I’m publishing a new YA series!

Like Sam Kemi tumbling from a mountaintop, I’m being snowed under by an avalanche of news at the moment! But today I get to announce something I have been working on for quite some time now… an entirely *new* series!! 

The details were out in The Bookseller today: http://www.thebookseller.com/news/alward-signs-new-series-ss-set-near-future-582116

It doesn’t yet have a title, but here are FIVE things I can let you know about the new book: 

1) It’s going to shine the spotlight on girls in STEM fields: specifically my smart, inventive, teen engineer heroine Lacey and her super coder best friend.

2) Lacey’s robotic smart pet is called Jinx (thanks to the robot at the Edinburgh National Museum for spelling out his name – see above)

3) It’s set in a near-future Toronto (aka one of my favourite cities in the world)

4) If you loved The Potion Diaries, you are going to love this!

5) You’ll have to wait until 2018 to get your hands on it! 



Time for a bit of a change…

Around this time last year, I bought the domain for my married name, amyalward.co.uk, with all the best intentions of transferring my amymcculloch.wordpress.com blog to wordpress.org and setting up a better website and more interesting blog. Well… it took me until now to sort my online self out! Life, house moves, books and other priorities got in the way. But now I’m happy to properly launch http://amymcculloch.net!

Photo: Michael Thomas Jones, originally published in The Observer

I plan to take this blog in a bit of a different direction from my previous website. There will still be posts about my books, of course, but with a greater focus on my writing process. There will be even more posts on travel – peppered with advice and tips for making travel a priority in your life. There will be more posts, period ;). My new tagline is Author on an Adventure and since, in the New Year, there’s a real adventure on the horizon, I’m excited at the prospect of blogging properly again. So watch this space!

Something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time is combine my old travel posts from my first ever blog into this site. I’ve categorised them all so that you can search my old adventures – from my gap year in 2007-2008, through to the new places I’ve been (just use the ‘Travel’ drop-down menu above).

As I’ve been archiving and categorising old posts, I’ve been drawn back into old, fond memories. Reading those first few posts of setting out on my gap year adventure – arriving wide-eyed in Nairobi, eating fire on Zanzibar, the unsettling arrest in Zimbabwe – I can’t help but compare those times to now. How much has changed since then: I met and married the love of my life, I’ve published three novels (unthinkable back then!), climbed the publishing career ladder… it’s been a madcap eight years.


Newbie backpackers Sarah & me outside Nairobi Railway Station back in Sept 2007

What also sticks out to me is how open and honest my blog posts were back then. They’re true accounts of that time in my life. Part of that comes from having no expectation of an audience – except for, perhaps, my mum! I didn’t worry about comments or SEO or traffic. I wrote faithfully for nine months, eventually turning all of those posts into actual printed books. They became a wonderful keepsake of my gap year that I can pull down off the bookshelf, share and flip through.

From blogs into books!

But somewhere along the line, I lost that love of blogging and the site turned into just another selling tool for my books – and probably not a very effective one. The blog lost its heart. What I love and return to when I read other blogs are real, honest posts – whether about a person’s writing process, style, travels, or food & book recommendations.  I want to turn this place back into a snapshot of my life and the things I’m passionate about: writing, books, travel, food… and all around adventure. And still, if no one else reads except my Mum (hi Mum!), at least I’ll have an archive of text I can print out and bind into a book. Now that’s special to me!

I want to shout out to Carrie Brighton for recommending pipdig.co for the blog theme. It was so easy to install and customise – I was quite proud of myself for doing it all by myself (my 16-year-old coder self is shaking her head at my incompetence). The transfer from wordpress.com to wordpress.org was relatively painless as well. Hard to know what I was waiting for, really.

Well, I’m here now. I hope you stick around!




A new book, a new name, a new deal… it’s all change around here

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Any regular readers to the blog might notice that a few things have changed around here! For one, I got married (whoop! – and bigger post to come on that, I promise!) and I decided to take my husband’s name. I’m now Amy Alward, in most things – the big exception being for THE OATHBREAKER’S SHADOW, which of course is coming out in the USA in February 2015 from Flux books! So there will be plenty of McCulloch-ing still to come.

But that’s not the ONLY change. I’m so unbelievably pleased and excited to say that I have a new book deal for three books, starting with THE POTION DIARIES, which will be coming out from Simon & Schuster Children’s in Summer 2015. Rights have sold in the UK & Commonwealth, USA, Canada, Germany and Brazil – all of which is incredibly surreal.

These books represent a bit of a departure for me. Not only will they be published under ‘Amy Alward’, but they are very different in style and tone to The Oathbreaker’s Shadow and The Shadow’s Curse. Just another reason why I felt a name change might be appropriate. In fact, I might still write under Amy McCulloch again, especially if I return to pure epic fantasy.

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Everything about this book deal feels different. I’m no longer a debut novelist – if anything, I felt the pressure even more this time around. When you are debut, you have never tested the waters – every step in the process is new and exciting. This time around, I came into the process with a more experienced head on my shoulders, but if I thought that would lessen the nerves, I was sorely disappointed.

Some writers at this stage in their career sell on a synopsis or a partial – it’s hard to find the time to write a whole new book, especially when you’re under contract for existing ones. But for me, I always knew I was going to finish this book before showing it to Juliet or anyone else. Part of the reason is because the idea has been kicking around for so long that I wanted to make sure it stood on its own feet. The idea for The Potion Diaries actually came from a tweet, proving that sometimes good things do come from being distracted on social media! And I mention The Potion Diaries (which at that time was called Philtre – the old English word for ‘love potion’) in my initial query to Juliet way back in 2010.  Juliet and I are going to do a ‘dissecting the query’ post sometime in the near future, so look out for that!

But the other reason is because this was something so completely different to what I was already writing. I wanted to challenge myself as a writer; to stretch my skills and experiment with a different voice. Writing in the first person was difficult, and I struggled with finding the right tone for my protagonist. But once I did, it ended up being the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. The words flowed, and I think it shows on the page.

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All this is to say that when I finally finished The Potion Diaries, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I loved it, but it was so very different. Would it be considered ‘off brand’? But a very wise author once told me never to let yourself be typecast, and so I sent it off to Juliet anyway, who read the initial draft with a huge amount of enthusiasm. I think she was surprised by how different it was but – because she is a superstar – she took it in her stride and immediately saw the potential. She gave me very detailed edit notes and I set to work. When I sent back the revised draft, Juliet had her assistant, the wonderful Sarah, read alongside her. The verdict was more than I could hope for – they both absolutely loved the revision, and it was time to send it out into the world.

Like I said, if I thought the experience of being out on submission would be any easier the second time around, I was wrong. It was as agonising and nerve-wracking as being a debut. But I got lucky, and the book found a home with a team who love it even more than I could have hoped for. They completely understand the book and my characters, their passion and creativity just blew me away, and I am so excited to work with them on this publication.

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So what’s The Potion Diaries about? The pictures I’ve been sharing are from a mini potions shop that my parents bought me as a publication present, and it is oh so appropriate! It’s about a Princess (more Kate Middleton than Rapunzel) who gets poisoned by a faulty love potion. It’s about an apprentice alchemist who dreams of researching and mixing new cures for a big corporate potions company (think a magical GlaxoSmithKline) but instead is tied down by loyalty to her family’s apothecary. It’s about mermaids and unicorns and abominable snowmen. But mostly it’s about a girl struggling to forge her own path in a world that seems to have it already laid out for her.

Also – and I think this is important – although this is part of a planned three-book series featuring the same characters and world, The Potion Diaries stands on its own. And I can’t wait for you all to read it.

Here’s the official press release!

Amy Alward moves to S&S with ‘Happy Hunger Games’ series

 18th September 2014, London – Simon and Schuster Children’s Books today announced the acquisition of The Potion Diaries by Amy Alward, who also writes under her maiden name, Amy McCulloch.

Elv Moody, Fiction Editorial Director and Jane Griffiths, Commissioning Editor at S&S Children’s UK, acquired World English rights from Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group in a six figure pre-emptive deal. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers will be publishing The Potion Diaries in the US and Canada. Rights have also sold in Germany and Brazil so far, with interest around the world.

The Potion Diaries follows the adventures of Samantha Kemi who harbours a secret dream of going to university to study potions, and then becoming a mixer for a major alchemy corporation. She’s ordinary – she has absolutely no magical talent – but her instinct for putting together a potion is second to none.

When the city’s princess is poisoned by a faulty love potion, representatives from prominent alchemists, including Sam, are tasked with finding a cure. There’s one main condition: the potion must be made entirely without synthetic material. This is the chance of a lifetime, and Sam is sent across the globe in the hunt for the freshest ingredients, including pearl from a mermaid, hair from an abominable and a unicorn tail. But it seems that someone is determined to make sure the Kemi family don’t complete the hunt, and soon Sam discovers that the stakes are higher than she ever thought possible.

Moody says, ‘It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything that feels as fresh as this. With pulse-pounding thrills, a contest to save a princess (who is much more Kate Middleton than Rapunzel) takes place in a whirlwind of paparazzi and social media – with just a touch of perfect romantic chemistry.’

Alward adds, ‘The Potion Diaries has possessed its own special alchemy right from the start: the spark of the idea came from a chance tweet, which was then blended with many months spent writing in the darkest hours of the night, and now, with the discovery of the perfect publishing partner in Simon & Schuster, it is ready to be bottled and served. From the moment we received their stunning pitch, I knew they would be the right home for The Potion Diaries, and I couldn’t be happier to be working with S&S.’

The Potion Diaries will be published by Simon and Schuster in Summer 2015 as a paperback original.

Amy Alward is a 28-year-old Canadian author living in London where she now fits writing around her work as Editorial Director at Puffin. In 2013, she was listed as one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars. Her debut fantasy adventure novel, The Oathbreaker’s Shadow, was published in 2013 under the name Amy McCulloch and was longlisted for the Branford Boase Award for best UK debut children’s book in 2014. Amy is passionate about reaching out to her loyal fanbase and is keen to recruit new fans through The Potion Diaries.