Author Interview: Meg Grehan (The Space Between)

I loved Meg Grehan’s lyrical and honest verse novel The Space Between (my review) and was delighted when she agreed to an interview. Read on for more about verse novels, LGBTQIA YA, Meg’s writing process and her experiences as a debut writer.

Meg + Cover

Did The Space Between start out in poetry or in prose?

It started as prose but that only lasted maybe a thousand words or so, the second I thought of verse that was that! It fit the story much better and felt much more natural.

 

When did you become aware of verse novels as a form, and what are some of your favourite verse novels?

I think the first one I read was Crank by Ellen Hopkins and I remember it as such a weird, visceral reading experience. It’s such a versatile type of writing, it can be so beautiful and rhythmic or hard and jutting or anything in between and that really appeals to me. As for favourites it has to be Sarah Crossan really, doesn’t it? She’s the queen of verse! One and The Weight of Water are such gorgeous books.

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On your blog you refer to the book as Mouse – when did you decide on The Space Between as the title?

I submitted it as Mouse but in my first meeting with Little Island we discussed changing it. I was pretty reluctant at first and we tried a couple different names but I think we landed on a good one! Once I saw it on the cover I knew it was the right fit.

 

Why did you choose to write in third person? I think one of the most skillful things about the book is how we still get into Beth’s head, even without the book being in first person.

I think the decision came from how personal the story is. Writing in first person didn’t feel right, it needed to be a little further from me or else it would have become a strange fictionalised journal! Third person let Beth be her own character and let me see her anxieties more clearly, instead of getting them muddled with my own.

 

Did you write the book chronologically, or were there certain poems you came up with first? Was there much shuffling around of poems?

I wrote it all out of order, it was a big messy muddle. I had a vague outline of the story in my head and I just wrote whatever popped into my head and pieced it together when I felt it was done. There were a lot of sticky notes involved!

 

Could you tell me about the editing process for the book, and when things like formatting (e.g. the breathing part), the use of italics for the ‘flashbacks’, or capitalisation (the plan/The Plan) came into the book?

They were all there from the start. My favourite thing about writing verse is the total freedom to use the page however you want, I put words where I felt they fit best and most, if not all of the formatting is the exact same way it was in the first draft. It’s all based on instinct, where the words fit and flow best. Capitals are the same, I feel like a capital gives a word extra importance or makes it a little more formal and I like playing with that.

 

Some of the poems are difficult to read emotionally as they are so powerful, were there particular poems you found hard to write?

The only poem that was difficult to write was the slightly saucy one nearer the end, I couldn’t stop blushing and smashing my laptop shut whenever anyone so much as looked at me! The emotional ones were easy, a lot of the time I used whatever was happening in my head at that moment as a starting point so they flew out. It was good, it always helped my head feel a little lighter.

 

What are some of your favourite YA books, and what would you like to see more of in YA this year?

Everything by Patrick Ness! I even have a tattoo of a line from Monsters of Men, his books are incredible. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour is one I could read over and over. Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan, Ash by Malinda Lo, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan Maguire… there are a lot!

Grehan YA

I’d love to see more positive representation for queer girls, more rep for people on the asexual and aromantic spectrums, more LGBTQIA rep in general!

 

I love that The Space Between has such a sweet and happy love story between two young women at its core. You have said on your blog ‘I’m all about inclusive own-voices lit and have made it my mission to fill the shelves with happy, diverse stories.’ What do you think the importance of these diverse stories is?

I’ve been with my girlfriend since we were 19, we had been living together almost a year and I’d been out and open for two years before I could comfortably refer to myself as a lesbian even if it was just her in the room with me. I didn’t see myself until I’d already scrambled my way through the identity maze and even now, six years in, I still get a lovely fuzzy happy feeling in my tummy when I see women loving women in books or movies or TV shows. It means the world to me. It’s immeasurably important for kids to see that they can be themselves and be happy. Representation normalises our experiences, it validates our experiences and shows people with different experiences that we exist! If all we see is sad, tragic or negative representation what does that tell us about ourselves and our futures?

 

One of the reasons The Space Between is so moving is its honesty, particularly about mental health. You have written on your blog about your own struggles, and I think readers will really identify with Beth. Was this something you set out to do in writing the book, and are there particular books that you have found helpful?

I set out to take my own messy brain and try to see it from a different perspective. Writing about the things I was struggling with let me see it a little more clearly and find new ways to ease it all a bit. It’s been quite strange because before I started writing the book I was incredibly private about my mental health, I didn’t tell anyone anything and would force myself to pretend I was ok and then deal with the exhaustion that brings later. The first time I mentioned it on my blog I completely panicked and almost deleted the post a bunch of times! Beth gave me a way to tell people what was going on, which was terrifying but so worth it. Now I’m completely comfortable talking about my experiences! I would love for her and the story to help people who feel similar feel a little less alone.

I didn’t really have any books that I felt helped directly, which is part of why I wrote The Space Between. Having said that, Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne is really special to me because it was the very first time I read about an agoraphobic character. The main character Evie’s sympathy and understanding for Oli really touched me and still means a lot to me.

Normal

The Space Between is your debut – what has your experience of the publication process been like, and what advice would you give to new writers?

The whole experience has been wonderful! It’s something I’ve always, always wanted so it was overwhelming sometimes but I had such a positive experience.

My advice to new writers is to trust your instincts, but be wary of the ones that whisper negative things. There’s so much advice out there, don’t feel that you need to take it all. Find your own way of doing things and trust yourself. And always take lots of dance breaks! They will shake the dust away and give you a boost, I swear after every few pages I get up and dance like a fool and it’s the best!

 

What is next for you writing wise?

Lots of writing! I’m working away right now on a story I love, so who knows!

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Meg Grehan at the launch of The Space Between in The Gutter Bookshop, Dublin

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in the First Half of 2017

TTT

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by The Broke and the Bookish, combining the joys of books and lists. This week’s topics is releases we are excited about in the first half of 2017. I have arranged my list by month of release.

January

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (have an ARC)

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

February

All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan (read & loved an ARC)

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

May

Release by Parick Ness

Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

June 

Once & For All by Sarah Dessen

Looks like a very exciting year of books! Link to your TTT in the comments so I can make my TBR list even longer…

Author Interview: Judi Curtin

Lovely author Judi Curtin kindly answered my questions about her new book Time After Time, her 80s favourites and writing.

Judi TAT

How did you find the experience of writing a standalone book after writing series like Friends Forever, Eva and Alice & Megan?

That’s an embarrassing question – all of my series started off as standalone books. While writing though, I become connected to my characters and am reluctant to let them go. (Story of my life!) Also, I’m a bit of a pushover, so when young readers ask to hear more about a character, I’m happy to oblige. So even though Time after Time began life as a standalone, that’s not going to last. (I suppose every oldest child in a family started off as an only child.)

Do you write longhand, or on the computer?

Always on the computer. I’m not sure how I’d manage without features like copy/paste and find/replace. (Very useful when I change a character’s name halfway through a book or when I realise that someone’s piercing blue eyes are too cliched.) Back in the day, I used to jot down notes on the back of envelopes, if the muse hit while I was away from home. Nowadays though, sudden inspirations are recorded on my phone.

Where is your favourite place to write?

In my dreams I’d be writing in a purpose-built studio in my imaginary garden, with a babbling brook outside, and the scent of sweet-peas wafting in on the warm air. In reality, I always write on my desktop computer, which sits in the corner of my kitchen/living/dining room. (Fortunately I’m usually the only one in my house during the day.)

Where did the idea for  come from?

It started with watching my own children as young teenagers, and realising that they had no concept of what my life was like when I was their age. That moved me to thinking about girls going back to meet their young parents. The story really took off when I thought what that encounter would mean to a girl who had never known her mother at all.

Your Friends Forever series also feature time travel. So, of all your books, which time travel adventure would you go on?

It’s hard to feel a personal connection with events like the Titanic sinking, or the volcano in Pompeii, so I’d love to emulate Molly and Beth and go back to a time when my parents or grandparents were young. I’ve seen fleeting glimpses in old photographs, but I’d love to really be there, to live their lives for a brief time, to ask them about stuff.

Quickfire 80s questions:

I’m going to cheat a bit here, and give double answers to some of the questions.

  • Favourite 80s movie – two extremes – Airplane and Jean de Florette.
  • favourite 80s song –  Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen (But I have to give a special mention to Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper)
  • favourite 80s fashion – Nothing specific, but I loved the bright colours. Today’s fashions can be a bit too monochromatic for me. (Good taste is highly over-rated.)
  • what you would miss most if you travelled back in time to the 80s – My smartphone. I was not an early adopter, but now I get edgy if the battery drops below 50%
  • something from the 80s you wish was still around – I struggled with this question, so have to give the vain answer – I’d love to have the skin I had in the 1980’s – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Little Women is mentioned in Time After Time – which March sister is your favourite?

Jo – no question about it. But I guess that’s the answer all authors give?

There are some very moving scenes in Time After Time, did you find them difficult to write?

Yes. I try to put a lot of humour into my books, but most of them have a serious theme buried underneath. The story of Beth and her mum is probably the saddest I’ve ever written, and there may be a few tearstains on my dusty old keyboard. By the time I came to write the saddest scenes, I was emotionally connected to Beth, and I could almost feel her pain.

Which of your characters are you most like?

The books definitely aren’t autobiographical, but Megan and I would have a lot in common. I was a quiet, timid child, and often chose louder, braver girls like Alice as my friends. (But if you ask my children this question, they would say I’m most like Megan’s crazy mum.)

What are you writing now?

I’m already destroying Time After Time’s only-child status – I’m heading for the last edit of Fast Forward, a special World Book Day book featuring Molly and Beth on another time-travelling adventure.

Thanks to Judi Curtin for her great answers, I look forward to reading Molly and Beth’s next adventure. If you’re in Dublin tomorrow, be sure to check out the Time After Time launch:

TAT Launch

Review: More of Me by Kathryn Evans

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More of Me

Kathryn Evans

Usborne (2016), YA

Once a year Teva splits in two. The newer version of herself takes over her life, while the younger version is trapped at home with the rest of her past selves, all stuck at the age they were when they split. Teva tries to maintain the illusion of having a normal life – school, friends, boyfriend – and keep everyone from discovering her terrible secret. Her mother has warned her about how the world would react to their freakery.However, as Teva approaches her seventeenth birthday, she decides the split won’t happen again. She wants to live her life and have a future. She’s going to fight with all her strength, even if it means fighting against herself.

A strange and startling read, More of Me gets under the reader’s skin. The premise – twelve girls sharing one identity, the new self ripping itself from the old self – is original and chilling. Evans does not leave out any of the squirm-inducing detail. I won’t deny that parts of this book really freaked me out. I felt some of the secondary characters could have been developed more (particularly Tom) and that the revelations towards the end (while clever) happened rather speedily. However, overall this was a gripping read, and one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon!

Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids

 

Top 15 Books I Read in 2015

I read 60 books this year (not including books I read for college or re-reads) and it was very hard to narrow that list down to 15 books

1) My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

My Heart

Cover image from Goodreads

A beautiful YA novel that I think has been underrated this year. Highly, highly recommended – I have already read it twice. I can’t wait to read Jasmine Warga’s next book.

2) I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Sun

Cover image from Goodreads

A story of creativity, love and sibling rivalry. The way Nelson writes about art just blew me away. Her first book, The Sky is Everywhere, is up at the top of my TBR list.

3) Needlework by Deirdre Sullivan

Needlework

Cover image from Goodreads

I was delighted to get the chance to read Deirdre Sullivan’s new book early, and even to do a little bit of editing. Needlework will be published in February 2016 and it is a searingly beautiful and lyrical read. And look at that fantastic cover by Steve McCarthy!

4) Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Normal

Cover image from Goodreads

A funny and moving book that has many smart things to say about feminism and mental health. I am now a big fan of Holly Bourne’s books, and can’t want to read the rest of the Spinster Club trilogy (I managed to get a proof of the second book, and also loved it!)

5) Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes

Last Chance

Cover image from Goodreads

Meeting Marian Keyes in Belfast with my friend Kathleen was one of the highlights of 2015 for me. This is my favourite of her novels – it made me laugh and cry, has memorable, relatable characters and lots about friendship, love and self belief.

Meeting Marian

 

6) No Matter The Wreckage by Sarah Kay

Wreckage

Cover image from Goodreads

I have been a fan of Sarah Kay for a while now (if you haven’t already, check out her spoken word poetry on YouTube!) and her first poetry collection did not disappoint. One of my reading resolutions for 2016 is to read more poetry.

7) The Manifesto On How to Be Interesting by Holly Bourne

Manifesto

Cover image from Goodreads

Holly Bourne is a new favourite of mine, and I couldn’t put this book down. Compelling contemporary YA dealing with ‘difficult’ topics in a sensitive way, but always with humour and memorable characters.

8) One by Sarah Crossan

One Crossan

Cover image from Goodreads

 

I read One in one sitting, and it broke my heart a bit. A beautiful verse novel about love and sisterhood.

9) Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon

Cover image from Goodreads

Fantastic characters, fantastic music and a fantastic LGBT love story. Unputdownable and totally squee-worthy. A great debut.

10) Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Asking For It

Cover image from Goodreads

One of the most talked about books of 2015, and with good reason. O’Neill tackles issues around rape, consent and victim blaming in this unforgettable novel. O’Neill has done so much work this year to raise awareness about consent and her book has started important conversations.

11) All of the Above by James Dawson

All

Image from Goodreads

The teen voice in All of the Above is absolutely spot on, and when you stop and think about all the different issues Dawson tackles, it really is staggering. Strong on character and on sexuality and mental health, a brilliant book.

12) Once upon a Place edited by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by PJ Lynch

A collection of poems and stories by some of Ireland’s best children’s writers, all with a strong sense of place. I particularly enjoyed Siobhán Parkinson, Eoin Colfer and Jane Mitchell’s stories. PJ Lynch’s charcoal illustrations are stunning.

13) The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Cinnamon

Cover image from Goodreads

A brilliant novel about growing up, friendships, the future and creativity. All this, with the apocalypse looming. Alba is such a relatable protagonist, and the pop culture references are on point. To be published in the UK/Ireland in 2016.

14) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On

Cover image from Goodreads

Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl is one of my favourite books, so I was very excited about this companion novel! It’s a fun read that lovingly pokes fun at fantasy tropes. The wordplay is fantastic, and the adventure is exciting.

15) Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Dessen

Cover image from Goodreads.

I really enjoyed Sarah Dessen’s latest books, she is one of my favourite contemporary YA writers. Her characters always have such depth, and she writes family and friendship dynamics so well.

My goal for 2016 is to read 100 books, time to get reading! (My 2015 goal was 50 books, as the first few months of the year were busy with my dissertation and final college exams)

Celebrating Pride – Ten Recommended LGBT YA Reads!

Today saw Dublin’s biggest ever Pride parade, following the historic Yes vote in the Marriage referendum last month. To celebrate, here are ten recommended LGBT YA books. This list features much David Levithan, he is one of my favourite YA authors.

Please leave your recommendations in the comments! 🙂

All cover images from Goodreads.

Pride Blog

1) Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli

2) Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green and David Levithan

3) How They Met and Other Stories – David Levithan

4) I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson

5) Two Boys Kissing – David Levithan

6) Boy Meets Boy – David Levithan

7) Wormwood Gate – Katherine Farmar

8) Good Girls Don’t – Claire Hennessy

9) Flick – Geraldine Meade

10) Read Me Like A Book – Liz Kessler (I have yet to read this one – but have heard great reports about it!)

Happy Pride, and happy reading 😀

Update: This was my 100th post!

Review: Scarlett Fever – Maureen Johnson

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Scarlett Fever

Maureen Johnson

Hot Key Books (2014)

YA

I really enjoyed Suite Scarlett, the first book in this series, so I had a feeling I would enjoy Scarlett Fever too. And I did, right from the dedication:

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How could I not love a book dedicated to ABBA? 😛

From dreamies.de

The Martin family are back! Scarlett Fever features more entertaining adventures as Scarlett tries to deal with heartbreak, family drama and the ever-demanding Mrs Ambersen. Spencer is struggling to start an acting career, Lola is stuck working in the hotel, and Marlene is being disconcertingly friendly. Scarlett is still pining over Eric, and it doesn’t help that all her friends seem to have had exciting summers abroad. With Mrs Ambersen’s new acting agency Scarlett is kept as busy as ever, especially with their latest client – a new Broadway star.

The familiar wacky cast of characters from Suite Scarlett were joined by some memorable new characters in this enjoyable sequel. My favourite of the new characters was Max, the surly brother of Amy Ambersen’s new protogée. He was an interesting character with plenty of depth and I liked how his character was explored as the book progressed. Scarlett is a great protagonist – she is a funny and likeable character, but she also has her flaws. She is relatable, and makes the book believable despite all the chaos that sometimes ensues! Again Spencer brought a lot of humour, but also a lot of emotion as readers see the strain he is under trying to begin an acting career. The setting of the book – both the crumbling hotel and New York City – adds to the appeal and makes for an entertaining read.

As in Suite Scarlett I enjoyed the mix of humour, drama and strong characters. Well worth a read!

I definitely want to check out more of Maureen Johnson’s books, I loved these two books and her story in Let It Snow.

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Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet

It has been a while since I last took part in Top Ten Tuesday, it is a fun feature and I love reading other bloggers’ lists. This week’s theme is ‘Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet’.

I am trying to restrict myself from buying books at the moment, I already have so many books I own to catch up on! But here are ten books from my TBR list that I haven’t picked up a copy of yet:

1. No Matter The Wreckage – Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay is an incredible poet, and I can’t wait to read her collection.

2. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks – E.Lockhart

I loved We Were Liars, and have wanted to read this book for a long time!

3. The Glass Trilogy – Maria V Snyder

Love Maria V Snyder, The Study Trilogy is fantastic!

4 Hector and the Search for Happiness –  Francois Lelord

This book sounds excellent. Really want to read it. However I am picky about which cover I want…haven’t come across it in a while!

5. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

Have heard some brilliant things about this book, soon I will get around to reading it.

6. Sisters Red – Jackson Pearse

I loved Sweetly, and have heard Sisters Red is another excellent fairytale adaptation.

7. If I Stay – Gayle Forman

This book has been highly recommended to me, and have read many great reviews of it.

8. Cures for Heartbreak – Margo Rabb

Loved M.E. Rabb’s Missing Persons series, and this book sounds like a really interesting read.

9. Fairest – Gail Carson Levine

Again – love fairytale adaptations! And Ella Enchanted is such a fantastic book.

10. Skating Shoes – Noel Streatfield

Ballet Shoes is one of my favourite books, and I’m sure this will be lovely too.

 

Review: The Mystery Tour – Judi Curtin

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Friends Forever: The Mystery Tour

Judi Curtin

Puffin 2013

10-12, Contemporary, Friendship, Historical

In their third time-travelling adventure, Lauren, Tilly and Saturn the cat wind up in wartime Britain. Arriving in London 1939 during a blackout, the girls must try to blend into this very different world. What starts out as an exciting adventure becomes more serious as they see the impact the war is having on their new friends, and experience rationing and air raid drills. Will they ever make it home again?

This book is part of a series, but also works as a stand-alone. As the title of the series suggests, friendship is at the heart of the book – both the bond between Lauren and Tilly, and the friendships they make with people in the past. These new friends include Violet, a young girl they meet when being evacuated from London, who is struggling to come to terms with her father being at war, and to find a way to feel useful and cope with her disability. Violet and the girls stay with Ellie, an elderly lady who tells them wonderful stories, and they also befriend George, a local boy who wants to sign up for the army. There is a hint of romance, but the focus on friendship in the text is refreshing and echoes Judi Curtin’s Megan and Alice series. The three girls are strong, empowered characters who make a difference to those around them, and show great bravery and intelligence.

The Friends Forever series is a very enjoyable way of learning about history – Lauren and Tilly’s adventures are sure to get readers excited about the past. While The Mystery Tour does deal with some of the hardships of life during World War Two, it is a light and enjoyable read overall. The happy ending may not be entirely convincing, but it is certainly touching and satisfying. I look forward to reading about more of Lauren and Tilly’s time-travelling escapades!

Originally reviewed for Inis Magazine.