This weekend I had the chance to soak up advice from some of the UK’s top children’s writers so, although there’s a lot to pack in, I’ll try to keep it short!
On Saturday I made my way down to Dog Ears HQ in Derry, where the wonderful Dog Ears team had assembled a stellar line-up of authors to speak with us aspiring local writers. Some of these are pictured in the photo above (Front row L-R) Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza, creators of Rastamouse with local writers, including myself… (Back L-R) freelance editor for Puffin Books and co-editor of Inis Magazine, David Maybury, pictured beside children’s novelist Meg Rosoff, a local writer and finally, creative guru Ursula McHugh from the Playhouse. (Apologies to the nameless local writers, whose names I can’t quite remember). Missing from the photo are children’s author/illustrator Alex T Smith and local picture book man Malachy Doyle, who had to skip off to perform at the Playhouse before I nabbed him with the camera…
Anyway, those were the big names there to dispense the advice, which Meg kick-started with the subject of ‘voice’. The most important thing here? Be yourself, be unique and don’t try to conform to what you think others expect you to write. Indeed, the main thread running throughout the entire day’s session was that authors who have their own style and write well stand a much better chance in the market. Check out Meg’s blog here.
Alex T Smith equally inspired with tales of his childhood, which have seeped seamlessly into his writing and illustration and he offered encouraging words with regards to the world of picture book publishing. Keep the ideas simple and fresh and don’t be afraid to write with the adults as well as the children in mind!
Malachy Doyle meanwhile, proved that persistence pays off with his story of making it in the picture book world and delighted everyone with an exuberant reading of his ‘Too Noisy’ picture book.
From the creators of Rastamouse came what can only be called an entertaining session, (albeit a tad mortifying one) trying to perfect a reggae accent in front of a room of writers you don’t know! As an independent duo who both wanted to change the children’s market, their original idea and how they brought it to fruition was inspiration and proof of persistence once again.
The final speaker of the day was David Maybury, who gave hope in saying that writers in Ireland, north and south, were perfectly placed to make the most of the publishing industry. Indeed, UK publishers such as Penguin are always on the look-out for top new talent from the emerald isle and if the writing and the story’s good, then there’s every chance of it being picked up. Mr Maybury is a newly appointed reader of submitted manuscripts for Puffin Books and easily approachable… that’s all I’m saying.
All in all, it was a great and inspiring and slightly tiring day… but well worth the effort. Much thanks to Laura and the team at Dog Ears!
Moving on to Sunday then and after a Mother’s Day visit, I took myself off to Coleraine Library for a writing clinic session with Portstewart author and current Libraries NI Writer in Residence, Bernie McGill.
I said I would and so I shall… pick apart the feedback she gave me on the first 2,000 words of my manuscript (gulp). It was however, surprisingly and thankfully positive and gave me plenty of inspiration for making improvements and changes to my work.
First up, my little rhyming prologue was well received, so off to a good start, before tackling the dreaded (to me) topic of characterization. I admit that when I first began writing my book, I just got stuck in with plot and kept the background of my central character (unwisely) in my head and not on the page (yes, I made common mistake number one – thinking my would-be readers are mind readers! Not so.) It turns out this was not a wise thing to do but I have now acquired the Character Questionnaire and, now that the skeleton of the story is in black and white, I’m looking forward to fleshing out my character’s back story a good bit more.
I have already amended a few details and explained more clearly what my lead character is doing when we meet her and have hinted at her background, so it’s onwards and upwards from here!
The two keys things I took from Sunday were… ‘Character Questionnaire’ and ‘beautiful writing’. Yes, I need to hone my technique and develop my characters and back story, but it seems my writing itself is quite good so I’m taking all the advice (much gratefully received) and will report back at length!