In Support of Sexy Books

I’ve been thinking about sleaze.  I haven’t really – I just wanted to use the word, because it’s a great word.  SLEAZE. But what I actually want to talk about is sex.

The reason this came to mind?  Among other things, it was the fact that I recently read A COURT OF FROST AND STARLIGHT.  (*Mini review* I’m a Feysand shipper all the way so this was a must-read. I’ve read a few reviews reacting with a certain cynicism to this novella, described as ‘bridging the gap’ between the events of A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN and the next book, which I hear will focus on Nesta and Cassian.  I can see why some people have been frustrated by it, as it’s definitely a different proposition to the previous three books. It’s more a study of domestic detail – a meander through the daily lives of the inner circle as they prepare for the solstice. But I loved this. Tbh I had occasionally found myself longing for these quieter moments, particularly towards the end of the original trilogy when there was so much action and jeopardy and huge-scale stuff happening.  I really enjoyed this more contemplative study of relationship dynamics and how places and people heal after wars, running alongside the usual cheeky banter and antics. *Mini Review Ends*)

I rate a lot about Maas’ writing (her world building, her dialogue, her characterisation) but another thing I REALLY rate is the way she writes sex.  Sex is so much harder to write than people think and I think she gets it so right (when it’s so easy to get so wrong). What I love is how distinctly female it is – how owned by the female perspective.  For so long women have had sex ‘happen’ to them in books – even when it’s seen through their eyes they are taken; they are preyed on like a predator (or in the case of FIFTY SHADES – whipped by a psycho!  Sexy?! In what world?!). Maas’ heroines are full of a real, visceral passion, a desire that they are willing to indulge and act upon.

Maas has this amazing talent to write gorgeous men who are powerful and strong, but who are also looked at and enjoyed as things of beauty by their female partners, and by the readers. There is something genuinely empowering in reading her love scenes – a sense of equality that is at once exhilarating and inspiring.  I balk at lending these books out in the school library where I work, but only for fear of what the parents of my patrons might say if they read Chapter 55 of A COURT OF MIST AND FURY (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read these books and, if you haven’t, this chapter is one of the reasons why you must). In terms of what I myself feel is right and wrong for young people to read I am more than happy with these books.  I think sex positivity is important, and these books have that in spades. I am a dedicated member of the movement to eradicate the idea of young women (in their own minds as well as those of men) as sexual prey. I am also a dedicated member of the movement to eradicate the idea of young men (in their own minds as well as those of women) as predators. I have two daughters, and I want them to come to maturity in a world where sexual dynamics are aligned along a principle of equal partnership.

And I think we’re getting there.  Politics is one thing, and it has its part to play, but art (and therefore culture) also has a massive (maybe bigger) part to play in the story of us.  Humanity and its history are just the stories we tell in any case. And so the movies we make and watch, and the books we write and read (especially when we’re young and still forming our ideas) are going to be a crucial part of how we see things in the future.

I’ve never shied away from love scenes.  I love writing them and I’ve been told I’m not too bad at them. On the other hand I’ve also had feedback to suggest that some people think I go too far.  But I’m sticking by what I’ve written and here’s why: I want young people to read my books and feel empowered by the idea of wanting someone and being wanted back.  I want them to feel strong and sexy when they’re admired by someone they admire. I want them to look at the person they desire and see how beautiful they are and allow themselves to think that and feel that and say that and act upon that.  They don’t have to justify these feelings, or moralise them. Everybody makes mistakes so those are OK too. It’s fine to let it get messy – after all, this stuff is, by its very nature. If people think that’s going too far, it’s just something that I’m going to have to live with.  I’m not going to settle for anything less than brutal emotional honesty when contributing in my own small way to the story of us.

I know I can’t write sex like Sarah J Maas (can anyone?), but I’m going to keep writing it all the same.  And I’m going to keep writing it the way I do. It’s a brave new world, sexual politics wise, and I think it’s incredibly exciting.  I find myself constantly questioning things now that I had never even realised were so ingrained in my psyche. For a new generation coming through, free from those old beliefs, I believe that beautiful writing about desire and sex is going to be so important in reinventing the way they see themselves and their encounters.  So I think it’s important that I (as well far more skilled writers than me) keep writing about young people who own their own desire, and aren’t afraid of it, because these are the kind of people I think we’re all hoping to see in the shiny new future that increasingly feels like it’s just around the corner.  

Distant Beings and Falling Stars on Offer

To celebrate the release of THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES this week, both THE LONELINESS OF DISTANT BEINGS and THE GLOW OF FALLEN STARS are now 99p on ebook for Kindle (in the UK).  Bargains!  I know deals like this are always music to my ears, so I thought I’d spread the joy.  This means that during the whole of the very merry month of May, you can complete your Ventura Saga collection for less than a tenner!  You can’t say fairer than that.  Follow the links below to make your wise purchases

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Loneliness-Distant-Beings-Book-Ventura-ebook/dp/B0119EPOKQ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1525179553&sr=8-1

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ventura-Saga-Glow-Fallen-Stars-ebook/dp/B071LM6Z5K/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1525179613&sr=1-1&keywords=glow+of+fallen+stars&dpID=61V7yI9kXVL&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

All Roads Lead to Ventura

So here’s a question I keep getting asked… Is THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES:

a) a prequel?

b) a standalone?

c) the first part of the Ventura series?

d) the final part of the Ventura series?

The answer, my friends, is both far more complicated and surprisingly simple. And it is:

e) all of the above.

Right from the start, I have always known the Ventura’s origin story would have to be told. THE LONELINESS OF DISTANT BEINGS took us right into the middle of the Ventura’s several-hundred year mission so that, like main protagonist Seren, we are thrown into this rootless existence, hurtling through space in a tin can with no context, no history, no connection and also no hope of seeing the final destination. I wanted the reader to feel that lack of any past or any future beyond the walls of the Ventura, to experience that claustrophobia first hand.

In THE TRUTH OF DIFFERENT SKIES the main character is also trapped, albeit in a different way. Bea, great grandmother to Seren, and potential Ventura recruit, is working full time while still at school in the rural Wales of 2050, where life is tough and uncompromising, and going nowhere fast.

Like Seren, Bea knows very little about love. But where Seren’s family life is all about structure, to the point where she feels there’s no space for real feelings, Bea’s family has no structure, no stability, and has been blown apart by the mess and havoc wreaked by the randomness of human emotion. All Bea knows about love is that it’s destructive, that it ends badly, that it can go unreturned and eat you up inside.

These aren’t the only ways in which Bea’s life is an inside-out mirror to Seren’s, but to say any more would provide too many spoilers all round. Suffice it to say that the series as a whole, and each part within it, are, at heart, about feeling trapped and finding a way to freedom. They are about main characters who are brave, determined, and who overcome obstacles and take repeated steps into the unknown in the quest for the future they know is right for them. They are about loss, agency, sacrifice, following your dreams, desire, growing up, being flawed, living with an invisible illness, what makes us human, and the unpredictable and uncertain beauty of love.

I love a beautifully rendered trilogy but, if you’re not careful, they can be predictable, or they can run out of steam. With my all-of-the-above third entry I was aiming to try something a little different. Why not make a series where, like one of those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Books’ from the eighties, you can find your own way into the story, following the clues and finding the links between the three, creating your own route through to the end? After all, writing a story is only ever half of the process. It only lives once its playing in the mind of the reader, like a movie on a screen, and I love the idea that his story could live in more ways than just one.

Originally written for Bkmrk, and appearing here https://bkmrk.co.uk/kate-ling-why-a-prequel/

My Summer as Charles Dickens

Wow, I have loved being on Wattpad.  From a bit of initial scepticism (feeling like I was falling down rabbitholes of soft porn every time I went on there) (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing) I have become a real convert to this amazingly supportive and productive community.  I love hearing people’s thoughts on my book in real time, as they read it.  I love answering questions, seeing which bits they think are funny, what resonates with them.  I also really got a kick out of getting to be Charles Dickens for a summer – serialising my book one chapter at a time and really getting the most out of my mini cliffhangers!  I’m evil like that.

Loneliness is now on up on Wattpad in its entirety, and  I am in the process of posting The Glow of Fallen Stars at the moment.  Chapter Four will go up tomorrow to celebrate the release of the book itself, and I will stop there, apart from adding some exclusive deleted scenes from The Loneliness of Distant Beings over the coming weeks.  There may not be DVDs any more, but I’m still calling them my DVD extras.  I’m retro.

I think I’ll probably write more about Wattpad, and the stories and netherworlds I discovered while wandering the labyrinthine hallways of its fanfic, once I’ve got more time, but for now I’m off to finish posting – I’m starting a competition tomorrow asking what song would feature on a soundtrack to The Loneliness of Distant Beings – should be fun!

Q & Eh?

13597599_1031562760245621_1846780594_nAt the launch event for the Dutch version of TLODB, Eenzaam en Extreem Ver Weg, I Skyped in and did my first ever live Q&A with readers. I was really looking forward to it and it was actually pretty awesome to get to “meet” the bloggers who had read my book and answer their questions.

What I wasn’t completed prepared for was how hard the questions would be. Or perhaps just how hard I would find it to answer them without the kind of thinking time I usually require.

I’m not known for my fast reactions. I even failed the Spanish “physical fitness to drive” test twice for having too slow a reaction time (a fact which is made more astonishing by the fact that the examiner then told me that nobody had ever failed it before). I think this is also the reason that, while I can read and write in Spanish pretty well after seven years in Spanish speaking countries, I still can’t speak it very well. My brain just doesn’t work quick enough to provide the right words when I need them.

And this is exactly what happened to me at the Q&A. Questions I’ve been asked before were pretty easy to handle but the totally new ones utterly floored me in the pressure of the situation. Don’t get me wrong they were GREAT questions – I just really wish I could have done them justice. Here’s a couple of the ones I found particularly hard to answer on the spot, plus the answers I WOULD have given had I had time to consider my responses:

Q: If you were an inhabitant on Ventura – would you accept your arranged marriage or would you rail against it like Seren does?

My answer (with thinking time): It depends. I’m #teamdomingo so I think if I’d got matched with Dom I’d be like – jackpot! But seriously, I think if I was put in the position that Seren is in, where she has this accidental brush with real love, I would find it just as difficult as she does to put that aside and sacrifice something so precious in favour of doing my duty. I’m a firm believer in freedom of choice and free will, and I think being able to make my own choices, and my own mistakes, would be worth a lot of trouble to me.

Q: Many people think there are hints of a love triangle in the book – is this where the series is going?

My answer (with thinking time): A lot of readers have asked me about this and I guess I can see where it comes from, especially with the way the book ends. I don’t believe in spoilers, so I won’t commit to this fully, but I will say that, even though they are done quite a lot, I am still a fan of the love triangle. They’re great drama if they’re done well and the dynamics of the relationships are believable. Having said that, the last thing I would want is for the Ventura Saga to be predictable, so you’ll just have to wait and see on that one. (Actually this answer is pretty similar to my off-the-cuff response, so maybe I did better than I thought!)

Q: If you could take one of your characters and put them in another YA book, which one would it be and why? (This is a particularly interesting question, but SO HARD!)

My answer (with thinking time): I would probably take one of the characters that I didn’t feel I got to spend enough time with, but who interested me, like Jonah, or maybe Ronaldo or Annelise. It would be fascinating to give them a second chance at life in a new setting and see how they would develop. As for what book I would put them in, it would have to be completely different – maybe something contemporary or fantasy, just to give them the chance to go in a different direction and put them out of their comfort zone.

If you want to know what my (possibly slightly rubbish) answers were on the night, plus some fairly decent answers that I managed to come up with to different questions, follow this link to watch the video from the night itself.

http://bit.ly/2abAXaA

A Blog on a Vlog

I was recently asked to make a video for hebban.nl on my thoughts about why sci-fi is popular. Obviously I made a bit of a hash of it. I mean, I’ve never done anything like that before so I ended up recording it about eight hundred times before I could manage to say it all without massive pauses and loads of umming and ahing. It was only later I realised that what I really should have done is just edited those out. Doh. Well, you live and learn. And now I have my own YouTube channel I guess I might as well try my hand at a few more.

Here’s the link in case you want to hear me rambling on and sharing my thoughts about why sci-fi is particularly popular at the moment.

Found in Translation

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 18.21.10July 1st saw the release of the first translated foreign language version of The Loneliness of Distant Beings – Eenzaam en Extreem Ver Weg – in Holland.  So far, the Dutch publishers, bloggers, readers (well just about everybody involved) have been so positive and responded with such enthusiasm and I am super excited to have been translated into a language I don’t even slightly understand so that I can reach a whole new set of readers.  Can you imagine how hard it is to translate a whole book?  Crazy.

On the left is the quote card the Dutch publishers produced with a book club who sent my book out in the monthly box to their subscribers.  There were two hundred of these cards that traveled all the way to Spain for me to sign, before heading back to Holland and into the homes of new readers.  A few of them even made videos of them”unboxing” and then posted them online (apparently this is a thing).  Obviously I have no idea what anyone is saying in these videos but I still think they’re very cool:  http://www.celebratebooks.nl/unboxing/.

Tonight I will even be dropping in to an event over there (sadly only via Skype) but I am really looking forward to meeting (sort of) some of my readers over there.  Wish me luck!

 

First Contact, Moral Ambiguity and Passion in the Vacuum of Space

LODB 5As John Green once said (I think):  

“Dear authorial intent,

You don’t matter.”

And he’s completely right.  I mean, it ultimately matters very little what I intended when I was writing my book.  What matters far more is what each and every reader picks up on/gets out of it/takes away with them when they read it.  But since this is my blog I thought I’d allow myself a bit of a ramble about what my intentions were with TLODB.  And my alter ego <school librarian> suggested I went even further than that… so I ended up writing this blog post which, now I look at it, pretty much resembles a York Notes/Cliff Notes/Shmoop style study guide to my own book.  So here it is for your delectation.  You’re welcome, readers, you are welcome.  

On my setting…

I work all day and only write at night, so I spend a lot of time alone under starry skies, which I think is why I ended up writing about space.  Added to this, when I started writing TLODB I had just moved to a new country (for the third time in seven years) so there was something in the disassociation of the Ventura experience that I could relate to.  I’m the same age as the Voyager Probe (of golden record fame) so I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of space travel and the quest to make first contact.  This may be why I love science documentaries and podcasts almost as much as I love space movies like the massively underrated Contact, as well as Interstellar, and Gravity, and all-time favourite sci-fi tv show Battlestar Galactica (noughties not seventies).

So there were all these ideas I wanted to explore: are we alone in the universe?  What will we do if we’re not?  How will we overcome the barriers that stop us from being able to travel these massive distances?  Basically I just kept asking myself these questions until I had built the basics of the world I wanted to set my story in – which ended up involving maps, diagrams, even sometimes some advanced (compared to my skill level anyway) maths.  

However I realise now that what came to me first about Ventura was its mood – I wanted it to be grungy, low tech, cold and dark – this is no shiny, white, Apple Inc version of our future.  It had to feel authentic; it had to feel real and visceral.  I wanted my reader to be able to picture themselves there completely.  Ultimately this story is personal and emotional, and only through making this distant and alien setting feel concrete and truthful would it have impact.  The human relationships and struggles had to feel real in this unreal setting.

On my writing style…

When I was just a teenager myself it was angsty, voicey, freeform books like The Catcher in the Rye, On The Road and Less Than Zero that inspired me and made me even more sure that I wanted to write. I found books like that exhilarating to read and just adored how viscerally and vividly their main characters are rendered because the entire book is written as if it was them talking directly to you, in their voice. I have now realised that writing this way does mean being prepared to take risks, and to make sacrifices.  As a writer you have to constantly ask yourself: but would she say that?  Is that a metaphor she would use?  Is that a parallel she would know to make?  And if the answer is no you just can’t use it, even if it would have been beautiful.  Fully committing to rendering a character so faithfully can eventually lead to you bringing them to life in the fullest way, but the side effect of this is that that some of your readers may not appreciate what you’re doing, and may have preferred you to refine and beautify your prose in the more traditional way.  That’s just a risk you either are or aren’t prepared to take, and whether its responded to positively or not is just a matter of taste and not much else.

On my characters…

As a writer I am all about moral ambiguity.  I adamantly did not want Seren to be a chosen one, or the now ubiquitous gun-toting kickass revolutionary.  I wanted her to be flawed, reckless, impulsive, sarcastic, snarky, sad and weak.  But I also wanted her to be brave, loving, passionate, and honest to a fault.  In short, I wanted her to be a REAL person, a real girl.  An ordinary girl who ends up doing extraordinary things, not because she always makes good choices or does the right thing, but because she fails and makes mistakes, but never gives up or stops trying, no matter what difficulties she faces.

Seren struggles with her mental health in a way that’s pretty understandable in her circumstances.  There are SO MANY shades of grey with mental health, so many ways to suffer with it, so many ways to define a struggle.  We’re kind-of all struggling with it to greater and lesser degrees and in any one of a million ways distinct and unique to us.  What I wanted was for us to see that Seren is more sensitive and vulnerable to depression, and to anxiety, and so life on the Ventura is especially hard for her.  But I also wanted it to come across that the thing that makes her weak/dangerous in the eyes of her family/those in power, is actually the very same thing that makes her special.  Like most sensitive people, she sees things differently, she feels things acutely, and this is partly what takes her life in an interesting direction.

I had very specific ideas about how I wanted Dom to be – I wanted him to be a good boyfriend, fully deserving of Seren’s love, but still far from perfect.  I wanted him to seem like the first person Seren has ever fully been understood by and been able to talk to, but also to be a doorway into new realisations for her – a connection to nature and to the ‘real’ life she is unable to experience and longs for so keenly.  This is why I had him work with animals, why he is a musician and also, partly, why I wanted him to be Spanish.  It’s not a culture generally associated with space travel, so having Ventura be of Spanish origin was a leap.  But I live in Spain, and before that I lived in Costa Rica in Latin America.  I am fascinated by the blending of culture and languages that I see, but also I love the Latino/Spanish culture – it’s so warm and relaxed and romantic and free – family and the good things in life are so often the priority.  The idea of evoking this within the restrictions, confines and claustrophobia of the Ventura was interesting – and I thought would lend something extra to Dom.    

I strived to imbibe a certain moral ambiguity into my other characters too – no one of them is entirely good or truly bad – and all are left with the space and ability to surprise us with the choices they make.

On my themes…

I always knew that TLODB was going to be about first love.  What better contrast to the coldness of the regime on Ventura than the pure passion, heat and impulse of first love?  And I always wanted Seren to be a very active participant in this – not to view herself as the prey of a predator the way a lot of female characters in YA do.  I wanted her to be full of desire, to be passionate, to want as much as she is wanted.

But mostly, and unsurprisingly, in my mind TLODB is largely about loneliness.  A lot of teenagers are extremely lonely – I know I was.  It’s a time in your life when you have, necessarily, become somewhat detached from the family you grew up in and yet you are still some years away from forming the one you will create yourself.  And in TLODB this is mirrored in the quest of the Ventura itself – as a race we humans are so lonely, so desperate to know we are not alone, that we are prepared to risk it all to journey out into the unknown in our own hopes of making contact.

Which, in fact, is a little like writing a book.  TLODB is out there and its themes and messages are open to interpretation by those who read it.  I’ve had readers tell me all sorts of things they got from reading the book that I hadn’t realised were there – most recently that TLODB, somewhat ironically, feels like a love letter to the glories of the ever absent and much pined for Earth.  Like a lot of good sci-fi, questions of free will, what makes us human, whether our personalities decide our fate, and even existentialism are all in there too, but it’s up to every individual reader to decide what they find… or don’t.

That’s the joy of sending something out there into the big wide universe to make contact… you never know who you’ll reach, or how.LODB 4

DO NOT TOUCH My Finished Copies

FInished CopiesMy finished copies truly are things of beauty.  This has exactly ZERO to do with me.  It has to do with the incredibly talented folk at Little, Brown and Hachette, particularly amazing jacket designer Sophie Burdess.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to love them and be just a little bit obsessed with how gorgeous they are.  It’s very pleasing that there is such beauty in the physical manifestation of this story, which (in my opinion anyway) is also pretty darn beautiful.

So the only problem now is the fact that I won’t let anybody touch them.  I mean, obviously people can touch their own copies, but they CAN’T TOUCH MINE.  Not even my husband and kids can touch mine.  Especially not them.  They and their greasy fingers are not respectful enough of the sumptuously velvety soft matt finish.

Now and for the foreseeable future, I am to be found standing over my personal finished copies, growling at anyone who dares to come close and muttering like Gollum.

TLODB: The Soundtrack

The Loneliness of Distant Beings hits shelves in just six weeks, so I’m celebrating by sharing the playlist I’ve made for it.  Most of these are songs I listened to while writing the book, and I always think that whatever you’re listening to has a massive effect on the atmosphere of what you end up with. Basically it’s the soundtrack to the movie you have playing in your head, the one you’re frantically typing away trying to record and evoke.  And yeah, these are also the kinds of songs that should totally be used when if (oh the hell with it) WHEN the book gets made into a film.

And I mean I reckon it would work pretty well as an accompaniment to reading too.