The Bone Dragon front cover

A thing of beauty…

… my first copy of my book!

Faber have done the most amazing job on turning my manuscript into a stunning physical book.

Thank you so much, everyone!

And thank you to my wonderful agent for persuading Faber to publish it!

 

front cover

back of the book

front inside boards

back inside boards

 

photo of a copies of The Bone Dragon

The Bone Dragon has landed…

My book is here! Publication date is still 2 May, but the copies are now in the office. (cue much squee-ing)

photo of a copies of The Bone Dragon

It’s so pretty! Thank you, All The Lovely People At Faber, for my beautiful book!

ARCs (Advance Review Copies) will be going out soon. These will be copies of the finished book (i.e. the version above). My first copy should arrive on Wednesday. I will probably cry.

Though I shall try not to cry on the book.

I will definitely be cuddling it. (My own, my preciousssssssis.)

My cat will be very jealous, but there we go. On the plus side, he likes books: he enjoys chewing lazily at the edges, but mostly he enjoys lying on his back (on my tummy) with a book open on his tummy. Yes, he is spectacularly cute. And very tolerant. When he’s not being A Wild and Ferocious Beast. Then he’s not cute or tolerant.

There’s cats for you.

If you’re looking closely you will have spotted that this is a unusual size paperback with a dustjacket. If you get a copy (please, please read my book!), remember to look under the cover at the gorgeous ‘inside boards’ (i.e. the design printed on to the binding of the book).

Altogether it’s a fairly unusual format for a book, but this fits the fact that it’s a pretty unusual sort of story. It starts with a rib bone in a pot. A human rib bone belonging to someone still alive. It ends up with a Dragon.

Preorder from Amazon, WHSmith, Waterstones or your local bookshop.

frosted leaves

Photography and Creative Writing

Hopefully I’ll be able to share my super-exciting (at least to me) news about The Bone Dragon soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d do a post on a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: whenever I plan a writing workshop, I often start thinking about how to use images… This may seem completely counter-intuitive but, for me, makes perfect sense.

I think it’s because I’m a very visual writer. I write books as if I’m creating a film, which is probably why I’m finding the transition into writing screenplay treatments far easier than I thought it would be (though, to be fair, it’s early days!).

Writing, for me, is about immersing myself in the world so that I actually *see* the place where the characters are around me. I can touch what is around them. The weather is their weather, the season their season. I write dialogue by being inside the character who is speaking and seeing what comes out (or what doesn’t when the writing is going badly). That’s just how it is for me. The ‘words’ bit comes in as I try to put down the most important parts of experiencing the world and life of the story.

You could write a whole book about what people think, feel, see, smell, etc. in one minute of one day. It might well be an enormously boring book, but you probably wouldn’t run short of content. Experience is so enormous… Which means that writing is very much a filtering and selecting process. I write as if I’m in a movie but, just like when filming, what I’m really capturing is a series of still images running one after the other. Individually, each is like a photograph.

So how do I decide what to put into words? It’s probably easiest to talk about description in this regard as this is where the process simplest. When writing description, I try to put down an image-in-words that captures my aesthetic: what I think is beautiful and interesting. I don’t try to be unique, though I do try to focus on what is different from my aesthetic and other people’s.

I also think about both what could be captured better in a photo and what can’t be captured in a still image at all. If a picture would say it better, should you really try to write 1000 words that won’t be as compelling? Why not look for the thing within the story that couldn’t be captured effectively as an image? Let the reader imagine the photograph stills that work as pure images: let them see their own version. Instead, write the images that don’t work as photographic still: those are the ones readers can’t come to for themselves. Those are the ones that you, as the writer, must give them.

Ultimately, the reason I start thinking of images when planning a writing workshop is that they give people an insight into their own aesthetic that is simpler to break down than 1000 words of their own prose or poetry. This, in turn, gives a window into thinking about voice and all the things that make writers unique.

Voice isn’t just a matter of narrative style or vocabularly… It should imbue every aspect of a book. But that’s a pretty tall order for any writing workshop. Starting from images lets people focus on the still photographs that make up the ‘movie’ of the book that runs in the reader’s imagination. It let’s you take things step by step and part by part. And that’s always a good place to start when learning.

The Bone Dragon book cover

Cover Reveal: The Bone Dragon

Turns out there’s been a change of plans (either that or I slightly mixed up 1 March and 1 April – it happens) and the cover reveal is going to be… today. (YAY! [does happy dance] April seemed SOOOOOOO far away.)

So here it is. What do you think? [bounces in anticipation]

The Bone Dragon book cover

 

 

We’re also up on the Faber & Faber site! [Teehee!]

Pre-order at Waterstones, WHSmith, Amazon and most local bookstores… Now with our beautiful cover to enjoy!

Watch out for the new blurb coming soon…

Cover design process

Although it’ll be another few weeks before the official cover reveal for The Bone Dragon, I am now allowed to talk about our interim cover draft and the design process in more depth.

You may (or may not) remember that the first draft cover looked like this:

TBD draft cover

The book starts with a human rib-bone in a pot. It seemed a good place to start with the cover too. This initial cover draft released in August 2012.

What I love: I love the bottle – much more striking than what I saw in my head: the little plastic pot my very own rib sits in (among my socks in the drawer under my bed). I also love that the design isn’t genre or age-group specific: it doesn’t scream YA READERS ONLY! Also, it points to the fact that the book is a psychological thriller as opposed to fantasy. Not that I have any problem with fantasy (I may well end up writing some later on in my career) but it would be misleading to class The Bone Dragon that way.

Cons: I’m not terribly keen on was having the carved rib shown on the cover. I’d prefer for readers to be free to imagine this for themselves, with no visual prompting. Plus you could never carve a human rib like this. For one, they’re too narrow and for another they’re hollowish so it wouldn’t work, no matter how tiny the overall dragon. 

My feedback to the designers: If the cover is to show the rib-in-a-pot that sets the whole story in motion, it needs to look more like a human rib, rather than an ox thigh-bone.

Then, in October, I received the new cover, which was supposed to be the final cover. Only it wasn’t. I can only share part of it (and I can’t explain what I mean by this being only ‘part’ because that’s a secret too). Anyway, here it is:

BoneDragon-draft

What I love: I love the hazy, impressionistic feel: I really like that the image isn’t too clear and that you can’t tell what Evie looks like. The feel is right for the book too: the slightly out-of-proportion arms and the way she’s holding them out, almost like wings. And the colours are fantastic. Even as a little thumbnail, the title stands out and the colours are eerie, though there’s slightly too much yellow and red for me: in my mind, the book is black and blue and purple. But I think the image is striking both in thumbnail size and in larger scale. Again, I love that it’s not YA specific and doesn’t speak strongly to any particular genre, though it hints more at literary fiction than the previous cover, which is fine. The book sits astride a whole bunch of genre boundaries without being one thing or another, though literary fiction and/or psychological thriller are the best fit with the book. What I love most is how this image combines with the second part of the design – the secret bit I still can’t show you. It’s the two together that make this magical.

Cons: Only tiny quibblettes. Not that it really matters what I see in my head, but the nightdress (?) isn’t something Evie would wear and her hair is longer than this. Also, I like the idea of readers being able to picture Evie for themselves without too many visual clues. Plus, while I really like the typeface, perhaps the crayon effect is too young, not just for Evie but for the intended readership (16+).

My feedback to the designers: Basically, what I said on Twitter.

what I said on Twitter

As for the official cover…

questionmark

The new design is perfect: absolutely gorgeous, sumptuous, stunning. I can’t wait to share it with you all… and to explain more about the missing part of cover #2 that explains why I adored that design, even though it’s not a patch on the official cover. I’m not positive that the ‘secret part of cover #2’ will turn up as part of the final cover (I still haven’t seen the finished version of that aspect of the design yet), but I’m hoping so.

So, what do you think  of our interim cover?

snow around a frozen pond in a wood

The definitive proof

On Thursday afternoon, The Bone Dragon is going to be ready for publication. This might seen a long time in advance since it won’t be released until 2 May, but in the interrim it needs to be printed and distributed… and there may even be ARCs going out.

I have now learned that bound review copies are not the same as ARCs (advance review copies). Or not necessarily.  I’m still a bit shaky on the terminology but I think bound review copies and bound proofs are basically the same thing in everyone’s books (or should I say ‘for all books’?). They’re copies of a book that are produced from a relatively early proof. They’re printed and bound  like a book, but usually with a different cover to make sure that they’re not confused with the final publication version when it comes out. ARCs, on the other hand, are just copies of the book-as-published-for-sale (i.e. they’re printed from the final proof). Thething that makes them ARCs is that they’re sent out to people before the official publication date: they’re not actually different in any way from the books people buy off the shelves after the publication date.

So… the bound review copies have now been sent out. I am getting twitchy waiting for mine to arrive.

Meanwhile, the final proof – the definitive version of the book – will be done by next Thursday afternoon. It should include the final version of the cover (which I’ve yet to see). I’m just slightly excited*, though I know hitting send on my proof approval email will doubtless be as anticlimatic as handing over my PhD. (‘Oh, right. It’s done. Right. Um… Well, I guess that’s it then.’)

Sometime after that I’ll be able to share the cover (probably mid-March), and some sample material (probably  2 April) and… hopefully some reviews (no idea).

I can’t wait to see what you all think. I do hope you’ll like it.

 

* English understatement. Please translate appropriately.

Frosted fir branch

Waiting

The final proofs are done (though there might be one last read-through). The review copies are being printed (I think). Next week the cover will be finalised. But right now there’s not a lot going on that I’m involved with. Since the start of December, I’ve been wading through the quiet pre-publication post-end-of-editing strange and trying not to gnash my teeth. It’s all about waiting, torn between impatience, excitement and terror… And, while I’ve never been very good at patient or waiting, I can do excitement and terror like a star so am spending much of time revved up to no purpose.

Soon we’ll have the cover reveal and I’ll get to see what people think. Soon there will be sample material available… and maybe some early reviews or at least informal feedback on the reception of the ARCs (advance review copies or bound proofs, as Faber tends to call them). Soon I’ll be having a meeting to plan the promotions and publicity work and after that there will be dates in the diary about events and activities and all sorts of things…

But right now it’s all very quiet. It’s less than 4 months now till TBD is published and it feels very strange not to be rushing about like a headless chicken trying to help the book find an audience… but I see the reasoning about how important timing is. Apparently things need to happen 6-8 weeks in advance tops because otherwise there’s such a lot of time between getting people’s attention and the book actually being available to them that it’s largely wasted effort. After all, I’m a debut author. No one knows if they’ll like my work yet so drawing out any anticipation that can be raised is unlikely to be productive. I see that… but it’s so strange for everything to have gone quiet.

I may soon wish for a little bit of the quiet back though, so I’m trying not to wish it away. After all, there are two other books to fill it with…

For now… Happy New Year!

This enchantment of ice and crystal

frosted rose

In honour of last week’s Dragon-worthy frost, some photos that made me think of a particular scene from the book.

frosted fens

… the grass is so thickly frosted, every blade sharp-coated with ice…

frosted acer

The skeleton of the tree glows in the frozen night air as if displaying its soul to the heavens.

frosted acer leaves

The acer is a marvel of white over red.

frosted flowers

… diamond-flashes catch off the newly strange plants in the beds …

frosted seed pods

Now everything is shaded in grey and silver and white.

frosted ivy

Everything solid has turned to crystal.

 

leaves against the sun

The Next Big Thing

The lovely Katy Darby has just tagged me for the Next Big Thing meme: a questionnaire designed to get writers talking about their next book. Ideally, each writer tags five others but I seem to have a knack for tagging people who’ve done it and those who don’t have blogs. Go me!

Anyway, here’re my answers. (BTW, I’m cross-posting on both blogs because I ended up talking a lot about The Bone Dragon.)

 

What is the working title of your next book?

MoB. While I’m still drafting I only ever refer to a book by the initials of the working title. Sharing the title sets it in stone for me so, as it’s hard to be sure a title’s right until the book is done, I try to keep it to myself until I’m fairly confident I won’t have to change it.

I’m the type of writer who doesn’t like to share a work in progress; for me, a big part of the joy of being a writer, and not a performer, is that I can keep my work secret until I’m ready to hear what other people think. If I start sharing stuff too soon, I get caught up in other people’s ideas and start doubting my own. I need to have a draft that’s close enough to the book in my head that I can use feedback effectively before I go about inviting it by sharing information. So, MoB it is for now. And, no, it’s not about men in dark suits or aliens. Or mobsters. Or flash mob dance crews. I defy you to guess the title… But would love to see your best shot.

 

Where did the idea for the book come from?

In The Bone Dragon, I feel that I started a conversation about a series of themes that are really important to me as a writer. MoB is the continuation of that conversation, without being a sequel. The plot developed from the idea for the ‘hook’, which led me to a key moment in the climax. From there, I used the idea of continuing the conversation from The Bone Dragon to help me work out the story of how and why the ‘hook’ leads to the climax – and vice versa, since the story isn’t as linear as it seems. The fun bit is that this is the opposite of how The Bone Dragon works: TBD is completely linear, only it’s not clear that that’s the case until you’ve reached the very end of the book.

 

What genre does your book fall under?

Like The Bone Dragon, MoB is a YA psychological thriller that will hopefully appeal to anyone over 16.

 

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That’s a really tough question for me. One of the weirder bits of being as dyslexic and dyspraxic as I am is that I find it hard to remember and, therefore, to recognise faces. When I’m having a ‘dyslexic day’ (anyone who is dyslexic will tell you that a person’s level of ‘dyslexic-ness’ shifts from day to day – it’s one of the key things about dyslexia that research has yet to explain), I even struggle to recognise close friends and members of my own family. Mostly I recognise people by their context, their voice and, critically, their hair. This has a huge impact on my aesthetic. I rarely take photos of people and, when I do, I only take ‘snaps’. I just don’t have any sort of an eye for faces in their entirety. This is probably why I feel very strongly about letting readers ‘see’ what they want when it comes to my characters. I tend to provide a bare minimum (and often not even that) in relation to physical descriptions of people.

The flip side is that my visual aesthetic is overwhelmingly taken up with settings and objects. I always give a huge amount of detail on these things because I ‘see’ these things with crystal clear focus – almost as a way of making up for the fuzziness of the people. I love taking photos of landscapes and plants. My best photos are to do with angle, texture and detail, and that’s true in my writing as well. That, in a nutshell, is my visual aesthetic.

The bottom-line here is that I’m not sure I *can* answer this question. I’m also not sure I want to. If I did, I wouldn’t give photos, rather I’d talk about what various actors could bring to the parts in terms of evoking the key emotional aspects of the characters. For instance, the main character needs to be thin (it’s important to the plot): she also needs to look like someone who has attractive features but is almost trying to make herself unattractive, so the actor couldn’t be straight-forwardly pretty. She needs to come across as bordering on sullen, but with a degree of vulnerability that indicates that this is more than just ‘teenage sulks’. At the same time, she can’t seem fragile: she’s prickly on the outside and angrily defensive on the inside… Which makes her sound so lovable. But, like in The Bone Dragon, it doesn’t really matter whether readers like the protagonist per se. They just have to identify with the emotions that fuel her behaviour.

 

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

MoB is to a ghost story what The Bone Dragon is to a fantasy story about dragons. It starts with a girl in a blue coat vanishing into an autumn wood.

 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Represented by my amazing, wonderful, fantastic, brilliant agent, Claire Wilson, at Rogers, Coleridge & White.

 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It’s not finished yet but I hope to have the draft done by the end of January. I know exactly what’s going to happen every step of the way, so it’s just about finding the right ideas at the sentence level. I hope it won’t be a long edit: it feels like it won’t be, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I’ve only been working on the idea since about March-April so it’ll be my shortest idea-to-book conversion ever. But I’ve got a good feeling about it, like I had with The Bone Dragon, so hopefully…

 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh gawd. I always find these questions so hard. It seems so presumptuous to compare to my work to the books I dream about seeing mine sit beside. Um… I guess the best answer looks back to what I said earlier: MoB is the continuation of a conversation I started with The Bone Dragon. If really pushed, I guess MoB is The Go-Between meets The Lovely Bones. Sort of.

 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

When I first had the idea, I knew this was a book I wanted to write… but the inspiration that made it my most urgent project came from being signed by my wonderful agent, Claire. Out of all the books I wanted to write, this seemed the most natural progression from The Bone Dragon. I would love for Claire to enjoy the book and be excited to represent it. It’s the best way I can think of to say thank you for the first miraculous ‘yes’ that led to my finally being published…

… which, in turn, involved another critical ‘yes’. I absolutely love working with the team at Faber: it would be great to see if that relationship could continue and I think they might like MoB… but we’ll see.

 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The protagonist is 16 going on 17, so the book explores some territory that’s touched on in The Bone Dragon but remains between the lines. The same aesthetic principles apply in terms of how the darker subject matter is tackled, but the conversation goes further. The protagonist is at a different point in her life with different things at stake so I have a very different array of opportunities to explore what damage means for someone who is on the verge of a whole series of life-defining choices – about A-levels, university, romantic relationships, where she lives, how she lives, who she’s going to be as an adult… In MoB, impending adulthood means that the main character doesn’t have much time to ‘get her act together’ if she is going to avoid mucking up her future.

Those are the things about MoB that are most exciting for me, as the writer. For the reader, there’s a much more obvious mystery to be solved in MoB that will hopefully sustain the book in a more fluid way than in The Bone Dragon. But the answers to that mystery will (hopefully) lead readers somewhere they’re not expecting at all.

 

So… three guesses what MoB stands for. Go on. Give it a shot. It’s cold and dreary and dark. Laughing will make it better. (So will chocolate, but that’s your own affair.)