Meeting Deadlines

One of my plus points is that I am good at multi-tasking. An important requirement of multi-tasking is setting deadlines.

Whenever, I start a new job I always ask, ‘When do you want it done by.’ Often the reply is as soon as possible but, I find this is not helpful. I prefer to have someone say ‘I want it by next Tuesday,’ or ‘Ten o’clock tonight at the latest.’ This keeps me on track and helps me to organise my workload. If I don’t set myself these time limits I find myself procrastinating and time-wasting by staring out the window or my worse vice, playing computer games.


Deadlines have to be reasonable, whether I’m setting them for myself or they’ve been set by an editor. Some deadlines are tight; rush jobs come up, emergencies occur, and then the pressure is on. Most of the time, it’s possible to merge tasks, working for a while on one thing and then a few days on something else and get it done without undue stress. Sometimes I just need time out from a job and I am pleased I can work on something else to take a break.


When I have deadlines set for me, I always break them into smaller tasks, giving myself my own time limit for each chapter or section. It’s nice to give myself a little reward when I achieve it too but, often the personal satisfaction of knowing I achieved what I wanted to do is reward enough. I work within the time available and I’m an organisation freak so this method of working suits me fine.

I would be interested to know how you do it. Do you find it easier to write to deadlines?

Book Review – There’s Only One Kind of Duck

Title: There’s Only One Kind of Duck

Written and Illustrated by: Heather Kilgour

Published by: Heather Kilgour

there's only one kind of duck

This creative non-fiction book encompasses some fascinating, eye-opening facts about ducks within the story of Lee and Alex who are going to the pond to feed the ducks.

Alex insists there is only one kind of duck, but Lee knows better. The author – illustrator, Heather Kilgour, introduces us to a multitude of different species of duck, consolidated by an ingenious duck fact file in the last three spreads. This charming picture book was inspired by the Wetlands Centre in Barnes, London.

Heather’s passion for conservation shines like a beacon on every page. Her superb illustrations demonstrate each duck’s uniqueness and diversity. A duck is simply not just a duck. There are so many different species, that live in different habitats with very different diets. There’s Only One Kind of Duck, carries a very important message for children and their parents – ducks should not eat bread. It makes them ill and pollutes the water.

This book would make the ideal educational gift for your budding conservationist.

“This is a story of diversity that will open your child’s eyes to the richness of the natural world.” Heather Kilgour

It would also provide an excellent introduction into conservation and caring for animals in their natural environment and be used in the classroom to support a topic on animals and their habitats.

To find out more about Heather Kilgour and her illustrations visit her website:


An interview with… Sarah Stewart

In the February Issue of Writers’ Forum I have interviewed Sarah Stewart the director of the Lighthouse Children’s Literary Consultancy about her career and the services she offers to children’s and YA book writers.

writing 4 children - lighthouse4

She started The Lighthouse with her good friend, Cat Clarke, when they were both working as editors. Sarah was the UK editor of The Hunger Games at Scholastic and has also worked for the excellent Edinburgh based publisher, Floris Books.

The feature contains valuable advice about opening lines and query letters. They also link up writers with agents  when they feel they’ve read a good, strong submission.

Some of Sarah’s advice includes:

If you’re writing for younger children, a sense of immediacy is a bonus in an opening; I like a bit of meandering description when I am read adult fiction, but not if I’m looking at something aimed at seven year olds.

You can read the full interview in the Feb 2019 #208 issue of Writers Forum. To find out more about the Lighthouse Children’s Literary Consultancy and their services you can view their website: or follow them on Twitter at: @thelighthouseuk 

My Writing Tips

Here are some more writing tips that you may find useful. They are not in any particular order.

notebook and pen2

  • If you want to write a big book, pick a big theme.
  • Write rich characters with rich backgrounds (and I’m not talking about money.)
  • Finish each chapter on a cliffhanger.
  • The plot must race along at breakneck speed.
  • Mix fact with fiction so that the reader does not know where the truth ends and the fiction starts.
  • Be clear of all the underlying themes and what is going on in the background.
  • Look at the opening – does it grab you?
  • Think about the title.
  • A good story has a great plot and loads of action.
  • Be careful the ending is not an anti-climax.
  • Make up your own secret society if you want.
  • The ‘What if…?’ button, is the most important key on the keyboard.

Book Review – Is it a Mermaid?

Title: Is it a Mermaid?

Written by: Candy Gourlay

Illustrated by: Francesca Chessa

Published by: Otter-Barry Books

is it a mermaid

This book is full of interesting facts about the dugong and its history. Bel and Benji meet a dugong whilst playing on a beach in the Philippines. The dugong insists she is a mermaid. Bel is swept away by her imagination and instantly believes this. After all, in Malay the word for mermaid is ‘duyong’. Benji is harder to convince. He does not believe in mermaids and tells the dugong she is nothing but a Sea Cow. Understandably, this upsets the dugong. It is lucky that mermaids are so forgiving. By the end of the book even the most sceptic reader will believe in mermaids.

The story is enhanced by Francesca Chessa’s beautiful Monet-style illustrations. The colours take you on a journey through time, from the morning, to midday and then the glorious sunset and finally the deep blues of twilight when they have to pack up their fun day on the beach to go home. Even the end pages are illustrated as part of the story.

On the surface the themes of Is it a Mermaid? are friendship and kindness but this book carries a deeper message about how the dugong’s habitat of seagrass is under threat.

“They have been listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation and Natural Resources (IUCN).” Candy Gourlay

Seagrass are flowering plants that live in shallow sheltered areas along coastlines all over the world. They are different from seaweed, have bright green leaves and are very important for the biodiversity around our planet.

  • Seagrass meadows act as a natural sea defence by trapping sediment and slowing down currents and waves.
  • They provide a home for many baby fish, including Cod, Plaice and Pollack around our shores.
  • Seagrass meadows absorb and store large amounts of carbon and are vital in the fight against climate change.
  • They absorb nutrients, pollutants and bacteria and help to keep our coastal waters clean.”

Project Seagrass

In the British Isles there is over 22,000 hectares of seagrass that is threatened by pollution and human damage such as boat propellers and chain moorings that can hinder its ability to produce new growth. Two species of seahorse depend on shrimp which inhabit the British Isles seagrass meadows and cuttlefish lay their eggs in these underwater fields.

I love the fact that Candy Gourlay ends the book with this educational message and points readers in the direction of an app called SeagrassSpotter designed by the charity Project Seagrass.

“SeagrassSpotter is a conservation, monitoring and education tool to help us better understand seagrass meadows around our coat.

By using SeagrassSpotter and becoming a Citizen Scientist with Project Seagrass, you can help us learn more about the seagrass meadows in your area, so that together, we can protect them.” Project Seagrass

This book would be ideal to use in the classroom to support work on habitats and conservation.

Is it a Mermaid? is a book to treasure.

To find out more about Candy Gourlay and her books visit or follow her on Twitter @candygourlay and Instagram @candygourlay

To find out more about Francesca Chessa and her illustrations visit  or follow her on Instagram @hollysredboots and Twitter @hollyredboots

To find out more about Project Seagrass visit

To find out more about the app SeagrassSpotter visit or search in the App Store or Google Play.

An interview with… Penny Joelson

My Research Secrets slot in Writers’ Forum features YA writer, Penny Joelson. She explained how she wove personal experience and research into her YA novel, Girl in the Window.

research secrets - penny joelson4

The book is about a teenage girl called Kasia, who has ME so spends most of her time staring out the bedroom window. Nothing ever happens on Kasia’s street so when she sees what looks like a kidnapping, she’s not sure whether she can believe her own eyes. she notices a girl in the window opposite and hopes she saw something too but when Kasia goes to find her she is told there is no girl.

In the feature you can see a copy of the interview that Penny used as part of her research to gain a young teenage perspective of ME.

I prepared a survey with open questions and an option to add further information. I was overwhelmed with the response and the moving stories I read.

Penny explained that while some research needs to be done before writing, she prefers to write a first draft and then do more research, check facts and add details. This stops her from info dumping and the feeling she must include everything she discovered.


You can read the full interview in the Feb 2019 #208 issue of Writers Forum. You can find out more about Penny Joelson and her books on her website: or follow her on Twitter @pennyjoelson


Something that has always interested me is characterisation.

When I write fiction I always start with the character. I decide who my protagonist is going to be and what interesting character traits that could have. For me, character comes before plot. I always do a character questionnaire that I have devised to get all my ideas down on paper before I forget them. The questionnaire is designed to make me think more deeply about my characters. I use it in my creative writing workshops.

I am very aware that in a children’s book the protagonist needs to be a child. but, not any old child – it needs to be a child who is pro-active, brave and can use their initiative. This is true of all fiction. The characters can’t just sit there and expect other people to sort out their problems.


I have learnt over the years to trickle information about character into my writing rather than write blocks of character description. Andrew Melrose, the senior lecturer at King Alfred’s University in Winchester, once said in a workshop at a SCBWI Conference in Winchester, many years ago:

“Make your characters whole, make them real, make them people. Leak the clues deliberately and at a good pace. Let them evolve.” Andrew Melrose

I like this quote it is written in a few of my notebooks so I come across it regularly. I have always tried to follow this advice. However, I have also found that sometimes you need to state the obvious, as it is not always obvious to the reader. When you get to know your characters it is easy to forget that everyone else does not know as much as you do.