Every morning I receive a email edition of Sarah Duncan's daily blog about writing craft - a blog no would-be writer should miss. Recently, she's been discussing the format for picture book texts which took me back to my own beginnings as a published writer.
Along with the perennial "Where do you get your ideas from?", "How did you start?" is one of the questions I get asked most often when I'm talking to the WI or Writers' Groups.
The answer isn't entirely straightforward. I started writing when I was at school. Openings of stories. Those fabulous few first paragraphs that are so easy to get down. But where do you go from there? An opening, a set up is easy. It's the middle and the end that is so often the problem.
It's no easier when you're writing a 600 word story. My first piece of fiction, inspired by the daily lunchtime ritual of "Listening With Mother" with my two pre-schoolers - and the "I could do that" response to a story about a button - involved a coathanger called Clarissa. It was bad, but I actually finished it and that's the biggest hurdle any writer has to face. Even 600 words is a big deal when you've never finished a story before; it isn't how you start, it's whether you can provide a satisfying ending that makes you a writer.
My second story was about a little girl moving home, a old lady retiring, and a ginger cat. I sent it off to D C Thomson, the comic people and they bought it for their TWINKLE annual. I was a writer! Okay, they paid me the princely sum of £6. I was not about to follow Charlotte Lamb into tax exile writing for a little girls' picture paper, but I was being paid for writing.
I sold several other little stories to DCT and then I received a letter from their head office in Dundee asking me if I'd meet with someone from the editorial office at St Ermin's Hotel in London. Wow! Now I was a writer who was invited to meet an editor in an hotel. (The event is also memorable for the fact that the Australian Rugby Football team were staying there and walked through the lounge in front of me in their green and gold glory!)
The meeting was to suggest what else I could write for Twinkle. They wanted to move me on to picture stories. The regular stories that appeared each week featuring one of their characters. Nurse Nancy was the big one. A two-page spread, nine pictures. And Tessa's Toybox had just started. Maybe I'd like to try that? One page, five or six pictures, less than a hundred words. Well, that had to be easy. Didn't it? Well, no. Take a look at this Tessa Toybox story, one of the many I wrote.
In five pictures there is -
THE SET UP
- Tessa decides that today she's going to play at being a nanny and take her toys out for a walk in her pram. I write a small description of what will be in the picture for the artist, and then I write the caption.
- Tessa goes to the park where she sees a little girl about to fall in the pond.
- Tessa grabs the little girl as she's about to topple into the water..
- She has acted like a real nanny. Result, ice cream all round.
Obviously when writing romance the set up is more complex, the drama bigger (although actually there isn't anything much bigger than rescuing a child from drowning), and the resolution will, hopefully, result in more than an ice cream (although having just written a book with a ice cream van at its heart, ice cream is good!)
This was my training ground. Before I ever attempted adult fiction, or even a short story, my style was honed to the bone and for that I have to thank the lovely people at D C Thomson. I always wanted to write; they made me a writer.
Oh, and yes, I did have some stories read on Listen With Mother, too. The Scarecrow's New Clothes, The Adventurous Seed...