Thursday, 10 February 2011


...are many, important, interesting and often surprising. So much so that I'm organising a Write to be Published extended workshop on June 9th especially to try to cover them all and give participants a really strong handle on how to enter this tricky market with confidence.

Writing for children isn't easy but it's wonderfully rewarding. It's also much harder than it used to be many years ago. That might seem an odd thing to say, but if you look at many (most) of the children's books written a generation ago you'll find them missing many "rules" and conventions which now apply; you'll find them getting away with plot devices and happenings that won't wash nowadays; you'll find enormous competition with many more books and writers than there used to be; you'll find gate-keepers who have different agendas from each other and from the readers; and you'll find a standard and range of linguistic techniques and possibilities unlike anything that went before. (Whatever Martin Amis may think.)

Here are some of the things you need to know about before you are likely to be published as a children's writer:
  • word count for age range
  • pages and spreads for picture books - including managing illustrations (but NOT doing them...)
  • ramifications of the need for co-editions
  • age of characters for age range
  • wtf are age ranges about anyway?
  • topic / themes appropriate for age of audience
  • boundaries and barriers
  • the rules that modern real-life children are bound by - parents, social services and damned mobile phones!
  • gate-keepers
  • character development 
  • rights and wrongs - where can or should morals come into it?
  • safety-nets and the fear factor
  • educational vs trade writing
  • colloquial language use - including managing swearing
And then, once we've understood these technicalities, the fun starts: we learn to manipulate the various voices needed for the different age groups and different genres and to get those voices pitch perfect. Voice in children's and teenage writing is one of my favourite topics and there's no doubt that it's essential to get it right. I'd venture to say that there are more mistakes to be made here than in adult writing and therefore that it's even more essential to know what you're doing.

There are some writers who seem to know and do all this naturally. If that's you, you're probably published already. But if not, and if the list above leaves you feeling a little bit lost or worried, or if you'd like to understand much more, or to have reassurance that you're on the right lines, I can help you. You might be halfway through your first draft or even your fourth, or you might be about to start: whichever, I can help.

I was going to write a book about this, as some of you know. I've had to postpone that indefinitely, I'm afraid, owing to "pressure of stuff". But it doesn't matter because I'll be doing the workshop and you can all come. Well, no, of course you can't all come, so, for those of you who can't, I'll drip-feed some learning points in blog posts over the coming weeks. But the written word can only achieve so much: nothing beats the chocolate hands-on experience of attending a workshop and letting me actually show you how to do it and explain more clearly what I mean, using my work and perhaps yours (with your permission) as examples. The opportunity for you to ask questions, and for us to discuss bits of your work, will be hugely valuable. It's rather like a Pen2Publication consultation and clients there have discovered that having advice applied directly to one's own work is eye-opening, making it all make sense, properly, personally, practically.

And then, of course, there's the chocolate, the wine, the free signed copy of Write to be Published, and a glorious crabbit bag! Booking is now open - don't delay.


catdownunder said...

But my dear M/s Crabbit you are still going to write the book sometime in the future?

Dan Holloway said...

Dont't forget writing in a lower register than that of which you are capable :p

Go away google said...

Sounds like a great idea. I'd come along for the social hour with my Orchard hat on were it not in Edinburgh - I might not quite be able to get there after work.

If Martin Amis didn't exist, we'd suspect some other writer of being him on the quiet. Fortunately he's obliging enough to spout, so people can point and laugh.

Ebony McKenna. said...

wish I could be there too, but I'll just have to be there vicariously via your blog.

Shauna said...

Like others I would love to be there, as I can imagine the great laughs (sorry learning). Being down under makes attending difficult, which is why I love this techie world of ours that joins us together in blogs like this. Keep up the good work.

Kath McGurl said...

My tv is badly dented after I slapped Martin Amis when he was on it the other night.

Workshop sounds great and I love the bag!

Jill said...

I think voice is one of the most important parts of writing for children--such a delicate balance of not condescending, being intelligent and age- appropriate all at the same time. Those who can do it are marvelous writers.

Melinda Szymanik said...

You're right - nothing beats chocolate

Sarah Allen said...

This is great! Wish I could come. Thanks for this :)

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Anonymous said...

There's chocolate? Hmmmmm...

Debbie McCune *Notebook to Novel* said...

Hmmmmm, for chocolate I would nearly on a plane to Edinburgh... :-)


Stroppy Author said...

Don't forget needing to get brain-damaged...

Good luck with workshop :-)

Anonymous said...

Stroppy Author - was that comment necessary? It is bad enough that our delightful politicians had a cheap shot at Paul Maynard. There are a couple of excellent regular contributors here who happen to have disabilities and, even said in jest, it is surely unnecessary? I do not think they are unduly sensitive but it is still insensitive.
Andy (normally a lurker)

Nicola Morgan said...

Andy - don't worry: Stroppy was referring to the comment by MArtin Amis recently that he'd only write a children's novel if he had a brain injury. Honestly, she wasn't being offensive.

Catdownunder - I don't know if I'm going to write it. Not in the near or middle future, no. Sorry!

Anonymous said...

Sure, okay - Andy

JW_Firth said...

Sounds great! I love kids books - reading them to my children - but I've always written for adults. But I will think about it.

I agree it's probably a lot harder than it sounds - I have seen self-published children's books!