Blurbing Kitty

There’s a new book out with my name on the front cover. But it’s not by me.


The first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton

Sometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…

Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?

STARRING KITTY is by Keris Stainton: author of three YA novels, several adult novellas and a hilarious compilation of her sons’ daft musings; journalist; tireless promotor of UKYA via a website which you should all bookmark immediately; extraordinary fundraiser, responsible for raising over £57,000 (!) of donations to the Red Cross via the Authors for the Philippines appeal; official Twitter lovely, and all round quality human being. She’s also, I’m happy to say, my mate.

Which is why me biffing on about how fabulous I think her new book is on the cover might need a little context to mean anything.

Nathan Filer wrote last week in the Guardian about the daftness of cover blurbs. Why did Joe Dunthorne publicly praise The Shock of the Fall? “I think he owed me a favour.” I suspect most readers assume this is the case. UK kidlit and YA is an even smaller world than modern British literary fiction; if you’re asked to blurb someone, you might well have been to the pub with them last week. Readers aren’t dim. All those ‘a heart-rending work of genius and also serious literary merit, with jokes in, and so page-turning!’ phrases might as well have been written by the author’s mum for all the credence anyone gives them.

Not that blurbs are always so effusive. ‘Sure to be a big hit this summer’ sounds a polite, dutiful note. Sometimes the cover placement smacks of something other than conviction.

Who wrote this again?

Who wrote this again?

So why do publishers bother?

Because there are SOOOOOOO MANY BOOKS and letting readers find the one that’s perfect for them gets harder and harder when print review space is shrinking all the time. I do think authors have an idea what a readership wants to know, and an apt choice of blurber can be as useful a ‘this is for me!’ cue as cover design or title.  (Though there are limits to how far this can stretch. Nil points to whoever chose to describe a recent YA as ‘perfect for fans of John Green, Michael Grant and Stephen King’. That’s not a blurb, that’s a bingo card.)

And, speaking for myself, I wouldn’t blurb a book I didn’t like, even for a mate. Especially not for a mate. I enjoy being able to make eye-contact with my friends.

omgcoverWhich brings me back to Keris. I only know her because of books. I saw the cover of her first novel, Della says OMG!, and was immediately curious; my YA blog novel Big Woo!/Serafina67 *urgently requires life* had come out not long before, and I was longing to meet other writers who were doing that internet-in-books thing. It turned out that her Della was not in fact an internet-in-books book at all – but also that she’d read Big Woo! and liked it. Many stupid twitter conversations ensued. I found out we get shouty about lots of the same stuff. We’re both dorks for  Barry Manilow. Our writing style isn’t remotely similar, but we both do ‘this is funny but it’s not a comedy'; we both write about issues without writing ‘issue’ books.

None of which means I’m obliged to like what she writes.

But STARRING KITTY is, truly, a special book that I want to take out dancing. I said a long time ago that I’d love to write a Georgia-Nicolson-esque young teen romance about a girl who liked a girl, but I never did – because it was a book I wanted to read, not write. That’s not what Kitty is, exactly; the family dynamic skews darker and deeper, the humour has a softer tone to let the story in. But that sense that this is a light funny romantic book for everyone, not to be put on a separate shelf and worried about: Kitty has that in spades. I didn’t blurb it because I was asked to. I was lucky enough to see a pre-publication draft, and I sent Keris a sequence of reaction emails overflowing with feels – from which that cover phrase was plucked. Other choice picks from that incisive, erudite correspondence include

I am mush. You have mushed me.


It made me cry four times.

the romance is my totally favourite bit and dude, that is never my totally favourite bit. 

On the beach, in her bedroom, at the festival, at the end – there’s this utterly lovely mix of nerves and natural chemistry and it feels totally real and recognisable, in all the right ways. It’s a romance like any other (all that First Kiss Does She Like Me etc) of any new relationship AND a perfectly pitched first gay thing with all those added moments of Huh? – and that’s exactly what I was longing to read. What leaps off the page is how right they are together

(They should totally have put the ‘mushed’ line on the cover instead, right?)

So, yeah, hands up: I blurbed a book by my friend. But I hope you can tell that I meant it. If you know a 10-14 human who likes things that are good, please give them this book.

I bought my copy from Hive, which supports independent bookstores and home-delivers for free:

For more LGBTQ books for 8-12s, check out my Guardian Top Ten.

Lynda, RIP

This feels strange, but when I have too large feelings I write, because it helps sort them through, and reading facebook memories has helped deal with today, so I sort of think this is ok to share. Even though she’d hate it and it is full of cliches and barely touches the beginning of all there is to say. Sorry.

I’m steamrollered by the news that Lynda Patterson has passed away.

I know I’m not the only one. Lynda was the beating heart of Mansfield College for over a decade. She was that implausible being that eulogies get written about: the ones that everyone loved, a friend to all, wise and kind. Special. But she actually was. And she was 40 years old, and the thought of her being due a eulogy is almost unbearable.

She was something else to so many others: her friends in Dromore, her rebuilt life in New Zealand as Dean of Christchurch Cathedral. We never spoke much about her faith; as with all friendships, especially university ones, there are vast portions of people’s lives you never get to see. But I watched from afar: beaming at her occasional posts online, awed by the construction of that cardboard phoenix, quietly thrilled on her behalf that she had found a new home, and respectful of that choice. I hadn’t spoken to her in years. I planned to catch up, next time she was here. One day, maybe I’d be in New Zealand, and I’d pop round. One day, of course, she’d move back. In years to come, we’d be weird old ladies together.

You think you have time.

I am infuriated with how easy it is to put her into past tense. She’s that friend I knew way back when. The one I’ll see later.

But now there are memories only. They’re bloody good ones, though. Lynda was a riot, a candle to gather round. I remember meeting her for the first time – in the Mansfield foyer, perched on the table swinging her legs with a beanie cap on her head, narrowing her eyes and smiling and shouting,’Pisces?’ at me as I walked into Oxford’s scary hallowed halls for the first time. (She was right. She usually was.) Giddy anticipation, waiting to see The Phantom Menace in Belfast, trying to read each other’s minds in a pub to fill the time. Hours upon hours in Browns, the KA, that tea rooms on Holywell Street, the plodge, PL, talking bollocks the way you can at university – only it was Lynda, so it wasn’t bollocks, it was theosophy and Shakespeare’s histories and impressions of eminent High Tablers. God, she was funny. And clever. I met a lot of clever people at Oxford but she could’ve washed the floor with the lot without even trying, if she’d ever wanted to. I met a lot of clever people at Oxford but few of them were as generous with it.

She was a tutor and Junior Dean too. It was a lot, that job, doing it as whole-heartedly as she did. She was the person I went to at my moment of deepest despair. She was that for a lot of people. Sometimes we fled beloved/suffocating Mansfield together: Cromer in November with the wind knocking us off our feet, just to be away; to Cape Wrath lighthouse, so she could feel as if she was at the edge, the furthest point. She longed for mountains, escape. Eventually, she grabbed it – and, as far as I can see, became that same person to a new community. Maybe who we are is who we are, geography be damned.

I do a similar job to her Junior Dean role now in a boarding school. Today I realise how much of how I conduct myself is drawn from trying to mirror her: that compassionate authority.  She was a stupendously good mate but she taught me so much too. I’m going to cling onto that, I think.

Rest in peace, Lynda.





The PEA’S BOOK OF HOLIDAYS design-a-cover giveaway!

Facing a long drive to get to your summer holiday this year? Or staying home and in need of entertainment? Then this is the competition for you.

Pea's Book of Holidays competition

Up for grabs:

  • a COMPLETE set of unabridged Pea audiobooks, all narrated by the fantastic Claire Morgan: PEA’S BOOK OF BEST FRIENDS, PEA’S BOOK OF BIG DREAMS, PEA’S BOOK OF BIRTHDAYS, PEA’S BOOK OF HOLIDAYS
  • signed bookmarks
  • Pea badges
  • a bag of marshmallows* for you to toast over the campfire

To win – you need to design a brilliant (or brilliantly silly) book cover.

In PEA’S BOOK OF HOLIDAYS, Pea’s sister Tink gets fed up with Enid Blyton’s boring book titles.


So Pea suggests that Tink writes her own.

Tink 2

To enter the giveaway, you need to create a book cover of your own – either for one of Tink’s funny titles, or one you’ve made up yourself. Here are some I made up:

IMAG0293 copy

How to make your book cover:

  1. Pea giveaway samples 2Fold a piece of card or paper in half.
  2. Think of a title. It can be a real Enid Blyton book, one of Tink’s ideas, or an imaginary book of your own. You can make it serious or silly – that’s up to you.
  3. Design your cover! You might like to look at this amazing collection of Famous Five covers over the years for inspiration. You could draw your own artwork, use a computer, or cut words and pictures out of old magazines: just make it eye-catching!

If you like, you can add a blurb to the back cover.

blurb sample

How to enter:


  • Post your entry to Susie Day (competition), c/o Jasmine Joynson, RHCP, 61-63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA

or (if you want to keep your book cover)

  • Remember to include your name, age, email address and UK/Ireland postal address
  • If you are under 14, you must obtain permission from a parent or guardian to enter

Teachers: if you would like to use this as a KS2 class activity, you can download it as a PDF here:Design a Cover PDF

 Closing date for entries: Monday 28th July 2014

Good luck!

Pea's Book of Holidays competition

* I love marshmallows, but I know lots of people can’t eat them for various reasons. If you’re the lucky winner, you’ll have the option to pick an alternative.



Full terms and conditions:

1. Open to UK and Ireland residents who enter the competition before the closing date. 2. The prize will consist of 4 audiobooks, 3 bookmarks, 4 badges and one bag of sweets. 3. The closing date for receipt of entries is Monday 28th July 2014. The winner will be notified by email. If contact cannot be made within two weeks of the decision being made, a second draw will take place. 4. No purchase necessary to enter. 5. Only one entry per person. Schools, libraries etc may make a bulk submission of multiple entries. 6. Entries that are incomplete, illegible or fraudulent will be deemed invalid. No responsibility will be accepted for entries lost, corrupted or delayed in transmission. 7. There are no cash alternatives. 8. Entries may be displayed on this website. 9. All personal details of entrants will be deleted from our servers as required by data protection law, and will not be used for promotional purposes. 10. Entry into this competition constitutes acceptance of these Terms and Conditions.