Thursday, 12 September 2013

Burning Questions: Blackbrooke author, Emma Silver, on Point Horror, role models and horrible first attempts.

Teen fiction's taken a horrifying turn. No, I don't mean there's going to be a sixth Twilight installment, I mean a genuinely spine-chilling, look-behind-you-just-in-case turn in the form of Emma Silver's gruesome Blackbrooke trilogy.
Set in a closed community, Blackbrooke residents share their town with the Crits: creatures that have free rein of the streets at night, while the humans are shut up tight in their houses. Liberty Connor is a good student, a law-abider, but she's about to start unraveling secrets that will challenge everything she thinks knows about her home. And bring her face to face with a few stinkin' Crits on the way...

Q: Hi Emma. Blackbrooke is such a great read. When did you actually start writing?

A: Thank you! I’ve always written, since I was really young. I used to be into Point Horror books, so from probably about the age of ten I’ve been trying to scare people with horror books! Then I took a break during university and started again when I was about 24.
I wrote a women’s fiction book that was based on my Dad’s life when he was in a band in the 70s - it was absolutely appalling, the worst thing that’s been written in the history of the world! Then I took a step back and read it again, and even though I knew it was appalling I started writing the follow up. Just after I started writing that, I started writing Blackbrooke. I just needed a break from it, I seemed to be obsessed with this silly story. So Blackbrooke was a bit of a side thing and I thought it would be one book, just a stand-alone, but when I started writing it I thought ‘No, this is a trilogy’.

Q: What was your inspiration for Blackbrooke?

A: I was watching Twilight for about the sixtieth time thinking I really want to do something that’s different from this, that’s so trendy at the moment and I want to try and make something that’s a little bit more scary, where the people are the people and the monsters are the monsters-there’s no crossover, there’s no super powers, just people versus the bad guys. It was out of boredom and frustration with what was trendy at the time.
In terms of the Crits, I thought 'make your own monsters'! I used the things that I find quite grotesque for inspiration. Appearance-wise, I hate vultures and I tried to channel vultures a bit with the long necks. Things that you couldn’t ever humanise-I didn’t want anyone to be like ‘what a shame, bless the Crits!’ I just wanted them to be grim, and for there to be no chance of siding with them

Q: Have you always been into horror?

A: Definitely. I’m 28 so when I was young it was Goosebumps and Point Horror. Harry Potter passed me by and then Twilight came out and brought supernatural back-but I got fed up with reading books about something supernatural, that someone was going to fall in love with, and I started getting a bit nostalgic for the old horror that was actually horror and the things that were horrible were actually the bad guys-no-one’s falling in love with them!

Q: Liberty's such a strong character-how conscious of that were you while writing?

I’d already written this women’s fiction book that was hinged on this romance and although there is romance in Blackbrooke, it’s not what forms Liberty’s personality and as the story progresses this gets more pronounced. There will always be that romantic thread running through it, but it is more about friendship than anything-I didn't want it to be all about love, but to create a girl who doesn't necessarily need it. By the second book, she doesn't want it, if anything it’s hindering her survival really, and I’m hoping it translates that way.

Q: How do you decide who gets to live and who comes to a sticky end?

I only know when I’m going along who’s going to get the chop. I think Stephen King quotes (or quotes somebody else) ‘kill your darlings’, and he’s right. You have to-the closer you are to the characters, the more the chance of ruining it. You can get a bit too close, but it’s difficult!

Q: What can readers expect from Blackbrooke II: The Guardian?

A: It hinges a lot on trust. At the end of the first book, you realise that some of the humans in the town are almost as bad as the Crits, and the second book takes that step further with the Institute. You meet some new characters that you’re not sure can be trusted and Liberty finds herself fighting against people more than Crits, although they are still there as a permanent threat.
It was a lot more difficult to write the second one I found, because Liberty’s alone a lot-she doesn't have the scooby gang around her any more, that’s completely disbanded. I found myself feeling sorry for her, thinking ‘God, how much more can one girl take?’ I know for a fact that I wouldn't have been that strong when I was seventeen!
It also turns on its head again halfway through, and Liberty finds herself back where she started, struggling with her own mind, and the thoughts she has. She doesn't have the nicest time in The Guardian-it’s probably the bleakest book.

Q: And last, but not least, I have to Cassius or team Gabriel?

A: This is really difficult, because even though I think he behaved like a bit of a wimp, I do feel very sorry for Gabriel. He could have done something while he was in the Institute, and Liberty calls him a coward about twenty times in the second book, poor boy! But I do feel for him because his last night in Blackbrooke was him and Liberty planning their future, and the next time he sees her she’s claiming she’s in love with someone else, she’s angry, she’s been through all of this trauma and it’s such a 180, I can’t imagine how that must feel. But Cassius clinches it for me, just because he’s the first character I came up with and everything was born around him. He’s by far the most important, and probably interesting, character. He’s been through so much, but he’s so devoted to Liberty, you can’t not love that! I think if I had to choose, and wear a T-shirt, it would be team Cassius.

And there you have it. Both Blackbrooke and Blackbrooke II: The Guardian are available at Amazon, and I have it on good authority that the third book in the trilogy is well this space. For more info on Emma, and the trilogy, check out her blog or tweet her at @Emma_Silver.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bella Swan? I'll take Hermione any day.

So there's this lady in the US. She seems pretty cool and she knows her literature, that's for sure. But that's not why I came across her. I came across her because she wrote this letter to her daughter entitled 'Why You Can't Read Twilight'.

I don't necessarily agree with the idea of 'banning' a book that's technically age-appropriate. Mainly because there's no way in hell that's going to work. Yup. Just no way. If a kid can get his or her hands on a well-thumbed copy of Fifty Shades, Twilight is child's play. Pun intended. Speaking from experience, the word 'no' often just translates as 'challenge accepted', and I have two words for you on that score - prohibition and Capone.

But picture this: you're fourteen years old. If you're anything like I was, you spend a lot of time between the pages of a book. A lot. Summer holidays are an oasis of free time spent devouring stories in days, sometimes even hours if you didn't have to help with the shopping or tidy your room. And during those days and hours, you come across some inspiring female characters.

Unfortunately, you also come across the girl whose voice is only heard once she magically transforms from normal teen to ethereal beauty by way of the age-old makeover. Ah, that old chestnut. Then there's the girl desperately searching for the right boy to come along and save her because she has a womb, which, you know, means she can't save herself. And who could forget the slightly overweight girl who is deemed to be a real person and ceases to be invisible only when she joins the athletics team and, in a twist not even Psychic Sally could see coming, becomes the willowy supermodel she always longed to be.

It's bullshit, and isn't it exhausting? In a patriarchal society in which body image is vomited at young girls left right and centre, I have a request, nay, a demand. Teen authors of the world: give a girl a character to look up to. And I mean really look up to. Give her razor wit, give her a goal, give her a mind. Just don't give her a makeover.

Don't get me wrong-I too have read the Twilight saga, and have nothing against anyone else picking it up. I also, however, recognise that it's largely self-indulgent crap, and that it's ok to have actual interests and opinions.

So, while banning a book featuring a personality-free protagonist might not be a viable option, maybe just make sure it isn't taken it too seriously. And then find a ton of books with kick-ass heroines to shove under their noses. Here are some of my favourites, old and new.

Raider's Tide, by Maggie Prince.

For lovers of historical fiction, this is a treat. Beatie is a 16-year-old girl, living near England's dangerous border with Scotland in the late 1500s. When the Scots come to raid her father's stronghold one night, she pushes one, ladder and all, off of her window. Upon finding the Scot injured and weak a couple of days later, she makes the brave and extremely risky decision to nurse him back to health. A decision that could see her burned at the stake.

While taking her life in her hands, she is also wavering along the border between childhood and independence, dealing with her violent father's (unwelcome) plan to marry her to her cousin, her mother's strange absences, and a fixation on her teacher and local parson, John. Beatie is brave and strong-willed, with a dysfunctional family and the vicious prejudices of the time to overcome. An inspirational character if ever there was one. I also highly recommend the sequel, The North Side of the Tree.

The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood.

I was about seventeen when I first read this book in school, and remember being so disturbed by Offred's lot in the twisted, super-patriarchal society that it was actually alarming to read. This book put feminism on the map for me.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor.

Kudos, Laini Taylor. Congratulations. Bravo. For Karou, the blue-haired, flying, tattooed heroine of this tale is simply a badass. She's smart and individual. Brave and vulnerable. And she has the best friends since Hermione and Ron forced themselves on Harry. When it comes down to it, this book chronicles the resounding consequences when two people of different races dared to love each other.

Also, here's Karou, on liking a guy (well, angel, but don't let that put you off):

"Yearning for love made her feel like a cat that was always twining around ankles, meowing pet me, pet me, look at me, love me. Better to be the cat gazing coolly down from a high wall, its expression inscrutable. The cat that shunned petting, that needed no one. Why couldn’t she be that cat?"

Who hasn't wanted to be that cat?

Katniss Everdeen, Suzanne Collins.

You knew it was coming. She can hunt for herself, she has no actual need of either of the guys falling over themselves to provide for her, and...oh yes - when it comes to fighting to the death, she's got a pretty good track record. Did you ever hear of a girl less in need of a hunter/gatherer type to protect her?

Blood Red Road, by Moira Young

I made no secret of the fact that I absolutely loved both this book, and its sequel, in an earlier review, and I think much of that comes down to the main character, Saba. While searching for her abducted brother, Saba is subjected to some horrific ordeals, but refuses to give up, refuses to give in to fear, and becomes a parent to her sister on the way. A bit like Katniss, she is self-sufficient in terms of hunting and protecting herself, but the theme I found most affecting was her fraught relationship with her younger sister, Emmy. Many of us will know what it is to have an annoying younger sibling following on your heels, even one you don't really get on with. What happens, though, when you are forced to become a parent to that sibling overnight? The way Saba deals with it, and the gradual warming of their relationship was particularly touching, and all the better for not being rushed.

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling.

I defy any child not to love these books. One of the highlights, for me, was Luna Lovegood. Open-minded, willing to see what no-one else will, and brilliant in her own, very unique, way.

Then we have Hermione: equally brilliant, motivated and brave, she's the girl who knows her stuff, isn't afraid to stand up for others (who can forget the S.P.E.W. house elf campaign?) and is taken just as seriously as the boys-not just 'seriously for a girl'.

These are just a few of the strong female characters who have inspired me over the years, and there are plenty more where they came from. Here's hoping that, for every Bella spawned on the pages of our books, there are two Hermiones. After all, as Luna says, "Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure."

Monday, 1 July 2013

From Page to Screen: Lauren Kate Confirms Film Adaptation of Fallen

Casting has apparently begun for the film adaptation of Lauren Kate's epic angel-fest, and will begin shooting in September. Excited? Yes. 

So, who would your ideal cast be? Let me know in the comments box!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

From Page to Screen: A Special Treat for Judy Blume Fans

Despite having written 28 books since she began writing in the 1970s, much-loved author Judy Blume had yet to see any of them adapted for the big screen-until now.

Working with her son, Lawrence, to write and produce the film adaptation of her 1981 novel, Tiger Eyes, readers will finally get to see one of her best novels in the flesh.

In Tiger Eyes, we see Davey Wexler stuggling to cope with the murder of her father, when her mother decides to take the family away to stay with her father's sister Bitsy and her husband Walter in New Mexico.

Davey keeps a bread knife under her pillow at night, while roaming the vivid landscape on her Aunt's bike by day, eventually meeting Wolf, a Native American boy.

Raw and unflinching, Judy uses her typical honesty to guide the reader through Davey's grief and the cathartic events that finally allow her to let go of a little bit of it.

I read and loved this book as a teenager, and I could still remember individual sentences from it when I came to read it again after the death of my own father last year.

Since Judy and her son wrote the screen-play and made all the important decisions that went into the film, I have no doubt that it will be just (well, maybe almost) as evocative as its literary forerunner. The book's always better, right?

While the film has been released on a small scale in the US, there are currently no set dates for a UK release, but keep checking back and I'll keep you posted! In the mean time, check out the trailer below and let me know what you think in the comments box :-)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Review: Blood Red Road & Rebel Heart by Moira Young

I recently read both of these books in under three days. Around work and a house move. I would wonder where I found the time, but this series is so compelling that you just make time.
In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Saba is wrenched away from life as she knows it when her brother Lugh is abducted by mysterious cloaked men.
Tailed by her determined little sister Emmy, eighteen-year-old Saba sets off to rescue him, contending with the dangers of the world left to them by the Wreckers.
Helped by a band of rebel girls, the Freehawks, and Jack, a rogue with a murky past, Saba goes in search of her brother in this action-packed, unputdownable series.

With great characters and a vivid landscape, Moira Young does a great job of offering a refreshing take on a genre that has been flooded with, dare I say, cheap imitations in recent years. If you want to separate the wheat from the chaff, I suggest you start with this brilliant series. And in case you need any more convincing, here's an interview with Moira Young herself: Moira Young Interview Enjoy.

From Page to Screen: Delirium Pilot Passed Over

Dear Delirium fans: sad news. FOX TV has decided against going ahead with the hotly anticipated small-screen adaptation starring Emma Roberts.

Going for several other new series instead, FOX's decision is bound to upset the dedicated Delirium fan base out there-here's hoping they change their minds!

In the mean time, who thinks this series might be better presented as a film/films? We'll be waiting with baited breath to see what the next step is for this brilliant series.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Review: The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Adapted from The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells, The Madman's Daughter follows the story of Juliet, daughter of aforementioned crackpot.

Following his disappearance years ago Juliet has had to learn to survive on the mean streets of London, which she has just about managed by cleaning at the university hospital where her father used to work-until now.

When a trail of breadcrumbs implies that her father may still be alive, Juliet follows it straight back to her family's former servant and her childhood friend, Montgomery.

Desperate to learn the truth about her father, Montgomery gives in and takes Juliet back with him to the doctor's island. Where it starts to get creepy. And a bit murderey.

Moreau has been busy carrying on his 'research' without those pesky authorities overreacting to his perfectly normal vivisecti..err..experiments.

As they settle in, Juliet's attraction to Montgomery is pretty straightforward, but she can't explain to herself the strange identification she feels with Edward, the shipwrecked man they picked up on the voyage to the island. As the story progresses, both she and the reader begin to wonder if she isn't a bit deranged herself...

Megan Shepherd does really well in creating a dark tension almost as soon as Juliet sets foot on the island, not letting up until the last page. The characters are complex and the sense of madness that pervades the island is brilliantly brought to a fever pitch towards the book's climax.

Though maybe not a good read for the more squeamish among us, I would highly recommend this book in all its eerie glory. This will be a trilogy, so watch out for the second instalment coming in April 2014.