Category Archives: teen reads

Crime, taxis, and writing YA novels

Across the world, taxi drivers provide a great service: ferrying people to and from airports and hospitals, driving people home after parties so that they can drink a glass ofTaxi wine or three without worrying about being over the limit, helping – as I have witnessed – old ladies back to their homes after a shopping expedition (and even ensuring the food gets put into the fridge and freezer before they leave). They put up with anti-social hours, reduction in sperm count (so I’m told – it’s all that sitting), and quite a lot of verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse from inebriated passengers.

But there have been a number of articles in the paper recently pointing out the sinister role some taxi drivers have played in serious crime including sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. I was not fully aware of this when I wrote my YA novel, GIRL FRIENDS. In the novel I wanted to convey something shady, sinister, and foreign, with links between nearby towns. Two seedy taxi firms seemed to fit the bill as illustrated by this excerpt about one of them:

Grace takes us away from the main shopping area and down a side road into a more run down part of the town. It’s not late but, with the darkness and a couple of shuttered shops, it looks deserted and I start to feel even more nervous. Grace’s step quickens.  “Hurry up,” she hisses at me, “nearly there.”  She points to a lit up building towards the end of the lane—it looks like a take away of some sort, but I can’t make out the writing above the shop. “But I’m not hungry…” I start to say. “Idiot,” she responds. “I know you’re not, this is where we’re meeting up.”

I see, as we get closer, that it isn’t a pizza take-away any more, but has been taken over by a taxi business. The name across the painted out window is foreign and I don’t have time to take it in. “Grace, I can’t, this isn’t my scene at all,” I almost whimper.  But by this time, she is already going through the door and I feel I can’t leave her now. Besides, I don’t know this part of town, and don’t want to go back on my own. Perhaps we can just have a brief chat with whoever this new boyfriend is, and then head back. The home must have given her a deadline for returning and it can’t be that late on a school day, surely?

Grace pushes the door open, and greets the woman behind the counter.  “Hi Bev.”  Bev looks as if she is in her forties—much older than my mum anyway. She is short, fat and greasy looking, with lank, dyed-blonde hair with dark and grey roots showing at the scalp, and huge eyelashes. Even with the short time I have to take her in I can see that these are false. I feel I should be pleased there is a woman on the premises, but the sight of Bev does not exactly re-assure me. She looks up as Grace strides in and smiles at her. But it’s not a friendly smile, more of a leer. No, I definitely don’t like the look of this Bev person.

“Hallo darling,” she greets Grace with a bored drawl. “Brought your little friend, I see.” She adds, looking me up and down with ill–concealed contempt.  Bev’s accent is thick and foreign. It’s not an accent I recognize—but I’m hopeless at accents, even British ones. She is sitting at a short counter with two phones in front of her. The rest of the small office is bare apart from a couple of tatty chairs and a battered sofa. She has a heater on full blast behind the counter and the air smells stale and stuffy. 

Despite this, I shiver. What on earth has this place got to do with Grace and any date she has set up? Perhaps we are going there by taxi? I turn to question Grace, but she has gone round the counter and is standing next to Bev. Bev looks up at her and smiles again. Again I feel her smile is false and unfriendly, rather than warm and genuine. This time she winks too, one large heavily made up upper eyelash bearing down, then rising again, with difficulty, from the caked lash below. I shiver again.

“They’re in the back,” she says after a short pause. “They’re waiting for you.” Grace nods to her, then turns and gestures for me to follow her. Nothing bad has happened so far, but all my instincts are telling me this is not where I want, or ought, to be. But I don’t want to be on my own either, or to leave Grace at this stage—even if it is her doing that I am here in the first place.

GIRL FRIENDS is narrated by 15 year old Courtney. If you want to find out whether her instincts are sound, and Grace is indeed heading for big trouble, you may like to purchase my book from Amazon.

Girl Friends - cover

 

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

 

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AND ALEX STILL HAS ACNE is free to download 10th and 11th February.

Still short of cash post Christmas and wanting something new to read?

I have just renewed my contract with Solstice for And Alex Still has Acne – a short novel for teenagers about family, friendship, and some of the trials of being a teenager. To celebrate the new contract I am offering the novel as a free download on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th February.

Blurb:And Alex -cover

Life for fourteen year old Alex is OK most of the time. He enjoys school, has a best friend Sam, and a pretty and only mildly irritating younger sister, Nicky. But then Sam starts acting strangely, and so does Nicky – and both insist on sharing secrets with him and making him promise not to tell anyone. Then Nicky goes missing and only Alex feels he knows where to find her. But is Sam anywhere around to help?

Excerpt:

Alex sat silently for several minutes. He had never knowingly broken the law before, apart from cycling on the pavement – but then his mother preferred him to do that than run risks on the road. He didn’t like the idea at all. But Sam was his friend, and he didn’t like to abandon him either. Moreover, despite himself, he felt a tingling of excitement at what Sam was proposing. Anyway, he could never knowingly give up an opportunity for more food these days.

“Where?” Sam knew his friend was not enquiring where his house was, and felt a glow of pleasure that Alex was in on this with him. He too felt a tingle of excitement, plus a mixture of guilt and fear – but not enough of either to stop him. “The One-Stop. It’s big enough to have blind corners and small enough to not have any security.”

“You’ve done this before.” It was a statement rather than a question. Sam nodded. “A couple of times. Tried Waitrose first ‘cos that’s where I knew from Mum shopping there – but security follows you round like you are a criminal or something, so I got out of there quick and tried the OneStop. Easy-peasy there.”

And it was. At least for Sam it was. Alex was amazed at how smoothly Sam sauntered into the shop. Alex felt hot and sweaty as soon as they got inside and started to take his parka off, knocking into the column of trolleys as he did so. Sam and the shop assistant turned to see what the noise was. He felt his face go bright red, which he knew was not a pretty sight against his ginger hair, and shrunk his neck down into his shirt collar as he pushed the trolleys back into a straight line. “Idiot,” hissed Sam. “Where are you going to put the stuff if you’ve taken your coat off?”

“Sorry,” Alex whispered back, pulling his coat back over his shoulders, shrinking down further into his collar, and picking up a basket as nonchalantly as he could. He couldn’t help feeling furtive as he looked around him, and he took a sharp intake of breath as his eye caught the poster by the baskets: ‘NO SHOPLIFTING – WE ALWAYS PROSECUTE!’ He stopped in his tracks, the basket dangling loosely on his arm.

“Idiot,” Sam hissed again, and made to take the basket off him. Then he re-considered.  “No. Keep the basket; I’ve got a better idea for you. Take this money …” – Sam handed over the 60p left from the McDonald’s bill – “… and go round the shop to see if you can buy anything with it, then meet me outside.”

Alex nodded. He could see he was going to be a liability if he stuck with his friend. He was also relieved that he was no longer involved, so couldn’t be prosecuted. That he was now acting as a decoy to distract the sole sales assistant’s attention, so in effect aiding and abetting the commission of a crime, didn’t occur to him.

They met up again just round the corner from the shop. Alex held out a packet of chewing gum and 2p. Sam opened his parka and revealed a packet of bacon, a twin pack of sausage rolls, two jelly trifles and a bag of satsumas. Alex gaped.  “How the heck did you manage all that?”

“Not too bad today. I just grabbed stuff out of the chilled section whilst the assistant was watching you didn’t nick anything in the sweets section, and picked the fruit up by the door on the way out. She just assumed I was with you – even gave me a smile!” “Well …” Alex was speechless for a minute. “I still don’t think it’s right.”

“No? Well you try going hungry for a couple of days and see how it feels. I used to feel like you – still do most of the time – but things are a bit different now. Anyway I only nick what I need to eat; only this time I’ve nicked stuff for you too. So you’re going to have to come home with me now.”

Alex knew there was some faulty logic in this, but he was partly too impressed, partly too loyal, to say any more. He just followed his friend meekly down the road and back to his house.

Links:

 

 

Download GIRL FRIENDS for free this weekend!

This weekend (Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th January) my YA novel for mid-teenagers isGirl Friends - cover on a special promotion on Amazon, and can be downloaded for free. As you can imagine from the title, it centres round two girls (Courtney and Grace) who are friends. There’s quite a lot of humour, a potential boyfriend, and a fast paced sub plot. The book also tackles some difficult and topical social issues – like child sexual exploitation. A number of people who have read it have described it as a ‘must read’ for all teenage girls. Admittedly this has mainly come from teachers and parents – but don’t let that put you off!

Excerpt from Girl Friends

If a look could kill, Grace gives me one then, so I shut up. I think briefly about her mother living now in a special hospital for the criminally insane and wonder if Grace misses her: whether it is better to have a mad mum like she has or a sad apology for a mum like mine. Who knows? Who cares anyway—it seems we’re more or less in the same boat.

The tense moment passes. I look across at Grace and she winks and gives a small smile. I smile back and feel my whole body relax. It’s great to have someone in your life who knows almost everything about you and understands. I hope in some way it is the same for her. We drink our coffee in reasonably companionable silence. It’s pretty dark outside by the time we’re down to the last dregs.

Grace looks at her watch—I notice for the first time that it is new. A new alertness comes over her. She digs into her bag and gets out her make-up—peering into the mirror to touch up an already flawless face. She looks across at me.

“Oh, Cor, you do look a mess. Here.”  She starts to lay about me with the powder.

“What the…? Heh, get off.”  I pull away but she has grabbed me firmly and continues to powder my nose. Then she releases me and sits back.

“Well that’s sorted the greasy shine. Now for the eyes.”

“No, Grace, lay off. I don’t really go for much make–up.”

“Time you did,” she retorts, advancing on me with eyeliner. “I’ve bought you your tea, remember, so you do as I say.” That’s true, so I sigh and let her get on with it, even allowing her to re-style my hair, pulling some bits across my face, and pushing other bits behind my ears. Across the restaurant, I see the lads behind the counter looking at us. Surely it must be against company rules to use the dining area as a beauty parlour and one of them will come across and throw us out. But it’s not busy and they are just laughing, enjoying the show. Eventually she is finished and stands up to look at me from all angles.

“Mm, not too bad.” She is obviously pleased with her work. “You should wear a tighter top.”  She pulls at mine from behind and then looks round at the front, before sighing and letting it hang loose again.  “But first, you will need to get yourself a proper bra—that one is doing nothing for you—it must be a least one size too big—and the cups are too small—so you’re just all saggy.”

“Yeh, well, it’s an old one of Mum’s that she’s got too fat for,” I reply.

“Why am I not surprised?” Grace rolls her eyes. “Time you thought about yourself a bit,” she adds reprovingly. “You’ve got to make the most of your assets— use them or lose them as they say.”

It is news to me I have any assets worth making anything off in that department and I pull away from her, embarrassed. “I’m off to the loo,” I say, heading that way as I speak.

When I wash my hands, I catch sight of myself in the mirror. At first I don’t realise it is me—just someone with the same baggy top. The face is quite different; harder, older, more sassy and, I peer more closely, definitely more sexy. Not the Courtney I have known and lived with for nearly sixteen years, but I’m not displeased. I’ll go along with this face this evening anyway, if only to please Grace. I can get back to the real me tomorrow. So, apart from a bit of poking around with my hair, and a small wipe at my eyes to get rid of some of the purple shadow Grace had selected for me, I leave it all intact and return to the dining area.

Grace is standing by the door when I return, reading a text on her phone—not her usual old Nokia, but a new one I haven’t seen before. She looks excited—agitated even.

“Come on,” she says as soon as I reach her. “We’re on a date.”

Links:

GIRL FRIENDS was released by Solstice publishing in 2016 and is available in print and as an e-book.

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K. C. Sprayberry has a new book out!

Today my blog is all about about the latest offering from the multi genre American author, K.C. Sprayberry …

kathi1

Welcome to the release of a brand new psychological thriller from K.C. Sprayberry. Kathi2Thunder & Lightning is a new adult story suitable for mature young adult readers. It explores the dark world of false rape allegations, how they destroy lives, and leave people wondering what is right and what is wrong.

https://bookgoodies.com/a/B0788WD4QW

Blurb: The gridiron rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Auburn Tigers runs deep. Auburn has a knack of ruining Georgia’s perfect season at the worst possible moment…    The same can be said about Tarit ‘Lightning’ Berenson and his twin, Taren ‘Thunder’ Berenson. Tarit’s a running back for the Dawgs; his speed is legendary. Taren prefers online gaming; her skills are awesome.

Brad Weaver seeks justice for those falsely accused. He’s attempting to make up for his brother’s false arrest and subsequent “suicide” that evidence points to being a murder. Yet, proof of someone else’s involvement is hard to come by and he’s soon running at full speed to rescue Tarit from the same fate.

It all begins at a game, a win and revenge against a tough rival for University of Georgia Bulldogs.

“Dawgs, this is for you!”

Tarit’s words set up a mighty cheer on the night of the SEC Championship football game. His rejection of a girl’s advances at a party later that night turns the last half of his senior year of college into a nightmare without end.

Taren does her best to help her twin despite a lack of support from everyone, even their own parents. Her allegiance to him never wavers, nor does she stop searching for answers no matter what she has to do.

Time is running out…

Evidence mounts against him…

Until Taren makes a startling discovery…

Is it too late to save Tarit?

Excerpt

“We’re in the last quarter of the SEC final game of this season.” The announcer’s voice is barely audible over the roar of the crowd. “Tarit ‘Lightning’ Berenson prepares to receive the ball. Auburn’s Tigers are all over this talented running back, ready to stop him. But nothing has stopped Tarit all season. Will tonight be when ‘Lightning’ learns he’s not invincible?”

The voices echo in my head, reminding me the night that should have been my greatest triumph. The memory is the only thing I have left of what was once a stellar college career. Since the after-game party, when I turned down her advances and walked away alone, I’ve had to justify my every action. Juliana Mullins has been treated like a queen, given all kinds of sympathy and brought horror to my family.

“What can I do to stop this?”

About K.C. Sprayberry kathi3

Born and raised in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin, K.C. Sprayberry spent years traveling the United States and Europe while in the Air Force before settling in northwest Georgia. A new empty nester with her husband of more than twenty years, she spends her days figuring out new ways to torment her characters and coming up with innovative tales from the South and beyond.

She’s a multi-genre author who comes up with ideas from the strangest sources. Those who know her best will tell you that nothing is safe or sacred when she is observing real life. In fact, she considers any situation she witnesses as fair game when plotting a new story.

Find out more about her books at these social media sites:

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Are all book reviews equal?

I’ve been reading quite a lot about book reviews in various Facebook groups recently. One theme has been that even bad reviews can help sell your book. (I believe that JK Rowling has more one star reviews than any other writer, and they certainly don’t seem to have held her sales back).

To date I’ve only had a single one star review – for an anthology in which I had a short story (Mary’s Christmas in Festive Treats): festive-treats

Mary’s Christmas by Margaret Egrot relates the highly boring Christmas of an OAP in a nameless British town. Nothing of note happens. It is related in excruciating detail.

This review came straight after a much more upbeat one for the whole anthology, in which my story was again singled out:

Some of the stories are moving and heart-warming. The story of Mary’s lone Christmas, standing above the rest in the bunch, I feared another outcome, which is testament to the cleverness of how the author made the story unfurl, the resolution made me joyously happy! Margaret Egrot has written a truly beautiful story.

Just goes to show you can’t please everybody.

Despite (because?) attracting the full range of star ratings, Festive Treats has almost never been out of the Amazon best seller list – though the fact that it is free as an e-book might help!

One of my favourite ‘critical’ reviews was for my first YA novel, And Alex Still Has And Alex -coverAcne. The young reviewer hadn’t much liked the book, because she didn’t like books about topics covered by the celebrated author, Jacqueline Wilson. As many readers do though (including me) I was quite chuffed:

The book certainly shows the author’s understanding of the idiosyncratic problems which certain young people today (often described in the novels of Jacqueline Wilson) have to deal with.

Whether one star reviews boost sales or not, it is still re-assuring for an author to get a good first review after a book is published. So you can imagine I was delighted to get the following five star review last week for Cast Off, my recently released collection of short stories based on female characters in Shakespeare’s plays:

One word for this short story anthology? Original. Certainly an odd descriptor for a Cast Offcollection of tales based on the characters in another’s works, but Mrs. Egrot weaves intriguing story lines utilizing some of Shakespeare lesser known supporting characters, and spin-offs from his heroines. My favorite two? “Time Out of Mind” affected me on an emotional level, and “Ban! Ban! Cacaliban” left me wanting more. Each story stands alone on its own merit. If you’ve never even heard of the bard, and you were born in a cave and raised by wolves, you will find a tale here to fall in love with. Thoroughly enjoyed.

On balance, whatever they say about the merits of one star reviews, vis-a-vis five star ones, I know which I prefer for a first review!

All the stories mentioned are available from my Amazon author pages:

All but Festive Treats are also available from Solstice Publishing.

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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Meet Author M. A. Cortez

Next up in my intermittent series of author interviews this summer, is YA author M. A. Cortez. Welcome Mary Ann!

mary Ann 3What is the title of your latest book? (In a nutshell what is it about?)

Sister Sleuths and The Wailing Darkness is book two of the YA Sister Sleuth series. Teen twins Sam and Sandy find themselves in the middle of a mystery when a banshee shows up in town just about the same time as new exchange student Darcy O’Sullivan. One of the twins, Sam, is on the spectrum and has a heightened sensitivity to beings in the spiritual realm. She becomes obsessed with the notion that the banshee’s prediction of death could include one of their own. But neither twin expect the twists and turns their lives take after the arrival of the banshee.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding? The most challenging part of being a writer, for me, is working through the middle of my stories. I know in my head what I want to happen but getting from point A to B and still keeping the story strong can be a challenge. I go through several drafts before I find something that works. Also, just getting myself to write every day is a huge challenge. I get distracted easily and before I know it the day is over and I haven’t written a word. Most rewarding, finishing a story and creating characters that people fall in love with.

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer?

NEVER give up. Keep writing, and reading. Reading is just as important to your writing as putting your own words down on paper. Also, take time every day to move forward toward your dream.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have several projects in the works including a few picture books but the third book in the Sister Sleuths series is at the top of my list at the moment.

What do you like to read?  

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I read a lot of YA mysteries. I also love biographies.

Where can readers find you ?  

https://twitter.com/@maryanncortez16

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMaryAnnCortez

https://itsthewriteplace.blogspot.com

Instagram@ Bookwormyxoxo

http://mybook.to/DoubleExposure

http://getbook.at/GraceatChristmas Sister Sleuths-001

http://getbook.at/Moondance

http://getbook.at/SisterSleuthsandTheShadowman

getBook.at/SisterSleuthsandTheWailingDarkness

 

 

Watch the trailer:

 

 

 

 

Happy Everybody Reads YA.

Hello, and welcome to another ‘Happy Everybody reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare.

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my first YA novel, And Alex Still Has Acne. But first I’m sharing an excerpt from a review written by a YA reader.

‘The book certainly shows the author’s understanding of the idiosyncratic problems which certain young people today (often described in the novels of Jacqueline Wilson) have to deal with.’

I love the reference to Jacqueline Wilson regarding my book, as I am a huge admirer of her work. And Alex …, like my other YA novel, Girl Friends, does indeed tackle some of the issues she writes about so brilliantly. I have learnt a lot from her, though I write for a slightly older age-group.

Excerpt:

And Alex -coverSam was dog tired. He looked at his watch. Still only 9.30pm, but it felt like the middle of the night. He got up and went into the front room to look again at his mother. She was sleeping just as he’d left her. Clearly she was not going to wake up this side of midnight, so there was no point staying up to talk to her. They would have to have a chat tomorrow. But what about exactly? He tried a few opening gambits: “Hi Mum, are you turning into an alcoholic?” “Mum, I’ve been doing a bit of shoplifting recently; on account of you never getting me any food.” “Mum, are you ill?” “Why have you and Dad split up?” “Don’t either of you care about me anymore?” None of these questions seemed right, though they were all ones he wanted answers to, especially the last, although he was a bit ashamed to admit this – even to himself. He was fourteen going on fifteen after all.

Blurb: Life for fourteen year old Alex is OK most of the time. He enjoys school, has a best friend Sam, and a pretty and only mildly irritating younger sister, Nicky. But then Sam starts acting strangely, and so does Nicky – and both insist on sharing secrets with him and making him promise not to tell anyone. Then Nicky goes missing and only Alex feels he knows where to find her. But is Sam anywhere around to help?

Links:

And Alex Still Has Acne

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Reading from And Alex Still Has Acne at a book launch.

http://www.bookgoodies.com/a/B00RU1Y0G

myBook.to/AndAlexStillHasAcne

Girl Friends

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

 Amazon Author Pages

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO