Category Archives: Our books

Writing Tips from Yangsze Choo

Choo, YangszeYangsze Choo’s debut novel THE GHOST BRIDE is an intricately woven tale of seventeen year old Li Lan, weaving together traditional Malayan folklore and superstition with ghostly happenings. With so many different layers to the story, we thought who better to run the #WritingClinic this week? Here are a pick of Yangsze’s top writing tips and answers to some of your questions that came in on Twitter  – catch up with the whole conversation here on Storify!

The best writing advice I can give you is to write what interests you. If you’re feeling ‘meh’ about your subject, it will show.

Do you have a target word count each day?
Graham Greene wrote 300 words a day, so that’s my minimum, but I try to shoot for 1000 – but there are many days when i don’t make it to 100 words. 500 is more realistic!

What do you prefer: writing on a computer or paper (or maybe even a typewriter)?
Having a computer has spoiled me for paper, though I didn’t get one until uni. Now I can barely write without it – I think it’s something to do with how words look visually on the screen. Plus you can move them around!

The bad part about writing on the fly is getting stuck… I really admire people who can plan out their entire books!

How do you conceptualise everything involving the afterlife? What research did you do?
It was very fun “research ” – I read a lot of Chinese ghost stories when I was young, and also historic traveller’s accounts of British Malaya. Most of it came from listening and group up in Malaysia!

Who is your favourite character in your book?
There are lots of old grumpy Chinese people in my book – I’d have to say the Hainanese cook! I liked him so much that I want to put him into another (unrelated) book.

Listen to music. Certain pieces of music will put me in the right place/ setting. I listened to a lots of classic Chinese erhu music when writing THE GHOST BRIDE – it immediately puts you in a certain time and era.  The music creates a backstory for some scenes that weren’t even in the book, but I imagined as part of the character’s lives.

Which Chinese ghost stories did you enjoy the most?
My favourite Chinese ghost story is “The Painted Skin” about this demon who wears a woman’s skin. She takes the skin off at night – totally creepy and addictive!

Do you have any writing tips for budding teenage writers?
Yes! Keep writing, and take your writing seriously. Don’t dismiss your own work because you’re young.

Read good writers, but only those who appeal to you. Don’t force yourself to read ‘classics’, look out for books that you adore and can’t help reading. And feel free to write fan fiction or create similar worlds. I loved Isak Dinesen when I was young an I wrote many stories in her vein. Later I developed my own style but studying Dinesen’s (and authors like Yukio Mishima and Haruki Murakami) prose helped me grow as a writer.


Thanks everyone that joined in yesterday! Follow Yangsze @YangszeChoo and find out more about THE GHOST BRIDE on her blog!

A journey into the VORTEX

Today’s blog is from fifteen-year old Agnes, who has been doing work experience with us this week. She’s a massive reader (honestly it’s like she eats books), loves music, art, history and bookshops. Plus she’s been wowing us all week with her awesome outfits – we’re in love with her shoes! A big fan of INSIGNIA, here she discusses whether its sequel VORTEX has been worth the wait…

On reading Insignia; as soon as Tom stepped into the Spire and hooked in his neural processor for the first time, I was hooked right along with him…


The year is 2015, and the world is divided and fighting a war in space with robots to avoid loss of human lives. Teenagers are being selected and provided with supercomputer implants in their brains, then trained to control the ships and eventually win the fight. Massive corporate companies control everything, and Tom and his friends are stuck in the middle of it. With a fantastically futuristic, yet realistic world, incredible technology and immediately loveable characters (even the bad guys), Insignia definitely became a new favourite. And Vortex didn’t let it down.


In Vortex, Tom has returned to the Spire for his second year, as a Middle. He has access to new rooms, new skills and new weapons, and an opportunity to win over the Coalition companies and become a Combatant.

The year starts with aspects of both light and dark. Wyatt and Vik are still at (well-intentioned) war, constantly thinking up new programmes to use against each other; and life at the next rung of the food chain looks to be action-packed, exciting and hilarious. But, after Tom publicly uses his special gift — being able to interface with any machine –  Medusa is already on his case. Tom must try and succeed at the Spire whilst also keeping his talent under the radar, keeping it a secret from men like Vengerov lest he find out not only about Tom, but Medusa too, and try to fashion them into weapons.

The plot is bursting with mystery, action, and excitement with more twists and turns than the magnetised vactrains in the interstice. The Spire faces difficulties; someone is hacking the sims and Blackburn is becoming more and more angry and distrustful, continuing his vendetta against Vengerov. Tom is having difficulty working out whether Blackburn is an evil maniac, or someone who he can trust to protect his secret. Things are changing in the Spire’s social hierarchy: Elliot Ramirez is starting to doubt his place in the Spire and looking for a way out, whilst the gorgeous but untrustworthy Heather will do anything she can to get to the top, no matter how ruthless her methods or who she betrays. Tom encounters problems of all kind: struggling friendships, career failures, blackmail, personal loss, severe mental and physical traumas, and doubts of Yuri’s loyalty; whilst also developing his relationship with Medusa. Tom has to balance his association with the enemy, and his desire to get to the top of the Spire, without ruining both.

With more machines, technology and action, Vortex is fast-paced and exciting from start to finish. Incredibly witty and very well written, narrated with a wonderful, mischievous voice, it is a story of friendship, politics and war, and creates a world buzzing with life and technology, corruption and power (as well as proposing a logical war strategy, that, if it ever came to it, the world should definitely consider in the future!). A book that anyone can, and will, enjoy.

Meeting Maureen, a GOLDEN opportunity!

Today’s blog is by Charlotte from the fabulous Stoke Newington Bookshop. Charlotte is a big Maureen Johnson fan, and had the chance to meet the woman herself last month at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival! Here’s how it went down…

I found out about Maureen Johnson through another author, John Green. The first book of hers I read was 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES and was hooked from the go. Her writing style is comedic, detailed and all round entertaining. When I found out that she was coming to the Stoke Newington Literary Festival to promote the publication of her book THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD, I have to admit I was extremely excited.


As daughter of the Stoke Newington Bookshop owners and volunteer at the festival, I subtly suggested to my Mum that I thought it would be a good idea for me to work the event. Having someone who knows the books could really help and I just happened to be free that weekend. My subtlety was like no others, so soon I was packing up boxes of THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD and heading to the venue.

Before the event started I was given the opportunity to meet Maureen and Sarah Rees Brennan with whom she was doing the event, and I obviously took it. My plan was to be confident, cool and casual. I’m pretty sure I was shaking when I shook their hands but that definitely didn’t take away from my confident, cool and casual approach.  Neither did stumbling on my words and talking about giant disco balls. I wished them good luck and went to hide behind my bookstall at the back of the hall.

Sara Manning, me, and Maureen!

Sarah Rees Brennan, me, and Maureen Johnson!

If asked to describe the event in one word, I would undoubtedly say it was hilarious. They told anecdotes about how they had started writing, other authors and their families. Questions were asked and answered with off-topic chatter, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. Maureen and Sarah were incredibly entertaining and the event was everything I’d hoped it would be.

We started with a table full of books, and by the end we had almost no stock. THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD sold the most, as it was Maureen’s newest, and it definitely deserved it. It is a fantastic novel written in Maureen’s iconic style, with humour and emotion laced throughout.

If you missed the event at this year’s literary festival – bad luck you missed out; but you can still read the book!

Head over to Stoke Newington Book Shop or your local indie to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week and grab a copy of KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIREBIRD!

Favouring FRIDAY on a Wednesday

Today’s blog is from Charlotte Morris, another amazing Independent Bookseller who can be found at The Book House in Oxfordshire. Charlotte picked FRIDAY BROWN by Vikki Wakefield as her staff choice for the summer, and here’s why she chose it…

This summer my staff choice is FRIDAY BROWN, the heartrending new novel by Vikki Wakefield. From the very first page, Friday grabbed me by the hand and pulled me along on the tsunami of her journey – a definite contender for favourite book of 2013.


How far would you go to outrun a curse you aren’t sure you believe in? Named to avoid a tragic fate, Friday was raised on the open road of the blistering Australian outback and her mother’s hazy campfire stories. But when her mother is the latest in a long line of women in their family to drown mysteriously on a Saturday, there seems to be nothing left to do but run. Friday sets out to the city determined to find her father. Lost and alone, her plan soon derails and she finds herself trying to stay afloat, surrounded by dangers and haunted by her memories, stumbling onto a train platform that changes her life forever.

It is the endearing Silence who captures your heart from the moment he appears at the train station. He scampers through life with an ageless quick fingered agility, rescuing Friday in her time of need. Mute but with a loud personality, the ferocity of his love and Silence’s loyalty and determination is just as likely to lead him into trouble as out of it.

He leads you to the powerfully seductive clutches of Arden, a girl who collects runaways like modern day Lost Boys, except far from holding on to the innocence of childhood, Arden’s children are forced to grow up fast and face the harsh realities of living on the streets. Together they form a found family, bound together by their individual circumstances and dark pasts, tangled in Arden’s web. Friday can’t help but follow Arden and her gang as the need to endure leads her ever deeper into murky waters.

Follow Silence and fight for survival with Friday in this scorching, fast-paced psychological thriller that will leave you gasping, but reluctant to fetch a glass of water. Vikki has written a dazzling story filled with unforgettable characters and death defying twists.

With writing so vivid you can feel the heat of the campfires and the outback sun burning you as you read, Friday Brown is a story of revenge, justice, myth and identity. But with a cast full of liars, be careful what you choose to believe. Friday’s band of misfits leave marks on their surroundings, lingering on in the mind of the reader long after the final page. In a world of inescapable adversity, the threat of an ancient curse pales in comparison to the horrors of surviving everyday life, and tragedy strikes when you aren’t careful.

Drink some water, grab some tissues, prepare to feel your heart race, and make sure you read Friday Brown this summer.

“No more tears now, I will think upon revenge.”

And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, check out what THE BOOK HOUSE is doing for Independent Booksellers Week and for a fun summer promotion:

One lucky customer will win a rare illustration drawn exclusively for The Book House by Helen Craig, the author of Angelina Ballerina. This competition has been running through June, and the winner will be announced on Friday. To enter, just buy any of Helen’s illustrated books and write your name on the clipboard, and we’ll put that name in a hat for the prize draw!

We’re also celebrating the long lazy days of summer with our special summer reading scheme. Every year, The Book House selects top titles from new releases and smacks a gold star sticker on the back of the book. Buy any combination of three gold star titles and get a £5 Book House voucher to put towards your next read. (No expiry date on the voucher and the scheme runs until the end of August.)

From the YA books I’ve asked to include FRIDAY BROWN and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and there are lots more to choose from! Hope to see you at The Book House soon!

Check out THE BOOK HOUSE on Twitter and Facebook too!

Head in the clouds, book in the hands

Happy day 2 of Independent Booksellers Week!

Today’s blog comes from George Hanratty, manager of the magical, award-winning Tales on Moon Lane children’s bookshop in Herne Hill, south-east London. Here she reveals a guilty pleasure of  Independent booksellers – working out what book suits which type of customer – as she reads THE CLOUD HUNTERS by Alex Shearer.

THE CLOUD HUNTERS was sent to me with the very first set of Hot Key proofs over a year ago; I thought it sounded great but amidst a growing pile of ‘must-read’ proofs, it ended up languishing in my to be read pile. Out this week in paperback, it seemed like the perfect excuse to move it right to the top of said pile!


Christien lives on Sovereign, one of an unknown series of islands floating in the sky spread over thousands of miles – the remnants of a long ago destroyed planet earth. The skies all around are filled with Sky Fish, trader ships and Cloud Hunter boats – traveling wherever they can to find clouds to convert into water – this world’s most valuable resource.

Christien is fascinated by the Cloud Hunters, a fascination which only grows with the arrival of Jennie at his school – beautiful, mysterious and bearing the ritual scars particular to Cloud Hunters. Enthralled with Jenine and her family, he longs to join them on their adventures and finally gets his wish to travel with them, encountering an adventure the likes of which he never expected. At its heart, THE CLOUD HUNTERS is a classic fantasy adventure but is given depth by the fantasy world Alex Shearer has created – a world spread across the disparate islands with all the complexities of our own: religious intolerance, warring nations, environmental issues and prejudice in all its forms.

THE CLOUD HUNTERS is a novel that is perfect for hand selling. It is ripe for discussion and so I will be recommending it endlessly to teachers and librarians.

But then comes the favourite part of my job, and the part that I suspect all Independent Booksellers love, reading a book and figuring out which of my regular customers it will be perfect for: those with a fantasy and/or sci-fi interest are obvious choices, but then there are those who love books with a strong female heroine, or the avid readers who always want something a little different. I’m also adding the members of my children’s book group (see our events page) to this list, as THE CLOUD HUNTERS is being added straight to the pile as the next book we will be discussing.

The amazing Judith Kerr will be visiting Tales on Moon Lane on Thursday 4th July at 4pm as part of the celebrations for her 90th birthday and IBW. For more information go to:

GRINNY: A new old favourite

It’s a huge week! Not only is it July pub week, but it is also Independent Booksellers Week! To celebrate, we’ve invited a few fantastic independent booksellers to write about our books publishing this week, and to let us know what they’re up to for IBW.

Today’s blog is from Katie Clapham, who helps run the fabulous Storytellers Inc. in Lancashire. Katie writes below about discovering the newly republished classic GRINNY for the first time. Katie also shares a bit about the activities for she has planned for IBW, so make sure you drop by Storytellers Inc. if you’re in the area!


For some, that name recalls a deep-seated fear from the depths of their youth, wedged somewhere between an inexplicable worry about the threat of UFO’s and that natural repulsion that some old ladies just seem to incite.

‘You Remember Me’ is both Grinny’s hypnotic catchphrase and the name of the story’s stunning sequel. Actually, Grinny, I don’t remember you at all. Grinny isn’t a book from my childhood – but it’s a book I’m hoping I can invade other people’s with, so I’m delighted that Hot Key Books are reissuing it for a new audience (me included!) including both stories and an introduction from the lady of the hour herself, Malorie Blackman.


These two short stories offer a strobe of disturbing violet light that basks in that original fear of aliens – namely that they’re intent on world domination. Turns out they are, but they didn’t bank on Timothy Carpenter and his dramatic sister Beth trying to stop them. Twice!

The set-up in both stories is fabulously chilling; Grinny invites herself into the Carpenter household as their Great Aunt Emma, then reveals herself to be something quite different after a series of seriously suspicious events, while the second story moves into the future to see Tim and Beth battle the follow-up attack, this time led by a glamorous celebrity that seems to have captured the nations’ heart (and minds! Arrghhh).

Reading it today, it feels like quite a retro idea but its delicious simplicity makes it quite radical and refreshing in amongst today’s offerings. No one’s looking to make friends (or date) the aliens, this isn’t science fiction that is heavy in theory or technology and like all the best sci-fi, it raises real questions about our society – questions that remain important 40 years after they were written.

I don’t read a lot of science fiction – it too often leads into fantasy territory that I struggle to stay interested in, but I’d happily read more from Nicholas Fisk after this. The text is smart, snappy and funny. Even the format – a diary/letter style (with Fisk himself featured as a correspondent) adds another layer of interest. I can’t wait to sell this horrible little gem in my shop; GRINNY and YOU REMEMBER ME, I certainly will now!

What are you doing to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week?

Here at Storytellers, Inc. we’re celebrating Independent Booksellers Week with a series of events including two author visits, parties, games and offers.  We are delighted to have the IBW Collectibles available in-store including the recent Carnegie winner, Maggot Moon. You can read our full schedule of events on our website and we’ll be posting updates throughout the week on our blog where you can also view our IBW poster series.

We love any excuse to shout about indie bookselling so we’re thrilled that for one week the whole country could be listening. Bookshops on the high street are really important and its exciting initiatives like IBW that can energise booksellers and book buyers everywhere.

What are your memories of Grinny? Share them below or tweet at us using #grinnymemories.

Writing Advice from Dawn O’Porter

How do you start writing fiction when you’ve been writing short non-fiction your whole career? Dawn O’Porter had to wrestle with this when she sat down to write her first novel, PAPER AEROPLANES. For all you writers out there (and especially those who are working on their Young Writers Prize submissions right now), here’s her advice for breaking through the writing barriers and getting your ideas out:

Paper Aeroplanes

Do you have a writing routine? Share yours below!