Category Archives: Writing 4 Children

An interview with… Liz Flanagan

For the last ever issue of Writers’ Forum #254 May 2023 I interviewed Liz Flanagan about her inspiration and worldbuilding for the Wildsmith adventure series.

Liz explained the spark for the Wildsmith stories occurred in the strange quiet summer of 2020 when life was so starkly different from what we’d expected. Before her daily walk of those lockdown months, Liz had never realised how essential walking in the woods was for her mental health.

“Even in those dark and worrying times, as soon as I was outside under the trees, I started to feel better, and I’d return from my walk more able to cope.”

Liz Flanagan

She found writing was an anchor for her and tried new things to keep busy when her other work was cancelled. She discovered she enjoyed writing for younger children. Her agent, Philippa Perry, suggested writing a middle-grade series, full of magic and hope. It’s not a massive leap to see where Liz got the idea for a beautiful forest, fostering magical animals, and discovering the magical power to heal animals and speak to them.

Liz elaborated she had been fostering cats and kittens for an animal charity, and so had three unexpected additions to their household during lockdown – a very nervous young cat and her two kittens. She often wished she could speak to her foster animals to reassure them and to find out what was wrong when they were ill or scared.

She told me she believes fantasy lets us explore real-world problems in an oblique way that can be safe for young children. Perhaps all writers do this: taking the stuff of our lives and weaving it into stories, even if it’s not immediately apparent where each element came from?

Liz said she started sketching out ideas on a piece of paper – characters, issues, locations – and this grew into a detailed chapter by chapter outline. Her outlines tend to be about a quarter of my final word count as she thinks it is think easier to make changes to a plan than it is to rewrite a whole story. She created a map, and added to it as the series grew. She also did sketches of rooms and locations around Grandpa’s house to make sure it made sense on the page. Joe Todd-Stanton’s bought these places brought to life with his incredible art.

In terms of worldbuilding she needed to be clear on the magical attributes of her characters from the start. she explained it had to be consistent within the story world and also have limits – otherwise there’s no tension. But, the witches’ spells and the wildsmith’s magical healing were described in more detail quite late on in the writing process.

After writing the first two books Liz realised the passage of time was important. and decided that time passing at the rate of around one season per book should be a feature, which is highlighted on the covers. Book one has glorious green summery forest leaves, and book two has lovely autumnal shades.

The story developed with a longer-term conflict in the shape of the war, which begins in book one and is resolved by book four. Then each story has an individual problem to solve, connected with rescuing a particular magical creature (or being rescued by one in the case of book three). There are several baddies who re-appear, as well as friends whom Rowan isn’t sure she can trust.

Liz revealed it was a challenge to keep the conflict mainly happening ‘off-stage’ so it remained age-appropriate and not too scary, but early reviews from teachers have been really encouraging. Having short chapters helps to keep the children turning the pages. It gives you that structure and encourages a natural ‘cliff-hanger’.

“My protagonist needed to have a very clear goal throughout, even if this changes as the story develops. I’m used to having lots of action in my older books, so I wanted to make these younger books equally exciting. However, it was certainly a challenge for me, learning how to write simply while keeping the pace, learning what to leave out and what to keep in.”

LIz Flanagan

LIz’s writing tip for writing for children is to think back to your own childhood. She said one thing we know really well is the childhood we experienced and how we ourselves felt as a child of different ages. So we have this incredible resource, if we can access these memories.

“Having once been a bookish, animal-fixated child who loved to climb trees, I definitely think I wrote Wildsmith: Into the Dark Forest for the seven-year-old I once was.”

Liz Flanagan

And even if we can’t retrieve our own memories, we can observe the children around us. Liz found this a helpful place to start: instead of trying to please everyone, select a child you know, or the child you once were, and write to please them.

Liz Flanagan can be found at:, Twitter @lizziebooks, Instagram @lizziebooks17

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #254 May 2023 issue of  Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Natasha Farrant

When I interviewed Natasha Farrant for issue #241 20 Jan 2022 of Writers’ Forum, she explained how she ensures there is a message of hope in her books for children.

At a fundamental level, The Girl Who Talked To Trees is about our relationship to nature and about finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in. The inspiration for the book was born of a conversation with her publisher at Zephyr. They had worked together on another collection of stories, Eight Princesses And A Magic Mirror and were thinking of ideas for a new book along a similar format. For a long time she had been thinking about how to respond creatively to the climate and ecological crisis.

She said it is so difficult to know how to do this for children – at an existential level, how do you balance the magnitude of the crisis with hope for the future? One of Natasha’s publishing friends suggested to do it through myth and fairy tale, and that really struck a chord with Natasha.

“I knew I wanted to write about the crisis but I also knew I wanted a book that would give hope for the future. I’m not saying trees are going to get us out of this mess, but they are a key part of the jigsaw – and such a relatively simple part.” 

Natasha Farrant

She continued there are two elements to the book: the major element is the stories themselves, but each story is introduced by a number of science facts. Natasha feels stories are such a powerful force in bringing about change, but without the science we’ll get nowhere.

As with all her books, though the themes are serious and the starting point in this case was so huge, the overall aim remained the same: to tell stories which would captivate and transport. She spent a long time thinking about Olive and getting to know her, wondering what traits I could give her that children could identify with.


‘She was clever and kind and intensely shy and her best friend was a four-hundred-year-old oak.’

Extract from The Girl Who Talked To Trees

Which fits, because:

‘When you are so shy you dare not even look at anyone in case they want to talk to you – or worse, want you to talk to them – a tree is a very sensible choice for a friend.’

Extract from The Girl Who Talked To Trees

From the moment they decided on the theme of the book, Natasha was on the look-out for trees which captured her imagination, like the baobab plane in our local park, famous because after World War Two it was struck by lightning. Everyone thought it was dead, but then it came back to life and became known as the Tree of Hope. Then there were the box trees in the woods near one of her friend’s homes. Once part of a formal planting scheme on a grand estate, they were now growing wild. Natasha liked the idea of a tree that had escaped. 

Natasha revealed she prefers to write long hand, using a refillable fountain pen (no throwaway plastic) her husband bought her as a gift twenty years ago. She uses extra-large Moleskine notebooks because she likes their paper, and few things give her greater pleasure than the sensation of ink gliding across those smooth pages.

“This is a serious point: writing is hard, so it’s important to make those bits I can control as pleasurable as possible.”  

Natasha Farrant

The notebook writing is for doodling, or as a fellow writer calls it, noodling. Natasha sets herself a goal of three pages a day for a first draft, and tries not to think too much about what she is writing so it is more like exploring, free to go in any direction she desires. She writes on the right-hand page, leaving the left-hand page free for notes, observations or actual doodles. She allows herself absolute creative freedom.

At a later point she starts to type everything up. Natasha claims this is where the more rigorous work begins, of trying to shape all that noodling into a story. This can be a hard slog, with many, many different versions printed and scribbled over and retyped until it’s just right.

For Natasha, the key to get anyone turning the pages is to make sure they really care about the characters and understand what is motivating them. For this, your characters must have a clear goal, that really matters to them personally and – because they care about the character – also matters to the reader. There should also be a sense that your characters are growing.

In the case of The Girl Who Talked To Trees, Olive’s goal is to save her tree. As she strives towards this goal, she also learns to overcome her shyness and to speak up. Natasha stressed this question of motivation and growth should apply to every character, not just the main protagonists.

Natasha said, if you want to write for children, it’s important that you read other children’s authors as widely as possible. And also that you acquaint yourself with some children.  We all to an extent write for the child reader that we once were, but unless you are very, very young, tastes may have evolved since that time. Without losing sense of your own voice, do bear in mind trends and mindsets which may have changed since you were a child.

You can find out more about Natasha Farrant at, @NatashaFarrant1 (Twitter) and @natasha_farrant (Instagram)

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #241 20 Jan 2022 issue of  Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Rachael Davis

I spoke to Rachael Davis about her experience of working with the children’s book packager Storymix, for the Writing for Children slot in Writers’ Forum issue #253 19 Apr 2023.

Rachael explained book packagers are companies that essentially put together books for publishers by pairing up the right talent with the right ideas. They are NOT a publisher. Once they create a book idea, they commission a writer to do a sample. This sample is submitted to publishers and the book packager will hope to get a ‘traditional book deal’. The writer may receive a percentage of the royalties the book packager is paid by the publisher, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the writers work for a fixed fee.

In some cases, a publisher may approach a book packager with an idea of the type of book/series they are looking for. The book packager will then work up a plot and outline, bring on an author to write the sample, and then the publisher will be given an exclusive first-look opportunity to acquire the series from the book packager. If that particular publisher doesn’t move forward with the project, the book packager would then have the right to try to sell the project to other publishers.

In all cases, it is important to realise that the intellectual property of the book/series belongs to the book packager, not the writer. The book packager is the creator of the series. The writer’s job is to bring their unique creative flare and voice to the project.

Jasmine Richards is the founder of Storymix. She isn’t a fan of the word ‘book packager’, she prefers ‘book incubator’. At Storymix, they have a unique mission to centre black and brown children in super fun, often fantastical adventure stories. Previously, Jasmine worked at a book packager called Working Partners, who developed Beast Quest and Rainbow Magic.

After working as an editor for 15 years, she founded Storymix to bring about positive change in the industry and make sure books on the shelves reflect all children. Jasmine works exclusively with diverse writers and illustrators, providing many of these unagented creatives with an unparalleled opportunity to work with the biggest publishers in the industry.

Rachael told me that back in November 2020, Jasmine reached out to Rachael’s agent to see if I might be interested in sampling for Storymix. She explained the opportunity as a ‘paid creative writing course’. It’s an opportunity to be paid to work with brilliant editors, learning about plot, characterisation. If the book is commissioned, you get to experience the publishing and editorial process. But it is not the same experience as getting a traditional book deal as there is less input at later stages. Jasmine told Rachael about a few different projects and as soon as she described Secret Beast Club she knew it was a project she wanted to be a part of. In Spring 2021, Jasmine commissioned Rachael to sample for Secret Beast Club.

“Thankfully, she loved my sample and it went on submission to publishers in the summer 2021. Puffin snapped up the series in a three-book deal. At this stage, Jasmine brought on the wonderful Clare Whitson to work as my editor who kept me updated with proofs and cover choices, alongside Puffin editor, Jane Griffin.”

Unlike with a traditional publishing deal, when you work with a book packager you don’t have the same level of responsibility for planning, plotting and story arc consistency. This is where the brilliant team at Storymix come into their own. As the writer, your role is to bring the voice and develop strong characterisation.

Often when working with book packagers, you receive less rights and lower royalties. However Rachael would absolutely recommend Storymix. She has found their rates and treatment of authors to be exceptional. But Rachael stressed this is not true of all book packagers and you should make sure you know what you are signing up for. While you can be unagented, having an agent or the Society of Authors check any contracts is important.

The Secret Beast Club series is written under the Pseudonym, Robin Birch. Rachael explained series developed by book packagers, particularly for young readers, are often written under a pseudonym. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, as mentioned the concept is the intellectual property of the book packager, not the writer. Secondly, if a series becomes successful additional writers may be brought in to write subsequent books.

Robin Birch is the collective pen name for children’s writer, Rachael Davis and series creator Jasmine Richards, who is the founder of Storymix and the Inclusive Children’s Fiction Studio. Together with their editors, Clare Whitston and Jane Griffiths. The Secret Beast Club adventure took shape and was brought to life by illustrator Jobe Anderson, designer Jan Bielecki and text designer Anita Mangan.

Rachael’s advice to writers wanting to work with a book packager is to work out who the book packagers are and what types of books they publish. Working Partners is a good place to start, and if you are a writer of colour (agented or unagented) she definitely recommends getting in touch with Storymix.

Some people can be a bit snobby about writers who work with book packagers, because the series plot is developed by the packager and not the writer. Rachael said this kind of collaboration is used all the time in other creative industries such as film and TV, and I personally have had a fantastic experience.

“Not only have I got to be part of a fantastic, ground-breaking chapter book series, but I have also had the opportunity to work with talented editors and hone my writing skills. I would highly recommend writers (agented and unagented, published, unpublished or self-published) consider whether working with a book packager is a good fit for them.”

Rachael Davis

Working with a book packager is not for everyone. Some writers will absolutely thrive, while others might find the lack of creative freedom to deviate from the book packager’s plot line constraining. You also have to be able to work to tight deadlines and not be precious about edits. It is not uncommon for a book packager to make changes to the text after the writer has completed their final draft.

However, if you can embrace the collaborative approach, working with a book packager can be a fantastic way to develop your skills as a writer, and go on to get traditional book deals later down the line. When you submit a sample to a book packager, they are looking for a fresh, original voice. Always keep in mind – what makes you the right writer for the project? Once the plot is created, technically any writer could write it, but what is it that your unique voice will bring to the project?

“At the heart of the Secret Beast Club series is friendship and teamwork, which is ever so fitting because this book has been a real team effort to create.”

Rachael Davis

The first book in the series Secret Beast Club: The Unicorns of Silver Street is out this month and Secret Beast Club: The Dragons of Emerald Yard is released later this year, in July 2023. At the heart of the Secret Beast Club series is friendship and teamwork, which is ever so fitting because this book has been a real team effort to create.

To discover more about Rachel Davis and her writing see her website: and follow her on Twitter @RachDavisAuthor & Instagram: @RachDavisAuthor

To find out more about Storymix go to:

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #253 19 Apr 2023 issue of  Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An Interview with… Kesia Lupo

I interviewed Kesia Lupo for this month’s issue of Writers’ Forum #253 19 Apr 2023 about how far you can go when writing horror for children.

Kesia Lupo’s recent novel, Let’s Play Murder, is 100% a pandemic book. Kesia told me she had the idea during spring 2020, when she was confined to a one-bedroom flat shared with her husband, and she wrote/edited it over the following two years. The characters are trapped in a house, desperately attempting to figure out what to do, surrounded by fear and doubt… sound familiar? Kesia explained writing the book was a way of working through the feelings raised by living through a pandemic.

She said there’s definitely been an uptick in scary YA thrillers in recent years, thanks to authors like Holly Jackson, Cynthia Murphy and Kathryn Foxfield. However, the market tends to swing one way and then another – a few years ago, it was all about fantasy, now the market is balancing itself out. Kesia thinks the upper end of YA has been pushing older and older for some years now – it’s not really just for teens.

Even so there are definitely grey areas but it’s difficult to be specific. Everyone has their own sense of what is TOO scary. Generally, for middle-grade, Kesia recommends avoiding graphic violence and disturbing themes. She explained as a rule, thrillers for middle-grade tend to be focussed round a mystery – even if they are murder mysteries, they will largely avoid any truly difficult content and will generally have a happy ending. For YA, the boundaries are more relaxed – you can have violence, death and dig deep into atmospheric horror. However, there is a line: e.g. very graphic or disturbing violence will probably be inappropriate.

Kesia told me you can definitely include blood and gore – as she does in Let’s Play Murder. The first instance is where she describes, in detail, the corpse the players find at the beginning of the game… it’s pretty gross. There are multiple instances of violence on the page, too – for instance when some of the players are attacked by rogue zombies from a different game, or when certain other murders occur. Kesia believes this level of violence is appropriate for readers aged 12+.

The violence is always necessary for the story so isn’t gratuitous, nor is it of a truly disturbing nature, it’s never sexualised, and there’s no torture. Sometimes YA is classed as 14+ so may go a bit darker. Ultimately, if you’re not sure, Kesia suggests it is a good idea to share extracts with your writing group and gain other perspectives – especially if you have teachers/parents of teens to help you.

“One of the things that helps me create tension when writing eerie scenes is to think about my main character’s backstory and what they’re scared of. For Veronica, even being in the Game is her worst nightmare due to a terrible VR accident that occurred in her past. Another aspect is playing with the unknown – what you don’t see or know is much scarier than what you do. So withholding information is super important for horror. Not quite seeing is a lot scarier than definitely seeing.”

Kesia Lupo

Her tip to other writers wanting to keep teens turning the pages is to firstly, keep the story moving: in YA, every scene has to earn its place – no room for filler scenes. If she ever loses steam and finds herself writing a sort of ‘in between’ section, she ask herself: what’s the worst thing that could happen to her character at this time? Then, she makes it happen. Secondly, end every chapter on some kind of cliffhanger so that every time they take a break, your readers can’t wait to pick up the book again. And lastly, make sure YOU are enjoying writing the book. If you’re not, it’s probably going to be a chore for readers too.

“Let’s Play Murder is (in my opinion) the best book I’ve written, hands down, but it was REALLY hard to write. I sold it on the pitch, then produced the worst first draft ever. My poor editors, Zoe and Katie, had to work really hard with me to knock it into shape. All that’s to say: don’t worry if you’re struggling. Find a writing group or a critique partner – different perspectives are your most valuable tool.”

Kesia Lupo

She recommends if you aspire to write thriller/horror books for children should read loads in the genre to get a sense of what’s popular. You don’t want to follow trends, but it really helps to get a sense of voice and how to pitch your story for the age-group. Immerse yourself in the YA worlds. Also, it’s always fun to eavesdrop on conversations if you can, to pick up tips – if you’re sitting in front of a chatting teen couple on the bus, take note of how they interact. Beware, though, not to try too hard – using too much specific/current language will date the book quickly.

If you’re struggling for ideas, have a think about what really scared you as a teen – or even what scares you now. Sometimes it’s not as obvious as ghosts or vampires – it could be ‘being watched’ or ‘feeling trapped’. Can you build a story around that?

For teen or YA readers, kesia suggests 60k-80k as a rule of thumb. In terms of point of view, first or third person is fine – if third person, try to write a ‘close’ third person, meaning you are not a detached omniscient narrator but someone who is practically inside the main character’s head. This means that your readers will still feel very connected to the main character and involved in the story. Chapters should be relatively short – maybe 2k-4k.

You can follow Kesia Lupo on Twitter @keslupo and TikTok: @keslupo and on Instagram Instagram: @kesialupoauthor

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #253 19 Apr 2023 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Naomi Gibson

Every Line of You by Naomi Gibson and published by Chicken House, is about a lonely girl who creates her own artificial intelligence (AI) to love her. In the 24 Mar 2022 #242 issue of the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum, I interviewed Naomi about her inspiration and writing process for this YA psychological thriller.

The inspiration for Every Line of You struck in a writing class at a local college. One evening we were given lucky dip bags with items in and asked to create a character based on those items. Naomi’s had a mini screw driver, an adaptor – things like that which she decided belonged to a teenage hacker, and that’s how Lydia was born.

All the drafts

“The class left me so inspired I went home and I did a lot of character prep. I knew Lydia inside out so when I sat down to write, the plot came naturally to me because I knew what she wanted and what she feared. Then I wrote and wrote, sometimes until three in the morning, and didn’t stop until two weeks later when I had a first draft of around 60,000 words. I completed this first draft in a hot and messy two weeks back in 2017. I ended up re-drafting about seven times.”

Naomi Gibson

Naomi uses this method for all her books she told me as I long as she knows the character backwards, the plot drives itself. She prefer to write first thing in the morning rather than pulling an ‘all-nighter’ as ideas percolate whilst she sleeps and when she wakes up it feels like her brain has sorted through it all, making for an easier writing session.

She told me she didn’t set out to write a book about artificial intelligence – the book was driven by her main character. Lydia is bullied at school and overlooked at home, and she pours all of herself into creating an AI named Henry after her dead brother. As Henry grows in sentience, he sees how Lydia is treated and helps her exact revenge on the people who’ve been mean to her. Soon his own desires grow to the point where Lydia must decide how far she’ll go to help him. It made sense to me that a lonely but intelligent girl would create her own AI. Her loneliness and desire to be loved drives the plot.

First and foremost it deals with grief and the relationship between grief and technology On another level it addresses morality and humanity, and what leads us to make decisions that might be ‘bad’ but understandable, and how certain choices are defined by our humanity – or lack of.

It was important to Naomi her characters were authentic, and to do this she leaned heavily on her own experiences and memories of being a teenager. Naomi explained it was through the use of a character questionnaire, she discovered Lydia had a very sad home life. Then she piled the stress on her: her younger brother had died – an event that tore her parents’ marriage apart and forced her dad to leave the family home, resulting in Lydia being left with her mum who was barely coping herself. She was bullied at school and there was nowhere she got any respite.

Naomi revealed she found her agent, Joanna Moult at Skylark Literary, through cold querying. She said, Jo was the only agent who ever gave her proper feedback on her manuscript and offered her a revise and resubmit. It took her a while to make the changes she suggested because she was so emotionally invested in the manuscript, but eventually she did and she is so glad.

In terms of advice, Naomi suggests approach at least 100 agents before you shelve a book. She revealed she was up to 50 rejections before she signed with Jo, and would have taken it to 100 if she had to.

“Getting those rejections is painful but the industry is so subjective. You need to approach a wider pool to give your book its best shot. I’m so very lucky that my book has sold to nine territories and been optioned for TV by Heyday Productions. None of that would have been possible without my wonderful publisher, Chicken House. They run a competition every year for young adult and middle grade writers. My writing tip to all aspiring children’s book writers is you should look into the next Chicken House competition as an alternative route to publication.”

Naomi Gibson

You can find out more about Naomi Gibson on her website is and on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok find her @naomigwrites on all three platforms.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of 24 Feb 2022 #242 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Colm Feld

For the Writing for Children section of the #252 15 Mar 2023 issue of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed Colm Feld about his research into the science behind his debut children’s book series, Kyan Green and the Infinity Racers.

He told me the idea of a toy racetrack that rockets you to other worlds, came about when he was playing race cars with his own children. He had two thoughts: how soon could he get out of playing the game without feeling guilty and how mega would it be if…

In the book, the toy racetrack that Kyan discovers is a String Theory Based Multiverse Hopper. Colm revealed, the multiverse aspect came about later on, when Kyan Green was clearly more sci-fi than fantasy because the idea a racetrack would just take you to other worlds because Magic kept bothering him. He explained it took a while to be happy with the multiverse as a cause – it wasn’t everywhere everywhere like now, but it was common enough that he worried the concept was stale.

When he spotted an article about string theory on his news feed, he told me he fell down a rabbit hole in a good way. The multiverses he’d seen in comic book movies etc had always been a plot device, rather than an opportunity to look at the science behind them. Even better, that science is mysterious enough to be magical, but grounded enough to offer some rules, so this meant he couldn’t go off the deep end and come up with lame excuses to get out of difficult plot points. Once he’d gone into the science, it wasn’t too difficult to explain it to children.

“I genuinely think that they’re more well-equipped to handle these kind of abstract concepts than adults. Also, I had an advantage in that my wonder at science is boundless, but my actual understanding is very slow. I get these articles about quantum physics and space (I flipping LOVE space). I read them with a face like George W. Bush. Then I check Bitesize for a explanation that makes sense to me, and after just five or six hours I’ve worked out what it’s all about to a Key Stage Two level.”

Colm Feld

With the basic idea in his head, this toy racetrack takes you places, he put the idea away until he’d come up with another story, something more personal, that would be the heart of Kyan Green. Once that core was there, he took the Infinite Race for a spin to other dimensions. He elaborated how there would be a random idea that would pop into his head, and then, while he was writing it up, the world would present its own rules.

For example, the Europa moon the Racers visit has a gigantic underwater ocean. What would the creatures be like that lived there? Would they see, given that they reside in a place with no light? How would they travel then? Why might this dimension’s rapacious Stringer be trying to exploit them? The characters the Infinity Racers encountered were the way they were, because that’s how their world had made them.

“With all these characters I know so well, it is a special privilege to work on Kyan Green as a series, a knockout opportunity to broaden their (and my) horizons. I’ll feel very blessed, right up until I have to remember names and places and… ahhhh, I’m useless at that!”

Colm Feld

Colm explained writing Kyan Green as a series also tossed up other challenges – most importantly the need for an overarching conflict, something that gels the stories together. He told me the story personally affects the characters and the main characters in particular are genuinely altered by the challenges they encounter in their first adventure. Colm revealed this made it difficult to reset the clock for their next adventure. They might not fight the same battles, but surely they’ll have to build on what they’ve learned, which in itself is an overarching (if internal) conflict.

Colm’s advice to other writers is to find that bit every day where you’ve nowt to do but write, whether on the bus or on the bog. Oh, and if you’re writing for younger readers, please please please don’t talk down to them – kids are brilliant, and even in those times they’re not, they’re the kind of plonkers you can say owt to and they’ll still pretend they get it anyway.

You can find Colm on Twitter, @colmthewriter but he said he spends more time on Instagram, also @colmthewriter.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #252 15 Mar 2023 issue of  Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An Interview with… Lindsay Galvin

Another blast from the past today. This time for my Writing for children slot in the national writing magazine Writers’ Forum when I interviewed Lindsay Galvin for the July 2021#234 issue about how she approaches writing her historical fiction.

Darwin’s Dragons is Lindsay’s second book, a historical adventure where Charles Darwin’s cabin boy, Syms Covington, is marooned on a Galapagos island and makes a (very) big discovery.

Lindsay told me originally, she wasn’t planning to write a historical story at allshe wanted to write about real, scientifically plausible dragons. She’d never written anything historical; even though she loves to read this genre as she was put off by the research. The book started life as The Fire Inside, a teen book set in the present day about a dragon sanctuary. Lindsay revealed her editor, Rachel, suggested it would be good to include a historical thread showing how dragons had been discovered.

Lindsay explained she started researching explorers and needed a remote place for dragons to have hidden out. Darwin and the Galapagos was perfect. When she discovered the cabin boy and fiddler Syms Covington became Darwin’s servant and was a bit of a mystery she got excited as there were three weeks when The Beagle was in the Galapagos, when there were no entries to his journal. Lindsay decided to fill those in for him with a survival story and his huge dragon discovery.

She said the historical thread flowed much more easily than the modern day story and became about half the book. She got stuck near the end after writing around 60,000 words and sent it all off to Rachel, who called her, along with Barry Cunningham (J K Rowling’s original editor).

“They said they thought I had a great voice for historical middle grade and asked if I’d consider cutting this book in half and making Syms’ story into the book. We agreed on the title Darwin’s Dragons in that same phone call. It was a surprise, but I didn’t hesitate because it felt right. I had a 30,000 word draft and needed to add about 15,000 words. Somehow I’d fallen into historical fiction.”

Lindsay Galvin

Lindsay told me to create fictional characters from real people is a big responsibility especially when they are as famous as Darwin and Queen Victoria. She started by reading Darwin’s and Syms Covington’s journals from The Beagle. As the style of writing is relatively formal so there was a space for her to create a fictional representation of a real man.

Darwin was also only a young man on The Beagle voyage and not particularly studious, so she was able to give him a multi-sided character. She knew a lot less about Syms which gave herfreedom to imagine him, and his voice developed as he told his story and interacted with events.

Lindsay divulged the most difficult thing about writing historical fiction is keeping it authentic, the research can be so time-consuming. She was aware of her responsibilities writing for a young audience and so shy avoided creating too much of an idealised world. Colonialism is ever present, and Lindsay felt it was important to acknowledge the way the world was explored at that time was hugely exploitative.

“For Darwin’s Dragons I made a trip to the Natural History Museum Spirit Collection, which contains some of the original specimens from The Beagle and Downe House where Darwin lived for most of his life. This helped with atmosphere and any location research can throw up little details that later become important to the story, for example I examined Darwin’s real homemade eyeglass and that became an important item in the story.”

Lindsay Galvin

Pace is essential in children’s books. Where an adult will read on if they are bored, most kids will not. I also like to include short chapters with lots of cliff-hangers in my middle grade books.

“There are so many things I love about writing for children. I love the creativity and scope, plus their flexibility as readers, young people have such honesty and imagination. I feel incredibly privileged to play a small part in their reading journey.”

Lindsay Galvin

Her tip on writing for children is to keep coming back to what your story is really about at its core — why it matters that it is told, never stray from that. Read. Read the children’s books that children currently love, study them and learn from them. Lastly, expect it to be a frustrating, long and sometimes painful journey if you are writing for publication. Write something you enjoy so much that the writing is an end in itself. Keep on, love the learning and… be curious.

You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @LindsayGalvin

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of July 2021#234 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Tim Collins

For the #251 8 Feb issue of Writers’ forum I interviewed Tim Collins about creating children’s book with unique selling points.

Tim has recently launched a series of puzzle adventure books. His new Sherlock Bones series combines a detective story with puzzles, such as mazes and spot-the-difference illustrations. The puzzles are inspired by the text, but readers don’t need to solve them to continue with the story. More confident readers can keep going and come back to them later, while those who want a break can stop and complete them.

He explained when writing for children it’s worth considering whether your story could be told in a different way. Could some of the action be told in cartoons? Could some of the dialogue be in speech bubbles? Could you box out some of the text as ‘top tips’ or ‘life lessons’? There must be hundreds of ways to mess things around that haven’t been done yet. His advise to othr authors is to experiment with format. Breaking up chapters with unusual elements can help young readers engage with books, especially if they’re put off by large chunks of text.

When Tim was writing th series he aimed to get a balance of mystery chapters and action chapters in the book, to vary the storytelling. For example, Bones and Catson crack a secret code in one chapter, and chase a suspect in the next.

“Whatever genre I’m writing in, I try to think about how much of the story will be mystery plot and how much will be action plot.”

Tim Collins

Tim said when you’re writing a detective or mysteery story where your characters follow a series of clues try to end each chapter on a cliffhanger. Many children will be in the habit of reading a chapter, or having a chapter read to them, before bed, so you need to leave them wanting to know what happens. If you’re struggling to end a chapter on a cliffhanger, you can always have your character reflecting on their goals. Anything that makes the reader imagine what’s coming next.

The series is inspited by Holmes and Watson. Tim explained J M Barrie, Mark Twain, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Anthony Burgess, Michael Chabon, and Nicholas Meyer have all written pastiches of Holmes, so it’s a great tradition to be part of.

“It was fun to build a fantastical world with animals in place of humans, though I had to work out its exact rules first.”

Tim Collins

As the majority of Holmes stories are narrated by Watson, he wrote his series from the viewpoint of Doctor Catson, using first person, which is an imtrigal part of the original stories, even though third person limited is more common for this age group. The first book is set in an animal-populated London. A bloodhound police inspector calls at Barker Street to tell Bones and Catson that the crown jewels have been stolen. Their investigation takes them everywhere from Buckingham Kennel to the secret tunnels beneath the city.

Anthropomorphic animals can be a great source of humour, especially when there’s a clash between their animal nature and the sophisticated roles they’re assuming. In the book, Sherlock chews rubber bones rather than smoking a pipe when he’s mulling things over, and Catson is easily distracted by string. It’s great if you can find a source of humour for young readers that doesn’t rely on puns. Publishers will be looking for something that can work in foreign editions, and puns are tough to translate. Admittedly, I’m being hypocritical here. The book, after all, is about a dog called Sherlock Bones who lives in Barker Street. But there are some you can’t resist.

Tim’s advice to someone writing a series for younger readers is to know what happens after book one. Even if you just write paragraph outlines for the next two books, you’ll know you have something more than just a good one-off.  So much of this is down to having two or more central characters with a relationship that’s easy to write to, and keeps suggesting new adventures.

Writing series fiction for younger children can be very rewarding. Your books could be the ones that convert a child into a confident, independent reader. And if you think of an interesting way to present your story, it could help to draw more young people into reading for pleasure.       

You can find out more about Tim and his books on his website:

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #251 8 Feb Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Clare Helen Welsh

In issue #250 4 Jan 2023 of Writers’ Forum I interviewed Clare Helen Welsh about the teamwork required to create a picture book and the importance of community for authors.

Clare said that writing a picture book is like moving a mountain – it takes lots of commitment from a lot of hard-working and talented individuals. It’s also significantly more enjoyable with like-minded people alongside you. She told me to help her make sure she is approaching the strongest version of a story in the strongest way, she shares her work with trusted critique partners whose feedback is nothing short of invaluable. She explained they are excellent at the word level bits, but she also values their thoughts on the bigger picture issues such as arc, character development and theme providing her with the objectivity that is often hard to see when you are so close to your own work.

“Your picture book community are on hand for when everything goes right. When you make a book and want to share how wonderful that feels. That’s the thing about teamwork; the more people involved, the more people to celebrate with… and the more special it feels.”

Clare Helen Welsh

For Clare one of the most important team members is her agent, Alice Williams, from Alice Williams Literary. Clare elaborated that Alice does much more than sell her work and check her contract. She explained Alice reads, guides and mentors her to consistently deliver texts that families and gatekeepers love. She’s the critical eye that wants her story to be the best it can be and crucially, she has the other eye on the market.

Alice Williams ensures there’s enough in the picture book texts for them to be acquired and read (and re-read) many times, asking questions such as ‘What is there for a child to enjoy? How can I sell this to a publisher as a must-have text? How will I pitch it?’ With these questions in mind, there is usually at least one round of edits before a text goes out on submission, and when they do Alice utilises her contacts and knowledge of the industry to give a text the best chance of being acquired.

“You don’t have to have an agent to be a writer and there are many writers doing fantastically on their own, but for me the relationship is hugely valuable and enjoyable, too. It’s also handholding while you find your publishing feet.”

Clare Helen Welsh

Clare told me how the collaboration continues with the publisher, when a team of people play their part in editing, designing and producing the book. The publishing team she worked with at Quarto Kids were Rhiannon Findlay, Jane Wilsher, Malena Stojić, Emily Pither and Sarah Chapman-Suire. Once a text lands in an editor’s inbox, they will decide if it has potential and if it would result in a book that fits their list.

Dot and Duck had three commissioning editors cheering them on: Matt Morgan for How Rude! Ellie Brough for How Selfish! and Emily Pither for How Messy! If it’s a yes, the idea will be pitched to the wider team at an acquisitions meeting, including representatives from sales and marketing, together deciding if a book should go ahead.

Publishing is a creative business, but it’s also very much about the commercial side. Everyone has to be behind the project with a clear idea of how the book will be marketed, how much it will cost to produce, where it will be sold and who will buy it, for it to get the green light. Once a book is given the go ahead and is acquired, editors then have a significant role in developing and shaping a text. Should the character be male or female? Can they be androgynous? Should Duck always be the antagonist? Are there too many penguins in picture books? Your editor will help you to polish and refine a story, both on a line level and the larger plot and concept. They are on hand every step of the way as your book is brought to life.

But editors don’t work in isolation . Picture books, by their very nature, are more than just words and require a seamless combination of words and images. The designer, which for Dot and Duck was Sarah Chapman-Suire, is to the illustrator what the editor is to a writer – someone with ideas, suggestions and insider knowledge on how to sculpt and layout a picture book so that it will have the best chance in the market.  Sample illustrations are sometimes commissioned.

On top of these names and roles for this series, she had Nikki Ingram – the Production Manager and Lucy Lillystone – the Campaign Assistant, sales teams, marketing teams, foreign rights teams and countless others. Having such a large team is good news. Your publisher, and everyone working for them, wants your book to be a big success and wants it to sell as much as you. There really is a whole village of enthusiastic individuals invested in making your story the very best it can be.

The Dot and Duck series are illustrated by Olivier Tallec. The interaction between the the words and the pictures makes this genre of children’s fiction special. Picture books wouldn’t exist without an illustrator – they’d just be words in a digital document. But more than bringing an idea to life, an illustrator is a co-author.

“I have been lucky to work with many fantastic illustrators, not least Olivier Tallec, who deserves every bit of recognition for his outstanding work. So much of the humour in the Dot and Duck series is down to his expressive characters and comic details in his work. Olivier creates bold and loveable characters – he’s the perfect co-collaborator for this series.”

Clare Helen Welsh

An illustrator breathes new ideas and new threads into stories, which means your story will be working on several layers to engage and entertain readers. They add details to your story that you might not have even imagined, which again only adds to reader enjoyment. Just like your publisher, they are invested in your story and its characters and it shows.

As you can see there is a wide cast of characters that all work together to produce a children’s book. and I would like to thank Clare Helen Welsh for explaining the process so succinctly.

You can read the interview I did with Clare Helen Welsh for her blog tour of the Dot and Duck series here: Blog Tour – How Messy! by Clare Helen Welsh

To read my review of How Messy! go to: Book Review: How Messy!

To read my book review of The Perfect Shelter by Clare Helen Welsh and Åsa Gilland here Book Review: The Perfect Shelter

Find out more about Clare on her website  and follow her on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #250 4 Jan 2023 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Sita Brahmachari

For my Writing for Children slot in the #239 Dec 2021 issue of Writers’ Forum I interviewed Sita Brahmachari about how she develops her characters and setting for her young adult books.

She told me how When Shadows Fall grew out of an interaction she had in her first workplace at the Royal Court Young People’s Theatre with children who had been excluded from school. They were children full of potential who had already decided that education wasn’t for them. She worked on location and they had a small space to work in and the adjacent outside area was not ‘safe’ because people threw things from the flats above. ‘Missiles miss,’ one girl explained.

“Certain children I’ve met in my work as a writer and through arts education have stayed with me. I think about them and hope they’ve found a way to untap their potential. This book is a symbolic passing of the pen to all of them.”        

Sita Brahmachari

Sita elaborated how when writing about life – grief and loss is always a constant presence. It’s always been a central theme in children’s literature and she likes toweave them into her stories. She believes keeping stories and realities from children is what creates monsters and nightmares. The task is to find the right tone and holding place for the age of reader who might find your story.  

She explained this is why she writes ‘rites of passage’ novels about grief and loss. In an exploration of loss she is also interested in diverse beliefs in what comes after. The timing of the publication of When Shadows Fall is one in which young people have suffered so many losses, not only of loved ones but also to their own liberty and potential.  

When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari

Sita revealed her characters grow the story.

“The longer I live with the characters the more they become part of my life.  I have met and worked with thousands of young people during my work in community, youth theatre, novel writing and education. Aspects of character: a phrase, a look, a comment, a steely stare, a leaning back, a leaning in, a discovery that a child that won’t speak is a gifted artist… these memories glimmer as I write and ignite something in a character I’m exploring.”

Sita Brahmachari

She elaborated that at a certain point of writing the character emerges like a figure from clay, the features form and then everything in them speaks to you and drives the narrative.  Working with and writing for Young Adults requires curiosity, honesty and to be open to their realities. Sita likes to connect with the feelings of the young person she was. So whatever age character she writing will do a little writing exercise where she imagines meeting them when she was the same age and they have an imaginary conversation.  

“As a child I longed to see the diversity of characters who were my family and the people I met in life in the stories I read. So my stories have featured Diaspora characters from many cultures, histories and beliefs.  I’ve seen how powerfully young people have wanted and responded to these stories.”

Her advice to other writers is don’t wait for the story to come whole. Keep a sketch book.  Doodle, daydream, and write any thoughts, ideas, imaginings that come. Leave your ideas to prove and come back to them later to look for jewels.  Writing is a layering process. Have patience. Don’t rip work up but do be prepared to start again and re- layer, re-voice and re-write. Question. Be open to what editors and first readers say. Test material. Listen deep. Pay attention also to the twist in your gut that hasn’t untangled what you need to in the story yet.  Enjoy growing characters and let plot find you through them. Enjoy the flow when it comes like white water rafting or being in perfect balance on an imaginary high wire.

When it happens it’s exciting! Accept that sometimes there’s just a lot of heavy rowing to do. Keep going till you feel that what you’ve written could make some sense to someone else but don’t show your work too early.  If you feel it has a force of its own that could convey, feel the fear of putting it out in the world and do it anyway. Never react to feedback or start re-writes straight away… let the thoughts and comments mull. Whatever changes you make have to be true to your characters and story and to yourself.  

You can find out more about Sita on her website and follow her on Twitter @sitabrahmachari and on instagram @sita.brahmachari.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #239 Dec 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.