I’m reviving my blog after a distinct lull, thanks to the Blog Tour by SCBWI members. For those who don’t know, SCBWI stands for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and has some superbly talented members.
Not least Christina Banach, from whom I am picking up the Blog Tour baton. Christina Banach writes young adult fiction. Her debut novel, Minty, will be released this month by Three Hares Publishing. Minty’s publisher describes the book as:
“one of the most moving books for YA I’ve read in a long time. It’s a real weepy from start to finish but with heart and warmth at the core.”
So now that my blog has resurfaced from its year-long slumber, what should I tell you? Well here’s your starter for ten (or to be precise, four):
1) What am I writing at the moment?
I’m actually working on a load of new material at the moment. Since the New Year, my focus has shifted from illustration to writing, which so far is proving to be very fruitful.
Between the New Year and spring, I started work on nearly thirty new picture books, in addition to continuing ideas that I had previously started.
Of the new stories, my favourites include a book about fairies, which are no ordinary fairies – you’ll see what I mean when that gets published! I have also completed a story about a boy who comes home for dinner each night in the hope that he’ll have something appetising to eat, but finds each night that his mum has other ideas altogether!
Other favourite tales feature a lady whose imagination leads her to buy everything and anything, regardless of its use – everything except the one thing she really needs. I am also working on a counting book featuring a man with a persistent sneeze.
I’m often inspired by tiny snippets that people may have said, a new writing style, or memories from my childhood. Of the latter, I recently re-worked an old piece about the love of nature and the sense of wonder it can evoke in children and adults alike. Only the bare bones of the original story remain, the rest came recently after reflecting on the happy times spent holidaying in the South West of England as a child.
Aside from the fun and games that I love to include in children’s writing, I also like to use narrative as a way of helping children to understand themselves and the world around them. One such story focusses on understanding emotions. Another centres around learning to accept loved ones for who they are, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
In the vein of learning about the world around us, I’m particularly fond of a story for older children about extra-terrestrials. It seems to me that ETs get an extremely bad rap in the entertainment industries, particularly in Hollywood movies. Films like ET, Cocoon or Batteries Not Included are the few exceptions that I can think of.
But I would say it says a lot about our own civilisation that when we imagine beings from other worlds, we usually expect them to invade and terrorise us. So in this story, I hope to present a different perspective and to give children food for thought about their own relationship with others in the world around them.
2. How does my work differ to others in the same genre/category?
I’d say that all writers’ imaginations are unique places, as we all have different life experiences that make us who we are. I think that good and bad life experiences both provide a rich tapestry upon which to draw inspiration from. In fact, sometimes the difficult experiences can give us an understanding that can touch others. This is one thing I hope to bring to some of my stories.
My backgrounds in music and psychology both show up in my work to some degree. Musically, I very much enjoy the rhythm of language and often write in rhyme. In my opinion, Dr Seuss is one of the best examples of an author who explores both of these interests in children’s writing. I’d say that he and Roald Dahl both really knew the importance of meter in their rhymes.
In terms of some of the other influences that made strong impressions upon my imagination, I grew up on a diet of 1940’s black-and-white comedy films, before a spell of becoming a bit obsessed with listening to dadaesque musicians like Captain Beefheart in my twenties. So I guess some of my cultural references may differ a little to others among my demographic.
But having said that, I think imagination is about how we interpret the world around us. Even the most mundane events can become extraordinary in the hands of a good writer.
Why do I write what I do?
Some of the things that influence my writing are:
- Helping children to understand themselves and the world around them
- A love of music and the musicality of language
- A love of wordplay
- A pretty good memory – I often tap into my own childhood experiences
- Being tickled by surreal humour!
4. How does my writing process work?
Hmm…a bit tricky to say really. I can’t really describe a “writing process” as such. But I’d say what often happens is this:
- I get inspired by some little idea. For example, this could be a memory of something someone said. Or else, I may have just read an idea in another children’s book, which makes the little light bulb in my head go “ding!”
- I start writing, then the little idea makes friends with other little ideas that were patiently waiting in line for the right moment to emerge
- I stop writing for the time being, when I’ve run out of ideas
- When I feel inspired, I go back and add more, if needed
- I review and edit what I’ve written
I can’t say that I plan stories out generally, as I’ve always enjoyed improvisation and have found it works well for me. I find my best ideas, either musically or in writing, tend to just flow naturally. I also find that too much prior analysis can kill the creative spark.
Having said that, I find that critique and evaluation are also essential, once the initial writing stage is finished.
I also recently attended an excellent SCBWI workshop led by the young adult writer Keith Gray, which gave me some very useful new approaches to writing.
In fact, I’m inspired to develop the short story that I started in the workshop into a middle-grade novel, so watch this space!
I also very much hope to update this post once I have found more willing runners to take on the Blog Tour baton. So watch this space again!