Archive for the ‘process’ Category

Let me say straight out that I found the instructions for making one of these fold-it-yourself books on this site, by the lovely Nancy I. Sanders, who shares so much of her wisdom about writing for children and schools via her many books. Previously, I have made my own dummies in a totally different way – less fun but maybe easier for including lots of pages.

Today I didn’t want many pages. But I did want twice as many as provided by one sheet of A4. So I simply made two and worked out which panels had to be glued together to make them one. This gives 12 mini pages and a cover and back.

And why a small one and not a 32-page picture book? Because I am still interested in writing for early readers or those who will only read something less threatening than a book, and perhaps also those children who like facts more than fiction.

I still had to pay attention to choice of words, and also how to put them on the page, leaving space for some line drawings in ink. And this is only a draft and a trial. But I thought I’d share the link and image, in case it’s exactly what you were needing to know. Chances are you are ahead of me and knew how to do this already!

You could use any layout software if you want to do it in type rather than handwriting – I used Pages on the Mac and deleted the grid before printing. Handwriting is all good though.

If you have children or grandchildren and want to write a very short bedtime story and put a few line drawings in, that would be a great way to do it.

Better still, with slightly older kids, your could write the story together, get them to learn how to fold it (for any future stories they write), and get them to put a few illustrations in! Simple is best 🙂

Here is a picture of my finished booklet.

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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?
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.)

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


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!)


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.

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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

I seem to be stuck in the “up to 500 words range”. This is around 400. I could, of course, continue the novel I started last time. I may do so. But right now, I wrote this instead.

If you think it sounds like a misery novel excerpt, let me assure you upfront, it’s not. It’s just what it is: a standalone scenario. Yes, the awful dress, and the fancy dress street party it was meant to be worn at, stem from real memory. (Oh god, do I remember it!) But the rest is sheer invention, just to make it a fiction. I mean, who wants boring fact all the time?

Let me know if you like it. I need all the encouragement I can harvest from you to get back into regular daily fiction writing! I was looking at the website just now and was greatly inspired – perhaps also because I so love doing school visits.

And I wrote it in Bean, my favourite go-to for tiny bits of writing.

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Mother holds up the fancy dress she’s made for me and beams happily. My stomach lurches. My brother is already dressed up in a brown pirate costume with a little cutlass tucked into the belt. It makes him look grown up and strong.

“Perfect,” she declares, patting the bright yellow cotton. It’s covered in enormous red hearts like patches of blood. “You’ll be the perfect Queen of Hearts,” she says. “Off with your clothes, and let’s try it on. Then I’ll sew it up properly and remove the tacking threads.”

I stare at her. This can’t be happening. How am I supposed to wear this hideous thing in front of everyone? My eyes blur, and the red and yellow turn into an orange ballooning monster that floats towards me.

“No!” I scream.

I run from the room into the hall. She follows me and smacks me hard on my bottom. I hit her back on the arm as hard as I can. “It’s horrid, horrid, horrid!” I shout.

Her eyes go narrow and black. She strips my thin dress and knickers off, holds me tight in one hand, slaps my bare bottom again and again, and pushes me onto the wicker stool that always sits by the front door.

“Just you stay there so the neighbours can see what a wicked, ungrateful child you are,” she says, her voice as cold as the seat.

I don’t look round, but I hear her stalk back to the dining room. I know that if I move, it will be the belt next. So I hold myself still while the wicker presses into my sore backside and sends pain right up to my eyes. They start to leak, but I refuse to cry.

How can she have made my brother a wonderful pirate costume and me a horrible yellow Queen of Hearts? Why not a fairy or a princess or a witch, in white, red, black – anything but bright shiny yellow with huge red hearts and a skirt that sticks out like a parachute. Everyone will notice me and point and laugh. Everyone will say how ugly I look…

I shiver in the draught.

Then I hear crunching on the gravel. Someone’s coming. They’ll see me with nothing on. They’ll see my knickers on the floor.

“I’m sorry,” I call in a voice that’s not my own. “I’ll put the dress on. I’m sorry.”

The time for delaying tactics is over. I need to write something. Anything. Especially anything longer than a haiku! Just to get back into the swing.

So here are nearly 500 words of a possible novel for middle grade. Nothing to write home about (excuse the pun) but until I see what I’ve written, I usually don’t know exactly what I wanted to write! And clearly this won’t be right for today’s middle grade children (at least if you want a publisher), but then again, I do know some kids who would lap up a mystery novel just fine. Which is what this beginning has in mind.

Anyway, I don’t do funny very well, I don’t do bottom humour, and I don’t do – oh, I don’t know, clever stuff. So into the bin with it. But do have a read first 🙂 All writing needs a reader!

For the zillionth time that afternoon, Oriel leaned out of the hotel’s attic window and stared down into Chatfield’s medieval cobbled square. Her eyes scanned the sunlit groups of shoppers from right to left, as if trying to find a hidden thimble. Then she stiffened and caught her breath sharply.

That’s him, I bet, she thought. Young and alone, with a leather suitcase, and foreign-looking. Definitely Josef Ahlenburg, our first guest… And in an awful hurry to reach us.

The boy in question looked about fourteen or fifteen, a few years older than Oriel, and he was sprinting – not like you sprint when you’re late for tea (which he nearly was) but as if training for his school football team. He was running a short way and then stopping, running and stopping again, as he came down the final stretch of road that led into the square. Every time he paused, he turned to glance warily over his shoulder at the lingering groups of Saturday shoppers. Then he darted past another group and looked round again. She wouldn’t have been surprised to see him dribbling a football, as if wondering who to pass it to.

Who was he trying to avoid?

She was slightly alarmed. Josef Ahlenburg couldn’t be trying to escape anyone. He wouldn’t know anyone yet, let alone have enemies. He was coming to England to take part in an international music course at the Grange.

Oriel stared, mesmerised, shading her eyes from the sun that streaked in from the south-west. It was still high above the beech trees flanking the park on one side of the square.

The boy paused again. Looked around, this time scanning the street higher up. Maybe he was searching for the Red Tree sign that hung from its black metal bracket outside the hotel windows two floors below Oriel.

Suddenly, he gazed straight up at her, as if he might have seen her. Oriel waved frantically to attract his attention.

She thought he nodded briefly before setting off again. But he still walked zig-zag around the cobbled pavements, as if his feet simply refused to go directly to the hotel.

Oriel frowned. She was sure this was Josef – the violin he carried was a dead giveaway, now that she noticed it. He wore a navy blue blazer, white shirt and grey trousers, which must be his school uniform. But he didn’t look at all like the posh boy she’d imagined, knowing his mother was a German countess. That must absolutely be the most awful thing to have to put up with – no eating in bed, no talking with your mouth full, no leaving the house without a bodyguard…

And then she remembered her father. Maybe being posh wasn’t the worst thing to have to survive.