This week, I did the #booktube newbie tag! This video also features a clip of this month’s Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, where I debuted a reading of THE POTION DIARIES! And James Dawson read a preview of UNDER MY SKIN, which sounds incredibly creepy and wonderful and has put me off a tattoo.
My computer officially hates the word ‘vlog’. Whenever I type it, it changes it to ‘blog’ or in the case of the title, it changed ‘vlogging’ to ‘flogging’.
Well, my computer is going to have to get used to it, as I’ve decided to try booktubing! BookTube is a vibrant community of passionate vloggers on YouTube who all talk about their favourite subject… books! I’m going to try and upload once a week minimum, so please do check out my channel and subscribe if you like what you see!
Here are my first two videos to get a taster:
Any regular readers to the blog might notice that a few things have changed around here! For one, I got married (whoop! – and bigger post to come on that, I promise!) and I decided to take my husband’s name. I’m now Amy Alward, in most things – the big exception being for THE OATHBREAKER’S SHADOW, which of course is coming out in the USA in February 2015 from Flux books! So there will be plenty of McCulloch-ing still to come.
But that’s not the ONLY change. I’m so unbelievably pleased and excited to say that I have a new book deal for three books, starting with THE POTION DIARIES, which will be coming out from Simon & Schuster Children’s in Summer 2015. Rights have sold in the UK & Commonwealth, USA, Canada, Germany and Brazil – all of which is incredibly surreal.
These books represent a bit of a departure for me. Not only will they be published under ‘Amy Alward’, but they are very different in style and tone to The Oathbreaker’s Shadow and The Shadow’s Curse. Just another reason why I felt a name change might be appropriate. In fact, I might still write under Amy McCulloch again, especially if I return to pure epic fantasy.
Everything about this book deal feels different. I’m no longer a debut novelist – if anything, I felt the pressure even more this time around. When you are debut, you have never tested the waters – every step in the process is new and exciting. This time around, I came into the process with a more experienced head on my shoulders, but if I thought that would lessen the nerves, I was sorely disappointed.
Some writers at this stage in their career sell on a synopsis or a partial – it’s hard to find the time to write a whole new book, especially when you’re under contract for existing ones. But for me, I always knew I was going to finish this book before showing it to Juliet or anyone else. Part of the reason is because the idea has been kicking around for so long that I wanted to make sure it stood on its own feet. The idea for The Potion Diaries actually came from a tweet, proving that sometimes good things do come from being distracted on social media! And I mention The Potion Diaries (which at that time was called Philtre - the old English word for ‘love potion’) in my initial query to Juliet way back in 2010. Juliet and I are going to do a ‘dissecting the query’ post sometime in the near future, so look out for that!
But the other reason is because this was something so completely different to what I was already writing. I wanted to challenge myself as a writer; to stretch my skills and experiment with a different voice. Writing in the first person was difficult, and I struggled with finding the right tone for my protagonist. But once I did, it ended up being the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. The words flowed, and I think it shows on the page.
All this is to say that when I finally finished The Potion Diaries, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I loved it, but it was so very different. Would it be considered ‘off brand’? But a very wise author once told me never to let yourself be typecast, and so I sent it off to Juliet anyway, who read the initial draft with a huge amount of enthusiasm. I think she was surprised by how different it was but – because she is a superstar – she took it in her stride and immediately saw the potential. She gave me very detailed edit notes and I set to work. When I sent back the revised draft, Juliet had her assistant, the wonderful Sarah, read alongside her. The verdict was more than I could hope for – they both absolutely loved the revision, and it was time to send it out into the world.
Like I said, if I thought the experience of being out on submission would be any easier the second time around, I was wrong. It was as agonising and nerve-wracking as being a debut. But I got lucky, and the book found a home with a team who love it even more than I could have hoped for. They completely understand the book and my characters, their passion and creativity just blew me away, and I am so excited to work with them on this publication.
So what’s The Potion Diaries about? The pictures I’ve been sharing are from a mini potions shop that my parents bought me as a publication present, and it is oh so appropriate! It’s about a Princess (more Kate Middleton than Rapunzel) who gets poisoned by a faulty love potion. It’s about an apprentice alchemist who dreams of researching and mixing new cures for a big corporate potions company (think a magical GlaxoSmithKline) but instead is tied down by loyalty to her family’s apothecary. It’s about mermaids and unicorns and abominable snowmen. But mostly it’s about a girl struggling to forge her own path in a world that seems to have it already laid out for her.
Also – and I think this is important – although this is part of a planned three-book series featuring the same characters and world, The Potion Diaries stands on its own. And I can’t wait for you all to read it.
Amy Alward moves to S&S with ‘Happy Hunger Games’ series
18th September 2014, London – Simon and Schuster Children’s Books today announced the acquisition of The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward, who also writes under her maiden name, Amy McCulloch.
Elv Moody, Fiction Editorial Director and Jane Griffiths, Commissioning Editor at S&S Children’s UK, acquired World English rights from Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group in a six figure pre-emptive deal. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers will be publishing The Potion Diaries in the US and Canada. Rights have also sold in Germany and Brazil so far, with interest around the world.
The Potion Diaries follows the adventures of Samantha Kemi who harbours a secret dream of going to university to study potions, and then becoming a mixer for a major alchemy corporation. She’s ordinary – she has absolutely no magical talent – but her instinct for putting together a potion is second to none.
When the city’s princess is poisoned by a faulty love potion, representatives from prominent alchemists, including Sam, are tasked with finding a cure. There’s one main condition: the potion must be made entirely without synthetic material. This is the chance of a lifetime, and Sam is sent across the globe in the hunt for the freshest ingredients, including pearl from a mermaid, hair from an abominable and a unicorn tail. But it seems that someone is determined to make sure the Kemi family don’t complete the hunt, and soon Sam discovers that the stakes are higher than she ever thought possible.
Moody says, ‘It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything that feels as fresh as this. With pulse-pounding thrills, a contest to save a princess (who is much more Kate Middleton than Rapunzel) takes place in a whirlwind of paparazzi and social media – with just a touch of perfect romantic chemistry.’
Alward adds, ‘The Potion Diaries has possessed its own special alchemy right from the start: the spark of the idea came from a chance tweet, which was then blended with many months spent writing in the darkest hours of the night, and now, with the discovery of the perfect publishing partner in Simon & Schuster, it is ready to be bottled and served. From the moment we received their stunning pitch, I knew they would be the right home for The Potion Diaries, and I couldn’t be happier to be working with S&S.’
The Potion Diaries will be published by Simon and Schuster in Summer 2015 as a paperback original.
Amy Alward is a 28-year-old Canadian author living in London where she now fits writing around her work as Editorial Director at Puffin. In 2013, she was listed as one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars. Her debut fantasy adventure novel, The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, was published in 2013 under the name Amy McCulloch and was longlisted for the Branford Boase Award for best UK debut children’s book in 2014. Amy is passionate about reaching out to her loyal fanbase and is keen to recruit new fans through The Potion Diaries.
I can hardly believe that LonCon3 is here – so exciting! Here’s my schedule for the weekend… please come and say hi if you’re around.
Kill the Parents
Friday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 1 (ExCeL)
The extreme measures we take to remove responsible adults in order to empower children in stories — whether it’s J. K. Rowling starting poor Harry off as a pseudo-orphan, or C. S. Lewis exiling an entire family to the country, or Suzanne Collins forcing Katniss Everdeen to become the adult in her mother’s own house… Panelists will discuss the importance or lack thereof of parents in YA stories.
Todd McCaffrey (M), Leigh Bardugo , Sarah Maas, Amy McCulloch
Autographing 3 – Amy McCulloch
Friday 13:30 – 15:00, Autographing Space (ExCeL)
The Trouble With Teens
Friday 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 15 (ExCeL)
What are some of the big obstacles associated with writing a teen-centric story within an adult-centric world? What dangers lay in wait for the unprepared first time YA writer? What do young adult readers expect to see in their stories and how will you know if you’ve gone off target in the writing process?
Julia Rios (M) , Suzanne van Rooyen , Amy McCulloch, Eric Senabre, Janet Edwards
Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, London Suite 5 (ExCeL)
Amy McCulloch, Amal El-Mohtar
Generations of Genre
Sunday 10:00 – 11:00, Capital Suite 5 (ExCeL)
For one reader, “traditional fantasy” is pre-Tolkienian, pre-genre, sui-generis works; for another, it’s the pattern of story exemplified by Forgotten Realms and David Eddings. Equally, for one reader The Hunger Games is a young adult dystopia, while for another it’s science fiction. Does every generation invent its own reading terminology? Can the evolution of such terms be mapped onto changing demographics — is there such a thing as GenX fantasy, or Baby Boomer science fiction? And do any terms retain their currency, and describe common ground across generations?
Andy Sawyer (M), Maureen Kincaid Speller , S. J. Groenewegen , Amy McCulloch, David Henley
Hello faithful blog readers! In case you haven’t heard… THE SHADOW’S CURSE IS OUT IN THE WILD! Woah…
Obligatory buy links:
Canada readers: Chapters/Indigo: http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/the-shadows-curse/9780385678278-item.html?ikwid=amy+mcculloch&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0
But also, check out this KILLER trailer!
So, yesterday was the first day of YALC – the inaugural Young Adult Literature Convention, held at London Film & Comic Con at Earl’s Court. Since this was the first one ever, I was really interested to see how it was going to pan out. Turns out: this is one of the best book events I’ve ever attended. More buzzy than most other conventions, with a real sense of excitement and interest in the panels. I think the YALC organisers did an amazing job in curating the panel discussions, and there really was something for everyone.
I, of course, was brought in to cater for the YA epic fantasy fans – of which there are numerous, and they are loud! The best kind of fans :) I was on a panel with Jonathan Stroud (uh, my hero), Ruth Warburton (another publishing type-author mix; is there a better kind?) and Francis Hardinge (who writes just about the cool-weirdest books ever). It was all hosted by Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction which, let’s face it, is the best fantasy website out there! (So much so, they’re nominated for a World Fantasy Award – congrats to them!)
But before the panel, I arrived a bit earlier to just a complete sea of cosplay and geeks in comic book t-shirts and authors looking dazed and confused…. my people all in one place! After somehow clawing my way through to the Bookzone (thanks Liz de Jager and Mark for saving me!), I couldn’t believe just how many people were holding, discussing or raving about books. It was amazing. Already dehydrated and overwhelmed, I made my way to the green room, where there was welcome respite. Plus – celebrities galore. Best spot? Lena Headey (aka Cersei Lannister). Amazing.
The panel itself – called ‘Bring Me My Dragons’ was so much fun. Marc had us all well prepared with questions in advance, but YA fantasy is a topic about which I am so passionate; I could speak for hours! Luckily, I didn’t, but I hope I managed to get a few points across. In a nutshell, those were:
- Like my US publisher’s slogan says: YA is a state of mind, not an age range! I intend to be writing and reading YA for a very long time
- YA fantasy is so much fun, and so diverse. In support of the #weneeddiversebooks movement, fantasy is a place where so many people can find their tribe
- If you want recommendations of YA fantasy books for teens who love Game of Thrones, well, let’s just say I’ve covered it.
After the panel, I went straight into signing. This is my favourite part of any event, not least because I was able to meet so many new readers, and chat to them! I loved being able to say hi to loads of the bloggers who I’ve interacted with on Twitter. Putting faces to twitter handles is the best.
Two hours of signing later (and pretty much close to collapsing in a dehydrated pile of author goo), I left to have a rejuvenating drink at the pub before returning for the YALC party. Here was our chance to toast the awesome organisers, Malorie Blackman & Katherine Woodfine, for the immense job that they’ve done in getting this convention off the ground. I can only hope it’s on again next year (and the year after… and the year after that…)
The wedding countdown is on… only two months to go.
By all accounts, we are so ready. Everything is on track, all the major bits and pieces bought and paid for, guests preparing to arrive…
But wow, guys. Marriage. For some reason I always thought I would feel older when I got married. I’m 28, and I always thought that by 28 I’d be way more grown up than I feel I am. I thought by now I’d be one of those women with a perfect beauty regime, impeccable diet, and fastidious work-out routine. Instead most of the time I fall asleep with my make-up on, eat too much cake at my desk and flail around at 30-day-shred. But then again, maybe you never really feel properly grown up. Especially when you work in children’s books every day!
Nevertheless, one of the wonderful stops on the wedding train was our engagement session with our brilliant photographer Melanie Woodward, of One Life Studio. She shot my best friend Sarah’s wedding last year, and so we immediately snapped her up for ours almost the moment we got engaged!
As some followers of the blog will know, my fiancé broke his ankle a few weeks ago and had to have surgery on it. We debated moving the shoot until after he had healed up, but decided to go ahead as planned – even with him in a cast! It is definitely ‘of the moment’ and captures this time in our lives with full accuracy!
Engagement shoots are, by their nature, pretty cheesy, but it was great to get to know Mel better and to learn to feel comfortable in front of the camera so that we don’t feel too nervous (at least, about the photography!) on our wedding day. I had been getting very nervous about that aspect of things, but having done this session, I feel so much better about how it will go on the day. We also have some lovely pictures of the two of us, which is also pretty rare, and I’m sure is something we will appreciate later on in life.
Lofty and I got engaged on the Hungerford Bridge between the South and North banks of the Thames, so it was only natural that we wanted to have our engagement shoot there! And just like on the day of our engagement, it rained – nice blow-dried hair went out the window! We started out by meeting at London Waterloo and walking to the London Eye. We also got a glimpse of how disabled unfriendly London can be.
We stopped for an ice-cream – in the cold and rain! – but it made for a cute and funny photo :)
A little stop by Big Ben – mandatory. At least the rain had driven away a lot of the tourists, so we could get some photos without crowds of people in the background.
Bonus pic: the mandatory cast photo – this is the one we ended up getting a print of.
Photographer: Melanie Woodward of One Life Studio
With all the success of fantasy fiction recently, we’ve all heard the ‘Game of Thrones for teens’ marketing line applied to YA epic fantasy. But which books really stand up to that marker? The truth is, most books can’t match the complete depth and breadth of A Song of Ice and Fire but many do have elements that will appeal to lovers of GRRM. Here’s my take on the best ‘Game of Thrones for teens’ books and who they’d appeal to:
If you love… Tyrion Lannister. A flawed hero who steals every scene he’s in.
You’ll want to read… HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.
If you love… The Westerosi political intrigue. The battle between the houses in a rich and engrossing medieval Europe-esque world.
You’ll want to read… FALLING KINGDOMS by Morgan Rhodes
In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering.
If you love… the Khaleesi and the Dothraki. Swords and sorcery in a medieval Mongolian-inspired setting.
When a young warrior is wrongfully accused of treachery against the heir to the khan, he is exiled into the desert where he must learn how to survive – and clear his name.
If you love… Arya Stark. Kick-ass young female assassin on a journey all of her own.
You’ll want to read… THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J Maas
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince.
If you love… beyond the Wall. Icy intrigue and mysterious supernatural creatures lurking in the woods.
You’ll want to read… SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo
The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka. A lavish world, with a Russian-inspired setting.
If you love… Brienne. A fiercely talented female warrior trapped in a man’s world, with her own twisted sense of honour
You’ll want to read… GRACELING by Kristin Cashore
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight – she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
If you love… dragons. Just give me more and more dragons.
You’ll want to read… Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
The kingdom of Goredd is populated by humans and by dragons who fold themselves into a human form. Though they live alongside each other, the peace between them is uneasy. But when a member of the royal family is murdered, and the crime appears to have been committed by a dragon the peace and treaty between both worlds is seriously threatened . . .
If you want… George to explore the rest of the world he’s created and learn more about Yi Ti, the Jade Sea and Essos
You’ll want to read… PROPHECY by Ellen Oh
A superb YA epic fantasy inspired by ancient Korea. Intrigue and mystery, ancient lore and action-packed fantasy come together in this heart-stopping first book in a trilogy.
If you want… to read a fantasy that tackles a subject even George hasn’t addressed (yet)
You’ll want to read… PANTOMIME by Laura Lam
The heartachingly beautiful tale of intersex youth Micah and his struggle for identity and love, set within the confines of a magical travelling circus.
(Please note this post contains spoilers for the first book/season of Game of Thrones! Proceed with caution.)
Who’s hooked on the latest series of Game of Thrones? I’m watching with a mixed group of readers and non-readers, so it’s been thrilling to see how we all approach the storyline – some, completely fresh – others analysing their reactions to seeing the novels’ various plots unfold on screen. I was actually pretty disappointed to be spoiled on Twitter as to a recent major event – and even MORE disappointed by the reactions I saw stating: ‘Well, if you don’t want to be spoiled then read the books!’ For me, the TV carries its own momentum and even though I know the events I don’t know when in the TV they will appear.
Anyway, minor gripe over – time for a bit of fun. How about five ways that writing a novel is like the Game of Thrones…?
1. There are lots of characters and plotlines to keep up with.
Whether you’re writing fantasy or contemporary, historical or crime, you’ve got to keep your characters and plots straight. George R.R. Martin holds them all in his head but he also has the fab Elio & Linda of Westeros.org to help him out if he forgets the colour of a knight’s horse. If only we could all have our own personal archivists, that’d be great!
2. The big six versus Houses of Westeros
Like the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens, the big publishers all vie to rule the book realm. So, who do you pledge your allegiance to – the powerhouse Penguin Random House? Crafty HarperCollins? Heavyweight Hachette? Mighty Macmillan?
3. Brutal cuts must be made.
To your manuscript.
Or someone’s head.
4. You must take a cue from the mother of dragons and rise from the ashes
We all have those bad days. The days when you ‘stumble’ onto Goodreads only to see your writing eviscerated by a bad review. But there’s only one thing for it – to get up, dust yourself off, and hopefully have a pet dragon to show for it. Or at least, skin as thick as dragon hide.
5. Creativity run dry? Sometimes, one word is enough:
Ah Edinburgh. What a fantastic city! And what a weekend for it… absolutely bright blue skies the entire time set the scene for great food, fantastic people and awe-inspiring sights. A panoramic view from half-way up Arthur’s SeatThe view from the top!
We had an amazing dinner at The Witchery by the Castle, but can I just shout out to the most excellent breakfasts we had? The Edinburgh Larder made some of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had out, and Urban Angel had amazing hot chocolate and eggs benedict. I’m a brunch addict, so this made me extraordinarily happy!The walk back to EdinburghAmy tries to stick em with the pointy end at Edinburgh castle…On Sunday we left the city centre and headed out into East Lothian, to the Craigielaw Lodge and golf club. We played the 35th oldest golf course in the world (allegedly – how random!) called Kilspindie, which was right along the coast. We were quite lucky that the forecast rain held off, although it was pretty windy.I now just want to see way more of Scotland. In a lot of ways it reminded me of my favourite place in the world (New Zealand) and I’m sure there’s so much more to see and discover.