Friday, 15 June 2018

Author School Visits - Tip 1

by Em Lynas

I haven't done many school visits yet as my books You Can't Make Me Go To Witch School and Get Me Out of Witch School haven't even been out a year yet and I've been busy writing Help! I'm Trapped At Witch School! until this month.

But I have done a few and I'm learning what works and what doesn't work for me and so I thought I'd share because it might be helpful to all you authors out there who aren't ex-teachers and are feeling the fear of the school visit.

I've just been appearing at the West End Festival in Glasgow as part of their schools programme and it's got me thinking about the importance of dialogue to establish character from the outset for mg readers and how that helps in the creation of events.

Pre-published misconception - children coming along with their school to talks/workshops/performances will be familiar with the book.

The truth - This is unlikely. If there's been time, an organised teacher, and an available book then, yes they may have read some but mostly - not. They're coming along for many reasons, it might be a free visit organised by a festival, it might be they've picked me at random or because I'm local. Or because they need to tick the - we've seen an author box. Or it may be they are huge fans and can't wait to hear what I have to say. I just don't know what situation I'm walking in to.

So, as I'm planning I'm thinking - How do I engage the children (and teachers) and interact with them about a book they probably know nothing about? How do I talk about it without giving away any spoilers? How do I make that fun?

Well, luckily, You Can't make me Go To Witch School has illustrations by the fabulous Jamie Littler and so I based my event around them and talked about character creation with the aid of a simple Power Point slide show. This has a become even simpler with each event. I think I started at 25 slides and now I'm down to 8. It was also interactive for the first event - Noooooooo!

The slideshow is a sort of Who's Who at Toadspit Towers.
Here's a few characters with the relevant dialogue I read from the book.

Copyright Jamie Littler, You Can't Make Me Go To Witch School, Middle Grade book
Daisy Wart

Reluctant Witch and Awesome Actress.

“Granny.” I say it with firmness. This is definitely a hands-on-hips moment, so I put them there. “Chocolate, currently in my backpack, is a birthday treat. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare with pictures, also currently in my backpack, is a birthday treat. Money, in the backpack, is a birthday treat. Dumping me at witch school is NOT a birthday treat. I absolutely refuse to enter a dilapidated building named Toadspit Towers because I am NOT a witch!”
Copyright Jamie Littler, You Can't Make Me Go To Witch School, Middle Grade book

Ms Thorn

Lover of Strictness and Conformity

“Is you the headmistress?” asks Granny. “Is you Ms Toadspit?”
“I am not,” says the woman. “I am Ms Constance Thorn. Senior Teacher of Toadspit Towers. You may speak.”

Dominique Laffitte 
Copyright Jamie Littler, You Can't Make Me Go To Witch School, Middle Grade book

Thinks She Is The Best and Brightest Witch at Toadspit Towers
“Ms Thorn has appointed I dormitory monitor for I am the Best and Brightest Witch.” She points at the rosette on her cauldron as proof. “I have knowledge of everything in this school. If there is anything you want to know then ask I. And if there is anything you should know then I shall tell you. And if there is anything you do wrong, I shall tell you that too. You are lucky to be sharing the dormitory of the youngest Best and Brightest Witch in the history of Toadspit Towers.

Copyright Jamie Littler, You Can't Make Me Go To Witch School, Middle Grade book

Jessica Moss
Feeling The Fun And Loving Her Life!

“What’s happen— Hey, a new girl,” she says, spotting me. Her eyes light up at the sight of the cake. “Ooh, cake. My mam can’t bake cakes. They go flat in the middle and come out like biscuits. But that’s OK because I like biscuits. And pie.”

Once the children had been introduced to the characters we chatted about who was going to be for or against Daisy. Who was going to help her to escape from Witch School and who was going to get in the way.

That's when I realised how important first impressions are to children in mg and why the first words spoken are so important. They completely 'got' each character from the way they spoke, the words they used and the attitude. It was a light bulb moment even though I really should have known that all along but as I was writing the books I was just writing for me, creating individuals who I wanted to spend time with. I wasn't always thinking about the reader and how quickly I need to establish personality. I will now though.

We were able to go  deeper into the characters but I'll blog about that another time. This could end up being a series.

So I learned something on that visit as well as having a ball with the kids making up new characters. I'm already trimming and adjusting ready for the next one and I'm sure I'll learn something on that too.

If you don't have illustrations you can still use images. You could find three images for each character and ask the children to choose the one that was the most likely to say the dialogue. That could be fun!


@emlynas on twitter - follow me!

Em is published by Nosy Crow and rep'd by Amber Caraveo

Friday, 8 June 2018

Countdown to Launching Bone Talk

By Candy Gourlay

It is exactly 35 days until the launch party for my new book, Bone Talk, on the 13th of July. Which is 20 days until the book is officially available in the shops! If you've ever wondered what publishers did to promote their books, here is a behind the scenes taste of the work being done by my publisher, David Fickling Books, to pave the way for Bone Talk's launch.

*In the video I forgot to mention Thornhill by Pam Smy and Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans (I already had my own copies so I didn't put those in my bag – but now I wish I did, they would make good presents!)

Friday, 1 June 2018

Highlighting The Heart of Your Story with Motifs

By Kathryn Evans

Motifs, metaphors, whatever you want to call them, those little beats in your story help highlight the heart of what you're trying to say. First though....


Why Does A Story Need A Heart?

A heart sets rhythm and it pulses life.  It's also why your story matters.   If you're writing for children, it will matter so much that it's probably the thing you'll talk about when you take your book into schools. It's what you hope your reader will take away from your story. Your story needs a heart, because without it,  the experience of reading is ultimately empty.

Take Wonder by R. J Palacio. On the surface, that's a story about a little boy with a badly disfigured face - but the heart of the story is actually about how other people respond to him. It's about society's acceptance, or not, of what's normal.

Or Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  The surface story is about a woman who doesn't know how to make friends so lives a very structured life to 'just get through'. But the heart of that story is about loneliness, about how most of us are afraid of it and stay away,  fearing it may be contagious, without ever asking why someone behaves the way they do. The heart of the story is about the danger of isolation and the joy of friendship.

In Wonder, we care about August, not because he has a damaged face, but because of the way he interacts with people, because of they way they respond to him.  We care about Eleanor because we begin to  understand why she is the way she is and how that feels. Both of these books will change the way the reader looks at the world, will make the reader think about the heart of the story - acceptance and loneliness.

Using Themes and Motifs.

In Wonder, Auggie has a space helmet that he loves to wear.   It's about hiding his face but it's also about showing his adventurous spirit, the image he wants to project to the world - if it was a balaclava it would give an entirely different message. It was given to him by his sister's friend, a friend the sister thinks has betrayed her, but the connection of the helmet shows us this is not that case. His Dad gets rid of it, not because wearing the helmet looks weird, but because he wants to see Auggies face, a face he loves no matter what.  That helmet crops up  frequently, highlighting, explaining,  connecting. It's a perfect example of a motif used to demonstrate a theme,  its regular appearance pulses though the book

In Eleanor Oliphant,  there are a number of motifs. Alcohol is one - 2 bottles of vodka every weekend and then, when things get really dire, more. But it's also there as an offering to take to a party - a half drunk bottle , a bridge between Eleanor's old life and the new one that is beginning to flourish. Eleanor hasn't quite made it across the divide at that stage, so the bottle is only half full.

Clothing is also a motif, an appropriate one in some ways, it's the mask we use to represent us.  Not just the clothes we wear, but the clothes we dress our surroundings in - as Eleanor moves in confidence to a more connected human being, she changes what she wears and also changes the decor in her flat.

 The motif  that really effected me in Eleanor Oliphant, was physical contact - no one touches Eleanor. When she first goes to the hairdresser, a step into the new world, it's very sensual. When she has a bikini wax, the intimate contact is painful but welcome.  The lack of touch in her life is significant and highlighted by her developing relationship with Raymond,  who gently breaks through the boundaries with hugs. Real life hugs. Hugs are the antidote to loneliness. This is a scientific fact. It changed the way I behave, I now make sure I give my father-in-law a big old hug every time I see him.


Finding the Heart of Your Story.

Motifs are a technical way of highlighting the heart of your story, but what if you don't know what it is? It isn't always obvious, often we think we're writing a story about one thing, and it turns out there's something else going on altogether - you know, like when your characters do something entirely unexpected, when your subconcious takes hold and flips the story in a different direction - it's the same magic at work.

For ages, I thought  my new book was  about  how we build a family around us after we lose our own - and it is kind of about that, but it's a story set in two time zones and I didn't understand why I'd done that, why it mattered. It was only in editing the story that I realised having a story across decades, allows me to explore our perceptions of things like beauty and what's considered to be acceptable behaviour and how that effects people.

If you are struggling to find the heart of your story, take a look at the turning point in a significant character's emotional arc. There'll be something there that they change their mind about that leads to the satisfying conclusion of the story.

In Wonder,  Auggie and Jack get attacked on camp but Amos and other school children, who've previously been horrible to them, defend them, they see Auggie as one of them, not just a weird looking kid.  This moment is about acceptance. There's another  heartbeat when Auggie wins a medal at school and accepts it in front of everyone, no longer hiding, but fully emerged.

In Eleanor Oliphant, Eleanor admits to herself that the mother that dominates her life is only alive in her imagination. This is a point where she accepts the past has made her life a misery but that she can let it go and and have a better life, that she deserves a better life. There is no physical connection with the mother, but there is with Raymond, her friend, and her newly acquired cat.

Look at your story with different eyes, where are the turning points, what do they mean? Are they reflected through the story? Identify the heart of your story and then keep it in mind all the way through- have a whole editorial pass, just for this. It'll be worth it, I promise.


 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 loves faffing about on social media: find her  on Facebook and Instagram @kathrynevansauthor and tweeting @KathrynEvansInk.  

Share buttons bottom