Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year Resolutions

The new year is nearly upon us and I've been looking back over the Christmas break to see if I'd achieved everything I intended in 2006. I came to the slow realisation I hadn't. Maybe my goals were too high. Maybe I did not try hard enough. But, I did achieve some of the things I wanted to and maybe this is enough.

I have re-evaluated my goals and aspirations and made a short list of what I would like to achieve in 2007.

  1. Attend the SCBWI Professional Series 2007 - I only managed about about two last year, as most clashed with family events and birthdays.
  2. Write more articles and short stories and have them published - I made a lot of new contacts last year and was able to extend my CV but, let a lot of the original publications I had work published already lapse, which was probably a mistake. I need to contact them and get my foot back in the door, so to speak.
  3. Find an agent / publisher for my children's fiction - I failed miserabley at this one. Not due to lack of determination.
  4. Keep going with the sequel to my children's novel for 9-11 year olds. I have let this lapse too, due to deadlines and other work commitments with my teacher resources I am writing.
  5. Continue writing teacher resources. I did very well at this last year and may have found my niche. I hope to continue writing teacher resources over 2007. I have now written and had published eight books and have got commissions for one more already to be written in 2007 and got fingers crossed for a few more that I'm waiting for replies on proposals. But, I never reached my target. My aim was to have ten books by the end of 2006 (five books a year).
  6. Stop wasting so much time. I have to concentrate on one task at a time and not get distracted.

So, do I feel successful? A little bit. I suspect I will never truly feel like I've hit the big time.

Anyway, I wish you all a productive 2007 and may all your wishes come true.

Love Anita xxx

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tag Me!

Hi All,
Just thought I would mention today, that in the left hand margin is a rather large white square. It says 'Tag this blog!' in it. If you click on this you go to a BlogVia - Review page, where you can review and rate my blog. If it's not there hit the refresh button and it should appear. At the moment, the only review I've got is the one I wrote myself, which is a bit like cheating. So if you've got a few minutes, why not review my blog? I know time is precious but I'd love to know what you think - good or bad.
Love Anita xxx

Here is link if the large white square is still missing after you've hit the refresh button:

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Agent v Publisher Debate

There has always been the debate of whether to submit manuscripts to agents or to publishers first and from my experience there is no firm answer to what to do. Some of this has been discussed before in previous posts. See: What Does an Editor Do?

Much of the problems lie in being unsure what the boundaries are between an agent’s job and a publisher’s / editor’s job. There is a lot of crossover and the boundaries are not clear.

I was once told at a SCBWI meeting:

“Literary agents reject almost everything they read.”
Is this true?

I have also heard that many already published authors have submitted work to agents and publishers under pseudonyms and been rejected. We are often told they are business people and we should approach them in a business like fashion. See my post on Submitting a Manuscript. We have also read before they are looking for that sure-deal. See the post on World of Children's Publishing

But, does this mean they are not interested in new authors?

Both agents and publishers reject a lot of manuscripts, but I’ve always assumed this is because of the quality of the writing, and the market for the story. Obviously, bad writers are of little use to them, they are looking for good writers. I like to remind myself, all authors are new at some point.

Agents and publishers are both knowledgeable readers who love books. Why else would they become an agent or a publisher? Many agents are former editors.

There are plenty of books I don’t like and can’t get past the first page of. I may recognize their value, but for whatever reason, they don’t speak to me. That doesn’t make them bad books. They might even be great books. Just not for me. I can imagine this is exactly true for agents and publihsers as well. Everyone has different tastes.

Take a look at the wide selection of agent’s blogs around, as they can help determine a particular agent's taste. Most of them are American. This is what Jane Dystel from the Dystel & Goderich Literary Management says about being an agent: Jane Dystel's blog

In an effort to try to unbury the boundaries in my own mind, I have worked out:

An agent’s job is to sell manuscripts, do deals, and make money for the author, publisher, and themselves. To do this they have to believe they can sell your book. Who would take on a book if they think there’s no way they can sell it? But what gets overlooked is the other part of the equation - they also have to love the book. If they don’t, it’s not necessarily a reflection on your writing, or even your salability. Agents get hundreds of manuscripts every year; they can’t love them all. It takes too much time and effort to work on a book you’re not passionate about.

A publisher’s job is to decide which manuscripts they would like to publish and whether to commission specific books and projects. A number of titles and series of books, particularly in education, are commissioned by editors with specialist knowledge of the market. Most of the books I have had published have been commissioned by such publishers who prefer to work direct with the author rather than with an agent.

Many manuscripts are sent via agents to publishers and I’ve heard publishers look at these first as they believe they have been vetted already. More and more agents in the Children’s Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook are saying they don’t take unsolicited manuscripts. And, more and more children’s publishers are saying they only accept submissions through an agent. We are told if they ask for no unsolicited manuscripts then send a query letter. If they like the letter they will ask to see the manuscript, but the entries seem to suggest an agent first is the way to go with children’s fiction.

During the SCBWI live chat with US agent Erin Murphy, who runs her own agency, she explained agents want authors who have more than one book to sell and who have manuscripts that are finished. She said that authors tend to find agents with their third or fourth manuscripts. It is very unlikely an author will sell their first book, as some sort of apprenticeship is required.

So should we submit to publishers or agents? I’m none the wiser. I think it depends what you are writing. In my humble opinion, I think we should hedge our bets and submit to both.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Blogs! I don't get it!

I was reading in the Writer's News how Caroline Smailes, an unknown author, got a book deal from her blog. I thought Wow! That's great! Amazing. She's so lucky...

The article said:
"The publisher, The Friday Project (TFP), stumbled across her blog and was so impressed by her quirky style and risky subject mater they emailed the next day with a one book deal."

Well I thought to myself... I need to read this Blog.

I want to see what they are raving about.

So, I did and to be quite frank - I didn't get it.

Call me mad but I didn't understand a word of it. The big bold type intermixed with normal type made
it really hard to read and I found myself only reading the bold writing and not
reading the rest, which is why it probably didn't really make any


Now I went to the site because I really wanted to learn something and was really disappointed I didn't get it. What was controversial about a load of fancy type? My eleven year old daughter does that all the time.

Anyway, whilst I was writing the above my daughter walked in and said, "I like that, it's really cool. She read on and said, "I'm twelve."

So I stand corrected - My twelve year old daughter does it all the time. See Chrisi's Blog.

Well, after playing around with font, size, colours, and position on the page I think I might have got it. She doesn't know how to work blogger. She played with the quotes and it all went wrong so gave up and left it like that.

Maybe it is sour grapes. Maybe a bit of jealousy. But, to be quite honest I don't think so. I'm always pleased to hear when an unknown writer has some success. It is my dream it will happen to me.

A friend of mine, Candy Gourlay, is meeting up with an agent who liked her blog on her novel - Volcano Child - and I think it is a brilliant blog. Easy to read, easy to understand and lovely pictures to support it.

My message to all you writers and bloggers out there is:

Blogging does work. It gets you noticed. Now all I have to do is think of something quirky and risky to write about. Any fun ideas? Let me know. Want to enlighten me about In Search of Adam? Please do.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Children's Laureate

The next Children's Laureate will be appointed in May 2007. This award acknowledges the importance of exceptional children's authors in creating the readers of tomorrow.

If you would like to nominate a children's writer and/or illustrator to be the next Children's Laureate click on the link below:

Previous children's laureates are:

  • Quintin Blake (1999-2001)
  • Anne Fine (2001-2003)
  • Michael Morpurgo (2004-2005)
  • Jaqueline Wilson (2005-2007)
The person you suggest has to be a living UK writer, poet or an illustrator who has written or illustrated many books and been published for at least eight years. Nominations are open until the end of the month, Sunday 31st December 2006.

Monday, December 04, 2006

My Deal or No Deal Experience

Hi All,

Thought I'd write a little bit today about my brief encounter in the audience of Deal or No Deal. This is the game show hosted by Noel Edmonds and shown every afternoon on Channel 4. I went to watch my friend, Lynne Hackles, stand behind her box in the East Wing. As you can imagine, I was very excited and told everybody who cared to listen I was going to be on the telly.

I went to the studio in Bristol by train and incidentally got a lot of work done on the teacher notes of the plays I'd written for Hopscotch publishers. It was pouring with rain and I did get a bit stressy about my hair getting ruined, as I paid a small fortune getting it done the day before.

It was quite interesting learning about what goes on the behind scenes and the process of how they actually make a game show. They film three shows a day, which was a little confusing, as although I went to see Lynne on the Wednesday 11th October, the first show that was being filmed that day was Sunday 19th November.

Before the show started they had this comedian who warmed up the audience so they'd make loads of noise. I did manage to get in few close ups for that show and it was fun watching Lynne standing behind her box, clapping, cheering and stuff. In fact, it was a bit like being at a pantomime.

After the first show of the day, I was allowed to have lunch with Lynne and the other contestants in this large warehouse type place. I was already confused what day it really was, so could imagine the contestants, who had been there for over fourteen shows or more already, must have been totally confused. Lynne had already had Halloween and Bonfire Night. Also, my hands hurt after clapping so much and I’d only seen one show – I had two more to go.

When we'd finished lunch, all the contestants got changed and I was surprised to find out they do not get to choose what they wear. What happens is they all have to take about twenty outfits and hand them over to the production team, then the wardrobe people decide what each person wears for each show. I think I would have found it a bit daunting. Lynne told me her husband was coming down that evening and might make the last show.

The next show was Monday 20th November. I was sat right up in the far corner at the back. I was not particularly happy about this as I knew I would not get seen up there and I wanted to be on the telly. They'd made Lynne wear this awful browny green jumper that looked quite ancient. Now Lynne has some beautiful, bright clothes and I really did not think this dowdy, boring jumper suited her. I was a bit surprised she even packed it. But, never mind I thought she'll be stood behind her box, nobody will see it.

The comedian did another warm up. The contestants picked the ball out of the bag to show them which box number would be theirs for the show. Lynne picked number eight and I told the woman sat next to me that was a lucky number. Then the show begun. Noel did his intro and they flashed the names up on the board. Who would be next to come up?

To my amazement, Lynne was picked to take her turn against the banker. My first thought was 'Oh no, her husband wasn't there.' They called me down from the audience and thank goodness Colin had arrived. Apparently, for some unknown reason he'd cancelled his clients, left early and arrived just in time.

They took us both back stage and hooked us to microphones. They re-did all my make-up and hair. Put this bright red lipstick on me, which actually shocked me when I saw it in the mirror after the filming. I was seated in the hot-sit right behind Lynne, next to Colin, her husband, where I would be in camera shot for most of the show. Lucky I got my hair done the day before, although I was still stressing about whether the rain had made it go all frizzy. They used quite a bit of hairspray sticking it back down.

Lynne had an absolutely brilliant show. I was definitely on the telly; although I was a little disappointed they cut my big speaking part out, where I tell everyone who I am. You do hear me saying in the background she should stick with her box near the end of the show but, you don't actually get to see me saying it. Never mind, I still got my fifteen minutes of fame.

I never went in the audience for the last show filmed that day but, joined Lynne and Colin in the green room. I do have a very guilty admission here. I honestly thought the green room would be green and was surprised when it wasn’t.

Lynne Hackles with Noel Edmonds and her husband, Colin

To find out more about Lynne's show and whether she beat the banker, take a look at her website: Just thought I'd mention at this point I designed and made Lynne's website for her.

Let me know what you think of the show (if you saw it!), Lynne's website, how terribly vain I am, or anything else you want to tell me.

Love Anita

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Something that has always interested me is characterisation.

When I write I always start with character. I decide who my protagonist is going to be and any interesting character traits. I can spend weeks just thinking about characters before I even write down a word. For me, character comes before plot.

I am very aware that in a children's book the protagonist needs to be a child. but, not any old child - it needs to be a child who is pro-active, brave and can use their initiative. But, it is not only in a children's book that the characters can't sit there and expect other people to sort out their problems. This is true of all fiction.

I have learnt over the years to trickle information about character into my writing rather than write blocks of character description. Andrew Melrose once said in a workshop at a SCBWI Writer's Day in Winchester, many years ago:
Make your characters whole, make them real, make them people. Leak the clues deliberately and at a good pace. Let them evolve.

I have always tried to follow this advice. However, I have also found that sometimes you need to state the obvious as it is not always obvious to the reader. When you get to know your characters it is easy to assume everyone else knows just as much as you do. This is not necessarily the case, as I have recently found out. So signposting your characters is very important.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Writing Articles

This month I have another article in Writer's Forum (Xmas issue). It is about Marti Leimbach, the internationally acclaimed best selling author, who recently wrote a book based on her experiences with having an autistic son.

If you are interested in reading the article it is on page 42-43. I'd be interested to know what you think.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Plotting and Theme

If you have a tight plot to begin with and a route to follow, you can always change the route but it must still demonstrate the theme. Irene Yates at a recent course told me, you must know what the theme of your story is. As some of you may have noticed from some of my previous posts, I have a problem understanding what exactly theme is. Irene told me to analyse:

  • Why is your story being written?
  • What does your story demonstrate to children who are going to read it?
  • If your story does not tell you some sort of universal truth about the world, what is it telling you?
  • If your story is just entertainment, why would anyone want to publish it? Only celebrities can publish for entertainment and their books are mainly ghost written.

After in length discussion about theme I have understood the story can’t just be a spirit of adventure there has to be something else. You must demonstrate the theme within the story, such as justice over tragedy, revenge, good overcoming evil. It is a view about life and how people behave. If you haven’t got a theme you are writing in thin air. A theme gives extra depth to the story. It gives you the feeling that you want to get to the end to find out what happens but, you don’t want to finish the book.

You should be able to write the theme of the book in one sentence. The trick (or literary device) in writing a story with a huge theme is to make sure each of your main characters has its own small theme that reflects the main theme. This is known as the macro and the micro.

The macro is the whole planet, the universe, everything. The micro is one person’s life as a reflection of the whole planet, the universe, everything. Being born and dying can happen a hundred times in a lifetime in many ways.

A theme is not in your face but the underlying message. Some people may read the book and not know realise there is a theme at all. It should be so intertwined with the plot that the theme is implicit.

This has helped, in a way and that is why I thought I would share it with you all. I have concluded all emotions can be themes, morals, such as you find at the end of fables, can be themes and proverbs can also be used as themes.

Irene suggested I looked at some of my favourite books and try to work out what the themes of the stories are for myself. However, I can’t help feeling a list of themes would be useful.

If you have anything to add to this post on themes, please do. If I’m still totally on the wrong track please let me know and if you can direct me to a list of themes it would be ideal.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Getting Your First Novel Published by Sandra Ann Horn

I first decided I wanted to write professionally for children in 2001. This was the year I attended my first SCBWI conference in Winchester. I’d already had a little success writing short stories for the women’s magazines and now wanted to break into the children’s market. I knew both types of writing have to be tight with no wasted words. I had ideas for children’s books floating around in my head but nothing concrete on paper. I needed an idea of where to start.

My first workshop was with the children’s author Sandra Ann Horn. She emphasised that when you submit a manuscript it is terribly important to play by the rules. Your manuscript needs to be professionally presented. She said always have a front page with a title, who it is by, how many words and also send a covering letter.

Here is my children’s book of ____ words, aimed at age ___ . I enclose a stamped addressed envelope.

Sandra went on to explain that some publishers only read the first paragraph and it needs to engage the reader. She said the first paragraph is the most important of all to pitch your story to editors and publishers and should show the power of your story. She told us to, make it intriguing, set the tone, give some sort of indication of the age of the reader and make the reader want to explore more. There is a poetic rhythm at the beginning. The reader is bought in to the adventure and they are part of it. The first paragraph should indicate the type of book we’re going to be reading. There should also be a hint of how the story will progress. There should be a promise of a journey.

She told us to pick a suitable publisher. Know where your book sits on the shelf. By this I think she meant, you should have an idea if the publisher’s you are approaching publishes the type of book you are writing. She suggested to telephone first and ask who you should send your manuscript to. She also said, that make sure if they asked for a synopsis you say in your covering letter, further to our phone call or, as asked for.

Some other things she said during the workshop that I have found useful and still keep in the back of my mind when I write is that you should tell the reader the state of mind of the character by showing what they are doing. Read your work aloud to check the flow of words. This will help to identify where your story slows down and which parts are unconvincing. You can hear immediately where it flattens. Ask yourself do you need that description. If not, take it out and use a drip-feed method. Think of the pace. Remember, the first bit has to excite the reader but you can slow down after that.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Meeting Deadlines

One of my plus points is that I am good at multi-tasking. An important requirement of multi-tasking is setting deadlines. Whenever, I start a new job I always ask, ‘When do you want it done by.’ Often the reply is as soon as possible but, I find this is not helpful. I prefer to have someone say ‘I want it by next Tuesday,’ or ‘Ten o’clock tonight at the latest.’ This keeps me on track and helps me to organise my workload. If I don’t set myself these time limits I find myself procrastinating and time-wasting by staring out the window or my worse vice, playing spider solitaire.

Deadlines have to be reasonable, whether I’m setting them for myself or they’ve been set by an editor. Some deadlines are tight; rush jobs come up, emergencies occur, and then the pressure is on. Most of the time, it's possible to merge tasks, working for a while on one thing and then a few days on something else and get it done without undue stress. Sometimes I just need time out from a job and I am pleased I can work on something else to take a break.

When I have deadlines set for me, I always break them into smaller tasks, giving myself my own time limit for each chapter or section. It’s nice to give myself a little reward when I achieve it too but, often the personal satisfaction of knowing I achieved what I wanted to do is reward enough. I work within the time available and I’m an organisation freak so this method of working suits me fine. I would be interested to know how you do it. Do you find it easier to write to deadlines?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Thatcham Writer's Ovation

© Norman Jones

I belong to a writer's group called the Thatcham Writers. We have our own website: Last week we were performing a story we wrote collaboratively for the Thatcham Literature & Arts Festival and the feedback we have had is excellent. The unedited version of the story is on the website. The photo of us was taken at the Ovation Event by the official photographer Norman Jones. To see more of his photos visit his website: From left to right is Ian, Pat, Me, Steve, Tony and Dave.

We held our first short story competition and the prizes were given out by the Mayor at the event. We short-listed the entries and the judge of the competition was the highly acclaimed, international author, Marti Leimbach.

As a group, we have written and completed several collaborative novels. We have done this in several ways. For our first attempt, with a working title of Road to Brighton, we each invented a character that was on a bus going to Brighton. Then over a period of approximately twelve months we took our own characters through their story of what happened in Brighton and each character's story had to interlink with the other characters. The stroy became very complicated and exciting. I myself was very impressed with the completed novel.

In our second novel, we each invented a character who was in an explosion at a hospital. Then rather than keep our own characters we swapped and each person had a turn at writing a piece for everyone else's character. These characters had to interact. Again, we had a fantastic elaborate story that I am very proud of. One of our group members, Ian, has edited this novel and sent it out to agents but, sadly we have not had much luck so far.

Our third novel involved keeping our own character and over a period of seven months where we wrote a day of their life, starting from a Wednesday and ending on the following Tuesday. the characters were all very different and on the final day they all meet up on a tube train with catostrophic results. This novel was much darker than the others. The initial characters for each of the novels can be read on our website.

To find out more about the Thatcham Writers visit the website.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Book Review - Pick Me Up

ISBN 1-4053-1621-7
Dorling Kindersley
Edited by David Roberts
£19.99 (Hardback)

Pick Me Up is an amazing book and like no other encyclopaedia I’ve ever seen before. It is the type of book that would enthral anyone who loves the Guinness Book of Records. As the title suggests, once you pick this book up you most definitely can’t put it down. Even the moving-transfer-effect front cover had me captivated before I’d even managed to open the book. If you simply want to find out a quick fact and get on with something else, this is NOT the book for you. It is full of some of the most interesting and some of the most futile facts ever. One of my favourite pages is the page where it says, ‘What is the meaning of life? Turn to page 42.’ Hitchhiker Guide’s to the Galaxy fans will understand.

You can forget trying to look things up in alphabetical order too, as it is not a book for reading from cover to cover. In fact, it is virtually an impossible task to read it cover to cover because, Pick Me Up works in the in the same way as those adventure game books, where you decide between options and are then directed to the page of your choice for a different snippet of information each time you read. Pick Me Up will have you jumping all over the place – from dinosaurs to brains, from Einstein to a hilarious poo-o-meter. What’s the connection? I’m not quite sure. It made sense when I read it. You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out.

I think this book will fascinate children and adults of all ages. In our fast moving society of X-Boxes and PS2’s, children seem to have smaller and smaller attention spans and Pick Me Up satisfies the need to move on to something new. You haven’t got time to be bored. My three-year-old son was absorbed in the pictures; my eight-year-old son has been irritatingly quoting facts at me for days. My twelve-year-old daughter described it as ‘…bright, fun and random.”

In my opinion, Pick Me Up is a great buy for Christmas. You can also check out the website to play a cool library-based game connected to the book.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What makes a children's book great?

Last month, I went to an event at the Society of Authors with this exact title, “What makes a children’s book great?” On the panel were: Julia Eccleshare the children’s book editor for the Guardian, Gwynneth Bailey a teacher, writer for the TES and reviewer for 'Books for Keeps' and Tony Bradman, editor, journalist and book reviewer.

They identified some of their favourite books and discussed why they thought they were brilliant children’s books. I will list each of their recommendations another day with an outline of why they choose the particular books they did, but for now I will summarise the general conclusions.

Julia said, “A good story is the battle between good and evil. It has to have characters you can like and introduce a new place. It should leave the child with a feeling of hope.”

Tony emphasised, “It is the narrative drive and not the story that makes a great book. You need great characters, atmosphere and emotional intelligence. He clarified, “Narrative drive is the way the story is told rather than the actual narrative. It is very easy to analyse this is character, this is plot, but it is the whole package.”

Gwynneth said a great book is one that plunges characters into terrible situations and draws you in to find out how they deal with them. She explained the point of view makes it an adult or a children’s book but, added that it works well to put in something to keep the adult amused, especially if it meant to be a book to be read aloud at bedtime, or in the classroom. Adults can see the bigger picture.

Tony did point out at this point, you must, as a writer, keep your eye firmly on the kids. Publishing is led by fashion and there will always be a tension between what adults want for them and what children get from them.

What was evident from the evening was, if you want to keep ahead of the game, you must analyse what is currently selling. A fellow writer included on her blog a list of top selling books. She said, “Being aware of what sells is crucial for a writer, especially if you want to make a living out of it.”

I believe she is absolutely right.

To help you with your own research, I decided to create a small directory of sites that lists best-selling children’s books:

Here is also a quick list of websites that review children’s books and might help you work out for yourself what makes a children’s book great. Includes a very useful list for reluctant readers. Specialises in picture books,,23119,00.html,,148043,00.html Identified by age and includes classics of the month

If you know of any others please let me know.

Before I go, I thought I would let you know what I think makes a children book great.

I think a great children’s book is one which views life through the eyes of the child so the characters come to life as real people. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, what point of view it is in, or what age it is aimed at, if the characters are believable and you can really live their experiences as you read each page, you’ve written a great book.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Irene Yates's Writing Exercises

This is the last of my posts from the Caerleon writer's Holiday. I hope you found them helpful.

  • Write about being on a beach and how you experience it now as an adult in 300 words. Then write about being on a beach from a seven year old's point of view in 300 words.

  • Write the following emotions firstly from an adult’s viewpoint and then from the child’s:
    o Fright, fear, being scared
    o Freedom, release, independence, liberty
    o Power, control
    o Sadness, unhappy, misery, bereavement
    o Loneliness, left-outness
    o Shyness

  • Write about the following situations first as an adult and then as a child.
    o Sibling rivalry
    o Leaving home / school / town / comfort-zone
    o Family breakdown
    o Pet dying or getting lost
    o A thunderstorm
    o Parents arguing
    o Pressure to do what you don’t want to
    o Waiting for something / anticipation
    o Being with your best friend

If you have any other writing exercises you would like to recommend, I am very happy for you to post them here. Or if you try any of the above and would like to tell me how it went.

Until next time,

Anita xxx

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Cyprus Photos

Well, as promised to friends and family, here are some pics of my holiday in Cyprus. I had a brilliant time and would love to be back by the pool at this moment than working on photocopiable resources. But, wouldn't we all!

This is me, James, and my son, Daniel on the Super Mable. Just after this photo was taken Dan burst into tears because he was scared. But, I loved it. James laughed so much he fell off.

In the background you can see Famagusta.
We went on a banana boat too and I fell off that. I still say it was because they stuck me at the back and had nothing to do with the six cocktails I'd drunk before I got on.

This is the beautiful sunrise at our hotel. Isn't it romantic. James dragged me out of bed on the last morning just to see it. That's Love for you!

This is the view of the beach from the hotel bar.

This is me and my family at the hotel pool.

Whilst, we there we went to visit Kyrenia in the turkish side of Cyprus. It was a bit of a fiasco, as we had to go through check points and get pieces of paper stamped as we were not allowed to have our passports stamped. We looked around the Harbour and went in Kyrenia castle. The view from the top was magnificant.

However, it took over an hour for our food to be served at one of the restaurants at the Harbour. Considering, the long wait the kids were exceptionally behaved.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Irene Yates on Writing for Children

Irene Yates in the bookroom at Caerleon

Irene Yates is a very prolific author of educational books and children's fiction. She has written hundreds. She was the tutor for the Writing for Children workshops at the Caerleon Writer’s Holiday. I must say I enjoyed her workshops immensely. We had a visit from a commissioning editor of educational work for the primary school and she gave us a lot of very useful and specific advice.

This is a very brief summary of some of the things she said:

Know your market. Phone up the publishers and ask them to send you a catalogue. Get a feel for what they print.

Know how big the publisher wants the book to be, the size of the pages and the number of pages. Know where the pictures are and how many. Count the number of words to a page and / or chapter. Ask for the publisher’s guidelines or writer’s brief.

Because of the way books are made it is important to think in multiples of eight when writing your own books, whether they are fiction or non-fiction.

Editors move around and if you do what they want they will remember you and take you with them.

Avoid the fairy godmother syndrome. The child must be proactive in sorting the problem out. Remember the character does not have to be big to be good, they don’t have to win to be the best.

When you write a story for children, your aim is to make feelings inside the child. The children feel the world through their senses. Everything is new and fresh.

If you want to write for children you have to keep in touch with children by going into schools and also into the libraries to see what they are taking out.

When you are signposting, you need to signpost at least three times.

Think of a theme – what do you want children to learn from this book?

Remember when you write a book for children, you’re not actually selling to the children you are selling to the publisher.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Developing Characters


This is the last of the workshops I attended with Suzanne Ruthven at Caerleon.

It was very interesting to find that Suzanne Ruthven’s advice on developing characters within your novels, largely reiterated what other authors and editors have said. See:

Tony Bradman's Summary of Common Pitfalls
Rachel Wade's Advice
John Jenkins - On Writing A Bestseller

Suzanne said:

Characters must not be one-dimensional. You need to know who you are writing about and you need to have an emotional link to them. They cannot be too perfect. The perfect person does not exist.

When you start to create a character, develop a mini-biography. Think how you want them to behave and what academic level they are going to achieve. Remember, in historical novels the women may be feisty but they would not have been worldly. Map everything about them:

o Their parents,
o Family,
o Issues,
o Mannerisms and gestures,
o Habits,
o Accent,
o Vocabulary,
o Mental state.

The reader needs to empathise with whom the story is about. This is also true of the supporting cast.

Think of your novel like a play and try to decide whom you would get to play each character. An old copy of spotlight has every famous person’s face in it, which could be used to help with descriptions.

Do a lot of people watching. Everyone has little peculiarities and quirks that identify them as an individual. Watch people’s interactions.

Know your main character as you would your best friend.

Do not overburden the reader with great chunks of text. Describe them in a few sentences. Again, look at the colour supplements and see how they do it.

Some ideas Suzanne suggested was to do little exercises where you give your principle characters problems to sort out and work out how they will react, or go through your family and list their peculiarities and fears.

I hope you found these notes useful. Any comments would be highly appreciated.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bad Experience

Hi All,

Just thought I'd share with you all a sad discovery. This is when I go off into one of my stories.

Over a year ago I sent a pack of educational resources to a certain online educational publishing group and everything seemed to go smoothly until it came to signing the contracts.

As normal, I dutifully sent my contract to the Society of Authors and they sent a few comments back with suggested changes. I sent these to the publisher and they basically told me the contract was non-negotiable. They also said they'd never heard of the Society of Authors and if I didn't like it I could always withdraw my manuscript. Well, as you can imagine I was a bit upset by this. But, I was not happy with their bully tactics so I did withdraw my manuscript and sent it to another publisher who has since published it.

Why is that sad or a bad experience you ask? Well, I haven't finished yet.

I recently found out from the original publisher catalogue they were publishing a resource with a very similar title as the one I sent them. Anyway, through contacts I managed to get hold of a copy and it is very similar to the stuff I'd sent them. However, they had changed it just enough to be different. Another thing is they've used a lot of the illustrations I'd drawn as well. They have not acknowledged me or even paid me for these pictures. I'm not sure if they've changed them so they are slightly different, as I was so upset I've put it away for now.

I've no idea what to do.

My charming daughter says sue them. I'm not sure I have grounds to do that.

Any, suggestions of any kind would be helpful.

For now I will go on my hols and not think about it for two weeks and maybe if I'm still upset by it when I get back I will contact the Society of Authors and ask their advice.

Has anyone had a similar experience? What did you do?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Setting and Research


Setting and Research

Suzanne Ruthven outlined several important tips when researching the setting of your novel. She said:

  • Make sure your facts are accurate, such as if you are using real places you have not got your characters driving the wrong way up a one-way street.
  • Make your own sketch-map of an area it is a good working tool whether, you setting is real or imaginary.
  • Remember the information out at the time may be different form what we know now in hindsight. Pears encyclopaedias give details relevant to the year and can be collected quite cheaply from boot sales.
  • Contemporary stories with flashback in time must be accurate. Double-check everything.
  • Never take one source, do a lot of crosschecking. Where possible use library and university sites, museums and book searches where you can type in a keyword and find a lot of good reference books. Often, you can buy the books cheaply second-hand. For example from:
  • The best research is unobtrusive. You don’t need to put everything in to prove you know your subject. Drop things in casually to set the scene and let the reader know a little background. You can paint a picture using the information this way. You have the research in your mind but only have to use a couple of lines.
  • Use research to feed motivation and plot. It is no good your character having a glamorous job if you’re not using the job to move the story forward.
  • Describe clothes and period costume by using action. Use the description and research as part of the action. All the time something should be happening.
  • Check your setting compliments other areas of the plot. If you are trying to create an atmosphere with your research, it must work within the confines of the plot.
  • Can your setting and the research you have done into it be used to create tension, conflict or theme? Could it be used to draw comparisons?
  • If you are going back in history, do not forget to use all your senses. Think taste, smell and sound. Think like a photographer.

Suzanne suggested a good exercise is to go through your novel and list the settings you use. Consider how many and are they too similar or even too unrealistic. Examine their characteristics.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Interesting Article

There is an interesting article on the Times Online website this week about the controversy between the large book stores and big-time publishers, which I thought some of you may be interested in - Buyer Beware.

This article supports the post I wrote on The Book Selling Debate and Suzanne Ruthven's advice that small publishers are more supportive of new writers in the article Plotting and Coursing Your Novel with Suzanne Ruthven

As a mother of an ADHD daughter, I know exactly what the president of the Association of Authors’ Agents, Clare Alexander, means.

However, as Susan Abraham pointed out on Jude’s Writing Blog, small publishers in UK take on few manuscripts a year, compared to the hundreds received each week. The publishing world is becoming more and more competitive. I would be interested to hear your comments and opinions on this debate.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Plot, Pace and Theme


1) Plot

Suzanne Ruthven gave some handy tips for sharpening the plot of our novels.
  • A novel needs an ending but this ending need not be cast in stone. You need to have something to work towards, something to aim for.
  • With plot, you also need to have a sub-plot. The sub-plot moves the reader along.
  • It is very tempting to have another set of characters coming in when the hero needs to learn important information, try to avoid this. Sharpen in the re-write by cutting subsidiary characters.
  • Don’t overcrowd scenes. Does the plot really require lots of people to be together in one place at one particular time? Be economical in the number of cast and scene changes. See action in your sequences. Think like a play-write or film director. You can fast forward and backwards to visualise your plot as frames. This way you can see if it isn’t running smoothly form one scene to the next.
  • Use flashback rather than having a large scene that shows the plot and use it with purpose to move the story on.
  • Imagine conversations to hone dialogue.
  • In the first draft don’t worry about getting it right, just get it out of your mind and onto the paper, then you can edit and mould it into shape. The first draft is the bones – the bar skeleton.
  • Analyse where your peaks and troughs are and always finish each chapter on a cliffhanger.
  • If you use symbolism, it must play a part in the conclusion.
  • End as soon as possible after the dramatic climax of the novel. Open with a bang but don’t go out with a phut.

2) Narrative Style and Pace

Your style is unique. Do not change it. If you try to write in the style of someone else, you are changing your individuality.

The pace is governed by the time frame of the story. In long stories, such as sagas, you need to find the level of the story, which has the greatest continuation of plot and have the rest in flashback. In this way, it is possible to condense three generations into a weekend. If writing thrillers, Suzanne suggests you narrow it down to a week or a year.

Get the reader feeling they are on a roller coaster, if you drag it out too much the reader will get confused. Dialogue is a good way for bridging time. Your characters could easily pick the phone up and ask someone.

Avoid lengthy description. It slows the pace. Suzanne suggested taking a look at the colour supplements in the newspapers because they have good examples of brief descriptions of rooms, people and moods. They sum it all up in a thumbnail. She said a good exercise is to go through these supplements with a highlighter pen.

The picture should be created by character and dialogue, not by lengthy description.

3) Theme

It is important to understand what theme your book fits in to.

That’s all I wrote under this heading so, I obviously did not understand a word of it.

I have made a mental note to look into what theme my main children’s novel fits, as this is something I do not know. I think it probably has more than one theme. I’m not sure if this is allowed / advisable.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rejections, Writing Style and Submitting a Manuscript


This is my summary of the second of Suzanne Ruthven’s workshops I took at the Caerleon Writer’s Holiday.

1) Rejection Slips

Suzanne said, “Rejection slips can tell you quite a lot. If it says it is not suitable for their list, it means you have not done enough market study and that is why it does not fit in. However, it could also mean it is too similar.”

When anything becomes popular, others tend to follow suit but publishers want something with a totally different slant. Suzanne advises that you should never try to copy someone else’s style or try to emulate. Leaning towards with an original voice is your twist.

2) Writing Style

Every book has a hero and / or a heroine and you as the writer have to empathise with the age group you are writing about. Especially, if you are writing for children, maturity age can always show through. The writer must be aware of this. Listen to the age group you are writing about and the way they express themselves.

“Think about the way people communicate and write in a language they can empathise with. The days of writing for ourselves are long gone and if you want to see yourself in print you need to be clear and focused about your novel.”

She stressed it is important to read the latest in the genre you are writing. Look at the language and the writing style the publisher will accept. The only way to get a feel is to find out what everyone is publishing.

Suzanne said, “Really study what the publisher is accepting. If your novel is wordy, it is no good sending it to a publisher who likes short, sharp sound bites. Editor’s preferences influence what gets taken on.”

Know what you are writing, who for and where you are going with it. Always finish a chapter on a cliffhanger. There are no preferred lengths for chapters and no problem with shorter chapters. Keep it short, snappy and punchy.

3) Submitting Your Manuscript

Suzanne’s advice for new writers is never to submit anything over 80,000 words, as you will be told to cut it. This is not so relevant for children’s writers as some of the novels I have written are only 8000 words. I could not imagine writing 80,000. She suggested we aim for 100,000 words and cut.

She also said, what you submit should be the final product. It is no good thinking you can edit it later or an editor will go through it and make the necessary amendments. This will not happen. Nowadays the book-publishing world is an industry and a writer, especially new writers, should treat it as such.

We were told that when you’re a beginner do not approach a publisher or agent until you’ve finished your book. Once finished in the first draft, you can start tightening. They also want to know you’ve got something else in the pipeline. They want continuity.

Publishers need to know that you’ve finished a book and what you are now working on. It gives them an indication that you are serious. Suzanne also said you can waste more time trying to get an agent than writing a book. Often it is not what you know, but whom you know.

On the question of simultaneous submissions, Suzanne said she knows the handbooks say not to but she recommends you send out as many as you like. As soon as someone asks to see the whole of it then you stop sending it out and let the publisher know who else is considering it.

Suzanne added that nowadays, writers are expected to do a lot of their own publicity.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Plotting and Coursing Your Novel with Suzanne Ruthven

Suzanne Ruthven is the editor of the New Writer, a creative writing magazine for writers that claims to provide more publishing opportunities for fiction, poetry and articles than any other creative writing magazine. They also provide an excellent monthly email newsletter, which contains up-to-date information on marketing trends and other stuff of interest to writers, although not necessarily children’s writers. To subscribe to their newsletter and the magazine visit

I found her workshops were relevant to all writers whether they are writing crime, romance, horror, or children’s fiction, like me.


1) Identify the Market Place

The first question we were all asked was who is going to publish our novel. Suzanne stressed how important it was to identify the market place and know who would be publishing our work even before it was finished.

She suggested that we look at who is publishing what. Not only by looking at the publisher of the types of books we like to read that are the same genre as what we write. Suzanne emphasised if the books are already in print they are two or three years out of date from what publishers are looking for now. You need to have your finger on the pulse, look at their catalogues and websites for things that are due to come out. Narrow your market down and log into sites on the Internet.

Suzanne recommends you find out about independent presses, as they are more sympathetic to new writers. She suggested new writers take a look at:
Publish fiction, poetry & non fiction books that are: unique, enjoyable, accessible, thought provoking and make a difference to your life.
Publish women's novels and crime.
Publish imaginative, top-quality crime novels

Please note none of the above publish children's books.

Mainstream publishers suggest you get an agent first and as we all know, agents are becoming increasingly difficult to find. With the big publishers, what is being published is what was accepted eighteen months ago. The independent book publishers get things out a lot faster and so their turnaround is often about six months.

Don’t plough on with a book before you know where you are going to send it. Know where your story fits in the market but be careful about typecasting yourself. If you have a problem defining your book, think is it working for the reader. You have to be able to sell your novel else what is the point of writing it.

2) Think about the opening

Suzanne informed us as an editor, she always reads the synopsis first. If it hasn’t hooked her on the first page then she does not read on and she claims nor does anyone else.

She said, “A publisher will discard you on the strength of your first page. Open with a bang. The first page, or even the first paragraph of your book, is the most important bit. Spend time getting it right. ”

3) Know what period you are writing and let your reader know

“It is important to set the scene in your novel straight away.” Suzanne explained. “The reader needs to know where everything is taking place, even if it is simply giving a date, it can trigger the readers imagination. You’ve got to begin with a bang. Often there is too much scene setting, which lacks impact. Grab their attention and hit them between the eyes.”

4) Emotion and Drama

Suzanne stressed that emotion and drama feature in all books, no matter what the genre.

Emotion develops empathy – it is what you hang the emotional baggage on. The characters develop around the emotion where as, drama is needed to carry the story on. It builds the plot.

Books are plot or people led. In both, there are different types of drama. It is people that explore emotions, such as in romances. Examples of plot led books are thrillers and crime novels. Both have peaks and troughs but drama carries it forward. Overwriting can stop the action and will need lots of strong editing.

“If you cut something out,” Suzanne said, “you can always use it in something else. Do not throw anything away and Do not to be too clever about sub-plots and secondary characters. Everything has to have a purpose.”

5) The Synopsis

A synopsis must include what happens at the end of the novel. It must be a complete summary of the book. It is not a list of characters. It is a brief outline of the story and preferably should be one A4 page, single-spaced.

Don’t worry if the middle of the novel goes off on a tangent but try to go with the ending you originally thought of. This is why it is important for first-time writers to plot.

Suzanne suggested a good exercise is to write a blurb for your novel in 150 words or less. This is the bit that could be used for the back of the book cover that outlines just the story.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Leisurely Trip up the River

Yesterday evening, I went for a cruise up the river with my writing group the Thatcham Writers. We sailed down the River Thames toward Sonning and sat on top of the barge and read the latest bits we had written for our last assignment. For more details on the assignment visit:

It was so relaxing. I really enjoyed myself. Here are some photos I took:

Inside the barge

From left to right - Steve (the owner of the barge), Tony, Lisa, Geoff and Pat

Ian, steering the barge

The Thatcham Writers

From left to right - Tony, Ian, Lisa, Steve, Geoff, David and Pat

Unfortunately, both Phil and I are missing from this photograph. I was missing because I was taking the picture and Phil couldn't make it because of work committments.

For more information about the Thatcham Writers what we do and where we meet you can visit our website. There will also be more pictures of our trip added to the Thatcham Writers site soon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Caerleon Update

Hi All,

Had a brilliant time at Caerleon, as normal, and I highly recommend the event to anyone who is serious about becoming a writer. I love the informal atmosphere. Here are some pictures of me and my friends:

Maureen and Ian


Irene and Lynne in the bookroom

Me on the balcony

The highlight of the week was listening to, rescuing and talking to the male voice choir, in the bar on the Thursday evening.

The most important thing I learnt was to be more confident and create a more confident / competent persona. Apparently, I have to tell myself I am brilliant and eventually I might believe it. I think I need to work on this a bit more. Lynne has sent me a book to help me - Be Your Own Life Coach by Fiona Harrold. I'll let you know if it helps.

I plan to write up some of my notes for anyone who is interested and will post them up over the next few weeks.

Went straight from Caerleon, camping in North Devon and that was fun too. We had fairly good weather and walked from Lynton to the Valley of the Rocks. There were some spectacular views. Here are some pictures:

Doone Valley

Lynmouth Beach

Castle Rock in the Valley of the Rocks
Me on the bridge at Malmsmead
As you can see, it is beautiful. I love the mountains and walking over the rocks on the beach. Got a few ideas for my fictional blog on Moira. If you have not read this yet I suggest you take a look at:

Friday, July 21, 2006

Caerleon Writer’s Holiday

On Sunday, I am going to Caerleon for my annual Writer’s Holiday, as previously mentioned this is my highlight of the year. I get to go away for a week without the children and without the hassles of housework. I am planning to work on the sequel my main children’s novel for 9-12 year olds.

For more details about the Caerleon Writer’s Holiday see:

It is the most relaxing, most value for money writer’s conference I have ever been on. I truly recommend it. When I get back I may be able to write up some of the classes, I have attended. These will not necessarily be about writing for children but I am sure they will all be linked to becoming an author in some way.
I'll see you when I get back.
Meanwhile why don't you take a look at some of my previous posts and leave me loads and loads of comments.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ideas for Writing for Children

Here is a list of questions that was sent to me by my good friend Liz Lynch. they should help to generate ideas for writing for children if you can’t think of anything to write about:

  • How could you apply the most important thing you’ve learnt growing up to a children’s book?
  • What does loss mean to you?
  • What did loss mean to you as a child?
  • What made you feel the most secure as a child?
  • What made your childhood books special?
  • What was the scariest thing that ever happened to you when you were a child?
  • What was the scariest thing that happened to you as an adult?
  • What was the scariest thought you had as a child?
  • What was the worst lie you ever told?
  • What was your best school experience?
  • What was your favourite age?
  • What was your favourite book as a child?
  • What was your favourite book as a teenager?
  • What was your greatest fear and why?
  • What was your greatest happiness as a child and why?
  • What was your scariest dream?
  • What was your worse school experience?
  • What would you choose to dream about?
  • Where did the monsters live?
  • Who / what were the monsters?
  • Who was your best friend when you were growing up and why were they your best friend?

Along with your imagination and notebook, you also need to develop ‘awareness’. If you walk through life with tunnel vision, not noticing what is going on, your stories will be just as bland. Make yourself think about what is happening around you. Go where you can hear kids talk. Volunteer to help hear readers at your local school.

Volunteer to help out in the classroom, or better yet, at lunchtime! Children really show their true colours in an informal environment.

Do not overlook other places that may generate usable suggestions such as shopping centres, leisure centres or the park.

If some where sparks your imagination, check it out. Get yourself out and about and ideas will happen!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Are Writing Exercises Useful?

Do writing exercises help to improve your writing? I believe they do.

I belong to two writer’s group and both meet monthly. The Thatcham Writers consists of writers in a variety of genres. I am the only writer of children's books. Each month we set ourselves writing assignments. Doing these regular snippets of writing stretches and challenges me. It makes me think about what and write and why. Using writing exercises as part of a writing routine and a natural part of my writing discipline helps to keep me focused and I have seen a steady improvement in my writing.

My other writing group specialises in writing for children. It is based in Winchester. We all come together every month and read snippets of our work in progress. I also belong to an online critique group.

Ideally, a writing exercise is short, no more than 10 or 15 minutes of writing. Usually I am thinking and feeling about something that's unrelated to anything else I'm working on. I call this free flowing. In a way, it is like mini-meditations or mini-holidays because it clears out cobwebs and give me a new perspective.

This new view, this different way of seeing things and expressing myself, I believe is the key to a good writing exercise. Naturally, not every exercise excites me each time. Sometimes I’m not ready for the challenge presented, but even then, the seed is planted. Sometimes I’m simply not up for doing a writing exercise. Again, as I’ve said before, simply reading can set new thoughts and ideas in motion.

Having a blog is a good writing exercise. Mine records thoughts and significant writing events in my life and also my fictional blog on Moira Miller. Both encourage me to write something everyday. Having a fictional and non-fictional blog also means I have to think in different ways when I am writing, which is also a good exercise.

Lisa, from my Thatcham Writer's group, recommends nanowrimo - writing a novel in a month. National Novel Writing Month is an annual novel writing project that brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world. For more details see: I have not tried this but Lisa has written several novels this way.

One of my favourite exercises is the ‘what if …’ flow chart. I shake the dice and see what it comes up with. Say I roll a four. Then I think of an idea like, I’m going shopping with a friend and then I think of two what ifs… and put them on the flow chart. As I threw a four, I do this four times and have eight ideas for different stories, or variations of on a theme. It is also a good way to get yourself to train your mind to think this way.

If you’ve got any good writing exercises you’d like to share, just leave a comment. I would also be interested to hear your views on writing exercises.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Little Story

I’ve just re-read my previous post and thought I’d share a little story with you all.

I accidentally reversed the car into a pillar outside the co-op near where I live, last month. I had my three-year-old son in the back and we were singing the Wheels on the Bus at the time. It did quite a lot of damage to my car. But, luckily the pillar remained intake, else the jutting out roof of the co-op might have fallen down and another plus point was it hid the other minor dents where I’d reversed into the tree at the bottom of my driveway several times. In fact, the last time I got it mended it only lasted a week before I dented it on that stupid tree.

Well, I had to ring up and explain to the insurance company I’d reversed into the post and they gave me a courtesy car and took my beautiful car away. I had to have three cushions to see out of the windscreen of the courtesy car and it had no air conditioning and it happened to be that glorious hot week in June.

Anyway, a week later they bring my car back all clean and shiny and take the courtesy car away, which had only got one puncture whilst I had it and maybe a tiny chip on the front windscreen.

To my surprise, when I tried to lock the car after the man had left it made this funny beeping noise at me. I checked all the doors and they were shut. I checked the boot in case they had to change something on it but that seemed OK too. I thought to myself, maybe they’ve fixed the central locking and I just never realised that it’s supposed to beep when you lock it before.

I decided not to worry about it until I took my three-year-old son to nursery school and noticed there was a red sign on the dashboard, flashing STOP at me. Now I started to worry. I do not know a lot about cars but I do know, red lights should not flash at you whilst you are driving.

So, when I got home I gave the friendly man at the garage a ring. He talked to me on the phone whilst I walked around the car and re-checked all the doors and the boot again. I told him about the beeping and that before it went to be fixed it only beeped when the door was open but there didn’t seem to be one open. I also explained how a picture of the car comes up if a door is open to show you which one it is and that wasn’t happening.

The man from the garage was as baffled as me. So one of the managers very kindly offered to come and check the car over for me. Like I explained to him, I really can't drive the car with my children in it when it is flashing STOP at me. It might not be safe.

This very kind man comes all the way from Reading - a journey, which takes him 45 minutes. He walks around the car, shuts the bonnet and then has a 45-minute journey back to the garage. A one-and- a-half hour round-trip to shut my bonnet, I ask you!

In my defence, the man who bought my car back must have driven all the way from Reading in the first place with the light flashing at him. So, in my opinion he should have noticed.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Ideas! Ideas! Ideas!

In the latest Words and Pictures magazine from SCBWI-BI there is an article on turning ideas into stories. I decided to use this as the theme to todays blog. Here is a list of suggestions of places you can find ideas:

  • At school
  • Conversations
  • Dictionaries
  • Dreams
  • Free writing
  • Keeping a notebook
  • Keeping a scrapbook of images
  • Newspapers
  • Other stories
  • Own children
  • Photographs

I have found one minute, it seems like there are millions of ideas waiting to be explored, and the next, it appears that every topic imaginable has been done already. But, maybe that has more to do with the mood I’m in rather than the actual flow of ideas.

From the day I decided I want to be a writer, I started to carry a notebook on me. I write down everything, as my memory for trivia is awful. Talking to children, and listening to children, also gives me loads of ideas. Although, I am no longer teaching I am lucky, as I have three children and their friends, who like to get into mischief and that triggers lots of ideas too. I also have a rather vivid imagination.

Sometimes, I really have to make myself notice what is going on around me, as when I am working on a project, I find I mull it over in my mind and walk through real life in a daydream. Not such a good idea when you’re driving or trying to explain why you’ve reversed into the tree at the edge of the driveway… again.

Writing Exercises generate ideas as well. Here are some websites that are full of writing exercises and ideas:

I tend to find I get my best ideas for things that I’m already working on when I’m reading something else. Surprisingly, it never has anything to do with what I’m actually reading. I think it might have something to do with cognitive processes. I did a degree in Behavioural Sciences you know, so I can say things like ‘cognitive processes’ and know what I’m talking about. Pity no one else does.

But what do you do with these ideas once you’ve got them? I write better if I have a writing schedule. I make a list everyday of the things I want to achieve. Also, being given a deadline helps to keep my focused.

Often an idea needs time to grow and sort itself out in my head. I tend to draft things on paper then re-write them on the computer and print them off. You can tell if something is really crap when you see it in print. I also pretend I am the character and act out little scenes in my head. Opps! There’s that tree again.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Fictional Blogs

Yesterday, I started a new blog. It is a fictional blog and I've created a character Moira Miller who is eleven years old. Take a look at it:

This new blog was inspired by fellow writer, Wordpool and SCBWI memeber, Addy Farmer, who has been writing a fictional blog for ages. Her blog is about a boy called Wilf. You can see Addy's blog at:

Addy has also started a new Yahoo group for fictional bloggers. If you are interested in joining or just want to take a look the link is:

Now, I don't know how I'll get on with my fictional blog, as I probably wont get to fill it out every day. Blogging does tend to take up a lot of time, when I should be working. However, it has got me thinking about a new book based on the character of Moira Miller. I'm making it up as I go along, so it will be interesting to see how she develops. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Interesting Article

Seven Keys to Writing a Children’s Book that Sells Like Hotcakes

I came across this article during a search for something else and thought it would be relevant to compare to the other posts I’ve added about what makes a good children’s novel. I hope you find it interesting.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Book Selling Debate

Today, I read my copy of The Author, which I receive as a member of the Society of Authors. I was fascinated by the debate on HMV, the owner of Waterstone’s, buying out the Ottakar bookchain. The Society of Authors have expressed opposition to the bid because it would mean a monopoly over the bookselling market.

This has been mentioned in previous posts. (See The World of Children’s Publishing and What Does An Editor Do?)

It is argued that this merger is against public interest, as it will reduce the range of books being sold. Specialist books will not get the publicity or shelf space they have previously had. This is why educational publishers tend to sell direct to schools rather than in bookshops.

One thing is clear the retailing of books has changed dramatically over the past few years. Supermarkets, such as Tesco, can sell books at discount prices and buying books over the Internet, as e-books or second hand, has meant it pays to shop around for the best deal. Then surely this must be better for the reader.

As a reader, if you prefer trade fiction, sports books or general literature the contraction in range won't affect you, as prices will remain low. But, if you prefer the more specialist books, your choice will be drastically diminished and the prices will rise. And if you're someone who just likes to browse, you're likely to find your browsing range restricted to the choice Waterstone's, and W. H. Smith’s have decided to offer.

Robert Cole, acting business editor of The Times, argues that one large bookseller is better than none, as Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s need to combine to compete with the price wars instigated by Amazon and Tesco. He says authors should not expect to make any money from writing, as most will never succeed. He argues that the publishing companies should commit to publishing fewer books, even though this will make it more difficult for new authors to get published. He claims that you are fighting a losing battle to oppose the merger.

So, is the book market expanding or shrinking? Tim Hely Hutchinson, the chief editor of Hatchette Livre UK ltd, reports high street booksellers’ sales have plunged, despite their aggressive discounting, whilst bestsellers are breaking records, due to monopolising shelf space. Consequently, new authors will find it increasingly difficult to place their books with publishers, as mainstream publishers are concentrating on finding and promoting the ‘big hits’.

To combat this maybe, we should be supporting our smaller local bookstores but it is easier, and more convenient, to buy books online or to buy them with the weekly supermarket shop. If books were sold at fixed prices, I do not believe it would change this buying trend.

I think we will be seeing an increase in specialist markets emerging and publishers and authors should be encouraged to promote their books to these specialist markets, in the same way as educational publishers do, bypassing the traditional retailer. This means new authors would be better advised to target appropriate specialist markets and smaller specialist publishers with their manuscripts.

This is my opinion. What are your views?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

John Jenkins – On Writing A Bestseller

The highlight of my year is going to Caerleon Writer’s Holiday. It is the best Writing conference I have ever been to and being a bit of a course junky, I’ve been to quiet a few. Not only are the courses and seminars good but also, the atmosphere is brilliant. There is no comparison. Everyone is so friendly and approachable.

Last year at Caerleon, I heard John Jenkins the editor of Writer's Forum magazine, speak about 'Teaching Yourself To Write A Bestseller'. He said that The Di Vinci Code by Dan Brown is the best teach yourself manual you could buy. It is a masterclass on how to write a bestseller.

With reference to the Di Vinci Code, John Jenkins advice was:

  • If you want to write a big book, pick a big theme.
  • Write rich characters with rich backgrounds (and I don’t think he was talking about money.)
  • Finish each chapter on a cliffhanger.
  • The plot must race along at breakneck speed.
  • Mix fact with fiction so that the reader does not know where the truth ends and the fiction starts.
  • Be clear of all the underlying themes and what is going on in the background.
  • Look at the opening – does it grab you?
  • Think about the title.
  • A good story has a great plot and loads of action.
  • Be careful the ending is not an anti-climax.
  • Make up your own secret society if you want.
  • The ‘What if…?’ button, is the most important key on the keyboard.

I thought this was a very useful checklist when writing, or reading, any book or manuscript, whether it is for children or adults and considering it’s potential on whether it will sell. It is also interesting to compare it to what Tony Bradman said in his Summary of Common Pitfalls and Rachel Wade's Advice.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What Does an Editor Do?

“The truth is that the agency is the first place to go. If you do get taken by an agent you will get read by editors.”
Rachel Wade, Hodder’s Children’s Books

Rachel Wade’s words quoted in one of my previous posts (link above) are not just true of Hodder Children’s Books but were reiterated by Kelly Cauldwell, a Senior Fiction Editor from Random House, at the SCBWI-BI Professional Series talk in May 2005, although they do still accept unsolicitated manuscripts, Kelly recommends you submit to an agent first, as she has never bought anything from the slushpile.

Kelly Caudwell explained, “We don’t have the scope to build a writer up over a number of books in the way publishers use to, our job is to see the book all the way through not just to edit it.”

Kelly said, “We need to think what the big booksellers would like, as if they wont stock the book it wont sell. Talking about bookcovers and how good or enticing they look is an important part of my day. It is the cover that will give the book an edge with the booksellers.”

It is quite scary the impact the big bookstores have on the publishing world and when you realise they monopolise over 70% of the bookselling market it is understandable why writing for children has become more competitive.

Candy Gourlay in her blog, Notes from the Slushpile, discusses this is more detail:

Book publishing is becoming more commercial and it is true, the big publishing companies increasingly will not back a book unless it is a sure bet. This is probably why more authors are self-publishing - to prove they have a viable product. Kelly explained: “Being an editor is not only about getting the book into a child’s hand, but getting the book noticed by parents, trade, bookstores and libraries. We spend a lot of money on marketing. Being involved in the publishing process from manuscript to finish, completely changes the way you think about a book.”

Random House fiction department produce around 40-50 books a year. Kelly told us how she spends her general day: proof reading, copy editing, discussing potential new books, looking at the backlist and working out how they can revitalise these books for re-sale, going to endless meetings with the marketing department and finally a large majority of her time is spent in author care.

She enjoys working with an author through the process of the book. Some of the authors she works with are Jacqueline Wilson, Chris Riddel and Robert Swindell. Kelly said, “The most important skill of an editor is being a good diplomat.”

Nowadays, more gimmicks are being used to sell their books, such as collectable web cards, as with the Astrosaurs series, or glitsy bookcovers that catch your attention on the shelf. They have found that thin books, for the six-to-eight age range, do not sale as well as thicker books, as they are not so easy to see on the shelf. Random House’s response to this is to make fatter books. As you can imagine, this makes production more expensive.

Kelly’s advice to new children’s book writers is, “Be an original voice. Remember you are sending your manuscript to someone who reads over 500 a year. One of the questions I ask myself when I’m thinking of signing a book is, Would I jump off a bridge for this book? To spend so much time on a book, you have to be a fan.”

For more information on Random House visit:

Monday, June 12, 2006

More About Children's Writer's Forums

Before I start today’s blog, I must say a big thank you to Nicky Schmidt, who I’ve known for many years from Wordpool. She listed several new forums. Some of which I have previously been a member and some new ones I’m now thinking of joining, although it will ruin my only allowed to belong to three rule.

Take a look at Nicky's comment at:

When writing back I got a bit carried away and wrote much too much and so it how become the topic for today's blog.When looking for the links to the forum’s Nicky mentioned, I noticed that the Children’s Writers forum is the number Yahoo group for writing for children. There are 1976 members and it was founded on September 21st 1998. Here is the link:

This list is for discussion of writing (and illustrating) for children in all media, including such topics as creativity, work styles and techniques, marketing and promotion, dealing with rejection, etc. They allow off-topic posts though we ask that they grow out of on-topic discussions. As Nicky said it is a very prolific list and the that is the reason I decided to leave the group.

The Children’s Publishers Group is the third top yahoo group for children’s writing. There are 421 members and it was founded on Dec 11, 2004. Here is the link for anyone who is interested in finding out more:

This discussion forum focuses on Manuscript Submissions and Children's Publishers. Feel free to ask about dealings with particular publishers, to seek URLs for Publisher Websites, to find out current editor's names, etc.Questions regarding "Who" to submit to must be accompanied by the steps you've already taken to research the marketplace and submissions you've already made. If you have searched, and are sincerely at a loss regarding who to submit to, you may find some suggestions here if it is evident you've made a sincere effort to research your market.

I left this group because people did not keep to the rules and I found that frustrating. In the end I found it to be much the same as Wordpool but I preferred Wordpool. They even suggest if you have no clue where to begin, begin with:

Generally speaking, other "How to write for children" questions can be found through other resources including the Colossal Directory website:

The cw-biz site is the fifth most popular writer’s forum for children. It has 355 members and was founded on Nov 10, 2004. Here is the link:

This is a discussion group for adults who write and illustrate for children. No politics, religion, flame wars or critiques allowed and culprits will be banned if they try to discuss these subjects.

The link for the Children’s F and SF Writers is:

They have 346 members and is aimed at those interested in writing Middle Grade and Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction. This list is for the discussion of craft, marketing and publishing Fantasy and Science Fiction for ages 8 through teens. No fiction may be posted on the list, but members are free to request off-list critiques or set up off-list critique groups. They were founded on Jun 21, 2000. I never knew this group existed and I am thinking of joining this forum.

Another group I have found today in my research into Yahoo groups is:

This is a newsletter that covers the business of the publishing industry for people who write and illustrate for children. There are 58 members and was founded on Jul 15, 2005. I am also thinking of joining this group and will let you know what I think at a later date.

If anyone would like to look through the Yahoo database at any of the other forums related to writing for children this is the link: