Writing Tips

1. Write. Write anything. Write lots. Write more than lots.

2. Read. Read the kind of books or poems you like to write. Ask yourself questions about the techniques the author used to write them.

3. Planning does help: So think about your character. What does he/she want more than anything? What will stop them getting what they want? What conflicts will arise? How will they be overcome? What will your main character learn by the end of the story?

4. If you’re not enjoying writing a particular piece, write something else. Otherwise your boredom will be obvious to the reader.

5. Use correct nouns and strong verbs. Halve the number of adjectives and adverbs. Watch your writing grow stronger.

6. Show don’t Tell is important. When you simply report an action or emotion, it doesn’t capture the heart of the reader. Don’t Tell the reader that your character is anxious. Show him or her. For example: Jackie scratched repeatedly at her fingernail, as if to wear it away. She could feel the pressure right through to her finger.

7. Write your story. Then re-read the beginning and re-write that. By then, you’ll have a better idea of what your story’s about; plus you’ll think of a stronger way of hooking the reader and making them read on!

8. Use a Thesaurus. Words are powerful. Expand your vocabulary. You need the best ones to lift your writing.

9. Try the trick of writing your piece three times; The First time you create. The Second you communicate. The Third you add sparkle to your words.

10. Write for a real or imagined audience. That can help as you are then writing for with a purpose.

Writing Questions

My first book, My Sister learns Ballet, was published in 1984, but I’d had several poems and articles published in children’s and general magazines prior to that date.

Before getting an agent, the process was all done by me. I would make a hard copy (printed), get an appropriate sized envelope, with another with a self-stamped addressed envelop in side, in case of a return (rejection). I would make a note in my note book, stating the title, the word length, to whom I sent the material and the date. If accepted I would highlight it in colour! If rejected I would simply put the date.

After that I might send it out to another publisher or leave it alone for some time – weeks, months or even years. The waiting time to hear back from a publisher was and still is, anything from 3 – 12 months. Some publishers are okay with sending a ‘multiple submission’; that is you can send the same work to many publishers, but it’s critical that you state that on your title page.

If the work is accepted, the publisher will notify you, usually by email/letter, or a phone call. After that will come structural editing, once an editor has gone through your work. Then a copy editing, to check for smaller details. If your work is being illustrated, you will be shown examples of the ongoing visual progress. After all that is done, you will receive galley proofs; sheets of work set up in the final layout; they are checked by you and several others in the publishing house. Once all is ready, it’s sent to the printers to complete the book.

Now I send my work online to my agent, who first reads it and sends feedback. Often I will then rework and resend to her again. When she’s satisfied, she will then send it out to potential publishers, often several at a time.

I don’t have one publishing company. I am published with whoever chooses to take my book. Publishers these days create an e-book at the same time as they publish a printed book.

Several of my later books, or those which are under contract, are/likely will be made into e-books, but I’m not sure what each publisher plans to do about other books at this stage.

Being a writer is what I want to do, and what I love doing, because I can create. And I can work from home. But there are sad and tough times. Things often don’t work out as well as you’d hoped, or work is sent back to you. But I like to learn and practice and improvement is exciting. There’s no other job I’d rather do.

It’s the publishers. However, if you have an out-of-print book, you can ask the publisher for the rights of that book to be reverted back to you and you can organise your own e-book, should you wish.

Not at this stage. I may in the future if I choose to create e-books from some of my own out-of-print titles.

If you mean financially, at this stage I believe the remuneration is quite small. By promotion and availability, I think people enjoy having a choice and hopefully that improves matters for the author.

Most of my writing colleagues are still working in traditional ways but watching closely at the variety of ways publishers are using technology to introduce other ways of reading to the customers.

There is a difference in percentage but at this stage, I believe different authors offer different percentages.

It would be possible to find out on your royalty statement which comes out every six months.

My agent deals with those types of situations.

E-books are great to use during travel, they have ease of portability and accessibility. It’s easy to download a vast number of titles. They still supply story.

Disadvantages are that they desensitise the reader from the physicality of the object, namely the book.

Young children, especially need to learn from using ALL their senses, and so I believe ALL children’s books should be available in both printed and if possible, e-books as well. It’s vital for children’s growth and development that picture books remain in printed copies.

I use my Kobo with e-books when I travel. I read printed books otherwise.

I believe we will always have printed books, but there will be a duality with e-books and therefore a choice for readers.

Very young children don’t tend to differentiate between what might be perceived as more a book for boys or a book for girls. That tends to come later, around the ages of 8+. So picture books for this age group can be enjoyed by both genders. When children reach school age and begins to read for themselves, they may veer towards single gender style of stories or stories which echo their own interests (eg. cars, humour, family type stories etc.)

While there is no hard and fast rule, the trend seems to be that girls will read boys’ books but boys are less likely to read girls’ books. Girls enjoy humour, action, adventure and fast paced stories, but later enjoy more the family/friend/social type as well. Girls like to see themselves depicted as strong characters – which was often not the case in books of early eras.

Very young children need happy endings. Their worldview is smaller than adults. They haven’t experienced as much and therefore they need a sense of security that a happy ending provides. However, having said that, a good story ending shouldn’t be predictable. After all what would be the point of the story if the child knew all along how it would end? Certainly we need them to consider possible outcomes as the story goes along, but the ending, apart from being satisfying, should come as a surprise, or a revelation or have a twist to it. The main character should’ve changed throughout the story and the child reader needs to have enjoyed the character’s journey.

Animals as main characters are popular – possibly for several reasons. While all children may not be serious animal lovers, what they do enjoy is that they are creatures, like themselves – but not necessarily depicted as ‘adults’. Therefore children relate better to them. Also if there is a story situation, which might prove a little upsetting or unsettling for a child, the use of an animal character means that it’s slightly removed or distanced, whereas if it was a ‘real’ character, the child might identify too strongly with it.

Picture Book Questions

By writing about their world, what appeals to them and especially what makes them laugh. Children love humour. By posing story questions that make them think and gives them surprises.

Picture book demands are so special, and its form is both restrictive, yet exciting for its creators. One of the particular elements is that the content is within the grasp and interest of the 2- 8 year old; although of course I would also advocate that children are read picture books as soon after birth as possible. The kinds of content elements would include such themes as Friends, fears, family, siblings, outings, toys and pets.

Another element is that the storyline and language must be simple but not simplistic. It must have a strong beginning, middle and ending and must not resort to ‘dumbing-down’ or being ‘cutesy’ to children.

Because it is the rare beast that is designed to be read aloud, the text must be as multi-levelled as poetry; so it stands up to repeated readings and offers both the adult and the child the joy of language; the flow, the patterning and a sense of rhythm.

Something must happen constantly; the child needs action.

From the illustrator’s point of view, the author must be provide varied opportunities for visuals that will stimulate the imagination of the child; often by providing visual subplots, or irony (eg. the text says one thing and the illustrations show something different) offering them different settings or character’s emotional responses. etc.

The language must be concise. Picture books are mainly 32 pages, or numbers that are multiples of 8 (24, 64) but not all those pages are available for text. (approx. 25-28) Word lengths are generally between 0 – 1000 words with 500-600 words being the current ‘norm’ for Australian picture books. Words, therefore, have to be carefully selected. Each word must be there for a reason. The writer must consider and write only selected details as many aspects can be shown in the illustrations – thus unifying the work. The beginning must be immediate. There is neither time nor words for lengthy descriptions.

Children of this age group love to predict; so setting up a pattern where there is a relevant refrain or story aspect repetition, will help their enjoyment of prediction, confidence, a sense that they are ‘learning to read’ and satisfaction. It is also a joy to the ear.

Rhythm and rhyme are also very important for this age group.

Because the picture book is read to the child, the writer can employ a wider, more varied, and richer vocabulary that he/she would be able to if the book was the child’s first attempt in reading solo.

When a creator wishes to convey something of the nature you indicated, he/she will often choose a simpler, singular aspect that carries the same message. In other words he/she hones the general to the individual.

An example from my work would be from my award-winning book, Where does Thursday go?

The original notion was triggered by a situation that led to a child to wonder when time went. That was too large a topic, so I reduced it to where does a day go? So the character Splodge wonders then, where does Thursday go before Friday comes. And the whole story

Creators also use animals, toys or inanimate objects (trains etc) rather than human beings to depict characters when a topic might cause them distress, anxiety etc. (ie. being lost) The ending of a picture book should always provide a sense of security for this age group.

By being aware that the child is a growing, developing human being with the same emotions as any adult, but only a shorter and more restricted life-view and experience. By acknowledging gender and racial tolerance.

Often what parents want can be different from what the child wants. I’m a great advocate of the children choosing their own books; but suggesting that they have ‘turns’. Ie. the child gets to choose a book for reading and then the adult gets a turn. Children will appreciate this sense of fairness and it won’t put the adult off from always reading the same book over and over again. But children will often love a particular book and the adult is baffled as to why. I’d suggest the adult go with it for as long as it takes to move onto something else; offer other suggestions without demeaning the child’s choice. Talk about the books afterwards; what parts the child liked. The pictures will always draw children in first; so they will love to explore them repeatedly as well. Another idea would be that the child makes up their own story from the pictures. Parents often appreciate subtle little aspects which an illustrator might add that are directed at adult humour, without in any way detracting or demeaning the child’s story.

History shows us that books for young children were mainly designed as cautionary tales; stories which carried a suitable moral for the social mores of the time. There are still ‘morals’ within picture books today- but children and publishers will get a sniff of overt ‘preaching’ from miles away. Both detest it. Creators should even consider it. Themes within the story carry the underlying tone of the story; ie. good friendship; creatively solving problems; understanding that results come from effort rather than lethargy etc.


Have a question you would like to ask me?