Monday, 21 April 2014

How We Made The Year of the Rat Blog Tour: Clare Furniss Interview! (The Writer)

The Year of the Rat is published this week (April 24th) in the UK by Simon and Schuster. It's a UK debut, it's beautifully written and I loved it. It's my favourite debut of the year so far and another book is going to have to be REALLY good to top it!

I'm excited to be a part of this blog tour, not just because I love the book, but because it's a journey of how The Year of the Rat came to be made. From writing to agents to covers, this blog tour will tell you everything you need to know about Clare Furniss and her book. Make sure you check out the full schedule below to find out where you can read more throughout the week.

Big thanks to Clare for answering my questions, and I hope you enjoy following this tour. Before we start, here's what The Year of the Rat is about:

I always thought you'd know, somehow, if something terrible was going to happen. I thought you'd sense it, like when the air goes damp and heavy before a storm and you know you'd better hide yourself away somewhere safe until it all blows over. But it turns out it's not like that at all. There's no scary music playing in the background like in films. No warning signs. Not even a lonely magpie. One for sorrow, Mum used to say. Quick, look for another.
The world can tip at any moment… a fact that fifteen-year-old Pearl is all too aware of when her mum dies after giving birth to her baby sister. Told across the year following her mother's death, Pearl's story is full of bittersweet humour and heartbreaking honesty about how you deal with grief that cuts you to the bone, as she tries not only to come to terms with losing her mum, but also the fact that her sister - The Rat - is a constant reminder of why her mum is no longer around…


Wondrous Reads: Hi Clare! Thanks for answering my questions. How did you come to write The Year of the Rat? What was the inspiration behind it?

Clare Furniss: I started writing the story on a creative writing course run by the Arvon Foundation. I hadn’t done any creative writing for years before I went on the course, and I was so terrified that I put off writing anything until the last possible moment when I had to hand something in. I’d had this vague idea that had been knocking about in my head since the previous summer when I’d had to have an operation. I had two young children at that time, and I baked a cake for them the evening before I went into hospital. The thought popped into my head of what would happen to the cake if I died during the operation (I’m a catastrophist) and this had obviously stuck in my mind. In a panic, I wrote the scene which is still in the final book about Pearl’s mum baking the cake, and Pearl and her Dad coming back from the hospital after she dies and finding it there. I found that as soon as I’d written that one scene it sparked so many other ideas - a lot of the basic idea for the story just fell into place.

WR: What was your writing process like? Did you listen to music, or did you have to work in silence?

CF: I do listen to music, I find it very helpful for getting me into the right frame of mind. Sometimes before I start writing I’ll listen to a song that I know will get me into the right zone for what I’m about to write - it has to be something that is at exactly the right emotional pitch for what I’m writing. The music I listen to while I’m actually writing can’t be too intrusive. In fact I often listen to classical music as I write so that there aren’t lyrics to distract me - again, for me, the mood and tone of the music is the most important thing.

I don't write in a linear way. There were certain scenes that were very clear in my head (or that even just had a sentence of dialogue or an image in them that I knew had to be in the book) and I wrote them first. I found this helped me get to know and understand the characters and their relationships, and suggested other plot developments and scenes. This can be a bit confusing, and it takes a lot of work to pull everything together at the end, but I felt better when I discovered that both Sally Nicholls and Hilary Mantel also write like this!

 Clare busy working!

WR: How long did it initially take you to write the novel? Are you someone who plans meticulously, or do you just write?

CF: The truth is I don’t really know how long it took because it was a fairly fragmented process. I first had the idea for the story six years ago but I was expecting my third child at that point and only got a few scenes written before I was dealing with a newborn, a toddler and a four year old. My hands were pretty full and writing had to take a back seat. Eventually I started the MA Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. By this point I wasn’t even sure whether or not to persevere with The Year of The Rat, but eventually my lovely tutor Julia Green persuaded me to write a few scenes for workshops, and eventually I fell back in love with the story. I still didn’t have much time for writing but in January last year I decided it was now or never. I’d written quite a few individual scenes and knew the shape of the story but there was still a huge amount to do. I immersed myself in it for six weeks, getting up before the children and going to bed in the small hours, pulling it all together, filling in the gaps, stripping out what I didn’t need. It was very intensive and exhausting but by the end of it I had something that resembled a book.

I do plan a bit but it’s more that I know where I’m going, rather than how I’m going to get there. I have ‘stepping stone’ scenes that I know will be in the book but there are also lots of surprises along the way. One example in The Year of The Rat was that I didn’t know Verity was going to appear, she was just there behind a door when it opened!

WR: When did you first know that this book was something you wanted to publish, and how did you go about finding an agent? 

CF: I hoped it would be published right from the start, though of course I had no idea whether this hope would ever come to anything! I was determined to do it properly and get it as good as I could before I sent it to anyone. I’d heard Catherine Clarke (now my agent) speak at an event and been incredibly impressed. I knew she represented a lot of authors I really admire so she was top of my list of agents to approach. I had a chat with her at the event - she was interested in the idea of The Year of The Rat but I’d only written a few scenes at that point. She asked me to send it when it was finished and (a long time later!) I did. Luckily she liked it!

WR: Do you remember the day you got the news that an agent had decided to represent your book? How did it make you feel? 

CF: I remember it very well. Catherine and I met in a cafe in Bath and she offered to represent me. I was completely elated - I remember walking up to collect my children from school after the meeting feeling dazed. I just couldn’t stop smiling.

WR: Do you have any tips or tricks for aspiring authors? What's the best advice you could give?

The best advice I can give is to write a story you really love - don’t try to write something just because you think will be popular; if you’re not genuinely excited about your story it will show. If you get stuck, don’t panic - all writers get stuck. And don’t worry about getting it right first time - most authors probably spend as much time editing as writing, so don’t be afraid of getting it wrong. Remind yourself that the first draft of your favourite book will have looked very different from the final version!



Sunday, 20 April 2014

In My Mailbox #203: New Books This Week

In My Mailbox idea from Kristi @ The Story Siren, and any links take you to Amazon. Click images for a bigger picture!

Thanks so much to all publishers/authors who sent me lovely books to review!


 For review: 



  •  The Art of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor - I already have a review copy of this that arrived last month but I bought this because it's signed! (Pic below)
  • Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland 



 Thanks to the lovely people at Penguin/Puffin UK for these!

Happy reading, everyone!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Review: Amelia and Nanette - Sparkly Shoes and Picnic Parties by Sophie Tilley

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Format: Large paperback
Released: March 13th, 2014
Rating: 7/10

Amazon summary:

Everyone will be charmed by the wonderfully nostalgic, delightfully innocent and enchantingly carefree world of Amelie and Nanette. Their lives are rich with adventure, sometimes good, sometimes bad (and sometimes a little sad) but always mixed with laughter. From riverside picnics and seaside capers to cake-baking marathons and dressing-up, there's an adventure around every corner. And, even when things go wrong, there's nothing so awful that their friendship (and a big hug) can't make better. 


Sparkly Shoes and Picnic Parties is the first in the new Amelia and Nanette picture book series by author and illustrator Sophie Tilley. The back cover says it has a vintage feel to it, and it really does - it's very quaint and quiet, if that makes sense, with lovely soft illustrations reminiscent of older children's books.

There's quite a lot of text in this book, as Tilley tells the story of best friends Amelie and Nanette. They've been best friends forever, and love buying new things and going on picnics. All is well until a dog steals Nanette's new red shoe and muddies Amelie's new dress - the girls are sad but a big, friendly hug soon makes them feel better!

I think this book would be a lovely gift for two beat friends, and it has the added bonus of a free set of notelets and envelopes included at the back. Girls in particular will enjoy this one, though obviously it has a universal appeal and anyone can read and enjoy it. I'm looking forward to more from Sophie Tilley and Amelia and Nanette, especially if future books are as charming as this one!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Storm by Brigid Kemmerer Blog Tour: Book Extract!

Storm was published in the UK yesterday, much to everyone's excitement. I've heard nothing but good things about the Elemental series and am looking forward to getting stuck in soon - I hope I love it!

Here's what you can expect from Brigid Kemmerer and Storm:
Secrets are hard to keep when your life's at stake.
Becca Chandler is suddenly getting all the guys; all the ones she doesn't want. When she saves Chris Merrick from a beating in the school parking lot, everything is about to change. Chris is different from the guys at school... really different. He can control water just like his brothers can control fire, wind, and earth. The brothers are powerful and dangerous. And now that Becca knows the truth, so is she.
When the mysterious new kid, Hunter, turns up, Becca thinks she can trust him. But when he goes head-to-head with Chris, Becca's left wondering who's hiding the most dangerous truth of all.

Read on for an exclusive extract from Storm, which introduces hot boy Hunter. Hope you enjoy!

You can also click here to read the extract online.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

COVER REVEAL: Weirdos vs. Bumskulls by Natasha Desborough!

Blossom Uxley-Michaels is back in this second, and equally as hilarious, instalment of Natasha Desborough's Weirdos series. Following on from 2013's Weirdos vs. Quimboids, Weirdos vs. Bumskulls picks up exactly where Blossom left off. There's more laughs, more rudeness and more teen angst then before, and I hope you guys are excited to read it! My review will be posted in May, so do look out for it.

Weirdos vs. Bumskulls is published in the UK by Catnip Books on May 8th, 2014.

Funnier, weirder, ruder - Blossom is back. After performing the brilliant and unlikely feat of getting sexy rock god Josh Raven to perform at the school disco, Blossom Uxley-Michaels has decided that being a Weirdo is actually kind of awesome. Things get more exciting when Blossom's band, Camel Toe, enter the Battle of the Bands.
But Camel Toe find they have competition from an unlikely source. Then Blossom meets Vince, sexy mancake and lead singer of rival band Bumskulls. And supposedly loved-up Petrina has been spotted dribbling at the bass player... Amidst a churning whirlpool of love, war and music, can the Weirdos keep their quest for musical domination on track or will it all go norks up?

*drum roll* ...and here's the cover! What do you think? Isn't it ace?! I love it!

Guest Post: Mark Alder Talks Son of the Morning Covers!

Son of the Morning is published today, April 17th, in the UK, and it sounds AMAZING. It's had a 5/5 star review in SFX magazine and is garnering great reviews from fellow readers and bloggers. I loved the sound of it as soon as I knew about it, and I was even more excited when I heard it was Gollancz who were publishing it. If you're not sure what I'm on about, here's a synopsis:
Edward the Third stands in the burnt ruin of an English church. He is beset on all sides. He needs a victory against the French to rescue his Kingship. Or he will die trying. Philip of Valois can put 50,000 men in the field. He has sent his priests to summon the very Angels themselves to fight for France. Edward could call on God for aid but he is an usurper. What if God truly is on the side of the French? But for a price, Edward could open the gates of Hell and take an unholy war to France . . . Mark Alder has brought the epic fantasy of George R.R. Martin to the vivid historical adventure of Bernard Cornwell and has a created a fantasy that will sweep you to a new vision of the Hundred Years War.

I've always been fascinated with book covers and the evolution they go through before reaching the finish line, and Son of the Morning has a fantastic cover journey. Mark has very kindly written a piece on the cover design, and has included some very interesting images. Hope you enjoy reading this and extra big thanks to Mark for taking the time to write it for me!


Covers Are Tricky
by Mark Alder

Covers are tricky. People judge a book by them. Getting the cover right, even in these days of ebooks, is essential to any novel.
If you hit the wrong note you can alienate readers or make them believe you’re just another ‘me too’ product, a candy coloured chick lit novel or just a standard fantasy with a mysterious figure in a hood staring out at you from the bookshelves. Being seen as a standard genre novel might not be all that bad. The first aim of a cover is not, whatever we may want in an ideal world, originality. It is to say to the reader ‘this is the sort of book you like to read’. So packaging something generically – a moody shot of an underground car park for a thriller, say – is not a mistake per se.
Likewise the titles. The author may have wanted to call her detective novel ‘Among the Narcissi’ as a sign of her love for the poet Silvia Plath and a clever hint at the self-regarding nature of the fashion world where her story takes place. However, the publisher might insist on ‘Dead Season’ or ‘Perfect Bodies’ or some such because the literary reference will be lost on most people and even alienate some. “Narcissi?’ Who’s that then? I thought he played for Chelsea.
Ideally with covers you are looking for something very similar but strikingly different to other books in your field. The problem with a cover that announces ‘you’ve never read anything like this before!’ is the reader might think ‘yes for good reason’.
An example of an excellent cover that really sold the book was my friend Sarah Rayner’s One Moment One Morning. What, exactly, did the tea cups say to the largely female readership at whom the book was aimed? I’m not exactly sure – they appear to be behind some rain spattered glass. Companionship? Respite from pressures? Friendship in the face of adversity? Whatever it was, it’s regarded as a seminal cover and immediately spawned a host of imitators. It’s not really the sort of thing you can plan. You know it when you see it.
Marketing a novel to the fantasy audience is hard. There is a huge audience for, for instance, Warhammer novels. These covers, featuring fantastic beasts, strange weapons and extravagantly armoured heroes, while they appeal very much to the fantasy nut, are very unlikely to gain the novel a wider audience. That’s OK, by the way, a large slice of a small readership can be bigger than a tiny slice of the mass market.
So, when we set out to brief on Son of the Morning, we were certain that it had to be definitively a fantasy cover. Let me point out, when I say ‘we’, I mean that the editor does the brief but is kind enough to include me in the process. If the publishing company wants to it can put a picture of a giraffe eating a hot dog on the cover and there’s nothing I can do about it. Some publishers don’t really give their authors much of a say about what goes on the cover. I’m lucky in that mine do. I actually only want a say up to a point. I have no talent for visual art at all and would much rather give responsibility for the cover to someone who does.
Anyway, the main aim of the cover is that reader knows what they are getting. This means we have to define the book clearly. It’s a fantasy, it’s set in medieval Europe, contains plenty of action, lots of intrigue and backbiting and a slightly skewed cosmology where angels, devils and demons trade pacts with humanity and can end up fighting on the same side. There is a fair bit of fighting in the novel, a lot of daring do but also a detective story, a sort of a romance and – believe me many authors share this delusion – a mildly literary aspect.
We don’t want to sell on the literary aspect – fantasy puts off many serious literature types and literature puts off a large number of other people. So, something stirring and striking. The first idea was for an angel on a horse. This is what the Gollancz art department came up with.

What’s wrong with this? Nothing, per se. If I wanted to quibble, I’d say the angel’s armour is anachronistic, the horse’s armour too. The angel’s garland looks a little ‘plonked on’ but apart from that, it tells people what the book’s about –even if it does emphasise the action in the novel over the other aspects of the story. It’s quite an exciting image and it’s OK. However, we’re not looking for OK, we’re looking for ‘wow!’, so we asked the artists to come up with some other ideas.
It also struck us that the image of the angel on a horse was a bit odd when we actually saw it on the page. If he’s got wings, why does he need a horse? The brief to the art department was for something slightly less literal. We sent them a number of historical book covers we liked, along with a more detailed account of the story. This was version two.

 Click to enlarge.

I liked ths more. This version tells the reader that the book is more than simply an action story. It’s ‘classier’ – which is not always a good thing – and it says, essentially, that it’s set in the medieval period and contains supernatural elements. However, putting it bluntly, I didn’t like the central image of the angel. To me he looks a bit fat and not very distinct. So back to the drawing board again. This time my editor suggested we try a more symbolic approach. The references we gave them were the Game of Thrones covers – the book is similar in its mix of intrigue, magic and action – and the Boudica covers of Manda Scott. It was important that the reader realise that they’re getting a lot more than a hack fest. Is it cynical to position the book alongside such successful works? Not at all – it’s as straightforward as saying ‘if you liked that, you might like this’. This was the final cover.

We loved this. You can see it actually does retain some elements of the original cover – the corner squiggly bits are the same but now it says exactly what we want it to say – it’s exciting, medieval, fantastical and also, new. The trick is to show that a book fits into a certain niche but also to convey how it differs from the books in that niche. I think this cover does that perfectly. How? Well, that’s the difficult bit. What you are trying to say only comes out by this trial and error process and it takes a talented cover designer – and a robust one – to infer what you are driving at as much by what you don’t like as by what you do. I’m very glad the art department at Gollancz was eventually able to interpret my comments along the lines of ‘it needs to be a bit more “ooooohhhh!” and a bit less “grrrrrrrr!”, though still with “grrrrrrr!” in it, to come up with something so striking.


Follow Mark on Twitter! @aldermark

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Valentine Joe

Waiting on Wednesday idea from Jill at Breaking the Spine.


Valentine Joe
 by Rebecca Stevens

* Published by: Chicken House (UK)
* Format: Paperback / eBook (UK)
* Release Date: May 1st, 2014 (UK)

* On Amazon: here

Summary from

Rose's granddad takes her on a trip to Ypres, Belgium to visit the graves of those who died in the Great War. It's the day before Valentine's, but Rose can sense the shattered old city beneath the chocolate-box new. And it seems that it can sense her too. When she goes up to her room that night, she hears the sound of marching feet and glimpses from her window a young soldier on his way to the front line.

I've got a small obsession with WWI and WWII (more so WWII) and am always on the lookout for new fiction set during these periods of history. I first heard about Valentine Joe when Chicken House sent out their packs highlighting upcoming titles and I've been looking forward to it ever since! With this year being the centenary of WWI, I'm expecting lots of fiction centred around it and Valentine Joe seems like it's one of the first major titles to feature it. Can't wait to read this one.