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Amazing Advent advice

A few months ago, Victoria Dilly, who is a good friend of Inkpots, contacted us as she was planning an Advent calendar of interviews with children’s authors for her Book Activist blog. Victoria was particularly keen to include questions from readers and we were delighted to help. The children from the Inkpots’ Writers’ Hut (for those in Years 6 and 7) put some questions together – they had plenty of burning issues they wanted to ask authors about.
Victoria put the children’s questions into the mix with some others and the result is a fascinating set of interviews and a wonderful collection of comments and advice.

The following are the answers to the Writers’ Hut questions; you can read all the interviews here:

Please click of the author’s name to be taken to their website where you can get more information about their books.

1 December 2016 – Philip Womack

Who is your greatest critic?

My greatest critic is myself. I think that’s probably true for most writers. You never think a work is good enough or ready enough and often you need the help of editors to see strengths as well as weaknesses.

3 December: Patricia Forde

Do you type your work or write by hand?

I do both but for volume I type. I write notes by hand and draw little diagrams and the odd map. When it comes to the serious writing – I type, badly, with two fingers.

9 December: Sharon-Marie Jones

Where did you do your first ever book signing and how did you feel?

I did my first book signing at Waterstones in Aberystwyth, for the launch of ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’. It was crazy! The queue was out through the door and they sold out of all the copies. It was a truly magical feeling knowing that children were going to be reading my story. And to see my family looking on proudly made it all the more special. I finally felt like a ‘real’ author.

12 December: Sarah Govett

Did you start off with writing a series in mind or did it evolve as you wrote?

Good question. I actually knew that it would be a trilogy from the off. I knew that I wanted to explore life in The Territory in the first book, then wanted to set off to The Wetlands in the second before reaching some form of resolution in the third.

13 December: Paul Magrs

Do you plan your writing? If so, how many plans do you write?

I write quite intensive notes before setting off on a novel. I do this perhaps three or four times, beginning with a couple of lines, which then becomes a paragraph, which in turn becomes a whole page, which eventually becomes three pages. A synopsis longer than three pages is getting a bit long and over-complicated, in my experience. When it gets to three pages: start writing.

15 December: Natasha Carthew

We are often told keeping a journal can help our writing. Do you keep a journal? If not, what do you do to help inspire you?

Keeping a journal or ideas book can definitely help with your writing. I have a memory book where I stick things like photos, ticket stubs and flight tickets which I have been doing since I was really young and I also include any poetry I have written so the book records a kind of timeline of my life (like a diary). I also have a beautiful leather-bound journal where I write ideas for new books and collect inspirational quotes and pictures for settings, characters or whatever.

16 December: Paul Gamble

When did you start writing? Did you go to anything like the Writers’ Hut?

I started writing when I was at school and I’ve never really stopped. I’ve given everything a go in my time, poetry, radio shows, televisions, jokes for stand up comedians and now The Ministry of SUITs.I never went to a writing club, but I think they’re a brilliant idea. I wrote tens of thousands of words before I came up with The Ministry of SUITs. If I’d had a few people around me to give me some advice, I might have got it done a lot sooner. As it was I had to wait until I found my brilliant agent Gemma Cooper before I got that assistance!


17 December: Sarah Baker

What is your most favourite book that you didn’t write?

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.


18 December: Huw Davies

Where do you get your ideas from?

I’ve worked at a number of schools, but there was one in particular where crazy things seemed to happen all the time. For example, one Monday morning I drove into the car park and there was a car that was perfectly parked, except that it was upside down, on its roof. You just accepted it as normal. When I use these ideas I have to tone them down a bit.

20 December: Rhian Ivory

How long does it take you to write a book?

Each book is different, which is really annoying because it makes it hard to plan. On the whole I’d say most of my books have taken eight months apart from The Boy who Drew the Future which took seven years. Yes, seven years! But there was a lot of moving house and having babies and living in a caravan in the snow with frozen water pipes (don’t ask) and generally life getting in the way so don’t picture me sat in front of a computer for seven years solid. That would just be silly!

21 December: Nikki Sheehan

Are any of your characters based on real people?

Ooh, yes, but I sort of harvest attributes from various people. I used to know someone with a white streak like Johnny, and Mojo is a bit like one of my children. As for the frazzled mum, I’ve literally no idea where I got her from…

23 December: Jo Franklin

Do you write in silence or do you need some noise around you?

I like to listen to music. At the moment I have put my whole catalogue of music on shuffle and am working my way through it. Right now I’m on track 1183 of 3248 which is by The Pale Fountains. I love guitar bands, mostly from the Eighties but also up to date bands like the Arctic Monkeys.

24 December: Horatio Clare

We are often told persevering as a writer is really important. How many rejection letters did you get before you were published?

It’s part of the game, as it is in all creative jobs. Ask an actor how many roles they auditioned for that they did not get! It is much worse for actors because they need someone else’s permission to practice their art. Writers can just get on with it. First I was rejected by an agent, on the strength of a bad manuscript. Then I found an agent, who sent it out, and the same bad manuscript, slightly improved, was rejected by about ten publishers. But the 11th met me and said this thing is rubbish, but you are a writer. Why don’t you write something that people will need and want to read? So by the time I had the first chapters of my next book ready that publisher had been sacked and his imprint shut down. But those chapters went on to become my first book. But when you are starting out you don’t need to worry about any of that. Write a lot, write for pleasure, write for joy, write when you are feeling thoughtful and write when your heart is full. At some point you will start writing for the story itself, for the readers it deserves, and that is when you cross over from wanting to be a writer to actually being one.

25 December: Abi Elphinstone

What is your most favourite book?

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. The heroine, Lyra Silvertongue, taught me that girls can be just as brave and as punchy as boys and I loved the idea of having a daemon and imagining what mine might be. The scale of adventure in this book is unparalleled and the images it conjures up – a girl riding an armoured polar bear across the Arctic, a sky full of witches, Lee Scorsby’s hot air balloon soaring over the mountains – have stayed with me forever.

27 December: Eve Ainsworth

How long do you write for per day?

I write 1,000 words a day. Sometimes it takes an hour – sometimes much, much longer….

31 December: Mark Powers

How do you start writing a story; do you type or write them by hand?

I usually type them on my laptop; sometimes I make notes on my phone.


Thanks so much to The Book Activist for inviting the Writers’ Hut children to take part – and to all the authors for such fascinating insights.


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