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

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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.)

Piecing It Together

By now you should know that if there’s an update on the St Mall’s blog, it means we’ve found the document after a long hiatus, were guilt-tripped into working on it, and now want to share this with the world.

The funniest thing about collaborative writing is that long before you’re anywhere near finishing the book, it’s difficult to tell who wrote what – especially when many chapters were written following brainstorming sessions in which all parties contributed ideas, and also because we all go back and edit each other’s chapters anyway.

Recently I realised there was no single document that contained the whole of St Mallory’s Forever! so far. We had a ‘final version’ of the first eleven chapters, plus a ‘working document’ containing most of the book (around 30k) as it stood in February of this year. And then we had a ‘chapters’ file which had an additional 15,000 words. These needed lining up.

It took some hunting until I found the most up-to-date version of all chapters that currently exist, but when I did I sat down and started to piece them together (Charley had the latest chapters to review at the time). I also took the opportunity to match up the formatting. Weirdly, not only did we have different fonts, margins, formats (indents versus line breaks; line spacing), and general appearance in the different files, we also had different formatting within the documents themselves.

I quickly put that to rights. (It’s now all in Cambria. I like Cambria.) I also made the chapter titles ‘headers’ so that we can easily skip from one to the next.

In the process I found several chapters that I really couldn’t attribute to any of us – lines I could swear I’d written surrounded by ones of which I had no memory. Either it’s doing a Good Omens and writing itself when we’re not looking, or we’re really getting this collaboration down pat and you won’t be able to tell who wrote what.

What does this mean and why do you care?

You probably don’t. I just thought you might like an update after so long. Piecing the parts of the book together not only removes any excuse we have for discrepancies (we can now look things up), but it also helps us work out how long it is and how much more needs to be written, or how quickly we need to wind it up.

If you weren’t keeping count up there, it’s about 45,000 words long, which is 5k short of a NaNoWriMo-length novel – and we’ve been working on it for nearly a year and a half. It probably won’t be a hugely long novel. My own solo works are about 90-100k each, and this is more likely to be 55-60k, if I’m reading the signs correctly. At the rate we’ve been working for the last year, you’ll be here until the apocalypse waiting for it, but we’re going to really push through the next few weeks.

Yeah, that Christmas 2011 deadline really didn’t happen, did it? But we’re hoping to get this draft completely finished asap, and then it’ll just be edits and rewrites and hopefully it won’t be too long before you see the completed book.

This entire post could be summarised like this: St Mallory’s is still a thing that exists. It’s just been sleeping for a long time. Now it’s waking up, in the hiatus before NaNoWriMo starts.

Stay tuned. We’re getting there.

— 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

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

An Interview With Charley R

I’ve told my side of the story – now it’s time to hear it from Charley. We decided the best way to do this would be to do an interview, although we may have got slightly sidetracked at times! This interview took place on the eleventh of February, via Facebook. I apologise that the line breaks are so un-line-breaky, but I can’t make them behave. *sigh*

Miriam: So, Charley! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.
Charley: ‘Tis my pleasure!
Miriam: Great! Okay, so you’ve been involved in St Mallory’s Forever for longer than me, and you were the one to ask me on Mark’s behalf whether I wanted to join. Is that correct?
Charley: I think so – my memory’s a little hazy of the event, but as far as I know, Mark said it would be a good idea, but I didn’t want to do it on my own. And it’s always more fun doing a mystery with other people.
Miriam: Ah, so it was YOUR idea to get me involved? I didn’t know that.
Charley: I think it was – Mark kept pestering me to do it, but I thought “Hey, I can’t do this on my own!” and I remember that time we started on another rather short-lived mystery collab on Protagonize.
Miriam: Ah, I see! Yes, I remember that. Ha, that was fun – Time Travel Makes Murder Complicated, wasn’t it?
Charley:That’s the one!
Miriam: Ha ha, I’m pretty sure that would have been too conceptually difficult to keep up, but never mind. I’m grateful for you getting me in on St Mallory’s.
So, which of the characters from St Mall’s do you associate the most with? Tell us a bit about them and why that relates to you.
Charley: To be honest, probably Xuan. Like me, she travels a lot with her father’s job, she’s bright but people don’t often believe it, and we can both be witheringly sarcastic when we want to.
Miriam: That’s interesting! I would have thought you would understand Abby quite well, as she’s a Doctor Who fan on top of having the boarding school background, but when I was writing the ‘About’ for the book and I was summarising the characters, I did pick up on that aspect of Xuan’s personality. I’d just been working on your bio, too.
Charley: Yes, I do relate to Abby a bit – mainly on the Doctor Who and boarding school background bit – but Abby’s been at boarding school her whole life, and comes from a stable, probably vaguely wealthy home. I and my family are none of those, haha!
Miriam: There’s always that, obviously. For the benefit of people who don’t bother reading bios, want to tell us a bit about how you ended up at a boarding school?
Charley: Well, it all started about five or six years ago (I think it’s nearly six years ago … wow, that’s a long time!). My family and I were living in Australia at the time, and I was about to go into Year Seven – aka, leaving Junior school. We were going to be moving back to the UK soon, and we encountered a problem.
Mum knew I was going to have to take big exams soon, but Army life had been so sporadic that my education was really screwed up. As a result, mum decided it was time we went to boarding school, as it was really the only realistic option we had in order for me not to die of starvation in a cardboard box later in life. It all sort of unfolded from there.
Miriam: How similar is St Mallory’s to your own school, Sherborne Girls?
Charley: Hmmm … a lot of the timings and rules are the same (not surprising, since I was in charge of setting them out!) The idea of boarding houses is exactly the same, and we DO have a music block, and we DO have house lacrosse tournaments etc … I think it all ends there xD
Miriam: So, none of the teachers were based on teachers you’ve got?
Charley: Mrs Trewell, the briefly-mentioned Housemistress of Marylebone is based on the housemistress we had who left last year. And I won’t lie, the Bursar looks a bit like my English teacher, bahahaha!
Miriam: Ah, Sam the bursar! A most suspicious character.
Charley: Indeed … he couldn’t get much fishier, could he?
Miriam: Indeed not. We’ve done some plotting together – want to tell our readers how that works?
Charley: Oh, why not!
Miriam: Go ahead – the floor is yours.
Charley: Haha, thank you! … Nice lighting we have here.
Anyway, I think most of our plotting is pretty off-the-hoof, as the muse bites us. I myself tend to leave “Charley Brainwaves” at the end of my chapter postings for people to comment on as you like. We also converse via email (which, with three of us sending emails in all directions, sometimes with all three included, sometimes not) can get very entertaining indeed!
Miriam: I may or may not have sent you some rather unexpected text messages in the past, too, isn’t that right? I mostly have ideas in Physics lessons. Obviously, I have to tell you RIGHT THEN. *grins*
Charley: Oh yes! Some of them are most amusing. I think I like your Sherlock ones best though!
Miriam: Are you referring to Sherlock mentions within St Mallory’s (of which there are several), or just the random Lestrade jokes that I tend to send late at night?
Charley: Both of them – though the latter do bring smiles to my face on hard days 😀
As for geeky inserts, well, I’m just as bad on the Doctor Who front!
Miriam: Ach, I wouldn’t say it was a ‘bad’ thing…. as long as we don’t get sued.
I think that’s all we’ve got time / wordcount for today.
Charley: Pity – I’m enjoying this!
Miriam: I’m glad to hear it. I’ll open the floor for any of our readers to leave comments and questions for us both, and perhaps we could do another interview in the future?
In the meantime, I’ll go back to sending you xkcd comics and distracting you from real life.
Charley: I welcome it with open arms.
Now come on readership! Or do I have to invoke the Goo Gun of Doom?
Now there’s a threat and a half! Do you have any questions for Charley or myself? We’ll be happy to answer them, and I believe Charley intends to interview me in the near future!