Tag Archives: ideas

Why are Jack Reusen books so short?

harry potter page 1A long long time ago (actually it was only three years back) I tried to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my eldest son. It was a few weeks after his seventh birthday and he was on holiday from school. I thought that at last he was ready to sit down and enjoy one of the best children’s fantasy series ever written. He wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, he enjoyed it but his attention started lagging in the middle of each chapter. I tried to keep my reading as animated as possible but we still ended up stopping in the middle of some chapters. We would take a break, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes until the next day. For the most part it seemed to work. However, with each break he seemed to forget more details about the book.

At their heart Harry Potter books are mystery books in a fantasy setting. There are clues to remember and puzzles to solve throughout. Forgetting details in these sorts of books takes a lot of the oomph out of them.

I would be asked things like ‘Who’s Ron?’ ‘Why can’t Harry just do magic straight away?’ or possibly the most telling ‘Why does he live with his Aunt and Uncle?’ (asked when Harry has his first Hogwarts Christmas). It was clear he was forgetting more than he was remembering and at around chapter six or seven I could see that almost everything was going over his head.

We put Harry Potter away, to come back to when he was a bit older. All the same, the experience of trying to retain his interest lodged in my mind.

This sensation came back to me when November of 2014 rolled in. The nights grew long, and I discovered a new way to write. NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) fell into my lap. They said something like ‘you have a book inside you waiting to get out’ and I realised that there really was.

Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame became something that I needed to write; something fantastical, exciting, relatable, and importantly, a book that could (hopefully) maintain the interest of an energetic seven-year-old like my son.

There are lots of books for seven-year-olds. Incredible, exciting, sometimes hillarious books, but I felt like I could write something a bit different. I wanted an element of the seriousness of ‘older’ fantasy books, and a slight taste of the danger and thrills that come with that.

From my own experience I realised that I could hold my son’s attention for about ten minutes, so (estimating a reading speed of about 250 words per minute) I worked out that my chapters needed to be no more than 2,500 words long.

I also wanted to make sure the story could be read all the way through in a relatively small space of time so I limited my chapter count to be sure that the whole book could be read in around a fortnight (at a rate of one or two chapters per night).

When I released the first book in the Jack Reusen series I began to hear that other families were having exactly the experience I’d hoped they would. (I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that some parents were sneakily reading ahead to see what happened next). These responses were brilliant, then, around a month after release, I heard something that changed the way I looked at the books.

At the time I worked in a local toy shop. One of our regular customers came in specifically to thank me for writing the book. I hadn’t been thanked for the book before.

It turned out that she had been trying to get her nine year old son to read chapter books for years. Nothing caught his interest. Then she gave him ‘…the Fey Flame‘ and apparently he read the whole thing in just a few nights. I was taken aback and told her how happy I was that he had enjoyed the book so much.

That boy wasn’t the last to say something similar about the Jack Reusen books. The shorter length seems to have made it easier for a lot of children to enjoy. Now that I know I’m helping kids get into reading I can’t bring myself to change the formula.

The original idea was to give families something that they could enjoy together, but a fantastic side-effect seems to be getting more reluctant readers caught up in a book. I love reading and the idea that someone might miss out on the enjoyment of it is disheartening. If writing short chapters and short books helps get a few more kids enjoying reading then I’ll write as many of these books as I can.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your own favourite short/quick reads in the comments below. All the best, John

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3 easy ways to beat writers block

I’ve been writing ‘properly’ for a few years. One of the best things about getting more experienced is the fact that writer’s block is definitely less of a problem for me now.

I won’t pretend that I never experience it now but it’s definitely…different than what it used to be. When I look at what’s changed in the way I work there are three main things that stand out:

Routine: By this I don’t mean time-tabling writing sessions or anything like that. Life is messy and hectic and (to begin with at least) you’ll probably see writing as more of a hobby. This often means it takes second fiddle to other priorities.

However, there is an element of routine that you can develop for those times you do steal an hour or two for writing.

Here’s mine: cup of tea, bar of chocolate, playlist of music that matches tone of writing (e.g. I recently wrote a science fiction book for adults and listened exclusively to Sci-Fi soundtracks).

The more I write with my tea, chocolate, music accompaniment, the more I associate my routine with writing. It’s now my go-to means of getting into writing mode.

Simple rewards: This one could tie to your writing routine (e.g. like me, you could choose to only eat your favourite chocolate bar while you’re writing). However, your reward can be any small thing that means something to you.

The important thing is that the reward becomes intricately associated with writing for you. It needs to be easily replicated, exclusive to those times you set aside for writing, and you need the will power to not partake at any other time.

There’s also a chance it could fit in with the third tip.

Read/watch something unfamiliar: If you always watch/read the same genre (and especially if that happens to be the same genre you write in) then it can be really refreshing to step away from that after a writing sessions  (or during breaks).
I’m a huge fantasy/sci-fi fan and these are my chosen genres to write in. However, I’ve experienced really satisfying changes to my writing through watching/reading horror, drama, thriller, comedy, and mystery.

Playing around with different genres is a great way of keeping your writing fresh and interesting for you as a writer. If you’re bored with what you’re writing then your readers don’t stand a chance.

That’s about it. I’m sure you’ll still have days where you ask the creative part of your brain for something golden and it just sits there handing you lumps of dirt. All the same, I get far less of those days now and these three things have definitely helped with that.
I hope you found these tips useful. Let us know in the comments if you have some hints of your own for dealing with the dreaded block.

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