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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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

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

From Somewhere Beneath the Textbooks…

Hello everyone!

Yes, yes, I know it’s been months since either Miriam or I posted here – very very naughty of us, we know. We would love to post more, but unfortunately we are inhibited by one thing (or many things, depends how you view it.)

Exams.

Miriam is currently tackling GCSEs, while I am a year ahead getting chewed on by my AS Levels. Both of us are currently on Study Leave, doing battle with a variety of ideas that we’re supposed to know but swear we never studied. For me it’s Descartes, Polkinghorne and Anselm, and for Miriam it’s incomprehensible Physics-related squigglies that supposedly explain the behavior of various whizzy-bouncy particle thingies.

Subsequently, St Mallory’s Forever! has been somewhat neglected. It is currently sitting in my email Inbox, glaring at me malevolently and threatening to maim my brain cells the moment it comes within range.

And, with any luck, it will have its opportunity as of Thursday, when all but one of my exams will be over. The moment we get the rough draft finished – and we get out of school for the summer – we both have every intention of editing at the speed of light, shoving it through the formatters, and getting it into your hands as soon as we can.

In the meantime … a little more patience, please. Not much, just a bit. We promise.

If you feel the urge to hunt us down and persecute us further, you can find both our personal blogs here:

Miriam Joy

Charley Robson

Live long and prosper, readers. We promise to be back soon.

Do Your Research

“I’m not a pyschopath, Anderson, I’m a high functioning sociopath. Do your research.”
~ Sherlock, “A Study In Pink”, BBC (2010)

Always do your research. Otherwise you’ll find yourself being snapped at by Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and that would, obviously, be tragic. Although, I wouldn’t mind that much. I mean, fictional characters TALKING to me? Who spiked my drink and where do you get that stuff from?

As everybody knows, the key to writing a realistic and generally more interesting novel is to do research. It doesn’t matter whether your novel is a modern crime novel or a historical romance: you’re going to have something you need to look up. By the way, what is the difference between an Inspector and a Detective Inspector? Anyone who knows, leave a comment.

But I digress.

Research is very important, from world building to clothing to social hierarchies, and when I was asked to join in with St Mallory’s Forever I knew I was going to have to do some work. I had several issues to investigate:

  1. I didn’t know anything about life in a boarding school, and it wasn’t really fair to leave all of that to Charley, though we would probably go to her for reference on any point anyway.
  2. I had read very few mystery/crime/detective novels and didn’t know quite how they worked out. I’d also never written one.
  3. The idea of writing as blog posts or diary entries or letters was something that I hadn’t done in about six years and I couldn’t see how it could read as a coherent narrative without sounding forced or incongruous with what it was supposed to be (the blogs of three teenagers who all think they’re the only ones blogging about this and so cannot refer to each other’s posts or miss things out themselves… always a challenge!).

The first was relatively easy to solve. I asked Charley lots and lots of questions.

Actually, I didn’t have to ask her all that many, because when I first found out she was at a boarding school I interrogated her quite thoroughly, until she gave me a rough timetable and everything, just to shut me up (so, nothing’s changed…*grin*). I was also so intrigued I went on her school website and read up on it. That’s not stalkerish, because she went on mine too.

In addition to this, I’d been doing some research into vocational ballet training, such as the Royal Ballet School or the English National Ballet School. The RBS in particular has some really great information in their ‘documentation’ on the website, including approximate timetables, rules, and details of rooms. This was very helpful for getting an alternative perspective.

More recently, I was on a course with the Royal Artillery Band and while hanging out in the rest area of the band block, I was perusing the stacks of army-related magazines and found one entitled “The Service Parent’s Guide To Boarding Schools”. Although this didn’t give me particular information that I didn’t already know, it was very useful to look at what army families would want in a school, and what activities there were relating to that sort of world within schools. Since boarding schools are very often populated by a lot of ‘army brats’ (Charley’s words, not mine), this seemed like something to remember when working on St Mallory’s, as students whose parents are soldiers are quite likely to be at the school and should be mentioned.

So, the first one was pretty much nailed. I knew about timetables, uniforms, rules and regulations, dormitory layouts, House arrangements, sports activities, grades and Ofsted reports, and Forces discounts.

Next we had my lack of mystery reading / crime reading / detective stories etc. Easily solved. Work on St Mallory’s resumed right in the middle of my Sherlock obsession, just after series two of the BBC series had finished and I was consoling myself by reading all of the books, one after the other in totally the wrong order. I knew how detectives worked, obviously. We were doing well.

As for writing as blog posts, although my own are very rarely narratives, one of the blogs I read has some really good examples. The blog is My Pajama Days and she often writes her posts as mini stories almost, with dialogue and description. This was a really interesting style to study when considering how to work on this project. There are other blogs I could name, but to share them all would be to reveal what an odd combination of interests I have… ha ha!

It’s also something you learn by doing. I write for a blog. In fact, I write for three blogs – four if you count the guest posts I sometimes do for Mark Williams International. My own blog is Miriam Joy Writes, but I also have a book blog, Books – Lost and Found, and then there’s this. My blogging style now is very different from how it was when I started, so I’m developing a ‘voice’ that I hope comes through (although not too much!) in the characters we write.

Research can be anything, though. When writing one of my novels (still a WIP, after two years), I was constantly referring to ‘A Guide To Irish Mythology’. Another novel needed much highlighting of passages in ‘The Pagan Celts’, a great resource. I wrote tonnes of notes on old Celtic legends from several websites, too.

I’ve had conversations with ex policemen on NaNoWriMo forums about how the Force works, discussions with fencers and kick boxers about what it would be like to be a modern day knight and how much they’d have to train. I’ve read blogs and magazines in army barracks and the websites of private schools. I’ve badgered friends and strangers to tell me everything they know on a subject.

Yeah, it can make people think you’re weird, and yeah, your search engine history may get you arrested by the end of it (especially if you’re writing a crime or murder mystery novel), but research is important.

Next time you’re reading a blog that seems irrelevant, remember it might be useful as research in the future. When people have an interesting background or hobby, ask questions – even if you’re not writing about it at the moment! You never know. Either it’ll be stored in your mind palace (aaaand there goes another Sherlock reference. But it’s too awesome not to share) for later, or it’ll spark off an idea that’s so amazing you have to write it NOW.

When you’ve finished researching it, that is.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to research, and how did you go about it? Do you like this stage of planning or does it hold you back? And can you please answer my Inspector/Detective Inspector question? It’s getting on my nerves.

— M

The Journey So Far

How did four writers from different places in the world – Grimsby, London, Dorset and West Africa – and of different ages end up collaborating on a YA novel set in a boarding school? It’s a good question. I’m now going to attempt to summarise the journey from my point of view.

Just a quick note, if you want to know more about any of us then just click the ‘Meet The Authors’ tab in the top right corner 🙂

I think I can take some credit, because it was on my blog that the seed which later germinated into St Mallory’s forever was planted, in a comment from Mark (one half of the Saffina Desforges writing team). The post was here, but the particular comment was, “I can’t wait til Ms Spook writes her own version of Malory Towers and the Chalet School series. I’m guessing there would be a big market for well-told YA set in a modern girls’ boarding school. Come on.Ms Spook! The world is waiting. Jolly hockey sticks and all that!”

Just a few weeks later, Spook – who now goes by her given name of Charley – sent me a Facebook message saying that Mark wanted the two of us to collaborate with ‘Saffina Desforges’ to write this novel, and would I like to?

I wasn’t sure. I’d not read or written any mysteries, I knew nothing about boarding schools, and an aversion to plotting, outlines and coherent sentences has always made serious collaboration tricky (though I’ve done some fun collaborative Doctor Who fan-fics). I wasn’t about to let Charley get all the glory of publication without me, though, and I’m always up for a challenge, so I said yes.

This was some time in July or August, I think, and we initially planned to release it in time for Christmas, which was a little optimistic. After a few enthusiastic weeks (I also take the credit for writing the first chapter, which then got chopped up by the other two, mashed around, and some of it stayed in and some turned up later and some disappeared into the ether), it fizzled out, and between late October and mid January there was no activity on St Mall’s at all.

And then my grandma died. I needed to distract myself, to occupy my brain, and I didn’t feel like writing my own novel – it’s always had a strong autobiographical content. I dug out the draft, read the whole thing through, and ended up adding a few thousand words to the end of it.

That was enough to get the ball rolling again: since then, a week hasn’t gone by without one of us adding to it, and sometimes two of us will write five chapters over just a couple of days, much refreshed after our long break!

(Reading the Sherlock Holmes short stories and some of the longer ones in the meantime almost certainly helped me understand the ‘mystery’ idea better, even if it did lead to way too many Sherlock references in there. I can’t speak for the others, but I think they were definitely necessary.)

It’ll be a little while until it’s finished. Meanwhile, cover designs are going ahead, and we’re planning promos and videos. I’m writing chapters, sending them to Charley, and having them back in my inbox the next morning with more added, a speed at which we never worked before.

It’ll be good to have you, who will perhaps be our future readers, on this journey with us. Five months or more may already have gone, but there’s still a long way to go.

With your support, St Mallory’s Forever will never again languish on an email server for three months. We’ll get it finished, and you’ll be there every step of the way.

Does that sound like an idea?

Then now would be the time to put your email address into that gorgeous little box on the right. I’ll see you next time!

— M