Monday, January 19, 2015

Time to Read!


Stephen King says, If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.
That’s nice to know because sometimes I feel guilty reading when I should be writing.
My New Year’s Resolution for January:
Find three new children’s authors that I’ve never read before and read a book by each of them.
I’m no dummy! I picked an easy resolution for my first month. What can be more enjoyable than cracking open a new kids book?
I chose these three titles:
Eye of the Crow  by Shane Peacock – book one of his acclaimed Boy Sherlock Holmes series
The Unlikely Hero of  Room 13B by Teresa Toten – a brilliant writer who I can’t believe I’d never read.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – the title and weird photo on the cover drew me in!
All three were great reads. I’m definitely going to explore more by Teresa Toten.
When choosing books to read, I think it’s important to look for the best. No point reading junk. You won’t learn anything.
I’ve heard that it’s a good idea to actually type out a few pages from a book that you really admire. I’ve never tried that (my typing skills are very sad) but it might be interesting. The idea is not to end up copying the author’s style, just experience the language and get inspired.
I goggled authors reading other authors and found two great blogs on the subject:
Happy reading!                                                                   

Saturday, January 3, 2015

DREAM BIG for 2015!

A new writing year! I like to dream big . . . a contract for my hard-to –find-a home- for fantasy . . . an unexpected award nomination. . . record sales on my royalty statements . . .  venturing into self-publishing . . . Anything is possible!

To get me started, here are my resolutions for a great writing year. I’ll keep you posted how I’ll do.

 January: Find three new children’s authors that I’ve never read and read a book by each of them.  

February:  Read a book on fiction writing techniques.

March:  Google famous quotations and use them to inspire five titles for books that I might like to write one day.  

April:   Read a play.

May:   Write a picture book manuscript.

June:  Describe an interesting setting using all the senses.

July:   Observe a person in a coffee shop (mall? bus?) and write a character profile.

August:  Read a book of kids’ poetry and write my own poem.

September:  Read a biography of a writer.

October:  Read a non-fiction kid’s book.

November:  Rewrite a folk tale or myth.

December: Sit back with a glass of eggnog, admire my stack of polished manuscript pages for my novel-in-progress and write a glowing review (unbiased of course!)  

                                        Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Jump Start a Scene

My 94 year old mother is my first reader. As I progress through this current novel, I read each scene out loud to her over the telephone. I don’t share early drafts with anyone else, because I’m not really looking for input at this stage, but my mum and I have this thing going and we both love it. She commented the other day how each scene is building up her interest (good to hear) and she’s getting immersed in the characters (very good to hear.) But yesterday I had no scene to read to her and she was quite disappointed.  No, it wasn’t that I was too busy, I just couldn’t write the next scene. I didn’t know what to write. I was worried about what to write.  This amazed her. “You worry about your writing?” she said.  “It all sounds so effortless.”
I told her all authors worry (most, anyway.) This was a revelation to her.
I also told her that I’d have the next scene pronto. I have a strategy that works so well for me MOST OF THE TIME.  I have a card with the next four scenes listed, just one line about each. As I write the scene, it gets crossed off and I add another one to the bottom of the list. It gives me a kind of map. Four scenes only as I don’t want to get blocked into a sequence of scenes that might not work. The night before, I think about the next scene and let my mind go anywhere while I make notes. I brainstorm, speculate, visualize, ask questions, maybe write down a few scraps of dialogue but I don’t allow myself to start the scene. Even if I’m keen. It’s not allowing myself to write that seems to free up the creative side of my brain. How hard is it to make notes? Then it percolates all night (sometimes it starts writing itself in my head in the middle of the night!)
I take a walk in the morning with my dog. I let my mind rehearse the scene. When I finally pour my cup of tea and get to the computer, I’ve built up a lot of anticipation and I’m usually raring to go.  After I write, I record the scene in my journal, sometimes noting the word count. That gives me a great feeling of accomplishment.
Then I read it to my mum.
She always ends with, “What’s going to happen next?” I check my list of scenes of my card. It’s so reassuring to know.
Merry Christmas and best wishes for an amazing new year of writing!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I talked about Hemingway’s “one true sentence” in my last blog. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all week long, just write one true sentence after the other. If I look at the whole novel, I feel utterly daunted. If I go sentence by sentence, I know I’ll eventually get there (after all, I remind myself, I have completed novels before – no reason for this to be any different.)
In his book A Moveable Feast, Hemingway also gave me something else to think about. It’s to do with his writing process. It’s probably easiest to quote straight from the book:
“When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing that you were writing before you could go on with it the next day. . .  It was necessary to read in order not to think or worry about your work until you could do it again. I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”
What a lovely image. And maybe quite liberating to let go of the story when you are not actively writing. I tend to mull over plots and think about characters all the time. Am I draining my well and not allowing it time to refill without my interference? Would I be better off reading a good book instead of worrying about my story?
Stephen King talks about the “boys in the basement”, working away while you are elsewhere.
Sometimes when I finally get to my desk, I feel like I’ve been helping those boys in the basement for hours. If I can train myself to let the story percolate on its own, will I sit down for my writing time refreshed and enthusiastic, raring to go? It’s worth trying.

Saturday, November 8, 2014



I’ve been away from my writing for a while. No real excuse. It happens sometimes. There are times when I even contemplate a life without writing. Think of all that free time to do something else. But something always tugs me back.

This time, I’m finding it hard to get started again, even though I know I want to. I have the first draft of a novel finished, but it’s a very rough first draft, much of it unusable.  Usually a second draft is a fun time for me because the first draft has shown me where I want to go and has given me a pretty good outline of the plot. But with this book, I’ve been feeling anxious and a little bit overwhelmed.
And then I came across some advice from Ernest Hemingway in his book The Moveable Feast (his memoir of Paris in the 1920’s.) I have a fascination with all things French and that’s why I picked up this book. The descriptions of Paris haven’t disappointed and the insight into his writing process has been an unexpected pleasure.

Hemingway says, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

I think I can do that. I know I can do that. But first of all, I’m going to copy out those wonderful words and stick them above my computer.”

Do not worry. Thank you, Papa Hemingway!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014



I grew up on a diet of mysteries and adventure stories. You know the fare if you’re of my generation – Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, all the Enid Blyton books, boarding school stories, the Black Stallion series, Tolkien and The Hobbit and so on. Pure fun and escapism for the most part. Books about divorce, suicide, drugs, depression and war just didn’t exist for kids.

I loved books. I devoured books. And I wrote my own long rambling stories, stealing plots and characters from my favourite books without the slightest guilt. I think it’s because I wanted to be that character in the book I was reading or writing – I wanted to ride that black stallion, crawl into the smuggler’s tunnel, have midnight feasts at boarding school. Basically I wanted to BE in the book. Do kids feel the same way about the books they read today?

Kids today have access to such a wide range of books, much more than I ever had. But what kind of books are they? In the latest Quill and Quire I saw a review for a  book which deals with rape and suicide with the disclaimer that it might be too disturbing to a twelve year old. Twelve?  Really? I’m not saying that there’s not an important place for this kind of book (I wrote a young adult novel called If Only that deals with sexual assault) but more and more I’m starting to think that the dark disturbing books are taking over our library shelves and bookstores. There is even a recently published picture book that is set in a concentration camp!

My nephew and daughter, both great readers, turned to fantasy, I suspect,  because they weren’t interested in reading about contemporary teens with dreadful unhappy lives.

Back to my question: do kids want to be inside the book the way I did? Some may identify with the character’s problems but do they actually want to climb into the book and be that character? I’m not sure they do. And for me, that was the magic of a really great kids book.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014



“Picture book writers don’t have the novelist’s luxury to creep into a story. Your opening has to be quick, grabbing the audience from the get-go.”

That’s a quote from Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul

I know that. It’s . . . . well, a no-brainer.  She goes on to say that a strong opening addresses the questions WHO IS YOUR MAIN CHARACTER? And WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT?

In my picture book that is out in the wide world right now, looking for a home,  my main character wants to buy a special birthday present for his grandfather. It took me five sentences before I got to that. Five sentences too many! And the frustrating thing is, I didn’t realize that until I’d sent the manuscript out to twelve different publishers!

Help! Can I get it back? Nope.

What was I thinking???

I actually had the manuscript sealed in a brown envelope and waiting on my kitchen table, ready to go out again, when I went for a walk (Oh, the power of walks!) and had my great epiphany. I raced home, tore open the envelope and rewrote the beginning.

Now my FIRST sentence is: Felix didn’t have a birthday present for Grandad.

How could I have made such a mistake? How did I not see something so obvious . . .  and so important? A  painful lesson but I won’t make that mistake again.

And by the way, I don’t agree with the statement that novelists can creep into a story. Certainly not authors of kids novels! You need to plunge the reader into the story with your first sentence – introduce your character and at least hint at the  conflict that lies ahead.