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: www.nanowrimo.org 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.