Category Archives: Writing 4 Children

An interview with… Steve Antony

My Writing 4 Children column was launched in Writers’ Forum in 2016. The first picture book writer I interviewed for this column was the extremely talented writer-illustrator Steve Antony.

me and my Queens Hat inspired Shaun the Sheep in London

He talked about his writing and illustrating process and explained why there is a fine art to writing and illustrating a picture book. Firstly, you’ve normally only got 12-spreads to tell your story. This, in itself, is very challenging. He told me that when he writes a picture book – sometimes an image comes first – sometimes a title or a phrase comes first. But his books almost always begin by forming a visual narrative in the form of a storyboard, which consists of 12 panels (one for each double-page spread).

“At this very early stage in the process I work out where the text will go and I also consider how the information in the text relates to the information in each image. I can spend days, if not weeks, perfecting each page turn. The storyboarding process can sometimes take as long as a month, even for the simplest of stories. In fact, it’s the simplest stories that often take the longest.” Steve Antony

Steve said a great picture book needs humour, heart and a brilliant ending. An educational element can be useful too, especially for teachers looking for new and creative ways to teach young pupils. He explained how he tries to find fun and interesting ways to marry the text with the imagery. The text alone can say one thing and the image alone can say something else, but together they tell the whole story. Once he has struck the perfect balance of words and pictures, he edits out all the unnecessary clutter.

Steve claimed the most difficult part of producing a picture book is perfecting the pace of the story. He revealed it took him around two months to perfect the pacing and rhythm to his first Please Mr Panda: book, about a panda intent on inciting the magic word with a tray of colourful doughnuts, because sometimes a tiny change to an image or a piece of text can knock everything off balance.

Please Mr Panda bookcover

Steve told me:

“I use words in my books that a very young child would struggle to understand and read independently. Words like truce, intrepid or Trafalgar Square. I sometimes include animals that some children won’t recognise. For example, there are several lesser-known animals in the London Zoo spread of The Queen’s Hat. It’s also worth knowing that, in most cases, picture books are read to children by an adult or older sibling.” Steve Antony

He advised aspiring illustrators to consider the market beyond English-speaking countries because some rhyming texts have the potential to sell very well in English-speaking territories but publishers have to also consider how well the book will translate into other languages.

To find out more about Steve take a look at his website: www.steveantony.com or follow him on Twitter @MrSteveAntony and on Instagram @mrsteveantony

You can read the full interview in the #180 Oct 2016 issue of the national writing magazine, Writers Forum.

An interview with… John Condon

In my Writing 4 Children slot in Writers’ Forum this month, picture book writer, John Condon, tells me how he discovered his love for writing picture books whilst he was working on a screenplay for a play he planned to direct.

Since then he has had two pictures book accepted for publication: The Wondrous Dinosaurium released by Maverick Arts, 2018 and illustrated by Steve Brown and The Pirates are Coming due to be released by Nosy Crow in 2020, illustrated by Matt Hunt.

John explained that even though The Pirates are Coming was accepted first, due to the backlog of pirate based stories The Wondrous Dinosaurium was published first. This is the nature of the publishing world. He is currently working on a whole load more picture books with his agent Felicity Trew.

In the feature he talks through his writing process and how he keeps the pages turning for young readers. John said:

“I use several tools to ensure readers continue to turn the pages – Action, unpredictability, and an active character the reader will care about. If a reader wants to know what happens next, you will keep them turning the pages.” John Condon

Some of his writing tips for new writers include getting someone else to read your story aloud to you to build a strong support network around you of people with similar writing interests.

To find out more about John take a look at his website www.johncondon.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @John_Condon_OTT

You can read the full interview in the #216 Oct 2019 issue of the national writing magazine, Writers Forum.

An interview with… Nicola Morgan

One of the first interviews I did when my Writing 4 Children column launched in 2016 was with the esteemed Nicola Morgan. She is one of my writing idols.

At St Pauls Manchester

She had a strong, realistic  message to tell people who wanted to write for children as a full time career.  Nicola said:

You will have to do school events

They are exhausting, can be demoralising and will sometimes test your resilience beyond its max. They can also be soul-nourishing, highly rewarding and are almost always eye-opening, which is good. Try to take all their benefits and learn to love your audiences by focusing on the vast majority of the students who are listening avidly. And when something undermining happens, laugh (afterwards, not at the time).

You will be seriously underpaid for almost all your children’s/teenage writing

If you want to earn a lot, you need to write a certain sort of book, usually a trilogy/series (though many of those fail before they’ve started.) And you’ll still need luck. Make sure you are paid for events because they can be your only way to survive financially.

Bad things, small or big, will happen in your career

They will often be things you have to keep to yourself or a close circle of friends. This is true for all artists who put their heart and soul out into the world to be judged by others. So value those friends, as they will support you in those bad times. And realise that all the multi-garlanded, apparently uber-successful authors you’ve been following on Twitter etc also have moments (if they’re lucky or incredibly thick-skinned) and months (the rest of us) of darkness and gloom, that we all have angst and inadequacy written through our veins, and that there are more ways to get under the skin of a creative person than there are ways to write a novel. But the emotional rewards are huge. Being published and read is worth the pain.

wf179-september-2016

Nicola’s tips for children’s book writers were read a lot of modern children’s books and if your book has a message keep it hidden.

You can read the full interview in the #179 Sept 2016 issue of the national writing magazine, Writers Forum.

Find out more about Nicola Morgan and her writing at: www.nicolamorgan.com or on Twitter @nicolamorgan

An interview with… Jasmine Richards

In the September 2019 #215 issue of Writers’ Forum, I talk to author and editor, Jasmine Richards, about diverse books and why she set up STORYMIX a new children’s book packager for series fiction.

Jasmine Richards 2

She explained that although her first novel, The Book of Wonders, was written in 2010 she had the idea when she was nine years old. Her inspiration was 1001 Arabian Nights and other stories she had read as a child. Jasmine has also written under the pseudonyms, J D Sharpe, Adam Blade and Rosie Banks.

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Here is a video showing what Jasmine’s books are about.

As an author she noticed a recurring theme in her fan mail. the readers and their parents often expressed how much they enjoyed reading about the diverse character backgrounds in her stories.

This and the desire to see more contemporary characters that looked like herself having adventures,  were two important factors that motivated Jasmine to set up a children’s fiction production company that focuses on diverse characters and inclusive representation.

She explained:

“It is one of the key ambitions of of STORYMIX that our writers and illustrators will also go on to secure their own publishing deals and thus meaningfully change the make-up of the publishing landscape.”

Jasmine Richards

When asked what makes a diverse book Jasmine sent me this quote from Tananarive Due to explain:

quote

She told me:

“Many people perceive that books that are representative need to have a serious message or deal with serious issues. Of course, those issue books are important but they are only a part of the story. Young people from all backgrounds have the right to see themselves in all kind of stories – mystery stories, horror stories, sci-fi stories…”

Jasmine Richards

She explained that a recent study from CLPE (Centre of Literacy in Primary Education) has shown of the 9,115 children’s titles published in 2017 only 4% featured black, Asian and minority ethnic characters.

STORYMIX are always looking for writers and illustrators to work with. You can find out more about STORYMIX and the books they develop here: www.storymix.co.uk

You can find out more about Jasmine Richards and her books on her website: www.jasminerichards.com

Read the full interview in the #215 Sep 2019 issue of Writers Forum, which is available in shops now.

An Interview with… Lou Treleaven

In my Writing 4 Children column this month, I interviewed Lou Treleaven about the nitty-gritty aspects of being a children’s book writer. In the feature Lou talks about how she broke into writing for children, her own writing process and doing school visits.

A big part of being a children’s book author is doing school visits. Lou offers a ‘pick and mix’ package for schools, which includes a number of different activities that can be slotted together to make a whole day or even several days. She explained that for younger children she usually reads a couple of picture books a followed by a related craft activity.  she also loves creating collaborative poems with the children after a reading. For the older children, she reads from her Pluto series and encourages the children to write replies to letters from aliens she has made in advance and bought in with her. She even provides an alien postbox to post them in.

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Lou’s tip for other children’s book writers is to use simple but interesting language. She said:

Think poetry, even when you are writing prose.  A well chosen word replaces a dozen.  You have to leave room for the illustrations so your words can only take up a small part of the page, yet they need to tell the story, engage the reader and create tension.  Your words need to be the very best they can be.

Lou Treleaven

Lou has her own critique service where she focuses on all the different facets of what makes a story: characterisation, plot, language, tension and the message in the story, as well as how to lay out the text and craft a submission letter and synopsis.

For more about Lou Treleaven and her books and critique service you can check out her website: www.loutreleaven.com You can you can find her on Twitter at @loutreleaven and Facebook at www.facebook.com/loutreleaven

To read the complete feature take a look at Writers’ Forum Magazine #214 August 2019.

An interview with… Alec Price

In my Writing 4 Children column this month, I interviewed Alec Price about the pros and cons of mainstream publishing v self-publishing. He had some very interesting things to say about the two processes of becoming a published author.

alec Price feature 1

His children’s books are about the Trogglybogs, strange children who are only two feet tall and covered all over in brown fur. they live deep in the caverns on Brinscall moors. These cheeky mischief-makers enjoy nothing more than sneaking up on people who are picnicking on the hills and stealing their food.

Trogglybogs book cover

Alec told me that in the end of experiencing both methods he prefers the self-publishing route. he said:

I think it is much more satisfying, and more profitable, to do the whole publishing process yourself. It’s not that hard.

Alec Price

For both ways of getting published Alec explained he has to do most of his own self-promotion. The publisher did put his book on Amazon and other online book sites. He contacted local papers and radio stations, he organised his school visits and he also set up his own mobile book stall to take to fair and summer fetes. Alec said:

With self-publishing you have complete control of your book; it is your baby. you can make it a success and reap the rewards.

Alec Price

For more about Alec Price and his books you can check out his website: www.alecpricewrites.co.uk

You can read the complete feature in Writers’ Forum Magazine #213 July 2019

An interview with… Undiscovered Voices

In my Writing 4 Children column in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum this month #212 Jun 2019, I discover more about the unique biennial competition for children’s book writers to get their manuscripts in front of agents and publishers.

UV photo

Undiscovered Voices is run by volunteers from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and sponsored by fiction book packager Working Partners. The competition is open for submissions on the 1st June 2019. The winners will be included in the 7th anthology out in 2020. The anthology will  be sent to every agent and publishers in the world of children’s books in the UK and US. It is also available as a free download from www.undiscoveredvoices.com.

UV7_COVER

The feature contains excellent advice and tips for children’s authors who are considering entering the competition from each of the UK volunteer organisers: Catherine Coe, Jenny Glencross, Benjamin Scott, Simon James Green, Rosie Best and Sara Grant.

“Undiscovered Voices is not just a competition, but a supportive and friendly community. The UV team are aware it feels like an intimidating process, but want people to be reassured that the publishing industry is essentially just full of people who love books and who want nothing more than to discover new writers. Everyone is rooting for you to be successful.” UV team

The judges for the 2020 anthology are:

This is such an excellent opportunity for unagented and unpublished children’s authors. Don’t miss it.