Top Ten International YA Reads of 2013

As it’s December, Triple J announced that it’s time to start thinking about our Top 10 songs to vote for in the Triple J Hottest 100. And I thought, while I’m sorting out my fave songs of the year, I may as well do the same for books I’ve read in 2013. I have to separate International from Australian because I have too many favourites this year. Top Aussie picks will be posted later this month (need to read a few more Aus books before the end of the year!)

10. Bunheads by Sophie Flack

9. Siege & Storm by Leigh Bardugo

8. Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

7. How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

6. Just One Day/Just One Year by Gayle Forman

5. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

(finally got around to this one and wish I had read it earlier)

4. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone/ Days of Blood and Starlight

2. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
(She just ups the bar on each book she writes!)

1. Allegiant by Veronica Roth

(Definitely the only book this year where I chose reading over much needed sleep)


fan girl week

This week has been rather eventful in the Life of Carly.

I’ve caught up with two authors, whose works are pretty much my stand-out favourites in Australian YA (after Melina Marchetta, of course) to have a bit of a chat about writing and publishing and the general awesomeness of Aussie YA.

It is a bit of a coincidence that these catch-ups occurred in the same week, and I would like to state my case now that I’m not a serial Author Stalker. And if I was, I did a terrible job of doing fangirlish things, like bringing along copies of books for them to sign like any true fangirl would. Or asking them more questions about their works-in-progress, of which I’m sure some others in the Tweet/Blog community will severely chastise me for not having done so. I was a bit too star-struck to gather my wits and ask intelligent and comprehensible questions like those.

Nevertheless, both authors were extremely kind and so encouraging, taking their time to give a mere commoner a glimpse of the magical yet ruthless world that is Publishing. But it was a glimpse that has renewed my zeal for querying, so potential publishers beware, for your inboxes will be inundated (by inundated I mean I will send you a polite query that meets all the criteria outlined on your websites, and I’ll only send once from one address with one name and one story title). Supposedly there is such a thing as a Serial Submitter and I don’t want to be labelled that along with Author Stalker.

And if it ever comes out that I have a pair of a very famous American author’s old jeans, it was because she gave them to me and not because I stole them from her in a stalking session.

True Story. If I ever get published, I will reveal whose jeans I (legitimately) own.

First time workshopping

Today was my first ever experience workshopping MS#1 with a critique partner who has a background in creative writing. I’ve never had any formal creative writing training, so it was really great to chat with someone who actually knows all the techie-terms for things.

I was a bit nervous about what workshopping would mean (and if I’d be able to handle the critique well!) but I was surprised at how much of a positive experience it was (my CP can take the credit for that!). The good thing about MS#1 is that I finished writing it over 18 months ago, and I knew that it needed more work, but I was happy to be able to leave it alone for a while and work on MS#2 instead. So it was great to go in with fresh eyes today and I was amazed at the things my CP pointed out – I couldn’t believe I hadn’t picked them up before!

These are some of the things I learnt today in our three hour sesh:

  1. Show Don’t Tell. I ‘tell’ a lot (especially in the earliest written chapters), which leads into point no.2
  2. Descriptions. I already knew that my lack of descriptive language is my weakness — I just want to get on with the characters and the plot, but my CP gave me good suggestions on where and how I can improve this.
  3. Make everything pull double duty.
  4. Kill your darlings. There are a few things that need to go. But having a break for a while has broken down my attachment to those things and I can see that cutting them will actually improve the story.

I can totally see now how having a CP can really help. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for ages, but it was hard when living overseas and being in a different timezone to other Australians.

Moving Countries

I’ve been silent for a few weeks as I have made the move back to AUSTRALIA!

After two and a half years in the Middle East, my husband and I decided it was time to come home. It’s all a bit exciting, and there were a few hiccups that involved credit cards getting cancelled days before travel and an interesting taxi ride carrying our life savings across Amman in order to get it to a place that could transfer it back to Aus. But we (and our money!) made it safely back in the end.

And what could be a better welcome home gift than an agent requesting the full manuscript of MS #2! Exciting times ahead hopefully 🙂

the last ten-dollar-runaways-style hair cut for a while

Going to the hairdressers here is always an experience. I almost always have some story to come home with, and today was no exception.

First, I should probably mention that after living for two and half years in the Middle East, I feel like I am qualified to say that Arab women can be quite blunt when they want to be. I’m not saying this is a bad thing at all, it can just come as a shock to Westerners who grow up with certain politeness rules in place, and any violation of those rules usually results in one being offended. It’s something I quickly got over in the first few months living here.

Today I showed up to my local hairdresser, asking for a cut. She’s a rough woman, my hairdresser. She grabs and pulls and pokes; gentleness is not her forte.

Her first question is ‘Where is the baby?’
I laugh and reply, ‘Ma fii bebe lissa, inshallah.’ I don’t have kids yet, as God wills it.
How many years have you been married?’ she asks.
‘Almost three,’ I say.
There is lots of tutting and exchanging of glances with the other two women in the room.
‘Inshallah, God will give you babies. Enough, three years is enough to be a bride!’

In the middle of cutting my hair, she grabs my eyebrows and says, ‘You want your eyebrows done?’
Now, she’s done my eyebrows before, and it was not the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had, her lacking gentleness and all, so I quickly declined. She turns to her friend, and says, ‘But she needs it! It’s too messy! And her arms! She needs sukar (sugar wax)!’ all the while shaking her head and tutting. I don’t think she quite knows how much Arabic I understand, so I sit there trying not to laugh. But goodness, don’t go to a salon here unless you’re up for some severe scrutiny of your physical features.

I have to confess, while I was there, I was planning on writing a blog post about how this would be my last $10 cut and blow dry for a while. But then my hairdresser started lamenting loudly about how much her electricity bill was this month – 58JD! For a woman who probably only earns 250-300JD a month, that is pretty steep, and it’s an indication of how tough things are for the average Jordanian. Obviously it’s not as bad as places like Egypt, but times are tough. I’m not sure if the conversation I overheard was a deliberate ploy to soften me up for when my bill came, but if it was, it worked, because suddenly the price of a cut and blow dry went from 8JD to 14JD.

Nevertheless, I’m going to miss my shrewd, slightly grumpy, little-bit-nosy hairdresser. Maybe not the Joan Jett-Cherie Curry style hair cut, though ;)

Photo on 2013-06-13 at 19.25

latest Aussie YA faves

I want to share some of the Aussie young adult books I’ve read lately and thought were absolutely brilliant. I’m not your conventional reviewer (Goodreads has plenty of great reviewers), but I’m going to share some of what I took from each book.

girl defectiveGirl Defective by Simmone Howell

This was my first Simmone Howell book, and I’ve since read Notes from a Teenage Underground, which was just as great. Girl Defective is set in Melbourne, and it quenched my homesickness. I like how it questions some of the traits in our culture today, like the ability to stick at something/be committed to something  (I’m not sure if the author intended this, but it’s what I got out of it.). I love this observation by the main character:

“She didn’t get it. She had no family, she moved around. She was like that Rolling Stones song ‘Ruby Tuesday’ — I used to think it was exotic, but now I wasn’t so sure. If you lived like that, what was to stop you from disappearing altogether?”

shadowshazeThe Rephaim Series #1 and #2 by Paula Weston

Wow! Just wow. I’ve avoided angel books for a while because I read one or two not-so-great series, but this was highly recommended by some Goodreads friends, and it does not disappoint.
Reason Number 1 you must read this series: Rafa.
Reason Number 2: it has a complex, intriguing and unpredictable plot.
Sometimes I think with YA there is this idea that a plot can’t be too intricate, but this is not the case with Shadows and Haze. Page turners for sure. Also, it’s the first paranormal Aussie series that I’ve ‘believed’. I don’t know why, but I think in my head paranormal must be set in the US to be ‘believable’ (because crazy supernatural things happen in America every day, right?), but Paula did such a good job at convincing me that sexy angels can turn up in Aus just as they might the US.

thewholeofmyworldThe Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes

I finished this last night and I cannot stop thinking about it. I grew up in a family obsessed with AFL. I have seven brothers and each one plays/played footy, some at the state/reserve level, and this book just brought home so many memories! It deals with some sensitive issues extremely well, and I loved the main character, who was not at all angsty even though she was trying to cope with grief and the usual dramas that come with being a teenager. I think it’s an extremely important book for young Australians to read, especially as it sheds light on the footy culture: the good aspects as well as the bad.

the time we made tell Dan jokes at Tel Dan

Location: Tel Dan
Year: 2012
If you ever cross from Jordan into the Holy Lands (aka Palestine or Israel — but not wanting to offend either side I’m just going to stick with Holy Lands because that’s one thing we can all agree on), the sparse, barren desert-like landscape might have you wondering ‘Can this really be the Promised Land?’ But then you head north for a couple of hours, past the Galilee, and into territory that will earn you text messages from the local telco(s) saying ‘Welcome to Lebanon,’ and ‘Have a great stay in Syria!’ and after freaking out that you’re in the Golan Heights, you realise why this place is called the Promised Land.

We travelled here last summer (northern hemisphere summer, that is) with our good friends Dan and Danielle. Needless to say, when we found the national park, Tel Dan, the puns available to us were endless.

tel dan-tiff

the time I wandered through Salt

Year: 2013
Location: Salt, Jordan

Although we’ve lived in Jordan for 2.5 years now, we have never quite managed to get out to this little town (I blame our awful split weekends where we have to go to school on Saturdays!) Salt is an hour bus trip out of Amman, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Salt was actually the capital of Jordan when the Ottomans had run of the mill back in the day, hence the pretty Ottoman architecture. Despite the heat, we had a great day wandering the streets and climbing the hills.

WIP x 2

I have two new things in progress. Yay!

The first is a fantasy series. At the moment I’m still collating ideas/absorbing information as much as I can. I think this one will be a while in the making. In fact, I don’t plan to start writing for at least a year.

The second came to me when I was woken up by my German-speaking student-neighbours for the fifth night in a row (their hours of wakefulness seem to be 12am-5am which is not conducive to a teacher whose sleeping hours are 10pm-6am), which I’m now not as angry about because if I had not been awoken, then maybe this new book idea wouldn’t have come to me. It’s contemporary YA and I have a feeling it has been born from immense home sickness as I haven’t been back to Australia in 2.5 years. At this stage I can say it is set here:

My farm