Tips for writing for children
Stuart Evers

Stuart Evers gets passionate about short story writing.

Writing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival 2015

I’m proud and excited that Help For Writers sponsored an event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival for the first time this year. There were some fantastic events at the festival, as always, but it felt especially nice to sponsor a Book It! For Schools workshop by Stuart Evers on ‘How to write a short story’. We hope that some of the children at the festival this year will be back in 20, 30 or 40 years to talk about their own writing and their Man Booker shortlisted novels!

Barry Cunningham

Barry Cunningham, MD of Chicken House Books, thoughtfully contemplates his sage advice.

I went to an interesting panel discussion and lively Q&A on ‘Writing for children’, led by Chicken House Books MD Barry Cunningham. The panel consisted of Melissa Cox, Head of Books at Waterstones; Rachel Hickman, Children’s Publishing Director at Chicken House; and Lisa Drakeford, Chicken House author of YA novel The Baby. Their top tips included:

  1. Don’t write what people think the market needs. Try writing from the heart.
  2. Try to tell your story with warmth and with an economy of words.
  3. Keep a clear vision of who you’re writing for. It’s also worth remembering that there are two audiences for children’s books – children and the adults who buy books for them.
  4. Have some idea of where you want your story to end up before you start, even if you haven’t finished writing or decided the exact ending yet.
  5. Dialogue is crucial – dialogue and body language. Try to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’; avoid long, flowery descriptions. But don’t use too much slang – it dates your writing quickly.
  6. Humour is also very important. It is often a child’s only weapon in a world where they feel powerless.
  7. Villians are vital! They are the characters that shape the struggle that the children are going through.
  8. Children usually love animals, and they are also very useful in stories as they can represent anything you need in order to make your book work well – they can be a best friend, a threat, an alternative ‘voice’ and more.
  9. Children are interested in food, so tell them what the characters are eating.
  10. Reading your draft aloud is one of the best things you can do. Read to your dog, if you have one.
  11. Publishers are more likely to invest in an author who they think has more than one book in them. For instance, if your main character has a few close friends, you could try writing stories featuring them as main characters in their own right – that’s just one idea of how you could lay the foundation for more books in the future.

There were a couple of other important points too:

  • Will your book travel in translation? It might seem egotistical to think about it, but if it won’t translate or ‘travel’ well, a publisher is less likely to invest. You also need to think about the length – anything over 80,000 words will be too long unless you are actually a genius.
  • Despite one of the best-known proverbs in the English language, people do judge a book by its cover. Cover design is really important as it needs to grab the attention of the potential buyer in about 30 seconds while they are passing by.

And last but not least, a fantastic opportunity for children’s book authors – the 2016 Times / Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition! Lisa Drakeford entered this competition with The Baby and even though it didn’t win, they liked her writing so much they offered her a publishing deal anyway – so you never know what could be around the corner for you. The deadline for entries is 18 December 2015 so you’ve still got time to perfect your submission.

Check back here shortly for more news and views from the Cheltenham Literature Festival 2015!

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