picture books

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

light-2188464_1920.jpg

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!

storystorm18winner.jpg

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! 

3 amazing multicultural non-fiction picture books for children

IMG_9497 2.jpg

A mouthful of a title but the best I could do to describe my 3 top picks in honour of Multicultural Children's Book Day 2018. I often talk about picture books being windows into the world and these books are exactly that. In no particular order as these are all firm favourites with my 3-year-old and will be loved and adored by older children too:

1) HERE WE ARE - Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers

Disclaimer: we are die-hard Oliver Jeffers fans in this household so I'm very biased but this is another level of beautiful. He wrote this for his son and you can sense that. It captures that feeling so many parents have - that desire to share all the need-to-know stuff with this little person in your life. It speaks straight to the heart but it's more than I-love-you. It's a subtle, complex hey, this is the world you've been born into...this is how it works, these are the incredible things around you...this is how precious it is and this is why you need to look after it. There's also a gorgeous spread where Jeffers describes how "People come in many shapes, sizes and colours" and adds that we "all look different, act different and sound different...but don't be fooled, we are all people." You have to see this spread - it's a beautiful conversation-starter for children. 

IMG_8773.jpg

2) LOTS by Marc Martin

This BOOK! It's an absolute treasure trove of information. The illustrations are stunning and so detailed and every page is jam-packed with juicy little facts and local quirks. It takes you everywhere from Tokyo with its vending machines (5.6 million of them in Japan!) selling everything from neck-ties to books to Ulaanbaatar, Moscow, Cairo, the Amazon Rainforest and New Delhi with the signature Indian head wobble and clay chai cups. I'd challenge any adult to flick through this one without wanting to stop and have a proper read.

3) THIS IS HOW WE DO IT by Matt Lamothe

This book follows a day in the lives of seven children from around the world - Italy, Japan, Uganda, Russia, India, Peru and Iran. We learn who they are, what kind of place and house they live in, who they live with, what they eat, how they go to school, what they wear and how they write, learn and play. It's a fascinating mix of cultures and seeing these lives laid out alongside each other offers a chance to celebrate differences while appreciating that there's a common thread running through each of these stories - something that binds us, something that means we're not so different after all. 

There are many more books in this vein - a happy reality because children love discovering other cultures. They drink this stuff. I just wanted to share 3 I thought were particularly special. If there are others that you've come across, please do share in the comments. I'd love to hear about them!