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!

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!

Gold dust – learning from other writers

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Since I started writing children’s books, I’ve been casting around for some good advice about how to write more effectively, and some of it has come from unexpected places. Often it’s the dog who gives me the best advice, as you might have picked up from previous posts. In fact, without his input, I don’t think I would have been able to write anything at all; even though at the moment he is gazing out of the window, lost in thought and doubtless planning his own novel.

Recently however, some of the most useful tips I’ve picked up have come from writers that I hadn’t read for many years, and a short time ago I read two really helpful books, which I have reviewed below.

The first one is ‘A Slip of the Keyboard’ by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, 2014), the famous English fantasy author, who sadly died last year. I’d read some of his Discworld novels a few years ago, but I found ‘A Slip of the Keyboard’, very different; to start with, it isn’t a novel, but a collection of essays giving his views on everything including writing, animals, and death. Amongst it all, I found some wonderful tips for writers, including his views on what you should read in order to improve your writing, what fantasy is, and how difficult it is to write humour well.

The second author I came across with a wealth of brilliant tips for writers was Stephen King. I’d read some Stephen King books as a teenager, and had found them entertaining, but I hadn’t read one for years. Then another writer recommended that I read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King (Scribner, 2000), so I gave it a go. It was a fascinating book which is roughly divided into three sections. The first section is really autobiography, and includes Stephen King’s childhood, how he started writing, and how he dealt with those inevitable, initial rejections before hitting the big time. The second section is his advice to writers, which is very extensive, but includes his views on different forms of dialogue attribution, and the use of ‘show not tell’. The third section of the book talks about a terrible accident that he was involved in, how he dealt with it, and finally recovered from it, and, ultimately, how he then returned to writing.

If you find particular writers inspiring, or have picked up brilliant writing tips from other books, let me know! And good luck to the dog, with his novel – or whatever else he’s planning – as he sits there lost in thought. I hope he’ll decide to go for it – just so long as it doesn’t involve tearing anything up!

Braving the Spiders

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Recently, I got a bit stuck with the plot for my new children’s book, and started casting around for inspiration. I had my inspiration box to give me some ideas (see https://catherinerosevear.wordpress.com/2018/01/19/the-inspiration-box/), but I was still unsure how to move on. Looking through the bookcase, I started seeking for books that I hadn’t seen for a while, and then I remembered – loads of them were still in the boxes they’d gone into when we moved house a few years ago, and they were… horror of horrors… in the loft.

I don’t like the loft. To start with, there are spiders up there, and I’m scared of spiders. Secondly, the loft ladder is quite wobbly, and when it’s in position, it’s immediately at the top of the stairs. On the rare occasions when I’ve been up there, I quite like another adult to be not only in the house, but standing on the stairs holding the phone, with their finger hovering over the ‘9’ button, just in case I plummet the full depth of the stairwell to an almost certain doom. But, there were certainly a lot of boxes of books up there, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to have a look at them. Hmm, I thought – maybe I should be brave and go up for a rummage about.

I waited until another adult was in the house and then told the dog my intentions. He seemed interested in the idea that there might be another room in the house. Could he come too? I explained that it would be best if he waited downstairs for me to return from this dangerous expedition, but I agreed that if I found any dog biscuits up there, I’d bring them back for him.

The loft ladder came wobbling down and I climbed apprehensively up it, fumbling around for the light switch at the top. The dog watched from the hallway, fascinated, as I disappeared into the unknown. For him, it was as if I was climbing the ladder at the top of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree, to see what strange magical land would be there. He could only hope that I’d come back down before the land moved on, sweeping me away, never to return.

Clambering from the top of the ladder onto the loft floor, I suddenly remembered another reason why I didn’t like it up there – it’s not an easy space to walk around; the head height is designed for hobbits, and the width of the boarded-out floor is ideal if you are the same width as a pencil. Certainly there was no room to turn around. I glanced about apprehensively, checking for cobwebs. I couldn’t see any blocking my route to the books at the far end of the wooden boards, but you could never be too careful. I started inching my way along until, finally, I reached the boxes I wanted. They were covered in dust and pretty battered, but I pulled the first one towards me, opened it and looked inside. Hmm, there were quite a few books in there that I’d forgotten I had. I put my hand in and then pulled it immediately out again. What was that?! Something had crawled over my hand!

A careful look showed that the box was half full of books and half full of flies – recently woken from hibernation, by the look of it, and not best pleased about it either. I wrapped a scarf round my hand and, grimacing, pushed my hand back in. I pulled books out as quickly as I could. Once I’d got a good haul, I tucked them under my arm and started reversing back down the loft towards the ladder, bent double so as not to bang my head on the roof. It felt as though I was bowing my way out of a royal presence.

There was a temporary glitch at the top of the ladder, when my hair got caught in some fly paper. I made a big effort not to panic, yanked my head away and started down the rickety ladder, the precious books held tight. As the dog watched me slowly returning from ‘Loftland’, his eyes grew wider than I’d ever seen them before, and as soon as I was back downstairs, he sniffed my ankles keenly. Wherever had I been, and thank goodness I was safe! But, more importantly, did I find any biscuits up there?

Once the ladder had been put away, I settled down on the sofa to see what I’d got. I seemed to have found some great, if quite dusty, books – there was a nice copy of The Voyage of the Beagle’ by Charles Darwin; ‘The Complete Illustrated Stories of Sherlock Holmes’ by Conan Doyle; a big, colourful book called ‘The Pirates’, that had previously belonged to my granddad, and finally, a huge hardback containing the William Morris Kelmscott Chaucer, which was full to the brim with prints of fantastic woodcut illustrations and illuminated letters. I hadn’t seen these books for years – it was like having a birthday! Plenty of reading to keep me going for a good while anyway – or at least until I came up with some more plot ideas for my own book!