Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Seven Tips for Being a Children's Author


On the 8th February 2006, I received a letter - an actual, physical letter, hand-delivered, as it happens, to my office - from Bloomsbury Children’s Books. It was complimentary about the book I’d sent in. Faster than I could have ever imagined, a contract and an agent appeared: and my first novel, The Other Book, was due to appear in early 2008. 

I will never forget that feeling of elation. I carried around the letter with me for months. It became so creased up that it almost fell apart. I might even have framed it*.

*probably did

It seems customary these days to reflect upon one’s time in the children’s book world and to offer advice for those wishing to enter it. So I’ve gathered together my ten years of, ahem, wisdom, and, ten years, six novels, countless proofs, dozens of echoing school halls, and hundreds of hay bales in flapping tents later, here are my tips.

1. Become Roald Dahl

To do this you will need to eat a regular supply of Roald Dahl’s novels. I suggest a page at a time, taken once before meals, and washed down with a nice glass of rosé in the summer, and a pint of Guinness at winter.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the obvious choice; Henry Sugar has its merits too. You will soon find that, hey presto! you have morphed into the world’s favourite children’s author, and will not be able to move for the queues round your front door. 
If you're feeling daring you can season with a dash of Jacqueline Wilson. I've not yet dared try David Walliams.

2. Grow an extra hand.

You will find this immensely useful: firstly, so that whilst labouring over proofs, you can make yourself one of the three thousand coffees that you’ll find yourself needing per day. Secondly, so that at school book signings, you can double your rate and therefore sell more than twelve copies. An implant taken from a stem cell should do the trick: but I warn you, three lots of pins and needles is not a happy feeling.

3. Research Themarket.

Themarket is a lovely, huge, mysterious town located in the middle of Nobody’s Sure and Last Year. The most important thing you can do as a new writer is to embark on some serious research of this wonderful place, whose citizens know exactly what books they want to read and when and why. This also has the seriously useful benefit of being tax efficient - you can claim your expenses for your stay in Themarket and set them against your advance, rendering it negative - so the taxman has to pay you!

4. Have a Thing.

Many writers these days find themselves floundering for lack of a Thing. How are you meant to do interviews and so on if you don’t have a Thing? Rest assured, that now we are exploring the galaxy, it’s much easier to find and care for an extraterrestrial parasite that imitates other people. You can also have fun with all the paranoia it generates when your sales rocket and all the other authors cower in terror!

5. Network.

I find that by laying down some railway tracks every day - it doesn’t matter where - people can move about more easily, and thus have more time and space to go and buy books, preferably your own. You can build up many different kinds of networks - some like to sit by the beach, weaving fishing nets that they then unpick at night. I’ve known some authors even develop a special silk gland so that they can garland their publishers’ offices with thick, sticky webs. Most useful when you need to talk to your editor!

6. Have a cover story.

Ten, fifteen, twenty years into your career, probably at your own funeral, you will still be having this conversation:

Cheery Guest: [finishes telling you about his job] So what do you do then?

Author: [calculates frantically. Settles on:] I’m a writer.

Cheery G: Oh what, are you published?

Author: Er… yes.

Cheery G: Anything I’d have heard of?

Author: [thinks: well, how am I meant to know the answer to that?]

It is at this point that you can let your imagination run wild. I love telling people that I write manuals for a particular kind of gadget that helps tractors improve their efficiency. It’s always a knockout! Follow this advice, and you’ll be the belle (or beau) of the ball!

7. Don’t forget to write.

Finally, my most pertinent piece of advice is this: don’t forget that you are actually a writer, and do enjoy putting weird symbols together in the right order to make some kind of sense.

Make sure, then, that you allocate a time of day to write - preferably one that’s the most inconvenient to your family and friends. I find that dishwasher-unloading time is a great moment to rush off a do a chapter or so, whilst the chinks of china being put away sound merrily in the far distance. Good, thick earplugs work well for this too - and, recently, I've found a pair of old-fashioned horse blinkers, so that even if people are gesturing at you, you can't see them! Within a mere fortnight or so you'll have a good solid draft, and a brilliant added benefit - nobody will want to talk to you either!

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