BBC Young Writer’s Award 2018 & short fiction extract from Tabitha Rubens

Hello all!

Apologies for the quiet over here — I’m currently typesetting and polishing up 3 of Cups Press’ second anthology On Bodies. But I’m popping back today because I get to share something really exciting with you.

As you may know, I’m really into short fiction. I’m always on the hunt for fresh new voices for anthologies I work on, and meaty new collections to dive into. In fact, I did a post at the end of last year detailing my favourites, and those I was really looking forward to.

As such, I’m particularly fond of the BBC National Short Story Awards as they always introduce me to new voices or names I’ve seen floating around that I’ve always thought “yes, I need to read their work”.  This year, the thirteenth year of the awards, was a pretty tremendous one, because there was an all-female shortlist line up, collated in this handy pocket-sized book.

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Alongside from the main award is my personal favourite, the BBC Young Writers Awards. Open to writers aged 14 to 18 years, this year they saw a whopping 962 entries! There is a huge wealth of talent and passion in our teen population, and this shortlist always demonstrates some of the best and brightest. This shortlist this year has been phenomenal — impassioned stories of mental health, loss, desperation, and a desire for change.

I have the immense pleasure of sharing with you today an extract from Oh Sister, Invisible by Tabitha Rubens, a 16 year old writer from Islington in London. Oh Sister, Invisible is a poetic story of helplessness as a sister watches her sibling struggle with anorexia. A story of grief, and of courage, it is intensely personal and conveys the unique power of writing to convey empathy an experience. 

As such, please be aware this excerpt references eating disorders.

 

 

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I was always sure my sister was woven from golden thread.

I was merely yarn.

She could stop the breeze with a fingertip and catch sunlight in her fists.

One warm summer night of a distant year, she dragged me from my bed and we climbed out of the bathroom window. With one hand on the drainpipe and the other gripping hers, I pulled myself after her and stretched out on the terracotta roof. We watched the fireflies circling the moon and decided what to be when we were grown.

June Solstice arrived and my sister filled my palms with honeysuckle flowers. She taught me to tease the string of nectar from the pale yellow petals and drop the sweet elixir onto my tongue. Dreams are made of such sweetness.

When the weather turned, and rain drummed across the ceiling, I’d play the piano so that I could hear her sing. My sister could sing as if the notes were alive; as though the crescendos were rushing through her blood and the symphonies reveling in scandalous secrets, unveiling their enigmas in a flurry of sound.

When my sister sung, the whole world stood still.

In mid-July joyful melodies filled the house: Italian love songs and the occasional musical ballad. But at the dawn of August, her preference diverged to tragedy, and her voice would waver in mourning, and break apart as she choked upon each accelerando. By September, her grief grew until she forced herself to settle on silence.

On Halloween I brushed her lips with indigo ink and plastered Titanium White over her prominent cheekbones. A skeletal silhouette stared back at me.

 

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The winner of the awards is announced on the 2nd of October at the awards ceremony, beamed right into your ears via Front Row on BBC Radio 4, and the winning story will be made available in full on the BBC Radio 1 website.

In the meantime, check out the other extracts here, available to read or listen to. You can find out more about the awards and follow them via Twitter using the #BBCYWA hashtag.

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The BBC Young Writers Award 2018 is in association with Cambridge University and First Story. First Story was started in 2008 by the writer William Fiennes (author of The Music Room and The Snow Geese) and former teacher Katie Waldegrave (author of The Poets’ Daughters) with the mission of changing lives through writing. First Story exists to bring talented, professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities to work with teachers and students to foster confidence, creativity and writing skills. Since 2008, First Story has run almost 400 residencies in schools, given 8000 students the chance to take part in weekly creative writing workshops, worked with 400 acclaimed authors and 500 teachers and librarians, published almost 400 anthologies, and enabled over 140,000 pieces of original student writing. More information here.

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.

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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).

*sings* Space Books… I always wanted you to read some good Space Books (intergalactic yiiiikes) | Reading Round Up

I’m sorry but every time I went to write this post, that song came into my head. It is a problem.

Recently, I’ve had a real glut of space books. Sci-fi is a genre I do not read enough of considering my childhood diet of Star Trek and this planets interactive learning game I was absolutely obsessed with. Helpfully, while I was musing this, several arrived on my doorstep within a few days of each other. Three of four of these are mid series books (don’t worry, no spoilers here) but I hope that encourages you that several books deep, I’m still enjoying them!

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Firstly, I need to tell you about The Truth of Different Skies by Kate Ling. Ling previously authored The Loneliness of Distant Beings, followed by The Glow of Fallen Stars which followed Seren and the crew of the Ventura several generations deep into their space colonisation mission. The Truth of Different Skies takes us back into the Ventura’s past to the recruitment on Earth, and one girl called Bea, trapped in poverty, unrequited love and sickness in Wales. Seizing the chance to change her life, Bea travels to Spain to sign up for the mission, accompanied by her stepbrother and the boy she loves. It is the story of opportunity, of adventure and escape, fleeing a dying world to find a future for humanity at the other end of a beacon that reached Earth the day she was born. Technically a prequel to the other books of the Ventura Saga, this book works as a standalone and I think would be as good a place to start as The Loneliness of Distant Beings. With typical Ling twists and turns, my heart was repeatedly battered. This is Ling’s best novel yet and I’m eagerly anticipating more from her.

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Following on from the beginnings of a journey into space, it only makes sense for me to tell you about what happens at the end of that mission.  I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of Record of a Spaceborn Few, the third book from Wayfarer’s Saga author Becky Chambers. This book follows the people of the Exodus Fleet, one of the original colonisation missions from Earth, now a living relic amidst the colourful universe they call home. Told through the perspectives of six characters and the blog posts of Guh’lolean the Harmagian, the novel leads you through the uncertain future of the fleet through old and new eyes. When the immediate purpose of exploration is over, where does that leave the crew? And when disaster strikes in the fleet, everything they know about their way of life is tested; how can they move forward?

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Amelia’s Kitchen Candles made their own special marbled candle for Record of a Spaceborn Few, which you can buy here!

I fell in love with this book, though it did take me a little over half the book to understand where it was going, as from the outset the multi-POV characters don’t feel particularly connected — though of course Chambers guides you there and suddenly I found myself crying late in the book. If you find yourself thinking this, do stick with it. Following on from the intensely emotional A Closed and Common Orbit, the quietness of Spaceborn Few seems almost jarring in a way, but this is not a bad thing. One of the strengths of Chambers’ series is how flexible she is with tone and story, literally giving us a whole universe to explore along with her. As with her previous books, Spaceborn Few is a standalone book within the Wayfarer’s universe, and could feasibly be the point you start at, though I personally think reading them in order (A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet followed by A Closed and Common Orbit, then Spaceborn) works best. Record of a Spaceborn Few publishes on the 24th of July and you can preorder your copy below.

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Moving towards the more action-packed end of the space books selection for you today is Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray, the sequel to Defy the Stars. You may recognise Gray from several Star Wars books, so you can trust that she really does know how to write a space epic. Defy the Worlds continues the action, with Abel and Noemi now split apart from each other. When Burton Mansfield captures Noemi (after she flees Genesis to search for a cure for a deadly plague), Abel finally comes face-to-face with his creator after a race through the stars. Where I felt the first book questioned morality and human nature, Defy the Worlds considers more the power of wealth and privilege, and what people will do to keep themselves alive… No matter the gruesome costs. This is another thrilling story of belonging, family and falling in love, and I’m absolutely dying for the final book in the trilogy.

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If any of these have tickled your fancy, let me also recommend some others in the back list, such as Katie Khan’s Hold Back the Stars, a brilliant utopian novel of falling-through-space-to-our-deaths-with-the-love-of-my-life that will make you bawl, or Malorie Blackman’s gender-swapped Othello in Space, Chasing the Stars. Or Lauren James’ short but punchy and incredibly eerie The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. If you fancy something incredibly brutal, may I recommend Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, a Battle Royale in space as a working class man infiltrates the ruling class to bring them down from inside.

What’s your favourite space book?

Thank you kindly to Hot Key Books and Readers First for sending me Defy the Worlds, to Hodder Books for sending me Record of a Spaceborn Few and to Hachette Childrens for sending me The Truth of Different Skies.

Please note all Book Depository links are affiliate links, in which I earn a small commission for the sale.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden | 1 Minute Reviews

Now, I know that Spring is immediately around the corner and we’re all begging for some sunshine but I’m going to encourage you to take a step back, think of the deepest winter colds and dive into The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. The first in a new series, this novel is the quintessential wintry fairytale set in medieval rural northern Russia.

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Vasalisa Petrovna (Vasya) is the daughter of a farmer and a woman who hears the call of the forest, who knows her last act will be bringing Vasya into the world. Strong and brave, Vasya regularly visits the dangerous forest, converses with the house-spirits, rides like the wind and tries to defy the limited expectations thrust upon her. Raised on the stories of housekeeper Dunya, told by the warmth of the oven, Vasya soon realises that these tales are not fiction, but very much real. And she can feel the rising darkness in the forest.

As new characters enter Vasya’s life — her stepmother Anna, her new sister Irina, the preacher from Moscow — she must fight to stay true to herself and protect the forest that she loves and fears

Ahhh I loved this book so much. It’s just the perfect intersection of folklore and whimsy and danger and brilliance. This is my favourite kind of novel, a blend of tidbits of history mixed with folk legends added to an original, exciting story.

Arden’s descriptive and lyrical prose constructs a fascinating, rich world and the harsh realities of Lesnaya Zemlya, which you can read more about on Penguin’s blog.

The story is itself is a slow burn, following Vasya as she grows into a young woman facing marriage and the fears and mistakes of the adults around her. Arden successfully builds tension with every new mention of the waning house-spirits and the ice-blue eyes and the mysterious stranger in Moscow; it creeps upon you like frost up a window pane.

I really enjoyed the terse relationship between Vasya and Father Konstantin Nikonovich, both so determined that their understanding of the world is correct. Despite him playing a sort of antagonist role alongside Vasya’s stepmother Anna, I ended up having a lot of sympathy for this man so completely out of his depth in poverty and the harsh winter

This is marketed as a literary fantasy in the general fiction or possibly SFF sections of bookshops, but I think it would be readily enjoyed by fantasy young adult fans (and for the sake of gift giving, I can’t think of any content unsuitable for teens).

Also, Arden has helpfully included a glossary in the back, which I urge you to glance over before you start reading.

I strongly recommend you pick this book up, especially those of you currently enjoying a Spring snowfall as it is a book that begs to be read in the dark of the night before an open fire while snow falls outside. I was very delayed in getting round to it, having been bought it for my birthday by my wonderful friend Grace. Don’t be like me, don’t wait, especially if you also live for chilling fairytales and brave intuitive girls, because this is the book you need to be reading right now.

Once you’ve read The Bear and the Nightingale, pop back here and read the prologue Katherine wrote about Marina that didn’t make the final cut — however she advises you actually read the book first due to spoilers!

The second book, The Girl in the Tower, is published in hardback on the 25th January so you’ll be able to swoop from one to the other and commiserate with me as we wait for the next instalment of the Winternight saga.

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

What to read next:

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde | 1 Minute Reviews

This is undoubtedly a strange way to begin a review, but I should tell you that I really like bees. Ten years ago (yikes) I was studying Zoology at the University of Liverpool and had the joy of learning about bees across several modules – their waggle dances of communication, their societal structure and, sadly, the way their populations have been crashing due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

This time of my life coincides with one of the three timelines in The History of Bees, a wonderful novel told from three narrators spread across 250 years – William in England in 1851, Tao in future China in 2098 and finally George in the USA in 2007.

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After recovering from a bout of depression, naturalist William is determined to invent a new form of beehive, in order to catapult him and his children into fame, particularly his beloved heir Edmund.

George is a beekeeper, battling against modernisation in the farming industry whilst also trying to keep his business afloat, though his wife just wants to move to Florida and his son doesn’t seem to want to farm at all.

Far in the future after the collapse of the global bee population, Tao is a human pollinator, gently transferring pollen to fruit trees – an incredibly challenging manual job in a world falling apart due to the loss of essential biological processes. When her son suddenly becomes ill and then is taken by mysterious authorities, Tao sets out on a harrowing journey to find her child.

The History of Bees is a haunting story about families, the weight of being a parent and a child, the expectation of futures that could be built or destroyed in an instant. The parents themselves are so focused on their children becoming one way or another, not quite seeing the potential in them that manifests differently or – in William’s case – overlooking all his other children.

All three strands of narration kept me hooked, particularly the disturbing but quite imaginable future imagined in Tao’s storyline. This is a book that fans of Station 11, The Bees (well of course) and Never Let Me Go would find a lot to like – reader friendly speculative fiction, rooted in our own world, while the late 1800s timeline reminded me a lot of parts of The Essex Serpent. Of course, the storylines all tie in together at the end, which is immensely satisfying.

If like em you like complex family dramas and dystopian future storylines, you will be pleased to discover their combination here. The History of Bees is a fantastic, clever novel that touches upon our possible future of environmental collapse, seeking to warn us about possible ecological futures but also the dangers of parenting with an endgame in mind. I really do not think this should be missed.

The History of Bees is currently available in hardback, with the paperback publishing in April 2018. You can get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Simon and Schuster for sending this copy over to me.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy | 1 Minute Reviews

Julie Murphy‘s second book, Dumplin’, was one of my absolute favourite young adult novels of 2016, and I had high hopes for her third novel, Ramona Blue. Murphy’s writing has proven to be thoughtful, with well crafted characters and good politics threaded through. I was very pleased to once again be bowled over by her work.

Now, do not be alarmed but this is not a slight novel for the average young adult contemporary, coming in at 400 pages altogether. But there’s a reason for that, and allow me to reassure you that the size is not indicative of filler.

This is a story that needs to be told slowly. This is a story of the grinding reality of inescapable poverty, the importance of both chosen and biological family, and the fluidity of human sexuality.

9780062418357

Ramona lives in Eulogy, Mississippi, a town known for its summer holiday makers, who have shaped Ramona’s life as much as its permanent residents. The novel opens with her saying goodbye to her first girlfriend, Grace, as she and her family pack up ready to return to their home as the new school year approaches. Shortly after Grace leaves, Ramona’s childhood best friend and former summer visitor Freddie and his grandmother Agnes return to Eulogy to live permanently. Freddie and Ramona re-bond over a love of swimming and the shared pain of long distance relationships. But when that bond starts to head towards romantic feelings, Ramona begins to question everything about her identity.

Meanwhile, Ramona’s sister Hattie is pregnant with her boyfriend Tyler’s baby, and Tyler seems to have moved himself into the tiny trailer she shares with her sister and father. As a tall girl, things were feeling cramped to begin with…

Ramona Blue spans 10 months of her life as she struggles to balance her school life, her possible futures and her many part time jobs. Of all the young adult novels I’ve read, this one expertly relays the realities of being inescapably poor as a teenager, and having to take responsibilities far above your station as a child.

Murphy explores the complexities of LGBTQ+ identity and fluidity between labels with great care, creating a thoughtful, honest and open-hearted novel.

Ramona Blue is currently only available in hardback until late Spring 2018, but I really think it’s worth the money. Also the cover underneath the dust sheet is such a pleasing shade of cream.

Interested? Get it here!

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to the team at Harper Collins, Balzer & Bray and the lovely Ammara at Harper Insider for sharing this copy with me.