Sunday, February 10, 2019

Critique Group Cheerleading

Several years ago, while I was still very much a wannabe writer with barely one badly-drafted novel to my name, a dear friend here in Houston, Andrea White, invited me to join her in a new critique group with another of her friends, Chris Cander. Andrea was already a published YA author (SURVIVING ANTARCTICA, WINDOW BOY, RADIANT GIRL) and Chris had just self-published her first literary novel for adults (11 STORIES).

Chris and I immediately knew we'd get on, and over the next few months we invited three more friends to join our group, all then unpublished writers like - Eleri Grace, Tobey Forney and Mimi Vance. Unlike other critique groups, we decided early on that we wouldn't swap chapters. Instead we would be there as a support group for each other, meeting up every so often to catch up and offer advice, and it works brilliantly. Five years on, I know I have the best squad of cheerleaders any writer could ask for. Certainly, when my own books came out in 2017 and 2018, I was so thankful to have my own personal cheer squad standing beside me.

Of course, it hasn't all been sunshine and roses. We've all had ups and downs with our publishing journeys, but I remember saying, the first time all six of us got together over lunch, how exciting it would be when every one of us would become published writers. I know it's only a matter of time before that happens (they are all so talented, believe me!), and we are getting closer to our goal each year. From out of our group of SIX writers, FOUR of us are now published, and even more amazingly, we have had THREE new books published just in the last few weeks!

I'm therefore proud and delighted to introduce you to these brand-new beauties from my wonderful critique partners, in alphabetical order, along with their retail links so you can buy them!

A moving dual time-line story about the two women and the piano 
which connects their lives.

by Eleri Grace
A lush WW2 romance about Red Cross girls and B-17 bomber boys.
The first in the Clubmobile Girls series.


by Andrea White
A post-apocalyptic young adult thrill-ride about a boy who tries to do the right thing
when everything around him is going wrong.

If you are writing, whether as a newbie or an old hand, I cannot recommend enough the value of finding 'your people'. You don't necessarily need to find an established critique group to join, you just need to find another one or two other writers you think you can get on with, and start your own. Ours was created using the good old friend-of-a-friend method, but if you don't think you know enough writers to make that work, why not talk to your local chapter of SCBWI or any other writing organization to see if anyone else is looking for support? In our Houston SCBWI chapter, there have been two new groups set up in different parts of the city just in the last few months. And if you live in a rural area, have kids to stay home for or have problems travelling, why not set up your critique group online? With video services like Skype and Zoom, you can chat to one or more other people from the comfort of your home. Who knows, you and your critique partners you might end up being life-long friends, all cheering each other as you compete for the top spot on the bestseller list!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I'm was on TV to talk about love stories, of course!

It was great fun last night to watch myself on TV (actually it was rather terrifying!) and to revisit the fun banter and mic-destroying laughter we shared when we were recording the Houston Public Media's Cover to Cover program, as part of the Great American Read series on PBS. 

Our episode was all about LOVE, and the series is chaired by Ernie Manouse. On my episode, I was talking with AGT singer Christina Wells, CEO Kelly Young and librarian Savannah Dorsett. We had such fun!

So if you have 26 minutes or so to spare, here's us talking all about LOVE!

And if you'd like to watch any of the other episodes, you can find them all by clicking here 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Audiobook of IN ANOTHER TIME out now!

I was so excited to hear over the summer that the lovely Scottish actress Eilidh Beaton had agreed to narrate the audiobook of In Another Time which is out now, digitally and on CD—purchase links down below.  (And in case you wondered, Eilidh is a beautiful Scottish Gaelic name and is pronounced like Hailey, but without the H!)

Eilidh already has around 30 audiobooks under her belt, and when I first heard her audition tape in which she read the opening few pages of my latest novel, I didn’t want her to stop reading. With her soft Scottish accent and deliciously lush tone, she lifted Maisie and all the other characters right off the page. The audiobook comes out today in North America, but it has been available in the UK for the last couple of weeks, and I’ve already had wonderful feedback from reader-listeners.

Audiobooks are a huge part of my life, and I seldom do any driving, cleaning, shopping, ironing etc without headphones in, listening to a book, but I realized that I knew very little about how the magic happens. So, while I held Eilidh Beaton captive in the recording studio recently, I took my chance to ask her all about it:

Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background/acting training?
I realised at a very early age that I was going to be an actor when I was maybe three or four. My parents, who are both scientific, were terrified at the prospect of this and did everything they could to dissuade me. As a compromise I went to university before drama school (thank goodness I did, what a blast) to study Drama at Aberystwyth. It was the perfect playground for actors, writers and directors because the English and Drama departments were so massive. This meant that we could put on plays constantly, generally getting performance spaces for free, and had a lot of fun. Then I went to East 15 Acting School to do a Postgraduate Diploma in Acting where I honed my performance skills.

How and why did you start specializing in audiobook narration?
I come from a very large Scottish family and story-telling has always been a huge part of our get-togethers and general way of interacting. I used to record myself telling stories and making up radio shows when I was younger—always with lots of characters—and I loved listening to audiobooks. However then dreams of the stage took over. My postgraduate year at Drama School was one of the best, and definitely most intense years of my life but whilst I came away confidant that I was a far better actor and ready to tackle this crazy world of theatre, my school left me woefully equipped with the skills to actually secure work. After a couple of years spending more time juggling day jobs to pay the rent than treading the boards I thought it was time to think about where my real strengths lay. I love reading stories, I love telling stories, I love creating characters and worlds with my voice and finding subtext and I can sight read really rather well. I also LOVE microphones. This all led me to one conclusion: audiobooks were the answer! I got in touch with lots of publishing houses and production companies, sending my demo and hoping someone would give me a chance. Finally, WF Howes took a chance on me and gave me my first book to narrate, Remember Me by Lesley Pearce. I was hooked. The Royal National Institute of Blind People was also fantastic at giving me a chance to come and show what I could do and I’ve done lots of books for them over the years, alongside commercial book reading.

With a story like In Another Time, in which you are narrating any number of characters, many of whom have very different accents, how do you go about preparing to create the voices? Did In Another Time give you any particular challenges?
Creating the characters is one of my favourite parts of the audiobook process. First of all, I read the book through, writing down any clues for the characters (accent, vocal characteristics, age, any physical features, what people say about them, what they say about themselves). My aim is to make each character as rounded as possible. Of course, you don’t have the time to do this for minor characters who only have a couple of lines but any who are part of the story, even briefly, need to be real. I mentioned physical features because although listeners are hearing the book, the actor will not be sitting still while narrating it. In books such as In Another Time, when you might have five or six characters talking on a single page, a physical gesture can really help get you straight into the voice you need. Accent wise, different accents are focused in different areas of the mouth, and the jaw and mouth are also held differently so this is another way of getting into the characters.

To sample the first chapter, click here

Or is having everyone speaking with only one accent even harder? How do you differentiate between the voices of different characters who are, say, from the same place/family?
Both present challenges! Preparation is key because you need to have built up your characters (know how they would tie their shoelaces, know what makes them angry etc.) and this then enables you to slip between the characters more easily. For characters who have the same accent, this is particularly important. For example, in In Another Time, Maisie and her sister Beth have the same accent but are very different characters, and Beth is also a few years younger, which allows the narrator to create a slightly more immature voice as well as considering the differences in their characters.

Is this something you have to go to a big recording studio to do, or do you sit at your kitchen table with your iPhone and earbuds? How often do you take a break, and how do you protect your voice from overwork? Paint us a picture of a typical recording day for you.
I have a recording studio at home but it needs a little work to make it fully equipped enough to record a book. I have a really good microphone, audio interface, editing software etc, so the hope is there that I’ll be able to do so in the future. It’s a brilliant way of doing what you love whilst also being around to pick the kids up from school and help with homework and everything else family life demands. However, there’s nothing like going into a lovely studio, working with a lovely producer who is your audience for the days you’re recording the book. In the studio, I would typically record for an hour and a half and then take a 15 or so minute break. The aim is to record 4-4½ hours of finished material a day. That’s intense so as you say, protecting your voice is really important. I start my day with a pint of hot water and lemon. I do a vocal warm-up in the shower. My children think this is normal behaviour! If things are feeling croaky, I will pop my head over a bowl of hot water and let the steam work its magic. I also do a lot of articulation exercises because keeping your tongue nimble as a narrator is very important!

What’s your favorite moment in the audiobook process? The first read? The final word? Something else?
This is very tricky. I love the whole process. I love it when I get the main character. For example, in In Another Time, getting Maisie right was key, and I hope I did. The moment I really felt I had found her energy and impulses was a pretty nice moment. It can feel a bit magic when you’re in the recording booth, your headphones are on and it’s just you, the mic and the world you’re creating. When that clicks, and you can feel the breeze and see the mountains, you can feel confident that you’re building images for the listener (fingers crossed!).

You’ve narrated all sorts of audiobooks – for kids, teens, detective stories, romances and even non-fiction. Do you have a favorite genre to narrate, and why?  And is this different from the books you like to read for pleasure?
I love stories and I love the variety of taking on different genres. It’s amazing to be building up eerie suspense one week and then a couple of weeks later, the main aim is to make the listener laugh out loud. It is particularly enjoyable when the you can have fun with the main character. For example, in In Another Time, although it’s written in the third person, Maisie is so integral to the energy and drive of the book, her character comes through the prose.

What are your best tips for anyone who needs to read stories aloud, whether they are narrators, authors, teachers or parents?
I would say that remembering that you’re reading to entertain is key. If you want to keep your listener on the edge of their seats, whether you’re a narrator, author, teacher or parent, you need to vary the pace, trusting and using the punctuation, it is your friend! Take pauses between sentences to ensure the listener is keeping up and take the pace easy but don’t be afraid to speed up at times to keep things spontaneous. Putting on different character voices keeps people’s attention so, parents and teachers especially, should not be afraid to put on silly voices. It is really fun to do and the kids won’t judge you for it; they’ll love it!

When telling a story, you want to help awaken the listeners’ imaginations to see and feel the world the author has created. An easy technique to help achieve this is to imagine everything you’re describing and depicting. In In Another Time, for example, while reading the words, I imagined swinging the ax alongside the other fellers, the feeling of space all around, the other lumberjills singing their song to help them with their swings and the feel of the weather at that moment. If the reader is really ‘in the moment’, the hope is that the listener will be too.

Thank you, Eilidh, for sharing so much about the audiobook process with me, and for your fabulous narration of IN ANOTHER TIME!


You can buy your copy of the IN ANOTHER TIME audiobook from all the usual audiobook places, including: - Kobo

Also available through international distributors

Please also check with your local library's digital catalog, and if they don't yet have IN ANOTHER TIME (or my first book WAIT FOR ME) in their system, why not request that they buy it so you can borrow it and recommend it to your friends?

And if you’d like to listen to other books narrated by Eilidh Beaton,

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

IN ANOTHER TIME is published today!

IN ANOTHER TIME is the story of Maisie McCall, a young lumberjill of the Women's Timber Corps in 1942, during World War Two. In writing her story, Maisie has taken me on such a wonderful journey along so many wooded paths of the Scottish Highlands.

Without doubt, the highlight of my research for this story was getting to meet Christina Forrester (nee Edgar) who joined the WTC when she was just 19 years old, and has just celebrated her 95th birthday. 

Mrs Forrester sat with me last summer at the feet of the beautiful Lumberjill Memorial Statue overlooking the forested hills in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park near Aberfoyle in central Scotland.  The memorial was not erected until 2007, following a long campaign by former lumberjills and Forestry Commission Scotland to mark the Women's Timber Corps's significant contribution to the war effort.

IN ANOTHER TIME is my small tribute to the courage of Christina and all her lumberjill colleagues. I hope I have done all their stories justice.

The Lumberjill Memorial Statue,
Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Aberfoyle, Scotland

The lumberjill's view 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


As a pre-order thank you gift for everyone buying my new novel, IN ANOTHER TIME, I have commissioned an amazing map of Scotland, showing you all the places I wrote about in IN ANOTHER TIME (coming from Harper Teen on Aug 28th) and in my debut, WAIT FOR ME (in stores now). 
      The supremely talented artist, illustrator and now map-maker, Adam Watkins, has been so patient as we developed the map and I know you'll agree, he did a wonderful job. 
     Along with the map, which I will sign, I'll send you bookmarks and postcards for both books. So, how do you get your gift? Well...

     All you have to do is:
  • Pre-order IN ANOTHER TIME from your usual bookseller
  • Email me your receipt, to, either by sending me a photo or by forwarding your emailed order confirmation. 
  • Give me your best mailing address
  • Tell me whether you'd like your gift personalized with your name, or someone else's. If you don't specify a name, I'll assume you only want a signature. 
  • All formats count for the gift – hardback in the USA/Canada, paperback in the UK, and it's also in e-book and audiobook – and international orders are totally welcome.

    As a side note, when you are ordering, please think about supporting an independent bookstore, either via its website or in person, rather than a huge international online mega-company like... well, you know the one! Indie booksellers make such an enormous contribution to us as authors and to all of you and to us as readers, and while it might cost you a couple of dollars/pounds/euros etc more, I'd look on that as an investment in the future of all the books you love to read.
     And if you are coming to my Launch Party in Houston on August 30th, then pre-order your book from Brazos Bookstore, and you can pick up both your copy and your gift on the night!
     I'll start sending out the gifts next week, first-come-first-served, so email your receipts to me as soon as you can at:


Love is worth the fight 

It’s 1942, and Maisie McCall is in the Scottish Highlands doing her bit for the war effort as a Women’s Timber Corps lumberjill. Maisie relishes her newfound independence and her growing friendships—especially with the enigmatic John Lindsay. 

As Maisie and John work side-by-side felling trees, Maisie can’t help but feel like their friendship has the spark of something more to it. And yet every time she gets close to him, John pulls away. It’s not until Maisie rescues John from a terrible logging accident that he begins to open up to her about the truth of his past, and the pain he’s been hiding. 

Suddenly everything is more complicated than Maisie expected. And as she helps John untangle his shattered history, she must decide if she’s willing to risk her heart to help heal his. But in a world devastated by war, love might be the only thing left that can begin to heal what’s broken.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Flash Giveaway! Win paperback of WAIT FOR ME

Just to add to all the new book excitement, the US paperback version of WAIT FOR ME will be published on July 31st. To celebrate,I'm doing a quick giveaway! 
    I've posted this photo on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, so for each one you share/retweet, like and/or comment on, you'll get one entry into the giveaway (max of three per person). I'll announce the winners on July 31st!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

MEET MY DESIGNER - Aurora Parlagreco

The next in a series which will let me introduce you to the 
most important people in my writing life...

Senior Designer - HarperCollins Children's Books

Pocket bio

Where are you from?
Long Island, New York

Where do you live now?
Brooklyn, New York

What genre do you read for pleasure?
Literary fiction, dark mysteries, YA

Favorite book ever?
Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice

How did you get to where you are now? Did you always want to design book covers?
I’ve always loved books, so working in publishing is a dream come true! I got my BFA in Communication Design from Carnegie Mellon University, along with minors in Photography and English. I was lucky enough to intern in the Children's Design group at Harper before starting full time after graduation.

Where do you start when you are putting together a cover? Do you always read the book first?
For each new book that I am assigned, I get a Cover Summary that includes a lot of important information- plot summary, character descriptions, as well as a list of competitive titles so that I can see where the book will fit into the existing market. If there is a manuscript available, I always read it before I get started. I love getting an early glimpse at the book, and it helps me to get a feel for the story and pull out details for inspiration!

I’ll then look at images and artist samples online for further inspiration, and put together a presentation of different cover directions.

Some of Aurora's recent cover designs

What are a book designer’s most useful tools? Do you ever use a paper and pencil anymore, or is it all done on computer?
I usually begin by taking notes as I’m reading, and sketching out ideas in my sketchbook. I’ll then move to the computer to comp up ideas in a more finished way. If I hire an artist to work on a project, they may deliver the art as a physical piece, although many prefer to send things electronically. I compile everything digitally, using the Adobe Suite (InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop) to pull together and refine all the elements of a cover.

One my favorite things to add to my designs is hand lettering (as in Wait for Me!). I’ll do this by hand before scanning and cleaning it up on the computer.

What is it within a story that triggers your decision to go for, say, realistic photography over drawing/painting, over textiles, over abstract graphics?
The context of a book really directs us towards what style to pursue. Sometimes I will present a variety of directions for a cover, and sometimes one style will feel like the right way to go. Often, we choose a direction through discussions with the book’s editor and our sales team, also taking into consideration what is working in the current market.

Designing a book is not just about the cover art, is it? What else is involved in getting a fully designed book to print?
The cover is often the first thing a reader will see, but I love being able to design a book’s full package. Once the front cover is done, we use it as a starting point to create the full jacket and then the interior. This involves choosing typefaces, designing chapter openers, and in some cases, adding maps, endpapers, and interior illustrations. Of course, there are a lot of other people involved in getting a book print-ready! We work with editors, copy-editors and production managers to make each book the best it can be.

What techniques/add-ons can a designer include for the big-budget covers and what’s the most complicated cover you’ve ever worked on because of that?
We work with our Production department to choose a jacket’s “specs” based on what will best compliment the cover design. There are a lot of different options we can choose from- do we want to the jacket to be glossy or matte? Should we print over foil for a metallic sheen? We can also choose smaller areas of the cover to apply gloss, or an emboss, among other things.

If a cover has a lot of complicated specs, a designer will sometimes travel to the printer to make sure that the printed jacket matches our vision. I did this for Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy - and again on Julie’s new book, Puddin’ (above). We printed the cover using a mix of Pantone colors to get pure, bold colors. We also used a soft-touch (velvety) finish, emboss and gloss on the title type, and a silver foil for the crown. These finishing touches helped to enhance the design and make the cover really pop!

Where does the decision-making power lie for cover art – with the designer, the editor or with marketing/PR team? Does the author get any say in the matter?
I’ll first discuss the cover with my art director and the book’s editor. Once we have a cover that we are happy with, we’ll bring it in to sales and marketing to get their thoughts. We also show the author and always try to accommodate any ideas or concerns they may have. The goal is to create a book that we are all proud of!

Would you take us through the process which ended up with my own gorgeous WAIT FOR ME cover?
In reading Wait for Me, I knew it would be important for the cover to show the romance between Lorna and Paul while balancing the tension of war.

Alice and I looked at a variety of stock images before landing on the perfect one. Some of these featured just one figure, but ultimately we decided that it was important to show a couple. I love that the hands in the final photo are almost touching, but not quite- it captures a lot of the complicated emotions involved in their relationship. I decided to create hand lettering for the title type to give the cover a more contemporary feel.

Because time and place are so important to this story I wanted to be sure that we were depicting an accurate setting. I looked at reference photos for the Scottish landscape and we added some WWII planes in the sky to emphasize the lingering danger. With the help of a retoucher (and Caroline’s guidance!) we made sure that these planes were the correct models- two Spitfires and a Flying Fortress.

What advice would you give to a teenager who is interested in becoming a book designer?
It’s important to keep up with trends in the book world and be aware of what’s out there. You can look at blogs, go to bookstores, and, of course, read! Try creating covers for classics or books that you love for practice. It’s also great to have experience working in both traditional and digital formats. It helps to be able to express your ideas in a variety of ways!

Which YA/children’s book cover do you wish you had designed and why?
A Series of Unfortunate Events- these were some of my favorites growing up, and the whole package is so unique and special! The covers, illustrations, and even the endpapers perfectly capture the mood of the stories before you even read a word.

What’s your favorite among all the books you have designed and why?
This is such a hard question! I would have to say Dumplin' because it was one of the first books I worked on and has a special place in my heart. The other would be York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (left), because it is exactly the kind of book I would have loved when I was younger (and still do)!

Aurora has been an amazing designer, not only for my covers, but she also designs the inside pages of the books too. As she mentions above, when we were first looking at the WAIT FOR ME cover, I asked if the largest of three planes, originally drafted as an RAF Lancaster bomber, could be swapped for a American bomber, the B17 Flying Fortress, which was mentioned in the story. Aurora didn't turn a hair. She studied the WW2 Royal Observer Corps silhouette outlines I sent to her, and the Lancaster was suddenly a Flying Fortress. Hands up if you'd spotted the difference!