Bad news.

I found out today that my American publisher, Egmont US, are closing. They won’t be publishing my book.

This was a huge shock, especially as I wasn’t told and only found out when the closure hit the news.

It’s very upsetting that my book won’t be published in the USA in Spring 2016 as planned, but it doesn’t mean it will never be. There’s still the chance that another publisher might be interested! It just means that I’m back on submission with American publishers.

And The Next Together will still be published in September in the UK by Walker books as planned.

I’m upset, but I have high hopes that The Next Together will find another home in America.

Onwards!

If you would like to support the other Egmont authors, some of whom aren’t as lucky as me and have no other publisher, the hashtag #BuyAnEgmontBook is a great place to start.

I appreciate everyone’s support in this disappointing time.

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Writing an LGBT protagonist

I have something that I guess is an announcement, but I don’t really think of it like that. It’s just something I’ve not mentioned online before. Ever.

My second book, the sequel to The Next Together, which doesn’t have a firm title yet, has an LGBT protagonist. The main character is a lesbian.

I’m not really sure why I’ve not spoken about this before. I think I was just a bit nervous, because I didn’t know what the reaction might be, in general and from people I know. But there has been a lot of talk recently about diversity in fiction – if you’re in any way involved in the YA world you can’t fail to have seen the We Need Diverse Books campaign – so I know that there’s going to a positive reaction from the YA community, at least.

This month my agent read the first draft of my Untitled Mysterious Sequel, and she liked it, and my mum has read it, and was so proud of me that she cried. So I guess I’m ready to talk about it now.

I’ve always had a problem with J K Rowling. I love Harry Potter. I started reading the books when I was 6, was the first person in my class to have read any of them when the first film came out, and I queued up at midnight every release day to get my copies.

I’m a huge fan.

But after the last book was released, J K Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay. I was 15 at the time, and this was a Huge Deal, both to me and to the rest of the world. I couldn’t think of any other characters in my favourite books who were gay. The only LGBT character I could think of at the time was the bisexual (omnisexual?) Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who.

So, it was great. But the more I thought about it, the more disappointed in J K Rowling I became. Why didn’t she mention it in the books? Why not just have a simple line where Dumbledore referred to Grindelwald as his ex-boyfriend? I couldn’t understand it.

If Dumbledore was gay, and I’d known that when the character first entered my life, at the age of 6 or 11 or even 15, that would have made a huge difference. Everyone in my class at school was reading Harry Potter from the ages of 11- 15. A boy in my class, thinking that he might be gay, would have found the ultimate idol in Dumbledore. He’s a gay man who isn’t defined by his sexuality. As a character it’s one of the least important things about him. (Unlike Captain Jack Harkness, where it’s the most important thing.)

To not only have a story with a gay main character, but one who is involved in complex storylines outside of his sexuality would have been groundbreaking, at least for me, as a teenager growing up in a Harry Potter obsessed secondary school. Can you imagine a boy looking up from his copy of Harry Potter and the Half Bad Prince, and calling another boy gay as an insult, then turning back to read about Dumbledore’s adventures? I can’t.

So I couldn’t understand why J K Rowling didn’t put this in Harry Potter, when she had everyone in the world reading her books. I’ve grown more and more sad about this over the last 7 years.

When I started writing, it was immediately clear to me that I needed to do things with my writing beyond telling a story. The right book can shape a childhood, and if I was going to have even the smallest chance (and honour) of writing that book, I needed to make sure I lived up to the responsibility I was being given.

My first book, The Next Together, started because I used to get furiously angry at tv and films which displayed scientists as geniuses, with bad social skills and enormous intelligences. I’m a scientist (I graduated in 2014 with a Masters degree in Chemistry and Physics) and I am not a genius. Nowhere near. I hated that films made it seem that scientists knew everything, about every subject, and had memorised every textbook in the world. Scientists, in my life, were just ordinary people who might be pretty good at maths or biology, but that was it. They weren’t geniuses.

I was angry about this because I thought the ‘genius scientist’ trope would put off teenagers from studying science, because they didn’t think they were clever enough. I got so furiously angry that when I was 18 I wrote a book with approachable, normal characters who were idiots in a lot of ways, but were also research scientists.

That book evolved a lot, but it eventually turned into The Next Together.

When I began writing The Sequel Without A Name, I knew I wanted to tackle another issue, something that brought out just as much emotion in me (emotion fuels the best writing, I find). I remembered Dumbledore.

I decided to write a character who was gay, and have it be mentioned from the very beginning. I wanted this character to have a sexuality, but I wanted the story to have nothing to do with that. I wanted her to have other character traits, adventures,  and a happy ending with a nice girl.

I wanted to write a role model for the teenage girls who would hopefully read that book one day, for all of them, not just those who had already accepted that they might be a member of the LGBT community.

I made a very intentional decision to write this book as a sequel to a mainstream heterosexual romance, rather than a standalone, because when I started researching other LGBT YA books, I was surprised by how many there were, but how few of them I had seen in bookshops. So I wanted to write a book that would hopefully have more of a chance of getting to it’s audience of teenagers, especially those who were too afraid or confused to search out LGBT books for themselves.

If there’s ever the smallest chance that The Next Together gets read, I want the sequel to make it’s way into libraries and schools and children’s hands too. Fingers crossed it does.

I don’t think I’m writing a groundbreaking book, because we’re lucky enough that there are now enough LGBT books to keep a teenager well read for life. (If you’re looking for somewhere to start, The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson is an excellent beginning.)  But I hadn’t mentioned it before, so this is me mentioning it now.

My second novel has an LGBT protagonist, and I’m incredibly proud of that fact. If at least one LGBT teenager reads it and finds themselves the role model that Dumbledore failed to be for people my age (sorry, Dumbles), then I’ll feel like I’ve done something good with my writing. YA writers have the ears of a whole generation, and the huge responsibility that comes along with that. I don’t want anyone to be furiously angry with me in ten years, because I failed to mention in my books that the protagonist of Untitled Book Two has been gay all along.

Authors have a responsibility beyond entertainment, because children read books to learn how the world works, and we have to make sure that the world they read about is as varied and diverse and representative as the real world.

I can’t end this post without saying a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to my agent, Claire Wilson, and my editor, Annalie Grainger, and the whole of Walker Books. When I told everyone that I wanted to write a book with an LGBT protagonist, nobody missed a beat before saying that was a great idea. After some of the stories you hear about publishing, I feel like the luckiest author in the entire world, and I’m so proud to be part of such a wonderful industry. You’re all my heroes.

THE NEXT TOGETHER, a reincarnation romance, comes out in September. You can add it on goodreads, preorder on amazon, or you can subscribe to my mailing list for updates nearer the time here. The sequel is on goodreads here.

A rebloggable version of this post can be found here.

The agonies and delights of obtaining a book deal

This post is about the process of getting my book deal. It was written a month after I got my deal, and rereading it now I sound MENTAL. The stress/excitement really got to me. I probably could have dealt with it all better, and being cut off from my entire family at uni for the whole process didn’t help.

I waited to write this post until the fact that I had a book deal had sunk in a little more than just miscellaneous squealing, and somehow that delay turned into a month and I still haven’t even told you what happened with my novel, let alone written a summary of the process. Long story short: I got a two book deal, with Walker books, with publication set for September 2015.

I’m so, so delighted, obviously, and initially was in complete disbelief, and confusion. But I’m a little more steadied now, and for the first time in months I can relax. Rather than continuously questioning and worrying, I can actually settle down and think about what is going to happen to me, and what I am going to do over the next year to make sure to works out.

All my dreams have come true, obviously, but more than that- I’ve suddenly got a set plan for my life after I graduate. I now know exactly what I am going to be doing in a month, six months, two years, and that is incredible, and terrifying.

In a little more detail, here’s how it all went down. I thought there might be some people who find it useful, and apart from that I just want a record for myself of how it happened, so I don’t ever forget the excitement of it, and how lucky I am. Sitting down to write this made me realise what a blur the whole thing is in my memory, so a lot of this was written with the help of emails, to remind me what happened!

That sounds silly, that I can’t remember something that is basically the biggest deal to ever happen to me, but I genuinely can’t. It’s all a stressful, delightful blur. So on Monday November 18th, 2013 my agent C rang up 16 UK editors of YA fiction, and gave them a brief introduction to the book, and then sent a copy by email, along with the following pitch:

THE RED EARTH ROLLS (YA, 87000 words)

Katherine Finchley and Matthew Galloway are destined to be together. In 1745, during the siege of Carlisle, in 1854 on the way to the Crimea, in 2016 and 2036 as first scientists and then students uncovering and rediscovering a dangerous plot, and in multiple alternative timescales between. Again and again they are thrown together, with no memory of having met one another before, only an irresistible instinct that they must be with one another against all odds – even while the epic events unfolding all around seem sure to tear them apart.

Recounting through a series of intertwining love stories Katherine and Matthew’s increasingly urgent attempts to divert history, THE RED EARTH ROLLS is a romance that combines unique warmth and humour with an ambitious journey through reincarnation, time travel and war.

Lauren James is a student studying Chemistry and Physics at the university of Nottingham. She is 21 years old and this is her first novel.

She told them that the deadline was the following Friday, but said that might be extended if anyone wanted more time to decide. Then there was a week where we just waited. I had labs every day, so I basically worked in a distracted but diligent haze, and then came home and fell onto my bed in exhaustion. I didn’t really relax from the time I woke up until to past 6pm, when I knew there was going to be no more news.

I couldn’t sleep, except when I could, when I slept like the dead and could barely bring myself to wake up. I always had one finger on my phone, clicking the standby button to check for new emails. Whenever the little symbol for a message appeared in the top bar my heart skipped a beat, and I grew to hate the words ‘Unitemps’, ‘Prospects’, ‘Target Jobs’, because they were all signs it was just another false alarm, just another newsletter coming through instead of an email from my agent. (Meanwhile ‘C’, ‘Nottingham’ and ‘TRER’ are all still buzzwords that still make the breath catch in my throat because this time, maybe, just maybe this time….)

There was a weekend, during which I used up almost an entire month’s worth of minutes, lying in bed on the phone to my mum. (I didn’t see my parents until a fortnight after the deal was closed, and having to do the whole thing alone without them was probably the only part of the experience I would want to change). I ordered takeaways three times in one week, felt immensely guilty about the amount of washing up I just couldn’t bring myself to focus on, didn’t do any work for lectures (did I even go to them? I’m pretty sure I missed all my lectures that week, mentally if not physically).

One night my housemate had to actually intervene, because I came in and tried to make a meal of fish fingers, cheese on toast and rice pudding in a complete stupor. Then the next Tuesday I walked onto campus, listening to my WAKE UP, IT’S MORNING playlist (Campus- Vampire Weekend, Chloe- Grouplove, Lady Percy- King Charles, 22- Taylor Swift) and didn’t check my phone for emails the entire journey. I didn’t even check it when I got into labs, instead messing around in my bag for my goggles, determining which labcoat was mine by the faint chemical marks on the left sleeve, dumped my stuff under the bench. It was my day to make cakes for the lab group, so I had an ice cream carton full of chocolate chip cookies in my bag. I’d made them in a distraction the night before, and was a little embarrassed of them. They hadn’t risen right because I’d added raisins. But it wasn’t time for coffee yet, and half the post-docs weren’t even around, so I sat down at the desk that I had commandeered since I started working there, shook the mouse to wake up the ancient computer, which is only still used because it’s hooked up for Gas Chromatography analysis. It still uses Internet Explorer.

So I clicked onto Internet Explorer, waited the necessary seventy-eight seconds for it to load, realised I hadn’t checked my emails in almost half an hour, good god, and logged into my university email account.

There was a new message from C, dated fifteen minutes before. A forwarded email. I skim read the words ‘enjoyed enormously’, ‘Walker’, ‘encouraging’ and then suddenly all the tension I hadn’t really realised I was carrying left my body and I sagged back into the seat.

I had never really believed before then that anyone other than C and I would enjoy it, and suddenly I had this reassurance my book was worth all this hassle, which was all I’d been craving really, just a sign someone liked it. It was a forwarded email from an editor at Walker, and I could probably still pick out the exact blue colour of the font, and the yellow of the footer in her signature, I have read that email so many times. I don’t think I even stopped to read the whole thing, I just called my mum, the first time I’d ever used my phone in labs to make a call (I did this multiple times over the next few weeks, because I always seemed to be there when I got news. I never stopped feeling like I was crossing some grave moral or ethical line). She didn’t answer; I remembered she was at work and called her mobile. She didn’t answer again; I called her work phone. She picked up. I tried to say hello, but it came out a breathless, giddy kind of choked giggle.

I avoided the eyes of some students who were watching my breakdown from across the lab, and ran into the corridor. I told my mum; she was delighted. I didn’t stop to discuss at all, hung up quickly because I suddenly realised that I hadn’t actually even read the whole email. I ran back into the lab, leant over the desk and read the whole thing.

This is encouraging! I’ve let her know we can probably extend things a little if she keeps me posted.

C

Sent: 26 November 2013 10:16

Subject: RE: The Red Earth Rolls by Lauren James

Hi C,

Hope you are well? I enjoyed The Red Earth Rolls enormously – what an original concept and such strong characters. I am sharing with the team, but annoyingly a few people are away this week (how inconsiderate!). Is there any chance of extending the deadline? I will do my best to come back by Friday but want to give us a bit more wriggle room depending on how things progress.

Very best,

A

I span in a little circle, let out a giggle in delight. The girls were watching me, so I quickly mumbled an explanation. It was someone who hadn’t even known about the book, so I probably said something like ‘I wrote a book, and I just got interest from a publisher!!’ Which publisher? Huh. I opened a new tab, typed walker into the bar, realised I was using Internet Explorer and typed google.co.uk instead. Found their website, saw the logo- a bear with a candle- realised I recognised it- not only was this a publisher, a real book publisher who had read my book and liked it- it was a good publisher, one who had published books I loved, who was incredible and well known and respectable. I was overwhelmed.

Suddenly I realised I hadn’t told my Dad yet, so I ran into the hall again, rang him. He’d already spoken to Mum, and he sounded like he was in tears on the phone. I think my Dad was more emotional about the whole process that either of us, actually. While we were gleefully exclaiming together, a phd student in my group walked past. I remember I was saying ‘I’m going to die’ in delighted hyperbole at the time, and he looked at me strangely, lingered in the corridor waiting for me to hang up.

He wandered over, asked what I had made for Cake Monday. I stared at him, and then blurted out my embarrassing little explanation: ‘I just got an email from a publisher. Sorry- I wrote a book. My book- it has an interested publisher.’ He stared at me. Suddenly about ten, fifteen people came out of the next lab. Coffee time.

“We’re dying for cake,” one of them called to me. I looked at her, wide-eyed.

“Oh, that’s a guilty look,” she said, “Does that mean you forgot?”

“I’m not guilty, I’m happy,” I blurted, and then suddenly I was explaining to a whole audience what had happened. I was dragged along to coffee, dished out cookies, realised how ridiculous it was that I hadn’t even told my brother yet, any of my family, and a whole tearoom full of scientists already knew, and were fighting over my cookies.

Someone was teasing me about physics- I was the only physicist in the group, even though I’m really more of a Chemist now- but I just stood up, went into the corridor and leant against the printer for a bit. I closed my eyes, rang my brother. I don’t know what I did for the rest of that day. Sent out a few embarrassingly incoherent emails, (hopefully) did some labwork. I just remember telling my brother, and running out of the tearoom. In fact, from then on everything is a blur. I had to go through my emails to work out the order of what happened.

That was Tuesday.

On Friday we got expressions of interest from two another publishers, and more importantly I talked to A, the editor at Walker, on the phone. I can’t remember anything except the panic of it, of sitting on my bed staring at my phone and waiting for it to ring. C called me first, calmed me down, talked me through what I could and couldn’t say (don’t mention how many other publishers are interested; don’t go into great detail about what edits were done to it before submission).

She reassured me that A was pretty much probably the nicest person in the publishing industry, and we’d get along great. And then the phone rang again, and she wasn’t scary at all, just a normal, lovely person. She told me how much she liked the book, how she could barely talk about it without crying because the ending was so sad. She asked whether the sequel would have a love story, and whether she’d guessed rightly about what would happen (she was on the right track).

She loved how I’d included real historical figures in the story, and she’d done a bit of research into the Jacobite uprising and Crimean war to find out what happened in reality. She asked how I’d chosen my time periods, and I rather sheepishly admitted that while originally I’d wanted to include moments in history that weren’t immediately obviously gamechanging events, when it came down to the final choice it was just points where I could find primary sources for free on Google Books. She said that was a perfectly reasonable reason for choosing them, and said that she’d want to add more historical detail- really bring out all the different worlds so they felt real- so I’d better be prepared to get back to Google Books!

She asked how I’d got the idea, and I explained I loved the idea of nature versus nurture in how people’s personalities developed, and how interesting it would be to see whether two people would still have a connection if they were raised in different times, different places; whether their love was related to circumstance or was really soul-deep. Eventually we finished talking, and I was surprised that our conversation had only been half an hour.

I also spoke to another editor on the phone, who was just as lovely. Interestingly, she suggested the opposite type of changes- she wanted to cut back some of the historical storylines, make it more modern. She wanted to bring in a lot of the sequel into the first book in little excerpts, so that at the end there was a satisfying explanation of the machinations in the background, but I thought that it might ruin the impact of the sequel if it was all explained in the first one.

She had some really great questions about the main theme of the book- whether it was all about changing history, or about the couple getting together. She really challenged me actually, pulling out all the questionable vagueities of my sequel outline, and forcing me to decide what was really important. I’m so glad that I got the chance to hear two points of view (even if they were opposing and confused me a bit) because it has really helped see what the core of the book is that people enjoy- what I should focus on, what needs to be less confusing. I had two full expressions of interest, and two delays from other publishers who wanted more time to consider, and then we just had to wait for everyone else to come in with their decision. There was another weekend, which I tried to spend doing stuff- Christmas fairs, lab reports- rather than just lying around panicking.

The next Monday, a fortnight after submission, a solid offer came through from Walker.

Dear C,

Hope you are well and had a good weekend. It was so lovely talking to Lauren last week. Everyone here is very excited about her original and epic romance. We feel it has lots of potential, and its central themes – of love, loss and courage – are ones that will resonate with young readers everywhere.

It also offers lots of fun opportunities for marketing and promotion, and I am already dreaming of a gorgeous cover look! Lauren shows so much talent for one so young. Having spoken to her last week, I feel like she is someone with whom it would be a real pleasure to work. During our phone call, Lauren and I touched briefly upon ways to make this novel even stronger.

I feel that by building out the different time periods that Matthew and Katherine inhabit while finessing some of the historical detailing, the book will become even more compelling and so tug more firmly on readers’ heart strings. This work would build on the extensive research that Lauren has already obviously done.

As you know, Walker is a company that invests in its authors in the long term. We have a proven track record for working closely with authors to launch their careers around the world, most recently with Timmy Failure, a property we bought jointly with our sister company in the US. As well as a dedicated and passionate UK sales and marketing team, we also have a passionate foreign rights team, with an excellent track record of securing deals, often at auction.

As such, we believe that we are in an excellent position to provide a global home for Lauren and her books, and we sincerely hope that Lauren will choose us! Thank you again for sharing Lauren’s terrific novel with us! I will be sat excitedly (and probably biting my nails!) as I wait to hear from you.

An identical offer came in from another publisher on Wednesday. C got to work trying to improve the terms- she wanted to keep the film/merchandise rights, etc. I’d already decided I wanted to go with Walker, regardless of the offer, because my vision of the book matched A’s more closely, and she was so keen and excited about the book- although I did like how the other editor had challenged me, and how enthusiastic she was about elements of the sequel that I hadn’t really discussed with A. We waited anyway, to see whether they would improve their offers, and they both came back with increased offers that Friday. Walker’s was better. The offer came in at 10am, and by 6pm C had closed the deal. It was done, I had a publisher!

I sent C several excited gushing emails of thanks, tweeted 140 exclamation marks at A, and went home from labs (of course all this had happened in labs, under the amused eyes of the French postdocs, of course it had). I slept so well that night, oh my god. I slept that whole weekend, I think. It’s been a bit hard to come to terms with, especially because several days after the deal was closed my agent went on maternity leave, and then everything stopped for Christmas!

But it happened! I actually got a publisher, which is ridiculous.

A rebloggable version of this post can be found here.

Exploring my book’s location

Firstly, a special announcement: I’m starting a book club with some fellow authors Alice Oseman, Catherine Doyle, Louise O’Neill and Sara Barnard!  Not just any old book club. A book club for our favourite books. The books that changed our lives. The books that made us.

Each of us has picked the three books that are the most important to us as writers and as humans. We’ll all be reading one per month, and at the end of the month, posting on Tumblr a few comments on the book and how/why we think it’s so important to the author who chose it.

You are very welcome to join us and read along! It’d be great to hear some thoughts on the monthly book either on Twitter or on Tumblr. This month’s book is Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, chosen by me. If you’re interested, you can read all fifteen of our choices and more about us here.

Okay, onto the post!

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Back in June I went to Carlisle, a location in my book! I chose Carlisle as a location because it was the last castle to be sieged in England, during the 1745 Jacobite uprising. My book takes place during the siege, so the castle is an important location in the story. I wanted to visit to see what it was like today.

It was really strange, because I’ve spent so much time writing about this place I kind of felt like I’d made it up in my head. It was really valuble for my writing, not only because I can add more accuracy in terms of the layout and distance of the city, but there’s lots of little details that inspired me for extra things that can happen!

Here are some photos I took, of a house near the cathedral which is how I imagine Katherine’s home.

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The castle as it is now.

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The battlements where Things Happen, and the view where the Jacobites attacked, which is now a children’s playground.

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A room in the castle where meetings and traumatic Things Happen, with A Queen sampersands on her throne.

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Me at the town square sitting on steps where Matthew and Katherine sit and more Things Happen. Bagpipes were playing there and it was so nice.

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We also went to the biggesttumblr_n7ksnglLJq1qa24muo9_r1_1280 secondhand bookshop I have ever seen, it was four stories and spread through a huge basement system and it was incredible.

It was a great day, and hopefully only the first time I’ll get to visit a location from my writing!

Young Adult Literature Convention thoughts

(BACKDATED POST)

In July I went to the London Comiccon, which hosted the first YA convention. It was brilliant, and I met lots of people, quite a few of whom had read my book and knew who I was?? It was a bit surreal and I felt like a huge imposter. I got to go to the authors party, which was incredible! I feel so lucky that I get to do stuff like this!

The panels I managed to go to were all amazing, and in particular here are some things that I really enjoyed and agreed with:

Sex in YA

There was a brilliant discussion on whether sex in YA can and should be explicit by nonthepratt, authorbethreekles, Cat Clarke and jamesdawsonbooks. I very strongly agree that there should be sex, especially because teenagers are always going to be curious, and it’s much better for them to read a responsibly written sex scene in a novel that discusses consent, conception and emotions, rather than googling porn.

There needs to be a reliable source of information, in a form that isn’t a Sex Education class. One that teenagers can access without shame, and for free in libraries without having to venture sneakily into the romance section. One where the women aren’t objectified or come second to a man’s pleasure. One with conversations about consent.

Even if younger readers than the intended audience find it, they are going to be less harmed by it than they would be by porn. If a twelve year old is curious about sex, then it is far better that their explorations lead them to a source which is intentionally written for them, which is accurate and responsible. However explicit it is, it is always going to be far less scarring than porn.

It’s even more important to ensure that there are depictions of LGBT sex in YA. Not only for young teenagers unsure of their own sexuality, who already receive a worse Sex Education in schools, and would get a particularly damaging idea of what sex is like from porn. But this is also important for straight teenagers, to show them that there is nothing gross or disgusting or scary about LGBT individuals. That LGBT teenagers are just like them- nervous and inexperienced and probably not taking part in orgies in their spare time.

I think explicit rather than abstract, vague sex scenes in YA is better. The sex should addressed clearly, because if a teenager is curious about what exactly is happening in a scene, they will turn to google, and while they might find fanfiction or a guide to sex, they will almost certainly also find porn. YA is responsible for shaping the ideas of a whole generation, and it needs to be done right.

Fandoms

There was a wonderful discussion by rainbowrowell, lucysaxonbooks, Andy Robb and Tim O’Rourke about the shortening gap between fandom and authors. I am very strongly on the side of fan culture and fanfiction, as you can see. I think that there should be an open dialogue between fans and writers. Feedback is a huge part of the writing process, because I want to write things that people want to read, and as someone who has been a fan for longer than a writer, all I want is for my writing to inspire that kind of passion in people.

I think there is a lot more to discuss about this- about how pop culture should be portrayed in literature, for instance. Social media and fan culture is a huge part of many peoples lives that is often left out of literature, even YA when the majority of the audience are teenagers on the internet. The internet evolves so fast that it’s difficult to decide how much to include in books without it becoming rapidly outdated, but bringing more realism to the writing.

And in relation to the discussion above, I think one of the joys of fan culture is that it has provided a way for teenagers to find out about sex online without resorting to porn through fanfiction, which I think is great.

Fanfiction has sex, but it also has feelings. It talks about what happens after sex, and after the first kiss that often signals the ending of books and films, but the start of relationships. Fandom is a safe place for girls to explore their sexuality without objectification, and that’s wonderful!

But fanfiction is written by people on the internet, who might only have been a few years older than the teenagers reading it. There’s often no mention of safe sex or contraception. There is no editing progress to make sure that the impressionable teenage readers are absorbing accurate information. I’m not sure how that can be approached, but it’s something to think about!

Female Characters

There was a great panel by tanyabyrne, Isobel Harrop, Julie Mayhew, Holly Smale, and Sara Manning on heroines in YA. The idea that strong female characters don’t necessarily have to be ‘strong’, they can have weaknesses and flaws too was proposed. They don’t need to be ‘heroines’ to be a heroine.  Male characters are allowed a lot more faults whilst still being likeable. Female characters get dismissed as whiny or a bitch when they are just as realistic as the men.

This is a problem I think is actually more common in ‘grown up’ literature than YA. Female protagonists dominate YA, and I have had strong female role models like Lyra and Sabriel and Hermione since I was a kid, so this isn’t something new. But people still hate on characters like Skylar White for being a bitch when they are perfectly normal, relatable people, just because of their gender. Their complexity is ignored because they aren’t a ‘perfect’ woman.

I think the reason that there can be this wonderful feminist literature for teenagers, but then so much sexism in adult fiction is because boys don’t read books with female protagonists- whether this is due to the marketing or lack of interest- so they don’t get that opportunity to realise that females are people too, like teenage girls do (which they already knew anyway).

So I think that at this point, trying to find a way to close the divide and broaden the readership of YA female characters is more important than writing strong heroines- we’ve had that sorted for years.

There was a lot more at YALC that I want to discuss, but this is going to have to do for now, as I need to sleep! I graduate tomorrow, so I need all the beauty sleep I can get.

xx

Writing process meme

So Alexia Casale, yet another member of Claire’s coven, tagged me in the writing process meme!

What am I working on?

Uhhhh my masters thesis currently……eep. But fiction wise, I should really be doing my edits for Book 1, which are due in June. I’m also messing around with Book 2, which I can’t really do anything properly on until the plot of Book 1 is finalised. I started writing it after the first draft of Book 1, and then had to change it so many times as I edited the first one that it’s currently on standby to save my own sanity. I also don’t feel like I’m a good enough writer yet to get the vision of the book in my head onto paper. It’s going to be this amazing coming of age time travel extravaganza, but the few times I’ve tried writing out the really strong bits they just seem too try-hard and lame. I never felt that way when I was writing Book 1, so it might just be nerves because it’s All Real now. I don’t know, I don’t want to mess it up. I’ll give it another go soon enough.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

WHAT GENRE IS MY BOOK???????? SOMEONE TELL ME. I mean I guess it’s a ‘romance’, but it’s nothing like any romance I’ve ever read. It’s a romance in the sense that the characters getting together is the main part of the book, but the romance drives the plot, rather than being the plot.

I don’t know. It’s a historical novel, but it’s also a conspiracy thriller and a spy novel, so I guess that’s one way it’s different from others in the same genre.

Why do I write what I do?

I wrote about whether why I found myself writing Young Adult here, but a bit more on why I like YA- I love the sense of humour that you can’t really find in literary fiction, the banter and colloquial kind of dialogue. I love how it can cover almost any type of genre while still always coming back to the same themes. I love that the right YA book has the potential to completely change someone’s life and perspective right at the moment when it’s really needed, and stick with them forever. I love that adults and kids read it, and enjoy it.

As to why I wrote The Red Earth Rolls (now titled The Next Together), I made a list of all of my favourite things in fiction one day and tried to find a way to include them all in one story. The plotty mess that resulted was my own fault.

How does my writing process work?
Up to now, I’ve only written one novel. I wrote it over the summer holidays, in fast bursts over 2 or 3 months, and spent the rest of the year thinking about it. I have three storylines, and I wrote about a quarter of one, and then caught the other two up to that. Then I wrote them out chapter by chapter in all three storylines. I write in chronological order almost always.

My book THE NEXT TOGETHER, a reincarnation romance, comes out in September. You can add it on goodreads, preorder on amazon, or you can subscribe to my mailing list for updates nearer the time here.

The difference between writing YA as a teenager and an adult

When I started writing my first novel I had no idea it would be a Young Adult book. I was eighteen, and I just wanted to write a story. I wrote it about people my age, about characters who were like me, with jokes that I thought were funny and ideas that caught my interest.

It was only later when I started looking for an agent that I realised it would probably be classified as Young Adult. What to me was just a Book was a separate genre to the rest of the world.

What defines a book as YA? There are adult fiction books featuring teenager protagonists (The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, for example) so it’s not simply the age of the characters. Is it the content, which is usually less explicit? Some YA books have as much sex, drugs and violence as any adult fiction I’ve ever read, so it’s not that either. I would say that what makes a YA book YA is that it is written specifically for teenagers. It could be a story about an immortal vampire, and if the themes and plot portrayed are specifically designed to capture the interest of a teenager, then it’s YA.

So is there a difference between books written by adults for teenagers, or by the teenagers themselves? An adult can take a step back, think about what was important to them when they were growing up and write a story that will resonate with a huge range of teenagers.

A young author might instead write a story that is perfect for them personally- that captures all their ideals and experiences and worries. But it would be so personal, and so specific to that one person, that it might not be as relevant to others. With nothing to compare to how can a teenager decide what is important and lasting about their coming of age, and what they will forget five years down the line? What experiences are worth sharing, and will make captivating reading?

How can you reach out to other people when you are writing to try and deal with your own life and problems as you grow up, rather than setting out specifically to interact with others from the perspective of someone already there?

Now I’m at the interesting point in which I’m no longer technically a Young Adult- I’m twenty one, about to graduate, and getting to close to the point when I’m forced to admit that I’m actually a real grown up. Instead of just writing a book about people my age, I have to think about my audience for the first time. I can’t write a book about filing taxes for the first time and expect it to be a reasonable followup to a book about teens.

I’m a little worried I won’t be able to portray that again, now I’m not living it myself. But I’m going to try and figure it out. Maybe I can offer something different now that I’ve passed the finish line, as it were. Maybe I’ll try to write a YA book and find that it ends up being adult fiction- or somewhere in the grey area, in the mysterious New Adult category. But as long as what I write captures someone’s interest, somewhere, I’ll be happy.

My book THE NEXT TOGETHER, a reincarnation romance, comes out in September. You can add it on goodreads, preorder on amazon, or you can subscribe to my mailing list for updates nearer the time here.

Originally posted at http://projectukya.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/april-extravaganza-lauren-james-on.html

My bookish New Years Resolutions

  • I will get more bookshelves, so I don’t have to doublestack my books:image
  • I will read more non-fiction, starting with:image
  • I will decrease my to-read pile, which is….taking over my bedroom. image
  • I will finish reading all of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction winnersimage
  • I will only buy books if I plan to read them within the next month.
  • I will organise my bookshelves by colour:image
  • I will try to review over half of the books I read on goodreads.
  • I will stop reading multiple books at once. image
  • I will write at least 2 new novels.
  • I will read more UKYA for lucythereader‘s #readUKYA challenge.

What are your new years resolutions? And if any of the books in my to-read pile are your faves, let me know and I’ll read them next!

My own book THE NEXT TOGETHER, a reincarnation romance, comes out in 2015. You can add it on goodreads, preorder on amazon, or you can subscribe to my mailing list for updates nearer the time here

Trends in YA

I want to talk a bit about trends in books. My novel is about reincarnation, which when I started writing was a very rarely seen concept in fiction- which is why I wrote it. In recent years, however, it has become a lot more common.

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It’s a bit frustrating, that something I wrote thinking was unique and original is instead becoming what might be the latest trend. I imagine a lot of writers felt the same way about their dystopian works in progress when the Hunger Games and Divergent became popular, or vampire novels when Twilight was the Big Thing.

When I first started writing I panicked a lot about whether someone was going to beat me to it, write my book first and better. But I’ve become a lot calmer recently (although research for this post did make me hyperventilate a bit. There are so many).

I’m calmer not only because I have a publisher, and my book is definitely going to be published whether it ends up being passé or done before ten times over. Because I’ve come to realise that trends aren’t always a bad thing. People read what they like, and all these other reincarnation books are building up a potential audience of reincarnation fans for me to steal. Maybe they’ll read mine because the other books they’ve read didn’t quite hit the spot the way they liked (the ending of Cloud Atlas left me desperate to know why and needing more, for example), or maybe they just wanted to relive the same kind of story afresh (pun intended).

Either way, the ‘reincarnation’ buzzword can only be a good thing when trying to find a place for my novel. If reincarnation brings good book memories to mind- which with great novels like Life after Life around, it hopefully will- then people are more likely to pick up a copy of mine and give it a chance.

There will, of course, be some people who are bored with the idea, but the people who enjoyed the ‘trope’ of reincarnation will far outweigh this number (I hope).

And even if an idea has been done before, that doesn’t mean that when the right book comes along, it can’t sweep people off their feet. There were hundreds of books before The One wizard/vampire/dystopia book came along. But which one do people immediately think of? I’m not saying my book is going to be that book, but…I don’t need to worry just yet about it. Probably.

It also makes it quite hard to think of titles….all the good ones are taken!

15 books I want to read in ’15

As a follow up to my post on my favourite books of 2014, here are all of the YA books coming out in 2015 that I haven’t been able to resist preordering, or that I have already read and loved. Some of them don’t have covers yet, but all are on goodreads, and most are on amazon!

15. Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (Harpercollins, 28th April)

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Aza Ray is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live.

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Invisible sky ships, oh my god. This sounds a bit like Otherbound, which was amazing (my review here), so I can’t wait to see how this goes. Anything about ships in the clouds and I’m automatically in.

14. The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell(Bloomsbury, 4th June) 

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Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

Katherine is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met, and if you haven’t yet read Rooftoppers, you’re missing out. It’s a wonderfully whimsical adventure with a great father-daughter friendship. Every line of Katherine’s writing sings and I can’t wait to read more.

13. Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge (Balzer + Bray, 5th May)

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When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.
Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.

Yeessssss, give me all of the fairy tale retellings. All of them. I love, love the sound of this.

12. About a Girl by Sarah McCarry (St. Martins, 14th July)

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Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There’s no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty—or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born. But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past—and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future. The deeper she falls in love with Maddy, the more Tally begins to realize that the universe is bigger—and more complicated—than she ever imagined. Can Tally face the truth about her family—and find her way home in time to save herself from its consequences?

Just take a minute to appreciate that cover. That, and the fact that a main character is a scientist, and I’m so ready. I think this is a retelling too! Give it me now.

11. Captive by A. J Grainger (Simon & Schuster, 29th Jan)

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I open my eyes. The cell is flooded with sunlight; the window is a splice of pale blue. Dust particles dance in the sparkling light, pirouetting in a golden line from the window to the opposite wall of the cell, where they seem to converge into shapes. It is like looking into a kaleidoscope. Dad isn’t here. No one is, but me.
Robyn Knollys-Green is an A-list celebrity, famous for being the daughter of one of the world’s most powerful men. But not even the paparazzi can find her now.
Robyn begins to realise that she is trapped in a complicated web of global corruption and deceit – and that the strange, melancholy boy who has been tasked with guarding her might not be an enemy after all . . .

This is written by my wonderful editor ajgrainger, who you should all follow! I’ve been lucky enough to sneak a read of this, and it’s brilliant. A great prisoner-guard romance with an excellent twist, with suspense that never lets up. Put it on your wishlists!

10. The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (Scholastic, 24th Feb)

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Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she’s engaged to the prince, Twylla isn’t exactly a member of the court.She’s the executioner.As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month she’s taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla’s fatal touch, avoids her company.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he’s able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla’s been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen. However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla’s problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?

melsalisbury is my bro, and everything she does is filled with flair and showmanship. This book is no exception. With enough twists to make you dizzy, and an incredibly detailed fantasy world, filled with rich myths and tales, this is a story to treasure!

9. Remix by Non Pratt (Walker, July)

Kaz is still reeling after being dumped by the love of her life.

Ruby is bored of having to hear about it. Time to change the record…

Three days. Two best mates. One music festival. Zero chance of anything going to plan.

Trouble by nonthepratt was one of the coolest and most true to life YA books I’ve read in a while, so I am dying to read this. I’ve put in my request at Walker to get a proof copy as soon as they come off the press. I need it.

8. Carry on by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martins, 6th October)

Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters. 

A Harry Potter satire spin-off from Fangirl, I’m so intrigued by how Rainbow is going to pull this off. I can’t wait to see how it goes!

7. Vendetta by Catherine Doyle (Chicken House, 1st Jan)

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When it comes to revenge, love is a dangerous complication.With a fierce rivalry raging between two warring families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. An epic debut set outside modern-day Chicago.
When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families. As the boys’ dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. She must choose between two warring dynasties – the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.

Another of my best best bros, catherine-doyle‘s debut is OUT IN FOUR DAYS. FOUR. It’s already available on amazon. Hurry up and get it! It’s excellent, the perfect mix of hot boys to ship and mafia intrigue to savour. I want a musical of this book more than most things in life. I can see the ensemble finger clicking songs now.

6. First & Then by Emma Mills (Henry Holt, 29th September)

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Devon has life pretty much figured out: she’s got her best friend Cas, her secret crush (also Cas), and her comfortable routine (mostly spent with Cas). New experiences: not welcome here. But as she enters her senior year, her parents take in her cousin Foster, an undersized weirdo who shows an unexpected talent for football, and star runningback Ezra takes Foster under his wing. Devon can’t figure out how she feels about Ezra. He’s obviously stuck-up, but Foster adores him. Ezra has nothing to say to her, but he keeps seeking her out. And . . . Devon might actually like him. But only if she can learn to stand him first. Devon may have to reconsider her position on new experiences.Funny, fresh, and layered, FIRST AND DOWN remixes Austen’s spirit into a captivating modern story.

I’ve been watching elmify‘s videos for a while now, and I can’t wait to read her debut novel. Modern day Austen? Yeeeeeeeeeees.

5. The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle (Corgi,  2 July)

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It’s the accident season, the same time every year. Bones break, skin tears, bruises bloom.

The accident season has been part of seventeen-year-old Cara’s life for as long as she can remember. Towards the end of October, foreshadowed by the deaths of many relatives before them, Cara’s family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items – but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear. But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?

As well as having what has to be the best title in the entire world, this sounds incredible. An accident curse? I’m ready.

4. Weightless by Sarah Bannan (Bloomsbury, March 12th)

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Adamsville wasn’t a place that people came to. It was a place you were from, where you were born, where you were raised, where you stayed…

Before Carolyn Lessing arrived, nothing much had ever happened in Adamsville, Alabama. Each week, at dinner tables and in the high school assembly, everyone would pray for the football team to win. Each year, the Adams High hotlist would be updated, and girls would rise and fall within its ranks. Each day, everyone lived by the unwritten rules that cheerleaders did not hang out with the swim team, seniors did not date freshmen and the blistering heat was something that should never be remarked upon. But then the new girl came.

All Carolyn’s social media could reveal was that she had moved from New Jersey, she had 1075 friends – and she didn’t have a relationship status. In beach photos with boys who looked like Abercrombie models she seemed beautiful, but in real life she was so much more. She was perfect.

This was all before the camera crews arrived, before it became impossible to see where rumour ended and truth began, and before the Annual Adamsville Balloon Festival, when someone swore they saw the captain of the football team with his arm around Carolyn, and cracks began to appear in the dry earth.

This? This is exactly my jam. Online celebrity thriller? Yep. Yep. My jam.

3. Lumberjanes by Shannon Watters & Noelle Stevenson (Boom!, 30th May)

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Five best friends spending the summer at Lumberjane scout camp… defeating yetis, three-eyed wolves, and giant falcons… what’s not to love?! Friendship to the max! Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let any insane quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way!

Noelle’s webcomic Nimona was my favourite read of 2014, so I’m desperate for the collection of her new comic to be published. With a killer title and what looks to be an excellent female ensemble, I can’t wait.

2. House of Windows by Alexia Casale (Faber, 2nd July)

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‘The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.’ Robert Louis Stevenson

Nick hates it when people call him a genius. Sure, he’s going to Cambridge University aged 15, but he says that’s just because he works hard. And, secretly, he only works hard to get some kind of attention from his workaholic father.

Not that his strategy is working. When he arrives at Cambridge, he finds the work hard and socialising even harder. Until, that is, he starts to cox for the college rowing crew and all hell breaks loose..

Oh, yes. Yes, yes. I may have sent Alexia more than one email asking to read this, to no avail (yet). This sounds….amazing.

1. The Next Together by Lauren James (Walker, 3rd September) 

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You don’t need to be a hero to change the world. You just need to care enough to stand up and be counted.

Teenagers Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again. Each time their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated. How many times can you lose the person you love? For Matthew and Katherine it is again and again, over and over, century after century. But why do they keep coming back? How many times must they die to save the world? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace? Maybe the next together will be different.

My own, OF COURSE. I am more excited about this coming out than about almost anything, ever. MY BOOK, GUYS. It’s gonna be real.

Once again, the cover isn’t ready yet (#soon.) but I am DYING TO SHOW IT TO YOU. For now, know that it has….colours on it. Several.

+1 bonus: Royal Wedding: Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot (William & Morrow, 2nd June)

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Princess Diaries series, comes the very first adult installment, which follows Princess Mia and her Prince Charming as they plan their fairy tale wedding–but a few poisoned apples could turn this happily-ever-after into a royal nightmare.

For Princess Mia, the past five years since college graduation have been a whirlwind of activity, what with living in New York City, running her new teen community center, being madly in love, and attending royal engagements. And speaking of engagements. Mia’s gorgeous longtime boyfriend Michael managed to clear both their schedules just long enough for an exotic (and very private) Caribbean island interlude where he popped the question! Of course Mia didn’t need to consult her diary to know that her answer was a royal oui.

But now Mia has a scandal of majestic proportions to contend with: Her grandmother’s leaked “fake” wedding plans to the press that could cause even normally calm Michael to become a runaway groom. Worse, a scheming politico is trying to force Mia’s father from the throne, all because of a royal secret that could leave Genovia without a monarch. Can Mia prove to everyone–especially herself–that she’s not only ready to wed, but ready to rule as well?

Uhuh, you read that right. An adult spin off of The Princess Diaries. The publishing industry knows exactly how to get my money off me, because I will pay a significant amount of this book. Now. I need it.

So that’s 15 16 books I want to read in 2015! I was going to rec 2015 books, but….that’s more formatting that I’m willing to do on this fine Boxing Day.

What books are you looking forward to in 2015? Give me your recs so I can preorder, because that doesn’t actually count as buying a book. Right?