Banshee, a new literary journal that I’m co-editing with two of my favouritest writer friends in the world, is open for submissions for its inaugural issue this month. Just sayin’, like…
In Irish folklore the banshee keens for the dead and mourns their loss. Our Banshee would prefer to bid farewell to the past, and to look firmly at our present, in all its particular pleasures and problems, and towards the future. Writers and readers alike – we’d love you to join us.
- ‘New Literary Journal Banshee Seeking Submissions’
Three more YA reads worth checking out…
Gayle Forman – I Was Here
Cody’s charismatic best friend Meg has killed herself, and Cody’s determined to find out why. Her laptop contains old emails and information about a guy named Ben, as well as a pro-suicide ‘support group’, and Cody’s determined to figure out who’s to blame for pushing her friend over the edge. Her quest begins to lead her into other possibilities, though – like, did she really know Meg at all? This is one of many books about mental health issues out this year, but the topic is in good hands with Gayle Forman. Cody’s own grief is handled wonderfully, and what the book is good on, more than anything, is the nature of small-town life: the assumptions that are made, the secrets that are kept, the fears underneath the surface. Well worth reading.
Rachel McIntyre – Me and Mr J
This terrific and funny diary-style debut tells the story of fifteen-year-old Lara, who’s being horrendously bullied at school. Falling for her new English teacher (always the English teachers!) is a distraction and then a saviour; as time goes on, he not only helps with the bullying but also seems to be interested in her. Her reactions are brilliant – on the one hand, you’re rooting for her, and on the other hand, you’re going ‘oh dear god no no NO’. This does a really good job at handling the tricky situation – yes, Mr J is at fault, but no, he’s not ‘grooming’ her. (Compare to Amanda Grace’s The Truth About You and Me, where the girl is blamed entirely for lying about her age, or Jacqueline Wilson’s Love Letters, which paints it entirely as a thwarted love story. It’s a difficult topic to handle in a way that is respectful of teenagers while also being mindful of the responsibilities adults hold, and this book does it really well. Plus is a delightful read.)
Jenny Hubbard – And We Stay
Poetry. Boarding school. Emily Dickinson. Oh, this book has it all. Set in the mid-90s, the novel focuses on seventeen-year-old Emily Beam, a new student at an all-girls’ school in Amherst, who uses poetry and the new connections in her life – including with the house Emily Dickinson used to live in – to process the upsetting events of the past year, including the loss of her boyfriend Paul. Gorgeously written.
Official editing pen.
Hello, gentle readers! So when I am not wearing my Writer Hat or Teacher Hat (disclaimer: not actual hats) these days, I am being Editor Girl. Specifically, I am wearing a Puffin Ireland hat (also not an actual hat, but looking into it) and being the kidlit/YA human in the Penguin Ireland office.
Because this website is very much my-thoughts-on-things, rather than in any way being In My Official Capacity As X, I just want to have one tiny little post where I have gathered relevant links pertaining to this role, and then go back to squeeing over books and TV shows. So.
- official submissions guidelines, to be followed, yes really, and email really is best
- Before You Hit Send: a piece I put together for writing.ie about what to do before you even think about submitting to editors or agents
- some advice on cover letters and synopses (shorter is better, and no, it’s not a book for all ages)
- interview with Sarah Griffin for writing.ie, talking about manuscript turn-offs as well as what really works
- interview with Elena & Emily at The Looking Glass, talking about YA, masters’ degrees, and the writing process
- interview with Lou Treleaven at her very useful site, on what-are-you-looking-for and advice for writers
- my manuscript wishlist, which is not at all a definitive list of things I’d love to see, rest assured
Actively seeking to remedy this serious issue.
Just two books this post, but they’re keepers… (YA)
Jennifer Niven – All The Bright Places
This book has been generating a lot of excitement from readers, and reminded me of the difference between hype and buzz. I adored this book, and sped through it hungrily. It ticks so many boxes for me – characters who write, mental illness, grief, the gap between how someone’s perceived and how they think of themselves. The story begins when Finch is considering killing himself – not for the first time – and encounters Violet on the school bell tower. Violet’s just up there to think, and she’s been doing odd things since her sister and closest friend Eleanor died a year before, but a connection between them is forged. When they’re paired up for a class project involving local places of interest, it presents them with an opportunity to get closer and also have experiences that they’ll remember – and ensure the places remember them. This is the kind of hook that often can feel a bit cheesy, but what really makes it work is that it’s propelled by Finch – who is lovely and quirky and charming but also an interrogation of that kind of guy or indeed character that we often see in contemporary YA. Robyn Schneider’s Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (The Beginning of Everything in the US) deconstructed the Manic Pixie Dream Girl type, and I think this does the same for the Manic Pixie Dream Boy – Finch is literally manic, with bipolar disorder that is going untreated and to a certain extent unrecognised by his dysfunctional family, and with that comes a lot of bad times too. The ending is perfect. Heartbreaking but it couldn’t have ended any other way. And the writing is gorgeous. An absolute gem of a book and already on my favourites of 2015 list.
Robyn Schneider – Extraordinary Means
(thanks to Edelweiss for the digital review copy)
Speaking of Robyn Schneider… her new book, out in May/June (US/UK), focuses on illness but in a way that hasn’t been seen in YA before. We have the cancer books, and the mental illness books, but nothing about a contagious, long-running physical illness. The book is realistic and only explores one very plausible what-if – what if there was an outbreak of completely drug-resistant tuberculosis in modern America? Mainly a disease of the young, and highly contagious, it’s best treated by isolating patients – so this is set at a boarding school set up specifically for this purpose. The outbreak has been going on for a couple of years by the time high-achiever Lane arrives, distressed that he’s missing his intense senior year and college application time to be in an environment where classes are, being for sick people not at full capacity, much more relaxed. And there’s a girl he knew at camp there – Sadie, who’s been there the longest, and who seems to hate him for something he did when they were thirteen. The back-and-forth narration between the two works really well, and the friendships that are formed in this odd environment are plausible and intense and well-handled. Watch out for this one.
Since it appeared, I’ve been thinking about and rereading this great piece by the super-talented and lovely Sara Baume, whose debut novel has just come out to a great deal of fanfare. And then a bit of LinkedIn updating (because that’s what I apparently do for fun of a Sunday morning) reminded me that it’s been fifteen years this month that my first book came out.
The ‘wrote her first book at/had her first book published at’ stories make for good hooks, but anyone who’s ever heard me go on about writing will probably be aware how much I go on about persistence, or – because it sounds and feels easier – stubbornness. Am I ‘proud’ of having my first book published as a teen? Not really, and only partly because I am a) Irish b) female and c) prone to melancholy, all of which contribute to finding it difficult to be proud of anything. If you held a gun to my head I’d say it’s not that that might inspire pride (or something less, y’know, having-notions-ish). It’s that I kept writing. That I have kept at it. That I am still keeping at it, despite being neurotic and insecure and anxious and all of those other things. Despite it being hard. Despite writing being a world that induces a lot of insecurity and anxiety in a group of people who already have more than their fair share of it to begin with. Despite all that. Still standing.
(And now I am going to bookmark this so I can revisit it at panicky moments.)
Four more YA books pondered…
Christa Desir – Bleed Like Me
A Sid-and-Nancy type story about two troubled teens in love, which does a particularly good job at exploring what happens after romantic impulsive decisions. I really loved Christa Desir’s first YA novel – she doesn’t veer away from difficult topics but doesn’t sensationalise them either. Well worth reading.
Sheena Wilkinson – Still Falling
A he-said she-said love story. Luke is the new boy at school, with a troubled past (you’ve read Sheena Wilkinson before, right?), while Esther is a good-girl type who’s fallen out with her friends from church. When Luke has an epileptic fit his first day, Esther’s the only one who knows how to handle it, and an odd friendship is born. My favourite part of the book was Esther’s church-y crowd – it’s not a thing we see often in mainstream fiction, and it was really interesting to see this in the context of Northern Irish fiction, having religion as a thing in someone’s life without it being a political/us-versus-them situation. An interesting read.
Zoe Sugg – Girl Online
Penny’s been keeping a blog for the past year, detailing her thoughts and experiences of anxiety, so when she meets cute boy Noah in New York, she’s obviously going to write about that, too… but when she discovers that Noah’s an up-and-coming musician, and one with an alleged celebrity girlfriend, she not only has to deal with Noah having kept secrets but the hostility she receives from strangers online. A light, clean read for young teens which taps into both the positive and negative side of internet life.
Tess Sharpe – Far From You
A terrific read with a complicated narrator. Sophie’s best friend Mina – who was sort of more-than-a-friend – was murdered several months ago. Sophie’s sure it was to do with a news story Mina was following up for the school paper; everyone else is convinced it’s to do with the drugs found on Sophie’s person that night. Sophie’s sure they were planted, but as someone with a drug problem that’s landed her in rehab before, her credibility is shaky, to say the least. The relationship between Sophie and Mina is compelling, and the snapshots of everything leading up to the murder work really well. Do read.