So you want to write a children’s book…?
Tomorrow is World Book Day, as everyone who has seen my costume-related tweet from earlier will testify; Eliza only goes to nursery two days a week, so I had no idea they were dressing up tomorrow until this morning, yikes! As she won’t wear her Gruafflo costume for longer than two minutes, I’m sending her in her beloved Tootsa Macginty fox jumper as Fantastic Mr (although I actually think she went last year in her Tootsa Macginty bear jumper as the bear from That’s not my Bear. Sensing a theme here…)
Faffing about costumes aside, World Book Day is into its 17th year – and this year there’s a brand new line up of ten brilliant titles from some of the nation’s top children and Young Adult authors. There’s also an online TV show that’s available online in March with the World Book Day authors and illustrators sharing tips and answering questions from children across the country.
Hands up who’s ever wanted to write a children’s book? To celebrate World Book Day, I’ve been given some tips from the authors and illustrators about writing, drawing and creating the books that children everywhere will love forever;
Three writing tips from Lauren St John, author of Midnight Picnic
- One of the first things children will ask an author is, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ I always answer: ‘Ideas come from everywhere. Your problem should never be finding ideas. It should be that you have too many.’ Since life is infinitely stranger than fiction, newspapers and magazines are a good starting point. A news item about a stowaway boy or a dog that has turned up alive after two years, for instance, could give rise to any number of storylines.
- When I get children to invent stories out loud, something that is as much fun for me as it is for them, I first ask them to create a couple of characters. What do they look like? What type of people are they? What are their interests? Next, we need an Event. Something happens. A volcano, a fire, an alien abduction, a school trip that goes wrong. The characters then go on a journey, which is as much about personal discovery as it is about location. Are they brave? Cowardly? How do they figure out an escape route? Lastly, we need a happy ending. Naturally.
- As a child, I was obsessed with reading and I’m convinced that there are no good writers who are not good readers. Forget the Government nonsense about whether or not to read Dickens. Get your kids reading. It doesn’t matter if it’s comic books or JK Rowling or War and Peace. All that matters is that they learn to love reading. Of course, you could always consider Dead Man’s Cove, The One Dollar Horse or my World Book Day short story, The Midnight Picnic!
Tips from, David Melling, author / illustrator of Hello, Hugless Douglas
- People always ask me what the best writing tip I’ve ever been given is. my knee-jerk response to that question is: do a little each day. It’s very important. Kids often ask me ‘how do you do that?’ when I draw, and it all comes down to a little each day. It’s like learning to play a musical instrument or a sport. You don’t pick up your tennis racquet one day and be volleying, hitting winning shots the next. The more you practice the better you get, and that’s the same with writing and drawing.
- I also always keep note and sketchbooks, an idea might come from one simple illustration. I’m constantly drawing and redrawing these characters as they evolve. With Jack Frost, I was very conscious that I wanted to do a proper ‘Once upon a time…’ picture book so there’s no set rule or pattern but I always use the note or sketchbook as a starting point.
Alex T Smith: some tips for drawing and writing:
- Don’t assume that professional illustrators always know how to draw – I had to learn to draw bicycle a couple of years ago. Even pros have to learn and practice!
- Always remember that when drawing you aren’t imitating life – your drawings don’t have to be realistic! Claude’s eyebrows are above his head, you wouldn’t see that in real life!
- When I’m writing I might do some tiny doodles about how it would work as a book spread to help me keep track of my ideas. I really get going with the pictures when the text is complete. I’m always very keen on the idea that if you can say something with pictures then go for it.
- Did you always know you wanted to be a writer and an artist? Yes, always. I’ve always loved books and luckily came from a very bookish family. I’ve also always loved drawing. I can remember the very first picture I drew – I was very very young and I was sitting at the dining table on my mum’s lap and I drew a teddy bear. It was really just a couple of very wobbly circles and a bit of scribble but I knew it was a teddy bear and told my mum exactly what was going on in my picture. From then on I was hooked and have had a pencil in my hand pretty much all the time since then!
Emily Gravett, Little Book Day Parade. Top Five Writing Tips
- Often I find that just getting to know my character will give me ideas for a story. I begin by writing down and drawing everything I know about them on a sheet of paper.
- To get a really good resolution for a story I like to brainstorm. To do this write down your challenge or obstacle in the middle of a sheet of paper then as quickly as you can write down as many ways as you can think of to solve your problem.
- Ending your story – Sometimes it’s worth writing down a few different endings for your story. Some happy, some sad, some funny. Try them all out. Most of the time one of them will leap out at you as the ‘right’ ending.
- It’s good to write down ideas as you get them (or they tend to vanish). I use my sketchbook, but I also have a box to put more chunky ideas in. Even things that might spark ideas like packaging, buttons etc.
- Finally, I think it’s important to keep re-reading aloud what you have written. Reading aloud helps you hear the rhythm of your story, and highlights any snaggy areas that need work.
How fantastic and inspiring are those tips?