Fantasycon Schedule

I am heading to Fantasycon — sadly no longer as co-chair. The reader may recall that I was evicted from a flat I had already been forced to rename the Cave of Fail for pestering the landlords demanding fripperies like cooking facilities and hot water, and preferably for there not to be water pouring through the bathroom lights.  On taking up many of my duties, Glen Mehn is now on crutches. The position is possibly cursed, is what I’m saying.

Anyhow many/mmost of the panels are of my making and I hope you like them! But I am attending as a simple panellist. Everything I’m doing appears to be on one Non-Stop Saturday of Madness.


12.00 Noon – Dead Parents, Burned Homesteads and Wicked Stepmothers
Is it essential to write out the parents before youthful characters can head out on adventures? Are adult figures always unhelpful or malign? Should writers search for ways to keep parents around — or do fantasies of a world without parents fulfil a real need?
Marc Gascoigne (m), Edward Cox, Emma Newman, Sophia McDougall, Glenda Larke, Laura Lam

2.20 — READING!! I will read some of SPACE HOSTAGES* the sequel to MARS EVACUEES. I have only JUST FINISHED this book (expect further details when I’m less exhausted) and no one will ever have heard any of it before.


4.00pm – FanFiction: The Fan, the Pro and the Publishing Industry Writers on both sides of the fan/pro divide and writers who straddle it discuss fanfiction. After the success of E.L James, should publishers be searching for more hit writers on AO3 and What keeps talented writers away from traditional publishing?
James Barclay (m), A J Dalton, Gillian Polack, Charlaine Harris, Sophia McDougall, Helen Kenwright


5.00pm – Who’s Missing?
A discussion about some authors you should be reading, but probably aren’t.
Glen Mehn (m), Tom Pollock, Gillian Redfearn, Sophia McDougall






I hope to see you there!
*title may change! But I don’t want it to!

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Nine Worlds and LonCon

Internet, I am chasing the end of book 2 which has been about a week away for over a month and it stays that way no matter how much I write.  It is making me crazy, but terrifyingly, Convention Season is all up in our faces now, and I am doing some panels you might want to come and see.

Pray God I’ll be finished in time for…


Assaulting the Narrative: Rape as Character Motivation (16+)
Sunday 10:00 – 11:15
Connaught A
From the prevalence of sexual violence in Game of Thrones to Lara Croft’s retconned sexual assault backstory, sexual assault seems to positively saturate the contemporary narrative. We look at violent and drugged/coerced assault in narrative (covering film, TV, literature, and other media) and ask whether rape can ever be used effectively as character motivation – and if so, what does ‘good’ look like?
Panel: Viktoriya H, Cara Ellison, Den Patrick, Jane Fae, Sophia McDougall, Tom Pollock

Because somehow talking about rape in pop culture became my job.


The  Changing Face of the Urban FantasticcThursday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)

Urban fantasy is a broad church. To some, it’s the genre of “Wizard of the Pigeons” and “War of the Oaks”; to others, it means Sam Vimes patrolling the streets of Ankh Morpork, or Locke Lamora conning his way through Camorr. Most recently, it has become synonymous with werewolves, vampires and hot detectives. What holds together the urban fantastic? Are different strands of the genre in conversation with each other? And how important is the influence of the stuctures and tone of other genres like crime fiction?

Liz Bourke (M) , Paul Cornell, Robin Hobb,, Freda Warrington, Sophia McDougall

Kill the Parents

Friday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 1 (ExCeL)

The extreme measures we take to remove responsible adults in order to empower children in stories – whether it’s J. K. Rowling starting poor Harry off as a pseudo-orphan, or C. S. Lewis exiling an entire family to the country, or Suzanne Collins forcing Katniss Everdeen to become the adult in her mother’s own house… Panelists will discuss the importance, or lack thereof, of parents in YA stories.

Todd McCaffrey (M), Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J Maas, Amy McCulloch, Sophia McDougall


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US Cover Reveal!

I was not entirely pleased when Harper Collins let me know they were not going to be using Andy Potts’ cover for Mars Evacuees in the US. I am very, very loyal to that cover, and I could not imagine anything matching its shiny orange perfection. Not to use something so lovely  which is sitting right there seemed just perverse … and it meant I had to go through the terrifying peer-through-your-fingers-what-if-it’s-horrible process yet again.

I was a little relieved when I heard that the artist was going to be Goro Fujita, who’s both an illustrator and an animator — working for Dreamworks among others. His pictures of forlorn, retro-looking robots in oddly contemporary settings  and ability to mingle funny and scary convinced me that maybe it was going to be okay.

It is better than okay. It’s really, really good.

It’s interesting comparing the covers — they reveal things in each other that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Against the US cover, I can see a kind of moody grunginess (which I now think might be a very British aesthetic) in the UK cover that wasn’t obvious to me before. It’s in bright, cheerful colours and the B-movie swoop of the title font indicate fun, but the kids are facing us with shoulders squared with an air of subtle challengemix of rough, distressed textures focus more on the battering the kids take in the course of their adventure than on the jokes.

By contrast, the US cover stresses action and comedy. It looks like a Dreamworks film —  (INCIDENTALLY HI DREAMWORKS I THINK THIS WOULD WORK VERY NICELY, CALL ME. ALSO HI PIXAR, HI EVERYONE ELSE, LIVE ACTION IS FINE TOO, HI.) While the kids on the British cover are posed almost like a band — facing us, just a slight air of challenge in their postures — here they’re facing away, in a scene full of motion. Carl on the left and Josephine on the right are poised to react to the spaceships — we don’t know how, but they’re doing something. Alice, in the middle, seems almost hypnotised by the scale of the interplanetary incident unfolding before her. They’re stylised and cartoony enough to look fun, but the colours here are that much darker and the kids are framed on all sides by danger.

So enough chat: here is the cover, and amazingly, I love it as much as the British one — so I have two gorgeous covers for one book. Alyson told me she wanted Alice, Josephine and Carl, AND Earth AND Mars  AND tentacles AND spaceships on the cover, and I told her I thought that sounded really busy and probably impossible, but hey, she was right and I was wrong.


Technically, of course, Morror ships are invisible, (and this is an inherent trait that cannot be switched off), so the scene depicted here could not take place. But it captures the atmosphere of the book beautifully.

Mars Evacueesis out in the US on the 28th of January 2015. It’s out in the UK and the Commonwealth now!


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Hay on Wye story competition special!

I’m quickly dashing this down before I go to the Starlight Stage to talk about Mars Evacuees at Hay-on-Wye.

If you’ d like to enter the story competiton, please send entries to Egmont at the following address by June 21st.

Sophia McDougall story competiton c/o Maggie Eckel
Egmont UK
The Yellow Building
1 Nicholas Road


W11 4AN

Stories should be 1200 words or less and entrants should be 14 or under.

I’ll add the story prompts when the talk is over!

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Events, dear boy, events. The good kind, and the … other kind.


Look, the Mars Evacueees microsite went live! Find out if you’ve got what it takes to be an Exo-Defence Force Cadet (you do not necessarily want to be an Exo-Defence Force Cadet, bad things happen to them)! Read the extracts, play the game!

There are so very many things I must tell you – practically all of them could and in some cases probably should be a blog post in themselves. There’s a sad announcement I need to make – but perhaps I should start off with some news you can actually act  on:


The Hay Festival! I’ll be talking about Mars Evacuees and the power of story at the Hay Festival, on the delightfully named Starlight Stage on June 1st from  2.30pm. For ages 9+.

Monday, June 23rd, 2014, 5.30 pm

Coventry Festival, Earlsden library. I’ll be discussing Romanitas,Mars Evacuees, how history influences my writing and exploring the role of women in contemporary fiction. Teen plus! Not that I think I’ll be saying anything particularly scandalous, but this is the one focusing as much on my writing for adults as for children.

Thursday, June 26th 2014, 4pm

Chichester Festival, Chichester Library, Tower Street, Chichester, PO19 1QJ The inspiration behind Mars Evacuees and the importance of stories. 9+, free entry.

It lately occurred to me that none of my hair was blue and this needed to be rectified immediately, so I will be looking somewhat like this.



(The ones you don’t plan and don’t like)

And now, mildew. Readers,  I was staying in such a terrible flat, such an elobarately terrible and probably haunted flat.  It looked kind of okay when I rented it, but turned out to be grim and dark and damp and all the utilities failed one after another, the black mould caused me persisistent headaches; the lights kept flickering and going out and hot water gave up  but, you know,  cold water that poured through the bathroom lights so it evened out I guess.  I learned how to cook chow mein using  a SANDWICH TOASTER because the oven didn’t work for weeks. When there was finally nothing else that could could go wrong, irritated at my pleas for this fancy-schmancy “hot water” nonsense, the letting agents demanded £300 for “re-referencing” and then gave me a month’s notice to vacate. Leaders of Beckenham! I cannot recommend them in any shape or form at all. They are vile and vicious and I hope their days are haunted by a nagging scent of vomit they can never quite pin down to any one place.

Anyway, so this happened  while I was  running all about the country being a bad influence upon the young.


Thank you very much to all the schools who have welcomed me! If you are a school and would like to have your students encouraged to take up an inherently unstable and frequently nerve-wracking profession, get in touch!  I mean, it’s also all about stories and enjoying reading and stuff. I have spoken at about … twelve (?) schools now. Preparations for my debut went like this:

Me: So, how many kids are there going to be?
Jo the wonderful publicist: Oh, about seventy, I think.
Me: Oh. Goodness. That’s a lot! I had been expecting, say, about forty or fifty.

Jo: I might have remembered wrong. I probably did remember wrong! I’m sure it’s far fewer than that. I have to go to a meeting soon, but let me check.

[Jo leaves me talking to other Egmont staff about various book related matters.]

[Some time later, Jo returns]
Jo: Oh hi by the way it’s 155 kids see you later bye!
Me: Right. Well. That’s. Fine. Fine. Expected. Everything’s all right here, and I’m in no way about to pass out.

So I figured if I could survive one of those I need never be frightened of anything ever again. And so it has proved, for it turns out talking to kids, even vast, intimidating hordes of them, is actually enjoyable and exciting and I think I’m fairly good at it. I read bits from the book (with accents and voices) I play cruel tricks on the children, I feed them into something called the Story Machine and  make them tell me stories, and sometimes they come back with the most amazing stuff. Librarians swimming in warm seas on other worlds! International crime thrillers! THIS STUFF IS GOLD, KIDS, MAKE SURE YOU WRITE IT DOWN.


When not warping young minds, I have been speeding around the internet talking about books. Here’s the blog tour I did with Egmont, alongside fellow authors Jane Hardstaff, Jason Rohan and Jamie Buxton.

Day 1:  at BookBabblers, talking about how we each came to write our book
Day 2: at  It Was Lovely Reading You – talking about dream casting (or how I learned exactly how much time you can spend image searching “ten-year-old Filipino child actors” before you start to feel kind of creepy: spoiler, not much!)

Day 3 at Wondrous Reads. WR: “Does music have any influence on your writing?” Me: OH JESUS THANK YOU FINALLY SOMEONE HAS ASKED ME THAT QUESTION. You can legit get clues to the Mars Evacuees sequel by checking out the playlists I’m building on Youtube!
Day 4 The Library Mice: Favourite Middle Grade books, now and then.

Day 5 at Nayu’s Reading Corner. FREESTYLE! Enjoy this  last piece with the knowledge that I am sitting on an offcut of of carpet on the newly steam-cleaned floor in a flat that contains nothing but me, the laptop and the modem as I write it!

(I had hoped to be able to write it in a library, like a civilised human, but the library was shut on Thursdays because OF COURSE IT WAS and later a taxi drove away with one of my suitcases and the company tried to hold it to ransom. It was that kind of week/day/month where’s the Friends song when you need it.)

And here’s an interview I did with the excellent and insightful Liz Bourke for Sleeps With Monsters. On women, Romans, aliens and plans for the future.



I’ve been consoled for the whole eviction nonsense and life-of-constant motion by some lovely reviews.

The Book Smugglers just about made me cry, they’ve captured so exactly what I was trying to do with the book, so precisely what hoped it could be. And it’s rather incredible (especially after a fairly gruelling slog getting the thing written and published) to have a review that says yes, you did it, it is that.

Mars Evacuees is a fantastic, fun, funny book. It’s a perfect example of the awesomeness of middle grade speculative fiction as it’s never written down, yet still manages to hit the target demographic perfectly. More importantly, Mars Evacuees is a smart story with genuine main characters (human AND Morror alike), logical (familiar yet also uniquely refreshing) worldbuilding, and a plot that will appeal to readers of ALL ages because it is that damn good a story. “

The Bookbag   said what pretty much all writers long to hear: “Read this book. If the gods of publishing are at all fair it will be popular and well-known, discussed and debated and re-enacted (well, some bits of it) up and down the country. And best of all? It’s the first of a series. Bliss.”

One Chapter More said: “Whatever the plot was, however strange and fascinating and brilliant fun, Sophia McDougall’s Mars Evacuees was exactly what I needed.

I was feeling jaded. I’d read a fair bit in January and February, core genre, mostly fantasy. That fantasy was adventurous, yes, fun, yes – Neverwhere and The Copper Promise – but McDougall’s work soothed me in a way these didn’t.”


And there was this nice little review in the Sunday Times culture supplement (I always wanted to be in the Sunday Times culture supplement!)


So. TL;DR. A lot’s been happening, and some of it’s wonderful, other parts of it much less so, but it’s all been pretty intense and gruelling, and it’s not over yet. I still need to find somewhere permanent to live, (I’m currently renting a spare room from kindly friends, no need to look for me under bridges just yet), continue touring, and finish a book. And therefore – and this is the big, probably should be a piece by itself – I have had to resign as co-chair of Fantasycon. I will remain on the team and do as much as I can, but there is just no room in my life at present for more than a background role. I really wish it hadn’t happened. I am pleased with what I did get done as co-Chair– about half the programme is worked out, and there are some panel items I think will be really interesting, and some guests who I am certain will bring fascinating perspectives to the con. Lee Harris has decided to continue as Chair by himself rather than appoint a replacement. I wish him and the convention all the best and am looking forward to attending.

… Okay. I think that’s us all caught up.

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MARS EVACUEES — Publication Day! And Excerpt 4.

Aaaahh! Mars  Evacuees is out TODAY! It’s my  fourth book and it’s really happening!

And there is a GAME! I cannot believe there is a game, I never thought I’d have a book with a GAME.  And it’s so pretty! It’s free – play it/show your friends/any kids you know.

On Google Play

On App Shopper

It’s worth mentioning; if you pick up Mars Evacuees (and it would mean a lot to me if you did), and if you like it, consider going to Amazon and saying as much. It really does make a difference to a book’s success. And if you’re free tonight, I’ll be reading from Mars Evacuees tonight at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue at 6.00.

Here’s Excerpt 1

Excerpt 2

Excerpt 3

And now here’s the last excerpt. Alice, Josephine and Noel have something they want to show resident scientist sane-but-slightly-alarming scientist Dr Muldoon: THIS.


  Read More »

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MARS EVACUEES — Excerpt #3

Mars Evacuees is published next week. Aaaargh. Can’t believe it’s so soon.  I hope you buy it, I hope you like it. I talked about the book, about the dreaded “strong female characters” with The Book Smugglers for their “March on Mars” month. Head over there to win a copy!

Here’s the next excerpt! It’s time to reach Mars, and find out what life at Beagle Base is really going to be like. Enter Colonel Dirk Cleaver, and some robots of varying temperaments.

Read More »

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MARS EVACUEES — Excerpt #2

Internet, I have many things to show you. First of all, here I am in the New Statesman on how a bookshop looks to me as a grown (female) writer vs how it looked to me as a little girl. Spoiler: it used to look like Paradise and now looks pretty depressing, but there are signs of hope, especially from Foyles.

We are only three weeks away from Launch Day! And I will be signing books and talking about Mars Evacuees at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue, from 6pm to 7 on Thursday, 27th March! Come along.

I hope Mars Evacuees is fun and for adults as well as children. That said, it’s really nice to find out what actual kids think.  I dedicated the book to my first cousin once removed (Erm, I think? Unless she’s my second cousin something something removed I DON’T KNOW, WE’RE SOMEWHAT RELATED), who read the first three chapter at a point when I’d discovered I didn’t have an agent for this book (I thought I did!)  and was feeling pretty downhearted about the whole project. I wanted to find out if an actual child would actually give a damn about what I’d written so far. Freya, who was then about eleven, told me exactly what I needed to hear:

Hello, I really love Mars Evacuees you are definitely hitting the right note!! It is great I think it will be very popular and I find it very amusing and love the way it is told. Though I think that you should maybe not start so many sentences with ‘and’. The name Alice is quite an old name and maybe you should use something more modern. My best friend read a bit and she could not put it down either. I love the subject you have chosen it is very exciting. As soon as it is published I am getting my dad to go and get it for me. Also I have not read enough to know whether it might come up but I think there should be some romance between Alice and Carl. The opening sentence is great and exciting.


(She was totally right. I did need to cut down on the sentences starting with “and”. “Alice” wasn’t going anywhere, though.)


LoveReading4Kids has a panel of no fewer than nine reviews by children, which are all really positive and delightful to my heart. “’This is a fantastic sci-fi adventure, full of surprises and fun.  I tore through it and loved every minute!” for instance, and “I absolutely love this book in all aspects including space!”After a certain publisher turned Mars Evacuees down on the grounds that “girls won’t read about space and boys won’t read about girls”, I’m particularly pleased to see both boys and girls praising it in exactly the same terms and often saying in so many words “this is a good book for boys and girls.” That’s the idea!

And on Monday another review came in – from Mr Ripley’s Enchanted Books. And it’s pretty amazing.


The story is both witty and smart. It is full of friendship and brilliant characters, good times and bad times as well as a few sad times. However these are all explored wonderfully by Sophia.  It’s a joy to read; it has got all the ingredients required to pull off a magical space story. I particularly loved the craziness, playfulness and care free attitude that is evident through this book. This makes me, as on older reader, feel like a big kid and sometimes in this world this can be a wonderful feeling again.

I DON’T think that you can say that you’ve really lived until you have read this book.

Look, I know he said that because he’s riffing off the text on the back cover but the fact is he STILL SAID IT and I will TAKE it.

Now it’s time for another excerpt.  This is from Chapter 3. We’re on the ship to Mars now. Alice Dare, meet Josephine Jerome.



Read More »

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MARS EVACUEES Excerpt #1 — the whole first chapter!

Yikes, UK publication of Mars Evacuees  is only a month away. (March 27th).  How is that even possible?  Should you have misssed the orange glory, you can see the UK cover over on Mr Ripley’s Enchanted Books.

Soon I will be going to places and doing things and talking to people, and I have already written several articles and that’s why I am lying on the floor of the midst of an extremely untidy flat right now. But for the

I’ll be publishing an excerpt a week until publication.  Let’s start with the whole of Chapter 1, in which our narrator, Alice Dare, learns she will be going to Mars. She takes it fairly well, all considered.


Read More »

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Book covers can be a fraught thing from an author’s perspective. Well, probably from everyone’s perspective, really. After a meeting in which I was shown a first version of a cover for Romanitas, my agent said “I thought you were going to cry.” I cannot imagine this was much fun for anyone else there. The cover appeared to show a city of the future being flattened by an enormous green asteroid. Even when the green asteroid had been safely deflected, I once suspected I would go to my grave still weakly moaning, “No, not the London Eye, it’s an alternative world! It wouldn’t be there!” (I am very happy, I should note, with the final covers for Romanitas trilogy. But getting there was not the most relaxing process).

There is even a little rhyme  about the problem:


“There’s a dragon on the cover of my book.
There is a dragon on the cover of my book.
He is big and green and scaly,
He is nowhere in the tale, he
Is the dragon on the cover of my book.”
–by Michael Flynn.

I’m glad that these days you usually first get to see the cover in the privacy of your own home so you can process any tears of anguish without frightening anyone else, but it is hard to open that email without your heart clenching within you while you  whisper “Ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease” to yourself.

Which should give you some idea of how strong the relief is when at last you get the file to open and are confronted with shiny, glorious orangeness, and your shoulders slowly relax, and you think:

I rather like it.

I definitely like it.

I think I love it.

Actually, I love it so much I could weep with joy.

The British cover for Mars Evacuees  is so orange, and so shiny, and so very very pretty, and so much like a really cool band poster, and yet it still has that little bit of retro B-movie something-or-other that I wanted, I just want to rub it on my face and it is possible that I have.

I do a bit of art and design myself, so  I particularly wanted to hear from the artist, Andy Potts, on how he did this wonderful thing. I’m very grateful that he’s agreed to talk us through it:


“It was really exciting news when I was asked to design the cover of Mars Evacuees as I’m a bit of a sci-fi nut and find the genre instantly inspiring. My first instinct was to make the illustration relatively simple, colourful and eye-catching as those are the covers I tend to respond to. After digesting the brief I had a strong mental image of what I wanted and set about designing my initial draft illustration in Photoshop. I worked up the red planet and background digitally using unusual textures I’d photographed and collected, including images of peeling paint from the sides of old boats! I then designed the main characters as stylised silhouettes, I prefer this approach as the reader can create the character’s faces in their own mind. I found the cyber-goldfish guardian character particularly fascinating and made it a major part of the design. The first rough was sent over, as well as a version with a hand drawn type treatment. The illustration minus the type was quickly approved, which is always a relief, and with a few tweaks the cover was finalised. I’m really pleased with how it turned out and owe a big thanks to Sophia and Egmont for getting me involved.”

You can and should check out more of Andy’s work at  and follow him on Twitter as @AndyPottsTweet

So, here it is … on You may have seen versions of the cover, perhaps, on blogs or even on Amazon, (it got out! The shininess could not be contained!) but this is the proper, final, version, with all the shiny – here, on Mr Ripley’s Enchanted Books! Go and wallow in orange:



I am so very lucky on this book, I am getting two amazing covers. Goro Fujita is creating the American version. I have seen a preliminary sketch and it is gorgeous already, I cannot wait to show the finished article to you too.

Mars Evacuees is out on the 27th of March.  Check back here soon for the first snippet.


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