. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, some of us were trying to nap.”

But Citrine had no time for any rest that day. She had far too much to plan.

When her younger siblings finally slunk back into the family cavern, hours later, she was ready for them.

A circle had been cleared in amongst the piled gold.

Two brand-new bone pens had been fashioned.

Blank cow-skin hides lay stretched out, waiting.

Every adult in the family crouched beyond them, waiting, too.

“Ah…” Jasper skidded to a halt first, eyes widening. “What – ?”

Aventurine swaggered in after him, smoke snorting cheekily from her nostrils. “Anything interesting happen while we were gone?” She shot a fearless wink straight at Citrine.

Citrine looked back at her and smiled, baring all of her teeth.

“You were right, Aventurine,” she said. “You are ready to join in with all of the rest of us, after all.”

“I – am?” Wings mantling in shock, Aventurine reared back, glancing from one watching adult dragon to another. “But…really? Do you actually think so?”

“Of course,” Citrine said sweetly. “We all agree on that…which is why you and Jasper are going to be the ones to write down my new epic poem for me. Every single day until it’s finished. For hours! Taking down my dictation word-for-word, with Grandfather and our aunts all checking to make sure that you catch every last detail without any mistakes.”

“What?!” Aventurine stumbled backward, eyes flaring wide with real panic for the first time since she had originally tumbled out of her egg and shattered Citrine’s perfect world into chaos. “But – but – don’t you want to just have a fight instead, and get it all over with?”

“Why would I fight with my own sister?” Smoke gathered in Citrine’s nostrils, and for once, she gleefully let it out – aimed exactly at where she wanted it to land: the tell-tale pile of ash that sat between her and the two hatchlings, a silent reminder of what they’d done. “Isn’t this what you wanted, Aventurine?”

The look of horror in her obnoxious younger sister’s eyes was everything she had ever dreamed of.

“Excellent,” Mother said briskly, striding forward. “You’ll begin tomorrow, all of you. And now, as for the dirt on your scales, hatchlings…”

As Citrine sat back, smirking, her grandfather breathed his words softly into her ear. “Family,” he said, “is every dragon’s greatest treasure.”

“Mmm…” Citrine said doubtfully.

His eyes glittered with amusement as he gazed down at her. “I am proud of you for your achievement, youngling. You just took down the most unmanageable young dragon I’ve ever met…except for one.”

“One?” Citrine cocked her head curiously, her tail twitching. “Which one do you mean?” Who could ever be as unmanageable as Aventurine?

The look he gave her was unmistakable.

“What? Wait, no!” Citrine reared back in horror. “I was never – !”

But he was already moving toward the door, his chuckles leaving perfectly formed balls of smoke all the way between her and her unbearable, impossible younger sister, who was absolutely nothing like her and never would be.

Family!” Citrine growled after him, like a curse…

Just as she saw Aventurine mouth exactly the same epithet.

They stopped short, staring at each other in horrified disbelief.

It was the first time they had ever been in perfect agreement.

Citrine swore to herself that she would never let it happen again.

THE END

(You can read the first chapter of Aventurine’s own adventure here.)

Dragon Mugs, Spellswept, and Good News

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It’s cold and bright outside today, with snow on top of the mountains around our town. Luckily, Pebbles is snuggled up on my legs as I type this, and I’ve just finished drinking a big, hot latte (in my favorite dragon mug), so I’m feeling cozy and warm. After I finish this post, I’ll get back to work on Spellswept, a prequel novelette to Snowspelled. This time I’m telling Amy and Jonathan’s story! It’s so much fun to write.

Someone’s already created a Goodreads link for Spellswept, so you can add it to your shelf there if you’d like. It will come out first in a very cool anthology early next year (announcements to be made soon!) and then be reissued as a single ebook about six months later.

Of course, if you’d like an early look at Spellswept, the best thing to do is always to sign up for my newsletter, since not only do I share early excerpts of my stories there, but that’s also where I tend to ask for beta-readers for my ebooks before they’re published. (I’ll also be sending out a new Dragon with a Chocolate Heart tie-in short story to all of my newsletter readers next month!)

It’s been a good couple of weeks for book-news over here. My editor liked my revisions to The Girl with the Dragon Heart (Silke’s book, due out late 2018) – huzzah! And The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart was shortlisted for four (!!!) different awards in the UK: the Leeds Book Award (9-11 category) 2018, the East Sussex Children’s Book Award 2018, the Ealing Junior Book Award 2018, and the Worcestershire’s Awesomest Book Award 2018. They all come with awards ceremonies where the authors get to meet the kids who voted to shortlist their books, and I can’t wait to attend as many of them as possible! Across the Atlantic, Dragon was also on the Evanston Public Library’s 101 Great Books for Kids List 2017 (in the MG fiction section), which was really lovely to see.

And in nice personal news, Patrick and I have been reorganizing our house lately (because now that both kids are in full-time school, we actually have the time to do this at long last!) and we’ve finally figured out a way to write in the same room again. We always used to write in the same place, but in our current house, the office is just too small for two people to work there at once (especially since the M.E. means I need to be in a reclining position as I write). So we’d been working in separate rooms for the last year and a half – but now that we’ve rejigged the furniture layout, we’re finally back in the same room, which feels SO much better.

Not only is it just nice to be companionable, but it is SO motivating to work with another writer in the same room! Whenever I’m feeling slow or uninspired, it really helps to look up, see him typing away, and immediately feel motivated to match that productivity.

And of course (as pictured – click on the image for a larger version) Pebbles is always there to help! ;) (Her main comment: “More cats in this manuscript, please!”)

Wishing you guys a good week with lots of warmth and any hot drinks that feel comforting to you. :)

Purring, Baking, and Strange Practice

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It’s a bright, cold day here in Wales, and Pebbles is purring on my chest. This morning, I sent my wonderful agent three chapters and a pitch for a new MG novel that I’m excited about; in a little while, I’ll be getting up to work on some house-cleaning (which, let’s face it, is desperately needed after far too many weeks of family illnesses and several months spent in intense editing mode, when nothing except my book and my kids got any attention).

Right now, I’m enjoying the vibration of Pebbles’s rumbling purr through my chest, and I’m tucked up under my great-grandma’s quilt against the cold. I was up far too early this morning baking last-minute cookies for my older son’s class bake sale; luckily, I’ve been conducting a Great Chocolate Chip Cookie experiment over the last few weeks, trying out lots of different recipes recommended to me on Twitter, so I knew exactly which recipe would be the quickest and easiest.

(My very favorite recipe so far is this one from Smitten Kitchen, but it takes a tiny bit more effort and preparation, and I was too tired to get up any earlier today! Still, you can see photos and read my full report here. I’ve been taking this experiment SERIOUSLY. ;) )

I’m reading Vivian Shaw’s Strange Practice right now, a really fun adult urban fantasy novel set in London and starring a doctor (Dr. Greta Helsing) who specializes in treating supernatural creatures, including the undead. I first heard of it when I read this great interview of the author on Tor.com, and when I saw it in my local bookshop yesterday, I couldn’t resist. If you like Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, I’m pretty sure you’ll love this one too!

This weekend, I’ll be making my next round of chocolate chip cookies (this time trying a vegan recipe for Patrick’s sake), working on the house, and writing a short-short story about Silke (from The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart) for the winner of my latest short story auction. If you’d like to read it, too, make sure to sign up to my newsletter! I’ll send it out to my newsletter readers one month after my auction winner gets their copy.

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend!