Good news for all of you children's mystery/thriller writers out there, British author Barbara Mitchelhill has kindly written an article packed with advice and anecdotes that are sure to ignite your imagination.

The article will feature in 2 parts on 31st August 2011 and 1st September 2011 on the Savvy Authors website. 

If you have any children's authors you'd really like to hear from then drop me a line and I'll see what I can do. Similarly, if you are a published children's author and you have an article that you'd like to contribute then send me an email too.

Happy writing!

Recently there have been a number of striking news stories. A few of them sound as if the details have been plucked straight from the plot of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. There are three at the forefront of my mind as I ponder the subject and write this post:
1. The Norwegian massacre
2. News corp and the phone hacking scandal
3. The Mosman bombing ordeal (Sydney, Australia)

Among the many things I find challenging when it comes to fiction writing is finding the balance between creative and unique versus not going OTT and beyond the realms of believability.

I've just completes a one week 'Reboot Your Imagination' course with Beth Daniels. Over the course of the week we completed one writing exercise a day using the blind librarian  technique. It was definitely good fun and achieved its goal of getting the creative juices flowing. As a group we pushed through the boundaries of ordinary and created some really whacky stories.

I hadn't ever considered the incorporation of magical, sci-fi, paranormal elements into my own writing before. Why? 'Because that's just not me.' I was especially resistant to the idea of using magic and other such notions in my writing as I felt it was a cop-out, a way of bridging gaps that I hadn't thought through properly.

(Not so - each of the aforementioned genres need as much thought and attention to detail as any other. It's funny how the mind can create unfounded justifications for not attempting something.)

However I have to admit that forcing myself to write outside of my comfort zone was exhilarating. It reignited my fading flame to a roaring fire and the ideas were flowing! It made me realise that there are many ways to inject a unique twist into one's writing and keep it believable for the reader.

It still bugs me that movies are able to get away with the most outrageous things where literature is not, but I guess it's all about satisfying the reader...and I'd be highly annoyed if the market was suddenly flooded with substandard, unbelievable stories.  

The importance of establishing a routine inclusive of time for writing cannot be underestimated.

After a month of coughs, colds, flu, and other minor - yet highly disruptive - ailments I'm now left wondering where to begin as I contemplate playing the catch-up game.

The easiest place to begin would be to write up a 'To Do' list. Normally I would dive right in and scribble one up on my whiteboard, but at the moment even that seems daunting!

So, in desperate need of a bit of motivation I took my first step to getting back on track and chanced upon the following quote:

The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.
Mike Murdock 

I had no idea who Mike Murdock was until I did a quick Google search after finding these words of wisdom, and although he appears to be quite a controversial character I definitely feel this quote has some relevance to my pursuit of a writing career.

The second step was writing this blog post. Initially I discarded the idea of writing on this topic, however I changed my mind for a couple of reasons. Firstly, this has been one huge pothole on my road to becoming a writer. Secondly, when I read other people's blog they're often filled with stories of success - my hope is that other beginning writers who have hit the same stumbling block will take comfort in knowing that I have experienced a similar problem too. 

If you are one of those people stuck in rut make sure that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again as I'm sure the end result will provide you with an immense sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. 

I'll keep you posted on how I get on! 

And on that note I'll end with one final quote...

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."
Mary Anne Radmacher 

Gosh, it's the final week of Deana's blog-fest already! The year really is racing away...dare I say it?! It'll be Christmas before you know it - there I did say it. It's also snowing here in Masterton, New Zealand at the moment which is creating a very winter wonderland-like atmosphere so I just couldn't help myself!

And without further ado here are the first 200 words of my picture book TEACHER FOR THE DAY.
This was my first effort at writing anything only 8 weeks ago, and I did so under the guidance of author Mayra Calvani during a 2 week intensive  picture book course. I also recently entered it into the Writers Village competition, run by author John Yeoman, and received very encouraging feedback. 

I look forward to your feedback and hope you enjoy it :)

Teacher for the Day

 ‘Teacher for the day’ was the prize and Emma had won it fair and square.
Emma didn’t want to be ‘THE TEACHER’…but it was a good opportunity to prove that kids don’t need rules to keep them out of trouble.
“This is going to be the most fantastic, fun-filled Friday ever.” Emma grinned. “Today there’ll be no lessons and only one rule.” She tickled the pen across the whiteboard, giggling.
         Seats squeaked as her classmates craned their necks to see what she was writing. There was a brief pause…followed by an eruption of applause. On the board, in bright red letters, were the words ‘TODAY THERE ARE NO RULES’.
"Everyone looks excited." Emma beamed. “I can’t wait to play with my new deck of Uno cards,” she said. But before it got to her turn, there was a rumpus in the computer nook.
         Arms flailed and bottoms jousted for a seat.
“Give me that mouse!” said Ryan.
“No way, I was here first!” said Sam.
“I want a turn,” wined William, “I never get a turn.”
Emma shuffled to her feet.
“You’ll lose your turn,” said Becky.
“I know…” But the commotion in the computer nook was a little distracting. This isn’t at all how I imaged my fantastic, fun-filled Friday!


Phew! I didn't think I'd manage to get this done in time,but here it is, my first attempt at writing a query! I look forward to your advice :)

Dear Lora

‘Teacher for the Day’ was the prize and Emma had won it fair and square. Now was her chance to prove to the teacher that a list of classroom rules was totally unnecessary for keeping chaos at bay. With her classmates 100% behind her, there was no way could she fail to deliver to deliver a perfect, fun-filled Friday, or could she?

“Teacher For The Day” is an 800 word picture book aimed at elementary school children aged 7 to 10 years old. The use of refrain (This isn’t at all how I imaged my fantastic, fun-filled Friday!) helps to create and maintain a humorous tone throughout the book. The theme of the book is about boundaries and the role they play in allowing people to enjoy a sense of freedom.

I am a Savvy Authors blog articles assistant and have completed various writing workshops, including one on the art of picture book writing. I run my own blog ‘Dilettante to Dynamo’, which I make regular posts to on the subject of writing for children. I am also an active member of The CBI Clubhouse, Savvy Authors, and the Wellington Children’s Book Association.  

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to read the complete manuscript. Thank you for taking the time to consider my query.

Yours sincerely
Vicky Bruere

School Street
New Zealand

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary with a trip to the movies and a bite to eat. Not very exciting for most people I realise, but certainly a welcome break from the children and some quality alone-time for us. Unsurprisingly the cinema was packed with people (mainly adults) anxious to see the final installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2).

Now I really enjoyed the Harry Potter book series, but it's been a while since I read them so my memory is a bit sketchy when it comes to the finer details, although I could quite readily give you a broad plot overview. During the course of a pre-movie discussion I happened to mention this to my husband. He responded by listing off a series of events from the book, few of which I could recall with any clarity.

This got me thinking about the difference between boys and girls and what makes books memorable for them. As far as Harry Potter is concerned, it's certainly the relationship between the characters that made the books most memorable for me. While I'm unable to recall battle and horcrux details, I am able to vividly remember things such as who died, how other characters reacted to their death, and most significantly how their deaths made me feel. On the other hand it's the battles, unusual creatures, and action scenes that stuck in the memory of my better half. 

So far I've been unable to find any research or anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is a common trend, but recollection of conversations I've had with the children in my class over the years suggests that I might be on to something. While it probably seems quite obvious and a mere matter of common-sense to others, the significance of this idea is monumental for my personal writing goals. 

If I'm to achieve my goal of writing stories specifically targeted at boys - ones that will hook them and keep them engaged until the final word - then I need to invest as much time in creating interesting scenarios, gadgets, and action packed scenes as I have done in the deep development of my characters. And while this is something I hope I'd do regardless of the gender of my audience, it's certainly worth being conscious of during the writing process to ensure that I hit the bulls-eye when it comes to meeting the precise needs and expectations of my intended audience.

Sorry...sick children have hampered my efforts and I can't make it. So sorry! :(

It's week 2 of Deana Barnhart's 'Gearing Up to Get an Agent' blogfest and I can't wait to get stuck in.
The Challenge: a story chain!

I love this idea and have tried it in the classroom with my students before. Some children really got into it were great at ending on a cliffhanger that gave the next child something to work with...others were less than impressed, or so they said - but their pleasure upon hearing other people's wacky additions to the story was obvious.

I just hope I'm not the dud of the group. I'd hate to be 'the kid' who leaves the story on a flat note and has the next person in line cursing and wanting to throttle me.

And now onto the point that I wanted to make. Since this blogfest is all about 'Gearin' up to Get an Agent' I thought I'd invest a little time in getting to grips with how to go about trying to find an agent.

I found this really useful video. That's about as far as I've got, but I'll keep you posted on how I get on with my agent research in the coming days.

Maybe it's the flu that's got me firmly in it's grasp, or it could be the persistent cough and inevitable accompanying headache...perhaps it's the fact that my strict timetable has been battered out of shape by the first two.

Whatever the cause, the effect has still been the same - I've lost all momentum and motivation to do any work on my novel. It's a shame really as I'd signed up for July's Camp NaNoWriMo too.

After an early morning wake-up call from my equally sick 3 year old,  I decided to force myself to do some writing. Unfortunately paracetamol and coffee weren't enough to put the wheels in motion. At best I was an old rust bucket spluttering to life - and inciting great anticipation from its driver - only to conk out, leaving the driver in even greater despair. 

On the other hand they were a sufficient cure for wallowing in my puddles of failure.

I came across a quote which got me thinking... 

When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) Thirty-second President of the USA

Perhaps I've been looking at it all wrong. Like the characters in our stories, life throws obstacles in our way and we have to find a way of overcoming them if we are to reach our goal. Maybe those puddles of failure are actually pools of fresh rainwater ready to nurture the seeds of imagination. If that's the case I'm pretty sure my health meter has enough in reserve to enable to tie a knot in my rope.

Consequently I've decided to accept what I can't change - namely having the flu - but I'll find a way to use it to my advantage and in a way that will keep me on the right track towards achieving my goal. Reading a good book springs to mind!

One final quote for anyone else feeling sick and not-so-quick-witted ...
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) English Naturalist


Hello fellow children's writers!
I thought it'd be nice to have a Savvy Authors group dedicated to children's writers and their here it is  

It's free to access and has an open members policy so anyone can join.
As an official volunteer for Savvy Authors I'll be sourcing articles on craft and other need-to-know information from published children's authors, so if there's anything in particular that you'd like to know please send me a message and I'll add it to my email request when approaching writers.

And if by any chance you happen to be a children's writer with publishing credits and you'd like to contribute an article for the sight, please drop me a line at Your insights and experiences would be much appreciated! :)
I look forward to getting to know you!

Well folks the Gearing Up to Get an Agent Blogfest has arrived and it's time for me to get stuck into my first task.

Assignment 1: Take the greatest, dumbest, weirdest...just whatever kind of writing question you have, and post it on your blog Wednesday. 

 And my Silly Question is... 
When deciding to have a manuscript critiqued by a professional editing service (e.g. Margot Finke) is it important to:
a) review, edit and polish it up until you are 100% happy with it and think that's at the point where you'd be happy to see it in print...
or can you...
b) review, edit and polish it until your about 80%-90% happy with it, but need a bit of outside perspective to help you get it back on track...
c) does the answer lie in how thick skinned you are when it comes to people critiquing you work (and how much money you have too!) 

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
Happy blogging :)

As a newcomer to the writing scene I've had to do a lot of research into the nuts and bolts of how 'it' all works.

Since I have 1 picture book manuscript well on the way to being ready for submission, and another not far behind, I thought I'd better do a bit of research into where to send them.

This video was particularly helpful in directing me to a starting point. I thought I'd share it as it may be helpful to other writers out there too. Happy viewing...and happy 4th July!

Recently I participated in a forum discussion on e-books and the likely-hood of paper books becoming obsolete.While I'm not alone in thinking that paper books will never disappear, it did get me thinking. 

There's no doubt that technology's here to stay and, no matter how much we might love paper, e-books present writers with an opportunity to reach a much wider audience than they might otherwise be able to if they stuck to the traditional publishing route alone.

It was this discussion that prompted me to read 'Copyright and the Future of the Future' by Cory Doctorow. You can download a free copy of this essay and other articles of interest from his blog

In his essay he talks about the advantages of using technology to give your work away! His argument for this is actually very convincing. Here's the excerpt I found most interesting (It's obviously okay to give you a sneak peek as he encourages you to download his work for free anyway!)
Most people who download the book don't end up buying it, but they wouldn't
have bought it in any event, so I haven't lost any sales, I've just won an
audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free e-book as a substitute for
the printed book--those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the ebook
as an enticement to buy the printed book. They're gained sales. As long as
gained sales outnumber lost sales, I'm ahead of the game. After all, distributing
nearly a million copies of my book has cost me nothing.

And on that note, here's a website that offers its services free of charge and assists you in creating an iPad compatible children's e-book. You can access a video on this from

From the little that I've read so far, I think that e-books could be a great way for new writers to build up an audience and get themselves noticed. It's certainly got me thinking!

Good news fellow writers, the CBI Clubhouse has now added a TV channel to their already extensive list of resources for writers. 
It has videos on e-publishing, getting published, the business side of writing, writing advice, and 'the mental game' which is all about adopting a writer's mindset.

I'd say this will be a site worthy of regular visits as Jon and Laura are always adding new features of interest to their sites.

If you're in the process of planning or writing a novel but aren't getting on as well as you'd like then this could be just what you need! It's 100% free, enables you to 'write in company', and there's a word progress meter too - a sure-fire way of spurring you into action...especially if you're the competitive type.

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
G. K. Chesterton English author & mystery novelist (1874 - 1936)

This evening I came across a very useful podcast series produced by the Scottish Book Trust. It's a series of 5 masterclasses, all presented by children's author Keith Gray.
Each podcast covers a different aspect of the writing process. While a lot of the advice is much the same as any other source of information for beginning writers, it's still a very enjoyable series - and you're still likely to come across little things that you hadn't considered before.
Lesson 1: Ideas and inspiration
This lesson reinforced everything that I've already read (and heard) about sourcing ideas and inspiration. I didn't really come away with anything new...but it did prompt me to write down the ideas that I'd thought of during the day but had neglected to write down at the time. Good job too as I'd probably have completely forgotten them by the morning.

Lesson 2: Characterisation
The main points that I gained from this lesson were:
1. Plot grows from character - your plot is driven by the main character's actions therefore the reader must believe in the character and understand his motivation for the actions he takes.
2. Action is character - the way a person behaves or reacts tells us a lot about their character. This was a significant reminder of the importance of showing, not telling!

Lesson 3: Plot
Again, not much new here, but worth a look.

Lesson 4: Setting
This was the most enjoyable podcast by far. There were 3 significant points to be gained from this lesson.
1. Keep descriptions brief
2. Only describe your setting enough to set the mood or create an atmosphere
3. Use sensory details to enable the reader to experience the setting for themselves

Lesson 5: Redrafting
This was a very useful lesson on how to recognise when your work is done.
There are 3 C's to look for when redrafting your work: 
1. Clarity
2. Construction
3. Colour
It reminded me of the importance of reading your work from the perspective of the reader - a child. It also prompted the recall of an incident at school today. 

I was relieving in a class at a school that I've never taught at before. The children were in awe of the fact that my hobby is writing children's stories. They were keen as mustard to hear some of my work, but alas I hadn't brought any with me! 

This got me thinking about critiquing and editing  - perhaps the best indication of how close your story is to completion comes from how well your target audience responds to it. Children can be brutally honest when asked for their opinion! Allowing children to critique your work is also a very useful teaching strategy too as it encourages the normalisation of constructive criticism and helps children to accept it as an inevitable part of improving one's writing skills.

Next time I get a call I'll be sure to include some of my works-in-progress! :)  

Over the past couple of days I've spent a lot of time hunched over a 3 meter roll of newsprint trying to perfect the placement of my plot and subplot elements. As you've probably gathered by now I'm a 'planner' so a clear road map is very important to me...although I am happy to take detours if I spot that there's a more efficient means of reaching my destination.

Inevitably there were times when my back could stand it no more. I was forced to abandon my 'mad scientist' pose and take a little time out with a toasty hot water bottle and a few short podcasts.

As I was listening to Laura Backes and Jon Bard's podcast on publishing trends and the tween market, I had another one of those 'Ah-ha' moments (No, I didn't suddenly have the urge the need to listen to '80's pop!). I'd stumbled across an answer to my nagging questions...
What level to pitch the intensity of the danger at in a middle grade novel? 
What sort of dangerous situations are appropriate for 8-12 year olds before they cross over into the YA sphere? 

But, I'd also discovered the value of meandering aimlessly through the mounds of information on children's writing that exist.

There is time and place for everything. Sometimes a clear and focused plan is necessary to keep you on track, but other times the lack of a plan can lead you to undiscovered gems that - had you been following a plan - you might otherwise have missed.. 

The link to the podcast for any interested Fightin' Bookworm members out there  

On Saturday I was treated to a rather amusing insight into one of the differences between children and adults.

The event was a trip to Wellington Zoo for our daughter's upcoming 3rd birthday. We thought she'd really enjoy it since she reads so many picture books with lions, giraffes, kangaroos, monkeys etc. in them.

Fortunately our prediction was correct and she did really enjoy it...but not in the way we had expected. A  giraffe standing right over her failed to impress, as did the lions, kangaroos, cheetahs, African wild dogs, sun bears, and chimpanzees!  
Instead, the things that most captured and held her attention were watching the emperor penguin being operated on in the animal hospital, a random chicken on the loose, and feeding hot chips to the ducks!

It wasn't long before I realised that her experience of the zoo wasn't going to be what I thought, and perhaps hoped, it might be. She was never going to find lions, cheetahs, and kangaroos  fascinating because she doesn't know enough about them to recognise how unnatural it is to have them living in New Zealand. 

Furthermore, they weren't where the action was at! A chicken on the loose provided an opportunity for playing chase. The emperor penguin operation provided the chance to see something out of the ordinary...and most certainly not anything she's ever come across in a picture book before. And last - but by no means least - feeding the ducks. What (almost) 3 year old wouldn't enjoy having a couple of ducks follow your every move? She just loved feeling their beaks peck the chips from her hand!   

As we continued our circuit around the zoo it was amazing how many times I overheard other parents battling the inevitable. One dad tried desperately to convince his son to have a look at the lions. He assured his son that he would be amazed by them. The son's reply 'Nah, I've seen lions on TV before.' The dad could do little more than stalk off in the direction of the lions, alone, muttering about how he hadn't seen them like this before but it was going to be his loss, grumble, grumble... 

And the point of this a writer it's always important to keep your readers in mind. This experience reinforced the importance of knowing the children you write for. While it's tempting to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and get down the story we want to tell, there can be no substitute for observing children and getting know and truly appreciate their reactions and interactions in different environments and settings. Ultimately it's time well invested and will lead to the production of a book that children will identify with and love reading.


I don't know about you, but I love to write in the company of others. There's nothing better than the opportunity to brainstorm, bounce ideas off other writers, and share tips and hints on craft and the writing process.

And on that note I'd urge you to check out the link above.  Here's just a snippet from Deana's information on what it entails...

'Each week in July we are going to focus on the agent-grabbing elements (platform building, learning the craft, the novel and queries) in an interactive way.'

If that's not enough to whet your appetite then perhaps this will!

'At the end of each week I will be giving away CRITIQUES GALORE from some seriously talented people... I can assure you, you won't be disappointed (*hint hint* think agents, writers with agents, published authors...see, you aren't disappointed are you?).'

It's open to people who blog and those on twitter so sign up and get sounds like a lot of fun!

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.
Cyril Connolly (1903 - 1974)
I found this quote from a fellow countryman, born in my hometown.

To me, it sums up the importance of enjoying the writing process rather than focusing on the end goal.

I for one am thoroughly pleased by this as my entry into the world of children's writing began solely as a hobby that best suited my need for flexibility - both in setting and time. 

Not that I'm any different to other writers in my aspiration for success and publication! Of course I'd love to have something published for the world to enjoy, but it's all too easy to get caught up in 'the rat race'. 

The more you read on writing, and the more forums, blogs etc. you follow, the easier it is to feel like you've entered a race for publication. At times like this it's important to take a step back and evaluate why you write and what your goal is. It's also important to remember that taking time and care over your work is incredibly valuable as this is an important contributing factor to the eventual publication (or not) of your work. 

Rather invest the time and energy into producing a few great manuscripts than a lot of good-average ones! After all, if you're not thrilled with your efforts you can hardly expect other to be ;)

For now I'm aiming to be the tortoise rather than the hare!


Over the past couple of days I've engaged in some intensive research into how to structure a novel. Boy is there a lot to consider!

I had made a start on trying to identify the features of a well structured novel for myself - namely things like the average length of chapters and at what part of a scene the chapters ended on. However after a bit of research and completing the Children's Book Insider modules I quickly realised that there were so many things I hadn't considered.

My most significant learning has been in the area of subplots. I knew that my story would need them but I wasn't sure whether there was a rule of thumb with regards to how many one should have or how intense they should be. I also became aware of the fact that I had completely neglected to actively seek out the subplots in the middle grade novels I've been reading.

The good news is  there doesn't seem to be any rule surrounding quantity. And even better news is the fact there is a strong recurring message when it comes to writing:

There are no coincidences in children's books (or any other well written fiction for that matter)

In simple terms, everything in your story should contribute to driving the plot forward. Consequently every subplot, character, utterance etc. should serve a purpose and the reader should understand why it's there and what it adds to the story.

That said, I'm off to make myself a nice big sign with those 7 words of wisdom and hang it on the wall above my writing space. I think it sums up the essence of a great story perfectly and is certainly something I keep coming across as part of every checklist, be it for characters, plot, subplots, settings, or any other component of a story.    

Next time: Field Research