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Kate’s Words

June 8th, 2012

When Writing a Children’s Novel…

When setting myself the task of completing a rough first draft of a new children’s novel I’m working on this week, I had not envisaged the chaos that would ensue. With the house to myself for once, the notion of what my writing week would be has proved very different from actual events.


Waking up this morning, I felt invigorated after an uninterrupted night’s sleep. It did not include the usual “Mum, I need the toilet!” or “Can I get in with you, Mum?” or “Move over Mum, I’m coming in cause my feet are freezing!”

My darling boys are away for the week on a boys’ holiday with their Dad and I decided to utilise this seemingly free week by writing each day.

First, I had to gently turn down the many kind offers of day time cups of tea and shopping trips from my close network of girls who keep a watchful eye on me and have been largely the reason I am getting back to my old self – a little older, a little wiser but less creaky and raring to go! Explaining my plans to write each day, they agreed to be on call and are spending evenings with me this week as we work our way through endless popcorn, old films, chocolate and cups of tea. It’ll be just like the old days. I’m hopelessly devoted to my boys (show me a mum who isn’t) so I know it’s gonna be a toughie being away from them. But by keeping busy, my week all alone will be productive too.

Then, I made the leap of faith to join a supply teaching agency. After consultation with my lovely doctor, she agreed that as my health is now much improved, I should take tentative first steps back to work. I’ve been so keen to get back in to teaching at the first possible opportunity and I am very lucky to have supply teaching as an option. I don’t know many professions other than teaching and nursing that offer this facility to those getting back in to work. Particularly after a long break, this seemed the perfect way to test the waters. I was expecting to work maybe once or twice a week over the next couple of months and gradually ease back in to teaching mode. Immediately, the agency booked me in for a day later this month. Eek!

So, back to today and my writing retreat. (Ahem.) Getting up at 7.30am was a luxury of sorts and I enjoyed my tea and toast in front of BBC Breakfast. No Power Rangers on loop. Lovely.

No phone call from Susan from Supply Superheroes (not the real names obviously) and so the day would be my own. Bliss.

Dressed and seated at the laptop I was raring to go. Unfortunately, I had not counted on my brain being the butterfly it always is. Sitting down at 9.00 was a wonderful feeling. Coffee in hand, I sipped occasionally, rereading the work I’d done so far. I felt uninspired but with my notebook handy, I read through notes hoping to find something that would kick start my day.

By 10.00 I had written very little. I moved over to the sofa with my notebook and tried to write from there but struggled to move on the section of the story where Sophie needs to travel down to London on a rickety old bus. Nothing. I wrote a conversation between the two main characters which fell flat. I doodled. I described the seats of the coach and listed some passengers but it just was not going anywhere. I refrained from practising the piano. I made another coffee.

By 10.30 I had abandoned the draft of The Plot and after a rather wobbly fifteen minutes when I considered getting the train to North Yorkshire and surprising the family, I found myself happily re-writing a children’s story I’m developing with an illustrator friend.

This project had once been a rather simple [5-7yr target age range] picture book yet had always felt like I needed to do more with it and so it languished in my writing bookbag until today. Before I knew it, I was reading through the original, giggling at my rather sweet yet hopeless illustration ideas, and ready to go.

I worked steadily through the first section, developing the simpler sentences in to more age appropriate [7-9 yrs] language with thesaurus in hand and building my characters’ back stories as I wrote. The story follows the development of paintings and writing descriptive landscape passages is incredibly self indulgent but equally enjoyable. Writing speech isn’t something I find easy but as it’s always a great way to develop characters, particularly with Annie being a little more cantankerous than her gentler friend Daisy, I dug deep and the hours just fell away.

As I stopped for coffee at 3.30pm, the phone rang. Susan, my Supply Superheroes agent.

“Yes I’m free!” I hear myself say. Just like that. I am now gamefully employed.

And so, with my first day’s supply teaching set up for tomorrow, after a prolonged absence from the chalk face, tomorrow is the start of a new era, one in which I will perhaps have even less time to write each day.

The more you write, the more you learn about writing. I’m sure of that.

A great writer once offered the best piece of advice I ever heard as a fledgling writer.

“If you want to write, write.”

This month, I’m learning that I can’t always, can’t ever, predict what writing is going to happen on a writing day, but I determine to definitely, absolutely write on the days I put aside for writing. Although it’s very easy to be distracted by life and small children, cats, household chores and so on, I try to be disciplined and avoid the distractions I have at home. I have to fight away the urge to iron in front of Loose Women somedays. Terrifying. When all distractions are stripped away and you still don’t get your word count for the day done, you’ve only got yourself to blame. But with that burning away in the front of your mind, I find it’s always easier to then stay on track.

driftwoodThat is how, over two years, I wrote ‘Driftwood & Amethyst’ , my first children’s novel (published with Xlibris in 2011). I was unable to teach, dealing with new health and mobility restrictions and needed to do something. Anything to lift my spirits and help me find some sense of purpose. My children were a huge part of my recovery as they kept me busy and gave me a real reason for being. Having lost my career though, I desperately needed something a little more. What I found was my writing. Sitting for ten minutes to write, then half an hour, then an hour, on and on as my health improved with fabulous doctors sending me all the while for physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, operations, cognitive behaviour therapy . . . the complete works. I know about distractions. You’re learning from an expert in avoidance tactics.

Just write. Write when you can and persist in your writing.

Every journey starts with one step.

Mine did.

My website is www.kateswords.com

My blog is kateswords-kateswords.blogspot.com

Driftwood & Amethyst – Amazon: paperback £9.99

Driftwood & Amethyst – Amazon: ebook – currently £2.63

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