This is an unusual blog post, but a story I want to share because of how powerfully it has affected me.
The fifth book I’m writing is called LION. People often ask where the ideas for my stories come from. With LION, the protagonist himself appeared, fully formed inside my head. Lion talked incessantly to me all about his theories on life, his family and his dog, Patch. This has never happened to me before and is quite a difficult thing to explain. At the time I was still working on Darna’s Sky and had to tell Lion to be quiet and wait his turn! When I was ready to listen, Lion came back and I began to realise he had ‘chosen me’ to talk to and that he was unable to talk to anyone else outside his family.
This made me remember a documentary I had watched, many years ago, about children who were mute. I started reading up on something called Selective Mutism (SM) and realised that this is what Lion had. It is best described as a 'phobia of talking.'
Lion, by the way, is his nickname, given to him by his sister, Brianne who describes his hair like a dandelion clock. His real name is Leroy. This, I now know, is a French name, Le Roi - meaning The King.
The book formed and I redrafted, but having no personal experience of SM, I set about seeking some sensitivity readers by contacting SMiRA. Through this Donna Redrup got in touch, telling me all about her son, James, who was a huge animal fan, but particularly fond of lions.
James had struggled with SM all through his childhood and sadly died very unexpectedly from Sudden Onset Leukaemia just before his 25th birthday. James had bought tickets for his whole family to see The Lion King for his birthday, which was on the day after he died. James had started to write a children’s book about SM. Writing a book to increase understanding and awareness of SM was something he talked about wanting to do for many years.
I’m not religious, but my mind is not closed. There are many things in this wondrous world that I cannot explain but I still feel. Donna believes that James is helping me make LION into something that will help bring the understanding of SM to a wider audience. After reading the current draft of the book she saw many comparisons between her son and Lion. I’m humbled that Donna and her family have gained comfort and support knowing that this book is being created, particularly as they approach the anniversary of James’ death.
I don’t know what I believe, all I can do is write the story to the best of my ability, dedicate it to James and hope that it helps others.
James Redrup 4 November 1989 - 3 November 2014
I'm very pleased to be doing a school visit to Foxdell Junior School in Luton on Tuesday. This is especially exciting as the book I'm drafting at the moment, called Lion, is set in Luton during a heatwave. Can't wait to tell the kids at the school that.
The following week I have a workshop with the Harpenden Writers Group. It's much more unusual for me to run something with adults, but it's always a very fulfilling thing to do. I'm looking forward to sharing my story and getting all my fellow creatives to have some fun with words.
On the 13th October I'm one of the guest authors at Fabula Festival in London. Lots of different book related events are happening across the borough between 2-13 October. My creative writing workshop is taking place at 12.30 on Sunday 13 October at Redbridge Library. If you want to find out more about this and perhaps book a FREE ticket please click on the link: Fabula Festival
The Fabula Festival is a pretty big deal and I'm thrilled to be taking part. I'll be appearing alongside names such as Sufiya Ahmed, Nadia Shireen and David Litchfield.
I've a Chatterbooks visit at Welwyn Garden City Library in November and I'm waiting to hear back from a few other schools regarding author visits.
The other huge event that I'm up to my eyes in helping to organise is the SCBWI Annual Conference. There are still some tickets left if you want to book. If you're a budding children's author or illustrator or have any interest in thinking about this as a career I can't recommend the conference enough. You don't have to be a member to come along. It's not cheap, but it will be money well spent, I guarantee it. This year the conference is on 2-3 November and as usual is held at the University Campus in Winchester. If you want to find out more click here: SCBWI BI Conference
As if all of that isn't enough I'm also now organising the Industry Insider events for SCBWI BI and am hoping to pull off a slush pile challenge webinar. Luckily I have fellow SCBWI member and picture book author Rashmi Sirdeshpande to share the load (and the fun).
Who doesn't like a bit of name dropping? Here I am with my brand new best friend, Jo Cotterill, author of fantastic books such as A Library of Lemons, Jelly, Looking for the Stars and let's not forget our comic book hero - Electrigirl!
One of the massive bonuses of being a Children's Author is having the opportunity to meet other Children's Authors. We are all in a special club and we do get to hang out with each other. Sometimes we meet really famous ones like Jo and get super-excited about it! The club, just in case you never ever read my blogs is called The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - British Isles. We call it Scooby for short.
Jo was running a masterclass on the emotional arc of characters, which was brilliant. She was really humble and admits to still be learning in her own skill as a writer. I found everything she said a huge reassurance for my own writing and it was wonderful to meet her.
It's on days like Saturday when I remember what a privilege it is to be a Children's Author and a member/volunteer of such a unique and fantastic organisation that is SCBWI. Totally exhausting and yet magnificent!
I've just been live on Radio Lincolnshire - what a fun thing to do.
If you missed it and want to take a listen (the blog post before this one tells you all about the show), then just click on this link: Storyteller
This week it's my turn to feature on Ella Wydrzynska's show The Storyteller which has been running for the last six weeks every Sunday from 2-3pm on Radio Lincolnshire.
The premise of the show is that each week a different children's author writes a new chapter of an ongoing story that is guided by the listeners. Did you ever play the game Cabbages? Or Consequences? It's a bit like that. Lots of fun!
The author is interviewed by Ella and the new chapter is read out to the listeners who can then tweet, text, email or call to make suggestions of what might happen next in the story.
You can follow the story so far by clicking here: The Storyteller BBC Radio Lincolnshire
NB: If you're not already signed up to BBC online you will need to open an account to listen.
This week I'm writing chapter seven of this whacky story and there are to be ten chapters in total. It began, with our hero, James and his mum down inside the Lincoln Sewage System on International Bring Your Children To Work Day (his mum is a top-rate Sewage Management Engineer).
Since then the story has gone wild, and now includes a mission to save the Earth from a pan-dimensional being called Galaxon who has managed to dress himself within the body of James' Mum.
James has teamed up with the Animalian Response Against Galaxon Horrendousness (ARAGH) to find the three protective rings before Galaxon does.
At the point where I pick up the reins, we are currently underground, deep within a video game along with James, Frank (a tracking badger), Skipper (James' Chinese Crested dog), Freya (James' best friend), Gerald (a black-beret wearing mouse and seemingly head of ARAGH) and Bob (a member of the Great Sinkhold Stink of Lincoln rapid response team), having just managed to capture Galaxon. Don't worry though because Trevor, the humungous crocodile is in control of Ring 2 at ARAGH HQ (SS Dishwasher). However, ring 1 has already been destroyed. Plus, Galaxon's parents may be assisting their son as they are fully formed evil pan-dimensional beings capable of creating Gnir, or anti-rings with the power to destroy entire dimensions.
Lost? Just think how I feel!
Seriously, it's a really fun, playful story and the show is such a good idea, capturing the imaginations of the listeners and taking the characters into all kinds of new and exciting adventures.
It would be fantastic if you would tune into Radio Lincolnshire on Sunday 1st September 2-3pm to show your support. Or you can listen on catch up. Here's the link again: The Storyteller BBC Radio Lincolnshire
Wish me luck!
Following the success of the Meet Your Author event at Cambridge Central Library in February we are doing another one!
The event will follow a similar format; a raffle, craft activities, picture book readings, quiz based treasure hunt, with the addition of workshops. In line with the Summer Reading Challenge the theme of the event is SPACE.
Helen Moss and I will be running an Out of This World Adventure Story Building Workshop. If you don't know Helen Moss or her books, click on her name and check her out - her stories are brilliant fun.
Lots of fun for all the family - FREE to come along. The workshops are charged at £1 but this can be redeemed for a raffle ticket (amazing signed book bundles and all kinds of goodies on offer).
If you'd like to come along it's on SATURDAY 7 SEPTEMBER 2-5 PM AT CAMBRIDGE CENTRAL LIBRARY.
*NB: A critique group is writers who share work with one another for constructive feedback. We're the Kings Cross Criteratti (as we used to meet monthly in Kings Cross) and are made up of N M Browne, myself, Sue Wallman, A M Dassu (watch out for her new book, Boy Everywhere), Zena Knox (another one to watch - very strong writing), Annie Harris (a wonderful illustrator/writer), and Sarah Day (amazing writer and jewellery creator - her day will come). Our group is full of strong, talented women who love and support one another all the time. We all work really hard and have been very lucky to find each other.
For those of you who haven't guessed, or didn't know, my books are not traditionally published. In summary, this means that I have paid a publisher to produce them, the publisher has not paid me.
It's been a life-long dream of mine to become a professional Children's Author and for me, this means being traditionally published. In order to do that you have to have an agent. Agents get, on average, 10-40 submissions every week. It's hugely competitive.
When Jarred Dreams was doing well in that first competition, I was really hopeful that I would win the prize of being published with Bloomsbury. When that didn't happen and I found myself back in the 'slush pile', fighting for agent attention, I decided to self-publish the book and worked hard for sales and recognition.
It made enough money for me to go on to self-publish EATS and then Thirteenth Wish, but with all three books I have tried to get agent representation and failed.
When I wrote my fourth book, unlike the others, I knew I wasn't going to self-publish it. Like all things, self-publishing has its limitations, the biggest one being distribution. I have no regrets and I'm proud of everything I have achieved. To be able to hold my books in my hands has made me extremely happy. To hear what readers think, and to go into schools, well... that's been incredible.
But with book 4 I was on Mission Agent! I entered it into all the competitions I could find that I was eligible for and submitted it to several agents. I then signed up to the SPARK scheme with Write Mentor and was lucky to get Emma Barton-Smith.
Emma is wonderful, my SCBWI friends are fantastic, my critique group members (KXC: Annie, Nicky, Zena, Az, Sue and Sarah / Brixton: Asha & Priscilla) are the best, as are my St Albans writing group (particularly Anne, Jonnie and Sally). I've had great support from Librarians, Teachers, Heads, Course Tutors, Literary Festival people, Storytellers and lots of others in this wonderful network of Children's Literature, but none of them can launch me into the world of traditional publishing.
There was no interest from agents or the competitions. I either had nice rejections or heard nothing and then Mslexia happened and EVERYTHING changed. I expected a similar experience to Jarred Dreams, where being a finalist fizzled out into nothingness, but this has been a whirlwind.
Part of the prize of being in the final five was going to a Show Case event at Hachette offices with lots of other writing competition finalists. Here I met many agents and editors and people who were genuinely interested in me and my writing. I was no longer bogged down in the slush pile, they were interested in me!
What then followed was a surreal experience of having to turn down two other offers of agent representation, but I just knew that Laura was the right choice for me. Imagine having a choice!
Laura and I met up again yesterday (which coincided with my 13 year Wedding Anniversary) and had a few pictures taken at the gorgeous book filled offices at David Higham in Oxford Circus. We chatted for over an hour and it was heaven.
I feel so lucky and totally get those heartfelt agent thank yous I jealously read in the back of books. It's finally my turn!
Final Note: If you look closely at the photo you will see that I am wearing my Persist necklace. I bought it when I started on my serious agent mission with Darna's Sky, as a reminder to myself to celebrate 'keeping going'. And look - Persistence Pays!
WATCH THIS SPACE - I'VE GOT LAURA ON-SIDE NOW, ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN!
I've just returned from an amazing weekend where I learned all about the fantastic craft of oral storytelling. Here I am pictured with some of the masters of the trade.
I was lucky enough to attend the course, run by Michael Harvey (pictured directly behind me) and organised by Andy Copps (far left back) designed for people who have been practicing the craft for some time and wanted to develop their skills and understanding.
Being a writer, I was coming in from a different angle, but I found I loved being able to tell my stories by physically embracing my characters. It felt natural to me and it was very helpful of many levels. I used the story I am currently writing (Lion) and brought the scenes to life by telling them to others.The process helped my understanding of what needed to be highlighted and what was not as important.
Welcome to my blog, a place where you can keep up to date with what I am up to.