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.