Thursday 12 April 2012

From Writing for Adults to Writing for Children - Sam Hawksmoor

Sam Hawksmoor and his debut children's novel. Photo: Petersfield Post
Sam Hawksmoor is a debut YA writer with a backlist in adult novels. A Canadian, he ran the Portsmouth University writing courses at BA and MA level until relatively recently. Sam also ran an award-winning hackwriters website 'The Repossession' came out in March. A Dream of Books blog described it as a difficult book to describe, '... what starts off as something of a modern day Romeo and Juliet tale with two teenagers defying the odds to run away together soon turns into a story of an altogether different nature. Part science-fiction, part romance and part action thriller...'  The sequel, 'The Hunting' is out this Autumn.

For the record I didn’t just wake up and decide hey presto I shall enter the world of Wallace and Gromit, love them though I do. This was a long journey.
I wrote a dystopian kids novel many years ago that everyone liked but at the time was considered too grim, too bleak, no kid would ever want to read that. It was about an orphaned kid who flees the comforts of her city to discover that all is ruins and poverty outside her comfortable bubble. She didn’t even know she was ‘rich’ – the suburbs were being systematically burned to keep warm or just plain vandalism and there is no rule of law. Global warming had changed the climate and with it all the things that everyone relied upon.  Of course all these years on we are well aware of all this and although global warming has yet to play a decisive hand – it will and the balance that sustains 7 billion people on this planet will tilt the other way. (Wish I still had that darn manuscript). Lesson learned.

Global warming - makes for grim and gripping reading

I continued to write adult fiction (Historical and Contemporary) and was totally distracted by teaching for a while.  Luckily over the past ten years I have developed a unit I taught at University (Falmouth and then Portsmouth) on children’s fiction that proved to be very popular.

It happily coincided with the rise of Philip Pullman and JK Rowling of course, but I embraced all the other great writers such as Celia Rees, Catherine Fisher, Marcus Sedgwick etc, exploring their themes and techniques and every student got a chance to start a novel of their own which they could develop further in the third year or at Master’s level.  
I realised through this process that childrens’ writers have a luxury that adult fiction writers don’t.  You don’t have to be pigeon holed.
Children’s or Teen fiction is the genre and within that you can write pretty much all you want (except historical my editor keeps saying which is disappointing). Under my pseudonym Sam North I did write a kid’s novel ‘Mean Tide’ still available on Amazon. Set in Greenwich on the Thames it concerns a child experiencing psychic phenomena for the first time.

More please!

Although it wasn’t picked up by a mainstream publisher – it was read by my present editor at the Winchester Writers’ Conference and the magic question was asked – ‘have you got anything else’?  I would never advocate self-publishing as a way to make any money in fiction – you really won’t, but in this case it opened a door for me.
Yes all my work is tinged by a rather bleak outlook on life, but then again being young right now and seeing where house prices are going, the lack of jobs or inspiration by world leaders to tackle any of our real problems – I don’t believe kids want fairy tales, they want a pathway to some kind of solution. 
The Hunger Games is not a solution of course.  Kids like guns and killing and heroism and I guess that will always be true.  Cleverly Katniss is a heroine right from the off, substituting herself for her little sister and going off to what must seem like a suicide mission. So this is the hero’s journey all over again in a world where reality TV has taken over everything. (See Battle Royale and Rollerball).

In my own writing, whatever I am writing, I am trying to root my stories in the now but make the fantastical element seem as normal as trying on a pair of shoes. I grew up reading Philip K Dick from a very early age.  I wasn’t to know he was a paranoid delusional but then again we are almost living in the world he created, so clearly he had insights into the human journey that others were not privy to. (Luckily we never did get nuclear war, but as Iran rattles its missiles – the jury is still out on that scenario).

World wars can start by mistake. The next one will probably be one as well. Right now I think the best dystopian author is Paulo Bacigalupi with ‘Ship Breaker’. He, more than most, has a grip on our future and the consequences.  And I’d like to have a go at writing something that looks at life in America fifty years hence.  The fun is researching the details on demographics, resources, trends and deciding what is possible and what is crazy. It is so easy to get it all wrong too. Particularly with electronics and software.  
I think being a children’s writer you are constantly looking at ways to interpret the world around us, speculate on what is to come and create characters who have to deal with it.
Much adult fiction is dealing with the minutiae of life – divorce, obsessions, money issues.  Kids want action, romance, resolution, hope, fun, and are probably not too keen on responsibility and consequences (but you have to include it anyway).  I read something like Catherine Fisher’s ‘Incarceron’ and have a sensation of awe at the scope of it.  That’s why in the end I write for kids.  PS: I am developing a plot for a part three for the lives of Genie Magee and Rian Tulane from The Repossession -  just in case...
Children's writing - the world at your feet
... you never know.


  1. Great post Candy, Sam, thought provoking stuff. I loved The Repossession, one of my favourite books this year. Looking forward to The Hunted with bated breath.

  2. What a fascinating journey you've had, Sam! Congratulations on the publication of The Repossession - it looks like a great read! And thanks for sharing your journey on the Slushpile!

  3. The Repossession is a great read! Thanks so much for this, Sam!

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