Monday, 21 December 2015

A Writers Family – An Ever Giving Gift of Inspiration…

As Christmas is looming, The Family Poyton is reading Matt Haig’s ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ and we are loving the story and the amazing illustrations by Chris Mould. As a family we have also been listening to Matt being interviewed about the inspiration behind the book, and that it came when his son asked the question; ‘Was Father Christmas ever a Boy?’

This got me thinking about inspiration, and where idea’s for books come from. Like many creative people, my inspiration comes from anywhere at any time. However, one thing has inspired me more than anything else is my family.

In fact if it wasn’t for my daughter, I wouldn’t be writing. So many years ago, when she was coming up three, and my son his first birthday, my husband went away to Australia for six weeks on business. My daughter, a rather pretentious and funny toddler, asked him to bring her back a Kangaroo, and for the whole duration of the trip she persisted in asking me how Daddy would catch the kangaroo. Initially I’d answer simply, but as time went on the answers got more and more extreme, started to rhyme and evolved into my first ever bit of writing a Picture book called, How to Catch a Kangaroo. From tat moment I was hooked, and I haven't stopped writing since.


Spread One

My Daddy has one to Australia.

There is just one thing I asked him to do,

“Daddy, please bring me back a Kangaroo!”

Spread Two

I wonder how he will catch it.

How do you catch a Kangaroo?

Could you catch one with a rod and line?

What would you use for bait?

Peanut butter sandwiches, or jelly on a plate?

It’s not just kids that inspire, my two furry, lazy Springbats, (half Springer Spaniel half Basset Hound) also bring a healthy dose of inspiration to, and after a particularly entertaining walk involving some fox excrement, and I began to pen a Picture book from the point of view of a hound. Although I’m pretty sure it’s not like to ever get a publisher, I believe it’ll strike a chord with anyone who has ever owned a dog…

If Dogs Wrote Picture Books

Because I love you, I’ve dug up your roses. I know that their horrid smell itches human’s noses.

Because I love you, I’ve made myself smell nice. I found some fox poo and rolled in it twice.

Because I love you, I’ve warmed up your bed, and now it smells like what I’ve just been fed.

Because you love me, you left me stake out on the side for a snack. Because I’m so grateful I gulped it down as soon as you turned you back.

Because I love you, I’ve brought you a present. It’s a rather tasty (and energetic) half dead pheasant.

Because I love you, I slept on your best hat. I think I’ve improved it; It’s covered in hair and is now rather flat.

Because I love you, I bark all the time you’re out. That way you will know I love you and you’ll never be in doubt.

Because you love me, you warm up my chair, I love it when you leave the room so I can snuggle up there.

Because I love you, to let everyone know your mine. I pee in your shoes (It makes them smell better) and gives them a yellowy shine.

Entertaining the children in queues or on long journeys has also provided inspiration for a book about a magic flying toilet, and a mission to save one families ailing sweet making business by stealing the family recipe book back from the Pirate and Captain of ‘The Sweet Revenge’ who rules the seven seas by supplying all seadogs with the delicious sweets. 

My most recent inspiration has been provided by my son, (who’s now approaching his 10th Birthday) and his constant attempts to steal my bobble hat and his disappointment that I will not give it to him. He handles this by talking about himself in the third person and calling himself ‘No-bobble’. This has presented lot of entertaining ideas for a new Picture Book text which I’m currently working on.

So… this is a little celebration of my eccentric family, and a thank you to the most important people in my life who inspire me every day. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank them properly with an acknowledgement in an actual book. One day…

Monday, 30 November 2015

Ebb and Flow - the life of an unpublished writer

When you writing and pursuing publication life is full of ebb and flow and rather a lot ‘NO!’ Sometimes you believe that you are flowing closer to the island of ‘Publication’ as the waves of the slushpile bring you closer to shore. For a few years I sailed by vessel across the turbulent shushpile sea and managed to get the island in sight, a few long-listings and honorary mentions in new writers competitions felt like flow, then the rejections of submission made the ebbing felling come back. 

The 2014 brought me closer than I’ve ever got, so close, that I had to abandon my vessel and swim franticly towards the shoreline. I secured my first contract for a YA novella with an imprint I love and I got taken on by a literary agent. For the first time when someone asked me what I do, I could answer ‘Writer’ without feeling like fraud and I had an actual positive response to the dread question; Are you published? 

It felt great, as if the flow had gained momentum, and I had to swim faster to get edits done, and blog, and network and generally up my game ready for submission. Then disaster hit, the wind changed direction and I was blown out into the middle of the Slushpile Ocean. With in a week, my contract was cancelled, as publishers decided not to proceed with the novella range, and then my lovely agent who I worked so well with and learnt so much from, announced she was leaving the agenting business to pursue another career. 

That's when it dawned on me that success as a writer is binary you are either on the island or somewhere in the ocean. And when the ebb is the main course, you need to build yourself another raft, a sturdier one, and start rowing for all your worth.

That being said it’s not easy, sometimes you have to drift a while first, for me that was about a month, of rising and falling on the waves, from upbeat to despair. But my kick into action was my writer friends and being thrown safety line from the esteemed ship SCBWI, by way for the conference party. Being surrounded by other folk who are all serious about their craft and passionate about writing and illustrating whether they too are riding the slushpile waves, or standing with their wet feet on the shoreline, made me realise I’m, not alone and that rebuilding the raft was the right thing to do. So, thank you to all my writer friends, and my ever patient family, and here to a upcoming new year which with luck may be more flow than ebb!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Running my first Small Creative Writing Session for Children

So this summer has been one of firsts; first job in over a decade, my eldest child’s first days in secondary school, first submission with an agent, but perhaps the most nerve wracking – my first small group creative writing session.

I submitted a lot to a charity blind auction, a creative writing session for a small group of children. To my utter surprise the lot was brought, and therefore I began preparing. The group was four children of varying ages and ability; one six year old, one seven year old, one nine year old and an eleven year old. The winner of the lot asked specifically if I could do a session to try and inspire her daughters to write; make it exciting!

After a lot of thought, I decided that the session had to be three things…

1. Exciting (as per the brief)

2. Interactive

3. Fun

So I planned some activities based around the notion that EVERTHING is exciting, no matter how mundane it may initially appear, as long as you allow your imagination to run free.

So we started with a food. I asked the children,

How exciting is a sandwich?

To which I received the expected answer: not very – or - not at all. So I read a passage out of the Dave Shelton book, ‘A Boy and a Bear in a Boat,’ about the heroic antics of the VLS, VERY LAST SANDWICH. All the children giggled and gawped, and I could see that they were opening up to the concept that in creative writing there are no rules, and that you are only restricted by the scope of your imagination.

We then talked about other foods with exciting properties, like the cakes from Sarah McIntyre’s and Philip Reeves Cakes in Space, and we even made our own cake monsters. The discussion also covered food from Harry Potter, George‘s Marvellous Medicine and then the land of the most exciting food, Wonderland. To make the talk interactive we drunk from bottles marked ‘Drink Me’ and ate mushroom sweets and pretended to shrink and grow.

“My daughters had a wonderful time during the creative writing session with Sally. I was very impressed by the amount of effort that she put into preparing for it. She kept the girls engaged and gently led them back to their writing piece when they got distracted. It has really helped them to see literacy in a more fun way and hopefully they will bring this enthusiasm with them into the next school year.” From Mrs O

After all the excitement we sat down and talked about each child’s favourite food, and started to think how that food could be exciting, and then began to build a story around it. To make the session easier I provided each child with a pre-prepared pack with story wheels, and vocabulary sheets. All the children’s imaginations soon warmed up and their stories became magical and exciting. It was lovely to see them al enjoying their own crazy worlds and ideas. 

The session was short, but the children really seemed to have fun, and took to the notion that writing can be fun. To help the children to continue to develop a love of writing, I sent them so additional activities through the post in the following weeks.

I am very pleased at how my first small creative writing session has gone, and will certainly be thinking of ways to improve and develop it for the future sessions. But one thing I know for sure, it has to be exciting and interactive and most of all fun!