Robin recreates the fictional murder in the gym at her old school
Robin talks about the elements of a murder Mystery
Harry Potter Mural
Robin Stevens and Abi Elphinstone – visiting authors
A while ago I asked Robin Stevens if I could come and watch one of her school visits and she kindly agreed to take me along to shadow an event at Thomas’s School in Kensington.
I met Robin outside the school entrance on the sole nice spring day of the week. As we were shown through into the library we passed the dining room where one of the girls, sat by the door, mimed murder and books to her friends at the next table so they would know Robin had arrived!
Outside the library we spotted a big noticeboard featuring upcoming author visit, showing Robin and Abi Elphinstone – another fab middle grade author. Inside the library, above the bookshelves, I noticed some amazing murals of The BFG and Harry Potter. The nice librarian, Miss Barker, offered us both a cup of tea and explained to Robin that two of the girls in her class were big fans of the books and had formed their own Detective Society, naming themselves after Daisy and Hazel. Soon the rest of their friends had joined in as all the other characters, which was amazing to hear! Robin said she’d spoken to a few of the girls via email and they’d told her how excited they were about the event.
Then it was time for the talk in the main hall, I sat in the front row of the audience and managed to snap a few pictures of Robin while she spoke about the books. Robin managed to integrate a teaser for each mystery with telling the kids about her own life at boarding school – and how, like Hazel, she felt different growing up as something of foreigner in England. Interactive bits and questions and answers were peppered through the talk to keep it interesting, and at the end Robin got the kids to suggest a victim and setting for their own murder mystery. Then they came up with suspects and a solution.
Afterwards, at the signing back in the school library, it was lovely to see how enthused the detective society gang and the rest of the students were about the books. I think that was the most inspiring part of the day: how excited the kids who’d read the books were to meet Robin and talk to her about the world and characters they truly loved. In terms of putting together a talk for my book it has definitely set the bar high, and given me a lot to think about!
Recently I’ve been working on the first draft of a Cogheart Sequel. I find first drafts the MOST difficult part of writing. (And then the second, and third – a bit like Stanley Yelnats digging his holes). It’s scary when you visualize those empty pages and missing words, not to mention the dark plot holes you might fall into. Then there’s the anxiety of getting it all down, especially if you have a deadline. With all that to think about, it’s no wonder it’s so tough to get through, but here are my seven tips to help you with a first draft…
1. Apply butt to seat of chair and write.
Set yourself an achievable deadline to write the book. Three months, six months, nine months, or a year. Remember: the shorter the timescales the better chance you have of finishing, because if you maintain momentum, you’ll be in a the same mindset nearing the end as you were when you started. Then try to get the words on the page as quickly as possible.
2. Make a Schedule.
Work out how long the book is going to be in words: 20,000 50,000, 60,000, 100,000 – whatever. Then divide that number by the time you have to write – say a couple of hours a day, 5-6 days a week. This gives you an optimum word count per day. Aim for that, but try to find what works for you, and be realistic, if your writing goal turns out to be unachievable you’re going to have to adjust the schedule.
I have a writing diary and some stickers to put in it if I hit my daily wordcount. I aim for 1,500 words a day. On a good day it’s possible to do that in two or three hours, but sometimes, if things go badly, I sit there forever and only get a couple of hundred words down.
Don’t beat yourself up if that happens, just start in again the next day. And if you hit a big milestone target add a jazzy sticker and buy yourself a nice treat!
3. Don’t get it right. Get it written.
Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft. It’s like sculpture – first you slap the clay on the board, then you shape it, then finally, you finesse it. But, to begin with, all you have are big messy lumps of clay – vague shape. You need those vague shapes, those broad ideas as your foundations, so try and let the process happen and edit later. Remember there’s always the next draft to fix things. Basically, don’t overthink it. Write whatever comes, and try to get out of the way of the unconscious so you can hear the words.
4. Take a map.
E L Doctrow, once said: ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’
It’s an amazing quote, but my advice would be, if you’re going to go driving/novelling at night, know your rough destination and TAKE A MAP! Your map can be anything – a scribbled diagram, a one page synopsis, a treatment of three pages, or fifty. The important thing is with it, you’ve a better chance of getting where you want to go, because even a basic map will show the big landmarks. (Clue: these landmarks are the main story beats of your novel ie. act breaks, mid-point, final destination.)
5. The map is not the territory.
Some German philosopher said this. It means, a map is a schematic thing – a plan only. It doesn’t really show you what somewhere is truly like – experientially. After all, on the ground you might have a different thought – want to go a different way – and, if you do, you must feel free to take that path, see where it leads. Even if it turns out to be a dead end and you have to go back.
Because not everyone likes maps, you could be a Dirk-Gently-type-person, driving along and following every random car (or plot bunny) you pass in the hope of getting where you want to go.
6. Don’t panic and Don’t look back!
Which brings me on to the immortal words of Douglas Adams: ‘Don’t Panic!’ Especially about what’s up ahead – there’s nothing you can do about that. You have to try and be zen and write the sentence you’re writing right now, One word at a time. ‘A word after a word after a word = power.’ (I think that’s Anne Lammot.)
Keep adding words, keep moving forward. And, in the mortal words of Bob Dylan: ‘Don’t look back’. M G Leonard, who wrote the amazing Beetle Boy, likens it to Orpheus in the underworld, if you look back, all might be lost, so you’ve got to keep on going.
7. Finish it.
Get to the end of the draft no matter what, because you need to see what the whole thing looks like before you can start to revise.
Remember, before you even think about examining what you wrote, put it in a drawer and leave it for a while.
And having said all that…
When you take someone else’s advice, it’s always good to remember William Goldman’s motto: ‘Nobody knows anything.’ He was talking about writing in the movie business, but he could’ve been talking about any form of writing, or indeed life:
Nobody else can tell you how to do your thing – so you should always take their advice with a pinch of salt, use what works for you and throw the rest away!!
Next time I thought I would write 5 tips on re-writing, but perhaps I’d better wait until I’ve finished that stage to do that!
People have been sending me pics this week of the Cogheart proofs they have received in the mail, so exciting. Pretty soon, I suppose someone will actually be reading it!! Which is a thrilling thought and also a little bit scary! Here are a couple of pics (courtesy of Candy Gourlay, Jo Clarke, Fiona Noble and Vincent Ripley) …
If you want to find out more about the book, or be in with a chance to win a proof copy, head over to cogheart.com
Over on the Middle Grade Strikes Back blog TODAY you can read a post by Kath Millichope talking about how she designed the GORGEOUS Cogheart cover.
This is my favourite quote from her interview”
“I finished the cover with a sprinkling of what could be stars or snow – I imagined the characters to be in a sort of starry snow-globe, which could be tipped over like an egg-timer to start the adventure all over again!”
You can also see an EXCLUSIVE High Definition version of the animation I created for the WHOLE cover…
So, what are you waiting for, head on over there NOW and read all about it…
The Reading Agency are running a BRILLIANT #Cogheart competition at the moment: Review Cogheart and get an author visit for your Chatterbox group:
Be the first to share in the Cogheart adventure and meet author Peter Bunzl before the release of the book in September. We are looking for five Chatterbooks groups in London and the home counties who would like to read the brilliant Cogheart, create a ‘Share the Adventure’ display and an event with Peter Bunzl. For more details visit the link…
I am very excited to announce the COGHEART cover is revealed today over on the MIDDLE GRADE STRIKES BACK blog. Cogheart is my Middle Grade Children’s book (published by Usborne Sept 1st) and the book cover features AMAZING illustrations by Becca Stadtlander and design by Katherine Millichoppe and there’s also a SUPER free animated gif of the characters done by yours truly. Hop on over to MIDDLE GRADE STRIKES BACK to find out more, and take a look…