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Why I Write Teen Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

Teen fiction connects.  Passionate intensity often leads kids to do foolish things, take incredible risks, to explode with hatred one minute and love the next; to be heroic as well as act without compassion.  Teenager are still raw, often angry at what life has dealt and the choices on offer.

Adults are constrained by convention, rules, experience, and explain away their failings with words such as fate or God’s will.  Teens still think that they can make a difference and that there are endless possibilities.

When I write for teens I am thinking of all these things, putting myself in their shoes.  It’s not always rational.  I couldn’t begin to explain all the stupid things I did as a teen or the risks I took.  How I’m even still alive given the situations I got myself into, I have no idea.  I still remember my heart being broken – not just once either. It scarred me.  So I write for the kids yet to be scarred by life or the ones who already know that it’s less than fair out there, but to also say that this too can be survived and that they are not helpless.

Sometimes my fiction will be historical.  Kids want to know about the past and it is essential to connect it to the present so they can relate.  When you read Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go you are immediately plunged into a seventeenth century world, filled with strange Amish-like men and one boy and his dog living primitive lives. They are farming everything by hand.  You quickly become aware that there is madness in the air and all the characters can hear each other’s thoughts.  This alone is enough to make you intrigued. To then discover that this is the future and a story set in some far off planet is a huge surprise.  The second major feat that Ness accomplishes is to establish a great love between Todd and Viola in book one, then in book two tear them apart and pit them against each other, each manipulated by the evil Mayor Prentiss.  Extraordinary.

In The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester, a girl is born who floats. The parents are ashamed of their freak daughter and home-school her, but you can’t keep a good girl down for long. One day she jumps off the roof and flies the whole way around the town attracting unwanted attention.  Written with a dry southern wit this is a story that makes you laugh at first, then takes a rather nasty turn as the government begins to round up all the freaks and bury them in some underground lab.  I love the concept. I would have preferred it to stay funny rather than sinister but the adventures of Piper McCloud live within my affections. As her Papa said, “Seems like our child ain’t normal is all I’m saying.”

I suppose why I write teen fiction in the end is because I want to write stories that strike you in the heart, that stay with you forever, that affect you in the way that books and films shaped my life growing up.  Dune by Frank Herbert perhaps is one such book – the retelling of the coming of the Messiah scope of this novel is incredible.  The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick is another – about America losing WW2 and divided between Japan and Germany.  Neither of these were teen fiction but both had a huge impact on the teen me because they dealt with what ifs… and what ifs are what keep us awake at night…

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     The Raven QueenRikers HighNo AlarmsWinter TownRaven Speak

Writing Teen Novels
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On Research For Writing Teen Science Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

The best thing about writing is often the research and it can be heartbreaking how little of it makes its way into the book you are writing.  Of course, you can get side-tracked by research. There’s always so much more you could read about a subject but there’s that voice at the back of the class saying ‘BORING!’ So you have to remember that the action must move on. Teens are impatient for the next hill to climb, the next piece of action with a short pause for a kiss before that bullet ricochets off the bed and they jump out of the window…

I’ve been doing research for a virus novel I’ve been writing on and off for a while: how the virus spreads, how quickly it can kill, who is the most vulnerable and how you can prevent getting it.  There’s a lot of stuff I could get in but it remains on the cutting room floor.  Of course, I left all the icky bits in.  That’s important.  There’s nothing like a virus that boils your lungs to gross someone out.

I researched teleportation for The Repossession.  I felt I really had to have Marshall (the ex-scientist) explain stuff. I just didn’t want my characters to accept it as fact and move on.  Too often you see this in teen fiction or movies. Here was an opportunity to work with one of the characters who had been developing trans-matter and been burned badly by it. I had these kids who were going to be volunteers, whether they liked it or not, and I wanted to play with the consequences and morals of science as much as the technology.

You don’t have to knock a reader over the head with facts but a small pause to reflect on how things work will appeal to some readers and show them a little respect.  Others will skip over this to the next bit.  (In the same way I skipped over all those awful poems and songs in The Hobbit.)

I’ve been working on a time travel novel too. The great thing is what you learn in the research process.  Perhaps you can’t use it in the novel you are writing but it can spark more ideas for later.  No research is ever wasted, no matter how trivial and there is nothing worse than getting it wrong.

Although many readers might not know (or care) about particular details, your duty as a writer is to get them right.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2SparkRooftopShock Point

Writing Teen Novels
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Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

I don’t think there is any conscious process for differentiating between a teen novel and adult.  Clearly in one the young adult must be forefront and in the other, adults.  Obviously adults can figure in both, but as my editor and the writer Beverley Birch says, one must give prominence to the young adult – never lose sight that it is about them.

I know from my own teaching I had one particular student who insisted upon populating her children’s novels with many, many adults.  I used to say constantly who is the story focused on?  Whose story is this?  The kid or the adults?  Never allow that confusion to arise.

I learned this the hard way.  I have a novel out there called Mean Tide, written under a pseudonym, which concerns a child who has had chemo and is sent to live with his psychic grandma by the river in Greenwich.  He meets another kid there, who is silent because of various traumas. The book is populated with adults, all with incredibly rich lives and opinions. To be honest this book straddles adult/children’s fiction and falls between two stools.  I couldn’t see it when I was writing it, as logic would dictate that when a kid goes to live with adults you have to show the adults and bring them to life.  Perhaps I added too much colour.  If your main protagonist is only twelve – there is only so much you can do with a young kid before it becomes unbelievable. Nevertheless as a writer you learn. (One hopes)

Writing for teens you can concentrate on their lives and reduce the impact adults have on their day-to-day existence.  Adults usually act as a restraint on the excesses of teens so the less they are around, the more that can happen.  S F Hinton’s The Outsiders featured this.  This was about teens getting into mischief without constraint and led by a semi-adult teen who did not have anyone’s best interests at heart.  Stephen King’s Stand By Me totally had this focus.  Not just about the kids but also about their perspective on life, the world around them and the risks they take.  It’s important to remember that these novels are written for teens and not adults (even though adults will and can enjoy them).  Kids know by the time they’re 12 that there is no justice in this world. Bullies get away with murder,, people lie, you lie, you haven’t yet formed your own opinions about things and you have doubts about everything.  Somehow you get up and carry on.  The whole world is a critic. You most likely suck at sport or math, and no one but Alice likes you and you don’t like Alice.  This is the teen world.

My approach to adult fiction is to have the plot or situation down first.  If based on a true-life story then it’s about fleshing out the characters, thinking not just about who they are but about their weaknesses and strengths. I like it when a readers connects enough with the character that they start to consider what they wear, eat or say on their own (until that starts to happen organically for me as a reader, I’m not truly in the zone).

With teen fiction, it’s the same process but with the added spice of knowing that kids won’t always take the logical step that may seem more obvious to an adult.  A boy or girl won’t instinctively know that the one they love is bad for them – even if others are saying so.  They have no experience to go on.  This is fresh to them.  All their mistakes are first time mistakes.  As a teacher I used to see girls suffering heartbreak, yet it was clear to me their affections were misplaced.  Now I see break-ups dealt with by text or on Facebook and how cold and heartless all that seems.  You are left to cry on your own I guess without the confrontation.  It can go the other way – irrational hysterical behaviour in the classroom when one girl discovers another is seeing her bloke and all three are in the class before you seething…

Adults generally don’t seethe. They might want to get revenge but the older you are the more numb you usually feel about things.  Kids are NEVER numb.  They can be unfeeling however.

Take Natalie Portman’s character in the movie  Leon.  She is entranced by the slightly simple hitman who protects her from Gary Oldman’s evil cop.  She is excited by the idea of becoming a hitwoman.  She isn’t thinking about moral considerations here.  She’s thinking about revenge, and Leon is simply showing her his one and only skill.  It’s not a kid’s movie but has a kid very much at the forefront.  She is what I remember.  Her pain and heartache and her loyalty.  This would be teen fiction now I think. Capture that intensity and bottle it.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     Code Name VerityAngel DustBoys without NamesThe Traitor's Kiss

Writing Teen Novels
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Working On My Novel With My Editor, by Sam Hawksmoor

I’m very lucky that my editor is Beverley Birch, who is also a writer of some reputation. She brings with her a wide knowledge of what works and what doesn’t and she knows her readers well.

I pitched The Repossession orally at the Winchester Writers Conference. Beverley showed interest and then I wrote it.  Sounds easy.  The key was delivering exactly what I said I would, and on time.

Beverley read the first draft and came back with comments.  These weren’t drastic but they were clever and pitched to keep me keen and also willing to make the subtle changes she wanted.  More emphasis in one place, less physicality (remember that libraries won’t buy it if there’s sex).  It was so hard to tone down the touchy feely parts and perhaps half the reason they get sick all the time is so they don’t even think of having sex.  I liked her gentle touch.  Her approach was never ‘cut this or cut that, or else’.  It was like a gentle push against the tiller to make me go in the right direction.  Everyone said she’d get rid of Moucher the dog or eliminate the pig, but she didn’t. She understood exactly why they were there and how it softened the harshness of the tale.  I had tiny notes on language (swearing) and, yes, every teen you know swears like a trooper, but we can’t do that – those librarians again.  But to be honest, you can write an exciting book without having much swearing in it.  I thought she’d cut the exposition, when I have Marshall explain exactly what he was working on in the lab and how he lost his leg.  But she liked the fact that there is some science in there, and she knew that there would be some readers who like to follow the logic and understand the details of what is going on.  She could see and feel the location (British Columbia), although not familiar with it. She could tell that my affection for Canada was genuine.

One clever thing was to change where the story starts.  Particularly in book two, switching the order of the first two chapters.  How you set off as a reader and how you are drawn in is important.

For Beverley, rhythm and keeping momentum going are important.  Pages would be trimmed of unnecessary adverbs or adjectives.  Go straight in, don’t waste time.  Kids have no patience and easily put a book down. So the lesson was trim the fat to make sure it remains compelling.  As a writer I trained on radio drama – commercial radio drama at that –  learning to keep the drama rising and falling so people wouldn’t switch away during the ads.  I learned so much about dialogue and how to say more with little, and hopefully this translates well to teen fiction. I snatch just moments of intimacy before the next problem, as in this extract from The Hunting:

He pulled her towards him and they kissed.  Genie pulled away.  “Uh-uh, I don’t think my breath is so good.”

“Genie,” Rian complained.  “We’re on the run.  None of us are minty fresh.  Eat more berries.”

Genie allowed him to hold her tight and they just gently rocked together, kneeling by the water.  Moucher tried to snap a fish as another went by.

“Genie?  Ri?”  Renée called out, breaking the spell, fear in her voice. 

They looked at the raft.  She’d slept in there with an old mosquito net she’d found spread over her.

“My legs.  They’re gone,” she whispered in horror.  “I can’t see or feel my legs.”

I’ve recently been working on a virus thriller. The notes on this were less to do with what I had written but what I hadn’t. The story swapped between two girls who went in opposite direction to flee the oncoming sickness.  Beverley and my agent, Ben Illis, felt that I hadn’t given enough attention to story B and wanted it to be more equally balanced.  The snag was that it increased the word count, as I was effectively writing two novels within one.  As each character had pretty harrowing experiences I didn’t want them both to be experiencing the exact same problems, even though technically they would.  I decided to look again at the arc for story B and see if I could just increase the number of scenes on her progression or lack thereof towards her goal – so in a few short pages at each visit we can catch up and not feel cheated – then towards the latter part of the novel insert a particularly frightening moment that shakes her up. With luck I have hit the mark.  I didn’t want to take scenes away from the other girl, yet there is now much more balance.  Beverley was right again. Sometimes it’s hard as a writer to see where to improve your own work – you need a professional opinion.

In this kind of survival story there are long moments were little happens except hoping there might be a next meal.  Like Tom Hanks in Castaway, the characters make the best of the situation.  No one is coming for them.  Sometimes I think the worst thing you could do in real life is survive Armageddon.  Here’s a sample from Endtime:

Kira frowned.  The supermarket was out of stuff already?  Impossible.  She’d got there super early.  It never ran out of stuff before noon.

‘I’ve got a ticket,’ someone else was shouting.  ‘You have to let us in.’

‘We’re closing.  Staff shortages.  Come back tomorrow.’

‘We got tickets,’ more people shouted. A rising sense of panic grew around Kira and she felt scared now.  People were really angry around her and some had clearly been standing for hours already.  The pushing and shoving was getting ugly.

‘WE GOT TICKETS,’ a man shouted, prodding a security guard, who didn’t like that one bit and drew a taser.  He looked like he’d use it too.

Kira stepped out of line, letting her ticket flutter to the floor.  Two people further back made a dive for it.  Kira was moving backwards rapidly now; it was going to get nasty.  She could feel the tension growing.

Someone nearby screamed ‘gun’ and people began to scatter every which way.

Security guys with tasers appeared from nowhere and fired at the guy with the gun.  Must have had ten shots fired at him.  He most likely fried to death before he hit the ground.

Working with a generous editor is a pleasure.  You know they already like the book, so you are working together to make it better.  The real battle is the marketing department… and that’s a different story.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The RepossessionThe Hunting     Hold Me Closer, NecromancerAugustI Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeAuslanderDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels
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On The Process Of Plotting And Writing A Novel, by Sam Hawksmoor

Patrick Ness told me that he always begins by writing the last line first.  I could never do that.  I like the voyage of discovery in the writing process too much to prescribe an ending.  I like an element of surprise.  After all, I am putting my characters through the mill and during this they will develop and change and sometimes surprise you with their reactions to events.

Nevertheless if you want to interest an editor or agent you need a plot.  I have recently submitted a detailed six-page plot outline to my publisher for a sequel. However, it’s a plot outline with no flesh on the bones: a character may do something horrid to someone and they will react but, until I write it, I don’t necessarily know quite how the character will react.  An editor doesn’t need to know that. They need to know if it will be exciting and different (but not too different). They will want to know where there will be action or emotion and how the story will be resolved.  You will have to work al that out before you pitch, even if you start your pitch with a simple  ‘Boy meets girl, girl prefers another boy… who claims to be a alien.’ (No, I’m not actually writing this.)

The idea is that you are dealing with consequences.  The boy will seek to disprove the other boy is an alien and the more he does that the more the girl will like the alien…

A good editor will be one step ahead of you and ask detailed questions: Where is the alien from?  What are his characteristics?  What makes him so special?  Why does the girl prefer him? Don’t pitch until you are ready with the answers.  The last thing you need is to have the editor interested at the beginning and then feel deflated because you don’t know how it all will turn out.

I love character interplay and the mechanics of a relationship.  It’s also imperative to let characters fail. Take risks. A reader might be disappointed but then will be rewarded when your character picks themselves up and tries again.

Plots are pathways to a resolution but the strength of a good plot comes from the characters: readers like the characters so much they want them to succeed, and care less about where the characters are going than being able to go with them.

Sometimes when writing you can trap yourself in a corner.  Do you go back and rewrite or do you write on?  Raymond Chandler always knew what to do: have someone kick down the door with a gun in their hand.  Don’t worry if things get difficult.  Rescue is at hand, even if it’s a ‘Sorry, wrong door.’  I think creating difficulties for yourself is good for the writing. The reader is doubly rewarded when you finally figure it out.

What point in your story should you begin your novel?

The most obvious answer is ‘the beginning’ but sometimes it’s good to start half way in:
Your character is trapped in a cave, fire is blocking the entrance and something is approaching that means to kill him.  He wishes he hadn’t left home at all because any moment now he is going to have to fight to the death, and death is the easy way out.  Now you can go back to the beginning.  Last Tuesday.  It’s raining and your character gets a text that simply says, ‘Help me. If you love me at all, you will come’.

Readers will have the patience to go along until your character is standing in that burning cave facing the prospect of death.  Let’s hope your character knows how to survive.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     The Door of No ReturnCode Name VerityWinter TownNo AlarmsGirl, Stolen

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Crafting Your Novel’s Plot And Characters To Sustain Story Momentum Throughout The Middle, by Sam Hawksmoor

I have no fear of the middle of the novel. I’m scared to death of the beginning and the end but the middle is a ledge I can regroup on, to take stock and re-energise.

Writing as someone who has taught screenwriting for twenty years, the mantra is always beginning, middle and end, with each part having its own beginning, middle and end… That all said, knowing where the mid-point is, in terms of plot development, can be problematic.  In a two-parter the midpoint is the end of part one, but to be honest I am not sure that I know where the mid-point of The Repossession is – perhaps about 60% in.  At the point where Genie is done for and Rian knows he’s lost her.  That feels right. It’s an emotional moment where the gravity shifts and the story takes a new direction.  In The Hunting I know exactly where the middle is – a point where the characters know they can’t just keep on running. They have to turn around and face the enemy.  They have no idea how they will do that – but again it’s the emotional shift that takes place.

Sometimes you have to cut scenes that you like because, in the editing process, you can see that they detract from the main story.  You can’t see this when you are writing it, and it might well be a good developmental scene, but if it doesn’t move the narrative forward you don’t want to risk a reader putting it down. Backstory information is quite often material that eventually goes.  (You can always put it on the website).  Your main protagonist’s story is where the attention must be.  I had a nice developmental scene in book; one with Genie remembering her Grandma (whose death has caused her to be locked up in her room in the first place). Nevertheless, it comes too early. Readers want to get on with the story immediately and you can’t take the risk with something cute but unnecessary.

YA fiction is filled with characters all fighting for the limelight.  When teaching, I’d tell my students to make a list for each main character: how they live, what they eat what they read or listen to, and what they like or dislike, but I’m afraid it’s a case of do as I say not as I do, as I tend to keep all that in my head.  I do however form a deep mental image of my characters (especially when they are based upon someone I know) and try my best to differentiate between each person, adding quirks and tics to find their particular voice.  *Incidentally, I dislike the creative writing class thing about finding your voice.  It’s a novel filled with people – you have to find twenty voices and you’d better be all of them and stay in character for each of them.

If I ever doubt I’m getting it right, I take a character out of their comfort zone. A small device will do. I might have the prettiest girl in the book trapped in a loo – a horrid messy stinky loo – and unable to get out. No one can hear her cries for help. The window is too small to climb out of and she is going to have to crawl out under the partition through all the waste to get out.  Just as she finally emerges covered in wee and toilet paper, she runs into the guy she has been trying to impress.  How she reacts and how he reacts will define them. The tension and desperation of the moment will cement a relationship between your reader and the character for the rest of the book.  (It worked well enough in Bridget Jones’s Diary).

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The RepossessionThe Hunting     Across the UniverseAugustA World AwayBoys without NamesThe Dog in the Wood

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Why I Love To Set Novels In British Columbia, by Sam Hawksmoor

Choosing British Columbia as a location for my novels is practically cheating. What’s not to like about mountains, beaches, the Pacific Ocean, fiords, a sophisticated city in Vancouver with at least 1000 great restaurants, a choice of theatres and cinemas, skiing on Grouse Mountain in winter and walking up the Grind in summer.  Then there are the Whistler Mountains, the huge winding Fraser River that snakes down from the wine country and through the vast forests towards the Pacific, the amazing islands in the gulf and the vast splendour of Vancouver Island.  It’s the best place to live on Earth.

In 1886 Vancouver was the newest city on Earth and in June that year it had burned to a crisp. So everything starts after that date. Everyone wanted a piece of the action and Vancouver has always been about real estate and immigrants.  The town where my family still lives have street and shops signs in Korean now.  The face of Vancouver is Chinese, Korean, East Indian and of course First Nation and the original settlers from England, Scotland and Europe. This dynamic mix is transforming the culture and wealth of British Columbia.  There are two great world-class universities, UBC and Simon Fraser, busy producing future business and scientific leaders.  Just below UBC you can enjoy the best skimboarding in the shallows once the tide goes out. Twenty years ago I was inspired by a quirky event on that very beach when walking with my dog and came across a pair of shoes with someone’s feet still inside them!  It made its way into a novel I wrote under another name (Mean Tide) when I relocated to London.  ‘No experience wasted’ is my motto. Sport is threaded through life in BC, where the bike is king and sailing and kayaking practically compulsory.

This leads me to Vancouver and British Columbia’s dark side: the gangs, the drugs, the violent crime and family breakdowns as people struggle to live in some of the most expensive real estate in North America.  You only have to stroll to the edge of the tourist area of Gastown to Hastings and come face to face with undesirable types and see the mask slip from the face of paradise.  It’s an immediate reality check and drugs in particular draws in teens. No city is without its bad side, but this is spread right across the province and there are causal links to this, from bikers to teen runaways, inadequate parenting, poor role models and more. Yet it’s also full of ambitious kids, good kids and generous kids who want to make their mark on the world. Some of them even survive the terrors and pressures of high school – a literary genre I wouldn’t dare to contribute to.

All this is why British Columbia is the most perfect location for me as a setting for Young Adult novels.  Everything happens in British Columbia and it is full of possibilities.  The tragedy is that most publishers haven’t been there, can’t see it and moan if your book is set anywhere but the UK or USA.  I would love to set a novel in Cape Town for example – another fantastic city with mountains and possibilities – but they shake their heads and just mutter that Africa doesn’t sell.  There’s a lot of location prejudice.  They are wrong of course.  Think of your favourite movies and there’s a good chance some of them were shot in Vancouver: from Twilight to Juno, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Butterfly Effect and Hot Tub Time Machine.

One of the best sights I ever had was sailing back from Vancouver Island past Galliano Island. A forest was on fire on the island, aircraft were bombing it with water and the smoke trail went on for miles, as a pod of whales went right by. My niece Tabytha and I sipped our wine, amazed, and along came the best sunset ever.  That’s life in British Columbia, and that’s where my heart lies.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The RepossessionThe Hunting     Necromancing the StoneAngel DustTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Code Name VerityDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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