Archive for the ‘writing’ 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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 11.14.25



Any teachers out there?

A year ago, I kept a concertina art journal in which I jotted everyday stuff via images in pen and wash, with only a few keywords. So not a proper journal. Got one of those already! My PJs appeared, as did the dirty water we live with, the concert I went to (aged rockers they were!) and the first snowdrops. That sort of thing.

But on the way, I jotted down a rhyme I suddenly thought up, which has come to mind regularly ever since. So this week I got it out and drew the images to go with it. I changed a few phrases on the way – things can always be improved – but on the whole this now feels like a done work. Ps There’s a little joke I added to number 7’s image – do you see it??

It would be really useful to teach to Reception-age kids because they could do large arm movements of how the numbers should be drawn/constructed (like playing air guitar!) while reciting the rhyme, and just learn and enjoy all at the same time. It would even make an assembly little demo.

Still, I’m not in schools doing author visits at the moment and not in touch with many teachers at all these days. So I’ll let you enjoy it instead 🙂

Let me know if you like it? It’s so encouraging to hear from you all. (OMG – have a I fallen into the “likes” trap? Perish the thought!)

numbers and words screenshot

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


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.’


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.


Rust red.


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.

Not as short as a haiku haha! This is set in a playroom situation, where, in all the stories, the lead character would be one of the various things in the playroom: toys, vehicles, puppets, stones etc. And in this one, the craft paper! Well you can’t say it’s not original 🙂 The idea is that at the end of any story the toys or whatever will go to sleep, or it becomes nighttime. They could well be used as bedtime stories. Lots of discussion points possible, of course, on what has been going on in the story.

See what you think. Here’s an image to go with it.

red paper

Red Paper’s tale

The piece of red paper lay on the table in the playroom with all the other sheets of paper – blue and orange, black and white, cream and pale brown.

Red Paper looked round at the others.

“I’m the brightest and best paper here,” she said. “Mark will choose me to draw on, and then he’ll hang me on the wall for everyone to look at.”

“Shut up!” said Black Paper. “You’re just a bit of paper like all the rest of us. Mark could draw fireworks and a bonfire on me. Black is perfect for that.”

“Yes,” said Blue Paper. “And Mark might let me be the sky when he draws his house.”

“Or I could be a sandy beach,” said Orange Paper.

At that moment, Mark raced into the playroom with his friend Jodi.

“What shall we draw?” Mark asked Jodi. “Houses? The seaside? Bonfire night?”

Red Paper held her breath and crossed her fingers. What would Jodi say?

“Actually,” Jodi said, “My dad’s been showing me how to fold paper to make tiny models. You don’t have to cut it. Shall I show you how?”

Make tiny models? Red Paper was furious. She got redder and redder as she thought about being folded and squashed and creased and bent. Paper was for drawing on! How dare they ruin her?

But before she could say “paper plane”, Mark and Jodi sat down at the table and Jodi picked her up. She flapped and flipped in Jody’s hand, trying to escape.

“Bother!” said Jodi. “This red paper is too bendy and floppy. Let’s try the black piece first.”

Red Paper sat and fumed. She didn’t want to be folded and creased – but she didn’t want to be left out either. She was the best, wasn’t she?

But she had to sit and watch as Jodi folded and creased Black Paper.

After a while, she grew so interested that she forgot to be cross. Jodi’s hands were very careful as she made each fold, and she kept waiting so that Mark could copy with his piece of orange paper.

When they had both finished, Red Paper couldn’t believe her eyes. There, in front of them, sat two little birds.

“Mine’s a blackbird,” said Jodi. “What’s yours, Mark?”

“An orange bird, of course,” he said, waving it around in the air.

Red Paper was sad now. So she flapped and flipped in the breeze that wafted through the window, and hoped that someone would let her join in.

Jodi noticed and picked her up.“Let’s try with this bendy bit now,” she said. “See if you can guess what I’m making.”

Mark watched as Red Paper let herself be folded this way and that, without arguing, until Jodi stood her on the table. She felt very important.

“Why, it’s a butterfly!” Mark exclaimed.

A butterfly? Red Paper flexed her wings up and down excitedly. And the breeze suddenly caught her and carried her over to the book shelf. She was flying! She was beautiful. “Come up here,” she called to the blackbird and the orange bird. “It’s fun to fly!”

“Good night, little butterfly,” Mark and Jodi called as they switched out the light in the playroom. “You can sleep up there tonight. See you in the morning!”

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.

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 10.41.17

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.”