Mahala’s School Project

One of my biggest fans has used her favourite characters from A Circle of Lost Sisters in a project for English class.  I particularly like Holly’s award.  I have paired up her project work here with quotations from the novel.  My first bit of fan work!


Ingrid award‘Ingrid!  What did you do?’ 

‘Nothing, it was just a silly—’.  Ingrid looked at her hand.  She gasped and swore. 

When it first happened, when she had been certain hospital was imminent, there had been nothing to see.  Now, cradled in Leighton’s palm, Rowan Syng’s nail marks had changed.  They screamed out from her clammy skin: crimson, violent and swollen, the original scrapes swallowed by rising tides of shining pink like drowned salmon.

 ‘Oh!’ Ingrid mumbled, horrified at the angry welts.  As she and Leighton looked on, a trickle of yellow pus oozed from the middle graze.  She was going to be sick.  She was going to pass out and vomit all over the lovely Leighton Jacobs.  


Holly awardHolly sat up and shoved Rowan so hard she fell against the neighbouring stone with a satisfying thud.  ‘Sod off nosy cow!’  Holly walked away to the far side of the circle.  But Rowan recovered quickly, hopped back on her feet and grabbed Holly’s upper arm as she passed.  Damned hard arsed werewolf!

‘Don’t tell me you wouldn’t love revenge,’ Rowan hissed. 

‘Freya gave you a chance to get back at me.’  Holly wrenched her arm from Rowan’s grasp and tried again to move away. 

 ‘I don’t want to get back at you,’ Rowan pursued.  ‘Look what I did to Ingrid.  I don’t have the right to hold it against you.  I hold it against him.’

 ‘That what you’re looking for, Goth Girl?  You want to hit out at someone so bad you’re off to hunt down a werewolf bogey man—you’re so bloody mental!’


Rowan award

Mother.’  Rowan inhaled.  Faded Eeyore curtains, chosen when Rowan was a little girl, quivered around the open window as the weregirls anticipated the arrival of another relic from Rowan’s childhood. 

‘Mother?’  The sharp stench of death wafted in with the winter air.  No face appeared.  No objects shaped themselves into an image.  No voice broke the heavy silence. 

‘Mother!’ Rowan struggled against the terrified embraces of her pack sisters.  One bony arm wriggled free.  Rowan pushed it into Freya’s ribs weakening the werewolf body knot. 

 Rowan scrambled to the window.  Her trembling fingers clutched the frame and she howled, heartfelt and wolfish.  From outside her bedroom something answered.  


Finn awardDarkness had fallen properly now on the unlit country road.  Finn grunted with the effort of resisting.  Becky screamed in triumph.  The sun set and the full moon rose. 

From just below the surface of Heather Lane, a male wolf howled so fiercely it shook the ground.  Freya and Holly collapsed as waves of moonlight ripped through them, pulled at them with tidal force, turned them inside out.  Changed them into monsters. 

The grey and ginger flecked wolf that was Finn leapt over what was left of the hedge to stand beside the russet-furred Holly and the gold-coated Freya.  The trio roared a challenge at the gaping hole in the earth.  Behind them, from the distant River Munn, three more wolves howled a response.  


Demon DogsSix luminescent eyes flashed in the darkness.  Three creatures emerged from the bank of fog.  They were not wolves.  They were wolfhounds.  Taller even than Freya’s wolf form and very lean with long, finely muscled legs.  Layers of pure white fur covered their bodies in ruffled waves, except for their ears which were red.  Deeply red.  So red even the wolves could see it… 

Red!  Through her fear and panic Tyra could not help a vibration of pleasure in her chest.  She had not seen red in so long.  Her subtle whine in the silence suddenly made her the focus of attention.   Three sharp snouts turned to her, three muzzles pulled back from sharply pointed teeth and three moon-white bodies crouched to spring.  


Fantastic work, Mahala!  So glad you love my weregirls too.  Keep howling on.


Investigating Teen Angst and the Success Criteria for a YA Fictional Hunk

Today marked the final morning of lessons for another school year.  While many teachers let their students play games or put on a DVD , I interrogated my classes in the name of literary research.  The theme: what questions do you regularly ask yourself?

According to the gathering of experts at this past weekend’s Harrogate Crime Writer’s Festival, a good book should start with an interesting question to explore.  This, apparently, is the first step in creating a novel.  My previous creative strategy was to think up some really cool characters, get readers to care about them, then hurl endless mud pies of trauma in their faces to see what happens.  But questions sound like the basis of something more substantial.  I can work with questions.

merenoWhat kind of questions though?  I mean, I know the sorts of questions I obsessed about when I was a teenager but that was almost thirty years ago.  Do today’s teenagers think about the same sorts of things?  Turns out, they do.

Where do I fit into the world?  What’s going to happen to me?  Who should I look like?  Am I good enough?  What do others think of me?  How do I measure up to other people?  Am I liked?  What do I have to do to get where I want to be in life?  Do all good things have to end?  Why don’t I just go kill myself?  Will I ever find anyone to like me?  Should I really do this thing that so and so wants me to do?  Will they like me if I don’t?  What right do these people have to tell me what to do anyway?  Does all this crap really mean anything?   

I found it rather comforting to learn that teenagers have not changed significantly since the eighties.  In fact, I suspect they have remained fairly consistent since their invention in the mid-twentieth century.  I found it less comforting when I learned that thirteen-year-old girls still feel the need to “act dumb” to entice boys.  Grim.

These same thirteen-year-old girls had very definite ideas about the kind of boy their stupidity should attract.  While there are no real surprises on this list, I did learn a new term or two.  Again, as an adult writer of YA fiction I found it interesting to realise that teens never change.

Success Criteria for a Fictional YA Romantic Hero

(as decided by the girls of 8H1D1)

1) Tall.  Tall?  Apparently yes.  This was unanimous.  Thirteen-year-old girls in the 21st century still like to “feel protected”.  So, you still got some work to do there, Buffy.

2) Funny.  That’s better.  This was also unanimous and is backed up by Caitlin Moran who firmly believes that “if, after fifty years of sitcoms on television, you have not learned at least a few good jokes then you are fairly useless as a bloke.”

frankie-cocozza-feat bw copy3) Nice hair.  Naturally I asked them to qualify what they meant by “nice hair”.  Very short, neat hair is not acceptable.  It should be wavy, a bit long and slightly floppy.  But only if that suits the boy.  These girls then proceeded to point out three boys in their class with long hair who were not suitable.

4) A bit naughty.  Smartly uniformed boys who never get told off in lessons, always turn in homework and open doors for their mums are absolutely off the menu.   One young lady described her dream boy as “rough and ready”.  Aside from the amount of time these boys spend standing outside the Head Teacher’s Office, a drool worthy hottie should push the boundaries of school uniform: black jeans instead of trousers, tie worn off to the side, blazer always bundled into a bag.

tumblr_m7jh31lsy51rzrh78o1_5005) Cheekbones.  This surprised me, as it seems like such a subtle detail of appearance for teenage girls to focus on.  They were in universal agreement however.  A nicely sculpted pair of cheekbones is essential.

6) Not too hairy.  This is a bit of a wasted criteria element because, as I pointed out to them, there is little danger of too much hairy on a teenage boy.

7) A good “V-line”.  A what?  Apparently the “V-Line” is a side-effect of a well-formed six-pack.  The handy visual aid to the right shows in vivid detail what the v-line points to.  Who knew thirteen-year-old girls were so saucy?


So now, thanks to my Breaktime Lads and the Ladies of 8H1D1 I have questions to consider for my latest novel and a blueprint for Lewis Breeze, my fanciable anti-hero.  In terms of Floretta Deliverance Hughes, I am left with three interesting questions to explore.  What happens when a girl who believes she’d be better off dead accidentally succeeds then returns to haunt the world she hated?  Another character Rosie Lightowler, knows exactly where life is taking her, but what happens when tragic circumstances force her to completely re-think her place in the world?  For Lewis Breeze, a boy who has made not giving a toss his entire persona, can he find meaning and purpose to his life?

All of these characters, in different ways, will ask: “Why don’t I just kill myself?”  Ultimately this question is about finding something to live for–someone or something to live for and fight for and die for.  Maybe the real question then is: “What would you die for?”  Or possibly even: “How do you know you’ve found something worth living for?”