Bumface Poohands?!

Who is Bumface Poohands? Why does he exist? Is this really supposed to be for kids? Will someone be outraged? Read on for (my attempt at) some answers (N.B Do NOT read on if you are easily upset by poo jokes)…

Finding a Bumface

I recently launched the Kindle edition of one of my books and, as many authors probably do, I thought I’d have a browse around to see what new books I was up against. It was then that I spotted a children’s book unlike any other.

I mean this wholeheartedly, as a book buyer in a Toy and children’s book shop for around a decade, I thought I had seen everything. I was unbelievably wrong.

There, in with all the typical popular children’s books, was something truly unique. A book of such unrivalled uniqueness and scatological humour that, at first, I thought I had imagined it.

I went back and checked again. There was Bumface Poohands; his face a bum, his hands made of poo. Absolutely no doubt remained. This book existed. I had to read it.

And seeing his poo hands

I took a chance and read it for the first time with my kids. I’m glad I did. Bumface Poohands is having a Birthday party. All of his friends are coming and his mum lets him help prepare the food (one look at his hands and you’ll see why this is a bad idea).

As the party progresses he opens all manner of gifts and shows his appreciation. As his gifts mount up keep an eye out for his distinctive markings on them in the background illustrations.

The pièce de résistance, the crowning moment for the story-teller and the illustrator is when Bumface’s cake is brought out and it is time for him to blow out the candles!

This moment sent my children (two boys ages 9 and 11) into hysterics, I joined in too. I won’t spoil the end but it is so very very much worth the wait.

What did I just read?

I’m still not sure how I feel about little Bumface. I’m trying not to overanalyse the story. However, one thing that jumps out at me is that it is a story of positivity and about accepting who you are. Bumface can’t help the fact that his face is a bum, nor can he help his poo hands, and he still stays positive and has a group of friends who clearly also accept him for who he is.

There is currently a toilet roll shortage, we’re all panicking, but I know for sure that Bumface Poohands wouldn’t care at all. After all, it won’t make any difference to him…

Apologies

I should probably apologise here for what might have been an alarmingly gross post on an otherwise ordinary blog by an otherwise fairly ordinary children’s author. However, I also feel that true genius should be praised.

Authors (and possibly illustrators, it’s hard to tell) Mr. Jels and Kay Mann are geniuses. They have managed to surprise me in a way that a children’s book hasn’t for a long time.

If you would like to read Bumface Poohands too, simply click this link to see the Kindle edition (you can read Kindle books on almost any device, all you need is the free Kindle Reader app).

‘Bumface Poohands’ is available to read for free as part of a monthly subscription service called Kindle Unlimited (click here to find out more and sign up). My books are all on it too. You can follow this link to my author page if you would prefer a (much) less poo-centric fantasy story.

However, most of all, I recommend a nice out-loud reading of Bumface Poohands. A bit of humour can go a long way at the moment.

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

 

Bedtime stories: How long till I’m ‘sacked’?

Some parents struggle with ‘story time’. It can be hard to fit it in with all the other demands modern parents have on their time.

All the same, my family and I have somehow managed to squeeze ‘story time’ into our routine from the very beginning.

I really mean the very beginning; on Logan’s first night home from the hospital I sat beside his cot and read The Lion the With and the Wardrobe. (And yes, I knew he didn’t understand. It was just nice to have an excuse to spend some time with the new little person in our house).

Why we continue night after night

Since then we’ve barely missed a night. Maybe the routine has been easier to maintain because we started so early (and I genuinely don’t know how we managed to fit it in alongside nappies, feeding times, and utter, bone-crumbling, exhaustion). Maybe we’ve just been lucky to have to free time in the evenings to read a story together.

Reading to my kids is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve shared with them. We’ve gone on a lot of adventures together, each longer and more complex than the last.

However, there’s no escaping the fact that my kids are getting older. They’re both avid independent readers now and, to be honest, I’m not sure how much longer I’ve got till I’m ‘sacked’ as a Storyteller.

New adventures

We don’t really call it ‘story time’ any more but we still keep up the tradition. Our nights used to consist of a quick visit to the ‘deep dark wood’ with the Gruffalo, an adventure with the ‘Night Pirates’, or dropping in for some hunny with Winnie the Pooh.

Now, we’re adventuring with Harry Potter, ‘The Wee Free Men’, or more recently following high tech shenanigans with Artemis Fowl. We’ve enjoyed a seasonal adventure with the Christmasaurus and visited a very odd spaceship alongside ‘Cakes in Space’.

These stories are deeper than their old picture books (even the wacky ones). It has changed our evenings a bit. Now we might discuss tricky topics and my kids can ask about some pretty grown-up concepts but it’s easy(ish) as it all comes from the comfort of a fictional universe.

A parenting tool like no other

This is the tricky bit for me, if reading were simply an entertaining thing that myself and my kids enjoy together, then I could step back and let them enjoy it themselves. However, it has always had a discussion component too.

Years ago we would ask about whether Winnie the Pooh was being selfish by eating all of Rabbit’s honey, or we might talk about fear and what it means to be brave while reading the Gruffalo’s child. Because you’re reading, you can slow down, you can stop for a moment and go over story points. It’s not the same as watching TV or a movie.

The more nuanced books we read now let me check in with my children in a casual way. Topics in the book can be compared to their school or home life to see if there’s anything troubling them, or even simply something that they don’t understand.

Learning big life lessons in a fictional universe

This is what’s so hard about letting go of story-time now; at precisely the moment when discussions like these are of growing importance, my children are pulling back on family reading time in favour of reading by themselves.

There’s so much good for them to get from reading alone, I can’t deny them that, but I also feel the increased need for this distinctive form of family time.

I know the time will come (and soon) when I really will have to step back, but for now I’m going to try to hold on tight to what has been one of the most useful parenting tools I have ever had access to.

A tool to communicate? What do you use?

I can’t help but wonder how many other parents might be feeling this tug. Losing a tool for parenting that has few rivals.

To use a programming expression, I have always found fictional worlds to work as ‘sandbox’ worlds; places where you can experiment with ideas with no real-world risk. It’s imaginary so the (real-life) stakes are low, but you can still encounter complex social and moral problems.

Are any other parents missing the loss of their ‘sandbox’?

Do parents of older children have any insight on what can take the place of reading together?

Let me know in the comments below, and as always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

Using screens to reduce screen use? (Can we fight fire with fire whilst helping our local libraries?)

Hi, how are you coping? Are you self-isolating? Sorry for referencing the current crisis again but the thing I’m talking about today is pretty close to my heart.

I’ve always had a soft spot for my local library, it’s where my love of reading was fed with endless piles of books from the age of nine/ten onwards. This post is about screen use but it’s also about libraries.

Losing access to a vital source of entertainment

Sadly, as has been the case for many such institutions, Culture Perth and Kinross (the organisation behind museums and libraries where I live) has temporarily closed all the libraries (even the mobile one) in our area. Given the number of vulnerable individuals who must use these facilities each day this isn’t a surprise. I get it, but it doesn’t make it easier.

You’re probably now looking at the title and wondering what this has to do with screen use. Bear with me, I do have a point.

All bored with nowhere to go?

Let’s now combine the loss of libraries with the fact that a lot of us are now spending a lot more time indoors than usual. We could (and probably will) spend a lot of that time on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, or just watching the old trusty TV.

However, I’m starting to get a bit fed up of TV already (and I’m speaking as someone who has a solid thirty-odd year addiction to telly) and I imagine a few other folk are too. The big issue for me is the fact that I can’t really go above ‘PG’ in my viewing habits until the kids are in bed and by then (currently at least) I just want to go to bed too.

On top of this our kids are now there. All the time. If your kids are home from school like mine are, then you’re under surveillance all day. They see everything! We parents are under more scrutiny now than we ever were, and could easily be caught out in the hypocrisy of ‘no screens’ as fast as a kid can burst in on you sneaking a watch of a ‘This Morning’ clip or a quick catch up of ‘The Witcher’ while you’re ‘sweeping the stairs’.

So, is there a way to encourage your kids away from YouTube and Netflix and onto something more ‘educational’ without sounding like a hypocrite?

(Though I should plug my own Youtube videos here just to confuse things further).

Can you get access to some sort of non-hypocritical grown-up entertainment that might stop you climbing the walls to escape yet another episode of Scooby-Doo, Gumball, or whatever else Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, or Disney has to offer?

Is that even a thing?

Can you be entertained like a grown-up during the day without emotionally scarring your kids?

The answer is ‘YES!’ and it’s by accessing a technology that pre-dates TV and even radio by decades (though admittedly with a modern spin). Better still it’s FREE! Simply put, you can get a book (or audiobook) from the library!

But wait, didn’t I just say the library is closed?

Yep!

So how am I supposed to get a book out?

I’ll tell you!

(Sorry for the format here, the shops had run out of decaff and the caffeinated alternatives are proving a surprise. Feeling a bit ‘high energy’ at the moment 😉 Anyway, back to the post…)

Our library (and your library too, I expect) offer a digital catalogue of ebooks and audiobooks which will work on almost any device (Android, Apple, though NOT Kindle). You maybe knew this already, maybe you even use it. If this is true you’re probably already tuning out from this post.

(If this is you then thanks for reading this far and if you’re interested in some new ebook titles to read then check out my last post for a selection of books by nice people who also happen to be great writers, and me. Just scroll to the bottom of that post for the list. Here’s the link.)

If you haven’t used this facility before, I’ll talk you through the process to set it up on your device.

Free entertainment!? Educational? Stuff for grown-ups? Stuff for kids? How do I get it?

The following information assumes that, like me, you live in the Perth and Kinross area but it should apply for your own library service too (though the links won’t be relevant in your case (you’ll have to rely on Google):

1) First off, make sure that you are a member of your local library. If you’re not currently a member of your library, then you’ll need to follow this link to join as a library member of the CPK library service. (Please do this if you aren’t a member. It can’t hurt our now closed libraries to have a growing list of members during this time. It’s always good to support your local library and adding to their member numbers is an easy way to do this)

2) Next, you’ll need to join the RB Digital service using your library member information (you’ll need a library card number for this bit so make sure you have it on hand). Follow this link to join RB Digital.

3) Then, download the RB Digital app on the device you want to use (you can put this on more than one device and let your kids read ebooks and audiobooks too).

4) Sign in to the RB digital app using your new RB Digital account. You can select up to eight titles to have loaded on your phone/other devices at once.

5) That’s you, select titles and read/listen to the books of your choice. Enjoy your free (and low bandwidth) entertainment and feel good about the fact that using library services shows how much you value them.

Show Digital support for a cultural institution

We can’t support our libraries with footfall while they’re closed but by using services like this we can show that we still see them as vital resources for the community. (Hopefully, this will help the ‘powers that be’ to see how important our libraries are too)

Do yourself (and your library) a favour. Join online and access a few digital titles today. You’ll always have a book to enjoy just tucked up in your pocket and it gives you a grown-up break from youtube videos, cartoons, and your own back catalogue of Disney DVDs.

All that and you can also get your kids doing something educational while fiddling on their phones. Total win-win.

Let us know your favourite books to pass the time during house arrest (…I mean self-isolation)

Please feel free to share your secret escape titles in the comments below (you know, those books that help you tune out for a few minutes and disappear into another world).

I’m currently reading ‘Ways of the Doomed’ by Moira McPartlin (mine is an old-fashioned paperback though). It’s a gritty, dystopian sci-fi, set in the near future in Scotland (and a far cry from an animation by Disney 😉 ). What are you reading/ will you be reading?

As always thanks for reading (and hope you’re doing OK),

All the best, John

 

Can authors help you homeschool your child?

schools cancelled scotland perthshire how can authors helpSo life seems to be a bit different now. Increasing school closures due to coronavirus mean that kids up and down the country are going to be home from school for an unknown amount of time. While there are perks to being out of the day-to-day grind of the school run, the clear difficulties jump out from day one.

One of the obvious things is work. Parents are struggling to find ways to give our kids the education they receive at school whilst also desperately doing what little we can to work from home or get out to work at ever more problematic jobs. It can be a challenge to find educational activities that will allow your kids to be absorbed for any period of time.

I’m hoping that this is only for a few weeks but the realist in me says it’ll probably be longer. In many ways, this is probably going to become the ‘new normal’ for us parents (at least for the foreseeable future).

Losing some important parts of childhood education

stay interested in school workTeachers do a phenomenal job in retaining and growing energy in their pupils. Should we call it adding a spark? Sounds a bit new age, but I think it fits.

Anyway, we might have access to some amazing resources at home (like the free printable sheets provided by Twinkl) but adding that much-needed spark of energy to your child’s activities (normally provided by teachers) now falls squarely on our shoulders. As we’ll all be finding in the coming weeks, this isn’t easy. Kids naturally find enjoyment in what they are good at; what immediately interests them.

For some kids their favourite subjects may be literacy and reading, for others, it might be science and maths, for others, it might be sports and projects. Every child is different and their energy will be focussed towards what best suits their tastes and abilities.

However, all children should get a chance at a comprehensive education. After all, children won’t know how good certain subjects can be if they don’t at least try them.

This means that for some subjects children will need considerably more encouragement and energy. Teachers are incredible at this, I’m always amazed at the level of organisation and energy I’ve seen from teachers when I visit schools. To be honest, I’m not sure how we’ll all go about replicating this in a home environment.

As the weeks go by we’ll come to see that educating children is like juggling cats during a house fire and it will become patently obvious that teachers do not get paid nearly enough for what they do.

The extracurricular element

Occasionally schools find that an outside resource can add a quick boost in pupils’ interest in a particular subject (being one of these ‘visitors’, I like to hope we help the teachers at least a little).

In the case of literacy, this is where author visits can help. Authors (children’s authors at least) do a lot of their real ‘work’ with schools; either in the form of school talks or more prolonged workshops. We interact with pupils and do what we can to help bolster their knowledge and encourage participation in literacy.

In my own experience, most of my talks have resulted in pupils showing a lot more interest in writing activities. This boost in interest can sometimes be pretty amazing (and a bit humbling).

At a recent talk, one teacher even amassed a stack of short stories (one from each pupil) in a little under two hours after a talk. We read through stories during lunch and announced a couple of ‘winners’ in an on-the-spot writing contest after lunch. I’m always happy to work alongside teachers in helping develop an interest in literacy, so this was a fun surprise add on.

I know that this isn’t something unique to me (my ego can probably take that). To be honest, the vast majority of visits from authors have this effect on pupils. We’re a launching point for teachers, we give them an excuse to talk about literacy more and hopefully engage children who may not be the biggest fans of reading and writing.

What happens to the stories?

A science and engineering event can prompt renewed interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths). A visit from a professional coach can open pupils’ eyes to new sports and forms of movement. So what does an author event do?

In short, an author visit can help children see that their own stories are important and that their own experiences are interesting to others. They may be young but there’s no time like the present for them to start writing their own thoughts down.

Writing can be a great way to deal with difficult emotions or situations. In many ways, it’s a form of personal therapy, and it’s one that I think all children should have access to.

From now until some unknown time in the future these school-level resources won’t be available. Home-schooled children will find it harder to encounter a new coach, or a wild science event (though the Glasgow Science Centre has a brilliant live science demonstration broadcast every morning at 10am on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter).

Children also won’t get to meet a ‘real live author’ (as we’re often described in class). This can be tricky to replicate on a smaller scale but it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s the whole point of this post.

Introduce your kids to some authors!

We live in a very interconnected age and, as a result, children can reach out to the people who write the things they enjoy. Authors like myself may not be able to visit every home and talk about writing (probably not advisable at the moment anyway) but we’re still on hand. Children can still reach us.

There are a number of authors I know who have active social media accounts and who, I’m sure, wouldn’t mind answering the odd question about their books, or about writing, from their readers:

John Bray (Monsters, magic, ghosts, and macaroni cheese)

I’ll start the list with myself (since I’m volunteering everyone, it’s only fair that I offer to participate too). I primarily write fantasy stories (think magic, bizarre creatures, adventure, and macaroni cheese) for children aged seven and up. (Though I’ve also written a dark fantasy/horror/ghost story for kids aged ten and up called ‘Marcus‘. This one is set in a Victorian school in my home town of Crieff)

You can find my books in Fun Junction shops (who can post them out if you prefer) and they’re also available on Kindle (here’s a link to the John Bray author page on Amazon). You don’t need a Kindle e-reader to read kindle books, a free reader app is available for Apple and Android devices, and for PCs. This means that you can read my books on pretty much any device.

If readers would like to talk to me you can find my author page on Facebook and you’ll also find me over on Twitter, either on the Jack Reusen account or on my own Twitter account (still pretty family-friendly). I’m happy to talk about anything to do with my books or writing in general, at any time. If your child would like to talk to an author about their own writing I’m happy to do that too.

David MacPhail (Nice Vikings and crime-solving Ghost-Grandads)

David was supposed to have an author event at Fun Junction in Perth this week but they’ve had to cancel it. David writes books about a nice, kind Viking (a type of Viking that isn’t normally in stories) called Thorfinn.

These books are for younger kids but older kids will enjoy them too as they follow the adventures of Thorfinn who doesn’t like being nasty and is often trying to get the other Vikings to just be a little nicer. They’re hilarious books and I’ve enjoyed them with my own kids. Get hold of them in paperback from various places (Fun Junction included), or you can get these on Kindle as well.

David also has a new series of books out called ‘Top-Secret Grandad and me’ about a boy who solves crimes with his Grandad (who happens to be a ghost). For slightly older readers who enjoy a mystery with a twist, this is a great way to go.

You can find David MacPhail on Twitter by clicking this link.

Danny Scott (Football mad)

Danny is a HUGE football fan. My kids and my wife have met him at football events in Crieff a few times and he sounds like a lovely guy. His books revolve around a boy called Calum and his triumphs and tribulations on the football pitch.

These are a great series of books for football fans and are available in paperback (also at Fun Junction) and on Kindle as well.

You can find Danny Scott over on Twitter by clicking this link.

Alex McCall (Giant Robot Chickens causing terror)

Alex is the award-winning author of ‘Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens’ and ‘Revenge of the Giant Robot Chickens’. Both books take you on a wild ride as the people of Aberdeen try to figure out how to defeat some giant robot chickens who have arrived in their city and are causing mayhem.

They’re a fun couple of books and well worth a read. You can get them in paperback (also at Fun Junction) and they are also available on Kindle (click this link).

You can find Alex over on Twitter by clicking this link. He’s apparently currently writing a novel about a clockwork city which could be interesting for kids to ask about.

Lari Don (Mystical mysteries and more set in Scotland)

Lari is a prolific author. She has so many books to her name that it puts most of the rest of us to shame. The books I have the most experience with are books from her ‘Fabled Beasts’ series and her picture storybooks of traditional Scottish tales, but she’s written a lot more than that.

You’re in for an adventure with Lari Don’s books, she sets a rich atmosphere even in the picture books and has a great sense of pace (exactly right for a story filled with adventure).

Her books are available in paperback (also at Fun Junction) and on Kindle.

You can chat to Lari Don over on Twitter by clicking this link.

*OLDER (TEEN) READERS* Helen Grant (Thrillers and gothic romance set in Germany and Scotland)

Helen is a bit of an urban explorer, as you’ll discover if you follow her on Twitter. The landscape of abandoned buildings and strange, disused spaces has influenced her writing in some really striking ways.

Helen mainly writes thrillers and a lot of her earlier books are set in Germany (don’t worry they’re available in English). Up until a few years ago, Helen lived in Germany so this isn’t a big surprise.

However, with her move to Scotland, she took her urban exploration in a Caledonian direction. One of her more recent books ‘Ghost’ is clearly inspired by the slightly uncared-for stately buildings and castles which you can find throughout Scotland.

Ghost‘ is a gothic romance (of sorts) and is probably my favourite of Helen’s books. It doesn’t hurt that it’s set in Crieff (Perthshire) where both myself and Helen live. A lot of the landmarks that turn up are very familiar and it’s really interesting to see such familiar places used in different ways.

Her books are available in paperback and on Kindle. You can find Helen Grant on Twitter by clicking this link.

*OLDER (TEEN) READERS* Moira McPartlin (Dystopian Sci-Fi set in Scotland)

I met Moira at an author event in Fife last year and grabbed a copy of her book ‘Ways of the Doomed’ (I did buy it, I realise ‘grabbed’ sounds a bit ‘light-fingered’).

This is the first in her ‘Sun Song’ trilogy which is set in Scotland in a dystopian future where ‘Natives’ (Celtic people) are treated as lower-class citizens. We follow a young man called Sorlie and find out (as he does) just exactly how this state of affairs managed to come about and how things might be changed.

As a sci-fi fan myself I found Moira’s world to be a really interesting departure from what you typically expect to find in sci-fi/ future stories. I thoroughly recommend them.

Her books are available in paperback and on Kindle.

You’ll find Moira over on Twitter by following this link.

Stay in touch

As I say, I love to talk about books and about writing with children and with adults. If you’ve had a read of my books and would like to ask any questions, please feel free to contact me either here, on my Twitter account (or the Jack Reusen one), or on the Jack Reusen Facebook page.

Apologies for the long post this time, I hope you find it useful, and as always thanks for reading,

All the best, John

 

 

 

 

Writers, don’t get too big for your boots!

Are you ‘serious’ about your writing? I’ve taken my writing ‘seriously’ for about twenty years but what that means has changed a lot in that time.

At first, being a writer was a very teenaged whim; I wanted to be the artsy, brooding intellectual, the ‘thinker of deep thoughts’.

Since then I (thankfully) came to realise how important it was to keep my feet on solid ground. (I’m really stretching the ‘boots’ analogy here aren’t I? To be honest I also needed an excuse to share this picture of my youngest from a few years ago.)

Anyway, back to my teens. I took Sixth Year Studies English, chose English Litt and Philosophy at University, and immersed myself in the work of ‘serious’ writers. (I’m ashamed to admit that back then I even refused to read Harry Potter because it was ‘too popular’ and ‘just for kids’.)

Nothing wrong with being bit ‘serious’

Some of the work of these ‘serious writers’ was incredible; it touched a nerve, struck a chord, all the things you would expect of great works of literature. Only when I stepped back and spoke to other students did the inherent problem with studying literature become apparent.

We didn’t all like the same books. Even worse, when we did, it often wasn’t for the same reasons. What’s more, I came to realise that we sometimes couldn’t even agree on what some of the books were about.

It became clear to me that the hunt for any strict rules on how to write a ‘great book’ was likely to be fruitless. Despite our seemingly ‘objective’ study and analysis, we were still coming from a subjective place, so I wasn’t going to get any ‘rules for writing’ there.

The books themselves were pivotal in helping me see what I enjoyed most in what I read. I wouldn’t take back reading a single one of them. OK, maybe I wouldn’t read ‘Catcher in the Rye’ again if given the chance, but the rest were really informative and (generally) enjoyable reads.

Isn’t reading supposed to be enjoyable?

That’s the crux of it, something that took me too long to realise; I have always read fiction for enjoyment. For big thoughts, I go directly to Philosophy (I studied it/researched in it for ten years after all) but fiction always needs to give me some form of interest and escape.

When you consider the fact that most reading will take place outside of an academic environment, the issue of how we make good literature becomes even more compounded.

My own perspective on it is that, as writers, the most we can really hope for is to offer our reader an experience for a day/ a few days/ a week (maybe two).

The lucky few of us who leave a lasting effect often won’t even know they’ve done so.

But people don’t always read because it makes them ‘happy’

We might not always bring our readers happiness, but that’s not really what a book is for either. Happy endings are great but sometimes a happy ending isn’t what’s needed. Sometimes we need catharsis. Enjoyment isn’t always about happiness.

In some moments a flaming ball of nihilistic rage might be the order of the day (may I recommend Fight Club). Alternatively, someone may be in need of some cathartic release due to some personal struggle or tragedy (I’d recommend ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, or ‘Nation’ by Terry Pratchett).

As authors, we can’t second-guess our readers. They’ll read our work and they’ll either love it or hate it, or more likely (if we’re being honest) their response will fall somewhere in between.

We make something special, we give people a taste of what it’s like to be in someone else’s mind (our own). We spend a year/ two years/ even more sometimes, on a project that will give someone that sensation for a matter of days or weeks.

Is it worth it?

For me it is, every word quietly typed at 2am, every sentence scrawled down on the bus ride home, every story idea jotted into digital notes while waiting at the school gates for my kids.

I gave up my old ideas about writing ‘great literature’ years ago. I’m happy to share my writing with those who want to read it.

I have to hope that what I write is enjoyable for someone and if I’m lucky perhaps it could prove to be special as well. Whether any of it is seen as ‘profound’ really isn’t up to me, I’ll just have to leave that to the readers.

Yes…but look after yourself

Having ambitions beyond this is potentially self-destructive and, at it’s worst, it could lead to leaving your work in an endless loop of perfectionism.

After all, it can hardly become a ‘great work’ if no one else ever gets to read it.

So, as I say, we should try not to get too big for our boots. Or more accurately don’t get too big for our books. I’ve got my (now) nine-year-old son to thank for that wee play on words. He popped in and wondered why I was adding an old picture of him to this post, then promptly showed me that his copy will surpass mine pretty quickly.

If you’re a writer and you feel I’m off base, or if you agree and would like to add something to the discussion, please feel free to click the ‘comment’ button below and let me know what you think.

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

It’s hard to say goodbye…

One of the hardest experiences when writing a new book stems from the connections you make with a new collection of characters. As some characters inevitably don’t behave the way you expect, you can’t help but like them as a result.

Part of the process of creating a convincing individual involves a close focus on character motivation. After drafting a moderately coherent plot you’ll inevitably realise that a character needs more motivation to follow your plot than they start with. This can lead to reworking the story.

Part of this process includes writing extra scenes that deepen your character’s personality in order to explain their actions and choices. This extra familiarity with the character typically leads you to feel more connected to them.

The fear creeps in

With this in mind I’m now nearking the end of my newest book and I am definitely apprehensive about saying goodbye to a few of my characters. This creates an odd tension for me as a writer because I obviously want to take the story through to its natural conclusion, but I also don’t want to say goodbye to these characters.

This particular book is set to become another stand-alone title (like Marcus was) which means there will be no going back to revisit old friends. For a reader the book may only represent a few hours of reading but my experience is markedly different.

How long I’ll spend with these characters

I’ll spend a month (possibly more) on this first draft and the second draft could take another few months. After this I’ll get someone to pass an objective eye over it, before using their responses to create a third draft.

At this point I may even pass copies to ‘beta testers’ to check readability and appeal, taking their feedback to work out a fourth draft. Then I have a final formatting draft to get page alignment, fonts, etc.

When all is said and done I will have spent between a year and eighteen months on this book. More than a year getting to know these characters, honing my picture of them, and gaining sympathy for who they are and why they behave the way they do.

All of this means that by then I may even ‘know’ some characters (as much as knowledge is the correct term for facts about fictional people) better than some friends or more distant family members.

One of the tougher jobs

As you can imagine, it’s hard to go through so much with someone and then say goodbye forever, but at its core that’s my job. In the grand scheme of things it’s not exactly the hardest job in the world to do, but I can’t pretend there isn’t a wee pang as I write the final lines.

It’s the last day of NaNoWriMo tomorrow and thankfully I’m on target for my 50,000 word total (though the book will be a little longer than this in the end). It’s definitely worth being excited about but I can’t deny that it’s also a little bittersweet.

Soon I’ll be saying goodbye to a new character that I’ve grown really attached to. She’s pretty great actually. The one silver lining is that once I get her out into the world and more people get to know her, she’ll get that little bit more real. I’m looking forward to introducing her sometime in 2020/21.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

A whole new world!

This month I’m visiting a place that no human being has ever set eyes on. I have a rough itinerary set out and I know a little about what to expect of the place but that’s all I have.

This marks the sixth year that I’ve done this sort of thing and every time I do, I begin my journey with just as little planning and organisation. The freedom is exhilarating and those seven years have changed my life. I can’t imagine ever skipping this ritual now.

I should probably explain this better: I haven’t booked a trip to a remote part of the world. I don’t intend to become the next Bear Gryls. In fact all my travel will take place sitting down in my office and my ‘travel agent’ is an organisation called ‘NaNoWriMo’.

NaNoWriMo?

If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you’ll have heard me talk about NaNoWriMo a few times.

If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo before then I’ll try a one sentence explanation: NaNoWriMo or ‘National Novel Writing Month’ is a community-based event for writers (both total amateurs and professionals) in which each member is supported on their way to creating a full novel/50,000 words within the month of November.

With the support of the NaNoWriMo community I’m currently writing my tenth novel (sixth NaNoWriMo novel). The final stretch is in sight. It will be hard, I will exhaust myself (and probably my family too as I run ideas by them).

Loads of support for writers

This is as close to a creative version of a marathon as I can imagine, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Not only are there message boards on the NaNoWriMo website itself but you can also call on writer’s support over on Twitter by following the hashtag #NaNoWriMo.

If you’ve missed your chance to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, you don’t have to wait all the way till November 2020. NaNoWriMo also has regular virtual writers ‘camps’.

As with the November NaNoWriMo these are free to participate in (though they welcome donations) and the community is there to help motivate you, console you, and help in countless other ways.

You can follow these links to find out more about both NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo. (Note: Currently the links seem to bring you to the same site.)

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Friends Of Old St Michael’s Children’s Book Day

This Sunday (25th August, at 12:30) there’s a great children’s books event along at Old St Michael’s Church Yard in Crieff. Positioned right on the site of Crieff’s first ever school.

Somewhere to enjoy a last wee taste of summer

The old school building has been gone for a while but it’s nice to be in touch with a bit of the town’s history; standing where it once stood.

As it looks now it’s a bright, open, grassy spot under a bit of tree cover. It’s a space that a lot of people in the town don’t know about but thanks to the work of the ‘Friends of Old St Michael’s’ it’s looking lovely and fully equipped for all sorts of events (and don’t worry there is cover if we get a spot of rain, they have a marquee set up ready).

Something fun to make back to school a little easier

The whole of Sunday’s event is family-friendly and there’s loads to do while you’re there. Learn to write with a real quill (like Harry Potter!) with Library of Innerpeffray, or listen to a story from an expert Storyteller. You can also travel through time with artefacts from Perthshire’s past from medieval times and the Victorian era.

Along with this you can participate in various art activities and enter a book review competition by sharing a review of your favourite story (with some GREAT PRIZES FOR THE BEST TALK).

And Little Old Me!?

So why am I telling you all of this? Self promotion obviously. I’ll be there as well, talking about the Jack Reusen books and about story-craft (and there might be a free book or two as well).

As you might know from previous posts, I offer bookwriting workshops in schools and I always love to hear what sorts of stories kids have locked up in their heads. I won’t be running a workshop on Sunday but hopefully we’ll get kids excited about writing their own stories, told from their own unique perspective on the world.

If you want to be kept up to date about the event (and you’re on Facebook) you can either mark yourself down as ‘interested’ or ‘going’ on the Facebook event page. That way you’ll be notified of any changes or other updates (plus it helps me feel good to know we’ve got a good crowd along 😉 ). It’s always good to support these sorts of events when they apear in town, hope to see you along on Sunday.

All the best,

John

Horror at Ruthvenfield Primary School!

ruthvenfield primary school book writing workshop ruthvenfield's portal to the nineteenth 19th century author john bray perthshire scotland

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on an exciting new project with pupils from Ruthvenfield Primary School. Pupils from their p6/7 class have worked long and hard to create their very own book titled ‘Ruthvenfield’s Portal to the 19th century’.

I didn’t want to post about it until it was all ready. There can be a lot of changes to a book even after a first draft is completed so I felt that it was best to wait until they were ready to share their creation.

I just got back from a wee event they put on today in the forest that features in chapters three and four of their book. (I even got a wee thankyou from the kids written in sticks in some eco-art they worked on this afternoon).

Now that the book is here I’m so glad to finally get the chance to share what we’ve been up to.

More than a one-off workshop

One of Ruthvenfield’s pupils read one of my books (‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘) and his mum suggested to the headteacher (Sarah Burke) that she get in touch. Initially, I was happy to put on an ordinary book talk for World Book Day but Mrs Burke asked me if I would like to do a workshop as well.

I’ve always wanted to try something a bit different when it comes to workshops. I thought that it would be good to have the pupils themselves put in all of the work; creating their own book from start to finish, illustrating, editing, and marketing it. As far as I could see this was the best way to let them feel invested in their work.

This sharing of the workload also helped them demonstrate excellent teamwork. The project was a little ambitious, as it tied in a creative writing project, with young enterprise components, as well as a degree of community engagement/PR/marketing elements. I knew from the start that we were asking a lot of the pupils but they seemed up for it.

Exceeds Expectations

The pupils put together something fantastic. They’ve surprised me often, not that I had low expectations, it’s more that I knew this would be a challenge and they’ve met that challenge and gone above and beyond.

I left as many decisions as I could in the hands of the pupils. During our initial workshop, we listed genres and subjects on the board (nominated by the pupils) and they voted for their favourite; a horror story, focussing on relationships (both enemies and friends), set in their own school.

From this moment on they seemed extremely connected to their book (once the writing itself began one pupil, off ill, even logged in to the shared editing system and worked on his chapter). Miss MacKenzie (the p6/7 teacher) noted that they were all highly motivated to make their book as good as it could be.

About the book

I had the enjoyable task of looking over their work and offering editorial comments. It is a genuinely fun (and scary) read. It follows a group of classmates as they are flung into another time with a set of tasks to complete. If they fail they will never be allowed to return to their own time.

It’s a unique story with a perspective on primary-school-aged children that is both enlightening and very honest (because it’s written by primary school children). The book was divvied up with chapters written by small groups of pupils.

Despite the shared workload, they had a structured book plan and character maps for their main characters so the overall tone of the book is coherent and makes for an accessible read. I’m probably biased but I strongly suggest you get hold of a copy.

Copies are available from the school at the end of the day tomorrow (27th June), or from Fun Junction in Perth and Crieff. Priced at £4, it’s a great summer read for anyone aged eight and up.

For Teachers/Group Leaders/Educators (Obligatory Self-promotion)

This was a new take on my usual school visits but one that I feel went very well. If you would like to run something with your own class/group please get in touch.

The full writing task from the first workshop to a finished, printed, book is a complex and multi-faceted project.

In theory, a class could have a finished book in as little as two to three months (depending on the level of time that pupils have available for it each week).

It’s definitely possible to start in September and have a finished book completed in time for a school’s Christmas fair. However, I would personally recommend spreading the workload out a little further (especially for a larger school).

A more realistic timeframe would be to run from September until the following spring. This would allow pupils more time to work on their book. What’s more, this timeframe offers the added benefit of additional time to organise a ‘book launch’ event where the authors can sell (and autograph) their books.

I still have dates available for initial workshops in September (2020) and I’m happy to discuss additional details and requirements. You can reach me by e-mailing: greenflamecreative@hotmail.com

All the best, John

How does a Writer make money?

Many don’t. I didn’t for the first five years or so. However, I stuck at it, I kept the day job going but put in consistent writing time too. It isn’t an easy route to being a full time writer (and if I’m honest I’m not 100% there yet myself). All the same, it does seem to work. Step by step, book sale by book sale, copy-writing job by copy-writing job; I am getting there.

But what does it mean to be a full-time writer?

This is where I have to draw the distinction between ‘writer’ and ‘author’.

The real end goal (for me at least) is to be able to write books full-time. This is when I’ll comfortably start calling myself an ‘author’.

For now I’m a ‘writer’ and to be honest I’m pretty happy with that. There’s a lot of interesting work to be done in the sort of wordplay and language use that I’m employed to do as a copywriter.

It makes me a better writer by forcing me to acknowledge the real effects of the words I write (occasionally these are even real-time effects).

What’s more, it allows me to meet more people from more walks of life. I’m reminded daily that it’s important to meet as many people as possible if I want to write believable characters.

So many people, so many characters

My own copy-writing work puts me face to face with dozens of different people on a weekly basis. I’m writing a lot of blog posts and other copy about local businesses in my area.

Our conversations often encompass hopes and dreams, the development of rare and unusual skills, and how they feel about what they do.

It’s a rich experience in character and in stories. Every business is a story, every owner or manager has their own dreams for that business.

They are so passionate about such different things, they know about worlds that I have never encountered; from equestrian husbandry, to jewelry making, to the challenges and triumphs of running a social enterprise.

I wouldn’t dream of simply inserting one of these people directly as-is into my books. It would feel wrong for some unplacable reason. All the same, I pay attention. They are such interesting people.

An entrepreneurial spirit seems to draw them together but their own loves, skills, and passions set them apart from one another. I would be foolish not to see this as a chance to understand a lot more about what makes for a gripping character.

I often get asked about how a writer makes a living, but I’m starting to see that making a living can also go a long way to making me a better author.

But how do I make money?

Here’s the big question. I’m not sure how to answer it simply. I have a background in retail, accademia, and I have a small amount of experience in town management. I’ve used this to set myself up as a freelance copywriter. I’ve got a growing list of contacts who know what I do and know they can contact me to create copy of a certain standard when they need it.

There’s not much room in that sort of business for being introverted (unless you have someone fighting your corner for you). This means that a fair bit of my month is spent chasing down content for clients and looking at new avenues which might bring me more work.

Writing with pen on paperIn short I’m a self-employed writer but a lot of my time isn’t spent writing; it’s spent with people. I interview people for blog content. I visit people to see if they need the services I offer. I try to figure out how to write things that will catch people’s attention. I like people, and I enjoy being sociable, so this isn’t a problem for me.

However, if you suffer from social anxiety or anything similar this path might not work for you. Here would be the stage to look at your list of talents to see which might combine to make writing a source of income. Perhaps a podcast would work for you, perhaps writing reviews for products, movies, music, or books.

There are places where you can apply for a ‘job’ as a writer, some of these jobs might be brilliant, I don’t know. All I do know is that so far I’ve personally found more fulfillment from doing things this way.

On top of the copywriting I also do author talks in schools about my books and about writing in general. This probably isn’t as lucrative as the copywriting but these talks are the times when I get to feel like an ‘author’. It’s me at my most celebratory about creativity.

You need to find a balance where you find a way for your writing to pay, where you still feel like you’re being creative, and where it makes sense (to you) in tems of money earned and time spent. If you’re aiming for this life, I sincerely hope you find a way to make it work.

I hope this post helps. It’s a question I get asked a lot (at school talks etc.) and this is a rough summary of my usual answers.

Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave questions or comments in the comments section below (or over on Twitter, or Facebook)