Friday, 26 November 2010

Editor vs Writer – Letting go of your book.

An excuse to thumb through my thesauruses and maybe drool a little.

I was never going to win. A tug of war between editor and writer, with my manuscript in-between. 
Editor: "It's ready. I want it!"
Writer: "But if I could just look at the end of that fifth chapter again, I'm sure I could make it better."
Editor: "It's fine as it is. Now LET GO!"
I'm sure tickling is against the rules in a tug of war – not that it makes any difference,
deep down I knew she was right.

You can always do more, but that doesn't mean you should. It is widely accepted that the secret to good writing is rewriting, but there is a point where you have to stop and let go. As Marcus Sedgwick put it when I saw him speak recently, "When you find yourself moving commas around, the book is probably finished!" 

The trouble is, I enjoy the editing process, the craft of it. I love playing with sentences and the rhythm of the words. It provides an excuse to thumb through my thesauruses and maybe drool a little. That's when I have to remind myself that the primary function of writing is to tell a story. Of course we should try to do it well, with style and colour, but the words themselves aught to remain invisible. When you're reading a book and you start noticing the writing, it often means you've lost the story.

For me, the hardest part of this final edit was the simple act of reading the entire manuscript again. When I sat down to start, I couldn't do it! All I saw was words and sentences – the story was lost to me. Thankfully, my eleven-year-old son came to my rescue. He asked if I would read Fifteen Days without a Head to him as a bedtime story. After a shaky, surprisingly nervous start, I found it worked. Reading the book to him, allowed me to see it as a story again. 

I often read out loud when I'm writing. (Members of my family comment that they frequently hear me muttering in the loft on their way to the toilet.) I find it useful in identifying what's wrong with a certain passage. I'm not sure why it works, except that I believe writing has a lot more in common with music than we realise. Sentences have a rhythm and flow, and can sound almost out of tune if there's something wrong. 

Letting go of Fifteen Days wasn't easy, but I'm happy now. Glad that the story is further along its journey to becoming a book. It also means I am free to concentrate on all the other voices in my head, the ones with a new story to tell, at the start of another journey which will no doubt end with another tug of war.


Tim Bowler, a man who certainly knows a thing or two about how to craft a story – discusses the connections between writing and music in his Bolthole Bulletin, here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Ten things I learned at the SCBWI Conference

Just returned from a great weekend in Winchester at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Here are ten things I learned:

1. "We have an obligation to tell a story." Marcus Sedgwick.

2. "Don't be shy – be famous!" Sarah McIntyre's head is a scary, but entertaining place to be.

3. There is much fun to be had watching SCBWI Greenaway and Carneige Talent battle it out in public …

4. "When you find yourself moving commas around, the book is probably finished and ready to go." Marcus Sedgwick.

5. Everybody knows Nick Cross. No, seriously, everybody!

6. "Sidekicks are really handy!" Lynne Chapman. Author, illustrator who rocks big time and provided great entertainment and inspiration to the Sunday afternoon crowd of fun-fatigued delegates.

7. Books are here to be devoured. Dinosaurs with lasers – nutritious and delicious!

8. "We are makers!" David Fickling – a publishing legend. Shown here providing words of wisdom and further proof that bow ties are cool!

 9. Candy Gourlay is a multi-talented, supremely generous human being – but lethal with a lens!

10. Collect a couple of hundred children's writers and illustrators together in a room and it will fill you with a great sense of well-being and hope for the future.

Don't take my word for it. Check out these other top ten words of wisdom from:

Nick Cross
Katie Dale
Keren David
Sue Eves
KM Lockwood
Sarah McIntyre
Ellen Renner

More to follow …

Friday, 5 November 2010

CILIP Carnegie 2011 longlist announced

I was delighted to see some of my favourite books of this year on the 2011 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal longlists. It was especially pleasing to see debuts by Gregory Hughes and fellow SCBWI members, Candy Gourlay and Keren David gain such deserved recognition.
Nominations also go to David Almond, Ian Beck, Kevin Brooks, Gillian Cross, Geraldine McCaughrean, Nicola Morgan, Patrick Ness, Philip Reeve, Meg Rosoff, Louis Sachar, Ali Sparkes and Sarah McIntyre.
See the full lists here.