“The world before us is a postcard, and I imagine the story we are writing on it.”
― Mary E. Pearson
An aesthetic is a form of visual inspiration. And when you’re writing a story, it’s also helpful if your imagination has a focal point—something to make sure you don’t get carried away with too many new ideas. Putting together a collection of images about the central themes and characters can be a great way to make sure you stay on course. Also, it’s a lot of fun ☺.
I’m past the halfway point in writing the fourth Beyond Androva book, and that’s when I would normally create a new aesthetic. But it’s also the beginning of December—time for Christmas decorations and holiday-themed reading choices. So for today’s blog post, I decided to include some seasonal aesthetic content too.
A is for Averine
I’m really enjoying the challenge of writing Averine’s story. When I first started, I thought she had everything figured out in terms of who she was and what she was doing. That’s the way I tried to write her, but it didn’t go so well. Eventually, I realised my impressions of Averine were based almost entirely on what Kellan believed, and his perspective was incomplete. Averine’s reality turned out to be a lot more complicated! Which makes sense, I guess, especially after what her father did. And that’s without the additional complications created by a new villain and a dangerous magical bond.
Here’s the aesthetic. Most of the images are related to alchemy, Averine’s chosen profession, or Phidiom, the new territory she visits during the story.
B is for Blenheim
I visited Blenheim Palace last weekend to see The Kingdom of the Snow Queen. Blenheim is a famous stately home in Oxfordshire, built over three hundred years ago as a gift from Queen Anne to the first Duke of Marlborough. These days, it’s open to the public and famous for its Christmas activities.
I was surprised that the combination of extravagant fairy-tale decorations and a centuries-old palace worked so well. I don’t think my photos do it justice! And the storytelling journey was perfect, starting with a giant Christmas tree resting on top of the evil magic mirror, and ending with the Snow Queen herself.
Of course, I had to choose a Snow Queen retelling for this year’s holiday reading. I decided on Queen of Snow, by Laura Burton and Jessie Cal.
Welcome to the Chanted Forest, where Fairytales are real... but not as you know them.
After losing his grandfather, Jack feels lost, unsure of what his future holds.
Until he sees the reflection of a beautiful young woman inside his grandfather’s mirror. A mirror he never knew existed.
She beckons to him, and he’s pulled through a portal to the Chanted Kingdom where fairytale characters are real.
Princess Aria’s family was killed by the Evil Queen, and after spending a year running for her life and hiding with Robin and his band of misfits, she’s so close to completing the Mirror of Reason, which she plans to use as a portal to leave the Chanted Kingdom forever.
All she needs is to catch a young man named Jack in exchange for a mirror shard. Things get complicated as Aria’s feelings for Jack, as well as her ice powers, start to grow stronger. Soon, she finds that using her powers to save everyone she loves, will come at a great cost.
C is for Cat (or Christmas Cat)
The final aesthetic is just for fun. My cat is a big fan of Christmas because she thinks the tree and the decorations make perfect cat toys. Four years ago, she actually climbed the tree and knocked it over, but fortunately she learned quickly and hasn’t repeated the experience!
Thank you very much for visiting my blog today, and I wish you happy holidays and happy holiday reading 💕.
“Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle
Halloween is almost here, and the creeping shadows and chilly mists of autumn create the perfect backdrop if you’re in the mood to read a few scary stories. There is something magical about October in the fiery colours of the leaves and the golden sunshine that hasn’t quite lost the warmth of summer. But there’s also a sense of foreboding. Very soon, the leaves are going to fall. The days will become shorter. And anything that might be hiding in the darkness will have a lot more freedom.
Today’s blog post is the latest in my Five Fairy Tales series. Two years ago, I chose Beauty and the Beast. Last year, it was Rapunzel. This year, each of the five retellings is different, and because it’s Halloween, they’re all on the darker side.
I think it’s fair to say that most traditional fairy tales started out a little dark. Here are a few examples from the original versions…
It isn’t Snow White’s stepmother but her biological mother who becomes jealous of her daughter’s beauty. When the huntsman returns from the forest carrying what is supposed to be Snow White’s heart, her mother actually goes right ahead and eats it. And when Snow White marries the prince, he forces her mother to dance herself to death in red-hot slippers in front of all of the guests. Not the wedding entertainment you might expect from a fairy tale!
The story of Sleeping Beauty doesn’t end when she wakes up. She goes on to have two children with the prince, and it turns out that the prince’s mother isn’t happy about her new grandchildren. At all. She waits until the prince is away, then she orders her cook to kill the children and serve them for dinner. In an alternate version, the prince is already married, and it’s the prince’s wife who orders the cook to serve the children for dinner… to the prince. Fortunately, in both cases, the children are saved, and the guilty parties are punished. The wife is burned alive, while the mother-in-law is eaten by a barrelful of vipers.
And finally, Cinderella’s stepmother isn’t the only parental figure to mistreat her. Cinderella’s father is alive and well throughout the original version, and he actively helps the stepmother in her evil schemes. Later in the story, when the prince is searching for the owner of the slipper, the stepsisters go to extraordinary lengths to make their feet fit. One cuts off her toes and the other her heel. They are found out when their blood soaks through the slipper. And at the end, the stepsisters have their eyes plucked out by a couple of Cinderella’s vengeful white doves.
I frighten pretty easily, and my imagination needs no encouragement to run away with itself. Full-on gory horror isn’t my thing, but at this time of year, I enjoy reading something a bit scarier. As long as the lights are on and I’m not alone in the house of course!
Here are my Five Scary Fairy Tales accompanied by some short extracts. Does Halloween influence your reading choices? What’s your favourite scary story? Thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
Asleep, by Krystal Wade
Inspired by: Sleeping Beauty
Description: Rose Briar has been committed to an asylum by her parents. Her determination to escape is undermined by terrifying nightmares that make her question her sanity, and she no longer knows what’s real. Can she trust her doctor? Or is Phillip, one of the other patients, right about the doctor’s evil intentions?
Extract (Rose’s first night in the asylum):
This isn’t real.
But the lights wouldn’t turn off.
She tried the switch five more times, ten, fifteen, before movement out in the hall caught her attention.
“Hello?” Rose called again, turning the handle and yanking. Locked. Of course. “Please. Dr. Underwood, if you’re out there, I need your help. Something’s wrong with me. I don’t feel well. Help!”
A tall, dark figure cloaked in black rose from beneath the table where she and the guy had sat earlier. Oh so tall. The figure stood there, unmoving, the cloak billowing as if being blown by a breeze.
Rose rubbed her eyes. Not real, just a dream, she kept telling herself, but she didn’t feel like she was asleep. She didn’t feel like she could wake up either.
Fathomless, by Jackson Pearce
Inspired by: The Little Mermaid
Description: Celia has the power to see a person’s past, a power that seems insignificant until the day she meets Lo. Lo used to be a human and is now a creature of the sea, clinging to the shreds of her former self even as her memories are washed away, one by one. When a boy named Jude falls off a pier, Celia and Lo work together to save him from drowning. They become friends, but their friendship is complicated by their feelings toward Jude. And Lo is desperate to reclaim her humanity by persuading Jude to love her… and stealing his soul.
Extract (before Lo meets Celia and Jude):
And then he was dead.
And nothing else had changed.
Lo stared at her hands, at her feet, waiting for the pale-blue colour to turn back to shades of peach and pink. Waiting for the urge to surface, to gulp air happily, to swim to the shore and run on the sand.
It didn’t come.
“Everyone has to try it for herself,” Ry said gently, swimming closer. The boy’s body listed on the ocean floor like seaweed. Lo felt sick; she doubled over and hid her head. “We all did. But it never works. You can’t make them love you that fast.”
Vassa in the Night, by Sarah
Inspired by: Vasilisa the Beautiful
Description: Vassa lives in the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn with her stepmother and stepsisters. The nights last a very long time in Vassa’s neighbourhood. Babs Yaga, the owner of the only store open past midnight, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for lightbulbs, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. In her pocket, Vassa carries a gift from her dead mother, a tough-talking wooden doll by the name of Erg. With Erg’s help, Vassa might have a chance of surviving the night. But Babs won’t be playing fair…
Extract (Vassa leaves for the store):
“It’s after midnight,” I tell her, moving slowly down the stairs while I’m talking. I’ve decided I don’t want Stephanie to be able to pretend later that she didn’t know. “Steph said I should go to BY’s.”
I can’t see Stephanie from here, but I can see Chelsea’s face waking with outrage as she swings around to glare at her. “Stephanie! You know she can’t do that!”
“Why not?” Stephanie’s voice falls out of the door and bangs around the stairwell, bouncing off linoleum and glossy green paint. “They only kill shoplifters at BY’s. Scummy, sneaky thieves. Why would that be a problem for Vassa?”
House of Salt and Sorrows, by
Erin A. Craig
Inspired by: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Description: In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed. Annaleigh has already lost four of her sisters, each to a death more tragic than the last. Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, she becomes convinced that the deaths were no accidents. The girls have been sneaking out at night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn. She isn’t sure whether to stop them or to join them. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
Extract (Annaleigh describes her older sister, Octavia):
One of her favorite stories was of a girl who always wore a green ribbon around her neck. She was never seen without it, at school, at church, even on her wedding day. All the guests said she made a lovely bride but wondered why she chose to wear such a plain necklace. On her honeymoon, her husband presented her with a choker of diamonds, sparkling like mad under a starlit sky. He wanted her to wear them, and only them, when she came to bed that night. When she refused, he stalked away, upset. Later he returned to find her asleep in their big bed, naked save for the diamonds and the green ribbon. Snuggling next to her, he stealthily removed the ribbon, only to have her head roll off her body, neatly severed at the neck.
The triplets delighted in that horrid story and asked for it again and again. When Octavia died, they wrapped back crepe around their necks with ghoulish affectation.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns,
by Julie C. Dao
Inspired by: The Evil Queen
Description: Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say that in spite of her humble peasant roots, she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. And to do that, she must spurn the young man who loves her and use the callous sorcery of the god whose magic flows through her veins. A magic that draws its strength from eating the hearts of the recently killed.
Extract (Xifeng encounters the serpent god):
A voice spoke inside her mind, gentle and familiar, one that had spoken at the edge of her hearing many times before but never so clearly. The moon shines down upon us, beloved…
The images melted into each other, but Xifeng could still sense Guma there, sinking to her knees with her hands outstretched in prayer… or apology.
Something shifted in Xifeng’s chest. She had heard its growl of fury earlier when she saw Ning looking at Wei, but this was something else, something new: a lazy, satisfied preening, like basking in sunlight. If she closed her eyes, she might even be able to see the creature’s spiraling coils through the cage of her own ribs.
Embrace this boundless night, the voice said tenderly.
“Leave her,” Guma hissed from where she still knelt. “Let her be!”
Xifeng felt herself falling, heard the crack of her forehead against the edge of the table. Right before she sank into unconsciousness, she thought she saw the strangest thing of all: her aunt bending over her with tears in her eyes… as though she loved her.
Xifeng closed her eyes and let the darkness take her.
Saturday, 16 July 2022
“Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical.”
— Jen Campbell
One week ago, at the Young Adult Literature Convention in London, there was definitely more than a little magic in the air ✨. A shared love of stories and the characters that bring those stories to life is a powerful thing. Not to mention the piles of stunningly beautiful books—so much choice!—alongside book-related activities and creative merchandising. And finally, the real-life authors who came along to share their writing experiences, meet their readers, and sign hundreds and hundreds of books.
YALC 2022 was the first book event I've ever attended (and hopefully not the last!). I was there on Sunday 10th July with my two daughters, and today's blog post contains my top three takeaways from an amazing day.
1️⃣ Books, books, books
2️⃣ Authors are awesome
All of the authors we met were super friendly and patient. I guess it goes without saying that the chance to talk about your favourite characters with the person who actually created them is kind of amazing, but even so, it exceeded our expectations.
3️⃣ A little planning goes a long way
all of my concentration to keep my expression neutral. I wasn’t going to make
this easy for him.
“I think that’s another point to me,” I said.
“What about my question?”
“I’ll consider it,” I said. “Truth or Dare.”
He stared at me for a moment. “You’re really not going to answer?”
Have you ever been to a book event like YALC? And if so, how do you manage your TBR list after discovering so many new books?! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.
“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
— Stephen King
Once a year, I dedicate a blog post to YA books with amazing opening lines. It's usually timed to coincide with spring because that's the season that gets off to the most dramatic start where I live! The idea is a simple one—ten books that made it onto my TBR list before I was halfway down the first page. And it doesn't matter what the cover looks like or what the description says. It's all about how the story begins.
I hope there's a book or two in my latest list that catches your eye, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today 💕.