The List of My Desires (TGBOL)

The prompt for this week is to “list our desires”.

Instead of listing material things to buy, I suggest we list things we feel like doing in 2016, things that really inspire us, make us smile, giggle. It’s not a resolutions list.

Obviously, with this prompt, my first thought was to have a little fun with the “desires” part, and list some famous people who’d be on “the list” (you know, “the list” of 5 people that you’re allowed to fantasy cheat on your partner with, should the opportunity arise… it’s best not to list people in your social circle on this one…) At this point, I realised that I currently have no idea who’d be on said list… I can remember some from the past, but can’t think of anyone from the present… This shows either:

(a) I’m growing up, and no longer play such childish games (yeah, right… how do you think this train of thought started??)
(b) Being a parent of two young monkeys, most of my time revolves around them, doing what they want to do, and watching what they watch… Octonauts just aren’t sexy (although they are wonderfully educational)…

I digress…

So, here’s some stuff I feel like/ need to be doing this year, in no order of priority!

1 – Focus. Spend one day per week COMPLETELY offline, so that when I spend time with my family, they have my full attention.

2 – Self-publish. I am still working on children’s picture book stories with the help of my SCBWI critique groups, but I also have some ideas for self-publishing some poetry collections, and non-fiction.

3 – Fail more, and faster. Enter more competitions, both for poetry and short stories, and send off submissions to agents/publishers for picture books.

4 – Family fun! Finally arrange that day trip to the Natural History Museum that we’ve been considering for ages (our 6 year old, especially, will love it – his favourite person in the world is David Attenborough!). Hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to go on holiday later this year too, but as ever that will depend on our finances.

5 – Learn more. Learn to play the ukelele, at least to a very basic standard. (You have no idea what a low musical baseline I’m starting from…) Sign up for the FutureLearn screenwriting course, and make time to complete it.

6 – Go on dates! Rope the babysitters in more often to have date nights with my wife. Watch new films at the cinema! Plays at the theatre! Eat grown-up meals! Crazy stuff!

Wish me luck!

 

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Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/joybot/8624907691

How the SCBWI Conference Blew My Mind

I spent last weekend in Winchester at the annual SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference, in the company of nearly 200 wonderful writers and illustrators. I’ve come back absolutely buzzing with inspiration and ideas, buoyed by meeting dozens of new people, armed with a host of invaluable tips on craft, and possessed of new insights into the industry around children’s books.

I need to catch up on family life and more mundane matters now, but here are five things I learnt at my first conference  :

1 – Expect … Anything!
If a well-spoken man wearing a suit and bowtie comes on stage, do not be surprised if he starts with a clip from Pulp Fiction and invites the audience to dance along with Travolta and Thurman. This is apparently completely normal. All three keynote speakers (Sarah McIntyre/Philip Reeve, Jonny Duddle, and David Fickling) were wonderful, engaging, and interesting, in very different ways. I found myself humming the “eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep-eep” song to myself many hours later, and again as I type this…

2 – Dare to share…
Scoobies really are the warmest bunch. I met dozens of people that I recognised by name from the Facebook group. I’m a social wallflower, but the atmosphere so was friendly that it was never an issue for me, and I met so many lovely folk, including two of my online critique group who I’d never met offline. (Hopefully all of my crit group can meet up at a future event/conference.) Special thanks to Liz Miller for introducing me to so many people, and being my personal guide (not to mention transport) to the conference!

3 – Writers are people too…
When I realised that the writer of my younger son’s favourite picture book was at the pirate party, I had to box my introvert and say hello. I told him that my son (nearly 3) is a late developer in terms of language, and can’t yet say mummy or daddy… But he does try to say “no ship, no food, no way home” and other lines from Ten Little Pirates. Mike Brownlow seemed genuinely touched. One of the reasons I write picture books is to hopefully one day be on the other end of this, having inspired a similar reaction in a child 🙂

4 – Nearly everyone loves to dress up as pirates
Some had suspiciously good outfits (my personal favourite was Katherine’s treasure map dress, hand-illustrated and wonderfully detailed… even down to the location of Duddle Island)… Are there lots of secret weekend pirates in SCBWI?

5 – I need to raise my game…
The creative energy was invigorating, but a snapshot into a school visit by Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve – complete with songs, games, outrageous costumes, amazing illustrations and bags of FUN – sets the bar pretty high for the rest of us! Inspired by George Kirk (and Reeve and McIntyre), I’ve asked my wife for a ukulele  for Christmas… Neighbours, beware!

Sadly I didn’t get to talk to everyone that I wanted to say hello to… So I guess I’ll need to go back next year and put that right 🙂

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Photo is of the engaging and piratical Jonny Duddle talking about his book, The Pirate-Cruncher

OctPoWriMo #31 – The Song Goes On

Step off the dance floor
Draw breath. Relax. Have a drink.
Song changes; goes on.

So, OctPoWriMo has come to an end. I’ve published a poem a day during this month (actually quite a bit more, when you include other challenges), and I’ve tried to engage most days with the daily prompt… if I haven’t, it’s been at least a response to the prompt, even if in a “two-fingered” sort of way! I respond well, generally, to challenges and prompts, and have been pushed beyond my comfort zone this month, with varying results. Will I ever write a paradelle again? Not unless money changes hands…

I need to scale back for a bit now, and focus on re-drafting a picture book text ready to submit for critiquing at the SCBWI Conference in Winchester in three weeks time… poems have superseded the picture book writing lately, and I need to create some time to finish a draft of a heartwarming Christmas story… written entirely from a villain’s point of view (naturally).

So, thank you to everyone for your likes, comments and follows, and hope you will join me, at a less frenetic pace, for whatever I come up with next. What will that be? I genuinely have no idea. Watch this space and find out as I do 🙂

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Dinosaurs, Aliens, Pants and Poo (poem)

Stuck for an idea?
Don’t know what to do?
Based on book sales
I’ll give you a clue

Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo
Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo!

Picture book writers
Form into a queue
(Resist the temptation
To write something new)

Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo
Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo!

Top tips for the many,
And not for the few.

(Don’t even think of
A contrary view:
If it’s already written
DELETE! Strike it through! )

Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo
Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo!

An alien dino’s
Got locked in the loo:
He’s lost all his clothes,
And underwear too!

Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo
Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo!

Can’t quite remember?
One more time through

Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo
Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo!

To end this advice,
I’m telling you true:

If you could NOT rhyme,

Please
Do!

Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo!
Dinosaurs, aliens, pants and poo!

 

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Picture courtesy of flickr.com/photos/zharth/5976725631… probably not the type of aliens that should feature in picture books though

 

 

This post was “inspired” by Cathy’s fantastic blog post on what makes a picture book stand out, and what’s popular in the market at the moment – https://beecathy.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/picture-books-and-the-power-of-poo/. Well worth checking out 🙂

The Original Charles’s Angels (poem)

The original Charles’s Angels
Gathered all together.
Bound within their bodices
(With not a hint of leather).

These Angels dress from top to toe
In finest regency fashion.
But you must take a closer look,
For hints of their true passion.

The bonnets are all bombproof,
The feather’s razor-keen:
Beneath those stylish dresses
Hide weapons, sharp, unseen

They seem so prim and proper,
Well-spoken and polite.
You’ll see a different side though,
If they’re forced to fight!

These Angels make their living,
Working underground.
Undercover, under wraps;
They rarely fool around!

Ada Allegra’s the leader,
She is a viscount’s daughter.
As brave and fair as anyone,
And a champion underwater!

Punchy Prudence Passionheart
Tends to lead with her fists.
A nifty getaway rider:
Make sure you stay off her lists!

Quick-witted Connie Connors,
The talker of the trio,
Learnt her trade in hustling,
On the streets of Rio.

Apart, they are a fearsome bunch,
With interests extreme.
But together Charles has moulded them
Into one “angelic” team!

This poem was written as my entry to join the funeverse – http://www.thefuneverse.com/the-competition.html . It is based on one of Katherine Lynas’ wonderful pictures – Image 1 here: http://www.thefuneverse.com/katherine-on-the-funeverse

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Creative commons / Picture courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/xshamx/4154543904

The Story So Far (blog post)

The Story So Far…

I’ve been writing picture book (PB) stories for 18 months or so now, and am learning more and more every day: about the craft of writing, about the industry, about the importance of building up a network of contacts. One thing I need to work on at the moment is finding the balance between all the different elements that I am immersing myself in, and still having time to write (not to mention spend time with the family). This is written to take stock of what has happened these past few months. There are some words, and then pictures. Pictures are good, right!

I now have about half a dozen stories that I am happy enough to send out to agents (although, of course, find more faults or tweaks with each as soon as I hit “send”…). There are at least another half a dozen that didn’t quite work, for various reasons, so will be forever (?) left in the drawer. This month, I have signed up for Picture Book Ideas Month, aka PiBoIdMo – see the big link to the right of this post – which has already sparked off some ideas that I want to immediately run with, and turn into first drafts before the “next thing” comes along, so hope to be expanding on this foundation over the coming months.

I have shared these with friends and colleagues, partly to get used to the act of sharing stories (what’s the point writing the best, most heart-wrenchingly brilliant PB if it never leaves your hard drive?). Two of these friends, in particular, have been particularly helpful in providing some “critical” feedback – so thank you, Nick and Glen, a pair of Coventry lads in differing degrees of exile!

I have also managed to find my way into an American critique group, by the act of being on the right Facebook page at the right time… a certain amount of creating your own luck goes into this. This has been really helpful, not only in testing my stories with fresh eyes, but also in making me think more critically about stories that others have posted, and applying this process on my own writing through self-reflection. I even wrote a poem about this for my crit group – https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/critique-group-poem/ . There are some very talented writers, not to mention lovely and supportive people, in this group.

I signed up for SCBWI – http://www.scbwi.org/ – a few weeks back, sadly too late for the annual conference. Next year… I have made contact with a small group who meet in Nottingham to talk all things writing once a month, led by the lovely Liz Miller. I look forward to seeing them again, and being able to talk in depth about all the things about the industry that I find so captivating… but that few other people – family, friends – know anything about. No offence to them, and the support they offer, but it’s nice to be able to talk shop without fear of boring anyone! I haven’t yet been able to make contact with any crit groups through SCBWI, but will keep trying.

So… I’ve been to a PB writers’ conference – https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/nosy-crow-conference-2014-everything-you-always-wanted-to-know-about-childrens-publishing-but-were-afraid-to-ask/ and https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/nosy-crow-conference-cntd/ .

I’ve been engaging with the twitterverse – https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/a-newby-in-the-twitterverse/ – with mixed results so far. One twitter conversation stands out to me, from someone called Wilf who was particularly taken by my poem https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/a-meeting-with-wilfred-poem/ . So I guess all I need to do is write a poem about every name there is, for maximum impact!

I’ve published about 40 poems on this blog now, and even entered a Halloweensie competition, winning a prize in the “Spookiest Entry” section (surely the most important in a Halloween competition, right??) for this https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/the-raven-and-the-pumpkin-poem/.

This poem has had far more “hits” than any other on this blog, undoubtedly due to the traffic generated by this competition. Some of my poems have been picked up by various “daily newspapers” of poetry from around the globe, including, bizarrely, one from Hong Kong, which seemed to mostly be in Cantonese. The popularity of some, and the indifferent reaction to others, is often a complete mystery to me. For example, I really thought this Star Wars version of the Lords Prayer would get a few hits – https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/the-star-wars-prayer/ – which could demonstrate how little I actually understand about all of this! (Or the inherent randomness of web and twitter traffic. Take your pick.)

So, enough naval gazing. I mentioned pictures. So pictures you shall have. I wrote a blog piece on what to share some time back – https://altheauthor.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/what-to-share/ . I can’t share my words with you, yet. What I can now share though are some children’s pictures, based on my words. A colleague from work happens to run a monthly art project at Lowdham Library in Nottinghamshire. I discovered this when I first emailed out my stories to a large group from work. (Again, making my own luck.) He took two of my stories to his group, and took these pictures of the results. The lad who drew the bear slightly misunderstood the task, and is now under the impression that his art will definitely be used when my book is published. I just have to find a publisher for it first, and explain the situation to them!

It is hard to describe the feeling of seeing these pictures based on my words, brought to life and colour by a group of children who I’ve never met. This positive, creative, imaginative effect on children is the “pull” for me. It brought a genuine lump to my throat, and I’m not a particularly sentimental person (although ET still makes me cry every single time… we each have our Achilles heel!)

Incidentally, one of these pictures is from one of the “dads” in the group, rather than the children. Can you guess which one?

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