Interregnum

Oliver_Cromwell_by_Samuel_Cooper

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper

Apparently, an interregnum is the period between two reigns. In English History, it can refer to the time between Charles I ‘s execution and the arrival of Charles II, whilst we had a Republic (30 January 1649 – 29 May 1660)

Metaphorically, it can mean any suspension of government from the end of one regime to the beginning of another. I rather feel  I am in one… Continue reading

Ravens and writing desks

clattering of jackdaws

A reference to Nina’s own work – which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Recently my writing colleague, fellow SCBWI and friend Nina Wadcock asked if anyone would be her Beta reader. I volunteered straight off. We got on well and I had every expectation it would be a good read. She accepted my offer  – and then the second thoughts came fluttering in a black cloud… Continue reading

The child in her eyes

With apologies to Kate Bush

close up of Kate Bush's eyes

On Sunday 6th July, I had the pleasure of boating along the Avon with many members of the Golden Egg Academy. It was a lovely day, sprinkled with vintage frocks and floral china. There were ducklings and VERY low bridges to be negotiated too. Unsurprisingly there was lots of chat – but also talks from Barry-The-Hat-Cunningham, Ben-Kill-the-Granny-and-we’ll-talk-Illis, Imogen-Beaded-Bag-Cooper and Kirsty-aka-Stormboy- McLachlan. Fun was had as can be seen by the monikers, – but I would like to take a more serious theme from Literary Agent Kirsty’s question-and-answer session.

Indeed, this theme came up in our impassioned discussions atop the barge. We debated The Bunker Diary, The Carnegie and what it is we are trying to do. everything came back to focus on our readership. Barry Cunningham picked up on this in his address, speaking with the same wonder and optimism and joy in young people as David Almond.

Lovely inspiring stuff.

a pool in a cave

But what gave me pause for thought, plonked into my mind like a drip from a stalactite and spread ripples from then till now, was something Kirsty said:

Write for one reader – one reader who is not you, not even you as a child, but one contemporary child.

[I believe I have quoted her accurately – please correct me if you know better.]

The first suggestion is clearly wise advice. It’s no good trying to please hypothetical swathes of readers – there are far too many tribes out there. You might as well try writing for a focus group or draw a Venn diagram of sub-cultures and aim for the intersection.

Secondly, we need to have that reader in our sights with every revision – and so it just can’t be to please ourselves. That way lies self-indulgence. We’re not the audience – we have to be the director, set designer, lighting technician and all the rest. It’s the last idea that causes me to consider deeply.

…not even you as a child…

Now I absolutely see the dangers of nostalgia. The lure of painting a Hovis ad of the past and photoshopping your characters in there. Some of my earlier work has had the taint of that, I admit. My world as a child is not their world now – fairly obviously.

I can’t help being older.

BUT I have thought hard about this . There are two points I want to make in response.

First of all, I have to sink down inside myself to write. I have to become the child-I-was to create honestly. When it all goes well, I revisit all those emotions and passions. Thank goodness there is no webcam in The Garret. No-one needs to see me weeping or giggling or cavorting as I enact part of the story. I create through the child-I-was – and I write to console and delight that odd, lonely child.

At least that way, I please one reader.

Jessie Willcox Smith ‘Picture-Books in Winter’ (1905) from “A Child’s Garden of Verses”

Secondly – and this may seal my fate – I cannot write as if I were a child-of-now. This is a skill some of my friends who write realistic fiction have. I admire it enormously. From me, it would be patronising fakery. There are few things more embarrassing than an adult straining to be ‘down with the kids.’

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Kahlil Gibran The Prophet

What I can do is share interests and enthusiasms and passions – the same as I would with any other human being. I don’t talk down about sharks and ghosts and gargoyles: I swap notes and chat and engage. [I hope] When adult-me reads and reviews contemporary children’s books, watches films and TV, or visits intriguing places, I also respond with my child-like self. What would thrill the child-I-was now?

a sandcastle

Where I live, I often see children on the beach jumping the waves and squealing. They construct major sandworks, fall out of boats deliberately and throw things for dogs. The way they talk is different but what I see at West Wittering would not look so out-of-place on Scarborough North Beach forty years ago. Just change the clothes.

Is my readership so very estranged from the child-I-was? I have to believe it is not.

image of a child at the beach

I would be genuinely interested in comments on this topic. Should I be more up-to-date with mainstream culture? I wasn’t then, and it seems bogus to start now. Or is that an absolute given for a children’s writer – even for one of the fantastical persuasion?

Goes with the territory

In case you hadn’t guessed from all my recent posts, I’m busy editing.

I am doing it with the help of the rather marvellous Book Map© courtesy of The Golden Egg Academy. I shan’t steal their thunder – or would that be their cock-a-doodle-dooing? It suffices to say that it’s a jolly fine way of organising what the blue blazes is going on in your story.

I do have one caveat about it, however.

It isn’t a proper map.

Proper maps are crinkly and you can roll them up and they have ‘Here be dragons’ on them. They have puffy-cheeked winds blowing twin-masted brigantines over squiggly blue seas whilst mermaids look on. And they are most definitely drawn, not written.

That thought led me to consider maps in comparison to stories. A map is a way of showing what something is like to someone else. It has to be based in reality but it isn’t the reality itself. Yet a really good one can almost seem real, and with imagination you can get lost in it.

That seems familiar.

There are conventions that make them easier to read, that resemble many other maps; yet each one is unique. It can show something different – or even if it is the same, the way it is shown can be distinctive enough to make you see it in a new light. Styles have changed over time – and yet the old ones have resonance, they help us see things how our predecessors saw them.

Snap!

And creating them?

It seems so similar to me.

  • first I foray into unknown places and blunder about enchanted
  • then my wanderings get doodled down at random, I am exhausted, uncertain what’s important
  • then comes the serious sorting-out – I must make it clear to follow, decide what kind it is, make it suit the person who will read it (interesting that we say ‘read a map’) and yet remain true to what I have discovered

Detail of a map by Grayson Perry- he charts his ideas and feelings in wonderful, intricate detail.

It’s slow, laborious, painstaking work. Sometimes you have to scrap great chunks – often your most beautifully drawn smoking volcano. Sometimes you find parts that you thought made sense are a complete mystery to others and you have to start again.
I have a couple of advantages.
  1. I don’t have to be a frost-bitten Polar explorer or get winched down ravines in darkest Borneo to find new places to explore – they are all in my head.
  2. Google can’t get there.
But most of all, I love opening up whole new worlds – and then showing off the best bits to others.
How about you? 

 

 

Tug o’war

In medieval times, they say, Good and Evil were pictured as a devil and an angel sitting on your shoulders whispering advice. That’s why you throw salt over your left shoulder, to blind the little devil.

I’m editing (still)  and I’ve got two voices whispering in my ears. They are not Good and Evil, but more like Imagination and Creativity on one side – and Logic and Analytical Reason on the other. I have to keep testing and refining what I am revising – as Scientific an enterprise as you could wish for – but I also need to generate new scenes on occasion. Cue Art – and the need to stick a gag in my Critical self’s gob.

Should my door be shut or open? (to use Stephen King’s metaphor) Tricky.

I need to come up with new material, to innovate, to avoid cliché – but at what point am I re-inventing the wheel? Is the accuracy and honesty of, say, a particular  image worth disrupting the flow of a paragraph for?

make it simple and easy to read, please the target readership , give them what they want

 

be true to yourself, use your own voice, the readers you are meant to have will love it that way

 

Who do I listen to?

The Princesses of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason talk to Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster , illustrated by Jules Feiffer.  (I wish I had their advice.) 

I need other voices guiding me – external ones. I am aware of my own stubbornness, my (surprising-to-some) shyness and reticence in seeking help. Partly I feel embarrassed, ashamed that after years of teaching , and a Masters’ Degree in Creative Writing , I still don’t know how to write for children.

I have to squash my ego and seek advice. It’s the task that matters , not some day-dream of being An Author. And then comes the really important bit:

I must be discriminating in what I do with that guidance.

 

As my wonderful friend and musician colleague Pam Wedgwood said  the notes are only a guide. It’s up to me how I interpret them.

I need both passion to rise above the ordinary to keep me going – and commonsense coupled with humility to be thankful for those who have helped along the way. (SCBWI/Golden Egg pals – this means you.)

So I’m rather hoping by responding to both, I can figure out my own way. Something like having callers on both sides of the river telling me which way to steer – from their point of view.

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Clean

When I returned from my wonderfully stimulating and exhausting weekend in Frome at the Golden Egg Academy, I started work immediately – on preparing my house for bed-and-breakfast guests. I had a photo-shoot scheduled for Tuesday morning courtesy of Airbnb.

What, you might well ask, has that got to do with writing?

Mug shot courtesy of The Literary Gift Company

More than I thought at first.

One task was clearing out the clutter. Getting shot of the bits and bobs that got in the way so that the potential guests could see what they were getting easily. It needed to be clear and clean and suited to the people who liked that sort of thing.

Of course, it was hard to wang stuff out. I am temperamentally averse to disposal. Ideologically too – though handing stuff over to charity shops soothed those qualms. I had to get over some of my sentimentality and clingishness. I can’t say I have entirely triumphed – there are cupboards upstairs bursting with that-which-might-come-in-useful-one-day.

But I had to steel myself, to try and look at my rooms with a dispassionate eye. The tired and the sad had to go – because they got in the way of what I was trying to do. Likewise, I arranged things to make it look good in the photographs. There’s an element of the stage set here, the use of props to suggest the atmosphere I wish to convey – a little cynical, perhaps.

Some rather ‘placed’ tulips – for March.

You can see the parallel, I suspect.

The crucial, though not the only, learning point of my time at Imogen Cooper’s lovely house was identifying the core of my novel that would appeal to my intended readership. That is what I have to de-clutter. I need to strip away all the extraneous tat – and even the really lovely writing – that doesn’t make it clear, clean and suited to readers who like that sort of thing. I have to chuck out the verbal chintz.

To use an old Yorkshire expression, my novel needs a ‘good bottoming’ – it needs sorting out – or ‘fettling’ from the bottom up. And it’s no good being half-arsed about it (pun intended). I shall have give it a proper seeing-to.

Perhaps an exaggeration?

On with the metaphorical rubber gloves, then.

Chuck chuck chuck chuck chicken…

…lay a little egg for me.

Tomorrow finds me on a train to Frome in Dorset before I attend a Golden Egg Academy workshop on Saturday & Sunday. I’m making a day of it and intend to explore a wee bit. Changes of scenery can often lead to new inspirations – not that I’m short of anything to write about but a little prompt whilst between major works-in-progress keeps the creativity ticking over nicely.

I’ll be sharing accommodation with my www.seamagic.org pal Claudia Myatt – so an exchange of sea yarns will be going on, I suspect. It will be great fun to meet up with other writers for young people too – if nothing else, I will find that stimulating.

However the biggie is help sorting out the stack of tamboured muslin, talking gargoyles and civic corruption which is Georgiana & the Municipal Moon. I think you’d have to envisage my first draft as a cabin trunk jammed full of grubby little scene oddments, faded images of neo-Regency life, salt-stained maps of Selchester, the City-on-the-Sea, and the odd transcript of curious dialogue. It seems as if it should all fit together somehow – but I need some serious help putting my scrapbook together.

I am both nervous and thrilled to have Imogen Cooper take my story seriously. I want all the help I can get to make it work the best I can. There is a core, like the spine formed early on in an embryo that I can’t or won’t change, but otherwise: whatever it takes to tell the story.

To be continued…