Alice Jones: The Ghost Light

The second Alice Jones book is finished. Well, sort of.  Writing is a long process that involves A LOT of rewriting, editing, tinkering and back and forth between me (the writer) and my editors (the lovely Rachel and Kesia from Chicken House). I wrote about the many (many, many to the power of ten) stages of the editing process here.

BUT, the biggest hurdle for me is getting that first complete draft and making all the major changes to make sure the plot works, all the clues are there and no characters fall out of the book at the halfway point. And THAT task is done. Now it is on to the fun tweaking and tidying and adding more spooky bits and all the math analogies Alice loves to use.

image002It also has a glorious cover, designed by Helen Crawford-White.

Alice Jones: The Ghost Light is all about the mysterious goings-on at The Beryl Theater. Della is convinced an evil spirit is haunting the show: Alice doesn’t believe in ghosts and sets out to find the human behind the disturbances. As Alice investigates The Beryl’s past, she discovers another unsolved mystery, the disappearance of a fabulous diamond. Could the two cases be connected?

Alice Jones:The Ghost Light will be published January 2017. (So I better get back to fixing up all the details!)

The Impossible Clue gets an American Cover

I love getting new covers for my books!!!

One of the most exciting things for me when my first book, Dreamer Ballerina, was published was seeing all of the different covers it got in different countries. (You can see them all here.) And now it’s Alice’s turn.

Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue will be published in the US January 2017. It’s still a long ways off (I wrote about the lengthy publishing process here and here), but I’m excited to share the fab American Hardcover illustration. It was designed by Melissa Manwill (you can see more of her work here) who did an amazing job capturing the story.

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Isn’t it stunning?!

If you’ve read the book, you’ll see all sorts of clues in the illustration. If you haven’t you can pre-order your copy of the American edition  OR if you can’t wait, you can get the UK edition right now! (What’s the difference? Well the UK edition has a lot more U’s in it, and a lift instead of an elevator, and pavements instead of sidewalks, but the story and the solution are the same!)

Derian Dreams Bedtime Story Collection

Audiobookcover

Last year my friend Mark Lowery got in touch with me and a bunch of other children’s authors. He was writing a short story for children’s charity Derian House to record as a bedtime audiobook and wanted to know if we wanted in. We did!

Derian House is a wonderful charity, providing palliative and respite care for children with life shortening conditions. This audiobook is part of their 2016 Great Derian Dream Campaign, aiming to give each family with a child in their care an extra night of respite care.

 

Here’s the full line up of stories and authors and amazing readers!

1-Rotten Robbin And The Crooked Cutlass written by George Kirk, read by Ted Robbins
2-Dizzy Dog written by Alan Durant, read by Dave Spikey
3-The Smelly Unicorn written by Natasha Desborough, read by Julie Hesmondalgh
4-Rosie And The Tooth Fairy written by Sarah Rubin, read by Jenny Platt
5-Pickles First Flight written by Jo Dearden, read by Jane Horrocks
6-Scaredy Bat written and read by Jonathan Meres
7-Keep An Eye On The Baby written by Mark Lowery, read by Steve Pemberton
8-Amy Warburton’s Most Unusual Pet written by Steve Hartley, read by Connie Hartley
9-Poems written and read by Ian Bland
10-Siegfried And The Snoring Snarflebeast Of Sevenoaks written by Mo O’hara, read by Susie Poppitt

11-He Should Have Listened To Granddad written by Steve Hartley, read by Danny Cipriani & Mark Cueto

AND the beautiful cover illustration was donated by Nick Sharratt (that’s right, I’m in a book illustrated by Nick Sharratt…shhh, let me bask)


I had so much fun writing my short story, Rosie and the Tooth Fairy, about a girl who wants to know what the Tooth Fairy actually does with all those teeth anyway? It’s narrated by the wonderful actress Jenny Platt (best known as Violet Wilson from Coronation Street) who is a blast to listen to.

You can get a copy of just my story OR the whole lot from amazon or itunes. All proceeds go to Derian House.

Alice Jones’ Cryptic Quip

One of Alice Jones’ favorite pastimes is doing the Cryptic Quip in the Philadelphia Daily News (where her dad is the top Crime Reporter). I made up the name of the newspaper and the puzzle, but it is based on the Cryptoquote from the Philadelphia Inquirer. In the summers, I used to try to sneak the paper so I could get to it before my dad (although crosswords are my real favorite).

In honor of Alice, here is a Cryptic Quip for you to try your hand at:

 

“JAGM’L DU PGKVCRMF MARBI MV WV? R XREF LVXKRBI NYTTXFL, FLNFHRGXXU DGMAFDGMRHGX VBFL. MAFU’CF MAF QFLM!” – GXRHF OVBFL

Alphabet
The puzzle is based on a replacement cipher. I’ve taken the alphabet and scrambled it, assigning each letter in the alphabet a new random replacement letter.  I’ve given you two letters to get you started (A=G and M=D). Your job is to crack the code and unscramble the message.

If you get stuck, check out Puzzle Corner for some tips and tricks for solving Cryptic Quips. OR if you get really stuck, click here for a walkthrough…

Happy sleuthing!

North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards

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Last week, I got the news that Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue had been longlisted for the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Awards in the ‘Moving On’ category. The longlist is packed with great titles, and I’m on there with them. How exciting!
MovingOnExI’m super proud to be a part of this new category. I didn’t start reading for fun until I was eight, but took off like a rocket when I did. I was always looking for a challenge, a book with a bit more meat. But I had NO interest in teen themes. (If I’m honest, I didn’t really have any interest in ‘teen themes’ until I was almost halfway through them myself). I wanted a good read about family and friendship, adventure and mystery.

I’d never really put it together before, but the books I write now I write for the 10-year-old version of me.Books starring smart, self-assured girls full of bravery and determination having amazing adventures and making their dreams come true. And it’s an honor that the North Somerset Teachers who put The Impossible Clue on the longlist would recommend it to another reader in my shoes.

What My Characters Get From Me

I often get asked where my characters come from. To be honest, I’m not always completely sure. In my first book, Casey Quinn leapt (or jetéd) out of nowhere when I was doing a writing prompt. Alice Jones came from my desire to write a detective story, but almost all of my characters have a little bit of me in them-things I like, bad habits, interests, fears, and other odd quirks.

Here are a few examples of the things I share with some of the characters from my latest book.


 

Alice Jones: My hardboiled detective gets her love of math from me. I was no genius, but I found geometry and algebra so satisfying. I especially loved factoring equations. Alice’s interests have given me an excuse to brush up on my math skills.

Kevin Jordan: Charming enough to get out of most of the trouble he makes for himself, I have very little in common with Kevin (I was the good kid with a guilty conscience, even though I never did anything wrong). But he has a sensible streak I’m happy to take credit for.

Sammy Delgado Jr: Sammy gets his relentless optimism from me, but I hope I manage to keep mine from being quite so annoying.

Arthur Jones: Alice’s Dad and a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News. He likes to chug water from a sports bottle while he writes, like he’s running a marathon. My friends used to tease me about this in college, and I still do it today.

Delores Jones (AKA Della Lynn): Alice’s twin sister and rising theater star. Alice might not share Della’s love of the stage, but I did! I was an active drama club member in elementary and high school. Alice Jones:Book 2 is set in a theater and I’m having so much fun writing all about life backstage.

Dr. Adrian Learner: The scientist who disappears is based on my time interning at The Jackson Laboratory when I was 17.

Virginia Lynn: Alice’s mom. We don’t see much of her in The Impossible Clue but we do know she’s a costume designer. She gets that from me. I love sewing big elaborate dresses. I once went dumpster diving at a hardware store so I could get the metal strapping they use to tie planks of wood together so I could make my own hoop skirts and bustles.

 

Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue

My latest book, Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue is officially out today!

I’m having a glamorous pajama party at home with my daughter while she ‘helps’ me work on the outline for my next book. It’s a bit of a slog at the moment, so it is very nice to see The Impossible Clue out in the world and be reminded that ‘yes, I can do this.’

When I wrote my first book, I assumed that writing would get easier. In some ways it does. It took me 20 drafts to finish Dreamer Ballerina, and only 11 to finish The Impossible Clue. I’m better at finding problems and fixing them now. I still struggle with most of the same old worries and false starts when I’m working on those first drafts. But, I suppose, with experience comes the knowledge that, even though it feels like the book will never come together, if I just keep writing, one word at a time, it will.

If you do get a copy, I hope you enjoy it! Alice is a really fun character to hang out with. Happy reading!

Writers Live in the Future

One of the weird things about being a writer is how long everything takes. Publishing is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue comes out this month (actually, it’s been seen out in bookshops already!) but I finished writing it long ago. In fact, I’ve already finished the first draft of Alice Jones: Book 2 and am in the process of outlining Alice Jones: Book 3 in the hopes that it gets picked up as well.

So how long is long? I’m sure it differs from house to house and book to book, but for me I started writing Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue at the beginning of 2014 and signed a contract with Chicken House in the Autumn. Then there were layers of rewriting and editing, title changes and cover design until it was done (August-ish 2015) and ready for release.

Of course, books don’t just get released when they’re done. Releases are scheduled to fit into the publisher’s calendar, to make sure all of their books don’t come out at once. Mine is officially out months later on 4 February 2016. That’s about a year and a half from when Chicken House bought the manuscript* and over two years from when I started writing the first draft.

On the one hand, it can be frustrating to wait so long to see your work make it to print. On the other, it gives you time to work on your next book. I started writing Alice Jones Book 2 (about the mysterious, perhaps ghostly, problems plaguing The Beryl Theater) while my editors were busy working on Book 1. And when I got stuck working on Book 2, I’d daydream about ideas for Book 3.

Seeing The Impossible Clue in a bookshop for the first time (yesterday!) was thrilling, but it was also like traveling back in time to visit an earlier version of myself. I remembered where I was when I started writing, and all of the fun and frustrating times I had helping Alice solve the mystery of the invisible scientist, and then it was time to go back to the future where Book 2 and 3 are waiting to be finished.


*This was an extra long incubation period, probably because I had a baby in the middle of things and Chicken House scheduled in some buffer time just in case. I believe one year from purchase to publication is more average.

Only one month until Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue

Happy 2016!

My latest book, Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue is coming out next month! It’s the first in a series of detective stories featuring Alice Jones, a street-savy kid with a mathematical mind. Here are five of my favorite detectives, all of whom have helped inspire Alice.

  1. Nancy Drew-The original girl detective. Nancy Drew books started my life-long love of mysteries and reading in general. I loved Nancy, she was smart and resourceful and, though she had a lawyer for a dad, always solved her cases on her own.
  2. Hercule Poirot-Agatha Christie’s first detective. As a child, I think Poirot appealed to me because he wasn’t strong or daring or even particularly brave. He was clever, and he used his ‘little grey cells’ to get the better of the bad guys.
  3. Encyclopedia Brown-Another brain-based sleuth, Encyclopedia Brown books gave me my first taste of being the detective myself. Each short story had its solution at the end of the book. I think I got one right, once. I loved Sally (Encyclopedia’s partner, the strongest girl in the 5th grade) and Bugs Meany, their nemesis.
  4. Lord Peter Wimsey-The gentleman detective, Wimsey often used people’s assumptions that he was an aristocratic fool to his advantage. Alice uses the fact that she’s only 12 in a similar way.
  5. Philip Marlowe-A private eye rather than a detective, trying to do the right thing in a wrong world. I loved his bruised morality and how he tried to do the right thing, even when the choice was murky and hard.

Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue will be released 4 February, but you can read the first chapter or pre-order (UK/US) a copy now.

 

Waiter waiter, there’s a typo in my uncorrected proof…

A few days ago, Chicken House sent me the typeset pages of my new book. This is such an exciting moment because it’s the first time I get to see all the fancy doo-dahs that the publisher adds, all the front matter, the chapter headings and the words on the page just like in a real live book. It’s also the moment that makes me remember ‘oh my gosh, this is really happening!’

I got two great surprises when I looked at the pages:



First; Alice rides her bike all over Philadelphia while she’s chasing down leads, so I was thrilled that there was a picture of a bicycle on the first page.20150911_100616

Second; I had no idea Barry Cunningham, the Managing Director, Publisher and kid-lit genius, would write a little blurb on the inside. Wow, so exciting! I posted this on Facebook.Impossible Clue Proofs

But what’s this? In the blurb, oh my, is that a typo? (I’ve had quite a few eagle-eyed readers point this out.)

Yes, yes it is.

These typeset pages are called uncorrected proofs (sometimes page proofs, sometimes galley proofs). They are one last chance for the author (and a proofreader, thank goodness) to fix any mistakes before the book goes to print. This is not the time to rewrite chunks of dialogue or description since the typesetter has spent a lot of time fitting just the right number of words onto each page. But there is space to change anything small or obviously wrong.

And so for the next few days I’ll be rereading my work, looking for misspellings and other mistakes, red pen at the ready, jellybeans by my side. And then it’s back to finishing the next Alice Jones adventure.