The UK (The Potion Diaries) & the US (Madly) covers are out. Which do you prefer?

Thanks to Iceybooks.com, the US/Canadian cover for MADLY has been revealed. Hooray! (She also has a contest running on her blog to win a copy of the US book – exciting!)

Now that both covers are out in the wild, I’m curious to know – which do you prefer?

duo book covers

Pre-order from Amazon.co.uk  (UK) – called THE POTION DIARIES, out July 2, 2015
Pre-order from Waterstones.com (UK) – called THE POTION DIARIES, out July 2, 2015
Pre-order from B&N (US) – called MADLY, out September 29, 2015
Pre-order from Indigo (Canada) – called MADLY, out September 29, 2015

The ceremony itself

White Pine Awards 2015!

On Tuesday I had the IMMENSE pleasure of attending the White Pine Awards at the Festival of Trees at the Harbourfront Centre, Toronto. The Oathbreaker’s Shadow was nominated as one of the ten Canadian YA books on the list. I’d flown over especially for the event, as I’d heard it was one of the most fun book festivals in Canada (if not anywhere!). And I was not disappointed. I loved every second of my day, and it was amazing to meet so many passionate and devoted readers.

A few of the readers I met at the Festival of Trees!

A few of the readers I met at the Festival of Trees!

The White Pine is the oldest age category of books, and I was up against a superstar list of Canadian YA titles. I’d read only two of the books on the list, apart from mine (Teresa Toten’s marvellous and heart-warming story about OCD teens, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, and the kick-ass, action-packed RUSH by Eve Silver) but I quickly got to downloading the others onto my Kindle. This was a great year for showcasing new talent on the Canadian YA scene, as a few of the authors were like me: debut authors, on the list for their first books!

The full list of White Pine nominees!

The full list of White Pine nominees!

The awards are voted upon by the students, who have to have read a minimum of 5/10 books to be eligible. That requires a lot of devotion – especially from high schoolers, who have so much on their plate already. So I am endlessly thankful to any student who was dedicated enough to read and vote. You ROCK.

With my high school teacher-turned-librarian friend Mme Charron!

With my high school teacher-turned-librarian friend Mme Charron!

It was also amazing to have some students from my old high school come and visit me! Hello Immaculata students! And accompanying them was their librarian Mme Charron, who also taught me Phys-ed when I was a student there. It was so nice to have some hometown support.

The ceremony itself

The ceremony itself

And that brings me to the very best bit of the day: getting to meet so many readers. I don’t think there has ever been a gathering of so many people who had read The Oathbreaker’s Shadow in one place! And although I didn’t win, I had the absolute best time. For the ceremony itself, I walked in with two students from Sir John A McDonald High, one who introduced me and another who held my sign. RUSH was the overall winner, and I was so pleased for my wonderful friend Eve Silver. If you haven’t read her books yet, GET ON THAT RIGHT NOW.

With Eve Silver, Jan Andrews and Heather Smith after our panel

With Eve Silver, Jan Andrews and Heather Smith after our panel

I then did a WORLDBUILDING 101 panel with Eve, Jan Andrews (THE SILENT SUMMER OF KYLE MCGINLEY) and Heather Smith (BAYGIRL). The feedback I had was that it went really well, especially as we got to showcase so many different styles of world-building, from the truly fantastical (me) to the emotional and the real.

Signing away, in the chilly weather!

Signing away, in the chilly weather!

Doesn't get more 'Toronto' than signing underneath the CN Tower

Doesn’t get more ‘Toronto’ than signing underneath the CN Tower

My last event was a signing. I always get nervous at signings (especially ones that are scheduled to last a whole hour) because come on… it can be embarrassing to sit there while no one comes to visit! But to my surprise, there were a few students there when I arrived, waiting to be first! I signed solidly for almost an hour, which is pretty amazing. I was stunned, but it was the same for all the authors: we just happened to be in the midst of the most engaged audience, who had all read our books. It was pretty fantastic.

Being interviewed by the OLA in the green room

Being interviewed by the OLA in the green room

Thanks so much to the OLA for nominating me, and to the students for voting! I had a blast.

The main event - the Festival of Trees!

The main event – the Festival of Trees!

Meeting Morgan Rhodes (author of the AWESOME Falling Kingdoms) and Eve Silver (White Pine winner, with RUSH!)

Meeting Morgan Rhodes (author of the AWESOME Falling Kingdoms) and Eve Silver (White Pine winner, with RUSH!)

Hidden amongst the Forest of Reading

Hidden amongst the Forest of Reading

And for anyone who loved THE OATHBREAKER’S SHADOW, don’t forget that the sequel (and conclusion of the story) is out now: THE SHADOW’S CURSE!

The biggest banyan tree in Hawaii!

Surfing and Whale Watching on Maui

Even with a little over two weeks in Hawaii, we still didn’t have nearly enough time to do everything that we wanted. Far from it! We didn’t even hit the ‘biggies’ like Pearl Harbor on Oahu or Haleakala volcano on Maui. We didn’t even go to a Luau (save for the awesome Starlit Hui at Aulani) nor did we visit the Polynesian Cultural Centre. Just more excuses to go back!

We did squeeze a couple of awesome activities into our jam-packed itinerary however, and I’d consider these pretty essential too, when visiting Hawaii – surfing and whale watching!

Back in 2005, when I first visited Hawaii, I had the best whale watching experience of my life – likely never to be repeated. We had visited in February, in peak humpback whale season (the season runs from November-May, normally) and essentially a whale had come and sat underneath our boat for a half hour or so while we snapped photo after photo. It was pretty epic. That was also pre-days of Facebook and keeping all our photos online, so I just have to live with the memory. It’s stuck with me for a long time.

This time we went with lower expectations and, while we didn’t get that same up-close-and-personal encounter, we were still really lucky.

Whale watching in Maui

Whale watching in Maui

 

At first, it’s hard to look out into the vast expanse of blue ocean and believe that there are several-ton giants swimming all around you – let alone that you will be able to see them. We kept our eyes peeled for their ‘blow’ in the air, or for a rounded, dark back peeking out of the waves. We luckily had a very clear, calm day, and you could see for miles.

Despite the nervous anticipation, we eventually spotted our first whales – a mother and calf! After that initial encounter, we saw many groups of whales, including  a ‘competition’ group (where several males follow a female, in hopes she will pick them.) One even gave us a wave!

Hello, humpback whale!

Hello, humpback whale!

We picked the Pacific Whale Foundation boat to take us out, from Ma’alaea Harbour, and the boat had two very informative naturalists on board. The boat was quite busy, but there was plenty of space on board and lots of room for viewing from every angle. It was also blazing hot out on the water – we were glad we had our hats, and the crew kept us supplied with plenty of ice-cold water. PWF guarantee whale sightings or your money back – no money required from us.

Our next activity was surfing! I’ve attempted surfing before (the key being ‘attempted’) – and the last time I went surfing was in the cold, rough waters of North Devon in a full wetsuit. I… don’t remember standing up on a surfboard in Devon at all, so I wasn’t expecting big things of myself in Maui.

Look Ma, I'm surfing!

Look Ma, I’m surfing!

We booked our trip via an Expedia counter in Lahaina (one of the few activities bookers on the street who didn’t also require a trip around a time share), and we got a good discount on an hour’s group lesson with Maui Wave Riders. Like PWF, Maui Wave Riders offer your money back if you don’t stand up or have fun during your lesson.

Once again, they succeeded! Our instructor was a typical bronzed surfer dude, but his simple instructions had us all standing up on our very first waves. Awesome. I definitely felt like a proper surf chick.

My only comment in the Lahaina location would be that the water was very shallow, and quite rocky underfoot. I ended up with more than a few scrapes on my legs by the end. It was also very crowded with beginner surfers – so while it was good for catching waves, it was bad when you couldn’t steer out of someone’s path. Collision central.

Delicious shaved ice - the perfect Hawaii treat

Delicious shaved ice – the perfect Hawaii treat

After surfing was the perfect time for a nice shaved ice, and a walk around the beautiful Lahaina. I also got to take my mum and sister out to fill up on delicious Star Noodle afterwards – but more on that in the next blog!

The biggest banyan tree in Hawaii!

The biggest banyan tree in Hawaii, in Lahaina town centre.

Trying to hit over a ravine at Ko'olau

Hawaii – possibly the best place in the world to play golf

I know, I know… it’s not exactly a sport for everyone. Golf is a funny game, isn’t it? It’s hardly the average pastime for most 25-30 year olds I know (well, except in L’s work set!)

But in a place like Hawaii, it’s easy to see its appeal. We’ve played some amazing courses that have taken us deep into the heart of the islands, showing us some spectacular scenery we wouldn’t see anywhere else. It’s also been great fun for the six of us to get out and about with a little friendly competition.

michelle wie

Michelle Wie hits a monster shot out of the bunker on the 9th hole at Ko Olina

It also helps that the LPGA Lotte Championship is based right on our doorstep at Ko Olina, with lots of the pros (including Hawaii’s own Michelle Wie) staying in our resort (Aulani). We’ve done our fair share of pro-spotting and went to watch as well – it was pretty inspiring to see the ladies whack their drivers down the fairway! I personally would play a lot better if I had my own caddie, I’m just saying…

...and her unique putting stroke position!...

…and her unique putting stroke position!…

So far I’ve played five courses, each with their own merits. If you’re reading this as an avid golfer, bear in mind that I am not a great player! But I am travelling with people who are much better than me. Regardless, I had a great time on all these courses below, and thoroughly recommend them.

The Bay course, Kapalua, Maui

The Bay course, Kapalua, Maui

The first was on Maui, right on our resort – the Bay Course at Kapalua. It was very beautiful, running right along the coastline, although not particularly easy on a windy day! The boys also played the Plantation course, which is the more famous course at Kapalua.

Sunset at Maui Nui

Sunset at Maui Nui

Then we moved back toward the centre of Maui to play Maui Nui (formerly Elleair) golf course. This was a more open course, quite exposed to the wind, but still very beautiful – we were treated to an awesome sunset as we finished off our game with a nice drink at the bar.

The view of the West Maui mountains

The view of the West Maui mountains

The nene geese

The nene geese

Kahili golf course was nestled in the West Maui mountains, and offered some gorgeous alternate views (this is important to the not-so-good golfers!) of the mountains, as opposed to the other two courses which were more coastal. It’s also home to a fair few Nene geese, which are Hawaii’s state bird. The other common visitor to the golf courses in Hawaii are the mongoose! (mongeese?) They seemed to be everywhere, scurrying across the fairways and disappearing down drains.

Royal Kunia, Oahu

Royal Kunia, Oahu

Back on Oahu, we played Royal Kunia, a course that overlooks Pearl Harbour! Very cool. It’s getting a bit repetitive to say that this was a beautiful course, but it really was.

Trying to hit over a ravine at Ko'olau

Practice shot before trying to hit over a ravine at Ko’olau

The best course, though, has been the Ko’olau golf club on the windward side of Oahu. It was amazing! It took us through countryside that was plucked straight from Lost and Jurassic Park. In a word, it was epic. Just be sure to bring a lot of spare golf balls as there was no rescuing some of the shots as they disappeared into deep ravines and thick jungle rough.

18th Hole at Ko'olau - absolutely stunning mountain scenery

18th Hole at Ko’olau – absolutely stunning mountain scenery

Pretending to be a pro at the Lotte Championship sign-in desk in Aulani

Pretending to be a pro at the Lotte Championship sign-in desk in Aulani

Proofs have arrived with my agent, Juliet Mushens!

YALC 2015 and The Potion Diaries!

I must interrupt the Hawaii posts for a super important THE POTION DIARIES-related announcement! I am thrilled to be appearing at YALC 2015 at Olympia in London from 17th-19th July 2015. *HAPPY DANCES*

YALC is the hugely successful Young Adult Literature Convention, held at the London Film and Comic Con, which was launched by the awesome Malorie Blackman last year. Like last year, it’s going to offer a mixture of panels, talks, interviews, book signings and workshops – something for everyone – but they’re aiming to make the experience EVEN better by focusing on shorter queues, separate tickets for YALC-goers, more quiet areas and bigger space. Sounds like they’re ticking all the boxes (and last year will be pretty darn hard to beat). I don’t know exactly which dates yet I’ll be appearing, or on what panels, but I promise to update you as soon as I know.

yalc-web-small

Make sure to book your tickets for YALC early – it was one of the best events I attended last year and it sells out rapidly: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/film-and-comic-con-london-tickets-15664017498

Other awesome authors like Cassandra Clare, Derek Landy, Carrie Hope Fletcher, and many more, will be there. For more information on YALC, click here: http://www.londonfilmandcomiccon.com/index.php/yalc

Proofs have arrived with my agent, Juliet Mushens!

Proofs sitting pretty on my agent’s desk!

Also incredibly exciting is that the proofs for THE POTION DIARIES are out in the wild! If you would like to receive one, make sure to drop me a link through my contact page or tweet to me and I’ll see what I can do (no promises!) This is mostly relevant if you are a non-North American blogger, as I’m hoping that the US/Canada will do their own proofs/ARCs for MADLY.  I just can’t wait to see them in person.

Here’s last year’s blog about YALC, if you want to see what all the fuss is about!

And if you’d like to pre-order THE POTION DIARIES… you can from amazon.co.uk or waterstones.com!

 

Our jeep on the Chain of Craters road. Photo by David Alward

Thar she blows… A day trip to Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii

Before tourists came to Hawaii for the stunning beaches, there was the lure of the volcanos. There aren’t too many places on this planet where you can walk on brand new land and see steam leak from deep inside the earth, but the Volcanoes National Park is one of them. It’s fascinating, it’s terrifying, it’s a great reminder of the wild power of the earth beneath our feet. It’s geography in action. In another word, it’s unmissable…

The smoking Kilauea Summit caldera

The smoking Kilauea Summit caldera

Our Hawaii itinerary initially didn’t include a trip to the Big Island, but using Adventure in Hawaii, we booked a day trip (airfare and car hire) from Honolulu Airport to Hilo (you want to make sure you go to Hilo as it’s only a 45 min drive from the National Park). A word of warning for those driving in and around Honolulu – the traffic can be terrible! A 25-min drive to the airport from Aulani turned into almost an hour, even at 6 in the morning. It’s worth leaving plenty of time to get to the airport just because of the traffic.

Hilo is a sleepy little airport that seems to cater mostly to helicopter tourists! I wish we could have flown over the island by copter, but as there isn’t any live red lava flowing into the ocean at the moment, it didn’t seem quite worth it. We did upgrade to a bright red Jeep (when in Hawaii) and we were on the road a mere three hours from leaving our hotel in Aulani. Now that’s service!

Our jeep on the Chain of Craters road. Photo by David Alward

Our bright red jeep on the Chain of Craters road. Photo by David Alward

We stopped off at a local Walmart to pick up essentials we couldn’t bring with us on the plane: water, snacks, sunscreen and PONCHOS. This is one of the wettest places on the planet and a theme of this holiday seems to be that whenever I choose to take us on an adventure, it rains! It was tipping it down as we entered the park, and everyone was glad for their wet weather gear. There isn’t much choice for food and drink inside the park either, so well worth bringing your own snacks.

We probably only had around six hours in the park in total, so we had a jam-packed itinerary. We arrived at the Kīlauea Visitor Centre at 10.30am, which was perfect timing as we joined a park ranger guided tour called “Exploring the Summit”. This was the perfect way to kick off our visit, as we learned a lot about the origins of the park itself, the special flora and fauna that we would see (I love the Ohea trees, which can ‘hold their breath’ when a volcano spouts sulphur into the air) and about the huge cultural significance of the volcanoes. Hawaiian myths and legends are deeply intertwined with the land – especially the legend of Pele, the goddess of fire, who makes her home in the Volcanoes National Park. We also got a great view of the Kilauea summit caldera (the giant smoking cauldron you can see in the first picture). He showed us things we definitely would have missed – like strands of Pele’s hair (really, rock that has been blown into strands as thin as hair by the power of the volcano) and the ‘fuzz’ that grows on the great ferns.

Beautiful Pele, goddess of fire

Beautiful Pele, goddess of fire

Following the ranger tour (which took about an hour) we drove straight to the start of the Kilauea Iki hike. This was definitely the highlight of the day, despite the driving wind and rain! We headed counter-clockwise around the Kilauea Iki crater through lush rainforest and a few steep steps, until stepping out onto the crater floor itself. Despite the rain, it felt like we had arrived on another planet. The lava itself was surreal – it looked like the top of freshly baked brownies, or the inside of an Aero bar! (Or maybe we were just hungry…) The lava changes from crumbly spatter to a smooth lava lake. Steam vents burst out of the ground, making the lava feel hot to the touch – and this was enhanced by the cold, windy day we had (there were some benefits!).

Crossing the Kilauea Iki crater floor

Crossing the Kilauea Iki crater floor (Photo by David Alward)

It looked like the surface of another planet

It looked like the surface of another planet (photo by David Alward)

Steam vents in Kilauea Iki crater

Steam vents in Kilauea Iki crater

The hike finished with a stop at the Thurston lava tube, much different compared to the lava tube we walked through on the road to Hana! It was huge and very eerie. In total, with lots of stopping for pictures and a walk through the lava tube, the walk took us about 3 hours.

Thurston Lava Tube entrance

Thurston Lava Tube entrance – as you can see, I am soaking wet!

Inside the Thurston lava tube (photo by David Alward)

Inside the Thurston lava tube (photo by David Alward)

We were pretty hungry at this point, so we drove back out of the park to the aptly named Volcano Village where we stopped at the Lava Rock Cafe for lunch. I had loco moco, which I’m going to describe as Hawaiian poutine! It’s rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg and gravy. It looks disgusting and tastes… pretty damn delicious! The perfect comfort food after a long hike :)

Loco Moco, traditional Hawaiian comfort food - aka Hawaiian poutine

Loco Moco, traditional Hawaiian comfort food – aka Hawaiian poutine

Back out on the road, we drove the impressive ‘Chain of Craters’ road. As the name suggests, this road winds its way down to the ocean through different flows of old (and relatively new!) lava fields. There were lots of places to stop and turn off to get a view of the destruction caused by the lava – it’s hard to believe that a lot of this land was once thick forest – although you can see the evidence in little islands of trees that survived the lava’s onslaught.

Lava flowing down the cliff

Lava flowing down the cliff

This road has been covered by lava and redirected many times! At the moment, the end of the road is for emergency access only, and you have to turn around at the sea arch at the end of the trail.

Sea Arch at the bottom of Chain of Craters road

Sea Arch at the bottom of Chain of Craters road

Oops, the road has been eaten up (photo by David Alward)

Oops, the road has been eaten up (photo by David Alward)

By this time, it was starting to get a bit dark and we really wanted to get to the Jaggar Museum before we had to leave for the airport. Unfortunately, because of our flight timings, we weren’t able to wait to see if the caldera would ‘glow’ as it sometimes does after dark. I would recommend booking the latest flight back to your home island if you’re only doing a day trip out to the national park so you can leave as late as possible.

Pretty coloured lava

Pretty coloured lava

In order to maximise our time in the park, we arrived at the airport probably the latest that I’ve ever attempted – maybe 15 minutes before our scheduled boarding time! It worked out absolutely fine at an airport like Hilo because there was no queue for security and you simply stroll straight onto the plane from one of only a few gates (obviously, we had no checked luggage) but I wouldn’t recommend it if being late really stresses you out :)

Overall, I wish we’d had a night in Big Island but the day trip was totally worth it – not too stressful, and we packed a lot in!

The beach that was moments from our doorstep

Review: Kapalua Villas, Maui

For our wonderful week in Maui, we lived in a two-bedroom villa at Kapalua Villas, on the north-west shore. It was easily one of the most idyllic places I’ve ever stayed, and very spacious. We needed the space. With six full-grown adults and over 15 pieces of luggage (including six sets of golf clubs), we needed all the space we could get!

Panoramic view from our villa

Panoramic view from our villa

There were two good-sized bedrooms and three bathrooms, plus a sofa bed. The sofa bed ended up being a bit of a debacle, as the one we received was definitely a single (no good for two adults!) and then it was replaced by some futon mattresses for the floor. Not ideal.

Our 2-bed villa in Kapalua, Maui

Our 2-bed villa in Kapalua, Maui

The interiors were tired – and probably could do with a refresh – but the kitchen was well appointed with coffee maker, a blender (though not a great one), rice cooker and kettle. There were also some great barbecues by the pool, which led to some delicious meals. We were able to save a lot of money by cooking the majority of our food, although we made a couple of exceptions for Star Noodle (review coming soon!) and Monkeypod – both worthy stops! It’s such a luxury to be able to cook great food on holiday, especially when you’re travelling with your own chefs (in the form of Mum and Dad, of course). It really helps with the ‘home away from home’ feel – although more on that when we get to Aulani (a Disney resort that truly is our home from home). The view from our dining table was spectacular, and came with the added bonus of whales! Not too often you can whale-watch from your bowl of granola, but there you go.

View from our kitchen table

View from our kitchen table

The beach that was moments from our doorstep

The beach that was moments from our doorstep

The location of Kapalua is brilliant for beach-bums – we had an awesome beach right at our doorstep, which was good for boogie-boarding, surfing and kite-surfing. Right next door was the DT Fleming Beach, which is one of the top beaches in Maui. The waves sometimes got pretty big, because it is very windy on this side of Maui! It was also a bit too windy most days for lying around and reading on the beach… my copy of The Girl with All the Gifts is covered in sand (oops). But there were plenty of other great places to read, so I was okay :)

On the windiest days, it was perfect for kite surfers!

On the windiest days, it was perfect for kite surfers!

I would say that a downside of Kapalua is that the location is about as far as you can get from the other ‘top’ sights in Maui – like the Hana highway and the Haleakala volcano. We didn’t get to the volcano because it was a 2 hr drive just to even think about getting there (and you have to do that drive wherever you want to go, which becomes very tedious… we probably did it about 12 times on the trip). The traffic on the island can also get pretty bad. But it’s not too far from Lahaina, where we went surfing (more on that later too!).

kapalua beach

Kapalua is also a golfer’s dream. There are two courses on site, and lots of great golf nearby. We spotted someone in a villa near us with their own putting green in their backyard! I think L took a photo just so he could get inspiration for our dream home! There were a ton of facilities that we didn’t even check out – a gym, spa, tennis courts, hiking trails… the list goes on and on.

Putting green for him, infinity pool for me... I'd call this a dream home :)

Putting green for him, infinity pool for me… I’d call this a dream home :)

In short… we had an absolutely amazing week. It would be a great family location – with the beaches, pools, self-catering and space, kids would have a blast. We were all sad to leave and desperate to return.

Pros:

– Loads of space
– Immaculate grounds and stunning views
– Beaches and pools in very close proximity
– Amazing golf facilities

Cons:

– Far from some of the ‘top’ Maui sights like Road to Hana and Haleakala volcano
– Tired furnishings and not a good sofa bed for two adults (kids might be okay)
– Slightly windy side of the island!

Additional pro: 

– Incredible sunsets

Sunset from the pool deck

Sunset from the pool deck

Until next time!