Guest Post // NaNoWriMo Tarot with Deirdre Sullivan!

9781912417117Today on the blog, a little something different: a tarot reading! In this guest post in celebration of the paperback release of her acclaimed fairytale retelling collection Tangleweed and Brine (pictured in its inky Sunday best here), fabulous writer and (tarot) reader Deirdre Sullivan agreed to take a look at her beautiful cards for a very timely purpose.  

If you’re feeling stuck with National Novel Writing Month, maybe it’s time to see if the cards have any guidance for you…

NaNoWriMo is upon us and, while I’m not participating this year, I’m very fond of it. Needlework (Little Island, 2016) was a NaNoWriMo book, as was Perfectly Preventable Deaths (out in June 2019 from Hot Key). While both of those books needed considerable redrafting before they were ready to share with people, the power of letting yourself be consumed by story for a month is something I found really liberating and satisfying.

A tool I use in my creative writing workshops and in my own practice is the tarot. For me, the tarot is largely a tool for self-reflection. I use it to tap into my own intuition. The seventy-eight cards represent different facets and truths of the human experience, and can work extremely well for a writer stuck on character development, or a story’s narrative arc.

For my reading today, I chose the Tattoo Tarot by Diana McMahon Collis and Megamunden. I like the design of this deck a lot, but I bought it mainly to use as a resource for workshop exercises. I’m going to do a simple four card spread, which I like because it’s very no nonsense – it has helped me to give myself a bit of tough love in recent times, as deadlines loomed and I needed to get the head down. Here goes!

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Card One: It deals with this.

Four of Pentacles is a card usually to do with money, and control. Pentacles is earth. Four as a number is generally to do with stability and structure. 1,167 words of structure a day, to be precise.

Participating in NaNoWriMo is exerting that control – that discipline over yourself in pursuit of a tangible achievement, something you can touch. It’s turning something in your head into something on the page. Hoarding words like gold coins until you hit that target. A singular focus, and the sacrifices that implies.

There are things you will have to say no to this month, experiences you’ll have to forgo in favour of spending time with the people in your brain. Will it be worth it?

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Card Two: Don’t do this.

The Seven of Swords. This is a card of warning, and my lucky number – seven. This can be the number of imbalance on the journey, a twist in the road where you need to pause and ask for directions. But NaNoWriMo is not a pausing time. Swords as a suit represent air, the intellectual.

What all these knives are saying to me, is don’t stop to edit your work. Just keep going. You can be brutal later, when you have a draft to fix. Don’t stop and count all the problems with your writing, all the swords thrust into your soft, growing heart. Of course there will be problems with it, things to fix, but it’s still worth your time right now.

Write with your heart, not with a scalpel. Get to 50,000. Have a nap.

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Card Three: Do this.

Nine of Wands. Wands are the suit of fire, of urgency and passion. They are your fingers banging against the keyboard, tattooing out a rhythm while you live the words you write. Nine is the number of hanging in there. Of almost.

You will need to move quickly during NaNoWriMo: there will be obstacles, days when you don’t get the chance to write for as long or as much as you want to, evenings when your characters won’t behave or your brain can’t work out how to fix a plot hole. During NaNoWriMo there’s a lot to be said for leaving it and moving on to the next thing. Nothing wrong with just typing IMPORTANT CONVERSATION THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING GOES HERE, and then writing the next thing.

It doesn’t have to be perfect yet, it just has to be. Also, this can be a card of recovery, so don’t forget to back your work up every single day.

Card Four: It leads to this.

The Ace of Cups. An actual golden trophy. Kind of on the nose. I LOVE this card.

It’s a card of creativity and imagination, of beginnings. Literally brimming with potential and satisfaction. This is what having a first draft down gives you. You have written a book. Now, all you have to do is make it better, or write the next one. Once you have done the thing, you know that you can do it again and again. Your cup is full, the sun is shining, there’s two little bird dudes basking in the glory of it.

It feels good, when you hit that 50K.
It feels like an achievement.
And it is.

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If you like the idea of using tarot for creative purposes, there are plenty of spreads and blog posts available to look at online (I love Little Red Tarot and Biddy Tarot!). Book-wise it’s worth having a look at Jessa Crispin’s The Creative Tarot, which marries tarot and developing a piece of work really nicely. I also like Tarot Plain and Simple by Anthony Louis, and The Tarot Dictionary by Jana Riley for reference.

Happy NaNoWriMo, and if you don’t hit that target, it’s not the end of the world. Tangleweed and Brine is only 26,000 words long. It takes the space it takes to tell a story.
Best of luck.

author-3Deirdre Sullivan is an award-winning writer from Galway, Ireland. Her young adult novel Needlework won the Honour Award for Fiction at the Children’s Books Ireland Awards and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. Her Primrose Leary series was also widely acclaimed; two of the Prim books were shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland awards, while the third, Primperfect, was shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature.

Deirdre also writes short fiction and poetry, which has been published in places like The Penny Dreadful and The Dublin Review. When Deirdre is not writing she is a reader and a guinea pig enthusiast, and shares her home with a very important cat named Arthur Conan Doyle.

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YA Shot Blog Tour // An Interview with Karen Gregory

Today on The Paper Alchemist, I’m playing host to YA Shot panellist Karen Gregory.

YA Shot is an author-run, one-day book festival for children and teens held in Uxbridge, London. Founded by Alexia Casale, the third annual YA Shot will be held on Saturday 14th April 2018. This year’s line-up feature authors such as Holly Bourne, Lauren James, Samantha Shannon, Katherine Webber, Chris Russell, Cecelia Vinesse,  Sita Brahmachari and more. You can find all the details on YA Shot (including the full list of panels) or buy tickets, whether for yourself or as a gift for young people from the local area, here.

As ever, my interview questions and mildly excitable contributions are in bold or occasionally [bracketed], while Karen’s answers are in plain text and marked KG. 

mb4ma8vv_400x400Karen Gregory is the author of YA novels Countless (Bloomsbury, 2017) is out now and Skylarks (Bloomsbury, forthcoming, May 2018). A graduate of Somerville College, Oxford, she’s a project manager by day who’s become adept at writing around the edges (strong coffee and a healthy disregard for housework help). She wrote her first story about a mouse called Bantra at the age of twelve, then put away the word processor until her first child was born when she was overtaken by the urge to write. She lives in Wiltshire with her family and is represented by Claire Wilson at Rogers, Coleridge & White.

A: We’ll start with one of my favourites: what drew you to YA?

KG: Great question! I think it was a mixture of several things. Your teenage years and early twenties are such a visceral time, when you’re encountering new things and learning how (and how not) to deal with them, while trying to figure out who you are and your place in the world. It’s such a rich area to explore. I don’t think those challenges necessarily go away as you get older; many people continue to struggle with big questions throughout their lives, so perhaps it’s also that which draws me to YA. And of course, there are so many brilliant YA authors out there, which I find massively inspiring!

Speaking of fellow YA authors, you’ll be chairing panellists Sara Barnard, Orlagh Collins and Tamsin Winter in talking literature and living well with mental illness at YA Shot. How did you get involved with the event? For readers who are unfamiliar, can you tell us more about it?yashotblogtourbanner1

KG: Sure! YA Shot is a day-long festival in Uxbridge, London, celebrating UK YA and Middle Grade fiction. It supports readers through partnerships between authors and local schools and libraries, includes the UKYA Blogger awards and runs blogger and vlogger workshops, and this year has a theme of human rights. I actually had tickets to go last year and then tonsillitis (my nemesis) intervened, so I was delighted to be invited to be one of around fifty authors taking part this year.

Like a lot of UKYA, your début novel Countless dealt with some serious issues and hard-hitting themes. Do you think YA writers have a duty of care to their readers in how they approach issue-driven stories?

KG: It’s a really tricky area. I do believe YA writers need to be mindful of their intended audience. At the same time, it’s important not to patronise readers and to recognise that awful things do happen in some young people’s lives. These stories need to be written too.

In terms of Countless in particular, given the subject matter I was concerned about the potential for the portrayal to be harmful to vulnerable people. I worked hard through the editing process to try and ensure there weren’t things in there which didn’t need to be for the story, for example specific numbers around weight and calories. I felt it was important to try and show the incredibly difficult emotions and thought processes around Hedda’s illness. I hope I got the balance right, but I’m always learning.

What did you hope teen readers would take from Countless when they’d turned over the last page?

KG: I’m going to sound incredibly cheesy here, but I guess I hoped readers would take away the sense that even for the most seemingly intractable problems, there is the possibility of change and hope that things can be different in the future. And that love, especially learning to love yourself, is a powerful and healing force.

Of course, for some authors it’s hard to turn over that last page on a book – are you the kind of writer who feels the book is done once you’ve finished writing or editing, or do you wish you’d done anything differently?

KG: I’m a ‘prise it out of my hands’ sort of writer! There are always things I want to change and it can be really hard to let something go. However, there comes a point in revising and editing where you’ve taken the book as far as you can. I try to remind myself that as long as I know I’ve put in as much work as I could and written the best book I’m capable of, then in the end that has to be enough. Eventually you need to let the book go, or you’d never write anything else!

If you had name three of your favourite YA books from the last year, what would they be and why?25310356

KG: Argh, this is a very cruel question as I read so much amazing YA last year! I think I’d choose We Come Apart, by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan. It’s about Nicu, a recent immigrant to the UK from Romania, and Jess, who is from a chaotic and disadvantaged background. I loved their story, which is told in alternating perspectives and in beautiful free verse. Jess in particular has really stayed with me since I read the book.

[A: I’ll second this recommendation – you can read my review of this bittersweet book here on the blog!]

KG: I also loved Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows. It’s a slight cheat as I got it for Christmas and actually read it this year, but it was a 2017 release so I think it counts. Set during the English Civil War, it’s a mixture of historical fiction, magical realism and mystery. Hardinge has one of the most unique voices out there and this book completely sucked me in.

I’m thirdly going to pick a book which is technically MG, but can be read by all ages: Tamsin Winter’s Being Miss Nobody. Main character Rosalind has selective mutism, and the book follows her as she struggles to literally and metaphorically find her voice during her first year at secondary school. It’s an incredibly warm book with a big heart – it had me crying towards the end.

dv_sgdsumaavf-qAnd finally, what can readers expect from you next? Can you tell us anything about your new book?

KG: Yes – I’ve got a new book out in May called Skylarks, which is about figuring out how to stand up for what you believe in and looks at social justice, the poverty gap and activism. It’s set in a fictionalised area of the Marlborough Downs and the occasional real skylark does make an appearance! I so enjoyed writing it and I’m really looking forward to sharing Joni and Annabel’s love story.

The YA Shot Blog Tour runs from 1st March to 12th April. be sure to check out the other stops, which will feature author interviews, guest posts, giveaways and other delightful stuff!

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GUEST POST: Linni Ingemundsen on where she writes and her début, The Unpredictability of Being Human

Today on the blog, I have a guest post from Linni Ingemundsen, whose début YA novel, The Unpredictability of Being Human, releases from Usborne this month. 

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Linni Ingemundsen is the author of THE UNPREDICTABILITY OF BEING HUMAN (out from Usborne, January 2018). She has worked as a dishwasher in Australia, a volunteer journalist in Tanzania and has approximately 2.5 near death experiences behind her. She does not know how to draw, but is somehow also a freelance cartoonist. Some of her favourite things in life include chocolate, monsters and her yellow typewriter. Originally from Norway, she now lives and writes in Malta. 

Malta isn’t the easiest place to write – the weather is always (and I mean, three hundred days a year always) sunny and nice and it makes me want to go out and do other things. I’d prefer to write in a cabin in the mountains while the rain is pouring down outside, preferably of the thunderstorm variety. When it rains on the island it really pours – just six minutes of rain can see cars half-submerged and roads looking like rivers!

IMG_3836_previewIf I can’t track down any mountain cabins, a coffee shop will also do, though in Malta there aren’t too many options when it comes to places that has both sockets and wifi (yes, I do need wifi. If not it becomes very hard to listen to Spotify or procrastinate with Buzzfeed quizzes). My favourite writing spot at the moment is a little coffee shop around the corner from where I live. I mean, you can’t go wrong with a coffee shop full of books and a vintage typewriter in the corner.

Another favourite writing spot is my bed. If I wake up and reach for my laptop first thing in the morning, I know it is going to be a good day. This currently doesn’t work too well as my wifi doesn’t reach the bedroom, because, well, Malta. But of course, when I feel inspired I can write anywhere. I’ve written during lunch breaks at work, in the line to the bank and sometimes simply on random benches around the island.

36369048Fourteen-year-old Malin knows she couldn’t change much about her life, even if she got to play God. Her dad would still yell all the time – especially as Malin is still friends with Hanna, the girl she met shoplifting. Her mum would still say a glass of wine is good for her heart – and Mum needs it, with Malin’s brother, Sigve, getting into trouble all the time.

If she were God for a day, Malin wouldn’t imagine changing much. Because stuff’s okay, mostly. And if He could fix the world, wouldn’t he have done it already?

And Malin would still be Malin. Because she can’t be anybody else.

In a voice bursting with immediacy and dark humour, Malin shares the absurdities of growing up and fitting in with her family amid all their mistakes, secrets and irreverent wit in a small town in Norway. 

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Laurel Remington talks weddings, classics, and Confetti & Cake

Today on the blog, I’m hosting a guest post from Laurel Remington to celebrate the release of her second MG book, Confetti & Cake (out from the lovely folks at Chicken House Books). I was delighted to be asked to be part of this mini blog tour (and add some choice gifs to the post!). You can read my review for The Secret Cooking Club here, or read on to see author Laurel Remington chat about her favourite fictional weddings. Warning: Jane Eyre spoilers abound!

download (1)I was a child when I attended a wedding for the first time. A girl called Lisa, the daughter of a neighbour, was marrying her high school sweetheart, a boy called Richie. I have few memories of that day – vague images of a church, a crowd, and a girl in a white dress – but the one thing I do remember is a single moment when bride and groom were standing at the altar, and the priest asked Richie if he would take this woman, Debbie, to be his wedded wife. This unfortunate slip of the tongue caused gasps from the crowd and hasty shouts of ‘Lisa!’, including from the groom himself. The fact that the groom’s ex-girlfriend was called named Debbie didn’t do the priest any favours!

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I’ve been to many weddings since – lovely affairs, all of them – but nothing sticks in my mind quite like the Lisa/Richie/Debbie moment. While photographs and videos may record all the things that went right, I suspect that for many guests, the most memorable moments are the ones where things went wrong. This certainly seems to be borne out in fiction, where some of the most famous romances are ones that didn’t come off quite right – or, in fact, went totally pear-shaped.

Jane Eyre’s journey sees her go from governess to fiancée of the lord of the manor, Edward Rochester. Jane’s promised wedded bliss comes to an end at the altar, as two strangers enter the church to ‘declare the existence of an impediment’, namely that Rochester is already married. When Jane finally returns  at the end of the book, when Rochester’s first wife has died and he has been blinded by a fire, a now much wiser Jane limits the description of her new circumstances to ‘Reader, I married him.’ What a powerful example of ‘less is more’!

While Jane Eyre had a belated ‘happy ending’, another classic bride-to-be was less fortunate. In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham is swindled out of her fortune and left at the altar by her brother’s friend Compeyson. She spends the rest of her life dressed for her wedding day, frozen in time. As her white dress rots from her body, and the wedding feast is devoured by mice, we see Miss Havisham take out her rage and hurt through her adopted daughter Estella, thus destroying the happiness of even more people in the process. While Dickens’ prose may admittedly fade from our minds, the image of an old woman living each day surrounded by dreams of her ghostly white wedding day is one that sticks with us.

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It’s interesting to note that the queen of Regency classics, Jane Austen, often downplayed descriptions of weddings in her novels. For her, the delight was in the romance and ‘the chase’, rather than in weddings themselves. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet’s weddings aren’t described in Pride and Prejudice, the day simply being marked as that ‘on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters.’ Jane Austen herself never married, and while she did once accept a proposal, she changed her mind the next day. Perhaps it was enough for her to be married to her art and her profession. Or could it have been wedding jitters? We’ll never know for sure.

secret-cooking-club-confetti-cake-657x1024In Confetti & Cake, Scarlett’s cooking club has succeeded beyond anything she could have expected, bringing new friends and new chances, including judging charity bake-offs! But when Scarlett’s mum announces she’s getting married and will be appearing on a  TV wedding show, let’s just say things don’t go quite to plan. Between trying to make the perfect wedding day feast and juggling her newfound sort-of fame, Scarlett feels like she’s riding a roller coaster that’s going far too fast. Can the Secret Cooking Club save the day with food, fun, friendship, and a lovely wedding cake – or will it all end in tiers?

Happy reading (and baking)!

Laurel Remington

Laurel Remington’s second book, Confetti & Cake, is out now. Her first children’s book, The Secret Cooking Club, was the winner of the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition 2015, and through it she hopes to inspire young readers to try their hand at cooking and baking. She lives in Surrey with her partner and three daughters.

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