Monthly Archives: August 2013

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The Arclight UK Blog Tour: talking about Dystopias with Josin L. McQuein

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Hi guys!

Thanks for having me over today.

I’ve been asked to talk a bit about the idea of Dystopia, which has, of course, been a major trend in novels, movie, and television for the last few years. But why? What makes it so popular?

It’s an interesting question – one you could probably write a university thesis on, if you wanted to.
Dystopia has become a catch-all phrase that means every kind of semi-sci-fi, or post-Apocalyptic, or “bad society of the future” story out there. The Apocalypse is a great equalizer, and these stories always have some major cataclysm that starts the world on a downward spiral into darkness. It can be a war, or a global blight, or alien invasion, but something has to light the match that causes society to implode.

What’s left is a lot like what happens when fire strikes shrub forests. Everything’s razed to ash, and it looks like a wasteland, but soon, something amazing happens. You see, there’s a handful of flower species that only bloom after such a blaze. They need the destruction as their spark of life, and right there in the middle of all that monochrome rubble and devastation, they burst into full color, bringing life that never would have been seen otherwise.
The main characters in most Dystopias are like that. They only flourish after the burn; that’s when they shake off the ashes and stand up to be seen while everything else falls apart into smoking heaps around them. Everyone wants to be that kind of person. Everyone wants to be able to say: “Don’t look at the destruction, look at me. I’m still here; I’m alive and I’m perfect for this situation.”

Dystopia is society-soup. It doesn’t matter who or what they anyone was before the fire – only after counts. Money means nothing when there’s no economy. Power shifts based on who’s in charge at the moment and how much they can trust the person standing behind them. All the rules go out the window and people who had no voice are suddenly on even footing with those who used to be in charge.

Basically, everything’s high school, if high school had zombie viruses and killer robots.

In my novel, Arclight, the flash point was a medical disaster. I won’t go into it too much because of spoilers, but basically the world fell to someone’s good intentions gone wrong. Now, all that’s left of human society is one outpost that has to live in a state of perpetual daylight because there are monsters called the Fade outside their walls that thrive in the darkness.

Into this world steps a girl who is the only person known to have ever faced these creatures and survived, unfortunately, she can’t tell anyone how she did it. The trauma of losing her family and her home, on top of running from the darkness and the Fade for days caused a mental block, meaning she literally doesn’t know her own face when she sees it. She’s blank. She’s got desolation inside and out, and she’s trying to figure out how to flourish despite that.

A lot of people would crumble under that kind of pressure, but such people do not make good heroines for novels. Marina perseveres, and I honestly think the draw of Dystopian novels and movies is that simple. It’s not about the destruction or the death, and it’s not about the fear or the loss. It’s about hope and life, and finding the strength to stare death in the face and say “no more.” They aren’t depressing at all.

Great Dystopians stand up after the fire and dance in the ashes like they’re playing in the snow, and who doesn’t love that?

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett


Five hundred people live in in single community in an enclosed valley on the sunless planet Eden where, over a century ago, their two ancestors were marooned.

Calling themselves Family, they still cling to the hope that one day someone will come and bring them back to Earth, where light and heat does not come from trees, but from a bright star in the sky.

John Redlantern defies Family’s most sacred traditions and leads a small group of followers out of the valley and across mountains that are not only covered in snow and ice, but are completely dark, in search of wider lands. It had to happen but it comes at a terrible price, for it brings bloodshed and division into the world.

This is a first for me – I have never reviewed an audiobook before, I have listened to a some over the past few years but generally prefer reading with my eyes rather than my ears.

Anyway – on to my review of Dark Eden by Chris Beckett. To start off I will just say that although Teen Librarian is primarily a site aimed at librarians and people that work with teens in libraries Dark Eden is not a book for younger readers, I would say the more mature year 10s and up that have a liking for science fiction will enjoy it.

The production values of the audiobook are fantastic the narrators Oliver Hemborough and Jessica Martin give a brilliant performance of the male and female characters. At over 13 hours it demands a lot of listening – I found out that I could not do anything too demanding while listening as I tried listening as if your mind wanders you can lose which viewpoints are being narrated or get so engrossed in the story that everything else fades away. when I was cataloguing books in my library but found that I either stopped typing the records into the catalogue or in a couple of instances started typing what I was hearing, so I listened to the story on my way to and from work as well as late at night when I was supposed to be sleeping – as I type this I realise why I have had a number of disturbing dreams lately.

Dark Eden is a dark (ha ha) tale about humanity, survival and hope – any story that has a population of characters descended from a tiny group of progenitors can be a bit squicky if you think about it too much and there is violence, sex and death, it makes for compelling listening. Hearing the narration of taboo subjects makes for uncomfortable listening but it all added to the story of John Redlantern.

Like many of the best science fiction stories, Dark Eden focuses on the characters, their interaction and development rather than the science-y side of things.

Dark Eden is stunning and, if you have already read or listened to the story, the news that there is a sequel coming up should make me very happy!

It was a deserved winner of the Arthur c Clarke Award!

Teen Librarian Challenge

Local government will again be the biggest loser on Wednesday as the chancellor, George Osborne, unveils £11.5bn of overall spending cuts in 2015-16, an end to automatic pay progression, and a further round of public-sector job losses.

Between 2010 and 2016 most library services will lose 30% to 40% of their budget. The extent varies, but few organisations can take a hit in their budget of that size and carry on unchanged

If you have followed the links above and have been keeping track of the austerity cuts over teh past few years then you will be aware of the perilous state libraries are in and have been in for a few years now. Every part of the library service will be affected by the new cuts that are coming up, we all know colleagues that have lost their posts due to cuts and that is set to become more severe.

So, I am issuing a challenge to everyone that works with young people in libraries. Ever since starting Teen Librarian – the newsletter and the blog over seven years ago I have asked readers to share ideas for library-based activities aimed at encouraging teenagers to engage with their libraries (public and school). To date a number of librarians have contributed some really excellent ideas that I have shared.

If everyone sends in at least one idea of events they have run in the past then it will be possible to create a series of events that can run for over a year.

We are all in the same boat – we have more demands on our work time, less time to plan events, budgets if we have them are being stretched to breaking point to cover everything we do.

So if you have ever run an event for young people in a library then send it in. If you have ever had an idea about a library-based activity for teens and young readers then we would love to hear about it. If you have ever run a library event and have it go horribly wrong then please share – ideas that do not work in one location may soar in others.

Everyone that sends in an idea or activity will receive the credit, if several people send in the same or similar ideas, credit will be shared. If you wish to remain anonymous then that is what will be done.

Starting from the next edition of Teen Librarian Monthly and on the website I will be rerunning articles about events that may spark new ideas or even be dusted off and reused and I would love to run new ideas as well!

This will only work if everyone shares – the idea you send in may help a colleague on the brink of despair, it could spark a teens love of reading or case a teen group to form in a library under threat of closure due to lack of services.

send your ideas to me at:

Sorry, you need Javascript on to email me.

Entering the School for Good & Evil: An Interview with Soman Chainani


1. Hi Soman thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for Teen Librarian. For the first question would you please introduce yourself for the readers?

My pleasure! I’m Soman Chainani, the author of THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD & EVIL series and the writer of the upcoming film adaptations for Universal as well. I’m thrilled to be here at Teen Librarian to give you a little peek behind the scenes of the SGE world. I’m also a massive, massive Anglophile and worked in the British film and TV industry for years before I started work on the series. I’d live in London in a heartbeat if I didn’t have to fly to Los Angeles so often for film work.

2. School for Good & Evil is your first novel, everyone I have spoken to that has read it has been raving about it (in a good way) myself included – how does it feel to have such a rapturous response?

Any temporary ego boost is tempered by how hard I’m working on the second book in the series, called A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES. Sequels tend to be disappointing, but I’ve always told myself that each book in the SGE series has to be better than the last – and wildly different — or there’s no point writing them. So I’ve been holed up in various rooms and coffee shops, writing like a madman. Even when I was in London for the UK tour, I’d spend half the day at a tea shop in Soho banging my head against the wall on a new chapter.

That said, I’m fully aware of how special and lucky this whole run has been so far. I had a list of goals I wanted to achieve by the end of the series – and they all happened in the first week! I stumbled around for a while, feeling like I was in a dream. Good news can sometimes be as disorienting as bad news. But now I’m happily back to work, abusing myself daily as to why I can’t write faster.

3. I have heard that the movie rights for SfG&E have been purchased – will you be involved in the adaptation?

I’m writing the adaptation for Universal with Malia Scotch Marmo (the writer of Hook). The movie will be very different from the book. For one thing, there’s just too much story in the book to fit into a two-hour movie. For another, a literal adaptation of a book can be quite dreary and repetitive. I’m much more interested in finding a new way to tell the story of Sophie and Agatha, so that the film feels like a new experience, even to lovers of the book.

4. On the surface, the story looks like your typical fairy tale of good and evil but once you get past the cover it challenges ones preconceptions of good and evil – what influences did you have in the writing of the story?

We didn’t have cable when I was young, so all we had was our rickety TV set and VHS tapes of every single Disney animated movie. Until age 8 or so, that was all I pretty much watched. Everything I learned about storytelling, I learned from Disney. When I went to college, though, I became fascinated by the gap between the original tales and these Disney revisions.

As a relentless student of the Grimms’ stories, what I loved about them was how unsafe the characters were. You could very well end up with wedding bells and an Ever After – or you could lose your tongue or be baked into a pie. There was no ‘warmth’ built into the narrator, no expectations of a happy ending. The thrill came from vicariously trying to survive the gingerbread house, the hook-handed captain, or the apple-carrying crone at the door – and relief upon survival. Somewhere in that gap between the Disney stories and the retellings, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL was born.

In recent years, fairy tale mash-ups, retellings, and revisions have become popular – and for good reason, given how enduring and inspiring the source material is. That said, I had my sights set on something more primal: a new fairy tale, just as unleashed and unhinged as the old, that found the anxieties of today’s children. To acknowledge the past – the alumni of the genre, so to speak – and move on to a new class. As soon as I started thinking in those terms, I knew I wanted to do a school-based novel. I was walking in Regents Park in London before a meeting when I had the first image… a girl in pink and a girl in black falling into the wrong schools… I got so caught up thinking that I missed my appointment entirely.

5. There are some superficial comparisons to Hogwarts Harry Potter, but the School for Good and Evil is a much darker place – has your book faced any challenges yet or is it still too new to have popped up on outraged parents radars yet?

It is a much darker place – Hogwarts you choose to go to. You’re kidnapped to The School for Good and Evil and there’s no return. But encouragingly, I haven’t heard a single complaint about the book’s content. There’s certainly been commentary about its amoral universe and the intensity of what the kids have to face – but the course of the story seems to solve any concerns.

That said, there will be rumbles about Book 2. You’ll see.

6. Have the majority of your fans identified themselves as Evers or Nevers? and how would you describe yourself?
Hmm, good question. It’s been so evenly split! It’s quite amazing, really. Even when I go to schools, by the end, it’s a very clear 50-50.

I can be comically high maintenance (my friends joke Sophie is the real me), so I’d surely be an overachieving Ever and the most regular user of the Groom Room (the medieval spa, which only the top ranked students are allowed to use). That said, Evil’s classes have no boundaries – for sheer entertainment value alone, I can see the allure.
That’s if I had a choice. In the process of writing the book, I realized I wasn’t quite sure which school I would actually end up in– so I created an online assessment to answer that question. At www.schoolforgoodandevil.com, every reader can take a 10-question SGE Entrance Exam to determine whether they’re an Ever or a Never. I wrote all the questions myself and there’s a bank of over 100, so the questions change every time.
I’ve taken it a number of times, trying to be as honest as I can, and I always end up 75% Evil and 25% Good. Those who read the novel will agree that this isn’t a surprising result in the least.

7. Fairy tales were originally dark and bloody tales before they were tamed by the Grimm brothers and Charles Perrault (and later Walt Disney) and had most of the blood and death removed, your story returns to the roots of the tales were bad things happen to the deserving (those deserving of having bad things happen to them) – was this intentional returning to the roots of the stories and removing most of the sugar?

Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I just don’t quite understand why children of two hundred years ago could handle these frank and brutal stories of survival and cleverness – while children today must endure the sanitized versions. Frankly, I find the latter far more offensive and damaging. So in the School for Good and Evil, I point out this disparity. Once upon a time, Good and Evil were in pure balance. But now Good wins all the time, is obsessed with beauty, clothes, and superficial romance. The School itself has become Disneyfied and is trying to find its way back.

8. Finally do you have any plans for a sequel either involving Sophie and Agatha or staying with students at the School?

It’s a three-book series, so you’ll see what’s next. As for who’s in it… well that’s the question isn’t it!
Thanks for having me on your wonderful blog. SGE fans can join the jam-packed Facebook page, message me on Twitter at @somanchainani, and keep up with all things Good and Evil on www.schoolforgoodandevil.com.

COMPETITION TIME:

Win One of Five Copies of The School For Good & Evil!

Follow this link:
http://schoolforgoodandevil.com/exam/
Take the exam and then comment on this post with your name and if you were determined to be Good or Evil. Winners will be chosen at random at the end of the month!

Welcome to Weirdsville… Happyland by I.M. Strange

On Toby’s eleventh birthday, he and his friends get a mysterious invitation to Happyland, the abandoned funfair in town. It’s too good an opportunity to miss, even though the place gives them the creeps.
 
What they find there is more terrifying than any of them could have imagined. Getting in was the easy part. Surviving long enough to escape will be much harder.
 
Once upon a time Happyland was filled with laughter. Now it’s filled with fear.

 
Weirville – a rather nice-looking seaside town, if you avoid the abandoned funfair on the pier, ignore the clouds that always hang ominously overhead, overlook the stories of children that have gone missing mysteriously over the years and the fact that the local residents call it Weirdsville…
 
Welcome to Weirdsville… a new series written by I.M. Strange and published by Little, Brown Young Readers (younger sibling to Atom).
 
Even for me as an adult Happyland had some rather creepy moments, it is the sort of book I would have loved as a younger reader – who does not like being creeped out reading a spooky book, alone late at night?
 
I think it is down largely to Happy the Clown – I have always had a thing about clowns – and not in a good way, it all goes back to me watching IT when I was 15 which as every connoisseur of horror knows starred Tim Curry as Pennywise… oh great I may not sleep tonight!

Anyway I digress – Happyland is a creepy adventure and horror story about facing your fears and trying to escape alive and unscathed…

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

“The path to the throne is broken – only the broken can walk it.
 
The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end days. These are the days that have waited for us all our lives. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead, and if I must be the last emperor then I will make of it such an ending.
 
This is where the wise man turns away. This is where the holy kneed and call on God. These are the last miles, my brothers. Don’t look to me to save you. Run if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.
 
Follow me, and I will break your heart.”

Writing a review for the third book in a trilogy is difficult – the fans of the story so far will get their hands on it. You don’t need to have read the previous books in the trilogy as Mark Lawrence provides a helpful recap of what has gone before, but if you don’t your enjoyment of the story will be limited.

Jorg Ancrath, King of Renar is on the road to Vyene to attend the congression where the Hundred – the kings of the Broken Empire look for votes to become the Emperor.

He is not a good man, but this is a world where the good die young and to survive one must be brutal and be willing to commit dark acts to take what one wants and committed to holding what has been taken.

Jorg is a bastard and he is very aware of this; this awareness is perhaps that is what is needed to accomplish what he needs – to secure an empire and save the world. His enemies are on the move as well – the ghosts in the Builder’s machines fight amongst themselves some wanting to scour the world and others wanting to make slaves of the living. The Dead King’s hordes are on the move, his emissaries en route to the congression and then there are his human enemies, each desiring power and dominion over the world.

If you like your fantasy bloody and your heroes with flaws then The Broken Empire is for you.

If you cannot bear to reread A Song of Ice and Fire again while waiting for GRR Martin’s next book then why wait?

Mark Lawrence has created a world built on the ashes of our own and peopled with the worst that humanity has to offer – but even their vision of uniting humanity are better than the alternatives.

The Prince of Thorns was a brilliant introduction to Jorg Ancrath and his world.

The King of Thorns cemented Mark Lawrence’s position as one of my favourite writers of modern fantasy

The Emperor of Thorns ends the trilogy the only way it can – with blood, death and an extremely satisfying conclusion to the story.

Seriously start at the beginning and read your way through to the end, you can do this safely knowing you will not have to wait years for the next instalment!