Showing posts with label Anne Booth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anne Booth. Show all posts

Monday, 21 January 2019

Finding my voice by Anne Booth

These last years have been rather stressful, and for some reason I managed to lose my singing voice in the course of them. I was caring for children, and elderly parents, and working hard as a writer, and I think, not properly processing emotions about family things and burying them, and somehow in the course of this I lost the ability to sing.  My  throat would become very painful when I tried to sing - I felt as if I had a knot or a lump in it and I couldn't express anything. This  was huge for me, as I have always sung - it was a part of me, and I have been asked to sing solos at friends' weddings and at church and at parties and events, and I loved doing that - I  wasn't scared of doing it - I just loved performing for my friends or being part of worship, and sharing the beautiful songs I knew with others, and I loved singing along with my husband playing the guitar.  But then it went - and if I managed an occasional note it didn't sound good, and mostly I just felt physical pain and stopped and was mute. No more carols at carol services, no more solos at mass, no more singing with the family. I listened, but I couldn't join in.

 Losing my voice made me very sad. Then, last year at the end of a wonderful week at Chez Castillon retreat house in France and lots of relaxed laughter with lovely people, I found it briefly - not in a folk song but in a happy song from 'Oliver'. I was amazed and so grateful  (and this is a testimony to how brilliant Chez Castillon is and how relaxed I felt there) -  but then I returned home and  it went again,  and I thought it would never come back to stay. However, I recently did something which was wonderful for me. I booked a session with a voice coach and, magically, she found my voice again. I cried.  Before I could sing her a folk song, she had to go right back to basics with me. We talked, and she helped me sit comfortably.  She had to teach me to breathe in, and hold my breath, and breathe out. One of the exercises we did was that when I breathed out, I could groan or make whatever sounds I chose to express and to get out, my stress. I was nearly too embarrassed to do this and it was very difficult for me - but I was desperate to sing again, so I did it. It was very therapeutic. She told me not to care about the sounds being pretty or nice - just make them. Then she got me to lay a note of my choice on the outward breath. Then to vary the note, and pay attention to my singing, and, to cut a long story short, not long into the  session with her, easily, without any pain, I could make music again and sing as powerfully and clearly as I had years ago. I can't express how wonderful it was to hear the notes again and recognise my own singing voice. I hope to go back to her as this is a work in progress and my throat has tightened up with old patterns of stress- but now I have hope that, following her advice, I will be able to sing the way I used to.  I know I can get my voice back. She does group work too. I think she is amazing.

The amazing voice coach told me, when I finally sang to her, that my singing voice nurtured the person hearing it, but that first of all, to keep it, I needed to nurture myself and sing lots just for myself. She was so lovely. She also said that I had never lost the ability to sing, just that somewhere deep inside I had not let myself. I realised that I was self-censoring and blocking emotions and hadn't been allowing myself to be myself and sing as me, with all the emotions I had been feeling over the years and through bereavements.  She was right. She also made me cry, because she said that having not sung for years would not have damaged it, ( as I feared)  and she felt that my voice had come back stronger for the experiences I had brought to it.

I think that is like writing.

Hopefully, as writers, our writing nurtures our readers, but we have to write for ourselves first. We have to let ourselves explore difficult emotions and concepts, make ugly noises, experiment, try different pitches, play around with it, enjoy it for its own sake. We mustn't tighten up trying to please some imaginary reader or even a real publisher (!) We must be prepared to write stuff nobody but ourselves will ever see - in fact WANT to write stuff nobody but ourselves will ever see. We must accept and get to know and nurture ourselves and keep listening to ourselves so that we know our own voice better than anyone - and then we will know and feel whether we are expressing ourselves and being true to ourselves when we write for others.

Friday, 21 December 2018

The True Picture - off-line and online - by Anne Booth

The true picture by Anne Booth.

I am very proud of my books and grateful for, their existence. My first book, ‘Girl with a White Dog’, was published in 2104, and since then, incredibly, and thanks to my brilliant agent, Anne Clark, I have now had 14 children’s books published across the age ranges, and have contracts for 8 more to be published in 2019 or 2020. It can be very hard work writing and editing but I love it, and I love seeing the finished, beautiful artefacts my publishers create, and marvel at the design and the illustrations by the amazingly  talented artists I have worked with. 

The hardest  bit, of my job, however, is the promoting bit, and having to continually talk myself and my books up, subtly or obviously, and the more books I write, the more  talking up I have to do! I was told at the beginning of my career that it is part of the professional author’s job to be very positive about themselves as an author, and about the books they are writing. I know I am not the only writer to find this bit of our job difficult. I AM very proud of and excited by my books, and I especially love talking about my illustrated ones as I can talk about the artist and the art work as much as my words. I am also very good at talking about why I wrote the actual stories. 

The problem at times for me is projecting this image of being a successful author when the nature of our self-employed job and our personalities as writers is that we are often likely to doubt it!  Our books also have so much of ourselves in them, and  sometimes it feels, when promoting them, (as is your duty and reasonably expected by the publishers who have worked so hard to produce them ), as if you have become a massive show-off,  literally selling yourself - authors can sometimes become like brands, and you find yourself  picking and choosing the best bits of your life to put online to reflect well on you and your books.  I was advised early on that only undisputed successes like JK Rowling can afford to talk lots online about their rejections, and that publishers get nervous about their authors talking about failure and saying how other publishers didn’t like their books! Once the author’s book has become a success the publishers would, of course,  be delighted to be identified as the one which had the good taste and judgement to take them on, but only from that end of the process.  It makes sense, but for the writer it feels dangerous because, (like many people online, whether they are writers or not), you can appear to live this perfect, success-full authory life online and in posting about it, lose touch with your authentic self and your failing, not perfect, real, messy, human, loving, anxious, happy, normal, mistakes-full life offline, and the gap can be painful.  And also, in a  world of celebrity authors, it can feel that there is no way, however much you exhaust yourself blowing your own trumpet, that you can ever self- promote enough to compete!  You can feel at times as if you have worn yourself out showing off, and nobody is listening anyway!

Which is partly why it was so, so lovely and such a relief on the 18th this month when I visited a gorgeous primary school in Islington called St Mary’s. The whole school - from Reception to Year 6- had been working on my book ‘Refuge’ for literary, RE and Art and had posted their work on twitter.  (See - I have subtly self-self-promoted there - and I don’t care because I am terribly happy that my words and Sam Usher’s illustrations in ‘Refuge’ inspired such amazing work!)

I was so impressed and touched, and as I knew I was coming into London anyway for another Refuge-related event, I offered to pop in and say ‘hello’ to the children and look at their work. We arranged I would read out ‘Refuge’ at assembly  and talk about being a writer.  And the lovely Assistant Head teacher asked me if I would mind sharing the difficulties of being a writer! They said it would really help the children to hear how the first things I wrote were often not very good, and how before I got published I sent off lots of things which weren’t accepted, and I had to not give up and try again and get better.  I did an assembly and I visited every class and saw the wonderful work and read out some writing and admired gorgeous art work and I had so much fun and loved every minute. I am lost in admiration at the nurturing and creative work of the staff of St Mary's, and a bit appalled at the talent of the children (!) - as I told them - they are worryingly talented and I wasn't sure if I should encourage them to all become writers because I didn't want to  compete with them! Seriously - I read some brilliant work there!  Publishers - take note! The vision of the Head and leadership team and the teaching staff is so wonderful - and creativity in children (many of whom have serious disadvantages) blossoms with love  and encouragement. What a brilliant school in difficult times.

Anyway, I told the children about how when I first got back edits from my first novel I cried and panicked as I read the editorial suggestions and was genuinely worried the publishers thought they had made a mistake taking my book on because they wanted so many little changes. Then I told them that I realise now that that is completely normal and part of the thing I love about working with editors - and how, often after I have written the extra bits, or made the cuts they want, I can see myself how much better my book is. I told them that it is normal and I now feel (relatively) fine about writing lots of drafts and lots of books which might not get published, but I now have to learn that same resilience with illustrating, which I feel loads less confident about, but which I would love to get better at. I told the children that I can’t expect to get better at illustrating if I don’t draw! The teachers told me they were very pleased with what I had shared, the children were enthusiastic and encouraged, and it was therapeutic for me too - in reminding myself about how hard things had been and can be, and how I have changed and improved as a writer, I felt properly proud and hopeful and not a fraud! I had such a lovely time!

Apart from writing, the thing I most love about being a children’s writer is going into schools like St Mary’s and meeting wonderful staff and children and seeing the amazing ideas they have working with my books , and the creative results the children produce. I was blown away by the talent and loveliness of the staff and students at St Mary’s!  So, if you are tired of talking about success online, have fun offline being honest with children about your failures, and get motivated all over again!

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Looking after yourself as a writer by Anne Booth

I didn't know, when I started trying to write as a full-time job, that there were some health risks attached, and having encountered some of them, I thought I'd share what I am trying to do about them.

In order to stay afloat as a full-time writer, you have to work long hours, and I have found that sitting at my desk, involved in my story and forgetting to take breaks, has not been good for my posture or my weight. I know that I should get up and walk about more, but I am sure other writers will understand that it often doesn't work that way - you don't intend to sit writing non-stop for hours, but when you are deep into a particular scene the time rushes by and you end up being motionless for too long. Even walking my dogs doesn't make up for those long stationary hours sitting down.

So, following the rule of 3, so beloved of those writing about story structure, here are three things I am trying to do about this:

1) I have got a standing desk.

I absolutely love it.  I read a proud tweet by the lovely writer Alice Broadway, (@alicecrumbs)    where she shared a picture of the standing writing desk her husband had made her. I'd been looking at standing writing desks for a while, and I was very impressed. So I contacted her and her husband, and Dave made one for  me, specially built to fit my laptop. All of the standing desks I saw online cost so much more than this one- and this one is so elegant and lovely and does the job. He is setting up a business doing bespoke woodwork projects, and he is available to make other writers standing desks. His twitter account is @daveyboydanger and I highly recommend him and his desks!

2. I have joined a community gym, but because I am feeling a bit shy about exposing my lack of fitness in front of others, I have invested some money for some one- to- one sessions with a very kind, young, fit, personal trainer called Poppy. I NEVER thought I would do anything like that, but I am so glad and I need it so much. My shoulders hold so much tension, and my weak core muscles would never get me a place on 'Strictly Come Dancing', and Poppy devises brilliant exercises to help. I can feel the good of it. Poppy is also very pleased about the standing desk. And, by an amazing coincidence, I have found that Poppy is the niece of the art director in a publisher who will be publishing a picture book of mine in 2020! It is definitely a small world!!

As a self-employed person I am definitely going to claim for the standing desk against tax, and I am going to ask about claiming for the personal training, as other people work in offices where they have free gym membership. If I hear back that you can, I will tell you.

3. I have gone away on a writing retreat. As most writers know, you can also claim the cost of going away to research and write, against tax. Not having an office to go to, and working alone at home, takes its toll on your mental and emotional health, and I have been struggling a bit with that. It can feel very isolating not having work colleagues and working on your own all day, and you never get away from your domestic environment. I am very lucky that my lovely husband built me a writing hut in our garden, but every so often I need to write intensely and be in a quiet environment with my meals made for me, but also with the company of other writers. I have just come back from writing (and copy and pasting!) tens of thousands of words at a writing retreat in France called Chez Castilllon I highly recommend it. It opens again next year with some wonderful tutored retreats, but you can also attend and just do your own  work.
         I did worry about spending money - every writer will understand that - but if I can get a contract for the work I did then, which I am finishing now, it will more than pay for itself, and I also always feel so much better emotionally and mentally for spending time with the lovely people who run it, Janie and Mickey Wilson (Janie is the brilliant writer Janie Millman) When you go on retreat you also have the company of the other writers who happen to be writing there, and I was very lucky with the company I was in this past week and really enjoyed meeting everyone. I was particularly lucky that one of the people there for her own work was the very experienced and very very good  writer Jo Thomas, who in one sentence at one meal, told me not to worry about a particular issue and advised me to put back a whole section of work I had removed because of it. Suddenly I had copy and pasted back thousands of words,  the book I was writing made sense again, I was much MUCH nearer completing it, and I am very grateful. I also really enjoyed reading Jo's books in bed at night - they are very relaxing, romantic and well written, so I have discovered a great new writer to read!

So - buying a standing desk, going to see a personal trainer to get bespoke exercises to sort out fitness issues, and going away on a writing retreat, have all been ways I have looked after my health and invested in my career as a writer. If I see this as a business investment so I can keep going in the long-run then I don't feel guilty about spending money on myself, and I can already see the good of all three things. I think I will share three more things next month!

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Ofsted and reading by Anne Booth

Ofsted and reading by Anne Booth

It is 06.27 and I have suddenly realised that it is the 20th September and I haven't written my blog post for today. But, thanks to a meeting I had yesterday, I know what I am going to write.

Yesterday I went shopping with my husband and two youngest daughters to get things for university. They are twins and both of them are leaving home within the next week (hence my preoccupation and forgetfulness about this blog post)


I bumped into a local school librarian.

Just before World Book Day this year, I was contacted by this librarian. The writer who had been booked to come to the librarian's primary school had had to cancel at the last minute, and the librarian was very apologetic about  such short notice, but she wondered if I could come instead. I would be paid.

So I went, and I was so glad. I was so well looked after and I felt very valued, and I know that my visit was helpful as the school librarian has kept in touch with me and given me feedback about various reluctant readers starting to write and read after my visit. Every time I get an email from her I feel better about myself - and this has continued long after March. If she can have such an effect on the confidence of a writer - imagine how good she is for the children she meets every day.

The school librarian works part-time as a librarian and part-time in the office - I think it is to do with school attendance. She knows every single pupil.

The school is a state school, with a high proportion of children from economically  disadvantaged backgrounds, so, of course, thanks to a change in funding policy by this government, it is one of those schools which is losing most of its money in the cuts.  AAAGH.

And yet the library is WONDERFUL.

Honestly, I cannot stress enough how impressed I was. This school librarian is working with both children and teachers and is putting great effort into making a lovely, welcoming place with a great range of reading material. The school has given her a good budget for this, and really values reading. I was so privileged to do that school visit, and have since donated some books and chose to launch the first book of my series called 'The Magical Kingdom of Birds' there. Oh yes, and she makes the effort to NOT buy books at huge discounts, as she feels it is unfair for the authors. And she organised the sale of my books for me and got stock in via the local Waterstones, so I didn't have to worry at all.

She doesn't even 'just' see the library as for the children - she is aware of the need to organise literacy support for the parents too, so that homes can be more places where reading isn't feared.

Basically, the school librarian I met is AMAZING. And her work, valued by the wise Head, is vital for the school and the wider school community.

I bumped into this wonderful woman yesterday. She said that the school had just had two days of OFSTED. 

I said 'I bet they were impressed by the library.' 

And she made a sad face and said 'They weren't interested.'

They didn't even ask to speak to her.  I think she may have even said they didn't even visit it.

And she said 'I even missed seeing Cressida Cowell at Waterstones because of preparing.'

And I feel furious. I have been into this wonderful state primary school and I have seen how teachers and pupils use the library, and I have been into classes and given an assembly and launched my book there and talked to pupils and I have seen their faces light up with enthusiasm about reading, and I know that was very much because their school librarian has made them excited about it and supports and encourages their teachers. And I have recognised myself in those students, as I grew up on a council estate with parents who had very little money and  felt intimidated by those who used 'big words' and disempowered by their own relationship with them, but wanted more for me. I can see how her care for both pupils and their families, and her encouraging them with reading, is one of the greatest things the children will receive in that school.

But Ofsted isn't interested. It seems. Incredibly and depressingly. Though see my P.S.

So I am writing my 4th book for the series I launched. Unfortunately it won't be out until next year, but it will be dedicated to this school librarian, one of the most wonderful and dedicated people I have met as a writer. I do mention her in the back in the acknowledgements to 'The Ice Swans', the second book in the series, out soon (shameless plug there!)

And if anyone knows Cressida Cowell, please can they somehow arrange my lovely librarian gets to meet her. They can contact me at twitter as @Bridgeanne (I have deleted her name as I realised I didn't ask her permission to write it)

Because she deserves it.

P.S. I am still hoping that Ofsted DID visit the library when she was busy doing something else and will rave about it and her in their report. I still don't understand why they didn't bother to interview the librarian, but maybe they heard such good reports about her they didn't need to. If they DO report on the library and praise her I will tell you.

Saturday, 21 May 2016


I am on a train to Berwick upon Tweed at the moment, and am eating smoked salmon sandwiches and drinking gin and tonic. I am in First Class, because there was a special offer. It is very exciting. I have free wifi, and free food and drink and I am on my way to Lindisfarne, where I will stay for 3 nights and visit the castle and work on my edits of my (finished and submitted) novel set there and check I have the location details completely right (I worked from maps and memory).  I felt a little daunted about this trip and being so far away from home, but so far so good. I couldn’t go the first time I booked this trip because I was ill, but now, second time around, I am having a lovely time.

A few weeks ago I went to Hackney, to Millfield Community school, and talked to children about my first novel, ‘Girl with a White Dog’. I should have gone a few months ago, but again, around the same time I had to cancel the first Lindisfarne trip, I was ill and had to cancel this visit too. The date was rearranged by the charity which had asked me to go (and was paying me). As the new date approached I was bit daunted, but it was one of the most rewarding and fun days I have ever had. The children were so enthusiastic and engaged and excited about meeting a writer and the staff were so welcoming. I really admired them all.  At one point I couldn’t speak because I thought I would cry. I got the most lovely letters and cards afterwards which I will keep all my life. I am even getting paid for it! I had a lovely time.

Then, a week later, I was back in London talking about my second MG novel ‘Dog Ears’, because children in Lambeth had voted it on to the shortlist of the Phoenix Book Awards. I was so moved to see children stand up on stage and act out a scene from it, and also read out why they wanted it to win. I also met a lovely author, Jane Elson,  whose book ‘ How to Fly with Broken Wings’ was also shortlisted. Neither of us won, but we sold lots of books and signed lots, and just had a really lovely, lovely time meeting the librarians, teachers and children. One of the girls gave me a beautiful bracelet I will cherish, and I felt so, so happy to meet the actual readers of my books, and to find out that ‘Dog Ears’ had meant so much to a group of London girls from such different backgrounds to mine.

I want to write this because the writing life can be hard. We can all worry about money, and ideas, and sales, and whether we are good enough. But sometimes it is just wonderful. 

And above all, it is the writing. I love it. I have so many ideas and I have so many books I want to write. I feel so, so lucky that at the age of 51 I have a job where my job is to think of stories. I have been imagining stories all my life - I have been writing all my life - and it is so, so lovely to find that I now have a lovely agent and publishers and readers who are pleased I am doing it. What I love doing makes other people happy - how wonderful is that?

So this is a post about being grateful and happy. The writing life can be lonely and worrying and the sensitivity of writers can work against us. Today I have lots of ideas - tomorrow I may doubt them. We can imagine bad things very easily.

But today I am not going to let myself imagine bad things - I am going to  imagine only good things - publishing deals and lovely books and  readers. I am going to sit in my first class carriage and enjoy every minute. I am having a lovely time.

Jane Elson and I having a lovely time!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

My first post - by Anne Booth

My First Post for an Awfully Big Blog Adventure

Hello! I can’t quite believe this is happening. It seems only yesterday when I was on an Arvon ‘Writing for Children’ course with Linda Strachan and Cathy MacPhail, but in fact it was back in 2010 - four and a half years ago.

Linda and Cathy can be seen discussing it here:

I was on that week. It was wonderful. It was great to learn from Linda and Cathy, and to hear the work of the other writers and to write some things myself. I knew already that I loved children’s books - I had an M.A. in Children’s Literature, had been a bookseller, and had four children of my own ranging from 13 to 10. However, the love I felt for children’s books, combined with the awe I felt for those who wrote them, meant that I hadn’t dared to think I could write any of my own stuff. It was ‘having a go’ that week, and the encouragement and detailed feedback Linda and Cathy gave us all, that gave me confidence. I felt at home in that world, where it was normal to discuss pirates and monsters, for example, and see events through children’s eyes! I remember Linda talking about the Scattered Authors’ Society and am so amazed and happy that I am a member now myself.

There were many wonderful writers on that week, and on another subsequent week run the next year by Joyce and Polly Dunbar at Lumb Bank. I hope that all of us get published eventually. My own breakthrough came in 2013, when Nosy Crow Publishers accepted my picture book text, which is now ‘The Fairiest Fairy’, due to be published in June this year.  I am overwhelmed by the loveliness of Rosalind Beardshaw’s illustrations!

2013 is also the year when my lovely agent,  Anne Clark , took me on. This transformed my life! It led to my novel ‘Girl with a White Dog’ being published by Catnip in March 2014, and me writing ‘Lucy’s Secret Reindeer’ for O.U.P. , published in October 2014. Now, in 2015, ‘Dog Ears’ will be published in April for Catnip, ‘The Fairiest Fairy’ (Nosy Crow) in June, and ‘Lucy’s Magic Snowglobe’ (O.U.P.) probably in October. There should be another Nosy Crow picture book for Christmas too, but perhaps that’s for 2016.

Next month I will be 50! This time last year I had no books published, and suddenly, by the end of this year I will have had 5, maybe 6! It feels like when you are waiting at a bus stop for ages, (in my case = years!) and then suddenly all the buses come at once!

So my message to anyone out there reading this, who loves reading children’s books so much that they do not not feel worthy to write them is - go on - have a go. It’s never too late. Sign up for a course with people as inspiring, encouraging and enthusiastic as Linda and Cathy, Joyce or Polly. Follow writers and  illustrators and agents and publishers you like on Twitter - I have had such lovely conversations with fellow enthusiasts - and found out about so many wonderful children’s books there. It was because of Twitter that, without an agent at that time, I submitted to the new publisher Nosy Crow in the first place. It is because of Twitter that I learnt that a new agent, Anne Clark, was looking for clients. There are THOUSANDS of amazing children’s books out there waiting to be discovered on all sorts of subjects, by all sorts of authors, for all different age groups, but there’s always room for more!  There’s a world of loveliness to enjoy as a reader AND as a writer, and if you’d like to combine the two - GO FOR IT! It’s the best job in the world!

And if you are an experienced writer like Linda or Cathy, please think about being a tutor. That course changed my life.

Anne Booth @Bridgeanne on twitter