Friday 7 October 2005

What Children's Book Week did for me

The National Children's Book Week poster for 2005 was designed by Simon Bartram, author of Man on the Moon and Dougal's Deep Sea Diary
It’s National Children’s Book Week in the UK!

My seven year old’s primary school has invited authors and illustrators to visit, there have been competitions, and a dress-up-as-your-favourite-character day!

Caught up in the enthusiasm of this lovely, booky week, I plucked up the courage to volunteer to read to my daughter’s Year Three class. I say plucked up the courage because instead of picking something from the bookshelves, I decided to read my own unpublished picture book manuscripts!

Now, fellow obsessives, you may – as I often do – sometimes wonder if all those lonely hours tapping at the computer keyboard and peeling open rejection letters are worth it; you may sometimes wonder if it is time to give up the dream. Well, don’t give up until you’ve tested your work on your chosen audience!

Reading my stuff to the kids was more energizing than a library full of books on how to write! The children laughed and clapped and shouted out comments and, when the I finished reading, gave a big cheer!

Children walking to school dressed as Thing One and Thing Two from Dr Seuss's The Cat in the HatThe picture right is of Cat in the Hat enthusiasts from last year's Children's Book Week. Unfortunately I didn't get a snap of this year's costume parade.

The next day, when the school paraded into assembly dressed up as their favourite characters, amongst the Harry Potters, BFGs, oompa-loompas, knights and Sleeping Beauties, I was honoured to find that one of the kids had come dressed as a character from my story!

It was better than winning the Newbery Medal.
National Children's Book Week is organised by Booktrust.

Wednesday 5 October 2005

Women Writers Who Don't

Though twice as many women as men are writing, they are 50 per cent less likely to send off their manuscripts to publishers or agents, or to apply for writing grants.

Debbie Taylor of Mslexia
As quoted in Writer's Services Comments

Sadly this is all too true. I should know. I am one of the 50 percent less likely to apply a stamp to my submission letters.

Debbie’s theory is that this failure to push our work out into the real world is due to a lack of support in our (women’s) intimate relationships.

This excuse I dare not claim – my family (especially my husband) have been supportive to the point of pushy (“Have you published it yet, Mum?”). But it certainly is more difficult for women to allow themselves certain freedoms. More often than not, one decides to forego that hour of working on the manuscript to clean the kitchen, knowing full well that the kitchen will revert to its state of original sin within minutes of the kids getting home from school.

James Frey in How to Write a Damn Good Novel II (How to Write Damn Good Fiction: Advanced Techniques for Dramatic Storytelling in the UK) puts it rather harshly:

To become a damn good novelist you will have to put in your time writing. And that means that you won’t be doing things other people do because you won’t have time for them.
But what if you’ve got kids and responsibilities and the like? Okay, you will have to have a job, a secondary career, but it cannot be the centre of your life.

The writing will have to be the centre of your life.


And if you are a mother, double ouch. Because if you’ve got kids and home and husband and oven and washing machine and underwear and toilets on your mind, chances are creativity is on indefinite leave.

I once attended a talk where Anne Fine (Madame Doubtfire, The Tulip Touch) said behind every successful female writer is a wildly successful, millions-making husband. Well, she didn’t put it quite like that. But you get the idea.

If only that were true for all us aspiring-authors with dishpan hands.

Frey writes: “Once faith (in writing) is broken, the writer is unlikely to go back to writing, ever.”

So how do you keep the faith? You keep the faith by doing it all.

I once set up a website to encourage creativity in mothers – home-bound or office-bound. It was based on my own realisation that there would never be time for my creative life unless I allowed myself to make time for it. Here was the anthem of Mum at Work :
Let’s do it all, we’re already tired anyway.
I haven’t updated the site for a few years now (too busy being creative!), but you can still check it out. I try to refer back to it when I'm fed up and tired and discouraged. It reminds me of that shining thing out there somewhere called Hope and gets me writing again.

Family supportiveness is important to the success of your extra-curricular endeavours. But more important I think is just giving yourself permission to do it.

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