Writing for Children

Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year Awards 2019

The CBI Book of the Year Awards shortlist has just been unveiled. The winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held on 22nd May at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre as part of International Literature Festival Dublin. Tickets will be available for the event if you’d like attend. Stay tuned to http://ilfdublin.com/ for details.

Well done to all the shortlisted writers and illustrators!

Mucking About by John Chambers

 The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

 Beag Bídeach scríofa ag Sadhbh Devlin, maisithe ag Róisín Hahessy

 The Great Irish Weather Book written by Joanna Donnelly, illustrated by Fuchsia MacAree

 Between Tick and Tock written by Louise Greig, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay

 Tin by Pádraig Kenny

 Tuesdays are Just as Bad by Cethan Leahy

 The Pooka Party by Shona Shirley Macdonald

 Dr Hibernica Finch’s Compelling Compendium of Irish Animals written by Rob Maguire,

illustrated by Aga Grandowicz

 Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? The Lowdown!

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? A Day for Children’s Writers and Illustrators

Sarah Webb, Writer in Residence, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown in association with Children’s Books Ireland and supported by Words Ireland

Publishers Panel
Publishers Panel

This is a short overview of the day with facts, figures and highlights. A podcast of the day will be available within the next few weeks – stay tuned to this blog and my social media for further details. Apologies for any typos or wild sentences – it’s Sunday morning and I need to bring my daughter to a hockey match very soon. Better done than perfect!

On Saturday 4th February the Lexicon Studio Theatre was packed with writers, illustrators, publishers, agents and children’s writers in various stages of their careers. There was a focus on telling our ‘truths’ and being honest and open about writing and publishing. Grainne Clear gave some really useful info about advances and royalties. She explained that the average writer’s advance in Ireland is e1,000 and in the UK is a similar figure, which elicited a gasp from the audience. Surely that’s wrong, one man tweeted using our hashtag for the day #properbook. But Grainne had done her homework – asking publishers, writers and agents for their input. And e1k it stands.

Sheena Wilkinson told us about her healthy regard for being solvent and confirmed that she had received e5,875 in advances for her 7 books, backing up Grainne’s figures. Alan Nolan gave his advice, have another income stream and marry up! Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick told us about her SFDs – shitty first drafts and David O’Callaghan explained that he just couldn’t sell PAF books in Eason – Posh As F*** (hardback picture books) and boy had he tried. He said his customers panic and grab the nearest Julia Donaldson.

It was a most thought-provoking and stimulating day. More details below.

The 1st panel which I chaired  – Aoife Murray from Children’s Books Ireland, Colleen Jones from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (or ‘Scooby’ as they call themselves) and Valerie Bistany from the Irish Writers Centre talked about their organisations and how they helped writers.

Aoife explained how important events are to a children’s writer and said that Dave Rudden had done 52 events in October 2016, quite an achievement! She explained how they try to lobby for children’s writers and illustrators and be a voice for children’s books in the media.

Colleen explained how ‘Scooby’ could help self-published writers and told us about their award for self-published books, the Spark Award, won recently by Irish woman, Denise Deegan.

Valerie talked about the Irish Writers Centre classes and workshops, residencies. I teach at the Irish Writers Centre and also work as a mentor for new writers through the centre.

The 2nd panel talked about money – earning a living as a writer. The chair, Ryan from CBI asked writer, Alan Nolan should writers be expected to do events for free. He said no. He quoted Celine Kiernan: ‘If I wanted exposure, I’d run naked down O’Connell Street.’

Grainne Clear from Little Island explained that smaller publishers focus on festivals rather than author tours. She said that an author may need to arrange a tour or a launch themselves.

Elaina Ryan and Sinead Connelly
Elaina Ryan and Sinead Connelly

Grainne said that for big UK publishers that doing events and having a profile could be a deal breaker for a publisher (when looking to take a writer on). She noted that it wasn’t the case for Little Island who are all about strong writing.

Librarian, Maeve Rogan McGann said she was very open to good pitches from writers and quoted ER Murray and Alan Early as an example – they had approached her directly and did several events together and workshops for her.

Sinead Connelly from the International Literature Festival, Dublin said she was interested in pitches for events from writers but she wanted something really interesting, something that told her about the writer and who they were as a person. She gave the example of the Friendship event that I did at the festival with my writer friend, Judi Curtin as an event that gave insight into writers’ lives and was something a bit different. Thank you, Sinead!

Alan explained that 60% of his income came from design work, 40% from his books and his events and school visits. He gets paid e150 for a 1 hour school or library event.

Maeve said she pays e100 per 45 minute event or short workshop, or e300 for three events. Sinead pays her festival writers e300 per event for a standard event.

All agreed that you should say no if asked to do an event for free. Elaina quoted Jane O’Hanlon from Poetry Ireland’s Writers in Schools scheme who explained that writers who work for free undercut their colleagues.

And then to the topic of royalties. I’d already shared some of my own ‘truths’ about royalties. That I’d been paid from nothing to e2,000 advances from Irish publishers. That yes, I’d received a couple of the mythical ‘six figure’ book deals for my children’s books but that was the exception, not the rule.

Grainne explained that advances are paid to a writer based on how many books the publisher thinks they can sell and the price of the book.

Little Island pay a standard advance to all writers, both new and established – this was something I hadn’t realised and useful to know. Authors usually get 7.5% royalty of the recommended retail price of the book. Average advance for a 1st book is 1k and average yearly income for a writer is e10k to 12k. The average Irish print run is 2.5k copies she said.

Alan Nolan and Maeve Rogan McGann
Alan Nolan and Maeve Rogan McGann

Alan’s advice was to marry up – he was only joking! He explained how important it is to have a second income stream.

Maeve gave some great advice – clear some time in March and October for school and library visits, she said. Keep some days free as these are the times we are most looking for writers.

We broke for lunch here – I think the audience needed to mull over the facts and figures. The people I spoke to were surprisingly chipper about the lack of money in children’s books. ‘Just as well I love writing if I’m not going to be a millionaire,’ one woman told me with a smile. With that attitude she will go far!

After lunch Sheena Wilkinson hit us with what Alan Nolan described as ‘Wisdom Bombs’. She said that only 10% of her income comes from book sales. She has never been in the news for her big advances, but she has been in the news for winning a lot of book awards.

She has received e5,875 in advances for 7 books. She said writers can’t create if they are anxious about having a roof over their heads.

In 2016 she did 26 school visits, 18 library visits and spent 143 days doing events and teaching.

She said to ‘Seek out the rest of your tribe’ – the children’s book tribe. She admitted that 2 years ago she feared that her career was over. She had no new contract and she was genuinely worried. But a few months later things had changed and she’s been publishing steadily ever since.

Sheena was open and honest and many people’s highlight of the day, mine included. Sheena is a strong, intelligent woman who is not afraid of letting people see her vulnerabilities, which made this a really special talk indeed.

Next up David O’Callaghan from Eason, Oisin McGann and Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick told us some of their truths.

David O'Callaghan
David O'Callaghan

David explained how important a good cover is to make a book stand out. He said what makes him buy a book for his stores is:

Word of mouth – the buzz around a book and early reviews and info from people he trusts

Originality – something different

He said if you want to know what trend to follow (when it comes to writing), you’re already too late. He will always push something original that may catch readers’ imaginations. But he can’t seem to sell PAF books – Posh As F*** hardback picture books.

Oisin Mc Gann said ‘You’re not going to make much money writing for children so you may as well have a good time doing it.’ He explained that modern children’s (and adults’) reading stamina is reduced and all writers need to think about this. He described reading stamina as ‘the time bomb in children’s books.’

David O’Callaghan gave great advice for writers:

For age 0 to 4 pitch (your marketing and publicity) at the parents and the bookselling community

Age 5 to 12 – work hard

Do school events

Your audience is kids and their parents

YA – get on social media and use it

Tumblr, Snapchat, blogging

Put in the work. He name checked Louise O’Neill and Deirdre Sullivan as writers who do this well.

Finally he said ‘Writing a book sounds like too much work to me. I’ll stick to selling them!’ And we’re lucky he’s such a passionate and devoted bookseller!

The final panel was called ‘Is It Me You’re Looking For?’ and featured Conor Hackett from Walker Books, Ivan O’Brien from O’Brien Press, Nicki Howard from Gill Books and UK agent, Penny Holroyde.

Penny said that picture books are the hardest place for a new writer to start. Many of the submissions she receives have no beginning, middle or end, are too long and are patronising.

She said it’s best not to try and write a rhyming picture book and noted the luxury non-fiction as a nice trend, books like Gill Books Irelandopedia with well curated content.

Nicki Howard admitted that she was surprised by the success of Irelandopedia. She explained how the idea came from Gill Books and how they commissioned Fatti Burke to illustrate it, after seeing her work in Cara magazine. Fatti brought her father, John on board as the writer, which Nicki explained was a great backstory for promotion.

Word Count

Penny said the ideal word count for a picture book is 500 to 800 words.

Think of the book as 12 double page spreads, she said.

Conor said that Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton is only 90 words.

Early Readers – 2 to 3k words. Penny explained that publishers tended to have armies of set writers for this age group and rights were hard to sell.

Middle Grade – age 9 to 12

Publishers Panel
Publishers Panel

Are you the type of author who will put in the time and work to be successful? Penny asked. A successful author (for this age) is a hard working one all agreed.

Ivan said that he looks for how hard a writer will work on events and promotions when considering taking on a new writer.

New writers – need to blog, be on social media and also be part of the children’s book ‘tribe’.

Ivan said – we are not interested in doing 1 book with a writer, we’re looking to build up backlist.

Nicki is interested in writers who are enthusiastic about what they are doing.

Conor is looking for books that really deliver.

Penny joked that her ideal writer was a bestseller. When working at another agency her boss told her: ‘Normal people don’t write books’.

American YA has an ambition that UK YA doesn’t, Penny said.

Ivan said that O’Brien Press is not actively looking for picture books. They are looking for good fiction for age 10+. Great novels.

He said to make the first book as good as it can be and maybe think of a sequel (or a series) after that. Alice Next Door by Judi Curtin came in as a stand-alone book he said. Word count – he suggested not more than 50K but make every word count.

Nicki Howard is looking for Irish focused books and illustrators.

Penny is looking for great age 10+ books like Beetle Boy of 40k words and is always interested in looking at illustrators.

Conor gave writers this advice:

Go to book launches

Engage with the industry

Meet people

The opportunities are there, he said. Take them!

A great way to end the day. Afterwards we launched the World of Colour Exhibition which is in the Lexicon from now until the end of March and features the work of Beatrice Alemanga and Chris Haughton.

Speaking at the Launch of a World of Colour
Speaking at the Launch of a World of Colour

Thanks to everyone at Children’s Books Ireland – Elaina, Jenny, Ciara and especially Aoife who helped with programming advice and support, Marian Keyes, Susan Lynch and all at the Lexicon Library for their help and Words Ireland for their support.

me - exhit
me - exhit

Writing for Children - Writing Tips by Sarah Webb

15305905_629668250491181_8596858302619451392_n1.jpg

1/ If you want to write for children you must read children’s books – read picture books, early readers, middle grade novels (age 9+), teen books (age 11+) and YA novels (young adult). Ask a bookseller or librarian to recommend some award winning books in each age category.

Children’s books are not a genre, they are an age group. Within each age group there are books in every genre: fantasy, comedy, science fiction, history etc, yes, even picture books. You cannot write a book for age 4 to 14 – you need to narrow it down a little. Different age groups like different things from a book.

Once you have decided on an age group and/or settled on an age for your main character or characters, it’s time to start writing. Children like to read up an age – they want to read about characters that are older than they are.

Read Children's Books
Read Children's Books

2/ Write as often as you can and keep the story in your head. Think about your characters and your plot as you walk the dog, commute, wash up. Your subconscious will take over and unknot plot problems if you let it. Make time to write but also make time to think. If you want to write badly enough, you will find the time.

Take your head out of your phone – allow your mind time to mull over your story. Think deeply about your characters and what they WANT, what motivates them to live, what drives them.

3/ Carry a notebook. Whenever you think of an idea, jot it down. Keep another notebook beside your bed. It’s amazing how quickly ideas can disappear into the ether.

4/ Some writers like to plot, others don’t. Planners in life are often story plotters; people who crave spontaneity might be best not to plot too carefully. If you are starting out I’d suggest you put some plot notes in place to keep you writing.

5/ Don’t give up – stick your bottom to your chair and keep going. To finish a book you need bum glue. Whatever you do, finish your book. It’s a huge accomplishment and very satisfying. Most writers feel like giving up at some stage – a shiny new idea seduces them away from their novel – but keep going. Most people don’t finish their book – be the exception.

Allow your first draft to be messy and full of mistakes. You can clean it all up later. Just keep moving forwards. Finish your first draft. Finish!

E.L. Doctorow said: ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ He’s right, just keep going.

Keep Going - Writers Sharing Lunch and Supporting Each Other - Who Can You Spot?
Keep Going - Writers Sharing Lunch and Supporting Each Other - Who Can You Spot?

6/ The difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is tenacity, resilience, grit. Give me a naturally talented, outstanding writer with no drive and a good writer with the energy and enthusiasm to work on a book with all their heart and soul and I’ll bet on the good writer every time.

7/ Write from the heart. Write because you have a burning desire to tell your story. Write the book you’d write if you only had a few months to live. Write with your heart. Rewrite with your head. The first draft is only the beginning of the journey. Good luck!

These tips were prepared for TV3 by Sarah Webb.

dlr Writer in Residence Diary September 2016

dlr-writer-lunch.jpg

From now until June 2017 I have the great privilege of being the dlr Writer in Residence. I have a lovely room on the top floor of the Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire and I'm hosting lots of fun book clubs, writing clubs and events. Here is my September diary:

September was a very busy month in the Lexicon library. Our Children's Book Club kicked off and we talked about the work of Roald Dahl in honour of his 100th birthday on 13th September. This month we are reading Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan and looking at its wonderful artwork. This is one of the images from the book:

Image result for shaun tan tales from

I also hosted Baby Book Clubs in both Blackrock and Dalkey libraries. We read Farmer Duck (and made some wonderful farm animal noises) and glued and drew some great ice lollies to celebrate the lovely September weather.

Displaying IMG_1588.JPG
Displaying IMG_1658.JPG

We had a very successful Dahl Day for schools, with a show and workshops. Thanks to all the teachers for bringing their students.

Here's Grainne Clear as Little Red Riding Hood and below are Enda Reilly and Erin Fornoff as The Twits.

Displaying IMG_1668.JPG

Three Canadian writers visited us in September and spoke to local school children about their work, JonArno Lawson, Sydney Smith and  Katherena Vermette.

Image result for footpath flowers

Here's the cover of JonArno and Sydney's book, Footpath Flowers

I also took part in Culture Night with Alan Nolan and we created a story with lots of families who were visiting the library for the night.

Me and Alan on Culture Night
Me and Alan on Culture Night

Writing Club also started in September and our young writers are working on some great stories already.

Towards the end of September we had a very special day for Irish children's writers - our Lexicon Lunch for Children's Writers. I invited children's writers from all  over the country to join me in the Lexicon and I was delighted that so many turned up to talk about books and writing and to see my Writer in Residence room. I got the chance to interview Eoin Colfer, Judi Curtin and Marita Conlon-McKenna on camera - watch out for those videos soon. Pictured below are Sheena Wilkinson, Judi Curtin, Siobhan Parkinson, Erika McGann, Natasha Mac a'Bhaird, Marita Conlon-McKenna, Alan Nolan and Ruth Long.

Displaying IMG_1862.JPG

The Teen Creatives had a visit from the amazing Dave Rudden who told them all about writing, creating characters and plotting a brilliant book.

Displaying IMG_1890.JPG

And finally I launched two books, one by Judi Curtin, the other by ER Murray and I hosted the first of my Drop In sessions for writers and was delighted to meet some wonderful young writers, and some adults who are writing for children.

Displaying IMG_1721.JPG

ER Murray at her launch in Eason

Displaying IMG_1606.JPG

Judi and I comparing our 1980s debs dresses at her Eason launch

During September I wrote the first draft of a picture book for very young children in my Writer in Residence room, worked on two other picture book ideas, and did some research on a new novel. The library is an ace place for research as I'm surrounded by wonderful reference books and ultra helpful librarians.

October is busy too - stay tuned for my next diary in early November and for the first of the Writer in Residence video blogs. To find out more about any of the book or writing clubs email: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie. To book a Writing Clinic slot email me: sarahsamwebb at gmail.com - next clinic is Wed 26th October between 3pm and 5pm.

Yours in writing,

Sarah X

Take Risks. Get a Haircut. How to Do Brilliant Events for Kids

Steve Simpson
Steve Simpson

I was at a day for professional children's writers recently (Mindshift, run by the Irish Writers' Centre with Children's Books Ireland) and the speakers had a lot of useful things to say about events for children.

I thought I'd share some of the best tips with you. And see my previous blog for tips on marketing and promoting your book.

Jane O'Hanlon from the Writers in Schools scheme said 'Writing is not considered an art form, which is why it is underpaid'. She explained that the rate for a 2 1/2 hour school session is e200 (plus travel expenses). 'If you undercut the rate, you undercut it for everyone,' she said.

She explained that classrooms are complex places and that writers need to be aware of this. From this year on, writers will need to be Garda vetted if they would like to visit a school. Poetry Ireland (who run the scheme) can Garda vet any writer in Ireland, even if they are not in the scheme - useful to know.

Designer and children's book illustrator, Steve Simpson also gave some fantastic advice.

Irish language picture books are better paid as they get grants and funding, he explained.

If you want to do events - being able to work with younger children (age 5 to 7 and younger) is a huge advantage. Develop different workshops for different age groups. Get them drawing - children love to draw.

Be yourself. Go to talks and workshops and see how others do it.

Get the kids involved - make it fun.

Have lots of interaction from the start. Always be prepared.

Try to get some photos of the event and use them on social media and on your blog/website. Build your platform.

Take risks.

Get a haircut.

Be passionate.

Be genuine and real.

Be prepared for the unexpected.

All great advice! Thanks, Steve and Jane. More on how to promote your workshops/events to theatres and arts centres next week.

Yours in writing,

Sarah

Why the Future of Books is Safe with Our Hungry Young Readers

Me Reading to a Child
Me Reading to a Child

CHILDREN are still reading. That's a fact. Children and teenagers have not fallen into a technological black hole – they still want and need books.

Irish and UK sales figures for the first half of the year show a healthy rise in sales of novelty books (6pc), picture books (2pc) and, if you strip out the phenomena that is 'The Hunger Games', a whopping 12pc rise in sales of teenage fiction. Publishers are putting money behind children's books like never before and Dubray Books has just invested in 'Mad About Books', a full-colour guide to more than 400 books for children and teenagers.As a parent, a bookseller and a writer, this is all very reassuring. Yes, reading fluently has been proven to give children an advantage in all areas of their education, but books have a far more important role to play in young people's lives.

Books make children think – they make them engage their brain. Readers are not passive vessels, watching images flicker across a screen; they are recreating the story in their heads. They are fighting alongside Skulduggery Pleasant, lolloping across the hills with Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant.

Books are quiet. There are no bangs or crashes. While you are reading, virtual zombies do not point guns in your face and threaten to blow your brains out. Other gamers are not shouting obscenities into your ears through your headset. Yes, there is violence in fiction. What happens in 'The Hunger Games' is not pretty. Harry Potter has to battle pure evil. But there is cause and consequence. Lives are lost, but we care about those who are now dead. The reader can pause and reflect on the loss of characters who have become very real to them. Charlotte the spider, Dobby, Sirius Black. There is no 'kill/die', then step over the bodies.

Children learn from picture books without even knowing they are learning. My kids know all about the life-cycle of the butterfly from 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. They also learn more subtle things, like how a good plot is constructed, or how rhyme scheme works.

Books encourage empathy. While reading, children walk in other children's shoes. They travel to Africa with Michael Morpurgo and his Butterfly Lion; to the concentration camps of World War II with John Boyne ('The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'); and to Ireland during the Famine with Marita Conlon-McKenna ('Under the Hawthorne Tree'). They learn how it feels to be hungry or terrified; to come up against enormous obstacles and to win.

Children's books feature plucky, brave characters, both male and female. Especially female. The characters in Judi Curtin's tales (aimed at pre-teen readers) stand up for themselves. My own character, Amy Green, is a kind and loyal friend. These girls are not covered in make-up or fake tan; they do not aspire to be 'famous', or if they do, it is for a talent they have worked hard at. In Anna Carey's new book, 'Rebecca Rocks', 14-year-old Rebecca and her friends have an all-girl rock band and work hard to improve their skills.

They do not speak like vacuous American teenagers. They are interested in boys, but their love lives do not define them. They call a boy out when he tries to show them porn on his mobile phone. In a world of premature sexualisation, Rebecca and her friends are strong role models for girls.

Teenage boys also need strong role models. I was at an event in the RDS in the spring with more than 800 screaming teenagers, at least half of them boys. What was making them so hysterical? An American writer called John Green and his brother, Hank. John's bestselling teenage book, 'The Fault in Our Stars', is about 16-year-old Hazel, who has thyroid cancer, and Augustus, a boy she meets at her cancer support group. It's real, touching and full of emotion. It's just the kind of novel I'd love my 19-year-old son to identify with. And guess what? Teenagers, both female and male, love it, including my son.

The future of books is in good hands.

'Mad About Books: The Dubray Guide to Children's Books', edited by Sarah Webb, is available for €2 from all Dubray bookshops or at http://www.dubraybooks.ie/

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

More Than This and Other Brilliant New YA Books

Over the last few weeks I’ve finally had a chance to catch up on some reading. There’s a bumper crop of children’s and YA novels out now and in the autumn to satisfy all kinds of readers. Here is a whistle stop tour of some of them. I’ve scored them out of ten. 1/ More Than This by Patrick Ness (out 5th September Walker Books, £12.99)

More Than This
More Than This

In a word – WOW. This book is something really special. It’s long – almost 500 pages – but once I got stuck in I couldn’t stop. It’s YA science fiction at its ground breaking best. One of the most original books I’ve read in years, it’s simply mind blowing.

In the opening chapter Seth drowns and wakes up in the suburban English town where he grew up. As he begins to explore his surroundings slowly things start to make sense.

Wickedly clever, utterly convincing, this book is brilliant, don’t miss it.

10/10

2/ Have a Little Faith by Candy Harper (Simon and Schuster £6.99)

Written in diary format, this book for young teens is nothing ground breaking but the main character, Faith is feisty and fun. There’s lots of clever use of language and the usual teen angst. A good read for Louise Rennison or Anna Carey fans.

7/10

after iris
after iris

3/ After Iris by Natasha Farrant (Faber)

I loved this book. Bluebell and her family are all trying to get on with their lives after Bluebell’s twin sister, Iris’ death. But life is never easy in this crazy, emotional household. There are pet rats who drive cars, a lovely male au pair from Eastern Europe, a cute but damaged boy, film scripts and more in this brilliant, multi-layered book about families, loss and love. Do read it!

9/10

4/ Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (Simon and Schuster £6.99)

A wonderful American YA novel with definite echoes of John Green. After an accident which has left popular jock Ezra Faulkner scarred and unable to walk without a stick, he finds new friends in the debate team. But what happens when his old friends (and girlfriend) claim him back? Will he walk or will he stick by his new friends?

7/10

rebecca rocks
rebecca rocks

5/ My review of Rebecca Rocks by Anna Carey (O’Brien e7.99) will be in the Irish Independent soon and here is a sneak preview:

Inspired by Carey’s days as a singer in the band El Diablo, Rebecca Rocks is set in a summer music camp and the writer’s hands-on experience shines through in this charming, uplifting story. Fourteen-year-old Dubliner, Rebecca has a mother who writes embarrassing romantic sagas, a father who fancies himself as a musical theatre star and an annoying older sister, Rachel who is always teasing her.

Rebecca’s band, Hey Dollface, decide to attend a summer music camp where they come up against the Crack Parrots and their lead singer, Charlie. Charlie likes to embarrass girls by showing them porn on his mobile phone and picks on boys who look different by calling them ‘gay’. But when he pushes things too far, Rebecca and her friends learn that sometimes you have to stand up for other people and fight back.

Carey doesn’t shy away from dealing with highly topical issues such as bullying, sexuality and internet porn. She never preaches and deals with her subjects in an honest, straight-forward manner. Being a novel, there is of course a happy ending but it’s not a conventional one. The friendship between Rebecca and her band mates is loyal and genuine and although they do worry about having a boy (or in Cass’s case a girl) friend, their love lives do not define them. At the end of the book Rebecca is alone yet happy, which is unusual for a young adult book, yet this works perfectly with the theme of the novel – acceptance.

For the full review, see the Irish Independent next Saturday (or the following one).

8/10

I also read Wormwood by Katherine Farmer (Little Island) an urban fantasy adventure for teens set in Ireland 6/10; One Moment by Kristina McBride (Usborne) a solid but predictable American YA novel about friendship and betrayal 5/10; Split Second by Sophie McKenzie (Simon and Schuster), a fast-paced book set in the future about the aftermath of a bomb in London. 6/10

This month’s to read pile includes new books by Meg Rosoff, John Boyne, Judi Curtin, Anthony Horowitz and Siobhan Parkinson. I can’t wait!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

When Are You Going To Write a Proper Book?

amy5
amy5

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent

When are you going to write a proper book - a book for adults? It’s a question every children’s writer is asked at some stage of their career. I started out writing for children, switched to adults, and now write for both. When the inevitable question was put, I'd explain children are the most discerning audience of all, children’s books are challenging and fun to write, and any author who doesn’t try it at some stage is missing out.   I am only one of a host of authors who write for both children and adults. J K Rowling’s debut adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, a dark comedy about local politics will be published on 27th September, quite a risk for someone with such a successful track record in the children’s book world.

Roald Dahl also wrote for adults and children, as do contemporary award-winners Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman and most recently, Philippa Gregory. The American crime writers like James Patterson are all at it; and ex-SAS man Andy McNabb has produced a popular action/adventure series for younger readers.

shoestring1large
shoestring1large

Under the Hawthorne Tree was an international hit for its creator, Marita Conlon-McKenna, followed by seven further bestsellers for young readers. Her latest book for children, Love Lucie (Simon and Schuster) has just been published and she is currently working on her next adult novel, The Rose Garden. So why did she turn to adult fiction after so much success in the children’s world? “The Magdalen (Marita’s first adult novel, about the laundries for unmarried mothers) was a story I’d always wanted to tell,” she explains. “But because of the harsh subject I couldn’t write it for children or even teenagers. It was very successful and my publishers asked me to write another book for adults.”

“For me,” she continues, “the story decides the age group, not the other way around, I’m driven by story; and my publishers give me great freedom to write what I want. Irish writers don’t seem to get labelled or pigeonholed as much as other writers – they can write plays, musicals, screen plays and it’s very acceptable. In other countries they seem to like their writers to stay in their box. Irish writers are an unknown quantity, no-one knows they will do next.”

Like Marita, Wexford man, Eoin Colfer of Artemis Fowl fame always wanted to be a writer first and foremost, not a ‘children’s writer’. “I have had different stories in my head,” he says, “some suitable for kids, some for adults. I think because I have such an outlandish or maybe juvenile imagination some of my stories are definitely only for children, but recently some of the more complicated stories have been pushing themselves to the front of my brain. I also will admit to feel a little pressure (self-imposed) to write a book for grown-ups.”

Switching from writing for adults to writing for children is more usual and Judi Curtin, author of the popular Alice and Megan series did just that. Her first book Sorry, Walter was for adults but after finishing her second adult novel she wanted to write something that her daughters could read. “It was supposed to be a temporary change,” she says, “but it snowballed.” She has now written thirteen children’s books but is also exploring the adult world again. “There’s a story I’d like to tell which isn’t for children,” she says.

The Giggler Treatment, Roddy’s Doyle’s first book for younger readers was written to entertain his children. “I wrote a few pages towards the end of every working day,” he says, “and read them to them at bedtime, starting at the beginning every night.  It gradually became a book.” When asked will he continue to write for children, he says “I’m not sure.  My books for children have always been aimed at particular children - and children, I've noticed, tend to grow up and stop being children.  But if the ideas are there and, more importantly, the urge to put them on paper is there, I'll still give it a bash.”

John Boyne had never thought about writing for young readers until the idea for The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas came into his head. He says “The experience I had with that book – going into schools, getting children interested in reading – opened up my imagination in a new way and I found that I wanted to write for both audiences.” Like Roddy, he will continue to write for both audiences. “In fact I've just delivered a draft of my next adult novel to my editor. I'll be rewriting that over the next six months or so but I've just started a draft of a new children's book too.”

Master of children’s horror, Darren Shan also started out writing for adults. His first adult book, Procession of the Dead was published in 1999, a year before Cirque Du Freak (his first children’s book). “I had written a lot of first-draft books by that stage,” he says, “all of which were aimed at adults. I thought that was where my career lay, but I’d always wanted to try a children’s book. One day I had the idea for Cirque Du Freak and by the time I had finished the first draft, I had already decided to write another book for children.”

Darren now writes for both children and adults. “I’ve learnt so much about pacing and editing while working on my children’s books, which has fed back into the books I write for adults. I love the dichotomy of moving between the two worlds (adult’s and children’s publishing),” he adds, “and I would love to be able to continue doing that far into the future.”

When asked which adult writer he’d like to see writing for children, Darren immediately says “Kurt Vonnegut – he could have been a great children’s author if he had been that way inclined.” Roddy Doyle’s choice is Anne Enright. “Any book for children by Anne would be magical.” Marita Conlon McKenna suggests Marian Keyes, and John Boyne would love to see David Mitchell tackle children’s literature. “Knowing his extraordinary imagination and linguistic abilities, I think (it) would be something very special,” he says.

And finally Eoin Colfer nominates Colm Toibin. “I would love him to be forced to call me and ask for advice on pacing,” he says, “so I could churlishly hang up. It's the auld Wexford-Enniscorthy rivalry!”

Will Eoin ever get his chance? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Sarah Webb has two books out this month, Ask Amy Green: Dancing Daze for young teens (Walker Books) and The Shoestring Club for adults (Pan Macmillan).

What's In a Name? Why Titles Matter

Book titles matter. They must be memorable, intriguing and above all, they must say something about your book or story. Think of Wuthering Heights, Bleak House, Pride and Prejudice, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, War Horse . . .

Name titles are also good – when the name is perfectly chosen of course - Matilda, Skulduggery Pleasant, Charlotte’s Web, Judy Moody, Artemis Fowl, Huckleberry Finn . . .

But how do you find the right title for your book or story? And how do you know that it is the right title?

I’ll try to explain using some of my own titles.

Always the Bridesmaid was a strong title – it describes the main character’s situation and it’s short and easy to remember.

When the Boys are Away is another good title – it’s about Meg and what she gets up to when her boyfriend, a professional sailor, is away. Both these titles are for adults – I write for both adults and younger readers.

The Loving Kind/Anything for Love/Some Kind of Wonderful – I’m not so keen on these titles – again all novels for adults. They don’t say much about the individual stories or characters – in fact they are pretty much interchangeable – and they’re a bit vague, a bit lazy really. In retrospect, I should have tried harder! But coming up with a good title isn’t easy, especially with deadlines looming.

Ask Amy Green – I love this as a series title. It’s simple and it has a nice ring to it. Amy is my Everygirl, an average 13 year old girl that readers can identify with I hope, so I gave her a name that I love (my daughter is called Amy) and a surname that lots of girls have – Green. She’s an agony aunt and likes to solve problems, so I though that ‘Ask’ was appropriate – as in you can ask her anything and she will try to help.

amy5
amy5

I also like the individual book titles very much – especially Boy Trouble, Summer Secrets, Bridesmaid Blitz and Dancing Daze (out in September) – which each give a good flavour of what the book is about. I’m not so hot on Love and Other Drama-ramas – and boy did we have trouble with that title! It was originally to be called Party Drama-ramas but as the book changed, the title had to change too. I would have liked to get more of Bailey’s story into the title (the book is largely about his struggle to find his place in the world), but it was really difficult.

I quite liked Mystery Male as a title, but it wasn’t quite right. Other titles we tried were Dates and Other Drama-Ramas (too like Cathy Hopkins great Mates, Dates series), Double Drama-rama (too vague), Dublin Drama-rama (again a bit vague). So we decided on Love and Other Drama-ramas which we were all happy with (my editors, Annalie and Gill help me with titles if I’m stuck). And the book is about love – family and romantic - and the problems it can cause, so it does fit nicely.

So, in short, make your title simple, memorable and make it say something about your book. When I’ve cracked it 100% myself, I’ll let you know!

What’s YOUR favourite book title and why? I’d be most interested to know.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

(A version of this post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books blog)

Writing for Children

I did a talk recently for Irish Pen on writing for children - and I thought I'd pass on some of the notes from the event. The most useful things I can tell you writer to writer:

1/ Read children’s books – especially in the age group/area you are interested in writing for – library/bookshop recommendations, award winners etc. There are a lot of good guides out there to help you pick fab books – esp the ultimate book guide/teen book guide

It will also help you be aware of what modern children like reading – and what works in a book. And also – it’s fun – some of the best books out there are children’s books. I read very few adult books these days. If a young reader does not like the first few pages of a book, they won't read on. So books for young people have to catch the imagination from the very first lines, making them darn good reads.

It will also make you aware of the different age groups - picture books, early readers (age 4/5 to 7/8 depending on the child), confident readers age 9+, readers 11+, YA/Teen readers. You must know what age you are writing for - every publisher will expect you to know - if you don't know, how are they supposed to know? Be very clear about what age group you are writing for. This is often the first mistake people make when writing for children. No book is for 5 to 16 year olds - think about it. OK, maybe Harry Potter, I'll give you that one. But unless you are JK Rowling you give yourself more chance of getting published if you do the leg work - starting with reading in the age group you would like to write for.

More to come (12 points in total in fact) . . .

SarahXXX