Saturday, 28 January 2012

Sara Grant on Best Friends

Guest post by Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties

BFFs 4 Evva

Dark Parties is a love story. Sure there’s a sexy, mysterious leading man and forbidden romance. But in many ways the central love story is between two best friends – Neva and Sanna. If you are lucky enough to have a best friend, you know the importance of this relationship and that they save your life in big and small ways all the time.

When I was Neva’s age, boyfriends came and went but girlfriends endured. I wanted to write a story with friendship at its heart. Maybe that’s strange for a book titled Dark Parties. But this feminine camaraderie is the underlying pulse of the book. Neva and Sanna complete each other. They finish each other’s sentences. Neva grounds Sanna and serves as her surrogate family. Sanna provides Neva with a spark and an energy.

When the novel opens, Neva and Sanna have decided to rebel against the government. Each has different objectives. Sanna wants to make a splash. Neva wants to make a difference. Sanna has the ideas. Neva has the connections. They host a dark party – a party in the pitch black. Their hope is to entice their friends to join them in a secret rebellion. But when the lights go out, Neva accidently kisses someone. When the lights come back on, she realizes she’s kissed Sanna’s boyfriend. Now she’s falling for her best friend’s boyfriend and discovering secrets and lies that threaten her friendship, her family and her country. Ultimately Neva must risk everything to save her best friend.

Sanna reminds me of two of my best friends. She’s part my oldest and dearest friend Courtney. We met in college. She’s the one who understands me like no other – and likes me anyway. We have been friends for more than twenty years. We have grown up and weathered many trials and tribulations together. We are separated by a big ocean but no matter how long between our phone calls, it’s like we were never apart. She knows the right thing to say no matter what my conundrum.

Sanna is also part my newest and dearest friend. From the moment we met in 2005, we had an instant connection. We are both Americans named Sara who married Brits and now live in the UK – and have a deep love for Mexican food. She has boundless enthusiasm and is never at a loss for big ideas. She never ceases to amaze me. I can always count on her.

What’s the saying? A friend helps you move, your best friend helps you move a body. If one of my friends called with an emergency – no matter what the time, no matter where I was – I’d drop everything to help.

What would you do to save your best friend?

Have you been to a Dark Party?

Guest Post by Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties

Why Dystopian?

When I finished the first draft of Dark Parties in 2009, I had an agent tell me that she didn’t think dystopian novels would sell. How times and tastes have changed. I recently heard someone call ‘dystopia’ the new ‘paranormal romance’ of young adult fiction.

Hunger Games, Delirium, Matched, Divergent, Blood Red Road, XVI, Bumped, The Declaration. There’s definitely something in the zeitgeist. I’m sure someone out there with a Ph.D. can hypothesize about the current social and political climate that predisposes writers and readers to dystopian fiction. And maybe there’s another doctor-type who can explain something about a teenager’s brain chemistry that makes them particularly susceptible to dark, futuristic tales.

I read an article in The New Yorker where Scott Westerfeld compared the high school experience (secondary school/Sixth Form in the UK) to a dystopia. Maybe teens intuitively understand and appreciate this genre because they are living it?

But the reason I write dystopian fiction for young adults is far less lofty and scientific. I love the freedom – not only the freedom to imagine the future and make the rules, but also the freedom that I can afford my teen protagonist. Teenagers can save the world.

Dystopian stories offer a complete escape from everyday life. Practically it allows writers to rid teen protagonist of pesky parents, mobile phones and the internet, which make answers and rescue come far too swiftly – and boringly. A story void of competent parents and efficient technology allows for greater adventure and risks.

And dystopian novels allow readers and writers the freedom to explore themes in a way most contemporary teen fiction can’t. You can illuminate a particular aspect of society or human nature and whittle away the parts of the real world that don’t serve your story.

The idea for Dark Parties came shortly after I moved from Indianapolis, Indiana, to London, England. Debates on immigration were raging on both sides of the Atlantic – and still are. What does it mean to be American or British? How ‘open’ should countries’ borders be? I wanted to explore issues of national and personal identity so I created a country that had literally closed itself off from the rest of the world.

Another benefit of writing dystopian fiction is the ease with which it can cross borders and appeal to readers around the world. I intentionally didn’t identify the country in Dark Parties. In my mind, it’s a mixture of my two homelands – the US and UK, but it could also easily represent other countries. Dark Parties has sold to the US, UK, Germany, Poland, Turkey, China and Taiwan.

Now I’m completely hooked on dystopian fiction. I not only read every dystopian novel I can get my hands on but I’m already neck deep in writing another dark futurist tale – which will be published in 2013. So stay tuned for Half Lives – a race against time and a battle to save future generations. It’s about the nature of faith and power of miscommunication – and above all the strength of the human spirit to adapt and survive.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Authors Electric

Despite all the talk at the end of last year about the way in which the Kindle was set to overtake publishing and reduce the sales of paper books it seems that children's books continue to go from strength to strength in all formats.

However we at Armadillo have nothing against the Kindle, after all it has its own uses and so if your children are pestering you for a Kindle or other such device then here is an exciting new offering to consider...

Introducing Authors Electric: professional authors with decades of publishing experience, now producing fresh new books via a brand new blog,

Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?

bringing together a variety of published UK-based authors of fiction and non-fiction for adults, teens and children. Many of these writers are now bringing back their much-missed out-of-print books as ebooks, with others publishing new titles at affordable prices.

Susan Price, whose Carnegie-winner The Ghost Drum is now out for Kindle, says: “The Kindle has set authors free to publish independently and sell in a world-wide market. We want our blog to become a site that people will bookmark, and where they can go to find quality writing at great prices.”

Among the other authors for children and teenagers contributing to Authors Electric include Katherine Roberts, the first recipient of the Branford-Boase Award, Pauline Fisk, winner of the Smarties Prize, and Armadillo's very own Linda Newbery, winner of the Costa Children’s Prize.

The new site, which is already attracting numerous hits, not only has a great selection of ebooks for all the family but also brings you a daily blog by this team of professional authors, talking openly about all things to do with writing and what it is like to be an author in this digital age. Each month, the blog also hosts a guest author talking about their work.

Their website Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? can be visited at:

Launch yourself into the exciting world of electronic books and don't forget to keep us updated as to what you discover when you are there!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A New Year Diet with a Difference!

Everywhere you look this last week there has been talk of diets and detox so it must be the year! I have a diet with a difference to offer you, a diet of books and for my first offering I would like to set you up with the books on the short list for the Red House Children's Book Award which from now on will be referred to as RHCBA.
In the school in which I work as a librarian, Downsend, in Leatherhead, we have set up a reading group or three for the different age groups, all these groups have been reading and sharing the books on the short list, discussing their relative merits and being candidly open and honest about how they feel.
The younger children have been enjoying the picture books, we read them together and they love exploring them in detail, something they don't always get the chance to do as they are pushed into chapter books too soon, I meet with one group again tomorrow so will report back on their progress. In the meantime however on Friday we met with the older group of children from Years 6 & 7 who have read a number of the books now between them and had some interesting thoughts to share. Today I'll start with the Tom Gates title which they enjoyed but felt that it was trying too ha to be an English Wimpy Kid. The book, they said was funny but coming after so many other books in a similar style they were slightly bored of the format and didn't find that giving it an English rather than American setting really made any difference, after all, they id, they are so exposed to American culture that the setting of a book makes little difference.
Another interesting comment was that the main character, Tom, is too good, there is too much focus on him and it takes away from the humour of the story.
For the adult members of the group, myself and an English teacher, the book is perhaps a 21st century version of The Secret Diary of Adrain Mole with which we grew up and have find memories of laughing at. It appears that this format is successful with every generation but it is how the characters are portrayed that really makes the difference between enjoyment and tedium as experienced by our group.
There ends our first instalment. The awards are voted for on 20th January and the winners announced on 11th February, a celebration we hope to attend so between now and then remember to check back here regularly for our updates.