This Writer's Life

Life as a Professional Children's Writer - the Low Down

This evening I am the guest on #MGiechat on Twitter, run by the wonderful E.R. Murray. To prepare I’ve been thinking about the questions she has set and I have posted some answers below in case they are useful to other writers.

Q1: What’s your definition of a professional writer?

Interesting question. A professional children’s writer is someone who makes their living from writing or activities linked to their writing. Most professional writers do not earn their living solely from advances and royalties. And royalties and advances go up and down, so it’s a good idea to have a second (or third!) income stream.

I’m not sure relying on your creativity to earn you a crust is the best way to encourage and nurture it either. Elizabeth Gilbert is very good on this in her book Big Magic. She explains putting demands on your writing can scare it away.

Personally I cherish my creative life more and more as I get older. I spend 2 to 3 days a week writing, and 3 to 4 days doing other work. Yes, that adds up to 7 days sometimes!

As well as writing I also:

Programme book festivals (ILFD, Dubray StoryFest – 29th Sept in Airfield, Dundrum – do go!).

Write children’s book reviews for the Irish Independent

Mentor Children’s Writers for the Irish Writers Centre and teach adults for them also (writing for children and teenagers)

Give training days for librarians and charity workers who are interested in children and creativity (I recently did one for Trocaire)

Work as a consultant for Dubray Books – at the moment I am working on a new Dubray recommended reading guide for 2019 (and StoryFest)

Run writing clubs and a drawing club for children in Dún Laoghaire

Do some voluntary work – I’m currently helping CBI and Poetry Ireland with a project

Visit schools and libraries and do workshops and events at book festivals (and other creative festivals)

The common thread to all of this – CHILDREN’S BOOKS!

Roughly 1/3 of my income comes from book advances and royalties, 1/3 from teaching, schools visits and other events (I’ll come back to this later as it’s important), 1/3 from programming and other work.

Q2: People believe the holy grail is to be getting paid for just writing - but how realistic is that? How does a professional writer really make a living?

See above! For about 8 years I wrote full time, my income came from advances and royalties. But the books I want to write and work on now are not series books and are not as commercial as my previous books.

My latest two - Blazing a Trail which is out in October and A Sailor Went to Sea, Sea, Sea (with Lauren O’Neill and Steve McCarthy) - are books that are mainly for an Irish audience. I have adored working on them both with the team at O'Brien press. But it does mean I need to work on other projects to pay the bills. But that is my choice.  

And the next two are similar – passion projects. I’m lucky to have that choice.

Most of my children’s writer friends are similar – they have some years where they are writing full time, other years when they are doing other work too. That is normal. In my case it suits me, it keeps me engaged and interested. I’m not sure I’d be able to go back to just writing. I’m having too much fun!

Q3: How much should a writer charge for their time? And how do writers go about having this conversation?

Writers should always charge for their time when it comes to events. If you have a new book out your publisher may ask you do to some promotional events, that is of course fine and I always support my publishers in this way. But schools, libraries, festivals – you must charge for your time.

There is an excellent piece on the Words Ireland website about fees for events which includes this from Children’s Books Ireland:

‘For our annual conference, we cover travel, accommodation and meals for speakers and offer a fee of €250 for someone speaking alone, €200 each for a duo, €150 each for a panel unless the author/illustrator in question is including the event in a promotional tour.* For our education work, we pay a €200 fee plus travel and accommodation for a schools workshop, which runs usually for up to 2.5 hours.’

* It is standard practice that writers do promotional events to publicise a book and don’t receive a fee, though they are earning their usual royalty on sales generated by such events. This should occur in the weeks or months ahead of, and just after, publication of that book.

The full piece is here:

http://wordsireland.ie/words-ireland-pay-scale-information-for-writers/

When a school or library approaches you to do an event – quote these recommended fees. Then prepare your event meticulously. Make sure you give your all at the event. Arrive punctually and be professional at all times. I often give the school a copy of one of my books for the school library.

I have also pasted a link below to a blog about approaching or pitching to festivals. The ones I programme are curator led, so I don’t generally take many proposals (1 out of 25 events might come from a proposal and it’s usually a workshop), but some other festivals do.

More on this here: How to Pitch to Book Festivals - Practical Tips for Children's Writers

https://www.sarahwebb.info/blog/2018/3/20/how-to-pitch-to-book-festivals-practical-tips-for-childrens-writers

And here is a piece from The Bookseller about why writers should not do free school visits:

Authors Aloud, an organisation that helps schools to find authors to visit them, said writers should only do “two or three” free events at the start of their career as a learning exercise and ask for feedback from the school in return.

(Clara) Vulliamy said all authors should charge a similar rate because “one of the worst things you can do is offer yourself at a lower price. That muddies the water and makes it harder for the rest of us”.

https://www.thebookseller.com/news/free-school-visits-one-worst-things-author-can-do-306293

Q4: People need practice, but working for free undermines other writers. What advice do you have for writers starting out with events?

Tips for Events:

If You Have No Experience – Go and Get Some.

Prepare an event and deliver it on a trial basis in creches, schools, libraries, retirement homes. Anywhere that will have you. Make your mistakes early and learn from them. Ask for feedback.

Ask an experienced writer if you can shadow them. Or go to events at festivals and see how other writers do it. Learn from them and then come up with your own event.

Ask the teachers to give you an event ‘reference’ eg ‘Mandy Bloggs was wonderful. She kept JI and SI highly entertained with her stories about African animals and they learned a lot in a fun and innovative way.’

Prepare a script for your event and practice it until it’s perfect. Most events are 60 mins. Break this down: 20/30 minutes talking is perfect. Add  1 or 2 x 5 min readings within or after the talk (never more) + 20 mins for questions at the end.

Your event is not a hard sell for your book. In fact some of the best talks I’ve ever heard are not about the artist’s book at all. Eoin Colfer is one of the best in the business (watch him in action on You Tube) and he rarely mentions his books.

Think about using props, music, dance, theatre, images (although powerpoint presentations can go wrong so always be prepared to deliver your event without it).

Think about using costumes or at the very least looking visually appealing to children (see Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve’s costumes).

Q5: You wanted to talk about the reality of book advances @sarahwebbishere – fire away!

At one of the #ProperBook events for writers recently Grainne Clear from Little Island was open and honest about advances:

She 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 of e1k 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. The average Irish print run is 2.5k copies Grainne said.

For more on this see this piece:

https://www.sarahwebb.info/blog/when-are-you-going-to-write-a-proper-book-the-lowdown

And finally an article from the Irish Times about Writers’ Pay in Ireland by Martin Doyle and Freya McClements which includes quotes from Donal Ryan and Liz Nugent.

“Maybe now people will stop asking me why I’m driving a 13 year old car,” says Liz Nugent.

The article says: ‘The most recent survey of Irish authors’ incomes – published by the Irish Copyright Licencing Agency in 2010 – found that in 2008-09 over half the writers consulted (58.7 per cent) earned less than €5,000 from writing-related income. Indeed, the commonest response – given by more than a quarter, or 27.9 per cent of respondents – was that they earned less than €500 a year.’

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/the-500-a-year-career-do-irish-writers-get-paid-enough-1.2965310

BlazingATrail FINAL COVER.jpg

Now go write! Write the book of your heart and enjoy the writing journey!

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

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!

StandByMe.jpg
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 

Nov/Dec Writer in Residence Diary

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Me and My Niece, Rosie in the dlr Lexicon Library
Me and My Niece, Rosie in the dlr Lexicon Library

November and December have been busy months in Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown Writer in Residence land!

 Reader and Writers’ Day 5th November (Adult Event)

We kicked off the month with a Readers and Writers’ Day in the Lexicon Studio. Bestselling UK author, Lucy Diamond joined a host of Irish writers and readers for a fantastic day of book chat and fun. I also attended Deadly Openings with Sam Blake, Liz Nugent and Catherine Ryan Howard

Children’s Book Club

We discussed Beyond the Stars and Imaginary Fred in Book Club. Both scored high scores from our discerning young readers. However the biggest hit of the season was The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. They loved the way the story was told with both words and pictures and we watched some of the old French silent movies that inspired the story.

hugo cabret cover
hugo cabret cover
hugo interior
hugo interior

Children’s Writing Club

We had a lovely time at writing club. We celebrated Emma’s birthday with cup cakes and had hot chocolate in the café to celebrate the end of the year. The young writers will be working on a new project called I Am Dun Laoghaire next year. Watch out for the group exhibition of their work in June.

 Writers in Schools Conference

I went to the Poetry Ireland Writers in Schools conference in the lovely new Poetry Ireland building. It was great to chat to other writers who visit schools and to exchange ideas.

 Teen Creatives

We had two teen creatives workshops in November – one with a film maker and the other with writer, Deirdre Sullivan. In December award winning author, Sheena Wilkinson visited from Northern Ireland. We look forward to workshops with Alan Nolan and Dave Lordan in the New Year.

 Writing.ie Independent Publishing Day (Adult Event)

I attended this day organised by my friend, Vanessa O’Loughlin from writing.ie. It was interesting and I found out a lot about self-publishing. I have self-published several guides to children’s books, along with Dubray books and Eason and it’s an interesting process. It also reminded how much I enjoy working with traditional publishers – self-publishing is a lot of hard work and I cherish the input my editors and marketing and publicity teams put in to getting my books into the hands of readers.

 Irish Writers Centre

I continued teaching my Writing for Children and Teenagers course for adults at the Irish Writers Centre. We celebrated our final class with a reading from the students and a Christmas party.

Danger is Everywhere Show

My Dangerology Uniform
My Dangerology Uniform

I love the Danger books so I was thrilled to bring David O’Doherty and Chris Judge to the Pavilion. Here I am in my Dangerologist's uniform. David and Chris approved.

 Baby Book Club in Dalkey (and soon to be Deansgrange in 2017)

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15043727_1161812370520559_8065401269910503424_n

Breaking News - I’ll be hosting a new Baby Book Club Deansgrange in the New Year – I can’t wait! I love hosting Dalkey Baby Book Club and this month we made hedgehogs and talked about hibernation.

 Launch of the 1916 Exhibition by Jon Berkeley

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15034823_246796932405935_8015155237788581888_n

I attended the launch of a wonderful exhibition in the Lexicon – well worth checking out. It was launched by Children’s Laureate, PJ Lynch.

 Swing of the 60s Exhibition Launch

The Swing of the Sixties Project Room
The Swing of the Sixties Project Room

Do catch it if you can – it’s on until 6th January and is a riot of colour. Fantastic for children and grown ups alike. My writing club and book club wrote some fantastic stories and poems inspired by the work.

 The Harold School Christmas Fair

My Son the Christmas Tree!
My Son the Christmas Tree!

I spoke to the children and their parents about books and reading at this lovely school fair.

 Drop in Writing Clinics for Children and Adults

I had a record 14 children at the drop in writing clinic on Wed 30th November. We all squeezed in to my writer in residence room and had great fun talking about writing. The young writers read from their work and got feedback from their peers.

It was followed by a clinic with adults who are writing for young people, all very talented individuals.

Writing

I also worked on a new age 9+ idea, some picture books and continued researching the 1940s for a new adult book.

Plus I programmed lots of AMAZING events for Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival in March, including a very special event with one of my heroes. More on that very, very soon.

That’s it for November and December! Look out for the new What’s On before Christmas which will list all the Writer in Residence workshops and events in Jan/Feb/March. HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

Check out my December Books of the Month Video here:

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

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:

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.

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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)

Print
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.

The Answer to Your Questions

girl writing
girl writing

I love getting letters from readers in the post. Real letters are far more fun than emails. I love opening the envelopes, unfolding the letter inside, holding the exact piece of paper that a little while ago the sender was writing on. There's something quite magical about letters. This week I answered three letters from young readers. Two of them were from Ireland, one was from the UK. Each contained questions for me. I thought I'd answer some of these questions below. Maybe they are questions that you would also ask me if you could.

Some of the letters from my young readers
Some of the letters from my young readers

Some of the letters from my young readers

If you'd like to write to me, I'd be delighted. The address is: Sarah Webb c/o Walker Books, 87 Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5HJ, England. I promise to write back to you.

Sarah, how did you get the idea for Amy Green?

My teen diaries. As a teen I wrote in them every day and it was fascinating reading back and seeing what made me happy, upset or angry at 14, 16 or 18.

Who or what inspired you to write?

Judy Blume, Enid Blyton and all the wonderful writers I read as a child. I was and still am a huge, devoted reader. I found friends on the pages of books. Reading inspired me to write.

What is Ireland like (this was from a UK reader) and where do you live?

West Cork
West Cork

West Cork

I live in Dun Laoghaire - below - a town 7 miles from Dublin city which has a large harbour. It has a great cinema, a theatre and the best library in Ireland, the Lexicon. We live on a long street which winds its way up a hill from the sea. In Ireland you are never far from the countryside and if you drive for a little while you'll hit green fields, hills and mountains.

I also spend a lot of time in West Cork - above - which has the most stunning landscape. The people are very special too, warm, friendly and funny.

It's hard to say what Ireland is like. It is a place where books and stories and cherished, which I think makes it very special. What I do know is that for me it's home and although I love to travel, my heart belongs to Ireland.

Dun Laoghaire
Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

What was your dream job as a child?

Writer. It just goes to show that sometimes dreams really do come true if you work hard enough and follow your heart.

What is being a writer like?

Do you write all day?

I'll answer these two questions together. I have lots of different kinds of days - writing days, school visit days, festival planning days, reading and reviewing days, teaching days. Most writers don't just write, especially children's writers - they do lots of other things too.

Every week I spend 2 or 3 mornings writing - from 10am to 2pm - and 2 days visiting schools, teaching creative writing, reviewing and doing other bits of work relating to books. I try to write 2k words every time I sit down at my desk, that's my aim. I often don't hit this target, but sometimes I do.

At the moment I am Writer in Residence in Dún Laoghaire so from September I will be hosting book clubs for young readers and writing workshops, that will be fun.

What job would you do if you weren't a writer?

A children's bookseller. One day I hope to own my own children's bookshop. Watch this space!

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

The Answer to Your Questions

girl writing
girl writing

I love getting letters from readers in the post. Real letters are far more fun than emails. I love opening the envelopes, unfolding the letter inside, holding the exact piece of paper that a little while ago the sender was writing on. There's something quite magical about letters. This week I answered three letters from young readers. Two of them were from Ireland, one was from the UK. Each contained questions for me. I thought I'd answer some of these questions below. Maybe they are questions that you would also ask me if you could.

Some of the letters from my young readers
Some of the letters from my young readers

Some of the letters from my young readers

If you'd like to write to me, I'd be delighted. The address is: Sarah Webb c/o Walker Books, 87 Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5HJ, England. I promise to write back to you.

Sarah, how did you get the idea for Amy Green?

My teen diaries. As a teen I wrote in them every day and it was fascinating reading back and seeing what made me happy, upset or angry at 14, 16 or 18.

Who or what inspired you to write?

Judy Blume, Enid Blyton and all the wonderful writers I read as a child. I was and still am a huge, devoted reader. I found friends on the pages of books. Reading inspired me to write.

What is Ireland like (this was from a UK reader) and where do you live?

West Cork
West Cork

West Cork

I live in Dun Laoghaire - below - a town 7 miles from Dublin city which has a large harbour. It has a great cinema, a theatre and the best library in Ireland, the Lexicon. We live on a long street which winds its way up a hill from the sea. In Ireland you are never far from the countryside and if you drive for a little while you'll hit green fields, hills and mountains.

I also spend a lot of time in West Cork - above - which has the most stunning landscape. The people are very special too, warm, friendly and funny.

It's hard to say what Ireland is like. It is a place where books and stories and cherished, which I think makes it very special. What I do know is that for me it's home and although I love to travel, my heart belongs to Ireland.

Dun Laoghaire
Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire

What was your dream job as a child?

Writer. It just goes to show that sometimes dreams really do come true if you work hard enough and follow your heart.

What is being a writer like?

Do you write all day?

I'll answer these two questions together. I have lots of different kinds of days - writing days, school visit days, festival planning days, reading and reviewing days, teaching days. Most writers don't just write, especially children's writers - they do lots of other things too.

Every week I spend 2 or 3 mornings writing - from 10am to 2pm - and 2 days visiting schools, teaching creative writing, reviewing and doing other bits of work relating to books. I try to write 2k words every time I sit down at my desk, that's my aim. I often don't hit this target, but sometimes I do.

At the moment I am Writer in Residence in Dún Laoghaire so from September I will be hosting book clubs for young readers and writing workshops, that will be fun.

What job would you do if you weren't a writer?

A children's bookseller. One day I hope to own my own children's bookshop. Watch this space!

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

A Girl Made of Books by Sarah Webb

I’m a big fan of Oliver Jeffers who is a Northern Irish designer, artist, writer and illustrator who is best known for his picture books. My favourite is an early book called Lost and Found about a boy and a lost penguin who become friends. His new book is called A Child of Books and it’s out in September. Written and illustrated by both Sam Winston and Oliver, it’s an ode to childhood books.

A Child Made of Books
A Child Made of Books

A Child of Books

Here’s the trailer, do check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3_qoMY7mf8

 Inspired by this book, I thought I’d list some of the books that made ME:

busy busy world
busy busy world

1/ Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World

I loved this book and used to pour over the details in the pictures. It’s full of funny stories set all over the world, from Italy to Ireland, and I loved it so much I used to sleep with it under my pillow.

2/ Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson
Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

Image from the Ballet Shoes Television Movie Starring Emma Watson

I took ballet classes for years and always dreamed of one day being a ballerina. It was not to be, but reading about ballet and watching ballet is the next best thing. I even wrote about ballet in Ask Amy Green: Dancing Daze.

heidi
heidi

3/ Heidi by Johanna Spyri

How I wanted to live in the Swiss Alps with a kind grandfather after this story was read to me. It’s such a wonderful tale, of friendship, overcoming hardship and being yourself.

4/ Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery

Anne from Anne of Green Gables
Anne from Anne of Green Gables

Anne from Anne of Green Gables

I’ve always admired Anne ‘with an e’ – she’s one of my favourite characters of all time. I like to think we’d be kindred spirits if we ever met. She has such a fun, feisty and true nature. This book left a lasting impression on me as a young reader.

5/ Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret

I re-read this every year to remind myself what it feels like to be thirteen. It’s over 40 years old now but is still as fresh and funny as the day it was published. I first read it as a teenager, adored her honesty and humour, and Judy has been one of my favourite writers ever since.

6/ The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton

And pretty much all Enid Blyton’s books! I read my through them and adored their ‘Englishness’.

7/ New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingley

New Patches for Old
New Patches for Old

New Patches for Old

This book was a real eye opener and I’ve never forgotten it. Patricia or ‘Patches’ is an English girl who has moved to Australia with her family. She has to deal with making new friends, adapting to a new life and growing up. Her new life isn’t always easy, but she deals with everything that is thrown at her with good humour and honesty. I was about twelve when I read this book and it was the first time I’d come across a girl getting her period for the first time in any book – and I was so grateful that someone had written about this (I was anxious about the whole thing, as many teens were in those days as it wasn’t talked about much – things are a lot more open now, thank goodness), a subject that is also dealt with in Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Both these books inspired me to write Ask Amy Green: Summer Secrets. Amy gets her period during her summer holidays and rings her aunt, Clover (who is 17 and also her great friend) to ask for advice.

Often people say there were no teenage books in the 1970s but there were - including this one. I’m so glad I read it, it really did make a difference to my life.

These are some of the books that made me. What books made YOU? I’d love to know!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on Girls Hearts Books website.

Sing Like a Whale

I’ve always been fascinated by dolphins and whales. When I was nine I tried to teach myself how to speak humpback whale by listening to a plastic record of their amazing song. Strange but true! The record came attached to a copy of National Geographic magazine and it was one of my prized possessions.

My latest book
My latest book

Every day after school I’d shut myself in my room and wail and moan like a humpback. My mum used to rush into my room, thinking I was sick. If you’ve ever heard a humpback whale singing you’ll know what I mean.

There are lots of dolphins in the waters around Ireland, especially the west coast and I’ve been lucky to see them on many occasions. I’ve seen whales too, in both Ireland and New Zealand.

I’ve always wanted to write a book featuring whales or dolphins, so when I started writing The Songbird Café Girls series, set on a small island off West Cork, I knew it was time to unleash my passion for sea mammals.

I had so much fun researching Aurora and the Popcorn Dolphin, book three in the Songbird series (she’s Rory for short) and I learned a lot about sea mammals along the way. I used some of my (and Rory’s) favourite dolphin and whale facts to write the quiz for you below. Do try it!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

Rory’s Dolphin and Whale Quiz

dolphin with blow hole
dolphin with blow hole

How much do you know about dolphins and whales? Try this fun quiz and see! Answers are at the end – but don’t peek!

Question 1: What animals are whales and dolphins most closely related to?

A/ Crocodiles

B/ Hoofed mammals like hippos

C/ Elephants

Question 2: How far can a humpback whale’s song travel?

A/ 100 km

B/ 1,000 Km

C/ 10,000 km

Question 3: What is the largest animal that has ever lived on earth?

A/ Fin Whale

B/ Tyrannosaurus Rex

C/ Blue Whale

Question 4: Can dolphins drown?

A/Yes

B/No

Question 5: How do dolphins sleep?

A/ They curl up on the sea bed

B/ They float on top of the water

C/ They shut down half their brain

Answers:

1/ B A lot of people answer elephants, but they are most closely related to hippos.

2/ C The sound can take 8 hours to travel this distance.

3/ C The Blue whale can weigh up to 170 tonnes or the weight of 30 African elephants. The Tyrannosaurus Rex only weighed 7 tonnes.

4/ A Like all mammals, whales and dolphins have to breathe air. Whales can stay underwater for up to 90 minutes, dolphins need to breathe every 10 or 15 minutes.

5/ C Dolphins have to be conscious to breath. This means that they cannot go into a full deep sleep, so instead they shut down half their brain – this is called unihemispheric sleeping.

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. 

Staying Motivated - Writing Tips for January

My New Children's Novel, Out in March 2016
My New Children's Novel, Out in March 2016

Hello, January. I've been expecting you. I'm currently in the middle of several projects - a proposal for a new children's series (writing good proposals takes a long time - I'll blog about it soon as it's vital to get your proposal right), the first book in that new series, a book about whales and dolphins (non fiction), writing the text for my book festival brochure (Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival in March), and researching a new novel for adults.

I find starting projects the easy part, it's hitting the half way mark that I find most difficult. So here are some words for those of you who are mid way through a project and need some motivation.

Many writers get to around 40k or 50k words and then they hit a wall (novels for adults tend to be around 80k to 100k depending on the genre). They say ‘There is so much more to write, so much more work involved, I don’t think I can do this.’ It’s important to note that all writers have off days or weeks, published or unpublished, and it’s important to develop a ‘writing habit’ if you want to finish a whole book. As Clare Dowling says in her excellent writing tips (below) ‘writing is a craft and the best way to learn it is to practice.’

But how do you stay motivated?

All writers find writing a book tough going. I often hit a difficult patch roughly half way through a book, knowing that I still have a lot of work ahead of me. It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit overwhelmed at any stage of the writing process. You are writing a book after all. And if you are a huge reader like me, you have a responsibility to both yourself and the future reader to produce something worthwhile, something special, something original.

Woody Allan once said that ‘90% of success is just showing up’. And for writers, showing up at the page day after day, week after week is vital. For some, the effort proves too much, and the book never gets finished.

Here are some of my favourite quotes about motivation and staying the course:

The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write. Gabriel Fielding

The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about, but simply written; it’s a dreadful, awful fact that writing is like any other work. Janet Frame

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. Anne Enright

And I particularly like this one, also by Anne Enright:

Remember if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years every day it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.

She is quite right, it does change you. It does make you more free.

If you’re finding writing difficult and need some encouragement, here are some suggestions:

1/ Keep a writing diary

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

Every time you’ve finished writing, jot down how many words you’ve managed and how you feel your work is progressing. If you respond well to deadlines, keep deadlines. For example: Monday – write 500 words, Tuesday – finish Chapter Two. If you’ve stuck to your deadlines reward yourself with some television or a bar of chocolate.

2/ Attend writing workshops, readings and talks

Many libraries host regular events for writers. Check your local library for details. I love hearing other writers read their work or talk about their work, and I always learn something valuable or that makes me think. It’s a real treat to be around fellow book lovers too.

3/ Read books about writing:

On Writing by Stephen King

Inspiring and full of good advice – worth buying

The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

One of the best books about being a writer and living a writer’s life I’ve ever found. Succinct, direct and truthful, a book I come back to over and over again if I’m in need of a little writerly pick me up.

4/ Pencil in some internet free days. I check my social media accounts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I spend one hour on each of these days writing blogs/content for posts, reading and commenting on other people's posts and replying to my messages. That's three hours a week. I check in after working hours too, but I don't waste my writing time online. Perhaps you could set yourself some internet 'rules' too.

If your writing has come to a standstill and you need some practical assistance the following might help:

1/ Ask for advice and/or encouragement from a respected friend or work colleague; someone who loves reading and who will give you an honest but kind opinion. Explain that you need honest feedback, but ask them to be kind. If you don’t know anyone suitable, see number 3.

2/ Join a writers’ group

Many libraries host regular writers’ groups. These are not for everyone, but many writers swear by them. Many published writers are in writing groups, others have writing friends who they talk to about their work and any problems they are having. I have several writer friends and they are a Godsend. Writing can be a lonely old business, and having someone to talk to who understands is very important. Seek out fellow writers on the internet or in person.

3/ Contact a writer’s advisory service

For a professional opinion on your work, the following advisory services are recommended – www.cornerstones.co.uk/  and www.inkwellwriters.ie

Inkwell are based in Ireland, Cornerstones in the UK and both are excellent, well respected professionally run organisations.

On the Practical Side of Things

Even if you don’t feel like writing try to do something writing related: research, editing, making notes. Sometimes you may be simply too mentally tired or out of sorts to write, never force yourself, take a break and come back to it the following day instead. Try to approach the page with optimism and enthusiasm, not dread! Sometimes you will have to talk yourself into a positive frame of mind, but you’re a writer – you are smart, creative and powerful. If you can create a whole world on paper, you can certainly cajole yourself into a bit of writing.

Never use ‘I’m too busy’ as an excuse. Your house will probably be less tidy and sometimes the dishes will sit in the sink for the evening, but these are the sacrifices a writer has to make!

Once you’ve set your writing time aside try to sit down at your desk regularly so your story will stay fresh in your mind. If you can’t write every day, think about your characters and your plot when you can. Agatha Christie once said she did her best plotting while washing the dishes.

Try to write at a desk or table in a well lit and if possible quiet area. Buy yourself nice notebooks and coloured pens – these small things make writing more of a pleasure.

If possible get your hands on a computer. Typing directly onto a computer takes a while to get used to but it makes writing and most especially editing so much less painful – plus you have spell check!

How long does it take to write a book?

The old expression ‘how long is a piece of string’ springs to mind. Each writer is different. Popular fiction writers are often contracted to write a book a year. If you can manage to write 2,000 words a week for example, it will take you just under a year to write a whole book. Try to find a writing pace that suits you and your lifestyle.

The honest fact? I can’t motivate you to write. No-one can do that but yourself. If you want to write badly enough, you will find the time and the energy.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

Tips on Staying Motivated by Clare Dowling

1/ Get into the habit of writing. This doesn’t mean you have to knock out a thousand words of a novel a day; it can be emails, letters to friends, or a description of your cat. Writing is a craft and the best way to learn it is to practise.

2/ Get yourself a proper writing space. Some people can write a book on the kitchen table amongst the dinner dishes but most of us can’t. It really helps if you have a special place for writing and when you arrive at it, your brain clicks into writing mode.

3/ Don’t wait for genius to strike. It probably won’t, and you’ll achieve tonnes more if you spent your time practising your writing, developing interesting characters, and thinking hard about what you’d really like to say. Most successful writers aren’t published because brilliant ideas visit them on a daily basis, but because they work very hard and stay motivated.

4/ Read, read, read. We can all learn from other authors’ work – how they construct a plot, how characters are effectively drawn; how they manage to make a scene in a supermarket the most memorable you’ve read all year. Don’t be afraid that you’re going to copy their style; you won’t. But you might find that that you learn lots of new techniques that will lift your own writing up a level.

See the writing.ie article I contributed to here.

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

Letter to My Daughter, Amy

Writer, Anne Sexton
Writer, Anne Sexton

I’ve been thinking a lot about letters recently. I love getting real letters and I love writing them too. I stumbled across a letter from an American writer, Anne Sexton to her daughter who was 15 at the time and I really liked the idea. So inspired by this I wrote my own letter to my daughter, telling her . . . well, you can read it and see!

Dear Amy,

I’m writing you this open letter to tell you how proud I am of you. You’re 12 now, and you’re already such an accomplished young woman. You help out a lot at home and with your younger brother (yes, I know he can be annoying sometimes). In fact since your older brother left home, I’ve relied on you more and more and you’ve really stepped up to the plate.

It’s not easy being a working mum. I feel guilty for not spending more time with you but I also feel guilty when I’m not at my desk, writing. I try to balance it out and I look forward to the special Mum and Amy days we spend together, shopping, having lunch, going to Forbidden Planet, seeing movies.

Working is important to me. Women only got the right to vote in 1918 in Ireland and when I was growing up, some women, like teachers, had to leave their jobs as soon as they got married. I like playing my part in the community, helping people with their books, teaching and mentoring younger writers. And I like stretching myself with my own work, figuring out plots and characters, making myself do scary things like talking in front of hundreds of readers. I hope when you’re older you’ll understand. And I hope you find a job you love as much as I love mine.

I’m really proud of the way you stick by your friends. Of how you play hockey so well on a team, passing to your team mates and congratulating them when they do well. I’m proud of the way you look after Lucky, our dog, with a lot of kindness and fun.

You’re a wonderful artist and far better at maths than I’ll ever be and I love the fact that you like manga so much and don’t follow the crowd. You wear what you like to wear too and I think that’s really great.

Going to a new school next year will be a new adventure and it won’t always be easy. Sometimes girls can be mean to each other; sometimes boys can be mean to girls. I’m so glad I didn’t grow up with social media; I would have got myself in a whole heap of trouble by saying the wrong things sometimes or being too honest. But you’re a lot smarter than I was at your age, and if you always remember to be kind to others in person and on-line, you’ll be just fine. But please don’t judge yourself by how many ‘likes’ other people give you, it’s fool’s gold, glittery but not real.

Above all, remember how much I love you and that I am always here for you, no matter what. You’re truly amazing!

Love always,

Mum XXX

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

How to Get Published by Louise O'Neill

Louise O'Neill
Louise O'Neill

Louise O’Neill

Upon hearing that I’ve written a novel, some people want to know where I get my ideas from, as if there’s an idea-shop you can just pop in to on your way home from work. Lidl will probably start offering ‘Idee’s’ soon. They’re basically the same thing as ideas but far cheaper.  Others ask about the storyline. ‘It’s a dystopian tale exploring the contemporary obsession with the female body. Think The Handmaid’s Tale for teenagers.’  I answer, watching as every man in a two mile radius backs away. No wonder I’m still single. And then, of course, there are the frustrated writers, lips tightening with barely concealed envy when they hear my good news. I know these people. I was one of them, poring over a newspaper article about some child of fifteen who has sold their first novel for half a million euro, trying to ignore the hatred threatening to suck me under, as greedy as a slurry pit. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing someone else realising your dreams.

So, here are my top tips on how to finally write that novel.

  • Read voraciously. Stephen King said ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write.’ A badly written book will demonstrate what not to do and a well written book will inspire you. Be warned, a masterpiece will merely leave you with a general sense of hopelessness as your novel will never be anywhere as good. I had to take to my bed for a few days after finishing ‘Cloud Atlas’ like a Victorian maiden with a case of the vapours.
  • Think of your writing skills as a muscle. The more you use them, the stronger they will become. The thought of completing an entire manuscript can seem so insurmountable we find ourselves unable to take the first step. Set yourself smaller tasks to begin with. Write an article for your local newspaper. Write a short story. Write five hundred words on your first holy communion. Julia Cameron, in her excellent book The Artist’s Way, recommends ‘morning pages’ and I’ve found freehand writing to be an effective tool of unblocking creativity.
  • When you do decide to start your novel, make sure you’re passionate about your idea. This might sound obvious but you’ll be working on this project for the next nine to twelve months, or more. There will be days when you hate your book, you hate your brain for generating the original idea and you hate your laptop for having the audacity to record all these stupid words. If you don’t adore the idea at the beginning, you will likely ever reach the end.
  • Set yourself a deadline. When I first moved back to Ireland from New York on September 1st, 2011, I decided to take a year out to work on the novel that I had spent the last ten years threatening to write. I finished the first draft on August 31st, 2012.
  • I remember phoning my father from New York, complaining that my job in fashion ‘didn’t make my heart sing.’ I know. Oprah has a lot to answer for. He told me if I wanted to write so badly I should take any opportunity that I had to do so. Bring a notebook with you and write on the subway, he advised, unaware that I spent my subway journey gawking surreptitiously at barefoot crack heads or avoiding eye contact with anyone I might feel compelled to offer my seat to. (Apologies to that pregnant lady on crutches. My bad.) Once back in Clonakilty, I made myself sit at my desk from 7am to noon every day, whether I felt like it or not. Some days, the words came. Other days, I sat there, staring at the blank page. It didn’t matter. I still sat at my desk at the same time every day. Of course, I was lucky enough to have parents who provided a room ‘of one’s own’ and, more importantly, a new laptop to put in that room.  I don’t have children or a tyrannical boss or a crippling mortgage to pay and I’m aware that these must feel like truly impossible obstacles. But you owe to yourself to at least try to carve out some time every week that you can use to write.
  • Social media, while beneficial for ‘research’, is really only a method of distraction. When asked how one of the authors on his roster managed to maintain such a prolific work rate, Jonny Geller, an agent with Curtis Brown, replied ‘He doesn’t have twitter.’ Until novels come in a 140 character size, it’s not helping you.
  • Be prepared to make sacrifices. In my case, the first casualty was an active social life. Jodi Picoult describes writing as ‘successful schizophrenia’ and I found it very difficult at times to interact normally with other people when all I could think about was this world I had created in my head. Personal aesthetic standards also suffered. When I worked in fashion, I didn’t own any items of clothing that could ever be described as ‘practical’. Or, indeed, anyway comfortable. Things are so bad that when I wash my hair, my father asks if I’m going anywhere special and my mother claps her hands in glee, like I’m a toddler learning to use the potty.
  • Some authors edit their work as they go along but I saved all my editing for the end, like the crappy pink and brown Roses at the bottom of the tin that no one wants at Christmas. There is a peculiar type of shame in reading ‘Slowly, she walked slowly down the corridor slowly.’ In case you don’t comprehend the subtlety of my brilliance, I was trying to convey that the character was very, very, very slow.
  •  Once you finish the first draft, edit, edit and then edit some more. As Faulkner said, ‘…kill all your darlings.’ You’re just showing off anyway. Ask a friend who is an avid reader to take a look at your manuscript. Choose someone you trust to be both honest and gentle with you.
  • When you have a finished manuscript in fairly good nick, you need to find an agent. An agent will take a proportion of your earnings (generally around 15%) but they are essential, as most publishing companies don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. When submitting to an agency, they usually want to see the first three chapters, a covering letter and your CV but check their websites for individual guidelines. Choose an agent that has authors you admire on their roster or who represents authors who are writing in similar genre to you. Make your covering letter engaging. If you’re someone’s love child, now is the time to mention it. Unless it’s someone embarrassing, like Mick Hucknell. Keep that to yourself. Forever.
  • Be prepared for rejection and don’t take it personally. JK Rowling famously received twelve rejection letters and I think she’s managing to pay her electricity bill these days. You want your agent to fight for your book when they’re trying to sell it to a publisher. If they don’t ‘get’ it, then they’re not the right agent for you anyway.
Louise's new book, Asking for It, will be out in September
Louise's new book, Asking for It, will be out in September
only ever yours
only ever yours

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!

When Sarah Met Judi

Judi Curtin
Judi Curtin

I can’t remember when I first met Judi Curtin. It was almost certainly at a book event. It could have been a festival or a launch or a reading drive. I knew her writing of course, I’d read and enjoyed her first book, Alice Next Door when I was a children’s bookseller and I’ve loved every book since. She has a way of drawing the reader in and a lovely warmth to her writing, and her characters are so real they almost jump off the page. But I can pinpoint when we started to become not just fellow writers, but proper friends. A few years ago myself, Judi and Sophia Bennett went on tour together around Ireland with Children’s Books Ireland. We talked to hundreds of girls about our books and about reading and writing. We had a wonderful tour manager, Tom Donegan, who now works in The Story Museum in Oxford.

Here’s Judi

Every evening we had dinner together. We chatted about all kinds of things – books, writing and our lives – and it was terrific fun.

Then I went on another tour with Judi, this time with the Irish library service. We took Oisin McGann along with us to join in the fun. And he even did ballet with us! That cemented my friendship with Judi (and Oisin in fact, who is a brilliant man and a wonderful writer).

Judi and I are very different – she’s practical, patient and kind. I’m impulsive, passionate and stubborn. She’s calm and I can be a bit manic at times. It’s great to be able to compare writing and publishing experiences with her. We both write for girls of age 8/9+ and love talking about our work.

Judi has helped me more than she knows and I like to think that I have helped her too. Myself and Oisin even helped her pick a title for one of her books – Viva Alice!

viva alice - judi curtin event book cover
viva alice - judi curtin event book cover

Judi made me this little fellow – Greg from the Wimpy Kid books – as she knows I like him. When I go to school events, I love showing him to the children and telling them that Judi made it. They are always very impressed that I know Judi.

IMG_5156[2]
IMG_5156[2]

This year Judi and I are doing some special events together at festivals, talking about our friendship. The first one is on Saturday March 21st and is called When Judi Met Sarah and it’s part of theMountains to Sea Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Ireland. If you would like to book tickets you can do so on the website here.

Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover
Songbird Cafe_Mollie final cover

March is a busy time for me as I also have a new book out called Mollie Cinnamon is Not a Cupcake in The Songbird Cafe Girls series. It’s set on an island called Little Bird and it even has its own map. I love maps in books! Judi knows all about the characters and plot at this stage and she also helped me with the cover.

Writer friends really are great.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website.

Feminism and Education for Girls

FEMINISM What does it mean?

And what does it mean to me? Am I a feminist?

I have an eleven year old daughter. She’s into art and sport and loves Girl Guides. She works hard at school and likes it, even if she complains about the amount of homework she has to do. She wants to attend college and become a dentist.

I was in the car with her recently and a piece came on the radio about Malala. She asked me why Malala wasn’t allowed to go to school. I explained to her that in some countries girls and boys are not treated equally. I told her that there are 66 million ‘Malalas’ around the world, all denied an education just because they are girls.

Why? She asked.

Why indeed?

malala pen
malala pen

In October 2012 in Pakistan, Malala was shot in the face by a Taliban gunman for daring to say that girls should have equal right to an education. She narrowly survived and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2014 for her bravery. She says ‘We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.’

My friend, Elizabeth (a children’s writer) is working in a school in Cambodia at the moment. She says ‘I'm currently seeing at first hand the lack of choices and the pressures on girls and women in a developing country. They are fighting a patriarchal society and arranged marriages, low social expectations and other problems. I know girls who get up at 3am to study before their lessons (7.30am to 7.30pm). It is slowly changing but the sad thing is, currently, even with all that education, there are few jobs available because the higher positions are reserved for men.’

So where does feminism come into it? Here’s the science bit. The definition of feminism is this: a collection of movements and ideologies that share a common stated aim, to define, establish, and defend equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.

Equal opportunities for women in education and employment.

This is important – EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES.

Many people think we don’t ‘need’ feminism anymore, that feminists are women who don’t like men or boys in some way. That is so wrong. Feminists are people who believe that girls and boys should be treated EQUALLY. It’s as simple as that.

We are lucky in Ireland and the UK. Girls have the right to an education.  But girls in other countries are not so lucky.

I am absolutely 100% a feminist. I believe my daughter and my sons should be treated equally. If my daughter wants to be a dentist, I’ll do everything in my power to help her get there.

What else does feminism mean to me? It means doing everything I can to ensure that ALL girls are treated equally, not just my own daughter. It means being kind and supportive to girls and women, helping them when I can, mentoring them. It means drawing attention to the inequalities that girls and woman face around the world.

In short, it means supporting women and girls in my own community, my own country and in the wider world.

Do you believe in equal rights for girls? Do you believe that all girls should have the right to an education?

Then like me, you’re a feminist. Good for you!

I’ll leave you with this fun video about being yourself and enjoying sport. It’s called This Girl Can.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN7lt0CYwHg

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This blog first appeared on www.girlsheartbooks.com

To find out more about Malala's story, read her book:

Malala's Book
Malala's Book

A Day in the Life - the CBI Conference and Thoughts for Writers

eoin-colfer.jpg

Right, because I love you all and I know many of you could not make the Children’s Books Ireland Conference today in the Lexicon Library in Dun Laoghaire, here are some notes and thoughts on the day. The title was: A Day in the Life

Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer and Friends
Eoin Colfer and Friends

Eoin Colfer kicked off the proceedings in a lively manner with a funny and thought provoking talk about writing, his love of Ireland, how ‘place’ informs writers’ books and how his Laureate-ship is shaping up so far.

On writing he said: ‘It starts with character for me. My criminal mastermind, Artemis is based on my brother, Donal.’

‘People often say don’t write a local story. I think write a local story with universal themes.’

He said for him, having a new book out never gets old and he never takes it for granted:

‘It’s amazing to be published – to hold a new book in your hands – it’s always fantastic. Whatever else happens in your life, you’ll always have that.’

His aim with the Laureate events is to visit ‘tiny schools on remote islands who don’t normally get author visits… As a child I didn’t realise that writers were real people.’

He said: ‘Reaching that one kid, planting the seed of story in their head, that’s what the Laureate’s all about.’

On why Irish people are such good storytellers and writers:

Eoin explained that it’s in our blood. We grow up hearing stories.

‘Myths and legends are on the curriculum in Ireland. I was surprised to find this wasn’t the case in other countries.’

Alan Nolan

Next up was Alan Nolan who talked about the books he had written and the comics that had influenced him as a child.

‘The way to get children reading is to get them hooked on a series,’ he said. His job as Illustrator in Residence in the Church of Ireland College of Education is to ‘remind trainee teachers how much fun children’s books are.’

Monster Doodle

During lunch there was a wonderful Monster Doodle for adults – where everyone got stuck in.

Sarah Crossan

Sarah Crossan
Sarah Crossan

Next up was Sarah Crossan in conversation with the wonderful Colm Keegan, Writer in Residence at dlr Libraries.

She spoke passionately about engaging teens with poetry and why she writes novels in verse for teens. Her new novel in verse, One (and not Won as she pointed out) will be published in August and is about conjoined twins. It sounds great.

Next up where the New Writers – many new writers took to the stage to share their books with the audience in 5 minute sessions.

This was an interesting insight into the way people approached being asked to do this. Some gave some background to the book, others gave a straight reading without any intro. The ones that worked the best I think did a little of both. The ones that stood out for me were Dave Rudden who is an excellent reader of his own work and gave a short intro which set the scene well and Moira Fowley-Doyle. She read with a lot of passion and it’s my kind of book – a family/friendship drama with a clever and fresh premise. It’s called The Accident Season and it’s about a family who for one month a year are horribly and tragically accident prone. She read the perfect section (from the start of the book so it didn’t need an intro) and I really enjoyed her reading.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them all (other writers included Patricia Forde, Kim Hood, Shane Hegarty and a lovely picture book guy), but it did make me ponder the importance of professional development for writers and how new writers need help preparing for readings and events. I am going to write a series of blogs on events/readings and how to write and deliver them when I get a chance as I think it might be helpful to newer writers.

I was a nervous wreck when I started out doing events! I love doing them now, as long as I am well prepared. You can throw me in front of any age group from babies and toddlers to teens and I'll have something to say, but it wasn't always the case. It's taken me years to be confident in front of an audience. I would have loved to shadow a writer before I started doing events. And I would have loved some guidance on how to put a good talk together. So I'll share what I can soon, I promise!

I'll also post some publicity and marketing tips and interviews with publishing pr people this year - remind me if I forget!

Julia Eccleshare

Julia Eccleshare
Julia Eccleshare

Finally after a very nice coffee break – with biscuits – was the inspiring Julia Eccleshare, Children’s Books Editor for the Guardian. I thought she was FANTASTIC and spoke such sense. Of course, she did say that writers made extra-good reviewers as they understood things like a writer’s intent and theme, so I may be slightly biased.

She spoke lyrically about her job – how she has to sift through over 10k children’s books a year to select the 45 books she can review in the Guardian.

She is passionate about books and stories. She said ‘I never go anywhere without thinking about a story.’

And ‘Everything in my life is coloured by the stories I read.’

She explained how these days writers have to be advocates for their books. Gone are the days where you could write a book and sit back on your laurels. You have to get out there and do events. ‘You cannot sit at home and be shy.’

She told us how JK Rowling’s books were game changers – how after the Harry Potter series, children’s books became cool and people started talking about stories and children’s books like never before. She mentioned Philip Pullman winning the overall Whitbread Award with The Amber Spyglass and quoted him: ‘Children’s books are the home of the story.’

She spoke about the importance of children’s books: ‘Children learn things from children’s books that their parents don’t want them to know… There is no serendipity for children anymore. They are the most watched children ever. How do they learn that things go wrong (if they are always being watched)?’

Books help them explore dangerous worlds and allow them have adventures and decide what kind of people they would like to be, she explained.

It was a wonderful talk and she’s a powerhouse.

The day ended with a drinks reception where I talked to Julia and many writers and readers and ate some very fine finger food.

So ended the CBI Day – thanks to all the speakers, to Marian Keyes who provided the wonderful venue and to the girls at CBI, Elaina, Jenny and Aoife for a cracking event.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

PS If you read my blog and find it useful, do let me know via the comments or on Facebook or Twitter. :)

sarah crossan book cover
sarah crossan book cover

She's Making a List, She's Checking It Twice

As it’s Christmas Eve I thought I’d talk about lists. I hope you’ve all sent your wish list to Santa, or Father Christmas as you call him in the UK. I’m from Ireland and he’s Santa around these parts. Top of my Santa list is always books and book tokens. Are you a list maker? I am! I love making lists. Here is my list of the lists I keep:

1/ Favourite movies

I love going to the cinema and I don’t get to go as often as I’d like. My great treat to myself is an afternoon at the cinema – with a friend or by myself – I just love it.

This year I watched 14 different films, mainly at my local cinema in Dun Loaghaire. And I also went to some plays and lots of book events. Hurrah, another list to make for next year – book events.

Here’s the list of movies I watched (at the cinema) in 2014. My lists are scribbled and have rambling notes but I love looking back at them years later.

2015 Movies List
2015 Movies List

2014 Movies List

2/ Favourite books

This year I read 44 novels (adult and YA) and lots more children’s books for all ages.

Here’s part of the list. As you can see I score my books and movies out of 10. Geeky I know!

Books 2014
Books 2014

Books 2014

3/ Books I’d like to write in the future

That list is secret! It’s full of plans and ideas for future characters and plots. Sometimes the first thing that comes to me is a title or a character’s name and I jot that down on my list.

When I was a teenager to my shame I had a boy list. I listed all the boys I liked and where I’d spotted them. It was very much an aspirational list. I’d never met most of them. Some of them were pop stars or actors. The boys from Duran Duran regularly featured on my boy list – the One Direction of their day.

Duran Duran
Duran Duran

Duran Duran

IMG_4917[1]
IMG_4917[1]

I have an ongoing to do list on my desk. Here’s one from November. As you can see my Girls Heart Books blog is number one on that list.

Why do I make lists? It helps me make sense of the world and it helps me stay on top of things.

Sometimes life can be overwhelming, especially at busy times like Christmas. Everyone’s rushing around, buying presents, preparing food, getting into a tizzy about Christmas Day - who’s collecting Auntie Mabel , who’s peeling the potatoes? When I’m feeling a little stressed out I sit down and make a list. A shopping list, a to-do list, a list of the people I need to ring. It helps me feel more in control.

It’s OK to feel a bit overwhelmed at Christmas. It can be a noisy, manic, emotional time of the year. I’m not a ‘noisy’ person. I’m a reader and a book lover and a story-girl. I like peace and quiet, I like to be able to think.

If you’re a quiet person like me it’s perfectly normal to need a little time out from the mayhem, a little peace. You might like to:

Read a book

wizard of oz
wizard of oz

Watch your favourite old movie – mine is The Wizard of Oz

Write in your diary

Go for a walk

Listen to music

Hug the dog

Hug your mum (I’m a mum and I love random ‘just because’ hugs)

Or maybe, just maybe, make a list like me!

Have a happy, peaceful and book filled Christmas everyone!

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX

This post first appeared on the Girls Heart Books website: www.girlsheartbooks.com