What’s the best thing about being a children’s author?

I’m often asked at school visits what I enjoy most about being a children’s author. Last week when I visited the delightful St Osmund’s Primary School in my local village,  Barnes, the question came up again in several sessions and I thought I’d say a little bit more about it here.

St Osmund's Primary School - exterior image
St Osmund’s Primary School – Barnes village

Before I carry on, I should say that the second best thing about being a children’s author is going out and meeting young readers at school visits and other events  🙂 We writers spend a lot of time alone – or perhaps I should say “alone” given all the characters that fill our heads! Getting to meet the audience you’ve been writing for and watching as they fall silent –  absorbed in the world you have created as you share your story – is truly magical. And the children never cease to amaze me with their thoughtful and intelligent observations and questions – not just about my stories and being an author, but also about the joy they get from reading for pleasure and writing their own stories.

Children sitting and listening to author Karen Inglis reading from The Secret Lake
Capturing children’s imagination with a reading from The Secret Lake followed by Q&A

So what’s the best thing about being a children’s author?

Most of all, I love the freedom I have to ‘make believe’ absolutely anything, from laugh-out-loud funny tales, to adventure, mystery or magic in this world – to discovering and visiting ‘other worlds’ (and their inhabitants) that lie hidden behind secret doors, down forgotten passages, in tumbledown buildings or deep in the forest.

As I write, I love getting lost in these make-believe worlds as they come alive with noisy, bossy, funny, crafty, happy, sad, timid, bold, kind and clever characters (humans, animals, wizards, aliens…) who breeze in and out of scenes, or plod, run, hop, skip, jump or even fly across my virtual page. A casual passer by looking through my window would have no idea just how much my head is buzzing as I sit in silence tapping at my keyboard, watching and listening as my story unfolds!

And what’s most exciting – just as in a really good book or a great movie – is that new characters often appear without warning or behave unexpectedly, stubbornly refusing to follow the plan I had for them. It’s as if they’re saying “Not that way, Karen – it’s this way we need to go! And, yes, I know that may cause problems for you, but I’m afraid we’re going there whether you like it or not!” Or “Well I’m here and I’m staying whether you like it or not, so you’ll just have to get used to it and get on with the story!”

I’m thankful that my characters don’t always co-operate, because that’s what’s usually makes a great story – all the tension and problems and sorting out that has to be done to fix the new direction they insist on taking!

During the writing of The Secret Lake, both Jack (seen in the boat below) and Lucy (who we meet later on in the story) appeared unexpectedly after Tom and Stella climbed down the time tunnel that led them to their home in past time. I hadn’t seen them coming, yet each of these characters took the story off in new directions, leading me around twists and turns that I couldn’t have made up without their help.

the-secret-lake-full-image-copy
Stella and Tom after arriving in the grounds of their home 100 years in the past…

In Eeek! The Runaway Alien, sci-fi mad Sid Spiker who spots Eeek! through his telescope came as another surprise. He popped up in my planning stage unexpectedly and caused all sorts of trouble when he planned to kidnap Eeek! at posh Sophie Marr’s fancy dress birthday party. But he also helped drive the plot and make it a great story!

21r-arriving-at-party_high-heels-final
Charlie and Eeek! arriving  dressed as “aliens”.  Sid Spiker is hiding in the crowd behind 🙂

The joy of getting lost in a story

Back to my school visits. As I said earlier, the children often talk about their love of reading and getting lost in stories. What I always tell them is that, as a writer, you get to enjoy that very same experience – but, as well as watching what’s happening (just as a reader does) you’re also in charge, and responsible for shaping what’s happening into a tale that will engage and absorb your readers from start to finish. It is great fun, and very challenging – and it requires lots and lots of rewriting. But once you’re done the feeling is fantastic. Whether you’re the writer or the reader, there really is nothing like getting lost in a great children’s story!

Stories to share and get lost in….

For my new followers, if you don’t know my stories or would like to introduce them to your children, simply click on the fun interactive book ‘widgets’ (called ‘biblets’) below to read free samples directly on your phone, tablet or desktop. As well as early chapters they include  video and (for Henry Haynes) audio. I hope you and the children will enjoy  🙂

eeek-biblet-widget-image              henry-haynes-widget-image              svfodcrlj2_recent_lookinside          walter-brown-widget-image

Quick Question Survey on book biblets

I’d love to know what you or your children think of book biblets as a way to share information about children’s books. If you have 60 seconds to spare after you’ve tried one or more biblet it would be really helpful if you could come back at some stage and complete the 5-question survey below. (The data is collected anonymously.)

>> Take the 60-Second Survey Here 🙂 5 Questions. 60 Seconds. Anonymous 🙂

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The story behind the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival

Following on from last week’s blog post about the inaugural Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – which takes place on Saturday 25 April – I’ve finally managed to catch up with its organiser, the delightful Amanda Brettargh.  It’s all systems go at Festival HQ so I’m grateful to Amanda for finding time in her hectic schedule to talk to me.

Image of Amanda Brettargh
Amanda Brettargh
poster of Barnes Children's Literature Festival
Click to see what’s on and book tickets!

I believe that Barnes will become both a destination and an inspiration for book lovers everywhere.”

Karen:

We’re all hugely excited about the upcoming kidslitfest in Barnes!  I’m sure that my readers – children, parents, teachers and librarians, not to mention children’s authors – would love to know the story behind the festival, so here are a few questions.

What gave you the idea for the Barnes Children’s Literature Festival?

Amanda:

“In my day to day life I am a freelance book publicist and I have a media consultancy that specialises in publishing. All of my clients are small to medium sized independent publishers and part of my job is to organise the appearance of their authors and illustrators at festivals everywhere. From this I have had first hand experience of the importance of these events on book sales. So when I used to push my buggy around beautiful Barnes Pond every day, every day I would think: they should have a literature festival here! Of course, we also have one of London’s best independent bookshops in Barnes (The Barnes Bookshop) and I believe that any community that supports its own bookshop deserves to have its own festival.”

Here’s Barnes Pond, just in case you didn’t see the last blog post 🙂

Image of pond and park - Barnes
Barnes Pond

This is a ticketed event  – £5 per performance –  in aid of local children’s charities. Have you chosen which will be benefiting?

“The Barnes Children’s Literature Festival is a community event and thanks to Barnes Bookshop a percentage of all books sold on the day, together with the profit from ticket sales will be donated to Barnes children’s charities, which include local primary school libraries, Barnes Brownies and Guides and St Mary Barnes Cubs and Scouts.”

You’ve managed to pull together an amazing line up of authors and illustrators – how easy was that to do? You seem to have some excellent connections!

“It’s true that through my own work I already had some contacts among the agents and in the various publishing houses and, in general, I think they were very positive when I approached them. The head of publicity for one of the largest children’s presses even said to me: ‘Barnes! The perfect place for it!'”

What are your hopes for the festival in the future? Can we expect this to be an annual event?

“I am planning for this to be an annual event in the same way that Bath has its children’s literature festival every year. With our magnificent location, our strong literary heritage and sense of community we are going to strive to present a literary experience like no other.

“I have said that when you come to Barnes you will find some of children’s literature’s best known names as well as a few special treats that you will be unlikely to see at festivals anywhere else.

Image of A Bit Lost picture book
Barnes Kidslitfest will host the UK premiere of the stage production this award-winning picture book

“This year we are opening our festival with the UK premiere of the stage production of Chris Haughton’s beautiful picture book, ‘A Bit Lost’ by the Boulevard Theatre from Stockholm .

“I believe that Barnes will become both a destination and an inspiration for book lovers everywhere.”

Do you have your own children? Did they have in say in helping you decide who to include in the line-up?

“I have ten year old twin girls who are at Barnes Primary School. This Festival has been a real family affair and we’ve had plenty of sorting and stuffing and stickering and folding and leafletting – you name it! They also had great pleasure in putting together a list of authors that they would love to see come to Barnes. At the top of it was Jeff Kinney, closely followed by David Walliams, and I’ve said to them: ‘Next year!'”

What do you do when you’re not organising children’s literature festivals?

“I very much regret that the demands of my media consultancy, as well as becoming a launching festival organiser – not to mention my ten year old twins –  leave me little time for my favourite occupations, reading and sleeping!”

Finally, I can’t help noticing your warm southern hemisphere accent – are you from Australia by any chance?  (If so, how do you cope with the weather over here?!)

“Yes, I’m Australian. We have been here for twelve years and my children were born here. When I walk around Richmond Park, even when it’s tipping it down, I think, ‘I could never leave!'”

My thanks to Amanda for sharing her story with us. And how wonderful that someone from so far afield has helped bring the first ever Children’s Literature Festival to Barnes!

Click here to see what’s on and buy tickets

Barnes Children's Litfest Home page
Barnes Children’s Literature Festival – click to check what’s on

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