Tag Archives: creative

Serendipitous Sebastian

Nice ruff. Hipster beard.

I love how important a country Portugal once was, and how little of that importance remains. When you think that one-third of the world speaks Portuguese, and then you think of Portugal as it is today, it’s a pretty graphic demonstration of its decline.

I’m setting my next contemporary YA romance in the wilds and not-so-wilds of the south-west Algarve. Rather like the wind and waves around that coastline, the story has never let me pin it down. Instead I have been led by the characters and the landscape on a strictly need-to-know basis, following blindly in the hope that someone knows where we’re going.

Some idiot broke this last year while taking a selfie.

And now I’ve been led by a ghost to a place I didn’t even know existed, a place where I am going to set my final and most dramatic scene.

Oddly, my ghost already plays an important part in the story. I thought he was just a background character, drifting across the view in a whiff of seawater and shiny armour. But it turns out that he’s been pulling my strings all along.

King Sebastian of Portugal, heirless and dead at 24 along with most of Portugal’s nobility in a crazy-eyed crusade in North Africa in 1578. The only thing Sebastian achieved was to give his country to Spain, waiting like a dog under the table for an inexorably rolling sausage.

Worst. Statue. Ever.

Sebastian’s father died before he was born. His mother abandoned him when he was three. He was brought up by priests and became madly devout, hence the crusade. He may have been sexually abused as a child, and might also have been homosexual. The few portraits that exist show a sensitive young man with a strawberry-blond crewcut and a heady line in ruffs and armour.

He apparently expired on a bloodsoaked field in Morocco. I say apparently, because his body was never found. A bit like Anastasia of Russia, he came back a few times to haunt the Spanish claim to the throne. The Portuguese cult of Sebastianismo anticipates his return to this day, rather like King Arthur, or Elvis.

Nice dog.

The Fortaleza of Belixe on the south-western tip of Portugal, the place I hadn’t even heard of until this morning, has his shield set into one crumbling wall. And that’s where everything is going to come together. Now, if only I could make Sebastian physically write this book as well as move me around like a chess piece, then everything would be dandy.

I’m off to the Algarve on Monday for research purposes. Also custard tarts and vinho verde. Expect updates.

Mind Your Language

 

Johnny ran down the road.

Johnny ran like a crazy weasel down the road. 

Johnny sprinted like an insane hippopotamus down the road.

 

Do these opening lines all say the same thing? Yes.

Do they say it in the same way? No.

Which sentence would best suit a picture book?

The first sentence is dull. The words show no imagination at all. But it’s for a picture book, so does that matter? Won’t the pictures make it more interesting?

The second sentence conjures a more specific image in the reader’s head. An image that could be reinforced by the pictures. So far, so good. But what if Johnny IS a weasel? The words and pictures would be doing the same job. You don’t need to show he’s a weasel and say he’s a weasel at the same time.

The third sentence uses more exciting language. Perhaps too exciting? Would the audience understand the word ‘insane’ or would that be better shown via the pictures?

There is an element of alchemy to illustrated fiction which is difficult to judge. Much of it comes with practice, with ‘feeling’ your way. Certain things are worth remembering, though. Never write dull text and assume the pictures will carry you along. Don’t be overly complex either. Instead, when you are writing, focus on those elements which the pictures might not be so good at conveying. How is Johnny feeling? Excited? Scared? Excited AND scared? Complex emotions are often better conveyed in words than pictures. How fast is he moving? Short snappy sentences can often build speed and momentum more effectively than static pictures. Back stories, characterisation, relationships: these are all areas where the words can offer more than the pictures.

And of course, don’t forget that hook. Why IS Johnny running?

Learn more on my course GET STARTED IN WRITING AN ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN’S BOOK in Farnham, Surrey 20-21 March 2017. Early bird tickets only available until 28 February!

 

What’s your problem?


A mouse went to a shop. He bought some cheese. And he went home again.

This is a story, in so far as it has a beginning, a middle and an end. But that’s about all that you can say for it. Mouse groceries: big wow.

What is the mouse’s problem?

All stories need problems. A problem works like a hook. It feels your collar, it coaxes you onwards. A problem creates conflict, which creates drive, which takes you to the next page, and the page after that.

Introduce an interesting problem. The mouse can’t be late BECAUSE… He can’t buy the cheese BECAUSE… Don’t forget the crucial part the pictures can play. What if a cat is following him the whole way?

Tug, tug, tug. Can you feel the hook?

Learn more on my introductory writing course 20-21 March 2017, GET STARTED IN WRITING AN ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN’S BOOK. Tickets still available!

 

 

Forget about the pictures!

Here is a secret. One of the biggest. One of the most important if you want to write illustrated children’s books for the traditional publishing market. And I say ‘write’ here. If you are an illustrator, then this won’t be relevant. Or at least, it won’t be relevant until that person you know down the road asks you to illustrate their book. And then you’ll know.

I don’t know why this fundamental rule of traditional children’s publishing is such a secret. But it clearly is, or you would all know it already.

Are you listening, writers? I don’t want to say this twice.

FORGET ABOUT THE PICTURES.

Time and again, first-time writers worry about this. Who will draw the pictures? Who can I find who will bring my story to life? Perhaps the lady who did the posters for the school play can help me. Maybe I should run an advert on social media. I must fix this or no one will publish me.

No.

NO NO NO.

Publishers don’t want illustrated stories. They just want stories. Good ones, sad ones, funny ones. No amount of illustration will disguise a piece of rubbish. If your story is good enough, publishers will spot it. And then they’ll find an illustrator for you. They have banks of illustrators they already want to use. What they don’t have are the texts.

Save yourself effort, money and time. Focus on crafting the perfect text that will ignite a publisher’s imagination purely through the power of your words.

Learn more on my course 20-21 March 2017, GET STARTED IN WRITING AN ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN’S BOOK. Early bird tickets available until 28 February.