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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.
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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.

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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
Writing Life

In praise of pantsing

Pantser (n) someone who writes by making things up as they go along (or flying by the seat of their pants)

The winner’s badge on the NaNoWriMo website

1. It takes the pressure off

I’m writing a sequel at the moment. Which basically means, I’m filled with ‘second album syndrome’ fear, and piling the pressure on myself. Or, I was. Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo and swapped screen fright for scribbling.

National Novel Writing Month was made for pantsers – how else can you scramble your way to 50,000 words in a month? It’s a glorious, community-driven, slightly sleep-depriving way to write. But it’s also bags of fun. By Tuesday night, when I finally crossed the finish line, I had loads more words than I needed (my sequel won’t be more than 30,000). I was also bursting with ideas for the next draft.

2. It gives your brain room to roam

That’s the joy of pantsing. When you’re not following a carefully plotted plan, there’s nothing stopping you taking your story in any direction you like. I started November with a vague idea of what might happen. But almost all my favourite scenes now are things I’d never even considered a month ago. When I’m going for quantity, not quality, I can pull all sorts of weird (and hopefully wonderful) ideas from the depths of my brain.

Pantising is taking the scenic route rather than powering down a motorway. It’s not the fastest way through a book, but the view’s so much better.

3. It gives you something to edit

Nothing beats fear of the blank page like a quick and dirty first draft. The sooner you get some words down, the sooner you can knock them into shape.

A month of pantsing has been absolutely brilliant. Now I’m (just about) ready for the proper plotting begin.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Let me know in the replies.
Categories
Inspiration

Punctuation inspiration

1. Punctuation as art

Full Stop Slipstream, Fiona Banner

Full Stop sculpture, More London

Ahh, the full stop. It’s taken a lot of stick lately for being aggressive – making most of us drop it from the end of instant messages.

But thanks to Fiona Banner’s sculpture series in More London, here’s a very concrete (well, bronze) reminder of this simple punctuation mark in all its glory.

This one’s in an italicised font called Slipstream. (But I took a terrible photo, so you can see it looking much nicer, and facing the right way on Fiona’s Instagram page.)

2. Forgotten punctuation

The interrobang

Interrobang. I loved this word for the ?! combo the moment I heard it. But I hadn’t realised it originally came with its own symbol, too (which I’ve attempted to draw).

Martin Speckter suggested creating the single punctuation mark as a symbol of incredulity back in 1963, but by the 1970s it had fallen out of fashion. And it’s not the only new punctuation people have suggested.

My drawing of an interrobang (a question mark wrapped around an exclamation mark)

According to Mental Floss, printers, authors and philosophers have championed punctuation marks for irony, rhetorical questions and even love.

Although those new punctuation marks didn’t take off either, I reckon they paved the way for today’s emojis, which pretty much cover every emotion from 😂 to 😡. I even found a romantic exclamation ❣️ (or the lovebang, if you will).

3. Only the punctuation

Just-the-punctuation.glitch.me

The punctuation in the first half of my upcoming debut, Small!

Since a friend shared the link to this word-stripping website, I’ve become slightly obsessed with it. Type in whatever you’re working on to see how your WIP would look without any words.

Here’s the first half of my upcoming debut, Small! With exclamation marks and full stops galore (although no true interrobangs, sadly) you can probably guess the reading age just by looking at it.

And for all my wafflings about the end of full stops and the rise of emojis, good old-fashioned punctuation will be welcome in my stories any day.