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Natalie C Page

Author of YA, MG and Children's fiction

Month

October 2015

Happy Halloween, and some of my favourite books…

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Greetings readers! Well, it is a beautiful autumn day here in the UK, crisp with a bright blue sky and lots of pumpkins adorning front porches around the street.

I was supposed to be taking a dear friend out today for a bit of afternoon tea, unfortunately a cruel twist of fate has meant that I have had to postpone the date until another time. However, as a silver lining I have managed to empty the remaining boxes left over from our move. Hooray! What’s even better is that those boxes contain some of my most prized possessions. My books.

As I was sifting through the dusty cardboard and taking my time greeting each of my old friends, it got me thinking as to why I still have some of the books I was bought as a child. I realised then that the answer was simple, memories. I was always a child with an active imagination and as a result, I caught the reading bug quite early. My favourite stories were ones that transported me to far off places, for example The Faraway Tree was one of my absolute favourites. As I grew older I still hankered for that magical escapism that books could provide and would happily spend hours in my room reading. This got to be a bit of an issue when we went on family holidays, as I seemed to prefer having my head buried in a book or listening to music – both of which served the same purpose, to transport me to a world of my own imagining.

Those that know me know that I have a rather eclectic taste in literature. I am capable of enjoying classic women’s fiction (when I first read Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary I laughed so hard I cried) as well as books with a slightly grittier theme (read Charlotte Maddison’s Dressed to Kill if you want to know what I mean). Yet through it all, I keep coming back to books written for children and Young Adults. There is something about the authors in those genre’s that have an incredible talent for allowing adults to be young again – it’s one of the many things I think JK Rowling does so well. I am convinced that a large proportion of Harry Potter’s success was that Rowling tapped into something that resonated with adults and children alike, the part that wants to believe in magic.

Anyway, I thought I would share a very small selection of some of the books I have on my shelf.

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So, let me explain what you can see if the picture. If we start with the bottom right, you can see a very pristine copy of The Secret Garden, one of my all time favourite children’s books. This copy was given to me by my grandfather when I was about 10 years old, and he wrote a message in the front cover. Sadly, my grandfather is no longer with us and not surprisingly, this book is now one of the most precious things I possess.

Next (bottom row, centre) we have Chocolat by Joanne Harris. My mum gave me this book on loan over ten years ago, sorry mum! The reason I love it so much is not only because it dedicates a large amount of time to my favourite food but also because I adore Joanne Harris’ writing style, the story has so many angles to it and once again I love how Joanne hints at the idea of Vianne being slightly unusual without needing to make it central to the story – again, there is a bit of a magical theme.

Then we come to one of the books I read over and over again as a teenager, The Snow Spider Trilogy. If you haven’t read it as a child, then I encourage you to read it as an adult, it’s magical and slightly unnerving. I always wondered what really might have happened to Bethan.

So now we come to the top row. Starting on the right we have The Secret Circle by LJ Smith. I was given original copies of this series when I was about fifteen years old (I read them so often they feel to pieces so this is the new version!). These days (in fact quite recently) they have attempted to turn this into a TV series. Not my cup of tea if I am honest, as I loved the books so much. This was the series that cemented by obsession for YA fiction. The trilogy follows a coven of real life teen witches and a girl named Cassie as she joins the powerful and dangerous coven. Each of the witches has their own very distinct personality. In all honesty I think I identified more with the feisty and unruly Faye than the pure Diana or indecisive Cassie, but that was the nice thing about the books, there were plenty of characters to choose from. One day I hope someone will make a feature film of these stories, if they kept true to the books I personally think it would be very popular.

My next selection is perhaps a little confusing. Short Cruise on the Vyner Brooke is actually a true story written by a cousin of mine. My family are originally from Singapore and this book tells the story of how one branch of the family were trying to escape the Japanese invasion only to have their boat torpedoed, leaving them to be captured and subjected to life in a detention camp. In Europe we do tend to focus on the Second World War atrocities committed on our doorstep, when in fact there were some horrific stories unfolding in the far east, affecting British soldiers as well as native populations. On that point I have a great story that I will write one day, but I need to get the concept just right.

My final choice is Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz, not a writer I would have picked up if I hadn’t been recommended the book by a friend. I am so glad I did read it though, it was gripping throughout and also so sad. I wouldn’t want to spoil the story but let’s just say that Odd Thomas is, as his name implies, odd, but that is what makes him such a fascinating character.

So there you are, a quick snapshot (literally) of why I love certain books and what I have on my shelves. I am always curious to find out what books others love (children’s or adult) so please leave your recommendations in the comments!

Happy Halloween!

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Red Queen

Things have been so busy lately I feel like I have had barely enough time to breathe, let alone write anything. That being said, thanks to several hours spent on a plane this week I did manage to achieve one thing, I finished reading Red Queen.

I was really intrigued to read this book as it had received a lot of hype in the press, so much so I requested it as a birthday gift.

For those that aren’t aware, Red Queen is a young adult novel written by Victoria Aveyard. It follows the story of Mare Barrow, a poor red girl from the impoverished Stilts, as she finds herself thrown into the power hungry and rather dangerous world of the ruling silver class.

Aveyard’s writing is incredibly tight and fast paced, within the first few pages the reader is given a clear impression of what life is like for the poverty stricken red class, forced to serve the silvers in all manner of roles, including soldiers for their ongoing wars. We watch as Mare, through a peculiar twist of fate, finds herself being heralded as a lost silver princess (down to the fact she seems to have the power to control electricity, the type of talent only silvers possess). The story then becomes a question of whether she will abandon her red roots in order to preserve the lie and save her own life or turn traitor to the silvers and usher in a red uprising- guess which path she chooses…

Overall, the story is ok but I have to be honest, it wasn’t spectacular, and in some cases I found the plot turns extremely predictable. I don’t like to be overly critical as I take no pleasure in it. However, I found myself repeatedly linking the work back to YA stories that had gone before. The oppression of a ruling class hauled up in their posh city was too similar to the Hunger Games, the abilities of the silver Lords /ladies and royal family were just doubles of the abilities of the vampires in Twilight. Even the story about Mare wanting to lead her people in a revolution against the Silvers again just reminded me of Katniss in the MockingJay,  sadly it was all a bit ‘samey’.

I understand that this is the first in a series so I am tempted to see how she develops the plot, but at the moment, I wouldn’t give Red Queen more than 3 out of 5, at most. My apologies to Victoria Aveyard but the story just didn’t feel original enough.

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Just keep writing !

Life has been pretty hectic lately, Chris and I are in constant contact discussing exciting names for the Zak and Jen book and finalising some additional images, including the front cover! Not only that, I have been working on books two and three and I am pleased to say we already have reasonable drafts of both. It really is great to see a series begin to come together the way you pictured it in your head.

Chris and I have also been working on our marketing plan, in combination with the publisher. We have some absolutely fantastic ideas which we cannot wait to share with everyone and as soon as we get an idea of timelines we may start to release some of our secrets! In the meantime, our current book is in the editorial stage and once that is done we will be onto layout, so Chris and I can finally see proofs of our first picture book.

As well as all that, I will be spending the next few weeks getting ‘crafty’ with the items in the picture below. I wonder what I could possibly be making? Time will tell of course!

In the midst of all this (and having a job and a family) I have been trying to section off time to read and write. At the moment I am reading Red Queen, not sure what I think of it, but it is striking similar to aspects of Twilight, The Hunger Games and Divergent – just a different setting.

Whilst I am obviously over the moon that the first Zak and Jen book is going to be published, I am still acutely aware that I don’t yet have a literary agent, something which is still pretty important if you ever want to carve out a full time career as a writer. Most people don’t get an agent with their first, second or even third books, but the general advice is that you must keep writing.

Once again I have found that the optimum time for my creativity is around 2am / 3am, certainly not something I would recommend to others! However this flash of creative buzz and the inevitable insomnia that follows have resulted in some great children’s stories that I hope to be able to pitch to literary agents in the near future. Including: Ninja Mum, Bonnie Bunny and the Moon Ice Cream and Elsie Bea and The Great Chase.

For now, I will wish all my fellow authors participating in the  #PBPitch and #NoQS Twitter parties the very best of luck. You are all incredible to get even this far!

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Visiting the Winston Churchill War Rooms

As some of you will know, I was invited to attend the VIP launch of Neil Spring’s latest book, The Watchers, at the Winston Churchill War Rooms last Friday. If you haven’t been to this incredible piece of London history, I urge you to go as soon as possible. I had been to the Imperial War museum before, however I had never ventured to Westminster to see the place where Churchill ran the war from, a place which was miraculously never hit during the London bombings.

Amid this spectacular setting we were treated to a lovely drinks reception followed by speeches from Lord Black and of course, Neil himself. Neil took the time to walk everyone through the background to the book and his research, which I really appreciated (rather than him read a chapter or two). It was fascinating to hear about all the documents he had uncovered in the National Archives and see photographs of the children who had claimed to witness a UFO landing in the field behind their school. For those who haven’t yet bought the book I encourage you to do so. We heard that there is currently an 8-way auction taking place in Hollywood for the film rights to this novel so it is certainly not the last you will be hearing of it.

Once the speeches were done, we were free to explore the museum. It was amazing to see the rooms so perfectly preserved and get a feel for what it must have been like living and working in such a confined space. Churchill had a bedroom right next door to the operations room! Here are a few pictures from the evening.

 

Keeping busy!

So, what happens after you sign a publishing contract? Well, over the last couple of weeks my illustrator Chris and I have been exchanging hundreds of messages discussing marketing strategy, possible merchandise and image tweaks for When Zak Met Jen. It has all been incredibly exciting and I am itching to put some of these ideas into practice and hopefully I won’t have to wait too long for some of them! In the meantime, our social media profiles are really starting to pick up with over 350 likes on our FB page already and people enquiring about pre-ordering which is incredible,  so thank you! If you want to keep up with our progress you can find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (@Zak_and_Jen).

Otherwise, I have spent my time working and making tweaks to my YA novel, Iridium Apprentice, which I am desperate to get into if only I had a full three weeks to spare.

Tomorrow, I will be attending the VIP launch of Neil Spring’s The Watchers and I can’t wait. I will do a separate post on that this weekend, hopefully with some pictures!

For now,  it’s time to get some well deserved r&r!! Night all!

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