Today I am interviewing Anna Wilson – and we also have a great GIVE-AWAY!!! Ann’s new book, The Parent Problem, comes out this month, and her publishers have two copies to send to lucky readers.
The parent problem is Skye Green’s Mum. She’s got a new hobby – ballroom dancing – which involves spandex and sequins and the very high probability of MORTIFYING behaviour in Skye’s vicinity. Plus Skye’s equally mortifying younger brother is wildly enthusiastic about the whole thing, and just loves wearing Mum’s outfits. All this would be bearable with the support of Skye’s best friend, Aubrey – but can Skye still rely on the fact that they’ve been friends forever, or are things about to change?
If you’d like a chance to win one of the books, leave a comment on the blog with an example of the most mortifying thing your parent has ever done in front of your friends….
And now, if you want to get some tips on how Anna does it, read on…
So, Anna, did you write a lot as a child, or did you come to writing later?
I wrote a lot in diaries and notebooks, but rather than writing stories, I wrote about my feelings and experiences, friendships and family. Funnily enough, that is what I write about now, but I have fictionalized it.
How do you work – do you write every day, or when you feel like it, or when you have a deadline? How long do you generally write for?
I try to write 1000 words a day, even if that is in my journal or notebooks and not my work in progress. Sometimes I write more, sometimes it is a grind and I struggle to get 1000 words out. I set myself this target because it helps me psychologically to see the word count go up on my first draft, even if I then go back and delete half of it. If I left it until I felt like writing, I would never finish a book. Deadlines certainly help to keep the momentum going.
Where do you write? Can you write anywhere or do you have a special writing place and it has to be exactly that desk, those pens, that kind of notebook?
If I am at home I write at my desk which is on the landing of our house. There is a large window overlooking my neighbour’s majestic beech tree. I spend a lot of time staring at that tree, watching the squirrels and wood pigeons fight and marvelling at how the tree changes through the seasons. Sometimes I am so fidgety at home that I take myself to a café. I find that, without the distractions of the washing up, laundry, contents of the fridge, etc, I can often achieve more in one hour in a café than I do sitting at my desk. I start most book ideas in a notebook. This has to be one with smooth, plain pages and it has to be small enough to be carried around but big enough for me to feel I room for more than just lists. As for pencils (and it is always pencil, never pen or biro) they have to be the neon propelling ones from Paperchase.
Next week I’ll be looking at descriptions, and the use of adjectives and adverbs. Do you use a lot of adjectives or adverbs in your writing or are you someone that likes very simple prose?
In my first drafts I am always just ‘splurging’ my story on to the page, so when I go back I see I have used FAR TOO MANY adjectives and adverbs. They clog up the writing, slowing the pace and telling the reader too much. As I rewrite I duly go through and slice them out, giving the text more air and allowing the reader to do a bit more work in imagining how someone is speaking or feeling. I try to be ruthless and to allow body language or the dialogue to work on its own. Inevitably I leave in more than I should, and I hope my editor will go on to be more ruthless than me.
Do you particularly try to find more interesting adjectives/adverbs to replace simple ones like ‘good’ or ‘big’ or ‘quickly’ or do you just use what seems right and not worry about it?
I write as I think, so I am not agonizing over interesting words. Once I have the characters’ voices sorted, I find they take over, so I am writing as they speak rather than trying hard to find the right words. When it comes to redrafting I do hone things, so I look out for repetition or anything that is overdone or not true to my characters. However, sometimes ‘said’ or ‘big’ or ‘good’ or ‘quickly’ is exactly right, so why change it just for the sake of showing off that you know other words?
Do you have any tips for how to invent fresh and original similes or metaphors?
READ! Reading feeds your writing. You won’t end up copying anyone else word for word, but you will absorb different ways of viewing the world and therefore different ways of conveying it to others through your writing. Also HAVE FUN! Turn metaphors on their head, turn them inside out and back to front, mix and match. Take clichés and muddle them. What about ‘as sharp as rain’ or ‘as smooth as light’? Play with words – that is the best way to invent fresh imagery. It also the best way to have fun. And all writing should be fun.
Have you used real-life models for any of your characters?
All the time! My family now groan when they see my eyes light up after something they have said or done and usually follow the groan with, ‘You’re going to put that in a book, aren’t you?’ I also put myself into my writing, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. If I am being mean about someone I change stuff so that (I hope) they won’t recognize themselves. In Monkey Business the female character of Flo is based on a particularly tricky boy we used to know. I am banking on the fact that if he ever reads it, he won’t see himself in the character of a little girl. I now have a notice up in the kitchen which a friend gave me which reads, ‘Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel’.
Are there bits of characters you find you tend to always focus on when you describe them (e.g., eye colour, height, age, hair?)
I do seem to have an obsession about hair. I think this is because I hated my own hair when I was a teenager. (I had an extremely unhealthy obsession with Princess Di’s famous flick and never managed to replicate it to my satisfaction). Also, let’s face it, the 1980s was a terrible time for hair. No products other than hairspray, slimy green gel and perms. Urgh. Now I can create the hair I want for my characters or have a moan on their behalf about how it doesn’t behave how they want it to. There is nothing worse than having a Bad Hair Day. It can affect everything you do and say.
Can you give an example of one of your characters you really liked writing? Why were they fun to write?
I loved writing Felix in Monkey Business. He is a seven/eight-year-old boy based on my son at that age. He is curious and baffled in equal measure about the world and adores animals more than anything. He is gentle but seems to get into trouble without meaning to and is often the scapegoat for others’ naughtiness. I also enjoyed writing Summer in Summer’s Shadow. She is a grieving teenager who finds love and hope in a new place, far from home. Seeing life through her eyes was a fresh and exciting way to write and a change from writing humorously.
One tip writers are often given is ‘show, don’t tell’. Can you give some examples of how you understand that – what’s showing and what’s telling and do you yourself consciously avoid telling?
Chekov said it better than I could ever do: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
I think it is all about leaving the reader to do the work – to use their own imagination. This is why I don’t like lots of physical description of people in books. I want to picture them for myself and build that picture from how the writer conveys their personality and how they interact with others.
What’s the best tip you ever got on writing and is there another good one you’d like to pass on?
One of my favourites is: ‘Show up, show up, show up and after a while the Muse will too.’ Isabel Allende said this. It is so true. If you don’t sit down and write, how can you expect to get any writing done? The Muse isn’t some mystical creature waiting in the wings to impart gems whenever the mood strikes her. Writing is hard work and the Muse or inspiration, or whatever you want to call it, will appear once you have bothered to ‘show up’ and do some of that hard graft.
This is my other favourite list of tips. I used to have it pinned up above my desk:
How To Be A Writer
- Write more.
- Write even more.
- Write more than that.
- Write when you want to.
- Write when you don’t want to.
- Write when you have something to say.
- Write when you don’t.
- Write anywhere, everywhere, all the time.
- Keep writing.
Thanks, Anna – that’s a great note to end on! And I’m looking forward to hearing in the comments about mortifying things parents have done! I can start you off with one – my Dad used to quite often break into operatic arias (loudly!) while walking along the high street, while we all followed at a safe distance pretending not to know who he was!
Anna Wilson started her career in children’s publishing as an editor. Her own writing began once her children were born. She has written picture books, short stories, poems and middle grade fiction series including the Top of the Pups series, Monkey Business, The Great Kitten Cake Off and a novel for young teens – Summer’s Shadow. Her latest book for 9-12s is The Parent Problem, out this March. As well as writing, Anna gives talks and runs writing workshops in schools and teaches at Bath Spa University on the BA and MA creative writing courses. Her website is annawilson.co.uk
C.J. Busby writes fantasy adventures for ages 8-12. She has run writing sessions for young writers all over the country at festivals and schools. Her most recent book, The Amber Crown, was published in 2015 by Templar.
For more information see her website