Category Archives: Writing 4 Children

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

An Interview with… Skylark Literary Agency

For the December #206 issue of Writers’ Forum I interviewed Amber Caraveo and Joanna Moult of the Skylark Literary Agency about their submission process.

Unlike most literary agents Amber and Jo prefer to receive the whole manuscript in the first instance. this way if they are gripped by the opening they can carry on reading. They are looking for stories that are so compelling they don’t want to put the manuscript down until they have reached the end.

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They explained that sometimes it is the voice, sometimes it is beautiful lyrical writing, sometimes it is the humour and sometimes it is being transported to a beautiful world that makes a manuscript stand out.

Amber’s tip for writers who are thinking about submitting to them is:

Don’t be nervous – we want to see your manuscripts. The success of our business depends on authors like you sharing your work with us! And please tell us a little about yourself. It’s much more engaging when we have a sense of the person behind the novel.

Jo says:

Please don’t feel that you can get anything ‘wrong’ in a covering letter. As long as you’re not rude, the most important thing for us is the quality of your story, so please don’t panic too much about making sure your pitch is flawless or your synopsis is snappy.

You can read the full interview in the Dec 2018 #206 issue of Writers Forum.

You can find out more about the Skylark Literary Agency and the writers they represent on their website: www.skylark-literary.com or follow them on Twitter @AmberCaraveo  

An interview with… Cath Howe

In the November 2018 edition of Writers Forum I have interviewed Cath Howe about her book Let’s Perform! She explained how her love of drama for children was developed into the ideal educational resource for schools.

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Cath Howe has written books for children for many years, which include books of plays, educational readers and commercial fiction.

Let’s Perform! is an accumulation of 10 years experience of using monologues, duologues and poems for children to perform. Each script has suggestions for performance and creative suggestions for pupil’s own writing. Learning by heart is part of the UK National Curriculum and this book meets the target whilst encouraging children to develop a keen interest in performance.

Let's Perform good version

When she first wrote the plays and others scripts she was not trying to get them published . The audience was the school full of parents and children she was working at. All the scripts have been tried and tested at schools and festivals. Cath says:

It was important that the book uses scenarios, language and humour that children can really relate to and make their own, because this helps to get them excited about the prospect of performing. I wrote each script with the idea of showing a child or two characters in a dilemma or puzzling over a problem. I chose everyday things.

In the interview, Cath advises new writers for children to get feedback on their work in an environment where they will be encouraged and not to give up doing what you love. You can read the full interview in the Nov 2018 #205 issue of Writers Forum.

Since then Cath has told me:

Ella on the Outside2When I wrote Ella on the Outside, which was published in May 2018, I was very influenced by my interest in drama and my long connection with running drama clubs and workshops. There’s something about the way children relate to one another, especially the subtle power play of groups, which really fascinates me. I like to write duologues where one character is much more powerful than another and get children up on their feet acting these out.  Ella on the Outside is a lot to do with the power play of the playground, especially between girls.

You can find out more about Cath Howe and her books here: www.cathhowe.com

Or follow her on Twitter @cath_howe

An interview with… Becky Bagnell

My Writing 4 Children column was launched in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum in May 2016. It has show-cased an interview every month with top authors, editors and agents for over two years. The very first feature was with  Becky Bagnell founder of the Lindsay Literary Agency.

Becky Bagnell magazine

She provided some valuable insights into the children’s book world and explained to me what she looks for in a manuscript, what makes a good children’s book agent and what makes a great children’s book.

Becky set up the Lindsay Literary Agency in 2008 having worked as a commissioning editor for Macmillan. The agency represents a wide range of authors including Pamela Butchart, who won 2015’s Blue Peter Award. She has a particular interest in discovering new talent from picture books to YA.

I heard Becky talk at this year’s SCBWI Agent’s Party. She said her favourite commercial debut book this year was Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. This gives an indication of Becky’s taste and writing styles which will grab her attention.

Conversation with Friends

In her interview for Writers’ Forum Becky told me she likes to dive straight into the manuscript before reading the submission letter and the synopsis. This reiterates what she said in her interview with me.

I like to get that excited feeling about a manuscript at the very first paragraph, and if I’m still keen after the first three chapters it is a pretty good sign.

She suggests that you look at that agent’s list of authors and really consider if you like any of their work and if you do then tell the agent what it about a certain book or author that appeals to you. Even if their work is completely different to your own – it shows that you’re a reader and you’re thinking about how your writing might fit alongside the other authors that the agent is working with.

You can find out more about Becky Bagnell’s likes and dislikes for submissions in the May 2016 #175 issue of Writers Forum.