Saturday, 16 June 2012

Writing a children's book

Last year, I wrote a kids' book, at least in first draft. My kids (who are mostly over 18!) love the story and have encouraged me to finish up a better draft but I lost faith a bit because it was marked down by a tutor. Quite rightly, as the central character was the least well visualised. But it left it at the back of the pile.

I always write two books at a time. The B&B book (I know it's a terrible title!) and Borrowed Time, then Borrowed Time (now Secrets) and A Baby's Bones. Now I've got Bones to work on, there's a window for the kids' book, maybe in time for the Mslexia competition. Writing two books can be very therapeutic for me. I write fast so my words tend to run ahead of the plot. 1000-2000 words and I need to sit down and think about the next scenes. To keep the fingers flying, I play with writing random scenes for the future book. This means by the time I sit down seriously to write the next book, I've experimented with the characters, got to know them, and have some plot ideas. Marley and the Crow is about 30k words of good quality (except for Marley) but patchy, poorly paced children's fiction for 9-11 year olds. It needs a new draft. So today, to stop myself chewing my fingers to the knuckles, I played with a first person rewrite of Marley, and I think it worked. Very satisfying. It has tension (will the evil developer con poor Aunt Marianne out of her house?) and threat (who is poisoning all the rooks?) and comedy (the budding relationship between a tame crow and Marley) who is trying to deal with her parents' break up. Anyone who knows me is familiar with the crow theme, we have rescued a number of corvids, and we were recently offered a young rook...called ASBO for some reason. We had to decline as we don't have an aviary and I think he would be at war with the cats!
Here is a little sample, and apologies to those who have seen it before.
   ‘Who are you?’
   I jumped a mile. It’s creepy being in someone else’s house, looking for teabags, and the voice was really nearby. It seemed to be coming from a box of cornflakes on a shelf just over my head. Then, there was a really loud tapping, like a little hammer on a metal drum. I pulled the cereal packet forward—and came nose to nose with a huge beak. A big, black bird was sat on a jar, filled with yellow sweets, with a label on. Sherbet Lemons. The bird turned its head, looking at me with one amber eye, then swivelled its head to look at me with the other.
   ‘Who are you?’ I could see its beak open and shut, but it still sounded really weird that a crow was speaking. It pecked the lid of the jar with a loud dink.
   ‘Aunt Marianne!’ I shouted, and stood back against the table. I ought to explain, my aunt’s house is really old fashioned, and her kitchen is like a museum. All the walls are covered in shelves with giant jars on, with strange labels like ‘chocolate sugar strands’ and ‘pumpkin seeds—eat first’ on. We wouldn’t be there, but Mum and Dad had a huge row, and Mum drove us all the way to Cornwall from London.
   ‘Oh, there he is!’ Aunt Marianne bustled in, wearing what looked like a pair of flowery curtains made into a dress, a scarf wound around her hair and about a million bangles and bracelets. ‘Bram, come down from there, you scruffy old thing!’
   ‘I was just trying to make Mum a cup of tea.’
   Aunt Marianne flapped her long sleeves, which made a mist of white powder fly up from a bowl on the table. It tasted sweet, but made me cough.
   ‘Marley, help me. Cut him off…’
   I stood at the end of the shelf while she tried to shoo him off the shelf, but I wasn’t getting too close to his beak. He just hopped from jar to jar. He started cackling, which made him sound like he was laughing at us.
   ‘Get down!’ he shouted, in Aunt Marianne’s voice which was hysterical. ‘Get down, get down, get down!’
   Even Aunt Marianne had to laugh at him, as he hopped and flapped to the end of the shelf.   ‘Quick, Marley, get me a tea towel.’
    I looked around, and grabbed a cloth that was hanging on the back of a chair. ‘He really talks.’
   ‘Oh, crows are excellent mimics.’ She took the towel and held it in both hands, in front of the bird. ‘Oh, come down you silly—’
   As she said silly, she waved the towel at him, he started slipping on a curved lid, and he had to clap his wings to stay on. Aunt Marianne was tall, easily as tall as Dad, but even she couldn’t quite reach him. He tried to get his balance, but fell off, flapping his wings like mad, and landed…whoomph…straight in the bowl of powdered sugar.
   I screwed my eyes up tight, and held my breath.
   When I opened them, everything looked frosted. The bird was sat on the table, looking like a short, fat seagull standing in snow.
   I started to laugh, even as Aunt Marianne started to swear under her breath.
   ‘Ha ha ha,’ said the bird. The more I laughed, the more he said the words, until even Aunt    Marianne joined in. The patterns of her dress had faded with the dust.
   The bird shook himself, turning grey. ‘Who are you?’ he said again. ‘Who are you?’
   I stepped out of the way of the beak. ‘Is it safe...I mean, does it bite?’
   ‘Bram? Goodness, no, he’s quite gentle.’ She batted herself with the tea towel, which just smeared the sugar. ‘If you hold your hand out he’ll probably come to you.’ She tutted. ‘Silly bird.’
   ‘Silly bird, silly bird,’ he echoed. Then he sneezed and his feathers darkened again.
   Then Aunt Marianne did something weird. She gave the bird one of those “don’t-you-dare” looks she sometimes gives Christy, my disgusting little brother, right before he picks his nose in front of Grandma. ‘Just stay there and be good, silly bird. I’ll get the dustpan and brush.’
   ‘Silly bird, silly bird,’ chanted the bird, shaking the dust off his feathers and making my nose itch. I started brushing the sugar off, but it was sticky. The bird walked towards me with lizardy, scaly feet, his tail brushing a zigzag in the sugar on the table.
   ‘Who are you?’
   I brushed the sugar off my T-short until I could see the pattern. ‘I’m Marley, crazy bird.’
I wasn’t planning to hold my hand out for him to peck. He fluffed himself up, looking twice as big, then all his feathers sort of made a rattling sound, like kicking dry leaves. Then every one fell into place, looking as black and glossy as before.
   ‘But who are you?’ he said, in a little growly voice. ‘And what kind of name is Marley?’  

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