Virtual networking

Networking is a great tool to help you reach your goals. You can network in person by joining critique groups, going to book fairs, masterclasses and workshops, or by attending book launches and conferences of organisations like SCBWI, FCBG, IBBY, the Bookseller and CWIG. Or you can network virtually through online critique groups, email, YouTube, your own websiteFacebook, a Facebook Author page, Instagram, Twitter and by having a blog.

Virtual networking
One of the most important reasons why should authors have an online presence is that it is an ideal way of publicising your self. Publicity is so important, anything an author can do to help sales and increase familiarity with their name, the better. Having a website and / or blog means prospective publishers and buyers of your books are able to look up more information than they could get off a publicity leaflet.

You can have an online presence at any stage of your writing career. You can promote your articles, short stories, poetry, forthcoming novel, or your column in a magazine or newspaper.

Virtual networking can generate more contacts and interest in your writing. You can meet people you might not have had the opportunity to meet in person, without the huge travel costs. You can refer potential editors to your site so they can see a range of your work and editors who have worked with you in the past can use the site to get in touch.

The net is available 24-hours a day, every day. An online presence will market your work to the whole wide world. It is an excellent marketing forum and should become an ongoing part of your business as a writer. Your blog is a business tool.

The Internet is here to stay as a communication media, so utilise your resources.

Book Review – The twelve days of Christmas

Title: The twelve days of Christmas

Illustrated by: Britta Teckentrup

Published by: Little Tiger Kids

The twelve days of christmas

Britta Teckentrup has illustrated the traditional Christmas carol, The twelve days of Christmas, to produce a fun and interactive novelty book.

It is described on the cover as, ‘a peep-through picture book’. Each spread is a verse of the carol and as you turn each page the holes grow in size and quantity to reveal the next days gifts radiating out from the partridge in a pear tree at the centre. The final page shows all the gifts in no particular order, interspersed with gold snowflakes and stars.

The children will enjoy taking the time to study each page, count the gifts and admiring the tiny, digital artwork in pastel shades as they sing along to each page.

The book would make a lovely stocking filler for children aged between 2-7 years.

An interview with… Cathy Cassidy

I interviewed Cathy Cassidy for my Writing 4 Children double page spread in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum, in 2016. She revealed some of her writing secrets and tips.

WF-CC5

Cathy explained to me writers do not really get to choose the voice or genre they write, it is more of an organic process.

I’m not sure you get to choose your voice or genre… not always, anyway. I have always worked with and for young people, as an art teacher, a teen mag agony aunt, a journalist etc… that age group did and still does fascinate me, perhaps because it was a part of my life I didn’t manage especially well. When I finally did work out how to write a book length story, it turned out to be young teen rather than the YA I had envisaged. 

Cathy Cassidy

Most of Cathy’s readers fall between the ages of nine and fourteen and she calls the genre, ‘real-life, growing up’ books, as she often tackles quite difficult themes. But generally her books are about family, friendship and fitting in.

Cathy told me that she thinks the most important thing for any writer is to find your own voice and find your story, and then stay true to it

Don’t assume that children’s books are somehow less important than those aimed at adults, because that’s not the case. Often, the books we read as children are the ones that shape us, the ones we remember forever… let’s make them awesome!

Cathy Cassidy

Her top tip on writing for children is to write from the heart, and put everything you have into what you’re writing. If this means re-arranging your to-do list for the day, do it – writing has to come first, for the duration of the book at least. Set yourself a challenge to write a certain amount each day – it may just be 1000 words, but if you stick to it, those words will soon mount up. And when you start to doubt yourself and feel like throwing your laptop out of the window, don’t. 

Her message is write because you love it, because you can’t help it, because you love words and stories. Don’t do it for fame, fortune or an easy life, as those things are most unlikely to happen.

I’m lucky enough to write full-time now, but when I say full-time I mean it… sometimes it is seven days a week, and I can’t recall a break where I didn’t bring my laptop with me. If you love something, put all have into it… it’s worth it when you love what you do, I promise.

You can find out more about Cathy Cassidy and her books on her website: www.cathycassidy.com

An Evening with the Illustrator Axel Scheffler

Many years ago, in 2009, I was lucky enough to go to a talk by Axel Scheffler about his career as an illustrator of children’s picture books, run by the Society of Authors. The meeting was chaired by Ros Asquith.

Axel Scheffler

Axel is one of my favourite all time illustrators. He won his first drawing prize around the age of eight. It was for a picture of a cow. He is originally from Hamburg but, studied at Bath Academy of Art where he got a first class degree.

He told us, the greatest thing about going to art school was having the freedom to draw for three hours and the qualifications opened doors for employment. He has no time to do observational drawings anymore. He has got out of the habit and has been unable to get back into it. Looking and remembering is a skill some people can not do. Picasso and many other artists all used photos. But, Axel claims it is a skill you can train yourself to do. It makes you look more carefully at things. His style he developed himself. But, he is a perfectionist and is not happy with his work on occasions. He divulged how he finds it difficult to draw a succession of events and prefers to tell a story all in one picture.

He showed his portfolio in the mid-80’s to magazines and got regular work for a magazine called Lotus. He would draw anything and would change his drawings when asked. Sometimes he found himself drawing things he did not really understand. He also worked for a German magazine called Zeitmagazin where he did weekly illustrations and illustrated a column for a food writer.

He has also written and illustrated some Pixi Books (or Pixi Bücher) for their 40th Anniversary. He was one of 10 illustrators asked to commemorate the event. They have published over 1,500 identically sized titles, 10x10cm, which are all grouped and numbered in little series with German precision. He likes to do things that are less main stream, but he has less time nowadays. He enjoys illustrating with little pictures on a white background. He still does some work for The Oldie. He thinks as an illustrator he is more popular in Germany than in the UK.

He showed us how when you look at his illustrations over the years you can see his progression from pointy nose characters to softer styles.

The Piemakers by Helen Cresswell was the first book he ever illustrated

Daley B by Jon Blake was the first book he illustrated for Walker Books

Sam: Who Was Swallowed by a Shark by Phyllis Root was the second book he illustrated for Walker Books

In 1994, Julia Donaldson was writing songs for Playdays and Axel Scheffler was recommended as the illustrator. He worked on A Squash and a Squeeze. This was his first book with Macmillan. The next book he did with Julia was The Gruffalo, followed by Room on the Broom, Tiddler and The Stick Man, which was nominated for The Roald Dahl Funny book Prize. These books have been translated into 29 languages.

Publishers often do not have the patience to develop illustrators and authors. But, he has worked with Macmillan a long time now and they have moulded him into what they want. There are many people involved in the publication of a picture book. The final product is very influenced by the editor and art director.

The Gruffalo
Usually when he has an idea he ends up sticking with it. But with The Gruffalo cover his original just had a shadow of The Gruffalo, but the editor wanted the main protagonist on the cover so he redrew it. However, in the US they did not want the main protagonist on the cover so he had to draw another one where he hid The Gruffalo partially behind a shrub. This only appeared on the US first edition, the second edition adopted the UK design.

He explained how he had a terrible time getting the skies right because he found it difficult to get the liquid watercolours to do what he wanted. He usually starts his illustrations with liquid watercolours (like ink) drawings a lot smaller than in the book and they get blown up to the right size, which he then works with. He dips a pen into the ink and then colours them with special coloured pencils. He used to do his picture book drawings the same size but, now he does them 90%. He always starts with ink outlines and then colours on top of the inks and rubs in the colours with his fingers. At the end he reinforces the outline with the ink and adds details, such as lines for fur and leaves. Nowadays he is able to ask the publishers to make small alterations in Photoshop but, previously he was only able to change it by hand and then email the new version.

The Smartest Giant in Town
For this book he also drew a totally different front cover, but they wanted something more friendly so he had to rethink.

Rabbit’s Nap (Tales from Acorn Wood)
This is a lift the flap book and Axel loved drawing the little dressed animals

The Gruffalo Song and Other Songs
This was not the first cover design again, as he decided he did not want to metamorphosis the animals. This book is also available as a musical audio CD.

Axel’s advice to aspiring illustrators is to practice hard. He kept a sketch book from the age of about 18 before he started at art college. There is a whole playground of ideas in these sketch books that he has jotted down. Sometimes the sketch books relate to books he is working on. Axel explained how it is nice to look at old sketch books as they bring back memories. But, it is the unpredictability of the whole business that is so lovely about it.

Book Review – North Child

Title: North Child

Written by: Edith Pattou

Edited by: Rebecca Hill

Cover illustrated by: Clare Lefevre 

Published by: Usborne

North Child

A very cleverly written novel that uses a succession of monologues from each of the main characters – Rose, her father, her brother Neddy, the White Bear and the Troll Queen – to weave Rose’s story, which is based on the Norwegian fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Each of them with their own distinct voice.

We learn Rose was accidentally born facing North. Her mother believes this means she is destined to travel far from home on a dangerous journey. Rose’s love of weaving appeases her mother but Rose’s loyalty to her family and her thirst for adventure are stretched at the seams. Despite all her mother’s efforts to keep Rose home, the prophecy comes true. Rose makes a deal with the giant White Bear. She agrees to go with him if he saves her sister’s life. Rose is whisked away to an enchanted castle.

In the castle, she befriends, Tuki, a troll child and starts to learn his language. Apart from the White Bear, Tuki and his mother Urda, Rose does not meet anyone else in the castle but each night a silent stranger lays by her side in the big bed. She has been warned never to look at him and nearly lasts the whole year but her curiosity gets the better of her and she stares into the golden-haired man’s eyes. Immediately the castle and all its contents vanish.

The Troll Queen takes the White Bear away in her sleigh and the only clue to where he has gone are the White Bear’s words: East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Rose realises she has deep feelings for the White Bear. Wearing his ring she vows to rescue him. Her quest takes her on a perilous journey North where she meets many distinct characters to help her on her way. Edith Pattou creates an mesmerising icy palace where the final battle against the Troll Queen must be fought. Rose’s honesty and integrity sets her on the winning path. 

The novel encompasses the themes of temptation, loss and betrayal wrapped in a blanket of magic. The short monologues are quick and easy to read and follow a chronological sequence to build up Rose’s world, feelings and adventure. 

A great story for reading aloud to your children at bedtime that will have them hooked from the start.

An interview with… Peter Bunzl

For my Writing 4 Children slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum I interview Peter Bunzl about his Cogheart series, published by Usborne.

PBfeature

Peter told me his inspiration to write the Cogheart ‘steampunk’ Victorian adventure series, was sparked when he was reading about real clockwork robots that existed in Georgian and Victorian times. They were called automatons and were incredible pieces of engineering. Here is an example of some of them from youtube so you can see how amazing they are.

Automatons were built to do simple tasks like write their name or a few lines of poetry, or play an instrument, or a card trick or some of them were clocks with moving figures on. Peter wondered, what would happen if the technology back then had got so good that they could make clockwork robots that could do everything and anything. Robots made of bits of metal that were almost human and alive. Could they feel and think? Could the spark of life ever exist inside them? What would that mean for their inventors and owners? And what kind of world could I set a story be in where all this would take place?

There are four books in the series now, and they all take place over roughly a year. So the characters don’t really age that much physically, although emotionally they go through a lot.

Peter explained the reason his main characters, Robert and Lily, stay the same age is because, at thirteen-fourteen, they are already at the top end of what’s considered a middle-grade hero, and so, if they got much older, they would be more teens and their concerns would probably stray more into teen story lines, which would change the tone and themes of the books considerably.

Though they feature the same heroes in each book, the stories themselves are stand-alone, with different settings and different villains who have different goals in each, so there isn’t necessarily an overarching conflict to the series. Peter told that when writing a series, it is important to get the details consistent because once the series got to the third book, Skycircus, Peter realised everything was getting a little complicated, so he designed a big chart with all the main characters on,which clearly displayed their backstory, when they were born, what they looked like etc. Now he can easily refer to his chart when he needs to check a detail.

To find out more about Peter Bunzl you can check out his website www.peterbunzl.com 

Or follow him on Twitter @peterbunzl

To read the complete feature take a look at #218 Dec 2019 of Writers’ Forum magazine.

Re-evaluate setting

Today’s blog post is a continuation of evaluating your work in progress. I have talked about re-evaluating your characters and re-evaluating your plot. Today I am concentrating on setting. A lot of work goes into the beginning of the story before the writing begins but sometimes a story can loose its way. What I am proposing is if you feel like you have lost your way stop writing and take a look at what you have written so far. 

edinburgh castle

  • Make sure your facts are accurate, such as if you are using real places you have not got your characters driving the wrong way up a one-way street.
  • Make your own sketch-map of an area it is a good working tool whether, you setting is real or imaginary.
  • Remember the information out at the time may be different form what we know now in hindsight. Pears encyclopaedias give details relevant to the year and can be collected quite cheaply from boot sales.
  • Contemporary stories with flashback in time must be accurate. Double-check everything.
  • Never take one source, do a lot of crosschecking. Where possible use library and university sites, museums and book searches where you can type in a keyword and find a lot of good reference books.
  • The best research is unobtrusive. You don’t need to put everything in to prove you know your subject. Drop things in casually to set the scene and let the reader know a little background. You can paint a picture using the information this way. You have the research in your mind but only have to use a couple of lines.
  • Use research to feed motivation and plot. It is no good your character having a glamorous job if you’re not using the job to move the story forward.
  • Describe clothes and period costume by using action. Use the description and research as part of the action. All the time something should be happening.
  • Check your setting compliments other areas of the plot. If you are trying to create an atmosphere with your research, it must work within the confines of the plot.
  • Can your setting and the research you have done into it be used to create tension, conflict or theme? Could it be used to draw comparisons?
  • If you are going back in history, do not forget to use all your senses. Think taste, smell and sound. Think like a photographer.

living room

A good exercise is to go through your novel and list the settings you use. Consider how many and are they too similar or even too unrealistic. Would your character really live here? Examine their characteristics of the room, street, or forest. This kind of in depth look can help you find the right path back onto the road of completing your novel.