Monday, 19 May 2014

The Writing Process - Bali Coffee for Starters!

The Writing Process Blog Tour

 - Bali Coffee for Starters!

These days I don’t have much time to ponder the whys and wherefores of my writing, but thanks to dear Anita Loughrey from the British SCBWI and her charming email of a month ago, this is what I’m about to do! 

What I'm working on

For the past two and a half years I’ve been mainly based in Singapore. This where my husband works which is really rather handy given that it's an expensive place.  I've made my own writing life here, helped by my wonderful Scooby friends.  It's a very hands-on, can-do society and as a result I'm working on several things right now. Here goes:  drafting the second chapter book for 6+, ‘Princess Petunia's Dragon’, published here by Bonnie Books; writing and editing a series of readers for 8-12s, based in Singapore;  contributing to a series of picture books, and finally, drafting a mystery adventure for 10-13 year olds based in the rainforest. Phew!

How it differs from others in the genre
I'll talk just about ‘Princess Petunia’s Dragon’ for the time being.  My voice is, I hope, what distinguishes it from other books for this age group - ie newly independent readers aged 6-9.  Petunia is a feisty child and won't take no for an answer.  She lives in a world where everyone eats together in the castle dining hall, onion soup is served every night, and small dragons live in a dragons’ home and eat blue gobstoppers to keep their scales shiny.
There's no magic in the story - leaving aside the fact that dragons are the main feature - so Petunia finds her way through sheer imagination and perseverance. 
I don't use fancy typefaces and I try to use illustrations judiciously to reach as wide an audience as possible. Bonnie Books published this book, but I commissioned the artwork and worked with my lovely illustrator, Charlotte Micklewright, to make the characters come alive. I suppose it’s because I'm a visual person who remembers pictures long after the plot has vanished from my memory.

Why I write what I do

There’s a very simple answer to that: I have no other strings to my bow.
        I've been a book editor and I occasionally write for magazines. Nothing will stop me writing. My stories are often higgledy piggledy, rather like my life, but they eventually come out straight (ish), and I've learned not to give up hope! I love talking to kids about my stories and seeing their jaws drop open.  Since publishing ‘Petunia’ I've made several school visits and hosted a bookstore launch.  The local market requires authors to be generous and proactive, to juggle a story-telling activity/craft event with handing out stickers, calendars, bookmarks...and cookies.  

How the writing process works
I write fiction, so I beg you, nothing I write now should be taken down and used against me in a court of law. 
"Every morning I wake at six.  The sun rises at 6.55, but the mynah birds are noisy before then.  I make a cup of Bali coffee (nothing fancy, but it comes from Bali and tastes sublime).  I turn on the balcony light, sit at the table and write.  By seven my husband is watching the BBC news, and at eight, I walk with him to the nearest train station in a huge shopping hub.  
             Spinelli's café has some seats that remain shaded until about ten thirty, giving me and my iPad plenty of time to garner more ideas.  My hands get a little sticky from the humidity, but when I'm "away with my characters" -- be it in the jungle or in 1920s Singapore -- I don't notice anything. The resof the day is for thinking, reworking my morning scribbles, and applying calamine lotion to the patches on my arms that caught the sun outside the café."
Before coming to Singapore I spent many years at City Lit critique groups learning the ropes and writing for many age groups. Much of what I write is based on these stories, or on characters that took refuge somewhere in my mind.
I also read and reread my favourite books.  If you’re curious, here are a few of them: Hideous Kinky (Esther Freud), The Outsiders (Hinton), Catcher in the Rye.  Editing other writing friends’ work for middle-grade readers has been useful in helping me over hurdles with the dreaded first chapter, or resisting the delete button in early drafts. 
              Now I have a confession to make. I'm meant to pass the baton onto three other writers, but I've been slow in finding friends who haven't already done this. Or who have enough time to blog. Sorry, folks, I'll post my three friends' details later.  And thanks very much, Anita, for persuading me to share this with you.