We recently-ish did a post about a Top 100 YA fiction list, in which Sarah Dessen featured strongly. So what about Sarah Dessen then? Who is she and why is she so popular? Here’s a very brief summary.
Sarah Dessen is the writer of (currently) nine novels for young adults, all of them stand-alone (which is unusual, since it seems everyone thinks you have to write series to be popular). We have them all! She studied creative writing in college (lucky her) and her first book, That Summer, was completed while she was waitressing (good job for writers: write during the day, wait at night).
Sarah Dessen fans (wittily called dessenites) love her for her realism, her focus on interpersonal relationships (the catch-all subject for fiction), and, yes, her books are a little bit romantic. Of Just Listen, possibly her most critically well received novel, one reviewer wrote, “Annabel and Owen’s finely limned connection alone gives this novel staying power”.
If you’re wanting to make a serious study of Sarah Dessen’s works then the place to go is the Literature Resource Centre. This is one of the online databases you can get at through MyGateway.info. The Literature Resource Centre is a fantastic resource: there are reviews (separated into reviews and more highbrow literary criticism), biographical articles and interviews, plus much more. Great for your NCEA reading log.
Re-Draft, an annual competition for teenage writers is on again. Your work could be selected for publication by judges Tessa Duder and James Norcliffe. Check in your school library for last year’s copy of the Re-Draft book ‘Fishing for Birds’ and you’ll find the entry form in the back. Good luck!
Noted author, Tamsyn Murray, recently agreed to an exclusive interview with Teen Blog, which was nice. Born and raised in the UK, she’s got one YA book to her credit, My So-Called Afterlife (a colleague describes it as “gripping”, so it’s very good) with another on the way very soon. We asked her about writing, reading and cricket …
At what age did you begin writing? And when did you know it was something wanted to get paid for doing?
I’ve always loved writing stories and can remember dreaming up characters and scenarios from a young age. English was definitely my favourite subject at school but I didn’t start to wonder if I could write professionally until 2008, when I read a how-to-write book and everything fell into place. So I like to think I spent the first thirty-five years of my life learning how to write. Either that or I wasted them!
What other YA authors do you read and enjoy?
I’m an enormous fan of Neil Gaiman, who writes across a range of ages, and I loved The Graveyard Book. Other YA books I’ve read recently include The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Wasted by Nicola Morgan and Girl, Aloud by Emily Gale – three very different books but all outstanding.
Where did the idea for My So Called Afterlife come from? I assume the title is a nod to Clare Danes…
The idea for My So-Called Afterlife came when I was wondering what would happen if the building a ghost haunted got knocked down and something else got built on top – would the ghost haunt the new building? What if was something like a toilet? Then the character of Lucy appeared in my head, stamping her Ugg boots and demanding I tell her story. The title arrived after the book was finished and, yes, I was a fan of My So-Called Life.
A lot of the readers on this blog are aspiring writers, and judging by the short story competition entries we receive, they are also very talented, give them some tips on getting that first book published.
The best thing I ever did was find my literary agent. She made suggestions on where I could improve the book and knew which publishers to send it to once it was ready. It’s thanks to her that my novel found a home so I’d recommend aspiring writers try to find an agent on the same wavelength. They might take a percentage of your earnings but without mine, I’d be earning a lot less!
My So Called Haunting is due to be released soon, what can we expect from novel number two?
A different main character, for a start! My So-Called Haunting introduces Skye, a fourteen year old psychic who moves to London to stay with her aunt, Celestine. As Skye struggles to settle into her new life, she’s also developing a crush on the most unattainable boy in the school, Nico.
When her aunt asks for her help with a troubled teen ghost called Dontay, she’s glad of the distraction. But then Nico starts paying her attention, and she’s soon facing a battle to keep her love life and her psychic life separate.
As things get ever more complicated, it looks as though Dontay’s past might cost Skye her future.
We enjoy haiku and you enjoy cricket, write us a cricket themed haiku.
Erm, ok. This is my first ever haiku and I suspect it’s not very good! But here goes:
Bowler sights pale stumps
a crack of ball on willow
summer is a game
* * * * * *
My So-Called Afterlife is available for issue on our catalogue, click on the title to place a reserve. For more Tamsyn Murray news, go to her website where she has all the details of her work, along with a link to her frequently updated and very interesting blog.
Only a few new books this week.
The Splendour Falls, by Rosemary Clement-Moore (220 pages) – Sylvie is a ballerina. She broke a leg, her father died, and her mother remarried! Also, she might be losing her mind (or it might be ghosts). To cheer her up her mother moves her from an Manhattan apartment to a haunted Alabama mansion, where she meets the mysterious yet attractive Rhys.
First line: ‘For months, I relived the pas de deux in my dreams, in that multisensory Technicolor of a memory I’d much rather forget.‘
The Polar Bear Ward, edited by Tessa Duder and James Norcliffe (118 pages) -This is the seventh Re-Draft anthology, which we finally have (it came out in 2008!) It collects works by young NZ writers and poets.
The 13 Curses, by Michelle Harrison (454 pages) – This is the sequel to 13 Treasures. Rowan Fox makes a deal with the fairy court; she will find the cursed charms from a bracelet in exchange for her brother, who was stolen by the fairies. And there’s no guarantee the fairies will keep their side of the bargain – they have a secret up their little fairy sleeves.
First line: ‘As midnight approached in Hangman’s Wood two girls fled through the forest, desperately searching for a way out.‘
The Phoenix Files : Contact, by Chris Morphew (309 pages) – This is the second book in a series. It is part sci-fi, part thiller, part conspiracy theory paranioa, and it’s all leading up to the end of the world. Great stuff! There’s a website here.
First line: ‘Someone’s phone was ringing.‘
The Medusa Project : The Hostage, by Sophie McKenzie (244 pages) – This is also the second book in a series. It also has a website! This series is about four teens, who all exhibit psychic abilities. They are brought together to secretly fight crime – with their minds.
First line: ‘Like I didn’t have enough problems?‘
Winter’s End, by Jean-Claude Mourlevat (trans. Anthea Bell) (415 page) – This is originally French, and it’s also been released as Winter Song. It made one of our Top 10 lists (Books in Which Winter Stars) under that title, and you can read about it there.
First line: ‘At a sign from the supervisor, a girl in the front row rose to her feet and went over to press the metal switch.‘
We announced this year’s Short Short Story Competition (maybe it will be an annual thing!) yesterday. There are some great prizes and here are some photos of them.
These are the books:
Only authors are allowed to write in books! And sometimes librarians.
And as well as the books there is a t-shirt and a bunch of movie passes to see Cirque Du Freak : The Vampire’s Assistant when it opens on January 7th 2010.
Here’s a photo of the lot! Thanks, Paramount!
All this could be yours! Only if you enter the competition. All the details are here.
[Ed: some of the bunch of movie passes will go to excellent short stories that weren't the winner but were fabulous anyway]
Here are this week’s new books. Further to the First Sentence idea we have added an arbitrary rating of hooks (based on how well the first sentence hooks you in (you see)). The hook looks like this – . So there’s one for a pretty meh first line, and for the sentence that makes you want to keep reading.
Fire on High, by David Hill (127 pages) – Jonno wins a trip to South America to watch a solar eclipse. While there he becomes alarmed at the increasing civil unrest, and is keen to return home. His return flight, however, is hijacked …
First line: ‘At exactly 10.43 a.m., the sun started to turn black.’
Deathwatch, by Nicola Morgan (279 pages) – Cat McPherson’s revealed a little too much information about herself online, and now someone’s watching her. Does she realise she’s being stalked? A psychological thriller!
First line: ‘In the hooded darkness, he watches from a high window.’
Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith (275 pages) – 1940s Louisiana, and Ida Mae Jones wants to fly. She’s black, so it’s going to be tough. The opportunity to fly presents itself, but she has to pass herself off as a white girl to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots – and she soon realises that it’s difficult to escape who she really is.
First line: ‘It’s Sunday afternoon, and the phonograph player is jumping like a clown in a parade the way Jolene and I are dancing.‘
Secret Keeper, by Mitali Perkins (225 pages) – In 1974 when her father leaves New Delhi, India, to seek a job in New York, Asha, a tomboy at the advanced age of sixteen, feels thwarted in the home of her extended family in Calcutta where she, her mother, and sister must stay, and when her father dies before he can send for them, they must remain with their relatives and observe the old-fashioned traditions that Asha hates. [Catalogue description]
First line: ‘Asha and Reet held their father’s hands through the open window.‘
L. A. Candy : A Novel, by Lauren Conrad (326 pages) – This book is a semi-autobiographical account of a girl whose internship in L. A. leads to a role in a major reality show. Fame and fortune follow! And perhaps some soul-searching. The book’s author was in The Hills.
First line: ‘Jane Roberts leaned against her dresser, studying the way her white silk nightie looked against her sun-kissed skin.‘
Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater (392 pages) – A supernatural romance with (I think) a werewolf. A possible Twilight substitute, Grimm reckons. A sequel, Linger, is due out in 2010. Also, the entire book is printed in blue ink.
First line: ‘I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.‘
Andromeda Klein : A Novel, by Frank Portman (424 pages) – High school sophomore Andromeda, an outcast because she studies the occult and has a hearing impairment and other disabilities, overcomes grief over terrible losses by enlisting others’ help in her plan to save library books–and finds a kindred spirit along the way. [Library catalogue]. Saving library books is something we can all get behind, I say.
First line: ‘The Universe is huge.‘
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (391 pages) - This is the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy. It’s incredibly popular, so you’d better reserve it now if you haven’t. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future where a new, authoritarian government pits teens against one another on television. The third book is due out next year, and a film is in the works.
First line: ‘I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.‘
Watch The Skies : Daniel X, by James Patterson and Ned Rust (251 pages) – Daniel’s parents were killed by an alien, and he now hunts alien monsters using his uber-powers, which include super-speed and the ability to create anything out of nothing (handy in a pinch).
First line: ‘It was a pretty regular early-summer night at 72 Little Lane.‘
Dull Boy, by Sarah Cross (308 pages) – Avery has superpowers, but in an attempt to remain anonymous he’ll pretend to be as dull and normal as possible. Of course, every superhero has a villain to deal with …
First line: ‘It’s Friday – another afternoon spent pounding the pavement in search of crimes to stop and people to help.‘
Blue Moon, by Alyson Noel (289 pages) – This is the second book in the Immortals series (the first one was Evermore). Ever travels to another dimension in an effort to save Damen; she soon must choose between his life, and going back into the past and saving her parents’ lives. Quite a toss-up.
First lines: ‘“Close your eyes and picture it. Can you see it?”
A Student Writing Guide : How to Plan and Write Successful Essays, by Gordon Taylor (266 pages) - This book would be ideal for anyone at any level who wishes to write a cracking good essay. I recommend it!
If you’re 13 to 19 and a bit of a writer, we have the perfect competition for you : “Re-Draft” – which is run by the Christchurch School for Young Writers. The best entries each year are published in the school’s annual publication ’Re-Draft’, and your work might be chosen as the title of the book. That’s right your words, in bright bold colours on the front of the book…
This competition is open to all, and you can enter up to three pieces of work on any subject matter, poems or stories. Jump onto their website for info on the competition and details on how to enter.
Markus Zusak, who wrote The Book Thief (one of our Most Wanted books for, like, ages), was recently at the Hay Festival in the United Kingdom (which seems to be a celebration of books and chairs, from what I can tell), where he was interviewed while relaxing in a comfortable-looking deck chair. He talks about how he works, what inspired him to write The Book Thief, what it means to have death as a narrator, and a few other bits and pieces. The interview is here (from the Guardian website).
Incidentally, if you’re interested in strange narrators and you liked How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff make sure you read Just In Case, which is narrated by fate – it would make a very interesting point of comparison.
If you’re into creative writing you might be interested in this:
There are two special school holiday creative writing workshops happening next Wednesday 22 April at Katherine Mansfield Birthplace (25 Tinakori Road, Thorndon).
Run by award-winning author Janice Marriott, the workshops are a great chance for secondary school students aged 13–15 to develop their skills and ideas in creative writing.
Workshop 1: 9.30–12.30am
Workshop 2 (repeat): 1.30–4.30pm
Cost: $25 per student
Spaces are limited so bookings are essential. To book, call 473 7268 or email email@example.com.