The YA Book Prize

mrlIf you follow me on Twitter, and Instagram, you’ll know that to celebrate the forthcoming YA Book Prize, this week is #TeamSalisbury week – during which the YA Book Prize focuses The Sin Eater’s Daughter, one of the ten nominees this year.

Tonight, I’ll be taking part in an hour long Twitter chat, from 8pm, where you can ask me questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Please come and chat with me!

For now, I want to talk a bit, about The Sin Eater’s Daughter, and what it means, both to me, and apparently to a lot of young people too. And how unexpected that was.

I expect that to some people, at first glance The Sin Eater’s Daughter being on the list is a little strange. On a list featuring multi-award winning and critically acclaimed authors like Sarah Crossan, Louise O’Neill, Frances Hardinge and Patrick Ness. Against books that fight prejudice, raise awareness, and tackle big societal issues. Books that are both beautifully crafted, innovative pieces of literature and also complex, deep and essential explorations of the world we inhabit. Standing alongside some of the most important children’s fiction to have been produced EVER, is my book.

I thought I was writing a fairytale; a girl in a tower who falls in love at the wrong time. A wicked queen, and a handsome prince and a damsel in distress. It’s a tale as old as time, and one we all know. Sin eater  cover share

And I did write that. All of those things are in the book. What I didn’t realise until the end was that it was also a story about emotional abuse. Control. Manipulation, lies, and threats. Neglect. Growing up in a loveless environment. Being taken advantage of. Being used.

In writing about a girl who is trapped by her heritage, and her abilities, and her gender, I wrote about a girl discovering who she is, and what she wants, in a world that’s never considered she may be anything more than what it decides for her. I thought I was telling a story about a caged bird who longed to be freed. And I was. but it was also more. Darker. Less palatable. Twylla’s story might be fiction, but for a lot of girls it isn’t.

My heart breaks, at least once a week, when I get an email, or anonymous message on Tumblr. Girls (because it’s always girls) who thank me for writing Sin Eater, tell me they loved it. And then tell me their parents won’t let them go out with their friends, or stay over at people’s houses, or date. Girls who tell me they’re 15/16/17 and have to be in bed by nine o’clock at night. Girls who tell me they’re emailing from a computer in their school library because their parents check their messages. Girls whose parents choose their clothes for them. Girls whose parents choose their GCSE subjects, tell them what to eat, who they can and can’t talk to, and when.

Girls for whom natural obedience to their parents, and familial respect, has tipped over into something deeply sinister, and deeply damaging. “If you just do this, I’ll love you…” “If you’d just behave, things would be so much easier…” “It’s for your own good.” It’s always “YOU“, always the girls who are responsible for the way they’re treated. Often they don’t have relatives or friends they can run to, they don’t have money, or street-smarts. A lot of them don’t even have friends, because their lack of ‘normalcy’ makes them weird in the eyes of their peers. Makes them – wait for it – ‘unlikeable’.

We talk a lot, as readers, about wanting to ‘see’ ourselves in books. I wish so much that no one saw themselves in Twylla.

Because I know that without support, a lot of girls in Twylla’s position won’t be able to escape their abusers until well into adulthood. And the sad fact is that for some of them, they’ll escape controlling and abusive home relationships, only to end up in comparable romantic ones. When you are brought up in an oppressive environment, when love and support and basic kindness are lacking, it’s too alluring to believe in the first person who shows you those things, whether they mean them or not. To a person who has been brought up in an environment of emotional security, it’s easy to look at another person making what’s clearly a huge mistake and judge them for it. To think them weak, and stupid. To be smug in the knowledge they’d never make that decision. To walk away and leave them to it, alone, and vulnerable. And so the cycle continues…

We don’t talk about this kind of abuse very often. We don’t talk about the often-irreversible damage it does to be undermined, manipulated and neglected by the very people society tells you are bound to protect and love you. We have mechanisms and support in place for children who are physically abused. But there is so little exposure for children who are emotionally abused, day to day, in their own homes, by the people who are supposed to love them. They are the hidden victims, the forgotten ones.

For some girls, life is, and always has been a little medieval. We forget that having a voice, having agency, is a privilege not afforded to everyone. So I’m proud and honoured that my book has been a comfort to girls like Twylla. If my book has made them feel less alone, and feel less hopeless, then I’ve already won.

 

TV Rights optioned for The Sin Eater’s Daughter

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last last 24 hours, you’ll have no doubt seen a stream of capslocked, delighted posts from me. Because of this:

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Yesterday I was finally able to announce that the television rights for my debut novel, and its sequels, had sold to an independent production company called Little Island. Over the past few months I’ve met with Little Island, and we’ve talked about the books, and television we love, and I’ve given them a sneak peek at the plans for book three. I couldn’t be happier for my story to have found an televisual home with Little Island, their passion for the story and their scope for the world is thrilling. I’m really looking forward to working with them on developing it into something that might one day be on your screens!

And sadly, before you ask, no, I can’t get you a part in it.

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It comes after an array of wonderful things in Sin Eater land; The Sin Eater’s Daughter being nominated for a Mystery Writer’s of America Award, and for the 2016 Branford Boase, along with my editor, Genevieve Herr, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize Awards Party, and being shortlisted in the YA Book Prize! It’s such a huge honour, I’m shortlisted alongside the biggest and most exciting names in YA fiction right now, and I feel very much like a child at the adults’ table at a wedding. The prize will be announced at Hay Festival, on June 2nd, so if you’re around, you should come!

To that end… I’m feeling generous, so I’ve put together some PRIZES.

PRIZE ONE is:

  • A copy of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, signed and wax sealed
  • A copy of The Sleeping Prince, signed and wax sealed
  • A one-off painting of an anatomical heart in a bottle, by Actual Me
  • A one-off handpainted card, written to you, of an anatomical heart in a bottle, by Actual Me
  • A pair of Sin Eater earrings
  • A blue velvet pouch, wax sealed, containing one of the necklaces I made as gifts for the launch of The Sleeping Prince
  • A set of the Sin Cards I had printed for the launch of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, artwork by YA author, Alice Oseman
  • A vial of gold, on a silk cord
  • Three chocolate hearts to eat 🙂
  • A set of Sin Eater and Sleeping Prince postcards

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PRIZE TWO -THE RUNNER’S UP PRIZE is

  • A US hardback of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, signed and wax sealed
  • A set of the Sin Cards I had printed for the launch of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, artwork by YA author, Alice Oseman
  • A vial of gold, on a silk cord
  • One chocolate heart to eat 🙂
  • A set of Sin Eater and Sleeping Prince postcards

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TO WIN THESE PRIZES YOU HAVE TO:

  • Live in the UK/Ireland
  • Be Following me on Twitter
  • Reply to the Tweet that this blogpost was announced via with WHO YOU’D LIKE TO SEE CAST IN A TV ADAPTATION OF THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER

This is JUST FOR FUN. I have no influence over any potential casting, it’s not my job, and nor should it be. This is purely for entertainment. But pictures and logic are welcome!

The competition will close two weeks from now, on Tuesday 10th May at midnight, British Summer Time. The winner of the first prize will be randomly selected. The winner of the runner up prize will be selected by me, at my own whim, based on the casting choice and reason that I liked/loathed/laughed at the most.

The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize: A love-letter to booksellers

Sin eater  cover shareI am so, so delighted, stunned, honoured, and proud that The Sin Eater’s Daughter has been shortlisted in the Teen Books category of the 2016 Waterstones Children’s Book Awards. It seems such an impossible, magical thing to happen. And yet it has. And the best thing about it is I’m in this incredible position because of the lovely booksellers at Waterstones.

I used to be terrified of Waterstones booksellers, when I was a teen. They seemed a different species to me; they moved with a little extra grace, their smiles were a bit more knowing. I couldn’t really look them in the eye.

During my younger teens I went to Waterstones every Saturday, and just hung around. I didn’t have the money to buy anything, but I liked to be near the books. I’d go into town, meet my friend and we’d go to Woolworths. I’d keep an eye out while she nicked bath pearls. Then she’d meet her boyfriend, and I’d go to Waterstones. I’d spend an hour in there, lusting after the books, and then go to the library and get some books out (thanks libraries, I love you, too). Then I’d nip back to Waterstones for a final visit, before sneaking to my Nana’s for lunch, and to read. I was a rebellious child.

the perfumeI remember the first ever, brand new book I personally chose and bought from Waterstones. It was The Perfume, by Caroline. B. Cooney, and it cost me £3.50 from the old Waterstones in Cathedral Lanes, Coventry. For a wannabe bibliophile who had almost zero access to brand new books of her own, this trip was to be GAME CHANGING. Prior to this most auspicious of days, I’d been taking Point Horror books out of the library for a whole year, wondering if I’d ever be sexy enough for a ghost to try and date me, or for a vampire to come and attack me (nope, and nope. To this day). It was time to buy my own.

Looking back now, I can see some similarities to the cover of The Sin Eater’s Daughter and the cover of The Perfume; a scary, creepy bottle; beautiful, vibrant colours; alluring title.

It’s cool when things come full circle.

It’s even cooler when you never even imagined it was possible.

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Artists impression of a Waterstones Bookseller in the mind of Melinda Salisbury, aged 14

I’ve digressed, I meant to talk about why booksellers intimidated me. It’s nothing they did, more just that they just were. They were everything I wanted to be and everything I had no idea how to be. In my head they spent all day in Waterstones with the books, being all smooth and knowledgeable, and at night they went to house parties where everyone wore black, and drank red wine, and talked about sexy exciting things. Like books.

Back then I was a scrawny, be-fringed, goblin child. I was not sexy. The only knowledge I had was the Latin names of every mammal native to the UK, and how to identify them from their stools. And it would have been very illegal to give me red wine.

So I couldn’t imagine that the booksellers would even deign to acknowledge my existence.

I was wrong.

After giving me a good hour to lurk in the stacks like a creepy creeper, a young man finally, delicately approached me to see if I needed any help. Lord, did I.

He was generous with his knowledge, and his time, and he made me feel like buying a single Point Horror book was as weighty a decision as buying a Booker winner. There was no rush. It was as important to him I went home with the right book as it was to me, or at least that’s how it felt. When I’d finally made my choice, the book was carried reverently to the till, where I paid for it. He gave me a shiny, pristine black carrier bag with a big gold ‘W’ on the front and a quote on the back to carry it home in. He even gave me change from my fiver (which, in fairness, he had to. That’s the law. I could try and romanticise it, but that would be weird. Weirder.).

I’ve always been so incredibly envious of authors who talk happily about their lifelong relationship with books, who grew up surrounded by them, had easy access to them, who begged for ‘just one more chapter’ every night. These lucky, lucky people who knew from when they were little that they wanted to be writers, and – more importantly – who believed that they could be.

I didn’t grow up in a family of readers, you see. My whole life it’s been the booksellers of the world, the librarians, and, recently, the bloggers, and the tweeters, and the Instagrammers, who have helped guide and shape my reading experience. Who have led me to the books I didn’t know I needed until they handed them to me.

So thank you, Waterstones booksellers, for that. These days, I realise that not all booksellers are magical beings from another realm who wear black, and drink red wine (obvs most are, I’ve met some of them). I can’t believe how lucky I am to be saying that I’ve been shortlisted for this prize. Thanks for being.

And congratulations to my fellow Older Fiction nominees, the incredible Lisa Williamson, Lisa Heathfield, and Jandy Nelson, my agency sister Moira Fowley-Doyle, and of course, my arch-enemy Leo Hunt. I’ve read all of our books and I’m lucky to be considered your equal.

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Second blogpost in as many days… Miracles do exist.

 

Second time around…

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Me, and my friends Fran and Katja, who came over from Germany to celebrate with me.

This time last week I was downstairs in Waterstones Piccadilly. It was the night of the launch of my second novel THE SLEEPING PRINCE.

Half of my face was painted gold and I was wearing a crown I’d made at home two nights before. At that point in time, I still had my shoes on. If I remember rightly, my publicist Rachel had just shown me my cake, and I was trying not to cry because there was a cake, and the cake had a map on it of the world I’d created, and my publishers did that for me.

They had set up a table with alchemical potions and knick-knacks on; they’d made badges showing the countries in my world so people could choose where they were ‘from’. They’d supplied wine and pop and crackers and blue cheese. And they’d got me a cake – did I mention the cake?

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CAKE

It was my cake. For my second book.

There’s a lot of nervous talk around second books – second anything, in fact. We’ve all heard of Second Album Syndrome, and the Sophomore Slump. Second books are notoriously harder to write; first books are often laboured over and nourished for years before eventual publication, whereas second books are usually written to a deadline. There’s more expectation to write a ‘better’ book second time around. There’s the fear that all of the fire and innovation was used up writing the first book and the second will come from a more mechanical place. There’s the worry that being able to write a first book was a fluke, and it can’t possibly be repeated.

I’m lucky, because when you write a series, you already know largely what the second book will be about. You don’t truly have to start from scratch, as all of the groundwork – the world, the history, the characters – is already in place.

Unless you do something stupid, like set it in a different place, and have a different character telling the story. But what kind of idiot would… Ah. Yeah.

From the very earliest days of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I knew I wanted it to be a series. And I knew the narrator of the second part would be Errin. I knew the whole story was the tale of two very different girls; one raised up to be something special, and one ordinary; one full of darkness and fear, one light and hopeful. But it felt like an unusual approach, and I was scared it would go wrong, that it would fail. To be honest, I was scared of everything when I was writing The Sleeping Prince.

I’ve never admitted this before, but this time last year, I was not having any fun. I was terrified of what people would think of my first book. I was convinced it would be a flop, and that I was going to let down everyone who’d worked so hard on it, my cover designer, the sales team, marketing, editorial. Everyone. I couldn’t connect with the experience, I couldn’t really talk about it. I felt like a fake and a fraud and I was so, so frightened that this one thing – this impossible dream – was going to be taken away from me. I kept waiting for the axe to fall. For a year, I couldn’t look up in case I saw it.

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Lovely Katie Webber, me, and my agent Claire.

The thing that got me through last year was my agent and my publishing team – the very people I was convinced I was failing. Claire Wilson, Genevieve Herr, Emily Lamm, Rachel Phillips, Mallory Kass. They kept my mind focused on The Sleeping Prince, but still reminded me how much they loved TSED. They replied to my emails with speed, and kindness, and understanding. They gave me the room to be creative on my own terms, and always, always with their support.

So that’s why having a cake was A BIG DEAL. Having a cake was the solid proof that they were proud of me – proud of us, and what we’d made – and that they wanted to celebrate. It seems such a stupid thing, of all the things they’ve done for me, to wax lyrical about a cake but to me it was everything. So this year I won’t shut up about The Sleeping Prince. Because my team deserve to know how over the top, over the moon thrilled I am with it and all of the work we’ve all put into it.

And to reassure Claire that there will be a lot less, “Claire, I think you’ve made a huge mistake representing me” emails this year.

mel 4To make up for not letting myself be happy in 2015 I am making an extra effort to enjoy myself in 2016. And there’s a lot to celebrate. The Sin Eater’s Daughter was the bestselling UK YA Debut of 2015. It’s been nominated for the Carnegie Greenaway Medal, for the Branford Boase award (along with my UK editor, Gen Herr). It is shortlisted in the North East Teen Book Awards and has even been nominated for an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America (!!!).

In fact, I’m so determined to be proud of myself that I launched The Sleeping Prince twice! The beautiful Chelley Toy of Tales of Yesterday wrote an ace write-up of the second one, and I think I’ve been mawkish enough for one post, so I’ll leave you with her version. But at the time of going to press, I predict I’ve probably started a trend for multiple launches, because it’s the most fun. I fully expect many authors to hold multiple, country-wide launch events this year. And so they should. This is a great job to have. We should celebrate more.

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The Sleeping Prince

This morning a parcel was delivered for me AND IN THE PARCEL WERE COPIES OF THE SLEEPING PRINCE. Twelve months and 93,500 words later, it’s a real book. I know, because I licked it and it tasted like a book.

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For the uninitiated, The Sleeping Prince is my second novel, the sequel to The Sin Eater’s Daughter, and it’s released in the UK on Feb 4th, 2016.

Here’s what it’s about:

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin’s life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin, but won’t reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help Errin, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. But what she finds splits the world as she knows it apart,  and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom.

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And now it’s a real book, I have it in my hands. And in just over 6 weeks, you can have it in your hands too. But for now, let’s just look at it.
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It’s right pretty.

You can preorder it from Waterstones by following this link.

Or from Amazon UK

And at any independant you can think of! A good place to find your local indie is here at Hive.

One more for the road:
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Beautiful.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter, in picture form. OR: Look At This Collection Of Pictures Which I Assembled Instead Of Writing A Post, Even Though Writing A Post Would Have Probably Taken Less Time.

Ok so, I haven’t blogged for ages, which is ridiculous because a lot of really brilliant things have happened. I could have blogged about all of the events I’ve done; festivals, bookshop talks, conventions. I could have blogged about how I fell down on the floor, screeching, when I found out I’d been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award (THE CARNEGIE AWARD), and also shortlisted for the North East Book Award 2016 (SHORTLISTED). There’s some stuff I can’t talk about, and kind of want to, but will hopefully be able to soon.

There’s some non-book related stuff too, like how I gatecrashed Trevor Nunn’s War of the Roses aftershow party, or how I got to hang out with Leigh Bardugo and she bought us flower crowns (that is a bit book related, actually). I went to Wales with Sara Megan and Katie Webber and we had a right old time (also, pretty book related). I’m going to New York next week (will end up being book related, bet you 20p).

All stuff I could have written a post about. But instead, I give you this graphic representation of The Sin Eater’s Daughter. Which to be honest, probably took longer to source and sequence than writing would have.

Twylla's move to the castle

castleTwylla's fall

flowers dying

queen 2

hyena

Lief's seduction Twylla falling  
kiss  Merek's rage queen gifmerek 1   green eye tear fall gifdandelion two

Eat Worms

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What do I do when someone doesn’t like my book…

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Only joking! My, how we laughed…

When I was little, my sister taught me a fun song. This is it:

Nobody  loves me, everybody hates me,
Think I’ll go and eat some worms.
Big ones, fat ones, slimy ones, squidgy ones,
Watch how they squiggle and squirm.

Bite them, crunch them. Yum! They’re lovely!
Throw their tails away.
Nobody knows how much I grow,
Eating worms three times a day.

So now you know. When I find out someone doesn’t like my books, I go and eat some worms.

Metaphorically, of course.

The first time I realised that someone had read The Sin Eater’s Daughter and hadn’t enjoyed it, I was, of course, crushed (the special kind of Goodreads-rubbernecking-review crushed). Whilst I knew it wasn’t a jolly romp, or a break-neck-paced thriller, it was the kind of book I knew I’d love to read.

And therein, dear reader, lies both problem and salvation.

I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read when I was a teen. Because I’d never found myself in a book – never found that one character I could relate to, or be inspired by. I hadn’t found that person who could be my WWTD? model (What Would They Do?). The girls in the books I read were so feisty, and super-smart, and brave, and had brilliant loyal friends, and they could fight, and protect themselves. They were never unsure, rarely afraid. They were everything I was not.

So I wrote it. I wrote about a young woman who was frightened, and powerless, and trapped. And alone. I wrote about how much she had to work to overcome that. And how hard it was. And I did it in a fantasy world because they were the worlds I loved best of all.

When I first read back over the final version of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I wished so much I could take it and put in the hands of myself at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Young Adult Me needed to read that book as badly as Adult Me needed to write it.

So I guess if people don’t like it, or don’t ‘get’ it, it’s probably because they’re not the target audience for it. They’re not the people I wrote the book for. Slipknot make music for people that love metal – I doubt they sit at home brainstorming how to convince a bunch of jazz fans that they have a genuine message. Marvel Studios make films for people that love superheroes, I suspect they’re not overly concerned with converting World Cinema fans to the joys of Antman. So I think there’s no point in doing anything when someone doesn’t like it. It wasn’t for them, that much is clear, and now we know it, we can all move on.

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This was my signing queue at Hay Literary Festival. So I can’t be doing too badly…

I’m lucky, because since the book has come out, not one single day has passed without me getting a tweet, or an email, a Tumblr ask, or even a comment here, from someone that loved it, and wants to know what happens next. So I know that it is getting to the right people. That the people I did write it for are reading it, and connecting with it. You can’t ask for more.

It’s ok if not everyone likes it, because I didn’t write it for everyone. I’m writing for a very specific audience, so of course there will be people – mostly people over 18, I expect – that won’t get it. But I have to say, I’m a lot more interested in the people that do get it, and it’s them I’m going to keep writing for. My target audience.

So I’m going to eat all the worms – every worm I can get my hands on – and I’m going to grow big and strong on the back of it.

That’s what I do when someone doesn’t like my book; I grow from it.