So… I got a book deal!

After a few agonisingly long weeks of waiting, the news is out – I have a book deal! In fact, I have a two book deal! My novel, the one I’ve been banging on about on here for the last few years, is called The Girl Who… and it’s an emotional thriller for young adults (YA), focusing on two seventeen-year-old girls.

I’ve written a real actual book!

There’s Ellie – lively, outgoing and desperate for fame. And then there’s her new stepsister Leah, who actually is famous but for the most horrific reason: as a child she witnessed a notorious crime, the stabbing of her mother and sister.

In the aftermath her father set up a charity to campaign against street violence and she has become a heroine, a poster child for bravery and forgiveness. It seems like the whole world knows what she’s been through but can’t bear to say it. They just call her “the girl who… you know…”

As Leah struggles to grow up, in the limelight but plagued with dark and terrible thoughts, Ellie is the only one who can see that something is very wrong.

The deal is with Atom which is great as they specialise exclusively in YA stories, so I know I’m in good, experienced hands. Just before the news came out I met met my editor (I have an editor!) Olivia Hutchings and publicist Stephanie Melrose as well as my brilliant agent Lina Langlee, who got me the deal. It’s the weirdest sensation, after writing away in my “spare” time over the years and barely showing anyone my story I now have a whole team of people who like it and who are committed to getting out into the world.

Atom editor Olivia Hutchings, author Andreina Cordani and publicist Stephanie Melrose
Me standing between Olivia and Stephanie after a lovely lunch talking about the book. Must learn to flash my teeth when I smile…

I know a lot of writers have a problem with letting go of their work and who knows, I might find it hard when Olivia’s first edit comes back to me. But after years of second-guessing and staring at the words thinking: Is this too much? Or too little? it’s wonderful to be able to talk to people about it and work on the story to make it the best it can be.

The weirdest thing of all is when I realised that other people around Atom and its parent company Hachette had also been reading the book and talking about it. There was talk of people being “up all night” and saying “just one more chapter.” When I met Olivia and Stephanie we were joking about the characters as if they were people we all knew and liked. It’s almost as if I’ve written a real, actual book. Hang on… I’VE WRITTEN A REAL ACTUAL BOOK!

Two days after I signed the deal I discovered there was already a placeholder for pre-orders on Amazon. And when the publishing trade journal, The Bookseller wrote about the deal calling me “Cordani,” I felt like a proper author. I also had so many lovely messages from people saying congratulations. So many that I ran out of excited gifs and emojis to respond with. It was like having a baby, but without the “I haven’t slept in days and my boobs are about to explode” part.

So this is it, a new step on the road for me. I’m still in the process of taking it all in at the moment, which is why there aren’t oodles of details in this post. I feel like I’ve got so much to learn before spouting any opinions.

There will still be lots of journalism and book reviewing in my life – I’ve no plans to give that up – but I’m also looking forward to sharing more of my novel-publishing experience as I go along. I can’t wait for next September when it finally hits the shelves!

Read my previous rant on publishing here

Looking for a twisty YA thriller with heart? Try this one

How Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper made me have all sorts of Important Thoughts

I’ve already written about how Unfollow convinced me to start blogging again after a long hiatus. It’s funny how sometimes the right book hits you at the right time and sparks something in your mind. It made me Think Big Thinky Thoughts about Life, Hate, Family and Twitter. It might not press that button for for everyone but Unfollow is still a fascinating insight into what it’s like growing up in a loving family which was full of hate for the outside world.

The cover of Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper showing the Westboro Baptist Church with a god hates America banner on the front of it

For her whole life, Megan Phelps-Roper was a member of the Westboro Baptist Church – the fanatics who rejoiced after 9/11 claiming it was God’s way of punishing sinful America; the ones who picketed military funerals with signs saying Thank God for Dead Soldiers. Megan grew up with a God Hates Fags banner in her hand and later, on Twitter, became the church’s mouthpiece and online provocateur. But in 2012 she left, turning her back on the church’s message, despite knowing her family would cut her off.

When I first picked the book up I was afraid to trust Megan. Could you really grow up in a community of hate and simply let all those prejudices go? Had she really rejected all Westboro’s teachings or just chosen to leave the church after it turned on her family? There’s no doubt the latter was a factor, but as I read Megan’s slow unpicking of her belief system I was totally convinced by it.

You can raise your children to hate but it doesn’t necessarily stick

I learned quite a few surprising things from this book. Firstly that Twitter can be a kind place. We’re used to thinking of it as a shrill echo chamber or a troll’s paradise, and it’s people like Megan – or old Megan at least – who make us think that. For years she tweeted her church’s hate-filled message, dressing it up in clever banter and emojis (You’re going to hell 😀), raising hysteria and public awareness of her obscure little church in the process.

But while most people reacted with (understandable) outrage others, including Jews and members of the LGBT community, engaged patiently and kindly, gradually breaking down the rigid thinking imposed by her family until it finally fell away.

That’s the other thing I learned from the book – you can raise your children to hate, but it doesn’t necessarily stick. It’s human nature to think, to question. These days everyone seems so polarised it seems impossible that civilised debate and questioning could change someone’s mind – but in this case it did. That’s something that’s good to know.

For slow readers, the part at the beginning, where she’s still signed up to the church’s thinking might be an uncomfortable read, especially if you’re a member of one of the groups she was taught to revile or a victim of one of the church’s pickets. But I do think it’s worth reading on.

a picture of unfollow by megan phelps roper on a train table with a blue portable tea cup next to it

There are definitely still secrets at Westboro – Megan alludes to the violence of her grandfather and the temper of her mother but won’t go any further – her loyalty to her family is still tangible throughout the book even as she rejects their ‘values’. They might condemn her as a fallen woman on her path to hell but she will never let go of them.

I found the Bible verses hard going – long thee-and-thou quotes lovingly drawn from the King James Bible, which the Westboro members used to justify their hardline stance. I found myself grumpily skimming over lots of those but as I read on I came to understand why they were there. They’re not for me, or for 98 per cent of the people reading this book – they’re for her family. Because I get the feeling that the real reason Megan has written Unfollow is as an escape manual for her siblings who are still trapped in the Church’s thinking, and an explanation to her still-beloved and now estranged parents. That fact alone makes it a heartbreaking read.

Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper is out now

Why I’ve decided to keep blogging

Let’s be honest, this book blog has never really got off the ground. I make a start, do a few regular posts, then life takes over. I get a few urgent commissions, my poor neglected novel-in-progress needs attention, my entire family descends from different parts of the world wanting to catch up, my kids get ill. Of all the things in my head clamouring for attention, this blog has the smallest voice.

But the main reason I struggle to post anything is that I’ve never been sure why I’m doing it. I trained as a journalist in the 1990s and was taught in no uncertain terms to keep myself out of the story. You are not interesting, the tutors would say. Nobody needs to know what you have to say.

I was thinking of giving up, then two things happened…

And I still partly agree with that. Who needs this particular straight, white, middle-aged, middlish-class print media person yammering on about what books she likes? What’s so bloody special about my perspective?

And then there were the books themselves. Most people devote themselves to a single genre: they’re commercial fiction bloggers, sci-fi, horror, fantasy etc. I write YA fiction, but I never met a genre I didn’t like. I read pretty much everything so I’m never going to find a niche of loyal followers anywhere.

Another problem is that I’m chronically agnostic. I’m all about the shades of grey. I can see good things in the books I hate, and all the flaws in the books I love. “Ooh, nothing’s more entertaining than equivocation…” said no-one ever. I’m hardly about to set the world on fire, so why bother?

Last of all is the amount of hard work it takes to build a following. People post and post and shout and shout about their blogs which leads me back to my original point about not wanting to foist my opinions on other people.*

So recently I’ve been thinking of quietly winding the whole thing up. Then two things happened.

cover image of Unfollow a journey from hatred to h ope, leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by megan Phelps-Roper

First, I read Unfollow, by Megan Phelps-Roper – the story of how a girl was raised in the fanatical Westboro Baptist Church, had been holding horrible God Hates Fags signs since she could walk, but somehow got up the courage to leave the church, her family and the life she’d known because she realised what she was doing was wrong. (Review to come later once I’ve got this post out of my system.)

At the end of her book, she speaks about how often she sees the symptoms of Westboro mindset in the wider world – polarisation, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias. I completely understood what she meant – we might not all be holding offensive signs but many of us stubbornly cling to our beliefs in the face of opposition. And books are a great way of unlocking a closed mind, getting you to see things from another perspective. As a sheltered suburban teen Tales of The City gave me an insight into LGBT life I wouldn’t have otherwise had. More recently The Hate U Give put me in the centre of #BlackLivesMatter in the way a news report never could.

About an hour after I finished reading Unfollow, an author friend on social media made a throwaway comment which went something like: because of the Internet people expect to get words for free now. Soon nobody will buy books which means nobody will be able to write them.

Having just finished reading a book which had made me think a LOT, I suddenly had this desire to champion books, to never let them die. And that if I am a privileged white middleish class media person (most of the time I look at my overdraft and don’t feel privileged at all, but that’s another post…) then I should add whatever privilege I have to speak up for life changing books, biographies that open your eyes, stories that keep you up all night, novels that take you to new worlds or make you feel like you’re not alone in yours.

There’s a brilliant, vibrant community of book bloggers out there championing the books they care about. Why shouldn’t I join in?

meme stating I don't believe in much, but I do believe in books

As I write this the editor in me is already saying that none of this is news, all this has been written before. I think there was even an episode of Doctor Who about it. But clearly it needs to be said again and again and again. More and more loudly, by more and more people.

So here’s the deal. I’m not going to post several times a week, I’m not going to blog about every single book that I read but if I read something that I love, or that sweeps me away or made me think, I’m going to talk about it on here. Three or four people might even read it. One of you might even leave a comment (thanks Mum!)

So, for now, and until lame excuses take over again, I’m in. I really hope I can write something that helps make a difference.

*NB: I cringed the whole time I wrote this. Still cringing now.

Book review: The Girl Who Came Out of the Woods by Emily Barr

the girl who came out of the woods postcardFor the first sixteen years of her life, Arty lives in paradise. She, her parents and a group of idealists have built a small community in a clearing in the middle of the Indian forest. It’s not an easy life but it’s a happy one – a matriarchal society where every community member is a god or goddess, decisions are made by consensus and her biggest worry is whether the monkeys are going to steal their food.

However one night everything goes horrifically wrong and Arty finds herself stumbling out of the trees into the 21st Century, to a world she has been taught to fear. Her old life is gone forever – but can she make a new one in this crazy place of money, Bollywood, ice cream and Instagram?

Can she make a new life in this crazy place of money, Bollywood, ice cream and Instagram?

Lonely and traumatised, faced with a family she’s never met – some of whom have secrets of their own – Arty needs to figure out who she can trust and who to fear – not an easy task when her mother’s last advice to her was “don’t go into the basement.”

Not everybody in the outside world has Arty’s best interests at heart.

I’m already a fan of Emily Barr’s, but I grabbed this one with extra enthusiasm because I love a cult – any story about a group of people trying to break away from society and think differently always fascinates me. This one’s a bit different though – in most books the cult becomes twisted, dominated by poisonous groupthink and manipulation. But in this story it’s the outside world which is a dark and terrifying place and the “cult” could teach us a thing or two about getting along.

There’s so many elements to this book it’s difficult to classify. It’s a thriller, full of thrillery tricks and twists and darkness. It’s a novel about travel and adventure. It’s also a coming-of-age story with a vein of wry humour running throughout, along with a sense of wonder and hope for the future. Each of Emily Barr’s books is stronger than the last and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

The Girl Who Came Out Of The Woods is out now

Cover of the girl who came out of the woods

Two other books about cults or isolated religious communities…

Laurie and Martha are a power couple with the world at their feet – but Laurie is still traumatised by the years she spent in the clutches of a controlling religious sect and when it gets too much she holes up in a tiny, secret room in their house. Then a man from her past appears and begins manipulating her teenage daughter. The Hidden Room by Stella Duffy uses the minutiae of everyday life and the horrors of the cult to create a tense, atmospheric story.

Educated is Tara Westover’s gorgeously written memoir of her strict, religious upbringing in the remote countryside and it’s absolutely fascinating. School was banned, traditional medicine was forbidden, the End of Days was always around the corner and violence was an everyday occurrence. As she grows up Tara faces a choice – remain loyal to her father despite growing doubts about his views or educate herself and alienate the family she loves.

And two I can’t wait to read…

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson is a debut novel about a “terribly English cult” called The Panacea Society – devoted member Dilys strikes up a friendship with new recruit Grace, but as their leader’s zealotry increases their faith, and the community, begins to fall apart… Out 6 June 2019

Crime writer Alex Marwood has long been fascinated by cults, narcissistic leaders and groupthink and her book The Poison Garden tells the story of Romy who escaped a toxic cult and, like Emily Barr’s Arty, doesn’t know who to trust in the outside world. Although if I know my Marwood, this story is going to get very, very dark… Out 25 July 2019

I wrote a book in three weeks and it changed everything

A few months ago, I wrote a book in the space of a few weeks. It wasn’t a particularly long one – just 12,000 words and it wasn’t a masterwork of fiction poured from my heart through the filter of my amazing literary talent.

In fact if I had to define it, Everything You Need To Know: Kings And Queens Through The Ages is one of those fun books you give to people at Christmas and then spot in their downstairs loo months later. But hey – a book is a book.

A friend put me in touch with a new publishing company which was planning to roll out a whole Everything You Need To Know series and needed writers. I fancied a new challenge and after a couple of enthusiastic emails I had myself a tasty commission. There was one small problem – they wanted the book in three and a half weeks.

All it took was a punishing deadline and the will to ignore my family

And so I was off, researching up a storm. I spent hours in my local library scouring biographies for light-hearted trivia, trawled Wikipedia for leads then disappeared down a wondrous rabbit hole of historical blogs and academic papers. In the process I became an expert on things I’d never been remotely interested in before. I found myself watching The Crown saying things like “Of course Princess Margaret’s been on a bus” or “ooh look, it’s the Poltimore Tiara!”

And as I worked, the words just came – lining up gleefully on the page as I discovered each treasure trove of trivia. It was tons of fun. Of course when this happens it’s usually a sign that the work will need some serious editing later on but the fact remains: at the beginning of the month there was no book – three and a half weeks later, there was one.

By then I was knackered – I’d been doing all my regular freelance work alongside it so had been working until 2am for weeks – but also kind of exhilarated. Because after spending years in limbo with my own novel, tapping out the odd paragraph between commissions, I realised I could write something long-form (well long-ish), and write it fast. All it took was a punishing deadline and the will to ignore my family for set periods of time.

And so, in the weeks that followed I came to a decision. For years I’d been struggling to fit my fiction writing around the demands of a fast-turnaround freelance job, plus the needs of two small children and a raggedy, untidy house. As a result my novel has inched along slowly, sometimes lying neglected in my Dropbox for weeks. It’s time to make a change, to take a run at it like I did with Kings & Queens.

And so from the end of last year that’s what I started to do.  I dropped all freelance work except book reviews – I could never give up book reviews. And while it was incredibly painful it was also a huge relief because for the first time in years I was prioritising the career I wanted.

Having time to concentrate made all the difference

A few months later, I have finished editing the manuscript of my YA crime novel, The Girl Who, and have started sending it to agents. Having the time to concentrate on this project has made all the difference. I know I’m privileged to be able to do it, that I have a husband in work who is able to shoulder the financial burden for a while – many others don’t have that luxury. It’s no wonder the world of writing is so inaccessible for so many – there’ll be a blog on this in the near future as I have a lot to say about this.

Sadly, things did not end well for poor old Kings & Queens. Despite the punishing deadline it’s now languishing in publishing no-man’s-land, like an ageing heir awaiting an abdication, as booksellers didn’t pick it up. But still, it could be the most important book I ever wrote, as it gave me the confidence to carry on.

Book review: Haunted by Ghost Wall

cover of Ghost Wall by Sarah MossOver a thousand years ago out in the Northumberland countryside a girl was sacrificed: kicked, beaten, tortured and finally buried in the bog by her family, her friends and the people she had grown up with. How could a community turn on someone like that, and why?

This eerie scene leads us into Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss – and the presence of the Bog Girl haunts every page, even as we jump forward into the 1990s.

Why anyone would voluntarily live an Iron Age life is a mystery but a small group of enthusiasts is spending the summer doing just that, camped out on the moors hunting and gathering. The Professor and his students are doing it in the name of research, Silvie’s amateur history-buff father Bill does it to fuel his obsession with the Iron Age and Silvie and her mother are doing it because they do whatever Bill tells them or they’ll pay the price.

Bill dominates his family, just as he believes a prehistoric patriarch would and as the little community divides and violent undercurrents emerge, Silvie is torn between loyalty to him and the growing need to break free.

Every word has been carefully chosen

The unnerving link between Silvie and the Bog Girl adds a darkness and sense of anticipation which pulls the reader deep into the story. Sarah Moss’ lyrical writing is silky smooth – the novel is short and every word has been carefully chosen. The lack of quotation marks can make the dialogue a bit difficult to follow, though.

Despite the blurb this isn’t a twisty thriller or a horror novel. Instead it’s punching at bigger themes: domestic abuse, teenage identity and even class issues (part of Bill’s rage springs from resentment – as a working class man he’s patronised and has never been free to pursue his passion for history.)

But at the centre of this book is a bigger question. How many steps away are we from the kind of savagery and superstition which killed Bog Girl? And will Silvie follow in her muddy footsteps, thousands of years after? A disturbing, offbeat and haunting story.

Ghost Wall is out now.

How to edit your novel on Kindle

It’s been two months since I typed The End on my manuscript. I thought it would feel exciting and wonderful, but actually I felt kind of flat. Because although I was pleased to get to the end of my first draft – SIX FLAMING YEARS after starting it – I also knew there was tougher work to come. I dreaded the process of picking apart my hard-woven words, taking out all those flowery bits which seemed so beautiful at the time and crunching the plot.

Yup, I was dreading the editing process.

There’s just something about scrolling through a Word document which bogs me down. I pick apart sentences and shift words around but it’s impossible to step back and look at the broader flow of the story or check the pacing. Reading on-screen or even in an A4 printout doesn’t feel the same as reading a book.

I had the chance to read my book as the average reader would

Before Christmas I sent the manuscript to a kind, generous and straight-talking author friend for feedback and she asked me to send it to her in ebook form so she could read it on her Kindle. After an initial technophobic panic, I downloaded an app called Calibre which allows you to convert Word documents to .mobi or .epub files so they can work on an e-reader. Self published authors will know this process well, but it was new to me.

It suddenly dawned on me that I had the chance to read my book as a reader would. On a Kindle while sitting on the bus, lying in bed or brushing my teeth (Just me? Probably.)

It didn’t take long to convert the latest version of my MS (instructions are below if you haven’t done it before) and I got a genuine kick out of seeing my words on the Kindle screen. It felt more like an actual book than it ever had before.

Reading in that format prevented me from stopping every few minutes to perform major (probably unnecessary) surgery on an actually-probably-OK paragraph but I could still use the highlight and note features to jot things down as I went along.

It’s been a completely refreshing, new way to look at the book and definitely worth doing if you’re in a slump. Once I’ve finished, I’m planning to keep the ebook in front of me as I make changes which makes me feel one step ahead on the brutal editing process – and one step closer to getting my book off the ground.

How to turn your MS into an e-book (for editing, not self-publishing purposes)

This might be a completely bleeding obvious process for some people, but super handy for others, like me, who are new to this malarkey.

screenshot of calibre app open on a desktop

The Calibre window open on my desktop

1: Download Calibre online. My computer runs on Linux rather than Windows, which is probably why the screen grabs look a bit weird – but Windows versions are available. I used a dummy Masterpiece for the screen grabs – that obviously isn’t the title of my book. I did this because I STILL CAN’T FLIPPING THINK OF A GOOD TITLE FOR MY WIP DAMMIT.

2: Open Calibre and go to Add Books to import your document.

click on Output Format at top left to convert to .mobi

Add a cover then click on Output Format at top left to convert to .mobi

3: Then select your book and click on Convert Books. Go to Output Format and select .mobi for a Kindle. Other readers can run .epub documents. I added a random photo of an Elvis impersonator as a cover, just to see if it worked. It showed up in the actual document but, disappointingly, not on my Kindle homepage.

4: Hook up your Kindle to your computer and drag-and-drop your mobi into the documents folder with your other ebooks. You can obviously try to email it using your Kindle email address but I’ve had patchy results with this.

If you decide to try this too – or have used it lots before – let me know how you get on!

All about being stuck in the middle of a novel with no end in sight

How writers need networks

Twisted fairy tales: The Hazel Wood and beyond

If you’ve ever read real fairy tales, you’ll know the concept of a fairytale ending is far from perfect. Before Disney got his sugar-coated hands on them, they were dark, stark teaching tales – some of them with an obvious moral, others simply twisted stories that people passed around at night to scare the petticoats off each other.

page from a fairy tale book illustrating rapunzel including a picture of a witch and tangled treesBluebeard’s chamber was full of the corpses of his former wives, characters are blinded, torn apart by wild animals. It’s worse of course if you’re the stepmother. You could be tricked into eating the minced-up body of your own daughter, rolled down a hill in a barrel lined with nails or, if you were foolish enough to be cruel to Snow White, you could end up with your feet being forced into red-hot iron shoes and dancing yourself to death.

Nope, real fairy tales – not so nice.pages from a fairytale book pictures of two giants on the rampage

Over the years many authors have drawn inspiration from this fairytale darkness, but Melissa Albert takes it to a new level. Her novel, The Hazel Wood, manages to out-grim the Brothers Grimm.

Seventeen-year-old Alice spent her life on the run across America with her wonderful but erratic mother, who was always bundling her into the car and hitting the road at the first sign of trouble. It’s no wonder that she becomes obsessed with her rich, eccentric grandmother, Althea Prosperine.

The Hazel Wood manages to out-grim the Brothers Grimm

Althea’s book of fairytales became a cult hit in the postwar years, enabling her to buy a huge estate north of New York, called The Hazel Wood. She since became a recluse, and her book mysteriously vanished from shelves which only feeds Alice’s fascination.

Then Alice’s mother is kidnapped and Alice herself begins to realise that the frighteningimage of a fairytale book open at an illustration of the wild swans creatures from her grandmother’s tales might not be fictitious after all.

The Hazel Wood’s strength is that Melissa Albert has weaved a whole host of new tales rather than relying on the ones we grew up with, so they feel oddly familiar but warped and twisted. Some of the stories are woven into the book, but others are just alluded to, with horrific names such as Twice Killed Katherine.

I’d like to have read more of the actual fairytales themselves, although it could be the author decided to keep us in the dark to add to that sense of the unknown. Perhaps there’ll be a spin-off volume later, JK Rowling style.

Cover of The Hazel Wood by Melissa AlbertIt’s a hugely accomplished book for a debut author, beautifully written and atmospheric. The heroine is tough, scrappy and flawed – although her anger issues are more talked-about than experienced, it would have been fun to explore them more. I had a bit of a crush on her sidekick, Ellery Finch. I’m not at all surprised that the film rights have been sold already.

After finishing The Hazel Wood I immediately went to my fairy tale shelf (yes, I have one) and dipped into The Annotated Brothers Grimm, edited by the incredibly knowledgeable Maria Tatar. Re-reading Tatar’s matter-of-fact tone and footnotes, plus ominous titles such as The Hand With The Knife, the link with The Hazel Wood is clear to see. Pick up a copy of both and dive in… Just don’t read them to your children.

The Hazel Wood is out now

The images are from my 1970s volume of Classic Fairy Tales, which is what started this whole thing for me in the first place.

The Feed: a chilling glimpse into our future?

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever checked your social media? On a mountain top with an incredible view? In a meeting? In the bathroom while brushing your teeth? When you’re supposed to be talking to a real live person right there in front of you?

If you tick no to all these then congratulations, you are a wholesome human being and I envy you, because I am unashamedly hooked. My life and routine are such now that I don’t get many moments to myself and if I do, the quickest easiest way to entertain myself it just to check up on what everybody else is doing.

the Feed goes down and civilisation comes to an end

In the Nick Clark Windo’s The Feed, society has taken this to the next level. The Internet has jumped out of our phones and is in our heads – no screens, no keyboards, just a constant stream of knowledge, chatter, sponsored content and the real gut feelings of our nearest and dearest.

The whole world is using it – crowded restaurants are silent because everyone is interacting online, you witness a crime being committed and the Feed tells you where you can buy the attacker’s trainers, nobody can read any more because information is delivered straight to the brain.

But then a series of mysterious assassinations and terror plots begin and, one terrible night, the Feed goes down and civilisation comes to an end. Many people die from the shock – the author compares it to a sudden lobotomy.

cover image of the feed by nick clark windoThis is a fantastic Black Mirror-esque idea for a tale and the hook dragged me in straight away, but at first I did find the book a little frustrating. I wanted to know more about the Feed and the mysterious Taken people and less about the post-apocalyptic mess which followed its collapse. And I couldn’t quite warm to Tom and Kate, the nice middle class couple caught up in it all as they search the countryside looking for their missing daughter. I also didn’t truly buy into the idea that almost everyone on the entire planet – rich and poor, developing and developed world – had the feed in their brains. What about the underclass who could never afford it – they’d really come out on top in this world… But that’s probably another story.

It’s a fantastic Black Mirroresque idea

Then on page 183 (of my copy) something happens which made me go oohhhh… then I started racing through it. The characters have more depth then, more potential for pain and growth. And there at last were the glimpses of what went wrong with society and the explanation was more imaginative and fantastical (but plausible) than I could have suspected. A genuine surprise twist which, when you look back, is actually very nicely set up without leaving any obvious giveaways. That sort of thing is hard to find these days.

And through the paciness and the fight to survive in the ruins of society there is some real stuff to think about here. The Feed sounds like a horrifying thing but it has its good side too – the joy of sharing and communicating with the entire world, the strength of having so much knowledge right there in your head. These days it’s almost accepted without question that social media is a menace, it’s addictive, it’s taking people’s heads out of the real world. But it does good things too. People find their tribes – cosplayers, knitting addicts, soap fans. And for some people, like those struggling with racism, homophobia or transphobia in their own offline communities, going online and knowing they’re not alone is a huge source of strength.

Like the Internet we know and love/hate, The Feed a mixed bag. And it’s definitely something to think about next time I check my Facebook updates under the covers at 6.30am.

The Feed by Nick Clark Windo is out now

The Chalk Man: A creepy 80s thriller… a fun book launch

Set in the 1980s and the present day, The Chalk Man is one of my top thriller picks in a pile of chalk man hardbacksmonth teeming with twisty tales. It’s a brilliantly original idea: in the 1980s a gang of kids use chalk figures to communicate with each other. It’s all innocent, although somewhat creepy-looking fun until the day the chalk figures lead them to a body hidden in the woods. Thirty years later the gang has moved on, but has to confront the past when the figures start appearing again…

It’s a killer hook and debut author CJ Tudor has woven a confident, evocative story with great characters and a Stephen King-esque feel to it. It helps if, like me, you grew up in the 80s and have fond memories of Buckaroo, The Goonies and BMX bikes but readers of any age will relate to that feeling of being a child, yearning for adventure and stressing about how much your friends really like you.

There are a few chinks in the tightly-plotted armour but it’s such an absorbing, exciting story that I was completely carried away. Definitely worth reading. I’ve also heard great things about her next novel – involving an eerie abandoned mine in the North of England.

CJ Tudor with publicists jenny platt and laura nicol

CJ Tudor with her fab publicity team

So I was thrilled to venture out of my writing and reviewing cave to attend the book launch last night. It really is great to see a debut author so blown away by the response to her book and to learn that her love of the 1980s is very passionate and real – after five minutes chatting to her I was desperate to go off and rent The Lost Boys again.

Her story is also an inspiration to aspiring novelists everywhere. Caz was running a dog-walking business when she was inspired by her daughter Betty’s chalk drawings on their driveway. As she played fetch and scooped poop, the plot refined itself in her head.

It wasn’t her first attempt at a book – she’d been writing on and off for 10 years and that practice really shows in her writing – her agent admitted she was blown away at the first reading and it went onto become the agency’s fastest-selling debut. The book has already been sold across the world in multiple languages.

So although the book has an unnerving atmosphere, the scene at the launch venue, The Driver pub in North London, was celebratory and full of hope and excitement. I’m looking forward to seeing what CJ Tudor does next.

The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor is out now

creepy image of a hangman drawn in chalk