Books and friends #1 – Flight by Vanessa Harbour

It occurs to me, looking at the uncorrected proofs and early copies piling up on my desk, that the people I know write great books, and I should talk about it more.

So here is a short series, prompted by the pile in question, of books to think about this summer.

#1 Flight, by Vanessa Harbour

One of the lovely things about being a writer is getting to know other writers and hang out with them, online and off. I can’t remember how long I’ve known Ness for, but she has been a big support and encouragement to me and my writing, and every writer needs that, so thank you, Ness.

Vanessa teaches Creative Writing at Winchester University and works as an editor for the Golden Egg Academy. Flight is her first novel for children and I’m thrilled to see it out there at last. By ‘out there’ I mean in uncorrected proof form. It will be published by Firefly in August.

As a young reader I was obsessed by books about horses and also the suffering of the Second World War. I loved The Silver Sword and I Am David, both of which I’ve recently reread with my youngest, and I also devoured the Jill’s Gymkhana books, National Velvet and anything about horses I could get my hands on. (My youngest is more interested in sharks than horses, but each to his own.) In Flight, Ness Harbour has combined my two obsessions in a thrilling tale that captures the bravery, the danger, the sacrifice of living amongst the Nazis and trying to preserve what is good.

It’s 1945. Two children, a gypsy boy called Jakob and a Roma girl called Kizzy, set out to rescue the Lippizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School in Austria from a brutal Nazi officer as the Americans approach. I didn’t know the story of the Lippizzaner horses but I feel that I have lived it now. This is for anyone who likes dancing horses, great storytelling and danger. Which is most readers I know.

And if Ness would now like to do a similar tale about dancing sharks, I have a reader ready-made who would love that too.
Advertisements

Writing competitions! Lots!

Are you writing a poem, a short story, a play, a novel, a screenplay …?

Are you under 16, over 16, or even 16 exactly?

Would you like some amazing industry professionals to see your work, and possibly even publish or perform it? Lots of people are looking for new writers right now. Some great competitions end soon, so get your skates on …

Chapter 1

I became a published author by winning a competition. It was the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition, and you can find out more about it here, including Barry Cunningham’s writing tips. He discovered JK Rowling, so he knows a thing or two … The competition is closed for this year, but if you’re still polishing your children’s manuscript, keep an eye on when it reopens later in the year for 2017.

If you can’t wait, ITV’s Lorraine has just launched a nation-wide hunt for the next bestselling author for 5-7s. You’ll need to send in the first 1000 words of your masterpiece by Monday, 29th February – so not long now – and may appear on TV.

Website upgrade - 03

There are loads of other writing competitions around meanwhile, and here are just some of them. Thanks to Joan Lennon on Girls Heart Books for the details on these two

“The Betjamen Poetry Prize – it’s for poets aged 10 – 13 and the deadline for submissions is 31 July 2016, so you’ve got plenty of time.  But there’s lots on the website to get your poetic juices going, courtesy of Indigo Williams, so have a look.

500 Words – a story writing competition for ages 5 – 9 and 10 – 13.  The deadline for this one is much closer – 25 February 2016 – so you’ll need to get your skates on.  There are some good prompts and interesting articles on this site too – well worth a visit.”

The BBC Writers Room is of course full of opportunities for plays, film scripts and comedy.

The Sky Blue Theatre Company even have a video about their British Theatre Challenge!

And finally, Creative Writing Ink has a wonderful list of competitions for everything from poetry to playwriting to fiction to sitcoms.

Whatever it is you’re working on, there is probably a competition you could enter it for, where you might be lucky and get shortlisted and get some invaluable feedback. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get far this time. Having the courage to polish your work and enter is what matters. You might at the very least make friends with fellow entrants (I did). And you’re bound to learn a lot from the process – even just imagining what the judges might be thinking, and making your work as great as it can be to impress them.

Good luck, and let me know what happens.

Sophia xxx

Elizabeth Gilbert’s top 10 tips for writers to stay inspired

Today, I’m sharing a post I read on Goodreads this week, and simply loved.

GilbertElizabeth Gilbert is the author of Eat, Pray Love, which I loved in book and film form – but particularly the book – and also of one of my favourite talks, at an Oprah event, about living with failure, and juggling our difficult lives. It’s the story of being a woman in a society where women haven’t been powerful and autonomous before, and are still working it out. It’s a story of a missed flight, and a panic, and something we all recognise, and she tells it beautifully.

http://www.oprah.com/video_embed.html?article_id=23558

Since the phenomenal success of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth has been fascinated by what happens next when someone has, it seems, reached the peak of their creativity. What do you do after that? How to you go on? Her new book addresses the spark of creativity, and she’s been answering readers’ questions on Goodreads about the creative process.

Here are the top 10 tips and observations that Goodreads have put together, based on her answers. I think they’re great. If you’re writing, or not writing and want to, check them out …

Where I write … and my top 10 writers’ retreats

This post appeared originally on the Girls Heart Books blog, where I post once a month. You can check out posts by loads of great writers for girls here

23 October 2015

I’ve just launched my new website, and I hope it’s a colourful, comfortable place for readers to visit. A website feels like a home in some ways – somewhere that reflects your taste and interests, and where you invite people in to find out more about you.

Ideas 2015-10-20 It got me thinking about where I write. I have a wonderful shed in the garden, and the picture featured here is of my Danielle Scutt Barbie (my good luck charm when I wrote Threads) standing on my desk in front of my mood board. You can see more of the shed, inside and out, here.

I know that all a writer really needs is a tabletop, something to write on and with, and her own imagination. But a shed helps too! I’m not the only lucky writer to have one, or some sort of special retreat. Here are my top 10, and where to find out more about them …

10. JK Rowling’s first writing cafe in Edinburgh – The Elephant House

9. Dylan Thomas’s shed in Laugharne

8. Phillip Pullman’s garden shed in Oxford

7. Roald Dahl’s super-famous Writing Hut in Great Missenden

Dahl-GreatMissendenThere’s a lovely piece in The Guardian featuring these last 3, and more. Check out the pictures and stories here:

Five best writers’ sheds in pictures

And there’s more on Dahl and Thomas in another great piece, which also features some lovely quotes about George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain: Famous writers’ small writing sheds and off the grid huts

6. George Bernard Shaw’s shed at Shaw’s Corner, called ‘London’

This is my favourite description of it, via the BBC

The tiny structure of only 64 square feet (5.9 m2), was built on a central steel-pole frame with a circular track so that it could be rotated on its axis to follow the arc of the sun’s light during the day.[2] Shaw dubbed the hut “London“, so that unwanted visitors could be told he was away “visiting the capital“.[3]

5. Virginia Woolf

“She was always being distracted – by Leonard sorting the apples over her head in the loft, or the church bells at the bottom of the garden, or the noise of the children in the school next door, or the dog sitting next to her and scratching itself and leaving paw marks on her manuscript pages. In winter it was often so bitterly cold and damp that she couldn’t hold her pen and had to retreat indoors.” – from The Guardian

4. Mark Twain

“It is the loveliest study you ever saw…octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window…perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lighting flashes behind the hills beyond and the rain beats upon the roof over my head—imagine the luxury of it.” – Mark Twain, in a letter to William Dean Howells, 1874.

Finally, my favourite article on the subject, 7 Inspiring Writers’ Retreats, includes…

3. Lawrence of Arabia’s Cloud’s Hill cottage (best retreat name)

2. The bandstand TS Eliot borrowed in Margate to write bits of the Wasteland …

Eliot-Margate-Traveljournals

… and last but very not least …

  1. Vita Sackville-West’s tower at Sissinghurst

Sackville-sissinghurst-Oast House Archive and National TrustWho needs a shed when you have one of these …?

Which is your favourite? And where do you write?

Leipzig, Manga and more

Today, I’m in London packing my bags and making sure I’ve got travel insurance. (Thank you for reminding me, Post Office man.)

Tomorrow, I will be … well mostly on airplanes and trains, but on Friday I’ll be here …

manga2At the Leipzig Book Fair. Which, as you can see, isn’t just any book fair. As well as celebrating traditional books, this is the biggest Manga Comic Con in Europe. And as practically every teen I know who reads LOVES Manga, it’s definitely the place to be.

There will be drawing. There will be girls in blue wigs, and face paint, and wings, and space outfits, and boys in the same. There will be lots and lots of books. There will be my lovely publishers, Chicken House Germany, who kindly invited me, and me, reading from You Don’t Know Me, and thinking how much my characters would have loved to be there.

There will be fun. Wish me luck. Now I really must work out what to wear …

Manga

How do I get my book published?

Today I received a very polite email from a visitor to my website called Jack, asking how he might get his book published. I could write an essay on the subject (and in fact I’ll be talking about exactly this at the Cheltenham Festival on Saturday, but in more detail and with special regard to children’s books, along with my publisher Barry Cunningham and a panel of publishing folk). I’d love to have replied to Jack in greater detail, but only had time to write briefly. However, I thought this might be worth sharing for the many people out there writing their own books.

I didn’t mention self-publishing, I realise. That’s another essay. And one of increasing relevance in today’s publishing market.

Nor did I mention getting editorial input from somewhere like the Golden Egg Academy, who work with authors whose books aren’t ready yet, to turn them into something an agent and publisher can get excited about. That’s another essay.

Here, though, are the basics. This is what I said.

Hi Jack

Thanks for your message. I have various suggestions for you, and I think most authors would agree.

First – congratulations! You finished your first draft. That’s such an achievement in itself. Second, if you haven’t done this already, put the book in a metaphorical drawer and don’t look at it for a few weeks. Then get it out again and revise it as much as you need to in order to polish it to the highest possible standard. It may take a few drafts, or many, to get it right. (It took me over 30 drafts until I was happy with my first published book.)

While you’re doing that, I strongly recommend you buy or borrow the latest edition of the Writers and Artists Yearbook, which is the bible for new writers. It lists all the publishers and agents, and what they’re looking for. Each agency has different requirements and is very specific. Please follow their guidelines, down to the line spacing. Once you’ve found a few that are looking for the kind of book you’ve written, you can send off to them. If they only want a few chapters, send them what they’ve asked for, not more. Do let them know that you’re applying to more than one at a time. They will understand, but they like to be informed. Craft your covering letter as carefully as your book, and make sure that without being overconfident, you sell yourself as a writer as much as you sell your story.

And then wait! If you get any feedback, think of it as a very positive thing and use it as much as you can. And start writing your next book. Because it might be your second, or third, or fourth that’s the one that makes it.

Good luck!

sophia

Edinburgh Book Fest, part 1

Last week was one of those ‘best job in the world’ weeks. I was invited up to the Edinburgh Book Festival, to talk about writing for teens. Every year, Charlotte Square is transformed into a tented village devoted to books, readers, coffee and cake. So basically heaven. Even if it is a little bit rainy, sometimes.

Edinburgh 2014 - 01I took my elder son with me, as I occasionally do, because he’s an avid reader and loves getting the chance to meet and talk to some of his favourite authors. (He is, however, not a fan of selfies.)

Edinburgh 2014 - 02

I didn’t have to worry about what to say, because my talk was chaired by Eve Harvey, a super-friendly writer and ex-bookseller and the only person I know who exclusively wears Doc Martens with ribbons for laces. She totally won the prize for The Coolest Footwear at the Festival. Her job was to chat with me and  the very lovely Holly Smale, who wrote … oh, you know what she wrote.

GeekGirlGeek Girl  was the best selling YA book of last year, and probably the funniest. In my humble opinion book 2, Model Misfit (set largely in Japan and featuring an irrascible cat called Kylie Minogue), is even better. If you haven’t read it, READ IT NOW. Book 3, Picture Perfect, is set in New York and I’m half way through it. That’s fab too. How does Holly do it? That woman is a WRITING MACHINE. She was also a great person to do an event with. We did a reading each and answered questions solidly for about 40 minutes.

Our biggest revelation? Probably that what you see on the page is not what we wrote the first time. Oh no. That is draft a hundred and fifty squillionth. Our first draft was rubbish. Always is. We worked on it to get it better. If you’re a writer, so can you. Don’t worry if you don’t love what you’re doing right now. Keep at it and, with practice and patience, you might write the YA smash-hit bestseller of the year. You never know.

We spent our time getting ready and chatting afterwards in the authors’ yurt. Just how gorgeous is this? (It is an actual, real yurt, not a tent, and is filled with coffee, cake, wine, helpful volunteers and famous authors. If I could live there, I probably would.)

Edinburgh 2014 - 03This picture is a bit wonky because I took it surreptitiously. The yurt is a place for looking like you hang out with Julia Donaldson and Meg Rosoff ALL THE TIME, and not wildly fangirling with your phone out. (However …)

Edinburgh 2014 - 05The Festival also has its own bookshop. This is where I’m quite pleased that I married a man whose surname is alphabetically close to Malorie Blackman’s. Shelf-wise, Malorie and I hang out quite a bit, and that’s fine by me.

Sadly, I didn’t see the real Malorie in the yurt, because she came a day later, but the Edinburgh Book Fest is the kind of place where you might find that the person pouring your coffee is the Children’s Laureate. See what I mean? Best job in the world.

But that’s not all we did in Edinburgh this year. Oh no. Coming up shortly … Edinburgh Part 2, featuring chocolate (lots of it), fairy lights, comedy, a rainbow unicorn and a semi-naked man up a ladder, juggling knives. I am only making one of those things up.

Come back soon and I’ll tell you all about it.