Posts Tagged ‘The Body at the Tower’

What is a novel?

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Hello, friends. I recently had a long and utterly engaging conversation with three fellow writers: two of them critically acclaimed poets, all of us writers of novels. We were talking about the act of writing. One of us, who is working on her first novel, said that for her, writing it was like posing the question, “What is a novel?” That is, what are the novelistic conventions I value? Is it true that a novel must feature x? Or that it must not do y? For this friend, the novel she writes will be the answer – or perhaps one set of answers – to that question.

I was completely taken with this philosophical approach to writing because I have gone about things so very differently (thus far). When I sat down to write my first novel, the one thing of which I was certain was how very little I knew about writing a novel. I thought that I wanted a Victorian setting, and that I wanted to write about an outsider: a girl who, in strictly realist terms, would have led a life that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.* I had my two starting points, and then I panicked. I had no idea how to structure a novel. Fortunately, I am a lifelong devotee of mystery novels, so it felt right to use the genre as a kind of coat-hanger, to give the book a conventional and useful shape. I knew what was expected, and I could tinker with the genre in small but meaningful ways.

That first book became A Spy in the House and its siblings: The Body at the Tower, The Traitor in the Tunnel, and Rivals in the City (which I’m revising right now!). And then, a couple of months ago (before the editorial revisions for Rivals boomeranged back to me), I sat down to write something completely different. Once again I leaned back and craned my neck, trying to picture the shape of this new book. Over the course of four novels I had learned a bit about plot and structure, but little that I found immediately useful.

What I did, instead, was start playing with voice. I was inspired by two things: a person I know fairly well, and a photograph from a book. And quite soon, the voice became two voices, and I began thinking of the new book as a point of departure. I was trying to provoke. I was refuting some of my previous experience of storytelling. Essentially, I was trying to write against.

With these as my two existing models of writing a novel (writing for; writing against), it’s no wonder that I was struck by my friend’s quiet, personal, solitary question: What is a novel? It’s a brave question, and a difficult one. It’s one that doesn’t allow you to lean on tradition for comfort, and which reminds you to stop being such a reactive brat. It’s one that draws your focus, again and again, into the work itself. What is a novel? I won’t know until I’ve written the next book. And I hope I’ll be able to answer that question in very different forms, over the course of my career. What do you think? What is a novel, to you?

To answer the question in a different form: a reader from Toronto, Shann, recently sent me a link to Litograph, which offers a playfully literal definition of a novel: posters, t-shirts, and tote bags printed with the entire text of a classic book. The best ones, in my opinion, aren’t necessarily of my personal favourite books; instead, they’re titles for which the artist really captured the spirit of the book: Anne of Green Gables, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Persuasion, Gulliver’s Travels. Thank you, Shann, for making my holiday shopping that much easier!

*Aside: I read a novel this past summer that offers a fiery but ultimately realist history for a girl like Mary Quinn: Slammerkin, by Emma Donoghue. It’s terrific and vivid and utterly oppressive because you know from the first page that its protagonist, Mary Saunders, cannot possibly have a happy ending.

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Pedants unite!

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

I’m slogging away at the copyedits for Candlewick’s edition of The Traitor in the Tunnel. One of the things I love about being edited is learning new stuff. For example, did you know the difference in usage for convince and persuade? According to my anonymous but clearly passionate copy editor, “you convince someone to a point of view; you persuade someone to an action”. There you go!

And there’s eye candy this week: the delightful Enrico, who made a stunning fan book trailer for A Spy in the House, has done it again! This trailer is for The Body at the Tower and once more, it’s perfection. Thank you so much, Enrico!

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A Walk in the Void & Kat, Incorrigible

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Hello friends! This month, Mondadori publishes the Italian edition of the second Agency novel. It’s called La Detective. Passeggiata nel vuoto, which translates to The Detective: A Walk in the Void. I really, really, really wish I could read Italian.

Here’s the cover:

And the full dustjacket:

What do you think?

I also have a few lovely announcements. Some French readers have asked when the third Mary Quinn novel (The Traitor and the Tunnel in English; I don’t know what the French title will be), will be published by Nathan. There’s no firm date yet, but it’ll be early in 2012. Hurray! I’ll update this as soon as I have a date for you.

This month, The Body at the Tower is the Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children‘s Book of the Month! Their review is here.

Deborah Sloan just told me that A Spy in the House is on the Bank St College of Education’s 2011 Best Books List! If you’re curious, their picks are here (as downloadable PDFs), grouped by age. Spy is on the 14 and up list.

And finally, a truly fantastic announcement that’s not about me or my books: Stephanie Burgis‘s debut novel, Kat, Incorrigible, is published this week in North America! Huzzah!

I’ve raved about Steph’s novel before. If you love Jane Austen, magick, sly wit, and sibling solidarity, you will adore Kat’s adventures. But don’t just take my word for it – read the first three chapters here! Congratulations, Steph!

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Write what you love

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

This week, to mark the paperback release of The Body at the Tower, I’m guest-blogging at TeenReads about why you, dear aspiring author, should Write What You Love. It all began when an unpublished writer of historical YA asked for advice on what he should be writing vs. what he’s passionate about writing. I blinked, shook my head, and thought, what can I say?

As it turns out, a fair amount.

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What I did last week

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I was in Toronto and Ottawa for a mini book tour and mostly what I did was talk – to strangers, to friends, to booksellers in many Chapters & Indigo stores. I also ate a lot of really memorable food, some of it amongst beardy oenophiles at a basement pub in Cabbagetown.

But I also had a party at Type Books, to which my Toronto friends came out in force. (Photos are by my uncle, Meng Cheah. Thank you!)

TYPE Books, Queen St West

Toronto really does look its best after dark.

Always clutching the same darn book.

And isn’t TYPE gorgeous? If I end up as a ghost, I’ll definitely haunt this bookstore.

I owe thanks to many people: to Becky, Samara, and Kyle of TYPE, for making the party run so smoothly; and to Jennifer Herman, Nicola Makoway, and Jacqui Bester of Random House Canada, for organizing the bookseller visits and lunch. I’m so lucky to work with you.

Special thanks to Steven “Stevelchase” Succi, for procuring the wine when I thought my head might explode; and to Steve and Sarah Sweet (ha! surname ambiguity!), for being such lovely hosts. I am stone-cold sober, but *sniff* I love you guys. And you make me love Toronto. (A little bit, anyway.)

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Book attack

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

This week, I’m in Toronto and Ottawa meeting with booksellers and launching Body. It’s a flying trip and I won’t have time to catch up with old friends, buy handmade chocolates and pungent cheeses, or lounge in cafés – all things dear to my heart. But I will be in bookstores. Oh yes.

So it’s fitting that this week, I finally got around to looking at that Facebook meme – you know the one. It claims to be the BBC’s list of 100 books of which the average person will only have read 6. I’ve been tagged with it about a dozen times and always ignored it. But Fate is tricky like that. You see, there are almost 40 books on that list I haven’t read. A few that I’ve long intended to read. And others I feel shame in admitting I haven’t. (I’m sorry, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky!)

You see where I’m going with this. In a week when I’ll see more different bookstores than I typically do in a month, what can a bookish girl do but make up for lost time? I shall be buying

and 

as well as presents for my family (who, fortunately, prefer presents with pages). And this is where I need you, bookish friends.

What are some of your favourite books? They don’t have to be from that silly meme, of course. They don’t have to be YA or recent, either. Just books from your personal Top 100.

P. S. At the risk of sounding repetitive: I’ll be at Type Books (883 Queen St West) tonight from 7 to 8.30. See you there!

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The “E” Word

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Hello, friends. This week’s blog post is over at the Story Siren, where I launched PoC Lit Days, a 2-week celebration of cultural diversity in Young Adult literature. It’s called The “E” Word. Don’t miss the lively discussion going on in the comments!

And just a quick reminder for Toronto-area readers: I’ll be launching The Body at the Tower at Type Books (883 Queen St West) next week (Thursday, November 25) from 7 to 8.30 pm. Hope to see you there!

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There be readers out there

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Hello, friends. I’m very close to being able to share with you the UK cover of the third Mary Quinn novel, The Traitor and the Tunnel. So close. It’s gorgeous, as ever, and the suspense is killing me.

Ahem. In the meantime, I can show you a shot of The Body at the Tower and one of its sterner critics:

photo by Philipp of Upper Canada

I suspect Philipp may have to ask ever so nicely if he wants his book back.

And this week I got my first-ever piece of old-fashioned, pen-and-ink fan mail! Thanks, Gabriella, and I’ll write back very soon.

Next week, I’ll talk about researching the Agency novels and share with you a list of great Victorian resources. Until then!

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One magickal winner, with more to come

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Thanks for entering the Magickal Agency contest and spreading the word, friends. In choosing a winner, I disqualified anyone who claimed not to like olives. Then I was consumed with pity for the misguided, olive-fearing people (because you can’t really claim to live a full and happy life without olives) and put you back in the contest. All right. So.

The randomly selected winner of the Stephanie Burgis prize pack, which includes the gorgeous UK edition of A Most Improper Magick and a set of bookmarks and postcards, is…

See what I mean by gorgeous?

Shel! Congratulations! Please send me your mailing address and I’ll get the book in the post.

I imagine the rest of you are saddened by this. You should be, because Steph’s book is absolutely wonderful and won’t be published in North America until April 2011. But if more conversation and prizes are what you’re after, there is some consolation…

Come to my online launch party for The Body at the Tower on Tuesday, where there shall be all manner of bookish chatter and prizes, oh yes. The lovely people at Candlewick Press and Walker Books UK will be there, refilling your virtual wineglasses. I’ll be giving away Agency t-shirts and stickers, and my publishers will be giving away books! Yes, I said books! The details, again:

UK/Europe: Tuesday, 28 September at 16.00 BST

US/Canada: Tuesday, September 28 at 4pm EST

The hashtag is #bodytower.

(Of course, you can attend whichever party you like. They’re just meant to be at convenient times.)

And there’s a traditional launch party, of course:

Wednesday, September 29 at 7.00pm

Novel Idea Books, 156 Princess St, Kingston

See you next week, at some point! And remember to click over to Steph’s blog to see if you won her contest.

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The Magickal Agency Contest

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Today is a glorious, big-news day. First, I’m so pleased to feature a double interview and contest with the delightful Stephanie Burgis. It’s a double contest because we’re each giving away a fantastic prize pack of each other’s books (details below). And it’s a double interview because I asked her 10 questions, which she twisted up and turned back on me. Plus, I can now share with you the details of my THREE launch parties: Kingston, North America online, and the UK/Europe online.

First of all, though, here are Steph and I in conversation:

Ying: What book do you wish you’d written, and why?
Steph: Any of Jane Austen’s novels. SO smart, so funny, and so full of layers!
Steph: Literary death-match among your favorite novels: Middlemarch, Emily of New Moon, or A Wrinkle in Time? WHO WILL WIN?
Ying: Middlemarch in a heartbeat, because I’m not 9 years old anymore. It would also win a literal death-match, as it’s physically the biggest book.

Ying: Black olives or green?
Steph: Green, stuffed with feta cheese!
Steph: Cornish pasty or Yorkshire pudding?
Ying: Cornish pasty FTW! Did you know that traditionally, Cornish pasties had a blob of jam in one corner for a dessert-like finish? This has always troubled me. I mean, what if you started at the wrong end?

Ying:  What are 3 things that make you laugh?
Steph: My crazy-sweet dog, my son, and Joan Bauer’s novel Squashed.
Steph: Which 3 literary heroines do you wish you could hang out with in real life?
Ying: Elizabeth Bennet, Harriet Vane (from Dorothy L. Sayers’s Peter Wimsey mysteries) and, like you, Amelia Peabody (from Elizabeth Peters’s Victorians-in-Egypt adventures). It would be a lively but dangerous gathering.

Ying: And are you a giggler or a cackler?
Steph: A giggler when reading, a cackler when writing. ;)
Steph: Are you a careful bookmark-er or a ruthless page-folder when you read?
Ying: Ack! Would you fold down the corner of your baby or puppy? I THOUGHT NOT.

Ying: What trait do you most admire in others?
Steph: Kindness.
Steph: What trait do you wish you had more of in yourself?
Ying: I’d like to be more disciplined – about writing, chores, time-management…

Ying: What’s the strangest place you’ve ever found your camera or keys?
Steph: In the refrigerator!
Steph: Confession time: which children’s TV show theme-songs have you memorized since having your son? (I know EVERY “In the Night Garden” song.)
Ying: This is going to sound so horribly smug, but we unplugged our TV 3 years ago and haven’t got round to setting it up again. (But it’s not because we think we’re better than everybody else! Promise!) But I’ve seen many, many more videos of tractors and fire engines on Youtube than I’d ever dreamed existed.

Steph: I am inherently great at _remembering historical trivia_. I am inherently terrible at _remembering to re-charge my mobile phone_.
Ying: I am inherently great at _remembering phone numbers_. I am inherently terrible at _remembering poems_.

Ying: What’s your favourite intersection?
Steph: The spot where the Kaerntnerstrasse runs into the Stefansplatz in the center of Vienna. Gorgeous!
Steph: What’s your favorite building in London?
Ying: The British Library. Yes, it looks like a giant primary school circa 1988, but it’s my spiritual home in London.

Ying: Do you have any reading rituals?
Steph: Curled up under the covers, drinking hot chocolate while reading is ideal!
Steph: Do you have any writing rituals?
Ying: Coffee. Glass of water. Email-check. Blog-check. Wander away. Herd myself back. Snack. Bathroom break. Really get started. Oops – reply to urgent email. Answer door. Back to desk. This is why I need more discipline.

Ying: If your mother had to describe you in 3 adjectives, they’d be:
Steph: Eek. Tempted to turn this over to Mom to answer, but at a hopeful guess: stubborn, smart, creative
Steph: If your husband had to describe you in 3 adjectives, they’d be:
Ying: Smart, funny, opinionated. Or maybe just opinionated, opinionated, opinionated.

(Seriously. My husband jokes that I should have a radio show called, “Strong Opinions”. I counter that there isn’t enough air-time in the world…)

And speaking of strong opinions, I thought that for the launch of Body, I should do more to reach readers who aren’t near the vast metropolis of Kingston, Ontario. To that end, I’m holding 3 different events.

UK/Europe online party: Tuesday, September 28 @ 16:00 BST

US/Canadian online party: Tuesday, September 28 @ 16:00 EST

Both online parties will take place on Twitter and the hashtag will be #body. Walker Books UK and Candlewick Press will be there! We’ll be giving away swag! If you’re not already using Twitter, it’s easy to register. And if any of this is confusing but intriguing, leave a comment or email me – I’m happy to answer your questions.

The Real Live launch party: Wednesday, September 29 at 7.00pm at Novel Idea Books. Click here for a map.

I hope you can make it to one of these events!

And now, the contest details

Here’s the deal: Steph and I are both offering a prize pack featuring each other’s books. I’ll be giving away the UK edition of Steph’s debut novel, A Most Improper Magick, along with an AMIM bookmark and postcard set! And over at her blog, Steph’s giving away a copy of The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower, plus an Agency sticker and bookmark.

Here are my contest rules. (You can, of course, enter both contests.)

– To enter, leave a comment answering any one of the interview questions above.

– You may have extra entries by sharing the contest on Twitter and/or Facebook (1 extra entry per site).

– The winner will be randomly selected.

– My contest closes on Wednesday, September 22, 2010.

Good luck, dear readers, and don’t forget to click over to Steph’s blog to enter her contest, too.

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