Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ruth Symes talks about having a Diverse Career


Books by Ruth Symes

At the Professional Series meeting on Thursday 24th April, Ruth Louise Symes came to speak to us about having a diverse career. She was a highly entertaining and enthusiastic speaker and I was totally in awe of her.

Ruth always dreamed of being a writer with the freedom to travel all over the world and write. The turning point in her life was when she was teaching children with special needs in Singapore and sold her house back in the UK. She realised she now had money to do what she wanted, so decided to go to Australia and Tasmania.

Whilst she was there she wrote a story called Ivy’s Xmas Carol, about a girl who could not sing. Her first big break was when Lion Books wanted to publish her story in a Christmas anthology. This was a big boost to her confidence. She then entered a competition run by Australian women’s magazine Womans Day. She came third, which was another big boost.

Unfortunately, when she returned back to the UK she found out the anthology was no longer going to be published.

Ruth decided to go on a week’s course at Middlesex University, where authors spoke about how they got published. She entered the course’s writing competition at the end of the week and won a subscription to Writer’s News. Then she went on an Arvon Foundation course. She wrote an 8,000 word story encouraged by one of the course tutors, Hugh Scott. The story was runner up in the Peter Pook opening to an adult novel competition.

Up to now she had been writing these stories with no editing. She saw an advert for a talk run by the newly set up Children’s Writers’ Advice Centre. She went on to this and Louise Jordan mentioned that Puffin was looking for stories of 2,500 words. So Ruth wrote a story of 2,500 words and sent it to Louise, who passed it on to one of the editors at Puffin. The editor at the time, Lucy Ogden rang her and said she didn’t want it but, took her out to lunch and asked her to write some more. She spent a year writing 2,500 word stories but none of them were quite right.

Ruth sent one of her longer stories to Louise Jordan, who again passed it on to Lucy but she was told she had to get rid of her first chapter. That was her first and best experience of a re-write. She then wrote some books for the Rigby Heinemann reading scheme, who published Twelfth Floor Kids. Around the same time she thought she better get an agent and sent some work to Maggie Noach, who got back to her within the week.

Maggie negotiated a good deal with Rigby Heinemann. She got several more books published with different publishers and she went on an enterprise scheme to teach authors how to go into schools.

Since then she has branched out into script writing. UCLA ran an Open University course which meant getting up at 3am. She worked on the course leaning to write scripts with one-to-one tuition for no money. She is always doing courses to extend her knowledge. She has done some writing for an animation company, which she got through the Writer’s Guild and filmed a documentary which won her a place at Cannes last year.

Ruth works on a range of stuff always writing something. She likes to keep a lot of things going in case a job falls through. She has had several knock backs but the rejections have never stopped her.

I agree whole heartedly that writers should have several writing projects on the go and stuff waiting in the pipelines. It keeps your name out there and gets you known. Hopefully, I am following Ruth's advice as I am currently writing a series of features for Writers' Forum on research techniques by a variety of well-known authors and working on a couple of teacher resources for Hopscotch, an imprint of the Mark Allen Group, as well as continuing to update and make various websites.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The children's short story

Yesterday evening, I went into London to the Society of Authors to hear Jane Casey, Senior Editor at Kingfisher talk with Tony Bradman about what makes a successful short story collection, or anthology. I met several of my SCBWI friends there.

Jane Casey
Jane Casey has worked at Kingfisher, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, for five years and in that time she has produced twelve story anthologies from scratch. She explained that short story anthologies do not make big money but, are around for a long time. Short stories are popular with children who are put off reading by long novels. Jane believes they will encourage children to go on to read longer things.

Teachers and book clubs like short story collections but for some reason the book shops are not so keen, maybe because they do not know where to classify it. They do not get strong sells through the trade, except at Christmas when they make the perfect gift.

Some of their bestsellers are:

The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories
Like Mother, Like Daughter?
Marvellous Magical Stories
Spellbound: Fantasy Stories

Editors and compilers tend to write briefs for a short story collection and a contributing author needs to pay attention to the age range, market and word count. For example, if the brief specifies they are looking for classic stories they are not looking for anything edgy; if they want something edgy it will say so. Jane explained how there are people who do not write to brief and it can be very disappointing. However, she emphasised how it is better not to take the obvious angle, as they are looking for a selection of stories with a different slant.

Anthologies may not appear to be as glamorous as stand-alone books but they are worth while. Short stories are a great way to meet editors and make relationships. They get you noticed as a writer. Some short stories are later turned into books. If you are just starting out you can find yourself in very good company, with your story alongside some very big names in children’s literature. You may write something that wouldn’t have occurred to you otherwise.

However, there have been occasions when a short story collection has fallen through. Co-edition customers can change their minds. Publishers invest a lot of money into a collection which is never recouped. The process of making an anthology takes a long time, as they are dealing with many authors and illustrators and the budget can get out of control.

Tony Bradman
Tony Bradman became a full-time freelance writer in 1987. He had previously been a features editor for a magazine, so he was use to commissioning people. Most anthologies use to be reprints. Tony was the pioneer of anthologies of original stories. He has never come up with a theme that has not been taken on eventually, although as Jane explained some fall through

When he compiles anthologies he commissions around ten contributors who are each paid a flat fee, usually around £300 - £500 a story. The compiler gets a royalty. Tony always asks about the budget before he begins. He does not suffer fools gladly and states, that just because someone is a big name it does not guarantee their story will appear in the anthology. Everyone is treated fairly and he has rejected big names.

Tony said that he has learnt more about writing a story by working with people on their manuscripts than he has writing his own books.

Anthologies are very difficult for publishers to make money on. They are turnover books. They are a showcase for an author’s work and an opportunity to work with an editor that shows you are a good person to work with.

Some of the anthologies Tony has been responsible for are:

Incredible Creepy Stories
Football Fever
Like Father, Like Son?: 12 Stories About Boys and Their Dads
All in the Family - Stories that hit home
Skin Deep: A Collection of Stories About Racism
Give Me Shelter: An Asylum Seeker Anthology

He has also just edited one on climate change.

When Tony sends out a brief, he gets a huge response from all over the world. People often send a chapter from a novel and this does not tend to work. Really you need to write something new, specifically for the subject. Many short stories have been turned into novels. It is worth being cooperative and helpful with the editors and compiler. It will teach you the skills to survive as a long-term professional author.

As a professional writer, Tony always advices never give up copyright.

After the talk we went for a very enjoyable meal at the Tampopo restaurant. It served the most amazing East Asian cuisine, and the chefs were pretty cute too!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The SCBWI Writers' Retreat


Shoo Rayner talks about authors and illustrators in the computer age

Books by Shoo Rayner

Shoo uses integrated text and uses Photoshop. He thinks like a designer whilst he is writing. Shoo starts with a character and tries to draw the character. He asks questions like who are you? Why are you there? The whole world develops around the character. Books have to be commercial to sell.

What is an e-book? It can be lots of different things. There are about 200 words a chapter and 2000 words per book for 7-9 year olds or 5-7 year olds. You need to get the books right for the right age group.

Shoo uses Flash for his animations and a tablet. His tablet is wacom graphine. At home he uses an intuous 3. He gets them from the website, www.wacom.de. He found vector graphics very mathematical. Shoo demonstrated how he work and builds his images using his latest character Ricky Rocket as an example.

A book is a collaboration. You need to work with an editor and get a good relationship. Need to be sensitive to the market and know where the gaps are. He always has lots of projects on the go because he believes a writer needs to be flexible.

An author is one little business working for a bigger picture. He wears lots of hats. He comes up with an idea and pitches it to a publisher. If he leaves it too long he loses enthusiasm. Shoo does not have an agent.

He feels he has been pigeon holed and that is what he does for one company. He’s seen as a brand.

A turning point in his career was when he could output his illustrations as a jpg at 300dp, which is what a publisher wants. He is able to physically draw his illustrations using Flash. Two influential people in his life are Colin McNaughton and Philippe Milne Smith.

Editors really encouraged shoo when he first started. He produced books like Lamb Drover Jim and Victoria the Wednesday Market Bus. He illustrated a series of books by Michael Morpurgo called Mudpuddle Farm.

If writing a series you need to set up the world properly. Need to set up the world first and have jokes that run through the series. Shoo Rayner has written many series books that are now out of print:
In Dark Claw he planned not only the world but the whole solar system. The world helps suggest ideas for the plot. For the planets he used a programme on the Internet called Planet Designer.

You need a good title a good strap line. Write a paragraph. Cut it in half and cut it in half again. Half a dozen words which is snappy, such as Viking Vic, Viking boy, Viking hero. This is the hook that sold his Viking Vik series. Editors can use this to pitch to sales. Need to enthuse your editor as they will be the one selling your book to the company.

When shoo writes his books he starts with a beginning and starts with an end. When setting the world he does not set boundaries as does not like to lock himself in. He has got a good map of where the characters live in his head, which extends to the history around them. For a series shoo believes you need to write all the stories on one go to build them up and cross reference them all the time.

You can re-write a scene from any angle. He uses www.istockphotos.com to illustrate some of his picture books. They provide cheap photos with unlimited use on the Internet and 50,000 copies in books.

For more information about Shoo Rayner take a look at his website: www.shoo-rayner.co.uk

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Glitterwings Book Launch


On Thursday 12th June, I went to Lee Weatherley's book launch at Audleys Wood Hotel in Basingstoke. She was launching her new Glitterwings series, published by Bloomsbury. Everybody who attended had to wear fairy wings.

Here is Sarwat Chadda looking really glam in my fairy wings.

Here is me. Notice how my wings match my tee-shirt.

I had a great time and even managed to get a few more authors to agree to be interviewed. I know I was supposed to be enjoying myself and not working but... I just couldn't help myself.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Are Series Books Ruling the Shelves?

A discussion organised by the Children’s Book Circle
On the 7th May, I attended the CBC Event about series books. There was a panel of speakers, debating whether series books were a good or bad thing. There was no conclusion to this debate but, what was apparent is the amount of series books that are dominating the shelves. So the answer to the question is, YES, for children's fiction, series books are ruling the shelves.

Helen Stables - 2Heads

2heads produce specific children’s fiction. Helen showed us the Nielsen children’s fiction chart 2007.
20,373,836 books sold in 2007 with a value of £113,320,892.09
2% of titles account of 38% of sales
There were only 18 ‘non-series’ books in top 100 titles. Most of these were brand names like Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo and Philip Pullman.

There were only three single titles by new authors in the top 100 titles. These were:

Children are drawn to series books and authors they know. This is why series are so popular. Helen recommended we read Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Steve Cole – Author

He is 1/75th of Lucy Daniels

Steve has written lots of children’s books including Astrosaurs series and the Cows in Action series, He has also written for the Dr Who series of books.

Steve said you can’t just have a big idea, you can’t just have a big marketing plan you need to be a good writer. Just because it’s commercial it doesn’t make it bad. Just because it is part of a series does not make it bad. Series books encourage children to read. If children are enjoying something it has to be a good thing.

There was some debate whether if they are written under a pseudonym is it deceiving the child. But, is this necessarily bad if the books are getting the children to read?

Chris Snowden – Working Partners

Series books have got a bad name so much that at one point he called them multiple books to avoid the dissonance. A series is a sequence of books like the Rainbow Magic series. A trilogy is a series of books with familiar characters. Markets work with pendulum swings.

Working Partners works by having a team of creators who create stories and hire wonderful writers to put flesh on the bones. Once you have engaged children as readers you can develop the message. If a child has enjoyed a particular book in the series you have succeeded in something. Series books benefit the book sellers. Stand alone books tend to start at an older age. Series books make more sense for the younger age group.

Fiction is blooming in the world of children’s books.

Anne Cassidy – Author

Anne has been writing for twenty years. She started as a crime writer and wrote for the series East End Murders. She also wrote some of the Point series books before she started writing stand-alone novels. But, she always wrote this series fiction under her own name.

It is a good devise for re-visiting characters and developing story. Series fiction gives a sense of comfort, like meeting an old friend and draws them into a familiar world but gives a few surprises as well. Anne feels such series books should be developed by a writer and not by a company. Stand alone books has more kudos because it is written by an author because they enjoy it. Stand alone books are a work of art. There are no prizes for series fiction. Richard and Judy champion stand alone books.

Anne believes we need to make stand alone more appealing. You never know when a series fiction is going to take off it could be the first book it could be the eighth do publishers give enough time for a series to take off?

To release six titles in a series at once is part of the hype. They are called breeders because they breed readers. They are trying to buy instant loyalty. Word of mouth is the best way to get a series off the ground. Promotion does the work. You’ve got to promote. This is tough as it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. You need someone to champion the cause and this is when you need a good agent.

Book sellers drive the sale of books. Websites tend to focus on new publications.

Friday, June 06, 2008

What Makes a Great Picture Book?

Jude Evans from Little Tiger Press discusses what makes a great picture book

Many moons ago, way back in March, before I even went to Bologna, Jude Evans came to talk at the SCBWI Professional Series about what makes a good picture book. There are many picture book publishers and they all have a slightly different approach to their lists. Little Tiger Press looks for books that will appeal to children the world over and the same goes with their illustrations.

Jude explained that picture books are an important part of childhood, as they install a love of words at an early age that stays with people throughout their lives. It also encourages child and parent bonding. It gives the children an entrance to a new world whilst explaining the world around them. Whilst you are writing you should be thinking of all the children who will be listening to your books and reading them for themselves. You need to consider what qualities your writing has for a child. You do this by reading your books aloud to hear the movement and to hear if there is a strong enough voice and tone. It will also let you know if the story is too long.

A picture book is not a short story. Like a poem each word is vital, so you need to consider the structure of the story. The ending is paramount, like a joke you need an emotional response. Every picture book publisher is looking for new authors and new texts.

Structurally most picture books are 32 pages long.
Stickdown
Endpapers
Title page
12 double page spreads

Structure your story and use the space. The story needs to progress with each spread. Think visually. Normally the books Little Tiger publishes are 750 words but they are often edited down to 650 words. Look for breadth of appeal. They sell to the international market so need a universal appeal in terms of concept, context and character. Hedgehogs are not universal. If the characters are not universal the concept and context has to be even stronger.

Because of the issue of translation some publishers don’t like books in rhyme but LTP don’t have a problem with this. But, it does need a very strong narrative that can still stand alone without the rhyme. 75% of LTP picture books feature animals as helps the children to absorb the subject at an emotional distance. No barriers of race or culture so see themselves as the bear, mouse or hippo. With animals you can explore the same emotions of real people and relationships. Think about the issue you are addressing and the tone and pitch of the story. Consider whether it needs to be a person or can it be an animal character.

TONE
Needs to be something children can relate to. Needs to speak directly to the child but parents should be able to appreciate it. Child understands on one level and children understand on another level.

Many texts tackle key experiences:
  • Bedtime
  • Protest – don’t want to
  • Anxiety – scared of the dark
  • Lullaby
Picture books need a unique voice. In the book about being scared of the dark / monsters it transfers the fear to the parent. Think what makes the text special. Is there something I can bring out, how I can make my story work harder?

Many texts deal with relationships such as:
  • Parents
  • New siblings
  • Sibling rivalry
  • Unconditional love
  • Exploring anxieties and doubts

Such texts help children process the emotions. When writing a text think what a parent might want.

Books on bath time, food and bullying are valuable educational tools. A subtle moral or message can help a child to understand core human values. This is key to picture book stories. They help the child to understand the world they are encountering. The writer can take esoteric subjects and write about them to help children understand what is happening around them. Divorce, death, moving home or school all help to explain significant things in a child’s life. The writer must help children to identify with others in the text.

The Big Ugly Monster and the Little Stone Rabbit by Chris Wormell is about love, companionship and emotional needs. Reading such books can be rewarding for children and adults. Even at a young age of 3-4 year olds can subvert and play with stories. Some stories may be character led such as Dirty Bertie by David Roberts. Create a character with a really strong personality and voice. Others may be concept led such as Whose Poo? by Jeanette Rowe?

Such character and concept led stories are a hook which children enjoy. Such hooks need to be well thought out. Think how it will work on the page. Think about the art. There are things that a writer does not need to say as the art will say it for them.

In It’s Mine by Eva Lipmajaher the irony is in the illustrations. Illustrations can add a subject. The illustrator can add another character and show how they react to what is going on. Art adds humour by hamming it up. Structure can be different. Some are very linear, repetitive themes, such as Snuggle Up Sleepy Ones by Claire Freeman. If it is linear it needs something special to offer appeal to both parents and children. This could be in the form of repetition and animal noises, which adds energy and can be acted out.

When writing for young children you have to start with immediacy, spread one should introduce a character. Needs to climax at spread twelve. Look at the pace of your story. Think of the page turns. Use the structure of a picture book to make sense and timing of the story. One action may say it all e.g. quiet by... characters need to be strong and individual. Need emotion and voice and reaction. Your characters need to be a real person even if they are portrayed by an animal.

Read your story aloud to ensure it does not fall flat. The reader needs to empathise with character even if throwing tantrums the character needs to be likable, such as in Pumpkin Soup.

The characters are vulnerable and moody without being whinny, such as in the Owl Babies by Martin Waddell v:shapes="_x0000_i1030">. Three different characters show voice and different dialogue.

LANGUAGE

Make it interesting lyrical, soft, percussive, bouncy and fun, such as in Tumble Me Tumbily by Karen Baicker. Not too hard can introduce new words but not too many. Take a subject like sibling rivalry and think of the emotional pull, depth and sparkle. Should have an ending that makes you smile or laugh out loud.

FORMAT
Send in a word document. Break into twelve spreads. Submit it in this form as shows you are thinking in this structure. There is no minimum number of words. There is no moral stance on thumb sucking it depends on the context. Nits are universal and do translate into other languages.

GAPS
Want something really new but, this is rare. Looking for gentle narrative story with a strong voice for character, such as No Matter What by Debi Gloris.

Often the books that become huge best sellers they can not anticipate. If published author with a relationship with the editor they will hear back within a few days or weeks. If with an agent they usually hear within a few weeks. If it is an unsolicited manuscript it can be two months plus.

Editors love to nurture and bring on talent and most editor do that in their in their own time and sometimes if a manuscript is going to be rejected but they want to give it a more considered reply they will take longer to reply and give more feedback as they want to do the manuscript justice.

Little Tiger Press work closely as a team and generally work with authors. They divide the books taken to book fairs. Prolific authors may be working with two editors. They do not encourage authors to send illustrations as prefer to match their own illustrator to a text. They hire illustrators straight form university who they keep on their lists and try and match texts to them.

Authors send a manuscript and Little Tiger Press will look through their illustrator list to find the right match. They often look for texts to suit an illustrator’s strengths. If send in illustrator notes they should add another level to the text and they can be put under the text in italics or brackets.

In my opinion, picture book writing must be the hardest form of writing in the world. There are so many things you need to take into consideration. I suggest, if you want to write good picture books and you want to be published by LTP do your market research. It is well worth the time and effort taking a look at the all ready published books Jude Evans has highlighted to see how the authors have produced the desired effect.

Read Candy’s post on the SCBWI talk: Little Tiger, Pressed: What Picture Book Publishers Want

I wanted to add pictures of all the book covers with the books mentioned, as I did in the post on Babette Cole, Every Picture tells a Story, but for some unknown reason everytime I try and add an image Internet Explorer shuts down, so consequently I can't do it. this is also true of my last post: The Editor Panel @ Bologna. But, I suppose if you follow the links you can see the books for yourself.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Editor Panel @ Bologna

Six editors from all over the world explain, "Why I Love This Book and Published It"
Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero written by Anne Cottringer, illustrated by Alex I. Smith
A picture book text does not come to life without a good illustrator. Katherine believes in developing new creative talent. Publishers love to be inspired by people they are working with. With this particular picture book, Scholastic added the surname name to link with Indiana Jones. producing a book is about collaboration between author, illustrator, editor and designer.

Katherine particularly likes this book, because children need heroes who aren’t obvious heroes as they read about this normal child they can believe they can be a hero too. Usually they only offer a new author a one book deal as they tend to err on the side of caution. A two book deal is exciting but, Anne Cottringer was offered a four book deal. Picture books are not given the same publicity as novels. This book has postcards.

It is a contagious book. The author is a documentary film maker by day and writer by night. The author and illustrator to her knowledge have never met. A little bit of bling goes a long way as children are drawn to it. It is standard at Scholastic to offer the author and illustrator 50/50 split on royalties. The normal print run is a few thousand and then they will print more if needed. When they sign a book up they do so with the belief if could be a bestseller.

Yolanda LeRoyCharlesbridge US

Sneeze by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel

A good editor wants to help develop the career of a writer. Sneeze shows the kinds of things that make you sneeze. It is a non-fiction book and presented a unique challenge. The book profiles nine children on a brink of a sneeze. The illustrations have been colourised for effect. The book showcases different reasons for sneezing.

Finding a cover everyone likes is painful and the cover committee is difficult to please and are often not really sure what they like.

To produce good non-fiction you need an interesting topic that is fascinating to children. Should have great back matter, with accessible text written in a sparkling imaginative way.

Charlesbridge often do simultaneous and paperback copies. Print-runs can be up to 75,000 copies. The children’s non-fiction market is very different in the US to the UK. In the US you would submit a manuscript in the same way as you would a novel. In the UK publishers will issue a brief to authors on their lists.

Pauline MermetBayard, France

La Vie Des Très Bêtes by Marion Montaigne

Contains forty animal stories that challenge what we know about animals. It is a cartoon style book, which is appealing to children and is aimed at 81-12 year olds. Each story is a double page spread. Pauline likes the edgy graphic style of the illustrator. It is particularly appealing because children love animals. Marion is a funny, talented writer. First print run was about 6,000. Pauline believes the style of the book will encourage and attract reluctant readers to reading.

Fiametti GiorgiMondadori, Italy

Le Guerre del Monde Emerzo written by Licia Troisi, illustrations by Paolo Barbieri

This book is about magical, mythical creatures based on a sketch book of 140 illustrations. Mondadari is a tiny publisher specialising in picture books. Fantasy is very popular in Italy at the moment. There is a realistic style. Fiametti likes the way the softness of the skin of the creature contrasts with the landscape.

The artist likes to work with computer sketches and then paints with the computer. It is a very distinctive style different from other illustrators. This illustrator also works in Germany and other European countries which is unusual for an Italian illustrator.

They are working on a video game.

Carmen Diana Dearden, Ediciones Ekaré, Venezuela

Margarita by Ruben Dario, illustrated by Monika Doppert

This book is part of the riddles poetry section. Carmen started the company in 1975 and this book was published in 1976. It is one of Carmen’s favourite all time books. It is a small book purposely designed this way as a treasure to cherish and love. The poet himself died in 1916 but the poem is a part of Carmen’s childhood. The poem is not easy to translate.

The book has black and white illustrations demonstrate something beautiful could be done in black and white. They contain fantastic detail. It is about a girl who goes out to fulfil her dreams. Light is a principle resource of illustrations. This book is dedicated to the heroes that go out to fulfil their dreams.

It is a classic long-term seller. They have sold over 100,000 copies, which makes it their second bestseller after Harry Potter. Margarita is available on Amazon.

Sarah OdedinaBloomsbury UK

Mole and the Baby Bird by Marjorie Newman, illustrated by Patrick Benson

Concept is but giving freedom to thing love the most and have to let go when really would like to keep them at home. Patrick didn’t think his art would be suited to the book but was finally persuaded and has created a modern classic. It is based on a real landscape in Scotland where he lives.

It is a beautiful story and is more a story bought by an adult as a present because the narrative has such a heart-felt message. The author recently died and her memory lives on in this book.
Picture books do not get the same marketing spend as novels so its popularity has been largely through word-of-mouth, booksellers, librarians and reviewers. It was first published in 2002. This book has been fantastically well received and is a firm favourite. By putting animals in picture books it makes them more universal. No Matter What by Debi Glori is referenced in the illustrations.

The editors at Bloomsbury work on what they like and so Sarah has picture books to YA on her list. Another of her favourite books is Witch Child by Celia Rees.

Laura Harris – Penguin, Australia

The Singing Hat by Tohby Riddle

Laura is biased to picture books, because all people can read picture books even if the text is in a different language. Laura loves this book because of the story, artwork and the relationship of working with the creator. She believes this book defines what a picture book should be. The sense of wonder is so uplifting.

Creating a book is not an exact science. A great idea may not be a great book and a great book may not start from a great idea. There is often a blue moment in picture books where all seems lost before see the change that resolves it.

In this story there is no mother. Why there is a nest and why the bird chose Colin is not explained. It is just there. It just is. The illustrations have a good use of colour. It is the most beautiful and most improbable concept and that is why it thrilled Laura. The main character is a man not a child and the child has no name. It won a prestigious award in Australia. Tohby Riddle also wrote Irving the Magician.

Giselle TsaiCommonWealth Magazine Group, Taiwan

This book is about a rabbit who is confused because he has short ears and wants his ears to be like all the other rabbits. It was launched by giving away free ear bread. He struggles to make his ears longer, has big ambitions. It is a very imaginative story with a common theme about how children are worried about their image – a real life problem.

The use of colour is significant as it gets darker as each idea does not work. There is a good use of humour. The first print run was more than 8,000. It is a simple story about self confidence.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Art and Craft of Stand-out Books


Do you want to write a book that stands out from the crowd? Susanne Gervay, Kathleen Duey and Susan Fletcher explain how.

Susan Fletcher said we should write the best book we know how about something we care passionately about. Good examples are Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow and Kathleen Duey suggested Love and Werewolves in East LA an urban fantasy written in free verse, influenced by Homer and monster movies.

As a reader Kathleen loves to go somewhere magical and characters have to go to the dark soul and gets spiritual alchemy. She likes something that makes her feel a better person. The initial concept needs to stand out to the publisher, publicity department and the book seller. The quality of the book makes the book stand out. You should make people laugh and cry in the same book. A lot is the question of craft and some of it is pure craftiness. As a writer you shouldn’t be invisible, you have to stand out as a personality.

Susanne Gervay said we are all writers in that we write for ourselves. To be a public writer you have to have courage. When her father died she wrote every aspect of his death and the all she knew about the brain tumour down. Writing was a healing process. It took courage. She writes for herself and is influenced by her life. Her books are her life. She recommends you should have the courage to write the truth about life’s adversaries.

Susanne started writing as a quest to search for her identity because her life as a young adult was so painful. When she writes she cries and laughs. She reckons if you don’t you don’t care enough. She writes because she tells the truth and lives the journey. A book stands out because you have something to say about what you care about. You need to put in your real emotions. You need to use your own voice.

Kathleen Duey in her book Skin Hunger said you write about your own issues. A lot of people’s real life events and feelings are in books, intermingled with the fiction. Don’t hold back the emotion as it makes your books shallow. We are here to report, witness and speak about everything we see and tell it the best way we can.

Jane Yolen doesn’t outline she flies into the mist.

Susan Fletcher recommends you should follow something that attracts you. All publishers are different and so are children. Don’t send off your manuscript too soon. They do not judge what your potential is they judge what is in front of them. Kathleen said the voice is inside you. What gives you shivers will help you write it well and honesty.

Susan switched from third to first person to find the right voice. When you are hooked into something it feels like you don’t have to think. The best place to get to is when you are not making it up the words just flow through you.

Some recommended titles Susanne, Kathleen and Susan felt were excellent examples of books that stand-out are:

By studying these, and the books that stand-out for you, it is possible to evaluate for yourself the art and craft of stand-out books.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Every Picture tells a Story

The picture book writer and illustrator, Babette Cole, talks about her writing



Books written by Babette Cole

Babette wrote from an early age and lived on the Channel Islands where she rode ponies. She went to Canterbury Art College in the UK and then went on to work for the BBC in her third year. She worked on Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine and Jackanory. Her first book was published in 1976 and it was about her pony.

She made pop-up books for a while. She was asked to write a feminist fairy story so wrote Princess Smartypants.




Then she wrote Mummy laid an Egg, which was nearly banned.





She decided to write a medical journal so wrote Dr Dog. You can see him every day on Sky TV.






There are several titles in the Dr Dog series, including A Dose of Dr Dog and Dr Dog Goes Green, which features the aerobic digester to help save the planet.



She keeps sketch books. Music inspires her. She tries to create the same musical movement and rhythm in her illustrations. Every picture you look at makes other pictures in your mind. This is the same with words.

In the UK, it is the National Year of Reading. We’ve got to get the books to the people who need them. There is still a problem getting boys to read. 41% of girls read compared to 22% of boys. Need a dad reading hero role model. Everything starts with reading.

Her website helps her to communicate with her readers. Babette will answer emails and mails sent to the website. She loves to communicate with her readers and thinks all writers should learn to speak to children in their own language. She has produced a DVD on how to make picture books, which is available on her website.

Babette explained she is making ¼ of what she earned 10 years ago. It was discussed whether this was because picture books have moved on, or is there a slump in the market. Babette said, “If you don’t talk to kids you will get left behind.” She believes in sitting on the doorstep until you get heard.

At the moment, Babette is writing four pony books for Bloomsbury. It takes her ½ an hour to write a story and six months to illustrate it.

Babette supports an organisation called Big Picture, which held an exhibition in the UK in April with a prize for illustration run by the National Book League. The final ten Best New Illustrators were selected from a longlist of 27 names, all published in the UK since 2000. At the launch party on April 22, best-selling picture book author and Best New Illustrators judge, Anthony Browne, presented each of the ten winning illustrators with an award, in front of a packed audience from the world of children’s publishing.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Headline Feature

Take a look at this month's Writers' Forum:


I have another feature in it. This time on Sally Gardner. That is a picture of her on the front cover. You can read an extract of the interview on the Writers' Forum website.