Showing posts with label Damian Harvey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Damian Harvey. Show all posts

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A Touch Of The Green Eyed Monster - Damian Harvey

It's confession time and today I'm admitting to the appearance of the Green Eyed Monster from time to time. They always say that people who can do something always wish they could do something else... Tennis Players wish they were Rock Stars, Chefs wish they were Footballers. I'd quite like to be a decent illustrator.

I read Malachy Doyle's post on the Picture Book Den Blog last Sunday with great interest. His post, entitled 'DON'T DO IT! - How NOT to write a picture book' was simple and well written, offering sound advice for all wood-be picture book authors and a good reminder for those that already write picture books.

Of all the points Malachy made the one that stood out to me most was simply "Don't think it's easy"...  Many people mistakenly think that because a book has very few words it must be easy to write, however, there's a definite craft to writing a picture book story (and I'm very much still a learner) which is often belied by their seeming simplicity.

I've written quite a few books where the number of words is often predetermined and I know how much I can agonise over these in a bid to get the story to sound right with so few words available. Picture books aimed at a mass market are a little different though as with a picture book the skill is to tell the story effectively, incorporating a rhythm to the text so that it can be read aloud and shared. The low word count comes from the author's ability to effectively use 'all the right words in all the right places' (to misquote Eric Morcambe). Again, Malachy put it perfectly "Rhythm, and a delightful ease in the telling, are key". Personally, I find myself agonising over a picture book text more than anything else I do, often spending a seemingly ridiculous amount of time playing with the words and often ending up with little to show for it... but in the end it can be all worth while.

I've lost count of the number of times that I've picked up a new picture book in a library or bookshop, read it and been left thinking, often unfairly, is that it? Yes, there are those occasions when I'm left wondering how on earth a some books could have been published and at these times I just grind my teeth and return home to carry on working. But there are also many occasions when I'm left knowing that the author has got it spot on. A perfect picture book... At these times I've also been known to grind my teeth and return home to carry on working.

In the picture book world there are authors and there are illustrators. Together, their combination of words and artwork marry together and create something that is somehow greater than the sum of the two parts. But there's another breed too... not content to do one thing or the other, some people insist on writing AND illustrating - and doing it well too.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that those with the ability to do both should be locked away for all eternity - far from it - I'm merely confessing to the little pang of envy that I occasionally feel after reading a book/text and feeling (perhaps wrongly) that had I submitted it to a publisher it would have barely been given a second glance. I had such a feeling a couple of weeks ago after reading Jon Klassen's excellent, and thoroughly deserving award winner, This is Not My Hat. The text and the illustrations all deceptively simple, yet spot on. A perfect picture book.

I love that the stories I write get illustrated by so many fantastic illustrators but I do find it frustrating to come up with ideas that I know won't the light of day because I'm not able to present them more effectively to a publisher. Solutions gratefully received.

Enough of the teeth grinding for now - back to work.

Damian Harvey
Twitter @damianjharvey

Thursday, 10 July 2014

To Tweet Or Not - Damian Harvey

As if it isn't enough trying to get as much writing done as I feel I should (and I rarely feel I've done enough by the end of the day) I also feel the need to review books, blog, do my own website (this week I've been creating some simple animated pictures to make it look more interesting - like this one of L.S. Lowry) and of course, I Twitter. I know lots of other writers do all these things too and I'm sure that they have no problems in doing so, and doing it well. 

The problem is that all of these things take time out of the writing day, and again I rarely feel as though I'm even doing these extra things as well as I should... It's a guilt thing.

Of all of these additional little things, surely Twitter is the easiest and least time consuming - after all, it only takes a moment to send a little Tweet doesn't it. Or so you'd think.

Love it or loathe it, online social networking of one kind or another is here to stay and I feel it's important to keep my hand in as a way of promoting myself and what I'm doing. I've restricted myself to only using Twitter as I find it does just about everything that I want. I have a Twitter feed on the home page of my website which allows me to say a quick hello to schools I'm visiting. This always goes down well when it's projected onto a screen in the school hall or in the classroom for everyone to see (making it that bit more personal) though sadly some schools automatically block social networking sites so all that appears is an empty space on the home page - so I've wondered if it's worthwhile after all.

I also tweet about what I'm doing - though as we all know, Tweeting that you're sitting at home writing everyday can become a little boring - as can the earth shattering news that you're making another cup of coffee. To make it a little more interesting I do try and tweet about other things - what I'm doing and where I'm going etc... including pictures from time to time where relevant and when there's a signal on my phone. I know I could make better use of Twitter though - again if only I had the time. Just as I start to think it's not worth the effort, something happens to change my mind. Recently I've been invited into schools as a result of interest generated by Tweets from and to other schools, I've also had contact from publishers. So I've decided, yes... it is worth the effort (for now) and of  course it only takes a moment to do.

As a result of this, I've recently decided that I should be a little more proactive on Twitter. I've made an effort to follow relevant people - seeking out schools, teachers, libraries, librarians, publishers, authors illustrators, bookshops and other book related people and organisations. If any of these follow me then I follow back - after all, what's the point of it all if you are only tweeting to a handful of people. Although I'm keen to build my followers I have no intention of playing the game of following hundreds of random people, then unfollowing as soon as they follow back (as I've noticed some do). I want to try and keep it relevant. I've also taken the time to unfollow those people that, after a period of time, don't follow me (again, what's the point unless you are genuinely interested in them or they are relevant to what you are doing). is a great help in this.

I've been slowly going through the list of people I follow and creating little lists to make it easier for me to find them - this task is still ongoing. I know need to actively retweet relevant tweets from people, favouriting  here and there and commenting etc. The problem is, it all takes time doesn't it... and what started out as a quick and simple tweet easily becomes time consuming. It's easy to start obsessing over numbers and why so and so has suddenly stopped following you.

Today has been a good day - I've written quite a lot, I've done a new web page showing new book covers (History Heroes), I've written this (waffling) post, I've Tweeted a bit and I don't feel guilty...
Tomorrow I'll be visiting a school (so no writing) and I'll tweet about it too if there's a phone signal.

Damian Harvey
Twitter @damianjharvey

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Every Child A Member - Damian Harvey

With so many libraries around Great Britain closing many people are looking for ways to increase library usage and to prove that libraries are as important and valued as we know them to be - rather than the soft target for cutbacks that the government seem to see them as. The recent trend of opening large, modern, inner city libraries such as the ones in Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Cardiff is all very nice but not when it is at the expense of the smaller branch libraries which are extremely valuable. As a child my Mum took me to our local library every week to borrow new books - not something that would have been as easy to do had we had to travel further afield to visit the main library, and it's the same with children now. It can be hard enough getting children into libraries, however, here in Wales a new initiative was launched earlier this year to try and encourage all children to use their local library.
Welsh Libraries and Primary Schools have joined together to support children's reading and literacy by making Every Child A Member of the library, something that I can't help should have already been going on.

In a Welsh Government press release the Minister said: "The link between library usage and literacy levels is well documented - over 42,000 children in Wales took part in last year’s Summer Reading Challenge which ran in 245 libraries across the country.
"Those children that took part maintained or improved their reading levels and we are hoping to build on this by giving every child the opportunity to use their library to borrow books and access all the other services available to them.”

Initially, this opt out scheme is being trialled by the Gwent, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Merthyr Tydfil, Powys and Swansea authorities but is planes for rollout across the country in the near future.

I was delighted to be asked to take part in the launch of the Every Child A Member initiative by visiting local libraries and meeting year four children from local schools, many bussed in from outlying areas. All the children received their new library cards and were then let loose to choose books to take home and read - as well as receiving a goody bag. As well as being able to talk about my own books it was great being able to read from and suggest books by other authors that they might like to read - John Dougherty's Stinkbomb and Ketch-up Face went down a treat.
Although many children were already members and keen users of the libraries they visited, there were many more that weren't. Some had never been to the library before. Will parents keep coming back to the library with their children? This has yet to be seen, but I can't help feeling that this is a late, but welcome start to getting children into the libraries. Without creating this link between children and libraries what hope is there for the future.

Damian Harvey

Thursday, 10 April 2014

I Wish I Was A Writer (or Waving, not Drowning) - Damian Harvey

Children and adults alike often ask how long I’ve been a writer and, have I always wanted to be a writer? Adults also share the fact that they too would like to be a writer and ask how  they should go about it. I answer these questions as honestly and truthfully as I can of course. Inside, I have felt that I’ve been a writer for a very long time – though at first I didn’t actually do any writing. So tell that if you really want to write then you need to sit down and write. Every day if you can, but certainly most days if not.

I started writing whilst in full time employment elsewhere - so you might like to get a job first so that you can live and pay the bills. I was lucky in that publishers seemed to like some of the things I was writing so, after a few years I was able to go part time in my ‘day job’. I was fortunate again a few years later when I was offered freelance work that paid quite well and was incredibly flexible – allowing me time to write and to schedule school visits to fit in with the school’s requests. It was always comforting to know that I had another little job beneath me so that I could be sure that a little bit of money would be coming in to keep things ticking over. But wouldn’t it be good to be able to take that final step and become a full time writer. A real writer...

I blogged earlier this year about being determined to be more organised and business-like in my writing. No more procrastinating and time wasting for me, I thought. This resolution has been going quite well so far, and I’ve definitely tried to be more business-like in what I do.  There’s always room for improvement though and a recent change of circumstances has made me realise this and has also helped me make that final leap.

Did I jump or was I pushed? you might wonder... Enough to say that my comfort blanket has been pulled from under my feet and I’ve finally made that big leap into the waters bellow. It’s not a problem though – it’s an opportunity.  And hey… I’ve finally made it. I’m a full time writer. And at the minute, despite the worried look on my face, I'm waving, not drowning.

It’s scary. It’s exciting. It’s what I’ve always wished for. Now I've got the time to write what people want me to write and also to write the things I want to write. The only thing is, I’m sure that terms like ‘Bestseller’, ‘Rich and Famous’, ‘Castle of the Hill’ or ‘Cottage in the Country’ were supposed to be involved and, sadly, so far, they’re not.

Another question I’m occasionally asked by children is “why don’t you write a bestseller like J.K.Rowling or Roald Dahl or David Walliams?”  Why indeed...
It brings to mind an interview I saw many years ago with Jeffery Archer – perhaps on Terry Wogan’s show. Jeffrey was explaining how he had been bankrupt, or close to it, so he'd decided to sit down and write a novel. It makes me wonder what I’ve been wasting my time for all these years. I just need to sit down and write a bestseller… My wife, Vicky is incredibly supportive of what I’m doing so I’m sure she’d be more than happy to help.

It’s perhaps a little ironic that, upon 'Googling' Mr Archer to check the spelling of his first name (was it Jeffrey or Geoffrey? I wondered) I was taken to his website which is proudly displaying the cover of his latest novel – ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’.

Damian Harvey -

Twitter me @damianjharvey

Monday, 10 March 2014

For The Love Of Books - Damian Harvey

Happy World Book Day everyone!
Alright, alright, so it might not be the official World Book Day today - it might not even be World Book Day for you but it is for many people. This week, and probably for the next few weeks too, authors, illustrators, poets and storytellers will be hitting the road to share their love of the written word with children in schools and libraries all over the place. It's a wonderful thing.
Now don't get me wrong, I think that the WBD initiative is brilliant. The idea of setting aside one day a year when everyone can share their love of books. Children in many schools get to dress up as their favourite book character - superheroes and little princesses abound thanks to the supermarket's ready made costumes but more imaginative creations come to light too. Throughout the day pupils and teachers share their favourite books and the aforementioned visit from an author, illustrator, poet or storyteller can add a much needed boost to the general book excitement. 
Perhaps it's just me but the idea of a single book day does make me cringe slightly. One day isn't enough to generate that love of books amongst children that have little or no interest in books in their home environment. Sadly, I meet many children in school that really don't like reading - not surprising though as the whole learning to read business can be a very difficult and taxing one.
Recently I've been writing a series of little stories based on the lives of real people  - Columbus, Elizabeth I, Neil Armstrong  and others. The most recent book in the series is about William Caxton - not the inventor of the printing press but the man to first print books in the English language. Researching William Caxton really brought home the importance of the written word in particular. What he, and other printers did, changed people's lives forever. News, information and ideas could be shared quickly with many people. Caxton wasn't just a printer though - he was a businessman, a publisher, the first person to open a bookshop in England. He and others at the time brought about a real revolution of the word. Books suddenly became available to a much wider audience and now it's hard to imagine a world without books in it.   
Books are everywhere and anyone can get their hands on them so why not share a book today and everyday. And to help spread that love of books why not get involved with the excellent Patron of Reading scheme. A book isn't just for world book day - it's for everyday. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Are you going to write a real book?

When talking to children and adults about writing, many familiar questions raise their arms:
"Where do you get your ideas?"
"Are you rich?"
"I've got a cat!"
And of course, from adults in the audience, those questions that fall into that all too familiar category of "are you going to write a real book?", "a proper book?", "an adult book?"
"An Adult Book!!!" I say, (raised eyebrows here)...
"Oh you mean something like 50 Shades of Amber Brown?"
Even though these latter questions have a feeling of "are you going to get a proper job?" about them, I know what it is they are getting at. Not only are they interested in why I write, but they are also interested (perhaps even concerned) about why I write for children. Especially being, as I am, a man.

Perhaps I should feel somewhat affronted that the question is even asked, but I'm not. Honest I'm not. Though it does make me wonder whether writers of 'proper books' get asked why they write, and it has made me ask myself just why it is that I write for children - or write at all for that matter.

I may tell children that it's because I wanted to be rich and famous. But am I rich and famous? Sadly not... though I'm working on it. Would I write if I didn't get paid for it? I, as with most other writers, find that they often do write without getting paid - though that isn't the plan when we start out. I'm sure I would write something if I wasn't getting paid for it, however, I doubt very much that I would be writing books and stories, and I'm sure I'm not alone here. After all Dr Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying "Only a fool writes for anything other than money."

Was it because I loved writing when I was at school? Again, sadly not. I was definitely a late starter as far as that goes. I loved books and stories but I really wasn't much good at writing them. I didn't know how to get started and how to carry it on - never mind how to finish it all. I had to read and write lots before I worked all this out.
But I have always loved books, comics and stories and have read anything I could get my hands on that interested me (and that's the secret isn't it - reading what you enjoy). I enjoyed Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Mrs Pepperpot and the Magic Wood, Professor Brainstorm, and I couldn't wait for the Beano to arrive each week - and later, 2000AD with it's tales of Judge Dread and Rogue Trooper. Later I read fantasy and science fiction, I even read all of my Dad's old western novels that lined the bookshelf at home. I still enjoy reading some children's books now but I read books for grown-ups too. I enjoy reading lots of genres of fiction but I don't have a great interest in writing books for adults. Perhaps if a story idea comes along that fits the bill then I might, but until then I will carry on writing for children.

But that still hasn't answered the question of why I write for children. Robert Bloch, writer of horror fiction and most well know as the author of Psycho, when asked why or how he could write such things (and still seem like a normal person), mischievously explained that " Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk."

While I'm not confessing to having the heart or brain of a child secreted about my desk, I do feel that I am still in touch with what I loved to read when I was younger. I think it's perhaps partly because of this, and because I really do want to share my love of stories with younger children, that I write for the age group that I do. Hearing how reluctant young children can be at reading, and knowing how much I loved it, makes me determined to show them just how much fun it can be. While I realise that I might be able to do this by putting great books by other authors into the hands of these reluctant readers (something that I frequently do by the way) I can't help feeling that I'd be much happier to find they were excited at reading something I'd written. And with any luck this will also mean that I won't have to get a proper job.

Why do you write for children?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Determination, Organisation and Procrastination – Damian Harvey

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions because, as everyone knows, they famously never stand for more than a couple of days. I am, however, consciously determined to be more organised from now on. We’re ten days into the year and so far it’s going well – Hey! it’s a start. All of my paperwork, barring the imminent tax return, is done and up to date, as is my diary and calendar. I have a few writing deadlines stretching out before me but there are no worries there as everything is coming along nicely.

I love writing and being a writer and can’t think of anything I would rather do. I love being able to work from home creating stories, poems and rhymes. I love seeing rough illustrations and final artwork and the way it all comes together as a finished book. I love visiting schools and libraries to share stories and to work with children on their own writing. Making a living at this writing business can be tricky though - there’s lots of things that need to be balanced in order to make it work. In terms of the work itself I need to balance writing and school visits – both essential to me if I want to make some sort of living and avoid the need to “get a proper job”. It can be tempting to fill the diary with school and library work to bring in some money but that means there’s not much time left for the writing.

At the moment I’m working on a little series of short, non-fiction books. The first couple of books have been written, a draft of the third is almost ready to send off, research is underway for the fourth, the contract has been signed and part payment will be coming soon. It’s all exciting stuff and very comforting knowing that I’m actually getting paid for the work I’m doing as opposed to the more usual ‘writing and hoping’. I’m really enjoying writing the books and doing the research for them but I’m also very conscious of a problem.  A problem that can be summed up with one word – procrastination. I am very aware that I have a inclination  to procrastinate, or monkey around doing things that could, and invariably should, be done later – emails, tweets, website tweaks, sorting out my sock drawer and just about anything else. Hence the determination to be more organised, focused, and on target.

Before undertaking this non-fiction project I was working on a couple of picture books and a novel for older readers. The novel was coming along nicely but I had to set it to one side so I could concentrate on meeting the deadlines for the non-fiction texts. At first I worried that the novel might wither and die without me there to nurture it, but that concern has all but gone… The characters are flitting around in my head like butterflies trapped in a jar. The problem is that they’ve been joined by other fluttering ideas too – some bright and exciting, and all vying for my immediate attention. For now though I’m placating them all by jotting down notes and I’m determinedly avoiding the urge to take the lid of the jar and go chasing after every idea that catches my interest – another picture book, a pop-up book, a book of poems, a young reader book and lots more. Sadly, I know only too well what will happen if I succumb to the temptation of these enticing creatures – lots of unfinished stories, nothing to show for it and the ever frightening need to ‘get a proper job’.

So, no resolutions from me this year – just a little focus.

Damian Harvey
Damian can be found procrastinating on twitter @damianjharvey

His latest book (an OUP Treetops Chuckler)
Smelly Socks and Terrible Tangles comes out today.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

When Does it End??? by Damian Harvey

I've written quite a few books now for Primary School aged children and so far all of them have been fiction. I just love making things up. With fiction for children I have the chance to stretch my imagination and let it wander wherever it wants without the constraints of the real world. I'm completely free... 

Ok, I'll admit that on the odd occasion I've had to look something up here and there, but that's only so I can rest in the half knowledge that the fictional world I'm writing about makes some sort of sense. For a little series of books set in the Ice Age (The Mudrusts) I wondered whether Monstrous Mammoths could have come face to face with my Human characters. I found that there were (or possibly were) Mammoths in certain parts of the world when human-like beings existed - even if some of the Mammoths weren't as huge and monstrous as they might have been. Sabre-Toothed Tigers were a bit smaller than I'd imagined too - but that was all fine by me. I'd just about satisfied my inquisitive mind enough to allow them to exist together for the purpose of my story.

For a novel I'm working on at the moment I've had to look up genetics and DNA - I probably didn't need to as the whole thing is completely made up and total nonsense, however, there's always this nagging little voice at the back of my mind that speaks up every now and then.

"Could this really happen?" asks Tarquin Woodbine from 5P, casually probing his left nostril for nourishment like an inquisitive aye-aye.

I've spoken to non-fiction (and fiction) writers in the past who have told me about the joys and obsessions of research - something I've never fully understood until now. But at the moment, as well as my fiction work, I'm busy writing a little series of non-fiction books. The books are only around 1000 - 1300 words in length, so nothing too lengthy, however, I'm finding myself sinking comfortably into a world of research.

The first book in the series is about Christopher Columbus - he famed for discovering America. (Now who would have thought it had been there all along?)

I've been interested in Columbus, and other famous explorers, since an early age so I have a little bit of knowledge about them (a dangerous thing indeed). Despite this knowledge I knew I would have to do a lot more research. I started on the internet. There's lots of valuable information to be had from the internet - from many respected and some not so respected sites. Despite reservations, Wikipedia can be a good starting place. It can give lots of little nuggets of information (all of which need checking and double checking of course).

Then it's off to the library and home with a heap of books. So many pages, chapters, paragraphs, words, facts and tit-bits of interesting information that can be included in my book.

By the end I had written thousands of words of notes which then needed to be put into some sort of context and order. I also wanted to make the text read like a story rather than a simple timeline of events so a lot of cutting and tweaking was involved.

And then there's that mountain of contradictory information that you get. His brother was called Bob - he lived in Spain. His brother was called Frank (though many called him Demetrius, or Cal for short) and he lived in Portugal... These are not facts about Columbus or his family - but you know the sort of thing I mean.

Starting the research was easy. Just a little snippet of information here... a paragraph there... a book or three to ensure that you know what you know. Then you check it all again with another source, and another, and another and...  

"Oh! I've not read that before!!!"

Researching information for a book is far easier (and harder) and far more enjoyable (and frustrating) that I ever thought it might have been. In fact, some might say that it's addictive.

The most difficult thing I've found is knowing when to stop the research and get down to the business of writing. In my limited experience,even the knowledge that most of what you research will never appear in the book doesn't make it any easier.

But that's fine by me because I can stop researching any time I like. Really I can.
Just one more Google and I'm done.

Damian Harvey

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Forbidden Fruit by Damian Harvey

There's something very alluring about doing anything that we shouldn't be doing - be it eating forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, sneaking a chocolate when we should be dieting, or (as a child) taking a sneaky peak at a wrapped present under the Christmas Tree.

Things that are banned instantly become more interesting than they ever were before. I remember listening to the comedian Jasper Carrott, talking about his surprise top 5 chart hit "Funky Moped", banned by the BBC because of the single's B-side - a naughty parody of The Magic Roundabout. "It's the best thing that could have happened to it," he said, as people rushed out to buy it to see why it had been banned.  

Forbidden books are equally alluring... September 22nd to 28th was Banned Book week (the book community's celebration of the Freedom to Read) and many libraries (and bookshops) around the world took this opportunity to display Banned Books as a way of generating interest in lending and reading by encouraging library visitors and customers to sink their teeth into some of the tasty, forbidden morsels on display.

I was delighted that one of our local libraries - Buckley Library in Flintshire - took this opportunity to promote this to their visitors... and a great success it was too - one elderly lady declaring "Oh it makes you want to read them doesn't it." It's only a shame that more libraries didn't follow suit as it certainly ignited interest in those visitors that saw it -  surely what is needed everywhere. Visitors to the library were instantly drawn to the display of books - each seductively labelled with a "Banned" sticker, and each holding a bookmark giving further information on the library service etc.

Some of the titles on display that have been banned in different parts of the world for various reasons came as no surprise. Others, however, did. As an author of children's books I was more interested in the children titles than the adult.

Older titles like Mark Twain's 'The Adventure's of Tom Sawyer' - banned because of its "radically charged language" and its questioning of racial inequality - were a surprise to me (though perhaps they shouldn't have been), as were more modern titles like Louise Rennison's 'Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging', banned in many classrooms in America because of its frank discussion of boys, and references to lesbianism, pornography and erections etc. Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants titles topped the American frequently challenged list in 2012.

Other books have been banned in other countries for stranger reasons - Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' was banned in the province of Hunan, China, in 1931, though not for the reasons you might have expect, but because it showed animals acting on a level with humans.

Of all the banned children's books our favourite is 'And Tango Makes Three', a picture book written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole. This delightful picture book tells the (true) story of two male penguins trying to hatch a stone in New York's Central Park Zoo... The zoo keepers realised that perhaps it was time for the two male penguins to have a baby of their own to look after. According to the American Library Association, "authorities in Charlotte, North Carolina, Shiloh, Illinois, Loudoun, Virginia and Chico, California all banned the book. The American Library Association reports that And Tango Makes Three was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007 and 2008 and the single most banned book of 2009 in the US."

For more information about banned books you might like to visit this UK site which has a little list of banned books or the American Library Association's extensive site.  In the meantime I'll be working on getting my next book banned in order to generate a bit more interest... it seems to be just the ticket.

Damian Harvey -

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

What's In A Name - Damian Harvey

Character names are so important and coming up with names is a task that I can love or loath with equal measure. It seems that some characters arrive ready named mind whereas others are far more problematic, and I just can't seem to settle into the writing until I've got the right name.

Working in schools with children on their creative writing shows that they too have difficulties with the naming process, though they are often more than happy to settle with the first thing that comes into their heads. You can almost guarantee that the chosen name will be Bob. I try to get them to come up with something different, a bit more unusual perhaps... think about this character and what he/she/it is like. If there a better name than Bob? I just know that the next suggestion is going to be Bobby - but we don't leave it there.

I feel that some names have been used up now and I would find it difficult to have a character called Harry in either a picture book (Harry and The Dinosaurs) or in a longer book (Harry Potter).

In a series of books I wrote about robots I thought it would be good to give a few of the robot characters machine, tool or industrial sounding names so I had Crank, Ratchet, Buzzsaw,  Pylon, Sparks. Ratchet had to be changed at the last minute as the name matched that of the lead character in the animated movie, Robots. I couldn't think of anything at first but the title of a song came to my rescue and I called him Al. When I came to create a strong female robot character I wanted a name that sounded strong, feminine and futuristic. I thought I was being quite clever calling her Avatar but did didn't feel quite so clever when a film of that name was released.

A series of books about a family living in the Ice Age needed, I felt, a title that was Flintstone like so I had fun mixing and matching words until I came up with The Mudcrusts. Whereas the Roborunners characters had names linked to machines and tools etc I wanted something more primitive for the Mudcrusts. Some of the characters were named after personal characteristics - Lowbrow Mudcrust has a prominent brow and Chief Hawknose predictably has a large hawk-like nose. Other characters had names that were linked closer to nature - two sisters are named Flora and Fauna and Lowbrow's wimpy younger son is named Bogweed.

In school I try and encourage children to create names for characters that they might not normally think of as being names. It's a fun thing to do, especially when you combine everyday words, and can result in some very interesting possibilities for characters - sometimes we find that a name comes before a character but lends itself to visualising what sort of character it is. In a book I'm working on at the moment I have a nasty little piece of work known as Simian Scrape - a bully of a boy who bares more than a passing resemblance to a monkey. The most problematic character name for this book was for the evil villain - a mad scientist like character called Melvin. I knew Melvin needed to have a more sinister name but I just couldn't quite get it right, and neither, it seemed could the character himself so I have a scene in which the character devises struggles to come up with a new name for himself, though much to his eternal disgust, Mother still insists on calling him Melvin.

As a child I remember complaining to my own mother at her choice of name for me. Why on earth did she have to call me Damian - especially with all the movies about the demon child of the same name that seemed to hound me throughout my school life. "It could have been worse," she told me. "We were going to call you Warren but changed our minds when my mum said you would get called Bunny."

I think I'll settle with my own name after all and just have fun creating more interesting names for my fictional characters.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Writing in Schools - Damian Harvey

I love visiting schools and libraries to share stories, talk about writing and of course promote what I'm doing in the hope that people will read and enjoy the stories that I write. The aim of my visits has always been to get children excited about books, stories and reading for pleasure... especially reading for pleasure. I received lots of enquiries asking if I would lead writing workshops, however, I was initially a little reluctant to do this - partly because I didn't feel that it was something that I could do and partly because I was a little concerned that I might not be able to produce enough at the end of the sessions to please the school.

Over the past three years or so I now feel confident in leading writing workshops and I love it - yes, it can be difficult at times but it's also fun and can be mutually rewarding. It's great when the children are able to complete their own story - even better when it gets made into a little book.

When I first started off I would prepare a few story starters, character sketches and the such. Preparation is the key to success I thought - but not for me. I like to take a more organic approach (chaotic you might say). Nowadays, I like to be able to go into a classroom with a completely blank sheet - flip chart or (dare I say it?) Interactive white board.

After a bit of an introduction and a warm up  - designed to get the class to relax and look forward to what we're about to do - I ask for character suggestions. Keep it simple I tell them. We can just start off with a boy or a girl - it doesn't have to be a flying boy that can turn into a carrot - it really doesn't have to be a talking chip and it certainly doesn't need to be a zombie... Yawn!.

Once we've got one or perhaps two characters for our story we add a little bit to them... Let's make this character sad... What's making him or it sad? But please... keep it simple for now. We can build on it later.

We go on in this way - adding a character, a problem, a bit of motivation (for the characters of course)... What is it they want to do? How can we make our character happy?

I keep the sessions light and humorous and try to ensure that everyone adds something to the story that we are (dare I say it?) planning!

Once we've done a little bit of planning, or rough note making, I like to get right on and do a bit of proper writing. We might not know where the story is going to end just yet, but why not write a bit of what we know. I encourage the class to suggest ways of starting our story... a bit of dialogue, a bit of description, a bit of onomatopoeia perhaps... And we're on our way.

It's amazing seeing the children's eyes light up as they see the story coming to life with words that they are suggesting. As the story process moves along ideas for the direction in which the story could go do spring to mind and while I occasionally, try to help move things along to a logical solution it's great when the children come up with it themselves. Sometimes I'm tempted to get my own notebook out and jot down a thing or two for my own use...

Single sessions with a class can produce some really interesting story ideas that they can then work with together after I've gone - but there are also occasions where I get to spend much longer with a group - a whole day or several days/sessions over a period of time.

Having the opportunity to work with other artists (or practitioners - not my favourite word) can also expand what we're doing and result in some really great work.

A school I was at recently produced a little novel - Ghoul School. While I was working with a class writing the story - other classes were working with their teachers to produce the artwork to go with it (not normal sized pieces of artwork, these were more like theatre sets - and very good they were too). The process was chaotic at times as both the writing and the illustrating were going on almost simultaneously. A few tweaks were needed in the story to make it all fit but all in all it was a great success... and at the end of it all the children had their own book to take home.

I no longer shy away from going into schools to lead writing workshop, in fact I love it, as I now know what I'm doing. I might not have it all planned out before I get there but I'm confident of my ability to get them all fired up and eager to take part. Writing really is fun... let's see get out there and see how much fun we can instil today.

Damian Harvey -

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Hey Mister... Are you famous? - Damian Harvey

Over the past few months I've travelled the length and breadth of Great Britain visiting lots of schools and libraries to share stories, poems and rhymes, talk about writing and being a writer, lead writing workshops and answer any and all questions - it's usually fun and inspiring and always utterly exhausting.

My aim is to get children enthused and excited about books and stories, reading and writing - and also to try and demystify the process of writing and being an author - and of course to promote myself and my books at the same time. To make each session personal and unique to the groups I'm working with I encourage lots of questions and interaction as the sessions progress, and barring a few exceptions, the questions posed are generally of the same type - Where do you get your ideas? How much do you earn? What's your favourite animal? I've got a cat!!! and Are you famous? (always a little deflating that one - but no... I'm not famous). With this final question, however, I like to play a little game...

I always tell the audience (children and adults alike) that there are lots of brilliant authors that write books for children but there aren't many really famous ones. People involved with children's books - be it authors, publishers, librarians etc can make a long list of authors, but sadly, it's not as easy for others.

I'm a little naughty with this game as I tell the audience that they should name an author that is still alive (and they should also try and name a different one from the person next to them) but to compensate for this I do give the group three lives...

There are some exceptions but sadly, most groups do not progress very far before losing all of their lives. Some children can't name any authors at all and look completely blank - I'm a nice guy and tell them not to worry (no need to embarrass an individual child) - so quickly move on to the next.

I've made a note of the answers that have been bounced back over the last few months and here they are (in no particular order);

J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Dav Pilky, Jeff Kinney, Julia Donaldson, You (raised eyebrow and smile here), Jacqueline Wilson, David Walliams, Francesca Simon, Michael Morpurgo, Dick King Smith and a few more (but not many).

In a couple of schools other authors have been named too - Malorie Blackman, Steve Cole, Adam Blade, Daisy Meadows and William Shakespeare to name a few.

The point of the game is to show that fame isn't everything and that few writers write to become famous - there's more to life than that (keep telling yourself this and I'm sure it'll be fine) - just why writers, or me in particular, write, will be the subject of a later post...

Teachers often pop their hands up so they can join in the game, but occasionally not - and for some reason or other the devil inside can't help encouraging them to join in whether they want to or not. At a recent bout of sessions held in a library, children from a school that had been targeted as being reluctant readers were brought in. During the session the Fame Game was played and teachers were encouraged to join in. I, and the librarians were dismayed when the two teachers only managed to name one author between them and then declared that they weren't really book people !!! And they wonder why the children are reluctant readers...

Finding time to read out loud to children in a class isn't always easy - there are lots of things in a school day that can eat up the time and reading and sharing books and stories can easily get pushed to the back... but it's such an important thing to do and it's something that continues to be important even when children can read for themselves.

So no... being famous isn't important. There are far more important things than that... though the money that can go with fame would be most welcome.

Damian Harvey

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Juggling Jobs and Dancing Dinosaurs

There's two very different sides to this business of writing for children and I seem to be constantly juggling time to make room for both. There's the solitary hours of sitting home alone, staring at the flashing cursor (interspersed with equal amounts of time making coffee and engaging in various displacement activities) until the book is written. Then there's getting out there visiting schools, libraries and festivals to promote the books once they're published... or that's what I imagined visiting schools and libraries was all about.

Don't get me wrong, when I'm out and about I do want to promote what I do - after all, I am a writer and am quite keen on the idea of having people buy my books or borrow them for a library. But there's more to it than that. I love books and stories and have done for as long as I can remember. My mum passed on this love of books by reading and sharing stories and poems when I was growing up. As an author going in to schools and libraries I now get the chance to share my love of stories with hundreds of children all round the country. I receive letters and emails from teachers, parents and children themselves telling me how much they have enjoyed the visits. Sometimes I receive letters saying that a child that has never shown interest in reading has bought or borrowed a book and hasn't put it down since. News like this is always a thrill.

My love of writing stories is something different. I can't honestly say I even enjoyed writing when I was younger. Unlike many writers I know this is something that I really started to enjoy when I was older, so trying to share my enthusiasm for writing with children has always felt more difficult. Many children do enjoy writing when they can take their time with it and they produce work that they are proud of, and rightly so.

I tell children that they are all writers and that any of them can write a book of their own... Now one little girl has taken this a step further by writing and illustrating her own book and having it published. When I heard the news I was overjoyed. You can read all about it here.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The Launching of a Book - Damian Harvey

Although I've attended a few book launches I've not yet had one for any of my own books. From the few I've been to I feel I've learned a lot, or at least enough to consider having one myself and hopefully making a success of it.

The idea of having a launch myself has always felt a little daunting as, in my mind, there are so many things that need to be taken into account in order to make it a success. Where do I have it? Who do I invite? What do I actually do? I was reminded of all these on Wednesday when I attended the launch of Helena Pielichaty's new series, Girls F.C.

I suppose a launch could be held just about anywhere, but to maximise the impact I've always felt that it can only help if the venue is relevant to the books in some way. Helena's launch was held at the National Football Museum in Preston - surely an ideal place for the launch of a series of books about a girls football team. People attending the launch were able take advantage of the facilities on offer at the museum as well as taking part in the launch -a guided tour, a penalty shootout, refreshments in the cafe etc.

One thing that has stopped me having a launch myself is simply being unsure about what I would actually do. Do I make it like a school/library/festival visit where I leap around and tell stories for a hour or do I quietly mingle with the people there and hope for the best? For my liking, Helena seemed to get the balance just right. Prior to saying anything herself, Peter Evans (the museum's education officer) gave an enthusiastic talk about the history of women's football with a slide show and some excellent props from the museum's collection.

It was then Helena's turn to leap into action with a little bit of talk and readings from the first four books. Rather than doing all the readings herself, she cleverly utilised some of the young readers that had come along to the launch - really getting the audience involved.
This was followed by a free prize raffle in which eager readers won sets of books (signed by the author - and by Hope Powell, the England woman's football team coach), a signed football shirt, match tickets and lots of other football goodies.
Refreshments were on hand for everyone there, then Helena made her way downstairs to sign books and make herself available for interview with the local press.
The launch was well organised and well attended - so well done Helena. I'll certainly be having one myself in the not too distant future. Hopefully you'll all come along.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Here's to Deadlines - Damian Harvey

You may love them or you may hate them, but if you’re a writer you’re probably stuck with them.

For me, deadlines started at school. After double English on Tuesday afternoon our teacher would set the homework which was due to be handed in first thing the following Monday – this was a generous deadline as it gave us the rest of the week, and the weekend, to get it done.

Knowing I had so long to get the work done was not necessarily a good thing though. My English homework would get buried beneath other homework and would generally stay buried until the weekend. This wasn’t a problem as I knew I still had two full days left. It didn’t get done on Saturday morning as that was the family shopping day. I Didn’t want to do it in the afternoon as I’d spent the morning shopping and there were much more interesting things to do outside. By Saturday night all thoughts of homework were forgotten and it didn’t usually get remembered again until Sunday night when Mum would ask if I had everything ready for school. Sunday nights were spent madly trying to get work done that should have been completed over the course of a full week.

I thought that leaving school would bring an end to homework – but of course I was wrong. College and University brought even more.

As everyone knows, the sensible thing is to do a little bit of homework each day/night so that you don’t get overloaded. It helps balance your workload and reduce stress. As an adult I’ve tried to pass this wisdom on to my own children but despite this I’ve still witnessed their blind panic as a weeks worth of forgotten maths homework is dragged out of their school bags on Sunday nights. I can’t get cross with them though as I know that I did exactly the same thing.

Now, as a writer, I find that almost all of my work is homework and I still have deadlines. Instead of teachers and lecturers setting my homework I have lots of lovely editors doing it for me. Things are a little different now though… I love my homework - and even the deadlines are useful. They can be frustratingly short at times but having a deadline set too far in the future can be even worse. Knowing I’ve got months to do a piece of work can lead me to move on to other projects until I find myself getting ready for bed one night and realising I haven’t even started a piece of work that’s due in the following week. I think deadlines also make me work. Without them I worry that I would waste a lot of time and get very little done. So all in all, I find deadlines to be a good thing. I’m getting better at them too – I really am.

As Douglas Adams famously said "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."