writing

Interview with Children's Writer, Helena Duggan

Children's writer, Helena Duggan has made the transition from self-published writer to traditionally published writer this year. She tells us about her writing and publishing journey. 

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Helena, can you tell us about your latest book,  A Place Called Perfect and where the idea came from?

A Place Called Perfect is a children's middle grade book about a girl named Violet who moves to a town called Perfect because her Dad, the worlds finest Opthamologist is offered a job by the Archer Brothers Edward and George. He's been tasked with fixing the only problem this perfect little place has. After only a short time in the town anyone who visits goes blind...

That's the main background to the story and, of course, not all is as it seems in Perfect.

The idea came from a pair of glasses I picked up while backpacking in Australia. I bought them in an antique shop with the intention of changing the lenses to suit my sight. The more I carried them however, the more I began to think about their past owner and how their memories might have become locked inside the lenses. That's how Perfect began.

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How long did it take you to write?

About 6 months for the first draft and then a very long time to edit! There were a few different editing versions as I self published first after rounds of edits. Then I found a home with Usborne and had to edit further!

You originally self-published the book in 2012. Why did you decide to go that route first?

I had been following the self publishing revolution and had written a previous book title "A Load of Rubbish" that had been through the publishing mill without much luck. I'm a graphic designer by day so I decided self publishing would be easy for me to do. I thought I'd gather together some reviews and sales figures and then look for a publisher. That's exactly how it turned out!

Self-published cover for A Place Called Perfect 

Self-published cover for A Place Called Perfect 

 

How did it come to be published by Usborne (a UK publisher)?

I had decided that I wanted to try for a UK publisher after taking advice from other authors and booksellers. The local bookshops in Kilkenny were amazing support and Khan Kiely from Khans books offered me a ticket to the London book fair and told me to arrange meetings with agents. I contacted a few that had shown interest in my work first time round and secured some meeting. Of the back of that I was taken on by Bell Lomax Moreton in London and they found a home for Perfect with Usborne.

Did you have to do much editing for the Usborne edition?

Yes it was a really good learning curve actually. I had an initial meeting with Anne my editor and she asked me lots of questions about the story. I remember answering all of them but thinking she couldn't have read the book if she had these questions, they are all answered in it! Then I expressed this sentiment and discovered that, while all of the answers were in my head, I hadn't committed them to the page. I also learned quiet alot about timelines and technicalities like when do the characters eat or sleep etc... the process was hard but well worth it.

What did you find surprising about being traditionally published?

How nice Usborne are. I had thought I'd be in the big bad world of publishers and I'd be a number on a list of other numbers but with Usborne it is not like that at all. I don't know if I'm just lucky or if it's because Usborne is family run or because that's just the way publishers are but my experience has been amazing. Everyone is so nice to deal with and they are all really just people who love books.

Would you recommend self-publishing? And if so, why?

Well yes because if it wasn't for self publishing Perfect would never have been traditionally published. It is difficult though as you have to be everything, the writer, designer, editor, sales person, accounts etc. It can be draining. The hardest part was sales, a book is personal and for this reason I found it extremely hard to sell, luckily I have a mother who would sell her soul for her kids so she did it for me. I also would also strongly advise getting your book professionally designed and edited, a self published book has to almost be produced better than a traditional book to get into a shop. There is still a stigma around self publishing.

How do you organise your writing day? For example, where do you write? And when?

At the moment it's very disorganised. I'm on maternity leave with a four month old baby. I go to my Mam and she minds Jo while I write but the days and times vary. I will be heading back to work in 6 weeks so it'll be scary to figure out how to balance a baby and writing with all of that...if anyone has any tips I'd gladly take them!

Do you use a computer or write long hand?

Even though I'd love to say long hand I don't, I write onto a computer. I wrote my first book long hand and then typed it all up but it's much quicker I find now to type everything straight in.

Do you edit as you go along? Or at the end of the first draft?

I do small edits as I go and then larger ones at the end of the first draft. I'm writing the sequel to Perfect at the moment and trying to remember what I did the first time round. It's all a learning process I think, and I'm forever learning.

Do you find rewriting difficult?

Yes and no, sometimes if I get a little stuck I remind myself that it's my world and therefore I can really do whatever I want. That makes the whole process a little easier!

Do you use the internet for research? What research tips can you give writers?

Yes I do, I love to research actually and take names etc from real people or places if they fit the story. My only tip with researching is to remember your meant to be writing and get of the internet in a reasonible amount of time! I still struggle with that one and can find myself trawling through pages hours later.

What type of books do you like to read? Do you have a favourite book?

I read all sorts of books really. I like crime thrillers and childrens books but I can be found dipping in and out of anything. My favourite books are all childrens really. I love Roald Dahl and all the Harry Potters, I also love All The Light You Cannot See, for some reason that book has stuck with me lately. I will never forget how I felt reading Under the Hawthorn Tree as a kid either.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Finding yourself lost in a world you created and getting so deep into writing that when you come out and read back you don't believe you've written it and can't for the life of you remember where the story came from!

The worst?

Time. I'm bad at managing time!

What are you working on next?

The sequel to Perfect. I'm about 40,000 words in and trying to juggle it with a small baby, a bit more difficult than the first time round. The story is all plotted though so it makes it easier.

And finally, do you have any advice or tips for writers?

I'm not sure really if I should give any advice. I'm new to all this myself and everybody has their own way of doing things. What worked for me was persistence, I believed in my story and was lucky to have an amazing family who believed in it too so I kept going. Also when I write I try not to think of an audience and just go with the story that comes into my head, I feel if I write for an audience then I won't enjoy myself in the process and that misses the point.

Thank you, Helena, for sharing your writing life with us.

Friendship and Writing Buddies by Judi Curtin

I'm delighted to welcome Judi Curtin to my blog. Judi's new book, Stand by Me, is out this week and a brilliant read it is too, a wise and funny novel for readers aged 8+ about friendship. As well as being a bestselling writer, Judi is also one of my dearest friends. We go back a long way as Judi explains below. Check out the visual record of our friendship - including Judi's stunning green 1980s dress and one of my own 1980s outfits, and watch me interview Judi about her writing at the end of the blog.

Thanks to Judi for her lovely piece. I wish her all the very best with her new book, Stand By Me!

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Writing can be a lonely job, and that’s why we authors need our writing buddies. When my first book was published in 2002, my old friends were suitably supportive and enthusiastic, but none of them really understood the new world I’d stepped into. Then I got an e-mail from Sarah Webb (who I’d never met), inviting me to a writers' lunch. With some trepidation, I joined a large group of warm and welcoming women - and I haven’t looked back since!
Judi and Sarah at Listowel Writers' Week 

Judi and Sarah at Listowel Writers' Week 

Sarah and I have been friends since that day. She’s a fount of knowledge on the writing world, and is incredibly generous with her time. We bounce new ideas off each other, share the pain when our writing’s not going the way we’d like and (look away publishers) gripe about some of the terms in our contracts.  Mostly though, when we meet, we have a laugh, both well aware of how lucky we are to have such a great job.
Judi and Sarah at Electric Picnic 

Judi and Sarah at Electric Picnic 

Sarah and I have even made a career out of our friendship, visiting schools and libraries with our ‘Friendship Tour.’ This involves a fun and interactive talk for children (with weird props, including Sarah’s firebrush costume). I love to talk about writing and being friends with Sarah, but for me these events are mostly a chance to hang out with one of my best friends!
Judi and Sarah at their friendship event - sketch by Sarah McIntyre 

Judi and Sarah at their friendship event - sketch by Sarah McIntyre 

Lessons I've Learnt from Writing Geek Girl - Guest Post by Holly Smale

To celebrate the launch of my new look website - with thanks to Martin Reilly for the design and hard work - I have a very special blog post for you from bestselling UK writer, Holly Smale. The brand new book in her hugely popular Geek Girl series has just been published. Take it away, Holly! 

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1.        Trust in your own sense of humour.

I’ve never considered myself to be particularly funny, and I certainly never thought I’d end up writing a comedy series: my sense of humour tends to be quite off-the-wall, weird and obscure, as well as extremely dry (in real life people frequently don’t even realise I’m joking when I actually am). If I’d thought about it too much, I’d have worried that what I found funny other people wouldn’t (and sometimes they still don’t). But in relaxing, having fun and making myself laugh as often as possible I discovered that we each have our own way of seeing the world, and that there’s room for all kinds of comedy: even the weird stuff. There will always be people out there with the same sense of humour as you. So think about what you find funny, and write that: don’t worry about who you’re writing for of if they’ll laugh too.

2. Be yourself.

 Obviously if you’re writing a character then you don’t have to be you - at least not all of the time - but your voice, your quirks and your flaws are what make you different to everybody else: that’s what makes a character feel real and relatable. So don’t try to write like any other writer. Just write the truth of your story as you feel it, be as honest as you can, and your uniqueness will shine through.

3. Plot well

This one is tricky, because every writer has different ways of doing things: I know many great writers who have no idea what’s going to happen before they sit down to write a book. But, for me (and maybe for you), I realised quite quickly that I really need to know the bigger points of what’s going to happen - the overall structure, the point of the story, key scenes, how my characters are going to develop - before I start. It means I can relax more when I’m writing, because I understand what the story is I’m trying to tell.

 4. But also leave room for imagination and playfulness

 And here’s the caveat: plan and structure away, but always give yourself plenty of opportunity to have fun, change your mind, go off on tangents and have those brilliant moments of “aha!” Your characters will often misbehave, and that’s okay: it means they’re alive, and you should listen to what they want and what it is they’re trying to do. It doesn’t always mean they’re right, but you should use the plot as a pencil-outline rather than trying to stick to it religiously. Honestly, the inspiration that comes without being planned or plotted is my favourite part of writing: there’s nothing more exciting than realising that the story is developing in a bit of your brain you’re not aware of!

5. Remember that all your characters are important

Especially when you’re writing a first-person narrative, it can be easy to make the mistake of thinking that your hero or heroine is the only character you need to focus on: that their story, their humour, their voice, is the point of the book. It’s not. Just as in real life, everyone is the hero of their own story and your writing needs to reflect that. Every single person - whether they’re the parent, or the best friend, or a random receptionist who only gets one line - needs to feel real, and interesting, and three-dimensional. Otherwise your book is going to feel flat, boring and unrealistic..

 6. Get weird

 This is harder than you’d think: so many times at the beginning, I’d try something new and then worry that my readers would find it off-putting. They almost definitely won’t: in fact, frequently the passages I write that feel a little bonkers are usually the bits my readers love the best. So be as brave as you can when you’re writing, and if that means going off on a weird thought-train then enjoy it and go for it.

7. Be honest. Always.

This doesn’t mean “write your real life”, because nobody’s interested in that: you’re probably not a celebrity, and you’re not scribing an autobiography. But when you’ve put your character in a situation, ask yourself how you’d really feel: not how you’d like to feel, or how you would hope to feel, or what would look nice on the page. Usually, our emotions aren’t always pretty and they’re not always “cool”: real people can be selfish, or embarrassing, or bad-tempered, or wrong, and it’s far too easy to try and make your character ridiculously ‘good’ all of the time. So be as brutal as you can with your character and their reactions: that’s exactly what’s going to make them feel like a real person.

8. It’s not a race and it doesn’t have to be perfect

Writing a book is not a speedy process: you’re very unlikely to sit down and get it down in a week. And you’re even less likely to get it right, first time. My first drafts are generally terrible: I frequently have to go back and change huge plot points, or even whole characters. For a perfectionist, that’s a hard lesson, and it took a long time to give myself permission to write a bad novel, first time round. It’s in the re-writing that the real story comes through, so don’t rush it, don’t get impatient and don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t what you’d hoped for, straight off the bat.

9. Writer’s Block is normal

 Frankly, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I get asked “do you ever get writers block?” The answer - for every writer I’ve ever met - is absolutely. I get stuck frequently, in every single book I’ve ever written. It’s a part of the process, and I’ve slowly learnt to stop panicking and thinking my writing career is over, every single time. For me, getting stuck usually means I’m out of creative juice and I need a break and some space, I’m tired (so I need to sleep) or I’ve simply taken a wrong path. It’s my brain’s way of saying ‘hold up, something doesn’t feel right’, so I’ll stop, look over what I’ve done and work out at what point the story took a wrong direction. But it’s going to happen, so see it as a sign that your story has a life of its own, and that’s a good thing.

10. Don’t limit yourself

 Okay, so maybe you want to write “for” younger children, or for younger teens, or for adults, or for little green aliens. Maybe you think there are some topics or subjects you can’t tackle or write about as a result. It’s not true: as long as it’s done sensitively, you can include everything. There may be no swearing in my books, but - if you look carefully - there are many occasions where someone swears: you just don’t hear it, because Harriet doesn’t relate it to you. Stick to the truth of who your character is, and they will inform what you write about and who you’re writing for: not the other way round.

When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? Full Podcast

Photo by Peter Cavanagh from The World of Colour Exhibition in the Lexicon Library    

Photo by Peter Cavanagh from The World of Colour Exhibition in the Lexicon Library 

 

Here is the Soundcloud podcast from the recent When Are You Going to Write a Proper Book? event. #properbook if you want to check out the posts on Twitter. It's the full day and thanks to dlr Libraries for providing the podcast. A must listen if you are interested in writing or illustrating for children. 

Soundcloud Podcast

Writing for Children - Writing Tips by Sarah Webb

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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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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ER Murray at her launch in Eason

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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

Lexicon dlr Writer in Residence Events + Workshops

Writer in Residence: Events, Book Clubs and Writing Clubs

All events and clubs are in the Lexicon Library, Dun Laoghaire

I'm delighted to be hosting a wide range of events, clubs and workshops for children, teens and adults during my residency. Here are the events from now until the end of the year.

I hope to see you at the dlr Lexicon very soon!

Yours in writing,

sarah reading to a child
sarah reading to a child

Sarah XXX

Events

13th September (school day)

Roald Dahl Day for Schools – Celebrating 100 Years of a Master Storyteller

Events and workshops inspired by the work of Roald Dahl with Oisin McGann, Alan Nolan, Grainne Clear and Enda Reilly.

Booking: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

16th September (evening)

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Print

CULTURE NIGHT – SMASHING STORIES AND DASHING DOODLES

5pm to 7pm Story and art fun for all the family with Sarah Webb and Alan Nolan – no booking required.

Friday 16th September (school day)

Schools Events – Canada Day with Children’s Books Ireland

School events with award winning Canadian writers and illustrators, JonArno Lawson, Sydney Smith and Katherena Vernette. Find out how a book is made with our international guests.

Booking: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

Children’s Book Club

Age 9+

Max number: 15

1st Wed of every month: 7th Sept, 5th Oct, 9th Nov, 7th Dec

3.15pm to 4.30pm – Level 3 Meeting Room

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

Do you love reading? Would you like to chat about stories and characters with fellow young book lovers?  Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan, or eat up Judi Curtin or David Walliams books, this is the club for you! For our first meeting we’ll be talking about our favourite Roald Dahl book, in honour of his centenary on 13th September.

Children’sWriting Club

Age 9+

Max number: 15

Thursday 15th Sept, 29th Sept, 13th Oct, 10th Nov, 24th Nov, 8th Dec (last of the year)

3.15pm to 4.30pm

3.15pm to 4.30pm – Level 3 Meeting Room

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

Do you love writing stories and poems? Would you like to find out more about creating fantastic characters and gripping plots? Then this is the club for you!

Teen Creatives

Age 12+ (1st year students upwards)

Max – number 15

10am to 12pm       

Venue: Lexicon Lab on Level 3

17th Sept, 1st Oct, 22nd Oct, 12th Nov, 26th Nov, 10th Dec (last of the year)

BOOKING: dlrlexiconlib@dlrcoco.ie

 ‘To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.’ Joseph Chilton Pearce

Teen Creatives is for all teenagers who love to write and draw, and would like to learn how to create video blogs and edit movie clips. We will be talking about how stories work, writing, drawing, cartooning, making short movies and vlogs, and exploring the practical, behind the scenes side of the arts world, from hanging an art exhibition to curating a book festival.

Artists, writers and arts curators will be invited to talk to the group about their work, such as writer and cartoonist, Alan Nolan and award winning writer, Sheena Wilkinson.

Drop in Writing Clinic for Children and Teenagers 

Age: 8 to 18 years

Wednesday 28th Sept, 26th Oct, 30th Nov

3pm to 4pm

Writer in Residence Room, Level 5

Are you a young writer?Would you like our writer in residence, Sarah Webb to read your work and offer advice? Drop in to her writing clinic. No need to book.

Please bring a copy of your work for Sarah to read. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Drop in Writing Clinic for Adults

Writer in Residence Room, Level 5

Wednesday 28th Sept, 26th Oct, 30th Nov

4pm to 5pm

Are you an adult who is writing for children or teenagers? Would you like some help and advice? Our writer in residence, Sarah Webb is hosting writing clinics for emerging children’s writers. No need to book.

Sarah is happy to read short extracts from manuscripts during the clinic. Please bring a print out of your work.

Coming Out Fighting

The Irish Hockey Women's Hockey Team (photo c/o hockey.ie)
The Irish Hockey Women's Hockey Team (photo c/o hockey.ie)

The Irish Hockey Women's Hockey Team(photo c/o hockey.ie)

I was watching one of my daughter’s hockey matches recently and it reminded me of the importance of fighting to the end.

The girls from the school they were playing were HUGE, the goalie was hitting on six foot. My daughter, Amy is in 6th class in Ireland, so the girls are mainly age 11 or 12, with some of them going on 13. However Amy’s school has 5th class girls on its team (age 10 and 11) and they looked so small compared to the giant 6th class girls from the other team.

At half time Amy’s team was 2-0 down. Their coach – a wonderfully engaged woman called Carole who is an Olympic hockey ref and mum to two of the girls on the team - talked to them. She told them they were playing brilliantly (they were), and if they went out fighting in the second half she had no doubt they would win. No doubt at all.

So the girls went back on the pitch and scored not just one or two, but three goals! They were throwing themselves into the game, running after every ball, while the mums and dads cheered on from the side line. When they won the match, we were so proud of them, they’d put everything they had into the game and flopped down beside us to rest.

I learnt a lot from watching my daughter and her team that evening. Sometimes talent alone isn’t enough. You can be taller and stronger but that’s not enough either. Spirit and grit and tenacity will win every time. As their hockey coach said, you want to win, you have to come out fighting.

Life as a writer isn’t always easy. At the moment I’m struggling with a plot gnarl in my new book that just won’t unknot itself. I’ve rewritten a particular scene over and over and it's still not quite working. I think I may have to go in and change a good chunk of the start of the book to fix it.

But tomorrow I’m  going to go back to my desk using my daughter’s tenacious spirit to guide me. I’m going to attack that old plot gnarl – I’m going to come out fighting! I’ll let you know how I get on!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on the Girls Heart Books blog. 

Diary of a School Event in Words and Pictures

One of my favourite parts of being a writer is talking to young readers about my work. Every week I visit 1 or 2 schools or libraries to talk to students. Here's the diary of one of those trips. 7am Get up and walk dog - I always pack my bag the night before my event. I have all kinds of things in my green event bag - books, photos, toy whales.

My Green Event Bag
My Green Event Bag

My Green Event Bag

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8am Say goodbye to my dog, Lucky and get on the road in my Mini Cooper. Yes, I have the same car as Clover in the Ask Amy Green books! 10.00am Arrive in Loughboy Library in Kilkenny and set up for my first event with the children from St John of God's National School.

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Can you spot the whale and dolphin models? There's a shark in there too - his tail goes from side to side, as he's a fish. Sea mammals' tails go up and down.

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10am to 11.30am Talk to the students about growing up (I was late to reading and I talk about this and how having heart and grit are more important than being top of the class), my favourite books, how I became a writer and sea mammals. They ask me some great questions about writing, publishing and whales and dolphins. We do a sea mammal quiz - teachers against the pupils - and the pupils win!

Sarah Webb Visit 2016 004 (2)
Sarah Webb Visit 2016 004 (2)

My latest book (out in March) called Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin is all about a dolphin and I have a huge love for sea mammals, especially bottlenosed dolphins and humpback whales. I spent 2 years researching it and I'm still reading up about these amazing creatures. I don't think I'll ever know enough about them and new discoveries are made all the time.

My New Book, Out in March
My New Book, Out in March

My New Book, Out in March

Sarah Webb Visit 2016 006 (2)
Sarah Webb Visit 2016 006 (2)

12.00 to 1.15 Here I am talking to the second school, Gael Scoil Osraí about my school days. I'm holding a copy book from when I was 5! Their teachers were pretty smart and when it came to the quiz they drew with the pupils (who are also very smart). This gang were particularly talented at singing humpback whale - it was a beautiful symphony of strange wailing and snorting noises!

1.30pm Hop in the car again after grabbing a sandwich and drive home again.

3.30 Arrive home and say hello to Lucky and the kids.

Writers, do YOU enjoy school visits?

Readers, has a writer visited YOUR school? I'd love to know all about it.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books website.

The Story of You – Keeping a Diary

My Diary Collection 1986 to 2015
My Diary Collection 1986 to 2015

Today is Christmas Eve. In many parts of the world children will wake up tomorrow morning and find presents at the end of their bed, or in stockings at the fireplace. Maybe they will get a much wanted bike, books, or even a puppy.

A Photo of Me and My Sisters and My Grandparents - I'm the taller girl in the red!
A Photo of Me and My Sisters and My Grandparents - I'm the taller girl in the red!

Christmas is full of magical memories. One way of saving those memories is by taking a photo. This is a photo of me and my sisters with my grandparents when I was about 8 or 9 – I’m the taller girl in the red!

Another way of saving memories is by writing them down in a diary or a journal. I’ve been keeping a diary since I was a teenager and I’ve amassed quite a stack of them at this stage. They are are carefully locked away as they are full of secrets!

I’ve always found that writing things down helps me work through my feelings and helps me make sense of particularly difficult or upsetting days. They say a worry shared is a worry halved, and for me keeping a diary is like telling a trusted friend my problems.

As a young teenager I had many worries:

Do my friends actually like me? The answer to this one was yes, but teenagers don’t always act kindly towards each other – hang in there, it will get easier.

Does everyone feel as alone as I do sometimes? Yes – even as an adult, I think everyone feels alone now and again.

Does everyone notice my spots as much as I do? No, they are far too busy worrying about their own spots!

Who am I supposed to be? How am I supposed to act? I’m in my 40s now and I know who I am – a mum, a writer, a friend, a partner, a sister, a daughter, and a reader. I’m still not sure how to act sometimes, but as you get older you care less and less. You realise that people like you for who you are, not what you are. And if you don’t click with someone, you spend less time worrying about it.

Me at 17
Me at 17

I also kept a ‘boy list’ as the back of my diary of boys I liked. I didn’t actually know many of them, they were boys I’d spotted at a bus stop or working in a shop. I also kept a book list and a movie list and these are fascinating to read back over (far more interesting than the boy lists!). See my 1987 movie list below with the scores out of 10 I gave each film that year.

In some ways I haven’t changed much from my teen years: I’m still mad about books, worry about things, and can be full of energy some days and exhausted and grumpy the next, but one thing that hasn’t changed is my diary keeping. I still do that, 30 years on.

From a young age I’ve always had the urge to write things down, it’s how I make sense of the world. I guess that’s what drove me to write books. This is a photo of me at 17.

In 2016 why don’t YOU try keeping a diary? In 30 year’s time they may give you something truly fascinating to read – the story of YOU.

Happy Christmas to all the Girls Heart Books readers and writers, and most especially to Jo who keeps the whole show on the road. Talk to you again in 2016!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

My Movie List - 1987
My Movie List - 1987

What Lies Beneath Readers' Day - Timetable

sinead-gleeson.jpg

What Lies Beneath: A Readers’ Day

Saturday 7th November 10am to 4.00pm

Kate Beaufoy
Kate Beaufoy

Lexicon Studio Theatre, Dun Laoghaire

Cost: e15 (includes coffee and lunch)

Booking: http://www.paviliontheatre.ie/events/view/what-lies-beneath-a-readers-day-programmed-and-hosted-by-writer-sarah-webb

On site bookshop with thanks to Dubray Books

If you’re passionate about books and love talking to other book lovers, this is the day for you. Find out how bestselling UK author, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan got their first breaks; hear how Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan researched their latest historic novels; listen to Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll talk about their favourite books; discover the inspiration behind Sinead Crowley, Martina Devlin and Marita Conlon McKenna’s new novels; and hear Sinead Gleeson talk about the wealth of short story talent in Ireland, past and present, with Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne. A stimulating and thought provoking day for all readers and writers.

Martina Devlin
Martina Devlin

Programme:

9.30am – 10.00am Registration

10.00am – 10.50am   This is How it Begins . . .

Martina Devlin, Sinead Crowley and Marita Conlon McKenna will read from their new novels and talk to RTE’s Evelyn O’Rourke about the inspiration behind their stories and characters.

10.50am – 11.10am  Coffee and bookshop signing

11.10pm – 12.00pm  The Long Gaze Back: Ireland and the Short Story, Past and Present

Broadcaster and Editor, Sinead Gleeson will talk about putting together her new short story collection, The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers. She will be joined by Lia Mills and Éilís Ní Dhuibhne who both have short stories in the collection.

Sinead Gleeson
Sinead Gleeson

12.05pm – 1.05pm This Writer’s Life: UK bestseller, Freya North and Irish bestseller, Patricia Scanlan in conversation with RTE’s Sinead Crowley.

1.05pm – 2.00pm Lunch and bookshop signing – meet the authors and get your book signed at our dedicated bookshop, kindly provided by Dubray Books.

2.00pm – 2.50pm  What Lies Beneath:  researching a novel set in the past

Kate Beaufoy and Kate Kerrigan both write historic novels and will talk to fellow novelist and journalist, Martina Devlin about their research.

2.50pm - 3.10pm  – Break and bookshop signing

3.10pm – 4.00pm  My Favourite Books

Sinead Moriarty and Claudia Carroll share their favourite books of all time and talk about how reading has inspired their own work. Discover new ideas for your own reading or your book club and share your own favourite reads with the audience. Chaired by Mary Burnham of Dubray Books.

Claudia Carroll
Claudia Carroll

#YAieDay - Timetable of the Day - Sat Oct 3rd

Having the Chats with Judi Curtin - It's Good to Talk!
Having the Chats with Judi Curtin - It's Good to Talk!

Well done to Shelly for putting it all together - Ireland's 1st YA Day on Twitter - tune in and chat!

When: Oct 3rd

Oisin McGann
Oisin McGann

Where: #YAieDay will be an online festival taking place on the hashtag #YAieDay on Twitter.

The authors, bloggers, and publishing peeps will be chatting about topics and having the LOLs throughout the day. Anyone can join in and chat to their favourite author.

Also, lots of very cool publishers will be holding competitions where you could win books.

PLEASE JOIN IN & PLEASE DO SPREAD WORD

Remember to use the hashtag #YAieDay on Twitter

10:10  –  10:50am  Lack  of  parents in  YA  –  thoughts?

Sheena  Wilkinson and Helen Falconer

11:10  –  11:50am  Food  in  literature  –  how  do you  write  it and  is it important to have lashings of  ginger  beer?  

Lucy  Coats and Oisin McGann

11:50  –  12:10  Readers please  tweet your  thoughts to #YAieDay   on  your towering TBR pile.

12:10pm  –  1:00pm  –  Please  tell  us about your next book  –  inspiration, drafting,  editing, marketing.

Lauren James, Sarah Crossan, Sarah Webb and Brian Conaghan

Sarah Crossan
Sarah Crossan

1:10  –  1:50pm  Bad  language  in  books  with young protagonists  –  thoughts? 

Sally  Nicholls, Kim Hood and R. F. Long

2:00  –  2:40pm  All  YA  need  is love  –  thoughts? 

Jennifer Niven and Catherynne  M. Valente and Sarah Rees Brennan

Readers, tweet your shelfies.

2:50  –  3:30 pm  –  Debut  authors. Please tell  us  about your  new  world  of  being  a  published author.

Simon P. Clark, Martin Stewart, Dave  Rudden

3:40  –  4:20pm  The  publishing  world- tweet your questions to these publishing peeps.

Vanessa O  Loughlin and Gráinne Clear

4.30  –  4:55 Children’s Books  Ireland  –  Book  Doctor Clinic  –  ask  the book doctor, Claire Hennessy for book recommendations.

5:00  –  5:40pm  Hosted  by book  blogger  –  Christopher  Moore,  Co-founder of  @YAfictionados  –  He  will be  asking the  authors about writing  in  the  age  of  the internet. 

Brenna  Yovanoff and Samantha Shannon

5:45  –  6:15pm Hosted  by book  blogger  –   Jenny Duffy  of  The  Books, the Art, and  Me.  Let’s talk writing practises  –  how  to ‘get it  down.’ 

Tatum  Flynn, Judi  Curtin, Nigel Quinlan, Elizabeth R. Murray and Deirdre Sullivan

The End

Writing Tips - Getting it Right - the Importance of Research

Simon-Duggan-Photography-Hes-Behind-You-1024x723.jpg
My New Book
My New Book

My new book, Sunny Days and Moon Cakes is out next week – exciting. It was great fun to write and even more fun to research. Sunny, the main character in the book, has a condition called selective mutism which means she finds it difficult to speak. In order to write her story I needed to do a lot of research. I was lucky to meet a mum early on who has daughters with the condition and she was really helpful, reading my manuscript and talking to me about her daughters’ lives. She was really kind to share her family's stories with me.

Research Tip No. 1:

Nothing beats talking someone with specialist or personal knowledge of a subject.

I also watched a lot of documentaries about selective mutism and read academic books. An expert in the field, a UK speech therapist called Maggie Johnson was also a great help. I read her wonderfully clear and well written book on the topic and also emailed her. It’s amazing how kind people are if you ask them for help with research.

Research Tip No.2:

Ask for help. Don't be afraid to go to the top. People who are fascinated by their work and love their subject are generally delighted to talk about their work.

In the book, Sunny's little sister, Min has a terrible accident and has to be airlifted to hospital in a helicopter. Now, I've never been airlifted, thank goodness, so I had to do more research. I wrote to the Irish Coast Guard at Waterford and they arranged for me to fly in their rescue helicopter with my daughter, Amy. It was a remarkable experience and made the cliff rescue scene in the book truly come alive.

Research Tip No.3:

Never say never.

Never think 'I'll never find someone to take me up in a helicopter/out on a super yacht/meet a lion'. Ask around - you'll be surprised how willing other people are to help you track someone useful down. My contact in the Irish Coast Guards came from an old school friend who is now a fireman. I put a call out on Facebook and he stepped in to help connect us.

I'm working on book three in the series now and it's all about dolphins and sea mammals. That has been a lot of fun to research too. I can't wait to share all my newly found animal knowledge with young readers. This photo of a Humpback Whale breaching was taken by Simon Duggan, an old school friend of mine who lives in West Cork - isn't it brilliant? My research is throwing up all sorts of ideas for this and future books.

A Humpback Whale
A Humpback Whale

Research Tip No.4:

Research can play an important part in the writing process.

It can trigger plot ideas and inform your knowledge or feel for a character. If your book is set in the past, research is a vital part of the process. The adult novel I am working on at present is set in the 1930s and I found reading novels set in this period particularly helpful, as well as newspapers and magazines from the time.

Research Tip No.5:

Don't let the research slow down or stop your writing.

It's important to get your book finished. So no matter how interesting the research is, you must know when to stop. If you've started coming across facts you already know it's time to get back to the writing. You can always go back and check details after you've finished your first draft.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

A version of this blog first appeared on Girls Heart Books.

Writing Historical Fiction for Children

Going Back in Time by Brian Gallagher

What’s the worst part of writing historical fiction?  That’s easy - facing the blank page each morning.  (Just like it’s the worst part of writing any kind of fiction.)  And what’s the best part?  That’s easy too – the sheer fun of stepping into a time machine every working day, and going back to a point in history that you find fascinating.

Brian Gallagher
Brian Gallagher

How many jobs are there where you get paid to imagine that you’re present as dramatic events from the past unfold?  Not many, I suspect.  But that’s what a writer of historical fiction does.  Which isn’t to say that it’s an easy job – far from it – but it is an interesting one, where no two days are the same.  And few things beat the thrill of sitting down to plan a new book and wondering what exciting period from the past you’re going to pick..

Readers often ask me was I good at history at school, and - shocking admission – I hated history at school.  Looking back now I can see that it  wasn’t actually history that I disliked, but rather the boring way that it was taught back then.  It seemed to be all about learning off lists of dates, whereas now I love history, but regard it as being about people, great and small, and what they did, and why.  And people, unlike lists of dates, are fascinating.

So when I sit down to write a new book the first thing I do is pick an exciting, action- packed period in which to set my story.  But my next priority is to populate the story with interesting, credible characters that the reader can care about.  So when writing about the past I want to know what people really cared about, but also what songs they were singing then, what kind of food they were eating, what were the hit films and books of the day.  I want to immerse myself in that world so that the reader too can travel back in time, and see things through the eyes of my fictional characters.

Writers have always used libraries to do this sort of research in the past, and today we have the internet to check up on all those tricky little facts and figures that can trip up an author.  For me though, the best research source is always people.  If I can find someone who has lived through the era I’m writing about, I know I’m likely to get the kind of telling detail that really brings a story to life.  And so, having done my research, created my characters, and worked out my plot, all that remains is to travel back in time - and start writing the book…

Brian's New Book
Brian's New Book

Why I Love History by Nicola Pierce

Well, I think it is that when I research subjects and events from the past, like the sinking of the Titanic or the most important battle of World War II, or the fearlessness of a walled city stubbornly locking out a king’s army I’m on the lookout for the story within the story. Perhaps I’m actually looking for my story within the story, the history.

Nicola's New Book
Nicola's New Book

For example:

What would I have done on the sinking ship, would I have tried to save anyone or would I have jumped into the first lifeboat available? Why do I think Titanic sank?

Would I have stood up to Nazi soldiers? I believe in peace but Hitler and his followers had to be stopped and there was no other way – was there? Would I have joined the army or would I have simply done my best to exist as quietly as possible?

How important is my religion? Would I have fought for it back in 1689/90? Would it have occurred to me that others should be free to practice the religion of their choice? If I had shut the gates of Derry against King James’ army, would I have continued to stand by my decision when children began to starve to death? Would I have gone for the soft option, anything for a quiet life? What is religion worth to me?

Ultimately, as I read my history books, I am constantly asking myself what I would have done had I been there.

As a subject history has always been my favourite, along with English, because it is crammed with great stories, great characters and lots and lots of gossip.

And I don’t care what year it is, people are people.

For instance when I read about King James, who fought King William at the Battle of the Boyne, I can empathise with the fact that, when he was sixteen, his father, King Charles I, was murdered by an angry mob. That must have been terrifying for a boy who was following in his footsteps to be both his father’s son and a king.

Then, in his later years, James converts to Catholicism, his mother’s religion, and thereby loses the love and respect of his two daughters. In fact William of Orange was his son-in-law so his family was ripped apart when James was obliged to leave England after William was invited by Protestant noblemen to invade. Now, that has got to mess with your head. As far as I’m concerned it explains why James’ heart wasn’t in the fight at the Boyne, he decided to retreat almost as soon as the battle was begun.

The story goes that King William didn’t put up a great chase when James took off back to Dublin. It would appear that William did not want to capture his wife’s father which probably would have proved mortifying for all involved.

And so on and so on. Really – I could go on!

How to Write Short Stories (and Win Writing Competitions)

ghb comp
ghb comp

Want to win the Beyond the Stars Short Story Competition and be published along with Eoin Colfer, Judi Curtin and Derek Landy? Or simply want to find out how to write a brilliant story? Then read on.

1/ Before you start writing, think about your story and your characters. Go for a walk and mull it all over in your head, then grab a notebook and start scribbling down some ideas.

2/ You could start with your own memories or things that have happened to you or a friend – as this is what will make your story different. For example: Is there a favourite place you love to hide? Do you have a tree house or a club house? Have you ever had a fight with your best friend?

3/ Or try using a traditional story as your starting point and re-write it in a new or unusual way eg an Irish or English (or Welsh or Scottish) Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, based in your home town. You could re-write a traditional legend using modern characters and setting.

4/ Your characters can be children, teenagers, giants, talking animals or astronauts – the sky is the limit. But make them realistic and give them carefully thought out names that suit who they are. Think of Matilda, Charlie and James in Dahl’s books. The Harry Potter books are full of great names, as are Cathy Cassidy’s books.

5/ Once you have mapped out your main characters (for a short story don’t use too many main characters – two or three is plenty), and your plot, give your story an exciting or intriguing opening. Start at the point where the action begins – you don’t need to add back story. Avoid any long descriptions, readers will be eager to learn what happens in the story, not what the sky looks like.

6/ Think about the setting of your story – where will it take place? And add details – icicles, food. Use your senses to add depth to the tale – smell, taste, touch. What does the forest/back garden smell like?

7/ Conflict is vital in any story. Without the Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood wouldn’t be a very interesting story. Think of the favourite traditional tales – Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, even Pinocchio – they are full of larger than life characters and HUGE emotions. Love, hate, revenge . . . think big and don’t be afraid to use strong emotions.

8/ Keep rewriting the story until it’s as good as you can make it. I rewrite each of my Ask Amy Green books many times before handing them over to my editor. And finally, ask a trusted friend to look over your work before you submit, a second pair of eyes can make all the difference.

Good Luck!

Yours in writing, Sarah XXX

(Editor of Beyond the Stars)

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

Behind The Memory Box - Q and A with Sarah Webb

I did this Q and A recently for a UK website, I hope you like it. 1. Tell us about your new book The Memory Box.

Just published
Just published

My latest novel, ‘The Memory Box’ is the story of an Irish woman, Pandora Schuster who on the eve of her thirtieth birthday discovers that she may have her mum’s heredity cancer gene, Breast Cancer Gene 1. This sends her into a complete tail spin, and makes her question her life and also the future of her nine-year-old daughter, Iris. Pandora is a single mum and she has never told Olivier, her ex-boyfriend that he has a daughter. So she travels to Paris to find him, with disastrous consequences.

2.       Why did you decide to take the book over to Paris?

Pandora is passionate about clothes and it made sense for her to study fashion in Paris. Plus it’s one of my favourite cities in the world.

3.       Did you spend any time there to write about your surroundings?

Yes, I spent four months in Paris during college, working in McDonald’s, so that was helpful. I’ve been back a few times since then, most recently for my 40th birthday.

4.       Do you have a memory box in your life?

No, but I do have a large chest full of my children’s school books, drawings, craft, photographs. I’m very much a hoarder.

5.       Why was a memory box such a good device for story telling for this book?

The Memory Box was a way of unfolding Pandora’s past life for the reader without using an excessive amount of flashbacks. The letters Pandora writes to her daughter, Iris and puts in the box give the reader glimpses of Pandora’s life in Paris and her deep love for Olivier.

And then the box is accidentally discovered. I won’t say any more in case you'd like to read it.

amy6
amy6

6.       You have recently published another book in the Amy Green series, so what can you tell us about this?

Yes, Wedding Belles has just been published. It’s the 6th book in the Ask Amy Green series, about a 13 year old Irish girl and her 17 year old crazy aunt, Clover who works as an agony aunt for a teen magazine. Together they are planning Amy’s mum’s second marriage in this book, but things start to go horribly wrong …

7.       How much do you have to look into Pandora’s hereditary illness for the book?

I took the research very seriously. I read cancer memoirs, including Emma Hannigan’s excellent ‘Talk to the Headscarf’. I read blogs and forums about cancer and most especially Breast Cancer Gene 1, the gene that Pandora may have (she’s waiting for the test results during the book). I also spoke to a breast cancer specialist, an amazing woman consultant surgeon called Sarah Rastell, who very kindly read my manuscript for accuracy.

I also tried to ‘feel’ how Pandora would feel while waiting for her test results – anxious, scared, alone, but yet determined to fight. Emotional truth is also vital and a character’s reactions must be honest and believable.

8.       Tell us about your inspiration behind the story.

I’m not sure where the story came from to be honest. I’d read about the breast cancer gene and it just fitted this story. The characters grew and developed as I wrote the book and some of their passions are also my passions – art, family, Paris.

9.       What is your writing process?

I plan a little to start with, then I think about the characters and their motivation obsessively. I do some early research at this stage also – but I often don’t know what I need to know, so I don’t spend too long on this at the early stages of writing. Once I’m happy that I know my characters well I start to write, leaving gaps where I need to do some more detailed research – I add that in later. I write several drafts – between 5 and 8 – and learn a lot more about my plot and characters during this stage of writing.

10. What is next for you?

I’m currently working on the first book in a new children’s series for age 9+ and I’m also writing a new book for adults. Both will be published in 2015, all being well.

Behind The Memory Box - Q and A with Sarah Webb

I did this Q and A recently for a UK website, I hope you like it. 1. Tell us about your new book The Memory Box.

Just published
Just published

My latest novel, ‘The Memory Box’ is the story of an Irish woman, Pandora Schuster who on the eve of her thirtieth birthday discovers that she may have her mum’s heredity cancer gene, Breast Cancer Gene 1. This sends her into a complete tail spin, and makes her question her life and also the future of her nine-year-old daughter, Iris. Pandora is a single mum and she has never told Olivier, her ex-boyfriend that he has a daughter. So she travels to Paris to find him, with disastrous consequences.

2.       Why did you decide to take the book over to Paris?

Pandora is passionate about clothes and it made sense for her to study fashion in Paris. Plus it’s one of my favourite cities in the world.

3.       Did you spend any time there to write about your surroundings?

Yes, I spent four months in Paris during college, working in McDonald’s, so that was helpful. I’ve been back a few times since then, most recently for my 40th birthday.

4.       Do you have a memory box in your life?

No, but I do have a large chest full of my children’s school books, drawings, craft, photographs. I’m very much a hoarder.

5.       Why was a memory box such a good device for story telling for this book?

The Memory Box was a way of unfolding Pandora’s past life for the reader without using an excessive amount of flashbacks. The letters Pandora writes to her daughter, Iris and puts in the box give the reader glimpses of Pandora’s life in Paris and her deep love for Olivier.

And then the box is accidentally discovered. I won’t say any more in case you'd like to read it.

amy6
amy6

6.       You have recently published another book in the Amy Green series, so what can you tell us about this?

Yes, Wedding Belles has just been published. It’s the 6th book in the Ask Amy Green series, about a 13 year old Irish girl and her 17 year old crazy aunt, Clover who works as an agony aunt for a teen magazine. Together they are planning Amy’s mum’s second marriage in this book, but things start to go horribly wrong …

7.       How much do you have to look into Pandora’s hereditary illness for the book?

I took the research very seriously. I read cancer memoirs, including Emma Hannigan’s excellent ‘Talk to the Headscarf’. I read blogs and forums about cancer and most especially Breast Cancer Gene 1, the gene that Pandora may have (she’s waiting for the test results during the book). I also spoke to a breast cancer specialist, an amazing woman consultant surgeon called Sarah Rastell, who very kindly read my manuscript for accuracy.

I also tried to ‘feel’ how Pandora would feel while waiting for her test results – anxious, scared, alone, but yet determined to fight. Emotional truth is also vital and a character’s reactions must be honest and believable.

8.       Tell us about your inspiration behind the story.

I’m not sure where the story came from to be honest. I’d read about the breast cancer gene and it just fitted this story. The characters grew and developed as I wrote the book and some of their passions are also my passions – art, family, Paris.

9.       What is your writing process?

I plan a little to start with, then I think about the characters and their motivation obsessively. I do some early research at this stage also – but I often don’t know what I need to know, so I don’t spend too long on this at the early stages of writing. Once I’m happy that I know my characters well I start to write, leaving gaps where I need to do some more detailed research – I add that in later. I write several drafts – between 5 and 8 – and learn a lot more about my plot and characters during this stage of writing.

10. What is next for you?

I’m currently working on the first book in a new children’s series for age 9+ and I’m also writing a new book for adults. Both will be published in 2015, all being well.

The Most Important Advice I Can Give You About Writing

The Holy Ghosts
The Holy Ghosts

I was at a 40th birthday in London recently and I got talking to the band – lovely Scottish lads called The Holy Ghosts. They have been working their wee socks off, playing gigs and parties all over the UK and Europe. They’re super, their lead singer has buckets of charisma (and an amazing voice) and I know they’ll make it because a/ they’re determined b/ they’re damn good and c/ they’re putting in the hours.

I told them the story about The Beatles playing in Hamburg that I first read in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book Gladwell explains the 10,000 hours rule – how if you put in the time and work hard, success will follow.

In a nutshell The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time. According to Gladwell the hours and hours that The Beatles spent performing live shaped their talent. He quotes their biographer Philip Norman who said ‘So by the time they returned to England from Hamburg, Germany, they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.’

Gladwell also talks about Bill Gates and how at the age of 13 in 1968 he spent over 10,000 hours programming on a high school computer.

Putting in the hours. It’s not very exciting, is it? But it’s so important. I think a lot of people starting to write don’t realise how hard writers work to get published and to stay published. How many hours they put in.

Coming up with an idea is the easy bit. Creating characters, plot . . . not so hard. Writing the first few chapters of a manuscript . . . not so difficult either. Finishing a book and then rewriting it over and over again until it’s as perfect as you can make it, that’s the hard part.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again – you learn how to write by writing. By putting in the hours. At night after work, early in the morning before the kids get up, at weekends, on holidays, when you’re on top of the world, when your heart is breaking – you have to keep at it. You have to put in the hours. It’s as simple or as difficult as that.

All the very best for Christmas and 2013. Try to make some time to write over the holidays. And I’ll try to follow my own advice!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

A Map of My Writing Day

I've been writing this 'Yours in Writing' blog for many years now, and I would like to thank all of you for the fantastic feedback and regular comments both here and on Facebook and Twitter. It means a lot to me. To say thank you, I'd like to address some topics that YOU have asked me to cover. The first - and yes, probably the easiest - is my writing routine. When do I write? How many words? Computer or long hand?

Over the next few weeks I will tackle the other questions I've recently been asked - on planning books, getting published for teenagers, what editors are looking for right now and other subjects. If there is something that you would like me to cover, you only have to ask.

So - my writing routine. And thanks to Claire Hennessy for the question, a very experienced writer herself.

snoopy-good-writing-is-hard-work
snoopy-good-writing-is-hard-work

Here's a map of my writing day:

7am  Rise (groggily) and get the kids to school.

8.30am  Get home and start thinking about what I have to do today.

Potter around the house avoiding work, 'tidying', opening mail, checking emails, Twitter and Facebook (terrible I know but best to get it over with early I find so I can get on with my morning! Twitter and Facebook are big distractions but also great fun and I dip in and out during the afternoon when I'm doing my emails and admin etc).

9.30  Walk - think about my current book while doing so (or that's the idea - it doesn't always work out that way - somametimes I end up chatting to my mum or a friend while walking - which is also nice!).

10.30am  Switch off my mobile and take the phone off the hook - my writing computer does not have the internet - which is a Godsend! Sit down at my desk.

Stare into space for a while.

Stare into space some more.

10.45am  Start writing.

I write straight onto my computer (I'm a fairly fast and accurate touch typist) but I do also write a lot of early plot notes/character notes in yellow notebooks. Yes, always yellow!

1.00pm  Collect my son or if he's in after school, stay writing until 2pm.

I aim to write about 2,000 words a day - that's my natural limit. Anything more than that is a bonus but if I don't reach my target I don't beat myself up about it. I write as often as I can, every day if possible - that way it's easier to jump straight back into the story. Otherwise I have to re-read what I've been writing and it slows the process down. Sometimes I stop writing in the middle of a sentence or a thought - I find it easier to pick up the thread of the story that way. It's probaby a bit nuts, but whatever gets you through, right?

In 15 years of writing (10 of those full time) I have always written something when I've sat down at my desk. Even if I'm not feeling great or am having a horrible day/week/month I still manage to write a page or two. I have NEVER left my desk without getting something down.

In the afternoon I deal with my emails (I hate email but it's a necessary evil), answer phone calls, write my blogs (I have two, this one and one on my Amy Green website and also blog for Girls Heart Books), do my event programming and check in with my Facebook and Twitter friends. I also update my website and write any reviews, articles or other bits of writing I've been asked to do.

I also used to work three or four evenings a week, but recently I have stopped this. I'm not as productive as I used to be but it gives me more time to spend with my family.

And that, my friends, is my writing day! I am very blessed to be able to write full time and I would like to thank my readers for making it possible.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Writing Worries - Don't Clip Your Own Wings

Apologies for the lack of recent blogs, I was helping to run the Mountains to Sea Book Festival and taking some much needed time off. I wrote the following blog in August, before I sent my new proposal to my agent. More on this at the end. For weeks now I've been worrying about a book proposal. Is it good enough? Will my agent like it? Will my publishers like it?

I've published 23 books now and it never gets any easier. The doubts are still very much there for every single book or proposal.

I worked hard on the proposal, on getting every detail right - the series title (it's a new series for girls of 9+), the title of each book, the girls' names (there are 4 main characters), the plots for each of the first 3 books, the setting; especially the setting. I started reading widely on the subjects covered in the plots and added details to my proposal.

I wrote some of the first book, then rewrote it many times until I was happy with it. Only then did I send it to my agent. She read it and gave some suggestions. I took those on board and rewrote the whole proposal again. Finally it was ready to be sent to my editors and so began the waiting game.

What happens next? My editors - if they like it - take it to an acquisitions meeting where the sales and marketing team get their say. If they all like it, and they think it will sell, then you have a book contract.

amy5
amy5

I visited my publishers, Walker Books in London to hear the news and I waited anxiously for their verdict. I didn't have to wait long. As soon as I walked into the reception area (where some of my other Ask Amy Green books were twinkling at me from the book shelves), one of my editors said 'Everyone loved your proposal'. I was so relieved! I thought my proposal was good, my agent thought it was marvellous but you never can tell . . .

But nerves are good. In fact they are important to writers. It's what keeps us on our toes, makes us try our very hardest to produce something excellent. Nerves are like the adrenaline before a race, keeping us alive.

As writers we wear our hearts on our sleeves, outside our bodies. We are largely a highly emotional bunch and like actors, we crave an audience for our work - we need readers. We want people to say 'We love your books'.

But we also need to have confidence in what we are doing. So once we get that initial 'You're on the right track' nod, we need to take that affirmation on board and then get back to work. We need to put all those fears and doubts aside and write as if nothing else mattered.

Because if we let our writing worries consume us, we clip our own wings.

So once you get that initial nod - from your editor, or if you are not yet published, from a trusted friend - put all your worries behind you and fly. The only way to live a writing life is in the air and not stumbling along the ground.

memory box frt 5
memory box frt 5

I'm all set to take my own advice. After proof reading The Memory Box, my next book for adults which will be out in early 2013, I'll be writing the first book in the new series. The series is called The Wishing Girls. More about that soon.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX