Friday, 12 October 2018

Tuning in techniques for your brain!

by Paula Harrison

I've heard other writers say that they could never work on more than one story at a time. However I bet they actually have side projects in the backs of their heads - things they want to develop when there's time.

I make my living writing multiple things for multiple people. I currently have two new series (neither of which has been announced yet). I also have another idea lurking in my head that I'd really love to start working on. I also have a family and all the chores and responsibilities that go with that. I'm always finding out that my kids' trainers are falling apart or I haven't paid for their lunches or that we've run out of milk. So focusing on one thing and giving it that intensive concentration that makes a great book is a challenge at times. But there are quick cheat ways to tune your brain into a story so that each time you sit down to write you actually write rather than staring at the screen and thinking about whether to book a new grocery delivery slot. So here they are:

Use key objects
This could be almost anything that helps to key your brain into your story. Ideally it will be something smallish that you can keep on your desk. I find this a particularly useful technique when I'm using a real world setting as my inspiration. It works because I can bring something back that's meaningful to me.
A few years back I wrote a story inspired by the dark peak area of the Peak District. I brought back one pebble from the rocky cliffs around Curbar Edge and kept it on my desk. It was helpful to be able to pick it up and handle it from time to time. Its shape and rough texture evoked that place for me.
Curbar Edge was the inspiration for the setting in Pale Peak Burning

Have a key image as your desktop background
Choosing a key image and keeping it as your desktop or laptop background will launch you into the right mood for your stories as soon as you boot up your computer. This doesn't have to be a picture that evokes your setting. It could be something that links to your main character or theme. Last year I wrote a book for readers aged 6+ and I kept a picture of an otter that I'd taken at Newquay Zoo as my desktop background. I like this one as it looks like he's waving at me!

Create a mood board
I have to confess that I've never created a mood board but I know some writers love them. The advantage of this technique must be that you're not restricted to one key image to shortcut your brain into story mode. You can put together all sorts of images matching different characters and themes that evoke the complexity of your fictional world. With sites like Tumblr around this has become easier and easier to do. Just make sure that you don't spend so much time putting together a mood board that you never get round to writing.

Use music
If you asked me which of these techniques is the most useful to me I'd pick music. There's something about music that reaches our emotions instantly and let's us springboard straight into the right frame of mind for writing fiction. I've also relied on this heavily during times where there were family or personal issues going on, as happens to everyone from time to time, but putting writing aside was not an option because I was writing under deadline. This is another blog post really, but if shutting out all other things in your brain is a challenge then I really recommend finding a song or piece of music that connects with your story in some way.

Write little notes to yourself
To work well, I'd suggest keeping the notes short. Maybe just a few key sentences about what the central conflict is in your character's life. These notes could be in a notebook but sometimes I pop them at the top of the chapter I'm working on. Sometimes, if I'm keen to crack on, I'll write something in capitals in my manuscript about the things I need to expand on. That way I can carry on writing but remember my thoughts about editing the chapter when I come back later.

Pin up key phrases for your characters or themes
This is a similar idea to the one above, but in this case keep it REALLY short. In the past I've stuck key thoughts on the wall above my computer. The only down side with this is that your family and friends tend to come along and read them out loud and then stare at you in a quizzical way as if you've completely lost the plot!

Hopefully some of these will be useful to you! I've been thinking about the theory of different learning styles recently (I was once a primary school teacher) and I wonder if what's useful will depend on whether you're a visual, auditory, reading/writing or kinesthetic learner. I don't know very much about the theory but I do know that I'm a visual learner and I tend to think visually, so I nearly always use the desktop background technique with my stories as it works so well for me. Good luck!

Paula Harrison is the million-selling author of The Rescue Princesses. She has also written two more young series and five novels for readers aged 9+.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Are teenagers - and their brains - different?

by Teri Terry

For a long time it was thought that most brain development takes place in the early years; that a teen essentially has an adult brain. 
But then why do they think and act so differently? 
For example, why do they - comparatively speaking - have poorer impulse control, take more risks in the presence of their peers, and generally find their parents excruciatingly embarrassing to be around? Why won't they just grow up?
Is it a societal thing - is it our fault - is it theirs?

Brainstorm is a play created by Islington Community Theatre (now called Company 3) and cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore:

You say to me...
Your brain is broken. It's like an adult's brain that doesn't work properly.

Whether you are a teen, write for teens, live with a few or work with them by the dozen, watch this excerpt: it is powerful.

Brainstorm from Mattia Pagura on Vimeo.

When I started writing for teens years ago, it wasn't long after the time that YA fiction was becoming a thing

Around the same time I remember coming across this argument, one I've heard many times since:
No matter what you call them - teenagers, young adults or adolescents - the whole youth culture is a recent creation of an affluent west. YA fiction grew out of this: it is a market artificially created by publishing companies to make money.

So, are they real or did we make them up? 
Whatever label you want to use, are teenagers distinctly different from children and adults, or are they actually a recent invention? 
And why does it seem so socially acceptable to mock teens and the ways they are different, their likes and dislikes? 

I'm all too familiar with how dismissive people often are of books written for teens and those who write them, and the view that readers should go from children's stories straight to adult classics with no stops between; that giving them access to teen fiction they enjoy allows them to be lazy and unchallenged.

I went to a talk by award-winning cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at New Scientist Live last weekend: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain.

She knows what she's talking about. This is her bio, from the New Scientist Live website: 
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University
College London, Deputy Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and a member of the Royal Society Public Engagement Committee. She has won multiple major awards for her research, including the British Psychological Society Spearman Medal 2006, the Turin Young Mind & Brain Prize 2013, the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award 2013 and the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize 2015. She was one of only four scientists on the Sunday Times 100 Makers of the 21st Century in 2014.

I took LOADS of notes to do this blog, and then I found this: a TED talk! 
Well, Sarah-Jayne says it much better than I can, so here you go: 

So, there you have it. 

Teenagers ARE different; their brains are undergoing important work at making them who they are. This is the case across cultures; across centuries; even species. 

So, cut them some slack. 

And I'll keep writing, and know this: 
If I write a book that a teen connects with, one that makes them understand themselves or other people better, one that makes them feel that if a character their age can do something amazing, maybe they can, too - or even if it is just pure escapism from a difficult day - I know I've done something important.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Hello! I'm talking to you! Who's your reader?

by Addy Farmer

Let me tell you straight off that I opened this new post with NO IDEA what to write about. My fellow bloggers have done it all, really they have and done it brilliantly. So ... why bother? Why should I write anything at all? Am I just filling space? Honouring a committment? Fulfilling a self-aggrandising ambition which included seeing my name in as many places as possible? Um, maybe. And probably all three but it's also about a need to talk to someone out there about what the flip I'm doing being a children's author. It's about talking to people who understand that it's not all about launches and cake. Or wine and cake. Or cake.

Lemon drizzle - my favourite

Is anyone listening? Have I got your attention with CAKE? Well, if that's so then I must be talking to the vast majority of children's writers, because in my experience, rather alot of us like cake. I hope I know my audience. Why do we write with an audience in mind? For me, it's all about HEART.  The nine year old protagonist in my WIP is based on and written for a nine year old from a primary school I worked in. I want him to identify with my protagonist and feel that this book is for HIM alone (and the millions of other readers who will also buy it). And maybe, just maybe it can make a difference to someone.
Image result for kids audience
So not only do you excellent readers want to see cake in my blog but you also want a cracking personal story of ambition, struggle and eventual success. Give me a moment on that one.

Image result for mountain climb black and white
I've no idea what's going on her but it looks like a struggle to me
And call me a custard cream if I'm not correct in assuming that you also want a few TOP TIPS on how to make your writing shine by knowing your readership?

Well, here are some tips for you based on my writing for junior children with a school element involved...
  • find out what your chosen readership enjoys reading! Simples. Try seeing if a school will let you in - schools generally love volunteers. My WIP is 'funny and magic' - so many children love funny stuff - but if it doesn't suit you then DO NOT FORCE IT. Find another way - magic/football/pets/therearemore. Have combos e.g. funny magic; magical pets; footballing dogs.  
  • note quirks and habits which will make your characters stand out e.g. I noted so many children played with the wretched plastic trays placed directly under the tables or fiddled about with pencil sharpeners or took hours to wash up the paint stuff or gave out letters with a great deal of fussing ... it goes on
  • understand the way a school works - it's changed since you were young! School is such a massive part of a child's life that it's important to know roughly how stuff is taught and timetables
  • Know more about the culture in primary schools today or at least in the school you research! Schools have staff who specialise in nurturing pupils/teaching English as  foreign language/SENCO support/booster classes. So much! 
  • You don't have to include everything of course but any research will shine through and will help bring a story and characters to life and into the hands of your chosen reader

Identify books which are similar to yours
Once you recognize who your competition is, it may be easier for you to pinpoint your potential readers because chances are, you share the same target audience.

Having trouble identifying your target audience?
Ask other authors or industry professionals for help! There's a certain SCBWI conference coming up in November in Winchester ... it's a great place to find out about publishers' target audiences and lap up their knowledge. Also children's authors love to help fellow authors at these dos. 

Kids seem a bit happier in schools nowadays

Some stories that speak to their readers

Harry in his cupboard - alone and friendless except for 1 000 000 000 readers who felt his pain and his thirst for something more than this

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

Dogger by Shirley Hughes is about the terrible anxiety of losing a beloved toy, the unsentimental love of your hero big sister and the immense happiness of finding it again. It is the world of the four year old completely.

Then there are the teen/YA reads - the Guardian has a great list of books where readers have so identified with the story or the protagonist that they have saved lives. Can't say fairer than that.

Friday, 7 September 2018

My First Year as a Twittering Author - brilliant!

by Em Lynas

First, I need to say  I did not want to join Twitter because I didn't 'get it'.

What was the point of twitter?
Who was tweeting who and why.
What was the point of me tweeting?
Would it be time consuming?
Would there would be NASTY TROLLS!
Would it ALWAYS be confrontational so I wouldn't say what I really thought in case I was rounded upon by the aforementioned NASTY TROLLS!
And - the clincher - Donald Trump is on twitter.

But when I was lucky enough to get a three book deal with Nosy Crow!

I was advised to tweet if I was comfortable doing it.

So I had a go but I was thinking this:

What the heck do I say?
Buy my book? No.
Who should I follow? (Not Donald Trump)
Should I just like lots of tweets? Is that stalking?
Should I retweet EVERTHING by EVERYONE to make friends?
Shouldn't I be writing? 

But then I thought:
Oooo look! I can quote a retweet with a comment EXCITING!
Oooo look! I can see who other people are following and follow them!
Oooo look! People are following me! (Not Donald Trump)
Oooo look! Someone has retweeted me! With a comment!
Oooo look I've been #FF'd  (Follow Fridays)

And then I thought:
This is fun.
This is time consuming.
But is it useful?

YES! It's all three because this is what I have DISCOVERED on Twitter in just one year of twittering:

Fantastic book bloggers like
Jo Clarke @bookloverJo
Catherine Friess @storysnug
LibraryGirlAndBookBoy @BookSuperhero2

Teachers who LOVE BOOKS

Authors who are SO SUPPORTIVE

Initiatives to encourage reading for pleasure
North Somerset CBG and the NorthSomersetTeachersBookAwards #NSTBA

Organisations like:

And these twitter interactions led to invites:

To join in with the Great North Author Tour organised by Richard and Mel of Drake's Bookshop

To pop in for book signings in
Waterstones in Harrogate, Yarm and Middlesbrough
Indie Bookshops such as - Seven Stories where I got to write and draw in the Visitor Book!

To teachers getting in touch to book school visits which is fantastic because I LOVE being with the kids especially the ones who know my books better than I do.

Picture by Richard Drake - Hats by me.

This is just a flavour of why I am now a twitter fan. I've only just touched on the fabulous community of author, illustrators, librarians, bloggers and teachers who all have one thing in common - they love books for children.

I have a feeling I'll be updating this post as I remember the people I've missed out! 


Friday, 24 August 2018

Choosing Character Names by Kathryn Evans.


Why do character names matter?

  • If your book is published the world will have to live with your choice for a while. More importantly, you'll have to live with it.
  • Getting the name right will help you develop your character. Sometimes I borrow someone's name that fits my character and change it when I've found a suitable replacement.
  • The right name will help your reader draw a picture of your character and set the time, place  and genre of your story.
Take these few examples:

  • Dr Frankenstein would not have been the same had he been called Dr Faffenbine.
  • Scarlett O'Hara might not have had the same impact as  Poppy O'Lovely
  • Edward Hyde would not have been as menacing as Teddy Dysguise
  • Hagrid would have been perceived differently were he called Hacket
  • Severus Snape would not have been as terrifying as Arthur Apple
  • Peter Pettigrew is the perfect name for a snivelling, grudge holding, pathetic  coward and even hints at what his body can do.

Image result for scarlett o hara
Spoilt, clever, finally heroic Scarlett O'Hara

How do you choose names?

Sound it Out.

Different sounds give us a different emotional responses.
Image result for S

  • Hissing sounds such as s and z can put us on alert.
  • Sounds such as sh and zh are calming
  • Breathy sounds are unthreatening, such as H and F
  • Murmuring sounds are comforting - M and N for example.
  • Snappy sounds such as T and K are slightly aggressive.

Listen to some different names aloud and see how you respond to the sounds.  Does it feel right? Is that how you want your character to be viewed? 

Word Association

Certain collections of sounds remind us of other words. Hagrid sounds a little like 'hug'.  Snape sounds a lot like 'snake.' J.K. Rowling takes great care in naming her characters - it's especially important when there are so many of them. They need to be right and they need to be memorable. Luna Lovegood is another good example - Luna, to do with the moon but associated with loony - and Lovegood, all the pure and lovely things. 

Names from  history can help us out as well - Douglas Adams reluctant hero Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy has a perfect name. Arthur is steady and reliable,  possibly even boring BUT it is also the name of one of our most famous kings. And just in case the name sounds a bit too heroic, the surname Dent knocks the shine off. Arthur Dent,  it absolutely sums up that character.

Generate by Genre

In science fiction you can use names to establish difference and you can probably make it up - Hitchhikers characters Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillion immediately tell you those characters are out of this world.

In historical/geographical fiction you need to do your research. In Candy Gourlay's Bone Talk she uses character and place names to conjure a time in Filipino history when America invaded. It's beautifully and accurately done: Samkad, Kinyo, Luki, Tambul names of a time and place.

Suzie Wilde does the same in her viking novel the Book of Bera - she uses names to weave a tapestry that feels right.

Where do you find names?

  • Keep cool names you come across. If I like a name, I sometimes keep the post it notes used at book signings to remember.  You could devote a few pages in your ideas notebook for good names.
  • Google baby name lists. You can find lists by decade right back to the early twentieth century.
  • Have a file on your phone so when you pass names of places you can make a quick note next time you stop. There's a sign post for three villages that I drive past sometimes, Norney, Shackleford, Hurtmore. Brilliant surnames that are in my 'one day' file.
  • Steal people's names - sometimes it might be temporary while you develop a character., sometimes it's forever. I've asked people if I can use their names before - they're usually pretty happy about it.
  • The phone book. I know, they don't really exist anymore but I have an old one I keep for this purpose!!
  • Religious texts are great places to find names - and you can associate them with certain stories. 
  • History - J.K.Rowling is . master at this - she knows classical texts, mythology and basic history and uses it. The etymology of her character names is fascinating. 

Image result for bumble bee
Dumbledore is an archaic word for bumblebee.

I use these techniques  when choosing names. In More of Me, I needed a name  for my main character that spoke of her innocence and corruption by external forces which led me to Eve.  That became Eva because I also needed a name I could morph into new names - the other versions of Eva were originally going to have all have different versions of the same name but that wasn't practical because of school.  I wanted something that sounded brittle and edgy so Eva, became Teva.  It was a happy coincidence that Teva is Hebrew for world/nature.

Teva's best friend Maddy is British with Pakistani parents. Finding the right name for her mattered hugely, I wanted a name that could be shortened to an anglicised version but had roots in her parents heritage. Her full name is Madeeha.

In my new book, one of my characters is called Shem. I wanted a name that told of the boys history but also sound sullen and recalcitrant. Shem was one of Noah's sons who was saved on the Ark. The 'sh' sound smacks of silence, and Shem sounds a little but like 'shun'. Perfect for my character.

Get your names right and you can reinforce character descriptions, or maybe subvert your readers impressions, whichever, if you do it with thought, it will make your book better and your characters  more memorable.

 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. 

Friday, 17 August 2018

My Life as the Token Male

By Nick Cross

Photomontage images by Candy Gourlay

As a white, middle-aged, middle class, heterosexual man, there are few situations to which I can add any kind of diversity. But on entering the world of children’s writing, I was surprised to find myself in the minority. I’m the only male blogger on the Notes from the Slushpile team, for instance, and at a recent SCBWI event, I looked around to see that I was the only man in the room. Not that any of this really bothers me, it’s just... interesting.

Of course, there are plenty of other male children’s writers, and significantly more male children’s illustrators. So I’m not claiming any kind of discrimination here! But I remember how at the first night of the recent Picture Book Retreat, all the men ended up together on the same table for dinner. I don’t think we meant for it to happen like that, and it felt quite weird, whereas a table that was all women wouldn’t have seemed remarkable at all.

The 2018 Picture Book Retreat gang. I count seven men here!

Growing up, all my friends were boys. I didn’t have a sister, and the idea of talking to girls was frankly terrifying. Even when I went to university, I chose a course (Computer Science) that was heavily male-dominated. But, through the house I lived in and the university society I joined, I began to move in mixed company. And I was surprised to find myself making actual, platonic, female friends. I began to realise that I was more comfortable in a room full of women than I was in a room full of men. Part of this was, no doubt, my disinterest in typically masculine interests like sport. But there was also an emotional honesty to being with a group of women that was near impossible to replicate with men of my generation (without the application of copious quantities of alcohol). And since fiction writing is very much the process of accessing and exploring our emotions, it made sense when all these interests began to dovetail.

Nowadays, I live in a house full of women (wife, two daughters, female cat) and the majority of my close friends are women too. I am (as far as I can tell) still a man, but undoubtedly with a strong female influence. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem said recently:

“I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore

This resonated with me, because I want to embody those “feminine” qualities she’s looking for in men. Qualities like kindness, empathy, vulnerability and respect. The generic advice to “man up” has become a terrible burden for the men of Generation X, who are struggling to adapt to a changed world of work and relationships. The Millennial generation are perhaps better off, but there are still many masculine stigmas to overcome.

When I began writing my latest novel, I wanted to bring some of my personal journey to bear on the finished result. But I was also beset by worries about my place in the world and the challenge of finding a fresh subject. What was there to write about that hadn’t been tackled a million times before by some other self-absorbed white male writer? In a time of cultural upheaval, #MeToo and being “woke”, did my privileged point of view have any relevance?

I don’t want to say too much about how I addressed these concerns, because I still have another round of edits to do on the novel. But, suffice to say that the book became a framework that helped me explore these questions, while also (hopefully) delivering a cracking story. From the outside, personal and social change looks easy, but it’s actually an incredibly messy and contradictory process. Human beings are an inherently flawed species, but while some people see that as a reason to try to genetically or technologically “improve” us, I see that as a reason to celebrate our glorious diversity.

Is the gender bias in children’s writing a problem? It’s something that was tackled recently as part of Melanie Ramdarshan Bold’s scholarly article on diversity in British YA fiction. Melanie found that 64% of YA titles over the study period were written by women, and questioned whether this was having an impact by discouraging male teenage readers. As ever, it’s very difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions, because the reading, writing and publishing experiences are so subjective. Undoubtedly, there are some teenage boys who are very happy to read a YA romance with a female protagonist, and some teenage girls who wouldn’t read a book if you paid them. Factor in the increasing fluidity of gender and sexual identity amongst young people, and generalisations become impossible.

I don’t have good answers to any of these issues. But what I can do is to keep asking questions, keep turning up to writing events and keep wearing my token male status with pride.


Nick Cross is a children's writer/illustrator and Undiscovered Voices winner. He received a SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.
Nick is also the Blog Network Editor for SCBWI Words & Pictures magazine. His Blog Break column appears fortnightly on W&P.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Thoughts on writing poetry for children

by Addy Farmer

I've been thinking a lot about poetry recently. I don't know why, maybe because I'm writing something long with all the long thinking that involves (UPDATE - I'm nearly finished and the slog has been worth it). Maybe it's because I've been doing poetry workshops for children. Check out the awesome video I made (don't panic, it's only just over a minute long).

Or maybe because writing poetry is a bit shorter than writing stories. Hem-hem.

I really do love writing poetry and find that it adds to my writerly range and incidentally to what I can offer in schools. 

Does it have to rhyme? 

Poetry in primary schools is sometimes regarded as something mysterious which can only be handled with RHYME. Whereas, poetry should mean the freedom to write what you feel and ...

if that involves rhyme,
at the end,
of a line
 then fine, 
but if not that is equally okay. 

There are so many different ways of presenting poetry from the simplest circle poetry where there is just an infinitely repeating pattern of words through mesostics and diamanté poems to poems based on the Fibonacci Sequence (I've not yet given that a go). Or why not just go freeform and write like the wind, about the wind and

t o s s
 ThIs WaY
 tHaT wAy

and see
how they

There is poetry in everything if you choose to find it. Here's one I wrote earlier.

I wrote a poem for, Look Out! The Teachers are Coming! It's short and fun and it goes like this:

Please check out who I'm next to ...

What is a poem exactly?

I think of poetry as the nearest I can get to being a visual artist. Poetry can be playful; lyrical or anything you like, so long as it speaks to a brilliant idea or an important occasion or a place you love  or the person you adore. Poetry is evocative. Poetry should leave a picture in your reader's mind (not literally for those with aphantasia) and a feeling in your reader's bones. At the risk of sounding a bit up myself, I quote the following from The Little Prince.

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry  

In other words, poetry need not be obvious but it should make the reader FEEL - giddy or angry-pants or sad or elated or yes! that's it! Or something


If you want to read poetry defined, then read one of my absolute favourite picture books, 'This is a poem that heals fish' by Jean-Pierre Simeon and Oliver Sorman. 

It is unpretentiously beautiful and quietly profound. It offers a playful and profound answer to the question of what a poem is and what it does. And as it does that, it also answers  the larger question of what we most want in life and how we give it shape.

Or try Michael Rosen, he know a very great deal about poetry for children.

Want to write poetry for children and get it published? 

Me too.

As with writing stories for children, you MUST do your research! Read poetry and then read some more. You can do no better than starting with Em Lynas's wonderful resource funEverse poetry. Ooo, by the way I was a guest poet there!

Try the Poetry Foundation site for great poetry and inspiring articles.

Whist Interesting Literature this site advises 10 classic children's poems ... it is equally advisable to read up to date children's poetry and you MUST read Michael Rosen or let him read to you.

There are probably children's poets out there screeching at this blog and just crying out to give great advice along the lines of ...

You silly little poodle
Why don't you use your noodle
And jot down a little doodle
but do not make it rud-le
(we're writing for children after all).

Please published poets, show us the way! Any advice will be gratefully received - people may even write odes to you.

odenoun [ C ] poem expressing the writer's thoughts and feelings about a particular person or subject, usually written to that person or subject
"Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" are poems by Keats.
UK  /əʊd/ US  /oʊd/

Advice for getting your poetry published

  • Write stonkingly great poems. One would think this goes without saying. ...
  • Research markets.
  • Choose 3 to 5 of your best poems for submission.
  • Format and proofread your poems.
  • Write your cover letter.
  • Put your submission together. 
  • Keep track of where you send your poems. 
Get ready to do it all again.

I found a couple of places you might start.
The first is The Caterpillar magazine and another is a writing website with some great advice on writing poetry and getting it published. 

By the way, I do offer poetry workshops for primary schools both indoors and outdoors. 

Poetry workshops are fun
in the rain!
Except for ...
wet paper
which makes your words run
'til they wobble and wibble
and dribble 
sopping and drip-
off the s-o-g-g-y page 
and ...
it's nicer in the sun, really.

I wish you the very best of luck and hope you will share your thoughts and experience!

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Failing... and picking ourselves up again

by Paula Harrison
Budle Bay in Northumbria a good place for reflection

I recently posted on twitter that I was about to sign a contract that would take me (eventually) to being an author of forty books. The tweet got a lot of views and attention - maybe more than anything else I've tweeted - but I felt slightly fake as I posted it. You see I knew damn well that some of the books on the contract might never be published because I've had books cancelled before.

This got me thinking about how we curate our image on social media, presenting the shiny, smooth side of our lives and often hiding the reality. I use twitter mainly for work and a lot of other writers follow me, including those yet to be published. My writing life must appear so perfect to them. My profile says "million-selling author" which is true. It doesn't say "once had 3 books cancelled due to poor retailer response to previous books in that series". Also true. I don't talk about it, partly out of a wish not to look unprofessional, even though it was a huge blow at the time and I probably think about it just as often as I do about the million sales.

Then I found an article in The Guardian by Elizabeth Day The link is here:

This made me think about failure. How do we deal with it? Can we always learn from it? Does it mark us, like a painful scar, or does it make us stronger?

Maybe, if we can be honest about these things, we can find our way through them a little better especially in the early days when writing is such a tall mountain to climb. So I asked some fellow Slushies if they would share a failure.

Maureen Lynas, author of You Can't Make Me Go to Witch School! and Get Me Out of Witch School! wrote: 

My first novel 'The Blood Curdling Bug-Eyed Jawbreaker' didn't work because I didn't understand set up or the need for cause and effect so it was just one long string of silliness BUT there is a creature in it which is forming the basis of a book I'm writing now. The gurglefurter has waited in the wings for at least ten years but now it's centre stage.
Here is the proof that nothing is ever wasted! I have to admit that I have also re-used ideas I really like from my pre-published writings so now I know I am in good company!

Nick Cross, author of many stories including The Last Typewriter, wrote:

My biggest writing failure was having unrealistic expectations. Immediately following my Undiscovered Voices shortlisting, I was suddenly on the fast track to publishing success. Within months, I had rewritten almost my whole novel, gained an agent and had commissioning editors clamouring to read my work. When - after a protracted period of negotiation with a publisher - it all fell apart, so did I. Although I kept writing, it took me years to recover from that early taste of success. Eventually, I learned not to tie my entire sense of self-worth to my book. Once I recognised I had many other skills and achievements that were just as valid as a publishing deal, I began to rediscover the joy in my creative life.
I think, although we don't always talk about it, lots of us have had this experience. Getting close to our goal only to see hope of success evaporate is often more difficult than not getting close at all. To really enjoy our creative lives, we may need to separate our fulfilment from the minefield that is today's publishing business. 

Candy Gourlay, author of picture books and novels including the soon-to-be-published Bone Talk wrote:

One early writing failure for me was something I'll bet anyone who has attempted to write a novel has committed. Having finished my first ever novel, I immediately asked a novelist friend to read it. Weeks later, I met her at a cafe, excited to hear what she thought of my characters, my twists and turns and my wonderful sense of humour. Instead, I spent an hour discovering that my plot was thin and my characters poorly fleshed out. Not only that, the manuscript was riddled with simple typos, non-sequiturs and plot holes.

What did I do wrong?

• Vanity! I shared a manuscript because I was seeking praise, not wisdom

• I exposed myself to criticism before I was ready (I was so devastated, it took me months to start writing again)

• I shared the manuscript before it was fully developed (I didn't even know what a fully developed manuscript was)

• It was not my friend's fault that I chose her to read the manuscript. But later, I learned that I needed time to learn how to trust another person to critique my work
Candy also mentioned that she felt she'd had so many failures it was hard to choose one to write about. I'm sure all the fans of her books would disagree! I do know what she means though, with each new project I've undertaken there have been pitfalls and it sometimes seems to me that I'm always discovering new ones!

Of course there's a difference between failing by making mistakes in your story and failing because you've run headlong into the tough conditions in the publishing market. If you're unpublished it can be difficult to tell where the problem lies, especially if you are receiving form rejections. Does your book need more work or were publishers simply not looking for a story like yours? Sometimes a publisher or agent can have something very similar on their list already and for this reason they won't contemplate taking you on. If you're unsure it's useful to get feedback on your work. I would recommend joining a critique group through the SCBWI or taking part in a critique at their Winchester conference in November.

So has failing made me stronger as a person - as a writer? I can honestly say that it didn't feel like it at the time (times!) but looking back over years of writing both as a passion and a career I can see that I am beginning to learn a little. So here's to failing... and then picking ourselves up again.

Share buttons bottom