Category Archives: Writing 4 Children

An interview with… Fiona Barker

In the latest issue of Writers’ Forum I have interviewed picture book writer, Fiona Barker for my Writing for Children column. She talks to me about her road to publication and how she was inspired to set up a children’s picture book club for adults.

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In the feature she mentions how she is inspired by John Shelley’s one inch drawings and #ukpbchat which meets online each month on Twitter. Fiona recommends that aspiring picture book writers should follow key children’s book bloggers such as Book Lover Jo, or even me.

The Picture Book club meetings are usually held in a bookshop, often Waterstones in Reading but they are moving around the country. they also broadcast the events live on the Picture Book Club Facebook page. To stay up-to-date with locations and dates the events are running you can follow the Facebook page @picbookclub

Fiona told me:

“At a typical PBC meeting, members pay £5 ‘membership’ on the door. This helps us to cover speaker expenses. We have a talk or discussion for 30-40 mins and then break for cake and a chance to chat informally. The cakes are a big feature of PBC. We try to make something that is relevant to each speaker, so it might be a book cover or a model of one of their characters. The dinosaur cake I made for Rob Biddulph is probably the one I am most proud of.”

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To find out more about Fiona Barker and her books you can follow her @Fi_BGB on twitter, @FionaWritesBooks on Facebook and Instagram and her author website is www.fionabarker.co.uk.

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.

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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.

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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: http://www.catherine-coe.com

You can also follow her on Twitter @catherinecoe

An interview with… Ruta Sepetys

In my Writing 4 Children double spread, in the March issue of Writers’ Forum, I interview Ruta Sepetys about how she is bringing underrepresented pieces of history out of the dark in her award winning YA novels.

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For example, her novel Salt to the Sea, which won the 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal, is set during the 1945 refugee evacuation of East Prussia and tells the story of the single largest maritime disaster in history—the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in port during WWII. The story is told through the alternating viewpoints of four young people who are all hunted and haunted by tragedy, lies, and war. Their fates converge as they arrive at the port and board the doomed ship.

Salt to the Sea cover

Ruta explained how she was inspired to use the true story of her father’s cousin who had passage on the Wilhelm Gustloff but on the day of the voyage she was unable to board the ship. When the ship departed without her, she was certain that she would die in the port under Soviet attack. She survived, but over nine thousand passengers on the Gustloff perished.

“My cousin’s experience made such an impression on me. It issues the reminder that sometimes it’s not where we are—but where we aren’t—that makes a difference. I was also inspired to write about the maritime disaster because although the magnitude dwarfs the sinking of the Titanic, the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff is virtually unknown.” Ruta Sepetys

Her use of family history was also true of the first novel she had published by Puffin, Between Shades of Gray, which won the 2012 Golden Kite Award for fiction and was made into the movie, Ashes in the Snow. This novel chronicles the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States and the exile and deportation of countless victims to Siberia. The story follows Lina Vilkas, a fifteen-year-old artist who is arrested by the Soviet secret police and deported to Siberia with her mother and younger brother.

The story was inspired by two young women who were deported and also by Ruta’s father who fled Lithuania when he was a boy and spent nine years in refugee camps before arriving in the United States.

Ruta told me:

“I try to inject an equal balance of love and hope. When love is juxtaposed against violence, the two opposing forces reveal powerful truths about the other.” Ruta Sepetys

Her latest novel, The Fountains of Silence, is set in Madrid in 1957 during the Spanish Civil War.

The Fountains of Silence

It tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of a Texas oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera only to be plunged into one of history’s darkest corners.

You can read my full interview with Ruta Sepetys in the March 2019 #209 issue of Writers’ Forum.

To find out more about Ruta and her books take a look at  her website: www.rutasepetys.com. Or follow her on Twitter @RutaSepetys

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.

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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: www.lighthouseliterary.co.uk or follow them on Twitter at: @thelighthouseuk 

An interview with… Rebecca Colby

In the January 2019 #207 edition of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed high-concept picture book writer, Rebecca Colby about the importance of rhyme and rhythm in children’s books.

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Rebecca told me:

When I began writing children’s picture books, I naturally gravitated towards writing in verse. But the industry professionals at the writing events I attended warned against it. Phrases I heard many times included:

  • Rhyming books are too difficult to translate.
  • We can’t sell co-editions.
  • It’s hard to rhyme well.

While I knew these statements to be true, I also knew that children love rhyme, and these warnings didn’t stop publishing houses from buying books in rhyme.

In the feature she demonstrates how she uses onomatopoeia, repetition, juxtaposition and prediction to write fun and imaginative that children love. Here is an example from her picture book Motor Goose Rhymes that Go! published by Feiwel & Friends.

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Her message to other writers who want to write rhyming picture books, is to try and come up with fifty ideas and give these ideas plenty of time and space to grow.

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In a forthcoming book entitled How to Write Picture Books that Knock Editors (and Agents!) Socks Off, Rebecca Colby will share some games which makes the task of starting to write less daunting and provides loads of tips for writing high-concept picture books. More details will be available on her website later in the year.

Find out more here: www.rebeccacolbybooks.com and follow her on Twitter: @amscribbler

 

An interview with… Philip Ardagh

In August 2016, for my Writing 4 Children slot in Writers’ Forum I interviewed one of mine and my children’s favourite authors, Philip Ardagh.

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He has been writing for over twenty five years and has over a hundred children’s books published, including The Moomins: The World of Moonminvalley, a series of books for the National Trust and the Stick and Fetch Investigate adventures.

He told me:

I suspect that I was born wanting — needing — to write. I filled old diaries and exercise books with my scribbles from a very early age, and English was my favourite subject at school. I knew that I wanted a career as a writer but had no real concept of the idea that one could earn a living as an author.

Philip’s  seven quick fire tips for writing for children are:

  1. Do a job you love
  2. Explore all aspects of the job
  3. Never dumb down
  4. Write the manuscript
  5. Never write yourself out
  6. Keep everything
  7. Make time to write.

Some advice I feel we all need to remember was:

Whoever you’re writing for — whether it be adults or children — the most important part is the actual writing. Not blogging about it, not telling people you’re a writer, not Tweeting or Facebooking about it, but ACTUALLY writing. Once you’ve written and rewritten and rewritten however many times, THEN is the time to start worrying about your social media presence.

To read Philip Ardagh’s essential tips in more detail take a look at #178 August 2016 issue of Writers’ Forum.

You can follow Philip Ardagh on Twitter @PhilipArdagh

An interview with… Miriam Halahmy

In May 2016, I interviewed Miriam Halahmy for the Papers Pens Poets blog – the place where writers and illustrators come together to share their love of stationery.

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Miriam explained she always writes in pen because she worries pencil will rub out and she’ll lose something important. She prefers fibre tip pens and the Muji range are her favourite. Miriam told me:

I usually write in black or blue but sometimes I enjoy writing in green or purple. The pen has to flow easily for me and have a reasonable grip.

Miriam also likes small, lined notebooks and insists the lines can’t be too far apart. She  starts a new notebook for each novel. One of her favourite gifts is a fancy notebooks with heavy cover. She uses them as diaries when she is on holiday.

She uses a lot of plastic folders and plastic pockets to keep things in order during her writing process.

I need files for my filing cabinet to keep things in some kind of order, but when I’m working away my desk literally becomes a rising mound of books, papers, slippery slidy plastic pockets, and pens which have been discarded.

You can read the whole Papers Pens Poets interview here.

Miriam COVER HIGH RESWhen I interviewed Miriam for the blog she had just launched The Emergency Zoo, a novel which  focuses on a little known fact that during WWII there was a huge culling of the pets. Her book asks:

When war breaks out, who will save the animals?

In The Emergency Zoo the children spirit their pets away from the grownups and even end up caring for a baby cobra.

Hidden book cover

I have also previously interviewed Miriam for my columns in the national writing magazine, Writers’ Forum. The first time was in 2011 about her research secrets for her first novel Hidden, which is about racial bullying and set on Hayling Island. Hidden, has been the Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2016.

 

Miriam told me how her Hayling archive fills a whole bookshelf at home in her study. She also said she found lots of interesting snippets of inspiration by talking to the local sailors, coastguards and lifeboat men. This also helped to develop her understanding of the beaches, tides, currents and waters around Hayling.

I have swum in the sea in summer and winter and paddled in all seasons and I have walked all over the Island, taking photos, writing notes and talking to anyone who has a moment, from birdwatchers to houseboat owners, to teenagers in the skate park near the funfair.

In the April 2018 issue of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed Miriam for my Writing 4 Children column and she told me how her YA novel, Hidden, has been adapted for the stage by playwright Vickie Donoghue.

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Find out more about Miriam on her website: www.miriamhalahmy.com Facebook author page : Miriam Halahmy – Writer and Twitter: @miriamhalahmy