Darcy writes the words. Lizzie lives them. In Scott Westerfeld’s AFTERWORLDS

When superstar author John Green (The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska) comments on the front of a book proof, it makes you sit up and pay attention. And on Scott Westerfeld’s latest YA (‘Young Adult’ / teen) novel, Afterworlds (out 25th September 2014), Green writes: ‘I recognise nothing of myself or any of my friends in this book. Well, except for the true parts, of course. And the parts that aren’t true certainly could’ve happened. But no, no, it’s all lies.’ Because that’s the thing with this book by the bestselling author of Uglies: writers will feel themselves in the story, because it’s TWO books in one…

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Landing a major publishing deal, teenager Darcy finds herself in New York City, and suddenly surrounded by the cream of YA authors. At the same time, Afterworlds, Darcy’s gripping thriller, begins to unfold… A novel within a novel. Each chapter alternates between Darcy’s journey to the publication of her first book and Lizzie’s story, a paranormal romance which begins with a terrorist attack and travels far beyond our world, into the folds of death… Darcy writes the words. Lizzie lives them. Darcy’s story of taking up her ‘new life’ as an aspiring author is brilliantly told, both in her initial excitement at the news of her deal (Moontrug remembers doing starjumps around her house when the email confirming her book deal came through) and in her subsequent self-doubt that she’ll ever be able to do the re-writes and live up to the expectations of her publisher (um, yes, Moontrug feels that, too…!). I mean, it’s a tough all world the book-writing one – see below for a photo of Moontrug doing her edits earlier this month. Exactly…

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If you’re a writer then Darcy’s ‘real-life’ publishing journey is very, very real, even to the point where Darcy’s author-friend, Imogen, does ‘find and replace’ on the word document format of Darcy’s book, swapping ‘veins’ for ‘penguins’ just so that Darcy will notice how much she has over-used the word ‘veins’ in her first draft! Moontrug managed to overuse ‘shivered’ in her first draft – a ‘find and replace’ with the word ‘ketchup’ soon sorted that problem out… Darcy’s feelings of inferiority at meeting mega star authors and her fears that her book might bomb are brilliantly done, as is Imogen’s research scene where she asks Darcy to shut her in the boot of a car so that she can realistically capture feelings of claustrophobia. Moonturg is a big fan of ‘method writing’ (is that’s even a thing?!) – and just a few weeks ago she found herself plunging her head into a rock pool filled with slimy seaweed – essential research tactics for the sequel…

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If Darcy thinks she’s got a lot on her plate with a six-figure book deal, things only get more intense when she falls in love: ‘The thought of publishing – of the whole world reading Afterworlds – had always made Darcy feel naked and exposed, but loving had left her skinless.’ And love is perhaps a good place to start for Lizzie’s story (the heroine of Darcy’s novel, Afterworlds). The terrorist attack in the opening chapter is brutally executed but underpinning it all is an eerie sense of otherness: Lizzie is lucky to be alive but her brush with death has left her hungry for more. The ghosts Lizzie encounters are brilliantly depicted – some funny and sweet, some totally terrifying, like the old man with the needle and thread…

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The afterworld may be grey and full of sadness and threat but it is there that Lizzie feels alive: ‘it left me breathless, and the grey sky pulsed with colour.’ Yama, the symbol of ‘YA hotness’ is handsomely painted and it’s no wonder Lizzie feels so drawn to him: ‘He drew me closer, and the sky rippled with colour again, my breath catching and shuddering in my lungs.’ Afterworlds is a gripping read, and like Darcy, Moontrug will be panicking about which pen to do signings with (Uni-Ball? Vision Elite? Jet Stream?!) come February, and whether she’s saying the right things on Twitter and Facebook. But perhaps it’s better to take the advice of the more reflective Darcy as her book debuts: ‘In life, as in the bewildering business of writing stories and flinging them out into the world, you had to focus on the page in front of you.’