Books and Music

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Last night I finished Seanan McGuire’s fantastically fun urban fantasy novel Chaos Choreography (see my Goodreads review here), which is set in the midst of a reality TV show dance competition. The dancing was so vividly described, I kept wishing I knew exactly what the songs sounded like – so I was thrilled to find a playlist of songs the heroine had danced to at the end of the book. It was exactly the perfect way to round off that particular reading experience!

Right now, because I’m reading a paranormal romance with a Canadian violinist heroine, I’m listening to Canadian violinist Lara St. John’s classical/New Age/world-music fusion album Re: Bach, which reminds me of the musical style described in the book (as well as her breathtakingly gorgeous album of Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, just because I was reminded of how much I love that album).

So in other words, I’ve been thinking a lot today about the connections between music and books, and how nice it feels as a reader to get to enjoy both of them together!

Of course, my own most musical book was Masks and Shadows, which had a castrato singer as the hero and a setting at Haydn’s opera house at Eszterháza Palace. Yesterday, my sequel short story, Shadow Duet, came out into the world as a 99c/99p ebook. Hooray! So I thought I’d mention a couple of musical recommendations to go with it.

As with Masks and Shadows, I would absolutely recommend listening to the soundtrack for the film Farinelli, because that’s the closest approximation we have so far of what a castrato singer in his prime would have sounded like. (Also, it is just gorgeous music!) However, all of the music in that soundtrack comes from earlier in the century than “Shadow Duet,” which is set in London in 1781 (18 months after the end of Masks and Shadows). So for a period-specific music recommendation, I’d recommend Haydn’s six Op. 33 string quartets, which are wonderful.

(And if you’d like to buy Shadow Duet, you can find it at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Smashwords. I hope you guys enjoy it! You can also add it on Goodreads now.)

I always keep a specific playlist of music as a soundtrack for each different writing project I work on, to get myself into the right mindset for that story every time. I haven’t always shared those playlists here, though, and I think I’m going to get better about doing that! I’d also love to hear about any music you ever looked up or listened to just because of a book you read – or any music that just feels linked to any particular books or stories for you. I love those literary/musical combinations!

A Double Book-Birthday and the Introduction of a Thief


Ahhh! It’s Patrick‘s book-birthday – well, his double book-birthday, really, because as well as The Emperor of Mars coming out in hardcover today, the paperback edition of his first book, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, is out in the world now too! (So if you’ve been curious about this series but waiting for a cheaper edition, Now Is Your Moment! :) )

I love both of these books SO MUCH. The Emperor of Mars stands alone just fine – it’s a fantastically fun adventure full of girl-thieves, wildly imaginative clockwork devices, divided loyalties, wonderful families AND scary sea-serpents! so there’s no prior reading required to enjoy it – but Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is so much fun, why not just grab them both?

You can read the first chapter of each of the books on Patrick’s website, but here’s one of my favorite moments from near the end of Chapter One of The Emperor of Mars – the moment when my favorite new character is introduced:

The moons were high in the sky, wreathed in a faint mist, but still bright enough to light the cobbled street. I’d been told that Earth’s moon was much larger and brighter than either of Mars’s moons. That must be weird. I wondered if I’d ever get to see it.

I was still aching from falling into that beetle-vine cluster, and sandfish crystals had gotten into my socks and pantaloons. I glared at the moons, wondering exactly what they had to be so cheerful about.

And that was when I saw the fourth-floor window of Lady Harleston’s enormous town house shoot up and a figure dressed all in black emerge, carrying a sack over one shoulder.

I didn’t often go wandering about in Lunae City at night, but even I knew that this wasn’t usual.

A rope uncoiled and snaked down the wall to end five yards short of the ground. Then the figure swung over the ledge and scrambled down.

I had lived long enough with my little sister, Putty, to see a disaster when it was coming straight at me, and I’d learned not to hesitate.

I launched myself forward just as the figure reached the end of the rope and lost their grip. Feet crashed into my outstretched arms, the sack hit my head, and we both collapsed to the hard road with an explosion of breath. The stranger leaped up and I stumbled after, still half tangled with their arms and legs.

“Are you…?” I started, but I didn’t have time to finish.

The figure whipped away the scarf that had been tied around their face and let long, brown hair fall free. I found myself looking up into a girl’s dark eyes.

“Oh,” I said, letting go quickly and stepping back. At a guess, she was about a year older than me, but she was much taller, and I could see she was part native Martian.

She looked completely furious.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.

“What do I think I’m doing?” I spluttered. “What do you think you’re doing?”

She looked at me like I was an idiot. “I’m escaping. What does it look like?”

I glanced over her shoulder at Lady Harleston’s house.

“Who are you escaping from?”

The girl gave me a pitying look. “From whoever owns this house. Obviously.”

This conversation was getting away from me. My mouth opened and closed like a hungry fish. “Were you robbing it?”

“Let’s think,” she said. “You caught me climbing out of a house on the end of a rope in the middle of the night with a bag over my shoulder. What did you think I was doing? Cleaning the windows?”

“That’s wrong,” I said, realizing how stupid I sounded. I didn’t normally get this flustered, even when arguing with Putty. But Putty didn’t make me feel sweaty and fidgety, like I was wearing a shirt made from squeezethorn fibers. I wondered if falling into the beetle-vine cluster had made me sick.

“So what are you going to do?” she said. “Report me to the militia?”

I kept catching myself staring at her, then having to look away quickly.

“You’d be arrested,” I said.

She glanced around. “Look, where are you going anyway?”

I pointed up the road with a shaky hand. “Um. To the Flame House,” I said, giving the name the locals used for our new home.

“Well, I’m going the opposite direction. You can make yourself useful and help me with the bag if you like. I can’t wait here all night.”

I gawped like a confused marsh bat. “I’m not going to help you carry stolen goods.”

“Fine, then.” She hoisted the heavy bag onto her shoulder. “If I’m caught and hanged it’ll be your fault.”

I spluttered. “My fault? I saved you! You’d have broken a leg if I hadn’t caught you.”

“Don’t be absurd. I’ve done that a thousand times.” She sniffed and wrinkled her nose. “You smell really bad. Now, good-bye!”

“It’s the beetle-vine,” I mumbled, but she’d already turned on her heel and jogged away down a nearby alley, into the concealing darkness.

I stared after her. I wanted to say, Don’t go, but I knew how ridiculous I would sound.

Almost as ridiculous as I looked standing here, mouth hanging open, as though I were trying to catch glow moths.

My head hurt.

I backed away, and my foot hit something. It skidded across the cobbles, glinting metallically. I followed, then crouched to pick it up, frowning.

It was some kind of mechanical device—but old, like something that had been pulled out of a dragon tomb. It was cylindrical, the size of my fist, and cleverly made. I peered at it. Through a dozen small holes in the side, I saw fine brass cogs and levers, and the hint of a coiled spring deep inside.

I had no idea what it was. The thief must have stolen it from Lady Harleston’s house and dropped it when we got all tangled up. The thought made me feel uncomfortably hot in my jacket again, despite the cold air.

Perhaps she would come back for it.

I dithered, peering into the alley, the device clutched in my hands.

And a hand closed tight on my shoulder. “Got you!” a voice exclaimed.

I nearly jumped out of my skin.


You can buy the whole book on, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository or Wordery (and for readers outside North America, those last two links offer free worldwide shipping).

So many options!

I’m so proud of this book. I fell in love with Patrick’s writing (in our first week as students at the Clarion West writing workshop 16 years ago) even before I fell in love with him as a person, and this book is my favorite so far. I can’t wait to hear what you guys think of it!

Parties, Martian Adventures, and Growing Trees

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Whew. Another kid birthday party has been successfully completed! As someone who struggles with domestic organization in general, running birthday parties for my kids (in partnership with my husband) has turned out to be a surprisingly intense challenge for me as a parent. But our four-year-old loved his day, and I love him, so it was totally worth it.

Now I would collapse in post-party relief…except that, whoops: DEADLINES! The kids only have a few days left of school (one day fewer than I’d realized until last week, actually, which was slightly scary to discover as a working mom with a writing schedule!), my edits are going well but sloooowly, and we leave for our yearly trip to the U.S. to visit my family next week. In other words, there are about a zillion things I ought to be doing right now and not nearly enough time (or energy) in each day.

However! I am really, really excited that Patrick’s second book, The Emperor of Mars, is coming out in the US and Canada tomorrow, along with the paperback edition of Book One, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb. These are fabulously zany MG adventures set on Regency-era Mars, complete with pterodactyls, clockwork butlers, and one of my favorite-ever fictional families. (Ohhhh do I love the hero’s sisters!) They’re full of adventure, imagination and real heart. I can’t wait for you guys to be able to read both of them!

(You can read Chapter One of Secrets of the Dragon Tomb and Chapter One of The Emperor of Mars on Patrick’s website now.)

One thing that’s been helping me get through my own edits despite a whole bunch of competing distractions and different pressures has been this app that was recommended to me on Twitter: Forest App. It builds on the Pomodoro technique for getting work done in cycles, which has REALLY worked for me over this past month (you work for 25 minutes without any interruptions; take 5 minutes off to relax; then work for 25 minutes, take 5 minutes off, etc, for as long as you can). The app makes it easy to time yourself for the Pomodoros but also turns it into a fun game (you grow trees on the app while you work), which honestly does help me to lighten up and feel more creative even when I’m worrying about deadlines, other pressures, etc. Highly recommended! And I’m looking forward to earning enough points on the game to finally grow a lemon tree. :)

(My paternal grandparents owned a lemon farm until I was in my mid-20s, and I spent a lot of wonderful summers there. So lemon trees have a lot of personal significance for me! If only the app could recreate the smell of a lemon grove, too, I’d be in total bliss.)

For the next few days, I’ll be using that app a LOT as I get through the last few days of the kids’ schooling for the year. Then I’ll spend the weekend frantically running around trying to remember everything we ought to pack for our trip…and then we’ll head to America! We’ll be there to visit with family, but Patrick and I will also be doing events at two different bookstores (one in Okemos on August 9th and one in Ann Arbor on August 15th) along with our friends Jim Hines and Merrie Haskell. I’d love to see you guys in person at either of those! You can find all the details here.

Please wish me luck with my writing for the rest of this week! And I’ll pop back in tomorrow to post one of my favorite excerpts from The Emperor of Mars. :)

Writing, Skyping, Encouragement and More


I’m back! I had an amazing editing/writing retreat last week. Claire Fayers, who is both a wonderful writer and a wonderful friend, invited me to stay in her house for the 3-day retreat. She and her husband generously supplied me with delicious food, sweet cats to pet, and fantastic conversation in-between editing sessions – and within less than 72 hours, I got through over 13,000 words of intense rewrites on my MG spies-and-fairies book (including 6,000 brand-new words in the new plot arc I’m working on), which…well, it’s basically a miracle by my usual standards of writing speed! I am VERY lucky in my friends. :)

But oh, did I miss my family! Thank goodness for Skype, which makes so many things easier – I got to skype with the kids every morning before they went to school and again before bed (if not more, depending on the day) – which made the retreat so much easier for all of us. Skype is my very favorite modern development! As someone who moved to a different country as an adult, it has made SUCH a difference to me to be able to skype with my family and friends back home, and it means my kids can build their own relationships with their American grandparents every week, having real conversations (and playing silly 3-year-old games, too!) with them despite the distance.

One other thing that makes things easier: if you’re facing something intimidating right now, or know that you’ll be having a hard week sometime soon, I highly recommend subscribing to Esmé Weijun Wang’s Encouragement Notes. They go out once a day for a week, and honestly, starting each day of the retreat by reading that day’s note helped a lot with my courage as I faced the challenging goals ahead of me.

Now I’m back…and unfortunately, after spending Friday night awake for most of the night nursing my poor 8-year-old through a nasty stomach bug, I succumbed to the bug myself the next day. Alas! So it turned out to be a weekend of sick days. Oh well! Pebbles purred on my chest, I watched silly happy movies (My Big Fat Greek Wedding and its sequel – perfect sick-day viewing!), and we all got through.

And! I need to remind you guys: there are three days left to win a print of Leesha Hannigan’s gorgeous cover art for my upcoming romantic fantasy novella for adults, Snowspelled. I love it so much!

The novella itself is available for pre-order now at, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo and Smashwords. Less than two months to go!

I just saw this first photo of it (in e-ARC form) out in the wild, sent in by one of my newsletter subscribers who’d gotten an early copy, and it made me VERY happy. :) (Actually it was then followed by a second reader photo that showed a lovely rabbit next to the e-ARC…so now I’m kind of fantasizing about building a whole photo gallery of cute pets with e-readers showing Snowspelled, as an “extras” page for my website! I can always dream… ;) )

In other words, if you have any photos of your own pets near any of my books, I am ALWAYS in the market, because it’s pretty much designed to make my heart melt. :)

Happy Monday!

Snowspelled Cover Reveal and Giveaway

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I’m still on my writing retreat (and have gotten through 10,000 words of rewrites in the first two days, huzzah!), but I had to check in to let you guys know that you can now see the gorgeous full cover of my upcoming romantic fantasy novella, Snowspelled, on The Book Smugglers – and you can enter to win a print of the beautiful cover art by Leesha Hannigan there, too!

You can also now preorder the ebook at Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords, with more store links to follow soon – and I hope to have the paperback preorder links up within the next month, too.

Huzzah! I can’t wait to share this story with you guys.

Check out the cover reveal here.

Mixed Feelings, Great News, Advance Copies and Vulnerability


This week I’m heading off on my first writing retreat in just over four years (!!!) – and because I have two little kids, I am feeling both extremely excited and deeply guilty/anxious about it. Ah, the joys of working parenthood!

The good news: I had a really good week of editing last week. I really, really love this book. I may even have an official title for it after Wednesday! (Crossing my fingers and waiting to hear the word back from my publishers.) Right now it’s still only known in my house and online as my MG spies-and-fairies book, but after Wednesday it may be known as…well, no. I won’t take the risk of jinxing myself by giving away any of the possibilities! :)

Aaaaand…on Thursday, the gorgeous cover for my upcoming romantic fantasy novella (for adults), Snowspelled (with art by the wonderful Leesha Hannigan), will be revealed on The Book Smugglers! I can’t wait for you guys to finally see it.

US Cover art by Petur Antonssen

I also found out last week that The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has already gone into a second printing in the US and Canada, less than one month after publication (!!!!!!!!!), so in other words, guys, I am feeling SO GRATEFUL to my readers right now.

And to show that appreciation…

OK, here’s what I had been planning to do in this month’s newsletter: give away two e-ARCs of Snowspelled to randomly-chosen newsletter subscribers. But then I got that news about Dragon‘s second printing…and I felt like celebrating. :) So!

This Thursday, after the cover goes up on The Book Smugglers, I’ll be sending out my July newsletter…and giving away seventy e-ARCs of Snowspelled to my newsletter subscribers! (The only catch is that I’m asking for people to commit to writing an honest review of the novella once it’s published. I really mean it when I say “honest,” though – I absolutely promise. EVERY review helps an author, no matter how positive or negative it might be, so no one should ever feel pressured to write a positive review!) Full details will be in the July newsletter – and you can sign up now to make sure that you get it on Thursday. :)

Now it’s time for me to supervise the kids at our local play barn, and then pack my bags for my writing retreat. I’m bringing along my laptop, thirty pages of notes I’ve made about my novel across the last week, the printed manuscript of the last draft, lots of pens, and of course lots of chocolate. I’m going to try to stay offline for most of the time that I’m on retreat…but I’ll pop back in on Thursday to link to the cover reveal.

I can’t tell you guys how much it means to me that so many of you are willing to follow me as I shift between genres from MG to adult and back again! Seeing that news about Dragon‘s second printing meant a lot to me.

And it has been SO motivational for me as I work on my still-untitled followup book, which is turning out to be one of the most personal books I’ve ever written. (I know that sounds weird to say when it’s about spies and fairies and dragons! But it’s true. And “personal” means “vulnerable,” so, guys – I REALLY appreciate the amazing support that you have all been giving my quirky, heartfelt stories, from Kat, Incorrigible through The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and more.)

Thank you all so much for keeping me company on this journey!

An Interview with the Woman Who Designed My Dream Shoes

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My writing has led me to some of the most unexpected and fun connections in my life, and this is definitely one of them!

I still remember the first time I saw someone link to designer Shaherazad Umbreen’s gorgeous 18-Hour Heels (Shoes By Shaherazad). I gasped out loud because they were so gorgeous. I felt overwhelming insta-shoe-lust!

BUT. I have spent sooooo many years of my life wearing high heels that look pretty but absolutely kill my feet. It all came to a head last year, when I made a decision: I was never going to wear high heels again. The pain wasn’t worth it! I was done.

Sure, these particular shoes are called “18-hour heels” because their design is supposed to be so comfortable that you could wear them for 18 hours straight without pain. But I couldn’t spend money on luxury shoes when I was almost certain they would hurt my feet just like every other pair of high heels in my life always had. I couldn’t!

So I didn’t. But I followed them on Twitter and I sighed over each new photo, and I fantasized…

And then something really cool happened. The designer, Shaherazad Umbreen, came across my books and got in touch with me. She thought the themes of girl-empowerment in my MG novels resonated really well with the empowerment projects for girls and women across the world that her 18-Hour Heels support. (I didn’t even realize it at first, but Shaherazad herself isn’t profiting from any of the sales of these gorgeous luxury shoes. She is passionate about her fundraising, and that’s what these shoes were created to do!)

So she asked me a question: would I be interested in trying out a pair of her shoes in exchange for being interviewed on her blog while wearing them (with photos)?

Obviously, because I’m not foolish, I said YES PLEASE. And I desperately hoped but did not at all believe that the shoes wouldn’t hurt my feet TOO much, because ohhh, they were so beautiful…

And guess what? I wore them for seven hours straight at the Hay Festival without a single twinge. They feel SO GOOD. My feet felt great both in them and after them. I LOVE THESE SHOES! I treat them like gold now, because I want to wear them forever.

Shaherazad interviewed me over at her blog (it’s up today!), and that was super-fun for me. (I got to imagine which kinds of shoes Kat and her sisters would wear!) But by the time we finished doing that, I’d gotten to know her a little more on a personal level, and I was really impressed by her passion and dedication to the causes she supports, as well as the sheer artistic talent and skill it took to design these comfortable AND gorgeous shoes.

So I asked her if I could interview her, too. And here she is!

What inspired you to design these shoes?

I’ve always been a feminist and wanted to do something significant which would support women and girls to get an equal footing in the world. I’ve also always had a passion for business and for shoes, so I thought, why not combine all three things and create a shoe business which gives back to women and girls living in poverty. A business which allows women to empower women. So, that’s what I did. I’ve worked in retail for many years and have done very long days on my feet and I can assure you, there were always many achy feet “ouches” throughout the day from all of the activity I did. It was important to me that my product was pain free and allowed women to stand with poise, grace and elegance. A heel that could essentially carry women from boardroom to bar. So, that’s where the passion for comfort and my shoellery (shoe jewellery) concept came in. It took two years for me to develop the product but it’s been a real hit.

The comfort element of the shoes comes from the inspiration of how flamingos stand, often for hours on end, on just one leg. Essentially, it’s all about effective body weight distribution. As to the secret of the maths involved, I’m afraid I can’t give that away! I’ve also ensured that every shoe has an empowering name to keep the theme of feminism and equality running through the collections. Some of the names are: Equally Ever After, Dream then Do, Take My lead, Stand Tall Sister, The Moon is Mine and Time to Bloom.

Can you tell me a bit about the charities that the shoe sales support? What overall percentage of the sales goes to charity?

Saffie – one of the girls being helped in Shaherazad's Peru project which supports girls to lift themselves out of service as child domestic home help.

I have a brilliant partnership in place with GlobalGiving UK who are based in London. GlobalGiving source the right projects for my brand to support and they are all targeted to help women and girls living in poverty to gain an education so that they can then lift themselves and their families out of difficult situations. It’s important to me that the projects choose how they spend the money donated to them so that they can choose the most relevant and sustainable way forward. For example, one of the projects I support in Kenya have decided to use some of their money to build a classroom where girls can come and learn sewing skills so that they can then set up their own tailoring business. The girls come from very challenging backgrounds and some have had little or no access to education at all so the skills they gain become a real lifeline and mean they can support themselves to earn a living. I currently have projects in Kenya, Palestine, Pakistan and Peru. My aim is to be working in every country where there is poverty as the brand grows. Wouldn’t it be great if together, as women, we could eradicate extreme poverty altogether? That’s my dream and my life purpose.

I launched my business online in April 2016 and so have been trading for just over a year. 100% of profits went to my good cause projects last year which meant that my business helped 700 women and girls living in poverty to gain access to educational support. Going forward, 10% from every pair sold will go to good causes via GlobalGiving and the rest will be invested back in to the business to ensure that it continues to grow and that the brand is able to help thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, more women and girls.

I know you still work as a marketing director for the Co-op. How do you balance your energy between your design and your day job?

I love business and I love work so I feel that it’s a real privilege to be able to do such brilliant jobs alongside each other. My day job as Marketing Director is where I spend my full time focus. I normally leave home by 7am and get back home by about 7.30pm. So, I use the weekends to get my designs done – it’s my passion and I actually find it very relaxing. I also use a lot of freelance support and experts to manage the shoe elements of my life so that I can take a balanced approach to life. For example, I have plenty of social media, photography, graphic design, finance and other freelance resources which I use. The work I do on my shoes is also purely philanthropic; it’s my way of doing good deeds in the world in a scalable way. I love my work at The Co-operative (Central England Coop) and I love my shoe business too.

What has been the most satisfying part of creating this business?

There are so many, but if I had to choose one it would be hearing the stories of the girls that the shoes have helped. I love the fact that someone treating themselves to heels means someone else gets a better chance in life. Good deed heels are what make me smile. In fact the bottom of the my shoes has this “to do list” on it for every woman who wears them:

You can find Shaherazad’s gorgeous shoes here and read her interview with me here.

Chocolate, Writing Retreats, Unnerving Moaning and More!

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This weekend started in the best possible way. A friend messaged me on Facebook saying, “You have to get a copy of The Guardian today! There’s a special supplement on the Best New Children’s Books Summer 2017, and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is in it!”

And ahhhh! It was true:

I honestly can’t think of any better news to inspire me as I work on my edits for the next book in the series, my MG spies-and-fairies book (in which Aventurine, my fiery dragon-girl, takes a turn as the sidekick while Silke, her fabulously clever best friend, is the heroine of her own story).

Unfortunately, between school holidays, family holidays, and a really unfortunate series of M.E./CFS crashes, I’m not as far ahead in those edits as I’d hoped to be by now. So I’ve taken the radical (for me) step of planning an actual writing retreat next week for the first time in four years. The last time I did this, I booked a lovely bed & breakfast in Ludlow, England, and wrote 7,000 words in 2 days, which is HUGE for me. This time I’m taking a 3-day retreat instead of a 2-day one…and I’m not staying in a B&B after all because all the ones I looked at in Ludlow were booked up.

But! A really generous friend has offered me a place to stay, even though I’ve warned her I will be a terrible houseguest, since I’ll spend the whole time surrounded by spread-out manuscript pages, alternating typing/scribbling and moaning unnervingly through the walls. Luckily, she’s a writer, too, so she gets it. ;)

I will be bringing two VERY large boxes of chocolates along with me – one as a thank-you gift to my hosts, and one to fuel me through the edits. Chocolate will get me through to my deadline! I am determined!

Oh, and: I finally have a firm publication date for my adult romantic fantasy novella, Snowspelled – September 4th! (I’d finished all of the edits on this one a few months ago while I was waiting for my MG spies-and-fairies edits to arrive, but I didn’t have a firm pub date for it until now.) The gorgeous cover (with art by Leesha Hannigan, whose work I love) will be revealed on The Book Smugglers next Thursday (at about the same time that the pre-order links go up online), and in the meantime, you can read the jacket copy, add it on Goodreads – and if you’re a book blogger/reviewer, you can contact me now to get an e-ARC immediately!

Even if you’re not a book blogger/reviewer, if you are a newsletter subscriber, you’ll get the chance to win an early review copy in my July newsletter. Just sign up here.

This week I’ll be working intensely on my edits, petting Pebbles, and, let’s face it, drinking a lot of hot chocolate. Good luck to you guys with all of your own goals! :)

Authors for Grenfell – an Auction and a New Short Story

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In the past week, I’ve been heartbroken over so many world events, including some that took place very close to home. It’s horrible to feel helpless in the face of these nightmares.

I’m so glad to have been invited to help with one of them.

My agent, the wonderful Molly Ker Hawn, along with authors Harriet Reuter Hapgood and Sara Barnard, has organized a new auction, #AuthorsForGrenfell. Over sixty authors and agents have already donated auction items. All of them will raise money for the British Red Cross to go to residents affected by the horrific Grenfell Tower fire.

There are amazing names among the offering authors and agents, and you should absolutely browse through the whole catalogue! Bidding opens today and closes next Tuesday. There are so many great items to bid on!

And: I’m offering a brand-new short-short story to be written about any of the characters from my published novels – winner’s choice! If there’s any character that’s ever made you wonder – “What happened to them afterward?” or: “What exactly DID happen to them before the book started?” – now’s the time to find out. :)

I’ve offered these stories as auction items before, and it’s always worked out really well. That’s how I wrote Flying Magic (about Kat all grown-up and dealing with her own kids), Forbidden Magic (about Kat’s parents when they were young) and, most recently, Shadow Duet, which is going out to all of my newsletter subscribers tomorrow before going on sale next month.

(Wonderful cover designed by Patrick Samphire!)

The auction-winner for Shadow Duet asked for a short story about Carlo and Charlotte after the end of Masks and Shadows, and it was such a pleasure to finally give them a bit of a sequel! (You might not believe just how much time I’ve spent over the years thinking about what would happen to them next…)

Which characters would you like to hear more about?

You can bid here from 1pm BST/8am EST today, Monday, June 19th. (ETA: It’s live now!) Good luck!

Finding Your Personal “Click”

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There are some places in the world that are just personal magic. Different people find their own in different places, but when you find yours, there’s an internal click of recognition and all the accumulated tension floods away, leaving space for real imagination and creativity to take its place.

Over the years, I’ve visited a lot of really beautiful places, many of which work that magic for many other people, and all of which I’ve deeply enjoyed. But the first time I ever visited Wales’s Gower Peninsula, four years ago, I felt that unmistakable click like a key unlocking a secret door inside me.

Nowadays, we try to go there as a family every year. If we were rich, I’d buy a cottage by the coast and go there as often as possible. As it is, we rent a caravan for one weekend every summer that we can, and it’s the best weekend of my year every time. Whenever I stand out there in the waves looking out across the ocean, I feel all the accumulated stress of the year slip off from my shoulders, carried safely far away by the sea water while I’m there…and I feel that unmistakable “click” of creativity being unlocked inside me and letting my imagination out.

Before we went away this time, I was feeling really stressed and also just tired in every possible way, to the point where I wasn’t even sure that this year’s trip was a good idea; I had no energy to spare, whether physical or emotional. Not only was I physically and mentally exhausted, but I’d hit the point where I felt creatively drained. I could keep on working productively on the stories that I’d already begun, but I was feeling so exhausted that I’d hit that awful (and horribly familiar) stage where it seemed honestly implausible that I’d ever think of any new ideas again. (I knew that wasn’t really true, of course – I have been at that stage before! – but the feeling was still strong and hard to combat while exhausted.)

Then we reached the Gower, I stepped onto the beach…and ohhhhh.

By the time we left, less than 48 hours later, I’d written down two new MG novel openings in my notebook. One of them is just fine; the other one has that unmistakable spark, the feeling of simmering magic and so much potential, that makes it a story I will love; a story that will build a whole new world inside me.

I came up with both of those stories on the beach, looking out across the water. On one of those days I had to wear a raincoat, and thick mist hid the cliffs in the distance; that didn’t matter. Creativity just flooded through the air for me, whether or not it was raining, as the waves swept against the sand.

What makes particular places click for particular people? I don’t know. I grew up visiting much sunnier and equally beautiful beaches on the Pacific, lined by palm trees, and they were wonderful. I’ve swum in deliciously warm ocean water in Florida, and I loved that, too.

But for some reason, it’s the wooded, cool and misty Gower Peninsula in Wales that turns the key in my creative heart and lets my stories out like nowhere else I’ve ever been in my life.

Now I have a new story waiting to be told in a few months, and the magical world behind it is building itself in my subconscious. When I left home on Friday afternoon, I was still worrying at the projected edits for my next book, determined but deeply uncertain about how to handle them; when I came back from the Gower, the uncertainty was gone. I could see the new turns of the story stretching out inside me.

This morning, I woke up to find amazing fan art for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart waiting in my email inbox: my characters (Aventurine and Silke) looking fierce and fabulous and perfectly captured on the screen. I was filled with recognition and delight at the sight of them.

It’s definitely time to start writing again. Now, after this weekend, I’m ready.

I’d love to hear about the places that feel magical for you guys, too.