Monday, 28 August 2017

Oh, the Places - Manchester


 It's August, and in all of a few weeks, I shall be heading off to University. I've opted to study outside of my home city, and so these are my last few weeks at home before moving away for 3 years. I'll be back for holidays and a weekend every few weeks, but it'll never be quite the same again. So I guess this is my swan song; my goodbye to the city I've lived in my whole life. 

Most of the time, I say I hate Manchester; to an extent that's true. When you've lived in a fairly small city for as long as you can remember, there comes a point when you realise you have seen everything that needs to be seen. You've done the tourist attractions and all the lines of the underground-like network, exploring what's at their endings. You can't picture yourself living there forever and you want to see more than just this city, but at the same time, you'll miss it. Whilst I still in many respects dislike Manchester because I've spent so long here, what transpired here in on 22nd May shook me to the core in a way that shifted my opinion on my home city. What happened that day made me realised how much I care for where I live and why Manchester will always be a key part of my identity and geographic heritage. I'll miss being able to walk into the biggest bookshop in the North and inhale the overwhelming smell of books. I'll miss travelling on our transport system over the city, no matter how outrageous the prices are. I'll miss the places where there's good food or a quiet spot to read or a nice place to sit and wait without being attacked by pigeons. Yet, I'm here, and I'm ready for the next step.

I'll be back soon, probably every time I have an opportunity to meet with my book club friends, and or a weekend visiting family every so often, but for now, I'm heading into the unknown. The place isn't unknown, but the lifestyle, the work, the people, the culture is in many ways going to be so different from everything I've known, which is exciting but hugely terrifying. 











Oh, the Places is a series of posts in which I recap through photographs my travels, both expected and surprising across countries, cities, and seas. Consider these field notes from a wanderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her small English city. 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephanie Kate Strohm


Day three comes around and with it, the third and final interview in my series from Waterstones Deansgate Manchester's YA Summer Cringefest. Previously we've had Simon James Green and Beth Garrod, and now it's time for Stephanie Kate Strohm, author of It's Not Me It's You. Warning: this interview contains Gilmore Girls, plenty of Googling, and mentions of "smooching". 


Photo credits to @Teensgate at Waterstones 


Did you always intend to write?
Never intended to write. Loved humanities subjects rather than the sciences, but wasn't pursuing writing. Instead, Strohm studied theatre and became an actor. It was only when she read Twilight that Strohm became inspired to write her own novel. Whilst on tour as an actor, Strohm was alone and decided to have fun with writing a first draft of her first novel, not thinking that it would one day be published. 

Did you always intend to write for a young adult audience?
Yes, on the basis that I read the most as a teen. Strohm mentions that she was a summer camp worker, and was heavily inspired by her time doing this. 

How was the journey into publication?
Strohm notes that she finished her first book after graduation from University. Upon finishing the book, she admits that she "Googled how to get published," and in realising she needed to send it her manuscript to agents, Strohm was lucky enough to recieve offers from 10 different agents. After that, the rest of the publishing process continued on smoothly. 

What was your first inspiration for your latest novel?
It's Not Me, It's You is Stephanie Kate Strohm's fourth book, but the first published in the UK. The idea for the novel actually wasn't hers but rather her agent's after a someone had requested someone write a prom-themed book in the form of an oral history, and thus, the task was passed on to Strohm.  Strohm notes that she had always wanted to write an oral history, and loved using first and third person featuring flashbacks. As someone who proudly announces that they're obsessed with proms, having chaperoned many whilst working as a teacher, Strohm says that she had to include a prom as one of the themes of the novel. Ultimately, however, Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries were Strohm's most significant influence. 

Advice for Aspiring Writers?
Always finish what you started. If you need to skip a section due to writer's block, then do that, but always remember to return to what you left unfinished in the writing process. For Strohm, who declares herself "Queen of the Pantsers" when it comes to plotting novels, going for a walk always helps when struggling for ideas. Finally, "share your work."

How would you describe your book, It's Not Me, It's You, in five words?
"Prom, drama, "lols", boyfriends, and 'smooch.'" (Admittedly we both laughed at that last choice.)

What is your Hogwarts House?
Ravenclaw

Which fittingly leads onto the following question's answer to "What do you think is missing from YA?"
"You can never have too many smart girls."

Do you see yourself in any of your lead characters?
Initially, Strohm believed that she and Avery (the protagonist of It's Not Me, It's You) had "nothing in common, especially when it came to Avery's exuding confience. However, as the novel progressed and since publication, Strohm laughs about how she now sees her own bossiness and productivity in Avery as well. Raised in the area of Conneticut where Gilmore Girls was set, and attending a school that was incredibly similar to that of Chiltern in the television series. She observed that to her, watching the series, especially as someone who was "definitely the Paris Geller type at school," which was not only interesting to me, who's favourite tv series is Gilmore Girls but also because of the brief connections to Paris that came across in our conversation about Strohm's latest main character.

What can we expect from you next?
The sequel to It's Not Me It's You is published in September, and after that Strohm is working with Disney Hyperion to pubish Prince in Disguise this coming December. Additionally, Strohm's 2018 release will come next Autumn, and is about cooking.  

Thank you so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for giving me the opportunity to conduct these interviews, and of course, to Stephanie, for allowing me to interview her - it was a truly wonderful talk. Click here to find out more about It's Not Me, It's You by Stephanie Kate Strohm. If you want to read the previous two interviews in this trilogy, click here for Part 1 and Part 2. 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Beth Garrod

To read Part 1 of this trilogy of interviews, beginning with Simon James Green. Now, onto Part 2: Beth Garrod - author of Super Awkward...


Photo Credits to @Teensgate


How would you describe your book in five words?
"Awkward, rollercoaster, boys, friends, disaster."



Did you always intend to write?

Garrod notes that she didn't always plan to write, and she initially did a science degree. As it currently stands, she describes writing as her "night-job" where Garrod works for Comic Relief by day. Coming off that, even when Garrod did start writing, she didn't plan to write for teenagers. However, that being said, she remarks that her favourite books have always been young adult fiction. She's always enjoyed reading about first times, and wanted to recreate those in her own works.



Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

Naturally, the author is attached to her characters, and apparently you can't help but be when they're manifiestations of your own head and thoughts. Sees herself significantly in Bella Fisher: the main character of Super Awkward: "She tries hard but gets things wrong."



What was your journey to publication like?

It took a long time to build the confidence to get published. For Garrod, you can't wait for the right moment to send the manuscript, because that moment may never come. Self-discipline and pressurisation was key to her submitting the book.



Are your novels inspired by any of the books you've read?

Inspired by books that make you not feel alone in something. E.g., Judy Blume's novels.



What are you working on next?

The sequel to Super Awkward, entitled Truly Madly Awkward is published in September.



What is your advice to aspiring authors?

Confidence is key. You need to blitz through the first draft, and confidence is essential to that. What you have to remember when you're writing is that every novel that you have read and loved was once a sparse Word document, or a page of paper with a few notes. Every book started off at that point, as will yours. 

Hogwarts House?
Ravenclaw! 

Thank you so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for the opportunity, and of course, to Beth, for letting me interview her. Click here to find out more about Super Awkward, and the final interview will follow tomorrow with Stephanie Kate Strohm!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Simon James Green


A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity, along with my friend Lottie, and other bloggers, to interview three YA authors on behalf of Waterstones Deansgate Manchester ahead of their YA Summer Cringefest event. This was my first ever experience of conducting interviews and as someone who wants to progress into journalism and publishing in the distant future, it was a wonderful opportunity to rehearse said skills. Admittedly, I was terrified, but nevertheless, this was such a great chance that I couldn't refuse. Over the course of the next three days, each interview from the event will be going live, and then will be linked back to on this post [Beth Garrod, Stephanie Kate Strohm]. Each of these authors are new to the UK, with their first UK releases occuring in the past year. For now, let's begin with Simon James Green, author of Noah Can't Even, as published by Scholastic. 


Photo by Waterstones - @Teensgate on Twitter

How would you describe your book, Noah Can't Even in five words?
"Mad-cap, coming-of-age, comedy."
Whilst Green abides by this, he notes that he hopes that the novel isn't just a laugh but has more to it than that for readers.


Did you always intend to write?
Originally, Green gained a degree in law from Cambridge University, but said that he ultimately had to choose between a money-spinning career in "big-city law" or something that he loved and knew would be rewarding, and that to him was writing. Following on from deciding not to continue down the path of law, Green started out as a director. He's worked in the West End, and at plays such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Writing wasn't always the intention for a career, but it has become his destination.


Did you always intend to write for teenagers?
Always enjoyed writing about teenagers and coming-of-age situations. He finds that coming of age novels are particularly interesting due to the fact that young adulthood as a life-stage is about exploring identity and working out who we are. It's a time of "bad stuff, but also hope" and to him is refreshing write.


What was your journey to publishing like?
Overall, it took five years to write Noah Can't Even. But after the long process of writing, things quickened dramatically in the process of publication. Green entered the Undiscovered Voices compteittion, and the first two chapters of Noah Can't Even ended up being published in the Undiscovered Voices anthology of writers. 


What is your advice to aspiring authors?
Write the thing that you love because you need to be 100% behind it. "It's a long slog," so you need to enjoy what you're working on and have the motivation to move it forward. Additionally, get feedback. Green remarked that whilst it was expensive, submitting his novel to a freelance editor before sending to publishing houses was the most rewarding and beneficial thing he could have done during the process of writing Noah Can't Even, because he got to see where he was going wrong and where he could change things to improve the novel.


Hogwarts House?
Admittedly, the largest portion of the interview was dominated by a Harry Potter discussion, which is inevitable when it comes to me, but it was down to the fact that Green confirms that he has never read or watched anything from the Harry Potter series. But, it has been suggested to him that he would be a Slytherin, including by the author Beth Garrod, who was also on this tour. UPDATE: Since the interivew, Simon James Green finally went and created a Pottermore account, to be sorted into Ravenclaw.

Thanks so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for the opportunity, and of course, to Simon, for letting me interview him. Click here to find out more about Noah Can't Even, and the interviewing adventures continue tomorrow with Beth Garrod! 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

REVIEW: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

A Quiet Kind of ThunderSteffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

I always have been, and always will be, a person who judges a book by its cover. A cover is the pivotal element of a book's design that will either make or break whether I pick it up, and most of the books I read I discover on the grounds of an interesting cover or title. Whilst the title is so wonderfully symbolic of the events in the novel, the candyfloss-like pink exterior of A Quiet Kind of Thunder immediately gave me the wrong impression of a sickening level of fluffiness. I like fluff in fiction just as much as the next person, but personally I believe there is a fine line that can be crossed where sweet becomes a sugar overload and thus sickeningly sour. From the cover, that's how I assumed A Quiet Kind of Thunder would be. But, like with Anna and the French Kiss, I was wrong, and this was beautiful.

I was very sceptical going into A Quiet Kind of Thunder that it would be just another YA romance where fluff and cheesy lines superseed any pressing themes and the undercurrent motifs. So you can imagine my surprise when within a few pages, I knew that this would be far different to what I had predicted. Of course, the romance was what pulled the plot forward, but there were so many other elements at stake - such as toxic relationships, prospects of higher education, and feeling like an outsider - that had equal dominance. 

Admittedly, the novel had far too many moments in it that rung eerily true of my own past experiences with Anxiety, and yet was highly educative in areas that I hadn't really considered before, such as selective mutism. A Quiet Kind of Thunder perfectly hits what it's like to be shy and also to be scared to speak among people you're not familiar with, and it was weirdly comforting to see this from a perspective that was outside of my own head.

(Also, I need to just add that I am too much like Steffi, and this goes beyond the shyness and anxiety. Maybe this after all, was why I enjoyed this story as much as I did, amongst countless other factors. We want to go to the same University, which to be honest, is the only reason I decided read this book, because I knew Bangor University was mentioned in it. At the time of reading, I had, like Steffi, just booked to go on holiday to Edinburgh. The coincidences just kept on coming...)

For a while I was worried that this was going to go down the path of "your head is a mess, but don't worry, love will solve everything!" but A Quiet Kind of Thunder actively went against this. It shows and promotes that love won't solve a mental illness; it can be an added bonus on the side, but love isn't the answer - and I appreciate the distancing from traditional YA tropes there. Where so many young adult books fall into this trope, A Quiet Kind of Thunder responds with lightning, showing how love can be chaotic, and no matter how much it can ease mental and physical health for some, ultimately a relationship will never save everything and resolve every issue. 


Despite the lacking of much elegance in prose, the simplicity of the language used to a degree is so vital in a world where mental health is more often than not romanticised for the sake of sales. As an upcoming English Literature student, I personally prefer the use of metaphors, symbolism, and allegories to explain mental illness, as I adore deconstructing what the author has said in order to understand what lies beneath. However, in A Quiet Kind of Thunder, Barnard's leaning towards simplicity is certainly valued in her blunt depicition of mental illness. In this novel, the basic prose was needed in order to get the message across in its most basic terms, but also to highlight pointedly the reality of Steffi's situation. Her selective mutism is what it is. Depicting the struggle that anxiety imposes on its sufferers is so crucial to impressionable audiences, and those who just want to know more about a different side to mental illness.

Mental illness is becoming a common theme in young adult fiction. It runs in the veins of the pages, each word bearing the soul of a beating heart that needs to be heard and felt. Although whilst that rings true, as readers we rarely encounter selective mutism within fiction. How Barnard handled this issue was remarkable, right down to the formatting of the book to show texts and the communications between Steffi and Rhys. Through the formatting and layout, Barnard layers the plausibility of tension between the couple, especially in matters of isolation even when together. The issues that were raised through their communication and as debates within A Quiet Kind of Thunder brought to light so many matters that aren't discussed enough within society, with particular regards to deafness and selective mutisim. As a reader who read endless amounts of young adult fiction in their early teenage years and yet never once came across a novel like this, what Sara Barnard has created in A Quiet Kind of Thunder is much appreciated. 

This is a rare book that from my perspective as an analytical reader, was largely flawless. Every character, major or minor, was detailed to the bone and had an intricate personality. Furthermore, the themes that were raised surrounding the heart of the novel about mental and physical illness, such as oppressive relationships and decisions about further education, were handled with intricate care and precision, making this a book that any young adult, regardless of gender, age, or background, should read.