Excerpt & Giveaway: No Angel by Helen Keeble
Title: No Angel
Author: Helen Keeble
Genre: Young Adult | Paranormal
Rafael Angelos just got handed the greatest gift any teenage boy could ever dream of. Upon arriving at his new boarding school for senior year, he discovered that he is the ONLY male student. But what should have been a godsend isn’t exactly heaven on Earth.
Raffi’s about to learn that St. Mary’s is actually a hub for demons-and that he was summoned to the school by someone expecting him to save the day. Raffi knows he’s no angel-but it’s pretty hard to deny that there’s some higher plan at work when he wakes up one morning to discover a glowing circle around his head.
Helen Keeble’s debut novel, Fang Girl, has been praised for its pitch-perfect teen voice, and VOYA called it “refreshing and reminiscent of Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series.” No Angel brings you angels and demons like you’ve never seen them-complete with the wry humor of Vladimir Tod, sinfully irreverent romance, and some hilariously demonic teenage dilemmas
Helen Keeble is not, and never has been, a vampire. She has however been a teenager. She grew up partly in America and partly in England, which has left her with an unidentifiable accent and a fondness for peanut butter crackers washed down with a nice cup of tea. She now lives in West Sussex, England, with her husband, daughter, two cats, and a variable number of fish. To the best of her knowledge, none of the fish are undead.
Her first novel, a YA vampire comedy called FANG GIRL, is out 11th Sept 2012, from HarperTeen. She also has another YA paranormal comedy novel (provisionally titled NO ANGEL) scheduled for Sept 2013.
In which our hero arrives at his new school…
The shiny new sign above the towering wrought-iron gates said St. Mary’s Boarding School for Girls and Boys, which, as it turned out, was wrong by one letter.
“Wait,” I said, staring at the Headmistress with a slow-rising sensation of dread. “You mean I’m just the first guy to arrive, right?”
“If you fail to understand the meaning of the word only, Mr. Angelos, I will have to schedule you for remedial English lessons,” replied the short, severe woman. “But to make it crystal clear, you are indeed the first, sole, singular member of the male gender here.” It was obvious that she considered this at least one boy too many. “I trust you will be a worthy representative of your species. Welcome to St. Mary’s.”
Declarations of outright war had been uttered in friendlier tones. I grabbed my dad’s arm as he came back from the car, carrying the last of my suitcases. “I’ve changed my mind,” I said, turning us away from the waiting Headmistress. “Don’t leave me here!”
“You were the one who begged to come to your mother’s old school when you found they were accepting boys this year. ‘A way of honoring her memory’, you said.” He dropped my bags in front of the school gates and raised an eyebrow. “Not to mention ‘a heaven of honeys in very short skirts’, as I recall you saying to your friends.”
I flushed. I hadn’t realized he’d overheard that conversation. “But I thought there would be at least a few other guys around. Who am I supposed to talk to?”
“Girls?” Dad suggested mildly.
“Ha ha. Seriously, Dad!”
“You want serious?” Dad folded his arms, looking up at me. “It’s cost me a serious amount of money to enroll you here, so I expect you to actually make an effort for once, Raffi. St. Mary’s has always been one of the most exclusive schools in England, and we’re incredibly fortunate that they’re opening up to boys at last. And even more fortunate that they’re allowing you in for just the final year.” His finger jabbed me in the center of my chest. “You will work hard.”
Behind him, the Headmistress’s expression suggested that she personally thought boys were best put to work down dangerous mine shafts.
I scowled down at my feet, stuffing my hands into the pockets of my new suit. “If it’s so fabulous here, then why didn’t any other guys apply?” I muttered under my breath.
“Our entrance requirements are extremely strict,” the Headmistress said as if I’d spoken normally. “There was no shortage of male applicants, I assure you. Were it not for your late mother, I would have rejected you along with all the rest. But she was a personal friend of mine, as well as an outstanding member of this institution.” She fixed me with a piercing stare. “I trust you will live up to her legacy.”
“You hear that?” My dad poked me again. “This is your last chance, Raffi. You’re lucky to get into any school, after what happened at your last one. You should be grateful for this opportunity.” In my head, I started reciting the inevitable speech along with him. I’d heard it enough times to have it memorized. “You can’t keep wandering around in a dream, absent-mindedly strewing chaos in your wake.“
Honestly, incinerate one lousy building by accident once, and your dad will never, ever let you forget it. “That fire wasn’t my fault!“
“Perfectly ordinary toasters do not spontaneously spout four-foot pillars of flame!”
The Headmistress took a phone out of her pocket and murmured into it, “Memo to self: Mr. Angelos is banned from Home Economics.”
My dad was still on a roll. “Your problem, Raffi, is that you’re too unworldly for your own good. You have got to quit goofing off and start paying attention to what’s going on around you-“
His voice droned on, but I didn’t hear another word. I was too busy falling in love.
She was tall, only a few inches shorter than myself, but so light and slender she seemed to float on the breeze. Her feet barely made any sound on the gravel as she slipped round the gate and headed for us, her waist-length blonde hair rippling behind her like a cloak. Even though all the girls must have been warned boys were joining them this year, she still did a very gratifying double-take at the sight of me, her summer-sky eyes widening. For my part, it was all I could do not to gawp at her like a total idiot. The instant I saw her, I knew her. She was The One.
For a moment we stared at each other. Then the girl shook herself, her hair shimmering with the movement. A delicate rose tinted her high cheekbones, but — my stomach dropped into my socks — she didn’t look pleased. A small frown marred her perfect face as she turned decisively away from me. “M- I mean, Headmistress?” Even her voice was perfect, so soft and sweet I half-expected her to break into a duet about kittens and rainbows with a passing bluebird. “Everyone’s ready and waiting.”
“Thank you, Faith,” the Headmistress replied. She lifted a hand, cutting off my dad’s lecture. “Major Angelos, while I am certain your son’s head has not yet been filled with your sound advice, time grows short. I must ask you to make your final farewells.”
“Of course.” Dad put his hands on my shoulders, looking me squarely in the eye. “Now promise me you’ll apply yourself, Raffi.”
“Oh,” I said, staring past him at Faith. “You bet I will.”
“That’s my boy.” To my utter mortification, Dad ruffled my hair, then pulled me in for a hug. “You’ll do fine.”
“Mr. Angelos, you may leave your bags here for now,” the Headmistress said as I disentangled myself as fast as possible. “Faith will escort you to the hall. A last word with you please, Major Angelos?”
“This way,” Faith said, holding the gate open for me. She avoided my eyes, her own gaze lingering on my dad and the Headmistress as they headed back toward his car. “Your dad seems nice.” There was an odd, wistful note to her musical voice. “You’re lucky.”
“I certainly am.” Falling into step with her, I tried out the charming, enigmatic smile that I’d spent the summer practicing in front of the mirror. “Though not because of my dad.”
“Yes, of course we’re all lucky to get to go to a school like this,” Faith said, a little too quickly. She indicated the carefully tended flowerbeds lining the path, and the landscaped woods beyond. I had to admit, it was all very pretty. Also, unspeakably girly. I could already feel my testosterone draining away. “It’s so beautiful here, don’t you think?”
I edged a little closer, trying to keep up my smile while also throwing in a hint of smolder. My face was starting to ache. “Yes, I do.”
“Some of the buildings we use for classrooms are hundreds of years old,” Faith said, in the bright, brittle tones of someone determinedly paddling against a conversational undertow. She lengthened her stride, like a tour guide on a tight schedule. “Look, there’s the main school building. It has many unique architectural features.” I had a horrible feeling that Faith was about to start listing them all. Given that the monstrosity rising in front of us sported everything from Gothic gargoyles to a sort of bonsai skyscraper, she could probably keep going for hours. “It started as a chapel, though of course it’s been extended a lot since then. St. Mary’s used to be a convent, you know.”
I was beginning to feel like it still was one. Faith wasn’t looking at me at all. Time to deploy the big guns. “I know a lot of things, Faith Jones. Especially about you.”
That got her attention. She stopped dead, swiveling to face me. “What do you mean?”
Going for broke, I reached for her hand, gazing deep into her astonished blue eyes as I lifted it to my lips. “I mean that you’re the reason I’m here.”
This was absolutely true. School brochure, page three, full-page picture: “After a hard day’s work, nothing beats a swim in our beautiful outdoor pool!” — Faith Jones. The photographer had captured her rising from the water with her head thrown back and water streaming from her hair, looking like some sort of classic sea-goddess. In a red bikini.
The instant I’d seen that picture, I’d known this was the school for me. And now all my research in the romance section of the library was about to pay off big time. All the wariness had vanished from Faith’s face, chased away by incredulous, breathless hope. Her fingers tightened on mine as my lips brushed the back of her hand-
“Ah, Mr. Angelos,” the Headmistress said from right behind me. “I see you’ve introduced yourself to my daughter.”
1. Your first book, Fang Girl, was a paranormal comedy about a vampire fan girl who becomes a real vampire. Is No Angel a sequel?
No, they’re completely unrelated – no characters from Fang Girl show up in No Angel. There isn’t any mention of vampires in No Angel, and Fang Girl didn’t have any angels or demons in it, so the jury is out as to whether they’re even set in the same world. (Even I haven’t quite made up my mind on that one)
However, for those who enjoyed Fang Girl, I can promise that No Angel has the same sense of humor, including affectionate mockery of ridiculous paranormal romance tropes! Basically, what I do to vampires in Fang Girl, I do to angels in No Angel.
2. What was the hardest part of writing No Angel?
Working to a deadline! Because I had a two-book contract with HarperTeen (the first being Fang Girl), I actually had a deadline for No Angel before I’d written a single word, or even worked out what the story was going to be about! A very different experience from slowly writing Fang Girl in spare hours over the course of several years, with no-one but myself caring whether or not it was ever finished…
3. How did you become a writer?
The short answer is that I wrote a lot of stuff, and eventually got good enough (and lucky enough) to find someone that would pay me for it.
The longer answer is that I’ve always written for my own amusement, but never let anyone read it until I went to university and started writing fanfic based on a role-playing game called Legend of the Five Rings. It was a rather unusual fanfic community, because people generally used the game’s setting but invented their own original characters rather than writing stories about pre-existing characters (like Harry Potter or Twilight fanfic tends to do). It gave me a lot of practice in inventing imaginary people! I then slowly drifted into writing completely original stories, and was eventually lucky enough to be able to sell some to magazines. After a few successes with short stories, and in a fit of pique at the prevalence of both Twighlight-inspired novels in bookstores and Twilight-bashing articles in newspapers, I decided to try writing a novel… and that was Fang Girl!
So now, somewhat to my bemusement, I seem to have become a YA comedy author. I still blink at my own books sitting on my bookcase, amazed that they are really real.
4. Are you a full-time writer?
I wish! No, like most writers I have a day job – I’m an industrial software engineer. It is a very awesome career (where else do you get to play with oil rigs and nuclear power plants) but does mean I have to squeeze my writings into the evenings. I have a bad habit of forgetting to go to bed, so I’ll often be typing away at my laptop well into the small hours of the morning.
5. Fun fact about writing No Angel?
In order to keep track of where all my characters were at different times in the school day, I made timetables for them in Google Calendar… and then forgot to delete the calendars after I’d finished the book. I was greatly puzzled when Google started bombarding me with reminders to get to my history class.
6. Are you a pantser (just sit down and write) or a plotter (outline everything first)?
I used to be a total pantser (the first draft of Fang Girl was written in a month, for NaNoWriMo), but these days I’m more of a plotter. It’s something of a necessity when working to a deadline, with an editor who wants to make sure you’ve actually got a plan, and are not just going to kill all the characters in the last chapter out of despair.
7. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Apart from the day job, sleeping, and taking care of my family? I read everything I can get my hands on, especially fantasy and science fiction books. I’m also very into board games of all descriptions, from light family fun like Survive! and Kingdon Builder through to heavy strategic games like Tzol’kin or Puerto Rico. In any spare moments, I like to dabble in crafts – I recently learned to knit dolls and dolls’ clothes, and am now experimenting with making jewelry out of resin and plastic. If only there were more hours in the day!
8. What books make you laugh out loud?
I love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. They’re an amazing blend of so many different types of comedy: parody, political satire, character-driven, situational, wordplay, puns… even slapstick! He’s a master of messing with reader expectation to comic effect. I think my very favorite example of this in the entire series is the character in Thief of Time who’s dialogue is all “—-ing” this and “—-ing” that… but late in the book we find out (spoiler alert, look away now!) that all he’s doing is pausing and saying “ing”. Genius!
Other writers I can consistently rely on to make me giggle are Sarah Rees Brennan (though she’ll make you laugh in one paragraph and stomp on your heart in the next) and Louis McMaster Bujold (who also manages to mix high emotional stakes with very witty characters). I’m also very fond of the classic P. G. Wodehouse stories, although some of them have, erm, really not aged very well (why hello there, casual racism).
9. Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now?
I’m currently writing a YA dystopian comedy. No, really. If anything is ripe for a parody, it’s the whole “THE GOVERNMENT CONTROLS X AND Y IS BANNED!!” genre! The working title is Escaping Utopia, and it’s set in an idyllic far-future society where there is no war or crime as everyone’s needs are perfectly fulfilled by government-issued androids called Soulmates. Unfortunately for one 16 year old boy, his brand-new Soulmate tries to kill him on sight. Hijinks ensue!
The story also features a grumpy girl revolutionary hacker, a ridiculous number of huge planet-shaking conspiracies, and a bubblegum-pink battle robot named Candi who just wants to be loved. Let’s just say I’m having a lot of fun with this one!