Friday, 26 July 2013

Feeling sorry for my characters.... by Miriam Halahmy

In 2006 I was commissioned to write a book for children with cancer. I called the book Peppermint Ward and it was my first publication for children. It was also the first time I realised I felt sorry for a character. Somehow, writing for adults (a novel and several short stories published in the 1990s) just didn’t evoke the same feelings.

Ten year old Sam was the main character of Peppermint Ward and there were three other children to show the effects and treatments of four kinds of cancer. As a Special Needs teacher I had taught terminally ill children. I had also had a child of my own on a cancer ward briefly, fortunately with a happy outcome and various friends who had suffered and some who had died from cancer, as well as my Dad. I had plenty of experience to draw upon in the writing of this book.

But putting Sam through the ravages of bone cancer was a whole new experience for me. I experienced feelings of actual guilt as the story developed along with the excellent illustrations by the talented, Kim Toohey, progressed and I could see Sam’s deterioration. At the end of the book Sam has survived and goes home and it is always this part which brings tears to my eyes. A whole new experience, feeling sorry for a character I had invented.

Since Peppermint Ward I have published short stories for children and two Young Adult novels and have experienced the same feelings on more than one occasion. Putting my young people into impossible situations, politically, socially and romantically, has evoked very strong feelings. Am I feeling sorry for my younger self? For children and teenagers I have worked with? For my own children?

It is a difficult thing to understand and probably doesn’t warrant digging too deep. But one thing I am sure of. As a writer, evoking strong and lasting feelings about your manuscript is a good barometer of how deeply you will probably affect your reader. That’s why we write – to evoke response and engage the reader in the journey we have sent our characters on.
Even if the emotional price for us is perhaps sometimes a bit high.

Who do you feel sorry for in your stories?

Friday, 12 July 2013

The Wait Is Over - UV 2014 is Open For Submissions!

The wait is over! It’s here! It’s time! Any aspiring children’s authors, grab your feather duster and manuscripts and get polishing because Undiscovered Voices 2014 is open for submissions until August 15th!

A panel of industry experts will choose 12 winning novel extracts (from age 5+ to Young Adult) which will be put into an anthology and sent out to editors and agents across the UK. All the submission guidelines can be found here, and you can even download a free copy of the 2012 anthology here. This is too good an opportunity to miss!
It is no exaggeration to say that Undiscovered Voices launched my writing career, and it has brought success and recognition to many other talented writers. In fact, from the first three anthologies, a mind-blowing
22 of the 36 winners 
now have publishing contracts 
for over 70 books! 
and have won or been nominated for a galaxy of awards, from the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize to the Blue Peter Awards! Read more here.

In fact 5 out of the 8 EDGE members are Undiscovered Voices winners, including

Sara Grant (DARK PARTIES, HALF LIVES, and the MAGIC TRIX series)

So, are you ready? Are you? Before you press “send”, here are my Top 10 Tips, I learned from my own UV journey…

#1 DO ENTER UV – OR ANY WRITING COMPETITIONS. They offer incredible opportunities, force you to work to a deadline, and give you invaluable feedback from publishing experts.

#2 DO GO TRAVELLING – anything which broadens your experience enriches your writing.

I’ve always loved creating characters, whether through writing or acting, so imagine my euphoria when I received an email telling me that I had been chosen as a winner of the SCBWI 2008 Undiscovered Voices competition! How utterly amazing! The only problem? I was in Vietnam, having just started on a belated GAP Year trip. Oh, and I hadn’t finished the book…

There followed a flurry of interest in my book (then entitled Someone Else’s Footprints) – but I’d only written about four chapters of it, as it had been a homework assignment whilst I was at university! Flummoxed, I tried valiantly to complete it whilst on various beaches/boats/elephants but ultimately decided it was best to wait until I got home.

When I finally got home, I got busy writing and eventually finished Someone Else’s Footprints...but no-one wanted it. Even the agents and editors who had contacted me after UV didn't now feel it was quite what they were looking for. It seemed I had missed the boat (figuratively and literally!).

It's funny how life works, isn't it? Never in a straight line! Having finally finished writing my book, I contacted all the judges of UV, hoping they still remembered me, and the lovely Catherine Coe at Orchard Books replied to say how much she enjoyed my entry, but that her imprint didn't really deal with YAge – Drat.
But would I like to come in and meet the Orchard team and discuss other ideas? Would I?! I jumped at the chance, and immediately brainstormed a bunch of new ideas for younger readers…

I felt very nervous and excited arriving at the impressive Hachette headquarters, with all their famous books and authors on display, but Catherine was completely lovely and put me at ease. We discussed ideas for younger teen readers - but it was an idea for a rhyming fairytale series for their Crunchies imprint which really caught her interest (a story idea about Prince Charming that had actually been my homework in Year 6!) and she made me an offer for an eight book series! Hurray! My mum was thrilled and my Dad practically fainted (and finally put away the Tesco job application forms!)

At moreorless the same time, having got my name from Working Partners, the amazing Tony Bradman (wow!) contacted me about an anthology Walker were putting together entitled 'How To Be A Boy'. My initial reaction was "Help! How do I write boy fiction?!" I've always written girl narrators, and was extremely nervous and apprehensive, but it was just too good an opportunity to pass up, so I gave it a go - and it was great fun! I discovered a writing style I'd never attempted before and really enjoyed it and - even better - Walker chose my story DEAR TADPOLE for inclusion in their anthology! - my first professional publication! Writing as a fifteen-year-old boy! Wonders never cease.

On the back of these successes, I decided now was the time to approach agents again. It certainly was! After previously being unable to attract/beg/bribe a single offer of representation, I ended up in the incredible position of being able to CHOOSE from FOUR wonderful agents! I was totally overwhelmed - it was a position I had never imagined in my wildest dreams! After meeting with them all, and after many hours of deliberation, I ultimately decided to go with the very lovely Jenny Savill, who came with rave references from Sara Grant, who had just sold her wonderful novel Dark Parties.

There followed a blur of editing and cutting as Jenny tirelessly helped me edit, improve, and CUT (40,000 words!) the manuscript, until finally it was down to 100,000 words! Then we held our breaths as it went out to publishers...another rollercoaster-ride...!! After a lot of hard work, wishing, hoping, deformed fingers from keeping them crossed, and a slow succession of 'lovely' rejections (as lovely as rejections can be!) and near-misses, we ended up with THREE UK offers for Someone Else's Life - and a two-book deal! Hurray! I cannot describe the feeling - after standing on a knife-edge between success and failure - between wannabe and author - the sense of fulfilment and relief is the most amazing feeling in the world.

So, what are you waiting for?


Katie Dale is the author of YA books 
& 5-8 series FAIRY TALE TWISTS (Orchard Books)

Friday, 5 July 2013

Bringing Dead Frank to Life for "Reluctant Readers" …

This week we find Edge author Dave Cousins in Dr Frankenstein guise, preparing for a spot of reanimation …

Real life often finds its way into what we write, but it doesn’t usually happen the other way around! 
When I was making up fictional favourite bands for Oz – the narrator of my second teen novel Waiting for Gonzo – I was just having fun, trying to build a fully three-dimensional character. I like ‘music’ in books – lyrics or references to songs lets you share the soundtrack of the character’s life and takes the reader deeper into the story.

I chose to invent bands in Waiting for Gonzo because musical taste is so personal – I didn’t want to use existing artists that readers might not like! Oz is also a bit of an elitist – it seemed logical that he would only listen to obscure music that nobody else had heard of. That moment of ‘discovering’ a new band, feeling that they somehow belong to you, creates a special bond between the listener and the artist, and it was important to the story for Oz to have that.

Spilt Milk sleeve by Michael Fewtrell
I had hours of fun coming up with names, song titles and … yes, I’ll admit … entire discographies for Oz’s favourites! Everything was fine, until the idea was raised that readers might want to hear what Dead Frank’s Supersonic Milkfloat or Cyclops Dog actually sounded like. But you can’t listen to imaginary songs by bands that don’t exist … or can you?

A long long time ago, in a faraway galaxy … I played in a band. We had a record deal and were almost famous for a while … 

I rang up my old bandmate, Michael – the inspiration for Dead Franks’ Michael Death in the book. 
“Er … you wouldn’t fancy writing a song for me would you?”  
“A song?!!!” (I could actually hear those exclamation marks rattling down the phone!)
I explained. He didn’t sound convinced. 
“The band’s called Dead Frank’s Supersonic Milkfloat,” I told him.  “The song’s called Spilt Milk.” 
“Mmm …” he said. “Let me think about it.” 
Twenty-four hours later Spilt Milk by Dead Frank’s Supersonic Milkfloat was blasting out of my speakers. 
I rang Michael. “This is great,” I told him. “Perfect!” 
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “Pity you don’t need any more.” 
“Well …” I said, “there are three other bands in the story …”

Two months later we had recorded a full soundtrack album, featuring ten original songs by Oz’s favourite bands – each with a unique sound and style: from the sci-fi, pop-punk of Cigarette UFO to Dead Frank’s Supersonic Milkfloat and their brittle brand of tongue-in-cheek lyrics and angry Telecasters; the epic gothic rock of Prayer for Halo and, of course, the magnificently monocular, sunshine pop of Cyclops Dog. Ten imaginary songs by bands that don’t exist. Except, now they do …

When I go into schools to talk to young people about Waiting for Gonzo it's interesting to see the reaction when I mention the soundtrack. In any group of pupils there are going to be some not interested in reading, but the majority I speak to like music. Whether or not the songs will provide an alternative way into the book remains to be seen – but if listening to the soundtrack or watching the videos makes one "reluctant reader" give the book a go, it won't be a bad thing … 

A single from the album is being officially released on Monday (8 July 2013). It will be available to download from all the usual music sites and eligible for the charts! It’s even got a video!! All proceeds from the single will be donated to Bliss, the UK charity working to provide care and support for premature babies and their families.

I’m not expecting Sunglasses by Cyclops Dog to be a number one … but you never know. Sometimes life can be stranger than fiction!

Sunglasses by Cyclops Dog will be available to download for 79p* from iTunes, Amazon and other good music sites. (* prices may vary, but all proceeds go to Bliss) 

Tweet #gonzosunglasses to spread the word! Thanks.

Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins, is out now in paperback and BBC audiobook.