Sunday, 27 October 2013

School Round Up Part Two

I was delighted be invited to Manor Fields Primary School in Bishops' Stortford last week. The  visit got off to a great start when I saw these gorgeous posters up everywhere. These definitely win top prize in the Most Impressive School Publicity category!
It was a hugely rewarding and enjoyable day.
Posters designed by school parent Andrea Thorpe,
who you won't be surprised to learn has 
her own design company.

First there was a lively assembly with the whole school (it always makes my day when one of the youngest children picks the grey curly wig out of Emily's investigation kit bag, and agrees to wear it to demonstrate its disguise potential!) 
This was followed by a whole-day adventure story writing workshop with Y5. It was a whirlwind  crash course on everything you need to know to be an author - and the students all did a brilliant job of keeping the ideas coming; everything from secret identities to pizza kings to spooky halloween mysteries. The "hook-your-reader-in-and-don't-let-them-go" opening lines that were shared at the end of the day were great.  I'm really looking forward to reading the first chapters and seeing the cover designs when the students send them in for the competition.
We also squeezed in time to talk about everything to do with salamanders, sleuths and supercars with Y3 and Y4 and a short "paparazzi break' while the very nice photographer from the Herts and Essex Observer took some pictures of us doing our grinniest grins. The pictures can be seen along with a  report on the on-line version of the paper here.
The day ended with one of the biggest queues for book signings that I have ever seen. If I develop writer's cramp I'll know who to blame!!
Some of the children gave me pictures they had drawn, including this lovely version of the cover of The Mystery of the Cursed Ruby by Anisa.

Thank you to everyone from Manor Fields for making me so wlecome. Everyone from head to governors to teachers and teaching assistants to dinner ladies to children was friendly, enthusiastic and positive.  And a special thank you to Aimee Schilder in Year 5 who read the Adventure Island books in the summer and came up with the idea of the author visit day in the first place.
I hope you all had a great time at the Junior Disco that evening. If I'd had my dancing shoes with me I'd have been very tempted to stay . . .


Love the article! It was a really brilliant day and I and my fellow pupils had an absolute blast. I have written the opening chapter of my Adventure Island story and hope that my teachers will be sending it to you soon. I agree that the queue for the book-signing was ridiculously long, but we will all treasure our personally signed copies! Thank you again for coming. We all learnt so much about creative writing. Lots of love Aimee Schilder, Year 5 Pupil, Manor Fields Primary X

Friday, 25 October 2013

School Visit Round Up Part One

I've been off on lots of school visits lately and am very late with posting reports from all of them but will do my best to catch up.
Wishing you all a very happy half term holiday!
First . . . Denfield Park Primary School.
For a while it seemed I might never make it to Denfield Park Primary School. I pointed my car towards Northamptonshire and set off on a sunny September morning only to find myself caught up in the endless roundabout loop of Milton Keynes - like a meteorite sucked into orbit around a distant planet.

Having escaped at last, I then became ensnared in a traffic jam of Truly Colossal Proportions. The good people of Kimbolton were, it seemed, putting up a funfair in the High Street.* Even as I muttered and fumed at being held up I couldn’t help being impressed by a town that closes all its through routes at rush hour to make way for a big wheel, dodgems and candy floss stands.  It may be no coincidence that Kimbolton is also home to one of the biggest firework companies in the universe. This is a town that likes to party!

But I arrived. Only a few minutes late and just in time for what is always one of my favourite parts of any author visit – a whole school assembly, where even the youngest Year 1 children join in, coming up to rummage in Emily’s shoulder bag and pick out  random items from her investigations kit. It might be a packet of plasticine (perfect for silencing creaky floorboards or taking a print of a key) a wig for disguise, a spool of wire, a magnifying glass or some treats for Drift . . . 

What's in Emily's investigations kit?

The rest of the day involved two workshops.  I worked with Year 5, thinking about, and planning, stories with amazing discoveries at their heart.  The pupils came up with all kinds of wonderful ideas. In one discussion, I asked them to describe in one sentence the important discovery at the core of a book they had read to the rest of the group to see if they could guess the book. (Think, “a magical world through the back of a wardrobe”).  My favourite was a description of the discovery at the heart of Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You (there were some very mature readers in this year), which generated the suggestion that it might be Beauty and the Beast. Although the wrong answer, it illustrated perfectly just how all the best stories are re-invented over and over again in new and wonderful ways.
Planning some brilliant discovery-based stories
Year 4 looked at the basic ingredients of story structure; characters, settings, goals and problems.  Each student wrote down some of each and they all went into the 'story hat' to be pulled out to create new crazy stories. This led to some extraordinarily imaginative stories, including a brilliant tale of David Beckham tiptoeing across a mile wide stretch of grass in the middle of a forest to ask the queen how many TV sets she owns.

There was even chance during the day for a quick chat with the Year 6 pupils, who had lots of interesting questions. What a lovely bright classroom full of lovely bright students!
Time for some questions from Year 6
Finally, time to sit down in the library and sign some books.
Note how I picked my outfit to match your school uniform, girls!
Thank you to all the polite, enthusiastic creative pupils and to all the staff for being so welcoming and helpful throughout the day. Special thanks to Mrs Hynes, Year 6 teacher and KS2  Literacy Lead who organised it all and sent me the photos.

* Known as the Statty Fair, it has been held in Kimbolton almost every year since the 1200s, when it was included the town's market charter. It used to be a trade fair, and is traditionally held on the third Wednesday of September. Memo to self; don't try to drive through  Kimbolton on third Wednesday of September!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Five Tips for Writing Exciting Stories

I love receiving letters and emails from readers who have enjoyed the Adventure Island series.

They often ask great questions too. 

Where do you get your ideas? 
How many dogs do you have? 
Are you going to write any more Adventure Island books?

Sometimes readers ask for writing tips.

For example, Maddie e-mailed me a few weeks ago and asked if I could give her any tips for writing exciting stories.

As I was replying, I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts in a blog post too.

I'm sure there's nothing here that hasn't been said before, but here we go!

1. Don't spend too long on background information at the start of the story - try to get into some action or drama quickly. A really good sentence or short paragraph at the beginning will hook your readers in to the story.

2. Think about the structure of your story. In most stories your main character will have an important goal or a desire they want to get to. If you let them achieve their goal too easily your story will be dull - not to mention short! So try being a bit mean and throwing lots of problems at them to make it difficult - so it's like a giant obstacle course. Depending on the type of story you want it to be, the problems can be funny or dangerous or dramatic.

3. A great way to come up with ideas is to ask yourself What If? This will often involve a character making a discovery about themselves or another character. It helps if you are a bit of a worrier, because you'll be really good at thinking of things that might just happen.

4. Mix things up. Don't be afraid to weave ideas from books you have read into your stories.    Just make sure you don't copy whole lumps at a time. Take little threads or snippets and combine them with a new setting or different characters or a different goal, and with your own personal style, to come up with something original.  

5. Try to make your writing come alive by showing the characters in action. One way to do this is use the 3 Ds; Description, Detail and Dialogue.

By description, I don't mean long flowery paragraphs about the landscape (although you might want that sometimes to set the scene), but rather, describing how a character moves/walks/speaks/eats a pizza/blows their nose/writes a text)

By detail, I mean including some specific things about the scene or action that make the reader feel they can really see (hear or even smell) the action. These make your writing feel original and interesting.

Dialogue. What characters say to each other and how they say it is really important. Writing  dialogue that sounds natural is quite tricky though. Try reading it out loud to make sure it sounds like people actually talking to each other. 

To see the 3D's in action, here is an example. This sentence that tells a little bit of a story you probably know. 
It does the job of telling what happened but it's not exactly very exciting.

The Big Bad Wolf went up to the door and told the little pigs to let him in.

Now, imagine that the wolf is angry and bossy and a bit of a thug. How can you show that in your writing with the 3 Ds?

How about something like this?

The Big Bad Wolf marched up to the door and banged his fist on it until the hinges shook. ‘Oi! You Pigs! Let me in!’ he yelled. ‘Or else!'

I've described the wolf's actions with one or two words. (Although adjectives might be the ones that spring to mind when you think of "describing words" this example shows that picking descriptive verbs can often do the job even better).

'marched up to the door'
'banged his fists on it'
'he yelled'

I've added a detail that helps to really see what is happening
'until the hinges shook'

And I've included some dialogue that doesn't just tell us what the wolf wants (to come in) but also a lot about him - that he is being bossy and rude!
'Oi! You pigs!' and 'Or else!'

If you want to practise this for yourself, try rewriting the Big Bad Wolf sentence again, but this time, instead of an angry bossy wolf, show that the wolf is nervous and scared (perhaps an even bigger wolf is chasing him) and is begging the pigs to let him in.

Or how about a swaggering, smooth-talking conman of a wolf who's trying to trick the pigs into letting him in so he can sell them some genuine "designer" watches. You can really have fun with the dialogue here!

Good Luck!

If you decide to write a story and you are 14 or under, how about sending it to me and I will put it in my story showcase on the Young Writers page.