Monday, 3 November 2014

Crash Course V

Welcome to the final Crash Course entry! You're almost ready for The Mime Order. This week we're taking a gander at the planes of being, or planes of existence: Earth, Netherworld, the æther, the outer darkness and the last light. These five planes make up the wider cosmology of The Bone Season series' universe. Again, please note that this is not a comprehensive description of the cosmology – it only covers what has already been covered in the series, with a few tidbits of extra information.

The ethereal threshold
First, you'll need to be familiar with an important concept described by Nashira in The Bone Season, which is called the ethereal threshold. In the world of the series, you have a choice when you die. You can either go straight to the last light a final death or you can hang around in the æther, where you can still be used and contacted by clairvoyants. If you hang around, you become known as a drifter. The problem is that your presence affects the ethereal threshold. The more spirits linger after death, the higher the threshold gets. This, in turn, affects the natural order of the five planes, and things start to go wrong.

 Diagram of the five planes


EARTH is the world in which the majority of The Bone Season takes place, also known as the corporeal world, the physical world or, in voyant slang, meatspace. Simply put, it's where you are now: the domain of human beings and other mortal life forms. By the year 2059, Earth's dominant political entities are the ever-growing Scion empire, led by the Republic of Scion England, and those countries that are not part of it, collectively called "the free world", which lack clear leadership. Earth is currently afflicted by a large number of problems, including wars between free world countries and rising sea levels. 

Clairvoyant humans are unique among Earth's inhabitants in that they have a link to another plane – the æther – via aura. This means that they can interact with the æther while they are still alive. Sometimes spirits in the æther, such as poltergeists, can make an impact on physical objects and inhabitants of Earth. Since the breaking of the ethereal threshold, Earth has also been exposed to the Netherworld via small portals called cold spots, which have allowed the Netherworld's residents, the Rephaim and the Emim, to cross over and inhabit its cities.

The dreamscape is sometimes classified as part of Earth and sometimes as its own plane, depending on preference. 


NETHERWORLD, also known as She'ol (from Hebrew שְׁאוֹל) and occasionally the half-realm, is the midway point between Earth and the æther, the living and the dead. Its original purpose was to act as a "limbo" for spirits to come to terms with death and prepare for the journey to the last light, but it has long since fallen into decay. Its inhabitants, the Rephaim and Emim, began to cross over to Earth in 1859, when the ethereal threshold reached its highest ever point in history. There, they occupied the city of Oxford, which they renamed Sheol I.

Very little is currently known about the Netherworld. 


THE ÆTHER is the spirit world, known by Scion as the Source. The word comes from the Greek αἰθήρ, referring to the essence breathed by the gods. Originally set apart from the physical world, it now flows through and around it. The spirits of the dead exist in the æther, but they can also be used and contacted by clairvoyant humans on Earth. The adjective given to things relating to the æther is ethereal (e.g. ethereal threshold, ethereal batteries).

Clairvoyants are linked to the æther via aura. Aura plugs a voyant in to the æther's energy, allowing them to access and channel it in various ways. However, only one kind of voyant the rare dreamwalker  can actually enter the æther in spirit form. 

Outer darkness

THE OUTER DARKNESS, while technically part of the æther, is often considered a separate realm. The phrase is taken from the Gospel of Matthew. It is a distant reach of the æther, very close to the last light, where spirits can no longer be reached by voyants. Spirits that travel to the outer darkness may be able to return, but it is thought to take a great deal of energy to call them back.

Spirits can be sent to the outer darkness with the threnody, a series of words uttered after death. It is often considered a mercy, as the spirit will no longer be tormented, but it may also be performed against the spirit's will. 

Last light
THE LAST LIGHT is a gateway at the farthest reach of the æther, just beyond the outer darkness. It is generally agreed that it leads to a final death from which there is no return. As nobody has ever come back from the last light, next to nothing is known about it.  

I really hope you've enjoyed these Crash Courses and found them helpful. I'll also be posting a list of the characters to refresh your memory a bit closer to Book 2's publication in January.

In other news, I got a lovely review for The Mime Order today from Publishers Weekly! I'm thrilled. (Warning for minor spoilers.)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Why Adult?

This morning, I answered a question on Tumblr about what factors contributed to The Bone Season being classified as Adult, rather than Young Adult (YA), which I thought I'd answer here as well as there. I often get asked about the target audience for The Bone Season. Is it YA or Adult? Who did I have in mind when I wrote it? It's officially classified as Adult by Bloomsbury, although many of its translations are labelled as YA, as was decided by the publishing houses in foreign territories. In a time when "crossover" books are becoming more and more common, how is an age range decided? 

There were a number of reasons for The Bone Season being classified as Adult. The primary reason is that when my agent was first sending out the manuscript, he sent it to the commissioning editor of the Adult division of Bloomsbury, who fell in love with the book and made an offer on it almost immediately therefore, it was always dealt with by that editor and the Adult division. There was never much discussion of it going to the YA section of the house.

Secondly, Paige is nineteen and is only going to get older, which pushes her out of the traditional age range of YA protagonists, who tend to be between 15 and 18. The vast majority of the characters  Liss, Julian, Nick, Jaxon, Eliza, literally almost everyone (except for a few secondary characters like Seb and Carl)  are well out of their teens in the first book, and, like Paige, will only get older as the series progresses. So it seems to fit better in Adult than YA. There’s more of a focus on the problems encountered by adults than there is on problems encountered by teenagers.

Finally, I wasn’t personally comfortable with the book being labelled as a “children’s book”. YA tends to be seen as a part of the Children’s division of most publishing houses  for example, Bloomsbury has Adult, then “YA and Kids”, which covers YA, MG and picture books. Although the first book is reasonably tame, the Bone Season series is likely to get more violent and sexual as it progresses, and I didn’t want to have to dial down the essential character of the series to squeeze it into the parameters of YA. I especially didn’t want to tone down Paige’s natural voice, which tends to be littered with swearing. The world of The Bone Season is dark and brutal, period. YA is much grittier nowadays, and few subjects are taboo, but I felt it would be inappropriate and misleading for the book to be labelled as a kids’ book.

At the end of the day, YA, Adult, MG and so on are just words. I have spoken before about my belief that nobody should be judged for reading books they enjoy, whatever the category. I know that many readers of The Bone Season are either young adults themselves or keen fans of YA, and that’s fine I love that it doesn’t fit neatly into one genre or age range, and I’m proud when it’s described as a book with crossover appeal but I feel the Adult label is the one that reflects its content best.

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Just a note to say that Bloomsbury are running a Bone Season readalong, starting tomorrow. This is a great opportunity to read the book for the first time and discuss it with other Goodreads users, or re-read before The Mime Order. You can join in here.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

How to let it go

This is one aspect of the book-creation process that I haven't covered in detail yet, and that's letting your book go. Letting it go to the press and knowing that you'll never get to change it again. Letting it go out into the world, into the hands of readers. And I'm going to be brutally honest: it can be hard. It can be emotional. It can be less nerve-racking than nerve-destroying.

I've done this twice now, and I've decided that letting go of a manuscript is my least favourite part of writing and publishing a book (except finding an error after the book's gone to press, which is the highest of all authorial agonies). It should be the most exciting, and in many ways it is exciting – there's something liberating about being unable to edit the manuscript any longer, to know that it's now in someone else's capable hands – but I only ever remember this in retrospect. Despite making promises to myself that I wouldn't worry so much, I've still found it tough the second time round. I haven't been sleeping well for the last few days. I feel sick with nerves and my mind tick-tocks like a pocket watch, dwelling on every sentence and simile, every name and description and snippet of dialogue. The devils in the details start to haunt me. Did I repeat that image twice? Did I get that date wrong? I flick through the ARC until it's bruised with fingerprints: studying it, eyes peeled for errors. My fingers twitch over my keyboard, half-writing an email to my editor to ask yet again, cringing with embarrassment, if she can make a 'final' tweak. Then, er, another 'final' tweak. Maybe one more? I had to do this only yesterday night, as it turns out I'd made a transliteration error in the manuscript that I needed changed to preserve the meaning of a Rephaite family name. 

As it creeps towards the time when the book needs to go to the printer, it becomes more and more difficult for the editor to take last-minute changes in, and the likelihood that mistakes will be made in the typesetting – typos, gaps, random capital letters – becomes much higher. The manuscript keeps getting passed back and forth between the editor and the typesetter (each version is called a "pass", e.g. "2nd pass"), and making too many small changes means more passes and greater opportunity for error. Fortunately, I have a brilliant editor who takes in as many changes as she can at the eleventh hour but sooner or later, the book must be printed so it can hit the shelves on publication day.

Last year, this part of the process, coupled with my looming Finals, set off a period of severe anxiety and insomnia that left me curled up on the floor in tears during the day and wide awake, trembling with fear, during the night. Those nights were spent in a state of rigid, heart-pounding panic; for all I tried, I couldn't shift my body out of its 'fight or flight' mode. Eventually it reached boiling point. I was getting no work or revision done, and I made the decision to remove myself from college for a few days. Letting go of The Mime Order, while it hasn't been nearly as difficult, has still been the hardest part of the Book 2 process so far.

Once the book goes to the printer, it becomes a fixed object. The word petrified is probably appropriate. Before that, it was a fluid, moving text; a work in progress. An error in the ARC is annoying, as you know that some readers may see it and raise an eyebrow, but it can still be changed for the final, published version. Small errors in the hardback can be corrected for the paperback, but it's pretty final after that. Finality is frightening. I've found that moving on to the next book quickly can help alleviate the panic – it gives the sense that I'm in control again – but even then, I keep glancing back at the previous manuscript, and my brain keeps tick-tocking, searching like a radar for new things to worry about. A fresh wave of panic arrives when I actually get a finished copy. Holding the book for the first time is an incredible experience – there is really nothing like it – but once I actually begin to read my own work in its final form, more worry sets in. Hours pass. Repeated reading, quadruple-checking for typos and mistakes I might have missed the first four hundred times I read the manuscript. With The Bone Season, it took a long time before I could read the hardback without little spasms shooting through my gut and cold prickles dancing up and down my arms.      

Fortunately, I haven't needed or wanted to make quite so many changes to The Mime Order. This time I won't be frightened of getting the finished copy. I'll be proud – and yes, a little nervous. But I won't be quite so terrified. I try to remember that even though the printed text is static, the book is still fluid in the minds of its readers. Ice is still made up of water. Each reader looks at the story differently; each seeks out their own themes and meanings and draws their own conclusions. The author puts the object out there and it comes to life. That's why, even when a reader hasn't enjoyed one of my books, I love the huge range of responses I get. They remind me that, because of those readers, a story is never just 'finished'. And I think it will get easier and easier to remember that as I write more of them.

(PS: Thank you so much to Salim and Fatema for helping me correct aforementioned transliteration error yesterday. Luckily, that's one error I can still correct!)

Friday, 10 October 2014

World Mental Health Day

Today is 10 October, which means it’s World Mental Health Day 2014. Today, we raise awareness of what mental health means, how we handle it, and how we fight the insidious, silent illnesses that take so many lives around the world. I believe that talking about mental health is a step towards dispelling the uncertainty around it, so today I’m going to do that.

First and foremost, you are not alone. In the UK, around 25% of people will experience problems with their mental health over the course of a year.

We often assume that because an illness is invisible, it doesn’t exist. Or that it can be brushed off, or that a sufferer can “pull themselves together”. To find yourself suffering from such an illness is terrifying for a number of reasons: [a] because you might not know what’s happening to you, or why; [b] because of what the illness does to you, and [c] because we, as a society, do not consider mental health to be as urgent and important as our physical health.

Never assume that someone isn’t fighting a private battle with their mental health. No matter how happy they seem; how charmed their life appears. Even if they’re famous and all their dreams have come true and you think that they can want for nothing in the world. Even if they can smile and laugh and dance, even if they can project an enormous personality while they’re in public, never assume that their illness isn’t with them through every waking moment, eating away at their self-confidence, telling them that they don’t deserve this. That they’ll lose it. That none of the people in the room actually want them in it. Never assume that it doesn’t stop them sleeping. Or eating. Or concentrating on anything but fear. Mental health disorders, like any illness, know no rhyme or reason.

Not knowing much about mental health is okay. It doesn’t make you ignorant. Schools don’t always teach it; myths are seen as fact and perpetrated. But you don’t have to be an expert to help end the stigma. If someone speaks to you about their mental health, don’t think it’s for attention. It’s an act of enormous, and I mean enormous courage. Such illnesses can easily convince a sufferer that they should continue to fight their battle in silence. They may think that if they speak out, something terrible will happen. They may think that they’ll be judged, or that they’re being weak, or that their pain will be a burden on their friends and family. They may be worried that their fears and anxieties will sound ridiculous. Even if you don’t feel like you can do much for a friend who is struggling with their mental health – even if it’s frustrating and you feel powerless in the face of it – just listening and not judging can be a big help. What’s important is to make sure they have someone there for them, even if it can’t always be you.

You don’t have to be silent to be strong. Too often in our society we equate silence with strength; the “Keep calm and carry on” mentality. Talking doesn’t make you weak. Breaking the silence around mental health isn’t easy, even to loved ones – trust me, it could be one of the hardest things you ever do – but it would be a lot easier if we could break the stigma.

Start by being kind to yourself and to others. You’ll be helping a lot more than you think.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Crash Course IV

Art (c) Leiana Leatutufu
The Mime Order is already making its way into readers' hands, so today I present to you the penultimate Crash Course blog. There will be one more after this on the "planes of being" in The Bone Season – the divisions and differences between the spirit world, physical world, and Netherworld – but today, we're talking about spooling and spirit combat.


A spool is a group of at least two spirits. The word can be used as a noun (a spool of spirits) or a verb (to spool spirits, i.e. to create a group of them).

All voyants have the natural ability to create spools, though some are better at the art than others. Rephaim can create much larger, stronger spools than human clairvoyants can. When beckoned, the spirits "plug in" to the voyant's aura and gravitate towards it. They will automatically attempt to defend this voyant if they come to harm. Spirits have to be relatively close to a voyant to be spooled, unless that voyant is a summoner, a kind of guardian. Summoners can summon spirits from wherever they please. 

Spooling becomes more difficult in certain situations, and some spirits work better in spools than others. For example, it's almost impossible to create a spool in the presence of an Emite, as spirits flee from them and have no interest in going anywhere near them. A ghost – a spirit that resides near a certain place, called its "haunt" – will only be happy in a spool if it's near its point of origin. If you take it too far away, it will become irritated and uncooperative. Eventually, it will violently pull away from the spool, breaking it apart and scattering all of the spirits a voyant has gathered. 

It is extremely rare for a voyant to be able to spool a breacher, though it is thought in some circles to be possible. Paige first sees a voyant with a spool of poltergeists when she's on the train at the beginning of The Bone Season. Few voyants would have the courage to attempt it. Breachers, the strongest of all spirits, can have some impact on the physical world. Archangels and poltergeists are both classified as breachers, with the poltergeist being considered the most dangerous. They will not work well in spools with lower-level spirits, or even with each other. Such spirits are generally used individually. 

Spirit combat

When a voyant is faced with a dangerous situation, they can use spirits – either individually or in spools – to defend themselves. Some voyants will always keep a spool nearby as a means of protection. Spirits in a spool will automatically defend the voyant whose aura they are plugged into. They do this by attacking an enemy dreamscape, filling it with memories from the spirit's mortal life. As Paige notes in The Bone Season, it's best to grab spirits that have lived violent lives, as the images they create will be all the more unsettling and disturbing for the person they're attacking.

Not all spirits will defend voyants automatically (though they will generally side with humans over Rephaim, as they were human once), but in a spool, they are obliged to do the best they can. 

Here are the spirit types we've already heard about in The Bone Season (and I've added one that appears in The Mime Order). I'm hoping I'll be able to get you guys a more detailed document on spirit types later in the series, when I write out Jaxon Hall's pamphlet On the Machinations of the Itinerant Dead.

  • Archangel: A powerful form of guardian angel that has remained with one family for several generations. Breacher.
  • Boundling: These spirits make their debut appearance in The Mime Order. They are spirits that have been captured by a binder. Sometimes compared to guardian angels, they are more aggressive than defensive, obeying a binder's commands rather than acting automatically to defend him or her from harm. They can change the appearance of a clairvoyant's dreamscape. They can only be spooled by their binder.
  • Drifter: A general term for spirits that voyants can use; the spirits of people who fear death too much to succumb to their second death in the "last light" (see the next Crash Course entry). Low-level, good for spooling. 
  • Fallen angel: These are spirits that have been killed, then forced to defend their murderer. Nashira Sargas controls several fallen angels. Precisely how they are bound is unknown. They are a "dark" form of guardian angel and behave in a very similar fashion. 
  • Ghost: A spirit that sticks to a particular place, usually the place where it died. Moving a ghost from its "haunt" will annoy it.
  • Guardian angel: The spirit of a person that has died to protect someone else. They remain with that person and continue protecting them. They will respond with extreme aggression if their charge is threatened.
  • Poltergeist: The most feared of all spirit types, the poltergeist is a breacher that can leave physical wounds, which can hurt for the rest of a person's life if the poltergeist wills it. Poltergeists usually died violently, or have a vendetta that remains unfulfilled. Amaranth is known to allay the pain of a poltergeist's mark.   

It is possible, if rare, for a spirit to fall into two categories. For example, Nashira controls a fallen angel that is also a poltergeist. 

All of these spirits have slightly different ways of engaging in spirit combat. Ghosts and drifters will simply fire off memories into the enemy dreamscape, while poltergeists will slice and archangels will throw and unbalance a foe. Guardian angels are not breachers, but they can cause tremendous damage to a voyant's dreamscape.

A spirit can be banished to the outer darkness a place in the aether that lies beyond the reach of voyants if the threnody is uttered. Banishment requires knowledge of the spirit's name, but chanting the rest of the threnody will still weaken and distract a spirit to the point that they may not be able to defend their "host" voyant. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

On my reading level

On Twitter yesterday, I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about the latest article that implies that adults shouldn’t be reading YA books. On this occasion it wasn’t an entire article devoted to that cause, but part of an author’s interview with MinnPost. The author was asked what she thought of Ruth Graham’s famous article “Against YA,” which suggested, like so many articles, that adults should be embarrassed to read books written for people younger than they are. Her response was this:

I don’t understand why adults like to read books written for children. I said that on the air the other day. That’s going to upset people… you’re missing out on some really great stuff written for you as an adult. People come back and say, “But at least you’re reading something.” Well, I don’t think that’s justification enough. I think you ought to be reading at your level.
This author is entitled to her opinion and entitled to state it in response to a question. She’s also right to note that her opinion may upset people, as opinions so often do.

I’m not upset. I am, however, more than a little puzzled.

How can I identify my “reading level”?

Is there a test I can do to work it out? I’m turning twenty-three this November. Am I still all right to read Young Adult fiction, or am I now considered far too old for it? (If so, you can pry The Hunger Games and Throne of Glassfrom my cold, too-old hands, thank you very much.) The ALA defines Young Adult as being aimed at readers of twelve to eighteen years of age. This means I am now half a decade too old for these books.

When I turned nineteen, did an entire genre really get boxed off for ever? Did I lose the ability to comprehend all the wonderful stories that had kept me company through the tumultuous years of becoming an adult? Did I forget the emotions, the experiences, the memories of a whole decade of my life?

At twenty-three, will I still be considered too young for books about people in their thirties and forties, or written by people in their thirties and forties?

Where do I, at twenty-three, fit in to this spectrum?

Can I only read books within the New Adult genre, which are aimed at eighteen to twenty-five year-olds?

Perhaps it isn’t about age. Perhaps that isn’t what the quote is saying. Surely it wouldn’t make sense for me to restrict myself to that one genre, which was only created in 2009. (What did we do before that?) Is your reading level based on your education? Your upbringing? How many books your parents had in the house as you grew up?


Perhaps I’ve misunderstood. Perhaps your ability to enjoy a book is based on life experience. I’ve never been married or divorced or had children. I’ve never had cancer or held a sword or solved a crime or lived in a city other than London. Will I fail to understand or connect with books that present me with characters who have led very different lives to mine?


Will I fail to understand a story about a teenager  even though I was one once?

Did I lose the ability to recognise a stage of life I’ve left behind?


Everyone has the right to read the books they enjoy. If adults would prefer not to read books about teenagers, power to them. There are piles of brilliant books out there that are written for adults, waiting to be discovered. But to suggest that adults should no longer connect with stories written by, or about young people  can’t read them, as if doing so would trigger an allergic reaction is to dismiss the experience of young people. To cut them off. To suggest that adults must justify reading these books, that they must be embarrassed by it, is to suggest that there is something fundamentally embarrassing about being a teenager. (Which sometimes there is, as all teenagers know  but trust me, the possibility that you might do or say embarrassing things doesn’t go away when you turn twenty.)

We are a society obsessed with retaining and reclaiming our youth the dying of our grey hairs, the editing of our bodies, the petrification of our faces but when it comes to books, that veneration disappears in a puff of smoke. It is one of many contradictions at the heart of modern life. We praise the idea of youth, but invalidate the internal experience of it. Try to look like a young adult, yes, but for God’s sake don’t listen to one. 

Some adults are still listening.

The world can be a dark and daunting place. Now more than ever, it’s tough to get up and turn on the news in the morning, knowing you’ll be hit with a barrage of horror and not much light at the end of the tunnel. And now, after you’ve tried to process all the darkness, you’re more than likely to see an article informing you that, in the midst of all this, you shouldn’t be reading the books you love. These are the books that help you block out all that horror and despair, that help you to make sense of it. These are the books that you read late into the night, the ones you can’t stop reading until the very last page is turned. These are the books that make you love reading. 

Is that justification enough?