Showing posts with label Linda Strachan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Linda Strachan. Show all posts

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

I want to write for children... A guide to Writing for Children & YA - Linda Strachan

IN 1996, which seems a lifetime away from today, my first book (in fact a series of 8 books) was published, and it is strange to think that many of my first readers are now adults.  In 2008 with over 50 books published for a variety of ages I put together much of what I had learned and experienced, in both the writing and the business side of being a writer, into a book called Writing for Children.

Now, 11 years later, since so much has changed in publishing, and in the world of children's books, I have a new and very much updated and expanded edition which is published tomorrow.  It is the Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children and Y.A.

There is also a great  competition for unpublished and unagented writers where you can win not only a copy of my new book but also the latest copy of the Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, a place on their writing conference and I am offering a critique, including a skype or phone call. So, please pass this on to any unpublished writers you know.

Competition for unpublished writers ( writing for MG and YA)  Deadline midnight Monday 9th December 2019

So many people love the idea that they could write a book and get it published, often seeming to expect that one naturally follows the other. But writing is a craft, not merely an extrapolation of what we learned at school when asked to write an essay or a letter.
Some think it will be easy, especially if it is 'just' for children.  But that comment alone shows how the young minds in our society are often disregarded, the adjective 'childish' frequently being used disparagingly. Children, and things relating to them, are sometimes looked on as being of less interest and their opinions as being less valid.

I firmly believe that we should encourage greater respect for children and young people generally, as well as their ideas, and that adults can benefit from listening to them more. They are fascinating and sometimes have an honest clarity of thought that is breathtaking.  Children are also a discerning bunch of readers, less likely than an adult to finish a book just because they started it, which makes writers for children work harder to keep them engaged.

Children and young adults are not an amorphous group of readers, they are not similar to adult readers, in that their ability to read, their life experience and so many other factors will dictate what kind of book is suitable and appealing.

I have often been told, "I am writing a children's book" but the same person looks puzzled when I ask what age they are writing for. It has often not occurred to them that a story for a 3 year old will not be ideally the same as one for an 9 year old, and a 7 year old may not want to read the same book as a 14 year old. Obvious when it is pointed out, but for those new to writing for children sometimes their thought processes have not quite travelled that far.

They have often not even begun to understand that not only is the content different but the format will be different as well, and if they want to get it published they need to understand much more about getting published for children than merely having a lovely idea that their children or grandchildren enjoy, when they tell them about it.

Writing for publication is also a business, it is a commercial venture for all those who work in the industry, not a hobby, so writers are expected to be professional if they want to succeed.  The 'gatekeepers' editors or agents who read submissions are looking for something that a) justifies their time in reading it and b) shows the person who sends their work to these incredibly busy people, understands what is expected and required for publication.

This means learning as much as you can about the area you want to write in and also about the way publishing works. When you write for children there are aspects of the craft that you need to understand, i.e. how many spreads a picture book has, what kind of subjects are of interest or not acceptable for different age groups. Whether what you are writing is right for children of today rather than what you may remember reading and loving as a child.

Being a children's writer often means school visits and for some it is the very first time that they have been self employed. Both of these experiences require added knowledge and often help to avoid the many pitfalls. This is why I have always felt that a book on writing should include what happens after publication, as well as a basic toolkit for writing.

Many writers I know have a shelf of books on writing and associated non fiction. In my case it is not only an interest in the craft but a desire to continually improve that spurs me on, and when someone suggests another new addition to my collection I find myself listening with keen interest.

I have dictionaries of several varieties, books on punctuation, books of quotations, one on phrases and fables and an encyclopedia of magical creatures. My shelf groans with many books on the craft and the business of writing; screen and script writing, writing a bestseller etc. as well as books on the publishing process and classic staples which I love to dip back into every now and then, such as Becoming a writer by Dorothea Brand and Virginia Woolfe's A Room of One's Own. I would imagine most people who have a passion for their work have similar shelves of books referring to their particular profession.

Being a writer can be a lonely business, and without the support of other writers it can seem daunting at times which is why the Scattered Authors Society has been invaluable to me. A lovely supportive and knowledgeable group.  For the, as yet, unpublished children's or YA writer SCBWI (and here in the UK SCBWI-BI) offers a similar kind of support and connections, and many who subsequently became published are still keen members and supporters.

Writing for children is exciting and challenging and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

My new book is part of a new series of Writers' & Artists' Guides- including
Writers' & Artists' Guide to Writing for Children and Y.A. by Linda Strachan (pub Bloomsbury 28 Nov 2019)
Writers' & Artists' Guide to Getting Published by Alysoun Owen (pub Bloomsbury 28 Nov 2019)


My website
Twitter @strachanlinda
Also new for 2019   Middle grade - Fact/fiction  The Dangerous Lives of the Jacobites

Friday, 5 May 2017

Everything a writer needs - Ikigai and ScotsWrite - Linda Strachan

The Japanese concept, Ikigai  ( pronounced exactly as it is written), looks at all the things that make us writers, and what makes us human. It brings them together to create a reason for living, our Raison d'être.   

I came across the word Ikigai, a while ago and realised that it relates to everything a writer is and wants, and what makes us who we are - our Profession, Mission, Vocation, and our Passion. 

Ikigai joins these four things together with four other ideas, and these also struck a cord as relating to our lives as writers.
Mission and Passion  - What we love
Passion and Profession - What we are good at
Profession and vocation - What we  can be paid for
Vocation and Mission - What the world needs

Around that time the idea to hold a conference for writers was being discussed by the voluntary committee of the Society of Authors in Scotland, all working writers. Why not hold a weekend conference - designed by writers for writers - because when you think about it, who else knows what we want and what we need?  So it seemed a perfect fit, our conference and our Ikigai.

It's been a while in the making but this week, after an inordinate about of work,and with help from our London office and our incredibly efficient conference coordinator, Jenny, we launched our conference website and our new logo.

When I say we, I mean a team of very hardworking people, the majority of them self employed, most are writers with deadlines to meet, books brewing in their heads, and like most writers who should be writing, people looking for a good excuse to get stuck into what has become the ultimate displacement activity.

We have debated and challenged each other to find the people we wanted to speak to writers at all stages of their writing lives, from aspiring to well established. We asked ourselves lots of questions. 

What about making a living at writing in these uncertain times? How can we become more successful and stretch our creative muscles, diversifying in what we write and how we write it?  How do we unlock the secrets of different genres, work with agents or publishers and how do we get that elusive book deal, or self publish our own books?    

We wanted to look at our health and general well being, to encourage us all to look beyond the actual words on the page and sitting at a desk, to  keep ourselves 'writing fit' in all areas of our lives physically and mentally, to be able to help others. So we added in Tai Chi and CPR training.
Writers live quite solitary lives at times and it is important to make time to chat to people, so networking time was important, a Gala dinner, Gin tasting  and of course a Ceilidh (it is Scotland after all!).  

We are hoping our vision of what a conference for writers should be will attract writers from near and far to join us and have a great time, make new friends and learn lots from a variety of experts. ScotsWrite is set to be one of the most stimulating and helpful events in the Scottish writing calendar this year, so why not come and join us!

 Early bird rates till June 5th - book now!  
 Twitter  #ScotsWrite17


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - The Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 

She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Sunday, 18 December 2016

A leap of faith, why do it? - Linda Strachan

Every time I start a new book and every time I go back and rework something that has been lurking in a drawer (or more likely these days hiding in a file on my computer) I am making a leap of faith as  all writers do.  Unless every book you have ever written has been commissioned, you also make that leap of faith.

As a writer one can spend hours, days, weeks and often years with the shiny new exciting idea that demands attention and devours our lives as we craft the story, breathe life into the characters and then go back and revise and re-write, edit and polish it.   We do it whether it gets published or not, and whether or not it will ever reach the kind of readership we dream of.
Still despite rejections we walk that path of hope and encourage our colleagues to do the same.

People who do not suffer from this affliction (writing) often cannot understand how we can spend so long, so much of our lives seemingly wasting it working on something that might be rejected multiple times, and never get published and, almost immediately after we have started sending it out to the world, go back and write another.
Yet we do.
 Hope springs fresh each time the misty idea of a story grabs the jugular and will not let go, characters talking in our heads demanding to be written, scenes playing out like a film on the page. We blithely dive into this massive workload with excitement and joy although admittedly sometimes, dread.

What is it that makes us do it, are we lemmings? No, we are writers; we have heart and soul and invest it all in the stories we write, carving it from our very hearts and baring our souls and laying it out before a wonderful and heart-warming public, at least we hope so!

But there are other things that require that 'leap of faith' and also take time away from actual writing. I was reminded of this recently by a friend who said she had forgotten quite how much time it took preparing a submission to a publisher or agent, and she never knew if it would be a waste of that time and energy.

Submitting to a publisher or agent is one thing, but do you feel the same way about the amount of writing time that may be wasted by making unfruitful applications?
Writers will often, during their writing/working life, apply for a variety of things.  I am thinking specifically of Writer in Residence posts, Retreats or Fellowships that involve travel and a place to write/share your work, and applications for funding from  public or private Arts funds and organisations.

These applications usually entail a lot of form-filling that may take anything from few hours to a few days of work (time that could be spent writing), in the hope that they will give the writer time to write, but frequently come to nothing and appear to waste as much time as they would provide.

I have nothing against the people who design forms or have to make the decisions between who to accept or decline, it can be difficult.  I am sure they deliberate long and hard but often the forms are usually very long and difficult to fill in, but worse are the unknown specific criteria used, and reasoning behind the decision of the judges.

It may seem obvious to people familiar with producing these forms or used to filling them in, but for most creative writers I know, they are a real headache. I have heard many say that they spent so long on an application and have no idea why they were not chosen, or what the judges were looking for.

The reality of being a writer these days is often that these kinds of applications are the things that allow them to survive and spend time writing, but surely they could be streamlined and the criteria used by those who judge them could be made clearer, rather than having applicants wondering if it was their work, or the way they filled in the form, or some other set of criteria that they did not meet that caused them not to be successful in their application.

Writers will often default to the decision that their work is not good enough, when at times it could just be that overwhelming odds were against them, or perhaps the way they filled in that time-consuming form.

Have you any thoughts on applications and any ways they could be made easier and quicker to fill in and give writers more of a sense of why, if they were not successful?

How do you feel about that Leap of Faith when you are writing?

Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - The Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 

She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Friday, 18 November 2016

100 - Linda Strachan

I was surprised to find that this is my 100th post on the Awfully Big Blog Adventure.

Despite being a little nervous at first, when I wrote about writing a bio for one of my books in A Life More Interesting, I have enjoyed this monthly expression of thoughts and questions, discussions, comments and celebrations.

Working with illustrator Sally J Collins
I have written posts on diversifying and making a living as a writer , about the writers' life - what makes us write and what stops us writing.

In A special relationship  I wrote about working closely for many years with my much-missed friend and colleague Sally J. Collins, the Illustrator of my Hamish McHaggis Books.
 I have written about libraries, librarians and festivals, writing YA and picture books.

How Every day is different  when  travelling all over the country, seeing amazing scenery on my way to visit schools and libraries, doing workshops and all kinds of author events.

My good friend Cathy MacPhail and I made a short video about our experience of tutoring a residential writing course together.

It's been a great journey, sometimes a little playful as in The One That Got Away  where the comments continued the narrative, and in April this year I celebrated 20 years as a published author in ' Celebrating 20 years '

Who knows what will come next but I would like to thank you for accompanying me and for taking the time to read and comment. To all my fellow bloggers thank you for the incredible variety of fascinating posts that make the Awfully Big Blog Adventure such a great success.


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - The Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 

She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Support groups for writers - Linda Strachan

As writers we tend to spend a lot of time on our own, unless you count the voices in our heads. Writing is generally a solitary occupation, those hours days and months wrestling with a plot, getting to know our characters and living through their lives, loves and difficulties as if they were our own.  

We find that friends and family who are not writers, however much they try to be accommodating, often do not seem to understand how we feel about being interrupted just at that point when we have finally managed to settle deep into the words and are living and breathing the story.   Even if that interruption is to offer a cup of coffee. 

They cannot see why it can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours of circling the desk, looking out of the window, procrastinating on social media, or playing with exciting stationery and possibly starting a new notebook ...

... before we actually get enticed by the ideas in our heads and settle down to become totally engrossed  in the story.

That is the point when we need to be left alone.  But when we have spent those hours pouring over a keyboard or notebook, this is when we need to get outside, to meet other people and get some exercise.  

A writer's life is a rollercoaster of emotion and only some of that ends up on the page!  We feel such elation when someone likes our new book, or praises our writing, and the flip side - the deep misery when there is a bad review or yet another rejection arrives, however nicely it is phrased. 

We try to control the green eyed monster that makes us feel a deep rage when others are doing well at a time when we  hit a bad patch and is the exact opposite to the need to have people celebrate with us when we are suddenly wanting to scream with delight and share that wonderful feeling of success.  

This is when true and trusted writer friends are what you need.  Friends who know how it feels, have been there and understand the nature of what we do. Most of the writers I know are kind and generous people and I am happy to be part of several different groups of writers who work as a support network for both good and bad times.  

The SAS (Scattered Authors Society), some of whom write on this blog, are a wonderful and diverse group of writers at all stages of their careers, writing many different genres -  all write for children and young adults.  

As the Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland part of my work is to organise events for our members, some of them purely social events, which are a great way of getting to know writers who operate in completely different circles, and sharing experiences and knowledge.
There is a need for trust in any group of people who work in the same industry and especially amongst writers because opening up to others about your writing can leave you feeling vulnerable, and sharp unthinking criticism can be very destructive. 

Sometimes old friends who are not writers struggle to understand what we do and make comments that can cut deeply.  Often delighted that they know a 'real published writer' at others they can be jealous because they are completely unaware of true nature of our business, and believe all the stereotypes portrayed by the media without questioning the reality. 
The idea that all writers are wealthy and sit about all day daydreaming (when we are not going to glitzy parties and signing books for adoring fans); that we get paid the cover price on the books and we just have to go on producing our books and the publishers will publish them, without question, because that is how it works - isn't it? 
No matter how much you try to explain the truth to be honest most people do not want to hear it.

So aside from personal friends who are writers I also belong to a small group of about 7 writers who communicate very regularly.  We share our troubles and our joys, understanding the need at times to state a goal for writing, or ask questions when struggling with a plot problem.  Most of all we trust each other with our hopes and dreams, applaud successes and support each other when things are not so great. 

Some writers get together to share work for criticism but that is something that has to be considered very carefully.  Honest and positive crits are great, but destructive comments can be crippling and unhelpful. When being honest we all need a little kindness even if the news is not good because as writers we are all learning all the time.

 The most important thing about a writers group is that it is supportive and I think it is imperative that there is a strict understanding of what the group is for and if that will work for you, at your particular stage of writing. That said it is one of the best things about being a writer, being able to share your enthusiasm with like minded people.

Do you belong to a writers' group?  If so how important is it to you, and what do you think are the positives and negatives? 


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - The Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 

She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

School librarians, A precious resource. Still under threat - Linda Strachan

Today I make no apologies for repeating a blog I wrote in December 2013, sadly it is as relevant now as then, if not more so.  We have not progressed, in fact even more schools are losing School librarians and leaving our young people without this valuable and necessary resource.

When pupils wrote to authors to ask for support because local councillors were taking the decision to get rid of their school librarian, Julia Donaldson, former Children's Laureate,   wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

IN these two short videos the pupils say it in their own words

"A library is not a library without a librarian" - fantastic video created by Argyll and Bute pupils

 Some say school libraries could become tech 'think' places... I am all for looking ahead but without experienced librarians, who will make the most of these spaces?
 Below is my blog about School librarians -

What kind of a society are we going to become?  

It makes you wonder when they start to close libraries - now the axe is raised over the heads of the School librarians, champions of reading and often the one person who can open the door for a child into the world of books.

Many children do not have books in their home. In December 2011 the National Literacy Trust released figures which showed that of 3.8 million children in the UK, 1 in 3 do not own a book.
 With fewer libraries and restricted opening times and closures, for some children the only access they will have to books will be the school library. But it will become a mere storage facility for books if the school does not have a professional librarian.

Perhaps you are one of those who thinks that a librarian is just someone who arranges books on shelves?   Do you know what a school librarian does?

  ' School librarians and educational resource service expertise are key factors in the improved delivery of curriculum outcomes, attainment of the goals of education, promotion of literacy and reading, information literacy and technology use, and should be retained.'  CILIPS ( the Chartered Institute of Library and Information professionals in Scotland)

 I have never been a librarian, not trained as one and I don't have their expertise. But what I have seen is the enthusiasm and excitement about books and reading that a great school librarian can create among the children in their school. They organise reading programmes and promote books and reading in a huge variety of ways that no one else in the school has the time or expertise to do.
I have been involved in lots of different events and projects organised or managed by school librarians, such as the Kids Lit Quiz, where teams of 4 pupils compete in a quiz about books, and where the winning UK team travels to the World final, that can be as far away as New Zealand, the USA or South Africa. There are lots of practice runs and many books are read in the run up to the competition each year.

Kate Harrison, Teresa Flavin, Jane McLoughlin
& Elizabeth Wein at Teen Titles event
I've been interviewed by pupils for the glossy Teen Titles magazine where teenagers review books they have read. I have no doubt that these reviews and interviews would never be written, collected and organised without the school librarians from Edinburgh Schools. They also host a great evening during the Edinburgh Book Festival when the young reviewers get to meet some of the authors whose books they have reviewed.

It seems very strange, Teen Titles is an Edinburgh Council publication, so why is it that Edinburgh Council has suggested that as part of its proposed budget cuts they plan to cut the number of school librarians by half?  They suggest that if enough stakeholders act during the consultation process this will be overturned. Surely a matter like this should not depend on a vote of interested parties to over turn it, any more than other important aspects of education?

Red Book Award
I tried to find a photograph of a school librarian to put here but despite librarians inviting me to visit more schools than I can count over the years, I was struggling to find a picture of any one of the wonderful librarians who had organised these author visits.
It made me realise that in these days where everyone seems to want to be center stage, school librarians tend to stay well behind the scenes, working tirelessly and often well beyond their remit and contracted hours, providing an invaluable service to our children.

So instead I put in this photo of the very excited audience at the Red Book Awards in Falkirk. It is an amazing day, full of fun, and a really wonderful example of how school librarians working together can get huge numbers of children reading and talking about books they have read. There are book awards organised by librarians all over the UK, but sadly many of these are also falling foul of budget cuts.

School librarians appear to be a soft target to those who lack a proper understanding, and those who might think that they are a luxury. But reading for pleasure is not an extra or a luxury for young people.

The National Literacy Trust’s 2012 report for UNESCO also found that pupils who read outside class were thirteen times more likely to read above the expected level for their age.

As Lin Anderson  Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland (2012-2015),  mentioned in her letter to Sue Bruce, Chief Executive at the Edinburgh City Council - ' a new analysis by the Institute of Education (September 2013) has found that children who read for pleasure do significantly better at maths, vocabulary and spelling, compared to those who rarely read. Regular reading and visits to libraries were found to be more important factors in improving a child's test scores than a parent's level of education.'

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  Albert Einstein.

Librarians have the expertise to know exactly which book to direct a child to when they are floundering, and which they are not yet ready for. In these days of poor literacy levels we need dedicated school librarians to help children discover the joy of reading that will sustain them throughout their lives.

The Society of Authors' survey on Author Visits in Primary and Secondary Schools (October 2013) found that school librarians play a crucial role in selecting texts and organising the author visits that inspire so many pupils. One respondent to the survey said:
I believe that inspiration for reading comes at a very early age. With cutbacks in library services and funding in local communities an issue, schools must play a larger part in encouraging pupils’ reading and writing. As a secondary librarian I see a percentage of pupils who have decided it is not cool to read; some pupils joining us from primaries have already adopted this attitude. It is our job to work hard to convince them otherwise (hence as a passionate librarian I organise as many author visits as I possibly can). It should be our job to enrich, empower and expand pupils’ reading without the hurdles of peer-pressure.’

Primary schools often lose out and if they have a library at all it is all too often staffed by a parent or part time by a teacher and at times it is reduced to a few shelves in a corridor.  Far from reducing the number of librarians, because they seem like a soft target,we should be increasing them by making sure that not only every secondary school has a trained librarian but also that each and every primary school also has, not only a proper library but a well staffed one, too

At least Edinburgh Council have put it to consultation, far too many councils have been reducing the number of school librarians by stealth, simply by not filling posts when they become vacant. This way they disappear without even a whisper of loss.

Sadly even as I write this I have heard that another region is about decide whether to split school librarians between two schools, reducing the number by half.  The worry is that after this has happened and the librarians that remain are unable to keep doing all the work twice as many people did, will that leave them even more vulnerable to even more cuts?

What kind of society do we want to belong to?
Reading for pleasure is a way of understanding the world around us, fiction and non fiction have an important place in the education of our children at all ages. Reading gives children the opportunity to experience life beyond their immediate surroundings and experience, it can show them how to empathise with others in situations we might hope they never encounter themselves, to consider and question other views and to understand the past and how it might influence their future.

School librarians are a vital resource. Parents should ask whether their school has a full time librarian, but to make sure we have a literate and educated society we all need to take responsibility to make sure that this vital resource is retained and not lost by lack of a vote or by stealth when we are not watching.

Does your child's school or your local school have a full time librarian?



Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her bestselling series Hamish McHaggis illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

What's in a name? --- by Linda Strachan

NAMES - they are such personal things.

You may (or may not) like the name you were given by your parents, but of course it can be changed with greater or lesser degrees of difficulty.  Some names appear to place you in a certain group, either by nationality, geography, culture or even social status. Is that a good or bad thing, or merely interesting?

New parents sometimes have real problems when deciding on names for their children, and if you have ever been asked to sign books you quickly discover how many spellings there are for what would appear to be very ordinary names.    It is also strange that some names are almost too 'old' for  a new baby but the same name would seem fine in an adult.  Some names are fashionable for a short while trending when parents name their children after celebrities or characters on TV or in books.

Do you have a different name when you are writing?  It occurs to me that it might cause a problem when you start signing your books, do you sometimes use your own name by mistake, or worse what happens when you have been signing a lot of books with your pseudonym and soon afterwards you are asked to write a cheque or give a signature for something legal; is it difficult to remember who you are supposed to be?  It conjures up all kinds of possibilities for comedy, and perhaps more serious consequenses in this security conscious world.

How you spell your name can be an interesting conversation point or is it just an eternal irritation when no one gets it right?

I recently received an email from a young lady called Seonaid and when we met up I realised that I had no idea how to pronounce her name.  I only discovered later that it was pronounced  'Shona'. Thankfully it did not matter at the time as I never had to say her name, but although I love the way she spells it,I cannot help but wonder how it would feel to have to correct people all the time?

I admit that I am terrible at remembering names, but a greater problem happens when I get the wrong name for someone into my head and cannot shift it.  A few years ago I met a friend's husband and for some reason I was sure his name was Paul - he also looked like a Paul (to me - don't ask!)  But his name was not Paul, it was Bill.  The problem was he never looked like 'Bill' to me and still doesn't.

This happened again to me very recently when I had quickly read an email and mistook the name Philip with Peter and it didn't help that his surname also began with P.  And now the poor chap will, it appears, be forever Peter in my head. Yesterday I met him for the first time and he seemed, thankfully, not too upset with my mistake and occasional slip as I tried to remember NOT to call him Peter, until eventually it became a point of humour. Luckily he has a great sense of humour (Phew!)

Character names can create a difficulty, especially if you are wanting to make up a name, perhaps for a fantasy or other world story.  I am fascinated by the fact that some names just don't sit right with particular characters. Others I need to use for a while to get used to them, as if the character grows into it.  There are name generators, but that always feels like cheating!
But if too many characters start with the same first letter it can be confusing for the reader, but not nearly as confusing as it is for the writer, when you decide to change character names well into writing the book, or if an editor advises it.

Do you have a problem with names?  Do you have a pseudonym, and if so, why? 

How do you choose your character names?  Does what someone calls you really matter (as long as it is not insulting)?


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Monday, 18 July 2016

Living on the edge or Organised chaos - Linda Strachan

My life seems a bit hectic at the moment with several things going on in different areas.  This means that I sometimes feel like I am fluttering from one thing to another like a demented butterfly and holding on to a dozen strands of wool while trying not to get them all tangled up!

I've heard people say they think I am a very organised person but the reality is that although I like to have things ordered there is a big part of me that rebels against it.  When I am very busy I am am drawn to interesting ways of keeping myself on track, so that I can clear my head to write and avoid forgetting things I REALLY MUST  DO.

I came across the Passion Planner a while ago, do have a look at their website it is a great example of how an excellent idea can grow into a business. It is a diary with loads of great extras

I love the way the planner has spaces for notes on 'Good things that have happened'. We all need to be reminded of good things and I think that often there is a tendency to dwell on the miserable in life rather than good things, and remembering even small good things can bring on an unexpected smile.

There is a clear area each week called ' Space of Infinite Possibility' which is great for doodling and unexpected ideas!

I also love their short quotes, from a wide range of people, and each week has an idea to make things better for yourself.  One week, my particular favourite, is about learning to say 'No' because you cannot please everyone but it also advises you to evaluate your priorities.  I think that is most useful because when you are busy, you can easily lose sight of what is truly important.
Another thing that helps me to keep on track when I need to make some head space for writing, is making lists of things to do. I have an out of date, page-a-day diary that I make lists on so that I can iterally tear out pages.

This lies open on my desk all the time.  The way it works is that on the left page I write tasks that are long term. Perhaps they are not urgent, such as look at a particular piece of writing-related software that someone mentioned that I want to try out, or  to remind me to check up on how much I am paying for an annual bill, to see if I need to change supplier. Basically anything that does not have to be done in the next week or so.

The right hand page is my current to do list, with anything that I need to do urgently **starred ** to remind me to look at it and not skim past. It is also useful to jot down phone numbers etc next to items.  When things are completed I cross them out and at the end of a week or whenever the page begins to look particularly messy, I literally tear the page off. (very satisfying!)   I can then transfer the remaining items to the new page underneath and continue to add any new items, while the left hand 'longterm' page remains undisturbed. When that page needs to be refreshed I turn over the page and start afresh .... Simples!

How do you keep track of things you have to do when your life gets particularly busy?


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is the Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Answers to - Are you rich? How long does it take to write a book? - Linda Strachan

A few weeks ago  on ABBA Clementine Beauvais discussed school visits and how to answer that question  how-long-does-it-take-to-write-book?

It does come up almost all the time, no matter how old the audience, tiny children want to know as do young adults in high school. Also the perennial -  'How much money do you make?'  'Are you rich?' 

 I like these better than 'Are you famous?'  What is famous, why does it matter to the person asking, and which answer is the one they want?

How do I answer these questions? The famous one I try to avoid, or side-step and ask if they think I am famous, and if so perhaps I might be.  But more interesting and useful are the questions about how long a book takes and how much money an author makes.

 These questions I can work with and I would like to share with you how I answer them in schools.
First I will encourage the person who asked the question to come up and stand beside me.  Normally I have no problem with this, especially the younger ones who love to come up to the front, but I do recall one tough moment with a 15 yr old lad who was too cool to come out in front of his class.  I always ask their name and get all the audience to applaude them when they come up so with some gentle persuasion, added to a bit of encouragment from his year group, he finally found himself standing beside me. At first he was obviously wishing he was anywhere else but he soon decided it was okay when I told him he was a famous author and that he had written a fabulous book in his favourate film genre! 

But it is all about managing expectations and making sure it is a positive experience for all so usually I start by saying that this is our AUTHOR today and they have written an amazing, wonderful book.   Some look a bit nervous so reassurance that they are not expected to do anything except stand beside
me and smile, usually calms nerves.

So now that the author has written this wonderful story, what do we do with it to make sure everyone can read it?
Hands go up and the little ones eventually say make it into a book, but older ones realise we are talking about wanting to publish it. So that person comes up, to great applause from the audience, and I ask their name and announce they are the PUBLISHER, who thinks the book is amazing and wants to sell loads of copies, making him/her and the author rich.  Forget Harry Potter, Hunger Games or the Gruffallo,  this is fantastic and everyone is going to want a copy!

But the publisher cannot do this all on their own, too much work, so they need someone who is good at constructing a story....  this is our EDITOR.  I talk about how an editor discusses the book with the author, asks for it to be scarier, or funnier, longer or shorter etc etc.

With little ones we go from Author to Illustrator for a picture book, and I tell the story about an editor who demands to know why there is a dog on page 5, when there is no dog in the story, - the illustrator says he/she likes drawing dogs...  But the editor says 'draw it again with NO DOG!'  For some reason it always gets a laugh!
At this point I go back and stand behind the line and ask the audience to remind us what job each person does as I pass them, reinforcing the memory.  They quickly get into the spirit of it reciting the job titles.

Of course I vary this for younger and older classes with the amount of detail about each job, but there can be anything up to 12 people standing in a line by the end, as we have Author, Illustrator, Publisher, Editor, Copy editor, (I show an example of where a mistake ended up in one of my books and how that felt) Designer (talking about covers and different fonts and layout) Publicity/PR (talking about working with the designer for posters or bookmarks etc), speaking about publicity I tell them they will be talking to TV and radio, or the papers about 'This amazing author, illustrator and publishing team'. Book Rep (going into shops etc and getting people excited about the book even before it is published).

At this point I tell them the book is still in someone's computer so we have to get it out of there and next comes the Printer. I ask the printer where they want to live, anywhere in the world because books are printed in many different countries, showing how to look on the imprint page to see where the book has been printed, ( I also show them what can go wrong, an example - a book that has the pages all miixed up in the wrong order.)

 After every one or two additions to the line I go back and ask them to tell me (in chorus) each person's job as I pass them. By now we have done this several times and it becomes like a game to see if they can remember them all.
I tell them about Packaging and Delivery, someone who needs a good knowledge of geography to get these books from wherever in the world the printer is - to the shops and all the places the boxes of books need to be delivered. Finally  I ask where they would go to get a book to read, and we have the Bookshop, and with that person's name (Robert) we have Robert's Bookshop and the Librarian who both know all about the books and can advise us what to read next.

Those still seated are the 'Mums and dads, boys and girls, brothers and sisters, teachers, dinner ladies, janitors, nurses and doctors, lawyers and policemen etc etc - all the people who go to libraries and bookshops to buy or borrow a book.  Because if they don't buy or borrow books to read then none of those standing would have a job to go to! '

I tell them that any of them might be one day doing any of the jobs we have discussed and this brings me back to the first two questions.  How long does it take to write a book?

The answer being shown is that although it can take an author anything from a few months to a year to write their book, and sometimes more, with all these people who have to work on it after that, it can take more than a year to get the story from the writer's head and first manuscript, to the bookshop or library and into the reader's hand. Sometimes even longer. 

 I come back to the other question about money and explain how each person in that line has to be paid for their part of the job, and the author only gets a tiny part of the price on the front of a book as it has to go to pay for all thier work, too. I tell them about one of my books when it was published, how I was paid 1p per book.  That makes a lot of books to sell before I can buy a cup of coffee.

I enjoy this particular part of an event, elaborating on different parts of the process, depending on the age of the audience. It can be a lot of fun for everyone and takes about 20 minutes in all.  It  gives both children, and their teachers, a little bit of a window into our world.


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook - Writing For Children.
Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords