It’s a brand new year and a perfect time to feel refreshed and get stuck into some new projects. I have participated in #doodleadayjan and started an online writing and illustrating picture books course which I am throughly enjoying. I need prompts to make me work and this has been great for getting me to try new skills with my drawing.
#doodleadayjan was a good way to warm up my skills and not forget them before starting the course.
Here is a selection of my hand drawn illustrations from the drawing challenge:
And here is a selection of my digital illustrations:
I’m so glad I participated as I felt there were a few styles that could possibly be developed.
For the online course I have so far had to draw a little self-portrait, so here I am dressed up in my art teacher’s outfits. I always to dress to theme according to the artist I am teaching. Can you recognise the famous artwork on my skirt?:
And we had to complete a mini book which was so much fun and not something I had done before. so chuffed to be learning new skills. Here is a sneaky peek at pages 3 and 4.
I am still writing but this year I am focusing on my illustration skills which has so far been lots of fun already!
So here are the following questions to explain my processes:
What am I working on?
Everything at the moment, which feels a bit hectic. But I am working for 3 deadlines/closing dates which are happening in the following week:
I have to submit manuscripts for appraisals at this years SCBWI Conference
submit a manuscript to CYA Conference Writing Competition
submit a manuscript to KBR Unpublished Picture Book Award Competition
Actually, the first one is the only job I have to do, but the second two are what I need to do to help me develop into a more satisfying and successful writer. Entering competitions helps you work towards deadlines. Some offer feedback sheets which are invaluable and help you to spot strengths and weaknesses in your own work.
So, what am I working on?
3 chapter books/ middle grade novels
1 rhyming picture book manuscript ( I know, rumour has it that they are not easy to sell to publishers, unless the ryhme is perfect – I intend to make it perfect 😉
How does my work differ from others of it’s genre?
I learnt a new word last year – scatalogical. I submitted a manuscript to an American Literary Agency for Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12 Writing Challenge (write 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months). The agent replied to me with a very nice rejection letter explaing that ‘scatalogical’ humour was not her thing.
I don’t know why but many of my manuscripts seem to contain scatalogical humour in some shape or form including: cow pats, bird poo, super-glue poo. Maybe that’s how it differs.
I also have two manuscripts which have a connection to the island I was born on – Jersey, Channel Islands.
Why do I write what I do?
I have often read blogs that say don’t write to trends, write about what you know or enjoy.
Well, I know about Jersey, living on a tiny island and Jersey cows.
But I’m not an expert on a great variety of poos – although I have stood in dog poo (which isn’t lucky) and bird poo has landed on me (but that’s ok because it’s lucky.)
I love history and therefore I have two manuscripts that are historical. Both are based around real events. One is a picture book which made my daughter cry. She thought it was a horrible story as the father wasn’t going to make it back in time for his daughter’s birthday. (She threw the manuscript on the floor!)
The other one is a middle grade novel which is so exciting to write but difficult too. It is based in 50BC and as I wasn’t around then it is quite hard to make sure I am including details that would have existed then, eg: food, transport, tradition, clothes (or lack of – Gauls had been known to fight naked!), family life, rules, etc…
How does my writing process work?
In the past I have entered Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Ideas Month). Or I have seen something in the news or in the newspaper, on Facebook or something my kids have done – and Bingo! It has given me an idea.
I then go through the following quick checklist:
WHO is the main character?
WHAT is the problem/ inciting event?
WHERE is this happening?
WHEN is it happening?
I write the first draft. Spell check it. Read it out loud into my voice memo onto my iphone (this is especially useful for my rhymimg text)
I have recently come across this devise to help you hear your work: http://www.naturalreaders.com/index.php
I also get my 8 year old daughter to read out the manuscript aloud.
Then I meet up with my brilliant critique group and they give me valuable feedback on the good and the bad. And I rewrite, rewrite and rewrite until the writing feels polished and every word is needed. This can sometimes be hard to judge.
And now to introduce next week’s blogger;
Rob Harding is a voice-over artist, TV presenter and kids author. You have probably heard Rob’s voice before – perhaps on the radio or TV for Coke or Optus or perhaps one of those ads where he shouts at you about a Massive Clearance Sale. He appears on the BBC’s pre-school channel CBeebies, where he gets to dress up as a gnome and speak in a pirate accent, although usually not at the same time.
Rob has also written several critically acclaimed children’s books. At this stage, none of these books have actually been published, so the critical acclaim only comes from Rob’s kids. His wife thinks they’re OK. His dog thinks they stink. (Which actually isn’t such a bad thing because she used to eat her own poopy.)
A very tasty dish made from beans and pork. It warms your tummy on a winter’s day.
(Text from my children’s book The Jersey 12 days Of Christmas available here: My Books)
It is a family tradition to always have a cup of hot bean crock and a slice of buttered french baguette on Guy Fawkes Night. I promise to make a pot one day but it will never be as good as my mum’s. She is known for making the best bean crock!
Click on the following link for a Bean Crock recipe:
Although I am self-published with my little book ‘The Jersey 12 Days Of Christmas,’ I still aspire to be what is known as ‘traditionally published’ through a well known publishing house. Here is a defintion by Gene Mirabelli at Critical Pages:
“The names of The Big Six may be familiar to you as distinguished old publishing houses. They are Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, and Hachette. Only two of The Big Six are US companies: Simon and Schuster, and HarperCollins. The others are foreign: two are German, one is British and the other is French.”
Until I get a manuscript accepted by a big publisher I have to motivate myself to keep going. There are no deadlines to work to by eager editors or animated agents. I have to keep going by myself through days of wordy drought and barren ideas.
To keep me going I enter writing competitions for the following reasons:
I am a big believer that you ‘have to be in it, to win it!’
some competitions give comprehensive and incredibly useful feedback sheets
competitions are good practice for following submission guidelines, eg: target age range, genre, word count, font size/type, etc.
and finally competitions give you a deadline to work to.
Above is a certificate I recently received for the KBR Unpublished Picture Book Manuscript Award 2013. I didn’t win but I did receive something just as important – a reason to carry on with writing – a sign that I am on the right track! I had earned a certificate of Highly Commended! The feedback was that my story had humour, a lovely character and scope for wonderful images.
The feedback also had some hints at how I can make it even stronger and this has given me some direction.
Here are some of the writing competitions that I have entered throughout the year:
If you want to be a writer, whether it be for picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult or adult novels, whatever the age or genre the best thing you can do for yourself and your craft is to join a critique group. I have been in my critique group for nearly three years now and not only has my own writing changed and improved with time but it has also been a joy to watch the everyone else improve their writing too.
It will always amaze me at how differently everyone sees your own work. How useful it is when errors are spotted that you had not noticed because you have got too close to your work. Putting your manuscript down for a few days, weeks or months can sometimes really help you see your own work with fresh eyes. Sometimes you think you have written the obvious and the bonus of a critique group is that you will get a very good idea as to whether or not you have got your story across clearly.
Critiquing is quite a specific skill and doesn’t necessarily come easily so it is worth reading up a few books or writing blogs about how to do it correctly and most importantly without hurting someone’s feelings.
Here are some tips to help you:
always start with something positive first – no matter how you feel about the story. It may be the concept, the title, the rhyme, the characters, etc. Find something you liked about it.
does the title suit the story and give you a clue as to what the story is about – would it make you want to pick the book up from the book shelves?
is the story a unique idea or an old idea done in a new fresh way?
does the beginning of the story grab you – do you want to read on?
can you get a good sense of who the main character is or are there too many main characters and you are getting confused?
is there an obstacle/problem in the story and is this apparent early on in the storyline (preferably within the first few pages)
Does the problem get resolved?
Is the ending satisfying – does it have a surprise twist or does it have an ‘ahh, that’s lovely’ feeling about it?
is the language used within the manuscript appropriate for the age range that the book is written for?
and the biggest question of all is: would a child ask for your book to be read to them again and again and again, because that is the ultimate compliment and sign of success!
If you would like to join a critique group then contact your nearest Writers Centre or start one of your own!
Here are some links to help you with critiquing your own work or others:
I am glad to say I did it, I managed to write 12 manuscript drafts for picture books and I am now looking forward to rereading them again in the new year. I look forward to editing and rewriting the manuscripts until they are polished and ready to be submitted to the big wide world of publishing houses. During the journey I learnt many tips on writing:
On the very first page start with a strong sentence – let the reader know who the story is about, where they are, when the story is happening and what the problem may be
Try to show the story in the words you are using, rather than tell the obvious in story (something which the illustrator will do for you)
Make sure your character grows in the journey of trying to achieve their goal
Use fresh language that will be a pleasure to listen to
resolve your story with a satisfying end!
I’d like to ‘Thank’ Julie Hedlund for creating the writing challenge and if you have also completed the challenge, well done!
Yesterday I completed a writing challenge – the PiBoIdMo 2012 – which stands for Picture Book Ideas Month. This is the second year that I have participated in this PiBoIdMo writing challenge. I have written previously about it here, PiBoIdMo 2012 and here, PiBoIdMo 2011.
The great thing about this challenge is that I now have 30 new picture book concepts that I can work on over the next year. Last year 2 out of the 30 ideas have turned into complete manuscripts. 2 others have potential and 1 has been turned into a middle grade chapter book. The challenge is great for encouraging you to brainstorm for new ideas. Some will never amount to anything, but that doesn’t matter.
This year I am quite excited about 2 of my ideas, 6 more have potential and I have even managed to come up with a couple of history themed picture books which of course is an area I really enjoy reading and writing about.
In the very near future I will (fingers crossed) be announcing the end of some very hard work and the beginning of my first self-published children’s picture book. Although I am aware that this is not the end of the hard work, as marketing your book can be tough.
The book is aimed at anyone with connections to Jersey, Channel Islands, the book contains illustrations to go with a very classic Christmas rhyme. It can also be used as an early reader and counting book.
How good is that, reading, counting and singing all in one book!
The self-published route is a huge learning curve. Here are just a few of the things you have to consider and decide upon:
gloss or matt
hardback or softback/paperback
And not every publisher/printer uses the same terminology. Although I have been quite a bag of nerves over making all these decisions it has also been quite empowering.
I have already shown some examples of the artwork in previous posts:
Backgrounds for me are a tricky thing – I never know whether to leave it blank, add a bit of colour or add detail. IWhen adding colour I need to consider consistency of colour. Am I keeping the same tone with each illustration. Does it look right if some background colours are bold and others are softer?
Here are two examples;
I initially used a green background as pumpkins grow in Autumn where I am from. But then I got thinking about the colour wheel and how opposite colours make each other stand out more.
Plus, we associate pumpkins with Halloween, so I decided to make it night and add a yellow glow inside them. The only trouble is, all the other illustrations I have used for this counting picture book have soft pastel shades in the backgrounds.
I wonder, does it matter if one picture stands out from the rest? What do you think?