An Open Book

the-open-book-with-key

The other week a notification popped up on my WordPress account which announced I’d published my 100th blog! I was gobsmacked. I never thought I’d have so much to say. It felt good that I’d reached this milestone but it also poked at some mixed emotions I’d rather ignore.

Since I started writing for children so many people have mentioned that they too have a book inside them that they want to write. Some have been nudged into action; some have done nothing whilst others have built a list of excuses. At some point in my life I’ve done all three and continue to do so on some level but I’m convinced that all the emotions I encounter as I try to realise my ambitions are being felt everywhere in the world in some form or other. You may not have that hankering to be a writer but perhaps you’re setting up a new marshmallow making business or about to host the biggest beauty event you’ve ever attempted or dipping out of the corporate life to become a painter. Whatever it is for you, be prepared to be bombarded with emotions.

My writing journey is a continuous leap into the unknown full of surprises and disappointments, twists and turns. I’m already beginning to see that it’s not a simple question of getting from A to B, the path can branch off into many uncharted locations with little or no signposts to indicate which way is the right direction.

“Explore as many opportunities as you can” I hear the experts say.

“See where they take you” they encourage.

So when My Trending Stories contacted me with a blogging opportunity I decided to take the plunge and join this new community of wordaholics. It’s already exploding with mind-melting articles so I saw it as a chance for me to blog about the raw side of how it feels to try something new and follow your heart, the bits we don’t talk about so much, the feelings which go hand in hand with the bumpy path of turning aspiration into reality.

It’s not just a blog about my writing career, it’s a blog about human emotion, perseverance and anyone dealing with change and looking to try out something new. I’ve posted up a couple of blogs already so head over to An Open Book if you or anyone you know is in a similar position and looking for some ideas on how to magnify the good feelings and get beyond the bad feelings when trying to achieve their dream.

#BFCB #BooksForChildrenBlog

@lonerganbooks

Infographics on YA Fantasy Fiction

YA Infographics Banner

Being a relative newcomer to the writing industry I’m learning all the time. As I hike into the unknown of my writing adventure I always like to share with you the things I learn along the way. YA (Young Adult) fantasy fiction is one such genre which I’m still wading through and beginning to understand in greater depth so I’ve been putting together a useful infographic to condense my notes and keep them to the bear minimum – almost like a checklist to help guide me through. This is not an exhaustive list by any means but it sums up the ones which have cropped up repeatedly during my search.

YA Fantasy Fiction

 

This is a free printable graphic.

 

#BFCB #BooksForChildrenBlog

@lonerganbooks

 

 

10 Tips for Tapping into Your Imagination

Imagination Tips

For a fiction writer to maintain a continuous stream of ideas flowing both on and off the page, not only is a huge imagination a requirement with a dash of silliness and absurdity but also some trusted prompts to encourage those ideas to keep popping into your head.

For me writing requires a combination of the six senses being sight, smell, touch, emotions, hearing and taste. These are the foundations which pull together a piece of writing and create a moving, believable and inspiring story. So if you or your child loves to write here are my ten tips to try over the summer holidays and help trigger your limitless imagination.

  1. Observing: Foremost, always be aware of your surroundings by observing your day. Use all six senses to listen out for funny comments, interesting situations and unusual reactions to inspire charismatic characters and empathic situations to write about.
  2. Looking: Study the images in a magazine, of your favourite painting or on a poster more closely to help inspire you to create an original story.
  3. Listening: Put your own spin on a topic you’ve heard on the radio, whilst on the phone or in a conversation.
  4. Tasting: Pretend you’ve won a competition which allows you to eat whatever you want in a supermarket for a day or write about your experience of accidentally eating soap, sour milk or grass maybe. The English language can be very limiting when describing taste so it’s often overlooked in writing. Learn to take it further by writing about the sensations, physical reactions and textures of food to convey the whole experience.
  5. Feeling: Imagine yourself in a fictitious situation, for example crossing the Grand Canyon on a tightrope! Write about the emotions you feel in your chosen situation. How you might approach it and deal with your feelings and how your feelings might change as your situation changes.
  6. Smelling: We are surrounded by smell every day. Write about how the smell makes you feel, any memories they trigger and the ones you’d prefer to avoid!
  7. Touching: Our sense of touch, whether with a person, animal or object creates a physical and mental connection with the world around us. Touch triggers emotional feelings and physical reactions which are clearly visible for you to notice if you look closely enough. Writing should make the interaction and sensations feel real.
  8. Brainstorming: Choose a topic you like to write about such as water sports then keep asking yourself questions about the topic and write down all the words and phrases you associate with that topic whilst keeping in mind your six senses.
  9. Creating the Absurd: Mix things up. Put a familiar character in an unfamiliar setting such as a postman on TV; imagine an animal, person or object possessing skills or characteristics which are the opposite of what you might expect such as a sprinting elephant or a purple skinned person. Now use your six senses to make this story idea into a believable scenario.
  10. One Word: For one day write down one word related to every place you visit throughout that day. You will then have inspiration for either one story which includes every word you wrote down or several stories based on each single word. Draw on your six senses to remember your experiences surrounding these words throughout the day. Over the summer holidays I’ll be posting some one word writing prompts on my Facebook page to challenge you or your child’s creative writing mind.

To support this blog I chose the following two picture books by children’s author Pippa Goodhart (author) and Nick Sherratt (illustrator) as they help young children discover their imagination, look for ideas by asking questions, being prompted with suggestions, observing pictures and encouraging them to imagine something different. Both books are packed with vibrant illustrations, presented in a clear and simple manner and have proven to be excellent books for fun guided discussions at bedtime.


Just imagine – Published: Corgi Children’s Jun 2013.

This is a book which encourages children to think about situations they’ve never experienced such as imagining being magical, living in the wild, flying in the sky or travelling through time. Imagination can take you anywhere.

CLICK TO BUY Just Imagine


You Choose – Published: Corgi Children’s New Ed. July 2014.

If you could have whatever you wanted, what would that be? Where would you live? How would you travel? What clothes would you wear? This book teaches children that what they imagine is their choice. There are no rules or limits to their imagination.

CLICK TO BUY You Choose!

 

Source: Private copies.

NOTE: Books for Children Blog is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk

#BFCB #BooksForChildrenBlog

@lonerganbooks

Why Children’s Books Matter

The Infinite Playground

I love it when I find a blog which instantly throws my mind into chatter overload. Words, images and sounds start to explode. It gets noisy in there!

Middle Grade Strikes Back – #coverkidsbooks published one such blog concerning the limited media coverage assigned to children’s books and why we should be seeing more about children’s books in the press. One of the main reasons I started blogging about children’s book reviews, events and crafts was because as a parent I found I was struggling to find a variety of books for my children to try. I was always being exposed to the same limited selection which we’d either already read or they just didn’t appeal to my children. Of course since launching my blog, now I actively seek out alternative books and look in other places to find new ones but still it often takes some digging. Coupled with the recent disappointing news that the Guardian will soon no longer be adding to their online children’s books web page (aimed at children), I knew the only way to quieten my mind on why books are so important for children was to take on Middle Grade Strikes Back’s challenge and write a response. My little voice wanted to join the crowd to help it cheer louder and ideas started to leak out…

“Books are like people.”

I think books are like people. They each have their own personality and ultimately, it’s not what’s on the outside of a book that matters it’s what’s on the inside. The content of a book offers every child a paradox. On the one hand they have the opportunity to discover the world beyond their front door by absorbing the plentiful fresh ideas and opinions spread across the pages; whilst on the other hand they’re drawn into exploring the world within themselves through the questions and thoughts triggered every time they read a new book.

It was at this point as I wrote my blog that it became clear I needed something much sharper to express the enormity of the value books can add to children’s lives. I was looking for a perspective changer. Something children and their parents could relate to.

Why do children’s books matter so much?

So the best way I knew how to translate these feelings about why children’s books matter to me was to write this rhyme.

the-infinite-playground-2

 

A wider coverage of children’s books can only mean a greater choice is more readily available, making it easier to find the perfect fit for each child so they too have the opportunity to learn, experience and understand our world and who they are. I’d like to see not just the big names getting coverage but also new authors, niche authors, non-fiction authors and without doubt the illustrators as major contributors to many children’s book sales.

So thank you to Middle Grade Strikes Back for reminding me what drives me to keep persevering with writing children’s books and why I started blogging about children’s books in the first place.

 

14 Common Misconceptions About Writing Picture Books

Tree Frog 2

With people like Simon Cowell making flippant remarks about all children’s books being boring and that he could easily do better it’s no wonder the genre doesn’t always get the credit it deserves inside and outside the writing industry. It’s short sighted to assume that because children aren’t yet as knowledgeable, educated or verbally adept as most (but by no means all) adults that their books are easy to write. I chose to start my writing career with picture books because I could see the difference they make to thousands of children’s lives but do I feel I plumped for the easy option? Hell no and these 14 misconceptions make up just a few of the reasons why I feel that way even at this early stage of my career.

  1. Writing children’s picture books is easy. Writing a picture book plays on a very particular set of writing skills including saying something of note, interest or amusement within a limited word count; picking words which convey your sometimes complicated message clearly and simply; choosing a topic or character of interest to your reader who is of an age you have experienced but in an era vastly different to that of today and usually long forgotten. Every single word is important and every phrase should stick in a child’s mind for the right reasons. You are not writing for someone who thinks like you, you are writing for someone who is learning from you.
  2. You just have to send your story to publishers. Finding a publisher is only a small part of the process. First there’s learning all about what publishers are expecting, how to stand out from the crowd, having an original idea or putting a new spin on an old one, adapting your writing into a style children will appreciate, getting the layout right, learning how to be a tough editor on your own masterpieces … and that’s all before you’ve even approached any potential publishers and agents.
  3. If your family and friends like it everyone else will like it. Of course it’s a good start if they genuinely like your stories but unless your family members are involved in the publishing industry chances are they haven’t a clue if it is written well or whether it’s a potential top seller. Your family may be among your target audience but their’s is only a limited (unprofessional) opinion. Find someone who knows the industry who can give you sound advice to take your dreams forward.
  4. Everybody is writing a children’s book. Sometimes it may seem that way with the amount of talented competition appearing out there but not everyone has the desire or inclination and especially not the perseverance to write a children’s book so concentrate on developing your own talents and skills and just enjoy reading other writer’s books and learning from the successful ones along the way.
  5. You just have to write your main idea down as it comes into your head, do a couple of tweaks then send your first draft out as the editors will do the rest. I think I once read that you’re likely to write your book at least 5 times. In my house that’s a gross underestimation even before sending to publishers. First there’s the idea and coordinating it into a solid story structure. Then there’s the correct layout and word count to consider, the suitability of the words I’m using not to mention the checking part, checking I’m successfully saying what I set out to say, that it’s believable and makes sense and that each spread evokes good imagery. Yes editors will want to alter your work but first the publishers need to see that you have an idea that works within a picture book framework.
  6. Picture books are too short to need a story structure. Wrong. Everything you’ve ever learned about writing an outstanding story needs to be covered despite your challenging word count.
  7. You have to be able to draw (or know someone who can) to write picture books. I’ve come to realise that if you’re a professional illustrator and a writer you do have an advantage in marketing terms. Pictures and images are always a more attractive sell than stand alone text. However if you’re not a professional illustrator don’t attempt to pretend you are. Poor pictures can do more harm than no pictures. Be brave and trust in your ability as a writer to speak for itself. Many publishers have a bank of illustrators they like to use so it’s certainly not an expectancy in the publishing world and they will be happy to match your writing style with the right illustrator.
  8. It doesn’t take long to write a picture book. Writing a picture book takes as long as it takes. What do I mean by that? It’s different for everyone as a number of factors can affect the speed of production. How experienced are you? What other commitments do you have? Is it your full time job? Do you write in short bursts or hide away in a room for hours? Can you focus on your writing at the drop of a hat or do you need to build up to the levels of concentration required to produce good written work? One thing you do need to do is to keep persisting and continue writing.
  9. Anyone can write a children’s book. True anyone can and even anyone can publish one nowadays but writing a quality, timeless picture book takes, talent, willingness to learn, being able to accept criticism, not being precious about changing and adapting your story idea and understanding the commercial expectations.
  10. If it’s a good picture book it will sell itself. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a talented writer or even a published writer is instantly recognised. People need to know you’re out there before they can like your stories. An agent can help but knowing the basics of marketing will go a long way to building your career – although if you’re Simon Cowell you’ve probably already got this part covered.
  11. Picture books can be as long or as short as you like. Most picture books follow a strict layout and word count which has been proven to appeal to their market audience. Generally the more succinct the better. Any deviance from this can reduce your chances of being published. So pinpointing your story’s plot, progress, conflicts, surprises and goals on a limited word count without reigning in your imagination is a constant juggling act and paramount if you want to avoid a boring tale Mr Cowell.
  12. Rhyming picture books are the most popular. I’ve read with many different children and undoubtedly they enjoy books in rhyme as do their teachers. However for many publishers, this is a perfect example of when it’s not always wise or viable to follow the demand. Rhyming stories can add complications to the publishing process as rhyming books pose numerous translation issues. So beware when writing in rhyme. Every word and every sentence has to flow effortlessly to convince the reader it’s the right style for your story. The rhyme must serve to enhance the pace and humour and know that even when you master this you may be limiting your market.
  13. If your picture book is rejected is must be rubbish. It might be rubbish (probably a doubt many writers suffer from) but rejections can be due to a number of things. Your book may be too similar to another book they’re publishing, the subject matter doesn’t fit with other books they publish, they’ve already filled their quota for the year so don’t have the resources to support the offer of a contract. One of the hardest parts of being a writer is to accept when your work isn’t up to scratch but to believe in your abilities and success regardless.
  14. Picture books only appeal to young children. Picture books may be aimed at young children but the appeal stretches much further than that. When writing a picture book you need to bear in mind that much of the time adults are the ones who make the initial purchase and the ones who read the stories so giving consideration to an adults enjoyment can only enhance the longevity of your story. As picture book popularity develops, despite being traditionally billed as starter books, more and more of the contemporary picture books are retaining their simplistic appeal for older children too now. The bold, colourful and often humorous stories can be an attractive, uncomplicated read for any able reader too.

So Mr Cowell, all any children’s writer is aiming to do is to offer a book that is captivating, exciting, fun and interesting to pass on their love of reading and if you can achieve that with your army of editors supporting you, I look forward to an entertaining read at bedtime.

Nature Narratives

Encouraging your child to write doesn’t mean they have to be stuck in the house chained to a table and told to churn out dozens of accurate lines. Writing is about conveying experiences, observations, reactions and feelings and one way to help children bring all these responses together onto one page is to get them outside and interacting with nature.

Today I’ve simply put together a mini scavenger hunt which purposefully includes things to collect for reactions and feelings, things to spot for observations and things to do for experience.

These templates can be printed and laminated for use in the garden or in the woods. They are best suited for A5 size. I then hole punched the corners and tied them together so they were easy to carry around.

Scavenger Hunt to Collect

 

Scavenger Hunt to Spot

 

Scavenger Hunt to Do

Your child will also need a small bag containing a piece of coloured or plain paper and coloured chalk for the bark rubbing and to collect and carry any of the scavenger items pictured. You can also include a piece of paper for the petal picture or it can be put together on the grass or ground. If possible take a photo of the petal picture to take home with you so your child can remember what it looks like.

Scavenger Hunt 2

When you return from the scavenger hunt ask your child to write a short story using items they saw or found on their scavenger hunt to inspire them. Tell them they can include as many of these things as they like. Let them think about the following questions to give them more ideas.Writing Nature Narratives

Don’t concentrate on grammar or sentence structure too much this is a light-hearted activity designed to encourage your child to use their imagination and create some crazy stories by showing them how to look for new ideas in unlikely places.

Writing with Purpose: Thank You Box

It is often said that to be an author you should write something every day. However I find it very difficult to produce a comprehensive piece of writing when there’s no purpose. Writing needs direction from the start, a path to follow, a place to arrive at and a means to an end. This could be to write a story, fill out a form, to convey an important message, to provide others with useful information, write a cheque or to record a memory.

For children on the other hand, writing can be like drawing. Their newly found fascination of putting pen to paper is sometimes what drives them to pick up a pen and write as they experiment with forming various shapes and marks to create meaning out of an otherwise blank page.  Others instinctively love to record their thoughts or label their pictures but like adults, many children too have no inclination to write unless it is for a purpose.

So if you’re looking to encourage your child to write remember that first they may need a purpose to write. I put together this writing prompt in the aftermath of the Christmas mayhem, the time when my boys have a long list of thank you letters to compose. I’m not going to lie, I always find this a painful business of constant reminders and impatient hovering but I persist in putting us through the ordeal because I believe appreciation and thankfulness is a lesson worth learning. So this year I’ve attempted to make the whole process somewhat more light-hearted!

First I bought two plain craft boxes in the shape of books and filled them with brightly coloured blank cards and envelopes.

Writing Box 1

I then gave both my children a pack of mixed postage stamps, character and thank you stickers, self-inking stamps, printed paper, a small glue brush and a novelty pen each to make up their own thank you box.

Writing Box Stamps

Writing Box Tools

I then suggested some ideas of how to decorate the boxes and left them to it…

…and perhaps that’s where I made my fatal error!

I’d had an image in my mind of a perfectly covered book box, a kind of decoupage with postage stamps!

Oh silly me! Of course that’s not what we ended up with!

So here are some close ups of the decorating results, no frills, very little sticking and certainly no decoupage in sight! Some might say the quickest route to completion was sought!

Writing Box Decorated

I thought about scrapping this blog but only very fleetingly because I realised that despite my disappointment I’d actually achieved what I’d set out to do and that was to provide my children with a writing box that is personal to them and one they wanted to use. Oblivious to my hidden grimaces they had enjoyed themselves and were very enthusiastic about the results. They were even swapping ideas of what to do on their thank you cards. I couldn’t help but chuckle at my desperation for perfection. All too often I see blogs on children’s craft activities which are enviously beautiful but almost to the point of being too immaculate and in practice are often far too intricate for little fingers to learn. It soon becomes obvious they’ve been designed by an adult and completed by an adult as the realistic results start to emerge once the little ones get their hands on them!

So I guess the lesson I stumbled across today was that encouraging a love of something isn’t about the ideals we strive for, it’s about providing the tools to let our children do it their way!