Friday, September 25, 2015

A Girl Made of Stars


What do you write after an epic trilogy about the end of the world as we know it? Write something small, I told myself. That’s what to do. You’ve done big and what story is bigger than a drowned Earth?
I never should have asked myself that. It’s just the kind of question my imagination loves and before I knew it I was staring at the answer, right above my head - and all around me, stretching far beyond the Earth.

The universe, that’s what. 

I floated in the idea. I was hooked.

My plans for a small story were out the window and my head was in the stars.

Life doesn’t always let you do what you want when you want. Several big life crises, other projects and one major neck injury all got in the way of my book... 

But I wrote my first graphic novel, EARTH-PLANET UNIVERSE, the story of the world's first ecologist, Scot John Muir, for Scottish Book Trust. 20,000 copies went into schools across Scotland. I also mentored for SBT's New Writers and Young Writers Awards, which I loved. Here's an interview with me about the graphic novel below, illustrated by William Goldsmith.
Earth-Planet Universe, The Story of John Muir (my kindred spirit)

Two things I’ve learned about writing. 

Always write the book you'd want to read, the one that doesn’t yet exist. Also, what you do on the page is only part of the work. Some of the most important writing happens off the page. So when I couldn’t type, I thought about my story. I dreamed it up and let it fizzle and ferment inside me. I read and read and fired myself up with energy and ideas. I lived scenes in my mind and when I finally got to write them they felt as real as my own memories. 
At long last, the stars aligned for me and I could write again. It felt like the story I’d been waiting all my life to write.

The Book I’ve Always Wanted To Write

Some writers have rituals or need to work in the same place. Philip Pullman has a particular kind of notebook. Some can write anywhere, on trains and planes, like Jacqueline Wilson. I’m in between. I like bit of city cafe buzz, a bit of routine at my desk. I love writing in the special notebooks my daughter buys me at Christmas and birthdays. 

What really makes my imagination come alive is travelling, being somewhere vivid and new. That feeling of moving across the Earth or writing in a place that feeds into the book I’m working on. It feeds something in me too.

So when we had to take my student daughter (in a car packed so tight we could barely close the doors) to the University of Nantes and my friend offered her house (two hours away) as a writing pad, my husband and I grabbed our own gap year in France.

The amazing skies and sunsets and stars of the Loire countryside blazed through me as I wrote A Girl Made of Stars.

Winds swept across the vineyards and seemed to whirl ideas inside me.

My writing desk under the cherry tree

Then the world burst in on our idyll.

There were terrorist killings close by in Tours, in Nantes and Paris. 

France felt precarious, broken-hearted. 

It all seeped in strange ways into the world of the book.  

Writing THE END felt like finishing a marathon. 

I emailed the manuscript to my agent and waited. 

I couldn’t settle. 

What if she didn’t like the book I’d put my heart and soul into? What if it wasn’t good enough? Was the story too crazy, too wild? 

We went back to France for a week. There was a mad cat there who needed babysitting, but that’s another story. Maybe even a book...

One night I was staring up at the big skies I’d missed so much back in Glasgow when my phone buzzed. It was an email from Sarah Davies, my agent. But it wouldn't download! Often when the wind blew hard across the vineyards, the wifi went AWOL. So all I had for ten agonising minutes was this…. 

Was that a good eeeeeeeeeeee or bad? I sweated... It turned out to be the best eeeeeeeeeeee ever. Sarah loved the book. 

There was still work to do. Hard editing, revising. I was determined to make this the very best book I could. Some nights at 4am, the sky was lightening and I was still writing, not quite sure what planet I was on, what universe I was in…

The fate of my story is now in the hands of the writing gods. 

I’ve done all I can for now. I hope you get to read it one day because writing it was a blast and took me on a journey into the unknown, to places I never thought I could imagine.

Writing this book was the time of my life. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The BIG YA Edinburgh Book Hunt!

Welcome to the YA Edinburgh Book Hunt! Want to win a pile of fab books?! Here’s how...

We are a group of YA authors appearing at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival and we’re giving away signed copies of our books. You can win them ALL by joining this book hunt. Just read this blog, find the highlighted number and do the task below. Then follow the link to the next blog. Once you’ve visited them all, just add the numbers together, email the result to A winner will be chosen at random. Entries welcome from around the world. The book hunt closes midnight UK time 26th August 2013.

 A boy and girl, oceans apart, fight for a future in a flooded world 

I’m giving away signed copies of my futuristic trilogy - EXODUS, ZENITH & AURORA - all THREE books! Plus some snazzy bookmarks.

I’ve done lots of events over the years at Edinburgh and it’s always great fun so, if you can, join me with fellow book hunt authors Teri Terry and Claire Merle for a big dystopian debate!

Click here for more info on the trilogy

See here for tickets and details for our event: 21st August at 6p.m. 
Dangerous, dark, dystopian... come and tell us why you love stories about the future. Do you want to be thrilled, challenged, scared, inspired? Or just escape reality for a while? How far do you think YA writers can go? Should there be limits on what we write?  Demention blog authors Julie Bertagna (the Exodus trilogy), Claire Merle (The Fall) and Teri Terry (Slated) would love to meet you.
Or tell us what you think below!

The Task: Follow @JulieBertagna on Twitter and tweet this:
Enter to win LOTS of signed YA books on the #YAEdinburghBookHunt! See @JulieBertagna or #YA #giveaway

*If you’re not on Twitter, you can still win by leaving a comment below. Tell your friends about it and you can share the books if you win!

*You can also find me on Facebook, check out my website and follow my PINTEREST boards on the Exodus trilogy and the exciting new book I’m writing. 

*The next blog to visit in the book hunt is.... the fab Teri Terry

You can win my signed trilogy (above) AND these signed books by exciting authors Teri Terry, Claire Merle, Sara Grant and Sharon Jones. Happy hunting! 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Big Stories in Big Tents - it's Edinburgh Book Festival Time...

It's raining cats and dogs so it must be almost time for the EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL!... that time of year when thousands of people gather in great big tents to listen to and debate with the authors of the world as the rain thunders atmospherically on the canvas. Okay, sometimes it's sunny...but luckily my trilogy about a flooded world is spookily perfect reading material when it's not!

I'm doing DARK, DANGEROUS & DYSTOPIAN debates with my fellow Demention blog authors Claire Merle and Teri Terry. Our schools event is sold out but come and meet us for the evening slot (Thursday August 21st at 6pm - BOOK HERE). We’d love you to join in. Here’s a taster of what we’re all about...and watch out for our AMAZING BOOK GIVEAWAY in my next post!

Here's what we'll be talking about... but what do YOU think?

Why are stories about the future so popular just now - in a time when the world often seems complicated and scary? Or is that the very reason why?... because they take risks, exploring all kinds of possible futures in challenging ways? But should there be boundaries in YA fiction? Should authors protect their readers? Just how far dare we go? And lastly, can a book change the future...if it changes the way people think about the world?

Follow me on TWITTER @JulieBertagna, FACEBOOK and on PINTEREST I've just begun mucking around with images for the Exodus trilogy and the exciting new book in progress.

You'll find lots more about us all on Demention, our websites, etc. But here's a taster...


A boy and girl, oceans apart, fates entwined, fight for a future in a flooded world. 

An SOS from islanders at the mercy of rising seas on the other side of the world sparked Exodus, Zenith and Aurora. I kept thinking, what if that happens to us? How would we cope in a climate-changed world? So I began an apocalyptic tale of young survivors on a storm-ravaged Earth.

I set my story 100 years in the future - then climate change kicked in for real, affecting millions. The floods, tornadoes and storms are unnervingly close to my imagined world. Published in over 20 countries, I love that they’ve made lots of shortlists and won awards (even Green awards in the UK & US) but the most brilliant thing for me is that young readers across the world write and tell me how the books have made them think about the future - though some teachers and librarians in the USA have blasted them as too dangerous... 

Watch this brilliant EXODUS TRAILER made by teenagers for a school competition in the USA!

And here are just some of the nice things people have said about the Exodus trilogy... 
'A book you will remember for the rest of your life' Guardian 
'Breathtaking' Bookseller 
'Awesome' Herald 
'So vivid...magnificent epic' Scotland on Sunday 
'the most exciting book I've read all year' Mail 
'Terrific storytelling power' lovereading 
'A book that is to be treasured' Times Ed 
'Julie Bertagna’s award-winning Exodus is a brilliantly imagined story of love and survival in a climate-changed world. Zenith and Aurora complete this highly-acclaimed, classic dystopian trilogy' Manchester Book Festival

Monday, July 8, 2013


Seems like a good day to repost this! GO FOR GOLD - why every writer needs a Mr Lendl in their corner. Not just for writers - it's for anyone who ever dared to dream. As Judy Murray, mother of our new Wimbledon Champion just said, "It just goes to show there's nothing wrong with dreaming, there's nothing wrong with believing, anything is possible."

Dream on. Keep believing. Build your dream, one step at a time.

(And grab a Mr Lendl if you can!)

Julie x

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

DEMENTION is live! 

Demention is an exciting new space for fans of dystopian and futuristic fiction. If you love The Hunger Games or other edgy, on-the-brink novels then this is the place for you. It's a group blog by myselfTeri Terry and Julienne Durber. There's lots more coming up soon plus guest blogs by other authors. 

We've just launched with some great giveaways and prizes

Drop by and join in...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

So where was I?

Good question. Where have I been all this time? What have I been doing? 

Last autumn, we escaped to travel around Europe for weeks, after I'd spent some time doing this. I came home re-charged and full of ideas and launched into writing RIVEN, my new book (a kind of cosmic dystopia) only to remember that I'd organised a whole lot of events for AURORA

This is the strangest thing about writing books - you're trying to write the next one while still talking about the last one! 

Sometimes I feel I need two heads.


I travelled through blizzards, snow and hail, several times, to reach Manchester to do trailblazer events for the Future Manchester science festival and its writing competition, and had a great time sparking inspiration among hundreds of very imaginative young Mancunians. I'll be back for the Manchester Children's Book Festival in July, after judging the competition winner (which won't be easy going by all the exciting ideas I heard...) 

There were more storms, even Superstorms, to struggle through to visit schools across Scotland. Luckily there were also some fairly local events, which didn't involve packing extra warm socks and emergency chocolate, in case the train broke down amid blizzards and floods... 

But I had to watch out for terrorist trampolines at all times.

It made for a great opening line when, out of breath and somewhat bedraggled, I told wide-eyed young audiences I'd battled the elements to reach them and talk about the books I'd written about a future Earth devastated by storms! 

While I was away on one of those stormy visits I discovered I'd caused quite a storm myself with a blog I'd written for The Guardian about the crazy war between some YA authors, readers and young book bloggers - there are still sparks flying. This little blog of mine zipped around the planet, tweeted and retweeted to over half a million people, once US blogs and authors like Maggie Stiefvater picked up on it and began debating it with her readers on her website. My Twitter feed reached boiling point as people all across the world debated and quoted bits from it, like this:

'Whose book is it anyway? The hardest thing a writer has to learn is that once you publish a book, it's no longer truly yours – even though it's got your name on the front and it lives inside you. It belongs to the readers now.' 

So what do you think? Who does a book belong to once it's published? 

Do readers and reviewers have the right to be as nasty, or honest, as they like about a book? Should authors get involved in debates about their books, if they feel an opinion or review is vicious or unfair? Or should they take my advice: 'Don't Google yourself.'

There were some other interesting events, like this online round table with sci-fi mag Strange Horizons, where I got to debate futuristic stories on the theme of climate change with an author who was quite an influence on my Exodus trilogy, Maggie Gee, and the authors of other fascinating books - well worth checking out on the link above.   

Children's Literature in Context by Fiona McCulloch has a whole chapter on the Exodus trilogy - which she dissects so brilliantly I feel as if she's been sneaking about the inside of my head. Perfect for anyone who reads, teaches or writes children's and YA lit, it's a fresh and brilliant discussion of some of the greats of children's literature: Alice In Wonderland, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials by Philip Pulman. So what am I doing in there? Truly, I don't know, but I'm hugely honoured to be among such classy company. 

And then, there was this...

You can read all about my Gap Spring in Paris on this new blog, Paris Pause. More posts still to come...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On the road and in the ether...

AURORA is out! And there's lots going on.

I'll be travelling about in person, talking about the Exodus trilogy to people in various places over the next few weeks, including the West End Festival (which is practically on my own doorstep so I'd better stock up on tea and biscuits, just in case) and the Edinburgh Book Festival. There will be another event there on Aurora on August 13th.

I'll also be travelling all through the ether on a blog tour, talking to Bookwitch and Bookette (who sound as if they should duet), Mary Hoffman and The Book Lantern (who sound as if they should be a fantasy series) and various other sites.

I'll put up links to all this - and more - as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, here is an article I wrote on the current craze for dystopian/apocalyptic fiction ('The New Dystopalypse') in Saturday's Scotsman.

"Have teenagers, fed on an everyday diet of terror - war, recession, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, swine flu - become disaster junkies?"

Well, have you? What do you think?