“Wild Child” – An Axe To Grind

It may not come as a surprise to many, but I have a seriously large bone to pick with films like Wild Child. An entire skeleton’s worth, in fact – it lives in the closet, sitting underneath the shelf that houses enough axes-to-be-ground to arm a large Viking raiding party and still leave some spare to prop open the doors on the way out.

ImageReleased in 2008, Wild Child did reasonably well at the box office – it currently sports a score of 6.0 on IMDB – though not well enough to leave much of a wake. The inclusion of Alex Pettyfer was about the most notable thing taken away by my dorm-mates, with whom I watched the film on a boring Sunday night in 2010.

To all intents and purposes, it’s a very typical sort of mainstream Hollywood outlet – spoiled teenage brat taken away from her standard environment to learn important life lessons / overcome challenges / acquire unrealistically attractive boyfriend in a kookily bizarre new environment.

It even comes with a tagline pun so hsameful they tried to hide it just above the credits. “A New Term for Trouble”? Dear oh dear oh dear.

Miriam told me she watched this film for research purposes before we got started on St Mallory’s Forever!, along with the new St Trinian’s film – which, fun fact, our publisher Mark hates in the same way most people hate Nickelback, or getting teeth pulled with pliers made of cacti – which is what got me thinking about it.

I’m not going to rag on about its inaccuracies (there aren’t enough hours in the world) or indulge my love of ripping apart trope-laden Hollywood output for my own glee. I can appreciate the demand for silly, fluffy films of this sort, and sometimes I can even enjoy them.

But what I’m not going to let it get away with is its lack of research. Oh yes, dear readers. This is going to be a post about research. Abandon hope all ye who enter here, don’t forget to wipe your feet on the way in, yadda yadda.

In order to create a polar opposite environment for Spoiled Protagonist Princess (also known as Poppy but that’s irrelevant), the film created an antithetical environment in the form of the boarding school. They did pretty well from the outset – I know at least three people who came from an “Abbey Mount”, and none of them from the same county – and conjuring up some strict teachers to act as barriers. The layout of the dorms, involvement of lacrosse, the fact that one of the staff actually had family living on campus, also were great elements that could be used to the plot’s advantage.

However … it was clear none of the producers or writers or cast members had ever set foot in a real boarding school. And they missed out on so many more things that could have made a mildly amusing chick-flick into an absolute gut-buster. I’ll break it down for you.

What They Did Have:

  • Pranks
  • The ramifications of sneaking out after lights out
  • The joys of raiding charity shops
  • An alarmingly accurate representation of how most people usually score goals in lacrosse.

All of these have their place, of course, but all were seriously underplayed in favour of harping on about the ‘untouchability’ of the Single Male Character Present Ergo Love Interest and the bitchiness of the stereotypical cardboard cut-out bully.

If one of the crew had decided to take a look at an actual school, here’s what they could have got from that list.

What They Might Have Had:

  • Hilariously awkward socials, involving bussing over a load of boys from a school up to twenty miles away just so the students get some socialisation.
  • Interplay and development between the characters, based on the extremely close friendships that can only be formed by sleeping in one room for the better part of a year.
  • More staff involvement – from matrons to groundskeepers to house staff. They’re people too, and they’re often the source of half he mischief we get into.
  • The joys of confronting an American student with Latin, Greek, or any of the other dead languages that tend to cause unsuspecting newcomers to stare at the page as if it’s going to try and eat them.
  • New girls’ rituals. Mine featured a cold shower, a musical number, and an everlasting mistrust of curtain rails.
  • Seasonal parties involving fancy dress. And trust me, we take our fancy dress very seriously.
  • Language mixups! If you thought coming from America to Britain was bad, add in a layer of bizarreness unique to antiquated bubbles of private education and you’ve got a recipe for hilarity.

Of course, this is very much a case of supposition rather than one tailored to Wild Child in particular. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that a film with as much potential as this one fell so flat on its face simply because a little more research was not put in to find the really juicy gems that might have saved it a real critical shredding. It’s not often Rotten Tomatoes produces something quite so scathing as: “This tween comedy mess falls flat on its face due to poor characters, poor direction and poor jokes.”

What about you, readers? If you’ve seen Wild Child, what did you make of it? And if you haven’t, what do you make of filmic research on the whole? Leave a comment, and let me know!

~ Charley R

3, 2, 1… LIFT OFF!

What’s that excitable post title about? Why, it can only be that St Mallory’s has finally come out!

St. Mallory's Forever!

Yes. It has. In fact, St Mallory’s Forever was technically published on the 21st January, which means — get this — that I was still sixteen. By about five minutes, if Mark is correct about the timing. See, my birthday was the 22nd, and I was due to be turning seventeen. Still fairly young to be published, but who wouldn’t leap at the chance to be published at sixteen, instead?

“Miriam,” you’re saying, “if St Mallory’s was published on the 21st, why are you guys telling us to hang on and wait for news? Why haven’t we got it already?”  (Or you might not be saying. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not spying on all my readers through their webcams.)

Well, we did what’s called a ‘soft launch’. For a start, Amazon took a while to upload it, so it didn’t go live until the morning of the 23rd. And at the time of uploading, we hadn’t quite finished proofreading and formatting, and we weren’t sure there wouldn’t be  random glitches, like finding unexpected QQQs around italics.

Yesterday, therefore, Charley and I had downloaded it to our Kindles and were frantically reading through, keeping note of any typos or formatting errors (which I was doing on my phone, and I do not recommend it, but I was in school and had no choice), and Mark was updating it. In theory. As a matter of fact, he lost the internet for an entire day, because of his location, which made it even more stressful.

Oh, and then he wrote a foreword, and told me until I could see that foreword when I clicked “Click To Look Inside” on Amazon, I couldn’t tell you it was out.

Nevertheless, somebody clearly bought it because we managed to get into the Top 100 in Kindle Store > Books > Fiction > Children’s Fiction > Literature > Humourous — a fairly narrow category, I imagine, but we stayed on that chart all night, which I figured was pretty impressive.

Today I got online and checked the ‘click to look inside’ … and there was a foreword. And the blurb had been uploaded. Okay, so it wasn’t quite linked to my Amazon Author page (but will be soon), but other than that, all seemed to be ship shape.

It was official. St Mallory’s Forever was published and available. Is published and available, I should say.

And I decided to rob Charley of the joy of telling you it’s been released, mainly because, well, I got there first.

St Mallory’s Forever! is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US. I don’t know for certain about other platforms yet, but I know Mark said they might take a little longer, so I will update this post with links asap!

Edited to add: BARNES & NOBLE

Thank you all for your support thus far. I hope you will stay with us for the rest of the series… and remember, if you like the book, Amazon reviews are always appreciated. 🙂

— Miriam Joy

Voice Of A Generation: The Joys Of Collaboration

One of the interesting things about St Mallory’s Forever! is obviously the way it’s been written. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we’re not trying to sell it just because it was written by a whole bunch of different people. We like the plot too. But even if indie publishing is making collaboration more common, we still think that with St Mall’s, we’ve done something a bit unusual.

For a start, Charley and I are both teenagers. Perhaps working together might have been a normal thing to do, maybe under one name, but the very fact that we are working with Saffina Desforges as well makes us unusual. Why? Well, they’re best-selling e-book authors. Since when did they hang around with 15-year-olds? (As I was when we started, though I’ll be 17 before it’s published.)

That brings us to Saffina Desforges. The writing partnership have already released one YA book, but they’re primarily crime writers, at least so far. And that was a historical novel.

Now, given that neither of them are teenagers, neither of them are currently studying at either a boarding school or a London state school, and Mark actually lives in West Africa so, if anything, is even more behind on the ‘lingo’ than most others his age, there’s a fundamental problem with writing a book narrated by three teenage girls in a boarding school: you’re going to sound like an idiot if you use vocabulary that’s out of date.

This has happened a couple of times. In editing, Charley and I have picked up on phrases like ‘totties’ which, to be frank, I have never heard in my entire life. In consulting a dictionary (okay, my parents, but my dad reads dictionaries for fun so it’s basically the same thing), I discovered it to be a word that fell out of usage some time ago, and was always primarily upper class. Not really surprising that I hadn’t come across it, is it?

There are also words which have changed their meaning. For example, “fag”, used in the context of boarding school novels to talk about a younger student forced to run errands for older students. Obviously, these days it’s got a whole bunch of connotations, from the harmless slang term for a cigarette to the derogatory name for someone who’s gay, which wasn’t exactly what Mark was trying to say.

Plus, there’s the education system itself, which has changed rapidly in the last few years. While my mum has always kept up to date because she works in a school, my dad still gets muddled about what year is which and how old I am and things. What hope do they have without us? To sound like realistic teenagers is hard enough when it’s in normal first person, and this thing is written as blog posts, where voice is absolutely imperative. I daresay Mark and Saffi could have pulled it off, but it would have been incredibly difficult.

And that’s where you need superstars like Charley and I. Here to make teenagers sound like teenagers despite being ridiculous pretentious with our own language most of the time and supplementing curse words with Latin/Elvish/Esperanto/Anglo-Saxon ones instead (delete as appropriate for the two of us).

Yet Charley and I couldn’t have written St Mallory’s without the others. For a start, we couldn’t do the publishing side, or the cover design, or any of the logistics. But, to be quite frank, neither of us have enough experience writing (a) mysteries and (b) collaborating. We’ve done a few joke collaborations in the past, but nothing ever got finished.

Therefore, this is truly a collaborative effort. None of us could do it without the others, for all different reasons, and we wouldn’t want to! I’m fairly sure I had a point to this post that wasn’t quite so sickeningly adorable, but alas — it’s gone. I’ll have to leave you with the fluff and rainbows for now.

— M

(I’m hoping to create and upload a video promo for St Mallory’s Forever! this evening, and while I cannot guarantee it will be up today, hopefully it will. It would be great if a few of you could share it; I’ll be linking to it here as soon as it’s live.)

Typerventilating Imminent

Mark sent me an email this morning with the subject line “St. Mallory’s Forever! is imminent. Time to get serious.” Talk about not freaking out your co-writers when they wake up – I read it on my phone while still in bed and promptly killed predictive text trying to reply when the only thing I could manage to say was asdfalskdjf;wakjsdfalsdkf, affectionately known as keyboard smashing or ‘typerventilating’.

You see, St Mallory’s Forever! ought to be coming out this month. Although things often do not go according to plan, we were hoping for the 22nd as our official publication date, which just happens to be my seventeenth birthday. We’re working on the final draft, tweaking and proof reading and making minor alterations (and I am sitting here confused by Mark’s formatting gibberish given that to send things to Kindle, I usually just run them through Calibre and they come out as shiny, fully functional .mobi files with contents pages… but hey).

Mark sent me promo images to use and if you’re reading this in an email, you may want to click through to see the new design of the blog,  which utilises some of them.

And I’m freaking out.

Even though one of my New Year’s resolutions was not to chicken out of taking steps towards publication (which includes investigating the best course to take with my novel Watching), the idea of something I wrote being out there for everybody to read is terrifying. I’m sitting here going, “What if they hate it? What if they never buy anything I write ever again?”

Of course, it’s collaborative, which means not only do we all share the credit, but we all take the blame. Reading it through, it doesn’t sound like me, or Charley, and I haven’t read enough Saffina Desforges to know if it sounds much like them but I’m willing to bet it doesn’t. It’s not my usual genre or style. My characters are normally bitter, twisted and often non-human, a far cry from the excitable teenage girls of St Mallory’s.

Yet I see things that I know I wrote, even if they’re not my usual style.

Okay. So it’s mine. And it’s Charley’s and Mark’s and Saffi’s.

But soon it will be yours. It’ll be coming out as an e-book first, instantly to Kindle and Nook although Mark warns me it might take a little longer for it to filter through to other platforms. Then, in February, we’re hoping to have it available as print on demand. I had no idea the print book would be coming so soon, but apparently it is.

That’s also freaking me out.

Before, I was like, “Okay, people at my school might know about it and maybe read it, but I won’t know. Ha ha.” And now I’m like, “People at my school might read it and I WILL BE ABLE TO SEE.” And they will judge me on it, even if they don’t say so. They will think that is what all my writing is like even though it’s not. Yes, I’m proud of St Mallory’s, but the idea of putting my name to … well, anything right now, is terrifying.

*deep breaths*

I’m fine. I’m fine.

After a year in which I don’t think I really achieved a lot outside of finishing my GCSEs, suddenly things are happening very fast. St Mallory’s Forever! has gone from what still seemed slightly like a far-distant possibility to a very real thing. It’s happening. It’s happening soon.

asdfa;lskdfjas;dflkjsdfa;sdlkfjaeil;lksdjfa

— M

To Hack Or Not To Hack?

Hello out there. Miriam here, writing to you from Edinburgh where it is, to my great surprise, very sunny. Okay, so it’s night time now, but it was sunny all day. Most strange.

I’m convinced that the only way to solve mysteries is to hack websites and find out about evil villains’ shady pasts by uncovering some great dirty secret. For the last few years, I’ve been telling myself that I can’t be a detective unless I learn to (a) deduce things in an instant like Sherlock Holmes or (b) hack government websites.

And so it was understandable that I thought St Mall’s resident computer whizz, nicknamed Don Pedro for reasons unknown/forgotten to me, would be able to help out our team of intrepid detectives by hacking into websites for them so that they can get the information they need.

Imagine my surprise when I sent a few chapters – drafts, just ideas, nothing definite – to Charley and she came back with this (edited slightly to remove spoilers):

I’m a little wary of the illegal hacking business, though. Perhaps we could get into the system in a more roundabout way, or at least have some explanation for how DP could get at it. We don’t want to be insinuating that breaking into websites is a good idea, after all 😛

Seemed like a good idea to me. I’ve only ever hacked into one website and that was to retrieve some pictures from it, but that was hardly difficult and wasn’t at all illegal. I was just accessing an earlier version, that was all. Seriously, it was totally legit.

But then I started thinking: whatever we write here, people are going to associate with us. I mean, I’ve considered that idea in the past, when trying to decide if something was good enough for other people to read, and have always concluded that I wanted the first manuscript they associated with me to be a good one, rather than a bad one. But this was more of a moral one.

I’ve not kept it a secret that I’m a Christian, but I don’t tend to shout it from the rooftops of the internet as it tends to lead to haters sending you rude messages and to be honest, I got bullied enough at primary school for my faith. I thought I left that behind when I grew up a bit. It’s something that has subtly influenced my writing.

For example, am I going to allow my characters to say “Oh my god”, when it’s something I never say myself? Should they swear, when I don’t if my parents are in the room? (Obviously, no one is swearing in St Mallory’s. They’re far too well-bred for that.)

And then there are a few more important things. Antagonists, I guess, are allowed to do whatever they want because it’s being portrayed as a bad thing. But should the heroes of the story resort to illegal means to solve the problems they’re having, or could that be seen as promoting breaking the law to young, impressionable readers?

I haven’t yet come to a conclusion about this, so any comments on the subject would be welcome. My main reasons for not insisting that characters keep within the law is that, for starters, sometimes the law is wrong, and no one changed the world by keeping to unjust laws; at other times, it may be that something is right in that circumstance. One must consider relative morality as well as absolute morality.

But with this particular quibble of Charley’s in mind, I’m rewriting that scene to be a little less morally ambiguous.

And also, I guess, more realistic. After all, our detectives are very clever, but they’re only teenage girls. And if I haven’t worked out how to hack into my own computer (I’m trying to persuade Voice Recognition to answer to ‘JARVIS’ instead of just ‘Start Listening’, but can’t find the code for that), they’re not going to be busting through firewalls left, right and centre.

Should our characters reflect our moral values, or do you not associate how a character behaves with how you imagine the author to behave? Comments would be much appreciated 🙂

— M

I Jolly Well Don’t Talk Like That!

Am I the only one who, almost instinctively, associates the word “jolly” with Enid Blyton or some other of her ilk? Not that that’s a bad thing – it was perfectly common language at the time, even among teenage girls – but the fact that some people still expect boarding school girls like me to whip it out  every other sentence really makes me wonder.

So, today, I thought I’d take advantage of this spare time at the end of my oh-so-hectic Monday to tell you about another commonly misconstrued facet of boarding schools – straight from the horse’s mouth. Literally!

Though I’m a boarding girl, I’m really not one to talk about funny accents. In my first two years at my school, people asked me whether I was American, Australian, and once even Eastern European. My History teacher, who has taught me for three years, was also convinced I was Canadian at one stage, because I still hadn’t fully dropped the accent from the time I lived there. Nowadays, you’ll be happy to hear, my accent has calmed itself and settled into a fairly regular tone – it sounds like this. To me, of course, this sounds perfectly normal – everyone else in my little boarding bubble has a similar accent – but, as you can see from some of the comments below the recording, others think it’s hilariously posh!

(Additional note: To any “Demyx Time” fans that may one day be in the audience … Vexen voice, anyone?)

But, strangely, though the accent is a fine part of the boarding school mystery (not to mention an essential part of any half-decent imitation!), it’s not the first thing that people think of when they pretend to “talk boarder” as it were. It’s more words like “jolly”, “horrid”, “awfully”, and “I say!” used in copious amounts that tend to point out that one is a boarder, right?

Wrong.

Well, sort of. While we may be more prone to use of the sort of language you’d expect from Dad’s Army or a contemporary World War One play, for the most part we boarders talk just like everybody else – including all those floral four and five letter words usually reserved for occasions when one’s hip connects in that especially painful way with the edge of a desk. We use common text contractions (well, I don’t, but that’s my inner Grammar Nazi talking), we say “like” in that awful teenage manner, and we even – horror of horrors! – call our parents the normal “Mum and Dad”. Get all those thoughts of “Mumsie” and “Daddy dearest” out of your head this minute!

However, in order not to sound like a total killjoy, I’ll let you know the posh part of our speech too. Where I’m stationed, out in the woolies of Dorset, we’re not terribly up-to-date on the latest teen phrases. If someone said “peng” to me, I’d wonder if I’d wandered into a Star Trek convention, but – according to The Telegraph anyway – every other “average teen” in the country would know immediately it’s slang for “pretty”. There are other phrases like this, but as I’ve yet to go into an area where they’d be used, I can’t tell you what they are. Drop me a comment and see if I can guess the word’s meaning, make a game of it! Hehe.

…. And, alright, we do say “jolly”. Not often, not usually in public, but we do.

Are you happy now?

Jolly Hockey Sticks! – The Truth about Boarding School

Boarding school (definition): an education centre, usually in the form of an old manor house or castle, where students live all year round. Most of their time is taken up with practical jokes, driving the matron batty and chasing each other around lacrosse pitches. Common phraseology from the students inclues “rather” “awfully” and “jolly”.

Alright, who let you lot at the Enid Blyton?

Strange, really, that here in the UK – where we have a relatively large concentration of boarding schools, relative to some other countries – there are so many bizarre myths persisting about boarding schools. To be fair, I only started boarding five years ago and, before that, the only experience of boarding school that I had was the stories my Dad used to tell me about his boyhood – most of them concerning evil teachers, playing rugby in “sandpaper shorts” and the truly stomach-churning school dinners.

So, lovely charitable person that I am, I’m going to make my first post to this blog by dispelling some of the mystery and letting you in on what really goes on at boarding schools like St Mallory’s.

Now, let’s get started shall we?

Myth Number One: All boarding schools are out in the countryside.

False – though many are indeed set out of towns, many more are very much within cities and towns themselves – my own school is a prime example, we’re a massive landmark in the village, and the much older boys’ school is spread out over the place so much you can hardly tell where it starts and stops!

Myth Number Two: Only rich people go to boarding school.

False, false and false again! This is one of the myths that really irks me, simply because of the bad impression it often gives people of us. While most boarding schools are independent, and thus have high fees, there are plenty of scholarships and bursaries to be had – and it’s a tooth-and-nail battle to get them too, I tell you! Some of my friends’ parents have had to take out loans to pay for the fees, while plenty more have chip-ins from the extended family to take the bite off. Forces brats like me are also in abundance, as half of our fees are paid by the M.O.D as compensation for dragging us all around the planet and, subsequently, making a wonderful mess of our primary school level education.

Myth Number Three: Everybody sleeps in communal dorms.

Not exactly false, but probably not true in the sense you’re imagining. Though dorm layout varies from school to school, you can be absolutely sure that, nowadays, all those stories about twelve girls living in one room with only a bed, a curtain and a chest of drawers to themselves is a big fat lie. We do get some privacy, and even in relatively small schools like mine, communal dorms only have about five or six occupants maximum. Cubicles on corridors, like those you’ll see in St Mallory’s, are also a popular method of squishing as many sardines … sorry, I mean students, into a smaller space, while at the same time preventing us re-enacting Lord of the Flies after a particularly stressful weekend.

Myth Number Four: Everyone plays lacrosse.

A bit of a generalisation, this. True, lacrosse is a popular sport at several boarding schools, there are a good many that don’t play it, and certainly not everyone participates. I know because I’m one of the lucky few that don’t *coughI’mhopelesscough*. And it’s not all we play either – tell that to our hockey, polo, netball, archery, cross-country, swimming, squash and tennis teams!

Myth Number Five: “Girls’ school” is an alternative word for nunnery.

Bahahahaha, I think not! True, while interacting with members of the opposite gender is a little more difficult in a single-sex school, there are plenty of opportunities for interaction. Some schools, like mine, have both a boys’ and girls’ school in close proximity, and even those that don’t usually have weekly or bi-weekly discos or some other form of outing that allows for a little socialising.

Myth Number Six: Younger girls are made to do duties for the older ones.

Tom Brown’s School Days strikes again! Hehe, don’t worry all, this practice – known as “fagging” at the time – died a death several decades ago. On the matter of duties though, there tends to be some sort of setup regarding jobs for different year groups. Of course, this varies from school to school, but in the majority, the Sixth Form (years 12 and 13, to all you normal people) have duties that may include: prep (homework) supervision, putting everyone to bed in the evenings, supervising activities, taking registers at breakfast, organising house events … you get the idea. Oh, and yes, we do have prefects. I know because I am one! 😛

Myth Number Seven: It’s all midnight feasts and pranks!

LIES! LIES I TELL YOU! Though, for once, it’s a lie I wish was true. Forget raiding the pantry at midnight to celebrate a birthday – we’d be put on detention for a week if we were caught out of bed at that hour – we hardly have time for cake eating! Boarding school schedules usually involve a longer day than day schools, as we don’t have parents complaining that they have to come so late to pick us up and they feel they need to “keep us entertained”. We all work our butts off just as much as everyone else, and we don’t find it any easier than the next student. We’ll tease the teachers on occasion, and I will confess to once being involved in a plot involving a whoopie cushion, but all those ingenious wangles like inflatable jackets, popping coins and imprints of “Allo” on the French mistress’ bottom are, regrettably, mere fiction.

Phew! That’s all I’ve got for now – my poor brain still hasn’t quite got over the fever that’s been persecuting me this past week. I hope I’ve covered some good bases up there, but if there’s anything you feel I’ve missed, feel free to drop a comment with your question and I’ll do my best to answer it to your satisfaction.

In the meantime, farewell all, live long and prosper!

– Charley