National Dog Day – what about a day for writers?!

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Last month there was yet another day of celebration for the dog – on 27th August it was National Dog Day, and just like on Christmas Day, Little Christmas Day (see blog post https://catherinerosevear.wordpress.com/2018/07/06/another-little-christmas/ ) and his birthday, there were presents, treats and cards galore – this time, all especially for him.

He absolutely loves opening presents. He was delighted to discover that we’d got him a new blanket, which he immediately lay down on. There were also home-made dog biscuits, and a game of ‘pass the parcel’ in which – surprisingly – the music always stopped when the parcel was in front of him. I think it’s safe to say that he really enjoyed himself, as, in fact, did the rest of us, but it got me thinking about all these special days we have, for this and that.

I found a list on Wikipedia of all the various special days that are celebrated around the world, and it was fascinating reading. There’s a huge list of them, including, of course, all the famous ones like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. In reading down the list, I found it difficult to choose my favourite – I suggested to the dog that maybe it would have to be either World Chocolate Day, or possibly, Ice Cream for Breakfast Day! He immediately objected strongly to this, and suggested that if I was looking for something other than National Dog Day to celebrate, then it should be National Puppy Day. I had to explain to him that as far as Wikipedia could tell me, this was only celebrated in the USA. He huffed petulantly, and pointed out that I hadn’t even mentioned Take Your Dog to Work Day. I realised that on 24th June, when this day is apparently celebrated, I hadn’t even known about it. Quickly passing him a dog treat to ease my guilt, I decided to move on to looking into which days are related to writers and writing.

Wikipedia informed me that in various countries around the western world, there are several days that are linked to writing or literature. These are –

  • National Science Fiction Day (2nd January) – celebrated in the USA.
  • Family Literacy Day (27th January) – a day celebrating literacy in Canada.
  • Dr Seuss Day (2nd March).
  • World Writers’ Day (3rd March) – established in 1986, and founded in London by the International PEN club, to promote support among writers, internationally, and to bring together respected international writers for discussion.
  • World Poetry Day (21st March) – established by the UN.
  • Tolkien Reading Day (25th March).
  • International Children’s Book Day (2nd April).
  • World Book and Copyright Day (23rd April).
  • National Writing Day (27th June) – an annual day to inspire writing, across the UK.
  • Author’s Day (1st November) – established in Illinois, USA, in 1928 to celebrate American Authors.
  • International African Writers’ Day (7th November).
  • Day of the Imprisoned Writer (15th November) – an international day established in 1981, to recognise writers who stand up for freedom of expression.

All these days connected with writing and literature looked great, but what struck me was that none of them were just about generally celebrating writers, in the way that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just generally celebrate mothers and fathers. And this in a world where the vast majority of writers (both self-published and traditionally published), earn very little money from their writing, with only the rare, famous few making a good living from it. In fact, the vast majority of unpublished and self-published writers slave away with no financial reward at all.

Surely, I suggested to the dog, it was time for a National (or even International) Writers’ Day, when all book-lovers would show their appreciation to any writers they happened to know, feting them with cards, flowers and gifts? He yawned – for some reason he seemed to be getting a bit tired of listening to me – and, settling down on his new blanket for a well-earned snooze, he pointed out that there were only six months to go until World Sleep Day came around again on 17th March, and maybe we should start celebrating that now, instead.

Oh well – it was only a suggestion!

 

With many thanks to Wikipedia and their wonderful (and very informative), ‘List of minor secular observances’.

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Writers’ Rejection Letters!

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Recently the dog hurt his foot – poor chap. It didn’t look too serious but we popped him into the car and drove him to the vets, where he nervously crept into the surgery and sat down, wide eyed, by the reception desk. He sniffed the air – hmm, that smell was suspicious, and reminded him for some unknown reason of sharp needles. He sought shelter underneath a chair, licking his foot apprehensively while we waited.

Soon enough it was our turn to be called in to the vet’s lair. Fortunately she was confident that his foot would soon heal and be all back to normal, but after issuing us with a tube of cream and an eye-watering bill, she decreed that for five days he must wear the ‘cone of shame’ around his neck, to stop him from licking and chewing at his foot.

We drove home, and once there, the cone was put on. I thought it made him look even cuter than usual, but the dog was far from convinced. Whatever could that mad doctor be thinking – making him look so ridiculous? And at a time when he already had a sore foot to contend with, as well! But the cone was on, and on it stayed for the prescribed duration.

Not only did the cone make it impossible for the dog to chew his foot, which was, after all, the plan, but it also clearly embarrassed him. Oh, the shame of being seen in public with something so ludicrous tied round his neck. It was almost as though we wanted all the other dogs to laugh at him!

Seeing him suffer emotionally was hard, but it was all worth it in the end. Just as the vet had said, at the end of five days the foot had healed and the cone could come off – and very pleased to see the back of it, he was too! But it made me think about what makes us feel ashamed, embarrassed or down-hearted, especially as a writer.

I’ve been writing for children for a few years now, and alongside self-publishing my children’s chapter books, I’ve also submitted manuscripts to a multitude of agents, hoping to persuade one of them to take on one of my books, and fight my corner with the big guys – the mainstream traditional publishers. So far I’ve had words of encouragement, requests to see more and suggestions for improvements, but have I had an agent offer me representation? No, I have not!

When I speak to my writer friends, I’m very aware that many of them already have agents and that I don’t. I know that there are a lot of us in the same boat – many more, in fact, than there are in the ‘agented’ boat. Come to think of it, it would probably take a supersized luxury cruise liner to accommodate all of us ‘unagented’ children’s writers, whereas it’s quite possible that the ‘agented’ amongst us, might well find some empty seats on a vessel the size of a Thames River Cruiser. Nevertheless, ‘do you have an agent?’ is a common question to be asked at writers’ events, and I always feel slightly embarrassed when I answer, ‘No, not yet’, feeling my eyes drawn down to the ground – a bit like the dog when he’s out for a walk in his cone, and another dog comes into view. But should I feel like that?

Recently I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ (A brilliant book, by the way, filled with great tips for writers!), and I particularly liked the bit where he talked about his early years of writing. He says, ‘By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.’ He didn’t throw the rejections into the bin, embarrassed by them, and so, I decided that I wouldn’t either. Since then I’ve been keeping my rejections, printing out the emails and keeping them all together in a file. You never know – maybe when I’m famous people will clamour to see them, amazed at the ineptitude (or just sheer bad luck), of the agents who’d rejected me (I wish!). I’m also shifting my viewpoint, and trying to see the rejections as completely necessary steps on the way; letters to learn from, rather than knock-backs. After all, I’m yet to hear of an author who has never been rejected. And I hope that, if the dog ever needs a cone again in the future, he will try to see it the same way – holding his head up proudly as he marches on, his eye on the prize (or in his case, the bag of treats!).

 

Drying the dog

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Bathing the dog at our house, is a major undertaking. To start with, he doesn’t really like going in the bath (let’s be honest – he hates the bath!), and also he takes ages to dry. He’s a Tibetan Terrier, and so, being bred to cope with the snow and ice of the Tibetan plateau, he naturally has a very thick coat. Usually, we rub him down with a towel and then spend the best part of half an hour drying him with the hair dryer, which he hates – if anything – even more than the bath.

Then recently, things changed. A month or so ago, we’d taken him to a Tibetan Terrier festival, where he had the chance to meet loads of other Tibetan Terriers. But, equally important for me, there were lots of stalls there selling things for dogs – some of which were specifically designed with Tibetan Terriers in mind. On one stall I saw some strange, towel-type things, but they seemed to have a large hole in the middle and a zip at the bottom. Intrigued, I asked the lady what they were and she explained that they were bags, specifically designed for drying dogs with thick coats. I was a bit sceptical, but then someone else came up to the stall, and commented that these bags were in fact fantastic for dogs that don’t like hair-dryers. Apparently, zipping the dog into the bag when they are soaking wet (head sticking out through the hole, of course!), traps the dog’s body heat, which draws the moisture away from the dog and is absorbed by the towel. It sounded unlikely but interesting, and I bought one to try at home.

Two weeks later, the dreaded bath day came round. I put the laptop and writing notebooks away, and the dog was taken upstairs, bathed and then escorted back down. As he was led back into the kitchen, swathed in a bath towel and with water dripping off the end of his nose, he looked understandably apprehensive – after all, this was usually the point at which that noisy, hot-air machine was turned on. But not this time – after issuing a few dog treats, his head was popped through the hole in the bag and the zip was done up at the bottom. He sat there, wet and mystified, while we reread the instructions that came with the bag. The label said to ‘use our common sense’ regarding how long he should be left in the bag. Hmm. What to do? I turned to the dog, and asked him how long he thought it should be. He looked at me for a moment, as if he couldn’t believe his furry ears. Why had we seen fit to put him into a bag in the first place? Whatever would I ask him next? How long should he perch at the top of the Christmas tree, maybe?

Receiving no useful advice, I decided to go with five minutes, and so, five minutes later, we took the bag off. Incredibly, he was almost entirely dry! I could hardly believe it, and neither could the dog – he looked on in joyful disbelief as the redundant hair-dryer was carried away from the kitchen.

And so, getting back to the writing much sooner than I’d expected, I had a puzzled but pleased – and dry – dog sat at my feet. It made me wonder about whether they can invent a special bag to put my writing into – something that will draw off all the extra words that I don’t need – all the unnecessary adjectives, the ‘very’s, the ‘then’s, the ‘and’s, and the bits where I repeat myself without even realising it. Now that would be another bag I’d be happy to pay good money for!

Scamtastic!

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One of the banes of modern life is surely the amount of phone calls and emails that we all receive from scammers. Sadly, many people are taken in by these professional-sounding and convincing scammers, and some people end up losing a lot of money, time and often, valuable personal information in this way.

Being at home at lot while I’m writing, I receive a lot of these phone calls. Partly in order to reduce the amount of time the scammer has to call someone else, who may be more vulnerable than me, and partly, I must admit, for my own entertainment, I tend to spin these calls out – it’s such fun. After all, when the dog is fast asleep, tired out after his morning walk and tucked up on the living room floor under a spare fleece, I have to find my entertainment where I can when I need a break from the  laptop!

This morning it went this way –

Ring, ring…

Me – ‘Hello?’

Scammer – ‘Oh, yes, hello Madam. I’m ringing from BT to tell you that, unfortunately, your internet security has been compromised.’

Me – ‘Gosh! Really?’

Scammer – ‘Yes, but don’t worry. I can help you fix it!’

Me – ‘Can you really? Oh my word, that’s fabulous!’

Scammer – ‘Of course, Madam. I’m happy to help. Now, if you’ll just turn on your laptop, I’ll be able to access it and show you where the security breaches are.’

Me – ‘Will you? This is so wonderful! I’ve got friends who’ve been scammed, but it’s never happened to me before! I’m so excited! What shall I do first?’

Scammer – ‘What? No, erm…’

Me – ‘Come on, really, what shall I do?’

Scammer – ‘Okay… Well, can you put your laptop on?’

Me – ‘Oh, what a shame – I can’t turn it on right now.’

Scammer – ‘Don’t worry, Madam. When is a good time for me to call you back?’

Me – ‘I don’t really know. Don’t worry, I’ll call you. What’s your number?’

Scammer – ‘Erm… 321 456321.’

Me – ‘Sorry, can you repeat it?’

Scammer – ‘Er… 321 789321.’

Me – ‘Gosh, silly me, I’ve got that wrong again. I know – where’s your office based?’

Scammer – ‘Er.. what?’

Me – ‘What’s your office address?’

Scammer – ‘Well, erm, er… 118, New Street, London.’

Me – ‘Oh, brilliant! I live just round the corner. Put the kettle on and get the biscuits out – I’ll pop round!’

Scammer – ‘Eek!’

At this point, she hung up.

Interestingly enough, when I googled it, New Street in London didn’t seem to have a number ‘118’. Good thing I checked first – otherwise I might have spent an hour on the train, only to find that the kettle wasn’t boiling when I got there – and, worst of all, from the dog’s point of view – no biscuits!

How much is that doggy charging?

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When I self-published my first children’s book in 2017, I found it really difficult to decide what price I should put on the book’s cover. I was keen to keep it low, so that if children were buying it with their own pocket money it wouldn’t be out of their reach. The publisher suggested £7.99, but I was concerned that if I priced it that high, no one would buy it. I thought £5.99 sounded more reasonable, but I was quickly told that this was too low, and I’d make a huge loss on every copy that was sold. Apparently, even at £6.99 I’d make a loss of 3 pence on every copy sold through Amazon, and would only make 32 pence profit on each sale via wholesalers.

Wow! This was news to me! Until that moment, I hadn’t realised how little money authors made on each book sold. Of course, traditionally published authors can hope to receive an advance from their publishers, but the chances of getting anything on top of that is still, for most, remote – and of course, for self-published authors, advances simply don’t exist.

I had a think about it, and decided to go with £6.99 as a middle ground – if most copies sold through Amazon there would be a small loss, but so long as I sold some books at events like school visits, I’d probably break even, overall.

I’d never worked in retail or sales, so having to puzzle over this pricing business was completely new to me, but fortunately I did have an experienced salesman to call on for advice – my writing buddy, the dog. He has long believed firmly in everything having a value and – unfortunately for me – a price.

One of his favourite activities is stealing things that he knows I want – socks from the laundry basket being a preferred item, but everything in the house is pretty much ‘up for grabs’, if you’ll excuse the pun. He thinks that it is hilarious to race around the kitchen table, a sock dangling from his mouth, me chasing after him and never quite able to get within grabbing distance. Every now and then he’ll stop and give a snorty laugh, wait until I’m nearly there, and then bound away again.

Once I get sick of chasing him, the negotiations begin. I walk to the treat cupboard and take down a box of dog biscuits. ‘Come on,’ I say, in a wheedling tone of voice. ‘Would you like a dog biscuit?’ He stops bounding around, puts the sock down at his feet and looks at me with his head on one side.

I take a biscuit out of the box and throw it onto the floor. I might not have his sock, but I have got his interest. There’s a moment’s silence while we both look down at the biscuit, and then the dog raises his eyebrows and gives a snort, stamping on the sock in irritation. ‘One biscuit? For this fantastic sock? No thank you!’

Out comes another biscuit, which quickly joins the first one in the ‘no man’s land’, on the floor between us. He looks at me disparagingly, and then snorts in the direction of the two biscuits.

I throw down a third biscuit, and he immediately trots over and collects all three, leaving me to go and pick up my purchase from the other side of the room. Most socks, it seems, cost three biscuits. Some things are more expensive, of course – pens for example, often cost four biscuits. And then there are those rare and valuable items – pies spring to mind – which are simply not for sale.

Sometimes he’ll come trotting over, hoping to persuade me to buy a piece of newspaper he’s snatched off the worktop, only to find that, sadly for him, either I don’t want to buy it, or I’m only prepared to offer one biscuit. When this happens he disappears under the table and chews it up – just to make sure that I don’t manage to pick it up for free, later.

What I’ve learnt from the dog through these experiences is that most things – although certainly not all things – have a price. The trick, as far as self-published authors are concerned, is to choose a price that will work for both the author and the reader – hopefully a fair, middle-ground – and ideally one that won’t cost too many biscuits!

Another Little Christmas

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Most people probably haven’t experienced having the post delivered on Christmas Day, but when I answered the front door last Saturday, there indeed stood the postman, a parcel in his hand. He looked at the paper hat on my head – mine was a blue one. ‘Ooh – not Christmas, is it?’ he asked, chirpily, before heading back down the path with a chuckle. He was gone before I could give him the answer that, yes indeed, it was Christmas – at least in my house.

Some people might remember that last summer, sick and tired of having to wait a whole year for Christmas to roll round again, I’d decided to have a ‘Little Christmas’ – an extra Christmas Day in the middle of summer, with all the fun bits left in – the Christmas dinner, a tree, a small present each, family films, crackers and, yes, paper hats – but without any of the pressure and stress that come with ‘Big Christmas’ each December. (https://catherinerosevear.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/little-christmas/) We’d enjoyed it so much that we thought we’d do it again this year.

The day before, I ventured up the loft-ladder (always a scary experience, as you know!), and brought down the ‘small’ Christmas tree, put it up and put the wrapped presents under it. I checked the cooking time on the bird waiting in the fridge, and got out the Christmas pudding and the crackers from the back of the kitchen cupboard (I’d thought ahead and bought two lots in December). All I had left to do was to adjust the star on the top of the tree, and we were all set.

Once again, it was a lovely day – everyone (including the dog, who was very enthusiastic about the whole thing, as you can imagine), liked their present, the dinner was cooked just right, and sitting down to watch a film together in the afternoon was very relaxing. Some people might think that we’re crackers (excuse the pun!) for doing it – particularly when it involves having the oven on for nearly three hours, on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year – but I can’t recommend having a stress-free ‘Little Christmas’ enough. So if you’re tempted, go ahead, enjoy yourself, and… Happy Little Christmas to you!

The Meaning of ‘Arpeggio’

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The dog has a pretty good vocabulary, considering that he is, after all, a dog. For a long time I thought he understood only simple, single words such as ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘no’. Then, a few months ago, I saw him trying to get into the kitchen. The door in front of him was shut, but I knew that around the other side of the kitchen there was an open door. Without thinking, I said, ‘Go round – the other one’s open.’ He looked at me with complete comprehension, nodded and then turned, trotted purposefully away and disappeared into the kitchen through the open door at the other end. I sat, open-mouthed, listening to the familiar sound of him jumping up at the kitchen worktops. Was it a coincidence? Was there one word in the sentence that he’d latched on to – or had he understood the whole thing? Since then I’ve seen him respond in a similar way to other sentences, so I’m pretty sure that he understands a lot more than he should. Mind you – he is exposed to a lot of complex language. I never talk down to him as if he is just – a dog. I chat to him, the same as I would to anyone else.

Children also need to be exposed to a lot of language to extend their vocabularies. There’s been a lot of talk about this recently amongst the children’s writers’ community, and mainly because of the acceptance speech that Geraldine McCaughrean made, when she received this year’s CILIP Carnegie Medal for children’s literature. In her speech, she spoke at length about what she perceived as the ‘dumbing down’ of children’s books, by publishers. She said that, in her opinion, without exposure to complex language children would have ‘brains far less receptive to the acquisition of vocabulary’. I think that she is completely right. As she said, ‘we master words by meeting them’.

My first memory of wanting to read by myself, is that of sitting up in bed holding a Paddington book. I think it may have been ‘Paddington Abroad’, as that was always (and still is), my favourite Paddington chapter book. I couldn’t wait until I was capable of reading the words myself, rather than having to wait until a grown-up had some time free to read it to me.

The reason I was so keen to read the Paddington books, was the type of language used – I loved it! In writing the books, Michael Bond hadn’t ‘written down’ to children, but rather, had used the language that I imagine he would have used in any situation, whether children were there or not. Words such as ‘itinerary’, ‘consult’, ‘particular’, ‘commissionaire’, ‘immigration’ and ‘circumstances’, were strewn happily across the pages, and I hoovered them all up, asking an adult to tell me what they meant when I needed to – but mostly working it out for myself by looking at the rest of the sentence and the context. It felt as though Michael Bond was writing the books as if I, and the other children who were reading them, were his intellectual equals. He trusted us to work it out for ourselves, as and when we needed to. Rather than changing the words to others that might have meant nearly the same thing, such as ‘ask’ instead of ‘consult’, or ‘doorman’ instead of ‘commissionaire’, he spoke to us on his own level, and in the process, gave the Paddington books their unique feel and a lot of humour, and gave us, the readers, a huge amount of new vocabulary. I even learnt my first French words from ‘Paddington Abroad’; they were ‘escargot’ and ‘gravillons’ and I’ve never forgotten them.

I was very pleased to see in the most recent, and sadly to be the last, Paddington picture book (a book aimed at children aged two and up), the use of the word ‘arpeggio’ – a word that I’m still not one hundred percent certain of the meaning of, despite my daughter’s violin lessons! But I can’t help wondering; if the author had been anyone other than Michael Bond, would the publisher have let him get away with including it?

But maybe what works for me – or the dog – isn’t right for everyone. Certainly there are children who need, or just prefer, a simpler structure; children who either want or need to be able to access the story easily, and without long words that they may find off-putting. To me, it seems very important to have both types of book available – some with, and some without, complex language and words that are likely to be unfamiliar. And why not – there’s plenty of room in the world for children with different needs and preferences, with varied senses of humour and dissimilar styles of learning – and hopefully plenty of room for a wide range of books… not to mention lots of different types of dogs, too.

…and if you can tell me the definition of ‘arpeggio’, please do!

The Water Cooler

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Writing can be a lonely task. Sometimes I look at our dog and wonder if he occasionally finds his work lonely, as well. He is an only dog – he does get to meet lots of dogs when he goes out for walks, of course, but it’s not the same as having other dogs around all the time. Most of his ‘dog work’ – helping me to edit my writing, clearing up any crumbs on the floor, and making sure that all the food is stored safely in one place (his stomach), takes place without the aid of any furry friends to help him. With this in mind, a few weeks ago we took him to a Tibetan Terrier festival in Leicestershire, to give him a chance to meet loads of other dogs – all at once, and all roughly the same size as him. He had a wonderful time with all the other Tibetan Terriers who came along – playing, sniffing, and presumably working out which of the other dogs were his cousins, aunts and uncles. It was great fun to see so many of them having fun together in one place, but then we went back home and he returned to life as an ‘only dog’.

Writers often find themselves in a very similar situation. The majority of writers are ‘only writers’ – most households can’t afford to keep more than one at a time. Writers, after all, are expensive to feed, and notorious for polishing off the coffee supplies at lightning speed. With a dog, you can usually find a high cupboard where expensive food and beverages can be placed out of reach, but it’s not often so with writers.

It’s true that most writers love spending time alone – and we probably need to like doing that at least a little bit, in order to get any writing done at all. But there comes a time, at least once a day, when you stare at the laptop and think, ‘Is this right? I need someone else’s opinion’. If I was still working in an office, I’d just poke my head through my colleague’s door, or maybe wander along to the kitchen or the water cooler, to see who was taking a break and might be prepared to listen to whatever I’m stuck on. But when you’re the only person in the house it’s not that easy, and this was something that I struggled with when I first started writing – where to find colleagues who I could consult for advice, and who would understand what I was trying to do?

Then I discovered SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I can’t remember how I first came across it, but when I did, I joined straight away. It’s an amazing organisation, operating across the globe, but with regional chapters as well. Through their workshops, Facebook groups and critique groups, I was immediately put in touch with hundreds of other writers – some with years of experience as published authors behind them, and some, like me, just starting out, and many of them have become friends. All of a sudden I had a water cooler to go to, whenever I needed to, and it’s completely changed the speed at which I learn as a writer. There are just so many people to learn from!

So if you’re a writer, and you haven’t already joined a writer’s group, club or society, consider doing it – you might find yourself wondering how you ever managed to lift a pen, or switch on a laptop without it!

 

Abracadabra! Magic in children’s books

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Dogs believe very firmly in magic – if I pretend to pull a treat out from behind my dog’s ear, he will truly believe that that is where I found it. And if I make something ‘disappear’ by hiding it under a cup, then he is confident that I have made it vanish for ever (in case you’re wondering – no, he didn’t pass this particular test in ‘Measure Your Dog’s IQ’!). If I could make the chair levitate several inches off the kitchen floor he would accept it as just another one of my amazing skills, probably without even batting an eyelid.

A bit like when my children were small and magic tricks were ‘magic’, but not ‘tricks’ – just truly magical. There’s a lot of magic in children’s literature, and fantasy is one of the most popular children’s genres with good reason. We all love a bit of escapism, but often for a child, the magic in the books they read is real. When I was small and reading the E. Nesbit books, I believed that there was really no reason why I couldn’t find my own sand-fairy to give me three wishes, if I looked hard enough in the right places. Maybe even a phoenix and a magic carpet, to take me on my own adventures. Because of this, I think that when writing for Middle Grade children or lower, there’s an important thing to remember – for the child reading a fantasy book, the magic might be real – and why shouldn’t it be? – So it helps to make it realistic!

All the children’s books I’ve written or am currently working on – whether chapter books for 7 to 10s or Middle Grade for slightly older readers – feature magic in some way, but usually set into an otherwise very commonplace world. I love the idea that, like in E. Nesbit’s books, we can have what at first glance appears to be a normal, everyday modern setting, where the characters are believable children who do normal things and use ‘down-to-earth’ language, but as you get into the story you find that there are elements of their world that are magical – whether this is a sand-fairy, a phoenix, a flying carpet, or – in my case – a magic bronze pendant. These magical items or characters lift the reader out of the ‘normal’ world and into a new, exciting place where anything may become possible – and believable. And you never know – for some children, this might make any difficulties that they are experiencing in the ‘real’ world, easier to cope with.

Looking to the Future

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Sometimes, when I’m having a bit of a ‘down-day’ on the writing front, I think about the possibility that I may never get a children’s book traditionally published. When this happens the dog always jumps in (literally, usually!), and with a few kind licks, assures me that I’ll get there in the end. Then he settles down next to me, rests his chin on his paws, and gives me a look of reassuring confidence. However, despite his earnest assurances, it remains a possibility that traditional publishing may permanently elude me.

In my experience, writers all have wobbles – days when that we’re writing seems rubbish; when we might have had one too many rejections come bouncing into our inboxes, or maybe a less-than-perfect review. On these days, it seems that traditional publication will never happen. We’re all aware that for some of us this will be true, but it’s impossible to say whether that unfortunate group will include us or not.

When a day like this comes along, I try to think about why I’m really writing in the first place – is my main aim to be traditionally published? Well, it would be wonderful, but surprisingly, no, it isn’t the main reason I write! Do I want children to read the books I’ve written and self-published, enjoy them and find themselves drawn into another world as they read? Well, yes, I do! And what about the books I’ve written but not self-published, and not yet found a traditional publisher for? Well, I think it would be nice to think that in the future – maybe a few generations into the future, even – my descendants might dig them out of a dusty, old box in the loft, read them and enjoy them.

I can imagine the scene – my great-great-grandchildren, sat around in their futuristic living room, holographic screens hovering magically before their eyes. Suddenly another great-great-grandson shimmers into the room, silver future-suit all agleam, and makes an announcement. ‘Hey, guys, look at this!’

The rest of them raise their eyebrows quizzically, and then look with distaste at the dusty bundle being held aloft. ‘Ew! What’s that? It looks all dirty!’

‘No, this is really interesting – I’ve found some stories written by great-great-grandma Rosevear, up in the loft. Look, they’re printed on paper and everything!’

They lean forwards. ‘Paper? You mean what they used even before ebooks came along? Not a hollo-book?’

He brandishes the bundle and dust showers onto the floor, before being rapidly sucked up by an eager housework-bot. ‘Yes. People could print stuff off onto paper whenever they wanted, in those days. Paper wasn’t rare like it is today… I think in those days there were still trees growing in some areas, even – waiting to be made into paper.’

They nod sagely. ‘Oh, yes! Of course that was before World President Trump cut them all down to build the Space Fence… So, what are these stories about?’

He passes the pages round, and they all marvel at the feel of the sheets between their fingers, before squinting their eyes up to read them. ‘Hey,’ someone says in a moody tone. ‘The back-light isn’t working on this page!’ He bends lower in an effort to read it.

After a few minutes one of them puts their paper carefully down on the floating coffee table, next to the cup recylcator. ‘I like this stuff – her stories are quite good!’

‘Yes,’ chimes in someone else. ‘I wonder why she didn’t let a publisher make it into a paper book – you know those fiddly ones they had with lots of bits of paper stuck together?’

‘Oh, yes’, says another. ‘She really should have thought of doing that. I guess she didn’t want to. But maybe, if she could write stories like this in the olden days, we can do it now! Someone pass me my hollopad and thought-transcriber – I’m going to make a start right now!’

A buzz of excitement goes round the room as they all consider the possibility of writing their own stories…

Hmm… If I can give a good reading experience to some children right now, with my self-published books, that’s great – but if I can also leave a legacy of stories for future generations of my family to enjoy, then that will be even better!