In Conversation with my editor

Last year to celebrate the launch of The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, Emily and I did a chat about writing, editing, and everything that goes on behind-the-scenes of book publishing.

I had so much fun getting to quiz her that I asked if we could do it again for Green Rising.

I’ve been working with Emily and Walker Books since 2014, on seven novels, so our editing process is very streamlined. It was a pleasure to discuss it with her. You can follow Emily on Twitter at @ems_worth, or catch her tweeting under the @walkerbooksYA account.

Emily: I know this is a book very close to your own heart. Could you give us a brief summary of what Green Rising is about?

Lauren:  Teenagers who can grow plants from their skin use their powers to rewild the planet, and stand up to the profit-hungry corporations who want climate change to continue, for their own devious ends.

Emily, I love how the cover for Green Rising fits in the ‘brand’ of my other titles, but feels fresh and unique too. What was the process behind designing this at Walker?

We always begin the process with a cover brief, which provides an overview of the story, as well as where it will sit in the market. It’s a great opportunity to make sure that different departments such as editorial, design, sales and marketing etc all have the same vision for what we want to achieve with the cover and how we want it to look.

The images of hands and plants felt central to the story and also the cover, so Beci Kelly, who illustrated the cover, started looking for different ways to incorporate the two. This early selection shows some of those ideas.

The concept was really well liked, and as you can see the final cover is a kind of hybrid of options 3 and 4. Beci did a brilliant job of blending the tree and hand so that they work really harmoniously.

One point of discussion was the colour way for the cover. Your last book, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, had a green cover, so we didn’t want the two books to look too similar. I love the autumnal burnished colour that we chose for the final book – and it looks so stunning with the coppery foil.

I think Beci and Chloe Tartinville, who designed the overall cover, did a superb job of creating a cover that has a striking simplicity to the concept, and yet is so rich and detailed at the same time. It feels “on brand” for you, and yet original at the same time.

Where did the spark of an idea for the book come from? And what sort of development work do you usually do in the early stages after you’ve had an idea for a story?

I’ve always wanted to write about climate change – but I could never find a ‘way in’. It’s such a huge, complex topic that I didn’t know how to tackle it in a way which felt uplifting. I was reading about the rewilding of abandoned urban areas when the idea for magical plants came to me. It was immediately an idea which felt like it had the legs to talk about such a scary topic in a way which matches the tone of my books – I could see the comedy and fun in that scenario, despite the serious debate at its heart.

I pitched the idea of teenagers with magic tackling climate change to my agent Claire Wilson, and we had a long discussion back in November 2018 about the idea, which I originally called ‘The Green Earth Preservation Society’. Claire is really passionate about climate change, and had a very clear vision in mind for what the book needed to do thematically. I was really excited by the idea of the magic (I had all these ideas for having a sentient talking cottage that holds Theo’s family hostage, and a rainforest plant monster that Gabrielle takes around with her!) but Claire kept pulling me back to the central message: that the magic needs to be a tool to help the teenagers stand up to powerful organisations, and highlight the power of collective action. She also made sure there was a clear antagonist, and it didn’t feel too much like ‘wish fulfilment’ – that there would still be work for the characters to do in the long term, and I hadn’t fixed every issue on Earth immediately.

We played around with lots of different pitches for the concept, honing in on one which would give us the maximum amount of drama and betrayals between characters. I’m hugely grateful to have an editorial agent like Claire – if she hadn’t helped me isolate the key issues that might crop up in the early stages, I would have wasted a lot of time writing and rewriting down dead ends before I realised the issues myself.

Emily, you really pushed me to expand on the logic and evolution of the plant magic powers. Do you find that this is a blind point for authors when building fantasy worlds – that they don’t fully build the laws of their magic systems? I struggle with this a lot, and have to think about it in a very scientific way to get my brain to work through the concepts behind magic!

I think authors often know the worlds that they have created so well – it’s so familiar to them – that perhaps some of the simplest details or parameters of that world don’t quite make it to the page. It can’t be an easy job spelling out all of the ideas in your head! So as an editor, I try to ask questions and dig a little deeper to ensure that readers will have a full understanding of the world they’re reading about. Often authors know the answers to these questions immediately, so it’s just a case of then incorporating that into the story.

In the case of Green Rising, we obviously had to think about how the plant powers would develop and evolve, and make sure that at each stage it was clear to the reader what the characters could and couldn’t do with their powers. But once we found that logic it really helped tie everything together.

You did an incredible amount of research when writing this book, and it has certainly paid off. How do you structure your research so that it doesn’t become overwhelming? Do you make notes as you go along? Or do you read a lot and then give yourself some time to digest it all?

It was really tough! There are so many issues at play in the climate debate – from science to politics and economics. I really had to give myself a crash course in everything so I could trace the problems that needed fixing to their sources (and then find a way to fix them using plants!). For a while it definitely felt like the more I read, the more confused I got, but that actually helped a lot, because my characters felt the same way. I could channel some of the questions I had about climate politics into their perspectives.

I use Workflowy to keep bullet point lists of notes as I’m planning a story:

Then I compile it all into a Word Document with my outline and try to organise points in places in the story I might need that information. Often I’ll start writing and then there’ll be a specific scene I need to do research for, so I’ll go away and read up on what it’s like on an oil rig, making notes for the scene like this: 

Emily, how has your relationship with climate change evolved as a process of editing the book? I know mine changed a lot while researching and writing. I’ve become a lot more politically engaged with the issues.

It was a real eye-opener for me! I was of course aware of the climate crisis, but I hadn’t fully understood the impact that certain industries are having. I’ve learnt so much, and like you have become a lot more engaged with the issues, as well as doing my best to keep making differences in my own lifestyle.

While you were writing Green Rising, you also set up the Climate Fiction Writers League. Could you tell us a little more about this project?

The Climate Fiction Writers League is an organisation of over a hundred climate writers. I run a biweekly newsletter of essays about climate writing, in order to encourage readers and writers to take action. I think it’s made me feel a lot less scared about the future too, because I’m doing something positive to help. I started out primarily just wanting to create a database of climate fiction, because I couldn’t find any online when I was research Green Rising. It’s grown a lot since then, and I’m hoping to build out the group even more and start offering support to developing writers.

This book is a lot more political than my others. Was this something you were concerned with when editing it?

I think you’ve tackled such an important subject and done so in such a unique and innovative way that I always knew how important it was to get this book out into the world. As an editor I of course felt a certain responsibility to help you do the topic justice, but the level of research you’ve put into this book shows how committed you are to getting that right. It’s been an honour to try and play my part.

This is your sixth young adult novel! Does the process of getting a first draft down get any easier with each book, or is it always nerve-racking when you’re facing a blank page?

I definitely panic a lot less these days, because from previous experience I know that it is possible to finish a novel, even when it feels insurmountable from the midst of it!

I wrote the first draft in 14 weeks, working from a detailed 20,000 word proposal which I’d been researching for 6 months. That included 30 days of active writing, averaging 2,400 words a day. Here are my stats:

The first draft of Green Rising was 110,000 words, and you helped me get it down to 80,000 words without losing anything significant – something I’d thought was impossible! Do you have any tips for writing concisely to the word counts required for YA?

I don’t think writers should be afraid of having a long and messy first draft, because once you’ve got that first draft down on paper, you’ve got something to work with. I’m sure some people find it helpful to edit as they go along, but if that’s not you, there’s always plenty of potential to cut the length down in the editing process.

As an author, it’s vital to make sure that everything scene counts – that each one is serving a purpose. And to think about how you reveal information to your audience – too much exposition can easily bog a reader down. Focusing on those two points can quickly help to bring a word count down. Sometimes you do have to be ruthless – just because you like a scene or a character doesn’t mean it’s serving an overall purpose. Coming back to your manuscript with fresh eyes can be one of the best ways to help self-edit.

You’re always brilliant at taking on board editorial feedback. Did this book present any new challenges for you that you hadn’t encountered before? How did you find the editorial process?

I really wanted to capture a mix of responses to the climate crisis, but without having any characters be totally uneducated about the topic – I feel like that’s unrealistic in this time, when we’re all very aware of the future we’re facing. Hester starts out the novel as someone who is against climate action, but she considers herself very educated and engaged on the topic and can debate very well on it. She’s been raised by an oil tycoon, so she knows all of the economical and political background of the climate issue.

Meanwhile, Theo is a fisherman’s son, and he is aware of the need for climate action but isn’t very educated about the topic. He just knows that action needs to be taken, even though he doesn’t know what or how it would be possible.

Their views change over the course of the book, and it was difficult to construct character arcs for them that felt realistic and built into their cultural upbringing. I wanted it to feel genuine to the experience of becoming more involved in climate issues. As I became more educated around the topic too, I struggled not to put too much of what I’d learnt in the story – I know you had to rein me back there a lot!

But editing with you (and the whole team at Walker) is always such a pleasure – it’s very fun and laidback, even when we’re planning to tear apart a whole storyline!

Emily, you’re a big fan of sharing manuscripts with other editors to help find issues which have become blind spots after rereading a book so many times. Have you noticed anything in particular which tends to be missed by people close to the story?

Haha, it’s amazing how we can miss plot holes when we’ve read a book so many times! I’m always so grateful to have a fresh perspective. I think world-building and character motivation are often two things that authors have very clear in their heads but might not have translated into the story quite so clearly.

As well as all of your research into the climate crisis, you also did a huge amount of research into the oil industry to create Hester and her dad. Was Hester a fun character to write? I personally love her, and feel so invested in the journey she goes on through the novel to gain a whole new perspective on the fossil fuel industry.

She was so much fun! I loved writing her at the beginning of the book, when she’s totally focussed on success in business, and really oblivious to anything outside her very upper class, 1% bubble. She’s really been indoctrinated into a certain way of thinking, and over the course of the story her entire world view basically collapses around her. I think it takes a lot of bravery to face something like that head-on, and not repress and deny it all. She really sacrifices a lot during the story, and I hope I did her character arc justice.

One thing we talked about a lot when editing Green Rising was the relationship between Hester and her father, which is really complex and nuanced. You have a really strong grasp on character dynamics, and you helped me get the things in my head onto the page in a way that was clear to the reader. What kind of issues do you usually see in books, particularly in the relationships between characters?

Relationships play such a key role in character development, so this is always something I’m looking for. Hester’s relationship with her dad was a really interesting one, as there are so many different emotions tied up there. She’s in awe of him and wants to be just like him at the start of the book, but she’s frustrated too. We had to tease out those different elements to understand what she goes through over the course of the story.

I think character relationships are a key area to try and ensure you’re showing the reader as well as telling them what the dynamics are. And embrace subtlety and conflicted emotions. It all helps to make a character feel more authentic.

Speaking of parent–child relationships, Theo has had a very different upbringing to Hester, but they are both close to families. Parent–child relationships are something you write about in quite a few of your novels – is it something that particularly interests you?

There’s a joke in kid-lit that the parents always die in books, because that’s the easiest way to get your young protagonists out on an adventure. And I tried to stay away from that trope, because I think there’s so much you can learn about a character through meeting their parents, and seeing how they were raised into the person they’ve become – for good or for evil!

I think there’s a way people talk to their parents which is very different from how they talk to anyone else in their life. Emotions always bubble closer to the surface, and it’s a lot easier for conversations to go disastrously wrong – or be really therapeutic and rewarding. That’s a hugely valuable tool in storytelling if you use it right. 

For Theo and Hester, I intentionally built in a lot of similarities in their upbringings. At first, they can’t relate to each other at all, and think they have nothing in common. But their experiences mirror each other in a lot of ways, even across the divide of culture, opportunity and wealth. It was a lot of fun playing with that. 

One thing you flagged up in edits was that I don’t really describe my characters’ physical appearance, particularly for side characters. I think I’m probably not a huge visual writer – scenes usually arrive for me as emotional beats rather than things I can picture immediately in my head. I definitely have to go away and find an actor who fits a character, and then I can describe the character’s appearance on the page. Is the focus on visual/emotional/logistical etc elements something that varies from author to author, and for you personally?

It definitely varies from author to author, and I don’t personally feel that I need to have every character’s appearance described in detail to me. But sometimes just having a sense of a character’s physical presence and appearance can really enhance a reader’s perception of them. Sometimes there’s a moment where I’d just love to know how someone looks!

Finally, without giving too much away, could you give us a little hint as to what your next YA novel is going to be about?

I’m working on the novelisation of my online story An Unauthorised Fan Treatise, which you can read for free. It’s a contemporary YA (a first for me!) about a fangirl who gets involved in the murder of one of her favourite actors. It’s really fun – but slightly scary to be doing something without any magic or time travel!!

Can you tell us what books you’re working on right now, Emily? I’m really excited for Ann Sei Lin’s upcoming book Rebel Skies!

Oh I’m so excited about Rebel Skies! I got to read an early draft and it’s brilliant.

One of the other books I’m working on that I’m really excited about is a middle grade novel by Justyn Edwards called The Great Fox Illusion. The Great Fox is a world-famous magician who has died, and our protagonist Flick Lions has entered a competition to win his legacy. It puts a whole new spin on magical middle grade and is such a gripping read. Plus I’m loving finding out all about the sleights of hand that make magic tricks so convincing. It’s publishing next April and I can’t wait for people to read it.

Emily McDonnell is a senior editor at Walker Books. You can follow her on Twitter at @ems_worth.

Emily and me at YALC 2017!

Join the climate scavenger hunt

My new book, Green Rising, is a climate thriller inspired by movements like Extinction Rebellion. I wanted to write about teenage activists who have the power to make real, decisive change in the climate crisis. It’s something which makes us all feel incredibly helpless, and climate fiction is often a depressing, dystopian look at our doomed future. I wanted to write a more optimistic, hopeful path forward to a better world, with clear instructions about what we should be doing next to fix the planet.

When I was writing Green Rising, I became really passionate about doing something about climate change – but I didn’t know how to actually help make a difference! So much of the climate crisis is beyond our control as individuals. Change relies on large corporations making changes to the status quo. But there are some things we can all do to help – most importantly, to start conversations about climate change and raise awareness of how urgent the situation is.

People tend to bury their head in the sand about climate change, because it often feels so hopeless. But it’s important that we’re all aware of the politics and ethics of climate solutions, because they’re going to determine the course of the next hundred years on Earth.

I challenge you to do something from my list below, and use it to talk to someone – whether it’s with your family, employer or educational institution – about how they can make a difference.

I can’t wait to see how many points you can get and all the actions you might take!

Pledge not to mow your lawn (10 POINTS)

Make space for insects by letting plants like daisies and white clover grow. These will produce nectar and habitats for pollinators, frogs and small mammals. If you feel self-conscious about leaving your lawn ‘messy’, then try to mow a border around the outside or a path through the middle. Avoid using pesticides too. Find out more here.

Go on a charity shop clothes hunt (10 POINTS)

Disposable, cheap fashion pieces are a major contributor towards wasted energy. If you buy new clothing, it’s best to invest in long-term, quality pieces that can be worn for many years. Even better, try to buy second hand! Visit your local charity shops to hunt down some new clothes, and post your haul online.

Air dry clothing instead of tumble drying (10 POINTS)

Save energy where you can by letting your new clothes haul air dry instead of tumble-drying them.

Register to Vote (10 POINTS)

It’s important to vote in all political elections you are able to, and make sure your representatives are aware that your vote is based on their climate policy views. If you haven’t yet registered to vote, you can do so here.

Switch to LED lightbulbs (10 POINTS)

Energy efficient LED bulbs can save energy compared to halogen/incandescent bulbs. Get 10 points for every bulb you replace!

Go foraging (20 POINTS)

From mushrooms to blackberries, there are lots of edible foods available in hedgerows and woodlands. Use this calendar to see what’s in season in your area. You can pick up some litter along the way, while collecting wild elderberries or sloes to make homemade cordials and liqueurs.

You can even collect some wildflowers to dry or press. Use flowers to decorate recyclable brown paper, and wrap up a bottle of homemade sloe gin as a personalised, sustainable Christmas or birthday present.

Make a bird bath or wildlife pond (20 POINTS)

Use a shallow, watertight bowl, bin lid or plant tray to make a water source for local wildlife – and wait to see what comes for a dip. Birds, hedgehogs, bees and frogs will be grateful!

Donate old books to a school or charity shop (10 POINTS)

I don’t know about you, but my shelves are filled with books I know I’m not going to read again. Why not make someone’s day by donating them to a local primary school or charity shop? Show off your contribution with a #unhaul post. If you’re a book blogger, showcase the eARCs you’re reading via Netgalley – which all saves on postage and printing of paper proofs!

Build a bird box or insect hotel (20 POINTS)

Use a wooden pallet, broken bricks/plant pots, twigs and leaves to create a structure for insects in a cool place in your garden. If you’re more crafty, you can make a bird box out of recycled materials like plastic drain pipes, paint cans and even old boots.

Decorate your wheelie bin (30 POINTS)

Use your wheelie bin, front window or garden fence to raise awareness of the climate battle by using one of Extinction Rebellion’s downloadable assets. You can make a stencil to use with spray-chalk or emulsion paint, or print out stickers and posters (I’m a big fan of the Declaration of Rebellion). Of course, these are council property so make sure you have permission first. You can even create a mural – paint beautiful art with a climate-based message on a wall!

Distribute outreach materials (30 POINTS)

Go the extra mile by giving your stickers or posters to friends, shops and community centres, encouraging them to showcase their views too. Extinction Rebellion are hosting lots of events this summer to encourage climate activism (check out their calendar here).

Volunteer for Extinction Rebellion (40 POINTS) –

As well as organising marches and protests, Extinction Rebellion are always looking for creative people to help with outreach, from musicians to graphic designers, photographers and social media content creators. Artists can help by making murals, stickering, flyposting, stencilling, chalking, banners and subvertising bus stops or billboards. Find other roles: https://volunteer.extinctionrebellion.uk/roles

Make a change to your diet (30 POINTS)

Whether that means cooking with non-dairy butter, drinking tea with oat milk once a day, or only eating beef once a month, you can incorporate small changes into your routine that will make a difference over the course of a lifetime. Use this guide to see which foods are in-season locally, so you can avoid hot-house produce grown out of season.

Change to a renewable energy utility supplier (30 POINTS)

Many utility suppliers offer a tariff which uses renewable energy sources such as wind or solar energy. Check your supplier’s website to see how to switch – more information can be found here.

Speak out! (10 POINTS)

If you’re nervous of getting caught seed-bombing, you can still help by signing petitions like this one to rewild Britain’s national parks, or write to your local MP to encourage your council to rewild vacant land (check what your council is doing here). You can find government climate petitions here. Extinction Rebellion’s big goal for 2021 is to demand that the UK Government stop all new fossil fuel project investments – every voice will help make that happen!

Speak to your employer/educator (50 POINTS)

If you work in local government or in the private sector, then part of your pension is almost certainly invested in coal, oil and gas companies. Write to the trustee or convenor of the pension scheme to ask them to divest from their harmful default options using a template.

You can also ask for more sustainable practises within companies or institutions, such as only offering beef once a week in canteens, asking for more reusable materials to be used in shipping, or reducing the amount of business trips taken by employees. It’s likely they’ve not considered the harm being done through their actions while working in a business-as-usual fashion. 

If you work in publishing, join Writers Rebel’s campaign for recycled paper to be used in book printing. They’re looking for people to help with editorial support, administrative tasks, investigative research, campaign planning, event organisation and project management.

While writing Green Rising, I founded the Climate Fiction Writers League, an organisation of over a hundred climate writers. I run a biweekly newsletter of essays about climate writing, in order to encourage readers to take action. Talking about climate change to your social media followers, or founding a climate activism group in your workplace, can help make people reconsider their actions.

Good luck on your climate missions, fellow activists! Green Rising is about politics, standing up for what you believe in and taking direct action. But remember: no amount of careful consumption can fix an industry-wide problem. The carbon emissions responsible for climate change are largely caused by industry, and can only be reduced through government action. This fight has to start with policy changes, immediately. So the most important thing you can do is vote, and make sure you know where your money is going – at every level. While magic is fantastical, the ability of humans to fix the climate emergency is not. I believe we can make a difference: and I’m excited to see how you go about it.

-lauren

What type of plant are you – quiz

Hester and Theo by Laya Rose Art

Meet the Characters

Hester is Eiza González

Hester Daleport, age 18, is the heir to Dalex Energy, one of the world’s largest oil companies. She’s privately tutored to prepare for her role as CEO when her dad retires. A business-savvy Texas girl, she doesn’t have many friends her own age – but she loves to bake, has an impressive stock portfolio and collection of business blazers.

Theo is Rahul Kohli

Theodore Carthew, age 17, is the English son of a family of fisherman. He’s dyslexic, loves video games, and works at the local docks unloading shipping containers after school, when he’s not helping out on his dad’s boat. He makes really bad puns, and he absolutely hates Dalex Energy, whose oil rig is destroying his family’s livelihood.

Gabrielle is Ariela Barer

Gabrielle Ventura is the first person to grow plants in Green Rising, she’s a dedicated climate activist, and she’s not afraid to break the law to do what she believes is right. She’s aro-ace, an excellent fighter, and deeply opinionated. Not going to lie, Hester and Theo are a little bit afraid of her.  

Edgar Warren is Andrew Scott

Edgar Warren is a billionaire trying to start a colony on Mars. He’s dorky and tech-savvy, and he’s interested in using the Greenfingers powers in space.

Anthony Daleport is Jason Watkins

Anthony Daleport is Hester’s dad, and the CEO of Dalex Energy. He’s training up Hester to replace him one day. He’s a keen golfer, and meticulously health-focussed, drinking vitamin-packed protein shakes constantly.

Most highlighted book quotes

Amazon Kindle has a feature where popular sentences of eBooks are underlined, showing parts that multiple readers have highlighted.

This is basically the best gift ever for a writer: if you’re ever feeling down, go and flick through your eBook and see what people like. It’s great.

A couple of my books are discounted on Amazon right now (The Quiet at the End of the World and The Loneliest Girl are £1.89 on Kindle, and £4 in paperback) so I thought I’d share the quotes that were highlighted in my oldest books (The Next Together has been out for six years now!)

The Next Together

  • To be honest, if I stopped joking around I’m pretty sure I’ll go to bed and never get up again. I’m only barely holding onto my sanity right now through a series of poorly thought-out puns.
  • All throughout history they had been doing this, finding and loving each other and being ripped apart before they even had a chance to live.
  • I don’t think there are any true heroes. Just people who ignore their survival instincts long enough to do something incredibly foolhardy.
  • It doesn’t do any good to mourn for someone who is gone. They don’t care. Their story has finished.
  • Will you marry me, Katherine? I want us to spend this life and the next together.
  • “Did you have nightmares about it?’ He nodded hopefully and then said, completely seriously, “It was traumatising.”
  • “A pencil. A PENCIL,” he said, with growing horror, staring into empty space as if at the horrific vision she had laid before him. He shook his head. “Some people just want society to collapse.”
  • Coffee isn’t the only hot thing waiting for you in my office. > Someone hot? What’s Mick doing in your office? (JOKE JOKE I’M ON MY WAY)

The Last Beginning

  • She wasn’t a dazzling lead protagonist in some adventure film. She was the gay best friend.
  • Phosphenes, they were called – the sparks of colour that lit up your vision, the stars that appeared in the darkness.
  • Time travel is like knitting. You have to build on what’s come before, and weave the strands together until it becomes something beautiful.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

  • Some days it’s hard to remember the exciting parts. I get stuck in the memories. It’s hard to focus on the future when the past is so distracting.
  • My life is a gambling chip thrown carelessly across the universe in the hope it’ll land somewhere my descendants can survive.
  • Love takes so much energy, and it just leads to pain. I think it’s probably best for people to be self sufficient. If I was strong enough to be independent, then I wouldn’t be so desperately lonely, I’m sure of it. I just want someone who holds on. Someone who won’t ever let me go, whatever tries to tear us apart. Is that too much to ask?
  • It’s like I’m understanding everything differently now because I’m looking at it from your perspective. I want to see your reaction to everything, from the rare to the commonplace.
  • Things on Earth I want to experience most: Quicksand – how often do you usually get stuck in this stuff? A few times a month? It seems to happen all the time in films!
  • Just remember, J, you’re coping with everything the best way you can, and that’s all that matters. Don’t ever think you aren’t strong.
  • There are so many places on the ship that I avoid because I’m afraid of facing the past. But the past is much less scary than the future. I know what’s already happened; I know how bad it was. I don’t know what’s coming, though.
  • Is no life at all better than the constant fear and fight for survival I face every day?
  • Whatever happens, I can’t see a point in time when I will ever be happy. For the rest of my life, I’ll be struggling. I’m always going to be moments away from sinking completely. So why should I live at all? It would be so easy to stop. But it would be so pointless. Every year I’ve fought to survive would be wasted.

The Quiet at the End of the World

  • When you know that there’s no future, the only thing that’s interesting anymore is the past.
  • People may die and civilisations may fall, but little pieces of the past linger.
  • We live in the quiet at the end of the world. The slow winding-down clockwork motions before life stops completely. Time is slipping through our fingers.
  • Our lives are particles on a riverbed being lost by the waters of time. Here and then gone in a moment. Nothing, in the grand scheme of things.
  • There’s no finish line you need to cross to have lived a worthy life, Lowrie. You don’t need to achieve anything, if you don’t want to.
  • Life is whatever you want it to be. With whoever you want to be with. Life is the people around you, the ones you love. You just need to be happy. That’s all that matters.
  • You don’t remember the perfect things when you think about the people you love. You think of the them things. The little habits or guilty pleasures or secret flaws that only they have. Those are the things that make them unique. Those are the things that make us all human.
  • Maybe that’s what matters. Maybe that’s what being “alive” is. It’s not some trick. There’s no magic chemical that gives something a soul. It’s about being loved and loving in return.
  • Life is the people around you, the ones you love. You just need to be happy. That’s all that matters.
  • I am not human because I have a brain made of cells and water and iron. I am human because I think in the same way that my ancestors thought. I feel like they felt. I live like they lived. However much my world has changed, however different my day-to-day life might be, that much is true.

To celebrate Green Rising, you can take a quiz to find out which plant you would grow – on my Instagram story highlights or on uquiz.

A nice surprise today – The Quiet at the End of the World has been shortlisted for the National Cyber Awards! It’s a very robot-centric book, so this is a delight.

A guide to writing science-based sci-fi

Green Rising is out now!

Competition:

It’s here! I’m so excited for you all to read Green Rising – it’s been a true labour of love. I started out writing the book with a lot of concern about climate change, but not a huge amount of knowledge. As I researched more and more, I went on a real journey to become an activist in a way I didn’t expect. Now, a significant part of my time is spent on climate-related volunteer work – and I’ve become really optimistic about the future as a result. Hopefully some of the propulsion to act which I found comes across in the book, and inspires you too.

Above all, this is a funny and romantic story about some teenagers developing magical powers – enjoy!🌿👋

I wrote an article for Bookbrunch: Positivity in the apocalypse: can a climate fiction novel be uplifting?

From the beginning of my writing career, I’ve wanted to write about climate change – but I could never find a “way in”. It’s such a huge, complex topic that I didn’t know how to tackle it in a way that felt uplifting. My writing is primarily character and story-focused. It’s funny and romantic. That tone felt impossible to capture in a book about climate change, a topic that is discomforting at best and soul-destroying/terrifying at worst.

As well as Green Rising’s release, today is the 6th anniversary of my debut The Next Together! I can’t quite believe it’s been so long. I’ve been lucky enough to have the same team at Walker Books and RCW Literary Agency with me for all 6 novels. A literal DREAM.

What type of plant are you – quiz

Hester and Theo by Laya Rose Art

Meet the Characters

Hester is Eiza González

Hester Daleport, age 18, is the heir to Dalex Energy, one of the world’s largest oil companies. She’s privately tutored to prepare for her role as CEO when her dad retires. A business-savvy Texas girl, she doesn’t have many friends her own age – but she loves to bake, has an impressive stock portfolio and collection of business blazers.

Theo is Rahul Kohli

Theodore Carthew, age 17, is the English son of a family of fisherman. He’s dyslexic, loves video games, and works at the local docks unloading shipping containers after school, when he’s not helping out on his dad’s boat. He makes really bad puns, and he absolutely hates Dalex Energy, whose oil rig is destroying his family’s livelihood.

Gabrielle is Ariela Barer

Gabrielle Ventura is the first person to grow plants in Green Rising, she’s a dedicated climate activist, and she’s not afraid to break the law to do what she believes is right. She’s aro-ace, an excellent fighter, and deeply opinionated. Not going to lie, Hester and Theo are a little bit afraid of her.  

Edgar Warren is Andrew Scott

Edgar Warren is a billionaire trying to start a colony on Mars. He’s dorky and tech-savvy, and he’s interested in using the Greenfingers powers in space.

Anthony Daleport is Jason Watkins

Anthony Daleport is Hester’s dad, and the CEO of Dalex Energy. He’s training up Hester to replace him one day. He’s a keen golfer, and meticulously health-focussed, drinking vitamin-packed protein shakes constantly.

Read Green Rising on Netgalley + panel video

You can now download a sampler including the start of my next novel Green Rising, and request the full novel to review over on Netgalley! It’s only 3 weeks now until release day, and I have some exciting stuff lined up to celebrate. 🙂

Hester and Theo by Laya Rose Art

For YALC, I chaired a panel with Veronica Roth, Jonathan Stroud, Femi Fadugba, Micaiah Johnson and K L Kettle. Watch it here:

I have a few online events/courses coming up in September:

WOWCON WORKSHOP – Over 2 hours I will help you transform your story idea into an elevator pitch, outline & blurb for querying agents, with info on using a synopsis for writing & editing your book. (Sunday 26th September – 12.50 – 3pm, via Zoom)

I wanted to share how I visualised the characters in Green Rising while I was writing.

Theo is Rahul Kohli, Hester is Eiza González

Gabrielle is Ariela Barer, Edgar Warren is Andrew Scott and Anthony Daleport is Jason Watkins

Theodore Carthew, age 17, is the English son of a family of fisherman. He’s dyslexic, loves video games, and works at the local docks unloading shipping containers after school, when he’s not helping out on his dad’s boat. He makes really bad puns, and he absolutely hates Dalex Energy, whose oil rig is destroying his family’s livelihood.

Hester Daleport, age 18, is the heir to Dalex Energy, one of the world’s largest oil companies. She’s privately tutored to prepare for her role as CEO when her dad retires. A business-savvy Texas girl, she doesn’t have many friends her own age – but she loves to bake, has an impressive stock portfolio and collection of business blazers.

Gabrielle Ventura is the first person to grow plants in Green Rising, she’s a dedicated climate activist, and she’s not afraid to break the law to do what she believes is right. She’s aro-ace, an excellent fighter, and deeply opinionated. Not going to lie, Hester and Theo are a little bit afraid of her.

Edgar Warren is a billionaire trying to start a colony on Mars. He’s dorky and tech-savvy, and he’s interested in using the Greenfingers powers in space.

Anthony Daleport is Hester’s dad, and the CEO of Dalex Energy. He’s training up Hester to replace him one day. He’s a keen golfer, and meticulously health-focussed, drinking vitamin-packed protein shakes constantly.

The temperatures are rising, but so are they. One month until the GREEN RISING.

Goodreads | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Book Depository | Foyles

I hope you’re all having a lovely summer! It’s my birthday next week and I’m going to be fully vaccinated, so I’m going to a CITY and a MUSEUM and a RESTUARANT for the first time in a 18 months – I’m super excited!

-lauren

Cover reveal for Green Rising

I am super excited to share the cover of Green Rising, my next novel! This was illustrated by Beci Kelly and designed by Chloé Tartinville at Walker Books. It’s being published on 2nd September, which is somehow only 3 months away! The book is about teenagers who can grow plants from their hands, and I love how that’s represented with the tree-hand here (which is going to have beautiful copper foil!)

Hester, the protagonist, is the heir to an oil company, and the factory skyline in the background is a nod to her family’s industry. I can’t wait to see this in person – there are going to be samplers soon with a very cool take on this cover. The book is up for preorder now in all the usual places – please do support it early if you can, as it makes all the difference Especially after this last year, which has been very tough for publishing with bookshops closed.

Here’s the blurb:

Set in a near-future world on the brink of ecological catastrophe, Lauren James’ novel is a gripping, witty and romantic call to arms.

Gabrielle is a climate-change activist who shoots to fame when she becomes the first teenager to display a supernatural ability to grow plants from her skin. Hester is the millionaire daughter of an oil tycoon and the face of the family business. Theo comes from a long line of fishermen, but his parents are struggling to make ends meet.

On the face of it, the three have very little in common. Yet when Hester and Theo join Gabrielle and legions of other teenagers around the world in developing the strange new “Greenfingers” power, it becomes clear that to use their ability for good, they’ll need to learn to work together. But in a time of widespread corruption and greed, there are plenty of profit-hungry organizations who want to use the Greenfingers for their own ends. And not everyone would like to see the Earth saved…

As they navigate first love and family expectations, can the three teenagers pull off the ultimate heist and bring about a green rising?

Mentoring course + CrimeFest Awards shortlisting!

Hey all,

A few nice bits of news – my next WriteMentor course starts next week, and there’s still a place left. If you’re working on a YA novel, you can find out more here.

The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker has been shortlisted for the 2021 Crimefest YA award!

I spoke to the Big Kids Book Club podcast about The Deep-Sea Duke and did a ‘day in the life’ story series for the Coventry2021 Instagram account, which you can replay in their highlights. Over on my Patreon, I shared some patron-only posts on screenwriting tips, lockdown guilty pleasures and an essay on writing serialised fiction.

I’m doing an online panel in June for Cymera Festival with some of my Climate Fiction Writers League authors. In the latest issue of the newsletter, there’s a letter for climate-anxious children and a discussion of animal behaviour in writing. I also did a video interview about climate change and Green Rising for Laura Lam’s new youtube series Cyotopia here.

Green Rising now has a blurb! This is out Sept 2nd with Walker Books – hopefully we can do a cover reveal soon (it’s AWESOME).

Set in a near-future world on the brink of ecological catastrophe, Lauren James’ novel is a gripping, witty and romantic call to arms.

Gabrielle is a climate-change activist who shoots to fame when she becomes the first teenager to display a supernatural ability to grow plants from her skin. Hester is the millionaire daughter of an oil tycoon and the face of the family business. Theo comes from a long line of fishermen, but his parents are struggling to make ends meet.

On the face of it, the three have very little in common. Yet when Hester and Theo join Gabrielle and legions of other teenagers around the world in developing the strange new “Greenfingers” power, it becomes clear that to use their ability for good, they’ll need to learn to work together. But in a time of widespread corruption and greed, there are plenty of profit-hungry organizations who want to use the Greenfingers for their own ends. And not everyone would like to see the Earth saved…

As they navigate first love and family expectations, can the three teenagers pull off the ultimate heist and bring about a green rising?

I think that’s all my news! It’s been a ‘head down, keep working’ kind of winter. I’ve written a TV pilot and a screenplay, done the latest round of edits on Green Rising, started writing a new novel and written a proposal for a new project. It’s been a busy time – but I am so excited for this summer of getting out and about again!

lauren x

Filtering the World – Writing craft chat

I’ve been writing professionally for a decade, and one of the things that’s really developed in my technique is that I’m always interpreting the world through writing, 100% of the time. I make dozens of notes on my phone throughout the day, when things I read/see/watch/do/hear remind me of my projects.

This could be anything from a discussion on social media about how someone processed grief, a moment of emotion in fic, a visual framing device in a TV show, a description of food in a recipe book, a song that reminds me of a character’s starting emotional point, a good word or odd way of phrasing a sentiment that comes across as quirky, and literally hundreds of other things. I’m filtering everything that catches my attention at all through the eight or so projects I have on-the-go, until it clicks into place. Almost always, it fits into one of the projects somehow – because that’s why it caught my attention.

Yesterday I was listening to a song on repeat, and stopped to wonder why – and ended up writing 1,000 words of a character’s diary entry. But in the vast majority of cases, I don’t go back and look at those notes for many weeks. When I go back to work on a project, the first thing I do is copy those notes from my phone app over to a Word document, and turn them into the snippets of dialogue or prose I imagined them being useful for. Then I build the story around that framework.

This automatic world-filtering is something I’ve only started doing instinctively in the last few years. I used to have to intentionally ‘seek out’ these moments of resonance, as I started a new project. It was a whole stage in the process, before I could start writing. But I’ve somehow trained my brain to do it automatically, as soon as the project is first concrete in my plans. It’s so, so useful, and I really recommend thinking more consciously about how you process media if you’re a writer – you’ll be thankful you did so, in a decade or so!

(I use Workflowy bullet point lists to record my notes.)

I speak to climate activists and scientists about climate change and Green Rising in an interview here:

Climate change in The Deep-Sea Duke

The Deep-Sea Duke is out now! You can read the first chapter here on Archive of Our Own. (My account there also contains over 70,000 words of deleted scenes and short stories from the worlds of my other novels.) In this interview, I discuss the climate change allegory in the novel.

Tell us about your new book.

The Deep-Sea Duke is a sci-fi novella set on an alien planet. It’s aimed at struggling readers (age 8+). The story follows a pompous amphibian Duke Dorian as he takes his best friends – a living volcano and a servant-class android – to meet his parents.

How does climate change play into the plot?

Dorian’s parents happen to be the monarchs of a water planet (think: space mermaids!), which is currently struggling to find housing for an influx of climate refugees. A race of butterflies have made their planet uninhabitable by burning fossil fuels, so they had to leave the hot planet. Dorian’s parents have to find habitats for them.

What kind of research did you do when writing it?

I read a lot of books about climate change as research for this novella and my upcoming climate thriller, Green Rising. I also subscribed to email newsletters like Heated, Lights Out , and Green Light by The Guardian to make sure I was getting up-to-the-minute climate news.

What approach did you take to talking about complicated topics, either political or scientific, for younger readers?

It’s all about character – as long as readers can see the effects of a difficult topic on someone they care about (whether that’s a human, animal, alien or robot!) then they’ll understand the importance. Empathy is a really powerful force in creating change.

So many of the climate fiction books I read focus on the effect that individuals can have on the planet, with the message that we all need to be more responsible, greener consumers. I wanted to look at how industry and businesses are causing pollution, to make it clear to my young, scared readers that it’s not their responsibility to fix climate change. No amount of careful consumption can fix an industry-wide problem.

What are some of your favourite books about climate change? (fictional or non-fiction!)

The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climateby Naomi Klein

Can you remember when your journey with environmental activism started?

I studied Chemistry and Physics at university, so I’ve been studying the science of climate change for many years. It’s incredibly frustrating that I was taught the science of the greenhouse effect and the proposed solutions over a decade ago, and yet we’re still no further along in fixing it.

Why is it so important for you personally to see the environment discussed in fiction?

I’m most interested in seeing the politics of climate change discussed. Everyone is aware of the science, but I’m not sure that everyone understands the details of oil companies’ campaign of science denial, or the other political events which have slowed down the efforts to counteract climate change.

Can you share a quote from the book that you hope will resonate with readers?

“Climate change, I’m afraid. They’ve been using those motorised penny farthing bicycles for centuries now. It burnt up all the fossil fuels they dug up from the ground. It released chemicals into the air that changed the atmosphere of their planet. It has been raising the temperature for decades, but they just ignored the problem. This summer, the planet got so hot that wild fires started breaking out everywhere. Global warming has turned it into a desert wasteland.”

Dorian winced. “Oh dear. They’ve had to evacuate?”

What message do you want readers to take away from The Deep-Sea Duke?

The carbon emissions responsible for climate change are largely caused by industry, and can only be reduced through government action. However, if you’d like to make lifestyle changes to help limit your individual emissions, here are the most effective changes you can make. Some of these will take many decades to achieve, but long-term societal changes are the only way we can tackle this problem.

  • Vote in all political elections you are able to, and make sure your representatives are aware that your vote is based on their climate policy views
  • Replace garden lawns with wildflower meadows
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs
  • Don’t fly – and pay for carbon offsetting for any flights you are required to take
  • Make sure your savings and pensions schemes are not invested in companies contributing to climate change. Ask your company to divest from their harmful default options
  • Avoid eating beef, and transition to dairy alternatives
  • Buy in-season food, grown locally (avoiding hot-house produce grown out of season)
  • Change to a renewable energy utility supplier
  • Buy electric cars – but only once your current car is absolutely unable to be fixed. Keep current cars on the road for as long as possible, to keep manufacturing emissions low
  • Install solar panels or solar roof tiles
  • Air dry clothing instead of tumble drying
  • Avoid disposable, cheap fashion and invest in long-term, quality pieces that can be worn for many years

And, of course, plant trees wherever you can. They truly are the lungs of our planet. Depleted forests, savannahs, peatlands, mangroves and wetlands have the ability to grow back quickly, but we need to give them the opportunity to do that. 

“Curious and anarchic fun . . . themes around diversity, equality and the environment that are treated in a light touch fashion and without being preachy.” – The Letterbox Project

Cover designed by Helen Crawford-White.

When Hugo and Ada travel to their friend Dorian’s planet for the holidays, android Hugo is anxious about being accepted by Dorian’s powerful family. But when they arrive on Hydrox, there are more pressing things to worry about, as the planet has been overrun by refugee butterflies. Displaced from their home by climate change, the butterflies have been offered sanctuary
by Dorian’s parents, but they’re quickly running out of space. Meanwhile, beneath the seas, a strange creature is wreaking all kinds of havoc …
Can Hugo, Dorian and Ada step in before the crisis gets out of control?

Lauren James dives into a strange new world with a truly imaginative look at the climate crisis in this breathtaking companion to The Starlight Watchmaker.

“Sweet and wholesome and fun to read. Hugo and Dorian’s story is one to pick up when you want something warm and fluffy (and some perfect escapism)” – Sydney on Goodreads

“This was just so wholesome. Dorian and Hugo have the most wonderful relationship and I love them with everything in me. This book was the hug I needed.” – Lis on Goodreads

Introducing The Deep-Sea Duke + reading the first chapter – sci-fi novella publishing 4th Feb!

Read the first chapter here.

Cover designed by Helen Crawford-White.

When Hugo and Ada travel to their friend Dorian’s planet for the holidays, android Hugo is anxious about being accepted by Dorian’s powerful family. But when they arrive on Hydrox, there are more pressing things to worry about, as the planet has been overrun by refugee butterflies. Displaced from their home by climate change, the butterflies have been offered sanctuary
by Dorian’s parents, but they’re quickly running out of space. Meanwhile, beneath the seas, a strange creature is wreaking all kinds of havoc …
Can Hugo, Dorian and Ada step in before the crisis gets out of control?

Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 12+, this is a sequel to The Starlight Watchmaker, which was shortlisted for the STEAM Children’s Book Prize 2020 and nominated for the Carnegie medal. The second book in The Watchmaker and the Duke series is a 17,000 word novella which will be published in paperback and eBook by Barrington Stoke on 4th February.