Innovation & Quality: Writing for Children with WritersWebTV

online writing workshops

The brains behind the operation…

I recently watched the inaugural live online writing workshop ‘Finding the magic: Writing for Children’ – an innovative world first from WritersWebTV, presented by Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie.

Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve had lots of wonderful experiences linked to Vanessaincluding finding my agent (Sallyanne Sweeney), the place I now call home and as a result, my husband! – so I was pretty certain that it would be a quality affair.

Although it’s not usually easy, I was willing to write off a day of writing to immerse myself in advice from talented authors and industry professionals. The list was impressive, with the likes of Michael Emberley, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick, Norton Vergien, Oisin McGann and Meg Rosoff on hand to share their knowledge of the industry and writing tips, answer questions and set short writing tasks.

online writing workshops

Attend the workshop from anywhere in the world? A great idea!

Even though some parts of the workshop weren’t relevant to me – I already have an agent, for instance – I dipped in and out, garnering bits of knowledge that made me stop, think and at times, rethink my own approach. I also found myself enjoying snippets of advice that I could relate to, stuff that left me nodding and smile knowingly.

The set up was impressive and multi-faceted, featuring the host Vanessa, an in-house audience and an interactive online global audience with a two-way communication stream via twitter, facebook and email. Despite the fact that the workshop was online, it maintained an inclusive and personal feel and I feel the positive feedback they’re receiving is well deserved.

Covering everything from animation to publishing, illustration to collaboration, finding an agent to finding your voice, this was something I had never experienced before and didn’t really believe could actually be done – at least, not to this standard.

I don’t want to spoil it for you – those of you who missed it and are serious about your writing career can buy it online & watch it for yourself – but here are a few of my favourite bits I’d like to share, to give you a taster…

  • The sign of good writing is to take a feeling and put it down on paper convincingly – being able to create suspense is important and make sure it’s not boring for the child.” Michael Emberley
  • Write, rework, return to your work – time lapse enables mistakes to jump out at you. It took me 14 years to write one of my books and get it right – it was turned down by same publisher 3 times, and taken on the fourth occasion. Not rushing is vitally important.” Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
  • A good agent will understand the market, will know gaps in a publisher’s list and have good contacts within the publishing industry. They’ll also help you work on your book, matching your script to the right editor. If you’re lucky enough to get an agent, it’s important you feel the agent understands your book – they have your vision.” Polly Nolan
  • You don’t need a lot of description but you do need the right words – but trust in your reader and leave some things to their imagination. What you leave out as important as what you leave in.” Meg Rosoff
using social media for writing

Social Media: providing a two-way stream during the workshop

This is just a taste of what was on offer, but if you can imagine an entire day – from 10am till 4pm – of such gems, with the chance to interact via twitter, facebook and email and have your questions answered by industry professionals, then you’ll understand why I’m highly recommending the next few workshops.

  • Getting to the Heart of it: Writing Women’s Fiction Tuesday, October 15th
  • Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction Wednesday, October 30th
  • Getting Published Saturday, November 9th

I’d love to know who else tuned in to the first workshop and what you thought of it. And who’s tuning in next time? Even if you don’t write in those genres, you may pick up something useful as the information is always transferable and as writers, we can always improve.

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Broken homes don’t mean broken lives

Nice clean bear looking for a reading partner

“Why do you write for children?

This was the interesting – and completely unexpected – question that I was confronted with last week. It’s not a shocking question by any means; it’s just that writing for children is what I do, but, like any other career I’ve had, I’ve never thought about why. I’ve never even considered writing for children as an occupation that needs explaining (which probably says a lot right away).

Caught unawares, I was amazed at my reply. Not only could I answer without thinking about it, this was my immediate response:

“I adore children’s literature. A love of reading is the best gift I ever received and I want to foster it in others.”

OK, not the most eloquent, but this answer stuck in my head afterwards because I wondered whether, upon reflection, it was really true. You see, writing’s not like a regular job where you turn up and muddle through – even if it’s a bad day – because you know you’ll get paid. To be a writer, you have to love what you do. Always. Fact.

But do we know why we write? And why we write what we write?

I have many ideas which would make excellent adult books, but every time I sit down to write them, the words automatically transform into children’s fiction. I love every minute spent working on my manuscripts – from the initial concept and free-flow writing, to the research and editing – but I’m sure I’d love every minute of writing adult fiction too. After all, I adore reading it. So why does this happen?

Looking at my response, I was surprised to find that the true, honest reason really was lurking there. Yes, I love children’s literature and yes, falling in love with reading was the best gift I ever received. But the final part of my reply is the crux of the matter.

“I want to foster it in others.”

Whatever a child’s background, situation or level of learning, I want to help them enjoy reading. It’s that simple. I won’t go into detail – ‘misery lit’ is not my thing – but my upbringing was far from usual, not at all pleasant and certainly not something I’d ever wish anyone else to go through.

Yet the brutal truth is; many children throughout the world are trapped in abusive homes or dangerous environments. And even though there is more awareness, leading to more support facilities, the sad fact is that these children are still trapped, their experiences limited.

But a broken home doesn’t have to lead to a broken life: even children in vulnerable situations can be the masters of their own destinies. And as far as I can see, education is the key factor.

This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting in a classroom learning facts. Especially since, for many of these children, that environment won’t suit at all. But if a child can take control of their own learning – can see the value and relevance of it for themselves – then that can make a major difference to their whole lives. This may sound cliche, but it’s true.

I’ve heard people say that everyone can remember one inspirational teacher that set them on their path in life; well I had many. As a child, no matter what was happening around me, books were my haven. They showed me other places, ideas, attitudes and possibilities that no one else was going to share. They opened worlds that were otherwise unavailable.

Old friends and teachers

I was moved by the kindness of the Old Gentleman in The Railway Children and admired the tomboyish Jo March in Little Women. I dreamt about joining the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Huckleberry Finn. Outraged by the mistreatment of Celie in The Colour Purple, I was also strangely comforted by the idea that not everyone else’s life was easy. I fell in love with Santiago’s passion and determination as he fought to bring his great marlin home. And I loved and hated Scrooge in equal measure.

Whatever I wanted to know, to experience, feel; it was all there, neatly tucked away in a few pages of my own private world. And the beauty of it was, every time I finished a book, it would lead me somewhere else; a recommended read, another book by the same author, a completely different genre which conveyed similar messages.

There is a wealth of current and classic children’s literature out there and I’d love to add to it.

“I adore children’s literature. A love of reading is the best gift I ever received. It saved me and I want to foster it in others.”

Last week, I surprised myself with this answer, and after investigating it further, I’ve surprised myself even more. But the findings were so personal, I was in two minds whether I should even post this at all.

But I always believe we should do everything with honesty and with as much passion as possible. So, that’s why I went ahead with the post. And for that reason also, I will continue to write every day.