Posted in Author, children's wrier, Kidlit, poem, Poetry, Writing, writing for children

Coming Soon!

When I started approaching agents and publishers last year I was prepared for the inevitable rejection emails. Everything I’d read about this process suggested it could (and most likely would) be a long journey to publication, if I ever got there at all.

So why not self publish?

When I decided to be a teacher I didn’t just rock up to a classroom and get on with it. I spent a year training and completed a PGCE, had my lessons observed and commented on, learnt what I was good at and what I needed to work on. I had a tutor and a mentor and by the end of the year I knew I was going to be good at my job.

How do I achieve the same validation within the world of writing? To me the answer seemed simple, find an expert in the industry and get them to love my books. I am not against self publishing at all and I have read lots of SP books which I’ve loved. But for me, I needed the reassurance that a professional in the industry agrees that my writing is worthy of being put into a book.

I still do need that external input. So for now my picture books and chapter books remain firmly unpublished and waiting for that magic agent or spectacular rewrite when I come back to them again later. But poetry, it turns out, is a different sort of ballgame.

So many agents and publishers have NO POETRY on their submissions guidelines. Why? Kids love poems! But this is a business game after all and a little poetry book by an unknown poet is not necessarily going to equal big sales numbers. When it comes to poetry there seems to be a much bigger no entry sign than any other type of text.

Three things have happened in the last few months.

Firstly, a friend in the music industry told me that when people approach him with songs the first thing he wants to know is who is this person and how committed are they? Is it one song or do they have more? The bottom line – why should he take the risk? Finally, he asked me if I had considered self publishing my poetry to show I’m committed to my own writing?

No. No, I hadn’t.

The second thing that happened was that I contacted a published poet. Someone relatively new in the industry, someone whose poems I’d read and enjoyed, someone who was where I wanted to be – visiting schools with his published poetry books and sharing them with children.

Do you have an agent? How did you get published? Please tell me your secrets!

He explained that his journey started as a self published poet. Once he’d spent a few years doing the school circuits and selling his books he approached a publisher and said, hey – look at me! I’m great at this. And he could prove it. He was selling books and that was a language the publisher was willing to take a chance on.

The third thing that happened is that it was National Poetry Day and I felt really sad. I felt sad that for another year I was looking at my poems in a file on my computer and wishing rather than doing. The theme of NPD this year was choice.

OK, Universe. You have my attention.

Because we do have a choice. A choice authors in the past didn’t have and perhaps that choice is also a chance, a chance to prove that you’re passionate and committed and most importantly, excited to share your writing with an audience.

And on that note, I hope to have some very exciting news to share with you soon…

Posted in Author, author life, children's wrier, Kidlit, poem, Poetry, Writing, writing for children

My Nose

My nose doesn’t work. It never has. Around the age of seven (it took that long!) I realised that I had absolutely no idea what people were talking about when they mentioned ‘smells’. What were these strange things that I’d nodded along with and claimed to understand?

It turned out I had anosmia (no sense of smell). People who have experienced a bad cold might have lost their sense of smell for a few days but I have never had it. I get asked if it makes me feel sad – it doesn’t. I’ve never had it, so in turn I know not what I am missing.

I hear the best smells are freshly cut grass after rain and bread baking…

I’ll leave the worst smells to your imagination.

This poem was inspired by a talk on senses at the science museum we visited at the weekend.

My Nose Knows

My nose knows
So many different things
It knows when the 
Seasons change
And when Great Gran’s about to ring.

My nose knows who 
Will win the race
At Sport’s day
Before the teacher says Go.
It knows how it feels
To run so very slow.

My nose knows when laughter
Isn’t real or kind.
It gets all hot, a tiny fire
Burns through nostrils
To my mind.

My nose knows when
Someone feels so sad
That they want to sleep all day
Cocoon themselves in blankets
Hide away.

There’s only one thing
My nose knows not.
The one thing it’s supposed to.
The smell of bread and rain and grass.
The smell of dog poo on shoes
And flowery soap.
The smell of chocolate eggs and 
Mummy’s perfume
When she holds me tight.

These things my nose will never know.

Posted in Author, author life, children's wrier, Kidlit, poem, Poetry, Writing, writing for children

Worrying

My last blog post was in May. May! Many months ago now. Shame-faced I returned to the WordPress log in screen and after several failed attempts had to accept that I no longer remembered my password to my own website. It’s been that long.

There are lots of reasons (excuses) for this tumble weed silence but perhaps the most prominent is worry. Some of it mine and some of it belonging to others. Our son started school this September. A joyful and exciting experience which was foreshadowed by sleepless nights and a wealth of worry as his four year old brain processed this step.

Of course, sleepless nights for children often mean sleepless nights for parents too and after a summer of sleeplessness the idea of being creative dwindled.

Or if not the idea (as the ideas kept coming to my sleep deprived brain) then certainly the ability to process and channel that idea into a creative output. Mostly I just ate toast.

And perhaps I let my own worries creep in too. I’ve been writing with the intention of being published for two years now – what if I’m just not good enough? What if I’m so worried about trying to get published I’m not making the time to sit down with new ideas? What if this whole pursuit is actually a bit embarrassing and I should just slink away now and pretend it was never something I wanted that much after all.

We talked to our son a lot this summer. We are a house which likes to talk. He knew he was nervous about school – he could tell us that it was the unknown that was the scariest part. I hear you buddy, I really do. Not knowing what will happen is scary. It’s scary sending your writing off into the world of experts and not knowing what (if anything) might come back.

With his best friend holding his hand our little one went into his new classroom for the first time a few weeks ago and bounced out three hours later with exclamations of “the best day ever”.

8 weeks of sleepless nights just melted away with a reminder that the worry is often the hardest bit. With that in mind, here’s a poem I’ve been working on. It’s time to put down the marmite toast and get working again.

Never Worry a Worry

Never worry a worry,
Or let a worry worry you.
For if a worry worries
then a worry can come true.

It’ll hide around a corner,
Sneak behind you on a walk,
It’ll creep and lurk and whisper,
’till ideas start to talk.

‘Oh dear, oh no, oh never!’
Will consume your every thought,
‘I really can’t. I won’t. I don’t,’
Will be just the very sort –

of things your brain will dwell on,
And stop you living life.
For a worried worry worries,
causing every kind of strife.

So if you feel a worry,
Bubbling away,
Don’t let your worry worry,
Embrace it for a day.

A worry’s just a thought,
That got lost along it’s lane.
So hug it, love it, talk to it,
And listen just the same.

For a worried worry worries
Because it’s all alone.
But a worry that is shared
Can change it’s worried tone.

If you have a worry,
Don’t keep it locked away.
Show your worry you will help it,
To stand and face the day.

Posted in Author, author life, Kidlit, novel, Writing, writing for children

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I don’t remember when I knew I wanted to be a writer. In truth there probably wasn’t a magical revelation moment. It was just something that was always there in the background ticking along. Over the years I’ve filled countless notebooks with stories, or bits of stories, or just words which sounded interesting. I’ve planned out novels, written articles and jotted down poems on scraps of paper. 

They all exist somewhere – most of them in boxes in the attic, along with the childhood treasures we couldn’t part with and at least three blow up air beds we forget about each time we have guests. More recently I have become organised and now much of my writing is stored in the Cloud: the magical land of word documents – less dusty than the attic at least. 

So although there was no ‘I’m going to be a writer’ moment, there was definitely an ‘I’m going to try and get published’ moment. It was the 1st January 2020 when I made my annual resolutions list and stuck it to the fridge. 

In that first month I wrote a picture book and, having done absolutely no research whatsoever, sent it off to literary agents in a frankly shocking display of naivety. I waited for the offers of representation and instead received silence (shock! horror!). This is the empty inbox equivalent of a tumbleweed rolling around and crushing my dreams. 

I know. I know. No one gets published the first time, right? Well. I mean, some people do. But they are the exception. And don’t worry – even JK got rejected at first. People are kind – too kind sometimes. What I probably should have been told back then, on that frosty January filled with hope and ambition, was that actually I didn’t deserve to get published. 

I had done no research. I hadn’t asked anyone to critique my writing. I hadn’t even bothered to learn how to present a picture book manuscript, or how many pages (which I now know are called spreads) are in a picture book. I had done none of the hard work which I now understand is required. Those silent rejections were not only appropriate, but fully deserved. 

I wish I could write that a year and a half later I have put in the hard work and now the magic has happened. Because I have worked hard. I’ve read and read and then read some more. I’ve entered competitions, started building up a writing community network, attended lectures and been on courses. I have two writing critique groups and I am learning more than I even knew I needed to learn. I have had so much valuable and varied experience which has in every way made me a better writer.

But I am still not a published one. 

The last fortnight started with such hopefulness. A Twitter pitch day (I didn’t even really understand Twitter last year), a poetry head-to-head competition and a completed YA novel sent to three prospective agents. But after an unsuccessful pitch day and being knocked out of the competition in round one, I am feeling decidedly less positive. 

Then the real blow came. 

I listened to an established author talking about writing compelling plots last week. Her latest book was just about to be released and the talk was in part to promote her novel. It worked. I purchased it immediately and it arrived two days ago. I finished it today. It was brilliant. I loved it. The only trouble was – a major plot point was identical to the one in my novel. I don’t mean they were a bit similar – I mean they were spookily, eerily, terrifyingly similar. Some of the lines were almost word-for-word matches. It was very disconcerting reading it and part of my heart broke that my novel has already been published but it wasn’t me who’d written it. 

I suppose this must happen all the time. As is often said, there aren’t an infinite number of plots. Just the same stories told in different ways. But even so, I still can’t quite believe it. I remain positive that at least the idea must be a good one, good enough to get published. Even if someone else did get there first.

So, why do we do this to ourselves? I honestly feel like throwing in the towel (or the writing equivalent – recycling the paper?) and calling it a day. Perhaps, like the number of plots, there isn’t an infinite number of times you can be told you’re not good enough before you quit. 

But then this happens…

A new idea.

A new story I want to write.

A new story I have to write.

And then we’re off. Step one (again) on the merry-go-round of life as a wanna-be-author. Maybe this book will be the one which gets published. Maybe it won’t. But at the end of the day it’s not actually about the rejections or the acceptances (one day, please!) – it’s because the stories are there and they need to be written. 

Posted in children's wrier, Writing, writing for children

Habits

If you Google the word ‘Habit’, the definition is ‘a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up’ and even more enjoyably, the example given is, “he has an annoying habit of interrupting me” – I’d love to know the author behind that one – it’s not hard to imagine the morning they experienced before sitting down at work to generate definitions for the Google dictionary. Because, presumably, that is a job – and actually it’s not wholly unlike the job I’ve found myself doing for the past two months.

Because I am… currently… being… PAID TO WRITE!

Every aspiring author’s dream. Someone is giving me money in exchange for my words. And it feels amazing. It also feels a little bit surprising as what I am being paid to write is a far cry from children’s picture books and novels. Much like the Google dictionary examples author, I am being paid to write online content for a website but my exact job title hasn’t been divulged to me. It is a temporary cover job and I guess the closest I’ve come to being able to give it a title is “Business Analyst Marketing Person”.

But hey – it’s writing! It’s also given me a lot to think about with regards to my other writing. We will call that hobby writing for now, as it is yet to be published and no money has so far magically appeared as a result of it. I have learnt three things from my paid writing job which I have no doubt will help me to improve my hobby writing. I’ve also set three writing targets.

  1. Write Every Day

Business analysis and marketing is not something I planned to do but now I am doing it, I am loving it. I love writing everyday and I know that my writing is improving. Like any skill, the more you do it the better you’re going to get. It’s very easy with hobby writing to wait until you feel creative or put off writing because it isn’t paying bills or getting things done, but actually that just means it’s easy not to do it. Being forced to write every day (because hey, I’ve got targets and deadlines now – real accountability) means I have written every day and every day I write, what I write improves.
WRITING TARGET 1: Write 1000-2000 words a day in April to complete YA novel.

2. Do Your Research

There are lots of things I don’t know – Google is my friend at the moment. I am having to learn about things and conduct research and find out new knowledge that I didn’t ever know I would need. If I don’t do my research then writing these articles becomes a much greater challenge. This got me thinking – I don’t naturally lean towards research when I am hobby writing. I only write fiction – stuff I make up in my head – so what would I research exactly? Well, it turns out – there’s loads of stuff! The novel I am working on at the moment involves chapters which take place in a secondary school. Why wouldn’t I research what secondary school is like today? What it feels like to be a student in one? Of course I should!
WRITING TARGET 2: Interview our lovely neighbours who happen to be secondary school students – whose knowledge won’t be over a decade out of date…

3. Live and Breathe Your Writing

I expect if I manage points 1 and 2 then point 3 will happen naturally. At the moment I am bombarded with information about the businesses I am writing about. If I Google something then 5 minutes later more articles about it will appear in my Newsfeed, my phone will buzz with advertisements via social media on the topic – the more I research what I am writing, the more I am confronted by it. If I can harness the power of the algorithms through researching the right things, then my writing devices will literally embody my hobby writing. Likewise, the more frequently I sit down to write, the more I will be immersing myself in the world of my novel.
WRITING TARGET 3: Get lost in the world I am creating. This one is a bit abstract, but I think authors are allowed to get away with this sort of thing.

Habit: “a settled or regular tendency or practice” – this bit is the part which requires effort but the effort which goes into creating a regular practice of writing will inevitably lead to the exciting part which is when you make it ‘especially hard to give up’. Writing 2000 words a day in April is an ambitious but exciting challenge and I am looking forward to completing a first draft of the story I am planning.

Alternatively I’ve also read recently about ‘Piggybacking habits’ – this is where you attach one habit to another. For example, if you need to remember to take medicine in the morning you might put it next to your toothbrush. If you know you’re going to clean your teeth everyday then you can piggyback a new habit on at the same time.

Of course this opens up a whole world of writing possibilities – stanzas in the shower, limericks on the loo, perhaps a novel whilst I nap. Suddenly forming a new writing habit has never seemed so much fun!

Posted in Uncategorized

World Book Day

It seems wrong for an aspiring author not to mention the magic that is today – World Book Day – and so I present this honorary blog post where I share my World of Books. 

There is an ancient video somewhere of my mum reading The Family at Red Roofs by Enid Bylton to me at bedtime – I have no memory of the story or it being read to me but I love watching the video because it captures the magic of the shared story experience. An experience which starts the reading journey for most children – listening to stories at bedtime.

I do remember listening to The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl, a story which our four year old son is now enjoying listening to all these years later. I remember listening to story cassette tapes in the car on long journeys – yes, tapes. A concept which will be lost on our children, who listen to stories via the wifi and a magnetic character sensor.

The first chapter books I remember reading were the Animal Ark series by Lucy Daniels – I devoured them all – Puppies in the Pantry, Kittens in the Kitchen, Hedgehogs in the Hall…well, you get the idea! They were the perfect blend of slightly different stories in the exact same format each time – classic early reader stories. Years later I would learn that my beloved Lucy Daniels was not an author, or even a real person, she was a group of writers all trained to deliver the predictable animal tomfoolery I’d loved. My mind was blown. 

My favourite childhood book was Ella Enchanted by Gail Levine, a retelling of the traditional tale Cinderella – but in this version, Ella saves herself by being kind. Female empowerment and kindness in one book – I still read it once a year or so, just because. Closely followed by Louis Sachar’s Holes. 

Much later, in adulthood, I first read some of my favourite Young Adult novels – Junk by Melvin Burgess, Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, Wonder by RJ Palacio, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon…now I’ve started remembering, I feel guilty for having favourites, but there have been so many amazing books I’ve read over the years I would be here all night listing them. 

An interest in theatre and performance saw me consuming works by Ibsen, Shakespeare, Caryl Churchill and poetry by Benjamin Zephaniah, Carol Anne Duffy and John Agard.

My two best friends often give me books as presents – always winners whether children’s books, non-fiction or stories aimed at adults; they know me, so they know what I’ll love or what I should read. They love sharing the books which they’ve loved reading and I love them for that. My husband is very tolerant of me reading books over his shoulder – he begins each new book reminding me that I can always read it after he’s finished but by page 50 he has inevitably started talking about the plot and characters until I am hooked in and spy-read his book disjointedly whilst also reading my own. 

My favourite authors for adults are Susan Hill, Ben Elton and Jussi Adler Olsen – a trio of drama, darkness, horror, thriller and social commentary. I love books which make me think and make me feel – and these authors are my guilty pleasure. They are the books which stay with me long after I’ve finished reading them. I also love books which make me laugh out loud – a recent joy has been the Rosie trilogy of books by Graeme Simsion, the genius who created Don Tillman – one of my favourite fictional characters of all time. 

It seems to me that reading is about sharing – from the earliest memories of being read to, to the excitement of reading and sharing an amazing book with someone else, right into the core of reading itself – an author sharing the world they have created with the reader. I would love to hear about your favourite books and hope you feel inspired to share them.

So Happy World Book Day to you – now, go share a book!

Posted in children's wrier, writing for children

Eggbert

What happens when you’re in the wrong place at the right time? The right time is now – Valentines’ Day! But the place Eggbert finds himself is the early Easter shelf, not the one covered with pink hearts and roses. How will he find his valentine now? With the stealth of an egg but the heart of a bear, Eggbert will have to be BRAVE.

Bravery is the theme for this short (very short – only 214 words) story competition I entered to write a valentine story for children. If you’ve never written to such a short and specific word count, I would highly recommend it. Mini word counts really make you hone in on what you want to say, as well as ensuring that you pace your story well. It’s no good spending 200 words introducing your character and their situation only to be left with 14 to finish the job!

The link to the competition is HERE if you would like to read the other entries but for now, let me introduce….

EGGBERT

Eggbert was in the wrong place. He was meant to be on the red shelf with the hearts but had somehow ended up here, with the early Easter eggs. Perhaps someone was having a joke he’d thought, watching all the other teddies line themselves up ready to be chosen by loved-up customers. 

Then Eggbert saw his valentine – bouncing up and down in the trolley, smiling and pointing at him.

“That’s for Easter,” the little person’s big person said, “It’s too early for Easter!”

Eggbert’s heart sank into his fluffy feet. As his little person rounded the corner, Eggbert heard him howl with sadness and Eggbert knew what he had to do. 

As he moved, the Easter chicks below chirped with horror – “You can’t leave the shelf! It’s too dangerous!” But Eggbert was determined; he knew where he belonged. 

Teddies are not natural ninjas, especially ones as round as Eggbert, but that day Eggbert was fired up with love as he jumped over pineapples, raced along toilet paper, dived through cheese and finally caught up with his valentine at the till. With the stealth of an egg and the heart of a bear, Eggbert rolled into the trolley, straight into the arms of his valentine, who giggled and cooed, cuddling him all the way home. 

Posted in children's wrier, Writing, writing for children

To Tweet or not to Tweet

After months of ignoring the very obvious hints, signs, massive blaring fog-horns shouting at me to join Twitter, I have finally given in and joined.

As an aspiring writer I’ve trawled the internet and read countless books about writing which, after talking about passion and creativity and you know – actually WRITING THINGS – all mention the world of social media. 

In 2021 we are fully immersed in the age of social media, and have been for some time. Yet I am still living in the deep, dark internet world circa 2008. I have a Facebook account which, after clearing the friends section of ‘random people I met once on the bus’ back in my student days, I have a few hundred people I’ve actually met, or worked with, or like. It’s mostly an online photo album now and occasional stalking forum. 

Other than Facebook I don’t have instagram, barely understand the concept of a tik-tok and have avoided becoming embroiled in twitter until yesterday. Why? I suppose fear of the unknown played a part. Perhaps I was worried about having yet another thing to keep me on my phone, another endless scrolling black hole of strangers. I just wasn’t sure I had the energy for it. 

Then this happened:

And I really, really, really wanted to be a part of it. The catch – you can’t take part in a Twitter Picture Book Pitch, without, well – being on Twitter. 

So I signed up and thought to myself,  I could always have a go at this whole #PBPitch thing and if it’s a massive flop then I will just quietly sneak away and press ‘delete account’. No-one will ever have to know…

It’s been 24 hours and I am, of course, completely obsessed. It had never occurred to me how instantly the world of #childrensauthors would open up to me, with very little effort on my part. My homepage/thread/newsfeed (I’m not sure I’ve got at the Twitter-friendly vocab yet) is flooded with other children’s authors – ones like me, starting on their journeys, others who are publishing for the first time this year, right up to famous authors. 

I now have access to their tweets, their thoughts, their world. And it’s not just authors – I am also following literary agents and publishers and editors. Of course, it doesn’t actually make me any closer to being published but it makes me feel like I’m a little bit closer to the playground I want to play in. It’s a community of people who are interested in, and talking about, writing for children and that is a very exciting group of which to be a part. 

Of course, now I’m blogging about tweeting and tweeting about blogging – it would be very easy to get caught up in the moment and forget why I’m actually here. Between the tweets and the blog and the website and finding my feet on social media, I must remember to make time to actually be creative, to write. Despite my initial fears, I feel energised by this new-found platform, excited to share my ideas and find my wings in this new world. 

@CharlieBown7

Posted in children's wrier, poem, Poetry, Writing, writing for children

Filth

The mud cannot be avoided. It has been raining on-off for weeks now and all our favourite walks currently require a full outfit change (and sometimes even a shower) upon our return home.

One of the undeniably joyful things about being a parent is the fact that it is once more socially acceptable to jump in puddles and slide around in mud. Why we stop doing that as we grow up is beyond me. It’s good for the soul, if not the washing machine.

This poem was inspired by our children and their love of mud.

FILTH

Oozy, squoozy, slimy, stinky, squishy, squashy,
Mud.
On my hands and arms and face and gluing my hair together.
It’s my favourite game.
Digging, filling, pouring, mixing, splatting, slopping,
Mud. 
Mum joins in. She makes mud concrete for construction toys to move.
My little sister pulls funny faces 
But even she loves stamping, stomping, squelching, squashing
Mud.
Then dad looks at us and his eyes go wide,
popping, bulging, straining, craning, staring at all the
Filth. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Finding Pace

Last night I was sat poring over another draft of a picture book text I have been working on for over a year now. Yep, you heard right. A picture book text of less than 800 words and here I am a year later, still working on it. It’s one of my favourite story ideas but something has been sticking, niggling away at the back of my mind, keeping me awake at 4am as I try to work out what it is. Then last night, I got it.

We were listening to the music of a friend of ours. His new album arrived on Spotify yesterday (you can listen here) and after dinner, kids in bed, tea poured, we sat down to listen. My first thought was this: I don’t listen to enough classical music. It was truly beautiful and wonderfully calming.

A memory of secondary school music lessons popped into my head (quite impressive as my memory is genuinely pretty awful) – when we would sit listening to music and the teacher would ask us to think about the pace of the music and the impact it had on us as it changed.

As the music I was listening to continued, I tried to apply this technique. How did I feel? Which images did it conjure? How did the pace of the music change those images?

And then my picture book suddenly made sense. I’d been re-writing the words, sometimes in rhyme, sometimes in prose, for a year now. New words, different words, the same words in different orders. But the one thing I had been ignoring was the pace of the story.

It seems so obvious now, re-reading the most recent draft. It’s a good story but the pace doesn’t match the action. It’s a fast paced story, with non-stop action but the language was too flowery, too detailed, too slow. I had to ramp up the pace, create more tension, keep the flow of the story going – and then bring the pace back in as the story concluded.

I needed to write the story like a piece of music – preferably like the Benny Hill theme song, that level of bounce and bumble.

When I asked my husband to re-read the story (draft 1 million and 4…) his first comment afterwards was that I’d cut down the word count. I hadn’t. The word count was exactly the same as the previous version he’d read but he’d read this version with increased energy and speed thanks to the change in pace.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the words we put down – the notes of the story – but I am so grateful for the reminder to write with pace in mind and to craft a story like a piece of music, taking the reader on a journey as you write.