Category Archives: Thoughts

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

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

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)

 

Respect the Editors

You can be your own worst enemy. It doesn’t take much and you’re either filled with self doubt or over-confidence. A lot of the time I am not in the ‘happy medium’ between these two perspectives, in fact I let these two factions of myself loose on one another, waiting to see which side will win the battle.

The ‘inner editor’

One prominent member of the self-doubt faction is a version of myself that many artistic/creative types might recognise. Writers talk about something we call out ‘inner-editor’; the little voice inside that makes you procrastinate over a single paragraph rather than get on with the five pages you’re supposed to be writing that day.

He was a noisy, persistent, pedantic, and energy sapping presence for years. One day I found National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and with it I learned how to shut him up (for the most part).

The ‘inner artiste’

However, another character resides in my mind. He’s brooding, wildly passionate about everything, and possesses an unbreakable sense of self-worth. Everything he makes is a masterpiece. A sentence carved an finished to perfection, offered up as bountiful fruits to be enjoyed by the generations of humanity to come.This guy is a pillock. However, I need him. At 2am, when I’m just five-hundred words short of my daily goal the ‘Artiste’ pops out, full of certainty that he can create narrative splendour on four hours sleep, a couple of sandwiches, and fifty cups of tea.

The ‘artiste’ is my ace in the hole. My lifeline. He is the only way I know to get the words down in the time I’ve set myself.

However, what he writes often falls alarmingly short of expectations. When this happens my inner editor jumps out, prepared to gouge whole paragraphs (I don’t think he likes the ‘artiste’ much).

The truth is I reach a point where I can go no further with the tools I have at my disposal. I no longer look to an internal editor. At this moment I need a real-world reader/readers to look at my work, with a critical eye but also (I hope) with a degree of enjoyment of what they’re reading. I need an editor.

The REAL editor

I currently can’t afford the services of a real, fully qualified, editor. I honestly cannot wait for the day I can.However, so far I’ve managed to get by with support from a group of people I regard as ‘beta-testers’. Readers who dive into what I write and who I know will be honest. In some rare cases I’m given detailed notes covering grammar issues, lax areas in storytelling, and continuity errors (I’m an awful one for forgetting which characters are at which locations). (My wife is a great ‘beta-tester’, it’s almost as though tearing me a new one is actually enjoyable for her).

The odd thing about a good editor is that they look at a raw piece of work and see what it could be. Not only that but they have the wherewithal to guide the author to change that raw manuscript into something greater than it would have otherwise been.

Editors gain little credit for this. If (like me) you’re the sort of person who reads acknowledgements you’ll be accustomed to seeing editors receiving high praise. However, this is an often skipped section of a book and so, to all intents and purposes, the editor often goes unacknowledged.

Out there somewhere are a host of individuals who have spent countless hours improving some of your favourite works. You might pass them on the street and never know what they did.

The world’s literature is richer, more nuanced, and more engaging, thanks in a large part to the efforts of a group of unsung heroes. The ‘artiste’ might tear shiny rocks from the ground but it’s the editor who cuts them and polishes them in just the right way to make them shine. (To any editors reading this I apologise for the tired metaphor, I am but a lowly wordsmith).

I’d love to hear your own thoughts on the role of an editor in the creation of a literary work. Please feel free to comment below.

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John