• The Writing Process Blog Tour

    Recently I was asked by talented children’s author, Steve Howson (who, like me, is published by Maverick Arts), to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour. The aim of the blog is to find out what, why and how we, as authors, write. My responses are below, and at the end you’ll find out the name of the incredibly talented, bestselling author who I’m handing the baton to next week!

    In the meantime, Good Luck to Steve, whose debut picture book, Hocus Pocus Diplodocus comes out this May! (see www.stevehowson.co.uk for details).

    Hope you enjoy the blog!

    1) What am I working on?

    I’m currently working on the final edit of my second story for publisher, Maverick Arts. It’s another rhyming picture book called ‘I Wish I’d been born a Unicorn’.

    Unlike my first book, (The Cautionary Tale of The Childe of Hale, which was based on a real-life historical giant), this is a made up story about a scruffy horse called Mucky who thinks he’d have more friends if only he was a Unicorn. A wise owl, with the help of some other farmyard animals, sets about making his dream come true, by tying a seashell horn to his head and painting him with churned up cream. Mucky is thrilled, until it rains and he turns back to drab old brown. The story ends happily though, when Mucky realises that the other animals cared enough to try and make his dream come true, and that he has genuine friends after all.

    The book comes out in September, and the illustrator, Andrea Ringli, is currently busy bringing it to life. She’s a Swiss-based first-time illustrator, and I absolutely love her style and characterisation. She’s the perfect choice for the story, and I’m just working to fine-tune the odd word here or there but nothing that will affect the illustrations.

    2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

    I think I’m probably a little old-fashioned in my style – not that it’s a conscious thing, but there are lots of picture books out there that are silly and humorous, whereas I tend to enjoy telling tales that give children something to think about, rather than just laugh about.

    My first book was about a poor real-life giant who was so tall he had to sleep with his feet dangling through the windows of his tiny cottage. He is called for by the King (in real-life, James I) and taken to London, where he’s given fancy clothes and accommodation. The King has an ulterior motive, however, and puts the giant in a wrestling match with his champion. The Childe wins – but he is saddened because he feels he’s been used. The lesson he learns, as he says in the story, is; ‘Kindness, you see, is what makes us stand tall, whether born in a Palace, or a house that’s too small.’ That’s the lesson that I want children get from the book, too, and the fact that they enjoy reading it – and love the giant and finding out about him – proves that stories don’t have to be silly to hold their attention. It’s been short-listed for the 2014 Heart of Hawick Picture Book Award, too, which I’m thrilled about. Ultimately, I’m not ashamed to put a moral in a story. ‘I Wish I’d Been Born A Unicorn’ has a message, too, which is that you don’t need to be glamorous or famous to be loved or valued.

    3) Why do I write what I do?

    I’ve probably answered that in the previous question, partly. I write for children because I’m still a bit of a child at heart myself, so I find it easy to spot an idea that’ll make a good story. Also, I write in rhyme because I love the musicality of it – you can build a rhythm that carries the reader along, and there’s the added anticipation of what the next rhyme will be. I think children can get lost in a good rhyming picture book.

    4) How does my writing process work?

    I’m always listening-out for good ideas. I say listening, rather than looking, because it’s the sound of a matching phrase that matters. ‘I wish I’d been born a Unicorn’ came out of another rhyming phrase that came into my mind a couple of years ago – ‘a horse with remorse’. It seemed an interesting idea, so I thought about what a horse might regret, and eventually it lead me to invent Mucky. The phrase doesn’t appear at all in the story, but it was my starting point.

    My first story happened much more quickly – I came across the history of The Childe of Hale and wondered why no one had written his story for children. Two days later, I had done it myself, and six weeks later signed a publishing contract. It was easy because the plot and characters already existed; I just had to write it out in rhyme. Inventing your own plot, as I’ve found this time, is much harder! I’ve lost count of the different versions I’ve written – and, ironically, I ended up going back to the first version and using that one. Sometimes you can overthink or overwork things.

    One thing I learned early on is not to be precious about the words you put on a page – if they’re not right (and you usually have a instant gut feeling when something is right) then try something different. Sometimes, in rhyme, you do have to make small compromises in order to make something fit, and that can grate a little (especially if you’re a perfectionist like me!), but in the grand scheme of things readers probably won’t even notice, even though you’ll have lost sleep over it!

    It’s also good to get perspective – leave something for a while before you edit it – so that you’re reading it almost anew – as the reader will – and can more clearly see where the awkward phrases or glitches are. Getting feedback from people you trust is also priceless.

    Next week….George Mahood!

    The tour will continue next week when I hand the baton to my old Uni friend and, rather impressively, Amazon’s Bestselling humorous essay writer, George Mahood. George’s bestselling books, ‘Free Country: A penniless adventure the length of Britain’ and ‘Everyday is a holiday’ are available through Amazon (http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bestsellers/books/274120/ref=sr_bs_1).


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