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mez_blume

I'm a children's & middle-grade fiction writer/blogger with a passion for good Story & good tea.

A Time to Create. A Time to Critique. (are you putting a cork in your creative flow?)

Let’s get brutally honest for a moment. Writing — I mean really going for it — is terrifying!

Each and every time you sit down to put words on page, you’re actually transcribing a little piece of you: your wildest dreams, your deepest desires. So what if you don’t like what you see looking back at you? What if your reflection exposes you to be not the creative genius you’d hoped and imagined, but a failure and a fraud?

And that’s just the first cause of anxiety… (Who wouldn’t want to be a writer?!) As if looking at your own work wasn’t cringe-worthy enough, if you have any hope of publication, at some stage you will have to cast your story (that hard-laboured insight into your soul) before the eyes of complete strangers! Or worse: people you know!

To some extent, the anxiety is only natural: the nerves, the fist-fulls of hair and palm-to-forehead moments… it’s all part of the writing process!

 And yet, anxiety may be the very thing that’s putting a stopper in your creative process. You may be carrying a parasite: a little monster I like to call…

 The Horrible What-iffer

The Horrible What-iffer comes along to gawk over the shoulders of would-be writers as they attempt to plant their sapling idea into the soil of a First Draft. Then, just as that idea is about to blossom, the Horrible What-iffer strikes!

What if it’s over-the-top?   

         What if it’s too long? Too slow?  

  What if it’s not what the market’s going for these days?

         What if your characters are a bit flat?

                                                                 What if it’s just. plain. dumb?”

I guarantee, if you’ve ever tried to create anything, you’ve heard that measly, mettling voice of The Horrible What-iffer. His antics are enough to make Shakespeare want to drop his quill, crumple his parchment and curl up in a fetal position on the floor as he beats his brow and sobs “No one will ever want to read this RUBBISH!” (Hey, it might have happened for all we know!)

You see, the Horrible What-iffer is absolute death to your creative process as a writer. There is nothing more paralyzing to Creativity than self-critical thoughts. They drown out the sound of our creative thinking and lead to self-destruction and eventually quitting before you ever have the chance to know what sort of full grown tree your sapling story idea would have matured into!

Thus ends tragically the career of many a writer before it’s begun. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Don’t be defeated by the Horrible What-iffer!

You can be creative. You can be self-critical. But like Harry Potter and Voldemort, the two cannot co-exist. One will eventually have to kill the other. There is only one solution: You must destroy the Horrible What-iffer before he destroys your story… your joy of writing… YOU! Shakespeare did it, and here’s how.

Imagine a big, bald tattooed club bouncer. Make him as repulsively scary as you like. Now set him to work in front of the VIP Creative Party going on in your mind every time you sit down to draft. When smarmy old Horrible What-iffer comes whiffling along with his party-pooping, negative notions to gate crash, POW! Mr. Mental Bouncer gives him what’s coming to him. And your Creative Party can go on in peace! It takes practice, but it’s well worth the discipline to keep your story alive and moving forward.

But aren’t we writer’s supposed to self-critique? Isn’t it our job to chip away at our ideas until they become the perfected story we can present to the world with pride?

Yes… and No. We will never create the perfect Story. Aiming for perfection will again paralyze your creativity. But we can strive to write better & better stories all the time. And yes, that requires revising your story with a critical eye.

 The point here is this: make sure you’re bringing in a critical eye at the right time (ie. NOT while writing your FIRST DRAFT!!!).

Here’s why you can’t Create & Critique at the same time:

 

The writer wears two different hats: The Creator Cap (that corresponds to our creative right-brain hemisphere), and the Editor Cap (which alerts our analytical left-brain hemisphere). New writers often try wearing both hats at once, but this is a fatal error. Each one has its time to shine. The left-brain helps the right-brain turn all of its fluttering fancies into some sort of coherent plan. But then it’s time to swap hats and let Mr. Editor left-brain take a backseat while Mr. Creator right-brain drives. Eventually, after the drafting phase, Mr. Editor left-brain will return on the scene to analyze, problem solve and tweak away to his heart’s content while Mr. Creator gets some well-earned R&R.

And so you see, the balance between Creativity and self-criticism is like a dance! But it’s entirely up to you, the writer, to make sure criticism of your work isn’t self-criticism (product of the Horrible What-iffer), and it isn’t stepping on Creativity’s toes. That would only throw off the whole process and put you back from achieving your goals.

So next time you sit down to draft, put criticism in his place, or you might just have to call your mental bouncer on him!

The Art of Asking: putting the Quest back in Question

One of my all time favourite albums is This Side by the blue grass band Nickel Creek. I’ve stolen quite a few maxims from them as well. This one’s my favourite:

Only the curious have something to find.

It’s true, isn’t it? Think of the most creative person you know. That person who always sees shapes in the clouds and pulls stories out of thin air. That person who sees the world, not as it is, but as it might be. That person who’s forever asking the question “But what if…”

Maybe that person you know was just lucky to be born with a creative soul. But then, aren’t almost all children born with a sense of awe, a readiness to absorb information &, most notable of all, a billion questions on their lips?

The problem with many of us struggling artists is not a missing ‘creative gene’ but rather a loss of our childlike sense that life is a Grand Adventure. Thinking we’ve seen it all, we stop looking (see Part II on the Art of Observation). Not wanting to appear ignorant, we stop asking questions. We become jaded, & our imagination just doesn’t work like it used to.

But what if we could revive that lost art that comes so naturally to children…        the Art of Asking?

There is a direct correlation between Curiosity and Creativity. The one fuels the other. So if you let Curiosity dry up, you can bet your Creativity will sputter out & wind up rusting in the junkyard of your busy, uninspired mind… unless you choose to embark on a quest that can reverse the hands of time & get your Creative mind banging on all cylinders again.

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3 Ways Asking Sparks Creative Thinking

In his book for cooking up Creativity, Five Star Mind, Tom Wujec explains the revitalizing power of asking questions like this:

Inside the word ‘question’ is the word ‘quest’,  suggesting that within every question is an adventure, a pursuit which can lead us to hidden treasure.

1) Asking questions excites your mind out of its drowsy state by laying an open road before it.

Just like Bilbo Baggins startled from his stupor by a troop of adventuring dwarves, your brain secretly longs for a mystery to solve, a quest to fulfill. Asking questions is an invitation for the brain to step out of its routine & into an adventure.

2) Asking questions gets your brain moving. 

Wujec explains that a question puts the brain in a state of irresolution, a bit like an itch that demands scratching. And believe it or not, your brain LOVES this irresolute state! If you don’t believe it, just look at the masses of Sudoku & crossword puzzles sold in your local bookstore. The brain sees the challenge & sets right to work to scratch that itch. Before you know it, your creative mind is on fire!

Irresolution is a potent fuel, a source of energy & motivation. – Tom Wujec

3) Asking questions gives you a target & helps you aim. 

Here’s where you can apply the Art of Asking directly to your writing, & especially when you feel utterly & hopelessly stuck. Asking the right kind of questions can be the hand up you need to get you unstuck & on your way again. So just what are the “right kind” of questions? 

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The Quest for better Questions

The best questions drive us to see the bigger picture, not just the immediate problem.

For example:  Instead of Why is my protagonist so BORING?! Try What do I already know about this character?  -or- How might this character respond in another situation?

The best questions are open-ended, inviting not just one answer, but many possible solutions.

For example:  In what ways can I make my protagonist more interesting? or more believable?

Then scribble away! You’re only limited by the size of your paper.

The best questions may not lead you to a final resolution… They may even lead you to ask yet more questions! 

That’s OK! In fact, that’s the point! For the creative writer, it’s not the answers but the Art of Asking that counts. Merely asking keeps the creative mind in motion & childlike wonder alive. Mastering this art will take practice — so much unlearning to do before we can have the humility to learn afresh! But the pay-off is enormous! Just consider all the books on your shelves that began with a simple, silly question:

“What if you fell down a hole in the ground & landed upside-down in a fantasy world?”

“What if you walked into a wardrobe & found yourself in in a winter’s wood?”

“What if an ordinary boy discovered he was actually a wizard?”

Do you dare to begin the quest? Who knows where your questions may take you…

 

If you enjoyed this article, check out Got Creativity Parts I & II.   Sign up for email notifications so you never miss a writing tip!

 

The Art of Observation: how to seek & find creative inspiration

Moment of truth. Have you ever put off writing because you just didn’t feel “inspired”?

I wager most of us (myself included) would have to plead a big fat guilty. Fact is, lack of Inspiration holds a high position on the list of excuses wanna-be writers make for not writing.

Fair enough, you may say. Inspiration is a key ingredient of Creativity, right? You can’t create cold. You needs a catalyst to get the stone rolling; a spark to ignite the flame; a bolt of lightning to strike life into Frankenstein’s monster before he can rapturously proclaim “It’s aliiiive!”

But what if the bolt of Inspiration you’re waiting for never comes?

The word “Inspiration” comes from Latin that literally refers to the act of God breathing -or inspiring– life into being… breathing a soul into mere flesh & bones. Prime example: in the book of Genesis, God breaths life into Adam (the 1st man) & thereby infuses him with God’s own attributes, including & especially Creativity! Then he tells Adam to get up & start using it! Look around at all those stars, plants & animals… Give them names… Grow gardens, build houses, write sonnets, procreate & fill the earth with the fruit of Creativity, & all from that one little initial spark of Inspiration!

So here’s what I’m driving at. If you’re alive reading this, you have the same gift of Inspiration Adam had– a soul to drive you, 5 senses to take in the world around you & a brain to make some sense out of it all *(you might say that’s the bare bones of how Creativity works).

So why do we feel we’re lacking Inspiration? Maybe we’ve just forgotten how to find it. Maybe our 5 senses need a dusting off. Maybe instead of waiting for lightening to strike us right where we sit, we need to become storm chasers… or more aptly, Inspiration Chasers (you can just hear the epic theme music cue, right?).

I’m talking about The Art of Observation. If you’ll master it, I guarantee inspiration for your craft will never again be hard to find. But be warned: once you learn how to look, you may find Inspiration lurking literally everywhere… more than your brain & notebooks combined can possibly contain! Leonardo da Vinci summed up this principle well. He said,

l’esperienza fu maestra di chi scrisse bene. (Experience was the good writer’s teacher)

When we experience the world, not passively, but through the kind of active observation that would make Sherlock Holmes proud, we have all the inspiration we need to fuel our creative writing. How’s it done?

3 Tips for mastering the Art of Observation today:

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1) Be prepared to be surprised!

Inspiration comes in funny ways & when you least expect it… only you should be expecting it everywhere all the time. For instance, last week I was invited to a Sunday lunch. Only when I arrived at the lunch did I discover that I was one of ten guests & the only one under the age of 75. The afternoon was spent loudly articulating every word for those hard of hearing & repeating myself to the one lady with memory loss. A waste of an afternoon when I might have been reading Rilke or waiting in meditation for the inspiration bug to bite? Ha! I came away with mountains of it!

I soon discovered my lunch companions were a kaleidoscope of mannerisms, dialects, peculiarities & brilliant senses of humour, to say nothing of the wonderful narratives they shared from bygone days that might as well be fantasy lands for someone my age! Their lives were rich, their perspectives so different, & they were so very willing to share all that wealth with anyone willing to listen… on that Sunday afternoon, that someone was the privileged I.

Anyone you meet, if you look & listen long enough, has something unique to offer as fodder for fiction.

And the very young & very old in particular seem to overflow with inspiring tales and insights. So don’t shun new company. Go where people are. Strike up chats. Be a listening ear. Hear the untold stories that walk right past you every day. They might just inspire the plot for your next fiction piece!

2) Gird yourself with the writer’s weapons. en garde!

Once you’ve learned to look for inspiration in every new environment, you’ll want a way to catch it & keep it before it flits away (beware the writer’s curse: Inspiration always strikes whilst in the shower or behind the wheel! Do not attempt to write or type in these situations!!!).

Keep a handy little notebook & writing utensil of choice on your person whenever possible. One of the best habits you can form is keeping an observation journal. Write down your first impressions of a person, place or object. What made them or it stand out? How do they differ from others around them? Jot down physical traits, speech (tone, pace, notable turns of phrase), attitude, movements, expressions… sky’s the limit! Just get it down & don’t assume you’ll remember later on.

3) Distill your observations into literary descriptions

You could stop at step 2 & still reap the benefits of observation: your mind & notebooks would be that much richer with potential characters, settings or intriguing objects. But if you aim to write to the next level, why not go a step further?

A good writer does more than string together a load of adjectives when describing someone or something. She chooses those descriptions– nouns & verbs as well as adjectives & adverbs–- that capture the essence of the thing or character.

Remember, your readers have the gift of creative thought as well. They can fill in the gaps. What you the writer must give them is an impression on which they can build their own images of your created world.

And here we come to the beauty of writing. The writer captures inspiration in order to distill it and create something new to inspire the reader. You might call it recycling inspiration.

But it all begins by putting to death the old excuse that you’re “waiting for inspiration.” Instead, practice the Art of Observation! You’ll soon find Inspiration is yours for the taking & for the making!

STAY TUNED FOR GOT CREATIVITY part III! SIGN UP TO OUR EMAIL LIST SO YOU NEVER MISS A WRITING TIP!

4 questions to determine whether you’re feeding or starving your Creative energy

We all know it when we see it. We all want a little more of it… but what exactly is creativity anyway? Tom Wujec, creative thinking guru, hits the problem on the mark in his book Five Star Mind:

“Creativity is a familiar stranger. Trying to define it is like trying to capture a puff of smoke with your fingertips.”

How can it be that Creativity is at once so familiar–we recognize it in others all the time–and yet so strange and slippery when we try to pin it down for ourselves? We come to believe that Creativity is some sort of mystical super power with which only the select creative geniuses among us have been so fortunately graced. While they receive visions, the rest of us ordinary people dig around in the mud hoping to strike creative gold. And dang, it’s hard work!

If only there were some 5-step process to awakening your inner creative genius! If only you could be as creative as _____ (fill in the blank: that writer who seems to strike gold every time they breath)!  If only…

If I’m honest with myself, those “If only” thoughts require a vast amount of energy. Energy that might be converted into…I dunno… creative thinking? Because when it comes down to it, Creativity might be indefinable, but it is not unattainable.

I want to argue that you already have creativity. You are a creative person.

And no, you don’t just need to squeeze your eyes shut and recite the mantra “I am creative!” until you magically pop out a bestseller. I’m not talking about deluding yourself into thinking you’re creative, or even faking it until you make it. I’m suggesting that everybody’s got the ability to be creative.

Having said that, your Creativity won’t look like mine. Just think about it: we are each of us created uniquely. Doesn’t it make sense that what we create and how we create will be equally unique to each of us? What inspires you to create might not do beans for me. And now, finally, we begin to get closer to why Creativity evades definition: it is by nature always adapting, evolving, developing along with us, individually & uniquely.

Ok. So the closest we can get to defining Creativity is to accept that it defies definition–it looks different for each one us. But we still haven’t resolved how we can maximize our creative energy, whatever that means!

Well in Parts II & III of “Got Creativity”, I’ll give you some tried-&-true tools for shaking that Creative muscle awake & getting it buzzing again.

But just for now, here a couple of questions to help you determine whether you’re nourishing your own Creativity… or suffocating it.

Are you giving yourself the space & time to be Creative?

When it comes to stimulating Creativity, the problem is often not too little but too much. How often, in a quiet moment alone, do you savour a bit of mindless musing rather than reach for your smartphone & start flicking? How often do you sit back & stare out the window on long journeys or your daily commute rather than clicking on the radio/ipod/news app/etc.?

Psychologists tell us that when our brain is in information processing mode (ie. flicking through our phones or surfing the web for “inspiration”), we virtually shut down our ability to create. However, when our brains are in task negative or “boredom” mode, it’s like those creative neurons can finally clear the floor & get their dancing shoes on!

When it comes to Creativity, boredom is your friend. It’s a dying art. Letting your mind wander without any external stimulation might even intimidate you. But making that space & time for musing is the vital first step to waking up your own Creativity.

Be brave! Give it a go!

*(Creative photographers Phillip & Eileen Blume talk about the goods & evils of modern technology for Creative thought in this inspirational TedX Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOPVLuopnV0)

Are you bogged down trying to write for the Market?

As a budding writer, it’s all too easy to try and catch whatever winds the market is blowing to fill your creative sails. But don’t be caught out. Trying to perform for an ever-changing market will soon leave you in the creative doldrums.

One of the key ingredients of Creativity is passion. That’s why your creativity looks different to mine! The thing you’re passionate about, the thing that energizes & excites you, that’s the fuel for your creative fire. So keep a weather eye on the Market if you must, but don’t fret over it. Keep a journal & jot down ideas that excite you. Write what you are passionate about. Because chances are, there’s an audience out there that’s passionate about the very same thing!

Are you an Explorer?

More on this in Part III, but suffice it to say for now, Creativity happens when our minds are allowed to wonder, to inquire, to explore… No wonder kids seem to have Creativity coming out their ears!

Remember those good ol’ days as a kid, mixing up mud pies with whatever ingredients you could find in the garden? Sure, to Mum or Dad it might have looked like you were picking berries, tearing leaves and digging up earthworms. But in actuality, you were gathering mundane ingredients together to make something new & wonderfully disgusting. But that is the essence of Creativity! Like a mud pie chef, as writers we gather together our plot, our characters, our settings… we toss in a bit of our favourite books, a pinch of life experience, and… voila! Something totally new results!

So dare to take a second look at the world around you. What others see as mud you may come to see as a scrumptious pie.

Do you learn from hiccups?

Creative writing is quite a lot like cooking (& not just mud pies). You throw together the ingredients you’ve gathered, hoping to make a delicious, harmonious stew. Not every ingredient will blend & enhance as you hoped. That’s ok! The key is to let your creative ideas simmer. It takes time, trial & error. Sometimes it takes getting it wrong before you know how to set it right.

Remember, Creativity grows with you. It’s a journey, and a right fun one if you’ll except the hiccups as all part of it!

Stay tuned for Got Creativity Parts II & III! Sign up to our email list so you never miss a writing tip!

Don’t wait for “Someday” to start writing

This is one of Bri’s earliest posts on the blog. I’m bringing it back now because it’s such a great motivator for all of us procrastinators out there… those dreamer, wanna-be writers who need to change mindset and become REAL writers. So read on, and get ready to turn “someday” into TODAY!

“‘Someday.’ That’s a dangerous word…It’s really just a code for ‘never.’”

Quick! Name that movie! If you guessed Knight and Day, you are correct! If not, well, better luck next time.

Have you ever used that word? “Someday, I’m going to…” Most of us have, and since you are reading this blog, I’m assuming the rest of the sentence has something to do with writing.

When is your someday? Is it after you graduate? After the kids graduate? Maybe you are planning your someday for after you get a raise or even after you retire.

For us writers, I’m willing to bet our someday almost always has to do with having more time. Let’s face it; writing takes up a lot of time! And worse, it’s focused time, alone time. It’s don’t-you-know-I-can’t-write-and-carry-on-a-conversation time. And who has that kind of time?

However, I think someday needs to be today. Seriously. If you wait around until someday comes around, you take the chance someday will never come, or if it does, isn’t what you thought it was. There will always be demands on your time, but when something is important to you, you make time for it. If writing is important, make time now for it.

Try this. There are 168 hours in a week. Can you find two for your writing? You’re a writer, you’re supposed to be creative, so think creatively! Here’s what I came up with off the top of my head (or, er, the hours I’ve been composing this in my head…)

  • Rent a movie for the kids once a week and write while they watch
  • Go to bed an hour later twice a week, or get up earlier (unless you are like me and you turn into either a zombie or Dr. Jekyll one hair away from morphing into Mr. Hyde. In that case, please sleep!)
  • Here’s something radical: don’t go on social media for a day! Every time you start to go on social media, do some writing instead
  • Carry a journal and a pen with you everywhere and anytime you have five minutes, do some brainstorming or outlining. Use your lunch hours and all that time waiting around for appointments or people
  • Make an appointment with yourself and keep it as if it was a doctor’s appointment
  • Anything else you can think of! Like I said, be creative. For most of us, the time is there if we make writing a priority

Get a calendar and flip ahead to a year from today. Writing just two hours a week, you can have a 50,000-100,000 word first draft done on that date. That’s better than finding another year gone and you still no closer to your writing goals, don’t you think? Revise it in the next year, and voila! Time to start looking for agents instead of waiting for someday.

Want to start writing but need help?  Ask us your questions in the comment below, or email us at sippitsisters@gmail.com!

So you want to be a writer? Here’s how.

I wonder if you ever thought about this: every great author had to start from scratch.

Every successful writer out there was once a wisher… someone who wished she could write that book she’d been carrying around inside her just waiting to come out… someone, perhaps, a lot like you.  

How did they make the massive leap from wanna-be writer to real writer?

Was it a lucky break?

Was it some lightening bolt of creative genius that struck them by chance & resulted in a master piece?

I’m confident if you asked your favourite author, he would laugh before answering with a definite “Not a chance!”

So what is the secret? How do you stop wishing you were a writer & become one? I’ll tell you. Here it is, ready?

 The first three baby steps to switching gears from wanna-be to real writer

1. Declare yourself a writer 

As writing-coach Jeff Goins puts it, this is not about faking it until you make it. Deciding and declaring your status as a writer and not a wanna-be is essential to making that step. It’s about making a mental shift & setting your intention in stone. So go on. No more excuses. Write it down. Pin it on the wall. Tell a close friend: I am a writer. But of course that’s just the start… 

2. Start writing… now.

I know, I know. This one sounds like a total no-brainer. But actually, this obvious step is where most people fail to move from wanna-be to writer. Writers are people who write. Sure, they do other things too–dreaming, planning, researching–but all those things can become just ways of procrastinating from the one essential job of the writer, which is (you guessed it) WRITING! So if you want to be a writer but your’e not currently writing anything, get yourself a journal or a notepad and write something: ideas, observations, thoughts about stories you love… remember, you don’t have to write Gone With the Wind on day one. Baby steps. But you must write

3. Learn the basic tricks of the trade 

I absolutely believe the best way to become a better writer is to write, and write, and write. But you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. Many have gone before you & picked up tricks– methods, processes, little secrets of the craft– that will make your new life as a writer a lot easier & a lot more fun. 

That’s where we come in! In June and July, we’re reposting our best writing-tips to walk you through the process & motivate you along the way. Writing a novel is an emotional roller-coaster, no matter how many times you’ve done it. There’s nothing like having a shoulder to cry on & a hand to guide you through each step. That’s what we’re here for!

So whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo in July, writing your 100th novel, or giving this whole writing thing a go for the very first time, these tips are going to help you… I can guarantee it, because they’re the same tips that’ve helped us along the way! 

So here’s your homework: Declare yourself a writer today, & let’s get writing!
Sign up for our email alerts (in the right margin) so you don’t miss a single tip!

 

What’s your life story in books?

I recently became aware of a funny phenomenon. That is, I can draw clear lines around the seasons of my life based on what I was reading when. And in a pretty impacting way, the books I read have shaped my life.

Sounds a little hokey put like that, so let me explain it with my story.

As a small child (& as an older child), I loved Winnie-the-Pooh. The whimsical language, the innocent beauty, something about it captivated me and made me yearn to find and put down my roots in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Something similar happened to me when my family read The Chronicles of Narnia together one year. It was more than entertainment… it pulled at my heartstrings, almost like a calling home.

Flash forward a few years. When I was around eleven years old, my big sister introduced me to an author who would forever change my life, that being the one and only Jane Austen. I fell head-over-hills and read everything she’d written (and watched the films), as well as everything written about her I could get my hands on. In those days, I lived in a constant Jane Austen world in my own mind. To live in her actual world in England became my burning desire.

Then came Tolkien. Still in my middle school years, I took my first journey to Middle Earth and never recovered (in a good way). The story combined for me the old world Britain I’d come to love along with the ancient, foresty, far away magic of Narnia.  Once again, all roads seemed to point to England.

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My high school years are pretty much summed up by the stacks of books still collecting dust in my old bedroom, and the one thing they have in common: Classics. I had no time for modern literature, and certainly not teen literature as a teenager. I couldn’t get enough of the old stuff, and especially if it was English. The books I read continued to shape my dreams of a future in another, more ancient and quirky culture. And, let’s face it, I was a bit of a literature snob. I still remember brining Oliver Twist to school and Bri snatching it out of my hand and finishing it in a day. *Yes, she was that annoyingly quick at reading, even then!

The books I read as a kid shaped and chiselled and fuelled my dreams so much, that, at the ripe old age of 21, I actually moved to England! Those early days of immigrating to a new land–even though it was my soul home!–were trying, and I can’t imagine having got through them without the guiding light of books by C.S. Lewis, G.K.Chesterton, George MacDonald and the like. Those authors spoke Truth, made good sense and came off the page like old friends sharing a cup of tea in the next chair. Just what I needed that season of change!

Now, eight years later, that far-off land of my childhood dreams is simply home. In many ways, it’s just become ordinary. But it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve visited the actual Hundred Acre Wood, spent a year in Tolkien & Lewis’s Oxford haunts, and even dressed up in regency attire for the Jane Austen Festival in Bath (oh yea, & I’ve totally had butter beer and ridden a broom at Harry Potter Studios). And I still catch myself frequently observing about some place or other, “It’s just like in Pooh/Jane Austen/Middle Earth/etc.!” It’s like Kathleen Kelly says in “You’ve Got Mail”,

So much of what I see in life reminds me of something I read in a book, when… shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I don’t know, Kathleen. For me, the books have been the catalyst for the real-life adventures, and I’m just fine with that.

So what about now?

Well, these days books play as vital a role in my life as ever… in fact, now that I’m writing them, I’d say they’ve become my bread & butter!

But the books on the shelves in my little London flat are rather different than those in my childhood bedroom. Ironically, they’re mostly contemporary kids books! IMG_0451 2-2

It’s as if, having missed out on all the young, new literature in my youth, I’m making up for it now as an adult. And I’m enjoying every minute of it! Sure, I still make time for little reunions with Dickens, Austen and the like, but I’m also discovering new worlds in Middle Grade literature I’ve never yet visited. And who knows where they’ll lead me next?

Suffice it to say, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without books. Good Story is not only a gift from God, but a tool he’s used to shape me & direct me… to write my own story! And I think that’s pretty brilliant.

Can you tell your “Life Story in Books”?
Has a book you read inspired you to go on a real-life adventure?

5 Ingredients of the Perfect Book

If you’re an author like me, you may have come across a little something known as a literary agent’s “wish list.” This list can be vague and entirely unhelpful to the aspiring client, spouting things like, “I want a book that keeps me up all night,” or the dreaded “It’s all about the voice.” Voice? Really? I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory explanation from agent or publisher as to what this amorphous Voice really is! Perhaps it’s in the eye of the reader, a “When you hear it, you’ll know it,” phenomena…

Other times, the agent is soooo specific, you don’t dare submit to her unless your novel ticks all the boxes she’s wishing for (ie. “I’m looking for a fresh perspective on a dystopian heroin with a reluctant romantic interest who represents a minority. Oh, and a really strong Voice.”) !!! 

BAAAAH! I don’t mean to poke fun. Agents are wonderful people who do magical things, like make books get published. But…

I thought I would make up my own wish list with the things I look for in the perfect book. Hopefully it is neither too specific nor too vague. And I promise, “Voice” does not feature in this list! 

1  A humble hero

I love a main character who would never expect himself or herself to be the main character… an unassuming hero who doesn’t look for spotlights, medals or accolades, but who simple gets swept up in adventures out of sincere care for others (& perhaps a bit of their own clumsiness as well). Winnie the Pooh, Frodo Baggins, the Pevensie children, Neville Longbottom are all examples… can you name others?

2  A deep friendship

This one follows from the last: a hero who doesn’t see himself or herself as such is going to need help and encouragement. In comes the opportunity for a strong friendship that grows deeper through shared adventures and challenges. I love chalk-&-cheese friendships too, where opposites attract and iron sharpens iron, like Anne Shirley & Diana Berry (feisty and demure), Frodo & Sam (adventurer & home body), Frog & Toad (extrovert & introvert). 

3  History

A historical setting always catches my eye — particularly medieval to 18th century English history, but frankly, I’m not picky! I love the medieval abby setting in the Redwall Series, but also consider myself a true Jane Austenite, will shiver through a classic Gothic, Victorian mystery like Jane Eyre, and most recently have gobbled up books set during the Second World War (here’s my post about those). And who says it has to be actual history? I’ll take Fantasy history any day too (not that Middle Earth isn’t real…).

4  Humour

This is an essential, especially in books for children who almost always have a mature appreciation for silliness, subtle or slapstick. I personally prefer the subtler variety. But what I can’t stand is a book that takes itself too seriously, or tries to hard to be dark & edgy. Lighten up a little! Even a drama need some a twist of comedy if you want me to read it. 

5  An Animal Companion

Take any story in the world, and it is made better with an animal friend. Just look at the Disney classics: Belle has Filipe, Arial has Flounder & Sebastian, Pocahontas has Niko, Rapunzel has Pascale, the list goes on. Most kids, like me, love animals, & giving the hero an animal companion gives him or her the chance to be himself, share his deepest thoughts and feelings. The bond and fidelity between hero & pet resonates with me & any other readers who have pets of their own. And often, it’s the animal who provides the comedic outlet (Toothless & Hiccup) or who proves to be the real hero (Hedwig taking a killing curse for Harry, or Griff bearing the glass feet curse for Moll in Shadow Keeper).

 

And there you have it! My top 5 ingredients. Add ’em all together, and out comes the perfect book! If only it were so easy… 

If you were an agent, what would be on your “wish list”? Share in the comments below! 

 

Book Haul: WW2 books for kids

I don’t normally do book hauls. In fact, this would be my first. But this year, I’ve read quite a lot on one particular subject, and that is WW2. The reason for my thematic reading? My current writing project is a middle grade adventure story based around the time of the Battle of Britain. Hence I’ve been reading as much as I can in the genre, both to educate myself and simply to get immersed in the setting of 1940s Great Britain.

And it’s been GREAT! As a fantasy lover, I never expected to find so many fantastic WW2-themed books for young readers, but there are loads of what I would definitely call Must-Reads. So whether you’ve any interest in learning about war time Britain, or just have a fascination with that bygone era, here is a list of books I deem not-to-be-missed!

1. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr

I can’t tell you how many times this book has been recommended to me, not by WW2 buffs, but by young children who declare it to be their favourite book. At last I know why! In “Pink Rabbit”, Judith Kerr, the author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, tells the story of her own childhood as a German Jewish refugee in Switzerland, Paris, and at last England. Told from a child’s perspective, the experience of fleeing Nazi persecution is coloured with humour, adventure and family love. It’s irresistible!

2. Bombs on Aunt Dainty, also by Judith Kerr

This is the sequel to “Pink Rabbit,” & I would definitely place it in the YA bracket. This book cover Anna’s (Judith’s character) teen years in London during the Blitz. There’s certainly a lot more war action & apparent hardship in this one, but still the story features mostly on Anna’s relationships, dreams to become an artist, and first love. It was brilliant to follow the characters I’d grown to love in the first book right on into the next chapters of their lives. I’m often cautious about reading a sequel of a book I’ve really love less it fails to deliver & leaves me disappointed. Well this was one sequel which did not disappoint!

3. Goodnight Mr. Tom, by Michelle Magorian  Goodnight

I can’t believe I’d never read this book before. It’s considered a classic of our age, & now I see why. It’s the story of Willie Beech, an abused, neglected evacuee from London who comes to live with a grumpy old widow (Mr. Tom) in the country. Slowly but surely, the two get beneath one another’s skin and change each other. There is so much that is heartbreaking in this book, but also so much triumphant goodness that it’s worth the heartbreak! Read it, & I defy you not to cry!

4. Carrie’s War, by Nina Bawden

carries-warAnother one about evacuees (naturally a popular topic for kid’s lit since being shipped off from home to a strange new place is a ready-made adventure!). Carrie & her younger brother are sent to Wales to live with the domineering, grumpy Mr. Evans and his meek sister Aunty Lou. There is little war action in the far-removed Welsh village, but the story is filled with interesting characters, mystery & unexpected twists. It’s quite an quick & easy read as well!

5. Friend or Foe, by Michael Morpurgo

Morpurgo is a master of writing war for children. Whilst most everyone knows about hisforf title War Horse thanks to the hollywood production, he has in fact produced volumes of WW1 & 2-set stories for middle grade readers. This particular story follows, once again, two evacuees boys, but thankfully they get landed with a big-hearted dairy farmer & his wife. The action takes off when the boys witness a German plane crash & discover two of its crew alive & hiding in a nearby field. The boys have to struggle with their own pasts and consciences to decide whether to help the men– enemies though they are– or turn them in. This too is a quick & easy read, but rather thought provoking for young readers & old alike!

6. From Anna, by Jean Little

From_Anna_(Jean_Little)I’m still in the middle of this one, but it’s captured my heart already! Similar to When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, this story follows a little girl, also Anna, whose family flees Germany at the advent of the Nazi regime. Only there’s a twist to this one — Anna has always been the odd one out in her family & at school, & only when the family make their move to Canada does she discover the reason! Then everything changes for her. Though I don’t yet know how this one ends, it’s already taken me on an emotional rollercoaster, but I’ve loved every minute of it!

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So there you have it! I hope if you’ve never read on this subject (as I had not till quite recently), you’ll give it a go! I’d also love to hear your recommendations of books for kids set around war.

And watch this space! I’ll be sharing some snippets of my own WW2 novel for you to review veeeeery soon!

 

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