Introducing the Climate Fiction Writers League

I’m very excited to be launching something I’ve been working on for a while now – a database of over fifty internationally published authors writing fiction about climate change.

The Bookseller

My next two novels are climate fiction, and during my research I’ve found a distinct lack of comprehensive resources about other eco-novels. My hope is that the website, climate-fiction.org, will be helpful for teachers and librarians compiling lists of climate fiction, and looking for authors who can speak on environmental topics.

Members include Marcus Sedgwick, Rebecca Roanhorse, Charlie Jane Anders, Cory Doctorow, Laura Lam, James Bradley, Sarah Crossan, S. J. Morden, Emmi Itäranta, Piers Torday and Julie Bertagna, as well as many other authors located in China, Vietnam, Australia, the USA, Canada and Great Britain – explore them all here. If you’re an author writing about climate change, please get in touch to be added to the website.

The site will also include a newsletter released every two weeks of essays about writing and climate activism; interviews with authors of new releases; and a round-up of climate news. Please subscribe if you’d like to be kept up to date – it launches this week with an essay by Marcus Sedgwick and interview with Cara Hoffman. Upcoming topics include ‘How to Build a Solarpunk City’, ‘Connecting with Nature and Rewilding’, ‘Antarctica and environmentalism in fiction’ and ‘Queer people after the apocalypse’.

The League was inspired by a similar writing collective, the Women Writers Suffrage League, formed in 1908 by activists, who said, “A body of writers working for a common cause cannot fail to influence public opinion.”

The Climate Fiction Writers League are a group of authors who believe in the necessity of climate action, immediately and absolutely. Fiction is one of the best ways to inspire passion, empathy and action in readers. Our works raise awareness of climate change, and encourage action at the individual, corporate and government levels.

Best reads of 2020

2019 favourites | 2018 favourites | 2017 favourites 2016 favourites | 2015 favourites | 2014 favourites

Disclaimer: as always, I’m not including any books where I know the author as a pal!

Top 10 published in 2020

Baking at the 20th Century Cafe: Iconic European Desserts from Linzer Torte to Honey Cake by Michelle Polzine

Throughout her baking career, Michelle Polzine of San Francisco’s celebrated 20th Cen­tury Cafe has been obsessed with the tortes, strudels, Kipferl, rugelach, pierogi, blini, and other famous delicacies you might find in a grand cafe of Vienna or Prague. Now she shares her passion in a book that doubles as a master class, with over 75 no-fail recipes, dozens of innovative techniques that bakers of every skill level will find indispensable (no more cold but­ter for a perfect tart shell), and a revelation of in­gredients, from lemon verbena to peach leaves.

Many recipes are lightened for contem­porary tastes, and are presented through a California lens—think Nectarine Strudel or Date-Pistachio Torte. A surprising num­ber are gluten-free. And all are written with the author’s enthusiastic and singular voice, describing a cake as so good it “will knock your socks off, and wash and fold them too.”

I made almost every recipe in this book this November, during a quarantine lockdown/social media hiatus. Such unique, original recipes I’d never seen before (as someone who reads a lot of recipes!). I love recipes where you can’t picture the flavour by reading it – it’s something new and interesting, that you get to taste for the first time when you make it. I had no idea what anything in this book would taste like. My favourites: Russian Honey Cake, Raspberry Strudel cake, Walnut torte, Sweet Cheese Strudel. The recipes are long, intense and complicated – which was exactly what I wanted during lockdown. 10/10

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

Wonderful. Lost memories and closed environments and unreliable narrators and untrustworthy companions.

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

I stayed up until 5am reading this in one glorious burst, and I feel dead today but it was so worth it. If there’s anyone in the world I stan, it’s Naomi Novik (she MADE ARCHIVE OF OUR OWN!! she writes stories which INFECT MY BRAIN! her plot mechanisms are feats of engineering!) so I was incredibly excited for this.
This is a take on the ‘magical school’ trope, which examines the idea that magic is a free, unlimited resource for students who are good enough at casting. Instead, you have to put real effort into collecting enough energy to cast spells (knitting or doing sit-ups are popular choices). Otherwise, you have to take life force from other living things to cast spells. It’s something I examined in my next book The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, where I wanted to examine the source of ghosts’ energy – they have to fight amongst themselves to get the most power, or disintegrate. So this hit me in my sweet spot, in a topic I’ve thought a lot about recently.
It’s the most brutal, wonderfully cutthroat world of death and horror, within the closed environment of an ancient, falling apart school made entirely of metal, under siege by creatures desperate to consume the students’ magic.
The characters are great too: a girl who is destined to be evil, and a boy who is destined to be a hero. Both of them aren’t entirely happy with accepting their fates, and rebel against it in different ways. El’s mum was also brilliant – I love how the truth about her crept in slowly, starting with little references and growing into something really impressive.
The beginning of the novel is a little exposition heavy, but that’s only because once it gets going, it literally does not pause for breath until the final page. Novik is a master at setting up a plot to unfurl in a series of staggeringly well-thought out bursts of action, weaving together into an imaginative climax. This is no exception, and I am so, so excited for the sequel. I want more of vicious El and her lovely, besotted Orion. 

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle

Naomi Westfield has the perfect fiancé: Nicholas Rose holds doors open for her, remembers her restaurant orders, and comes from the kind of upstanding society family any bride would love to be a part of. They never fight. They’re preparing for their lavish wedding that’s three months away. And she is miserably and utterly sick of him.

Naomi wants out, but there’s a catch: whoever ends the engagement will have to foot the nonrefundable wedding bill. When Naomi discovers that Nicholas, too, has been feigning contentment, the two of them go head-to-head in a battle of pranks, sabotage, and all-out emotional warfare.

But with the countdown looming to the wedding that may or may not come to pass, Naomi finds her resolve slipping. Because now that they have nothing to lose, they’re finally being themselves–and having fun with the last person they expect: each other.

I read a lot of romances in 2020 (it was…..the year for comfort reading) and most of them follow the familiar plot archetypes. Which is kind of what I want in a romance. This? This throws all the rules out of the window. The couple are already together, and have fallen out of love. This is a lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers romance! Magic!
It also has an unreliable narrator, which I’ve never seen before in a romance – just amazing stuff. While most romances I read are instantly forgotten, these distinct characters are still stuck in my mind, six months later. Truly memorable.

The Mirror & the Light (Thomas Cromwell #3) by Hilary Mantel

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

Everyone I know has been going mad for the Wolf Hall books for a decade, but I didn’t see the point in starting until the whole series was complete. So this year I listened to all three audiobooks in a row – which was basically the longest immersion in Tudor culture ever. I didn’t shut up about it to everyone I knew for a month. I was utterly obsessed, and now fully understand why Mantel is a national treasure. (Also, if you are a writer and haven’t listened to her Reith lecture series Can These Bones Live?, do yourself a favour and listen now – she’s an excellent teacher.)

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find–her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

A deeply unsettling, mushroom-filled story, about a woman effectively trapped in a mansion on the top of a mountain with a very weird family. Her cousin is sick, and seems to be dying slowly under the pressure of living in this strange place. This reminded me of so many classics I love: Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, of course, but also The Secret History and We Were Liars and We Have Always Lived in the Castle – books where the place is just as much a character as the people.
The writing was particularly beautiful in this. Often I found myself rereading the writing, just because it so beautifully captured the setting. There were some lovely turns of phrase.
This is exactly what I want adult fiction to be: it’s like a YA novel, all grown up. Dark and female-focused and utterly modern in everything except the time period.

Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery

Sometimes you just have to yell. Daniel M. Lavery has mastered the art of “poetic yelling,” a genre surely familiar to fans of his cult-favorite website The Toast. In this irreverent essay collection, Ortberg expands on this concept with in-depth and hilarious studies of all things pop culture, from the high to low brow. From a thoughtful analysis on the beauty of William Shatner to a sinister reimagining of HGTV’s House Hunters, Something That May Shock and Discredit You is a laugh-out-loud funny and whip-smart collection for those who don’t take anything—including themselves—much too seriously.

A really interesting look at transitioning gender by a master wordsmith. Filled with humour, honesty, literary references and good taste. I will always love anything he writes, and this is no exception.

Fangs by Sarah Andersen

Elsie the vampire is three hundred years old, but in all that time, she has never met her match. This all changes one night in a bar when she meets Jimmy, a charming werewolf with a wry sense of humor and a fondness for running wild during the full moon. Together they enjoy horror films and scary novels, shady strolls, fine dining (though never with garlic), and a genuine fondness for each other’s unusual habits, macabre lifestyles, and monstrous appetites. Fangs chronicles the humor, sweetness, and awkwardness of meeting someone perfectly suited to you but also vastly different.

A fun, wry and easy-reading comic about a werewolf and a vampire in love. This is basically a series of one-page jokes about the quirks of their domestic life: there’s very little overarching plot. Both characters are absolutely adorable, grumpy-cute in the best way.

Slippery Creatures by K.J. Charles

Will Darling came back from the Great War with a few scars, a lot of medals, and no idea what to do next. Inheriting his uncle’s chaotic second-hand bookshop is a blessing…until strange visitors start making threats. First a criminal gang, then the War Office, both telling Will to give them the information they want, or else.

Will has no idea what that information is, and nobody to turn to, until Kim Secretan—charming, cultured, oddly attractive—steps in to offer help. As Kim and Will try to find answers and outrun trouble, mutual desire grows along with the danger.

And then Will discovers the truth about Kim. His identity, his past, his real intentions. Enraged and betrayed, Will never wants to see him again. But Will possesses knowledge that could cost thousands of lives. Enemies are closing in on him from all sides—and Kim is the only man who can help.

A 1920s romance about an ex-soldier who inherits a bookshop and, along with it, a hidden secret code that the War Office and many gangsters are very keen to get their hands on. The best of KJ Charles, who is on top form here.

Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #2) by Holly Jackson

Pip Fitz-Amobi is not a detective anymore. With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her.

But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared but the police won’t do anything about it. And if they won’t look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town’s dark secrets along the way… and this time EVERYONE is listening. But will she find him before it’s too late?

An intricate, unpredictable and truly modern murder mystery – Gottie would love this one.

Top 5 books published before 2020

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters by Charlotte Mosley

Spanning the twentieth century, these magically vivid letters between the legendary Mitford sisters constitute not just a superb social and historical chronicle (what other family counted among its friends Hitler and the Queen, Cecil Beaton and President Kennedy, Evelyn Waugh and Givenchy?); they also give an intimate portrait of the stormy but enduring relationship between six beautiful and gifted women who emerged from the same stock, incarnated the same indomitable spirit, yet carved out starkly different roles and identities for themselves. Nancy, the scalding wit who transferred her family life into bestselling novels; Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life; Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII; Unity, an attempted suicide, obsessed with Hitler; Jessica, the runaway communist and fighter for social change; and Deborah, the genial socialite who found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Writing to one another to confide, commiserate, tease, rage and gossip, the sisters wrote above all to amuse.

I’ve decided to cultivate an obsession with the Mitfords in 2020, and after reading The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, this was my first port of call. Absolutely the right move – I couldn’t stop reading, and fell headfirst into their insane world of celebrity friendships, political squabbles and betrayals and deaths. I now want five sisters to become penpals with.

Crowded Vol. 1 by Christopher Sebela

Ten minutes in the future, the world runs on an economy of job shares and apps—like Reaper, a platform for legal assassination. When the apparently average Charlie Ellison wakes up one day to find out she’s the target of a million dollar Reapr campaign, she hires Vita, the lowest rated bodyguard on the Dfend app. Now, with all of Los Angeles hunting Charlie, she and Vita will have to figure out who wants her dead, and why, before the campaign’s 30 days—or their lives—are over.

A graphic novel series about a crowdfunded assassination target running for her life with her hired bodyguard, and getting into lots of trouble along the way.

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

For the first time ever, an international coalition of leading researchers, scientists and policymakers has come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. All of the techniques described here – some well-known, some you may have never heard of – are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are already enacting them. From revolutionizing how we produce and consume food to educating girls in lower-income countries, these are all solutions which, if deployed collectively on a global scale over the next thirty years, could not just slow the earth’s warming, but reach drawdown: the point when greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere peak and begin to decline. So what are we waiting for?

I read a lot of climate change non-fiction in 2020, as research for a book I’m writing. This was one of the best – comprehensive, without fearmongering, it just lays out in clear terms exactly what needs to be done to fix things. Ignoring the politics, and the drama, and the chaos – this is just pure solutions. Which, I don’t know about you, is very comforting when you feel helpless about the planet’s future.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Wonderful. Creeping horror that gets worse and worse as the book goes on, with some really gruesome scenes. Richly drawn characters on a mutated island. This is ANNIHILATION for the YA crowd.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martin

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

Takes the ghosts-living-inside-someones-head of A SKINFUL OF SHADOWS and smushes it together with the cultural alienation of the VORKOSIGAN SAGA and the complex courtly intrigue of THE GOBLIN EMPEROR.


And personally, in 2020 I published a novel The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, finished posting a serialised online novel, An Unauthorised Fan Treatise, and had a short story published in an anthology. I also announced two 2021 releases: Green Rising (a climate change thriller, coming with Walker Books in September) and The Deep-Sea Duke (a sci-fi romance novella, coming with Barrington Stoke in February).

10 Books I Want to Read in ’21

It’s the previews post! A lot of the books I include in these posts usually find their way into my end-of-year favourites posts a year later, so this is a sneak peek at what I’ll be loving this year. Enjoy!

Previously: 15 books I want to read in ’15 | 16 books I want to read in ’16 | 17 books I wanted to read in ’17 | Books I Want to Read in 2018 | Books I want to read in ’19 | Books I want to read in ’20

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Malibu: August, 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over-especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud-because it is long past time to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there. And Kit has a couple secrets of her own-including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik

A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . . 

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within and A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’ new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever. 

The Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor #2) by Katherine Addison

When young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had killed his father and half-brothers in The Goblin Emperor, he turned to an obscure resident of his court, a Witness for The Dead named Thara Celehar.

Now, far from the court, Thara Celehar lives in quasi-exile, neither courtier nor prelate, serving the common people of the city. He lives modestly, communicating with the dead as is his duty.

But his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly. Celehar will follow the truth wherever it leads him no matter who may be implicated in murder, fraud, or ancient injustices.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

A 23-year-old realises her subway crush is displaced from 1970’s Brooklyn, and she must do everything in her power to help her – and try not to fall in love with the girl lost in time – before it’s too late . . 

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.


As well as a few which don’t have covers yet:

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Robin Blyth has more than enough bother in his life. He’s struggling to be a good older brother, a responsible employer, and the harried baronet of a seat gutted by his late parents’ excesses. When an administrative mistake sees him named the civil service liaison to a hidden magical society, he discovers what’s been operating beneath the unextraordinary reality he’s always known.

Now Robin must contend with the beauty and danger of magic, an excruciating deadly curse, and the alarming visions of the future that come with it—not to mention Edwin Courcey, his cold and prickly counterpart in the magical bureaucracy, who clearly wishes Robin were anyone and anywhere else.

Robin’s predecessor has disappeared, and the mystery of what happened to him reveals unsettling truths about the very oldest stories they’ve been told about the land they live on and what binds it. Thrown together and facing unexpected dangers, Robin and Edwin discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles—and a secret that more than one person has already died to keep.

Dark Rise by C.S. Pacat

 Set in an alternate London, this follows “the heroes and villains of a long-forgotten war who are being reborn, ushering in a dangerous new age of magic”.

The Upper World by Femi Fadugba

2020: Close to getting expelled and caught up in a deadly feud, the tensions surrounding Esso seem to be leading to a single moment in a Peckham alleyway that could shatter his future.

2035: Stripped of everything, football prodigy Rhia has just one thing left on her mind – figuring out how to avert a bullet that was fired fifteen years in the past.

Everything changes when Esso gains access to a mysterious world where he can see glimpses of the past and future, and when Rhia starts understanding the physics of it. The two must work together to master the secrets of the Upper World and seize control of their own destinies before it’s too late.


I have A Desolation called Peace on my kindle, so I’m starting that one today – and eagerly awaiting the rest of these! Also, I’m not surprised that a full 60% of the books here are published by Tor – I’m a big fangirl of their list and general SFF ethos.

As for me, I’m releasing a novel in September which will be called Green Rising – here’s the blurb:

A climate-change thriller set in a near-future world that’s closer than we want to believe

Hester, Theo and Gabrielle have grown up knowing that Earth is doomed. The acceleration of climate changes means that the planet will soon be uninhabitable, and while those who are rich enough can escape to Mars, the rest of the population will be left to their fate.

But in the year that the ice caps finally melt, teenagers around the world begin developing strange powers – the ability to grow plants with their minds. The only hope for reversing climate change seems to lie with these Greenfingers. But there are plenty of profit-hungry organizations who want to use them for their own ends. And not everyone would like to see Earth saved…

In a time of widespread corruption and greed, can three teenagers pull off the ultimate heist and bring about a green rising?

Goodreads

It contains space, heists, solarpunk, magical realism, politics, LOTS of plants & just a hint of enemies-to-lovers romance…. 😊

Sealed with a Loving Kiss short story anthology

A 4000-word short story I’ve written, Sealed with a Loving Kiss, is being released in an anthology. It was based on a prompt from a class of schoolchildren in Birmingham who asked for a ‘romance story about a meteorite hitting a snowman’ after doing my Science fiction writing workshop, where we created short stories based on science topics in the news. They chose the ‘space snowman’ asteroid Ultima Thule for inspiration.

The cover design is based around my story:

Cover design by Riya Chowdhury

My story was inspired by Hidden Figures, and features a queer love story, science, secret treasure – and, of course, lots of woman in STEM. I had fun writing it – and wrestling the class prompt into something a bit more ‘Lauren James’.

The anthology also features writing by Bali Rai, Liam Brown and Ken Preston, as well as stories chosen or commissioned by young people in Norway, Portugal and Italy which have been translated into English for inclusion in this book of short stories. It was published by The Emma Press, and created by Writing West Midlands and READ ON EU.

You can order a copy for £3, or my Patreon subscribers can read it early here.

You can read it translated into Portuguese digitally here (page 48).

Antologia READ ON, Portugal, Versão Integral, 2020 

Available for bookings – Editorial Critiques

Hi everyone, I currently have a slot available in my schedule for one novel edit in November – if you have something you’ve been working on, send me an email at laurenjamesauthor@gmail.com. Details on my services are below.

From January 2021 I’m also running my online YA mentoring course for writers through WriteMentor for the fourth time! Applications are now open.

I specialise in Science Fiction and Fantasy or Contemporary Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, but I’ve worked on non-fiction and memoir writing too. I’ve edited the work of over fifty writers, with multiple clients going on to receive offers of representation from agents and traditional book deals.

I focus on developing plot, pacing, character, dialogue and world-building to help analyse the work in preparation for submission to a literary agent. I can help with sensitivity reading your manuscript for LGBT+ representation.

I will not be reading your writing for grammar or spelling mistakes, and won’t judge you for errors – I am purely looking at the bigger picture. The fine tuning comes later, when all of the building blocks are in place.

Query Package – Feedback on a cover letter, synopsis and the first 50 pages (or 10,000 words) of a manuscript. Critiques will be a minimum of 1000 words of overall feedback, which includes line edits and comments on the documents. I will also read the edited query when it is complete to provide any final notes before agent submission.

£145

Full Manuscript Package – Feedback on a cover letter, synopsis and full manuscript. Critiques will be a minimum of 2500 words, which includes a mix of line edits and comments on the documents, and a letter of overall feedback. I will also look over the edited manuscript when it is complete to provide any final notes before agent submission.

This is the best choice if you are willing to invest a lot of time into editing the manuscript to make it the best it can possibly be. If you aren’t able to commit to that level of work, I suggest the line edit package below.

£4.50 per thousand words of manuscript, or £180 for works shorter than 40,000 words (excludes word count of cover letter and synopsis)

Line Edit Package – An in-depth sentence-by-sentence edit of the manuscript, correcting edits and bringing up the prose to the best standard it can be. This edit will make only minor suggestions for changes to character motivations, scene choices and plot points. It will mainly focus on improving what has already been written.

£7.50 per thousand words of manuscript (excludes word count of cover letter and synopsis)

Email me at laurenjamesauthor@gmail.com for more information. It would be helpful, though not essential, if you could send a 1,000 word writing sample along with your enquiry. I’m currently taking bookings for November 2020.

Critiques will be sent back within 4 weeks of payment. Manuscripts must be sent as a Microsoft Word document with double line spacing. Payment is taken by PayPal on acceptance of the manuscript. An invoice will be provided. Refunds available upon cancellation, providing the work has not yet been completed. I reserve the right to refuse applications due to time restrictions.

My experience: I have written 9 novels and 4 novellas, and I’m published traditionally in the United Kingdom, USA, Australia, and in 5 languages worldwide. I am a career novelist and make a living wage from my writing. I work as a creative writing teacher for Coventry University, Writing West Midlands and WriteMentor.


Testimonials

“Lauren is my first port of call for all my works-in-progress. She has a keen eye for errors and inconsistencies and has made some phenomenal suggestions for improvement, while completely understanding and respecting my own vision.”

Alice Oseman, YA author of Radio Silence and Solitaire and creator of webcomic HEARTSTOPPER.

“Comprehensive feedback, well thought-out comments, and just the right balance between praise and criticism.”

Lucy Saxon, YA fantasy author of The Tellus Series, including Take Back the Skies, The Almost King and The City Bleeds Gold.

“Lauren provides extremely helpful feedback to a high standard and is someone I really trust with my work.”

Kate Ormand, YA author of Dark Days and shape-shifter circus series, The Wanderers and The Pack. The Wanderers was honored as “Winner” in the “Fiction: Young Adult” category of the 2015 USA Best Book Awards.

“I was excited to have my critique edited by Lauren James! With her stellar advice I was able to get recognised! I trust her with my work.”

Alexandra Perchanidou, Blogger/Author of THREE GHOSTS FOR ANASTASIA

Lauren gave incredibly detailed, insightful feedback about my manuscript, which pushed me to get my manuscript ready for submission to agents. It’s really useful to get a fresh perspective from someone so knowledgeable and with a proven track record. I’ve since got an agent and MINA AND THE UNDEAD will be published by UCLan in April 2021.

Amy McCaw, Author of Mina and the Undead (UCLan, 2021)

Having Lauren James critique my work was an incredibly helpful experience. She offered great ideas for improvements and was really positive and encouraging about my chapters, and as such I feel so much more confident about moving forward with edits!

Sarah Corrigan, Blogger & Aspiring author

Lauren’s services have been invaluable – I’d been stuck in a cycle of rejections and knew I needed a professional eye to help. Lauren is very fast, efficient and kind which is what you need when sharing your creative work. She’s always there for follow up questions despite her busy schedule. If you’re not sure what to do next with your manuscript, Lauren will have the answer!

Shelley Bartup, Aspiring author

Lauren really helped me shake up stagnant parts of my manuscript that had largely remained in the same format since the first draft. I was unsure of what to do to improve them, but Lauren’s keen editor’s eye and compassion helped me to understand what would work best for my characters.

From using Lauren’s services I have a newfound confidence in my writing abilities and a determination to keep improving my manuscripts. I cannot recommend her enough!

Georgia Campbell, Aspiring author

I can’t recommend Lauren’s editorial services highly enough. Besides her obvious credentials as a successful writer, she is also a talented editor. The feedback she provided on my opening chapters, as well as my book proposal, was not only brilliantly insightful but also super speedy, supportive and great value for money. She is everything your manuscript needs.

Lorna Riley, Aspiring author

After floundering about in a state of writerly anxiety, I knew it was time for my manuscript to be read by someone other than myself and my dog. Lauren has since proved to be completely invaluable. Her thoughtful comments and brilliant feedback left me nodding at my computer; eager to get the next draft underway. Her kindness, efficiency and keen-eye are just what your work-in-progress needs!

Blake Polden, Aspiring author

It’s difficult enough as a writer to share your work with your friends but asking a writer whose work you absolutely love is mildly terrifying. I’m pleased to say that Lauren quickly put me at ease with her helpful mix of positive and constructive feedback. She reminded me of all those things I loved about my stories but helpfully pointed out where the plot wasn’t quite working and challenged me to think the story through. Not only that but she was efficient and exceptionally encouraging, coming back to check how I was progressing with my edits. As a result I had lots of positive feedback describing my manuscript as polished and well written, Lauren has played a vital role in helping me feel confident to query.

Jo Clarke, Aspiring author

Lauren’s editorial eye is superb and her suggestions on changes for my manuscript and query were insightful and spot-on. Her critique gave me the confidence to continue writing LGBTQ stories with complex, realistic, characters – and her knowledge of the YA market is invaluable! Lauren showed a deep understanding of what I was hoping to achieve with my manuscript and working with her was an absolute joy that I would recommend to any aspiring author. With Lauren’s guidance I have received some good feedback from agents on my submission and hope to further this success in the future.

Jen Gallagher, Aspiring author

Lauren James understood exactly what was at the heart of my novel and how to kick it into shape and gave me heartfelt advice and recommendations for how to move forward for which I am extremely grateful.

Jamie-Lee Turner, 2019 class of the WriteMentor mentoring course

Lauren James is an amazing tutor – so approachable and I am in awe of her work. The feedback she gave on my writing was perfect. She showed me areas to improve and think about. Character relations I hadn’t thought about before speaking to her.

Eiman Munro, 2019 class of the WriteMentor mentoring course

Lauren James was an absolutely superb teacher, providing an entirely new viewpoint to my work and telling us all the little secrets about writing.

Melissa Welliver, 2019 class of the WriteMentor mentoring course

Writing an Unreliable Narrator

If you’re a voracious reader, you probably recognise the structure of familiar plot formats as soon as you start reading a novel. It can sometimes get a bit boring when you can guess the twists of stories before they happen. The solution? Seek out books with unreliable narrators. You won’t guess the twists if the main character is actively lying to you, the reader! 

You may be familiar with this writing style from books like We Were Liars, We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Fight Club. In all of those books, the characters have hidden integral truths about their lives from the reader, usually to shield themselves from some kind of trauma that they’re not willing to process. In some cases, entire characters don’t exist in reality in the form in which they’re presented. 

I’ve always wanted to have a go at writing like this – not only because these books are some of my favourites and most memorable as a reader – but because it’s a fun challenge as a writer. When I’m creating a new character, I always think about what secrets they’re keeping, what they’re afraid of, and what they desire most in the world. Having a character create a whole fake narrative for their world combines all those factors of their personality into something that’s tangible on the page. 

A well-drawn character’s inner life should dramatically impact the events of the story and the plot lines. Nowhere is that more clear to the reader than when they actively interfere with the story being told, changing it into a narrative that they prefer. 

In The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, an all-knowing, possibly immortal narrator interferes with the story to give her take on the events as they happen. As Harriet, a new ghost, stumbles around the afterlife meeting the ancient ghosts who live in the same building, the narrator comments on Harriet’s mistakes and victories. This narrator can see the future – so she has the benefit of hindsight and future-sight, all of which she uses to be very opinionated about the actions the characters are taking. 

Just a few catches, though: she never tells the reader who she is (why? Every unreliable narrator keeps secrets for a reason!), and she’s not entirely truthful about her own involvement in events. Sometimes, it seems like the story she’s telling is purposefully misleading, as if she’s trying to convince the reader that her version of events is the best one – or that she’s in the right. 

It was a lot of fun to write an unreliable narrator – especially one who is such an outrageous and obvious liar. I enjoyed it so much that I gave it another go, writing an unreliable narrator into my serialised online story An Unauthorised Fan Treatise, in which a teenage fangirl tries to convince the readers of her blog that she isn’t a stalker of her favourite actors. 

If you read the book, remember: don’t believe everything you’re told. Everyone has motivations, whether they reveal them to the reader or not. And the afterlife is a dangerous place, especially for a captive audience. 

For those who may not be familiar with your newest (and fabulous) YA title, The Reckless Life of Harriet Stoker, how would you sell it to them in one sentence? 

A building of ghosts are trapped together for all eternity, and trying to destroy each other – what could go wrong?

What inspired you to write The Reckless Life of Harriet Stoker? How and when did you come up with the idea?

I really wanted to write about a villainous girl. One of the big things that surprised me when I was first published was how unforgiving reviewers were of female characters – people didn’t like it when they did anything wrong! They were seen as very unlikeable and mean if they made mistakes, which isn’t something we see for male characters. Once I started reading about different ghost myths from around the world, I thought it would be a fun setting to use for my anti-hero, as she explores the world of the afterlife and gets herself into trouble of various kinds. 

The Reckless Life of Harriet Stoker is your first paranormal novel. Did you find the writing process differed from that of your sci-fi novels?

Writing a paranormal fantasy with magic is very different to writing a book based on real life science. The plot possibilities seemed endless and overwhelming at first – where do you stop when you can do literally anything? Everything clicked into place when I realised the importance of a magic system with rules and limitations. When your characters have powers – each of the ghosts can do something unique, like hypnotism, shapeshifting or clairvoyance – it’s very important that the magic has restrictions. Otherwise, what are the consequences of their actions? What is stopping them from becoming impossibly powerful? That gave my plot a structure that made the novel a lot easier to work with.

Do you have any YA paranormal recommendations for readers wanting more after finishing and loving The Reckless Life of Harriet Stoker?

HARROW LAKE by Kat Ellis was recently released and is great – a creepy tribute to the horror genre. THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater is deceptively creepy, with a great ghost character. A SKINFUL OF SHADOWS by Frances Hardinge also has a terrifying take on ghosts – not one I would want to experience myself! And LOCKWOOD AND CO by Jonathan Stroud is slightly younger YA, but definitely not any less creepy for that – these ghost hunters are very scary.

With six novels now under your belt and plenty of wonderful characters, which characters from your previous books do you think Harriet Stoker would best get on with and which do you think she’d clash with?

Ooh, great question! I think Harriet would like Romy from THE LONELIEST GIRL IN THE UNIVERSE (who could hate Romy?) because she has never had any friends, and Romy is in a similar position after growing up in space. They could be each other’s first friends. 

She definitely wouldn’t like Kate from THE NEXT TOGETHER very much – she’d probably find her very annoying and chatty! I think she’d be quite intimidated by Lowrie in THE QUIET AT THE END OF THE WORLD, who is very independent and capable.

Okay, so The Reckless Life of Harriet Stoker would make the best movie. If that were to happen, who would your dream casting be for Harriet, Felix, Leah, Rima and Kasper?

I have so many thoughts on this! The novel was inspired by my favourite TV comedies, like SPACED, MISFITS, BEING HUMAN and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS. Right from the beginning, it’s been a very visual story for me – I can picture the scenes in my head, in a way I can’t always do with my novels. So I know exactly what they look like. Harriet is Daisy Ridley (STAR WARS), Rima is Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (NEVER HAVE I EVER), Leah is Sofia Boutella (KINGSMAN), Felix is Keiynan Lonsdale (LOVE, SIMON) and Kasper is Froy Gutierrez (TEEN WOLF). You can see my character bios with pictures on my website here: https://laurenejames.co.uk/the-reckless-afterlife/

There were so many brilliant twists and turns throughout the book. Were these all planned or did they come to you as you wrote? Could you tell us a little about your writing process?

Some of the smaller twists were planned from the beginning, but my editor really pushed me to add more twists during the editing process. That really pushed me to take risks and stretch the narrative in ways I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do otherwise (particularly in regard to the characters’ backstories). I added in the ‘narrator’ very late on in the editing process too, which is one of my favourite parts about the novel now. 

While writing, I tend to think about my novels in several strands: 

1) what the reader knows about what’s happening

2) what the characters know about what’s happening (but aren’t necessarily saying)

3) what is really happening

I then pace out reveals about the truth alongside character development. Ideally, readers will guess twists about 10 pages before the characters realise the truth – I try to give enough clues that it’s possible to work it out if you’re a close reader. I don’t think it’s fair, otherwise. If anyone wants a clue for HARRIET: keep an eye on the knitting. 

From the unpredictable plot to the complex characters to the queer pining, the process of writing The Reckless Life of Harriet Stoker must have been a lot of fun but was there a specific scene or element you enjoyed creating the most?

My favourite scenes are the ones where the gang are just hanging out, being silly. They’re a true ‘found family’ – they’ve been stuck in this building together since 1994, so they’ve really refined their banter in the decades of playful hanging out. It was a real joy to write about an established, loving friendship group. I could have written a lot more scenes where they just spent time together, but obviously that’s not very exciting for the plot! 

Do you have any writing projects in the works and if so, can you tell us anything about that?

I’m currently working on a novel about climate change – about nature, geoengineering and teenagers taking action through civil disobedience, in the face of overwhelming corporate negligence. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for years, but never felt good enough at writing to tackle, as it’s such an enormous topic. I’m finding it tough, and there’s a lot research to do, but it’s such an important discussion to have. 

Lots of your stories feature young women in science. Is that something that you’ve included in this book?

I studied Chemistry and Physics, so it’s always been important to represent realistic, flawed female scientists in my books – I’ve had biologists, computer scientists, mechanical engineers and mathematicians. This was a bit more difficult this time around, since all my characters are dead, but I added a scientist called Qi, who was studying for her PhD when she died, and now runs experiments on ghost energies. It was an interesting experiment in the science behind the magic of my idea. 

Do you believe in ghosts?

No, but my family does have some old stories about my great-granddad appearing as a ghost after his death – though I’m not sure how much that was due to gas leak hallucinations! I tend to look for the scientific explanations behind things, so I’m very interested in the phenomenon of ghosts and what the collective stories we’ve created as a society say about our culture. 

Did writing about the afterlife make you feel uncomfortable, or is it a topic that you love exploring?

I loved it! Especially because I could mix teenagers from two time periods – the 1990s and 2020 – which is a real collision of generations in a fun way. It was very nostalgic to write.

What are three fun facts about Harriet Stoker?

1) The novel has a mysterious omniscient narrator telling the story to the reader, whose identity is a secret – it’s up to you to work out who they are!

2) There is a queer enemies-to-lovers romance which was the most fun to write

3) The story takes place over two thousand years – ghosts can survive for a long time. Like, a really long time. 

Which is your favourite character in the book? 

I hate this question, because I love them all! But I have a soft spot for Rima – she’s laidback, playful, bad at telling jokes and the ‘mum friend’ who always wants to look after everyone else.

Are there any characters that you really relate to?

Probably Rima, for all of the reasons listed above! I also really enjoyed writing Harriet’s descent into immorality – there’s something really satisfying about a female character whose goals are more important to her than being liked. She’s willing to be rejected from society to make herself happy, and values her own judgement above anyone else’s viewpoint. That takes a kind of selfishness that is really interesting to me.

Name some of your favourite books that feature girls in STEM.

I have a whole Goodreads shelf for this, but some of my recent favourites are Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew, Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and Sourdough by Robin Sloan. 

Do you have any advice for young people (women in particular) who want to pursue a career in science?

I think it’s hugely important for teenagers to realise that you don’t have to be a genius to study science. I talk to a lot of teenagers about science, and hear a huge amount of enthusiasm. But it’s hard to see that progressing to the university level in admission numbers. Scientists in the media are often represented as geniuses and I think it’s a hugely damaging stereotype which might deter people from studying science. But if you have enthusiasm, you are good enough for science!

What can readers expect from The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, and how is it similar or different to your other novels? 

It’s very different from my other books – it’s a horror, which I’ve written a bit of in The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, but not fully explored. It’s also my first book outside of the realm of science fiction, as this is a paranormal fantasy. I’m so glad I was allowed to explore other genres, as often authors are expected to continue writing similar types of books – so I feel really lucky to have stepped outside my comfort zone into something new. But it has a lot of the same elements of previous novels – humour, romance, plot twists, funny characters (or rather, characters who think they’re funny) and found families. 

The ghosts in your world have their own energies, rules, powers: what made you want to show a different side to ghosts than we’ve seen in pop culture before, and how did you decide on the shape and structure of the afterlife in The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker

 I’ve always loved the idea of ghosts, but there’s something missing from most paranormal stories. What happens when ghosts live in the same building? Do they share ‘haunting’ duties, or do they have to compete for space? What resources would they consider valuable? And, most importantly, can a ghost die? What happens to them when things go wrong? 

My sci-fi is always heavily based on rules and real science, so when I started thinking about the world of ghosts, I naturally gravitated towards thinking about how ghosts might work scientifically. Everything has to have an energy source, and ghosts would no exception. The world expanded from there, as I tried to work out how that might shape a society where there is one valuable resource – the energy that keeps spirits together. If you can get enough energy, there’s no limit to how long a ghost can survive, which means the oldest ghosts are the most powerful, as they’ve had many centuries to take and retain that energy. It gets quite dark, as Harriet learns how far they’ve gone to achieve that. 

Out of all the powers the ghosts have in the book, which one would you most want?

I would love Rima’s power of shapeshifting into different animals – it seems like the most fun, especially as she can fly as birds, or explore inside the walls of the building as a little mouse. 

A Definitive Ranking of the Deadliest Ghosts in Fiction

In my new novel The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, my ghosts have magical powers, based on their personality and heritage. These powers can be anything from shape-shifting and hypnotism to clothing manipulation, so some are more useful than others. Harriet finds out exactly which powers are best when she struggles to defeat the other ghosts. 

I love ghosts as a trope because they’re so unpredictable – there are no rules in how to write them, and every story does something different. There are thousands of cultural myths about ghosts from all around the world, so writers can draw on many sources of inspiration in creating unique ghosts. The hardest part for me was picking which ideas I couldn’t use. 

I wanted to share some of my favourite ghosts in fiction, and rank them to see who would win if they had to face off against my villainous Harriet in a battle for power. 

Casper (1995)

I must have watched this film over a hundred times when I was little. Casper is a bit of wuss in this film, more interested in romance than battling other ghosts. He has some pretty decent powers – he can touch objects, shape-shift and fly – but he mainly uses those powers to flirt and tie shoelaces together. Harriet would probably beat him (sorry, Casper!). 

Likelihood Harriet could beat him in a fight: 8/10

Annie from Being Human (2008)

This TV series featured a vampire, werewolf and ghost living as housemates. It was a huge inspiration for my novel, which started out being called Ghost House, because it’s about ghost housemates. In the series, Annie is a young, insecure murder victim who is very protective of her living friends. 

Annie can teleport (!), touch objects and read minds, but only in heightened states of emotion. In the show, she has defeated other ghosts and closed the door to death – she isn’t to be messed with. 

Likelihood Harriet could beat her in a fight: 2/10

Noah from The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

This contemporary YA series features a group of friends searching for the burial site of a Welsh King – while also driving around in cool cars and flirting a lot. One of the Raven gang is Noah, the ghost of their dead classmate. He is very mild and shy, with a ‘smudgy’ appearance. He tends to disappear if people aren’t paying attention to him – though, disconcertingly, he does re-enact his own death occasionally. 

I love Noah immensely – he’s a very endearing character – but Harriet would absolutely destroy him. Sorry, pal. 

Likelihood Harriet could beat him in a fight: 9/10

Betelgeuse in Beetlejuice (1988)

In this classic cult film, a pair of newlywed ghosts hire a freelance ‘bio-exorcist’ ghost to chase the living people who have moved into their house, so they can have some peace and quiet. 

Chaotic and crude, Betelgeuse has a whole host of powers, which he mainly uses to harass the living. He can fly and shapeshift, teleport and summon objects, possess people and influence their minds. He can also be summoned (or removed) by saying his name three times, which seems as if it could be strategically useful in a battle scenario. He’s also just really mean – I don’t think Harriet stands a chance; he’d probably make her cry within seconds.

Likelihood Harriet could beat him in a fight: 0/10

Makepeace in A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge 

In this historical YA novel, Makepeace is a living teenage girl who has a group of ghosts living in her head – one of whom is a bear. Angry and vicious, she has to control her own emotions as well as the animalistic desires of the ghosts possessing her. I think Harriet would have a hard time defeating her, as the ghosts in Makepeace’s head have amassed centuries-worth of wisdom. But Makepeace is still human, which makes her vulnerable.

Likelihood Harriet could beat her in a fight: 5/10

The Skull in a Jar in Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud 

The skull in this paranormal action YA series is possessed by a ‘type 3’ ghost, who is witty, murderous and – occasionally – helpful to a group of teenage ghosthunters. While stuck inside the jar, it can’t do much except be rude, but when unleashed it can create spirit-wind stronger than an explosion. 

Likelihood Harriet could beat it in a fight: 4/10

The gang in BBC Ghosts 

This silly comedy series about a group of ghosts from different eras living in an old dilapidated mansion is so much fun – especially because all the ghosts are utterly inept and foolish. They’re more interested in bickering than fighting, and Harriet would probably be too disdainful to even engage them in battle. 

Likelihood Harriet could beat them in a fight: 8.5/10

The Nadja doll in What We Do in the Shadows

In this mockumentary, the group of ancient vampire housemates get to meet their own ghosts, since they technically ‘died’ the moment they were turned into vamps. The 700-year-old badass Nadja keeps her ghost around for company, possessing a doll. These ghosts can release projectile (?) ectoplasm (?) vomit (?) which is kind of icky, but not definitively dangerous. I’m also not clear on the strength of their ghost-on-ghost powers. Harriet probably stands a good chance here, I’d say. 

Likelihood Harriet could beat her in a fight: 6/10

My favourite female antiheroes

In my new novel The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, I did something I’ve wanted to do for years – write about a girl who is unapologetically, completely evil. I’d never seen a villainous female character – like Loki – who I really sympathised with and rooted for.

When Harriet dies in an abandoned building, she discovers a society of ghosts, with an intricate social hierarchy. She decides to become the most powerful ghost, whatever the cost to her reputation or friendships. Naturally, this doesn’t go very well for her. 

It was so much fun writing about Harriet at her most villainous. I find antiheroes so appealing because their goals are more important to them than being liked – these are women who are willing to be rejected from society to make herself happy, and values her own judgement above anyone else’s viewpoint. That takes a kind of selfishness that is really interesting to me, from a character creation point of view. 

Naturally, there are lots of female antiheroes I love, so I wanted to share some of my favourites here. It turns out a lot of these characters are in TV shows. I think it takes a lot of screentime to really develop a complex character, and show their vulnerability.

Villanelle in Killing Eve

The sassy assassin of all our dreams (admit it), Villanelle has slowly learnt to develop empathy over the series, mainly in order to relate to her obsession and dramatic foil, Eve. She’s a sociopath in many ways, but she’s vulnerable and mean too, and so complex that I could watch her on-screen for hours.

Killing Eve started airing while I was writing the first draft of The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker (then creatively titled Ghost House), and it was electrifying for me to see a character like Harriet on screen. I may have made notes while watching the early episodes, because I loved Villanelle’s characterisation so much.

Mrs Coulter in His Dark Materials

Mrs Coulter has scared me since I was twelve years old, reading Northern Lights for the first time. She’s charismatic and subtle, and it’s hard to pin down what is so scary about her at first. She’s very powerful politically, and isn’t afraid to use her femininity to manipulate the men in power. The biggest shiver-down-my-spine indication of what’s really going on behind the scenes is her stunning but silent golden monkey daemon, who is a sign of her beauty in public, but who she tortures in private. 

Her complicated relationship with her own motherhood has stuck with me for over a decade. It was hugely inspirational for Harriet’s relationship with her grandmother, who is still alive and living alone after Harriet’s death.

 Annalise Keating in How to Get Away With Murder

The talented and successful lawyer in this series isn’t afraid to be hated, as long as she wins her cases. Brutal in professional situations, she has a vulnerable side in private. As the series develops, we see her tough persona disappear as she lets in those around her. Annalise is a nuanced and empathetic character, unmatched on TV. It’s a great lesson in character arcs and growth, which are important even in an action-packed plot-driven show like How to Get Away With Murder. 

Fleabag in Fleabag

Fleabag has isolated herself so much from everyone in her life that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to except us, the audience. The show has become hugely iconic because of her breaking-the-fourth-wall stares at the camera, which she uses to help her cope with a deep well of grief and pain. The series shows how Fleabag’s mean and brittle actions are a protective front, and she is loveable and loving, even if she has hidden it from herself for so long. I related deeply to Fleabag in this show, especially in her admiration for Priest!Andrew Scott.

Beth, Annie and Ruby in Good Girls

These three lifelong-friends are very definitely not Good Girls. In a desperate hunt for money, they decide to rob a supermarket – and find themselves in deep trouble when it turns out the shop is secretly moneylaundering cash for a local gang, and they’ve just got their hands on a huge chunk of that cash. Things go from bad to worse, and throughout it all, the three women are forced to examine exactly what they will do to protect their families. This explores the ethics and morals of ‘perfect’ people. It’s so fascinating to watch the women fracture and grow stronger under the pressure of the criminal underworld. I love them all, even when they resort to kidnapping, blackmail and murder (all right – especially then). 

Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development

You may recognise Lucille from the marks she’s left on pop culture history – her knowledge about banana prices and refusal to accept criticism being particularly iconic examples. Lucille is rich, controlling, manipulative, alcoholic, and unaffectionate – but I love her. She only cares about one thing, getting what she wants. If we ignore her hugely dysfunctional method of getting things done, I wish I could be as brave as her. 

Eleanor Young in Crazy Rich Asians

In a similar role to Lucille Bluth, the rich matriarch of the Young dynasty is efficient and determined to get what she thinks is best for her family. She is intimidating in a more subtle way than some of the other women on this list, but she uses being under-estimated to her advantage.

Kerry Mucklowe in This Country

This criminally under-rated BBC mockumentary follows the life of a working-class pair of cousins stuck in the deep English countryside. With no life prospects and very little motivation to achieve anything at all, Kerry Mucklowe is the most relatable female character on television – she’s more interested in Dairylea Dunkers than success. For a lot of the women on this list, they still care deeply about their public reputation, but I admire Kerry’s deep lack of interest in being likeable. As long as she’s happy, life is good – and that’s a lesson we could all stand to learn. 

India Stoker in Stoker (2013)

India Stoker is the namesake for my character Harriet Stoker (in my head the characters are related, don’t @ me). She’s lonely and cruel, and knows exactly what she wants in life. Without spoiling this movie (if you haven’t seen it yet, please watch it as soon as possible!) her relationship with her uncle, played by Matthew Goode, is one of the most fascinating I’ve seen in fiction. 

Nadja in What We Do in the Shadows

The ancient, immortal vampires in this mockumentary comedy have gone stagnant, because it turns out that living forever has two main effects: it makes you very gay, and very dumb. Which is similar to what the eternal afterlife does to the ghosts in The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker

Nadja is seven hundred years old, and she’s grumpy, mean and horny, bossing around her male vampire housemates and being a general badass. I would die for her.

The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker is out now: Goodreads Amazon UK Waterstones

In conversation with my editor

To celebrate the launch of The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, I sat down with my editor at Walker Books, Emily McDonnell, to discuss writing, editing, and all things publishing. I’ve been working with Emily and Walker Books since 2014, on six 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.

Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your new book, Lauren?

The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker is my first fantasy novel, about a girl who gets in above her head when she tries to become the most powerful ghost in a building of ancient spirits. The other ghosts happen to be freshers who all died in their halls of residence during their first year of uni, decades earlier. When Harriet arrives, things start to go badly wrong . . .  

That’s as far as my pitch usually goes, because the plot itself is a hard one to summarise without spoiling the plot twists.

How do you go about writing blurbs that don’t spoil the story, but intrigue the reader enough to make them pick up the book, Emily?

It’s definitely a tricky task. It’s really important to try to get at the heart of what the book’s about and let readers know what to expect, but without giving too much away. You just want to tease what’s going to happen. It usually takes me a few drafts!

It’s so hard to really find the core themes in a novel, when it’s so alive in your head – it takes a bit of distance to be able to analyse it properly and summarise it in a few sentences. It’s why editors are so invaluable.

What was the process of writing the book like? How did it compare with your previous books?

It’s very different from my other books – I did write a bit of horror in The Loneliest Girl in the Universe (which you edited!) but I’ve not fully explored it before. It’s also my first book outside of the realm of science fiction, as this is a paranormal fantasy. The change in genre was really tough. It took a few years of coming back to the first draft before I managed to get it right.

The plot possibilities in a fantasy seemed endless and overwhelming at first – where do you stop when you can do literally anything? Everything clicked into place when I realised the importance of a magic system with rules and limitations. When your characters have powers – each of the ghosts can do something unique, like hypnotism, shapeshifting or clairvoyance –what is stopping them from becoming impossibly powerful? That gave my plot a structure that made the novel a lot easier to work with.

Yes! You have to find the parameters of your world. I think you did that brilliantly in The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker, but I know it can take time to develop.

Totally. And as a writer, I naturally am hugely excited to throw all my crazy ideas at it, and do things I’ve never seen done before – but often that can be isolating to a reader. It can feel like cheating if characters pull out magic skills in the big showdown which you’ve never seen them use before. Big superhero movies make this mistake a lot. I try to make sure everything is foreshadowed from the very beginning.

Emily, do you find there’s a difference in editing contemporary, fantasy and sci-fi as genres, or do you always have to focus on the core elements like character development?

There are certainly some differences, but I think at its core, a good book usually has the same elements regardless of genre great characters and a great plot!

I think Walker Books do an amazing job at giving my books a consistent “brand”, even though they’re all so different (blog murder mysteries and space and ghosts – it’s a lot!). What kind of editorial discussions go on behind-the-scenes to make that difficult task seem so effortless?

Thank you on behalf of Walker Books! I think at the end of the day we want authors to write what they love, so we wouldn’t want to put limits on them in terms of sticking to a genre. Even when you’ve written different genres, there have been some things which have stayed consistent. Your brilliant characters, the humour you bring to your books, the compelling plot. And of course the science! In those respects, you’re always “on brand”.

I always try to include humour, romance, plot twists, funny characters (or rather, characters who think they’re funny) and found families. I feel really lucky to be able to always step outside my comfort zone and do new things.

Tell us a bit about the editing process. Do you have a favourite stage?

I find editing really satisfying, because I see first drafts as a starting point, and make huge changes structurally each time I come back to the story. That’s how my big plot twists develop, as I come back to the novel over time and add in new levels of detail.

My plotting is always quite visual – not really in terms of needing to know what my characters look like, but more in terms of picturing the general feeling of a book. I have to know very early on whether I want the reader to be awed or disconcerted or comforted (ideally a combination of all three). Collecting images and touchstones from existing media to create a visual moodboard really helps me build out from the initial idea and develop other elements to help turn the story’s vibe in my head into solid tentpoles in the narrative. 

I’m most excited when I can really push myself to do hard things on a big novel-wide level. I definitely don’t enjoy the grammar and spelling side of things very much – I think of scenes in terms of a complete package, rather than crafting beautiful, poetic sentences.

I think there is a really cinematic quality to your writing, so that definitely makes sense. But you write poetically when you need to as well!

The sign of a good editor: compliments alongside the constructive criticisms!

Though I do dread the “it’s time to choose a title” conversation in the editing process. Coming up with a title is, hand on heart, the worst part of writing books. I seem to spend all my time suffering over the thesaurus, and usually delay it until a title is desperately needed so the cover designers can start their work!

Emily, what’s your favourite/least favourite stage of the editorial process – big structural edits, line edits or copy edits? Do you prefer writing a broader more general letter of notes, or getting in the document with tracked changes and moving things around yourself?

I actually really enjoy both working on an editorial letter and getting stuck into a manuscript (sorry, that’s a cheat answer!). The structural edit stage (where we’re looking at the bigger picture and focusing on things like story arc and character development) is really exciting because there’s so much scope for where the story can go, and it’s exciting to see what an author does with your editorial notes. But I really like the line edit stage too there’s something very satisfying about it.

I wouldn’t say that there are any stages I don’t enjoy, but it’s always a bit scary sending a book out to print, so the later editorial stages are a bit less fun.

Lauren, you’re known for some really jaw-dropping plot twists. Do you usually plot out the story before you start writing your first draft?

I’m a huge plotter. My outlines are 10+ pages long usually. What is important in a first draft is making sure that the plot flows – each scene clearly provides a motivation or clue towards what happens next – and the characters have believable motives.

The characters need to drive the plot, making decisions that cause things to happen, rather than being dragged along on an adventure. I double back on myself a lot to adjust scenes which aren’t changing the overall plot arc or keeping the tension high even in smaller scenes.

Some of the smaller twists in my books are planned from the beginning, but as I edit the novels, I usually add in some more along the way! I get bored easily, and learn a lot about writing between rounds of editing, so I try to push the story as much as I can each time I return to it.

Adding twists is a way to take risks and stretch the narrative in ways I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do otherwise (particularly in regard to the characters’ backstories). It takes a lot of planning in advance. While writing, I tend to think about my novels in several strands:

  • what the reader knows about what’s happening
  • what the characters know about what’s happening (but aren’t necessarily saying)
  • what is really happening

I then pace out reveals about the truth alongside character development. Ideally, readers will guess twists about 10 pages before the characters realise the truth – I try to give enough clues that it’s possible to work it out if you’re a close reader. I don’t think it’s fair, otherwise.

Emily, how do you edit plot twists and foreshadowing in a novel like The Loneliest Girl? Did you find this challenging? How do you keep track of really complex plot threads – do you use an excel spreadsheet or post-it notes or anything?

Editing plot twists is definitely challenging. It’s so important to find that balance between teasing and foreshadowing what’s coming and not giving too much away. It’s great to have other editorial colleagues read a draft as sometimes you need fresh eyes to say if it’s working.

It is crazy how often we get to the third or fourth round of edits and a new reader will point out a gaping plot hole that we’ve all missed, because we’ve just read it too many times. Fresh eyes are invaluable! (Also, changing the font to notice spelling errors).

I tend to make quite a lot of notes of timelines etc when I’m editing to help me keep track of everything. And of course I used your famous spreadsheet when editing The Loneliest Girl to help me keep track of all the timelines!

Lauren, what makes a great character for you? And do your characters tend to appear in your mind fully formed, or do you have to spend time developing and getting to know them?

It’s definitely something I have to work at. I don’t know them very well until I start editing. I think it’s because I need to have written their ending to know how many “steps back” I need to take to find their beginning.

So, if they’re going to have to face a struggle with their bravery, I need to make sure the opening chapters show them failing to be brave. That’s a very basic example, but the same principle applies for every aspect of their personality.

Until I’ve written a full draft, I have no idea what will be relevant to their story, so I can’t really craft their personality fully. Character development is completely driven by the needs of the plot, for me. They need to be absolutely essential to progressing the story. If a character could be replaced by someone else with different traits, and the plot continues to work, then I haven’t done a good job at building them into the structure of the story.

That makes a lot of sense. When I’m editing, I usually need to have read a full draft before I start making any notes. I need to know where a story and its characters end up to be able to delve into that arc.

I think being able to write to the END is a hugely undervalued skill by aspiring writers. We’re all great at starting new projects when they’re fresh and fun, but tying it all together in a satisfying way is tough. It’s almost useless to start editing a book until you’ve plotted it.

Absolutely! Getting through that first draft is a huge achievement. Because it’s only then that you have something you can work with and polish and improve on.

Emily, do you find that characters’ personalities change over the course of editing a novel, or do they usually arrive in a very complete form before they reach your desk?

I would say that while the main protagonists might change a little during the course of editing a book, they tend to arrive in a fairly complete form. It’s often the secondary characters who need some more fleshing out.

It is of course different for every book, but I think authors tend to know their main characters pretty well. Having said that, sometimes motives need further clarity, or we need to make their reactions to events clearer and more believable.

I’m sure you get asked for writing advice a lot, Lauren! Do you have any tips you can share?

Writing advice is always “write every day”. I think that’s wrong. The real trick is to read every day. Even if it’s only for a few minutes. You need to be constantly filling your brain with sentences and plots, to fill up your mental bank of ideas. Then you’ll have something to write about, by stealing all the best bits of your favourite books. That’s the real secret to writing.

When I’m struggling to write something, I tend to go away and read lots of books, to teach myself more about writing by seeing how the masters do it. So I’ve been reading a lot recently – authors like N. K. Jemisin and Naomi Novik have been especially inspiring.

Brilliant advice! It’s so helpful for aspiring authors to read widely.

Finding an early reader you trust is absolutely essential too. I used to get very nervous about sending off my work (it exposes a huge vulnerability!) but having the same editorial team at Walker since my debut novel in 2014 has changed everything.

I know that everyone at Walker understands my writing and editing style, and we work very well together. I think if I was working with a new team I would get very nervous, as I wouldn’t know what to anticipate getting back in the notes.

Try to find a reader who can look at your work critically but is on the same wavelength as you in terms of where the project should end up.

What about you? Do you have any advice for authors trying to self-edit their work?

I think having some space from your work is actually really valuable. Once that first draft is written, put it away for a week or two and then come back to it with fresh eyes. And thinking time is really valuable too.You don’t always have to be writing and editing in order to improve your book. Having the space to mull things over is also great. And as we said, getting that first draft down is key.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on next?

I’m currently working through your editorial notes on my novel about climate change – about nature, geoengineering and teenagers taking action through civil disobedience, in the face of overwhelming corporate negligence. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for years, but never felt good enough at writing to tackle, as it’s such an enormous topic. I’m finding it tough, and there’s a lot research to do, but it’s such an important discussion to have.

Emily, you’re great at highlighting the weak parts of a novel while also giving me room to fix it in whatever way I want. Your suggestions aren’t prescriptive, and that gives me the space to be imaginative with solutions.

I’m blushing! Thank you. I think the relationship between an author and editor is so important, and I feel very privileged to work with dream authors like you. This book is going to be brilliant and I am so excited about it!

Can you tell us what you’re working on right now, Emily? Walker has so many amazing books!

I agree (even if I am a little biased!). I’m reading lots of submissions at the moment, and working on some great fantasy books, for both young adult and middle grade readers.

Lauren, thank you so much for joining me for a chat! We really hope you’ve found this informative and insightful. And if you haven’t read The Reckless Afterlife yet (where have you been?!), find out more and buy your copy at all good bookshops.

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

If you’re after more writing chat discussion, check out my recent panel discussion with Alice Oseman here:

Cover reveal for The Deep-Sea Duke

I’m so excited to share the cover of The Deep-Sea Duke, coming out with Barrington Stoke in Feb 2021. This is set on an underwater planet, who are facing a climate crisis as refugees from a nearby planet keep arriving. It’s a scavenger hunt, a love story, and a drama of courtly intrigue in the nobility. I’m so excited about it, and I love this cover so much!

Cover designed by Helen Crawford-White.

“A rich and brilliantly bonkers story of aliens and androids. Its themes of social justice and equality really set it apart in the sci-fi genre.” – The Belfast Telegraph about The Starlight Watchmaker.

Hugo is spending the holidays on his friend Dorian’s home planet, Hydrox. Although thrilled at the invitation, Hugo is still astonished that Duke Dorian could possibly want to be friends with an android watchmaker like him. But when the pair land on Hydrox along with their friend Ada, they soon discover that there are much bigger problems afoot.

A race of butterflies from a neighbouring star system have evacuated their now-uninhabitable planet, and Hydrox is struggling to find space for the growing number of refugees. Meanwhile, deep in the seas beneath Dorian’s home, a strange creature is on a path of destruction…

Can the unlikely trio 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 15th February 2021.

Goodreads  | Amazon UK | Book Depository | Waterstones  | Foyles  | Find out more in the Tumblr tag

It’s also only a month until The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker is published, so I read the first chapter here:

I’ve been sharing character bios for the gang of ghosts:


bio harriet

You can still get signed copies for preorder from my etsy – these come with a new design bookmark and set of letters to the reader about all of my books, plus a set of art prints. There are 16 left and I won’t be restocking when they’re sold out.

I have an interview in VOCAB magazine here. I talk about writing craft – outlines, plot arcs, and editing!

Upcoming events:

Monthly: Sparks Young Writers classes, Coventry – book here for September 2020 onwards

Sat 26th Sept: WOWCON zoom workshop on working with agents, 8pm – book here

September: Online YA mentoring course for writers through WriteMentor

I read aloud some of the storyline about a fictional virus pandemic from The Quiet at the End of the World, including Maya and Riz’s social media posts:

And I think that’s all for now, folks! Stay safe, and I’d love it if you could preorder HARRIET STOKER and support the book!

-Lauren