Disappointing the dog.


A year ago, I decided to have a go at writing a children’s book. This was something that I had always wanted to do ever since I was small but I had never had time to try, with work, children, and everything else keeping me too busy. It seemed that I would never get a chance to have any free time, but when my husband and I moved to a different part of the country a year and a bit ago, I had to give up my job. We decided that I’d have a bit of time off before looking for another job – I’d spend some time concentrating on settling the children into their new school, and sort out any building work needed on the new house. I thought it was a nice idea, and the dog was excited too – there would be plenty of time for extra walks, and we could widen our search for the perfect dog biscuit. But, taking a gap between jobs seemed like the ideal chance to give writing a go – after all, I had time on my hands while the children were at school, so if I didn’t make an effort at this point, when would I?

I’d had an idea for a children’s chapter book floating around in my head for a few years, but I hadn’t pinned down the details. I knew that it would involve a child meeting a mysterious, retired person, who would turn out to have some secret that involved magic.  As a friendship developed between them, the child would be let into the secret, and the two of them would have some magical adventures.

It all sounded fabulous and I was excited to get started. I chose a day in my diary and in large letters wrote ‘writing day’ across it. Nothing else would happen while the kids were at school that day, apart from writing! I took a trip to a local stationary shop, and bought notebooks, pencils, memory sticks, and anything else I could think of that a ‘writer’ would need to keep handy. I finished the trip by buying a nice smart folder to keep it all in – I was all set to start. I just needed to take the next step – actually try to write. I was going to have to sit down with a pencil in my hand and face the possibility that I might not be able to string a story, or even a sentence, together.

I felt strangely nervous when I went to bed the night before my first ‘writing day’. What if I couldn’t think what to write? What if I couldn’t develop the characters into likeable people? What if I couldn’t finish the first paragraph? I didn’t sleep very well that night, but when I opened my eyes the next morning, amazingly, the first sentence was already waiting in my head.

I leapt out of bed, wrote it down, rushed the kids to school and then settled down at the dining-room table with a note book and pencil in my hand, and the laptop in front of me. The dog sat expectantly next to me, licking his lips – surely I was about to make myself a coffee and get him some dog biscuits out of the cupboard, as I always did straight after the morning school run? He was disappointed. I worked hard all that day, and the next day. By the end of the week, I had a chapter plan drawn up and I knew the names of the main characters. Three weeks later, I’d finished the first draft.

I printed it off and let my children read it. On the whole they were encouraging – they liked the story and the characters, and they wanted to know what happened next. But they also pointed out a few mistakes and suggested some changes, my daughter wielding her red pen particularly enthusiastically. I was surprised and slightly offended at this – surely what I had written was great, wasn’t it? Did I need to re-write or edit it? That sounded like hard work.

I started the process of re-writing and editing, and the dog got used to me sitting down at the table every morning. He still raised a quizzical eyebrow if I went into the kitchen, but otherwise settled down for some long, boring stretches of time at home. Little did he know that there would be plenty more of that ahead…