Busy bee… tours, reviews, and Harry Potter

The blog has been a bit quiet, but it’s because I’ve been a busy bee elsewhere! Soon you are going to see far too much of me, however, as I will be on the Totally Random Tour with fellow UK YA authors Emma Pass and Karen Mahoney. Look out for more information soon!

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There’s also been a bit more very nice review coverage for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, which has been great to see.

torrocket “Amy McCulloch shapes an undeniably entertaining debut that put me in mind of The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett. And there’s every chance The Oathbreaker’s Shadow will be just such a success. Sometimes the oldest stories are the ones which take hold of one’s imagination most, and the plight of Raim set against the rich tapestry of Darhan is entirely alive in my mind’s eye.” – Tor.com
Starburst-Logo-e1346942858864 “Inventive and exciting … A splendid book” – Starburst Magazine

Lastly…

I went to the Harry Potter/Warner Bros Studio Tour! It was a birthday present from my sister and, in a word, it was epic. It’s hard to explain just how much HP and JK Rowling have meant to me over the years, and if there’s any criticism I might have of the studio tour is that there’s not enough emphasis on the books. I would have loved even a tiny section on some of JK Rowling’s early drafts/material, or a collection of first editions or foreign editions – something like that. I realize – obviously – that this is a Warner Brothers and a Studio Lot tour, but I still think they could have spared the books a touch more thought!

That being said, getting to ride a broomstick on the green screen was amazing (and I will share the video soon!). It was also absolutely amazing to see all the concept art and architectural designs that went into building all the sets. I’m not going to share too many photos here, because I just know that so many of you will want to go and experience it for yourself (I know I did, and so purposefully avoided ‘spoilers’ – and it was better for it).

But this particular sign struck a chord with me – back in June 1997, JK Rowling was just a debut author just like me! Did I say something about June being a good month for book releases? 🙂

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And then of course, a quick snap of me in my natural habitat… on a Nimbus 2000, training to be a Seeker!

 

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And one final reminder that my Epic (no purchase required) Pre-order contest is still on!! You can pre-order The Oathbreaker’s Shadow from here (UK) and here (Canada).

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SFX magazine, Liz de Jager and Lauren Beukes

So, today I fulfilled a lifelong dream of being within a few millimetres of Henry Cavill, a man whom I have been in love with since he played the dashing Albert Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo (sorry Lofty).

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Smile for me, Henry!

Okay, so it’s because we’re both in this month’s issue of SFX magazine – but who’s really debating semantics? I’m the subject of their ‘New Author’ interview, so if you get a chance then do pick up a copy!

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I was also very excited to receive a review from the wonderful Liz de Jager this week. Liz was a book review blogger for a long time, and I was selfishly very upset when she, Mark and Sarah closed My Favourite Books, as it used to be one of my favourite book blogs and I was looking forward to getting their take on The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. Of course, Liz had excellent reason to shut up shop – she is in possession of her very own book deal with TOR UK, who are going to do an amazing job with her series The Blackhart Legacy that I cannot WAIT to read!

A snippet of her review:

“I think Ms. McCulloch has done something really special here – there are hints of Robin Hobb and George RR Martin … the traditions and lore that we are introduced to feels fresh and different”

Liz de Jager, What I’m Reading

Yay!

Lastly, I was hugely excited to attend the Arthur C. Clarke Awards last night and the Write the Future conference (#WTF13) in the afternoon. I helped to Kickstart the WTF conference, so it was great to see it all come together so seamlessly (great job, Tom Hunter!). Congratulations to Clarke Award winner Chris Beckett, who won with After Eden – the book sounds right up my alley, so I look forward to reading it.

One of the speakers at the conference was Lauren Beukes, who has been over this week promoting The Shining Girls. I will definitely be doing a bigger post on this book, because it was one of the most visceral and gripping reads I’ve encountered, ever. There’s one scene in it that just had my stomach in absolute knots, but I couldn’t put it down no matter how uncomfortable the reading was. A brilliant, brilliant storyteller. So I was very excited that she signed my copy, as I grabbed her at literally the very last moment she was around.

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“May the words always do what you tell them”

 

Coming up later this week (on May 6, to be precise – ONE MONTH UNTIL LAUNCH!!) I will be running a HUGE pre-order contest, with the chance to win some cool Oathbreaker-related swag, and maybe even a manuscript critique by yours truly. Look out for it then!

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Me, Neil Gaiman, Jamie Byng (Canongate)

Me, Neil Gaiman, and Jamie Byng (of Canongate and World Book Night) looking suitably dark and moody. Photo credit (c) Toby Madden 

Sometime in the late hours of the night/early hours of this morning, I finished Neil Gaiman’s latest book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is out in June this year. (A good time for books, obviously. I’m just saying.)

After I had ‘turned’ the final electronic page (I cannot wait to have this in a physical – oh god, I almost said proper! – edition), I had this strange moment where the floodgates I’d been trying so hard to keep tightly shut, opened ever so slightly. I let in a wave of emotion I’d been struggling to contain (or at least, to put a lid on – not permanently, but just while there has been so much stuff going on that I know I just can’t deal with right now…), and I sat on the sofa in my darkened living room trying to orient myself back in the real world. Oh yes, here is my mug of tea – gone stone cold. Oh look, there is my laptop – abandoned. Oh wow, is that the time?

I’d been held in the book’s grip for most of the night, shut away in the story and in that place where nothing and no one can reach me to break the spell. (Only ‘The End’ has that power). It felt strange, and cathartic, and affecting… and for a while I remembered what truly great books can do to a person. Or, more specifically, what a great book can do to me.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane arrived with me at the right time. That is to say, a time when I’ve been thinking a lot about oceans. There’s my workload and to-do list, which feel ocean-wide and ocean-deep. There’s the ocean of books out there that soon the tiny drop of water that is my book will be diving in to, and the fear that it will make barely a ripple – let alone something resembling a wave. There’s the literal ocean, that big one to the west of me, the one that separates me from my family and makes me feel so far away from some of the people and places that I love. The imminent reality of having several oceans separating me from my sister, who is planning that big jump to the land down under. And then there’s the ever-present desire to pack it all in and sail away on an ocean for a while, journal and pen in hand…

Even though I know all these oceans can be navigated, they still feel like they dominate my world.

The ocean in Neil’s book doesn’t seem like much more than a pond at first glance. But of course, it is far more than that. The ocean belongs to the land of the mysterious Hempstocks – three generations of women, all living together on a farm. There is a strong sense of nostalgia to the England portrayed in the book that reminds me of my dad’s stories of growing up in Nutfield, Surrey, on acres of land where you had to walk to school through muddy fields, before large farms made way for housing developments and villages gave way to towns. The food served at the Hempstock farm is the kind of warm, cosy cooking I am served from my aunt’s Aga – shepherd’s pie with fluffy mash and rich mince, spotted dick with lashings of homemade custard, thick slices of bread toasted between wire mesh and covered in butter and jam. Ever-present is Neil’s wonderful interplay with language, and sentences you want to cherish forever.

Ocean is an intensely personal book – even more than just in terms of how much Neil drew on his own experiences to shape it. It’s the type of book that has the power to affect each reader differently. For me, at least, it opened up a vast well of memories of being a child and discovering things that adults never could – some of them terrifying, most of them wondrous. While I never came across a pond that was actually an ocean, I remember believing that the hollows in old, gnarled oak trees in Richmond Park were the doorways to Another World, and that if I climbed high enough the branches would allow me to reach the place beyond the clouds. It also reminded me of the monsters of my childhood imagination – and how the monsters that don’t look like monsters, but look more like people, are actually the scariest of all.

But returning to the late hours of last night, the resounding sense of finishing Ocean was of wanting to dive straight back in and start reading it all over again. Because as terrifying and overwhelming and vast an ocean can be, they can also be restorative, and healing. They can remind you of the awe that exists in the world and that it’s okay to be swept away in it for a while, even as it’s equally okay to come back. And sometimes – if you try hard enough – you can fit that ocean into a bucket and carry it with you, so that maybe the weight of all that water won’t seem so heavy after all.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

Oh man, less than 50 days to The Oathbreaker’s Shadow UK publication. Now that *is* scary! I’m working on quite a few blogs and giveaways over the next few weeks, and there should be a first chapter excerpt available very soon! I’ve also been loading things up on Pinterest – go have a look there if you want some visual representation 🙂

But throughout the lead-up to the release, I’m going to pay things forward by shouting out to some brilliant Lucky 13 and Author Allsort books I’ve been reading recently. First up is Level 2 by the brilliant Lenore Appelhans, which was published earlier this year by Usborne books… which means you can head out and get a copy RIGHT NOW.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend Lenore’s launch party, which was held in a very cool venue known as the ‘ice tank’ in Central London. Everything in it was bright, industrial white – the perfect setting for Level 2. Usborne, Lenore’s publishers, had brought along some neat props – but the crazy telephone contraption thingy I’m wearing on my head gave me neck ache for days after! Worth it for awesome photos like this though:

Goofing around with Lenore at her launch!

Goofing around with Lenore at her launch!

Now, how about the book itself…

(Quick caveat: Level 2 is actually going to be better known in the US as ‘The Memory of After’, but will still be known as Level 2 over here in the UK. I love The Memory of After as a new title: it fits the book perfectly!)

Fiction-LEVEL-2-196x300Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

Felicia Ward is dead. Trapped in Level 2, the hive-like waiting room between Earth and Heaven, she has spent endless days downloading and replaying memories of her family, friends, boyfriend, and the guy who broke her heart. Now a rebellion is brewing in this limbo world, and Felicia is the key. Suspended between Heaven and Earth, she must make a choice between two worlds, two lives and two loves. Her decision will change everything. An astonishing, imaginative and out-of-this-world story of love, life and death from debut author Lenore Applehans.

I really sped through this book as Lenore has developed a totally immersive concept and a very original portrayal of the Afterlife. Felicia is a complex character, and I love the idea of being able to access, share and rate memories with other people. Despite it being a novel of ‘what’s next’ after death, the memories of Felicia’s life were probably my favourite sections to read. One of the main elements that struck me was how naturally Lenore weaves in the details of Felicia’s travels. For me, the most vivid part was when Felicia travels into the Turkish hills to hunt for bell-ringing goats with her dad. Lenore’s writing completely transported me there – and I was amazed when she told me that this wasn’t actually one of her travel experiences (although she does have many!) but an encounter related to her by her husband. She really made it come to life.

An amazing debut, a blend of contemporary with science fiction, that deals with the big questions as well as delving closely into the personal relationships between characters. Highly recommended.

Buy it from Amazon UK