You have to be mad to want to write a children’s book. Absolutely certifiable. It’s so much harder than it looks! But now that I’ve talked about it, and signed a contract with agent Laura Rennert, I’m committed. There’s no going back.
And that’s really the best way to write – with your back against a wall.
The story of Tempus Penhallow’s quest for knowledge that he may regret gaining has been brewing inside me for years now, growing larger all the time, till it has now become a thing of such mammoth proportions that I am intimidated and have been frozen for a year. Then some friends got together after a writing workshop with Donald Maass run by Free-Expressions and decided to do National Novel Writing Month. “Write 50,000 words in a month. That’s the challenge,” they said. And I met it. But to meet that target I had to write every day, no matter what, without worrying about where it was going to go in the book.
A strange kind of magic happens when you have to write, when you make yourself sit there for an hour at a time and bash out whatever comes into your head. I have some wonderful scenes that wouldn’t have come from outlining alone.
The down side is that while you may write wonderful scenes, many of them end up on the cutting room floor because they don’t advance the plot. But, hey, it’s better than not having any scenes at all.So now I’m deciding which scenes have a right to exist. Do they advance the plot or reveal character? What’s the point of each scene? If there isn’t one, it doesn’t deserve a place in the book.
But that wasn’t enough. The opening I had was turgid and old-fashioned. I attempted a storytelling voice, and ended up with a snore. Wailing with frustration, I e-mailed Eoin Colfer, who told me to focus, to stop letting other stories leak into this one. He also told me that, yes, he thinks of throwing in the towel and getting a real job all the time.
Enter my knight in shining armour, Sarwat Chadda, author of The Devil’s Kiss, who read my first 24 pages and shredded them with his tongue. Quite a clever feat, I thought, giggling nervously as I watched them float like confetti to the floor. But he was right. I had committed a multitude of sins and needed to start again. “You’re squandering these amazing characters!” he said, “They’re spies, and schemers! Make them scheme!”
So tomorrow I begin again, and if I manage to publish this book I owe Sarwat an acknowledgment and a huge tub of ice cream. Vanilla, apparently. Didn’t expect that. He seems way more Rocky Road to me.