Writing picture books

My WriteNow Journey: So far so wonderful

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WriteNow is a Penguin Random House (PRH) mentoring programme focused on discovering and nurturing underrepresented voices in publishing. I'm very fortunate to have been selected as one of 11 writers in this year's cohort. You can read about the others here - fantastic people working on some amazing and important stories. This post is a long overdue snapshot into my journey so far. 

Where it all started

I've been in love with writing all my life but took the scenic route to get here (law, the MBA, two babies and a business). Things got serious when I took a Writers' Workshop (now Jericho Writers) picture book course with the lovely Pippa Goodhart in Spring 2017 and went to the Winchester Writers' Festival for a jaw-droppingly brilliant workshop with my picture book hero Tracey Corderoy and Louise Bolongaro, Head of Picture Books at Nosy Crow. Story ideas were forming but the confidence was missing. When I saw WriteNow advertised on Twitter, I almost didn't apply. I didn't think I was good enough. Thankfully, in a moment of madness, I hit SEND on the application form. 

When I got through to the Insight Day, I had to submit a second picture book. I wrote it on the evening of the deadline in one sitting. Crazy wave of inspiration. This isn't my usual style but it resulted in my very best work to date and this is the book I'm now working on as part of the WriteNow programme. 

The Insight Day - Newcastle 2017

The Insight Day was a trek and a half to get to but it was an incredible experience. This is going to sound ridiculously cheesy but it was all about the vibe for me. Being in a room with all these writers from all kinds of backgrounds. Knowing that PRH believes in us and believes in our stories was just WOW. There was useful practical information about writing, editing and finding an agent and a really insightful 1:1 with an amazing editor who ended up being my mentor but what stood out for me was the energy and the hope in that room. It sent a shiver down my spine. 

Getting through to the programme

My knees were shaking during the Round 2 call but it was the same editor again and we had a really useful discussion around my manuscript. In fact, one single edit from that call has completely transformed the story (blog post to follow on the magic that editors bring to the table!). When I found out I had made it through to the final list, I almost cried into my Lemsip. I had a yucky cold at the time and was generally feeling sorry for myself so thank goodness the news came by email or I would have cried on the phone. I'm a great big softie, really. 

The mentoring

This deserves a post of its own but for now what I will say is MY GOODNESS, what a difference this has made to my writing. My editor-mentor, Anna Barnes, is an absolute legend. She gets what I'm trying to do, she believes in me 100% and I'm learning SO much from her. She's my champion at PRH and I'm very lucky to have had her look at my work right from the Insight Day. She's a great editor and she's all about shaping the programme to my needs. I couldn't have wished for a better mentor. 

The confidence-boost

Confession: I DID feel like the token brown picture book person on the list of mentees. Have you SEEN the other mentees? They are amazing! And then there's me. But WriteNow has been a huge confidence boost. PRH is not a charity. It's a business. This isn't some box-ticking exercise for the Annual Report. They've bought a number of WriteNow books already. The programme is about breaking through some of the barriers to discovering underrepresented writers. The mentors and Siena Parker who heads up the project are so passionate about this. My mentor has given up so much of her time because she believes in me. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see a writer. Not an aspiring writer. A writer. That subtle shift has been a gamechanger. 

WHAT NEXT? 

Well, that'd be telling. 

Watch this space. 

What are you waiting for? APPLY HERE! Applications are open until 9 July 2018 for writers and 23 July 2018 for illustrators! 

 

 

 

7 things I learnt from Storystorm 2018: How to come up with new ideas

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Storystorm is a brilliant initiative by picture book writer Tara Lazar. It's PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) reborn, revamped and significantly easier to pronounce. The focus is on ideation or idea generation - 31+ ideas in the month of January and a blog post a day to help you on your way. This was my first time participating and I'm very glad I did. It's a wonderful, supportive community and a great way to knuckle down and churn out some potential material to work on for the rest of the year.

Here's what I learnt from the process:

1) IDEAS ARE EVERYWHERE: Something you see, something you read, something your child says or does, something you oh-so-casually hear when totally not desperately trying to eavesdrop at the local cafe. There's Pinterest, the cinema, and bookstores - existing titles and storylines that trigger new ones.  There's science, there's history, there's politics - now that's bursting with material (and don't get me started on picture books and politics - the way I see it, all writing is political). And dreams, of course (although, I have to say those "moments of genius" are often a lot less amazing and a lot more bizarre/scary on paper than they are in my head in the middle of the night). 

2) DISCIPLINE IS NOT A DIRTY WORD: In fact, carving out "ideation" time every day can work wonders. It's like eating or meditating at the same time every day. Your body and mind are primed to feel hungry or feel relaxed. Or to open the floodgates to new ideas. 

3) SOMETIMES THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO IS TO DO NOTHING: So, despite what I said in #2, there may be times when you need to step away from the notebook. I love mindfulness and meditation but even a bog-standard walk, a stint at the gym, cooking or doing the laundry can trigger the flow of ideas. Or ordering a takeaway, whatever works for you.

4) IT'S WORTH CASTING A WIDE NET (TO BEGIN WITH): Let your ideas do their thing. If you disqualify them before they even hit the page, you'll never really know how they feel and what they taste like. Crazy ideas can sprout less crazy ideas. And some crazy ideas are worth pursuing in their own right. At this delicate stage, it's best to shut down your inner critic and give them the day (or month) off. A Storystorm blog post by Jeanette Bradley had this fabulous quote from the Frog and Toad books:

“Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted. ‘NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!’
Frog came running up the path.
‘What’s all this noise?’ he asked.
‘My seeds will not grow,’ said Toad.
‘You are shouting too much,’ said Frog. ‘These poor seeds are afraid to grow.'”

~ Arnold Lobel, FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER

You can show up, ready and willing. You can chase after ideas. But you can't drag them out of the mud, in seed form, scream at them and expect them to grow. Some need a little more time than others. There's a time and place for purging no-gos based on questions like "does this really excite me?" and "is this a marketable idea?". This is not that stage.  

5) MORNING PAGES + STORYSTORMING = A POWERFUL COCKTAIL: I've only recently started doing Morning Pages (more on that soon!) but I can already feel the difference in my writing. Combining this practice with storystorming has been transformational. It's a simple concept, courtesy of Julia Cameron - 3 pages of long-hand stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning. It clears the head of all the gunk and goo and to-dos and makes space for new ideas (and old ones). 

6) MATERIALS DO MATTER: Well, to me at least. I admire the screenwriter who plots out a masterpiece on the back of a napkin at a restaurant, I really do. But I need my Moleskines. Always softcover, always large or extra-large and always PLAIN (I've recently been converted). I cannot imagine writing on lined paper anymore. I need the freedom and world of possibility that only PLAIN paper can provide. And a biro - deep black. Find what works best for you. Some people love scraps of paper and patchwork notebooks - they fill them with joy. Find something you feel like coming back to. 

7): THERE'S A MAGIC TO COMMUNITY SPIRIT: There's something about working alongside a group of people with their eye on the same goal. It's inspiring. It's also a comfort on days when your well runs dry and what you really need is to know that you're not alone. They say writing is a lonely occupation. I think that's crazy. There is a difference between loneliness and solitude. I love my alone-time with my manuscripts and when I need a sign of life, I dip back into the amazing writing communities I'm very lucky to be a part of e.g. Storystorm, SCBWI, The Golden Egg Academy, and Kritikme.  

I've wrapped up the month with 42 picture book ideas (fiction and non-fiction) - some very nascent but very much there - plus a number of ideas for flash fiction pieces, early readers and young fiction!

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Massive thank you to Tara Lazar for bringing us all together and for organising so many amazing guest posts! 

I'm now going to attempt something crazy for February. I'm going to draft a manuscript a day. A complete draft: beginning, middle, end - that sort of thing. I'm going to get out of my own way, show up every day and write. There may be a lot of chopping and changing on the road ahead but I'm a firm believer in the tyranny of the blank page. This is my way of getting past that. Wish me luck!