Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Depression Umbrella

If there’s one thing we need to bear in mind – particularly the media – it’s that ‘depression’ is not a byword for any form of mental illness. Depression is not anorexia. Bipolar disorder is not OCD. Paranoid schizophrenia is not GAD.  A person can have both illnesses at once, but they’re not the same thing.

Mental illnesses produce different symptoms, are treated in different ways, and have different causes – yet they all seem to fall under the umbrella of ‘depression’. It would be considered absurd and disrespectful to conflate physical illnesses in this way. You wouldn’t use ‘tuberculosis’ to describe hepatitis or cancer, for example. Tuberculosis, hepatitis and cancer all affect the body, but they’re not the same disease.

We have this strange societal notion that illness of the mind is simplistic. Which is bizarre, as the mind is too complex to fathom itself. In the year 2015, we should all be making the effort to speak in the same language about mental illness as we do about physical illness. If we don’t, stigma will thrive, sufferers won’t seek help for fear of being branded insane, and diagnoses will be slow or non-existent. So remember, always use words responsibly – they’re the most powerful tools for change in our possession.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Answering questions

Good evening! I originally made this for my followers on Tumblr, but I've had some trouble uploading it on there, so I'm going to drop it here instead. In this video, I answer a few burning questions from readers about The Mime Order and On the Merits of Unnaturalness. You can watch the first part of the video without spoilers, but please listen out for the warning partway through if you don't want to hear some very big ones from the end of the book.



Wednesday, 18 March 2015

March Musings

Good morning!

For those of you who have finished The Mime Order, I hope you'll be pleased to know that I am finally closing in on finishing Book 3. It's divided into two "acts", one of which I finished a few days ago. The second act is about half the length of the first, so I'm confident that I'll hit my goal of finishing Draft 1 by mid-April or earlier. The end of Act 1 was emotionally exhausting, and I think the last few chapters of this one will be, too – but I'm loving it. 

I admit that I'm very nervous about this book, far more so than I was about The Mime Order. Nervous about sending it to my editor and agent. Nervous about readers not enjoying it as much as The Mime Order, which received such good feedback overall. The pressure is on to make this one even better, so I don't show signs of losing my touch midway through a long series. Book 3 has ended up being vastly different from the last two, which I sense will appeal to some readers and not to others. As I've said at several events, that's my goal for this series: to make each book a totally different experience from the last, so my readers have no idea what to expect and find it difficult to predict each ending. I'm not a believer in doing the same thing twice. This book contains more of some major characters and less of others, and I've really missed some of them during the writing process – but I've also enjoyed looking at new ones, and examining old friends in greater detail. I've learned a lot about Paige in particular. I'm so wrapped up in her voice and her head, I don't think I'll ever want to leave it by Book 7. 

In health news, it's been two weeks since my appendectomy, and I recently had my stitches out. The wounds have healed beautifully, and I'm very much back on my feet. I've been left with two small cuts on my abdomen (the third scar was avoided by going through, yes, through, my tummy button, argh). At the risk of sounding like I was born in the last century – oh, wait – I'm amazed by modern surgical techniques.

But as the old saying goes, 'you win some, you lose some'. While the surgeon was removing my swollen appendix, he also discovered that I have a condition called endometriosis. I hadn't heard much about it before, but it's a long-term disease with four stages of severity, which affects about 10% of women. Endometriosis causes tissue from the womb's lining to grow outside the womb – sometimes on other organs, like the ovaries – which can cause chronic pain, fatigue, depression and infertility, among other symptoms. As of now there's no cure, but I'm told it can be managed. So far I only seem to have one patch of it, so I'm assuming I'm in one of the first two stages. Fingers crossed it stays that way. I'm starting to think now, though, about all the old aches and pains in my abdomen that I always wrote off as normal. In a strange way, it's a relief to know that there was something wrong all along. The pain and discomfort I've had over the last few months has sometimes made me feel as if I'm going mad. Having any "silent" condition is frustrating. You start thinking you're imagining it and being paranoid that other people think you are, too. For weeks I tried cutting out different food groups, exercising more, sitting and breathing in different ways, to no avail.  

What I've learned from this experience is that sometimes you need to be a bit pushy, and to listen to your body. Remember, guys: pain is real. 

Anyway, back to my writer cave. More news soon!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

On International Women's Day

On International Women’s Day 2015, I recall something my editor pointed out to me recently: that a female member of the Night Vigilance Division – Scion’s police – features in The Mime Order. It intrigued me that she noticed it, because including her was something I had to make a conscious decision to do. 

Originally, “she” was “he”. My default mode, when writing a brutal dystopian police force, was to make its members male. I always typed “he” and “him”. And that bothered me. It bothered me that something in my brain had made me think like that; that I never typed anything else. And so I typed “she”. I didn’t change the original text in any way, except to make the NVD officer a woman. 

My editor picked up on it because it was unusual. Fantasy, a genre informed by history, still so often places women in “traditional” roles and men into the traditionally “masculine” role of the aggressor, the warrior. But even in fantasy, representation of all sorts of men and women is important. In Caitlin Moran’s words, “I cannot be what I cannot see”. The joy of fantasy is that anything can happen. The characters can be or do anything. It doesn’t always have to be “historically accurate”. So often in fantasy, homosexuality is bad, women are commodities, and men are brutal. I love this genre, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Strong Female Characters™

I was asked a question on Tumblr today, and I thought I'd post my answer here, too. The portrayal of female characters, and the response to them by readers and critics, is something I've felt strongly about for a while.

Anonymous asked: What do you think about the portrayal 
of girls in YA fiction? Good, bad or just right?

"YA fiction" is a blanket term for an enormous wealth of writing, and it’s impossible to generalise, just as it’s impossible to generalise about adult or children’s fiction. If I really had to make an overall judgement, though: 

I believe that we’re moving towards more complex and interesting female characters who have lives and goals outside the pursuit of a love interest, which is fantastic. There are so many brilliant female characters in YA – possibly more so, in fact, than in adult fiction. Most of the big YA franchises are about, and written by, women. It’s amazing, and one of the reasons I love YA so much. 

 Having said that, I can’t shake the feeling that female characters are judged in a slightly different manner to their male counterparts, because they are now expected to be STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS™, rather than characters who happen to be female. What I call the Katniss/Bella dichotomy has emerged, where a girl is either labelled as a Katniss (SHE’S SO KICKASS AND DEFIES GENDER STEREOTYPES) or a Bella (SHE’S SO WEAK AND MARRIES SOMEONE UGH). This has – harmfully, in my opinion – caused many of the former sort of female character to be persistently compared to Katniss, presumably to tempt readers with the prospect of another Strong, Independent Female Lead Who Kicks Loads of Ass All the Time™. 

 I’ve spoken about this before, but I want to reiterate it: I adore Katniss Everdeen. She is an emotionally complex, fascinating character, and it’s right that she and Suzanne Collins should be praised for that. But to reduce her to a 2D blueprint for Strong Female Characters™ is to do her a disservice. She is more than a blueprint. If you’ve read Mockingjay in particular, you’ll know that Katniss has moments of great vulnerability, passivity, and weakness, as we all do. She is used as a puppet by District 13. She hurts. She panics. She falls in love with the safety and kindness offered by Peeta. She cares about her little sister and her mother. Yes, she’s brilliant with a bow, intelligent and resourceful, but she is not an emotionless cardboard cut-out that coolly steamrolls her enemies by Kicking Loads of Ass All the Time. She is unique. She is complicated. That’s what makes her human. 

 It’s also doing a disservice to many other female characters in YA to compare them solely to Katniss. As I’ve said, Katniss Everdeen is unique. So is Tris Prior. So is Hermione Granger. So are Karou and Celaena Sardothien and Clary Fray and yes, so is Paige Mahoney. We need to celebrate what makes these women different from one another; to treat them as unique human beings, rather than replicas of Katniss. Katniss should not be the touchstone for the worth of a female character. Focusing purely on the similarities inevitably leads to bandwagon thinking (i.e. “Oh, not another Strong Female Character™, these damned female authors are ripping off The Hunger Games again!”). Do you see all male characters regularly compared to Sherlock Holmes, or Harry Potter, or Percy Jackson? No, you don’t, because it would sound ridiculous. Male characters are examined as individuals, and we need to do that with our ladies, too. It’s time for female characters to be defined by what they are – not by the female characters around them, or that came before them. 

There also has to be room for characters who are feminine: who wear dresses, who love makeup and doing their hair, who are masterful cooks, who adore the colour pink and would really like a boyfriend or a baby. Those characters musn’t be snootily dismissed as “Bellas” or “anti-Katnisses”. There should be room for the portrayal of all sorts of girls. YA is a wonderful place, with some of the most daring and inventive books in the industry, and everyone should feel welcome to join in.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

World Book Day 2015

It’s World Book Day 2015! To celebrate, here are ten facts about the distribution of literature in the Scion Citadel of London.
  •  In Scion, only books approved by the Minister for Arts are published. Most are thinly veiled propaganda with unnaturals as the antagonists. 
  • In 1902, the Great Biblioclasm, or book-burning, took place in Paternoster Row, organised by the Marquess of Salisbury. Texts dealing with fantasy and the supernatural were burned.
  • A small number of texts and fragments were saved from the ashes and hidden in the library of the Spiritus Club, Grub Street, I-5.
  • The Spiritus Club soon became the citadel’s only publisher and keeper of illegal literature, including documents discussing clairvoyance.
  • Their most celebrated author is Jaxon Hall, also known as Obscure Writer or the White Binder, who wrote On the Merits of Unnaturalness, a groundbreaking and controversial pamphlet on clairvoyance. It was published in 2031. 
  • In one of the pamphlet’s footnotes, Hall famously lamented, ‘Alas for Literature! Alas!’
  • Against the odds, the Spiritus Club continues to thrive, producing controversial, unique – and occasionally, downright terrible literature.
  • Other Spiritus Club bestsellers include Didion Waite’s Love at First Sight; or, the Seer’s Delight and The Mysteries of Jacob’s Island
  • Mr Hall states that Mr Waite must have enough copies of his own work to cover England, as no sane person could it consider it well-written. Mr Waite vehemently disagrees.
  • A surprise bestseller in 2059 was the anonymously written The Rephaite Revelation, telling a most bizarre tale of monsters in Westminster.

A few extra sets have been added to my World Book Day event at Seven Dials tonight, if you have a spare hour. You don't need a ticket, but you should turn up early if you can, as space is limited. Details can be found here

Happy reading!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Out With the Old


Apologies for several weeks of silence – I've been incredibly busy with Book 3, the Mime Order publicity, and resolving the stomach pain I mentioned in my last post. I am absolutely thrilled that The Mime Order became not only a #10 Sunday Times bestseller, but went straight to #11 on the New York Times bestseller list, too. I really wasn't expecting that. Thank you so, so much to everyone who bought or pre-ordered, and I hope you enjoyed the book if you've read it. Do let me know what you thought!

My tour in the States was fantastic. I did a great event with Sarah J. Maas in Pennsylvania, followed by talks in Tennessee, Missouri, Utah, and California. What was particularly amazing was that several people drove for hours, sometimes from different states, to come and see me in the bookshops. (Thank you, all of you!) While I was on the road, I had the privilege of visiting Borderlands Books in San Francisco before it closes. It's such a quirky bookshop, with dedicated and knowledgeable staff, and I'm very sorry to see it go. Once I was back to Britain, it was straight to Scotland for a research trip in Edinburgh, where Book 3 is partially set. I spent four days exploring, riding on tour buses, and scribbling away, having the time of my life. It's such a beautiful, inspiring city, layered with history, like London. I'm looking forward to reinventing it as the Scion Citadel of Edinburgh, and to sharing it with you when the next book is published. 

On Saturday, I went to hospital to have my appendix removed and my pains investigated via a laparoscopy, a form of keyhole surgery. I was fairly nervous, as I haven't had an operation since having my tonsils were removed when I was four, but the nursing staff made me feel at ease for the whole of my stay. First I had to put on my operation gown, highly fashionable foam slippers, and white compression stockings to prevent deep-vein thrombosis. Then I was walked down to the operating theatre and given a general anaesthetic, which knocked me out midway through saying 'Wow, that feels weir—'. When I woke up, I was in the recovery room with an oxygen mask clamped over my mouth, and everything was swirling around with all the charm and bliss of the world's worst hangover. After being wheeled back to my room, I had to clamber from the trolley to my hospital bed – which, when you've just had surgical instruments and a camera poking around near your intestines, isn't quite as easy as it sounds. Bizarrely, I also had a sharp pain in my right shoulder, which was due to gas being pumped into my stomach during the laparoscopy. The gas gives the surgeon more room to work, but it can become trapped and cause excess pain. Then it was just rest and tests until I was discharged.  

As it turned out, my appendix was the culprit all along. It was swollen and stuck in an unusual position, so it had to go. I'm hoping, now that the offending area is gone, that my stomach pains have been resolved for good. I can walk, albeit stiffly, and I should be back to full health within about two weeks. After having antibiotics in hospital, I'm on a course of painkillers and anti-inflammatories while I heal. All that will remain is three scars: the largest by my navel, and two smaller marks on the left side of my stomach, where the surgical tools, laparoscope, and a tube for gas were inserted into my abdomen. I'm going to try and get back to writing Book 3 tomorrow, as I'm still aiming to hit my target of mid-April for finishing the first draft. Onward!

My next event is, appropriately, at Seven Dials on Thursday at 6pm. I'll be doing a free reading, with complimentary Prosecco and popcorn, at the Book Exchange in Shorts Gardens. You can enter for tickets here. Hope to see some of you there!