GUEST BLOG: Jennifer Niven on the inspiration behind her new novel ‘All The Bright Places’

jennifer niven

Author Jennifer Niven

I wrote All the Bright Places the summer of 2013, following the death of my literary agent. The last time I saw him, I was nearing the end of a series of books I’d begun writing in 2008 and was feeling depleted. He told me, “Whatever you write next, write it with all your heart. Write it because you can’t imagine writing anything else.”

Years ago, I knew and loved a boy, and that boy was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. The experience of knowing him—and losing him—was life-changing. I’d always wanted to write about it, but I wasn’t convinced I would ever be able to.

That summer of 2013, I thought again about this boy and that experience, and I knew in my heart it was the story I wanted to write. Issues like teen mental health aren’t always talked about openly, even though we need to talk about them. I’d never felt as if I was allowed to grieve for this boy I loved because of how he died. If I was made to feel that way after losing him, imagine how hard it was for him to find help and understanding when he was alive.

After I decided to work on the story, I thought of a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t. All these years later, it was still too painful. And there was another doubt in the back of my mind. When I was a screenwriting student at the American Film Institute, the main criticism I got from my fellow writers was that I didn’t put enough of myself in the stories I wrote. They wondered if I would ever be able to truly open up on paper. Novelist Paul Gallico once said, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” But it’s not always easy to bleed so publically.

9780141357034When I sat down to write the first chapter of All the Bright Places, I told myself I would just see what happened. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to write anything at all. And then I heard Finch’s first line: Is today a good day to die? And I saw him up on the ledge of his high school bell tower, his classmates down below, the same ones who called him “Theodore Freak.” And then suddenly, Violet was there too, on the other side of the ledge, the popular girl, frozen and needing help.

For the next few weeks, I barely left my desk. The story of this boy and this girl who went from that bell tower ledge to wandering their state—seeing every out-of-the-ordinary site, making it lovely, leaving something behind—flooded right out.

In just six weeks, the book was born. I like to say it’s the book I was writing in my head for the past several years without knowing I was writing it.

My mother, Penelope Niven, was an author as well. She used to say, “You have to be able to write in spite of everything. You have to be able to write because of everything.” In other words, you need to be willing to bleed onto the page, knowing that you will have something on paper which is real and honest. More so than any of my previous books, All the Bright Places proved to me I could do that.

Grab a copy of All the Bright Places here

9780141357034All the Bright Places

by Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch wants to take his own life. I’m broken, and no one can fix it.

Violet Markey us devastated by her sister’s death. In that instant we went plowing through the guardrail, my words died too.

They meet on the ledge of the school bell tower, and so their story begins. It’s only together they can be themselves . . .

I send a message to Violet: ‘You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.’

You’re so weird, Finch. But that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.

But, as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

Grab a copy of All the Bright Places here

UK NEWS: Girl Online by Zoe Sugg (aka Zoella) is fastest selling book of the year

The Guardian:
 Girl Online, the first novel by Zoe Sugg AKA “Zoella” has pushed Jeff Kinney’s newest Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul off the top of the chart as the fastest selling book of the year in the UK.

Zoella’s book, published by Penguin, has also become the fastest selling hardback of 2014 – pretty impressive as it was only published on 25 November.

On hearing the news Zoe said, “It’s such an amazing feeling. I’m so grateful to everyone who has bought a copy of Girl Online. I love that so many of my viewers are enjoying the book! This year has been so exciting and this for sure is the icing on the cake.”

To read more click here

girl-onlineGirl Online

by Zoe Sugg

Girl Online is the stunning debut romance novel by YouTube phenomenon Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella.

I had no idea GirlOnline would take off the way it has – I can’t believe I now have 5432 followers, thanks so much! – and the thought of opening up to you all about this is terrifying, but here goes . . .

Penny has a secret.

Under the alias GirlOnline, she blogs about school dramas, boys, her mad, whirlwind family – and the panic attacks she’s suffered from lately. When things go from bad to worse, her family whisks her away to New York, where she meets the gorgeous, guitar-strumming Noah. Suddenly Penny is falling in love – and capturing every moment of it on her blog.

But Noah has a secret too. One that threatens to ruin Penny’s cover – and her closest friendship – forever.

Click here to grab a copy of Girl Online

Tamar Chnorhokian, author of The Diet Starts on Monday, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Tamar Chnorhokian

author of The Diet Starts on Monday

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Dulwich Hill and moved to Villawood when I was two years old. I’ve lived in the Fairfield area ever since. I attended Mary MacKillop Catholic College.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve I wanted to have my own merit stamp factory, at eighteen I wanted to have a café by the beach & at thirty I wanted to be an author.
Age twelve: Because as a kid I loved those ink stamps that my teachers would use to mark my work & I’d collect them as a hobby.

Age eighteen: I love coffee, socialising & the water.

Age thirty: A publisher loved my short story The Diet Starts on Monday. This set me on the path of writing my first novel.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Tamar Chnorhokian

Author: Tamar Chnorhokian

At eighteen I thought there was only right and wrong.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Most definitely Mariah Carey’s album Music Box. She is the best selling female artist of all time & writes all her lyrics. My love of writing started through rhythmical poetry & I think a part of that was influenced by her songs.

The book that had the most effect on me was The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons because I was so engrossed in the storyline that I missed my bus stop.

On that note of being totally in love with a story – The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks is my ultimate favourite!!!

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Novels are, and have always been, my favourite thing to read – and crime novels/mystery novels in particular.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

My debut novel is titled The Diet Starts on Monday. It’s about an obese teenage girl, who loses weight to win the boy of her dreams.

Grab a copy of Tamar’s novel The Diet Starts on Monday here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

That obese people are worthy of love too.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

The SWEATSHOP authors such as Stephen Pham, Luke Carman, Felicity Castagna, Lachlan Brown, Fiona Wright and Michael Mohammed Ahmad because their writing represents Western Sydney in a positive way as opposed to the negative representations that are always being told.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I want my novel to become a movie.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Never give up!

Tamar, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Diet Starts on Monday

The Diet Starts on Monday

by Tamar Chnorhokian

Zara Hagopian is size 22. She has a secret crush on the hottest boy in school, Pablo Fernandez, who has a skinny girlfriend named Holly. Zara hangs out with her best friends Carmelina and Max. They go window shopping in Parramatta and drink hot chocolate in Stockland Mall. Zara learns some of lifes hard lessons when she puts these friendships on the line and goes on a diet to win the boy of her dreams.

About the Author

Tamar Chnorhokian is a vital new voice from Western Sydney. Her first novel speaks to young Australians with double servings of humour and heart.

 Grab a copy of The Diet Starts on Monday

BOOKTOBERFEST GUEST BLOG: “Where do you get your ideas?” by Scott Westerfeld, author of Afterworlds


Author: Scott Westerfeld

The question that writers most hate is the perennial, “Where do you get your ideas?”

We could just answer, “from everywhere,” but even that isn’t big enough to cover it. When deep in the writing process, holding a hundred thousand words in our heads, writers hover half in this world and half in the world of the novel. The edges blur, and ideas roam freely back and forth. Not only do the events in real life influence the story, but the reverse happens too—the travails of those characters leak out to infuse reality around us.

I wanted to capture some of that dual state in Afterworlds. The odd-numbered chapters of the book are the story of Darcy, a young writer reworking her first novel under the looming pressure of a high-paying book contract. Having just moved out of her parents’ home, she has to balance the practicalities of living on her own with the allure of her shiny new membership in the community of YA authors, all while charging headlong into her first serious love affair. At the same time, Darcy is rewriting her novel from the ground up, applying the lessons of her new adulthood to the draft she wrote as a callow high school student.

The even-numbered chapters are the text of Darcy’s novel, a story about another young girl caught between worlds. On her way home from a visit to her estranged father, Lizzie Scofield is caught up in a terrorist attack at an airport. She plays dead to escape the gunmen, but she plays too well. From that moment on she can see ghosts, like the eleven-year-old Mindy haunting her mother’s home. As Lizzie unravels the mystery of Mindy’s death, she faces the secrets of her own family as well.

Both of these young women are in the process of transformation, and both have the power to transform the other. Darcy the writer, of course, holds Lizzie’s fate in her hands. But Lizzie the character is also the key to Darcy’s future, because Darcy’s publisher wants a happy ending, not the tragic finale of her first draft.

Each story not only influences the other, but also holds the secret of its salvation. That’s how us writers live, half in real life and half in our fictional worlds. Half finished and half rewritten, we are all made of drafts.

Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds is a featured title in Penguin’s Booktoberfest Showcase, click here for more details

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by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld is renowned in the YA fiction market, this is a perfect blend of contemporary love story and fantastical thriller.

Darcy has secured a publishing deal for her three paranormal books. Now she must find the wherewithall to write the second one whilst she has a reprieve from going to college, thanks to her savvy sister. She has enough funds for 3 years in NY… if she eats only noodles every day.

In the story Darcy has written, the character Lizzie survives a traumatic shooting event only to discover that she has become a phsychopomp; a spirit guide to the dead. But she’s not dead.. or is she? With one foot in each world, Lizzie’s challenges are somewhat unique. Then there’s her hot spirit guide… and all those ghosts that keep appearing… and the ‘living’ friend she usually tells everything to…

More than all I’d seen and heard. It was coming back to life that made me believe in the afterworld.

Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds is a featured title in Penguin’s Booktoberfest Showcase, click here for more details

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Amy Ewing, author of The Jewel, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Amy Ewing

author of The Jewel

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Boston, MA, and raised in a small town called Norwood, just outside Boston. I moved to New York City in 2000 to study theatre at New York University. My acting career didn’t quite pan out, and I ended up going back to school in 2010, this time to The New School, where I received a master’s degree in Writing for Children.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

An actor, an actor, and a writer. I loved performing—I did all the high school plays, and as I said before, I studied theatre in college. I was very shy as a child, and acting helped bring me out of my shell. Writing was always something I did just for me, and I never thought about pursuing it as a career until later in life. I’m certainly glad I did!

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Amy Ewing

I’m not sure if it was eighteen exactly, but when I was younger I remember thinking that I absolutely had to be married by the time I was thirty. I had this whole idea of what made a “happy” life. At thirty two and single, I’m must say, I’m pretty content with my life just as it is. External factors, like marriage, don’t guarantee happiness.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

My first literary love was Roald Dahl. I devoured his books as a child and I loved the darkness in them. When I was eighteen, I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which made me fall head over heels for high fantasy. And, since acting has truly influenced my writing so much, I’ll say Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a play by Steve Martin. There was a monologue in that play that I loved to read over and over again, about art and freedom and what it means to be a woman. It was the monologue that I performed for my NYU audition.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Well, I’ve certainly tried many different creative endeavors! Acting, obviously, and I also play guitar and write my own songs. But in the end, I think what drew me to writing books was how all you need is a pen, paper, and your imagination. It’s something that can absolutely be done on your own.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Jewel is my debut novel. It’s about a city where young girls are auctioned off as surrogates to royal women who can no longer have children on their own. It’s a world of opulence and cruelty, where surrogates are mistreated, humiliated, and even killed. It explores the idea of choice, and having the freedom to decide what happens to you. And there are some cute boys too :)

Grab a copy of Amy’s debut novel The Jewel here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I certainly hope they will think about the importance of having ownership over your own body. That’s an issue I’m deeply passionate about. And I hope they enjoy living in this darkly glamorous world as much as I do.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Writing a series, I have to give J.K. Rowling all the credit for writing seven, incredibly well-conceived, planned, thought-out books. It’s much harder than I thought, writing a trilogy, and I thought it was going to be hard. I also can’t imagine my life without Harry Potter—there is so much love in those books, and every time I read one, I feel myself slipping away into a world I adore living in.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My goal was to publish a book, so that got achieved! And now my goal is, quite simply, to keep writing more books. That’s the only part of this process that I can actually control. So that’s what I try to focus on. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t give up! This whole publishing thing is really hard, and takes time, and involves a lot of rejection. I failed spectacularly with my first book. Keep writing. Keep pushing through. It’s worth it in the end.

Amy, thank you for playing.

Amy Ewing’s The Jewel is a featured title in Walker Books’ Booktoberfest Showcase, click here for more details

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the-jewelThe Jewel

by Amy Ewing

This is a shocking and compelling new YA series from debut author, Amy Ewing. The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Other Boleyn Girl in a world where beauty and brutality collide.

Violet Lasting is no longer a human being. Tomorrow she becomes Lot 197, auctioned to the highest royal bidder in the Jewel of the Lone City. Tomorrow she becomes the Surrogate of the House of the Lake, her sole purpose to produce a healthy heir for the Duchess.

Imprisoned in the opulent cage of the palace, Violet learns the brutal ways of the Jewel, where the royal women compete to secure their bloodline and the surrogates are treated as disposable commodities. Destined to carry the child of a woman she despises, Violet enters a living death of captivity – until she sets eyes on Ash Lockwood, the royal Companion. Compelled towards each other by a reckless, clandestine passion, Violet and Ash dance like puppets in a deadly game of court politics, until they become each other’s jeopardy – and salvation.

It will appeal to fans of dystopian, dark romance, stepping beyond the paranormal craze. It is perfect for fans of Allie Condie and The Hunger Games. It is a debut novel from a radical new voice in YA.

It is the first book in The Lone City trilogy.

Amy Ewing’s The Jewel is a featured title in Walker Books’ Booktoberfest Showcase, click here for more details

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Kat Spears, author of Sway, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kat Spears

author of Sway

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Sweden, moved around a lot as a kid, and did not have an illustrious academic career. In fact, if you were to tell one of my old high school teachers I managed to make it through graduate school they would call you a liar outright. I enjoyed dropping out of school so much that I did it a few times–high school twice, college twice.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

 I wanted to be a writer for just about as long as I can remember, and before I learned to write, I was a storyteller. After I saw Indiana Jones when I was seven or eight years old (which now seems horribly inappropriate that my parents would let me see that movie at that age) I wanted to be an archaeologist, and I do have a fall-back career in the museum field. When I was eighteen I wanted to be a museum curator/archaeologist and I pursued that path for a while. I love to write, I love museums, I love art and history, but strangely I discovered over a long career that the one job that never bored me, never frustrated me, and I never wanted to give up…was bartending. I love everything about it. Every day is different. You meet all kinds of interesting people and never can anticipate what craziness might ensue. I eavesdrop on people’s personal stories (people will say some astonishing things within earshot of a bartender) that later become fodder for my novels. I love the pace, the fact that the work can be very physically demanding, and the intense contact with other people. Finding a way to get along with every human you meet is an interesting challenge, one that never gets old to me.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That I’m smarter than anyone else.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your
own development as a writer?

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson had an enormous impact on me as a young reader. And I still cry every time I read that book. I sometimes read the last two chapters just if I want to have a sob fest—seriously, nose running, tears streaming down my face, hiccoughing. Paterson is a brilliant writer and the world is a better place because she wrote books for kids instead of adults.

As far as music is concerned that is an insanely tough question to answer. I listen to music almost constantly—at work, as I write, in the car, whenever I have to walk anywhere. My books all have soundtracks because different music sets different moods for me to write each story. I keep the playlists on Spotify under Spotify/ Each book I have written or am writing has its own playlist. I even do playlists for some of the characters and will listen to their playlists when I am crafting dialogue for them. Carter Goldsmith, a secondary character in Sway, has amazing taste in music. Jesse ,the protagonist in Sway, tends to like music that features a strong or distinctive guitar sound like The Stooges or Django Reinhardt because he plays guitar. I know. Jesse and Carter don’t really exist. I get that. But it helps with the creative process.

 5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?95996243

I didn’t choose to write a novel. It chose me. I have written many things in my life—grants, exhibit text, newsletter articles, term papers (blech), business letters,—that all have some personal or professional purpose. My fiction is very different. Isaac Asimov once said, “I write for the same reason I breathe; if I didn’t, I would die.” (Or something similar to that sentiment but perhaps with better punctuation. I do have a copy editor for my books.) I remember reading that quote when I was in my late teens or early twenties and realizing for the first time that there were other people who felt exactly the way I did about writing. An important revelation.

My ideas for stories hatch fully formed from my brain like Venus from the clam shell. After that it takes me a while to get to know my characters as people, so I can understand their personalities and motivations. They live in my head for a while until I am ready to put them on paper, but they are as real to me as an old friend who lives on the other side of the country who I just don’t see very often.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel

Humans are complicated, always a mixture of good and bad—never all good or all bad. I like characters that are ambiguously heroic and that definitely describes the main character in Sway.

Jesse, the protagonist in Sway, is an antihero. He doesn’t just seem like a complete jerk, he is one (this has made several people very unhappy, I’ve noticed from reviews). At first glance, Jesse has very few redeeming qualities. But he’s a loyal friend, treats everyone exactly the same regardless of race or income level or gender, and is smart.

When we meet Jesse he has closed himself off emotionally from the rest of the world, but an unlikely friendship with a boy who has cerebral palsy, and the experience of Jesse’s first love with a girl, creates serious conflict for him as he tries to maintain his cool and the empire he has built as the go-to guy who deals drugs and fake IDs and term papers in his high school.

I love Jesse. Some of his best qualities are so hidden, many people don’t notice them. For example, his best friend is a girl named Joey who happens to be a lesbian. Throughout the book if Jesse is asked whether he and Joey have a romantic relationship he says no, claiming that Joey is too crazy for any guy to date. Jesse makes a point of never outing Joey because it is no one else’s business that she’s gay. He acts like a jerkwad by calling his best friend crazy and unstable and suggesting that girls like that are impossible to date, but at the same time he does it to protect Joey’s privacy. So? Is he good or bad? Ummmm…both.

Coming out next year from St. Martin’s and in the works now is Flat Back Four. I’m a big football fan, hence the title, and the four main characters all play for the same team. This story is about friendship and how fragile it is. After Jason, the protagonist, experiences the death of his younger sister, he’s left to question the ties that bind him to his three closest friends, who he has always relied on as his surrogate family. I’ve moved many times in my life and some friendships last forever while others fade away. I liked exploring what makes the difference between a lifetime friendship and a friendship that exists only in a specific time and place.

Grab a copy of Kat’s novel Sway here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

When I was about 20 years old I read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It had a profound impact on me because it was the first time in my life I loved a book, couldn’t put it down in fact, when I didn’t like or even sympathize with the main character. Ignatius Reilly was such a reprehensible human being—absolutely repugnant. Yet Toole’s writing was so grand and masterful, his ability to perfectly capture a character and paint him as clearly as an artist does on a canvas just amazed me. And here’s the thing, the fact that I hated Ignatius Reilly as much as I did, was because of Toole’s writing ability. A good writer can evoke strong emotional reactions from readers. It dawned on me then, that even if the main character was a complete jerk, the brilliance of John Kennedy Toole was that his writing was so compelling, so captivating, that I had to keep reading even when it made me sick to my stomach, or angry and frustrated.

I am in no way comparing my writing ability to Toole’s. He was masterful and spent a decade writing Confederacy, but it was one of those light bulb moments in my life I will never forget. I could die happy if someone ever walked away after reading a book of mine and had a huge emotional reaction like I did to A Confederacy of Dunces.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I have to say that I have a huge amount of respect for Meg Medina (author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass). The first time I met Meg was at a writers’ group and she was telling everyone that she had finally worked up the courage to tell her mom what the title of her latest book was, though I’m pretty sure you can even say “ass” on television now. (Can I say “ass” in this interview?) Meg is incredibly supportive of the careers of other authors and makes the time to have genuine connections with the people who read her books. Meg spends a lot of time and energy advocating for diversity in children’s literature—diversity of authors and diversity of book characters. After all, everyone needs books, and young adults want to feel as if they can recognize themselves in the pages of the books they read, or find role models in the authors who write them. Diversity isn’t just about race—it can be religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or a hundred other factors. That’s one of the reasons I love Tom Angleberger’s book The Poop Fountain1) because he entitled it “Poop Fountain” which is awesome, and 2) because he wasn’t afraid to populate the book with unlikely heroes and heroines for middle grade literature. It also helps that he is hilarious. The great thing about this book is that the characters are diverse, but the book isn’t about diversity. It’s about a poop fountain, and that is as it should be.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

 My goal is for each book I write to be better than the last I wrote. Writing is a craft, not a God-given talent. I hope I can learn from the process and develop as an artist. My editor, Sara Goodman, is amazing. She has a great feel for characters and plot development and after working with her on Sway I feel like I am better able to see the shortcomings in my writing while I’m in the process. I may not know how to fix it on my own, but after a conversation with Sara it will help to shake things loose from my brain, help me to see how the story could be better, the characters more three dimensional. And sometimes the changes are very subtle but can have an enormous impact on the story.

I look back on Sway now that it has been finished for some time and there are things I wish I could change, though overall I am happy with it. The changes I would make are mostly very minor, but I learned a great deal from the editorial process and it makes me eager to grow in this profession.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I always say the best advice I can give, is never take any advice from me. But if I had to give advice I would say…write. Write all the time. Write for yourself. Don’t worry whether anyone is ever going to want to read it or if it’s marketable or matches a current trend. Write because you love to write, not because you want to be rich or famous, because you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than you do of being a famous author (I did not actually conduct any research to verify the accuracy of that statement). But most of all, instead of taking a class in writing, take a job working in a bowling alley, take a long train ride and watch the people around you, listen to the way people talk (really listen), make friends outside your race and socio-economic comfort zone, volunteer in a shelter for the homeless, attend a comic book convention…just do something. A lot of published, well-trained authors have not lived very interesting lives, and it shows in the stories they tell. Anyone can develop writing as a craft through the practice of writing and reading, but not everyone has a good story to tell.

Kat, thank you for playing.


by Kat Spears

In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, high school senior Jesse Alderman, or “Sway,” as he’s known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want – term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. He has few close friends and he never EVER lets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.

But when Ken Foster, captain of the football team, leading candidate for homecoming king, and all-around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley, Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love for the very first time. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget’s belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has cerebral palsy. Suddenly, Jesse is visiting old folks at a nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. Could the tin man really have a heart after all?

A Cyrano de Bergerac story with a modern twist, Sway is told from Jesse’s point of view with unapologetic truth and biting humor, his observations about the world around him untempered by empathy or compassion – until Bridget’s presence in his life forces him to confront his quiet devastation over a life-changing event a year earlier and maybe, just maybe, feel something again.

Grab a copy of Sway here

Claire Zorn, author of The Protected, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Claire Zorn

author of  The Protected and The Sky So Heavy  

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born, raised and schooled in the lower Blue Mountains. I lived there until I was about 24 when I moved to Sydney’s Inner West. Now I live in Wollongong.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Twelve: Artist/writer/Olympian show-jumper/horse-breeder. Why? Why on earth not.

Eighteen: Artist/jewellery designer for Dinosaur Designs. My obsession with Dinosaur Designs started at seventeen when I went into their Sydney Strand Arcade Store. I was so inspired that I changed my university plans from equestrian science to visual arts. I continue to squander all my money on DD stuff and am in the habit of writing them occasional fan mail.

Thirty: Writer. I’ve always imagined stories and characters. While film-making would probably be more fun, all you need to write a story is some paper and a pencil. It’s simpler and more direct. If anyone wants to spot me a few thousand dollars to make a film, I’m up for it.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I was convinced there was no God. Now I’m 99.9 percent sure there is one.

Author: Claire Zorn

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Only three? Cruel. Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief and King of Limbs (Can’t choose.) Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Pipilotti Rist’s video installation Sip My Ocean

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Because I love stories most of all. It’s that simple. I find story-making to be the most satisfying pursuit aside from swimming in the ocean, and no one’s offered me money to do that. Writing seems to be the most direct way of getting stuff out of my head. I mentioned film before, but to cram all the details and tangents novels allow for into a film, you need tens of hours. You also need to collaborate with multiple people and schedule stuff and there’s probably diagrams involved. I’m not organised enough for all of that.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Hannah is just shy of sixteen and her family has recently been ripped apart by tragedy: her sister – whom she loved but didn’t like – has been killed. An unexpected ramification of this is that the bullying she has endured throughout high school has ceased, something that puts her in a strange place emotionally. While she is trying to come to grips with this she begins to form her first friendship in years – with the crossword-obsessed delinquent, Josh.

Grab a copy of Claire’s book The Protected here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Golly, I hate that question! Perhaps some small sense of camaraderie for those who were/are miserable in high school. I also wanted to pay homage to the lovely, genuine, noble guys I have known over the years. You don’t come across them all that often in books.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

This is one that tends to change a lot. I’m going to break the rules and choose two! Vince Gilligan: the character arcs he created in Breaking Bad were nothing short of Shakespearian. And Sonya Hartnett. I don’t have words to describe how great her writing is. I also like how she doesn’t seem to give a brass razoo about genres or markets or any of that annoying stuff. She seems to just write what she wants.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Oh dear. This is going to be embarrassing. May as well aim high: the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award would be quite nice. That would mean I could stop renting! Or perhaps if we are going to be absurd I could write the first YA to win the Booker. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible, although I dare say Harper Lee could have won it. On a more achievable level: I really, really want to write and illustrate a picture book. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Choose carefully whose opinion of your work you listen to. And write. It sounds obvious but until you get the words out on the page, nothing will ever come of them.

Claire, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Protected here

The Protected

by Claire Zorn

I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her. I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old.

Hannah’s world is in pieces and she doesn’t need the school counsellor to tell her she has deep-seated psychological issues. With a seriously depressed mum, an injured dad and a dead sister, who wouldn’t have problems?

Hannah should feel terrible but for the first time in ages, she feels a glimmer of hope and isn’t afraid anymore. Is it because the elusive Josh is taking an interest in her? Or does it run deeper than that?

In a family torn apart by grief and guilt, one girl’s struggle to come to terms with years of torment shows just how long old wounds can take to heal.

 Grab a copy of The Protected here


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