Friday, 24 February 2017

Running a writing masterclass

By Paula Harrison

Me with fellow slushies Maureen Lynas and Addy Farmer in the pub afterwards (after eating a very large chocolate muffin)

Last Saturday, I went to Birmingham to run a session called A young series fiction masterclass which I'd offered to SCBWI members. By April, I'll have 20 young series books published over three different series (The Rescue Princesses, The Secret Rescuers and Tiara Friends mysteries) so I wanted to start sharing what I knew with other writers.

The Case of the Stolen Crown - the first book in my new series - out in April

I gained enormous insight through SCBWI sessions whilst working towards getting published. Diana Kimpton and Lee Weatherly both delivered excellent sessions at the SCBWI annual conference several years ago. I think Diana's session may have been in 2008 - my second conference - and that was the one that gave me the push to try writing for readers aged 5-8.

I'd never run a masterclass before - I'd only delivered talks lasting 45 minutes or so as part of a larger writers' day at the Nosy Crow offices - so I was a little nervous about how it would go. One of my concerns was wanting to make the day appropriate to a group of people who might be at different stages in their writing journey. My other main worry was timings - I tend to go quite fast if adrenaline is flowing and I was worried I might skip past things. But I was once a primary school teacher so I'm used to thinking through how to break skills and knowledge down into manageable chunks that people can learn. Also I'm much more practiced at standing up in front of groups of adults than I used to be. So I reminded myself of all this on the way there!

The people that came were an excellent group - full of thoughtful questions - and I got some useful feedback from them at the end of the day. The day was split up into different sections and the information interspersed with exercises. Every section got picked by at least one person as the most useful to them, which backed up my theory that people were going to get slightly different things out of the day. The feedback I've had has certainly given me the confidence to say I'd run the masterclass again. Special thanks to Donna Vann and her husband and to Clare Bell, who did all sorts of practical things that made the day possible. It was lovely to meet a lot of people who I only knew through facebook and the SCBWI fb page and it reminded me that I MUST try to get to more writers' events this year.

There's a kind of magic (cue song) which happens when writers get together. It happened on Saturday and I can't take credit for it, of course. It's the magic that comes from being in a group of like-minded people who are just as barmy as you and have all these strange story thoughts in their head just like you do. 

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, glassesImage may contain: 2 people, people smiling, close-up and indoorImage may contain: 2 people, glassesImage may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people sitting

Friday, 17 February 2017

Writing for Children - Bryan Collier on Inspiration, Passion and the need for Diverse Books.

By Kathryn Evans

 I've just returned from the SCBWI New York conference. I know - get me! Gadding about the planet. It's huge too - over 1100 people attend and it's packed with very well known American book people this Brit has never heard of. One of them was the first keynote speaker: artist and picture book writer and illustrator,  Bryan Collier.

Bryan Collier and Kathryn Evans
He spoke about his passion:

"Your dream's should scare you they should be so outlandish - hold on to them."

His inspiration:

"Pay attention to all the little things that happen to you, even if it's painful," 
One of his great influences were the quilts his grandmother  had sewn when he was a child.  At the time, he hadn't taken much notice, but the way the patchwork was created became a part of him and a part of his art.

This resonated with me. As a child, I lived so much in books, they are as important to my writing as the laughter and the tragedy I've lived through. They make the patchwork of my books - stories about relationships with a sci-fi twist and a spoonful of horror.  When I embraced that, I found my voice.

He talked too, of his own oddity:

"The things you feel awkward about are the things that are special about you. That's your unique gift. Let that shine."
As a writer of pretty weird books, I wanted to cheer at this. We all have our own oddities - let them breathe.

On why he creates for children:

" There's nothing you can't touch and talk about in picture books."
Bryan's latest illustrations are for Daniel Beaty's story, Knock, Knock -  an intricate tale of loss.
 Knock, Knock

And his need:

Bryan first saw himself in Ezra Jack Keats " The Snowy Day." He was four years old and,

 "Peter was wearing my pyjamas".

Candy Gourlay has often said that she didn't think girls like her could be in books because she never saw Filipino children in books. It matters that all children see themselves in books. As Bryan said:

"Somebody is waiting for you to be courageous enough to say 'I have a story to tell' - that's what's at stake."

 You know, it didn't matter that I didn't know Bryan's work - his words brought me to tears and the entire audience to its feet.  And he finished with this:

 "Let's do this, lock the doors, get desperate."
Children are waiting.

Kathryn Evans is the award winning author of More of MeA gripping thriller with a sinister sci-fi edge, exploring family, identity and sacrifice. She is Co-RA of SCWBI British Isles. Find her  on Facebook and Instagram @kathrynevansauthor and twitter @mrsbung  More of Me will be released in the USA, June 2017

Monday, 13 February 2017

Diary of a Slushpiler: Project 200 Words

By Jo Wyton

On Thursday evening, I go to bed (at eight thirty, half an hour after I started to fail on the whole consciousness front) having written some words. They are not good words. They are, in fact, great words. Because they exist on a screen, which is an enormous step in the direction of Existing On The Page Of A Book. There are 221 of them. (I deleted four for not meeting my high standard of 'making any sense to anybody at all even after two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc'.)

I celebrated. Internally, of course, because quite frankly I had just put Baby in bed at the time, and fat bloody chance I was going to risk ten rounds of 'Hush, Little Baby' because of 221 words. 

As I wrote those 221 words, I had a glimpse of a reflection of myself, a vague recollection of someone I had intended to become, and viewed as it had been through sleepy eyes and what is, by now, a fairly feisty temperament brought on by a cabin fever-inducing routine, it was lovely. 

The next morning, in the shower, I ponder Project 200 Words. After all, I need something to replace the gaping chasm left in my life by the quiet exit of Project Goat (funnily enough, not the title of The Novel, though probably should be), and this seems to fit the bill. Every evening, once Baby is in bed and a sufficient volume of alcohol has been consumed, I will refrain from turning on the tv to watch reruns of Gilmore Girls (peace out, sisters) and will instead write 200 words of The Novel, and will celebrate finishing them by raising my laptop over my head and running in slow motion around the living room to the Chariots of Fire theme tune. I come downstairs to find the world's creepiest doll in the living room and my imagined celebrations are replaced with thoughts of being murdered in my sleep by this thing coming to life.

Friday comes and goes.

Then Saturday. Sunday happens in there somewhere, too, though it seems blissfully devoid of things that require a place in my permanent memory.

Of course instead of writing, other delights fill my time happens. I find myself cleaning all manner of bodily fluids from the depths of the carpet, scrubbing Weetabix from the radiator and wiping snot from the tv (always amazing how high up the screen it can get). None of which is entirely conducive to the imaginings of a Proper Writer. And the time that doesn't involve pretending I'm not high from the smell of carpet cleaner is so filled with all the best things in life, that I forget that there is a part of me not quite being embraced. 

'Just keep swimming' is the advice offered to me on Facebook, which would be great advice if I could only find my snorkel and flippers. Most likely they're languishing in the bottom of the wardrobe having been chewed on by the cat. 

Still, there is a deadline. A writing retreat in May. Surely it would be deemed improper to spend the first day and a half trying to remember where I saved the manuscript and where the charger cable plugs in to the laptop. It has occurred to me many time since I started with this writing malarky that one requires honest and somewhat ridiculous friends in life, and I am fortunate to have many who fit into both categories quite happily. One of them booked me onto this retreat as a surprise. Am sure I have fallen into an unspoken contract to provide alcohol and cake, but am embracing the imposition of a date in my diary as a signal to retrain my fingers in how to type. 

Of course, just as I finish typing this, Significant Other walks into the living room and says 'Are we going to put carpet cleaner on this sick or just leave it?'

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