Be a better reader

February wrap-up: A month in the life of a kidlit editor
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It’s been so nice to get back into the swing of things this month and it feels like business might be slowly starting to return to some sort of normal after a strange 2021. I’ve had a pretty constant influx of enquires and manuscripts and next month is looking super busy with editing, coaching and speaking engagements. I finished my year-long fiction writing programme with Golden Egg Academy in December and it’s been nice getting my evenings back but now the terrifying query process starts with my middle grade contemporary novel. See, authors, I really do know what you’re going through!

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Read like a writer: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy
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This was a really fun, pacey YA horror with grown-up Point Horror vibes as Kathryn Foxfield pointed out in her quote on the back of the book. What I found particularly interesting about Last One to Die is that it reads as a realistic slasher up right until the last couple of chapters and then – SPOILER ALERT! – it turns a corner into supernatural horror for the big reveal. I say spoiler alert but actually Kat Ellis’ quote on the back, ‘a supernatural horror-fest’, sort of gives away that twist. This is what sets it apart from Point Horror stories, for me, as those are always based in reality.
The story is told primarily through Sara’s ‘witness statement’ which reads as a linear first person, present tense narrative. She relates the events that took place in the woods when she and her friends attempted to find and rescue her sister from local ghost Lucy Gallows, but that narrative is framed by a present-day paranormal investigation trying to piece together what really happened that night. Sara’s statement is interspersed with audio transcripts, text message conversations, news articles and emails that fill the gaps in Sara’s own memory and reveal the truth about Lucy Gallows’ game. Sara is an often unreliable narrator and the reader discovers information she doesn’t have, making them active participants in the story and increasing the dramatic tension as events come to a head.

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Read like a writer using Evernote, part one: Saving examples of clever writing techniques
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I know it’s easy for me to sit here shouting ‘Read analytically! Take notes! Annotate!’ but that’s not very helpful without practical, actionable advice to go along with it. How…

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GMC: The one question to ask every novel you read
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What if you don’t have the time or inclination to pull apart every book you read in this much detail and just want to enjoy the story? That’s completely fine – it’s important to read for pleasure and sometimes you need to turn off your craft radar and let yourself sink in to the story and experience it as a reader.

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Read like a writer: Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
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I really enjoyed Rules for Vanishing and it reminded me how much I love epistolary novels! Including additional content like newspaper clippings, video footage and police interviews can work really well in books for young readers: it breaks up the main narrative and increases the white space, meaning the story feels a little less dense and intimidating, plus it encourages readers to speed through the pages more quickly because each section is so short and easy to digest.

The story is told primarily through Sara’s ‘witness statement’ which reads as a linear first person, present tense narrative. She relates the events that took place in the woods when she and her friends attempted to find and rescue her sister from local ghost Lucy Gallows, but that narrative is framed by a present-day paranormal investigation trying to piece together what really happened that night. Sara’s statement is interspersed with audio transcripts, text message conversations, news articles and emails that fill the gaps in Sara’s own memory and reveal the truth about Lucy Gallows’ game. Sara is an often unreliable narrator and the reader discovers information she doesn’t have, making them active participants in the story and increasing the dramatic tension as events come to a head.

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Where to find up-to-date recommendations for MG and YA fiction online
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There are loads of places to find genre-specific middle grade and YA recommendations but if you’re new to the kidlit space or you just want to read a few good books and don’t care about the genre or subject matter, here are a few of my favourite resources to start you off. Remember this post is being published in January 2022 so if you’re reading this far in the future (I bow to our new alien overlords) be sure to check these websites for more up-to-date lists.

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Why you need to read *recently published* MG and YA novels
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How well do you know the current market? I often work with authors who haven’t read a children’s book since their own childhood and can’t name a middle grade or…

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Why reading widely won’t hurt your writing: 3 tips from Francine Prose
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Author Francine Prose wrote an excellent craft book in 2006 called Reading Like a Writer and I urge you to pick up a copy if you haven’t come across it before. In chapter one she talks a little about the various excuses authors give for not wanting to read too deeply or widely while writing their own novel, and I’ve heard these excuses in writing groups so many times that I wanted to address them now for any authors nervous that other books may negatively affect their own work. TL;DR: they won’t.

1) ‘Reading amazing books make my writing look rubbish in comparison!’

I hear ya. Every time I finish a brilliant novel, after first rushing off to Goodreads to mark it ‘complete’ and give it five stars, I sit for a minute and think, ‘Well, my book is never going to be anywhere near that good. I think I’ll stop writing it.’ This defeatist attitude usually subsides after a while and is replaced with determination to at least try to write something nearly as fabulous but what if that feeling of inferiority puts you off reading altogether?

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MG Recommendations for Authors: Wildspark by Vashti Hardy
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I loved Wildspark even more than Brightstorm – and I really loved Brightstorm! I first came across Vashti Hardy when I took the Golden Egg Academy’s year-long ‘Write Your Successful Children’s Novel’ programme, as she went through the same programme and is still a powerful, supportive force in the GEA community. She’s a fantastic MG writer; this was such a fast, easy read and Prue is compelling and likeable right from the start without being perfect: sometimes I wanted to shake her and shout ‘Forget about Francis, Prue! Go live your life – it’s what he would have wanted!’ Twelve year olds, amirite?

The pacing feels just right – Prue and her brother’s backstory is sprinkled throughout as short flashbacks – and the stakes are high: if Prue doesn’t figure out how to bring back personifates’ memories, she’ll never see her brother again and that is just unthinkable for her. The worldbuilding in the novel is gorgeous and evocative without feeling overly detailed or dragging down the pace of the story: I have to get me some of that shimmering qwortzite! There are fascinating themes at play here about morality, life and whether progress should is more important than individual freedom. There’s a teaching resource on Hardy’s website that pulls out quotes from each character relating to these themes which is really fascinating to read from an author’s or editor’s perspective, as you can picture Hardy analysing these themes in her manuscript and deciding how each character would contribute.

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Welcome to Wolf School! An intro to my 2022 blog mission
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After blogging at Writer and the Wolf for a couple of years, I’ve decided to change direction a little for 2022 and I’m really excited about it! Instead of focusing…

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