Explore the stars with Kate Ling | Q&A and Giveaway!

We are continuing along the space theme this week, this time focussing on Kate Ling.

I have long been a fan of Kate Ling’s work. Her trilogy, the Ventura saga, explore space through mental health problems, new planets, sentient coral, passionate romances, chronic illnesses, post-apocalyptic Wales and the adventure of escaping the life you were born into. Her main characters, Seren and Bea, are both complex girls who know what they want in life, and hang anyone gets in their way — which makes sense, given they are related.

The third book The Truth of Different Skies, which is also technically a prequel to the previous two, was released earlier this year and I thought it was a great time to ask Kate some questions and give you guys the opportunity to win shiny new copies of all three books.

If you’re going to YALC this weekend, come join Kate’s workshop at 3pm on Friday workshop “Written in the Stars”, which will explore her love of space in fun and creative ways.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

What inspired the Ventura Saga?

I’ve always enjoyed writing love stories, and I feel like you do a better job writing what you enjoy.  So these books were always going to be about love. The sci-fi setting came from my love of all things sci-fi, and my enthusiasm for space and science in general (all of my top five movies are sci-fi).  But I’ve also always been kind-of obsessed with the real SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) program, and what would happen if they do actually make a discovery. How would humanity possibly make a journey that would take centuries?  And that’s when I started thinking about what it would be like to be born in the middle of a mission like that; to be born to die, all without leaving the ship. Wouldn’t that be depressing? So I think the idea of Seren struggling with her mental health was common sense, and also addressing the fact that we ALL struggle with our mental health at some time in one way or another was something I cared about.  This is when it seemed like everything was coming together, particularly when I began to contrast the passion and heat of first love with the cold and dark of space, and the restriction and sterility of the Ventura regime.

What was the process of designing not only the Ventura but the way of life on board like?  Is there anything about the Ventura that didn’t make it to the page that you can share?

Great question! It ended up being more complicated than I originally anticipated, that’s for sure.  It came into my head quite organically at first but, once I had my publishing deal and a great editor, she pointed out any little inconsistencies or things I hadn’t explained properly.  This meant I had to go back to the drawing board and draw maps (I did cross sections, floor plans, the works – and it turns out I’m a terrible cartographer, despite being married to a geography teacher!).  Then I had to do some sums – working out numbers, population graphs, drawing diagrams – basically thinking my way logically through the breeding program, the work assignments, all the things that would make the system onboard work.  I enlisted the help of a physics teacher I know with a couple of technicalities but I’m not sure I ever got my head round them (artificial gravity being one example!). One thing that never made it to the page was the economic system on board. It was actually a student at the school I work in who helped me figure this out, but in the end my editor felt we didn’t need it.

Who has been your favourite character to write: Seren or Bea?  Which other character would you love to write a POV from?

Hey, another great question!  I loved writing Seren because she’s so cynical and brutally honest – she always says what she thinks – and yet at the same time so sensitive and vulnerable.  As I said before, her mental health issues are something dear to my heart, and also something I have experience of, so she was a character I felt I needed to write.

But I also love Bea. She’s Seren’s great grandmother, and in many ways they’re similar.  Ultimately their stories are mirror images of each other, but they’re both just looking for a way out of the lives they’re trapped in.  What I love about Bea is that she has so many obstacles but she doesn’t let any of them stop her. She suffers from an invisible illness, which is again something I have personal experience of and really wanted to write about. Both of my heroines are raw and real and flawed and they don’t always do what’s right – just like real people. I missed Seren so much when I first started writing from Bea’s perspective – but then, in a way, I felt like Bea came to life even more so for me.

One character I would love to write from the POV of is Ezra, a major character in my first and second books.  He just has this great, sarcastic, dry wit and his voice was always so vivid to me. He also revealed himself, as much to my surprise as anyone’s, to have hidden depths and be far more complex than he first appeared.  Those are the best kinds of characters.

Was The Truth Of Different Skies always planned to be the third book?

I always knew I would write this part of the story.  What’s strange is that one of the first starting points when The Loneliness of Distant Beings was first coming together in my mind, was those one-way missions to Mars they were recruiting for. I heard about them on the news and found myself wondering who would ever sign up for such a thing – going off into the unknown, into space, and never returning. I had even written the beginning of a first draft from that perspective before, suddenly and unbidden, Seren popped into my mind – a girl born right in the middle of a several hundred year mission she hadn’t signed up to and would never see the end of.  Maybe it just felt right to start the journey with her, in the middle, with no context, in order to feel the way she does about it. But seeing it through the eyes of a recruit was something I always knew I would do. One reviewer recently mentioned the fact that, while quite a lot of books are set on space missions, relatively few address the recruitment stage, and it felt fresh and exciting when I was writing it, so I hope that comes across.

While the first two books are set in space, The Truth Of Different Skies is mostly set in Wales and Spain.  What made you choose these two countries?

Seren was always linked to Wales (her name means ‘star’ in Welsh) so I knew I would give her origins there, but I also feel like it’s a place that doesn’t get written about as often as it should. The Ventura was built and owned by a Spanish company so I always felt La Verdad (the space facility where they discovered the signal and from which they recruit for the mission) should be based there.  The behind-the-scenes reasons for these settings are that I am married to a Welshman and so have spent a lot of time there, and that I live in Spain. I love both places and loved reading a lot about what their futures might look like, as well as extrapolating my own theories.  I loved taking what I know and love about their landscapes and societies now and turning them into something new. I have taken the very road trip in the book several times so I knew it was something I could really make lift off the page, in terms of the sights and sounds and sensations of that journey.

I always like to ask writers if their characters look like anyone famous (or just a random face from Pinterest).  Do any of your characters have famous faces, or people you’d hope would play them in a movie?

I get asked this a lot and the truth is I’ve never quite found anyone to match the faces I have in my head.  I like to think that’s because the perfect people are as yet undiscovered! They would have to be pretty young (and therefore probably unknown) but I feel so sure that my books would make awesome movies that I hope I live to see the day that they do.  In an ideal world scenario, I’d love Andrea Arnold to make it – she’s such an exciting director.

What I do tend to borrow from a little is real life.  A fair few of my characters share certain characteristics with people I know, or have known.  My husband gets mad when he spots his own physical traits in my love interests, but I always point out he should feel flattered to be my muse.  Taylor Swift had Harry Styles, and I have him.

One thing I love about the Ventura saga is that there’s always something you as the author hold back until late in the book (when usually I tweet at you going !?!?!?!?!).  Does the twist come early in the writing for you, or as you go?

I adore good twists in books I read and films I watch, so I always hope to come up with a great one myself. The truth is that with those moments in all three books, I only came up with them as I went.  Weirdly they seemed to be brought about by the characters themselves in a way. In each case I began writing and seeing the way the characters interact and it suddenly became clear that they were heading towards surprising everybody, by doing this interesting, unpredictable thing.  That sounds hokey I know, but it’s true.

Will we see more from the Ventura saga?  What are you working on at the moment?

So many people have asked me now whether I will write more Ventura books and the truth is I do have ideas for several more, so we’ll see.  I hadn’t planned to. I feel there’s a completeness to the trilogy – a symmetry – but there’s also so many new directions that would be interesting to explore within the world of it, so I wouldn’t rule it out completely.

At the moment I am working on something new and I was about to say completely different, but then I realized that wasn’t quite the case.  Love stories, or at least emotive stories about human beings, are always at the forefront of what I do, but I do tend to slide into sci-fi settings, or at least somewhat other-worldly contexts, and I think that is set to continue.

What has been the biggest influence on your life as a writer?

Well, I guess other writers that I read and love are what influence me to a certain extent.  The close-up, voicey, first person narrative style that I have was really influenced by reading Kerouac and Salinger and Bret Easton Ellis as a young teen.  The more contemporary and YA writers that I read continue to help me improve my own structuring and plotting and inspire me.

The TV and movies that I love (always dark in tone, often sci-fi) also feed into my writing, which I always feel is very filmic.  Battlestar Galactica has a lot to answer for in giving me the atmosphere of Ventura!

But mostly it’s life that lends me its beauty. I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely.  I’ve lived in Australia, Africa, Latin America and now continental Europe. I’ve left everything and everyone I know behind several times to journey into the unknown… and I think you can see that influence strongly in the themes I choose to write about.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m still recovering from how much I loved Melinda Salisbury’s STATE OF SORROW and Alice Oseman’s I Was Born For This, so I’ve been on a break from YA for a month or so.  I just finished The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, which I thought was just staggering in its scale and skill, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which was truly a tour a de force.

What book are you most looking forward to in 2018?

I’m already anticipating Rainbow Rowell’s Wayward Son (even though it’s still a couple of years away!) because I loved Carry On more than words can say.  But a book we should all be looking forward to in 2018 is The Light Between Us by Katie Khan. I’m lucky enough to be reading it right now, as I got it on Net Galley, and it is just as gripping and surprising and unpredictable as her first (Hold Back the Stars).  I love Katie’s books because they’re right up my alley – human and moving and complex contemporary within an inventive sci-fi context.

You can read my reviews of each of Kate’s books here.

The Loneliness of Distant Beings

The Glow of Fallen Stars

The Truth of Different Skies

And now! Time for a giveaway! Enter HERE.

I will draw a winner at 9pm on Thursday the 26th of July, and if the winner is going to YALC I will hand them their copies at Kate’s workshop on the Friday. Else I can pop them in the post (in which case it will be UK only).

A Night at the Theatre | Theatrical Blog Tour

To imagine my life without the theatre in it would be very difficult. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time both in the seats and on the stage. When the lovely team at Usborne asked me to write a little about my love for the theatre in order to celebrate the release of Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt, I leaped at the chance.

C1083E63-261A-456C-B4B0-304BBBF2E4F8

My earliest memories of the theatre all involve my tiny grandma, Betty Little. She would pick me up in her little red Mini, which had absolutely no suspension whatsoever, and we would head over to the Rhyl Pavillion, a theatre that literally had a waterpark known as The Sun Centre attached to it for most of my childhood (I’m always a little bit surprised that other lobbies don’t have a slight odour of chlorine). We would watch all manner of shows, with a bag of Werthers Originals between us — surreptitiously unwrapping each sweet without causing any sound was all part of the experience. I loved seeing stories unfold before me, the rush of excitement knowing that anything could happen.

Throughout primary school, I was regularly on the stage — I was Mary twice, a fox cub in Fantastic Mr Fox, the lead girl in this really strange musical that seemed to be a rip off of both Rocky Horror and Petshop of Horrors (I just played the sample of Looking for the Action, a song which has haunted my memory for 20 years), and one of the ugly sisters in Cinders, amongst others. I remember playing Mary Jones, a young Welsh girl who walked miles to get a bible from Bala, more than once; the scent of the plastic fish and bread I was supposed to mime eat so very vivid twenty years later. My childhood is punctuated by learning lines, being fitted for costumes made of impossibly shiny material, the drying sensation of the heavily painted lipstick and of Jonathan Fisher-Jones and I trying to box people in during the waltz part of Cinders, just to make it a little more fun.

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-16 at 18.39.39

My parents absolutely pegged me for a theatre kid, but as my high school had no real drama program and we couldn’t afford the local theatre school, my thespian days were over and I focussed more on my voice. Our high school put on annual summer concerts at the very same theatre I spent my childhood, in which I would usually insist on singing at least two solo pieces. I belted out I Dreamed a Dream, the intonation entirely copied from Ruthie Henshall as I’d never heard another version sung. I bounced along to the achingly sweet Walking Back to Happiness, a song I was gifted by my music teacher due to my low rich voice. I performed a definitely-too-raunchy version of Fever while wearing a plunging dress and a feather boa in my final concert, aged seventeen. And in between these performances, we ran around the backstage and its corridors, walked by so many before us. We would find hallmarks of previous visitors, consigned to history like ghosts — a rogue lipstick, a song list, a sign designating whose dressing room was whose. Those memories are some of the happiest of my teenage years, the giddy rush of performance and the camaraderie of local showbiz.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

This year, I’ve been incredibly lucky to see some fantastic shows. My dear friend Ruth and I have made a pact to go see as much theatre in the next year or so as possible, and my musical obsessed friend Lauren has promised to show me all her favourite shows when I move to South London later this year. I howled with laughter at Verity Rushworth’s performance of History of Wrong Guys from Kinky Boots. I sobbed extensively through Hamilton, a musical that occupied every waking thought of mine in 2016. I marvelled at Laura Linney’s almost chameleonic ability to switch between the characters of Lucy Barton and her mother in the monologue adaptation of My Name is Lucy Barton. I marvelled at the dialogue and playfulness of Friel’s Translations at the National Theatre, all the time thinking of how colonialism scours the land.

Each experience so different but unforgettable to all my senses; the collective held gasp of the audience, the sooty vapour of stage smoke, the change in lighting to draw the eye. Theatre’s all-sensory nature amazes me, and even a bad play can still be an interesting night.

And this is what I think Harcourt’s novel Theatrical explores so effortlessly — not only the life behind the scenes, but that brought to the stage, the life in the seats. I was completely absorbed into Hope’s story, not only her swoony romance but her work managing the stage, which Harcourt has clearly researched extremely thoroughly.

Here’s the blurb for you:

Hope dreams of working backstage in a theatre, and she’s determined to make it without the help of her famous costume-designer mum. So when she lands an internship on a major production, she tells no one. But with a stroppy Hollywood star and his hot young understudy upstaging Hope’s focus, she’s soon struggling to keep her cool…and her secret.

Theatrical is the perfect summer novel, not only for theatre lovers, but for anyone who has ever wanted to follow their passions and dreams.

You can pick up your copy of Theatrical here:

Hive (UK) // Book Depository (International)

Why not go check out the other stops on the tour and learn about other people’s relationships with the theatre.

Theatrical blog tour (1).jpg

Thank you kindly to Stevie Hopwood for inviting me to be on the tour and for sending me a reading copy of Theatrical, and to Maggie Harcourt for writing it.

Please note that Book Depository links from this site are affiliate links.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone | 1 Minute Reviews

Sometimes, I pick up a book and instantly get a good feeling from it. It’s a specific sort of hum, as though the book is whispering that yes, you should absolutely read me.

I got this feeling from Dear Martin, a book which went on to completely exceeded all my expectations.

Dear Martin cover final

Dear Martin opens with Justyce McAllister, a teenage honour student and debate team champion, finding his on-and-off girlfriend indisposed and tries to help. Of course, none of his credentials matters to the white police officer who sees a young black man with a white woman, finding Justyce in handcuffs.

Frustrated with endemic racism in society and racial profiling by the police, Justyce looks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers, choosing to write him letters that pepper the book.

But this first brush with the law is not the last, and when Justyce goes driving one day with his best friend Manny, they find their lives threatened by a white off-duty cop.

I read Dear Martin in one sitting, only stopping briefly to get a drink. It is a powerhouse of a novel; do not be fooled by its diminutive stature. From the get-go, my heart raced along with this furious book. Dear Martin illustrates how small decisions can later haunt you, especially when you are a young black man living in the America of today.

Justyce himself is a compelling, charming character, easy to support even when you can see he is making potentially dangerous choices. The rest of the cast are believable and interesting characters, resolving for a great and heartbreaking story.

The book is split up into multiple narrative structures — from the straight prose, to play script style narrative particularly during classroom discussions and the aforementioned letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This mix of style is really interesting, and from an educational point of view, represents a great opportunity to introduce young people to a varied narrative, along with such a politically timely, important story.

Where The Hate U Give followed Starr as she started a movement, Dear Martin follows Justyce as he desperately tries to get by and deal with the dangers life keeps throwing at him. Both are essential reading and compliment each other well.

If you want to know more about Dear Martin from Nic Stone herself, check out this video below from Adam Silvera’s YouTube Channel:

On Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Nic Stone also gave the following talk at a Community College in America, which I think is a great introduction to her as an author and the political background of black rights that feeds into Dear Martin.

Mark out a few hours, sit yourself down and prepare for an intense reading experience.  Dear Martin is a poignant, politically charged, heart racing novel that is an absolute must read for 2018.

And, if you head over to my Twitter, you’ll find me giving a copy away!

Get your copy here:

UK (Hive) // International (Book Depository)

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Nic Stone and the team at Simon & Schuster Kids for sending a copy to me, and allowing me on the Dear Martin blog tour. Go check out some of the other stops on the tour!

Dear Martin Blog Tour Banner

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven | 1 Minute Reviews

You know when you read a book and can recognise it’s going to be a big deal to its intended audience? Yep. That.

Laura Steven‘s debut novel The Exact Opposite of Okay is a furiously frank, funny and feminist novel following teenager Izzy O’Neill, whose life is changed dramatically when someone posts explicit photos of her having sex online. Desperately trying to keep things together, Izzy also has to cope with her over-worked grandmother, her best friend Danny’s strange new behaviour, her other best friend’s new mate, her potential love-life and the fallout from being caught with a politician’s son.

9781405288446

The Exact Opposite of Okay focusses in on the cruelty of revenge porn, a subject very much in the limelight at the moment as YouTuber Chrissy Chambers recently won her lengthy legal battle against her former boyfriend. I found it very refreshing that Steven’s characters repeatedly affirm that there is nothing wrong with sending a cheeky consensual nude; the issues arise when people betray that trust.

This book happily sits alongside the wave of feminist young adult contemporary novels we’ve been blessed with in the last few years — the Spinster Trilogy by Holly BourneMoxie by Jennifer Mathieu, and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart all immediately spring to mind. Izzy herself, with all her swagger, wit and unwillingness to be shamed for enjoying sex, conjures Hannah from Non Pratt’s Trouble and Emma from Editing Emma by Chloe Seager, both voices I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading of recent.

More than that — and light spoilers ahead friends — Steven dives deep in to the murky realm of the Nice Guys and the Friend Zone, monikers for men and a fictional space they inhabit where women refuse to have sex with them because they’re “too nice”. As a teen (and even during adulthood!), I had a few friends hit me with this card. It was extremely refreshing to see Izzy deal with this slyly-sinister behaviour openly, with Steven clearly orienting it as something to watch out for and avoid. I know that it’s going to help a lot of young people identify problematic relationships in their midst.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is not just an enjoyable read, but I firmly believe it is a book that will influence, console and help a whole generation of teenagers.  I very much look forward to what comes next from Laura Steven, another fantastic 2018 debut author.

Get it here: UK (Hive) // International (Book Depository)

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Electric Monkey for doing a proof giveaway at YALC where absolute angel Jim from Ya Yeah Yeah won a copy just for me.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw | 1 Minute Reviews

What a pleasantly macabre novel this is.

As a former teen witch wannabe from watching The Craft too many times, I have an innate weakness for literary witches. The Wicked Deep had been on my radar for this exact reason, so I was very pleased when Simon and Schuster offered to send me a copy of the UK paperback.

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 11.19.49

Marguerite, Aurora and Hazel Swan were drowned in the town of Sparrow’s harbour, accused of witchcraft and seduction. But their souls could not be contained by their aquatic prison. Every summer the sisters return to land, inhabiting the bodies of local girls, luring boys and men to their deaths in the harbour that claimed them 200 years ago.

Penny Talbot has been watching the Swan Season from the sidelines for years, too superstitious to take part in the town’s Swan-themed parties and celebrations, too wary to celebrate an annual slaughter. When a tourist named Bo blows into town looking for work, Penny finds herself drawn to him, offering him work in the lighthouse she lives in. But when Bo catches the attention of the Swan sisters, Penny must fight to keep him safe.

9781481497343
Can we pause a moment to admire the USA cover? What a beaut!

Where The Graces has all the sex and swagger of The Craft, The Wicked Deep has all the darker sides of Practical Magic — a small town utterly linked to one family of women and its curse.

I enjoyed reading the burgeoning relationship between Penny and Bo — there’s nothing like a bit of jeopardy and a 200 year old curse to bring a couple together.

Shea Ernshaw‘s debut novel demonstrates that she is an author to watch out for, providing the reader with an engaging (and often unreliable) narrator in Penny, a complex set of relatable villains, and a small town with a blood-curdling history.

Inspired by the Salem Witch trials, this is a fantastic novel of revenge, curses and murder set against a backdrop of the salt-sprayed Oregon coast.

Get it here: UK (Hive) // UK Paperback and USA Hardback (Book Depository)

What to read next:

Thank you to the lovely team at Simon and Schuster for sending me not just a copy of the book but the delicious smelling Sparrow candle from Meraki Candles.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi | 1 Minute Reviews

This is hands down going to be one of the best novels you’re going to read this year. I’m that confident. Yes, art is subjective, but honestly, this is a furious, brutal riot of a book and I think any fans of Sabaa Tahir, Nnedi Okorafor, Leigh Bardugo and Alwyn Hamilton are going to be extremely pleased with this book. This is easily a personal favourite of 2018, and is going to be absolutely huge — already evidenced by its competitive publishing auction and already snapped up film rights.

Inspired by Yoruban folklore, Children of Blood and Bone is the first novel in the next big fantasy epic series, and  follows three Orïshan teenagers whose lives are changed forever when they discover a way to return magic to their world.

9781509871353

Zélie is a Magi, easily identified by her sheer white hair, who has been training to fight in secret with Mama Agba. Even though magic has been struck from their lands, Magi still live as second class citizens, punished and forced further into poverty routinely by the cruel King Saran. Meanwhile, Princess Amari witnesses the murder of her Magi best friend at the hands of her father, understanding the part of a mysterious scroll in it all, which she steals from the palace.

Drawn together at a market, the two girls work together to flee not just Amari’s father but her intense brother Inan. When Mama Agba reveals to the girls that the scroll presents an opportunity to restore magic to Orïsha, the girls and Zélie’s brother Tzain set off on an adventure across the country.

 

I completely fell in love with this novel, a slow burn you can’t turn your head from. It hooks you in deep and I’d find myself having to return to my daily life wondering what would befall the characters next. I particularly enjoyed the eerie connection between Inan and Zélie, an intense connection on a semi-psychic level they cannot escape, somewhat like that of Rey and Kylo-Ren.

UK readers, do not be put off by the size of the paperback — chapters are relatively short as the narrative flits between Zélie, Amari and Inan, but importantly the book never feels slack, an impressive feat for a debut novel at almost 600 pages. I await the rest of the Legacy of Orisha saga with bated breath, especially after that ending.

This is a novel of rebellion, of uprisings, of fire and might. While the tale may be fantasy, the intense emotion that bleeds through every page is all Adeyemi’s, a literary reaction to the deaths and persecution black people in America (and globally) are experiencing daily.

You may have already come across the author Tomi Adeyemi through this beautiful moment she shared with us all — the day her books arrived. You might not know that her website has a wealth of creative writing tips and lessons, a resource I’m going to be reading all of!

We have been blessed with a wealth of young adult releases this Spring, but if you’re going to pick just one to read, pick this.

Children of Blood and Bone is a passionate epic, an immersive battlecry of a novel, a book that you absolutely must not miss.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to My Kinda Books and PanMac News for kindly sending a copy over to me.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan | 1 Minute Reviews

I’m going to warn you right now, this is really, really sad.

9781616204556.jpg

If You Could Be Mine follows seventeen year old Sahar and Nasrin, two girls in love in Iran, a country where it is illegal to be gay. When Nasrin announces that her parents have arranged for her to marry a doctor, Sahar becomes determined to find a way they can make their love public without risking their lives. After meeting some openly trans people at one of her cousin Ali’s parties, Sahar realises the answer to all her problems is to transition to be a man as gender reassignment is not illegal in Iran.

This novel is so heartbreaking and painful to read. Sahar is so desperate to be whoever she can to be with Nasrin, and you cannot help but root for her all the way through.

Sara Farizan explains the realities of being queer or trans in Iran, rarely holding back on the difficulties of hiding who you truly are in the country her parents grew up in. Sahar’s interest in transitioning is handled delicately, and at no times did I think that the actual trans people in the book were treated with anything other than respect. This serves to shed light on the difficulties that trans people face around the world, not just in Iran.

This small yet intense novel deals with a lot of large, highly complex issues, alongside a compelling first romance.

Hive // Book Depository

What to read next: