In the Wishing Chair

This is a very quick post, which I may expand in the future. I’ve tweeted a couple of times about my new project – In the Wishing Chair.

It’s a podcast dedicated to writing for children – I say writing, I also mean illustrating, publishing and of course reading the books. It came about mostly because I enjoy podcasts and there are some really great ones for writers, but I couldn’t find any about writing for children. So, in the best spirit of “If you want a thing done do it yourself” I decided to make one.

I really didn’t want to make anyone listen to me witter on, so I tentatively approached some people about being interviewed via Skype and the result is what I intend will be a roughly fortnightly show comprising an interview with someone connected with writing for children with links about them on the tumblr blog that accompanies the podcast. There’ll be the odd one that IS just me wittering on, like the short introductory one I sent live this evening, but it’s mostly interview-based. I love the range of kind souls that have joined in so far – there should be loads of collective wisdom when the episodes start building up from all aspects of the trade. And I’m very lucky in some of the interviews I’ve got; I’ll say no more until I’ve recorded them in case they get cold feet!

Most important of all, this is a massive leap into the unknown for me. I don’t really have much confidence in myself at all and until now have had a deep dread of ‘putting myself out there’. This is kind of me saying to myself ‘knickers to that, I’ve got something to contribute and I’m going to beat myself and do it’. Feel the fear and do it anyway kind of malarkey.

The first episode is now LIVE at In The Wishing Chair and it’s really very short. I know I need to relax a bit more but I’m hoping that will come as I do a few interviews. Please bear with me and give it a try, I hope it’ll be a lot of fun!



First Words

You might be forgiven for assuming that the first words I’m talking about are Emily’s. But no.

Daniel has been astounding us lately with his progress in writing. A couple of weeks ago he showed us how good he was at writing numbers – he did 1, 2, 3 and within a couple of days he’d mastered 4 and 5 too and was making a good stab at 6. To be honest, I’d sort of assumed that he’d read before writing. I had a idea, I’ve no idea where I got it from, that reading was easier. He has been able to recognise individual letters for a while but not string them together, sounding them out to make a word. We’re practicing breaking words down, and ‘something beginning with …’ games but he’s happy just playing around with sounds for now, and while I like to push him a little I don’t want to put him off wanting to read and write so I work on the principle that he’ll do it when the pieces fall into place in his head.

So I got the biggest shock this morning when he called me over to show me this, that he’d done on his blackboard:

Do you know what it says? I’ll tell you. It says ‘lollipop’. He knew that ‘lollipop’ has a’s and o’s and l’s in and he put them together. Heck, he even knew (guessed? maybe, maybe not) that it should have two l’s together and one by itself.

I suggested that it should have a ‘p’ in:

I didn’t even know he could do ‘p’. Now if you read it backwards it actually sounds a bit like ‘lollipop’.

He tried another word: OCLO which he decided said ‘Grandad’. I said it was really good, and also looked a lot like ‘COLD’ –C-O-L-D. So he wrote this:

…and spelled it out for me. C-O-L-D.

Is it just me, or has he been holding out on me?!

I DO know that I’ve heard somewhere that a big difference between boys’ learning and girls’ learning is that boys often appear to be making much slower progress than they actually are because they internalise the learning, and are reluctant to demonstrate what they can do until they know that they can do it, whereas girls a) show off more and b) are less afraid of making mistakes. It certainly seems to be true of Daniel here.

On a related note, we got his very first report on Friday from nursery. Someone suggested reports are too formal for such young children and a year ago I would have agreed. But there’s this big chunk of time during the week where I don’t know what he does (he won’t tell me), I don’t control what he does and someone else knows this part of my son better than I do. I was almost hungry to find out what I was missing. Needless to say, I was delighted with his report. He’s happy, he’s confident and he’s learning.

That’ll do.

ABBA Lit Fest!

One of my favourite blogs is the Awfully Big Blog Adventure. It’s run by the Scattered Author Society, a group of very talented children’s authors who take turns writing some fascinating posts. If you’re interested in children’s writing, as a writer, reader or parent (or general busybody) it’s definitely a site to bookmark.

So imagine my excitement when I got a message to say that ABBA were running a literary festival – online! For 2 days these lovely people are going to be posting articles and interviews every half hour. I’m especially looking forward to the videos, of which Lucy Coats is definitely doing one, and the competitions. Oh rats, I didn’t mean to tell you about those. I want to win. Ah well.

One of the reasons I’m SO excited about this is because I just have this feeling that children’s literature is taking off in a major way. The children’s writers community is taking to the possibilities of the internet in the most motivating and inspirational way, and this festival is a big part of that. And it IS a community, make no mistake. As I’m finding my contacts online focus naturally on children’s writers as I become more confident in my potential to join their ranks, and as I have more ‘Real Life’ contact with children’s writers, I can say I have rarely found a group of people that support each other so much and that get excited by each other’s successes. I think writers in general seem to be this way (with the odd exception of course…) and children’s writers especially so.

So I will be joining in with the ABBA Lit Fest with enthusiasm and I highly recommend you join me!

Edited to add: D’oh! Forgot to mention the dates. 9 & 10 July 2011! 😉


Forcing the Issue

When I started taking writing seriously and thinking “I could actually, maybe, possibly, get something published”, my mind leapt ahead to all the deep and meaningful books I could write. Books that got reviews like “Profoundly moving” and “Speaks volumes about the human condition” and “The most important book you’ll read this year”.

I wanted to write books about Issues – the real important problems facing the world. Trafficking, drugs, debt, faith, parenting (trust me, this IS a problem!), world poverty, underage pregnancy, teen alcohol addiction, war… the list could go on and on and on.

The problem is that once you start thinking about what you could write about instead of what you want to write about, it’s kind of forcing it and it doesn’t feel natural. At least, that’s what I’ve found. And what I want to write about is people.

The best feedback I’ve had on my work is when I’ve started with a character and nothing else. Not a plot, not a problem, not an issue. I don’t know if it’s my particular wiring that makes me connect better to a character and their story this way, but it does seem to be how I work, and from chats with writerly friends I’m not alone.

That’s not, of course, to say that issues have been ruled out. No serious books here thank you very much. No, it just means that I have to approach my writing in a different way. Instead of thinking, ‘How can I write about bullying?’ I would write a much better book if the character I’m engaged with happens to be being bullied. Or even being a bully themselves. Kind of, if I end up dealing with a Serious Issue, it’s a bonus and a context, rather than the reason for the book. An effect rather than a cause.

Hopefully this will also mean that if and when I do write about Serious Issues, not having to force them into my work will mean that I can treat them sensitively and with much more depth. And maybe one day, someone will actually say “Profoundly moving” about a book that I’ve written.

Telling Stories

One of the things I really love seeing develop in my son is his storytelling. He’s got an imagination that is taking wings right now and he spends a great deal of time either ‘reading’ the books that he knows and loves or else making up stories with his toys.

He seems to understand that stories need protagonists, antagonists, conflict and resolution. He even understands that characters need distinctive voices – he varies his voice to suit the character he is pretending to be. From some of my reading, there are adults who don’t understand that yet! (I am, of course, desperately hoping that I don’t fall into that category. We’ll see.)

What I really hope for is that he doesn’t lose that love of stories, that soaring imagination, as he gets older. Storytelling is a hugely important part of a person’s life. It helps you escape your day-t0-day life, it helps you work through problems and experiences, it helps you explore language and emotions in a safe way. It’s the reason I want to write for children, after all; to tell them stories and hope that I can help them do all of those things for a short time.

Storytelling has been around since the beginning of humanity, as far as I can see. And it’s as important now as it has ever been. Whether it’s the Young Adult books that may, or may not, be dark and dismal and depressing (cue *eye roll*) or fairytales, or repulsive yet engaging little boys or a child’s first introduction to picture book stories, the best stories engage children totally for a short time and take them somewhere else. It doesn’t matter what their own experiences are, when they are engrossed in a story; the bad experiences fade and the good experiences are put aside to go into this new and imaginary world where they are in control.

Stories are a great leveller, too. There’s a huge gulf between a child from a wealthy family who goes on holiday, has good quality clothing, the latest toys and a child from a poor family who may never have left their home town, who feels the embarrassment of shabby clothing next to their friends, who has few toys. In their imaginations though, there are no such barriers. And stories are free – to read at at the library or to make up at home. You don’t need to be a great writer to engage a child happily for a long time with this happened and then this happened, just playacting with a few toys.

It’s for reasons like this, among many others, that we should be encouraging our children to make up stories, to act out, role play, dress up, dream, imagine, escape. Then one day, when life gets a bit too much as it has a tendency to do, they can flee into their own world for a while, working through their problems or escaping from them.