On Writing: The Magic in Storytelling with Polly Ho-Yen

Do you remember those stories that used to make you feel like you could do anything? The magic that was sprinkled in your world from the chapters of books like Matilda, A Little Princess, Tom’s Midnight Garden or the Chronicles of Narnia?

Today’s instalment in our On Writing series is from Polly Ho-Yen and examines the art of magic in storytelling.

Polly is a critically-acclaimed and Carnegie nominated author who writes especially wonderful middle grade fiction. Her books, whilst real world set, are peppered with magic and the extraordinary.

As her latest novel, Fly Me Home, has just been published, we wanted to share Polly’s tips for creating those extra-special magic moments in children’s fiction…

FLY ME HOME

Your novels always include an element of wonder – why do you think it is important to have this in books for children?

Children are full of wonder. They are curious, amazed and fascinated by the world. I’m always reminded by this when I spend any time with my young nephew (who is captivated at the moment by switching a lamp on and off.) Writing an element of wonder into my books for children is something that has happened quite naturally for me and not exactly by design. It is though perhaps heavily influenced by being part of many wondrous children’s lives as a primary school teacher and now, as an auntie, and I see its importance in its reflection of its audience.

I like to throw around the idea of stories happening in a world that is just like our own, but with one thing that’s different. I then explore how that one thing has a knock-on effect on everything and everyone around it. Having this is in mind has also led me to delving deeper into wonder – and so perhaps it’s particularly important as a way of investigating difference.

 

Does the magical element of storytelling need to represent something more significant or can it be there purely to entertain?

 I’m often surprised when I’m reading over what I’ve written how themes and issues are interwoven throughout the story that I made no conscious decision to put there. I might think that a magical aspect of a story I’m writing is merely entertaining. I might believe that it is designed to engage the reader (and I hope it is!) but when I look back on it, with the benefit of perspective, I realise what my unconscious was really trying to do. I then see the representation, and its significance – the message that lay hidden, even to me!

 

Are there any books/authors in particular that inspire or influence your work? What do they do well?

 Too many to list! I’m always grateful to the authors who wrote the books that I’ve reread and reread and never tire of – To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diddakoi, Northern Lights are just a few. Reading the current (and brilliant) work of authors writing currently – Patrick Ness, Kate Atkinson, Neil Gaiman, Meg Rosoff – made me itch to pick up a pen and get going myself. I think what they all do fantastically well is creating a world and characters that feel incredibly real to me.

 

Is magic just for kids?

Magic is for anyone who has an imagination and likes to use it.

 Fly Me Home was published by Random House Children’s Books on 6th July. Make sure to follow Polly on Twitter: @bookhorse

 

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Agency Newsletter: June

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Martina Cole – in conversation

As part of Queen of Crime Martina Cole’s anniversary year,Headline put on a very special rooftop book club event in partnership with Woman & Home.

Martina was in conversation with Fanny Blake in the rooftop garden of Headline’s stunning offices. They discussed Martina’s most recent release, Betrayal, and her glittering 25 year career. Guests were treated to funny anecdotes and had the chance to ask Martina their own brilliant questions.

From the evening, we learnt that Martina has more number one original bestsellers than any other authors, each novel outsells the last and her books are the most borrowed in prisons and most stolen in bookshops.

Arthur Pepper triumphs in France

We are delighted that The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick has scooped the prestigious Prix des Lectrices Milady 2017!

The Prix des Lectrices Milady is a readers’ choice award, launched by Éditions Milady in 2014, previous winners include Jojo Moyes but Phaedra Patrick was the clear favourite in 2017!

Congratulations Phaedra!

KL Slater’s LIAR

Hot on the heels of the publication of KL Slater’s third chilling psychological suspense, LIAR, it has shot straight in at No.5 on the UK Kindle charts. It is also a No.2 Kobo bestseller.

Her previous psychological thrillers, SAFE WITH ME and BLINK have also been Kindle and Kobo bestsellers which firmly positions Kim as a rising star in this genre.

Congratulations, Kim!

Lee Child dominates worldwide

The unstoppable Lee Child has continued his success on the UK and US bestseller charts with his short story collection, No Middle Name and the 21st Jack Reacher, Night School.

Four weeks after publication in the UK, No Middle Name is No.2 on the Sunday Times Hardback Fiction list. Night School, an incredible 10 weeks after publication, is now No.5 on the Sunday Times paperback list. Sales for Night School are up by 19% on the last Reacher.

Blatt & Rios in Argentina acquired 2 of Lee Child’s short stories meaning he will be published in South America for the first time!

Jack Ford takes on the boys

The Killing Grounds is the first book in the exciting international thriller series by Jack Ford featuring ex-US Navy-turned-investigator and high asset recovery operator, Thomas J Cooper.

For fans of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series, Clive Cussler and Bernard Cornwell, it has already received some rave reviews Jack Ford studied global political Islam and American politics and went on to take a Master of Science degree in Counter-Terrorism. She has previously published six gritty crime novels under her real name but wanted to turn her hand to writing a thriller that brought her love of Africa and politics together. A huge fan of Lee Child and John Grisham, she also wanted to challenge herself in the male-dominated arena and does a fantastic job!

Congratulations, Jack!

Cathy Cassidy launches

Beloved author Cathy Cassidy’s latest novel, Love from Lexie, was published on 15th June and Cathy has been excitedly meeting all of her young fans up and down the country to discuss her new novel, including a mini-launch with delicious cakes in Balham.

Love from Lexie is the first in a timely and pitch-perfect new series about friendship and loyalty, following six teenagers each with a unique story to tell.

 

 

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On Writing: Pace and Tension with Tom Bale

The latest instalment in the On Writing series, which features our authors who are no longer debuts, examines the art of pace and tension. Tom Bale is well on his way to becoming a classic thriller writer. In his signature style, he takes ordinary people, often families, and throws them into extraordinary and terrifying situations -the bestselling All Fall Down is a particularly scary but brilliant one!

On the publication day of his latest nail-biting thriller, Each Little Lie, we wanted to ask the seasoned author just how he keeps the reader on the edge of their seat…

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Are you consciously structuring the pace and tension in the first draft of the novel or is this something that you consider more in your editing?

My first drafts tend to be quite messy and unwieldy, but fortunately I love the process of getting stuck into a really intensive rewrite! For me, the twin priorities of the first draft are to get the story down in a coherent way and bring the characters to life. Having said that, I do pay attention to pace and tension from the start, because these components are so fundamental to the success of a thriller. One of the clearest indications that I’m falling short is if I find myself losing interest in a particular scene or a storyline – that means it’s time to back up and change something.

During the editing stage, a lot of work can be done to speed up the pace and increase tension, and this is where some of the famous screenwriting tips come in handy: start each scene as late as possible, cut away anything that doesn’t move the story forward, etc.

 

Are there particular techniques you use to heighten the tension, or pace? If so, what are they?

If you’re writing thrillers, the essential thing is to create both empathy and suspense. The reader has to fear that something bad is going to happen to someone they care about. To that end, there are various techniques that can be employed. The key is to withhold information, introducing a series of little mysteries or questions and then gradually revealing the answers. It’s a delicate balancing act: release too much information and the tension is lost, but not enough and the reader may become frustrated or bored.

Even if you’re aiming for a breakneck pace, it’s important to have some variety. The slower moments give the reader time to breathe, and these scenes are a great opportunity to build character. Interest can be maintained by introducing new questions, or perhaps a little foreshadowing of what is to come. One of my favourite ways of raising tension is to allow the reader to know something the protagonist doesn’t about the dangers that lie ahead.

 

What is your signature masterstroke in creating real tension that shocks and grips the reader?

I’m not sure if I have any masterstrokes as such, but I do always try to introduce a few twists or setbacks that come out of nowhere. Even if a novel has been plotted in detail, new ideas tend to pop up during the writing and I’ve learned to trust my instinct and go with them, even if I have no idea how they’ll tie in with the main storyline. It could be an entirely new character, or perhaps an element of someone’s backstory – and it’s a wonderful feeling when I approach the final quarter of the book and suddenly see how the random idea I introduced two hundred pages earlier can dovetail neatly with the climax of the novel. Of course, it doesn’t always happen that way, but any extraneous additions can be removed during the rewrites.

 

What storytellers do you consider to be the greatest at creating and controlling pace and tension?

There are many writers that I admire in this respect, but I’d say Lee Child is an absolute master. Even during the quieter sections there’s an absolute compulsion to turn the page, and I think a lot of that comes from his prose. The sentences are so perfectly formed, and build on each other with such a compelling rhythm, that it’s almost impossible not to get drawn in: “Just one more line, one more paragraph, one more chapter…” and then you realise you’ve stayed up half the night to finish it.

Each Little Lie is published by Bookouture today. Be sure to follow Tom Bale on Twitter: @t0mbale

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7 Things You Need To Know About The Killing Grounds

Today marks the publication of The Killing Grounds by Jack Ford, the first novel in an exciting new international thriller series. So, what do you need to know?

The Killing Grounds final

  • The series introduces ex- US Navy-turned-investigator Thomas J Cooper – a complicated but brilliant hero who, after a terrifying encounter with Somali pirates, is left devastated, damaged and using painkillers to dull memories of the past.
  • Tiring of every thriller being set in a cosmopolitan and familiar city? The Killing Grounds follows Cooper’s high-risk investigatory work which takes him on a dangerous journey across the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and USA.
  • This is a true summer blockbuster. With its propulsive energy and compelling intrigue, The Killing Grounds has all the ingredients of the greatest popcorn thrillers.
  • For fans of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series, Clive Cussler and Bernard Cornwell. What sets it apart is the characters; their complexities and relationships are at the core but the rip-roaring plot never slows. Truly unique.
  • The author really knows their stuff. Having studied global political Islam and American politics, Jack went on to take a Master of Science degree in Counter-Terrorism and will further those studies next year by tackling a PhD focusing on radicalisation and extremism.
  • Don’t just take our word for it, here’s a snippet of a review from a notable blogger:

‘Where to even begin. The Killing Grounds is a thrilling read… has relationships, politics – both US and international – violence, grief, addiction, religion and superstition and so much more at its heart, all with an incredible amount of research and detail.’

  • Be sure to follow the author on Twitter to find out more: @JackFordAuthor and click here to pick up your copy – don’t miss it!
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On Writing: Olivia Levez and The Second Book

For a debut author, the publication of your first novel feels like a dream come true. An exciting and very rewarding end to, possibly, years of blood, sweat and tears.

But now you must write your second novel which comes with a stricter deadline and the added pressure of living up to the hype and enthusiasm of your first. It’s known to some authors as Second Book Syndrome. So what are the some of the problems you come up against? And how do you deal with them without pulling all your hair out and eating every single thing in the fridge (including the mystery condiments)?

In the second part of our On Writing series, Olivia Levez talks about her experiences writing The Circus, the follow-up novel to the critically acclaimed The Island.

P.S. Olivia really had nothing to worry about as The Circus is an exceptional YA novel with a truly distinctive voice – check it out!
Olivia Levez The Circus launch

Olivia at the launch for The Circus

Writing a second book is hard. Really hard. The first one is written for yourself, with the freedom to explore, to be creative, to find your own style, to dip in and out of different writing methods, to lose yourself in words. That feeling of being in the zone, utterly at one with your writing and your passion. No one’s looking over your shoulder, not really.

Then comes the second, and the deadline looms just as you’re in mid publication frenzy for your first ever published book. This time it’s different: as well as writing the thing, you have your daily life to maintain, complete with job, (in my case lesson planning, teaching, exam marking), and family commitments and all of the tiny things that make up your daily existence. Eating. Food. That sort of thing. But this time, there’s another set of pressures, because now you have to learn how to be a self promotion guru, a whizz at keeping up with the white noise and nuances of social media; an organiser of events, school visits, trips to London, split train tickets, best Premier Inn offers; an arranger of school assemblies, book tours, book sales.

And somehow, in the midst of all of this, you have to try to find the time and head space to write another book. You have to keep your head clear as reviews come in, news of others’ successes, triumphs, fellow authors who all seem to be doing bigger and better things than you. You have to not cringe as you post yet another promo author post on Facebook, wondering whether your friends are truly sick of the sight of you and your damned book yet.

It’s hard. And scary.

I hit the wall three times at 30,000 words with The Circus and each time had to start from scratch. It got so that I started to sweat as my word-count crept up to the 27,000 mark, wondering when that truly awful blankness and book hatred would strike. And it did. Every time. By far my best circus act with this one was Hitting The Wall: a death defying feat of pure unperformance and inaction.

Slam. Three times.

What should I do? My deadline was scarily close, and all I really had to show for it was a girl named Willow and a few nicely described circus scenes. What did she want? I wasn’t sure. Why was she running away? I didn’t really know. Where was she actually running to? Nope. Didn’t know that one either.

I did have her voice though. I knew she had a story to tell, if I could only access it and stop panicking. In the end I took a deep breath and sent my agent, Clare Wallace, an email with the header: HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

She phoned me straight away and listened calmly as I hiccupped my way through all of my worries and frets. Within the hour she had got my deadline extended, offered practical help with my upcoming launch and reassured me that she got this a lot from debut authors and I wasn’t alone. Immediately the huge burden had lifted and I was able to focus on enjoying the publication of The Island.

Clare gave me permission not to write anything at all for a few weeks. And paradoxically, because I wasn’t supposed to be writing, the ideas came flooding in. I grabbed the dog, took myself off to my caravan and sat outside the pub with a pint of SA, staring over unspeakably beautiful Cardigan Bay, daydreaming.

And that’s when it came to me. Willow needed a friend. Of course she did. She needed someone to complement her spoilt selfishness and lighten up the darker moments of her experience of being on the streets. I thought about my favourite film, The Midnight Cowboy, the poignant tale of a naïve country boy seeking his fortune in New York City, starring Jon Voight as Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman as his trickster friend, Ratso. That was it:

Willow Stephens needed her Ratso.

So Suz was born, Willow’s companion through all of her adventures. She was already present in my story, although I hadn’t realised it. In an early scene I had a brief description of a homeless girl feeding ham to the pigeons in Charing Cross, and this girl grew to become Suz, Willow’s friend and circus manager.

Next, how to fix the setting? Originally, The Circus was set in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, an evocative town which manages to be seedy, magical, squalid and glamorous all at the same time. I’d visited Plovdiv the previous autumn as part of my research and watched children throwing each other up into the air on trampolines outside its Cirque Balkanski. Miniature ponies pulled at trampled grass in the circus grounds – a carpark outside Lidl. I sat in our hire car, scribbling notes and watching. I loved the juxtaposition between the tawdry and the surreal. Those descriptions made their way straight into my circus adventure, but I kept drawing to a halt every time I tried to get Willow there. How to get a runaway to Bulgaria? I didn’t have enough technical information, hadn’t had time to travel by train to follow her possible journey.

I tried setting it in Paris, made her a stowaway in a coach (that was the second draft that grinded to a half at 30,000 words). No good. Panic.

Then I visited my brother in Hastings. Immediately I stepped off the train I knew I had found my setting. Hastings has it all: edge, street performers, a creative vibe, down-at-heel bits, upmarket bits, tattiness, an ineffably lovely seafront and plenty of weird and wonderful places for Willow to stay as she attempted to find the circus and herself.

Suz. Hastings: the missing ingredients. The rest was a whizz to write, a breeze after all of the juggling acts, the tightrope walk, the knife edge.

Ultimately, there was the final performance: an amazing book launch at my school, complete with talented student and staff performers!

What have I learnt about writing book two? What I’ve always known, what all writers know in their hearts. You’ll get there. Just keep doing what you’re doing, one wobbling step at a time.

The show must go on.

The Circus was published by Oneworld on 4 May 2017. Follow Olivia on Twitter: @livilev

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Agency Newsletter: May

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You Don’t Know Me – a startling debut

A new and exciting voice in the crime and thriller world launched this month with a staggering debut novel.

Imran Mahmood’s You Don’t Know Me is a crime book with a difference: the story is told entirely in the form of a defence speech from a young black man, accused of murder. The reader becomes the jury as the unnamed defendant presents the eight pieces of evidence and only one thing matters – did he do it?

The audio book, narrated by Adam Deacon of Kidulthood, is the fastest selling audio book for Penguin Random House this year.

You Don’t Know Me has received stellar praise from many national newspapers including The Times and Imran was profiled in the Guardian. He also featured as a Simon Mayo book club selection on BBC Radio 2 and was on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4.

Lee Child’s outstanding contribution

Lee Child will be awarded the OutstandingContribution to Crime Fiction Award at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate this year.

Simon Theakston, who runs the award said ‘Lee is very deserving of this accolade, and will have his rightful place in a pantheon of legendary crime authors who have achieved this honour to date.’

No Middle Name, a collection of all the Reacher stories, published together for the first time, has soared into No.3 on the New York Times hardcover bestseller chart and is No.2 in the UK!

Nobody does it better.

TM Logan – Top 10 for debut

TM Logan’s gripping debut, Lies, has spent 8 weeks in the Kindle Top 10 having previously reached No.1 on iBooks and No.2 on Kindle.

This month, Charlie Spicer at St. Martin’s Press acquired North American rights, he said: ‘Like B.A. Paris’s mega bestseller Behind Closed Doors, TM Logan creates an unforgettable novel of suspense out of a chilling human dilemma: what if you learned your wife was having an affair and you believe you are being set up to take the fall for a murder?’

CWA Daggers

We are delighted to announce that three of our authors have been nominated for a CWA Dagger Award 2017.

Tana French has beennominated for the CWA Dagger in the Library, which acknowledges the author’s entire body of work. Tana’s No.2 New York Times bestseller, The Trespasser, has also been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club 2017.

Longlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award are Tim Weaver for his outstanding 7th novel, Broken Heart, and James Carol under his pseudonym JS Carol for the exciting thriller The Killing Game.

DA Children’s Authors Win

Two of our fantastic children’s authors have scooped prizes this month.

Deirdre Sullivan’s powerful and poetic novel Needlework has won the Honor Award for Fiction at the CBI Book of the Year Awards 2017.

Caroline Crowe’s heart-warming Pirates in Pyjamas was awarded Best Picture Book at the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Awards!

Cathy Cassidy in the US

Papercutz, the largest comic book publisher in the US, has published the first adaptation of the internationally bestselling Chocolate Book Girls series by our beloved author, Cathy Cassidy.

Sweeties, the first in a planned series, combines books 1 and 2, Cherry Crush and Marshmallow Skye.

Cathy is published in 26 languages worldwide and her sales top 3 million copies.

 

 

 

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Agency Newsletter: April

Some highlights from last month at the agency, hope you all enjoy!

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John Connolly and Lee Child – No.1 Bestsellers

We were incredibly proud to see two of our authors secure the highly-coveted No.1 spot – and even more so that it was simultaneous!

Back with the 15th novel in his outstanding Charlie Parker series, John Connolly soared to the top spot with A Game of Ghosts, beating Wilbur Smith’s War Cry and several other well established authors.

This is the second consecutive year that John has gone straight to No.1 on the hardback list.

And the paperback of Night School, the 21st Jack Reacher novel from Lee Child went straight to No.1 with an emphatic lead ahead of the No.2 bestseller, and it stayed comfortably in the top spot for four weeks.

Both authors held the No.1 spot simultaneously for two weeks.

An amazing achievement for both authors and for the agency.

Annie Murray is a No.6 Bestseller

It was a record-breaking month at the agency, Annie Murray’s latest novel The Doorstep Child rocketed into the No.6 spot on the bestsellers chart – the highest position in her career so far.

The Doorstep Child is Annie’s 21st book and is the third novel in a trilogy, featuring 2016’s Now The War Is Over and 2015’s War Babies.

All three novels have been Sunday Times bestsellers.

Tana French – Richard & Judy Book Club

We are thrilled to announce that The Trespasser, the sixth Dublin Murder Squad thriller from Tana French, has been selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club Summer Reads.

The Trespasser is a No.2 New York Times bestseller and won Crime Fiction Book of the Year 2016 at the BGE Irish Book Awards.

It was named as one of the best books of 2016 by Time, Guardian, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, among others.

It’s no wonder when Tana can count Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, Kate Mosse, Ian Rankin and Sophie Hannah as some of her fans.

Make sure to check out the R&J podcast in July for an interview with Tana.

Martina Cole – Anniversary Events

Special and exclusive events are happening across the UK to celebrate 25 years of record-breaking bestsellers from the one and only, Martina Cole.

In June, the prolific author will be in London, Scarborough, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester discussing the iconic Dangerous Lady and her most recent novel, Betrayal.

Don’t miss your opportunity to see the Queen of Crime in conversation, visit martinacole.co.uk for all the details.

DA Children’s Agency News

The Forever Court by Dave Rudden went straight to No.6 in the Irish bestsellers chart!

The second instalment in the exciting Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy was launched with a bang at the packed-out event in Dublin. Eoin Colfer, bestselling author of the Artemis Fowl book and former Children’s Laureate introduced Dave at the event and said that The Forever Court was ‘forged in ginger flames and will transcend expectations’.

The Guardian gave a rave review, saying, ‘Surpasses his award-winning first novel in humour, menace, Machiavellian plotting and crystalline prose’.

 

 

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