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Michelle Harrison Michelle Harrison

National Share a Story Month celebrates storytelling and story sharing, and is a fantastic opportunity for you to enter this writing competition run by the FCBG (Federation of Children’s Book Groups) in the UK.

I’m thrilled to have written one of the three writing prompts for 2021’s Story Starter competition, the theme of which is Myths, Magic and Mayhem. All the information and rules can be found on the FCBG’s website here. This is my prompt:

The first thing you need to know about magic is that it’s always found when you least expect it. The second thing is – no, wait. It’s best that I don’t tell you that straight away. I should probably start at the beginning, which was when I made the strange discovery in the new shop that opened at the end of my street . . .

If you use my prompt for your entry I’d love to see it, and welcome you to post it below in the comments. Posting here is just for fun so there are no prizes, but I promise to read every one that appears! The official FCBG competition rules are that entrants must be aged 7-12 and live in the UK, however readers aged 13-16 from anywhere in the world can post their story in the comments here. Word limit is 750 (including my beginning lines!) and your story must be complete. Remember that if you’re entering the FCBG competition you must do so at the address on their website and the closing date is 15.06.21.

Finally, if you are a winner or runner up in the FCBG competition using my prompt, please contact me with proof and I will gladly send you a signed, dedicated book.  Good luck!

 

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the family themed writing competition. I really enjoyed reading all your stories and poems, and was so impressed with them all. It’s been extremely tough to choose winners and runners up as the standard was so high. As with the art competition, many factors had to be considered, such as age, imagination, originality, and whether English was the first language of the entrant. Here are the results.

In the age 8-10 category:

WINNER: The Lovely Lambs by Chloe Salwey, 8

I loved this unique (and dare I say, slightly bonkers) story with its fantastic names and ‘sheeperific’ theme. The mashed banana moat is genius. Congratulations, Chloe!

 

RUNNER UP: Oh, Freddie! by Izzy Black, 8 (extract)

I really enjoyed this original picture book with its theme of clumsiness, chaos and gentle repetition, which Izzy had carefully illustrated throughout. Wonderful work!

Highly Commended:

The following people all displayed wonderful imagination and flair in their stories and poetry. Well done!

Elena Davies (9), Elspeth Perkins (9), Charlotte Vine (9), Lucy Young (9)

Commended:

These entrants all showed interesting ideas and good writing skills. Bravo to:

Ellen May Ambridge (9), Jessica Rosie Brown (8), Lili May Hodges (9), Autumn Munro (10), Quinn Munro (8), Annapurna Wright (9)

 

In the age 11-13 category:

WINNER: The Rowan Violin by Georgina Salwey, 12

I thought this was a beautifully written story with a fable-like quality and a powerful message. I had also never heard of the word ‘dwimmer’ and found this fascinating. Congratulations, Georgina!

 

RUNNER UP: Once Upon a Time by Vassiliki Kollia, 13

Once upon a time, in a far away village, where the birds sang sweeter than in any place in the world and the wind blew through the leaves and nourished little children, there was a family, which was poor and rich at the same time. Poor because they didn’t have money, but rich because they had found the most important thing: love.

The parents were very friendly and everybody in the village admired and respect them. Moreover, they wanted to pass on their knowledge to their children :how to say sorry and how to forgive, how to give and help others without a reward, how to smile even if they might have to cope with many difficulties. As time passed, the children were growing up with stories about honesty, bravery and love.

Once, when the children had already grown, they wanted to leave. It was their time to fly, like the birds and find their own way. Parents were very proud of their kids and just smiled and wished them good luck. The young people didn’t forget their parents and when they settled in a big city they started working hard. Finally, they succeeded and they got their parents to stay with them in the city. Meanwhile, they had made families and their parents had grandchildren.

As time passed, the grandchildren were growing with stories about honesty, bravery and love:
“Grandma, grandma tell us a story,” shouted the little kids.
“OK, OK. Today will tell you a very special story,” the old woman said with a smile.
“Yes, grandma, please…”
“All right. Once upon a time in a far away village…”

***

This gentle story of enduring love, the important things in life and the cycle of family charmed me no end. Bravo, Vassiliki.

 

RUNNER UP: My Little Sister by Sophie Blackamore, 11 (extract)

If there was ever a person with wavy blonde hair,
With a lopsided grin and a cheeky stare.
I know for certain,
that nothing can compare,
With the girl from my childhood,
Who always was there.

My little sister, knew just what to say.
She knew how to annoy, which she did every day.
Though sometimes she hated me, sometimes she might,
Climb up beside me, our hands holding tight.

My little sister has formed a chain with me.
A chain of friendships, which forever will be.
My little sister, is more than a friend.
She’s my life, my fuel,
Which will never end.

 

Commended:

The following entrants had interesting ideas and descriptions. Well done to: 

Nour Elshirazy (13), Lydia Illingworth (13)

 

In the age 14-16 category:

WINNER:  Unconscious by Eliana Knott, 15

It wasn’t far until the edge. The edge of our cake slice of the world; the corner of the icing – thick, delicious and, unequivocally, the best part – the one you always endure the agonising wait for, to save it for the end. But was it the end?

***

Ablaze – like a campfire – my sister beams the moment she gazes upon the beach below. Eyes smiling, they traverse over the sandy sliver, absorbing every brush stroke of the picture. “You’d think you’d never seen a beach before!” I laugh. She glances away, not quite meeting my endarting eyes. Gently, she shakes her head and sighs. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Nodding in agreement, I link my arm in hers, pointing slightly up into the interminable distance. Head lolling on my pillow of a shoulder, her steady breath echoes my pulse as the stunning sunset performs.

Throwing our shoes violently and vindictively (what’s their purpose if not to prevent our fun?) to the far side of the beach, we skip into the lapping waves, toes sinking like quicksand into the sodden beach. Laughing raucously, we grin in the waning light; the briny air is a welcome replacement for the city streets: fumes, fumes, fumes. Our shins almost entirely enveloped by the rising tide, we stride further into the – unbeknown to us – ravenous mouth. Giggling, pushing, gazing. As the day draws to a close, our personalities only shine together, complementing the serenity.

A harmonious scream! It pierces my tranquil free-floating. Head pounding, I hurl myself vertical with all the strength I can muster. Was it her? Is she hurt? Arms flailing, I search the depths below. Nothing, save for a toe being subducted… A toe!

I dive beneath, thrashing. I reprimand myself, meanwhile. How could I never have noticed? It’s been so long since we last went to the beach, she reminded me of that. The danger of inexperience!

Grasping her taut, I haul her up towards the surface. Analysing her possible injuries, a deep sense of foreboding fills the pit of my stomach. Her eyes are shut. Closed. Unopened. At the very least: unconscious. The word reverberates around my brain.

Unconscious.

***

Giggling, we skip over the stepping stones in delight. Our mum watches with pride as her daughter and son jump over the crashing river. “You’re so brave!” The words ricochet, even now. As she pauses to grin at our mum, it escapes me that the stepping stones are now blocked. My determination dominates my observation, and instead I step directly into her legs. It sends us both cascading into the yawning river. I hit lucky and grasp the neighbouring embankment, but she hits her head on the stepping stones as she falls. Her head bleeds. Her eyes close. Her smile vanishes.

Unconscious.

***

Fuelled by the events of ten years ago, I have an uncontrollable desire not to let that day repeat itself. Consequently, I haul her ashore in determination.

Momentarily breathless, I only stare.

***

A haunting, intriguing and beautifully described piece, with a great use of flashbacks. Fantastic work, Eliana!

 

RUNNER UP: The Beauty of a Family by Ellen Dries, 16 (extract)

Sprawled across the bedroom floor once again, the world shifts into focus. Whose womb I was born of is irrelevant- the stars are my brothers and sisters in this moment, and they’re encouraging me to pursue my dreams. Mother Nature and Father Time are feeding me all that I need, giving me the tools that I’ll require to achieve my aspirations. If I am certain of one thing, it’s that they are my family. That, I suppose, is the beauty of a family; there’s a flexibility to the structure, whereby you can choose who is truly your family and either endure or cut ties with the rest. Perhaps it sounds cutthroat, but, I promise you, the stars will never break your heart. Mother Nature will always provide for you; Father Time will always be there.

 

A powerful and atmospheric piece, with an interesting idea at its core.

 

Highly Commended:

Grace Barrett, 14 – a great writing style and an intriguing concept. Well done!

One of the loveliest things about being an author is that I often get asked to review books, especially those of debut writers. Just before Christmas my publisher sent me a manuscript they thought I’d like, and from the moment I read the first sentence I knew it was special. If you like my books, I really think you’ll enjoy this, too. It’s called The Vanishing Trick, by Jenni Spangler, and not only did Jenni kindly answer some questions about the book for me here, I’ve also got a limited edition proof copy to give away to one lucky reader. Here’s what it’s about:

Step into a world of secrets, folklore and illusions, where nothing is as it seems and magic is at play…

Madame Augustina Pinchbeck, travels the country conjuring the spirits of dearly departed loved ones… for a price. Whilst her ability to contact ghosts is a game of smoke and mirrors, there is real magic behind her tricks too – if you know where to look.

Through a magical trade, she persuades children to part with precious objects, promising to use her powers to help them. But Pinchbeck is a deceiver, instead turning their items into enchanted Cabinets that bind the children to her and into which she can vanish and summon them at will.

When Pinchbeck captures orphan Leander, events are set into motion that see him and his new friends Charlotte and Felix, in a race against time to break Pinchbeck’s spell, before one of them vanishes forever…

Q&A with Jenni

1. How long did it take you to write The Vanishing Trick, and what was your journey to being a published author like?

I started it nearly eight years ago! But there were long stretches in there where I did no writing at all due to multiple jobs, babies, studying etc. I think compared to some of my friends I’ve had it easy! I’m lucky to have a supportive family behind me who took me seriously when I said I was going to be a writer and helped me find the time and space to write.

What made the biggest difference to my writing was connecting with other writers who pushed me to improve. In particular, wonderful E.L. Norry who has been reading and critiquing my work for years, and lovely Lindsay Galvin who mentored me through #writementor in 2018. Without the two of them believing in me and holding me to high standards, I’d never have found my fantastic agent and earned a publishing deal.

2. As much as I enjoy fictional settings, I always love it when the real world creeps in and I was delighted to see Stafford and Coven mentioned (I used to live in Stafford and took the bus through Coven to uni)! What made you decide to weave these places into your story?

Like you, I love a mix of real-world and magic! It makes it feel like any of us could stumble on magic some day. I moved to Staffordshire about the time I began writing this book, and there’s something magical in the air here. We’ve got the pottery factories where poor workers lived short, hard lives, and huge manor houses where rich people lived in luxury. I wanted to explore that contrast, which is where the idea came from for Leander, penniless and alone, secretly living in a forgotten room in a grand stately home. I’m sure I’ll come back to Staffordshire as a setting for future stories, too.

3. Where and when do you write?

Whenever I can squeeze it in! I do have a little desk but I’ll just as often write in bed, in a café, or at work – wherever I can get ten minutes of quiet.

4. There are mystical themes of fairies, folklore and the tarot in your book. Are you a believer or do you see these things as story fodder only?

I don’t believe that fairies or fortune-telling are literally true. But I do think there’s a kind of magic that comes from sharing stories, and these folk-tales and beliefs are stories we’ve been telling for thousands of years. There’s something irresistible about them! I love to learn about local legends and superstitions, and including them in the book felt like keeping them alive and continuing them in my own way.

5. Have you ever had your fortune told?

Yes. When I was about 15 I tagged along with some of my mum’s friends to see a medium and fortune teller. The woman gifted me a set of tarot cards, told me I had ‘the gift’. Even at that age I was a sceptic, but it did make me feel pretty special and I still have the cards. No psychic visions so far! I must be a late bloomer…

6. Do you plan your stories or go with the flow?

I’m a planner. I’ve tried going with the flow but I just tie myself in knots.

7. Do you have another job, besides writing?

Yes, I’m the site manager for a scrap yard. It’s not glamorous! I’ve also been a drama teacher, police dispatcher and 999 operator. Like a lot of writers, it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

8. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t give up on a dream because it will be hard work, or take a long time. Time passes no matter what, and five years from now you’ll wish that you started work today.

9. Did the title of your book ever change, or was it The Vanishing Trick from the start?

The original title is spoilery, so I won’t say what it was. When I submitted it to my agent I renamed it ‘The Orphan Thief’, then we brainstormed together to come up with the current title, which is definitely the best of the three.

10. What are you working on now?

My next book is another magical middle grade book about a real inventor from the 1840s named Joseph Faber. He created a machine called ‘Euphonia’ which could mimic human speech – an amazing achievement for his day. Unfortunately, audiences hated it because it was so creepy and scary! In my story, Faber has a secret – the machine speaks the future, telling him of terrible tragedies he can never avert. When his new assistant, plucky 12-year-old stagehand Hannah Rabbit, learns about this, she sets out to solve the mystery of Euphonia and prevent the prophecies coming true. I’m really excited about it – it’s another chance to mix up real places and history with magic. I hope readers will love fearless Hannah and her determination to do the right thing.

Quick fire questions:

Book or Kindle? Book
Tea or coffee? Tea
Cats or dogs? Cats
Beach holiday or city break? City break. I sunburn too easily for the beach.
What’s your current ring tone? Just the default one – boring!
Would you rather have a fox’s ears or a squirrel’s tail? Fox ears – it’s hard enough finding jeans that fit already.
Would you rather spend one night locked in a witchcraft museum or one night camping in the woods? Witchcraft museum please! Sounds great!

Thank you so much, Jenni, for answering my questions and providing such a fascinating insight into your book. You can read my review here.

The Vanishing Trick is published by Simon & Schuster UK on April 30th, 2020. Pre-order here.

I have one proof copy to be won. To enter, leave a comment below. Closes midnight (GMT) February 29th 2020. Winner will be announced here and notified by email soon after the closing date. UK only.

****COMPETITION NOW CLOSED****

I’m delighted to announce some lovely news. Stripes Publishing, part of the Little Tiger group, has bought three books from me in a new series called Midnight Magic. I’m hugely excited as it contains so many of the things I love: a black cat called Midnight! Magic! Rhyming text! A flying broomstick named Twiggy! The first two books will publish in 2020. Here is the full press release:

Stripes Publishing, an imprint of the Little Tiger Group, has acquired a magical rhyming series, purrfect for young readers, by Michelle Harrison, author of the Waterstones’ Children’s Prize winning Thirteen Treasures. Commissioning Editor Katie Jennings bought world rights to Midnight Magic and two further books in the series from Julia Churchill at A.M. Heath.

Jennings said:
“From the very first verse, we were utterly charmed by Michelle’s classic feline tale, which overspills with imagination, warmth and humour. In Midnight, she conjures up a black cat with a difference. Midnight may have magical power in her paws, but she is very much a real cat! We are just so excited to be publishing Midnight’s adventures with Twiggy the broom, and can’t wait to bring Michelle Harrison’s spellbinding storytelling to a whole host of younger fans.”

In the middle of winter, three kittens are born in a barn. Two are ordinary, but the third, jet black and born on the stroke of midnight, is brimming with magic from whiskers to tail ‒ even sparking life into a dusty old broomstick! While her siblings pounce at rats, Midnight is busy perfecting her flying skills on the broom. But when things begin to get hot under the collar, she sets out with only loyal broom Twiggy at her side. Will they find a new family, or will Midnight’s magic cause mischief?

Harrison said:
“I’ve been bewitched by black cats ever since reading the Gobbolino stories as a child. My own cats are certainly mischievous but lack the charm of Midnight – who wouldn’t dream of drinking out of the toilet! I couldn’t be happier that Midnight has found her forever home with a suitably feline publisher, and I’m thrilled to be working with such an imaginative and enthusiastic team at Stripes.”

A young rhyming series for readers age 6 and up, MIDNIGHT MAGIC is perfect for fans of SQUISHY MCFLUFF, with a sprinkle of GOBBOLINO. Michelle’s writing is hugely visual and musical, combining to make a modern classic, hugely appealing and instantly collectable series.

 

On February 13th 2008, I got on a train from Oxford and met my agent in London. We had a meeting with Simon and Schuster, one of three publishers who wanted to meet with me after reading my first manuscript, The 13 Treasures. After almost four years of working on this story and with numerous rejections under my belt, I still couldn’t quite believe I had an agent, let alone meetings with actual publishers who wanted to talk about my writing – despite this being the very thing I’d dreamed of for so long.

I could almost hear my nerves rattling. Julia (my agent) and I had already met with one publisher earlier in the week, and the meeting hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped. They’d liked my story, but wanted a lot of changes; more than I was prepared to make for fear of losing the essence of the story. This second meeting was vastly different. They asked me what I was going to write next. A sequel, I suggested, written from the perspective of another character. They were keen. Upon leaving, they told my agent they would be making an offer to buy two books from me.

I was going to be a published author.

Ten years . . . it’s a long time! Yet in some ways it feels so recent. Much has happened within that decade. The high of being a published author was the first of many: holding my book for the first time; seeing it in an actual book shop; winning the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize; being translated into sixteen languages, as well as selling rights in the USA.

Since then, there have been another five novels (six counting the one that’s written and next to be published)! I gave up my job in publishing to write full time, and later became a parent. And of course, with life’s highs must come the lows. My wonderful mum – who was my biggest fan – died last year from cancer, followed only four months later by her partner, whom I thought of as my dad (also from cancer). I’m thankful they got to see me achieve my dream of making writing my career, and of how proud they were. Equally, I’m devastated that they will never get to read any more of my books or, more importantly, get to see my son grow up.

So, what a decade it’s been: both cruel and kind as is the tricksy, unpredictable way of life. If you are reading this, thank you for sharing it with me. I’m excited about what the future holds and all the stories yet to come – and I promise I’ll try to write faster!

Apologies for the terrible lack of updates. The past 18 months have been some of the toughest of my life.  Last year, my parents were both diagnosed with cancer just six weeks apart, and in both cases it had already spread. On May 21st 2017, my beautiful mum, Elizabeth Harrison, passed away aged 74. She was smart, funny, practical, and incredibly brave throughout her illness, never once complaining. She was my biggest fan and supporter of my writing, and my career made her extremely proud. Fortunately, my dad is still here and responding to treatment.

mum

As you would expect, working has been difficult. Despite finding escape in writing, time has been short and filled with hospital appointments, phone calls and everything else that comes with helping to care for someone who is seriously ill. Book seven, as yet is untitled, but is very close to having a first draft completed, which is my focus now.

calderdale

In happier news: on Friday I was in Halifax for the Calderdale Book of the Year Award, and I’m delighted to say that THE OTHER ALICE was crowned winner, as voted for by the children who attended the event. After such a rotten time recently, I can’t express how much this meant to me. I’ve been shortlisted for many regional awards during my career and not won any of them, so I was fully prepared for this to be the case here. Instead, I went home with a huge smile and a beautiful trophy which now has pride of place on my bookshelf. Thank you to everyone who voted for me. There was a moment of sadness on the way to the train station as I wanted to call my mum and tell her the news and realised I couldn’t, but I like to think that somewhere, somehow, she still knows.

I’m thrilled to reveal the cover copy (or blurb) for my sixth novel, The Other Alice, which publishes in the UK on July 28th. The cover is still in progress, but I hope to be able to share that with you very soon. In the meantime, here, in a nutshell, is what I’ve been working on for the past year and a half.

Alice

What happens when a tale with real magic, that was supposed to be finished, never was? This is a story about one of those stories . . .

Midge loves riddles, his cat, Twitch, and ‒ most of all ‒ stories. Especially because he’s grown up being read to by his sister Alice, a brilliant writer.

When Alice goes missing and a talking cat turns up in her bedroom, Midge searches Alice’s stories for a clue. Soon he discovers that her secret book, The Museum of Unfinished Stories, is much more than just a story. In fact, he finds two of its characters wandering around town.

But every tale has its villains ‒ and with them leaping off the page, Midge, Gypsy and Piper must use all their wits and cunning to work out how the story ends and find Alice. If they fail, a more sinister finale threatens them all . . .

FullSizeRender

 

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

Paper cut illustrations © Michelle Harrison 2016. Not to be reproduced without permission.

 

Happy 2016! I felt my first post of the year should be writing related, seeing as so many of my readers ask advice on their own work. I can’t say these tips will work for everyone, but these are some of the things that work for me.

 

Magpie nest

Also known as an inspiration board, this is a wall or a pin board in your work space. Here you can collect shiny new ideas until you’re ready to use them, a bit like a magpie hoarding glittery items that have taken its fancy. These can be notes, news articles, postcards — anything you feel has a story behind it. Having this board is a great way to help you remember why you got excited about a particular idea in the first place.

 

Get out

Inspiration is all around you. Many of my ideas have come from objects in museums, landmarks, places, and even the names of streets and towns (there are some really quirky and quaint ones). It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction, and two places in particular come to mind when I think of this: the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford which houses such gruesome things as shrunken heads, an Egyptian mummy, and a spooky collection of old items used in witchcraft. Similarly, the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall, has some fascinating and blood-chilling displays; two mummified cats found beneath a doorstep to keep rodents out of a house; a ducking chair used to torture suspected witches into confessing. This is the stuff that sends my imagination into overdrive.

 

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle

 

Dream time

You are very lucky, or a creative genius, if you can sit down to a blank page and know exactly what you’re going to write. Many writers spend weeks, or even months, thinking about their characters and daydreaming how their story might develop before they ever write a word of it. That’s not to say you have to plan out everything, but it’s about getting a feel for your story and the possibilities rather than jumping in blindly and hoping for the best.

 

Type your work

I use notebooks a lot, but mainly for ideas although I sometimes write bits of chapters long hand if I’m on a train and haven’t brought my laptop. When I first started writing most of it was handwritten, and I struggled with reading it back. This was nothing to do with the legibility of my writing, but the fact that writers are usually their own worst critics. Your handwriting is incredibly personal, and for me it was a constant reminder that whatever I read had been written by me. Reading back typed work makes it easier to be objective, like you are reading the words of someone else in a published book.

 

Change the format

This is a weird and wonderful tip given to me by my fantastic agent, Julia. She suggested changing the font and format of your work when reading it back. It sounds nuts, but it really works. If you are used to seeing your writing in double spaced Times New Roman, try changing to a different font, single spaced. Bizarre, but reading it back will give you a new perspective.

 

Don’t get too comfortable

Figure out exactly what working environment is best for you, especially if you have limited time. When I was up against my deadline last year, I often chose to get out of the house. Not only is a change of scene good for the brain, but I discovered I work better if I’m not too comfortable. My favourite coffee shop – within a book shop of course – is a bit chilly and the seats are hard and unforgiving. A couple of years ago I’d have dodged this, but the truth is, if I’m in a nice squashy seat feeling toasty, I get sleepy pretty fast. I could lie and blame it all on being a mum, but fact is that I’ve always been partial to a catnap. Being a bit cold and not entirely comfortable keeps me alert, and that’s what I need to be productive. Ditto the lack of distractions: there are no cats jumping on my keyboard, no housework or door bell ringing. If you know your weaknesses, eliminate them.

 

Focus

This is also linked to the point above. If you have only set hours to write you must make them count. Since becoming a mum I’ve learned to focus harder in the few hours I get to write, and I find I work just as well, if not better than before I had Jack and would spend an entire day writing 1000 words. Back then I’d waste time dithering, flitting back and forth between making cups of tea, going on social media and doing any real writing. Now, when I sit down to write, that’s what I do because I don’t have time to spare. Writer Cat Clarke also advocates this approach and sets herself a timer to write in short sharp bursts. She’ll write for twenty minutes, then do social media for twenty, write again for twenty, then read for twenty and so on. This is an excellent way to keep your mind on track and reward yourself for working hard.

 

Read it aloud

I confess, I don’t do this enough. There’s nothing like doing a public reading at a school or festival to make you feel those clunky sentences, and it could all have been avoided by reading the story aloud while it was still in progress. By saying the words out loud you’ll find out whether a sentence is too long, dull or just plain awkward, and you can fix it. This is one of my aims going forward.

 

So these are my top tips on how I write. If you’d like to share your own, or offer your thoughts on which of these you might try, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

 

 

They’re two such little words, but every writer gives a huge sigh of relief to write them: The End.

 

I seem to be in the minority among the authors I know. Most writers talk of their enjoyment of crafting a story, and their dislike of the editing process. I’m the other way round. I find writing a first draft stressful, often wondering how, or even if I’ll make it to the end. Along the way I’ll certainly feel moments of pleasure at working out a plot point, coming up with the perfect character name, or finishing a chapter at a crucial moment that I know will hook the reader – I guess I wouldn’t do it otherwise. But on the whole I don’t tend to relax until the story is all down, even if it’s imperfect. Once it’s complete, there’s something to work with and improve, and then I start to enjoy it more.

 

Many of the emails and messages I receive are from aspiring writers of all ages, some of whom are attempting their first novel. Quite often the same questions arise, one in particular: How do I keep going to the end?

 

Whether it’s planning, or a lack of inspiration, or too many ideas jostling for space, The End is a trickster that tries to elude us all, but it can be caught. And when you’ve done it once, you know you can do it again. Here’s how . . .

 

1.) Inspiration

How do I stay inspired enough to write an entire novel? Here’s the thing: you don’t. Inspiration is where the story begins. It’s an idea, or several ideas coming together to form the basis of the tale. This is the exciting phase, where the story is all shiny and new and you can’t wait to get started. Only, when you’re a few pages or chapters in, it starts to get hard and it’s not quite what you imagined. Wait, what? You don’t feel inspired now? Welcome to being a writer! It’s all too easy to give up when the shine wears off and you’re feeling the allure of pretty new ideas. Maybe you’ll go and write one of those instead? You get the picture. Inspiration only gets you so far. It’s sheer hard work that does the rest.

 

2.) But how . . .?

As best-selling author Neil Gaiman famously put it, ‘This is how you do it. You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.’ Hard? Yes. Anyone who thinks it’s easy is either incredibly lucky, or not a very good writer. I’m a slow writer. Words rarely come easily. If I can write 1000 words a day (that’s about three and a half pages, double-spaced) I’m happy. Sometimes I’ll have a rush where the words just flow, usually when I’m far enough into a chapter or scene, but I still find a blank page daunting.

 

3. Become obsessed.

When I was an art student, my very talented, very wise teacher told me, ‘To be a success, you must become obsessed with your work.’ At the time I remember feeling disappointed to hear that. I was into art, and good at it, but it didn’t rule my every waking thought. I was having too much fun living up the student life. It was only after I left college and began working on Thirteen Treasures that I understood what he’d meant. With fewer distractions, no money (ie. no student loan) and an idea I was passionate about, I did become obsessed. I mooched in book shops every chance I got, looking at what was being published and how I could make my story different; I read up extensively on fairies, and I read every ‘getting published’ story I could find to keep my dream in my head. Most importantly, I wrote in every spare moment.

 

4. The more you do, the more you want to do.

This goes for a lot of things in life, not just writing. The more you put into a story, the more ideas, the more research, and the more pages you build up, the higher your investment in that story will be and the easier it’ll become to see it through to the end. You won’t want to waste all that work. Like tree roots reaching further below the soil, the more you put in, the more firmly the story will take hold and flourish. Beware though, the same can be said of the opposite. The less you do, the less you’ll want to do. Laziness breeds laziness. If you leave a story untouched for a while or work irregularly, it will suffer. Try to do a bit as often as you can, or at least read through it or do some relevant research to keep it fresh in your mind.

 

5. Plan ahead . . .

. . . but not too much. Some writers are able to start a story with just a vague idea of what might happen, and let things develop from there. Many writers choose to plan, so they don’t get lost. I’m a planner, although I don’t do it too rigidly. I like to leave room to be flexible as often, better concepts come along. It helps to have an idea of a few key scenes or moments you’re itching to write; a major plot twist, clue or big reveal. If you can stay excited about these moments it’ll help keep you on track, and ultimately push you further towards the finish line.

 

6. Get it written, then get it right.

When I first started writing back in my teens, many of my stories never got finished because I was too hung up on trying to get everything perfect as I went along. This is a common problem, and one you must overcome if you’re going to finish your stories (and especially if you intend to make a career out of writing. Published writers with deadlines don’t have this luxury, so it’s a good habit to develop). There’s no such thing as a perfect first draft (or even second, third or fourth). Most writers agree that you can never get the perfection you strive for, even when the book has gone to print and is for sale (although maybe forget I said that, I don’t want to depress you)! Try to remember that you’ll always be your own worst critic and resist the urge to keep going over and over sentences. Tell the story. You can fiddle with it when it’s finished.

 

7. Set targets and make time.

Whether it’s a daily or weekly word count or page count, or writing one scene a day it helps if you can aim to get a certain amount done regularly. Some would-be writers complain that they don’t have time to write. The key is to make time. I recently saw an excellent blog post by Natasha Lester on Twitter in which she writes: ‘…making time to write inevitably involves giving something up, and nobody likes giving things up—you have to be strong and steadfast. It might be TV, or coffee with friends, or an hour’s sleep, or half an hour surfing the internet.’ Hear, hear.

 

So what are you waiting for? If you believe you can do it, you can.

 

Make it happen.

It’s been a while since my last blog, due to a tight deadline with limited time to write thanks to the lovely little toddler in my life. However, I’ve come up with an idea for something relatively quick and to the point which is hopefully informative (and inspiring!) to those of you who are also writers.

 

This blog is all about numbers. Thankfully not the adding, subtracting or weird-stuff-with-squiggly-lines that I don’t understand. I leave all that to my accountant. These numbers actually tell a story; of how I write and my journey to publication. Who knew numbers could be fun?* Here goes.

 

• Years it took to complete my first novel: 5.

A year to write the first draft, and four more years of rewrites/tweaks while I searched for an agent.

 

• Years it took me to find an agent: 4.

 

•Number of agents to ask for a full manuscript: 2.

When sending your story off to agents and publishers, they generally ask for the first three chapters plus an outline. If they like what they see, they’ll ask for the rest (full manuscript).

 

• Times I got rejected: 25 (approx.)

I kept as many rejection letters as possible, including one from a very rude agent who scrawled a note on my own covering letter and sent it back. Now, I’m all for recycling, but come on! If you’re going to crush someone’s dream and send them into a pit of snot and despair then at least afford them the dignity of headed notepaper.

 

agentfail

 

• Rejections after I had an agent: 8.

Yes, having an agent isn’t the end of the dreaded rejection letter. After brushing up my manuscript upon the advice of the lovely agent who took me on as a client, it was then submitted to 11 publishers. Eight rejected, three wanted to meet me and discuss the novel further. Of those three, two wanted to take the story in a different direction. One loved it as it was, and wanted a sequel. Bingo!

 

• Years I worked full time in other jobs while writing on the side (before and after publication): 7.

 

• Years I have made my living solely as a writer: 4.

 

• Number of words I write daily: 500-1000.

Sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes nothing at all. Sometimes work isn’t actually writing the book, it’s research, thinking time, post-it notes, and repeatedly removing a cat from the comfy bed/bottom-licking station it has made on your manuscript.

 

Cat

 

• Number of chapters I write a week: 1, on average.

I have no idea how that compares to other writers but I imagine it’s pretty slow. It works for me, though.

 

• Books I am currently contracted to write: 3.

Two middle grades (age 9-12), one of which I am working on now, and one young adult which I am about six chapters into but is on hold.

 

• Number of languages my books have been translated into: 16.

 

• Number of words required to a novel (as per my contract): 80,000 approx.

Yes, that scares me, too.

So there we have it. If there are any numbers related questions you’d like to ask (with the exception of how much I earn) feel free to leave a comment.

 

numbers

 

*I apologise to any maths enthusiasts who may be reading this. I genuinely wish I was better at it and, well, just more interested. But I’m not, and I hate it. Sorry.