Tag Archives: reading

Getting serious about writing (wk 10): Stop thinking like a reader if you want to finish that book

When I turned thirty I made a promise to myself that before I reached forty I would have written ten books. I have to admit that even then it seemed a little ridiculous and within a few weeks, I had to admit to myself that I might have bitten off more than I could chew. Inevitably, as the months went by, the promise looked less and less likely to bear fruit.

I did try. I wrote as much and as often as I could, but by the time I reached thirty-two I had lost count of the number of non-starters and unintentional short stories that I had written. I just couldn’t leave a story alone for more than a few days without writing an ending and rushing to fil in the blanks. It was an odd state of affairs: like a war between my inner novelist and my inner reader.

Completing any large project is tough. However, writing a full book seems to come with its own complications.

What writing isn’t…

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Writing a novel is not the same thing as reading one. This may seem obvious but there are some important truths behind this.

After all, before we write our first book we will have spent our lives reading books. On top of this, we will also consume a host of other media (be that TV shows/ movies/ plays/ or any other story format). I can’t help but wonder whether consuming stories in this manner inclines us to grow too accustomed to the catharsis of endings and the drive to know ‘what happens next’.

Our minds often scream out for a sense of completion in the stories we read and I think this was the root of my problem; I thought the ending was the important bit.

It took me a while to notice this inclination in myself. Often when writing I yearned for the ‘ending’, and when I wasn’t rushing for the ending I was desperate to reveal the twist, or I wanted to play out the life-changing revelation for the main character. Nothing else mattered; I needed to reach that goal. In short, I was looking at my stories as a reader, not as a writer.

It’s an easy, possibly inevitable, position to fall into when you start writing. After all, we may have been writing stories for years (starting as young children), but our experience of ‘the novel’ comes first and foremost from our experiences as readers. We don’t notice (at least on our first reading) the small hints, the foreshadowing, the scene-deepening detail, which a well-sculpted book unpacks before us.

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With a very select group of exceptions, my experiences as a reader followed the path of opening that next chapter to ‘see what happens next’. Writing isn’t like this, it would be utterly bizarre if I sat down to write and was steadily surprised at the story as it unfolded. Looking back, I think that this really was at the heart of what held me up for those first two years.

I’d like to say that there’s a simple solution to changing your perspective but there isn’t a quick fix (not that I’ve found anyway). However, there are a couple of things that hindsight tells me may have contributed to my own changed perspective and both of them happened in November 2014.

Perspective shift 1: I know what’s going to happen

In November 2014 I joined an online writing community who offered support to each other as we tried to get fifty-thousand words written in one month. They call themselves NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and they have a host of phenomenal resources to help you reach that goal. If I succeeded I would break my streak of unfinished work. I would get that book written.

I signed up five days late. The daily word count targets they set left me with thousands of words to write and I had no idea what to do to meet my target. However, having this much to catch up on forced me to get out of my own head and just write the first thing that came to mind.

A scene unfolded. I met my protagonist. I worked my mind around to see what I could do to add conflict in that first scene (conflict drives our writing, and usefully also drives readers to read on, win-win).

‘Pantsing’ with purpose

I was about to discover that the type of writing I was doing was what is known as ‘pantsing’; viz. writing ‘by the seat of your pants’, meaning that I was writing with no formal plan or structure in mind.

As I took a break and read tweets from others on as they discussed catching up on their own word counts, I came to find out more about ‘pantsing’ and how to make it work for you.

Writing with pen on paperMore experienced ‘pantsers’ explained that they keep a separate notebook and write notes as they write. These notes will contain plot ideas, possible endings, conflict-building scenarios, all that good stuff. In short, they do have a plan, they just unpack that plan in a different order than I expected.

So I started writing notes. I unpacked supporting characters pages before they appeared in the actual text. I had conflicts generate from small mistakes that we wouldn’t see until a chapter or two before the ending. In short, I got all that yearning for endings out in a separate document.

I got to have my cake and eat it too. I knew what was going to happen next but I also gave myself time to let those occurrences happen organically by keeping those ideas as separate notes.

In the years since I have moved away from the separate set of notes and made my manuscript into a working document. The notes go at the bottom. I set them in an end page, visually distinct from my main text.

As an added benefit this also gives me a ‘writing’ activity on hand for those days when inspiration is sluggish or absent. In my designated ‘writing time’, I can then sit down and organise my notes in order.

This is a very loose process but it helps set up an itinerary of sorts and as the book progresses it often morphs into a fairly coherent chapter plan. Pantsers might not plan in advance but they do plan and the book takes shape as a result.

Perspective shift 2: I don’t always know what’s going to happen (but someone does)

My second change in perspective happened at the end of my first week of writing, I was about five or six chapters in and something slowed. Despite having a plan (of sorts) in front of me I couldn’t get the next scene to play out properly.

I’ve since read about this phenomenon, and spoken to other authors about it but at the time I found it truly bizarre. I’ll backtrack for some context.

Prior to writing my NaNoWriMo project in 2014, I had never been able to finish a book. However, I had managed to reach chapter four, five, or six many times. I’ve now self-ascribed my problem as a mid-point obsession with backtracking; I know where I want to go but something drags me back and I start re-reading my first few chapters in search of what I can do to move forward.

My ‘pantsing’ notes told me otherwise; my answers were not in stuff I had already written, I was wasting time, instead, I leaned in a strange direction. By this point, I had a number of secondary characters with more notes about them than appearances in the text. One, in particular, jumped out at me and basically ‘told’ me what we were going to do next.

Obviously, this character is still part of my own mind but as I said earlier, I’ve spoken to other writers and this doesn’t seem to be a unique experience. Basically, your characters are a subconscious means of propping up and filling in the story. With years of reading experience we know what we like in a book, we know what we want to see. If we write a note about a character then it’s for a reason.

Somewhere deep inside we can feel something unbalanced in the story, or we may simply recognise a missed opportunity. When we write a secondary character (or even when we include secondary locations, objects, or other features) we give ourselves an additional tool which can be used in building the story and moving it forward.

These secondary characters are not just objects we use to fill a scene, they’re pockets of personality that we can use to move a story forward in ways in which our protagonist, antagonist, or any other primary character can’t. Derek Landy (who writes the fantastic Skulduggery Pleasant series of books*) is an absolute master of secondary character use.

I realised that, even with a plan in front of me, I sometimes didn’t know exactly how we were going to get from A to B. However, with well-rounded secondary characters in my notes, I had a new resource to draw from.

I never re-read during a first draft now. Those first-draft chapters will do nothing but slow you down. Instead, I always lean on my characters. When I don’t know how to move forward I look through my notes and ninety-nine percent of the time my characters have the answer.

Unpack and relax

Every year I enter another NaNoWriMo event and with each new one, it gets easier. I know what I need my book to do, my notes fill in the gaps and then I simply unpack what I need to move the story along at a reasonable pace.

You might not be a fan of note writing but if you take that inclination to find out ‘what happens next’ and put it into note form, you tend to create a nice set of instructions which can be unpacked and fleshed out at your leisure.

I had to stop thinking like a reader before I could think like a writer. I’m still not a hundred percent there but my writing gives me considerably fewer headaches with each new book.

Don’t stop reading

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I feel like I should add a small disclaimer at the end here. I say that reading books puts us in a bad position when it comes to our perspective as writers. However, this doesn’t mean I quit being a reader, instead, I had to give up the notion that I could look at my own book in the same way in which I look at the books that I read myself.

In my own writing, I know what’s going to happen, and even when I don’t it isn’t to be found in the book itself. The story lies in my mind, but, where that fails it also resides in the notes I write for myself.

Write good notes, don’t look back during your first draft, and you’ll have a book under your belt in no time. None of this stops you from being able to enjoy reading (after all it’s probably what made you want to write to begin with).

Follow a new self-published book all the way from working document, to printing press, to bookshelves

Thanks to the changed perspectives I highlight above (and a lot of support from a lot of different people) I reached my goal early. I have 10/11 books written, three in full self-published editions, others in various stages of drafting, and one in its final stage of being turned into another self-published book.

I write about the journey of self-publishing this new book every week in this blog. You can keep up to date with this process by following the blog, joining my mailing list, or simply by following me on Twitter.

If you are in the early stages of self-publishing, or even if you’re about to sit down and write your first book there should be plenty of help to be found in my posts.

What’s more, I’m always happy to discuss (in as frank a manner as I can) exactly what’s involved in self-publishing and what to expect from it. You can leave questions in the comments below or message me over on Twitter. I’m always happy to talk to other writers.

Thanks for reading,

All the best, John

 

 

*Please note that some links on this site are affiliate links and I may receive a commission on purchases from Amazon.co.uk as a result

3 easy ways to make reading fun for kids

I’ve now been on bedtime story duty for twelve years. We’ve been on adventures in day-to-day worlds, trailed through fantastical realms, crept through sinister space ships, been on arctic expeditions, and much more besides.

It’s great to read to your kids, it offers lots of benefits. I’ve written before about the importance of reading to children. If you’d like to check that out just click this link.

If you are an adult in the UK who struggles to read but would like to get better you can get help from ‘The Big Plus’. You can find out more by clicking this link or phone them on 0800 917 8000.

Make Storytime Fun

In the past twelve years of bedtime stories, I’ve explored as many different ways of holding a child’s attention as I could think of. Some of these didn’t work, some had the opposite effect, and some were downright ridiculous.

However, in among all of the experimentation I’ve found at least a few things that definitely helped keep my kids enthralled enough for a half-hour or so of reading each night. This immersion in the story world has definitely helped develop their own love of reading too (to the point where I’m steadily being made redundant).

Giving the characters some personality

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The big thing that really caught their attention in the early days of story reading was something that might make many feel self-conscious, but it’s well worth the effort…voices.

You don’t have to be perfect; your Winnie the Pooh doesn’t have to sound exactly like the Disney version, your Gruffalo doesn’t have to sound like Robbie Coltrane, and later on, your Hagrid won’t have to sound lie Robbie Coltrane either.

You’re not trying to win an award, your kids won’t be overly critical (especially if you start early). Just make an effort. Changing your voice, even a little, will encourage most children to pay attention.

At baby and toddler stage they’re keyed-in to notice even the slightest changes in your voice. The more you change your speech patterns, the bigger the interest will be (at least that’s what I found).

I’ve always included voices when reading. They haven’t always been perfect but when we moved on to books without pictures it almost became a necessity. With a larger group of main characters, it helped a lot to have different voices so my kids could keep up with the story.

This has apparently had such an effect that my eldest son recently told me that when he reads by himself he hears different character voices inside his head. Good to know it was worth the odd sore throat.

Set the scene

Another important discovery in the early days of storytime was to add a bit of theatre to make ‘story time’ into an event.

We didn’t do this all the time but sometimes I felt it was necessary. One of the biggest changes was the move on to chapter books. Without pictures, it was sometimes necessary to do something to draw my kids deeper into the story. I had to think outside the box.

For example, we might build a fort in their room after tea, then read in it for bedtime. I sometimes set up special lights to make the room look different (cheap battery-powered fairy lights bought in the pound shop or other bargain shops were ideal for this).

Whatever made storytime stand out was worth a try. If we had time, it could be something big but most nights it was as simple as switching off the room light and using a reading lamp and some fairy lights. Here’s one tactic that I found really useful.

Let them pick

You should let them pick their own story. I won’t lie to you here; you may have to read the same picture book every night for a month if you do this. However, back at a time when their whole day was dictated by others (where they went, who they met, what they ate), this was one of the only ways my kids were getting to engage in making their own choices in life (albeit on a pretty small scale).

What’s more, it also gave me an early insight into their tastes and personalities. They’ve surprised me many times, especially at the library or book shops when looking for something new.

Let them look through and see what stories really stand out to them. This is actually a lovely experience, and it’s something I’m sure most parents will get a kick out of.

Try and enjoy it yourself

This is a sort of ‘bonus tip’ on top of the three mentioned so far I’d add this extremely important extra. Make sure you’re comfortable, happy, that you’ve got a good seat/beanbag/ whatever you like to sit on, and most importantly that you’ve got a wee cup of tea/coffee on hand to stop sore throats.

It can be hard to disconnect from things now. I know my phone beeps multiple times an hour, I’m guessing yours does too. I’ve come to see that half-hour as a welcome break in that constant stream of information. I put my phone away, I grab a cup of coffee, my kids get into bed (or sometimes sit with me) and we take a step away from our world for a little bit.

Reading to your kids doesn’t have to be a begrudging task that we do because we feel we ‘have to’. It can be a relaxing break from day-to-day life. Do what you can to enjoy the slower pace, the focussed time, the moments to catch up and laugh with your kids. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had more than a few nights where I can’t believe we’re reading the Gruffalo AGAIN (for example), but most of my nights have been something brilliant.

I wouldn’t give up story night for anything and I hope these hints help you find ways to enjoy it more too.

Please let me know if you try any of these hints in the comments below and as always thanks for reading,

All the best, John

Getting Serious about Writing (wk4): Why should someone care about your book? (Building trust and community)

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This week I have been looking ahead at book visibility. This particular aspect of self-publishing is pretty wide-ranging; it can be complex, it can be hard work, but it can also be fun.

Obvious parts of the process (at least in modern terms) are things like social media strategy, a blog timetable, and traditional PR (newspapers etc.).

However, looking at it from this angle first is pretty much cart-before-the-horse stuff. There’s an objective (and sadly a little pessimistic) position you need to consider first:

Why should anyone care about your book?

At least in the first instance, your book is likely to gain local/ niche attention, and that’s when things are going well. However, even that attention will only come if the press can make a story out of what you’re doing.

The headline ‘Local Author Self-Publishes Book’ isn’t exactly going to turn heads. However, ‘Local Author Uncovers Town’s Secret Past’ is much more likely to catch the eye of a local newspaper’s readership.

(Image: StrathearnSnapshots) from Strathearn Herald 30th Aug 2018

I’m on my third draft at the moment, following Beta-reader comments and fixing and amending as I go. It’s safe to say that if I don’t know what my book is about by now then I never will. With this in mind, now is a pretty good time to start working on the elevator pitch for the book. I’ll have to figure out how I’ll summarise this book to potential readers but I should also be ready to explain it to people with influence, like reporters, head-teachers, and class teachers.

Your own book may not be for kids so where you see ‘teacher’ insert someone else who might be in a position to tell someone about your book.

The content of your book may not be enough by itself to turn the heads of these influencers so be prepared to do some extra work at this stage. Is there something you could do to make a story out of the publication of your book? Is there a real-world story about what you’ve gone through to get it out there, or even a story about how this particular book might be relevant to a contemporary news topic?

It has taken me years to realise that neglecting this step is truly foolish; the real issue is that there are a lot of new books coming out this year, there will be even more by this time next year and as a writer, you need to have some means of highlighting what makes your book different. In a traditional publishing situation, a lot of this work would be done for you, you could even be lucky enough to have a real-world and blogosphere book tour set up and coordinated for you.

Laying the Groundwork

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In self-publishing, you are responsible for your own PR and the seeds you sow in the minds of potential readers (and in those of influencers) will decide whether your book sells. To navigate the next year or so you’ll need answers to a few key questions:

  • Who is this book for?
  • Why should they care about it?
  • Can you help your target market in some way (not specifically tied to your book)?

Also:

  • Who are the main people that your target market will listen to?
  • Why should they care about your book?
  • Can you help these influencers in some way (not specifically tied to your book)?

Putting a plan together

With answers to the above questions in hand, you should hopefully be in a position to create a genuine and authentic connection with them without sounding like your going on a hard sell for your book. I can certainly confirm the fact that you will receive considerable benefits over and above book sales if you develop a true connection with your audience.

This component of the book strategy can make some authors feel a little uncomfortable. Can we feel an honest connection if that connection comes as part of an ‘organised strategy’?

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It can help to think of this element of your book release as being less like a business plan and more like planning a social event like a party.

Where the focus of a party might be a person’s birthday, your strategy here is to highlight and celebrate a book. You don’t bring business into it at a birthday party and you don’t (have to) bring business into it when organising a book launch.

Instead focus on building a community, a list of ‘guests’ who you would like to celebrate with. One difference between a book launch and a birthday party is that you may not have met some of these people prior to the organising of the launch. The chronology of this doesn’t have to detract from the real connections you form though.

A beautifully organised book launch shouldn’t leave you with that sense of unease over whether you’re on a hard sell. If you are careful about the process then you, your readers, and your influencers will be connected in ways that go far beyond your book by the time it lands on shelves.

What does that look like?

I can’t speak to how every developed network will look once it’s established but I can give you a little insight into my own.

I write for children, in many ways children aren’t the ones who actually purchase the books. They may choose it but typically there are parents/ guardians who approve of a choice and either buy the book or give them the money to make their purchase.

It’s also typically the case that children will often hear about new books through their school. As a result of all of this, it’s a long-established part of writing children’s literature that school visits and workshops are part of your job.

With this in mind, you have to remember how subtle your connection with your audience will be. Most of the time you will meet your readers through their teachers or at some other event organised by parents and other responsible adults. Personally, I feel this is as it should be. I have two children myself and I find it reassuring to know that my kids encounter books that have been vetted a little by a responsible adult.

Things change in your teens and you may choose to read books in a way that breaks away from this format, this is also something I approve of. My own experiences in reading were enriched by the safety net in place in my early education and the releasing of that network in my teens.

Introducing yourself

This ‘network’ of people who supervise what children read are understandably wary of new books, and this goes doubly for self-published authors. Let’s face it, the fact that you have printed your book yourself means that it hasn’t been vetted in the same way that it would through a traditional publisher. There’s a slight hint of added risk involved in considering a book like that for children.

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A self-published children’s author has to take extra steps to ensure that they are accessible, accountable, and easy to understand. Just as you needed an elevator pitch for your book, you will also need to get one ready for yourself. Who are you? What are your views on things? Are your books likely to come with an agenda? What subject matter is dealt with in your books?

An additional element that I’ve come to notice is that teachers, in particular, tend to also look at the educational nature of your interactions with their pupils. Does your talk cover any topics/ outcomes that they need to cover in that term? Can they use your visit to add extra energy into their segway into a core topic within the curriculum? Will your visit offer an aspirational benefit?

Whether you’re witing for children, teens, or adults the question of who you are will jump right to the forefront when you choose to take the self-published route. You’re a little riskier, a publisher isn’t standing behind you with their hard-won credibility so you’ll need to win that credibility yourself. Keep this in mind.

Serve your Community

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The questions above will be present in your potential readers’ minds whether they ask you explicitly or not. Try and be as upfront and honest as you can be in how you deal with them. Your niche is there waiting for you, be as true to yourself and your book as you can be, that way your community can grow from a place of trust and authenticity.

When you’re self-published it’s not so much a sales pitch as it is a case of developing the trust that you (and your book) may lack by not having that publisher’s logo behind you. There are some brilliant things about being self-published but this part may feel like one of the negatives. However, it can be one of the most positive things if you do it right.

Be helpful to your community not because you want them to buy your book but because you identify with them and enjoy hearing what they have to say. If your book really is good enough they’ll let each other know and your sales will go up.

If your book isn’t as good as it can be you can at least hope that some members of that community will let you know what went wrong. They may even offer to be Beta readers for your next project. Be as open to them as you can be and your writing career will benefit in its own time.

A Weekly Dose of Self-Publishing Advice?

I’m publishing a new post about the self-publishing process every Monday. Each post is different and focusses on what I’ve been up to that week. Each post uses that week’s activity to look in-depth at a topic that’s important to the overall self-publishing process. (You can find all of my ‘Getting Serious About Writing’ posts by clicking this link)

Eventually, you’ll follow me through final edits, formatting, printing, and digital publishing, along with the other essential aspects of self-publishing (like this week’s topic of community growth and reaching your audience).

If you want to make sure you don’t miss a post you can subscribe to receive each post on Monday by e-mail, simply click this link to subscribe to my mailing list via Mailchimp.

I’m the only person using that account so you’ll only receive what I can type (so don’t worry, you won’t be getting ten e-mails a day).

As always, thanks so much for reading, please feel free to add a comment/ question here or over on Twitter (you can find me at @Johntoyshopguy).

All the best, John

free creative writing course for kids celebrating stories literacy scottish curriculum for excellence

FREE Curriculum for Excellence literacy classroom resources

Very soon I’ll be launching a new ten-week series of classroom resources for teachers called ‘Celebrating Stories’. It’s based around the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence but many of the learning opportunities and outcomes will be relevant within other curricula as well.

Our focus?

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The primary focus will be on literacy (as you would imagine, coming from an author). However, over the course of the ten weeks, pupils will also encounter challenges and opportunities to learn within other spheres as well; including maths, community engagement, art, and some components of design and technology. (You can find a full list of curriculum areas covered by downloading this document: Celebrating Stories Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes for planning learning, teaching and assessment)

Your class will be taken through something like a miniature course in creative writing/ self-publishing. The class will choose the nature of the end result but the aim is that it will take the form of a class-published set of work which can be utilised to raise funds for the school.

Given the duration and level of work involved each week, this is an ambitious project for a class. Completing the set activities could take 2-3 hours of class work per week (or more) depending on your pupils’ level of interest.

I don’t want to be too specific about weekly time at this point as the programme is still untested. However, your class’ participation will decide how much things progress on their chosen project.

What do teachers get?

I will contribute both a teacher’s guide and relevant pupil printouts each week via email but the work will primarily be in the hands of pupils (with support and guidance from their teacher).

The course offers pupils the chance to develop teamwork and leadership skills, along with encouraging creative output, critical analysis, and developing their young enterprise capacities.

PLEASE NOTE: I can offer virtual and/or in-person support for schools (e.g. help with editing or formatting) but this isn’t a standard part of the ‘Celebrating Stories’ programme. I’m more than happy to help where I can but additional arrangments will need to be made if more involvement is needed (please contact me for details).

Will this work alongside normal classroom activities?

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All activities are checked against concrete outcomes within the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence so that the project doesn’t detract from their ongoing educational goals. (A list of key areas covered will be included in your welcome e-mail.)

Core activities are all aimed at level two outcomes, primarily within the Literacy component of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Additional components, drawing on other skills, have also been checked against the relevant level two outcomes in the curriculum.

I should note that Celebrating Stories has no affiliation with Education Scotland, However, measures have been taken to ensure that this course will fit within normal classroom activities for pupils working in level two (p6/7).

What does ‘level two’ mean, who is this for?

This programme will primarily be of interest to teachers of p6 and p7 pupils in Scotland. (That’s around 10-12 years old, for those who are unfamiliar with the Scottish system for year-groups).

It has been designed for a single class (of around 30) but could also be used as a year-group project with minimal changes.

COST DISCLAIMER:

I should note here that there is no cost for joining the programme. No funds will be requested  (nor expected) on the part of Green Flame Books in relation to the e-mail based version of ‘Celebrating Stories’.

However, you may choose to pursue certain formats of media that (outside of the programme) will cost money (e.g. printing costs if you choose to hire a local printing company to print a booklet for you).

Though this may initially cost the school funds, the young enterprise component of ‘Celebrating Stories’ is aimed at helping pupils consider ways in which they might recoup any costs which arise from their activities. A whole section of the course looks at how pupils can use this as an opertunity to raise money for their school.

Any and all funds you raise are purely for your school.

Want to get in early?

If you would like to be one of the first to use this resource (or if you would just like to keep up with what I’m working on for/ with educators) you can subscribe to my teachers’ mailing list by following this link.

If you have any questions please post them in the comments below or as a reply to the welcome e-mail you receive from me.

Hope to hear from you soon,

All the best, John

Help young people find an outlet

This is a different sort of post today. I recently launched a new website for children and young adults called ‘Celebrating Stories‘.

The idea behind the site is fairly simple. I thought about the fact that a lot of us (adults) are using creative outlets to deal with the odd mix of alert, isolation, and simple stir-craziness that we’re all going through at the moment.

I thought it might be nice if children and young adults had access to a venue where they could share their own stories (fiction/ non-fiction/ jokes/ poetry/ any other forms of expression).

‘Celebrating Stories’ is a place for children and young adults to be creative and share their own take on the world with others. They’ll also be able to comment on each others’ stories, offer encouragement, chat about their stories, and tell them about their own.

How do kids get their story on ‘Celebrating Stories’?

Each writer will have to become a member of Celebrating Stories. This is a free process and doesn’t take a lot of time.

To join simply click this link and join the ‘Celebrating Stories’ mailing list (it’s totally free, there will never be a charge for membership). N.B. Make sure to use the email address of the person who will be using the ‘Celebrating Stories’ membership.

Login details will then be sent out and they’ll be writing stories in no time.

I hope this resource helps children to engage with each other and be creative. It can’t hurt for them to have an outlet during these strange times as well.

Thanks for reading,

All the best, John

Behind you!…

An eerie whistle sounds behind you.
There’s no one there.
He’s hiding now. Hiding in your phone, in your tablet, your Kindle Reader…
Yep, ‘Marcus’ (my dark fantasy/horror novel for readers aged ten and up) is now on Kindle reader and the Kindle app for Android and Apple. Pop over for a look now, click this link to find ‘Marcus’ on Amazon.co.uk.

Why did I wait so long to launch the Kindle edition?

Some readers may know (many may not) but ‘Marcus’ actually came out in paperback well over a year ago. I had a proper book launch and everything.

Prior to that, a less polished edition was made available here on my website on a chapter by chapter basis (you can still read the whole thing if you like, just follow this link to chapter one of ‘Marcus’). It was my attempt to replicate the old newspaper serials which worked so well for Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

All of my other books up till that point had been available in print and on Kindle but, on this occasion, I held off. I’m not sure why; possibly because I enjoy the face-to-face nature of paperback book sales. Either in communicating with a retailer or in signing a paperback copy, there seems to be something more ‘human’ to the whole business of paperback books.

However, this face-to-face contact isn’t a safe option in the current climate and I’ve come to realise that without a digital copy I won’t be able to engage with readers at all.

Please have a read and tell me what you think

Whether you read the serialised copy here or the Kindle edition of ‘Marcus’ I would really love to know what you think. Being cut off from your audience isn’t an easy thing and it would be great to hear from anyone who reads any of my books.

If a dark fantasy/horror doesn’t sound right for you, then feel free to have a browse of my Author page over on Amazon. It would be great to chat to any readers at the moment. You can find me on Facebook and over on Twitter.

Hope all is good with you,

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

 

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