I’ve done pretty much every book-related job there is. At school, I volunteered at my local library. At uni, I helped fund my degree by working night shifts on the college library desk. I’ve been paid to write reviews of books. Now, with the publication of GILDED CAGE and the Dark Gifts sequence, I’ve even been paid to write books – yay!

But I’ve never worked in a bookshop.

Surely every booklover has at one time or another dreamed of working in a bookshop? Well, now’s your chance. The wonderful BIG GREEN BOOKSHOP in north London is offering itself up for a day of being run by enthusiasts!

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As well as selling, the shop does fantastic community work, like its school rewards scheme that gives 10% of a sale to the school or nursery of a customer’s choice. Now they’re writing a book about life as an indie bookseller and are raising backing in all sorts of ways, including offering up the shop keys for a day.

So a bunch of awesome people will be joining me in a takeover – authors and bloggers, including NYT bestselling author Taran Matharu, author Antonia Honeywell of the fabulous THE SHIP, YA social supremo Jim of YAyeahyeah and vlogger Julianne Benford. There will also be some 2017 debutante authors, including Katie Webber, Kristina Perez … and me!

We’ll have an incredible day of events, while learning all about how the book trade works for those most beloved of creatures: independent booksellers. And we still have a few spots left on the crew for the day.

So if you’d like to join us (date to be decided when we have our final lineup), why not tweet me at @drvictoriajames or email the guys at the shop: enquiries@biggreenbookshop.com  At just £25 for a daylong bookshop party + crash course in bookselling (with sandwiches and a packet of Monster Munch* thrown in at lunchtime), how can you resist?

*maybe Skips or Quavers if you’re weird like that….

If you’re not up for being a bookseller, but want to support the BGB anyway, check out their Unbounders page for other ways to show your love.

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Since my deals for GILDED CAGE and the Dark Gifts sequence were announced, I’ve had lots of people asking how it all happened. Now, every journey to publication is different. But there are two things every writer needs to hear: there is no such thing as ‘overnight success’, and you can land an agent and a deal without contacts.

So I’ll tell you what happened to me, in four ‘chapters’:

  1. How I wrote my manuscript
  2. How I prepared to query
  3. How I got an agent and a deal
  4. How publication happens

Here we go – starting with the embarrassing stuff, of course

i.  Years ago, I wrote a novel. A terrible novel. It was Victorian steampunk SFF and Shall Not Be Spoken Of Again. I put it in a drawer. This was Novel #1

ii.  Totally convinced that I couldn’t write, I put aside my dreams of being an author. Sad times. I got on with finding what my Mum called a ‘proper job’. I ended up in television, making investigative reports for a UK national news programme.

iii.  But dreams die hard. Years later I started another book – a contemporary AU British fantasy with magic. I wrote a few chapters. It wasn’t working. I scrapped it.

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iv.  I decided that non-fiction might the way to go. Having lived abroad for six years, during which I did some travel journalism, I hit on the idea of a travel book. Yay! Travel and writing! I love Vikings, and hadn’t travelled much in Scandinavia, so settled on a travelogue tracing the Viking world from its Scandi origins, to settlements in the Faroes and Iceland, and sea voyages to Greenland and Newfoundland. In each place, I made heaps of notes.

v.  Then in my final destination, Greenland, I was told an incredible story about an archaeological dig site. It sparked off ideas to which only fiction could do justice. So I wrote 100,000 words, with four narrative strands that converged in an epic sea-battle. This was the book that taught me how to write – and more importantly, it showed me that my desire to write fiction still burned brightly. This was Novel #2.

vi.  Just as I was finishing the Viking novel, I started working on a BBC TV programme titled The Superrich and Us. For this, I filmed with billionaires and got access to some of England’s most exclusive events. There was a lot of talk about ‘the 1%’ and ‘the 99%’, and the idea just clicked in my head: What if the 1% didn’t only have unimaginable wealth – what if they also had magic? How would magical power resemble economic power, and how would it differ? And most importantly: what would our lives as the 99% be like in such a world? The characters were there in my head as if they’d always been with me. I was so excited that I dropped the Viking book with the final chapter unwritten, and set to work straight away.

vii.   The only problem – and it was a big problem – was how to get this story down while it still felt white-hot and thrilling. TV is an industry that consumes your attention round the clock. So how could I ensure I kept writing? I considered a critique group, or a part-time Creative Writing degree or novel writing course. But I was burning to start this book right now – I didn’t want to wait. And then I found Wattpad.

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viii.  Wattpad is a site where you can post writing online for anyone to read. It contains everything from bad-boy romance, to autobiography and Historical fiction. A few weeks lurking showed me that Fantasy was a popular category, and there were plenty of talented people on the site both reading and writing. So I resolved to write and post a chapter a week. And I kept to that, although it often meant writing for 15 minutes during my lunchbreak or commute, or getting up at 4am to write before work. And eventually, 20 weeks and 20 chapters later, I had a complete manuscript – with 250,000 online views and hundreds of comments from readers who’d loved it. I’d finished Novel #3 – and it felt like this might be The One…  

Check back soon for the next part: How I got ready to query!

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So, yesterday I finished Book 2 in the DARK GIFTS trilogy.

Well, not ‘finished’, exactly. More like ‘completed the start’ of Book 2. Because from here,  a whole process begins: developmental edits, line edits and copy edits. At the end of that, in exactly a year’s time, Book 2 will hit the shelves! (Here’s a teeny, tiny, cover-concept teaser.)

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But I’ve completed a full first draft and sent it off to my editors – just in time for summer to finally arrive in London! I’m going to be spending my first afternoon of leisure swimming in Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake, but right now I’m cowering indoors waiting for the midday heat to abate. So here are three things I’ve learned from writing my sequel:

It was easier than I expected to get back inside my characters. The first draft of GILDED CAGE was written two years ago, the second draft sold a year ago, and I completed my final revisions six months ago. Since, then, I’ve been busy making a documentary. So I was worried I’d need time to ‘remember’ my characters’ voices. (Book 2 is told from six different perspectives.) Not so. They were there and welcomed me back like old friends. I’d really missed them. This is why writing tips always say it’s vital to know your characters. I don’t detail everything about them in advance, but when, for example, I needed to list what Silyen is fond of, I knew the answers instantly.*

It was much harder than I expected, physically. It’s ironic: the life of a writer seems like the laziest imaginable: get up, sit at desk, write, stop writing, go to bed. But when you are doing this day after day – partly because you are on deadline, but mostly because you love the place your head is in and you don’t want to leave – it is gruelling. At times, I was spending 16 hours a day at my desk. Also: eating far too many biscuits. Neither my back nor my waist is thanking me right now. One friend who’s been a novelist for years goes to the gym every day. I moved house mid-draft, and have discovered there’s a swimming pool just up the road. When writing Book 3, I’ll make sure I follow her example.

The unexpected is where the magic is. My trilogy sold as a complete manuscript of Book 1, and two 2-page outlines of 2 and 3. I know where this story is going. Some of the trilogy’s final scenes have been in my head from the moment I started writing. But not even the most ardent plotter will have 300,000 words worked out piece by piece. So your characters surprise you. One unexpectedly won my heart in Book 1, and is now a firm favourite. There are several deaths in Book 2, and some happened later or earlier than I’d anticipated. One sub-plot from the initial synopses has gone, because it felt reduplicative of one I found more enchanting. So when I sat down and read back my completed mansucript, it was like reading a book for the first time, even though I’d written the whole thing.

And that’s the best feeling. Now I just have to wait and hope that my editors agree!

(*The smell of old books, pistachio macaroons, and his trusty Ludd riding boots.)

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Right now, I’m so flat out working on the sequels to GILDED CAGE – books 2 and 3 of the Dark Gifts trilogy – that I don’t have much head-space for reading. (I don’t have much head-space for the real world, if I’m being honest.) So with a week’s holiday coming up, one of the things I was looking forward to most was … reading!

It was going to be a bookish kind of holiday anyway, because I’m in Romania – including Transylvania/Wallachia, home of the infamous Vlad the Impaler, IMG_2402-1inspiration for Dracula. But before I came I heard about AND I DARKEN, the first of a new YA trilogy from the fabulous Kiersten White that retells Vlad’s story, with one very crucial difference. Genderswap!

How irresistible is that? So I begged myself an ARC.

Vlad is now Lada, the bold, ugly, daughter of the shifty voivode of Wallachia. This first book takes Lada and her little brother Radu – to whom history gave a kinder reputation and the nickname ‘the Handsome’ – from childhood in Sighisoara and Tirgoviste, to adolescence as political hostages in the Ottoman court, where they grow up alongside one of the Ottoman sultan’s sons, Mehmed.

White has written a fabulous political thriller, with a side-helping of YA love-triangle served up absolutely fresh: Lada’s growing and suppressed attraction to Mehmed, his arrogant yet sincere affection for her, and breaking my heart all over the page, Radu’s reluctant and all-consuming love for Mehmed.

It’s a gripping tale, and White doesn’t shirk the detail and intricacies of court and military life. The story propels you along – you pause only to admire delicious turns of phrase. IMG_2464-1When an ally is shot during an ambush, the victim ‘looked up at Radu, a half smile on his face as though the arrow were the end of the joke he had been in the middle of telling. And then he fell off his horse, tangling under the wheels of the supply wagon behind them.’

The book holds many more rewards, not least a wonderfully nuanced depiction of Islam, and a gorgeous little F/F romance glowingly illuminated in the margins. White brings to life not simply her protagonists, but their whole milieu. I loved Lada, Mehmet, Kumal and Nazira – and especially Radu – and can’t wait for the second in this series.

The photos show (top) AND I DARKEN outside the birthplace of Vlad/Lada Dracul in Sighisoara, and in the courtyard of Bran Castle, a stronghold of Vlad/Lada and also the inspiration for the residence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula!

books I love, Reviews
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Having loved the beginning of Fletcher’s journey in THE NOVICE (if you’ve not read that, go hunt down a copy right now), I couldn’t wait for this second installment in Taran Matharu’s tale of a teenage summoner and his salamander demon from a parallel realm.

As I’m currently wrapping up Book 2 in the DARK GIFTS trilogy, I was keen to see how Matharu handled the transition between books 1 and 2 in his SUMMONER trilogy.

25689056 It turns out that ‘splendidly’, is how. (Plus, like me, he’s a fan of the cliffhanger. Consider yourself warned!)

My favourite aspect of THE INQUISITION was the new secondary world. From Hominem, the human world in which book 1 was set, we are plunged deep into the orc jungles. It drips with atmosphere – especially in the culminating scenes. Matharu draws on Aztec culture to paint the orc realm, and it’s such a marvellous match you wonder why you’ve not seen it (and by ‘it’, I mean ‘orcs’) done that way before. It’s just one of the ways these books take familiar tropes, but shake them up so creatively that what you’re reading feels fresh and original.

So the world widens … and relationships deepen. A winning cast of supporting characters is introduced, like Cress the fierce, wisecracking female dwarf. Imagine the love-child of Brienne of Tarth and Tyrion Lannister. (No, really do try to.) A personal favourite is Verity Faversham, who is not quite what readers of Book 1 may be expecting, given her family background.

Matharu excels at involving readers in the bond between Fletcher and his demon, Ignatius, and in this book Fletcher acquires two more non-human helpers. To say more would be much spoilers, so giveaway, wow. And then a conclusion that’s one part loyalty, one part treachery, and two parts shocking revelation. In all, the perfect cocktail to leave you thirsting for more… Shame it’s another year till the final SUMMONER installment!

(Oh, and both SUMMONER books have just become New York Times bestsellers in the ultra-competitive YA charts – congratulations, Taran Matharu!)

SUMMONER: THE INQUISITION is out now in the US (Feiwel&Friends) and UK (Hodder)

books I love, Reviews
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