My favourite books: His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman 

Something happened this week that I am very excited about: Phillip Pullman released a book in the same universe as one of my favourite book series, the His Dark Materials trilogy. La Belle Sauvage is described as not a prequel, or a sequel, but rather an equal, taking place at the same time as the events of the series. The excitement I feel to read it reminded me of how much I love the original trilogy.

I, like many others I know, was first introduced to the Phillip Pullman trilogy through the film the Golden Compass. I loved it, fantasy is one of my favourite genres, and the universe felt so different, so similar to the world that I knew and yet so magical at the same time. I almost immediately checked the Northern Lights out of my local library, and read it within a week. It was so much better than the film (not in a snobbish way, in the sense that they changed some major plot points and removed some elements to market the film more towards children) the world far richer, the characters more developed, and the plot so natural and yet very unpredictable.

I never normally read books in a series one after the other, as I generally find it somewhat spoils my enjoyment of them – too much of a good thing, in a sense. I made this mistake with the Subtle Knife, choosing to read it almost immediately after finished the Northern Lights. I struggled with it for a bit, had to put it down for a while. Once I came back to it, I enjoyed it far more, although it still remains my least favourite of the three in the series.

The final book in the series, the Amber Spyglass, felt like the perfect finale to the series. The series had gradually built to that point, and taking the start of the Northern Lights and the end of the Amber Spyglass in isolation would leave you completely unsure if they were even from the same series, but the progression throughout the series goes as a perfect pace, and it all fits into place. I can still cry thinking about Will and Lyra’s annual tradition.

This book series remains firmly in my favourites, and I am so excited to read the latest instalment – and, after writing this, I want to reread the whole of the original series!

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Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn: A magical debut

I was lucky enough this summer to get to go to the YouTube convention Summer in the City in London, and among the awesome panels and the fabulous performances over the weekend, I managed to bag myself a free proof copy of Connie Glynn’s book Undercover Princess, the first in the Rosewood Chronicles series. I have been a fan of Connie’s YouTube channel – Noodlerella – for a while, and after seeing a reading of her book and hearing her talk about the process of writing the book, I was really excited to read it. And Glynn did not disappoint.

The novel centres around the character of Lottie Pumpkin, who arrives at a new school to start year 10 and finds that everyone at the school believes that she is the undercover princess from Maradova, despite the fact that the undercover princess is in fact her roommate.

The plot of the novel is very fresh and original, and differentiates itself well from the other ‘school’ books that are all too easy to find in the Young Adult section of any bookshop. One way in which this is done is through Lottie starting in year ten, rather than starting at the start of year seven. I found that the novel skipped events that I would have considered essential to a book about a person’s school life, but in missing these events out, although it seems initially strange, the book is transformed from a book about a student at school to a story about a character that happens to be set at a school.

The language and descriptions of this novel are fantastic, as is the characterisation. When Glynn signed my copy of the novel at Summer in the City, she said to let her know what theories I had whilst reading it, because she was really excited to see how people interpreted the book. And I do have a fair few theories, brought about through subtle clues throughout the book.

This book was a wonderful debut by Glynn, and I am very much looking forward to the next installment in the Rosewood Chronicles.

I won Camp NaNoWriMo 2017! (sort of)

Before this July, I had never done Camp NaNoWriMo. I’d done NaNoWriMo, in November, twice, and won once. I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo this year because I thought the motivation of a concrete goal would be very helpful in my attempt to write the first draft of a novel over this summer – I’d found the same motivation helpful before, so why not now?

The thing I didn’t realise about Camp NaNoWriMo before starting that I absolutely loved is that you set your own goal. In my case, I set it to 30,000 words, and began. Then, once I got my work schedule through, and it got towards the end of the month, I decreased this to 15,000 words to keep me motivated. What happened when I did NaNoWriMo the year before last is that the month got away from me, and halfway through November, I only had 6,000 words, and no feeling that I would be able to achieve the 50,000 word goal, so I gave up. With an editable goal, this is not the case. The only issue with this is that as the month draws to a close, you might be tempted to edit your goal down to what you already have and call it a day. You’ve just got to have the self-discipline not to do that.

The key thing that I took away from this is clear: having a goal kept me motivated. Through writer’s block, through tiredness, through procrastination, through lows, and through sheer laziness, I had a goal to work towards, and so I did. And though I may not have a full novel, I have certainly worked out a lot about the world of it that I hadn’t already thought of through simply having to essentially live in it for a month. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone – at the price of free, it provides the motivation that anyone like me so desparately needs to get your butt into gear and write that novel that’s been sitting in your head all this time. And, if you’re like me, work out quite a few teething issues with your story along the way!

The War that Started it All

Innumerable days and nights of fighting, piles of dead bodies, and it had all come down to this. Margaret stood facing Horatio, a battalion of fairies, trolls, dragons, unicorns, and who knew what else behind her, a battalion of human soldiers behind him. A smattering of humans stood beside her, glancing furtively sideways and then back at the heavily armed soldiers behind Horatio, clearly unsure as to whether they had chosen the right side.

‘It doesn’t have to be this way, Horatio. Please, we can live in peace.’ Margaret knew any pleas were futile, but that didn’t stop her trying.

‘We can’t live in peace whilst these beasts,’ he gestured to the creatures standing behind Margaret, ‘insist on trampling our land.’

At the claim over the island, the trolls growled, prompting a roar from one of the dragons that sent a fireball into the sky.

‘It’s not your land Horatio. It’s no-one’s land.’

Horatio smirked. ‘You’re just too weak, Maggie. Too weak to take what’s rightfully yours.’ He put his hand to the hilt of his sword. ‘And that, sister, is what will be your downfall.’ He raised his sword and the human battalion charged forwards. Swords clashed with axes and clubs. Half the soldiers were cooked within their armour.

It only took a few moments before the fighting was over, and the soldiers – the ones who could still stand – retreated. Most of them lay dead or dying; the few who were lucky enough to only be injured sat howling in pain.

The dragons were sitting on their back legs, licking the scratches that the swords had covered their bodies with. The fairies who weren’t injured flitted around, helping the wounded on both sides. The humans had all run, from both sides, leaving only those who could not move on the battlefield.

‘It didn’t have to be this way.’ Margaret was crying now, tears forming rivers through the mud and dirt caked on to her face as she took in the sight off all the bodies. ‘We can live together peacefully.’

Horatio had somehow survived, and other than a gash along the side of his torso which had already stopped bleeding, was unharmed. He sat up, clearly incredulous.

‘Do your eyes not work? Can you not see what these monsters did? How can we co-exist with such violent, dangerous creatures?’ His voice rose to a squeak with the last question as he gestured to the creatures, who were, for the most part, unharmed.

‘You provoked them.’

‘I did no such thing! I only tried to take land that is rightfully mine.’

‘We only arrived here ten moons ago, and you think we have the right to all land on this island? These creatures have existed here peacefully for so long…’

‘These creatures are not as intelligent as us. They don’t deserve the treatment we give them, let alone what you are suggesting.’

Horatio hoisted himself up to standing and climbed on top of his horse. ‘I’m going to protect us, sister. Make sure you’re on the right side of those barriers. There’s still a chance for our stories to remember you fondly.’ The hope in Horatio’s voice was pitiable. His mouth stayed fixed in a frown, but it trembled slightly, like a toddler on the brink of a tantrum.

Margaret had lived with Horatio for so long that she had no hesitation as she said, ‘Don’t worry, brother. I will,’ turned away from him, and walked into the line of the trees.


I’m currently doing CampNaNoWriMo and this serves as a sort of short story precursor to the main body of the novel, and something surprising came out of just starting with an idea in the world and letting myself write! I would recommend it to anyone suffering from writers’ block to move past it and potentially take things in a direction you might not have previously considered! Also Camp NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo itself is great motivation for getting that novel that you’re so desperate to write down on the page or screen – and that, so I have been told many a time, is the first and most crucial step in any writing project.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: brilliant inside and out

I had heard about The Girl of Ink and Stars many times from many people before I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave – it was Children’s Book of the Month not once but twice at Waterstones, (later going on to win Children’s Book of the Year), was a Financial Times Book of the Year, the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award, and was shortlisted for both the Jhalak Prize and the Branford Boase Award. Not only that, but many people I trust for book recommendations and follow online, such as Carrie Hope Fletcher on YouTube, read it and recommended it. And I, as an aspiring young adult author, really wanted to read it.

Initially, many other books got in my way. Naturally, studying an English and Creative Writing degree, I had a lot of poems, novels, short stories, and plays to read for my course, and these obviously took precedence. Everytime I walked into my local Waterstones, there was a lovely display of copies of the book, in windows or on the tables, and I desparately wanted to pick up a copy, but just… didn’t.

But then I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave. She came to do a guest lecture at my university about writing “children’s” fiction was inspiring, especially for someone like me who sits working on my young adult novel whilst my friends work on amazing pieces that sit nicely under the label of ‘literary fiction’. She was incredibly lovely, no pretenses that the process was easy as she projected the word counts of her numerous drafts to show how the first draft was never the finished product, frank talk about the effect of mental illness on her writing process and how she battled through it, and information about the way things are done publishing-wise either side of the pond. She also discussed with us how ridiculous it is that some books are considered better than others due to their genre, a sentiment I very much share. Needless to say, The Girl of Ink and Stars jumped up my reading list, and I bought a copy almost immediately. And I am so glad I did.

The first thing that amazed me was the beauty of the whole book. The cover itself is gorgeous, but the pages themselves are where the true amazement lies. Each page is decorated like a map in keeping with the protagonist Isabella’s dreams and her father’s job as a cartographer. The result is that every page feels like a step on the journey that the characters undertake, mapping out the unknown of their island. I’ve never seen pages like it, and I urge you to pick up the book if only to see the pages.

The only potential issue with a gorgeous cover is that sometimes the contents don’t quite live up to their presentation.

This book definitely did not have that issue.

The story centres around the character of Isabella, who volunteers to guide a search for her friend after she gets lost in what the people of her village call ‘The Forgotten Territories’. More than eager to explore the island and chart it on a map, following in the footsteps of her father, a cartographer, she ventures in to the Forgotten Territories with the search party, and finds herself facing a lot more trouble than she initially expected.

The exposition of the story is slow and subtle, revealing a world that is not too dissimilar from our own – after all, Kiran Millwood Hargrave does say that the places in all of her novels are real places, but they obviously feature some slight embellishments. The relationships between the characters are great – I particularly enjoyed seeing the friendship between Isabella and Lupe, as a focus on friendship rather than romance is so refreshing to see. The mythic elements were really interesting, and tied well into the rest of the plot.

The only complaint I have about this book is that I feel it could have been a little longer. As it was, at just over 200 pages, I felt the world wasn’t explored to its full potential. I would love to have seen adventures spanning over the whole island in depth, as there are some villages displayed on the map that are barely visited, only for a page or two, and some that are not visited at all. The world of the book was so great, it just seemed a shame to leave it at what felt almost like the bare minimum exploration, especially when the protagonist talks about how much she wants to explore the entire island of Joya throughout the novel.

Overall,  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and adventure, and wants to read something refreshing.