Writing Children’s Fiction: A Writers’ and Artists’ Companion by Linda Newbery and Yvonne Coppard

I’m planning to run a free creative writing workshop at Stockport Central Library on the 10th of August. The workshop is on how to help your reader visualise the story you’ve written in their mind’s eye and I want to use a worksheet which has extracts from other writers showing examples of how to do this. Being the conscientious girl I am, I wrote to each author seeking permission to photocopy their extract. One of the extracts is from The Shell House by Linda Newbery, a book I read as part of my MA course. When Linda replied granting permission (all the authors did. Writers are incredibly nice people) she mentioned that she had co-authored a book on writing fiction for children (with Yvonne Coppard) which was launched yesterday.

I couldn’t help myself. I asked if she’d write a guest post telling us about the book.

Here’s what Linda has to say about it:

Writing Children’s Fiction: a Writers’ and Artists’ Companion

Linda Newbery Writinge Children's Fiction 2

When we were asked to write this book, it seemed a daunting prospect – my first reaction was “But what do I know?” And especially, “What do I know that’s of the slightest use to anyone else?” But the planning, discussing and writing have shown us that, between us, we do in fact know quite a lot – and additionally we’ve had enormous amounts of help from our network of authors, editors, agents and others.

Our book is one of a series under the Writers’ and Artists’ umbrella, covering various genres – six books are now published and there are several more to come. Each volume has the same structure: Part One looks at background and various considerations and issues, Part Two comprises Tips and Tales from guest contributors, and Part Three offers workshop activities and practical advice.

Part Two was by far the easiest – Yvonne and I simply drew up a wish-list of authors and illustrators, approached them either directly or through their agents, and waited for their pieces to arrive in our Inboxes. We were delighted by what they sent. In only two or three cases did we ask our contributors to write about something specific; for the rest, we asked them to write about anything they chose. Between them, they cover many aspects of writing for young readers, from first inspiration to struggling with endings, using research and being edited. In these pages you’ll find such literary legends as David Almond, Anthony Browne, Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Malorie Blackman. At a rough count, we have eight Carnegie winners, four children’s laureates, two Hans Christian Andersen laureates, four winners of the Branford Boase Award for a first-time writer – oh, and let’s not forget the scriptwriter for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games – all passing on insights from their experience. What stands out from these pages is the enduring sense of wonder and fulfilment these very successful writers continue to find in probing their imaginations.

Although Part Three deals with the “nuts and bolts” of writing – devising a plot, creating rounded characters, deciding on viewpoint, etc. – we’ve given a lot of emphasis to the important matter of thinking of yourself as a writer. Many of us know that writing only really begins when we create for ourselves the necessary mental space – giving ourselves permission to write, as well as time to do it. There’s a balance to be struck, too, between keeping abreast of the children’s book world and knowing something of the market, and maintaining the necessary sense of withdrawal and even secrecy.

Of course there’s no right way and wrong way. Yvonne and I agreed that throughout the book we’d make it clear which of us is “speaking” at any time – and sometimes we disagree. If you want to write, the really important thing is to find out what works for you, and how to get the best out of your own brain. Whether you’re only thinking about it, or are working on your first novel, or are farther along the route of submitting work to publishers or agents, we hope there’ll be something here to inspire and help you.

Happy writing!

About the Author

Linda Newbery’s first young adult novel, Run with the Hare, was accepted by Harper Collins and published in 1988. At that time she was working full-time as an English teacher, so did most of her writing in the summer holidays. Gradually, though, she tried short stories, the occasional poem, and chapter books for younger children – and eventually gave up the day job. In 2006 she won the Costa Children’s Book Award for her novel, Set in Stone.

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