A thought suddenly occured to me this morning as I arrived home after dropping my kids off to school. They were dressed up as Goldilocks and William The Conqueror for their Book Character Parade. It is Book Week, which by the sounds of the many excited children in the playground, tells you that this is a hugely popular week within the school year.
The thought was this:
If my middle grade novel ever got published, and a child wanted to dress up as my main character, Sirona, a 12 year old girl from Gaul in the 1st Century AD, what would she wear?
I already had some idea and little hints are written in the text but the question made me think about it properly.
Could the child make-do and find the whole outfit within her household? Maybe she would need to buy at least one accessory.
In this photo below is my son dressed up as William The Conqueror. Most of his outfit has been found in our wardrobes. The crown is made out of card. All I had to buy was the sword. (Yes, I am hoping I don’t get a phonecall from his school saying there’s been an accident. :-))
So how does Sirona look? She is a 12 year old girl from from ancient Gaul in the 1st Century AD. I had to do some research as to what type of garments were worn in that time period.
I looked online. Pinterest was a great help.
I read non-fiction and fiction books, inlcuding Asterix.
I am almost at the end of another big edit for my middle grade novel that I am writing at 9-12 year olds . When submitting to editors or querying agents it is suggested that you have some comparable books in mind to your own story that you have written. So here are a couple of books I have read over the past year:
Although the story themes are similar they are not the same. But they did help me understand about world building, setting the scene up and adding touches of historical content without making the story feel like a boring old history lesson. With comparables you need to know what it is that makes your story different and stand out. So that is something for me to consider. Mine is:
based around 50AD
about a tribe of Gauls escaping the conquering Roman army
based on the true discovery of 70,000 coins and jewellery on farm land in my birth place, the island of Jersey, (UK) that date back to the time of the Roman invasion.
It is also fortunate that I have two children of middle grade age. Therefore I am always interested in what it is they choose to read. I have always let my children have free choice when choosing a book. It is important for me to see what grabs their interest and why. No matter how much I may think the book is rubbish. After all, I read rubbish sometimes too.
So here are a few books my 12 year old son has chosen to read in the past year, bearing in mind he is not an avid reader.
He is currently reading Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Soon,’ and to my surprise he cannot put it down, reading it far too late into a school night. But then I reflect and realise that as a child I loved apocalyptic types of books. A book that had a great affect on me as a high school student was ‘Z For Zachariah’ by Robert C. O’Brien.
And here are a few of the hundreds of books my 10 year old daughter has read. She reads morning, noon and night!
She is currently reading ‘The Ruby Talisman’ by Belinda Murrell. Her name is Ruby and yes, I am one of those mum’s that buys books with her children’s name on. And this is something I consider quite strongly when choosing names for my book characters. I f you are interested in knowing what the most popular names are at the moment read this link here: Northern Beaches parents opting for classic baby names. I have observed that names seem to have a one hundred year cycle. My daughters name is Ruby Grace and I thought I was being highly original calling her that. After all, Grace was my grandmother’s name and she was born in 1927. But lo and behold there are a thousand Grace’s out there, in Australia where I live now and in Jersey where Ruby was born.
And finally, here are some books I read out loud to my children. I am currently reading ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ in a South American drawl and it is so much fun. I have often read in different accents especially with picture books. The kids love it and can do quite a few accents themselves now.
I realise that sometimes the books we have to read at school can have a positive or negative affect on us. I read Mrs Frisby and the rats of Nimh at secondary school and loved it. And because of that, I have shared it with my kids. That is the long lasting affect a curriculum or teachers can have on their readers.
Anyway, all this sitting down writing is giving me a ‘writer’s bum,’ so I better stop here and go for a walk before sitting down again to do the final tweaks, edits and changes of my 36,000 word manuscript SIRONA. 🙂
I am packing up house and this has forced me to go back to basics and develop my hand drawing skills. The main area that I am keen to progress in is children’s illustration for picture books/ chapter books. I had this in mind when I completed this weeks theme for the 52 Weeks Illustration Challenge.
Week 39: Words
Pencil, coloured pencils, artline pen
A picture book is created through a strong relationship between the words and the pictures. The word count in picture book manuscripts is dropping and currently the preferred number to aim for is the 500 mark.
So you have to choose your words carefully. Here are some tips:
don’t write the obvious – the illustrator will portray that for you
avoid adjectives (ly words)
use fresh language
avoid dialogue tags, ‘said’ is sufficient – the words you have chosen should imply how the character is feeling
Here is a great post about editing your text by Juliet Clare Bell over at Picture Book Den.
This was exciting news and with support and encouragement from my other half I decided to fly up to Brisbane where the Conference is held. The winners were announced very early in the morning. The winner of third place was announced. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I must be second!’ The winner of second place was announced. I panicked and thought, ‘Oh my god, how embarrasing, I hadn’t been shortlisted at all, it was a mistake!’
Winning had not occured to me at all, but I did, much to my surprise!
Goodnight Gorgeousaurus is a rhyming manuscript that takes you through the busy, adventurous and hungry day of a young dinosaur (or a child dressed up as a dinosaur. I have left it up to the illustrator to decide how the text can be interpreted.)
This was a great start to the day that was jam-packed with workshops. Here are just a few:
Slashings Of Editors
This was a great insight into what a selection of editors would like to see, including: professionalism, a great hook and stories with heart. They also mentioned how they often read manuscripts in their own time, after a busy day and therefore your work must stand out and make them want to read on.
Structuring a story with Pamela Rushby
Pamela highlighted 9 questions you should ask about your story, as well as asking us ‘were we a plotter or panster?’ I decided I was a bit of both.
Let Your Pictures Do The Talking By Peter Carnavas
Peter’s workshop was interactive which was great. I am always happy to be taught a few tips and tricks to help me develop my illustration skills. He also discussed storyboards and how they work:
The whole day was great and the cherry on the top was meeting fellow aspiring writers, current winners, like Elizabeth Kasmer and Catherine from Squiggglemum:
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.)
Phew! The days are whizzing by! I am busy with kids on their holidays, a birthday boy, joining in #illo52weeks and ReviMo – so yesterday even though I participated in Day 3 of ReviMo, I didn’t get time write a post about it. So I am doing 2 in one today.
Day 3 Revisions
I revisited a relatively new manuscript which was begun during last years PiBoIdMo 2013 writing challenge
This story came about because of a few nick nacks I found whilst on one of my weekly walks (there is a lot of sitting down with writing and illustrating)
It has been critiqued once, and rewritten twice. Yesterday was the third time I rewrote the beginning and therefore changed the rest to make it flow to the end.
it’s starting to feel more solid and believable as a story
word count: 499 🙂
Day 4 Revisions
Today I revisited a new favourite, written in the depths of a sustainable farm in Dunedin, New Zealand whilst staying with family.
It’s a sentimental story of family, growth, sustaining resources, new life ad a good life!
wrd count: 481
These challenges have made me look at and work on manuscripts that otherwise would be left alone until the kids were back at school.
It s the last day of the school term and I had the opportunity this morning to read my book The Jersey 12 Days Of Christmas to my daughter’s class of year 2 children. What great fun!
I had intended to read the words but being in rhyme I found myself singing the whole book. Apparently, I didn’t sound too bad but in my mind I could hear my voice getting more and more high pitched. Behind me is my daughter Ruby, who doubles up as my assistant and editor. As I read the paperback version, she demonstrated how to use the ebook version on an ipad which included tapping the illustrations to hear the sounds.
Here are a few things to consider when reading to an audience:
if you are wearing a dress, remember to keep your knees together (see photo below – cringe!)
you are not reading to yourself – turn the book around so the audience can see any illustrations
project your voice for the children that always navigate towards the back so they can hear too
have eye contact with your listeners
slow down – I tend to rush when I am nervous.
Today’s class visit was my second. The first time I was invited to read a new manuscript about a Little Blue Fairy Penguin to a class of year 1’s. This was great too, as I could watch the children’s reaction and take note of moments when their eyes glazed over with boredom or when they giggled, asked questions or started to fidget. All really useful indicators as to how engaging your story is. Thankfully, they enjoyed the story as did the lovely teacher.
This was a fab way to end the year – and what a year it has been – I have:
As some of you know, I like to enter writing competitions to develop my ability at the craft of writing. I have talked about what I feel you can get out of entering competitions before here.
Over the weekend many aspiring and published writers received the results and feedback from the CYA Conference – Children’s and Young Adult Writers And Illustrators Conference. This is the third year I have entered and over the 3 years I have submitted 8 manuscripts. 7 of which were picture books and 1 a junior chapter book. With your chapter book you only enter the first 1000 words so you have to grab the readers attention and get the point of the story in early. Something which I need to work on. You get feedback from two judges which is just invaluable, so a big ‘Thank You,’ whoever you are!
The image above shows the order in which the chapters books were ranked according to the marks they were given. I was quite pleased to come 8th, as writing chapter books is a relatively new experience to me.
I love the editing, revising, rewriting process, so now I can mull over the feedback and adapt it to my chapter book in the hope of making it an even stronger story and better read.
Here are some things I need to consider:
what age is my main character/protagonist?
end chapters on a point of high tension eg: discovery, mystery, etc
does each scene promote or advance the plot?
is the reader drawn in right away/ is my first chapter so interesting, intriguing that the reader can’t put the book down and wants to read on?
Bring the action in sooner
The encouraging feedback was that:
the chapter book was the appropriate size for the audience, with short chapters
the concept was different to most Christmas books which was a good point
it would be a lovely book for Christmas time
Feedback is constructive and can be hard to take or interpret sometimes. It is also very subjective, so both judges can give different feedback. This is so important to experience as a writer and can only make you stronger!
2 Other sources of information I use to help steer me in the right direction and that gives great tips on writing are the following podcasts:
KATIE DAVIS– I listen to Katie and her guests talk about writing for children every Friday morning when I go for a long walk. This is also one of the times I get my ‘eureka’ moment when I have been stuck on a particular part of a manuscript.
And more recently I have been listening to:
CHERYL KLEIN – Cheryl talks with her guests about all types of writing but some of the advice is still relevant to writers of children’s books. EG: Consider when does your next scene start? How long after the last? In your first chapters include protagonist, conflict and adventure.
Speak to you soon, I have to go off now and polish my work!
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: