Last weekend I was in the company of the brilliant David Almond – author of Skellig, A Song for Ella Gray, My Name is Mina and many more.
I was one of the faces in a sea of writers and illustrators that listened intently to his every word. I tried to piece together my own thoughts on writing and the processes involved when it comes to plot, chapter breaks and creating character arcs, so I was relived to hear that he is just like me – not a plot in sight. A ‘just go for it and see where it takes you’ kindred spirit, if you will.
Spellbound by his key-note speech at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference, we frantically wrote everything down so we didn’t forget a single word.
His soothing Northern accent filled the silent room as he shared his notebooks, scribbles and genuine love for literature with us all.
Creativity is not a luxury – it’s always there, he said. He regaled us with stories of his childhood – he would wander down to his local library after he played football with his pals. He would stare at the filled shelves and ponder about what path he would take. What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a writer. That’s what he told people.
He would day-dream of his books being on those very same shelves. His dream came true many years later when he went back to the same library. There were shelves with books that had been opened and closed many times, the dog-eared corners a tell-tale sign but the only difference was, now there were books with his name on them too.
Writing for children is not easy. In fact, in his own words, he remembers looking at his first ever published book and thinking “Phew, I’m glad I don’t have to write that again. It looks hard.”
And it does. All those words. All those sentences. They all have to be in the right order, have the right ending to each page to make the reader turn it over, wanting more.
Release The Writer Within
Part two arrived in the form of a workshop-style event.
How do we get that unique idea that no-one else has ever thought of before? What can we add to the dynamics of our characters to make everyone stand up and take notice of them?
“We all have a natural understanding of how to write a story.
Stories go back to the beginning of time – cavemen depicting life as drawings on the cave walls to the present day where kids are trying desperately to understand the meaning of frontal adverbs and the like for their 11+ exams.
The writer is the only person getting in the way of the writing. No-one else. The brain is a bit like our least favourite politician – you can’t do this, you can’t do that it says. But you can. We all can.
You have to dance your story. We are all trying to write something beautiful. Turn away from the voice that tells you to stop writing. Tell it to shut up.
You don’t need to know what your story’s about. Daft and enlightening – that’s what all stories should be. Where do these ideas come from? If you place both hands on either side of your head – that’s the size of your brain and your imagination – it’s where all the magic lives. Look after it well.
You can’t keep up with the times so just write your story – modern technology included or not.
Sometimes you need to call a halt to a story you love. You never know what might be waiting in the wings”.
The trick is to think of an object, or character or place in as abstract a way as possible – the best way to do this is to ask yourself questions. Some ‘what ifs’ and a few ‘why don’t theys’ to get the party started.
Tap into the fun and imaginative side of your brain and give it laldy. Here are some questions we were asked using objects from David Almond’s pencil case, give yourself a minute to answer each one. It’s amazing what the mind can produce when it’s under pressure.
Here are my attempts at reply from the day itself –
Question 1 – Why did Mrs Askew sit in the puddle last Tuesday?
Because she was too hot and needed to cool down.
Question 2 – What part did the pencil sharpener play in the murder of Joseph MacIntyre?
It sharpened the murder weapon – death by pencil!
Question 3 – What is the Great Worm of Cloot and should we be scared of it?
It’s the longest scarf in the world. It’s big enough for everyone in the village to keep warm in and it’s not scary at all. But it might make you sneeze.
Question 4 – A famous dog called Patch has written and published his first book. What is the title and first sentence?
‘How Not To Be Human’ – Do not be fooled by treats and warm fires.
Question 5 – When Mrs Askew was 7 what was the terrible argument she had with her best friend?
She wanted to dress up as Dorothy to the brownies Halloween party and Agnes wouldn’t go as Toto.
Think outside the box (or pencil case) every once in a while. You’ll be surprised what’s out there.