Posts tagged September 2013 Star Author

Walking the dog


I had a visit yesterday afternoon from Indigo, a lovely year 9 student who’s doing a project on writers – and at the same time, she’s writing a novel herself. She asked me lots of interesting questions about how I wrote and where I got my ideas from and what advice I had for writers. It was good timing, because I planned to write on just those things on the Christchurchkids blog today.

I could be really silly, and answer “How do you write?” by saying that I sit at my desk and  tap away at the keyboard with my fingers.

Well, actually, that IS what I do, but other stuff comes first. One thing I do before I start writing most days, and definitely before I start a new project, is lots of walking. A walk around the park with my dog Gus is good because I find thinking and walking go really well together.
I don’t make lots of notes; I tend to work things out in my head. I play out scenes as if my mind was a movie screen. I try out ideas and (because I like an insanely complicated plot) I try to make twists and turns and figure out “what if?” as if I’m playing a game or doing a jigsaw. Gus is a great help because he needs to walk every day and he comes and reminds GUSme if I don’t take him.

Could you resist those doggy eyes?

Where do I get my ideas from? The answer is everywhere. I am like a magpie, collecting bits and pieces. News items, conversations that I overhear, people I see in the street, pictures, paintings, photos and places all go to making a story. In Verity Sparks Lost and Found, there is a strand of the plot about spirit photography. That got there because a friend was throwing out old books and there was one on the supernatural she thought I’d like. In the early days of photography, people were easily fooled by double exposures and other tricks, and there were some great pictures with “ghosts ” in them. So I used them in my book.

My main piece of advice for writers is simple. Finish that story! Don’t leave it half-finished or just started. When you’ve got it finished, then you’ll have something to work with. You can edit, rearrange, change, cut, add and polish to make your story much, much better. But only if you finish it first.

All the best,


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Listen the the Voices

All books have got their own voice. It’s partly the voices of the characters – especially if they’re the narrators – but it’s the author’s voice too. If you’re writing a story, listen to the voice you use. Read your story out loud to yourself (it seems like a funny thing to do, but it really helps!)

Here are a few opening paragraphs from different books – listen to the voices!

My name is Verity Sparks, and I’ve got itchy fingers. The Professor calls it teleagtivism. Sounds like a disease, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s more like a talent. A gift. I’ve always had it, but I didn’t know I had it until the summer of 1878. It happened the day I finished the yellow hat.

The hat was mostly feathers, with one poor little bird left whole and stuck onto the brim.
“Like a dead duck on a plate, ain’t it?” I said as I held it up.

That’s from The Truth About Verity Sparks.  Did you notice how Verity seems to be speaking?  I was trying to make it seem as if she was talking straight to you, the reader. Verity is a very straightforward girl, so that’s how I wanted her to come across. And at the start of the story, she’s not very well educated – that’s why she says ‘ain’t’ instead of isn’t.

Here’s another opening.

Marlie and I lived at the Overhang, near the place where three roads met. One road went west to the Badlands. No one ever passed that way. It was the same with the road to the east – if you followed it you’d end up in the marshes, which stretched forever. Nobody went in that direction, and you’d never expect to see anyone coming from there. Only the road from Skerrick was used, and that was the one I watched from high up on my ledge.

“Peat, get down! You won’t make her come any faster by looking!”

from Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt. It’s a new book, published just this year by Allen&Unwin. In this opening, Julie Hunt is setting the scene, and creating a sense of mystery. Why is Peat watching the road? You’ll just have to read on.

And this last piece is from an old favourite of mine, Smith by Leon Garfield. It was first published in 1966, so you might not be able to get hold of it.

My father is put in the stocks again! Oh! The injustice of it! My father is a genius – as are all of we Treets. A grand man, as great in mind as he is in body, for he’s a large man who bears himself with more dignity than all the Justices in Kent put together. Except when the Stranger calls: and then his spirit seems to flicker and sink somewhat…as if the Stranger was something dark and devilish, and there was an unwholesome bargain eating away at my father’s soul…

Can you tell that the book is set in past times by the “voice”? You might have to look up “the stocks” – a hint; they were used as a punishment! The writer here tells us there’s a mystery from very first paragraph! Who is the Stranger? And why does he come to visit Mr Treet?

Next time, I’ll post a little bit about how I write, and how important my dog is to my writing routine.

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Hello from Susan Green

Hello Christchurch kids – thanks for inviting me to visit you. I hope you are keen readers and keen writers, because during the month of September, I’m going to write about both.

Perhaps some of you have read my book The Truth About Verity Sparks? Or the sequel, which came out in May. It’s called Verity Sparks Lost and Found. I am due to start writing the next Verity book and so at the moment my mind is buzzing with all things Verity. I love Verity. I am very proud of her – she is brave, clever and very sensible. If I was going to give you my five top tips for writing stories, at the top of the list would be “Create a character you love”. Verity is such a real character to me that she’s almost like an actual person. So this week I’ll be thinking about the things that make Verity seem real to me – and hopefully, to my readers as well.

Verity first came to me when I was walking around the streets of Melbourne, looking up at the tall, grand buildings built in the Victorian (named after the Queen, not the state!) era around a hundred and fifty years ago. They have carved decorations and big columns and huge doors and if you get a peek inside, often marble halls with more columns and more doors. They seem designed to make a person feel very small and insignificant. I imagined wealthy gentleman wearing suits and top hats strolling in and out…and I started wondering what it would have felt like, to have been little, poor and powerless in those days. And somehow Verity came into my head.

When you’re creating a character, you have to give your character a setting. You have to be clear about where and when the action is happening. Verity’s story starts in 1878 in London, where she is employed as a milliner’s apprentice. You also have to create a backstory. Backstory means the character’s history; his or her past. You might not use it in the story, but you use it to help you understand your character.
I made Verity an orphan. Unlike in real life, in fiction it’s always quite useful to have no parents! After her mother and father died, she went to live with her Uncle Bill and Aunt Sarah. They ran a used clothes stall in the East End of London, but it didn’t work out (mainly because her uncle was a cruel, drunken bully) so Verity was apprenticed to Madame Louisette, who owned a hat shop in a post part of town. As it turned out, Verity’s past is very much part of the plot of the story, but even if it wasn’t, working out your character’s backstory is a good idea.
Some authors keep files on their characters, or write detailed biographies. I don’t go that far, but I think you should do whatever is helpful to make a good story.

That’s all I’ve got time for today. Next post, I’ll write a bit more about creating characters – especially getting their voice right.

See you next time!

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Meet our September Star Author – Susan Green

Our super September Star Author is Australian author, Susan Green.  Susan has written two books featuring the charismatic Verity Sparks, The Truth About Verity Sparks and Verity Sparks: Lost and Found.  She always wanted to write and illustrate books, but gave away her art studies and teaching to concentrate on writing when she won a short story competition. The Truth About Verity Sparks was short-listed in the Book of the Year for Younger Readers category of the 2012 CBCA Awards.

Thanks for joining us Susan!  We’re looking forward to hearing all about your books and writing.

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