Book Reviews

A Little Treasure – East of the Sun, West of the Moon

I don’t often put reviews on this blog and I’m not sure this is a review – more of a burst of enthusiasm about a new discovery. Continue reading “A Little Treasure – East of the Sun, West of the Moon”

Writing Advice

Ten Essential Picture Book Elements

By Kathryn Evans

Sorry for the delay SCBWI friends – here, at last, are my notes from the Winchester Conference Picture Book  Intensive. The aim was to explore the essential elements that make  a breakout picture book with Sarah Frost, Commissioning Editor for picture books at Hodder, and Author/Illustrator Melanie Williamson.

The morning session covered the ESSENTIAL  basics:

1.  Title:

A great title should be  memorable, intriguing and match the tone of your story. Rhyme or alliterate, highlight the theme of your book, try and use the main characters name,  is there a catchy refrain from your story that you could use?  e.g Time for Bed, Sleepy Head Be short snappy specific. Check to see if your title has been used before! Be immediate – get attention fast.

2. Popular themes:


Siblings/new baby





Importance of kindness/sharing



First experiences of toddlers and things they’ll face when they’re growing up – eg potty training



Growing up

Accepting difference

Facing fears.

3. Character:

What is unique about your character?

Is your characters name memorable?

Do they have friends or family?

How do they live?

Are they a goodie or a baddie?

What mood are they in?

Will they appeal to boys or girls?

4. Narrative plot:

Your story should have:

A beginning middle and end;

A problem that needs to be overcome which might then lead to


A resolution to the problem and satisfying ending;

A distinctive shape – cumulative, circular or in a question and answer format;

Not be a set up for other  stories.

5. Setting:

Can your story move between locations/settings – makes things more fun for the illustrator!

Be playful, try the unexpected;

Children are often more willing to accept unusual settings than adults;

Setting helps a child become involved in the story;

Setting can help set the mood of a story;

A white background will keep focus on the character and emotion;

6. Audience/Voice:

Consider your audience – both children and adults who buy the books;

Can your picture book have different layers to broaden its appeal?

Find your voice – individual, energetic, lively…

Is your unique personality coming through in your writing? E.g The Great Dog Bottom Swap

7. Your book should be great to read aloud:

Think about:




Word play




Sensory words




Animal noises

8. Think about the relationship between words and pictures:

Leave space for child to interpret story

Pictures can tell a part of the story that the words don’t

Pictures can add detail and humour

Pictures can tell a different story from the text

Text and illustrations should not be saying exactly the same thing

Give the child some element of control by having illustrations revealing what’s not said

Set your illustrator notes in seperate column so they don’t interrupt the text

Think about page turns and pacing

You need to tell your story in limited words while:

Increasing tension/suspense

Varying  rhythm

Creating excitement, drama and impact

Creating a ‘big reveal’ moment

9. The physical structure of a picture book contains:

Full spreads, vignettes, panels and frames )these can all be used to manipulate pace);

12 double spreads but it can stretch to 14 plus single page.

10. The ending – things to think about:

Match tone of your ending to the tone of your book

Can you bring your story full circle?

Could your ending have a surprise/twist?

Try to have your end in sight when writing;

A great ending can send the reader straight back to the beginning again.

The morning session carved an editorial pathway for the picture book script I’ve been sweating over but the hands on afternoon session gave me a little time to play with it.

We spent time looking at each of the above elements in detail – playing with our characters – interviewing them to give them depth. Writers played with storyboards to help visualise page turns. We had fun!   When you really examine your own writing, bearing the above  in mind, you might be surprised at what you’re missing.  I was.

Thanks Sarah and Melanie – you were inspirational and a tiny bit bonkers – in a wholeheartedly good way .

Kathryn Evans is the award winning author  of  More of Me and Beauty Sleep.

Beauty Sleep coverMore of Me new show card new


Writing Advice

Writing Comedy: Lin Oliver on Humour with Heart

Lin Oliver and her dog Dexter

Lin’s breakout session at this year’s SCBWI British Isles conference in Winchester was inspirational.  I’m grateful and delighted to be able to share her FIVE BIG THOUGHTS and TWELVE SMALL TRICKS on my blog.

Lin began her session with some observations:

  • Graphic funny novels give you pace, speed of reading and entertainment – funny writing needs this
  • Humour often comes out of pathos – when you write something funny you may also be writing something sad.
  • Illustrators can add a comic element to a picture book text.
  • In middle grade  books you can have some character attitude and word play but be aware at 7+ that children are just getting familiar with language – think about comic inventions of plot instead and avoid puns
  • Steve Martin wrote: writing about music is like dancing about architecture, it’s the same for comedy.


  1. Writing comedy involves taking risks – follow your weirdness – kill the side of your brain that’s linear and logical – as long as the world you create is consistent you can do whatever you want. Push boundaries – look for humour coming in from all angles.
  2. Comedy must come from the truth – you have to recognise something in it – feel like ‘that could happen to me’. We are all one banana peel away from disaster. When writing – mime your own embarrassment. What resonates always has a kernel of truth.
  3. Comedy must evoke empathy – your comic villain can be one dimensional but the villains we all love, we have empathy for – Gru from Despicable Me

    Gru – A villain with heart
  4. Don’t try to struggle uphill when you’re writing comedy – invent a situation that has inherent comic potential – a vampire rabbit or a zombie goldfish (you can’t have those, they’ve already been done)
  5. You are only writing for one audience and one purpose to amuse yourself – if you try and write to make kids laugh it will backfire on you. So think, who are you – what makes you laugh? Is it visual comedy;  the victory of the underdog;  contradiction; playing off how people see themselves to how the world see’s them; listening to the things children do? Find out what it is and work with it.


  1. Think of funny titles – set up the expectation of laughter.
  2. Use character names to announce your character but that are also funny use character, quirks or unusual professions Professor Haddock, Fish Doctor.
  3. Use surprise – banana peel – sudden turn of events
  4. Use incongruity – like Kindergarten Cop – either in character or plot
  5. Use discomfort – like getting the giggles at a funeral – works for kids because they’re always expected to behave in a certain way but life can divert their attention
  6. Use reversal of roles – where there’s an expectation of a role and character get them to perform the opposite –e.g. a gourmet chef judging a junk food contest
  7. Exaggerate – language and what happens – e.g. it was so cold sounds froze in winter – so what happens in spring – havoc! This is comic exaggeration – embellish stories with it.
  8. Play with nonsense and comic rhyme e.g. pelican/bellycan – the longer the rhyme the better – and nonsequiters
  9. Be specific – specifics are funnier than the general -e.g.: ‘fish’ is not as funny as  ‘flopping flounder’ or mowing grass is not as funny as drawing an image of someone sitting on a mower with bum hanging over the seat.
  10. Give your characters attitude; very important for teens or tweens – doesn’t work so much for younger kids unless you can write it very clearly – read out loud – act it to make sure it works.
  11. Use funny sounding language – k is funny – pickle is funny – consonants are funnier than vowels because they bang up against each other – it might just be a theory but trust your ear.
  12. Be aware of timing – keep it snappy and pacey – use dialogue and think about language

Will these tricks make you funnier? Try this example

Rowing a boat isn’t funny

Rowing a boat upstream – more interesting

Lose an oar and add some strange characters – mix in the unexpected and you’re starting to be funny.

Good luck – have fun and thank you Lin Oliver!

Poetry, Writing Advice

Talking to Poets: Philip Ardagh comes to tea with Rebecca Colby and Lesley Moss from The FunEverse

Oh yes, he moves in high circles does Mr Obama

Am not going to mess up the formalities this week.  I’ve been reading up on etiquette, how to address an Ardagh, what to do in the event of one of your poet guests being eaten by a lioness – that sort of thing.

I’m babbling,  sorry, it’s nerves. They’ll be here any minute. Must remember: Don’t touch the beard, don’t touch the beard…. oh my gosh, that’s the door.


Rebecca and Lesley! Thank goodness you got here first, come in quick, we can practise the curtsey just like we did on The FunEverse . Aaargh, there’s the Bentley…

‘Mr Ardagh sir, do come in, oh… Dotty?’ Dotty Hendrix, Mr Ardagh’s trusty secretary, is jabbing a thumb behind her.

‘He’s making Leonard and Toto carry him in on a sedan chair, ridiculous man. He says the ground’s too hard for his feet.’

‘I fear that’s my fault Dotty, I forgot to lay butterfly scales on the path. Can you check my curtsey before he gets here? Is it sweeping enough do you think?’

‘I think you worry too much dear. ’

‘Upright Ricketts! Upright. Oh put me down. Just put me down.’

‘Mr Ardagh! You’re here! Thank you so much for attending my small salon.  These are my friends from the FunEverse:  Rebecca Colby, she used to work for a Russian comedian, and Lesley Moss , she used to be a clown – well I say used to be… anyway they’re both poets. Like you sir.

‘Lesley, Rebecca, this is Mr Philip Ardagh, poet, writer of the wonderful Eddie Dickens series , Grubtown Tales  and the hilarious The Grunts amongst other things.  DON’T TOUCH THE BEARD REBECCA. Sorry, Mr Ardagh sir, so sorry, it’s because she used to have a job inspecting tights, she can’t help herself. Please, come in, as you requested, the chocolate hobnobs have been coated in silver leaf and the champagne is on ice chipped from the foothills of the Himalayas. Now if you’d just sit next to the radiator and slip on these elegant bracelets? Hush now. No objections, it’s for your own good.  Shall we start? So….

What is your earliest poetic memory?

Philip: I had a wonderful full-colour illustrated poetry book (in picture-book format) and there was a poem about someone opening a door to a knock and there being no-one there but, in the picture, there was a tiny man — an elf? a tree-sprite? — dressed in green, hiding in the tree roots. It’s stuck in my mind to this day. It’s also a reminder that what you choose to leave out of a poem is as important as what you put in. Let the poem live beyond the page. Let the reader/listener do some of the work.

I love that, I actually do.

Rebecca: Mine is ‘The Lorax’ by Dr Seuss. I hid that book under my bed as a child so I wouldn’t have to return it to the library.

Lesley: The Hums Of Pooh. Tiddleypom.

And your favourite method of coming up with rhyme?

Philip: For me, poetry and rhyme aren’t synonymous. Words just happen. Rhymes simply form… or don’t. It’s organic.

I’m beginning to see that you are not just a pretty bearded face.

Rebecca: My favourite method would be sitting down at my laptop and letting the words in my head flow fully-formed from my fingertips onto the page. But as that never happens, my tried and tested manner is to stare at a blank page while plucking out strands of hair. At least I’m guaranteed to get something out of my head and onto the page that way—even if it’s only grey hairs.

Lesley: Trying very hard NOT to rhyme works quite well: advice like ‘never write a rhyming picture book’ only spurs me on.

You two are quite bonkers do you know that? Do you sometimes annoy people by speaking in verse when you really shouldn’t?

Lesley: Of course – especially when half the rhymes are made-up nonsense words ..

Philip: No, I annoy them by stealing things from their purse or handbag when their back is turned.

Yes well I don’t think you need Rebecca’s bus pass, so if you’d just, thank you. Now then, what’s your favourite subject to rhyme about?

Philip: I quite enjoy tortuous rhymes.

Why does that not surprise me?

Philip(smiling blissfully): I once began a (published) limerick:

Isambard Kingdom Brunel,
Said, “Cor blimey! What a terrible smell!”

I had complaints about scanning or metre, or both.

Lesley: Magic, monsters, mice and malarkey. And cheese: rhymes with squeeze, please, seize, wheeze ..

Mmm, cheese, excuse me while I pop to the fridge…

Rebecca: Did you know there are almost 1000 words that rhyme with ‘me’? Seriously though, I don’t have a favourite subject. I’ve written poems on subjects as diverse as dandruff and not washing one’s clothes, and they have absolutely nothing to do with me. Honestly. I mean it. You know me, right?

We do, that’s why I sat you in that cardboard box well away from the furniture.

One of the easier requests from Mr Ardagh’s rider list

Now I wonder what you can do with this little trickster: What rhymes with orange?

Philip: The answer lies within the covers of Philip Ardagh’s Book of Absolutely Useless lists for Absolutely Every Day of The Year (Macmillan,2007). Rush out and buy several copies.

Ah ha ha! I knew that I KNEW it. Because I already looked it up and even Roger Stevens didn’t get it last week and his answer was pretty cool. And I’m not giving it away either – do you two know?

Rebecca: Come on now. You’re a poet. You don’t need my help with that one. Everyone knows it rhymes with strange.

Crikey, that’s even more tortuous than Philip’s limerick.

Lesley:  What rhymes with Orange? Let’s eat it and see ..


One Quarter Of The Orange

O, the colour and feel

Of sweet orange peel,

the tempting torment

of the scent!

But Luce stole the juice

intended for Bruce,

he was left with

the pips and the pith.

And although Luce denied

it, Bruce soon espied

juice and pips

dotted all round her lips.

But he fought her

for the last quarter. © Lesley Moss

Well there is absolutely no arguing with that. Who’s your favourite poet?

Dr Suess

Robert Frost

It varies with mood and time. My absolute favourite performance poet is Shane Koyczan who is, I think, one of the world’s finest living poets. Many of his poems are unsuitable for children, but check this out: (He is also a VERY nice man.)

I love that – sort of reminds of Dan le Sac vs Scrubious Pip

Can you not rattle against the radiator quite so much Philip? You’re chipping the paint.

Philip: I do need to go now.

Well I haven’t quite finished and I think we all know you’re going no where without the key. So….Do you ever have really weird dreams – this is an important research question.

Philip: My biggest problem, as I grow older, is separating my ideas from reality. Don’t believe me? Ask Sheila, my talking rubberplant.

Rebecca: I didn’t realise you had that much storage space on your blog. I’m in the process of uploading the daily dream diary I’ve been keeping since 1995 to your site. It should be ready to read soon.

Lesley: I’d love to dream a best selling novel plot, like some authors do!
Ah ha ha,  I was only kidding, I just wanted to see if you were genuinely bonkers.

Rebecca: Hmph! Thanks! If I was bonkers, would I have moved to a country where it rains all the time and given my second child a middle name based on the aforementioned weather condition. Really! We poets are so misunderstood!

I am very, very serious and sensible. Obviously.

Philip, please  stop fidgeting, it’s the last question.  If you could ask yourself one deeply searching thing, what would it be?

Philip: Last question? Right, well, it’s more of a statement which comes in the form of my poem, ‘God Only Knows’:


God only knows
Why lovers
Turn to poetry
And not
To prose.

© Philip Ardagh

Thank you. Great questions. Now will you unchain me from this radiator, please? There are beards to be combed and poems to let take shape.

Thank YOU. You marvellous poets. Rebecca and Lesley will you go and see if the She Lion has sicked up George yet? Thanks.  And Philip,  before I unlock you, can I just take a tiny snip of your beard. For some fans on ebay. You’d be amazed how much this stuff goes for. Stop making such a fuss and HOLD STILL.

A huge thank you to all my guests, no one was actually harmed in the making of this interview. You can find all sorts of interesting things about Philip Ardagh here:

Rebacca Colby here:

A little bit about   Lesley Moss here:

And most importantly, you can join in the poetic japes on The FunEverse here:

Poetry, Writing Advice

Talking to Poets: Guest Poet Roger Stevens in a FunEverser sandwich.

True Life Portrait of Roger Stevens

Before I start, I have to let you know I’ve had some complaints. Honestly, poets, so demanding. Anyway,  a certain bearded gentleman who has a way with stuffed stoats and will be appearing on this blog in the very near future, has suggested I should introduce my guests in case you don’t know who they are.  So I am delighted to introduce: Roger Stevens, creator of the award winning and mastermind behind  too many books to mention notably  ‘Why Otters Don’t Wear Socks’ and ‘The Secret Life of Pants’. Maureen Lynas, winner of the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition and the brains behind and George Kirk, who is not a boy but is a hugely talented story teller and poet who you can also visit in The FunEverse. Can I let them in now Philip, because is raining quite heavily?

Come in, come in, so glad you could make it. Sorry about the wait. And the smell. Roger if you move the chicken off that chair, he doesn’t peck,  and  George and Maureen if you squish up on the chaise lounge? Perfect. Help yourselves to chilled champagne. My neighbour makes the chocolate truffles , so there are plenty more ( I bet you’re sorry your computer blew up now aren’t you Roger Mcgough?) Ahem…. So, first question:

If 17 cats and half a fish met 14 lemons in an alley way who wins the fight?

George: The fish would kick up such a stink it would beat them all.

Maureen: No it would obviously be the lemons. They would squirt the cats’ eyes, sacrifice one lemon to marinade the fish, sell the fish, which would obviously be lemon sole, and then they’d all have a soak in a bath of gin that they would have bought with the proceeds. 

Roger, looking thoughtful: That’s impossible to answer. Does the alley slope? It would depend on who was at the top and which way the wind was blowing.

Alright, that was a bit of a trick question, here’s a real one: What is your earliest poetic memory?

Roger: I remember enjoying the poems in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
That was a big influence generally on my writing and my reading.

George: When I was about 5 or 6 I made up alternative lyrics to my favourite theme tune on the telly, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I love writing parodies. At high school we had a school song, it was really really bad and stuck in the front everyone’s hymn books. I wrote a new version and stuck it in the back of me. Unfortunately I lost the hymn book and it was found by my form tutor who read the ‘remix’ I thought I was in BIG trouble but instead he had it printed in the school magazine.

Maureen: I remember two from primary school which have stuck with me. The Lion and Albert, by Marriott Edgar which I just loved for the unexpectedness of it. I hadn’t come across this mix of comedy and tragedy before and I still find it hilarious. The other was Cargoes by John Masefield, I learned it off by heart because of the rhythms and the unusual words, which were never explained to me –  it was like speaking a foreign language just to enjoy the sounds.

What’s your favourite method of coming up with rhyme?

George: Okay, I know some people are a bit snobby about this, but I just whip though the alphabet trying different beginnings on the sound I want to rhyme, It’s fun, and sometimes helps me come up with some great nonsense words.

Maureen: Toilet rolls. I have them hanging up all over my office like streamers. There are the really basic Aldi rolls with rhymes like lie and lies and liar – They’re nearest to the desk. They are used a lot, I recycle. But then there’s the premier Andrex  rolls with rhymes like fibber. When they fail me I use

Roger: Visiting our local poetry supermarket. There are two aisles of rhyme. I
usually visit the chill section too, where you can find some good ideas.

Really? Do you think there’s one near me? (Roger gives me a withering look). Ok, moving on then- do you ever annoy people by speaking in verse when you really shouldn’t?

Roger: Well, who wouldn’t?

Of course, some couldn’t.

Maureen: Never, I’m very sensible. I’m also not that quick to be able to drop them into conversation. I do that ‘Oh, I wish I’d said that instead of that’ thing after people walk away. I’m more likely to rhyme on the internet to entertain/annoy people.

George: I don’t do it much in ‘grown up, sensible company’ but at the moment I teach a class of 5 and 6 year olds and there I rhyme all the time, when I begin the kids join in ‘cos it’s so much fun, once we’ve begun.

And it’s great; the ability to rhyme underpins so much of children’s literacy skills. Children who rhyme early become better spellers and writes, not to mention how much fun they discover can be have with words. Publishers take note! Teachers LOVE LOVE LOVE rhyming texts.

What rhymes with orange?

George: Sporange- it’s a very rare type of sporran worn by Scotsman with no eyebrows and only when the moon has a polka dot hue.

Maureen: Plorange – but I didn’t make that word up. Catherine Rayner did. And I love it. Just say it. Plllllorange.

Roger: There was a young poet called Gorringe

Who was after a rhyme for orange

With a tinge of regret

Said, I’ve not found one yet

As he sucked on a peppermint lozenge

Exhibit 1

Ah ha ha – Roger wins! Serious face: Who’s your favourite poet?

George: Not fair! I don’t have a favourite poet, but I have lots of favourite poems and how do I pick? My first favourite poem I read when I was about 8. My Mum had bought me a lovely anthology of silly verse and I learned many of them by heart,  If Pigs Could Fly by James Reeves was my favourite –  I just loved the way it sounded.

Maureen: Anyone writing funny narratives especially Dhal. I love narrative poems they fit in with the polarity of comedy and tragedy/horror.mentioned earlier.

Roger: I have lots. My two favourites are probably Roger McGough and Billy Collins.

Did I tell you I asked Roger Mcgough to be interviewed? I’m still enjoying his reply even though he couldn’t do it due to terrible circumstances. I’ll tell you about it one day.. I’m still waiting for Pam Ayres people to get back to me. Right, back to it.

Do you ever have really weird dreams – this is an important research question.

Maureen: No. Never. Ever.

George: Let’s just if you could see my dreams it would be something like watching a Terry Gilliam animation.

Roger: I was reading some poems in a school from the stage, and when I glanced down I noticed that the legs of the stool were on fire.

Ha ha – I was only kidding, I just wanted to see if you were genuinely bonkers.

Maureen: I lied

I thought so. Now: If you could ask yourself one deeply searching question, what would it be?

Roger: What do I need to do to write a mega-bestselling novel? (And how can I make myself do it)

Maureen drifts into thoughtful silence.

Phone Rings Can you answer that for me, I need to make some tea.

Roger: It was the gardener on the phone. He says the lower field is flooded and the helipad is damaged. Milk – no sugar. Thanks.

George: One sugar and a biscuit please.

Maureen  wakes up: Why am I writing? Why can’t I stop? Do I have WOCD?  

For the money! Piles and piles of money! 

Gold and silver will all come to me,

I shall drink margaritas and live by the sea

Er, no. Maybe not.


For the fame!

I shall be on the telly, this is my chance,

But I might be on Strictly and I cannot dance!

So, no. Definitely no.


For the message! 

I have a profound message to say to the masses,

They’ll study my stuff and even run classes

Er, no, no, no, no, no.


Last try.


For the laughter of kids.

I sit in my loft, day after day,

What shall I write?

What shall I say?

Will that brighten a face?

Will that lighten their day?

Will that get a guffaw

Or a laugh or a giggle?

Will they roll on the floor?

Or just give a wiggle?

Would I love to be part of that moment of joy?

Can I give them all something that they will enjoy?


That’s it.

That’s your answer.

Oh I loved that Maureen. Thank you. Thank you all, now I better go and drag the pump down to the bottom field. We never should have had Pagham harbor diverted to the bottom of the garden, it’s been nothing but trouble. There’s smoked salmon in the fridge if one of you wouldn’t mind popping out to the shed and feeding it to the lioness?

You can see more of Roger’s work : Children’s Poems on You Tube

You Tube channel for grown-ups
The Poetry Zone
Poems for Grown Ups

And you’ll find the FunEversers here:

And next week Mr Philip Ardagh is coming for lunch with Funeversers Rebecca Colby and Lesley Moss!!! Better get on to Harrods and hire some gold plates.

The Publishing Process, Writing Advice

Writer’s Tricks: Getting Started.

I knew this series was ambitious.

Only my second post and I’m stuck – in more ways than one.

I good few days ago I sent my current script to Lovely Agent. Until she sends it back asking what were you thinking? and have you entirely lost your marbles?  (she won’t really say that, she’s far too nice) – I am BETWEEN BOOKS.

I have things to write. Oh yes I do. I have two different ideas for teen novels  – both of which I’ve roughly  sketched out and both of which have fully formed main characters. They even have a couple of chapters written.  And I have an almost plotted 7+ book –  the second in a  series involving an over dramatic mouse and a boy with more money than parents  (books 1 and 3 are already out on submission).

Oh yes. I have plenty to write. And what advice do we  give those waiting to hear ‘news’? Get on with the next book.

And what have I done?

I have painted the bathroom and  the bedroom ceiling. I have made a tentative farm budget and caught up with the washing and the ironing. I’ve  completed all my critiques and competed in the Sussex Open Fencing Championships. I’ve even started Christmas shopping…

I am not Getting Started.  I am having a little snooze on the starting line.  So this post is a cheat – can you wake me up? How do you get started ?

The Publishing Process, Word Counts, Writing Advice

A Guide To Word Counts – 14+ ( that’s not the guide, that’s the target age)

I am fast approaching the end of the final edit of my current manuscript which, obviously, is turning me into a gibbering wreck.

Is it too mad? Have I moved too much towards humour and too far from the original dark idea? Can I really keep chopping all these words out and still have a book?

And there it is.

The WORD COUNT issue.

It was 60,000 words. Then it was 56,000 words. Now I’m at  55,000  and dropping. Panic is setting in. So it’s time for one of these – a Word Count Blog, where I can justify poring over the word counts of other books and comparing them to mine. Want to play?

There is No Dog – Meg Rossoff – 56118

The Knife That Killed Me- Anthony Mcgowan – 45422

Almost True – Keren David – 94254

1984 – George Orwell – 88942

The Amber Spy Glass – Phillip Pillman – 156664

Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging – Louise Rennison – 41958

Before I Die – Jenny Downham – 69548

Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens – 155960

The Selfish Giant – Oscar Wilde – 1642

Withering Tights – Louise Rennison 55170

My extensive research reveals that as long as I hit the narrow window between 1642 and 156664 words, I should be fine.

Fun isn’t it?  Now go on, ask me another.

PS Here’s some I prepared earlier:

Book Reviews, Writing Advice

Scrivener – A review.

I am terrible at organising plots. It’s fine for 7+ stories- I can hold it together for 15,0000 words, but top 50,000 and forget it.

I’ve tried:

Post it notes – they unstick, float away and get covered in dog hair.

Spreadsheets – Kind of works but really, no, spreadsheets are for numbers, working on them puts my brain  in the wrong place.

Scrawly diagrams– how does this help? It’s like putting the scrawly contents of my head on a page. It’s still a mess.

Note cards – Hmmm – kind of – but it’s not linear enough and besides,  I hate writing long hand, my writing is illegible.

Note books – good for gathering, not good for organising.

Word – is great but too linear – how do you shuffle things around, slide in new text at just the right place? You still need to hold your story line, and all its complexities,  in your head.

What you need, thought I, is a Word/Notecard/Post it/Spreadsheet combination.  I thought I had invented it. I had not.  Scrivener got there first.

I was having problems with my latest MS – I mean serious structural problems. I needed to completely rewrite, tightening up the frame and weaving new dimensions into the fabric.  I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task.

So I avoided it. I procrastinated all over the internet and accidentally came across this:

So I downloaded the free trial of Scrivener and played with  it for a few days.  I got excited, transferred my MS into it. Then I got a bit cross.

The 30 day trial period is about right. It took me a while  to love this piece of software. I resented it in the way I used to resent tidying my room. Slowly, however, I learned to appreciate it.

It’s like having post-its on a pinboard without the dog hair. And with a click,  you can drill down through to the chapter behind the post-it. You can summarise each chapter, making reference easy. You can slide chapters around, and even scenes in chapters. You can have easy  access to character profiles, mood boards, crazy idea files. You can set targets, check your progress and export to Word when you’re done.

I love it.

I’ve nearly finished re-writing my MS in it and I think I’ve made a cleaner job because of it.

I’m a Scrivener Convert.

What about you? How do you organise your plots? Or am I alone in having such an untidy brain?

Book Reviews, Writing Advice

Take Heart, Writers in the Wings – Remember the Branford Boase Shortlist 2011

Meg Rosoff just posted a blog about Battery Books . It’s nothing to do with the ipad and everything to do with Factory Book Production.

It briefly got me down – for a moment my vision was clouded with pulp fiction and celebrity books – but then I remembered this:


I Am the Blade by J P Buxton, edited by Beverley Birch – Hachette 

When I Was Joe by Keren David, edited by Maurice Lyon- Frances Lincoln 

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay, edited by Bella Pearson – David Fickling 

Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes, edited by Roisin Heycock – Quercus 

Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace, edited by Charlie Sheppard – Andersen Press 

The Crowfield Curse by Pat Walsh, edited by Imogen Cooper – Chicken House

I know some of these writers, some of them  quite well, and they’re terrific. Talented, hard working, innovative and persistent.

And I know some of the editors too – not well, but enough to know they are also talented, hard working, innovative and persistent.

So take heart, writers in the wings – it’s not all pulp – there will always be a market for good writing. Just keep at it, learn your craft, don’t give up – our time will come.

PS – I can’t make the links work directly! If you want to buy any of these titles, click the book, then click the book image that comes  up on a new page :o)