I seemed to be drawing a lot of owls, so when my granddaughter was visiting, we talked a lot about owls and stories. And eventually, when she’d gone (useful that, having a lively discussion of ideas!), I came up with a story about an owl who was looking for his breakfast at dusk.

When I’d fleshed out the idea, I did take time to go back to the general rise and fall of a picture book story (as I often do with PBs). The structure goes something like this, although you will find variants all over the internet:

First: What is the story question?
Then:
1 Problem
2 Incident intensifies
3 Reaction to worsening
4 Thwarted efforts to sort this out
5 Character suitably reacts
6 Find a successful solution

I went through checking that there was all this ‘shape’ to it – and then wrote it.

And then trimmed it! Taking out everything that could be better shown in the illustrations. (This would, of course, assume an illustrator with greater talent than me knowing how to make magic of the scenes I can see in my head!)

The easy bit for me is editing my text so that it has rhythm and balance and alliteration and surprise. The difficult bit will be finding a publisher for this, ahem, masterpiece!

I’ve started the trawl now. In case it helps anyone out there, here is a wonderful website page, made and updated regularly by Lou Treleaven, which lists publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts. She deserves a medal. (Agent Hunter is good if you want an agent, though.)

https://loutreleaven.com/2010/07/21/childrens-publishers-accepting-unsolicited-manuscripts/

But just in case you miss seeing an owl while you read my ramblings about an owl story, here is a recent and surprisingly relevant one I did, though I won’t tell you why! It just happened, unconnected with writing any story.

mouse in hand and owl

 

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Not ‘woes’, as in I can’t, but just wondering how you ever make a picture book sound like a story when you have left significant things to be shown in the illustrations only!

I was thinking this especially today as the SCBWI organisation (for children’s book writers and illustrators) is holding an illustration thingy for picture book stories of just 350 words to be read out and one chosen to be given a critique by an agent. It’s for the whole membership, and only 100 slots are available – from whom finalists will be picked. OK, fine. It doesn’t matter that I can’t manage it. The slots were probably filled two minutes after the competition opened!

But all my picture book texts in embryo form wouldn’t hang together if ‘just read out’. I thought the point was to show not tell!

So – let me explain the latest place where it would be a problem. I got this idea after sketching a little girl with a pencil who is picking up the shavings.

Day 9a girl and shavings

This  gave me the idea to do a picture book about a girl who is small for her age and doesn’t want to go back for a second day at school in Reception class, aged 4+ (UK schooling system). At one point in the story, there would be this line: ‘But the children couldn’t agree about what made them happy.‘ On the next page there would be nothing but a spread of chaotic children in pairs arguing about how to make the picture they have to make in class. A bit of text, attitude, thought images etc would show it all. But it would sound bizarre to read on, in public, to the next bit, without the public knowing what this spread had shown. So no, I won’t be entering that sort of competition haha.

What I will be doing is making up a dummy to show which illos would go on which page and cutting up text and sticking it in place – and then sending it with the whole manuscript to someone or other to find it’s fortune. Wish me luck!

(Ps I think Jojo bows have gone out of fashion now, so the girl in the story will not look like that sketch I did!)

 

I’m never sure of terminology, but I think “magic realism” is magic introduced into a real-world setting.

This is something I love. It resembles a flight of imagination that sees the possible amid the mundane. And I like that attitude. It brings something extra special to a novel to have these things happening. I suppose that’s why I brought in a talking mouse in the chapter book I am redrafting. Why limit things by being prosaic all the time??

This probably explains why I so enjoyed The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. And that’s also why I’m now reading her next book, The Bedlam Stacks.

Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 16.44.19

It was a little bizarre at first, though not magical. And then there appeared a statue that had moved. But, supposedly, no one had moved it. Then later it faces a direction from which to watch the narrator. I’m only 20% through, so I’m not sure how much more “magic” will happen. But guess what? It leaves the possibility open and makes me read on. The story will definitely not be boring!

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And then I came across Cassie Beasley’s Circus Mirandus. This is aimed at so-called middle grade. A good reader of 10 would love it.

Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 16.33.19

This is the intriguing first bit – how can anyone resist that last sentence??

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I leave you to decide if magic realism grabs you like it does me. But discovering new books is such fun anyway, so I thought I’d tell you about these two – three if you include The Watchmaker – I read that three times. Not something I normally have time to do!

 

Not another haiku, I hear you say!

No, not at all. TWO haiku (haikus?).

We had a welcome visitor this week who has stayed around and I love him. It’s a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Difficult to capture on film without him seeing me and zooming back over the road to the forest. So this image is from Pixabay, which is free to use here.

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 20.10.26

Isn’t he just beautiful?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then wrote haiku number one:

Tap tap tap tap tap –

something pecking on the wood

of my bird feeder!

(Pity this feeder is mesh!) I think he came because it got cold up here and started snowing. But I’m glad he’s stayed.

And because I didn’t go walking in the snow, I wrote haiku number two!

Grey-white snow, and mauve,

spread in crystals on my lawn,

lounging till the thaw.

Which is what I propose to do – lounge till the thaw. I go out when it’s deep and fun, like the snow my hens here are enjoying; not when it’s thin and icy and then slushy!

pic 2 for snow

 

I really am no good as a poet. Possibly because I haven’t put in my 10,000 hours of practice! But sometimes, just sometimes, words are needed to capture something without the result having to be prose.

I know you have to ponder and alter and think and discard as you write a poem. But I have had a go at this on four occasions and soon it won’t be autumn but Christmas, so I’d best get on an show you!

So – please don’t judge it as you would from a poet. Just imagine it captures, in a deliberate mix of senses, what it was like to go for my walk the other day. If you take something from it, great. If not, well, I assumed it was for me personally anyway!

November walk in the village

Burnishing the air an earthy warmth,

a rusted scent of needled pine.

Under my feet the sodden leaves.

Livid berries on the forest edge,

a copper beech like polished gold.

Feathers darting endlessly

through criss-crossed twigs on lichened boles –

touched by hint of diesel fumes?

A taste of bonfire fills my mind,

tuneful breezes lift my hair

infused with hints of Eastern spice

from cottage, crêperie and mill.

While overhead, and in full swing,

a corvid family gathering.

leaves photo 72

Experimenting with all sorts of writing now!  A long time ago, I wrote a 2,000-word story that didn’t (and doesn’t) meet the required criteria for what it’s meant to be, which is a chapter book for a newly confident reader. So it needs altering – both in length and in content. (I drew an image to go with it and showed you the first paragraphs here.)

Someone told me at the time what I needed to do with it to make it right, but *shrugs* sometimes you lose heart or don’t agree or want to keep it as it is.

Now, however, having saved it under a different name, and with loads of time having passed, I feel more free to experiment with changing it. As they say, you have to be willing to murder your darlings – but the time has to be right too! See what you think. Any crit or comment would be welcome. This is just the beginning. Maybe a chapter or maybe two chapters or more. Not sure yet. Just ‘the beginning’ anyway 🙂

Jess hated her new school. She missed her old friends. She also hated her new house. The bedroom door moaned and groaned all night. She tried propping it open. She tried pressing it shut. She tried pushing her slippers against it. But:

Creak! Squeak!

Moan… groan…

Cold air brushed against her face.

A scuffle on the floor: mouse or ghost?

Jess shivered and pulled the covers over her head.

It was nearly morning before she fell asleep. She dreamt that tree roots were curling round her feet. When she woke, the quilt was twisted round her legs and the wind was whistling round her toes. She couldn’t think why anyone would want to live here.

She pulled her uniform on and ran down to the kitchen, where her mum was frying bacon.

‘I hate this house,’ she said. ‘And I hate my new school.’

‘You’ll soon like it,’ said her mum. ‘And it’s wonderful the school is only down the road – or you’d be late.’

School didn’t go well. Again. The other girls and boys were OK, Jess thought, trying to be fair. No one was actually horrible to her. But there didn’t seem to be room for her in their groups.

‘I hate it here without my friends,’ said Jess when she got home. She threw herself onto a beanbag. ‘I used to have loads and loads––’

‘––and loads,’ said Mum. ‘I know, Jess. That’s what happens when you move house. You have to start all over again.’

‘But there isn’t anyone. Hari’s got Ty. Sasha’s got Kate. Everyone’s got someone. I’ll never have anyone.’

‘You will, soon,’ said Mum, stirring the soup. Jess knew from the smell that it was her favourite. Mum was trying to make things OK. But without her dad, and now without her friends, how would things ever be right?

Mum looked up. ‘And when it happens, you’ll be able to invite your new friends for a sleepover.’

‘I can’t. There’s a ghost in my room.’

‘Don’t be silly! It’s an old house, and old houses creak. And remember, there’s always a silver lining to a dark cloud – Grandad lives with us now.’

Mum put three plates and mugs on the table and took the bread out of the bread bin. ‘Why don’t you go up and tell him tea’s ready?’

Grandad had stopped travelling the world and moved into the spare rooms in the attic. It was the only good thing about this new house.

Jess ran upstairs, then up again… right up the steep steps to the attic… and knocked on Grandad’s door.

‘Come in!’ Grandad called.

‘Tea’s ready. Mum said to come down.’

‘Okeydoke,’ said Grandad. ‘I’ll pop my shoes on.’

His face was brown and his hair wild. A tiny bit grey in places, but not much. Jess thought he looked like a wizard. The nicest wizard you could ever have living with you. She’d only known him for two weeks but she was already sure he was the world’s most interesting grandad.

She gazed round the room. Every wall and shelf was covered with Grandad’s special things.

Pictures of Indian snake charmers and rickshaws.

Brightly coloured pottery and robes from Africa.

A wolf skin from Canada.

Jess looked at the basket of stones. ‘Can I play with your stones?’

‘No, no and no,’ said Grandad. But he sounded kind. ‘Those stones are magic. Special. They’re not for playing with.’ He finished pulling on a shoe and stood up. ‘Found them on my travels, I did.’

Jess sighed. ‘Did you meet ghosts on your travels?’

‘No such thing as ghosts, Jess.’

‘Did you lose your friends when you went away?’

‘No such thing as losing friends, Jess. Friends are always somewhere.’

‘But––’

Grandad waved her out of the room. ‘Off we go, Jess. Tea calls.’

He banged the door behind them and started down the stairs.

Jess shut her mouth.

Grandad thought there were no such things as ghosts. Mum thought she could make new friends. They were both wrong.

But suddenly an idea jumped into her head.

After supper, Jess said goodnight to Mum and Grandad and climbed into bed.

She waited until she heard Grandad go into his bedroom to watch television as usual. Then she crept up the stairs to his sitting room. She gently pushed the door and stepped in.

Moonlight flooded through the roof window, painting silvery edges on everything.

Jess looked for the magic stones and spotted them on the table by Grandad’s chair.

Grey.

Rust red.

Yellow.

Chocolate coloured.

All that magic!

If only she could have just one…

Just for a day…

Just to help her make friends…

She’d hold it and whisper:

Stone be true

as blue is blue

I need your power

in this dark hour.

She reached out a finger and touched one that had fine red veins on its shiny black surface.

‘I knew you’d be back,’ said a voice.

I have tried to write something that will be easy for beginner readers to read. I declared my intention to do this a while ago actually! Well, eventually things get done. And after I did it, some more time passed and I edited it again. If I fiddle any more I’ll get bored, so here it is, with a couple of provisos:

  • Firstly, I’m assuming an illustrator would show up lots and lots of interesting things going on at the same time on the page!
  • And most of the words are from the list in the post I linked above.
  • But I’m also assuming the young reader can do “I’ll” and I’m” and guess a couple of others from the illustrations.

ps. I painted my castle ornament ages ago, so I thought I’d use it to illustrate the post.

castle new for Pip

Pip’s Present

“Here is your present,” Mum says to Pip.

“It’s very big! What is it?”

“Take it out. You will like it.”

Pip sees the old castle and laughs. “It’s so good!” he says. “Thank you.”

He runs to Mum and hugs her. “I will play with it now.”

Pip looks inside. “Rascal, come and see!” he says.

Rascal comes and tries to look in.

“I want to play in there,” he says. “But I’m too big.”

BANG!

Pip and Rascal fall into the castle.

“Help!” says Pip.

“Woof!” says Rascal.

Something flies into Pip.

“What is this?” he asks. “It’s like a ghost!”

He is not happy!

“I am Justin,” the ghost says. “I live in the castle. Will you play with me?”

“No,” says Pip. “I do not like you.”

“Come on,” he says to Rascal. “I want to go to Mum.”

They run to the door. But the door will not open.

“Bother,” says Pip. “I want to get out.”

They run to the window. But the window will not open.

“Bother,” says Pip. “We must get out of here.”

The ghost flies with them.

“Will you play with me?” he says. “I’m not happy here.”

“I do not want to play,” Pip says to Justin.

“Woof!” says Rascal. [He is under an old table]

“But you must see my castle,” Justin says. “Come with me.”

They go into a big room.

They see some armour, some daggers and some gold cups.

They see a spider, an old brush and some logs.

They come to a bed. [with a cat on it]

“Woof, woof!” says Rascal. [The cat runs down the stairs]

The ghost looks very sad.

“You do not want to play with me,” he says. “So now I will help you go home.”

Pip is not happy. The ghost is a good ghost. Pip has made him unhappy.

“We will play with you now, and then go home,” says Pip.

Pip and Rascal and Justin play

with the apples and oranges on the old table.

The apples and oranges fly up and down…

from Justin to Pip… from Pip to Justin.

Rascal tries to play too.

But they do not eat the apples and oranges. They are too old!

Justin laughs and jumps.

“I am not sad now,” he says. “Thank you!”

He goes to the door.

He hits it here…

and here…

…and there.

“Open, open, open!” he says.

BANG!

Pip and Rascal are back home. [in the bedroom]

“Goodbye, Justin!” calls Pip. “We will come and play tomorrow.”

“Woof!” says Rascal.

Rascal goes to sleep on Pip’s bed.

“Good night, Rascal,” says Pip. “That ghost was fun! I like my big old castle.” [imagines happy ghost in ghost bed?]