Monthly Archives: March 2019

Know Your Readers

It is essential for who ever you are writing for to have a good knowledge of your audience and have a target age in mind.


When writing for children remembering back to your own childhood is a starting point but you must keep in mind the modern child in today’s technology filled world. This does not mean every child in your book needs their own mobile phone or games console. In fact it is often better for tension if they are unable to call for help at a touch of the screen.

The best way to find out about your audience if you are writing for children is to observe them. Not in a stalkerish, creepy kind of way. If you have children, or have friends and relatives with children talk to them, find out what is going on in their lives. Ask about their likes and dislikes. Find out what books they love to read and their favourite characters. If you don’t have children talk to friends who have, or talk to your local children’s librarian.

Another good way to find out about children today is by watching children’s movies and television. Immerse yourself in the adventures, problems and emotions of the characters. They are likely to defy authority and will be outspoken with their own strong opinions. This may vary in intensity for reception, junior and secondary aged children but there should be a degree of independence.

Book review – Alfred and the Blue Whale

Title: Alfred and the Blue Whale

Written by: Mina Lystad

Illustrated by: Ashild Irgens

Translated by: Sian Mackie

Published by: Wacky Bee Books

Alfred and the Blue Whale

This beautifully translated Buzzy Reads story is about Alfred who is scared of lots of things, but he is especially scared about speaking in front of the whole class. So when Alfred is told he must speak about the Blue Whale in front of everyone, he just wants to run away and hide. However the more Alfred learns about the Blue Whale the braver he becomes.

Buzzy reads are of a similar length and style designed to bridge the gap between picture books and first chapter books. This particularly inspirational book is about finding courage and learning to believe in yourself and has been translated from its native Norwegian.

It would be an excellent book to use for discussing feelings and things children may be afraid of. Alfred manages to stand up to his fear by distracting himself with his research. This would be a great jumping point to find out other children’s coping methods and to inspire empathy.

I like Ashild Irgens, use of colour within the book. She uses blue to illustrate how shy and timid Alfred is with yellow to demonstrate the moments he is feeling happy and more confident.

Mina Lystad has divulged some brilliant facts about the Blue Whale which are conveyed in a simple and easy to understand way. The use of repetition reinforces these facts. The last two pages are dedicated to a Blue Whale fact file. In the classroom, this book could be used to encourage the children to research and create their own animal fact files. They could also find out what other animals are endangered and why.

Find out more about Buzzy Reads on the Wacky Bee website:

An interview with… Catherine Coe

In my Writing 4 Children column this month I talk to author and editor, Catherine Coe about her editorial services and what makes a great children’s book.

Catherine Coe feature 1

Catherine explained how she takes on a select number of writers for long-term mentoring, which includes regular contact through video calls and feedback on work in progress. Many of he writers she has worked with have gone on to get publishing deals  with publishers such as Chicken House, David Fickling Books, Hot Keys, Hachette Children’s Group, Macmillan and Scholastic.

She strongly advocates that to write for children you need to get inside the child’s head, as you are more likely to engage your audience with appealing content, write in a style they enjoy and crucially, avoid speaking down to them. 

“I believe it is vital to remember what it was like to be a child and to channel those memories in terms of what you liked reading and what captured your attention and imagination.” Catherine Coe

Catherine has written over 30 books for children, including the popular Owls of Blossom Wood series.


Her writing tip is to ensure your book has an overarching problem or goal that drives the plot. One that is compelling to the reader and will keep them turning the pages.

“Any book that keeps a child up at night reading is a great one.” Catherine Coe

To find out more about Catherine Coe and her editorial services, visit her website:

You can also follow her on Twitter @catherinecoe

One More Step

I’m in a very philosophical mood today. The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said:
“Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
He also said:
“Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes.”

Think of each step you write as a single incident, such as writing one paragraph, producing a character sketch or sketching a map of the location. It is a process of going through the layers.

The process of writing itself, even for very experienced writers, can be difficult and frustrating. The choices involved in creating the text, selecting appropriate words, arranging these words into meaningful sentences and using these sentences to explain a flow of fast moving ideas is hard work. Writing is a physical activity:


So take the first step…
Think what is it you want. Where you are now? Where do you want to go? What’s the first thing that you need to do to get moving? Don’t worry about making mistakes just get the story down on paper.

And keep taking steps….
Even if they feel like baby steps! We all have days where every step feels painful, or there is something else to do, or it’s just plain too difficult. This is the, ‘Don’t wanna’ tantrum. Go on, even if it’s something really easy, take that one step. Just open the file on your computer. It’s only a small step, but it proves your intent. After all, the files open now, you might as well do something with it.

And most importantly enjoy every step you take…
The psychotherapist and child psychologist Haim Ginott once said:

“Happiness… is not a destination: it is a manner of travelling.”

So have fun on your journey. Enjoy your writing and when you get there rather than moving straight to the next place, next goal, and next challenge, rest a while and glory in the fabulousness of what you have achieved.

But most importantly… Read it aloud and be proud of what you have written.

Book Review – Fuzzy Mud

Title: Fuzzy Mud

Written by:  Louis Sachar

Published by: Bloomsbury

Fuzzy Mud

A story of friendship, bullying, secrets – and toxic, itchy awful fuzzy mud. Everyday Tamaya and seventh-grader Marshall walk to school together. When they arrive at school they stop talking to each other – Marshall can’t be seen with a little kid like Tamaya, especially not with Chad around – Chad the bully, who makes Marshall’s life utterly miserable. But one day, Marshall and Tamaya take a detour through the woods to avoid Chad… And what awaits them is strange, sinister and entirely unexpected.

This novel is a gripping, heart-warming tale about the struggle for survival. Tamaya wants to be good but does not understand when the rules changed and it was good to be bad. She has to fight against peer-pressure to be more rebellious. Marshall has to overcome his fear of Chad, the school bully, and is surprised when he finds out the reason why Chad has been picking on him. Together all three must use all their courage and determination to save the whole town. Tamaya proves herself to be brave, regardless of her small stature and the detrimental effects of the fuzzy mud.

Louis Sachar is an expert at showing, not telling. I love how he uses imagery and dialogue within the story, so the reader can use their own imagination to fill in the gaps. I also like the way the micro-organism cell replication is pictorially represented in the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter.

The novel is left open-ended, with hints of a sequel… or maybe this is just my own wishful thinking!

This book review was previously published on the online Armadillo Children’s Book Review Magazine.


An interview with… Shahed Saleem

For my Research Secrets column this month I talk to Shahed Saleem about the in-depth research he did in the British mosque for his debut non-fiction book.

Shaded Saleem feature 1

This book presents the first overview of Muslim architecture in Britain, from the earliest examples in the late 19th century, to mosques being built today. Key architectural stages are identified and explained alongside the social history of Muslim settlement and growth. The mosques Shahed has written about represent a cross-section of the diversity of the Muslim population in Britain, and the types of mosque buildings that exist.

The British Mosque cover

Shahed explained:

“My core research methods for each mosque were building visits, oral histories, planning records and local history libraries.” Shahed Saleem

Gaining information from archive drawings was possible because of his background as an architect. Through planning records he could follow discussions and negotiation that took place around the design of the building. But his most informative primary source for researching was visiting each mosque and its surrounding area.

His research tip is to have a core research method you can use as a template for your particular project and then use more flexible methods around this which can be improvised depending on what you find out from that particular study.

To find out more about Shahed and his architecture practice take a look at 

Or follow him on Twitter @makespace_

Visualise Your Story

Writing can be a visual, multi-dimensional experience similar to painting, or designing a structure. I have always developed scrap books of my stories using pictures I have found to help me describe my character and setting.


I once went on a Book Bound course led by Karen Ball of Speckled Pen. She made us rip out pictures from magazines that linked in some way to our character. We were not allowed scissors we had to use our hands and carefully tear out the images. At first, I found this difficult as I like order and conformity and this was a little too haphazard. But I soon got into the flow and found it quite freeing and inspiring.

It was fun. It didn’t help with the character I was working on at the time as she was quite dark so the magazines were not suitable. But it did help develop a new character from scratch. It can also help to develop key images within your story before they are drafted into scenes. I believe visualising your story is a great way of adding texture to your text. It is good to see the world from a different perspective. Let your imagination go wild.


I suggest you search the world wide web and magazines for images that inspire and help you develop your characters, setting and plot. Turn it into a collage. This could be done using sites like Pinterest, or software like Paint, or by hand-gluing pictures printed, or cut out of magazines onto large sheets of paper in the same way as Karen Ball made us do, although you can use scissors if you want. Don’t glue down the pieces too early so you can let your mind free-flow.

tree collage

You could even turn your writing space into a canvas. Sketch with words, post scenes form your novel and photos all around your study or writing space to sculpt them into a 3D-version of your book. Move things about, add some colourful phrases and quotes from your characters here and a touch of darkness there. Look where the light is coming from and then transfer this light into the pages of your story.

OK. Maybe I’m going over the top but writing is multi-tasking, and I am quite good at that.

Book Review – Tiz & Ott’s big draw

Title: Tiz & Ott’s big draw

Written and Illustrated by: Bridget Marzo

Published by: Tate Publishing

Tiz and Ott

Tiz & Ott’s big draw is an ode to the imagination and expressing yourself creatively. Children, parents and teachers will love this fun, creative way of introducing art to young people. This book reveals the multitude of different ways we can create marks, whilst showing the effects these marks can produce. Tiz and Ott demonstrate how to draw your way out of illustrator’s block.

This high-energy story is about Tiz the cat and Ott the donkey who are drawing themselves an exciting adventure. They have no idea what they are going to draw next they are just going with the flow where their imaginations take them. They start off small with a house here, a sun there and a rain cloud for shade and their adventure literally explodes right off the page.

Tiz and Ott2

Ott gets stuck in a scrape of orange sand and Tiz scritch scratches herself out of the hole with her multi-coloured crayon. The sky really is the limit. Bridget’s bold and colourful illustrations will capture the children’s imagination, encouraging them to try the ideas for themselves. At the end of the book, there are some step-by-step instructions on how to draw each of the characters and a recap of all the individual marks they used.

“Tiz and Ott is not just about creative block – getting carried away, landing in a hole and having to find a way out of it but also, oddly I realise high energy Tiz is a bit like my daughter, and my son says he identifies with low energy Ott.”

Bridget Marzo

This book is an ideal resource for stimulating art activities at home and in the classroom. It would be an excellent tool for encouraging children to express their imagination. Tiz & Ott’s big draw demonstrates there is so much more to painting and drawing than just painting and drawing. It epitomises the brilliance of free will.

To find out more about author-illustrator Bridget Marzo and her books see her website: or follow her on Twitter: @bridgimage 

An interview with… Stephen Potts

In Dec 2008, I interviewed award-winning screenwriter and novelist, Stephen Potts, about the research he did for his books and screenplay adaptations.

Pullman and Potts

(c) Stephen Potts

In 2007, he was commissioned to adapt Philip Pullman’s 1992 novel of doomed teenage romance, The Butterfly Tattoo, as a feature film. It was directed by Phil Hawkins. The film toured festivals in 2008, winning several awards (including Best Adaptation at the New York Independent Film Festival), and reaching 75 on IMDb’s moviemeter, before a US/UK cinema. The DVD was released in 2009.


Stephen told me:

“I’m aware I write visually (hence my interest in screenwriting). Unless I see a scene in my head I can’t write it.” Stephen Potts

He does not have a set method for research as he believes it should be appropriate to the task. It was interesting to discover that adapting The Butterfly Tattoo didn’t require visits to Oxford, where it’s set, as he had lived there for eight years. But it did require him to read and re-read the book, every interview Pullman had given where it was discussed, and every review of the book he could find.

Stephen explained:

“The questions here, in adaptation, were different: what was Pullman trying to achieve? What was the essence of the story? What are the inessential features, which could be changed to fit the different form of a feature film?” Stephen Potts

Stephen emphasised how the temptation, when you’ve invested time, money and effort in your research, and you’ve unearthed interesting nuggets, is to crowbar it all in to what you’re writing. He revealed he had to tell himself repeatedly that he was not writing history, but a story. If a piece of information served a story purpose, and was interesting to boot, all well and good: but he was adamant that the story must never serve as a showcase for More Interesting Facts.

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” William Faulkner

Stephen Potts has been nominated twice for the Carnegie Medal (Hunting Gumnor, 2000; Tommy Trouble, 2001) and short-listed for the inaugural Branford-Boase Award (Hunting Gumnor, 2000) and Askews Prize (Compass Murphy, 2002).

You can read the full interview in the December 2008 #87 issue of Writers Forum. You can find out more about Stephen Potts and his books on his website.

The Fictional Dream

Read for inspiration. If you admire an author and their writing, copy a couple of pages of their work and take it apart to find out how they did it.


Shakespeare’s Titania depicted by Edwin Landseer in his painting Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream act IV, scene I

When you read you forget the words. You enter the fictional dream. You don’t read on unless the dream is continuous and vivid. You have in your mind’s eye what you want to write about and the film is running in your head. What you feel, hear, touch, the clothes you are wearing, the sensation on your skin. Know these physical clues and work the scene.

“If you put your energy into getting all the senses right, the words come easier.”

Pamela Cleaver

Modified by CombineZP

The story produced is like growing crystals. You have to be there. Being there is writing what you see, hear and feel. An image or idea can be developed. Your unconscious will join them up. Work with your unconscious and accept the ideas do not come in the right order. Ask, what does the reader really want out of this scene? By seeing you can lead the reader into the fictional dream.