Categories
Gifts for writers Practical tips Writing Life

Finishing touches

1. For the launch party: book cakes

eatyourphoto.co.uk

No book launch party these days is complete without book cakes. These personalised vanilla sponges were just perfect. They arrived bang on time, tasted great and added a splash of colour to the snack table. EatYourPhoto deliver quickly too (which was a huge relief after the first company I tried let me down).

Customised vanilla cupcakes from EatYourPhoto.co.uk

2. For your author ID: book necklace

NewLeaf on Etsy

Lovely necklace from NewLeaf

I’ve been wearing my book necklace everywhere – especially when I know I’ll be dropping into a bookshop and asking to sign copies of Small! I’m not entirely sure what the booksellers make of me when I walk in madly pointing at my neck saying, ‘I wrote this! Honest! Can I sign it?’ But no one’s arrested me yet and, on the whole, it’s been a pretty good icebreaker.

If a writer in your life has a book out soon, and you can get your hands on the cover artwork, I’m sure a gift from NewLeaf (whether you choose the necklace, earrings or pin badge) will go down well.

3. For signings: book stamps

getstamped.co.uk

Another thing that’s all the rage for authors on Instagram is book stamping. So, naturally, I gave it a try – creating a simple reward stamp that could have come straight from one of the teachers at Madame Bogbrush’s School for Gifted Giants.

And (as long as I keep the book VERY steady as I stamp) it’s worked well.* I’ve also noticed booksellers really like it. Lots have commented that children aren’t always interested in a signature squiggle, but they do like seeing the stamps.

I designed mine on Canva then loaded the design to getstamped.co.uk.

*Apologies if you’re the person who picked up my one smudged copy from Waterstones in Salisbury on my first day of stamping…

What are your favourite bookish accessories or launch day treats? Share your ideas in the replies.
Categories
Inspiration KidLit Practical tips

Happytown Must Be Destroyed

1. Funny words

The schnozzdongle

You don’t need to know what the schnozzdongle does to enjoy the word immensely (although if you read the book, you’ll certainly find out). I giggled every time it appeared. And that was definitely a tip I took away: if you know a an object’s going to crop up a lot in your story, give it a good name so it’s delighting, not boring.

It also got me thinking about Richard Wiseman’s research with the Laugh Lab to find the world’s funniest joke. It was the first time I’d read about the ‘comedy k’ sound (Hard ‘c’ or ‘k’ sounds are supposedly the funniest of them all). I reckon one easy way to tell if the words you’ve chosen are funny is to try them on Word’s ‘read aloud’ tool. If they sound daft in a dull robot voice, you’re probably onto a winner.

2. Funny places

The Dangles

When I’m writing, I normally struggle moving characters from one place to another. (And whenever I can, I cheat, and jump locations between chapters.) But in Happytown Must Be Destroyed, James has made a comedic feature out of moving through the setting of Owt.

The mournful chimes of the ice cream van led us along the Woofy Wynd, round the Three Sided Square and up The Dangles.

Beginning of Chapter 20

The daft place names that pop up throughout the book made me chuckle almost as much as the Snozzdongle. Because they so beautifully mirror the way locals talk about their home towns, they also made the story of alien invasion seem so much more believable. It was a really clever way of getting me to buy into the setting. It also reminded me that little details can make a big difference to a story. You don’t need to describe every inch of your world. In this case, cracking local dialect brings the whole thing to life.

3. Existential musings on the nature of happiness

Yes, this book is packed with gags galore, but there’s a big message about what it means to be happy running through the story, too. Is jumping around in a yellow tracksuit looking happy, the same as actual happiness? Spoiler: probably not.

I love a comedy contrast and this book is full of them. We’ve got ice cream vans with guns. We’ve got Leeza, the indecisive allergy-sufferer who’s somehow been tasked with saving the town. And we’ve got the entire story: a comedy romp that genuinely makes you think about what it means to be happy. It’s yet another example that funny isn’t the opposite of serious. Amidst all the fun, there are big messages to take away … along with even bigger smiles.

Happytown Must Be Destroyed is published by Hachette Children’s Group and it’s out now.

Categories
Practical tips

Building a website #2

1. Updates

When you update pages, update your menus

Just after Small!’s cover reveal, I changed my homepage. I thought I’d been really clever by duplicating the page rather than starting from scratch. My plan was to redesign the copy in the background, then do a grand switcheroo on Cover Reveal Day. And it would have worked wonderfully, if I’d remembered to update my menus.

But I didn’t. So if you clicked ‘home’ in the top navigation from another page, you ended up back on my old homepage instead. On the plus side, my site doesn’t get many visitors yet, so I’m not sure anyone noticed 😂

2. Pre-orders

I’d seen other authors putting all their pre-order links on a Linktree page and assumed I needed one, too. But, thanks to a free WordPress webinar, I learned about the Link in Bio template. It looks just like a Linktree page but doesn’t take traffic away from your website. Now that’s the page I’m linking to on my Twitter profile – in the hope that anyone ordering a book (fingers crossed) might stick around to read the odd blog or invite me to a literary festival…🤞🏻

My Link in Bio page

3. Get the look you want

Avoid my design mistakes with a ‘Full Site Editing’ template

WordPress have just launched a new suite of templates that look much easier to edit than this one. With the older templates, there are some things I just can’t seem to change (like the vast amounts of white space between my content blocks). With Full site editing you can control everything – dragging boxes to make them the size you want. As soon as I can bring myself to do it, I’ll make the move to a new template. Full site editing is still in beta at the moment, so it might be worth waiting a little while for WordPress to iron out any kinks. But from what I’ve seen in the demo, it looks really user-friendly, even for beginners like me. It works on WordPress.com and .org but since I still haven’t made the move to .org, the new templates could well keep me where I am for a bit longer.

I’m still learning so much about web design, and this site is far from perfect. But WordPress webinars have been really helpful. If you’re with them, I recommend signing up to get a few extra tips. (You can also take a look at this blog from me.) Good luck!

Categories
Practical tips Writing Life

Writing resolutions

Give guilt the boot

When we’re still filled with festive cheer and the stress of the day job is a distant memory, it’s easy to set rigid writing goals. Sticking to them when reality bites is a whole different matter.

So, in 2022, I’ve decided NOT to set a daily word-count goal, or even to commit to writing daily. The chances are, I’ll still write most days because 1) I love it, 2) I feel genuinely sad when I’m not writing. But if work or life gets in the way sometimes, I won’t be beating myself up about it.

Instead, I’ll write my socks off whenever I can, and I’ll stay focused on big overall goals (like writing a sequel and pitching a non-fiction book). Then I’ll get there in whatever way I can, no matter how scrappily.

Fill your notebooks

Notebooks are there to be written in. (Yes, even the ones with the fancy hardback covers and gold sprayed edges.) This year, I refuse to be intimidated by the beauty of a notebook, and neither should you. It’s your words that make notebooks valuable. Fill them. Fill them. Fill them.

A few of the notebooks I plan to fill this year

Be the writer only you can be

In 2022, I’m going to try really, really hard not to compare myself to other writers, or read their books and come away thinking things like, ‘Their words are so beautiful, I wish I could write lyric poetry…’

Instead, I’ll cheer and champion every writer’s brilliance (something I try and do already). Then I’ll get back to being the chaotic, daft and generally bonkers writer I already am.

It’s easy to dismiss your own writing style, especially if it comes easily to you. For ages, I thought ‘well anyone could write like this, everyone else must be choosing not to.’ It’s only really since early reviews have come in for my debut middle grade book, Small! that I’m starting to think that my particular brand of storytelling might actually be my strength.

Whatever your writing style, I hope you embrace it in 2022. I’ll be right here to cheer you on.

Good luck.

(PS if you fancy reading a bit of bonkers MG, you can pre-order Small! with the lovely Rocketship bookshop.)

What are your writing resolutions? Share them in the replies
Categories
Inspiration KidLit Practical tips

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good

Proof copy for Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good

1. It’s a diary, done differently

Play with form

Who doesn’t love a diary? They’re the perfect place to enjoy the comedy antics of unreliable or naive narrators. (Emer Stamp’s, The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary of Pig is another of my all-time comedy favourites for that reason.) But what’s so smart about Loki’s diary is that he’s not allowed to lie. Every time he tries, the diary ‘helpfully’ writes back with its own corrections. It’s a brilliant device. And it’s a great reminder that no matter how familiar your format, there’s always a way to twist it and make it your own.

2. It’s funny because it’s true

Find the funny in front of you

As an outsider to the modern world, Loki is the perfect observational comedian. He’s constantly questioning the absurdity in the everyday, giving us his views on everything from work, school and shopping to crisps and – my favourite – museums. Loki can’t believe how boldly museums display their stolen goods (he’s far too sneaky to make his own wrongdoings so obvious).

Loki’s insights into life cracked me up and got me thinking. Mostly, they reminded me of the GK Chesterton quote that funny doesn’t have to be the opposite of serious. Loki’s comedy definitely has a serious side.

Funny is the opposite of not funny, and nothing else.

GK Chesterton

3. It brings new life to old stories

Build on what we know

We get a few specific nods to the original Norse myths, but Louie mostly uses them as a springboard for fresh silliness. I especially enjoyed Thor (who’s on Earth as Loki’s brother to keep an eye on him) wanting to spend his weekends admiring hammers in the DIY shops.

Using things we already know (or learn in the first couple of pages) sets the stakes high from the start. Will Loki, the misbehaving trickster god, ever manage to live a virtuous life? Or will Odin punish him to an eternity in a chamber filled with snakes?

This isn’t a retelling of the myths. It’s dropping familiar characters into new settings and asking the question that gets all the best stories going: ‘What if..?’ It’s also a brilliant way to go from a blank page to a fresh, funny and completely original new story.

I was rooting for Loki from the start. I’m sure everyone else will, too.

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Being Good publishes with Walker Books in February 2022. Pre-order yours now. (That’s my Bookshop.org page, but I’m sure you can order it in your local indie, too.) #BeLessLoki

Categories
Practical tips

Announcing your debut

1.Your first book might not be ‘the one’

Always have another project on the go

I thought signing with an agent would make getting published plain sailing. Alas, when the book that bagged my agent didn’t bag a publisher, I learned things don’t always work that way.

Luckily, by the time the rejections came through, I was totally immersed in the new project that became SMALL! So although the ‘no’s were disappointing, I was having enough fun in my new giant world to keep my chin up. That’s the big thing I’d recommend to anyone going on submission: always have another project on the go.

2. There’s probably a long wait ahead

Find a debut community

The next thing I hadn’t realised was how long you have to stay quiet about your book deal once you’ve signed it. (It was about eight months for me, but when telling the world about your book deal is the most exciting thing to have happened to you in the history of the world ever, those months feel like years.)

To handle the wait, find other writers who are waiting, too. I joined a Twitter group for 2022 debuts and it’s been the best place to quietly chat about the ups and downs of the publishing journey.You can see what the group’s up to (when we’re allowed to share news) by following @2022Debut on Twitter and Instagram.

3. Enjoy the moment…when it comes

Seriously, enjoy it

I love telling stories. But that doesn’t mean the rejections that paved the way to publication – whether getting a (constructive) battering in a crit group, a form rejection from an agent or a ‘no’ from a publisher – didn’t sting.

My debut was announced to the world yesterday. And, for now at least I’m allowing myself time to grin widely, skip wildly and check Twitter ever so slightly obsessively (I’ve been overwhelmed by the love and excitement people are showing SMALL! on social media. The kidlit writing community really is the best).

There are tough days in this writing game, but boy are the good days glorious.

Categories
Practical tips

Building a website

Disclaimer: I have *no* idea how to build websites (this one’s my first). But if, like me, you want a website that doesn’t cost a fortune, this might help.

1. Platform

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org

There are a few web design platforms, like SquareSpace, built with newbies in mind. I opted for WordPress because I’d love to add my own code to the site one day and, from what I can tell, WordPress is one of the few places that lets you. (I did a Python coding course once and am determined to use it!)

But…it’s only easier to add code if you choose the right WordPress. Which I didn’t.

Yep, there are two versions of WordPress – with the same look and logo. WordPress.com (which this site’s on at the mo) and WordPress.org.

WordPress.com is good for beginners because…

  • It’s free (once you’ve bought your domain name)
  • It hosts the site for you
  • It’s designed with blogging in mind – so it’s really easy to write posts like this

There are paid options too, which you can sign up for to get rid of adverts and get a bigger choice of templates. I accidentally bought one of these packages initially, thinking it would let me add my own Python code later. When I realised I was wrong, getting a refund was nice and easy.

But WordPress.org gives you more control

Ultimately, this was the platform I should have chosen because even though you have to find and pay for your own hosting, you can also add your own code. So you get a lot more say over the final look and feel.

That said, I think WordPress.org is probably for people who already have some web design game (which I don’t). So even though I chose .com by mistake, I think I’ll stay here a bit longer while I’m finding my feet. Expect another blog next year on the trials and tribulations of transferring a website from .com to .org!

2. The theme

Pick one with enough pages

The Twenty Twenty Theme…and my actual homepage for half an hour last Wednesday

I’m no designer, so knew I’d need a template to build my site. They’re called themes and they have all the navigation you’ll need built in. If you choose the right one.

I originally picked a one-page design called Baker. I thought it looked really slick…until I wanted to add more pages and came unstuck.

If you know you’ll want more than a single-page site, it makes sense to pick a theme with more pages in mind. (I’m now using the free Twenty Twenty theme instead.)

But, be warned: if you switch themes, take your site offline first!* I didn’t and for half an hour last Wednesday, I claimed to be a leading Swedish museum of modern art. Which, of course, one of my friends spotted and used as an hilarious excuse to prank email me art questions…

For half an hour last Wednesday, I claimed to be a leading Swedish museum of modern art

There are enough free themes on WordPress.com to get you started. But you can always upgrade to get more.

*You do that by going to your dashboard, choosing Settings – General – Privacy and checking the ‘Coming Soon’ box. You can also switch any page you edit to ‘draft mode’.

3. Make it yours

Why Canva is awesome

I was chatting to my author friend, Amita and admiring her website, when she revealed her design secret: Canva. The site lets you design web banners, social media pics, logos…and the ‘3Things’ images I’m using to promote these blogs.

Canva’s great, because it gives you a way of making your site look a little bit different, even using a standard theme. It’s easy to use and, so far, I’ve been able to do everything I need with the free version.

To get started, it helps to know the size of pic you want, so you can build the right template (otherwise, re-sizing is a pain without upgrading to the premium account). All my blog ‘featured images’ as WordPress calls them, are 1200 x 675 pixels.

It’s a lovely tool, and one I wouldn’t have thought to use on a website without Amita’s help. To thank her, I think we should all pre-order her historical fiction 2022 debut, The Circus Train which is full of magic and science and medicine and, frankly, sounds fabulous.

Have you attempted to build an author website yet? What top tips would you share? Let me know in the replies.

Categories
Practical tips

Writing courses

Before I wrote for children, I was already a writer. I’ve been scribbling ads, reports, brochures and web copy pretty much since I left uni.

So writing a children’s book would be a doddle, right?

Wrong.

I wouldn’t have got anywhere fast without three marvellous courses to help me on my way.

1. Start the book

City Lit’s Writing for Children

City Lit run lots of affordable courses for children’s writers (and since the pandemic, most have moved online).

But it was Lou Kuenzler’s Writing for Children courses that helped me start writing and keep writing.

Lou’s published heaps of brilliant children’s books , so she knows what she’s talking about, and can empathise with the trials and tribulations of finding agents, going on submission and holding your nerve as you wait (seemingly endlessly) for news.

She runs a course for beginners as well as a writing workshop, which is pretty much the best critique group imaginable. Lou’s an extraordinarily perceptive and constructive critic and creates just the right atmosphere to encourage everyone else to give useful feedback, too.

Lou’s an extraordinarily perceptive and constructive critic

As well as finishing my first children’s book with Lou, I met many a brilliant word-wrangler and friend.

Recent alumni include:

2. Stay inspired

Masterclass

I’m a massive Neil Gaiman fan, so when he designed a course for Masterclass, I was there. His words of wisdom always give me a lift. (My favourite being a reminder that if an early reader tells you something isn’t working, they’re probably right. And if they tell you how to fix it, they’re probably wrong.)

But Neil’s not the only reason I’ve stuck with my subscription.

If I’m ever after a fresh perspective, I bypass the writing courses and listening to the many actors, composers, comedians and artists on the site instead.

A bit like the old trick of reading your writing upside down to spot mistakes, looking at creativity from a different angle has a knack of unlocking knotty problems for me.

Of the three courses on here, this one’s the least interactive (for me). Technically it comes with forums and workbooks, but I can’t resist simply sitting back and enjoying the beautifully shot videos.

3. Edit the book

CB Creative’s Edit and Pitch your Novel

After finishing my first manuscript and getting a fair few agent rejections, I decided my book wasn’t quite as finished as I thought. And I turned to Curtis Brown’s 6-week online course for help.

Anyone can sign up, not just children’s writers, and the online platform made it easy to get to know people.

Within a couple of lessons I realised my book REALLY wasn’t finished

Within a couple of lessons, I realised my book REALLY wasn’t finished and, using CB’s excellent editing technique, I embarked on a major rewrite.

As well as helping you look at structure, the course covers perfecting your synopsis and agent cover letter. I also took the option to pay for an editor’s report at the end to get feedback on my whole submission package.

Before the course, I’d only had form rejections from agents. After it I came away with two full requests and found my agent!

If you’re not sure why your submissions aren’t working, I can’t recommend this course enough.

Have you been on any brilliant writing courses you’d recommend? Leave a reply to share the love