Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

So I said earlier that I’d talk about some of the unexpected places my books have taken me since I started this whole writing thing. And even though my last post was about my work travelling to the US, in this case I’m not talking about geography but something else entirely.

When I started writing, it was in tiny fragments. I’m a bit like a magpie and love to gather bits and pieces of observation – images that strike me, interesting sentences, snippets of overheard dialogue. I come to both reading and writing via poetry and am generally more interested in image and idea than in plot and action.

So it’s been a surprise to me that I’ve found myself from time to time writing books that are entirely plot-driven, that are all about hooking the reader and keeping the pace moving, where there isn’t really much time for savouring turns of phrase or wry, sideways observations about life.

These books are more about boys falling off various things – bikes, ramps, roofs. They’re about exploding hoses and cockroach eating and kamikaze penguins. The contain exclamations like “Mate!” and “Dude!” and possibly even one tiny fart joke. [I know! I am as surprised as anyone by this.]

The thing is, I’m a fairly serious person. I spend a lot of time taking things very seriously indeed. But years ago, when I was in the trenches trying to get published, I had a mentor read a YA manuscript I was working on. He liked it but he didn’t love it. And when we met in person, he said, “You know, you’re actually pretty funny. Why aren’t you writing funny?” He said he thought perhaps I was too busy trying to be all literary, making sure people knew I was A Serious Writer, and wasn’t letting myself have fun with the writing. It was highly offensive. And also somewhat correct. It was certainly worth thinking about.

So years later, when Walker Books asked if I wanted to write something for their new Lightning Strikes series – something fast-paced, plot-driven, full of humour and action and generally stuff happening, I thought, Why not?

So I wrote Going for Broke, which is about three boys who decide they want to win something more spectacular than a merit award for neat handwriting, and set about trying to break a world record.

Then I wrote The Big Dig, which is about three boys who decide what they really need is a pool in the backyard, and set about trying to dig one themselves.

And then I wrote Wreck the Halls, which is about three boys (you may be sensing a pattern here, astute reader) who decide they need some cash for a specific reason, and the only way to get this is to win the local Christmas lights decorating competition.

Wreck the Halls is my newest book, out just this month. It’s not the kind of book I ever thought I’d write; it’s a place my writing has taken me that I never thought I’d go. These books have been very challenging for me because I like to ramble. I like to play with words and ideas and set plot aside and go on and on and on (you may have noticed some evidence of this in my blogging style …). But there’s no room for that here. So these have been great, because they’ve taught me things: about pacing and plotting and writing with a strong narrative hook, and how sometimes – often – less can be more. All of these things have fed usefully back into my other writing, which is, of course, Far More Serious.

I think I’m finished writing this kind of book now. I don’t really have any more of this sort of idea and there are other stories pulling on me more insistently. But I’m very glad I did it. Not only did these books teach me things, but they were lots of fun to write. I can only hope they’re lots of fun to read.

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