Monday, 15 November 2004

Anne Fine on Writing

To become a writer, says Anne Fine, first of all, you have to write.



From the PEN Masterclass in Children’s Writing, at the London International Book Fair in Olympia, 17 March 2003



“Not being in the mood is no excuse,” Anne Fine says, quoting Bertrand Russell: “Nothing that you write is ever as bad as you fear or as good as you think.” She also likes to quote children’s author Allan Ahlberg: “The hardest bit about writing is getting your bum onto the seat.”



FINDING THE TIME. Says Fine: “It is important to decide what a reasonable amount of time for you to write is. Mothers might have to work around a baby’s naptimes or during school hours. But once you have decided on a realistic writing time, stick to it.”



NEVER SHOW YOUR WORK TO A FAMILY MEMBER. This is purely for self-preservation, Fine jokes. “Even if they say it is very good, there is still something about the way they say it that makes you want to kill them.”



WHAT TO WRITE. “Good writing is good writing whether for children or for adults,” says Fine. “But in adult writing you are seen as part of your audience.” “You can probably write about anything; but it is how you write about it and what you shine your spotlight on that matters.”



WHAT CHILDREN LIKE. “Children like to identify with something in the book,” says Fine. “We must write about emotions that a child can recognise.” In this sense, she says, “plots are over-rated because once a child has invested in a character, they will see a book through.” Be aware of the physicality of normal childish response, she warns. “Avoid processed adult reflection.”



BE AWARE OF YOUR AUDIENCE'S READING ABILITIES. Six to nine year olds may struggle with the mechanics of reading, and you should be careful to avoid flashbacks and the subtleties of time schemes” when writing for this age. For older readers, “you should write a book you yourself would like to read.” Having said that, “never overestimate the reader’s knowledge and never underestimate the reader’s intelligence”. “There is a fine line between being magical and being plain silly,” says Fine. “If it’s real, keep it real.”



This piece appeared in Words & Pictures, the newsletter of SCBWI British Isles Region, Autumn 2003



Anne Fine advises would-be writers to “read, read, read. The practice for writing (whatever teachers say!) is not writing, but reading. If you don't have a library card (and not in the teapot on the mantelpiece) you cannot be serious. Then as Philip Larkin says, write the book you yourself would most like to read”. She should know, she was the Children’s Laureate from 2001 to 2003, and is one of the most successful children’s writers in Britain today. Fine was awarded an OBE in the Queen's birthday honours list in 2003 for services to Literature. Her most well known book is Madam Doubtfire, which became a hit film. Other well known titles are The Tulip Touch, Flour Babies, and Bill's New Frock. She has also won a number of awards including the Carnegie Medal and the Publishing News' Children's Author of the Year in 1990 and 1993.





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